On January 23, 2015 the International Law Society (ILS) from the University of Baltimore School of Law visited the United Nations (UN) in New York City. The Presbyterian Ministry at the UN hosted ILS, arranged for a number of speakers to discuss human rights law, and facilitated a tour of the UN.* The overall theme of the visit suggested that greater cooperation and action is needed across both legal and social regimes in order to enhance the strength of human rights law internationally.
Our first speaker was Shulamith Koenig, the Founding President of the People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning (formerly known as People’s Decade for Human Rights Education). She founded the Movement in 1988 with the goal of creating, in the words of Nelson Mandela, “a new political culture based on human rights—and to enable women and men alike to participate in the decisions that determine their lives, and live in community in dignity with one another, moving from charity to dignity guided by the holistic human rights framework.” Mrs. Koenig’s invigorating discussion focused on the inalienability of human rights. She asserted that in order to address human rights abuses, we need to consider human rights as a “framework”, not an “approach.” This framework ultimately requires that every human have the knowledge that they hold human rights and are entitled to dignity. As a strategy for human, social and economic development, Mrs. Koenig advocates for meaningful grassroots discussions to effect change through learning about human rights as a way of life.
Renzo Pomi then spoke to our group regarding Amnesty International’s role in the preservation and promotion of human rights. Mr. Pomi is a human rights lawyer with over 30 years experience in the field. He is currently Amnesty International’s Representative at the United Nations, covering areas of human rights and humanitarian law in armed conflict and post conflict settings, international justice and accountability, among others. He is also responsible for Amnesty International’s institutional work at the Organization of American States, in particular the strengthening of the Inter-American Human Rights System. Mr. Pomi spoke about the importance of a legal education in the field of human rights. He further addressed how an international human rights framework is critical to the development of human rights law.
John Washburn spoke to ILS regarding the need for the U.S. to ratify the Rome Statute and become a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Mr. Washburn has an extensive career in diplomacy and international governmental and non-governmental organizations. He was a director in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and thereafter was a director in the Department of Political Affairs at the United Nations. He is currently the Convener of the American Non-Governmental Organizations Coalition for the International Criminal Court (AMICC), co-chair of the Washington Working Group on the International Criminal Court (WICC), and a past president of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. Mr. Washburn’s discussion on the validity of the ICC focused on the legitimacy of the Court. He emphasized the secular nature of the Court and its focus on justice. He categorized the Court’s aim of justice as punitive justice that is redemptive. For proponents of the ICC, the ICC allows for international acknowledgement of the harm done by perpetrators, which ultimately provides reprieve to victims of crimes when moving forward with their lives.
Finally, we met with Janette Amer, Human Rights Adviser of UN Women, who discussed equality and gender balance as a human rights issue. She discussed the importance of The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), its achievements and the challenges ahead. In particular, Ms. Amer identified the need for sustainable equality efforts under both the UN and other entities. “The humanity of women alone is insufficient to ensure human rights,” Ms. Amer noted. Ms. Amer emphasized the importance of campaigns, such as HeForShe, in enhancing the substantive opportunities women have. These types of campaigns emphasize not only that women be equal under the law, but also in reality, with their everyday experiences and opportunities. These types of campaigns are of particular importance given the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action this year.
The seminars’ emphasis on human rights reminds us of one of the purposes of the United Nations: “To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.” The seminars demonstrated the intermingling of various parties’ perspectives regarding human rights. It showed how activists, NGOs, judicial bodies and the UN itself react and promote human rights laws across the globe. The most effective way of achieving these purposes is ultimately through the domestic implementation of international human rights law.
*The International Law Society would like to sincerely thank the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, specifically The Rev. W. Mark Koenig, Director, Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, for organizing this wonderful event.
Natalie Krajinovic is a University of Baltimore School of Law J.D. candidate (’15), with a concentration in Business Law. She holds an Honors Bachelor of Arts in English and East Asian Studies from the University of Toronto, St. George. Natalie has always had an interest in international law and policy. While studying at the University of Toronto, she was the Editor-in-Chief of the Toronto Globalist, an international relations magazine with chapters across the globe. She currently serves as the President of the International Law Society and as the Comments Editor for the Journal of International Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Natalie is also a law clerk for John H. Denick & Associates, P.A., a business law firm in downtown Baltimore and is an intern with International Rights Advocates in Washington, D.C.
 About the Court, International Criminal Court, http://www.icc-cpi.int/en_menus/icc/about%20the%20court/Pages/about%20the%20court.aspx (last visited Jan. 31, 2015).
 U.N. Charter art. 1(2).