Postgraduate Fellow Spotlight: Jessica Tueller ’21

Jessica Tueller ’21 with Inter-American Commission on Human Rights colleagues
Jessica Tueller ’21 (left), a Robina Fellow at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, worked with with former Commissioner Flávia Piovesan (center), and Human Rights Specialist Manuel Canahui.

Jessica Tueller ’21 answers questions on her year so far as a Robina International Human Rights Fellowship at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. 

How far are you into your fellowship year?

I just hit my eight-month mark [in June]. I started in September of last year, and I’ll wrap up the fellowship at the end of August. 

Could you tell me about where you are working?

Sure, my fellowship is with the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, which is an independent, autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS), a multilateral, political body. The way I explain it to my non-lawyer friends is that the OAS is like the United Nations, but only for the Americas. The commission itself focuses on protecting and promoting human rights in the Americas. And then, within the commission, I am based in the Rapporteurship on the Rights of LGBTI Persons.

What has your work for the LGBTI Rapporteurship looked like?

Generally, we’re focused on monitoring the situation of LGBTI individuals in the region and promoting Inter-American standards of particular concern to LGBTI communities. In practice, this involves tracking media reports, meeting with states and civil society organizations, giving trainings and presentations, and the like. One day I’ll be writing a press release celebrating Chile’s recognition of marriage equality and the next I’ll be drafting a speech about the challenges nonrecognition of gender identity poses to the fulfillment of rights for trans and gender-diverse individuals in the region, or providing a technical opinion on precautionary measures for an intersex adolescent in Colombia — there’s an enormous range of issues and countries that we cover. I’ve also taken on a few more long-term projects for the rapporteurship that I work on whenever I can.

A group of people standing in an office lobby with glass walls behind them
Jessica Tueller ’21 (right) with the OAS LGBTI Core Group

What are some of those long-term projects?

Just last week I finished my second draft of an internal memo for the LGBTI Rapporteurship and the Rapporteurship on Women’s Rights (Women’s Rapporteurship) concerning the scope of application of the Convention of Belém do Pará, an Inter-American treaty on preventing, punishing, and eradicating violence against women. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights interpreted this treaty to apply to a trans woman for the first time in 2021, in the case of Vicky Hernández v. Honduras, and the technical teams of both rapporteurships are interested in making sure that this interpretation sticks. In the paper, I explain the Court’s reasoning and show how it’s supported by the past practice of the Commission and of MESECVI, an expert body that specifically monitors the Convention of Belém do Pará. I also respond to counterarguments and provide additional, more general arguments about the benefits of inclusive interpretations of victim standing, drawing on a student note I worked on while in law school.

It’s not so much that the Court needed any additional justification to reach this result in Vicky Hernández, but more so that the rapporteurships are aware that trans exclusionary radical feminists are attempting to influence the interpretation of human rights treaties in the Americas and globally. We want to ensure that our work will continue to be inclusive of trans individuals, which leads me to another long-term project I’m supposed to be starting now. I’m writing a second internal paper on anti-rights movements. I don’t want to say too much yet because I haven’t really had a chance to outline my approach, but so far, I have been gathering information about the make-up of these movements, their strategies, and their funding.

You mentioned that some of your work at the LGBTI Rapporteurship is related to your student note. Are there any other personal, academic, or professional experiences prior to Yale Law School and/or at the Law School that motivated you to pursue this opportunity?

It feels like everything that I’ve ever done could be relevant to this question, since I’ve been interested in human rights, feminism, and Latin America since high school and those are the three topics guaranteed to come up every single day here. But I can definitely point to direct connections between my time at YLS and being here at the Commission. I first became familiar with [former Commissioner and Rapporteur on the Rights of LGBTI Persons] Flávia Piovesan’s work when I traveled to Brazil with the Latin American Linkages program in the summer after my 1L year. I met many human rights activists and scholars, including a professor who suggested I read one of Flávia’s books, Temas de direitos humanos. I also took Professor Jim Cavallaro’s Regional Human Rights systems class my 2L year. He had been President of the Commission and often spoke about Flávia and their work together. So, when I was thinking about where I might want to do a fellowship, I thought I might like to work with Flávia and I asked Jim for the introduction. We had a Zoom call and hit it off right away. Flávia and I were actually so excited about working together that we began collaborating even before I started at the Commission, and we’ve continued since her term as a Commissioner ended in December 2021 as well. 

What else have you and Flávia been working on together?

A group of people meeting at a round table with a white tablecloth
Jessica Tueller ’21 in a meeting with Commissioner Roberta Clarke and civil society organizations in Peru

A few different things. I helped with the Inter-American Principles on Academic Freedom and University Autonomy — one of Flávia’s projects at the Commission but beyond the scope of the LGBTI Rapporteurship — and provided research and editing support for a volume on the transformative impact of the Inter-American Human Rights System in Latin America that Flávia has been working on. Flávia and I have also coauthored a few academic publications together, including a workshop paper on indirect discrimination against LGBTI persons and a book chapter on the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress. We have two more publications forthcoming.

It sounds like you’ve done a lot more than you’d first imagined when you drafted your proposal. Is that right?

Definitely, and not just because of my connection to Flávia. The same things I do for the LGBTI Rapporteurship I often do for — or in collaboration with — the Women’s Rapporteurship. My team recognized that I had a broad interest in gender and, on the first day of my fellowship, offered me the chance to work across both rapporteurships. I’m so glad they did. I want my work, both at the Commission and more generally, to serve as a bridge between women’s and LGBTI movements, to further intersectional and coalitional approaches to gender and human rights.

My language skills have also given me the opportunity to see more aspects of the Commission’s work. In addition to being fluent in Spanish, which is functionally (though I think not officially) the working language of the Commission, I’m a native English speaker and fluent in Portuguese. So I’m often brought in to translate or to revise translations to English and Portuguese on topics outside the scope of the LGBTI and Women’s Rapporteurships, or even to do substantive work in these languages, like monitoring the rule of law in Brazil and drafting speeches on racial discrimination in English. Sometimes I wish we had professional translators on call 24/7 who could take the less substantive assignments off my plate, but most of the time I just feel lucky that I get to see and be involved in so much of the work of the Commission.

Is there anything you haven’t had a chance to do yet that you’re hoping to achieve during the final few months of the fellowship?

Well, I just got back from a trip to Peru with the LGBTI Rapporteurship, which is already more than I anticipated being able to do as a fellow, and now I am hoping I’ll get to travel again before my fellowship is up. My fellowship year has been almost entirely remote, so it was especially exciting to travel so I could have those few days of in-person work not only with State officials, civil society organizations, and victims, but also with some of my colleagues from the Commission.

I also hope I’ll be able to facilitate an agreement between Inter-American Commission and Yale before I leave. When I was on my way out the door at Yale Law, just having graduated, I put Professor Jim Silk in touch with some folks at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and now there’s an agreement between Yale and the Court that involves internships, fellowships, and potentially also projects for the [Allard K. Lowenstein International] Human Rights Clinic. I’m hoping Yale and the Commission can set up a similar agreement. I think both sides stand to gain a lot. Yale students have so much to offer the Inter-American System and the System is a really interesting and innovative place to work. I’d just like the path for Yalies to get here in the future to be more straightforward than it was for me.