Maintaining relevance: The future of the UN and Australia's engagement


Yesterday we had the privilege to sit in on a conversation between, in the words of moderator Chris Michaelsen, "the two most knowledgeable experts in the world on the United Nations, Leanne Smith and Jeni Whalan.”

Jeni and Leanne spoke about challenges and limitations of the UN in varying contexts – from Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to the fine and undervalued work of Unicef to issues around the Security Council. They spoke of the need to regard the UN as a multi-faceted organisation that is comprised of member-states, and can only be as powerful as those member-states.

Leanne Smith is an Australian diplomat and human rights lawyer, currently on sabbatical from her position as Chief of Policy and Best Practice Service, UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York. She has worked in the Australian judicial system, for the Australian Human Rights Commission, in the international NGO sector, regional human rights organisations, for the Australian Government (DFAT) and in various UN roles. A law graduate from ANU, Leanne is a Visiting Fellow at ANU’s College of Diplomacy and a graduate from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Dr Jeni Whalan is a Senior Research Fellow of the University of Queensland's Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and a Visiting Fellow of the AHRCentre. She has served as a foreign policy advisor in the Australian Government’s Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet and Department of Defence, and a consultant to the International Peace Institute, the International Forum for the Challenges of Peace Operations and the UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report. She serves on the board of the Centre for Policy Development. Jeni holds a DPhil and MPhil in International Relations from the University of Oxford.

Associate Professor Chris Michaelsen teaches and specialises in international law, human rights and international security at UNSW Law. Prior to joining UNSW in 2008, he served as a Human Rights Officer (Anti-Terrorism) at the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Warsaw, Poland. Read more about Chris’s research work here.