AALS Field Trip to the United Nations: a report

By Anne E. Burnett

The International Law Section of the Association of American Law Schools offered the first-ever AALS Field Trip to the United Nations during last week’s AALS meeting in Manhattan. Claudio Grossman (Chair, United Nations Committee against Torture and Dean of the American University Washington College of Law) and Mark Wojcik (Professor, John Marshall Law School—Chicago) organized the January 7th event, which included a briefing, lunch, a tour of the UN buildings, and time to visit the U.N. bookstore and gift shop.

About 35 international law professors, visiting scholars and librarians started the day with a trek from the conference headquarters near Times Square to the UN building on a cold but sunny morning.  After clearing security, we assembled in a meeting room (where I ogled the committee meeting agenda left on the door – hey, I’ve helped our researchers locate those agendas!) for a briefing by an excellent panel discussing the general topic of “The Future of the United Nations in the 21st“ with a more specific focus on human rights issues.

The briefing, ably moderated by Mark Wojcik, included the following panelists and topics:

  • Claudio Grossman, Chair, United Nations Committee against Torture and Dean of the American University Washington College of Law
    Topic: “The Human Rights Treaty Bodies of the United Nations – Challenges for the Future”
  • Ben Majekodunmi, Senior Human Rights Officer, Political, Peace-keeping, Humanitarian and Human Rights Unit, Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General
    Topic: I do not have the specific title for this portion as he was not on the agenda but his very interesting comments were mostly about obstacles to the UN responding to serious human rights violations
  • Katarina Mansson, Capacity Building & Harmonization Section, Human Rights Treaties Division, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
    Topic: “Partnering for Peace and Rights: The Evolving Relationship Between the United Nations and Regional Organizations”
  • Craig Mokhiber, Chief of the Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
    Topic: “Development and the Post-2015 Development Agenda”
  • Richard Bennet, Representative and Head of UN Office, Amnesty International.
    Topic: “Amnesty International’s Efforts”
  • Joanna Weschler, Deputy Executive Director & Director of Research, Security Council Report
    Topic: “The Security Council Report” – see http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/  to access this resource which provides information about the activities of the Security Council and its subsidiaries.

During the luncheon, we enjoyed an interesting keynote by His Excellency Cristian Barros, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations, speaking on “Chile’s Participation at Security Council (2014-2015).” He discussed the practicalities of working on the Security Council as the representative of a non-permanent member.

The afternoon tour included visiting the General Assembly Hall, the Security Council Chamber, the Trusteeship Council Chamber, and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Chamber.  Each grand room has been donated by a member country, along with symbolic furnishings and art. We also toured exhibits on human rights, disarmament, and the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Varied massive pieces of art donated by member countries provided sobering yet optimistic backdrops throughout the tour. (Note: our tour did not include either the Secretariat Building or the Dag Hammarskjöld Library  – something to explore next time.)

The tour ended with stops at the United Nations Bookshop and the gift store.

Woven throughout the field trip, from the briefing to the luncheon to the exhibits and the bookshop, were references to the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which provides a plan of action for the United Nations through 2030. The international library community advocated strongly, and successfully, for the inclusion within the development agenda of access to information, which is referenced under several of the 17 Development Goals. If you’d like to know how this could impact your work, check out the efforts of groups such as the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), which continue to provide support for advocacy efforts to include access to information in national development plans.


Martinique’s Grand Library and “Josephine Beheaded”


By: Julienne Grant

Happy New Year! I spent part of my holiday break cruising around the eastern part of the Caribbean.  Starting in San Juan, we stopped at five ports of call—Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Martinique, and Saint Thomas.  I’m in the process of writing an article on the legal systems of these islands, so I won’t dive into that material so much here. What I will do, however, is share a little about one of the more unusual public libraries I have seen—the Schœlcher library in Martinique. (Keep in mind as you read this, that I’m currently living in a city with a public library that has sculptures of green owls perched on top of it.)

Martinique is a French overseas department and territory (département et territoire d’outre-mer) and has a population of somewhere around 386,000.  Its capital, Fort-de-France, is a captivating seaside community that has a European vibe, with a Caribbean beat.  Although the French flag flies here, and the euro is king, it is the sounds of Creole and reggae that flood the city streets.

On the rue de la Liberté, across the road from a decapitated statue of Empress Josephine (more on this below), sits Fort-de-France’s crown jewel, its public library.  The building itself is an elaborate and exotic structure with a Byzantine-style cupola.  Designed by French architect Pierre-Henri Picq in 1884, the building was first erected in Paris, and then dismantled and shipped for re-assembly in Martinique. That this glorious building still stands is a testimony to the genius of its designer, as the island is prone to earthquakes and hurricanes.

The library itself is named after French abolitionist Victor Schœlcher, who drafted the 1848 decree that abolished slavery in the French colonies. Schœlcher donated his own private library in 1883 to the General Council of Martinique for the purpose of creating a public library.  One of the library’s mandates is to preserve heritage materials related to the island.

Being duly impressed with the exterior of the building, I decided to check out the interior space.   Although my French is poor, the reference librarian on duty spoke wonderful English and was kind enough to provide an impromptu tour of the place.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Although the interior is showing signs of wear (including a few cracks resulting from earthquakes), it is still quite grand. The domed ceiling is exquisite, and there is a striking portrait of Victor Schœlcher hanging in the atrium. The collection is impressive and covers everything from literature to law, including the most current Dalloz French codes. (As an overseas region of France, French national law applies in Martinique, but can be modified to address situations specific to the island.) What really impressed me, however, was how busy the library was.  This is not simply a relic from an earlier time; it’s a working and modern library that is being heavily used.

Finally, a word about the decapitated statue of Empress Josephine across the street. Joséphine de Beauharnais, Napoleon I’s first wife, was born and raised in Martinique.  Although she may be the island’s most famous citizen, she is also probably the most despised.  Her family owned slaves, and she was purportedly instrumental in convincing Napoleon to reinstate slavery in the French colonies in 1802.  The marble statue was mysteriously beheaded in 1991 and was later splattered with red paint around Josephine’s delicate neckline.  The gory headless statue still stands, overlooking the lovely La Savane park. For an interesting read on the statue, see the Prologue (“Josephine Beheaded”) to Cultural Conundrums: Gender, Race, Nation, and the Making of Caribbean Cultural Politics (University of Michigan Press, 2006).

Introducing…Marci Hoffman as the January 2016 FCIL Librarian of the Month

1. HoffmanWhere did you grow up?

I was born in Littleton, Colorado (outside of Denver) but we moved to Southern California when I was a kid. So I really grew up in the San Fernando Valley before there were any “valley girls.”

2. Why did you select law librarianship as a career?

When I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, I went to work as a legal assistant in a law firm.  So glad I did — I thought that the work lawyers did was dull but legal research was fun!  Then I met the librarian at Lucas Films and I wanted her job (but she said I’d have to wait until she died).  In the end, my firm offered me a job when I got out of library school. A girl’s gotta eat!

3. When did you develop an interest in foreign, comparative, and international law?

I always loved international relations, government and political science and FCIL work gave me an opportunity to utilize my interest and knowledge.  When I started at Berkeley Law (then called Boalt) in 1991, I learned a lot by watching what Tom Reynold did (Tom wasn’t big on sharing in those days). I followed him around the stacks, peered over his shoulder and took lots of notes.  I was then lucky to get my first FCIL job at the University of Minnesota Law Library and I learned by doing the work.  FCIL programs, trainings, and helpful colleagues helped fill in the gaps.

4. Who is your current employer? How long have you worked there?

Berkeley Law employs me currently and I’ve been back for about 12.5 years.

5. Do you speak any foreign languages?

I hesitate to say “speak” since I’m too insecure.  I can read German and Spanish.

6. What is your most significant professional achievement?

Getting to work each day!  Okay, I’d say working with David Weissbrodt on the Minnesota Human Rights Library, one of the first collections of international human rights instruments on the web. I’ve also been fortunate enough to work on several other projects.  I love working with Mary Rumsey and we wrote the IFLR Coursebook together.  She always makes me look (and sound) better.  I’m also really lucky to be able to work on the Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals and the Foreign Law Guide with the help of many wonderful colleagues.

7. What is your biggest food weakness?

Wine – all kinds!  Oh, is wine a food?

8. What song makes you want to get up and sing/dance?

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen.

9. What ability or skill do you most wish you had (that you don’t have already)?

Creativity and artistic ability – paint, draw, whatever. My stick figure drawings leave much to be desired.

10. Aside from the basic necessities, what is one thing you not go a day without?

Coffee – double latte with non-fat milk.  I would say wine but I don’t want to give the wrong impression.  One other thing, my husband.  Sounds corny but he gets me through each and every day (he cooks all of our meals).  Sorry, that’s more than one thing.

11. Anything else you would like to share with us?

Although I am now an associate director with many other responsibilities, I still do most of the FCIL work here at Berkeley Law.  It’s the best part of my job.