Training United Nations Diplomats
Columbia Law School to Design and Teach Alternative Dispute Resolution Curriculum With the Educational Arm of the United Nations
New York, May 26, 2016—Columbia Law School will develop a program to train U.N. diplomats and personnel in negotiation techniques and conflict resolution, under an agreement signed this week by Columbia University and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), based in Geneva, Switzerland.
The partnership grew out of a multi-year effort by Columbia Law School Professor Alexandra Carter ’03 to teach alternative dispute resolution to U.N. diplomats in New York City. Since 2012, Carter—the director of clinical education at the Law School and head of the Mediation Clinic—has led UNITAR’s negotiation workshops for women diplomats.
A champion of mediation as a critical tool in resolving conflicts, Carter envisions a larger and evolving international collaboration between UNITAR and Columbia University. She touts the global concerns and international reach of many of the Law School’s ten clinics, and credits Law School Dean Gillian Lester, the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, for making “international engagement a major pillar of her deanship.”
“Columbia Law School’s clinics move global and national policy developments, in addition to serving many individual clients,” said Carter. “Over the last decade, the Mediation Clinic has worked with transnational organizations like the United Nations, as well as foreign governments, federal and state courts, and law schools, to advance the practice of mediation, negotiation, and global peace building.
|U.N. Assistant Secretary General Nikhil Seth and Columbia Law School Dean Gillian Lester are all smiles after agreeing to enter into an innovative new partnership|
“The Mediation Clinic will be the focal and contact point for the new curriculum and trainings, though over time we expect to bring together many of our experts from other schools and disciplines. We are starting in New York—with the largest diplomatic corps—but we have already received requests for proposals abroad.”
‘Opportunities for Our Students’
Under the supervision of Carter and Lecturer in Law Shawn Watts ’12, Columbia Law School students in the Mediation Clinic work to resolve a wide range of real-world cases involving commercial, employment, housing, and family disputes. Carter sees great opportunities in the new UNITAR partnership for students who have already studied the basics of negotiation.
“Columbia Law School students will be intimately involved in the design of these training programs, they will assist in the classrooms, and they will have an opportunity for substantive interactions with diplomats and change agents from all over the world,” she said.
In addition to teaching her Law School courses, Carter has taught mediation to private- and public-sector groups, as well as to international academic audiences, and she serves on the Mediator Ethics Advisory Committee for the New York State Unified Court System. In January, Carter and Watts helped conduct the first Peace Summit at Tokyo’s International Christian University, where students, faculty, and diplomats from nine nations studied the policy and practice of mediation and peace building.
In 2012, UNITAR asked the Mediation Clinic to participate in the Women Negotiating Peace conference at the United Nations. Carter’s workshop--a first-of-its-kind training for female delegates—was organized in response to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, which promotes the participation of women in peace building efforts worldwide, noting they are “underrepresented in virtually all” governments.
“We were proud to be part of that first summit,” Carter recalled, “and right from the beginning, we could see the impact on the diplomats and also the incredible opportunities for our students. The U.N. asked us to return because of the tremendous feedback.”
Since then, the workshop has become an annual event, and participants have even come to the Law School for further training, attending the initial “boot camp” weeks of each semester’s Mediation Clinic. Starting in the fall, Carter and Watts will teach an Advanced Mediation Clinic, “in large part because of the U.N. partnership and all the substantive work we know it will generate for our students,” Carter said.
|Pictured left to right: Pelayo Alvarez, assistant to Mr. Suazo; Marco A. Suazo, Senior Advisor, Head of UNITAR New York Office; Nikhil Seth, Assistant Secretary General, UN; Columbia Law School Dean Lester; Alexandra Carter, Clinical Professor of Law; Julia Miller, Assistant Dean for Executive Education and Non-Degree Program; and Shawn Watts, Lecturer in Law|
At this week’s signing of the Law School’s agreement with UNITAR, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Nikhil Seth stressed the importance of gender equality. “He came up with an idea to hold training programs for women before the General Assembly and all other major U.N. meetings,” Carter said, “so that female diplomats feel equipped and empowered to enter the U.N.’s biggest arenas and advocate for themselves and their missions.”
In a statement released after this week’s meeting at Columbia Law School, UNITAR called the collaboration “crucial to equip members of this community with the capacity to navigate and contribute to the United Nations.”
Partnership with UNITAR
UNITAR was established in 1965 "for the purpose of enhancing the effectiveness of the United Nations.'' It provides short-term executive training to officials of member states as well as to representatives of civil society and the private sector. It works with an estimated 25,000 people around the world each year, through seminars and workshops, e-learning, and special events.
When Carter met earlier this year with the head of UNITAR’s New York office, Ambassador Marco Suazo, they came up with the same question: “Why are we talking about isolated programs when we could be talking about something so much greater?” remembered Carter. “We should be exploring everything that Columbia Law School and Columbia University bring to bear, in terms of teaching, intellectual leadership, and the ability to design a curriculum that will marry conflict resolution—which is a skill that cuts across all disciplines—with the U.N.’s 2030 agenda and its sustainable development goals. These goals include gender equality, eradicating poverty, access to justice, making sustainable cities, creating just institutions and protecting our environment.”
The agenda’s social justice goals align with the mission of the Columbia Law School clinics, which handle cases in such subject areas as international human rights, environmental law, community enterprise, and immigrants’ rights.
“Our clinics were founded to increase access to justice and to solve legal and social problems, to be a voice for those who need one, and to empower individuals, whether they live in New York City or Papua New Guinea, to access their rights and solve their own problems,” Carter said. “This partnership is a tremendous fit for our program.”
The New York diplomatic corps represents a wide variety of nations, from the world’s most- to least-developed states. Workshop participants will receive signed certificates of attendance from Columbia Law School and Columbia University, Carter notes, and the U.N. has expressed a desire to work toward a more formal credential, such as a certificate in conflict resolution and diplomacy.
“Our goal, over the next year and beyond, is to design and execute trainings that will reach hundreds of diplomats, and to combine our expertise in conflict resolution with substantive legal knowledge that will benefit all nations and all peoples,” Carter said.