My week at the United Nations (UN)

Updated 22/01/2024

I was lucky enough to be sponsored on a study tour of the UN in Geneva last October. 

This wonderful trip came after my name was drawn as the prize winner from the pool of people who recruited more than five (5) new union members in 2023. 

The tour, run by the Victorian branch of the United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA), took us to sixteen (16) different UN offices, specialised agencies, and non-government organisations (NGOs) over the five (5) days.

We met with UN and other staff from all seniority levels and walks of life.

Some highlights were hearing some very unfiltered thoughts from the newly elected Secretary-General of WFUNA (World Federation of United Nations Associations, who knew such a thing existed!), and learning what it is like specialising in human rights in countries like Egypt and Libya from Amelia Bleeker at the Human Rights Council (UNHCR) (spoiler alert, very difficult).

The biggest high point however was hearing from Gillian Triggs, Assistant Secretary General at the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR).
Gillian had many interesting things to say about the current state of the refugee sector, the challenges she is facing in this role (like needing to negotiate with the Taliban but they refused to speak to her because she is a woman), and Australia’s part in the refugee space and the UN in general.

Many of the people we met with were not shy in talking about their experiences in the UN system, good and bad.

Most of them believed there are huge flaws in a system that relies on the wants and needs of member states (especially the Big 5 on the Security Council), however, they believe strongly in the work happening on the ground for some of the most vulnerable people in our society, outside of the egos and politics of nation states.

We were shepherded though these meetings by our hugely knowledgeable tour guide, Carlisle Richardson.

Carlisle is a former ambassador for St. Kitts and Nevis to the UN and had some incredible stories to tell us (including being in the General Assembly while Colonel Gaddafi gave a 3-hour speech and avoiding eye contact with Robert Mugabe after he waved to him on the escalators!!).

Overall, it was an amazing trip that I am very thankful to have been sent on as a representative of the union and of the VEC.

I have come back with an enormous appreciation for the work the UN does, despite the drawbacks of their system.

Come and chat to me if you would like to learn a bit about the Sustainable Development Goals and the ways we can work towards them.

I highly encourage anyone interested in international work to check out the work of the UNAA and get involved!

I am also extremely grateful to CPSU for organising this competition and sending me on this incredible trip.

Katrina Kiernan-Walker works at the Victorian Electoral Commission