A Duty to Shout? A debate on what it means to be an international civil servant in today’s world

Young UN and the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation are teaming up for a ‘Young UN Talks’ series to spark an honest debate within the UN system on what it means to be an international civil servant in today’s turbulent world and political landscape. This is the first of the three-part series, to be held on Wednesday, 2 September 2020 at 12pm EST.

This topic has recently been brought into focus in the context of the #BlackLivesMatter, Fridays for Future, #MeToo protests, strikes and social movements when different UN entities and offices have conveyed mixed messages regarding how personnel should balance the responsibility to uphold the Organization’s values with the duty to remain impartial in the face of controversial matters.

The open-debate style discussion aims to highlight new tools and ideas that could guide UN senior leadership in designing and implementing policies (at institutional level) and UN personnel in assessing their application (at individual level). The event will be interactive, bringing the voices of multiple stakeholders, including members of Young UN network.

About the co-hosts:

Working towards a vision of a UN that fully embodies the principles for which it stands, Young UN recognizes the need for genuine change in order for the UN to effectively meet the challenges of this century.

The Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation works on ethical leadership and the integrity of the international civil service builds on Hammarskjöld’s legacy with an aim to ensure the UN’s continued relevance and effectiveness in the face of contemporary global challenges.

The event will be held under the Chatham House rules and will not be recorded. A summary of the event will be published on this web page.

Mark your calendar, register below and share your participation in social media by using hashtags: #YoungUNTalks #YoungUN

“Trust young people, they are more than meets the eye”

Photo © UNODC / Mengting Li

Trust people more, especially young people. The more faith I’ve put in people to bear responsibility, the more impressed I’ve become. When you work with youth projects, almost all of your promotion has to run through this disaggregated network of volunteers, universities and online communities. These people, without any real incentives except that they are excited about our projects, have stepped up in impressive ways. We’ve gotten really explosive results based on little except asking for help from our friends. No one can tell me that people my age are apathetic or lazy. I’ve seen proof to the contrary.”

“Countries have gone to war because they’ve misinterpreted one another“(The Interpreter, 2005)

Photo © UNODC / Mengting Li
How is it like being an interpreter?
“Interpreting is a demanding job; it requires total concentration. According to a study, it is one of the three most stressful jobs, together with surgeons and fighter-jet pilots. Two interpreters must take turns in a booth during a normal 6-8 hours daily job to overcome fatigue and be up to the challenge.

People think that a thorough knowledge of languages is the main requirements for an interpreter a top level. I think that, perhaps, general knowledge, to be permanently updated on current affairs and studying thoroughly the discipline you will be servicing, be it social, scientific or technical, are equally important.”

What are the things at work that impressed you?
“One is, at times, taken aback by the dimension of the web of international meetings which is constantly taking place. You may think that it is a slow way of dealing with international relations or coordinating scientific standards or labour relations in the world. In fact, probably there is no easy democratic alternative to it and the lack of it could have sad consequences for co-existence.”

One thing that you learned from your work?
“After a life working with words you also learn that the real message is often somewhere else.”

Things happened at work that touched you?
“In a long life as a professional I had the chance of working with first rate politicians, film stars and other characters valued by society, but my most rewarding mission was working in prisons with life sentenced terrorist and common prisoners. The sewers of our society are full of suffering and could do with some attention, compassion and help.”

Things about yourself?
“I am probably a dynamic and outgoing person.
I write short stories and poetry, produce and stage shows. I have been a journalist and dubbed feature films. Love music and painting.
I was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, and I miss the ease of the place, the warmth of its people and the harbour’s smell.”

One biggest wish?
“To be able to contribute to peace and understanding.”

Any advice to give?
“I have no advice to give.”

Any regret in life?
“No, life is unpredictable; I take that as a learning challenge and willingly accept that the past does not lend itself to be modified.”

But what if UN didn’t exist?

Photo © UNODC / Mengting Li

Can you imagine if there was no place where the more and the less powerful nations can sit down and talk? It would be a chaos. Maybe world war III. Justice, freedom, and equality are long-term struggles, the struggles of the entire human history. And today, we are still a part of this history. It is clear that we have not attained the ultimate goal, and often we cannot provide a simple answer or a quick path to it, but we are trying hard to push things into that direction, and this process itself is also very hard.”

“A purpose driven person is the happiest, you just never know when that motivation will come to you”

Photo © UNODC / Mengting Li

Before coming to headquarters in New York, I worked on IT for a private bank in Switzerland. I have a specialized master degree in finance. But, since childhood, I have had a passion for geopolitics. I have always been interested in international affairs. I applied to a vacancy and passed the written exam, but it took me another year and a half to receive the offer. I was convinced that email must be a scam the moment I received it, as I had waited so long that I couldn’t believe it anymore.

I feel that people often tend to close themselves once they settle in their area. All they know then is what they deal with systematically every day, they may be good at it, but that’s it, it stops there, without reflection on the impact or the meaning of their doings and being, without realizing that there’s a bigger world out there that is not just composed by endless numbers at their desks, but people interlinked; a world that we shall all consciously be a part of, and a positive part of it.”