Japan's Contribution to UN Peacekeeping Operations (PKO)

Interview with Ms. Swati Malik FY 2012 Program Associate (Primary Course)
Legal Officer, United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS)

October 10, 2014

Ms. Arisa Osako (Intern of International Peace Cooperation Division)
Fourth year student, University of Osaka, School of Foreign Studies
  • (Meeting with other Program Associates at their Overseas Assignment in Juba (Right: Ms. Swati Malik))

1. Please introduce yourself. (Where you were born, what you studied at school, what you were interested in when you were younger, etc.)

 I was born in New Delhi. My parents built a very supportive and encouraging environment for my sibling and me when we were growing up, so when it came to a career, it was really like driving on an open road and I could stop at any place of my choosing.

 However, I never dreamt of pursuing the law until my senior year in high school. Since I loved to read and write, I was good at applying principles and had a reasonable perception of fairness. Those were the simple thoughts I had in my mind when I chose to become a lawyer. Once I entered law school, I discovered it to be a very exciting place and the law absorbed me more and more until I thought I could not get enough of it. So far, I have not had occasion to regret my choice once.

2. What motivated you to join the Program for Human Resource Development for Peacebuilding?

 When I applied to the Program for Human Resource Development in Asia for Peacebuilding, my primary motivation was to broaden my intellectual realm in a field that I aspired to be a part of. Other strong motives were to belong to a mixed bag community committed to multidisciplinary learning and to be in Japan, a country that has long fascinated me. Moreover, I was thrilled to be part of a distinctly Asian adventure and experience a world made of Asian perspectives. It was like having 29 quasi-instructors plus the real trainers all gunning for the peace-related needs of my continent.

3. Please tell us about the details of the program. What did you learn through the program?

 First thanks to the case study method that we followed when merged with the variety and depth of experience of those selected to be part of the program, afforded me a window into perspectives and opportunities that would have been difficult to obtain and even comprehend by sitting through lectures. Second, this program has given me a network of peers and mentors I depend on not only when I am trying to make professional decisions, but also when I need a spot of personal support. Third, it enabled me to alter my viewpoint about the possibilities of my career; it has helped me vocalize my interests better and expand the scope of my objectives. Fourth, the program also helped me adjust my leadership skills from a purely legal backdrop to a more comprehensive setting. Finally, though this program was my introduction to Japan, I believe that it has well-disposed me towards Japan for the rest of my life.

4. What impressed you while joining the program?

 While joining the program, I was aware that I wanted to pursue a career in peacebuilding as it is based at the intersection of my intellectual interests, aptitude and ambition. Over those weeks in Japan, the exposure that I was afforded to noted leaders in the field of peacebuilding, to exceptional colleagues many of who continue to be my fellow peacebuilders and friends based in different parts of the world and to all the learning resources that HPC and MOFA jointly proffered, proved that I could not have asked for a better launchpad for my career in peacekeeping.

5. Please describe your current work in UNMISS.

 My current position at the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS), a peacekeeping mission established to support the government of the newly independent country of South Sudan, is based in its Legal Affairs Unit. As a legal officer, I provide legal advice, research, analysis and drafting support to the mission leadership to facilitate the mission’s mandate in South Sudan. Further, my team works in close coordination with the United Nations Country Team in South Sudan to ensure more coherence in United Nations programs on the ground as well as to reduce overhead costs for the United Nations system. In addition, since the United Nations agencies, funds and programs do not have in-house legal divisions stationed in the country, my team assists them in their legal tasks.

 Although I didn’t see it as such initially, in retrospect I feel my role at UNMISS is a stretch assignment that has completely spread me out as a professional and placed me in a position that pushed me into more responsibility than I could have imagined possible at this stage of my career.

6. What do you think is the importance of women participating in the field of peacebuilding?

 Women have a strong stake in peacebuilding processes for a number of reasons. First, for any process to be participatory and inclusive, women need to have a voice in it. Second, women bring gender perspectives to interventions aimed at creating sustainable peace. As such women are expected to negotiate favorable terms in conflict resolution processes for their gender, based on their experiences as humanitarian workers, political leaders and as individuals directly impacted by conflicts. For those reasons, women’s participation is critical to the success of peacebuilding activities and their role in restoring normalcy in societies that have recently emerged from conflicts or are inching towards it is vital.

7. Please give a message to younger generations who, in the future, wish to work in the field of peacebuilding like you.

 This is a very difficult question. I would begin by stating that I do not think peacebuilding is for everyone. Living in extremely challenging circumstances and repeatedly witnessing your work languish due to external factors can be very frustrating. Further, the prevailing security conditions in a place can make movement difficult. Although I am in my 20s, I often feel I may as well be much older considering the kind of life I have in Juba – I cannot go shopping or to the movies like most people my age – and I have witnessed days when my accommodation area has come in the line of fire between the warring sides in South Sudan. That said when I weigh the rewards of my work against the quality of my life, at this point, the former wins by a considerable margin.

 Peacebuilding affords a huge array of opportunities and at many points in your career, you would look for inspiration. But I would urge you against seeking career trajectories from the motivating stories of peacebuilders whose journeys started before yours. There is no one path to success. We conceive and construct our own. Be willing to experiment, deviate and above all, to fail. Own your journey and be proud of it. There is another thing that I remind myself of often: my first job in peacebuilding does not define my entire career.

8. Do you have any plans what you will do next after leaving the current position in UNMISS?

 I have a general idea, yes, that I want to have a long and fulfilling career as a lawyer, and simultaneously realize all plans which do not stay at the back of my mind anymore and have assumed positions at its forefront. However, my future remains unplanned and open to serendipity. Although earlier I used to have a compulsive desire to know everything, I have realized lately that I love surprises and the idea of an uncertain future. It is very comforting to know that I do not quite know! All I am certain of is that my career will be internationally-oriented and will create value for the world.