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05 January 2021

Our Condolences on Rep. Jamie Raskin's Loss

The Board of Directors and staff of the UN Association of the National Capital Area wish to express our deepest condolences to Representative Jamie Raskin (MD-8) for the recent loss of his beloved son at age 25 to depression.  

Rep. Raskin announced his son's death on New Year's Eve and the family launched The Tommy Raskin Memorial Fund for People and Animals that will benefit the charities he championed, including the Helen Keller Institute and Animal Outlook through the Greater Washington Community Foundation.

The family published an emotional tribute describing Tommy as "a radiant light in this broken world."  The Raskins detailed Tommy's lifelong penchant for helping others, describing him as a "daring outspoken defender of all outcasts and kids in trouble" who "always made time for the loneliest kids in class" at every stage of life.

There are no words to describe the unbearable sorrow the family, friends, colleagues and community must feel. This is a reminder of the need for greater attention to mental health as we work on building a more sustainable future for all.

23 December 2020

Happy Holidays from UNA-NCA

As 2020 draws to a close, we reflect with gratitude on the many lessons learned and are hopeful for what lies ahead. 

This has been an unprecedented year full of challenges and hardships for everyone. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop UNA-NCA from being there for its members and supporters, and it didn’t stop our leaders and staff from pushing through and overcoming obstacles to succeed.

We were tested, perhaps like never before, and through it all we've been reminded of our strength and resolve. In record time, we successfully transitioned our programming to virtual platforms, significantly increasing our outreach and visibility within and beyond our jurisdiction.

This year:

  • UNA-NCA enhanced its digital advocacy capabilities during the pandemic and conducted several virtual meetings with legislators. Over 800 people were engaged in the new “Coffee Chat” series that brought together corporate leaders, policy experts, and UNA-NCA members to explore the SDGs in a virtual roundtable format. Snapshots was introduced with significant blog contributions, policy briefs and SDG spotlights. See more here
  • UNA-NCA’s Global Classrooms DC program adapted its curriculum for online learning, conducted monthly virtual Model UN committee sessions, renewed its partnership collaborations and executed an entirely virtual training conference engaging over 130 participants on the topic of access to vaccines and affordable medicines. See more here
  • UNA-NCA’s Young Professionals Program offered virtual career and mentoring opportunities, and the Graduate Fellows Program grown significantly both in its demand and participation as well as the quality of the program’s offerings.
  • To mark the UN’s 75th anniversary, UNA-NCA held public consultations on how the UN must evolve to meet today’s challenges. A UN75 Consultation Report was submitted to the UN Secretary-General for review during the United Nations General Assembly. Two high level programs on the future of the UN and the SDGs took place in October, involving members of congress, diplomats and UN leaders.  
  • Our recent Human Rights Awards was a resounding success, celebrating inspiring human rights leaders and reaching a record number of participants and sponsors. You can watch the video here

I am amazed not only at how much we have been able to accomplish but at the solidarity, compassion, and resilience demonstrated through the adversity of 2020. We have endured much, taken on more than we may have thought possible, and held our heads high through it all. 

On behalf of everyone at UNA-NCA, I wish you and your loved ones a safe and peaceful holiday season and New Year.

With much appreciation,
Paula Boland
UN Association of the National Capital Area

Consider supporting UNA-NCA this holiday season. DONATE HERE!

21 December 2020

Global Classrooms DC: Year in Review

Curious what GCDC has done to transition Model UN programs online in 2020? Check out major highlights below!

Virtual Programming

Although the Spring 2020 Model UN Conference was cancelled, the GCDC team quickly transitioned to an online model in March. We quickly began offering virtual Model UN committee sessions using topics meant for the Spring Conference, as well as a Professional Development session for our educators. In addition to translating our Model UN programming virtually, we also adapted the entire year-round program in the summer so that it could be facilitated virtually, including distance learning guidance for all activities and a guide for conducting Model UN on a virtual platform. 

Monthly Virtual Model UN Sessions

Beginning in September, the GCDC team held monthly 1 hour virtual Model UN sessions centered around the mini Model UN simulations included in the GCDC Year-Round curriculum. Over the course of 4 months, GCDC executed 5 virtual sessions for schools signed up for the program, as well as workshops with individual schools, with a total attendance of 96 students across all 5 sessions. Each session focused on critical skills necessary for success in Model UN, including an overview of Model UN basics and a deep dive into public speaking. We also brought UN experts directly to virtual classrooms and held a session in partnership with the International Labour Organization focused on this year’s Spring Conference topic on Occupational Safety & Health.

Of the 51 students surveyed across the 5 sessions, 96% reported that they would like to attend another Virtual Model UN session. We look forward to the sessions we have prepared for the spring, including a webinar with the International Organization for Migration!

Fall 2020 Model UN Training Conference

The GCDC team successfully held our annual Fall Model UN Training Conference virtually for the first time! Over the course of three committees, 125 students from 11 schools debated issues related to the topic of  “Access to Vaccines and Affordable Medicines.” This year’s conference also featured a special-edition crisis committee, where delegates were faced with an Ebola outbreak. As a result of the conference, of the 94 students surveyed, 92% reported having a better understanding of the conference while 79% felt more confident applying problem solving and leadership skills in a group setting. Read more about the Fall 2020 Model UN Training Conference here.

Planning for the Spring

Despite the challenges that 2020 has brought to the program, we are impressed by the resilience of our students, educators, and parents. Looking into Spring 2021, the GCDC team is currently planning our annual Spring 2021 Model UN Conference, virtual Model UN sessions and webinars, and a Professional Development with Best Delegate. We look forward to working with you all in the Spring. Whether it be hybrid or virtual, we are ready for 2021!

Want to learn more about Model UN? Watch our Intro to Model UN webinar here.

Interested in GCDC? Learn more about the program here.

Stay connected with GCDC! 


17 December 2020

UNA-NCA Hosts Successful Virtual Human Rights Awards

By Danielle Black, UNA-NCA Program Assistant

On the evening of Thursday, December 10th, 2020, the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) hosted its first virtual Human Rights Awards program, an event put forth annually to commemorate the anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In honor of the 72nd anniversary of the adoption of this milestone document, UNA-NCA recognized individuals and organizations working to improve human rights in the DC community and around the world. This year’s honorees were: Dean Claudio Grossman, recipient of the Louis B. Sohn Human Rights Award; Professor Susan Deller Ross, receiving the Perdita Huston Human Rights Award;  Erin Barclay & Scott Busby, receiving the F. Allen “Tex” Harris Diplomacy Award; and the People for Fairness Coalition, receiving the Community Human Rights Award.  In addition to the award recipients, the event included notable presenters such as the President of the International Law Student Association at the Washington College of Law at American University, Jaclyn Lahr; former Supervising Attorney & Teaching Fellow at the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic at Georgetown Law, Michelle Liu; Ambassador Keith Harper (Ret), former U.S. Representative to the UN Human Rights Council; and Executive Director of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, Patricia Mullahy Fugere. The evening also included wonderful performances from Cage Free Voices.  Cage Free Voices is an international multi-service educational entertainment company that educates youth and young adults who struggle with self-image by way of constructing powerful learning experiences.

UNA-NCA Board Chair, Stephen F. Moseley, kicked off the program with welcome remarks. Moseley talked about the future Biden-Harris Administration needing “to start the process of re-engaging the United States in the Human Rights Council and to help people seeking asylum and protect them from attacks on their human rights.”  He then introduced UNA-NCA PresidentPaula Bolandwho started off by saying: “the UDHR is a milestone document that entails the inalienable rights that all human beings are entitled to, today we acknowledge the importance of this document and human rights.” She then continued on to say “we need to create equal opportunities for all, highlight the failures exploited by the Covid-19 pandemic and apply human rights to end systematic discrimination, corruption, and inequalities.” 

Following Boland’s remarks, we heard from the Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres who remarked upon the various human rights violations that the Covid-19 Pandemic has impacted upon different endangered communities including “frontline workers, women and girls, and minorities.” Next, Michele Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights declared, “Human Rights Day is a call to action and we must end discrimination of any kind, reduce widespread inequalities, encourage young people to participate and finally to work towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and stand up for human rights.”

After messages from UN Leadership, UNA-NCA presented the first award of the evening to Dean Claudio Grossman, Professor and Dean Emeritus at the American University Washington College of Law. Grossman said upon receiving the award that “Covid-19 has been a tragic reminder of the need for equality because Covid effects us all, we need then together to unite forces to avoid and prevent other challenges that we are facing in the future and now, such as climate change, discrimination, and authoritarianism.”

The Perdita Huston award was presented to Professor Susan Deller Ross, who is the Director of the  International Women's Human Rights Clinic at Georgetown Law. She spoke about her efforts to help “develop legislation and human rights reports to persuade parliament to get rid of old laws and enact new ones that do not discriminate against women.”  She was presented the award by her former student, now friend and colleague, Michelle Liu. This award was followed by a moving and passionate spoken word piece by Cage Free Voices titled “The Righteous Ones” that paid tribute to and spoke about the evening’s honorees along with the namesakes of the awards. 

The presentation of the F. Allen “Tex” Harris Diplomacy Award was awarded to Erin Barclay and Scott Busby of the U.S. Department of State. The presentation of this award was preceded by a tribute to Tex Harris, who passed earlier this year. Past President Ed Elmendorf described him as an “advocate for human rights in Argentina and a wonderful family man.” After receiving the award, Barclay, who serves as the Executive Director of the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs at the U.S. Department of State shared that “Pursuing human rights isn’t just the right thing to do: it protects America and sets a precedent. When the U.S. talks about human rights, other countries pay attention and strive towards better human rights.” Scott Busby, who serves as the Acting Principal Deputy Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State followed Barclay echoing her thoughts and adding “Harris’s foreign policy work still influences all those who are American diplomats, it not only puts people in the center of foreign policy but also has a dedication of speaking truth to power and an unwavering devotion of justice and fairness whether it is our own diplomats or people overseas.” 

The final award of the night was presented to the Community Award to People for Fairness Coalition, accepted by its Director, Robert Warren. He spoke about the plight of the homeless population of Washington, DC and their work to help end homelessness. Warren spoke about the coalition and their “work in support of the most vulnerable residents of DC.  It is hard work and we try and do it with dignity and respect for all.” The night wrapped up with remarks from UNA-NCA Human Rights Committee Co-Chair Rachel Bergseiker who was followed by Cage Free Voices’ second performance, a spoken word piece entitled “Greatness is Served.”

Special thanks were conveyed to UNA-NCA’s Human Rights Committee, leadership, staff and to our generous sponsors and donors who made this a great celebration of Human Rights Day.

01 December 2020

Students at the Fall 2020 Model UN Training Conference Tackle Access to Vaccines, Ebola Outbreak Crisis

From November 16th to 19th, GCDC held its annual Fall Model UN Training Conference in partnership with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). Global Classrooms DC, the flagship education program of the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA), has been partnering with PAHO, the Latin American branch of the World Health Organization, for 17 years. Each fall, we host a Training Conference to introduce several hundred students to Model United Nations, where they adopt a nation and debate pressing global issues with other delegates. 

This year’s conference was unique as it was GCDC’s first-ever virtual conference due to COVID-19 restrictions on in-person gatherings. This year’s conference featured 4 committees of no more than 50 students, each held over the course of two days to combat “Zoom fatigue.” The GCDC team were thankful for flexibility from students, chaperones, and conference staff as we all navigated the new format. 

Despite the circumstances, GCDC was pleased to have 126 students from 11 schools attend across the 4 committee sessions. For many of the students, who were in 5th to 12th grade, this was their first Model UN experience.

Each committee session was opened by Paula Boland, President of UNA-NCA, with brief remarks. The GCDC team is thankful to have also had Dr. Ok Pannenborg serve as the keynote speaker for this year’s conference. Dr. Pannenborg has worked in over 20 nations around the world in his time at the World Health Organization, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Bank (as the chief health advisor), among other organizations. He delivered a speech on the importance of international cooperation in achieving global health goals, especially as it relates to access to vaccines in the current coronavirus pandemic. Finally, GCDC’s Senior Global Education Manager, Jaiya Lalla discussed her experience with Model UN and explained the logistics of the virtual conference to the delegates. 

GCDC would also like to thank PAHO for their support for this year’s conference. Although the conference was not able to be held at the PAHO building, they provided excellent resources and an informative video on the importance of vaccines.

General Assembly Committees (1-3)

Given the circumstances surrounding the conference, the topics of debate couldn’t have been more timely. In the three General Assembly committees, delegates focus on the topic of “Access to Vaccines and Affordable Medicines.” Delegates began by delivering speeches about their nations’ experiences with outbreaks and stances on access to vaccines and other medicines. Soon, they began holding unmoderated caucuses, an informal period where each delegation strives to find common ground and form blocs with other like-minded nations. Eventually, after several hours of productive debate and writing across 2 committee sessions, the blocs completed their working papers, each containing specific, creative policy proposals to ensure fair and efficient distributions of affordable medicines. 

In Committee 1, which took place in sessions on Monday and Tuesday morning, 28 delegates represented 16 countries. Overall, out of the two produced draft resolutions, the committee passed one resolution that prioritized vaccine distribution to countries with the most number of COVID-19 cases and in densely populated areas, raising income tax to pay for the vaccine, supplying vaccines in pharmacies and hospitals, and encouraging multilateral coordination in addressing this global pandemic. 
In Committee 2, 28 delegates represented 17 countries, producing two draft resolutions through the two committee sessions on Wednesday and Thursday. The passing resolution recommended the creation a global fund for pandemic response funded by UN member states, improving education on vaccines, and advocating for global action against counterfeit vaccines.

Lastly, Committee 3 featured 53 delegates that represented 27 countries. Despite the large committee size, delegates produced 6 draft resolutions that focused on various facets of promoting affordable vaccines and medicines, including providing quality healthcare, combating misinformation on vaccines, lowering supply chain costs, and establishing microfinancing mechanisms for developing countries. 

Crisis Committee

This year, the conference also featured a UN Security Council crisis committee for the first time. The crisis committee served as a training session for seasoned Model UN delegates who had experience at at least three prior Model UN conferences, but limited crisis committee experience. Session 1 began with an announcement of a new outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Sierra Leone. Delegates became familiar with the fast-paced nature of crisis committees and writing directives, or shorter versions of typical resolutions. By the end of Session 1, delegates passed two directives that highlighted the urgent needs of fund creation for containment efforts, enhancement of the medical delivery system, and increasing input of research and medical professionals. 

In Session 2, delegates were confronted with another crisis update that reversed their progress in their previous session - the UN aid convoy, carrying medical supplies and personal protective equipment was attacked by an armed group on its way to Sierra Leone hospitals. Delegates had an hour and a half before violent action was taken by the local government. This session was designed to prompt delegates to consider the real-world impact of their policy recommendations and how crisis committees can collaborate with each country to solve urgent crises globally. With minutes to spare, the committee unilaterally passed two directives that emphasized the redistribution of the WHO trust fund, enhancement of security for the medical supplies, and implementation of mental health programs for frontline workers and patients, etc.

The Fall Training Conference is part of a year-long curriculum for students who care about their global and local communities. With the collaboration of its partners, GCDC creates a curriculum that uses Model United Nations to cultivate an international perspective, promote understanding of the UN system, and encourage students to interact with others from diverse backgrounds. The curriculum is used by middle schools and high schools from across DC, Maryland, and Virginia, and is an opportunity for students to become more active local and global citizens by being exposed to larger issues and different viewpoints. 

The Global Classrooms DC Fall Model UN Training Conference is implemented by the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area, which is a chapter of UNA-USA. Each spring, GCDC also hosts a competitive Model UN conference. You can find out more information on our website.

24 November 2020

2020 Community Human Rights Award Conversation

In 2008, DC was declared the first human rights city in the United States. A human rights city is defined as one whose residents and local authorities, through learning about the relevance of human rights to their daily lives, join in ongoing learning, discussions, systematic analysis, and critical thinking at the community level, to pursue a creative exchange of ideas and the joint planning of actions to realize their economic, social, and cultural as well as civil and political human rights.
As this definition alludes, human rights are relevant to the daily lives of all DC residents. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home”.However, for many in the nation’s capital, the 25th Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not only relevant. It’s paramount.  
Article 25 of the UDHR reads: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

DC’s 2020 point-in-time count found 6,380 individuals experiencing homelessness on Jan. 22, 2020. The economic fallout from COVID-19 could likely cause this number to have risen/rise. 

Robert Warren and the People for Fairness Coalition are working to make sure the human right to housing is upheld for all DC residents. Robert serves as the Director of the People for Fairness Coalition (PFFC). PFFC’s mission is to empower people to end housing instability in the Washington DC Metropolitan area through advocacy, outreach, and peer mentoring.
PFFC makes their position on housing clear in everything they do. In testimony given to the DC Council, written in Sharpie on poster boards at rallies, PFFC reiterates what the UDHR states: Housing is a human right. 

For Robert, DC’s status as a human rights city has the power to realize this right. However, while Robert is proud that DC is a human rights city, he believes there is a lot of work to be done to live up to that commitment. DC’s status as a human rights city “should mean something to [elected officials]. It should be reflected in their public policies.” 

People-For-Fairness-Coalition-2015-Vigil_Photo-by-Matailong-Du-for-Street-SenseFor PFFC, this means the development of strategies and policies that would increase access to affordable and sustainable housing for DC residents. Since 2013, PFFC has been working towards this goal through its Universal Right to Housing Campaign. When asked what policies changes would reflect DC’s commitment to the 25th article of the UDHR, Robert is not at a loss for answers: housing costs should not exceed one-third of income, elimination of the waiting list for housing assistance, availability of housing vouchers for those who qualify, diversion of tax dollars from luxury apartments to affordable housing units, safe and clean housing affordable housing, the creation of social housing.

Robert is an effective and empathetic leader of PFFC and this campaign due to his own life experiences with housing instability. Robert, as well as his family members, have experienced homelessness at different points throughout his life. Because of this, Robert understands the resounding impact of this basic need. Robert emphasizes that homelessness creates long-term problems mentally, physically, and spiritually. It traumatizes those who experience it. Stable housing goes a long way in addressing these issues. It also creates more stable communities. 

With Robert at its helm, PFFC has had a tangible impact on securing the right to housing for DC residents. Robert’s proudest accomplishments from his career are triumphs he has helped achieve for others. PFFC helped address sleep deprivation in shelters by advocating for 4 additional hours of access. They advocated for the creation of the Adams Place Day Center and PFFC members served as mentors after it opened. Robert is also especially proud of the work he and PFFC have done for homeless veterans. 

Despite these successes, the work to secure the human right to housing for all Washingtonians continues. Any article celebrating the work of Robert Warren and the People for Fairness Coalition would be remiss not to mention their ongoing dedication to their mission. 
Currently, Robert and PFFC are working towards securing homeless individuals as a protected class under the DC Human Rights Act. The Michael A. Stoops Anti-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2019 would do exactly that. This bill is currently being considered by the DC Council. 
While Robert admits the past few months have been challenging, he remains hopeful. In his words, “The revolution goes on.” 

17 November 2020

2020 Perdita Huston Honoree Conversation

This year’s Perdita Huston awardee, Professor Susan Deller Ross, has an exceptional record in advancing the rights of women and girls domestically and internationally. In a uniquely fascinating and exciting conversation with her, I was able to learn more about the evolution of women’s rights and how much of a significant role Professor Ross played in creating real change for so many women worldwide.

Prof. Susan Ross' interest in human rights and women’s rights law started early. As a young woman, she traveled extensively and quickly learned that women in different cultures and societies deal with similar issues that result from the lack of equal rights. During her time in the Peace Corps, serving in Ivory Coast, she focused on providing pregnant women and their children with better nutritional options, as protein sources such as eggs and chicken were often reserved for older men. This striking inequality painted a very clear picture of women needing to fight for equal rights.

When she came back to the US and began her studies at law school, she became deeply involved in issues that women were dealing with in the US. She focused on assisting women domestically by advocating for legislation or litigating to give women equal rights at work, protect victims of domestic violence, and achieve family and medical leave.  This work led her to become more interested in international human rights law and how it could be used to help women win equal rights in all countries. 

In the early 90s, the conversation about human rights started focusing more on women's rights, and Professor Ross felt that developing and teaching courses on international human rights law was timely and important. These classes touched on the specific issues that women deal with around the world, and she hoped that discussing these issues with her students would add to their knowledge about international and regional human rights treaties and would spark their interest in a topic that was not commonly focused on in most law schools. 

In 1998, Professor Ross established the International Women's Human Rights Clinic at Georgetown Law.  Through the Clinic, she and the Clinic’s Supervising Attorney and Teaching Fellow and their students have advocated for women's rights to equality and non-discrimination in the areas of marriage, divorce, and family; fought for equal rights to property and inheritance for marginalized rural women; defended women's and girls' rights to be free from gender-based violence and sexual abuse; and many other rights. 


The Clinic and its human rights partners in other countries have been behind major strategic litigation.  They have won cases in domestic courts and before the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  Some abolished the marital power of husbands over their wives.  Others struck down laws that deny women equal rights to divorce and inheritance.  Another found a violation in laws that made unwed mothers solely responsible for their children, while giving their unwed partner “optional paternity” rights.  That is, unwed fathers were free to completely ignore their children, including any obligation to provide for them.  Still another freed married women from the adultery crime that applied only to them and not to the married men who committed the same act.


The Clinic and its partners also won legislative victories.   The new statutes gave women equal rights in employment and protection against human trafficking, domestic violence, and female genital mutilation.  In all its work, the Clinic always uses ratified international and regional human rights treaties as one basis for its arguments.   It works closely with domestic human rights partners which are equally committed to the goal of domestic change in the constitutions or statutes of their countries, in order to comply with the country’s treaty obligations and protect human rights for everyone, but especially women.  Women need special attention because they are so frequently negatively affected by laws that blatantly discriminate against them or fail to protect them from egregious forms of violence and discrimination. 

Professor Ross and her colleagues and students, working in the Clinic, quickly realized that international treaties provide a powerful weapon for women in many societies, teaching them their rights and encouraging domestic and international pressure that eventually leads to substantial changes in outdated and oppressive laws. For example, one of the cases the clinic took on involved a court challenge to the customary inheritance law in Tanzania that excluded women from being able to inherit land and own property.   It also prevented them from serving as administrators of an estate.  When the courts ruled that the law was discriminatory but refused to issue a remedy, the Clinic and its partner, the Women’s Legal Aid Centre in Tanzania, took the case to the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  The Committee ruled that the law violated Tanzanian women’s CEDAW rights to equal treatment under the law with their husbands, and that the courts also violated their CEDAW rights by refusing to grant a remedy, as the treaty required.  Today, the Clinic is working with partners in Malawi on a proposal to grant women the right to legal and safe abortion in the first trimester.  That will save the lives of the hundreds of women who die each year in Malawi, because the criminal abortion law drives desperate women to seek unsafe and illegal abortions as the only way to get health care service they need.  While 59 percent of the world’s women have access to legal and safe abortions, thousands of women in countries that deny the right die each year as a result. 

For more information about the clinic’s work, please click here. 

Professor Ross has contributed greatly to empowering women and ensuring equal rights. She did so by encouraging her students to help women around the world fight for and achieve equal rights, she did so by working with partners in other countries to change discriminatory laws, and she did so domestically by leading the work on important legislation like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Family and Medical Leave Act. Her work on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act ensured that pregnant women and new mothers would have access to the same paid sick leave and health insurance as other workers receive for medical conditions, and that they are protected from being fired when pregnant. The Family and Medical Leave Act protected women’s right to parental leave, but also made sure that fathers have access to the same leave.  It also gave workers the right to a leave from work to care for sick children, spouses, and parents.  This structure ensures that both women and men can care for their families, while being employees as well.  It helps break down the old structure of women caring for the family at home, while the men were at work providing for the family.

Professor Ross demonstrates true commitment to advancing the rights of women and girls worldwide by addressing many issues that women face on a daily basis. Issues like safe abortions, divorce law, inheritance law, and protection from discriminatory policies at work are among the many issues Professor Ross worked on throughout her career. Especially impressive is her commitment to not only address domestic issues, but help women worldwide by working with domestic human rights partners in many countries and encouraging her students to focus on building alliances that can benefit women everywhere.

Professor Ross recognizes that as a global society, we have taken important steps forward and provided women with opportunities and protections when they are most vulnerable, but we have a long way to go. By encouraging her students and other young professionals to get involved and build international partnerships, Professor Ross wants to ensure that this important and labor intensive effort continues until the global community is able to fully protect the rights of women and girls everywhere. 

17 November 2020

2020 Louis B. Sohn Award Honoree Conversation

Interviewers:  Jill Christianson, Chair-Elect, UNA-NCA
Micayla Costa, Human Rights Committee, UNA-NCA


“…I believe in the power of creating opportunity for human beings through democracy, with a rich civil society, where people can express their thoughts without fear.  We need to stand behind those values.”


Dean Claudio Grossman’s leadership has advanced human rights, rule of law, and legal education with creativity and distinction.  His work has influenced both individuals and huge swaths of populations – both through 21 years at the Washington College of Law of American University and in key human rights roles within the Inter-American and United Nations systems.  He is Dean Emeritus at the Washington College of Law where he serves as the Raymond I. Geraldson Scholar for International and Humanitarian Law.


UNA-NCA: The Coronavirus pandemic has exposed great inequities – within and among nations.  We see examples not only in healthcare, but also with economic division, housing, hunger – and the increase in hate crimes based on race, immigration status, gender, and lgbt status.  What are the greatest lessons that we can take from this time?

CG:  This pandemic has made increasingly evident inequities existing among and within nations, and Covid-19 has a clearly disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable. 

The pandemic has shown us the importance of positive action by States to ensure access to health services and quality education, including health literacy. This requires the investment of resources and the mobilization of society as a whole. We must consider the most vulnerable – women facing domestic violence, people discriminated against for any reason, the elderly, minorities, immigrants and refugees, and people with disabilities, among others. Now it is undeniable that we need to include among those vulnerable populations that need special protection and consideration, those who work on the front lines endangering their lives and securing the provision of essential services and goods:  doctors, nurses, medical personnel, and those engaged in food production and distribution.  The pandemic has also shown the relevance of preventive measures (national and international), and the importance of medical and scientific organizations, as well as the role of the media in providing access to different sources of information.  Prevention becomes imperative as simply waiting for the next pandemic to impact the world is not an option we can afford.

Everyone should try to do whatever is possible in the context of her/his activities. I have presented a proposal to the International Law Commission, together with a colleague from Sierra Leone, to develop draft articles that would result in a convention to address actions to be taken in case of pandemics, including capacity building, international cooperation, and preventive measures.  We currently have a patchwork of norms that have proven to be insufficient.  There is a need for coordination, multilateral action and cooperation amongst States, with a common aim to protect everyone. 


UNA-NCA:  Prior to your experience as a political refugee at the age of 24, were there indications in your early life that human rights would be the pulse of your life’s work? 

CG:   I had taken for granted essential values such as the presumption of innocence, the prohibition of the retroactive application of criminal law, the importance of separation of powers and an independent judiciary, the value of freedom of expression and human rights in general. The military coup of 1973 revealed to me in a tragic fashion that those values cannot be taken for granted. I had sensitivity for human rights. I came from a family of immigrants to Chile. Learning about the atrocities of persecution and genocide, which were part of our family’s life and education, was very important since I was a child.  My father was a medical doctor, and my mother was a University professor. I went to a public school in Chile, which was very important to my parents.  Students came from different backgrounds, some students had holes in their shoes. There was also a tremendous pressure for all to be the same, and there were instances of discrimination and rejection for those who were different on different grounds.  The public school experience was essential for me to appreciate the whole mosaic of Chilean society and the need for its transformation, including the need to protect the most vulnerable. I was active in the student movement in the high school as President of the Federation of Students of my city, Valparaiso, and later as President of the Student Bar Association of the University of Chile, and as the Vice President of the Federation of University Students. Before the military coup, I was the Chief of Staff of the Secretary of the Government.  Undoubtedly, those experiences influenced my life, including the polarization existing in Chilean society, the destruction of democracy, and the mass and gross violations of human rights. I had to get political asylum at the embassy of The Netherlands in Santiago from where, after some time, I was allowed safe passage together with other refugees housed in their diplomatic mission to travel to their country. My experience in The Netherlands, the solidarity that many others and I received, also had a profound impact in my life, including in my commitment to human rights and international law. It is enough to say that I had a refugee passport for many years.



UNA-NCA: Within the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, you held the positions of special rapporteur on the rights of women.  As a man, how did that happen, and did it influence who you are today? 

CG:  I think that I was the first man ever to be the Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights.  When I was elected to the Commission, all seven members were men. I was sensitive to gender issues.  My wife was the director of external relations for the Pan American Health Organisation.  My two daughters were young at the time; they had a clear determination that under no circumstances are women less than men.  They had a tremendous sense of justice.

One day I came home and said, “I was elected to the Commission.”  They asked, “How many women?”  I said, “none.”  They said, “Resign!”  To keep my credibility at home, I created the position of Rapporteur on the Rights of Women.

My mother, when I was nine years old in 1965 in Chile, decided to study literature.  She wrote her doctoral thesis on the Theatre of the Absurd and became a literature professor.  Berta Guiloff was a role model, an exception to the life of women of her generation.

As you know, I work at the Washington College of Law at American University.  The law school was created by pioneer women who decided in 1896 to transform reality and act to achieve equal opportunities.  All these circumstances had a real impact in my life. I rejected early on the tremendous unfairness created by gender discrimination.  To keep my own intellectual honesty, my values, and my reputation at home, I proposed and took on this role as Rapporteur on the Rights of Women.

In the years prior to this, as I was in The Netherlands, I started with colleagues the Foundation for Legal Assistance for Chilean Political Prisoners, which we turned into the Center of Human Rights in the Netherlands that served political prisoners from every country.  The legitimacy of human rights exists regardless of the ideology of the victim or the perpetrator.  Women usually are ‘a prize’ in conflict.  In my work in the Committee Against Torture within the InterAmerican Commission, we promoted the concept that rape is torture, the rejection of marital rape and domestic violence, and highlighted the reality and impact of gender discrimination and sexual orientation discrimination.  All these issues are very important and need to be addressed by the society at large.


UNA-NCA: You serve on the UN International Law Commission and have served as Chair of the UN Committee against Torture.  Why is the human rights work of the UN critical in a time that States’ powers, as well as multinational corporates and financial powers, are so powerful?  As the UN celebrates its 75th anniversary, is the UN still relevant?

CG:  There are different forms of supervision in international law to evaluate the State’s compliance with international obligations.  The best supervision is judicial supervision, with independent judges, as is the case of the European Court, the Inter-American Court, the African Court.  The Human Rights Treaty Bodies of the United Nations are a form of semi-judicial supervision, since they resort to the law to issue interpretations of binding obligations that, at a minimum, are persuasive. Those bodies are composed by independent experts, giving legitimacy to their decisions. Needless to say, their work is very important, including the contributions of the Committee Against Torture. Lives are saved, processes leading to change are encouraged. However, there is serious resource scarcity.  Most human rights violations do not come to the United Nations level.  There are numerous instances of lack of compliance.  We have to continue to push for the realization of the goals laid out in the treaties. 

We have to continue to develop these instruments.  If they disappear, we lose the possibility of seeking and obtaining justice for people when their countries are unwilling or unable to do so.

The International Law Commission performs a different role: in a type of semi-legislative exercise, it presents to the States and the international community drafts articles, studies, and guidelines designed to codify and progressively develop international law. The Nuremberg principles, draft articles on state responsibility, and draft articles on international crimes are some of the products of the Commission’s work.

UNA-NCA:   What actions should Americans be taking to advance the United Nations and multilateralism, especially in respect to human rights?

CG:   There is always an important need for leadership; nothing happens automatically, hard work and commitment are necessary.  There is a need for the articulation of common policies and narratives to face serious challenges resulting from ideologies that reject human rights, democracy, and our common humanity. 

We see examples where international bodies elect violators of human rights from States that have committed mass and gross violations of human rights.   Our proper reaction should always be to roll up our sleeves and create a situation where this will no longer be possible. It is important to not abandon the field, but to exercise leadership in promoting the important values of human dignity.  I believe in those values. 

I don’t know if military power functions well, but I believe in the power of creating the opportunity for human beings and democracy, with a rich civil society, where people can express their thoughts without fear.  We need to stand behind those values.



UNA-NCA:  With your 21-year experience leading legal education at the Washington College of Law at American University, what is your legacy?

CG:  As Dean of the Washington College of Law, I was distinguished by having creative colleagues; together we promoted a yes culture designed to eliminate barriers that prevent creativity.  The Law School developed as an important center for international and domestic legal education.  We developed the Center for Human Rights, the Academy for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, the War Crimes Research Office, programs in international commercial arbitration, intellectual property, business, and environmental law- to mention some. We expanded the clinics, our women, and the law program. The Law School became one of the most diverse in the country, reflecting the nation and world where we live in. We started our technological operation, including an on-line LLM.  We developed numerous student publications and LLMs and SJD programs, dual degree programs with universities abroad and specialized summer programs.  The international program began with one student from Spain and now we have 4000 graduates all around the world.  Our diverse alums contributed greatly to our expansion that allowed us to become a referent in important areas of legal education, breaking down artificial barriers that divide individuals and nations, providing superb education and building a state-of-the-art new campus.


UNA-NCA: When you think about the impact of the years of educating legal scholars and attorneys at Washington College of Law, who are now across the globe that is quite profound.


CG:  Absolutely! The Washington College of Law community are people who are addressing key issues of our time in different areas of the law, and in different countries, all sharing the important common experience of having studied in our school.


UNA-NCA:  What do you think of Chile now and the constitutional referendum?

CG:  After the restoration of democracy, Chile achieved important transformations, including the reduction of poverty from 40% to 8.6%, and the opening of the universities to the majority of the population. Rejecting prior practices of the dictatorship, the country did not have political prisoners, and there were no instances of journalists or labor leaders killed. The country reformed numerous institutions and celebrated free elections. However, serious issues remain, including access to quality education and health services, decent pensions, the need for equal opportunities, and the effective prohibition of discrimination of any kind. These issues called for a more inclusive society. A disconnect grew between the political system and the expectations and the demands of the society.  A very important pollster in Chile, Marta Lagos, wrote before the social explosion that took place a year ago that civil society was demanding with a megaphone that there was an urgent need for reform, but the political system was not listening.  The overwhelmingly majority of Chileans saw in the Constitution that originated in Pinochet the obstacle to advance in their societal demands. The Constitution required supermajorities for some transformations. 80% of Chileans have voted in the recent referendum to change the constitution and elect a constitutional assembly with parity participation by women. An existing process is now underway to build the consensus necessary to develop democratically in a more inclusive Chilean society.

UNA-NCA:  Lastly, what is your current favorite reading?

CG:  I love literature!  I have read almost every book by Haruki Murakami, a Japanese writer.  I enjoy reading Leonardo Padura, the Cuban writer of El hombre que amaba a los perros o Heretics.  Also, the novels of Russian author Vasily Grossman have a tremendous historical meaning exposing the dire consequences of dictatorial societies.  Mario Vargas Llosa said that literature is a way to “show with imagination hidden aspects of reality.”  When Kafka wrote about a man becoming an insect, perhaps he anticipated a reality that was forthcoming in Europe where human beings were treated as insects. Literature adds eyes to you.  Of course, as you can imagine, I read about law and international law in particular.

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