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My immediate supervisor was George Brand who had worked in the Nuremberg Trials, to whom I owe my career as he gave me my first short term contract and then probationary appointment. But we worked in a team with a Georgian professor, Polish, Haitian, Guatamalan, Mexican, and US lawyers. It was perhaps my best work experience - I have tried to imitate the unflappability, determination to move things forward despite setbacks, and generosity of my first boss ever since. It was the time of the cold war – the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Israeli-Egypt six-day war, Indo-Pakistani War, and the Invasion of Czechoslovakia (the Prague Spring had been the topic of my Masters thesis). Things were blocked in the Security Council but also in the Human Rights Commission. I was assigned to a working group to define what “massive violations of human rights” would entail.
My pride was to have largely written THE SECRETARY-GENERAL’S REPORT (theoretically Mr U Thant’s) on the impact of scientific and technological developments on human rights. I believe I got my permanent appointment because I had been an assistant reference librarian as part time job at university, and looked up new articles and research pertaining to bioethics, computer/privacy issues, and damage to the environment; whereas others had simply cut and pasted previous SG reports.
"I guess the United Nations was always my dream job. I was involved with Model United Nations, since middle school. Living in the United States, with a German mother and Austrian father, it also solved my “nationality” issue. By the time of my university years, I was a confirmed “internationalist” and pacifist..."
"What I remember clearly was that interns and junior professionals debated global issues in the cafeteria and in coffee/tea breaks and had strong opinions how the Secretary-General should deal with the Israelis, Russians, and the US – unlike the more focused career minded young professionals today, who seem to concentrate on office gossip and which colleague now has influence or access. "
The only high politics I was directly involved with was Mr Kissinger’s decision to lean on his French counterpart to cancel a long planned UN conference for the victims of colonialism and apartheid at short notice, and we had to scramble to find another NATO member (the lib movement’s strong wish) to host this meeting of “terrorists”- Norway came to the rescue. But in this way, I was able to meet Amilcar Cabral, Oliver Thambo, Sam Nujoma, Eduardo Mondlane and the Cape Verdean leaders with whom I stayed in touch for many years. Waldheim was not noted for his stellar leadership, however, he did delegate to his very competent USGs and many of the important path breaking environment, women’s, population, and Habitat conferences took place during his tenure .
"Through [Mr Issoufou Djermakoye] I was able to meet many of new leaders of Africa and in particular the heroes of the liberation movements of Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde.
I was one of the lucky ones to help establish UN HABITAT in Nairobi. Building up an institution from the ground is always an exciting enterprise, particularly with the newly independent countries and planning new capitals for Tanzania and Nigeria. But my children were also born during this period in Nairobi, when the city was still safe and had a vibrant cultural life. Of course, there is nothing like the Big Sky and wildlife in Africa.
My next challenge was to work as the special assistant of the first Woman Under-Secretary. Dame Margaret Anstee had risen through the ranks of UNDP from the position of a secretary in a field duty station and knew everyone and everything about development work. Her life long partner was Sir Robert Jackson, author of the famous “Jackson Report” which had recommended that the UN agencies work much more closely together forty years ago. Dame Margaret had brought me with her to Vienna, first to the Crime Prevention Programme in the UN Centre for Social Development and Humanitarian Affairs and then as Chief of her office.
Due to her frequent travels, this often meant “holding the fort” over a deeply riven UN Office at Vienna (eventually the women’s programme and social development were returned to New York and drugs and crime were forcibly joined together). This was not the happiest period in her life, due to the death of Sir Robert and the querulous back stabbing directors. She left to become first woman to head a peace keeping mission in Angola where she attempted to broker a peace between the ruling MPLA and Josef Savimbi, who called her a “whore.”
"As I had known Kofi personally, we had both joined the Secretariat as young professional officers at approximately the same time, he will always be “my” Secretary General. He was a perfect gentleman, a knowledgeable insider, and very wise political scientist."
I returned to Vienna to finish my career heading both the Criminal Justice Unit and the Rule of Law Section in a renamed UN Office of Drugs and Crime. Nothing had changed much in terms of collaboration between drug and crime programmes except that there was a new Italian Director General. And Mr Ban Ki-moon had replaced Kofi Annan.
"I would still encourage young scholars to seek UN careers but also to become activists in topics they and the UN care about – human rights, defence of women, climate change, local environmental causes, youth projects, criminal justice and prison reform, development work in foreign countries or the inclusion of the poor and vulnerable on a national level."
I have tried to encourage the idealism of students who are drawn to ACUNS but also give them a sense of realism- which is why we try to involve our collaborators in the actual sessions of intergovernmental bodies, organize substantive side events on real topics, and to publish scientific papers, even books. I would still encourage young scholars to seek UN careers but also to become activists in topics they and the UN care about – human rights, defence of women, climate change, local environmental causes, youth projects, criminal justice and prison reform, development work in foreign countries or the inclusion of the poor and vulnerable on a national level. Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says we all have an obligation to give back to the community and fight for justice, wherever we live.
*Here you can apply to attend the ACUNS Vienna 2015 Annual Conference, which takes place January 14-16, 2015 in Vienna.