Please tell us about yourself
Naresh says his Kiwi education was an excellent foundation for his current post as an advisor in the Office of the United Nations Secretary-General.
“The critical thinking I learned in New Zealand has been particularly important to my career,” says Naresh.
“It’s very valuable to be encouraged to come to your own conclusions.”
Naresh, who was born in Sri Lanka, gained a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor and Master of Laws at Victoria University in Wellington.
How was the experience studying in NewZealand?
I really enjoyed the experience. Meeting people from a range of different cultures and countries was good preparation for working at the United Nations.”
Naresh Perinpanayagam doubts he would have ended up working at the UN without the support and knowledge he gained from Victoria’s Faculty of Law
“While I love Auckland, I am very grateful for the international law expertise and encouragement from Victoria, and the confidence Wellington gave me, including through an internship at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.”
He credits Associate Professor Alberto Costi, whom he also worked for as a Research Assistant, as a particular source of inspiration and support. “I felt like his international law papers were like drinking out of a fire hose, but many years later I came to better appreciate his high standards.”
“I really appreciate the Kiwi values I learned in New Zealand, particularly at university,” he says.
“New Zealand is a small country, and that has fostered a spirit of outward engagement with the world. There’s a strong commitment to human rights.”
Naresh says his New Zealand education has left him with a unique perspective on the world. It gave him a strong connection with the Asia-Pacific region, a deep engagement with Māori history and culture, and an awareness of the need for gender equality.
“All of these things have been important in my work with the United Nations. When you go overseas, you realise that many countries are not nearly as progressive in areas like gender equality.”
New Zealand’s strengths in gender equality, cultural diversity and tolerance are also highlighted in The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Educating for the Future Index.
The index ranks New Zealand as the best country in the world at preparing students for the future.
For Naresh, the latest stage of his international career has been to take an academic sabbatical from the United Nations to study for a Masters in Public Administration at Harvard University in the United States.
He says an “unwritten value” he picked up in New Zealand has been a useful asset both at Harvard and the United Nations.
“The Kiwi way of doing things is really noticeable when you’re interacting with people from different countries. New Zealanders tend to be humble, which is a very effective way of dealing with others.”
On a visit to Wellington in 2012, Associate Professor Costi arranged for Naresh to give a lecture on UN peacekeeping.
What do you do at United Nations?
Naresh has been with the United Nations for the past 12 years, including in Geneva, Nepal and South Sudan, where he served as a peacekeeper. Most recently, he has worked for the United Nations in New York.
In his role in the Office of the Secretary-General, Naresh works for the senior official responsible for advising the Secretary-General on worldwide political, peacekeeping, humanitarian and human rights issues.
Naresh joined the UN in 2005 working in its human rights office in Geneva, supporting High Commissioner Louise Arbour’s work in Nepal. In 2008, he moved to southern Sudan as a human rights investigator with the UN peacekeeping operation, and in 2011 landed in New York at UN headquarters, where he remains today.
Naresh says his most rewarding work is in the field, in places like Nepal or South Sudan, where UN officials can really make a difference.
“In one notable case, I worked with South Sudanese lawyers in the remote state of Jonglei to help organise the rescue of abducted children, and the landmark prosecution of their abductors.”
In New York he worked for three years as a political officer in the UN peacekeeping department, where he worked closely with diplomats on the UN Security Council.
“A private bilateral meeting which I attended between the senior UN official in South Sudan and the US Ambassador to the UN after the December 2013 crisis in South Sudan was a career highlight—I saw a direct correlation between items discussed in that meeting and subsequent international policy changes on South Sudan.”
A personal highlight for Naresh was seeing New Zealand being elected to the Security Council.
Naresh still keeps in touch with a large number of friends he made at Victoria. “Many of those friendships were forged at the Backbencher pub!”
He met his wife Aditi in New York City, and they married this year. A proud kiwi, he’s really keen to move home to Tauranga at some point, and believes he will one day. “But for now, I’ve fallen in love with New York City!”