Raquel Vazquez Llorente

RESEARCH ADVISOR | EUROPEAN INTERAGENCY SECURITY FORUM

What do you do as Research Advisor at the European Interagency Security Forum?

I coordinate projects and conduct research to help humanitarian organisations gain safer access to communities affected by conflict and emergencies. The positions covers everything from conducting field research to presenting at international conferences and trying to influence public policy, but also less glamorous roles such as managing our library and populating the database.

I’m responsible for the entire project cycle, which makes the role challenging but also very dynamic. I can be drafting the concept note of a project, designing our communications strategy for a report, or on the look out for new research-related partnerships. We’re a member-based organisation so I also need to be informed of the humanitarian operations of our members, how the situation is developing on the ground, and what kind of security risks aid workers are facing when trying to gain humanitarian access in emergencies.

What is a typical day like?

The remit of my job can be quite wide, so there’s not much of a routine. It mostly depends on if I’m travelling or if I have a report that needs to be published in a short period of time.

Part of my job is acting as a conduit of information and connecting people, so in one day I may have a meeting at a think tank, participate in a round table, prepare a presentation for a conference or a workshop, liaise with journalists, or hold calls with someone in Iraq, Sierra Leone or Geneva.

What does the European Interagency Security Forum do?

We are a member-led security network of humanitarian agencies. Our purpose is to be a platform for sharing best practices, providing peer support and producing practical research for security risk management in the humanitarian sector. We’re committed to improving the safety and security of relief operations and staff, and do so by strengthening risk management to allow greater access to crisis-affected populations.

You previously worked at Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) as a researcher. What did you do there?

I had just come back from a deployment on weapons control in Libya and AOAV was looking for someone to help write a handbook for advancing victims’ rights in the international policy agenda. I came on board to collate international law provisions and draft emerging norms related to the rights of victims of armed violence. We needed a quick turn around so it was quite an intense period.

You spent six months as a Situation Analysis Intern at the ICC Office of the Prosecutor. What did you do there?

I was in a section that advises the prosecutor whether an investigation has sufficient basis to proceed, so part of my role was assessing the complementarity of the ICC with respect to national courts. I worked on a range of situations that involved crimes committed by both state actors and armed non-state actors, and analysed large amounts of information in different languages.

I was very lucky that my line managers took the time to teach me how to analyse complex situations. I owe great part of my professional development to their commitment to international justice and mentorship.  

You spent nine months in Israel, first working for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and then for the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies. Tell us about your jobs there.

When I first move to Israel it was only for a three-month internship. I still had some courses left to finish my degree but was eager to gain hands-on experience in human rights law, and in general my professors were keen to support my international endeavours.

At ACRI I worked with lawyers and civil rights advocates, mostly on stateless’ removal cases before different courts, and judicial accountability for abuses against minors by State forces. I also worked on some petitions to the Ministry of Justice. The job involved a lot of drafting and researching international jurisprudence and legislation that could support our cases.

I decided to stay on the country and managed to find a job as an assistant for two prominent professors at Tel Aviv University. They needed my language skills for their research on modern identities and their challenge to North African countries and the Kurdistan. It was the beginning of the Arab Spring, so it was a really interesting time to have that kind of role.

You’ve held numerous jobs abroad. What has it brought you and what are the disadvantages of it?

Working in different countries has brought me so much I cannot imagine my life otherwise. I’d do it all over again.

You studied Law and Business Administration and Management at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Would you recommend these degrees? How do you use them in you day-to-day job?

When I opted for a joint degree, it was a very well regarded choice in Spain, as the academic entry requirements were quite high. It required at least six years of continuous study, not very competitive in an international market, so with theBologna process for the reform of education my degree no longer exists.

However, leaving aside this technicality, studying law taught me to be thorough, to question things and to structure my reasoning process. Those are skills you are going to use in any job. My business studies gave me strategic thinking, but most importantly, enabled me to get two academic scholarships to pursue further education in La Sorbonne and at Singapore Management University.

How did you develop your interest in arms and security?

I’m interested in the legality of certain weapons under international law, and, more recently, also in organised crime linked to illicit arms trade. My interest in both come from what I’ve learned working in different institutions, but also from my time at Reprieve. There, I worked for Crofton Black, a dogged investigator whose work has unveiled much of the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation programme.

I was investigating human rights abuses with him in the context of the war on terror in the new fronts of counterterrorism, and part of this was investigating military and intelligence contracting. I also assisted lawyers with the defence of victims of drone strikes, and started to become familiar with new weapons control and killer robots.

What are the particular advantages and barriers a woman pursuing a career like yours might face?

In the field, a woman can be regarded as less menacing, and I’ve managed to conduct interviews that could have been more difficult for a man. In conservative religious societies being a woman can play in your favour if you are trying to gain access to an area or to children, women and more vulnerable witnesses.

However, foreign policy is generally still a male-dominated sector - although this is slowly changing thanks to initiatives like Foreign Policy Interrupted, and of course, Ambassador Albright, who did a great job putting women in the forefront, particularly in international justice. I’ve never been prevented from doing something because I’m a woman, but for instance in the humanitarian sector sexual harassment is still very apparent, whether working in the field or in an office, and it’s about time we start talking about it.

What would you recommend to a young woman who would like to pursue a similar career?

Field experience can be advantageous. That’s a piece of advice more senior people have given me and I think it is true. It shows you know how things work out there and that you’re not going to bail out if you’re sent on a field mission. When I recruit interns, I try to find a person who shows determination and drive. It is also good to have someone more experienced to ask questions when you have doubts about what your next step should be. I’ve kept in touch with previous managers and they’ve been incredible helpful when I had to choose between different career options.

Thinking longer term, there’s probably nothing more important than choosing your partner well. It matters in any sector of course, but this kind of job comes with a certain lifestyle that not everyone likes.  

What was your first job and what did you learn doing it you still use nowadays?

My first 'real' job was an internship at the National Energy Commission of Spain; I might have been 21 or 22 years old. It was before the economic recession kicked in, so it was a pretty decent salary for an internship. With my first pay-check I bought a plane ticket to Algeria and went off to the refugee camps in Tindouf. On my return to Madrid, I continued to work on the Annual Report of the hydrocarbons market.

I learnt that I was as comfortable drafting reports in an office as I was sleeping in a tent in the Sahara. The ability to adapt to any situation is something I’ve consistently relied on in all my subsequent roles.

What are the most and least rewarding aspects of your career so far?

I do something I deeply believe in, and currently I also have the perks of getting to work on projects I choose and with people I admire and can learn from. The downside, this career path can get exhausting, both physically and psychologically. I’ve juggled more than one job at the same time, working full time and waiting tables at night or even working at yoga studios. However, that's also made me very resilient.

When you look at the bigger picture, our generation may not be able to end mass atrocities for once and for all, but we can at least end impunity for the most heinous crimes. Being able to contribute to that mission is the most rewarding aspect and outstrips anything else.

What are the key skills that make you good at what you do? How did you gain them?

I’m very proactive and curious. It's difficult to tell if it was nature or nurture! I remember showing up at the local chapter of Amnesty International in my hometown when I was 13 or 14. My university was very good at imparting technical knowledge but it didn’t have an international outlook, particularly for work opportunities. I never had things handed over, so having to come up with my own projects and ways of funding them (even before graduating) made me very resourceful.

I think, over the years, I’ve also become more perseverant and self-critical, which is helping me improve both personally and professionally.

What is the toughest lesson you have learnt?

It is as difficult to find your dream job as it is to stay in love with it. I used to be too focused on the 'next big thing', but now I’m more able to enjoy the perks that the journey can bring. In general, International justice and foreign policy are full of overachievers - it's important to take time to breathe and enjoy the process.

What has been your biggest challenge and how did you tackle it?

My biggest challenge is disconnecting. I think most of us working in this field face the same challenge. Most of my friends are also very dedicated to their international careers, and our discussions always end up revolving around foreign policy, humanitarian aid, war crimes accountability, justice… I’m not too fond of fiction readings, so pretty much everything I read is somehow connected to international justice or security. I’m never far away of a notebook or a pen when I’m watching the news, so it feels I’m always 'working'. The boundaries are quite blurry to me. Yoga and running help, I always travel with yoga podcasts so if I can't go out for a run I can always do some yoga in my room.

What achievements are you most proud of?

I’m a National Geographic Young Explorer! I led a mission to Cambodia and Vietnam to investigate religious persecution under the Khmer Rouge regime. For someone who grew up reading NatGeo magazines it was overwhelming to have my project selected by their committee. I worked a lot on putting together the proposal, but the final idea for the project took shape when I was at the prosecution of the UN Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

In less than a month I put together a team of under-25 Cambodians and enlisted as volunteers a group of friends. It was incredible to see so many people willing to come on board. The Documentation Center of Cambodia also gave a hand with the research. Having your project endorsed by people you admire and respect galvanises you when vicissitudes arise.

Do you have a role model and if so who and why?

I admire teams that work well together towards a common goal. Anyone at the Situation Analysis Section of the ICC has my utmost respect; they are a small unit with vast amount of work and a Herculean mission, yet they always found time to mentor me. Reprieve as a whole is one of the most inspiring organisations I’ve ever come across. Their commitment to justice and righting wrongs goes beyond the duty of any lawyer, social worker or investigator. They truly are exceptional people.

Raquel Vazquez Llorente | Research Advisor | European Interagency Security Forum

Five years' experience

CV in brief

Studied at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid | Singapore Management University | Université Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Previously worked as Researcher for Action on Armed Violence | Community Liaison Manager for Mines Advisory Group | Investigations and Research Assistant at Reprieve UK | Situation Analysis Intern at the Office of the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court | Expedition Leader at National Geographic Society | Planethood Foundation Fellow, Office of the Co-Prosecutors at United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials (UNAKRT) | Research Assistant for Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University | Legal Intern for Association for Civil Rights in Israel | Researcher, Monitoring and Evaluation Fellow at Grameen Bank & Grameen Trust

Find Raquel online:

LinkedIn | Twitter | ATHA's Innovation Series interview | EISF profile

Inspired by Raquel's interview? Take a look at these career opportunities: EISF vacancies | Action on Armed Violence job opportunities | Careers at Mines Advisory Group | Volunteering and job opportunities at Reprieve | International Criminal Court career opportunities | National Geographic research and exploration | UNAKRT recruitment | Internships at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel | Internships with Grameen Trust

Exclusive email interview 31 August 2015

  Presenting at the UN OCHA Working Group of Emergency Telecommunications in Dubai

Presenting at the UN OCHA Working Group of Emergency Telecommunications in Dubai

"...foreign policy is generally still a male-dominated sector, although this is slowly changing thanks to initiatives like Foreign Policy Interrupted, and of course, Ambassador Albright did a great deal for putting women in the forefront, particularly in international justice. I’ve never been prevented from doing something because I’m a woman, but for instance in the humanitarian sector sexual harassment is still very apparent, whether working in the field or in an office, and it’s about time we start talking about it."
  Grameen Bank International Dialogue in Bangladesh

Grameen Bank International Dialogue in Bangladesh

"Field experience can be advantageous. That’s a piece of advice more senior people have given me and I think it is true. It shows you know how things work out there and that you’re not going to bail out if you’re sent on a field mission."
  Qualifying as an International Crimes Investigator at the Institute for International Criminal Investigations in the Netherlands

Qualifying as an International Crimes Investigator at the Institute for International Criminal Investigations in the Netherlands

"I admire teams that work well together towards a common goal. Anyone at the Situation Analysis Section of the ICC has my utmost respect; they are a small unit with vast amount of work and a Herculean mission, yet they always found time to mentor me. "
  Conducting field research in Cambodia as a National Geographic Young Explorer

Conducting field research in Cambodia as a National Geographic Young Explorer

"I’m a National Geographic Young Explorer! I led a mission to Cambodia and Vietnam to investigate religious persecution under the Khmer Rouge regime."
  Speaking at the Law School alumni reunion of the Universidad Carlos III in Spain

Speaking at the Law School alumni reunion of the Universidad Carlos III in Spain

"Studying law taught me to be thorough, to question things, and structure my reasoning process. Those are skills you are going to use in any job."