by: April Karnette Sotto Maniacup
Internship at the UN Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and Responsibility to Protect
Restricted, classified, and highly confidential—those were the type of documents I was exposed to during my internship with the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and Responsibility to Protect (OSAPG). Everyday, I received hundreds of pages of information from different UN sources, which I read, digested, and later summarized and appropriated in our framework of analysis. Some were cabled reports from UN missions—papers that went straight to the shredder once read.
The countries that fell under my daily radar were Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic (CAR), Mali, and Myanmar. In addition to this, I was tasked with researching and preparing a background note on the conflict in Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. I was also in charge of updating the database for Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, and Egypt that was used by the cartographic section department to map human rights violations in those countries. Likewise, I did some ad-hoc research assignments on Egypt during the height of protests and tensions between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood as a preparation for the briefing of the newly appointed Special Adviser on Responsibility to Protect (R2P), Ms. Jennifer Welsh.
I thought that was already the mind-blowing, heart-skipping part of my job together with the weekly meeting and briefing of Special Adviser Adama Dieng on the developments of the countries under my watch. But I was wrong. After my first two weeks in the office, my supervisor asked me to assist in preparing the weekly and monthly reports, which were disseminated across the United Nations System.
It was overwhelming at first, as it meant fulfilling my usual daily reports side by side with the bigger responsibility of these new tasks. But instead of stressing out about these additional assignments, I saw the opportunity to learn more, expand my knowledge, and take the experience to my advantage. Likewise, the confidence exemplified by my colleagues in my work motivated me to do my best to deserve their trust. It was by far the biggest responsibility ever placed on my shoulders. All that information not only meant my life, but of millions of people whose lives rely on the careful handling of those data. Before I ended a meeting with my supervisor, she said, “April, I know it’s a lot of work but I assure you that you will learn a lot. I want you to walk out from this office with a wealth of knowledge and the necessary skills you need to further your career.”
I was speechless. It was then when I realized that wearing a UN ID meant much more than its perks and privileges and the pride I felt for working in some ‘fancy, shiny organization.’ It meant work, very hard work—more so, responsibility. Little by little, I began to adjust to the workload. My colleagues were very patient in helping me throughout my learning process.
Things got busier in the subsequent weeks due to the upcoming 68th UN General Assembly (GA). Our office was preparing for some high-level side-events and the annual debate on R2P. We were understaffed during that time, so we all had to work closely together in order to accomplish our tasks. I also accompanied Mr. Dieng to his periodic meeting with the non-government organizations (NGOs) and other senior staff in their inter-agency meetings from where I gained perspectives of other organizations and UN agencies.
I was very excited and I felt it was such good timing to be working with the UN during the GA. It meant more work but it was interesting to see the shift in the environment and how the security became very tight as leaders from around the world convened in one place to talk about the pressing issues that need utmost attention and swift actions. I was able to attend high-level and ministerial side events and heard heads of state and other senior government officials debate over national and global concerns, such as poverty eradication, climate change, human rights, and a range of peace and security issues. I was also present at some events graced by UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. I was very grateful to be at a place where history was happening and meet all those high-profile personalities who are the ones who decide for the world.
But it was not just about office work, diplomacy, and all those gentlemen wearing black suits. Those two months exposed me to the world that I am very ignorant of. There were times when tears just fell from my eyes as I read about the plights of other people who were far away from where I comfortably sat. The experience pricked the bubble I am in and made me feel more connected to what is “out there.”
Whenever I passed by protesters in front of the UN buildings on my way home, I always made sure to stop for a while, and momentarily feel the emotions that were lingering within the assembly—things that I would never fully grasp nor understand no matter how many hundreds of papers and information I read. I believe that the most valuable thing I learned from the whole experience was awareness. It is the constant effort to battle a life of indifference—for the greatest tragedy of our world today is apathy. Awareness is the first step, but it should not end there.
I also realized that there are so many issues and problems in this world—one need not get his/her hands on all of those things, but having an advocacy and choosing those that one feels most strongly about could already make a lot of difference.
Two days before I left, the whole office surprised me. I was told that we will have the usual team meeting, but when I opened the door, everyone was there—it was a farewell party for me. I was out of words. They said they are very grateful for my hard work and appreciative of all the efforts I put—for my heart, for using it as a compass in everything I do.
“We’ll see you again,” they said.
I walked out from the door, with a photo of the whole team during my surprise party, hanging on the office wall.