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Rachana Chhin

New York

A World Made New

It is that time of year again: the air is a bit cooler, the leaves are turning all their earthy hues, and the sun sets just a little bit earlier each day. Yes, fall is in full swing and it is a particularly beautiful one here in New York City! As I write this, I cannot believe that we’ve been here for a little over a month now. It has been a busy past few weeks at the United Nations.

ParkRiverDSC00161Pumpkin(Clockwise, starting at top left: Walking through Central Park, People enjoying a day on the water, inside the ECOSOC Chamber for a side-event, Farmer’s Market in Union Square).

Usually, I attend daily meetings in the Sixth Committee whenever they are in session. The discussions have touched upon diverse topics ranging from “the law of trans-boundary aquifers,” to “strengthening criminal accountability of UN officials,” the “responsibility of states for internationally wrongful acts,” or “measures to eliminate terrorism.”

This past week was especially interesting as the United Nations celebrated “International Law Week.” As a result, I’ve been listening to various States comment on the International Law Commission’s latest Report. When not at work, I’ve enjoyed going to different side-events or receptions hosted by various missions, where diplomats, lawyers, and other officials mingle and talk in a much more casual setting.

One of the most interesting things that I’m gleaning from this experience is both how similar and distinct international law is from, say, the common-law or the civil law traditions. Because it incorporates diverse legal systems in unique ways, many of the same concepts that we’ve learned in law school remain important and are quite relevant. The main difference, to me at least, is how countries must cooperate together for this process to work. Here at the United Nations, countries strive to work on the basis of consensus.

Although somewhat more amorphous than national legal systems, international law is gradually being developed and codified in ways such as these: the work of courts and tribunals (e.g., ICC and ICJ) contribute to an ever increasing corpus of legal precedent. International and regional organizations define legal frameworks, set forth guiding principles, help regularize state practices and solidify international legal norms. The States themselves negotiate treaties, contracts, and conventions, creating another layer of international law.

51zs8U0N7mLTo prepare myself to come to New York, I knew that I had to learn more about international law and the history of the United Nations. In this regard, I read a very helpful book by Professor Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard entitled A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Professor Glendon takes the reader right into the waning days of World War II, when the United Nations — as the Allies were then called — began to lay the groundwork for the post-war recovery.

After the guns fell silent and the full scale of destruction became apparent, it did not take long for the surviving nations to realize that humanity needed something to articulate a new vision of the rights that every man and woman in every country around the world should share, regardless of their culture or religion. The outcome of this desire eventually birthed the first “international bill of human rights” in a unique document called The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Although it took much arduous work to get there, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the UDHR in 1948. This is an example of a human-rights and international law achievement: that so many people from divergent backgrounds and world-views came together and agreed that certain rights were so integral, so intrinsic to humanity, and worthy of protection, that they should be called universal. How radical that was!

What especially fascinated me was to learn of the diverse set of drafters who represented a smattering of the mid-20th century diplomatic world: Jacques Maritain was a French-Catholic philosopher. Charles Malik was Lebanese-Christian. Rene Cassin was Jewish. P.C. Chang was a Confucian from China. Alexander E. Bogomolov represented the officially atheistic USSR. Eleanor Roosevelt, of course, was an American woman and played an integral role to encourage this work. There were many others.

The drafters were under no illusions that the UDHR would solve all the world’s human rights problems or its noble aspirations realized quickly. After all, subsequent history has since shown us the limits of what the best laws, treaties, and organizations can do. Nonetheless, what Professor Glendon says makes the UDHR important is that it “charted a bold new course for human rights by presenting a vision of freedom as linked to social security, balanced by responsibilities, grounded in respect for equal human dignity, and guarded by the rule of law”:

That vision was meant to protect liberty from degenerating into license and to repel the excesses of individualism and collectivism alike. By affirming that its rights belong to everyone, everywhere, it aimed to put an end to the idea that a nation’s treatment of its own citizens or subjects was immune from outside scrutiny. (236)

Although, like any man-made institution, the UN is imperfect and can be inefficient or redundant. But, in weighing the whole, I see much positive work coming out of these halls. From the beginning, the Catholic Church and the Holy See were strong supporters of this effort. In fact, Professor Glendon notes that Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, lent his encouragement to the drafters and called their work an “act of the highest importance” (132).

To this day, the Holy See, along with many other nations, continues the noble work bequeathed to us by the framers of the UDHR to help develop international law and protect human rights. Whether that is speaking on issues such as disarmament, world hunger relief, or the dignity of life and good of the family, the Church remains at the UN to give voice to that vision of true freedom “grounded in respect for equal human dignity and guarded by the rule of law,” knowing full well in the repository of her faith and in the light of reason the source and ground of it all:

Behold, I make all things new…” -Revelations 21:5

Thank you for reading! Please continue to pray for Joseph and me in this work and we shall keep you in ours.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations. 

New York

Life at the Mission: The Symphony of Catholicity

I’ve been in New York for almost a good two weeks now. As expected, my internship with the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations has begun in earnest.

I’ve been assigned to cover developments within the Sixth Committee of the UN General Assembly, focused on international legal matters. It’s really quite exciting and I’ve already observed and sat in on some high-level discussions having to do with everything from migration and development, to the rule of law, and international terrorism. As an International Relations major in college, this is doubly a dream come true to be at the UN and serve the Church while doing so.

(Clockwise starting at the top left: Isaiah 2:4 Wall, Migration Meeting, “Good Defeats Evil” statue in front of UN, St. Patrick’s Cathedral)

My day at the Mission begins at 9AM sharp, when all of the staff members and interns come to pray Morning Prayer of the Divine Office together, otherwise known as the Liturgy of the Hours. The Papal Nuncio, His Excellency Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, then assigns us our daily tasks from the UN Journal. During this time, I ordinarily meet with the Legal Attaché of the Mission to see if he needs anything else from me.

Our first committee meetings at the UN usually last from 10AM in the morning until 1PM in the afternoon. After a lunch-break back at the Mission, we return for the second sessions and continue until those are over around 6PM. There are frequently quite a few “side-events” hosted by various other mission-delegations that we can attend throughout the day. I make my way back to Hoboken and either spend the remainder of the evening relaxing or finishing up any outstanding reports for His Excellency. As you can see, our days are quite structured and full of things to do.

When I’m not on assignment, I’ve been taking the opportunity to make the most of my time in New York by sightseeing, trying out different foods (did I tell you just how amazing Bagels and Lox are?), and catching up with friends and colleagues who live in the area. After all, what opportunity will I get to be here for a time like this again? There are so many interesting things to see and do that, I’ve come to believe, a person can live their entire life here and not see every nook and cranny.


The United Nations Headquarters.

New York can be a bit overwhelming at times, I’ll admit. But there’s a certain sense of peace when I take a step back and remind myself of why it is that I’m here: to serve the Mission, to learn about international law, and to walk alongside others helping to fulfill the UN’s noble mission, as outlined in their Charter. To that end, I am confident that my first two years in the JD/CMSA joint-degree program have equipped me for working on various issues at the UN by integrating solid legal formation with the richness of the Catholic Social Tradition.

This leads me into my last point in that our work here, in many ways, confirms for me the universality of the Church. One of the most pleasant surprises of the internship so far has been getting to know the other interns, hailing from such nations as Syria, Kenya, Spain, and Canada, among others. This is a communion that can teach the world much. That we can come together as part of the same Mission, and yet call so many different places home, with our own unique stories and upbringings, and still share our lives with each other so seamlessly is nothing short of amazing.

Pope Francis recently spoke on catholicity and I think the same ideas are relevant here at the UN, where the world gathers together:

Let us ask the Lord to make us more catholic – to enable us, like a great family, to grow together in faith and love, to draw others to Jesus in the communion of the Church, and to welcome the gifts and contributions of everyone, in order to create a joyful symphony of praise to God for his goodness, his grace, and his redemptive love.

How beautiful is that vision of a “joyful symphony of praise” radiating from the Church? To be sure, our work at the UN is quite different in many senses, but nonetheless how exciting it is to expectantly wait for what the next few weeks and days will bring as we continue along the way — with each other and among the family of nations. Thank you for journeying with us! Please keep Joseph and me in your prayers and we shall continue to pray for you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations. 

New York

At the United Nations: The Experience of Humanity

And so, here I finally am! Soon, in just a few days, I will begin my fall internship with the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York City.

I left Minnesota early Friday morning and flew into LaGuardia airport. From there, I met up with one of four other interns and we caught a taxi into Hoboken, New Jersey. Sts. Peter and Paul parish in Hoboken, west of Manhattan right across the Hudson River, is where we will be staying. The Holy See Mission itself is located on the east side of Midtown Manhattan and we’ll commute into town everyday by subway. As you can imagine, we’ve spent the weekend settling in and exploring the area.


(Clockwise starting at the top left: Sts. Peter and Paul Parish, Parish Chapel, Central Park, Grand Central Station)

Just exactly what is the Holy See, you may ask? “Holy See” in Latin is Sancta Sedes, which means Holy Chair. In ancient times, this referred to the seat of the bishop in cities that were important in the early Church (e.g., the Patriarchates of Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria). Most preeminent among them, of course, was the church in Rome founded by Sts. Peter and Paul. According to the New Catholic Enyclopedia, in the canonical and diplomatic sense, the term is “synonymous with ‘Apostolic See’, ‘Holy Apostolic See’, ‘Roman Church’, ‘Roman Curia.’”

Over the course of many centuries, the Holy See gradually came to refer to the composite of the juridical, administrative, and governmental structure of the worldwide Catholic Church. This is distinct from the Vatican City State, which was created in 1929, administers the properties of the Holy See, and is internationally recognized as a sovereign entity. The early Church grew into one of the first supranational institutions in the world and continues that same work to this day.


The Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN

Although I am awaiting my assignments, some of my responsibilities at the UN will include monitoring actions undertaken by various committees and representing the Holy See in meetings and official gatherings. This is very exciting for me as not only a law student but also as a Catholic. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his 2008 address to the United Nations General Assembly, reminded us why our engagement with the UN is important:

The United Nations remains a privileged setting in which the Church is committed to contributing her experience “of humanity”, developed over the centuries among peoples of every race and culture, and placing it at the disposal of all members of the international community.

One need not go too far back into history and only look at two world wars in the 20th century, among other examples, to see why the UN’s creation was needed so urgently. Faulty conceptions of social organization and impoverished human anthropologies did much to abuse human rights and the dignity of the person.

Every new generation of Christians, along with other persons of good will, must make its own contribution, renew, and take up the mantle again if we are, the Pope Emeritus says, to “sustain humanity’s hope for a better world and…create the conditions for peace, development, cooperation, and guarantee of rights for future generations.” To be able to even catch a glimpse of these efforts, to be able to serve in whatever small way that I can, it will be well worth it.

Finally, let me say that I am honored, humbled, and grateful for this opportunity. I am especially indebted to His Excellency, Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the Apostolic Nuncio, the University of St. Thomas, the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy, and, last but not least, to my friends and family also for all their support and encouragement. You bless me! Thank you for joining Joseph and me on the journey. Please pray for us and we shall continue to pray for you.