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How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?
I take inspiration from my father’s struggle. Growing up in the caste system, he not only experienced extreme poverty, but also intense discrimination. My father’s life and work as a government official was guided by a sense of fairness and justice; ideas that resonated with me. When I went to university, I saw caste and class divisions play out in a different generation and understood that I wanted to help create a society based on equality and justice. I respected the United Nations’ global outlook, and was drawn to its mission and the human rights and political issues that it handles.
Can you tell us about your educational background?
I did my Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy (Honours), St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University, India followed by a Diploma in Public International Law, Indian Academy for International Law and Diplomacy, New Delhi, India.
Subsequently, i enrolled for a Master of Arts in International Political Economy and Development, Fordham University, New York, United States. In 2002 i undertook a Master of Science in Management and Public Policy, New York University, United States
What languages do you speak?
I speak English, Hindi, Urdu and Spanish
Tell us about your work in United Nations?
I have come full circle at the United Nations. I joined the United Nations in New York in 2004 after a number of years at the Ford Foundation, a private organization dedicated to advancing human welfare. I served for several years in countries including Nepal and the Democratic Republic of Congo, handling discrimination and social exclusion issues – precisely what had drawn me to this career. My fieldwork included a range of jobs, from human rights monitoring in places where communities were in conflict to looking into cases of beatings, evictions, and segregated living. If there was conflict within communities, we often raised awareness on human rights to lessen discrimination. While United Nations observers cannot guarantee physical protection to people in volatile areas, our presence alone may deter hostile actors.
Subsequently, I returned to New York as a Human Rights Officer for the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR). In my current position, I am able to see the direct connection between my work in the field and what we do at Headquarters. In New York, we assist Member States on Security Council and General Assembly resolutions that give the Organization the mandate to operate in certain countries or regarding specific themes. The insights I gained from fieldwork enable me to brief and advise diplomats responsible for creating such mandates.
During intergovernmental negotiations, OHCHR’s role is to serve as a resource to governments that may have questions related to the issues. It is also our role to present the position of the Office of the High Commissioner. Following intergovernmental negotiations requires a good political sense and an awareness of how to read and react to people and their cultural and linguistic differences. There can be issues which are contentious and potentially polarizing among Member States. While it is not the role of the Secretariat to resolve issues between Member States, it is our role to provide the relevant information, clarification and procedures to support Member States to reflect their positions with a view to building consensus.
Because societies are evolving and complex, legal solutions are not the only ones. The United Nations is unique because it deals directly with representatives of nations. It provides a space between civil society and government – a role no other institution can fill.
Your advice to aspirants?
Applicants should remember that it requires patience not only to get a job but also to grow within the organization. This means having merit, emotional intelligence and endurance. A fundamental understanding of the United Nations Charter is crucial, and the Organization’s mission has to resonate with you.