Kiwi UN Experiences

Below are some valuable experiences of New Zealanders who were either working for the United Nations, or in association with the work of the United Nations.

Alyn Ware won the 2009 right livelihood award for outstanding vision and work on behalf of our planet and its people  

"...for his effective and creative advocacy and initiatives over two decades to further peace education and to rid the world of nuclear weapons."
Here is his story ...

Alyn Ware, Peace campaignerIn 1988 on my way back to New Zealand from a Peace Walk in the Soviet Union, I stopped over in New York to visit the UN for the first time. While I was on the side-walk gazing at the famous UN General Assembly building, I happened to be greeted by the Rt Hon David Lange on his way to the UN from the New Zealand Mission to give another ground-breaking anti-nuclear speech. Our short conversation inspired me to stay on in New York to advocate for peace and disarmament – and I have been to just about every UN General Assembly since then.

This has given rise to numerous valuable experiences that showed me the value of the United Nations to facilitate positive change, and to build institutions, international law and treaty frameworks for a more peaceful and secure world.

In 1989, I started work for the World Federalists promoting the Draft Statute for an International Criminal Court (and the Draft Code of Crimes Against Mankind as it was called then). The initiative was stuck in the UN General Assembly 6th Committee (Legal Committee) and appeared to be going no-where due to resistance of most major States. Yet, in less than 10 years (not long in UN terms) we had established the International Criminal Court with over 100 States as Parties (now 122).

In 1993, following a series of UN resolutions and the convening of a Partial Test Ban Treaty Conference to call for a ban on nuclear tests, the Conference on Disarmament commenced negotiations on a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). However, negotiations were tough and some countries were not acting in good faith. In June 1995, just after winning the French election, President Jacques Chirac announced that France would resume nuclear testing. He also announced that he would travel to the UN the following week to make a proposal to the UN Security Council on the Bosnian-Serbian conflict. Anti-nuclear groups in New Zealand and the Pacific, knowing that I was in New York, asked if I could organise a protest against Chirac outside the UN. With little time and no resources to organise such a protest, and knowing that it would probably be ignored by media and not even seen by Chirac, I decided not to organise a protest outside the UN. Instead I planned to get into the UN to intercept Chirac somewhere in order to deliver the hundreds of protest letters to him that were being sent to me through my fax machine - including one signed by 95% of New Zealand parliamentarians. I managed to get inside the UN and gate-crash a press conference at which Chirac was going to address after his Security Council meeting. After his comments on the Bosnia-Serbia conflict, Chirac had time for two questions from the 100 plus media representatives, and by some stroke of luck he chose me as the second. At which time I denounced the nuclear tests and announced the peace movement boycott on French products causing all the cameras to shift from focusing on Chirac to focusing on me. I got into trouble with the UN Press Office, but it was worth it to get the boycott announcement covered by such a range of international press – and one year later the CTBT was adopted with the support of France.

My most exciting times at the UN were from 1992-1995, leading the UN lobbying team for a UN General Assembly resolution to take the case of nuclear weapons to the International Court of Justice (World Court), and then working on the case itself. The nuclear weapons States lobbied hard to prevent us, and were successful the first time the draft resolution was submitted to the UN. Most UN resolutions that are defeated disappear. What the Nuclear Weapon States did not expect was that we would return the following year, not only with the draft resolution, but with a commitment from the Non-Aligned Summit (i.e. the Heads of State of 105 countries) to submit and vote on the resolution. We thus got the resolution adopted in 1994 and moved onto the Court to achieve a ground-breaking result in 1996.

One of the most personally rewarding experiences I have had was when I led a delegation of parliamentarians for a small private meeting with the UN Secretary-General in October 2009 to discuss further support we could give for the Five Point Proposal for Nuclear Disarmament he released earlier that year. The meeting including parliamentarians from a range of countries including Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the United States. At the end of the meeting I decided to go out on a limb and propose something a UN Secretary-General had never done before – to bypass the government representatives at the UN Missions with whom the UN normally communicates - and send an official letter directly to every parliament in the world encouraging them take further actions to support his nuclear disarmament proposal. I expected that he would have to consult with his advisors who would probably have to check to see if he had authority to do this, and probably we would get a call from his office in two weeks saying that he did not have such authority. Instead, just 2 minutes after the close of the meeting as we were about to get into the elevators, his assistant ran out and tapped me on the shoulder to tell me that the UNSG had agreed. This letter has been incredibly helpful in increasing the engagement of parliaments globally in the issue of nuclear disarmament.


Dr Beth Greener, Lecturer in International Relations, Massey University.


“I visited UN headquarters in November 2007 in my capacity as an academic, spending a week visiting the UN Police Division at UNDPKO to help inform my new book on the rise of international policing. There I was surprised by two things. The first was the massive workload of the 33 staff in the Division who were not only expected to help recruit, oversee and manage some 13,000 UNPOL officers, but were also tasked with developing longer term strategies on issues as diverse as gender composition and the use of Formed Police Units (FPUs) in country. The second was the attitude of these people that I met. By and large these were people who were committed to trying to make a difference in the world, and who were working at great rates to try to improve the UN’s policing contribution to peacekeeping and other missions. They spoke stirringly of their hopes for increasing international peace and security by improving the UN’s capacity and capability to cope with the demands of peace missions, through various means such as the standardisation of police training, or the inculcation of human rights values within missions. I left there impressed with their commitment and awed at the impressive tasks that they face on a daily basis”.





Kate Yesberg – Intern.

“My story is about human rights, international development, and other fun stuff. For budding corporate lawyers or policy analysts, things can be quite simple – the path to a state sector internship or private clerkship is relatively straightforward. But if you’re looking to use your law degree to save the world, it’s a bit more difficult.


Last year, after getting itchy feet on exchange in Singapore, I decided to take the plunge and try my luck finding development work in Asia. It was a daunting task to being with. While thousands of agencies operate programmes in Asia, internships and volunteer positions are actually quite hard to come by, particularly if you’re not keen to pay exorbitant amounts for someone to organise it for you.


In February I took a trip to Aceh, the westernmost province of Indonesia. I have friends from Aceh in Wellington, so it was the first place on my visiting list. A professor of mine put me in touch with a kiwi couple working with Oxfam there. Through them I met the kids working at the UN Office of the Recovery Coordinator for Aceh and Nias (UNORC –, then I met the boss, then I sent in my CV, and in August I went back to begin an internship. These sorts of things are always a mixture of right place, right time, a little proactivity, a lot of persistence, and some luck.


So it came together for me, and it couldn’t have happened in a more amazing place. Aceh is the province which was worst hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. 160,000 people lost their lives in Aceh that day. The following year, a peace agreement between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Government of Indonesia ended 30 years of civil war. The combination of post-disaster and post-conflict recovery is a complex one. The massive amount of aid money sent to Aceh after the tsunami has put the province at the forefront of development. UNORC is itself a bit of an experiment in coordinating international aid, and acting as an interlocutor between the UN system and local government and NGOs.


I was working primarily under the post-conflict advisor to the UNs Recovery Coordinator, a tricky position as the UN doesn’t have a clear post-conflict mandate in Aceh. Our task was to ensure that development in Aceh is conflict sensitive and works to entrench peace in the province, rather than exacerbate old divides – an often politically touchy issue. Aceh’s legendary rebel leader, Hasan di Tiro, returned while I was there in November after 30 years of exile in Sweden. Thousands of former combatants flooded into Banda Aceh, the capital city, to see the man who spearheaded their struggle for independence – I was totally in awe, the emotion and devotion was pretty incredible. It is a really critical time in Aceh at the moment, initial post-tsunami reconstruction is winding down and attention is turning to this year’s elections and the part that Partai Aceh (GAM’s political manifestation) will play. So Tiro’s visit, and his support for the peace agreement, was incredibly significant.


In terms of studying law, it was a great insight into how a legal system develops after the dual tragedies of natural disaster and war; How do you rebuild land tenure systems when all registries and documentation were destroyed and village elders killed? How do you bring together people who have been at each others throats for decades to implement a new governance arrangement which redistributes a lot of wealth back to Aceh? How do you reconcile the new implementation of Shari’a law with international standards of human rights? How do you establish a truth and reconciliation commission without sparking serious political backlash? It’s interesting.


So that’s a little about the UN in Aceh, but you don’t really need to go that far a field to get a taste for development work. Wellington is a hub of human rights and development work, and while their internships are a little more ad hoc, they’re definitely out there. As a starter, take a look at,,,, and If you’re in town, pop up to Level 13 of Davis Langdon House, 49 Boulcott Street – that’s where most NGOs in Wellington hang out. It’s a bit daunting, but be tenacious, it’s do-able and guaranteed to provide food for thought as you try to figure out how you might be able to change the world”. 

James Kennelly – Intern

"I interned at the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Office from January - April 2008. I really enjoyed working for UN-NGLS and learnt a lot more about the UN and its interaction with civil society. My work involved supported the staff with research, database work, attending meetings, writing notes, and contributing to the publication of materials.


During my time there I attended a lot of side events including the Commission on Social Development and Commission of the Status of Women which are both functional commissions of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC). My internship was a fantastic experience and I would encourage all young people interested in the UN to do the internship. I enjoyed meeting the many interns and made friendships which will last into the future."

Do you have a story to share about working with the United Nations? 

Contact us at [email protected]