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United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic spoke at Penn Law School as part of the Dean’s Distinguished Speaker Series. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In a world filled with violence and constant conflict, it can be hard to remember that there are people who still strive to make the world a more peaceful place.

One of those people, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic, came to speak at Penn Law School on Monday as part of the Dean’s Distinguished Speaker Series. Previously the Minister of Justice for Croatia, Simonovic now works on human rights projects at the U.N. in an effort to stop the atrocities that go on worldwide.

Simonovic’s presentation, as he said at the start, discussed “the relationship between human rights, peace and security.”

Throughout his lecture, Simonovic focused on the ways that the U.N. is becoming more proactive in addressing human rights issues. Initiatives such as the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy, a policy banning the U.N. from supporting forces that commit human rights violations, and the new Human Rights Screening, a process in which the U.N. screens any potential employees for possible human rights crimes, highlight Simonovic’s dedication to making the U.N. more conscious of human rights issues. Beginning in 2016, according to Simonovic, the U.N. plans to require human rights electronic training for all U.N. staff.

“When I joined the United Nations, I was shocked to find out that not even the Human Rights Office provided human rights training ... human rights in the United Nations should not be compartmentalized,” he said. “Human rights are not something that the Human Rights Office only does, it is a core mandate and activity of the United Nations.”

Certain parts of the presentation proved controversial for members of the audience, such as College junior Claudia Dally, who was surprised that the assistant secretary-general brought up the Ivory Coast and his relationship with President Ouattara.

“I think that his overall ideas on intervention with human rights and protecting human rights in relation to political conflicts were very interesting and important ... but [mentioning the Ivory Coast was] a bit controversial because the U.N.’s involvement with France seemed a little bit neo-imperialistic, which is, I think, said a lot about a lot of conflicts regarding human rights in Africa and the U.N,” she said.

After his main presentation, Simonovic left a large window of time for questions, which ranged from topics such as the relationship between the U.N. and other human rights organizations, to the recent bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan, to the representation of women in peacekeeping and human rights development.

As a student in the International Educational Development Program, Graduate School of Education student Athena Lao was particularly moved by Simonovic’s talk.

“I thought that this talk really touched on things that we’re thinking about in our program of study — not only the big human rights issues in the world today, but also thinking more broadly about what role we can play to make things better,” Lao said.

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