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.

 

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