Humanitarian Affairs and the United Nations: An Intern's Perspective

Article excerpt

A spirit of humanitarianism underpins every facet of the United Nations Charter. and it is arguably in humanitarian affairs along with peacekeeping, that the United Nations has achieved its most prominent role in world affairs. As a UN intern during the Fall of 1998. I felt very fortunate to be assigned to my area of first choice humanitarian affairs.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) provided an invaluable opportunity for me to be immersed in the daily management of international humanitarian crises and the ongoing policy-making processes aimed at preventing human suffering. I felt privileged to be able to work alongside a team of hard-working, talented Humanitarian Affairs officers who, on a daily basis, confronted widespread human suffering and conflict in their countries of responsibility. They also incurred a degree of personal risk when going regularly "on mission" to these countries to assess the level of humanitarian aid required, and ascertain death tolls, rebel movements and tactics, numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons, and the consequences of natural disasters.

I also felt fortunate to be able to attend meetings at which both UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata and Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson spoke eloquently about the challenges confronting their respective mandates on refugees and human rights, and then' strategies for addressing them.

Another highlight of my internship was an inspirational briefing provided by Olara Otunnu, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. Mr. Otunnu spoke convincingly to a consortia of non-governmental organizations on the imperative to eradicate the use of children in conflict roles, and eliminate their widespread "abuse" - physical and psychological - by parties to the conflict.

The final week of my internship saw OCHA resources strained to meet the dual emergencies of Hurricane Mitch in Central America and the possibility of United States military action against Iraq and their likely humanitarian consequences. The professionalism and promptness of OCHA's response, demonstrated dearly during this period, continues to be an integral part of the effectiveness of the humanitarian dimension of the UN mission. …

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