Helpful skills

Follow up article on the previous one.

Frequently asked question:

Q: What skill is helpful in careers in international organizations or academia?

My A: Anything! A few categories, I guess.

  1. Professional knowledge and skills on the subject
  2. Local knowledge
  3. Communication, drafting, organization, project management, and people management
  4. Languages
  5. Technical skills
  6. Anything else
  1. On the professional knowledge and skills – obviously you need to be good at what you do. For me, international law, especially in the area of International Human Rights Law (HRL), International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Criminal Law (ICL), was absolutely crucial. I needed to have a general knowledge on these areas, updated with cases and developments in the world. Often times, when I was surrounded by human rights experts, my knowledge on IHL and ICL was very helpful, especially when I was involved in mapping of violations of human rights and IHL in Nepal. It also helped me a lot when I had some areas that I could be confident in – e.g. right to self-determination, law of peacekeeping (which is outside the three areas of international law I mentioned above) or freedom of expression. These specialized areas need to be developed continuously, and my area of expertise changed through working in various positions. The areas that I have built quite a lot after I started working are accountability, the rule of law and policing, transitional justice, and sexual violence. One tip I can give is not to assume at any point that you know everything. There are always developments, and much more to learn. Do not get swallowed by busy days, but continue learning.
  2. Local knowledge is one that helped me so much, especially in my early career. My BA dissertation as on East Timor, but as soon as I got the news that I would be sent by the UN to East Timor, I re-learned the history, people, culture and about the tasks in front of the UN. This helped me a lot to understand what was going on when I got there. As I learned about the place and the people quickly, people started to come to ask me about East Timor, and I had great rapport with Timorese people. When I was selected to assist the Director of the UN Commission of Inquiry for Timor-Leste in 2006, I hear that he selected me based on my knowledge and understanding of the place, which he considered a vital help he needed from his staff.
  3. There are abilities and skills that are very helpful in doing the job effectively. One I learned is the ability to explain complicated things in a brief and logical manner. I was transferred from the Far Western Regional Office to Kathmandu in the course of my work with the UN-Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN-OHCHR) in Nepal. I got assigned to training, and in training and other capacity building activities we conducted, the ability to explain complicated international-law related matters to the people on the ground was very crucial. In another context, you may have heard of ‘elevator rule’, which means that you need to be able to brief your boss while you go up or down in an elevator together, as that would be the only time you can do so before his/her important meeting. Communication skills are very important, too, and I believe that is a skillset that people can learn. No long excuses and getting to the point for your busy boss, but it is completely different for talking to victims People in villages in Timor-Leste used to tell me a lot of their life stories. ‘When the sun was up just above that roof, X happened’, they said, for example. Translation of that into what time that was my job. I would then talk to them in the same way: ‘so, when that happened, had your roosters already made noise?’ Talk in the way that is understandable to people. In a slightly different context, drafting skills have been vitally important. Long messages short, make a point without leaving important parts. This has been crucial in any jobs, but especially in legal or law-related positions. Organizational skills are also very helpful. In any job, I would think, you have a lot of things that you need to organize, be it an event, meeting, discussion, or project. It can seem rather daunting at times, but the neat organization is very important, and gives a large impact on how professional you look. Project management is really vital, too. In fact, not only management but the entire cycle is important. Fundraising, planning, finance, hiring people, making and agreeing on aims and objectives, assigning tasks to people, liaising with stakeholders, reporting, evaluation and planning again. When I first worked for the University of Essex’s Human Rights Centre, writing up a proposal to raise fund was the skill that got the professor’s eyes. We successfully raised fund with my proposal, which got me the next position. Project management skill was indeed very helpful later when I managed the UN Peace Fund’s transitional justice project in Nepal. People management is increasingly important as one moves seniority. I am good at managing motivated people, but have a space to work on those who are not necessarily driven by their commitment to the cause.
  4. Languages skills are so helpful to have, at least a few at the business level, under your belt. When I was in East Timor before the Popular Consultation in 1999, the first thing I did was to get Indonesian dictionaries and books (as they were not selling Tetum ones), sit by my accommodation in my free time and practice it with local children. They then taught me Tetum slowly, too. This was so crucial for the Popular Consultation itself as well, as good translation service was scarce to have, and I also wanted to make sure as much as possible that translators were not adding anything that I did not say. Later on, I got fluent in Tetum, which was a crucial basis for me to have a good rapport with people, especially victims, as well as for the UN to have good understanding of what is going on. I had a similar approach in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sri Lanka and Nepal, but I did not quite get to the level (business possible without translation) in those countries. I worked on French when I was in Geneva. Now I am trying to get my French back. Often, what language you have a command of determines where you go, or whether or not you get selected. I have to say this trend is clearer in your early career.
  5. Technical skills can also be very helpful. Any software that you can use may be your ticket. For me, I have designed a database in one project, which was noticed by my next boss, who asked me to help him with building a database. Currently I am trying to learn skills to analyze big data, but my progress on that part is shamefully slow. For younger generation, you need to remember that your boss/employer may be from an order generation, among whom your computer skill may be amazing. In one of the projects I have currently, an assistant researcher is using Python, which I know is common knowledge for their generation, but not for ours.
  6. My point, though, is that any knowledge or skill you have can help. I was surprised that my skills in playing the piano helped in a few occasions. Probably in social settings, too, but here I mean in professional life. I got involved as a pianist for a charity concert organized by the UN, which became a great network for information sharing and discussion, and later collaboration in a project. Driving skill is another thing that I took for granted, but without that, I would not have been able to talk to so many people in remote places in East Timor/Timor-Leste or Nepal.

Fun part of my job!

Recently I have a lot of people approaching me for a career advice. It makes me realize that my career path – being both academic and practitioner – may not be something that you find a lot in Japan. In a hope that this may help some of those students, people in their first jobs, or those who are wondering whether or not to change their jobs, here are things I find really exciting about my job in the academia (@ the University of Tokyo).

The first part, definitely, is to be inspired by the endless passion and dedication of students and young researchers. Their potential is limitless. It is nothing but my pleasure when I see students coming into my class without any background knowledge of what I am interested in, be it international law, human rights, rule of law, policing, accountability or UN Peace Operations, giving it a serious try and getting to excel in these subjects. It is very rewarding to connect these young talents to the world I know – the world of the UN, human rights and Peace Operations. Amazing to hear that so many students tell me now that they are interested in the International Committee of the Red Cross or the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. I have always thought that none of the topics I am/we are tackling can have much impact unless we have the younger generation to be the central part of it. One of the classes I teach is now drafting a submission to the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Procedures. After almost four years at the University of Tokyo, I have a group of students and graduates that I have no spot of doubt to become the core of these movements.

The second part, and in fact I do hope I can say this is the first part by next year, is the freedom to research and make contributions on any topic of my choice. We have a large space for choosing what to research, how to research, who to research with, what results we produce, what to make public or how to fund our research. The only restriction at the moment is time. Even with that restriction, I do appreciate it very much that I can research on anything. I am also surprised and very grateful for a lot of opportunities for joint research projects. Last year, I had a joint research with Dr. Marsha Henry of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) on accountability of sexual exploitation and abuse in UN peace operations, and this year I have a joint project with Dr. Roisin Burke on the UN-AU cooperation on accountability of sexual exploitation and abuse (this is the opening seminar for the joint project). I had numerous seminars and collaborations with academics and practitioners. I am very highly appreciative of the support of the Mission of Japan to the UN and UN Victims’ Rights Advocate’s office in the organization of High-Level Panel on sexual exploitation and abuse in UN peace operations last year. In fact, one of the senior participants in the Panel mentioned that it was amazing that a Japanese university-related fund is funding our High-Level Panel conversation, in collaboration with the Japanese Mission. I am also very thankful for the cooperation that we, at the International Law Training and Research Hub, are able to have with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. This academic freedom is something that I absolutely treasure. Once my academic curiosity/desire to contribute to a topic of international affairs grows on something, I can freely think…’ok, how do I go about it?’, instead of ‘what may be obstacles?’. Then it is just a matter of priorities.

Of course, there are things I miss about my past careers in the UN – mainly with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN peace operations. The biggest thing I miss is the contact with people for whom we try to provide protection. Having faces and voices around, for whom we are trying to work. Seeing the small but concrete changes we make on people’s lives. Being with humanitarians. Seeing the steady progress in countries we work. Of course.

There are plenty of options in front of you, and in fact, in front of all of us. There are good parts and not-so-good parts for any decisions you make. For me, what leads me has always been ‘when do I feel most excited?’ Currently my gut says dive further into the world of international law and accountability. The first sense of what I would like to do in my life was in my high school days: ‘this world is not fair!’ Whatever I do in whatever job, I would like to be contributing to correcting that.

So, in short, what I would say is to follow your passion. Don’t only dream about it, but make it happen. In order to make it happen, believe that you can make it happen. I close this rather informal blog post with the phrase I got from my former PhD supervisor:

‘Go out and effect changes!’

International Law Hub Intervention to UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on COVID-19 Best Practices

International Law Training and Research Hub at the University of Tokyo submitted a report to UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN-OHCHR) on COVID-19 related best practices in response to request from UN-OHCHR.

Here is the link to the report.

Below is the content of the report.

UOTIL Hub’s Contributions to UN-OHCHR’s report to HRC regarding impact of COVID-19 on Human Rights

By Dr. Ai Kihara-Hunt, with support of the team at International Law Training and Research Hub (UOTIL Hub)

(Photo by Ludovic Courtès)

On 5 October 2020, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN-OHCHR) requested the International Law Training and Research Hub, the University of Tokyo (UOTIL Hub), to make ‘contributions concerning promising/good human rights practices in response to COVID-19 and the recovery’ in Asia, by a letter with a reference number: OHCHR/TESRPRD/DESIB. This request was pursuant to the cooperation agreement between the UN-OHCHR and UOTIL Hub, following the Statement by the President of the Human Rights Council on human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic (PRST 43/1) of 29 May 2020.

UOTIL Hub has researched on good practices from the following countries and territories: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. The first phase of research was between June and August 2020, where six student researchers collected information from publicly accessible sources, chiefly information available on the internet. ​In searching for information, UOTIL Hub’s and personal networks of the team were resorted to. Languages used for searching for information are: English, Japanese, Chinese Mandarin, Korean, Nepali, Hindi, and Taiwanese Mandarin. Information on good practice was inserted in a database created by the UN-OHCHR. A total of 129​ ​entries were recorded in the database during the first phase of research ( (Afghanistan: 2; Bangladesh: 13; Bhutan: 4; Brunei: 2; Cambodia: 5; China: 8; Hong Kong: 4; India: 3; Indonesia: 4; Japan: 10; Laos: 6; Malaysia: 3; Maldives: 4; Mongolia: 4; Nepal: 1; Pakistan: 6; Philippines: 17; Republic of Korea: 2; Singapore: 8; Sri Lanka: 8; Taiwan: 3; Thailand: 7; and Vietnam: 5). In identifying good practices, the UOTIL Hub team used the indicator provided by the UN-OHCHR, as follows:

“[e]ffective actions (or sets of actions) which are in compliance with international law, including international human rights norms and standards, contribute to the enjoyment of human rights, demonstrate sustainable results through quantitative and/or qualitative evidence of positive impact, and have the potential to be successfully adapted and replicated in other contexts.”

In collecting information, particular attention was paid to the extent to which such practice benefited (a) marginalized or vulnerable group(s).

Preliminary Analysis of Best Practice

It is very apparent that plentiful and diverse actors took action alongside the national and local governments to ease the negative effect of the COVID-19 pandemic itself and related restrictions. Reported actions generally took the form of providing services, either newly-instituted, or an expanded or modified form of an existing practice. Actors include non-governmental organizations, self-help networks, cooperatives, trade unions, academic institutions and youth groups. In particular, it is noteworthy that business entities were very much responsive to the situation. Also noted is the involvement of actors that are more loosely connected than established organizations.

A youth-led volunteers’ network in Nepal may illustrate such a network. Hundreds of self-help groups and volunteers were led by youth, who have spread a series of food bank campaigns throughout the country. The campaign provides free food to the homeless and unemployed persons. Reportedly this network has been supplying food for around 600 people every day in Khula Manch, Kathmandu, for several months.

Most actors appear to have built, or are building their responses on networks that they had had prior to the pandemic. It was also observed that the content of these services are built on the strength the provider had, and expanded on their existing services.

The response of Wishes and Blessings, an NGO in Delhi, India, illustrates this. Prior to the pandemic, the NGO served three meals per day to around 600 underprivileged people in Delhi. Since the onset of the pandemic, they have been serving meals for around 15,000 people in six states through partnerships with multiple NGOs.

This approach of building on existing networks and practices appears to be most appropriate because vulnerability and marginalization of target groups and individuals have multiplied and have become more apparent due to the pandemic, and is rarely triggered by the onset of the pandemic. Newly-created vulnerability applied generally to the public, by the threat of COVID-19 and reduced access to commodities and services, but the situation of already vulnerable people was exacerbated disproportionately, pushing them further into vulnerability. This enabled actors to operate effectively by using their existing networks to reach out to the vulnerable and marginalized people in society. Examples of target groups are foreign workers, asylum seekers, homeless people, unemployed persons, sex workers, rural population, people living in poverty, and victims of domestic and sexual violence. One group that has been facing a new level of vulnerability are medical personnel and people providing services directly related to the pandemic, such as cleaners and security forces, and that good examples exist in supporting this new vulnerable group.

An example of supporting newly-vulnerable groups is assistance in the form of basic supplies to those who work in COVID-19 response is in Shanghai, China, led by a commercial shopping center. Ganhui Center established an ‘Unattended Holding Cabinet‘ in February 2020 for citizens to provide free food and drink for takeaway staff, cleaners and police personnel. The Cabinet is reportedly being widely used.

There have been notable responses in various forms: from protective gears, medicine and medical services, cash, food, information, education, training and business platforms. For example, eVidyaloka, an NGO in India, works in the education sector. It connects volunteer teachers in the world with students in rural areas in India by using a communication programme on the internet, reaching out to underprivileged children, especially girls, who stay home due to COVID-19 restrictions. It supplements students’ learning by delivering textbooks to those children.

An innovative response was seen in the Republic of Korea, particularly in terms of suicide prevention. The Seoul Youth Guarantee Center is an online government-run counseling program for suicide prevention, expanded in a large scale in response to a 36% increase in the number of women who deliberately harmed themselves in the first half of 2020 due to the effect of the pandemic-related restrictions. They more than doubled the original target of 700 counselors and received around 5,000 calls (31.6 percent more than the previous year).

The research team often found information pertaining to certain target groups, such as victims of domestic violence and child abuse, and sex workers. It is unclear whether or not this is because information was more easily available due to the attention given to those groups, following media reports on their situation.

One such example is from the National Network of Sex Workers in India, providing food to families of sex workers in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Jharkhand in India. The Network responds to the needs of sex workers, whose work opportunities have significantly decreased due to the pandemic.

There is also an apparent frequency of responses involving the use of technology and innovative practices. Technologies used range from very high-tech to relatively low-tech, involving computer softwares and mobile phone applications that match needs and demands, creation of digital platforms, information dissemination on the internet space, automatic dispensing machines, and 3D printers.

For example, a specialized software development and servicing company developed a fast digital tea bidding platform for tea in Sri Lanka, making the tea auction safe and secure. By ensuring that the tea market continues to operate amidst COVID-19, the livelihood of almost two million people involved in the tea plantation business were secured. This has had a particularly positive effect on women, who make up most of the primary workforce in tea-picking.

In another example, a Japanese non-governmental organization (NGO) provided cash grants through a mobile phone system to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and repatriated refugees affected by the spread of COVID-19 in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. This unique assistance worked across the border, and the distribution was followed up by monitoring through phone and in-person interviews.

3D printers were used in another example. T​he Hong Kong Polytechnic University​ developed reusable 3D-printed eye visors and face shields for hospitals. These were used by medical workers for protection from COVID-19 infection.

Yet another example responds to exacerbated food insecurity during the pandemic. A businessman in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, invented a ‘Rice ATM’, an always accessible automatic rice dispensing machine to give people access to rice, a basic food staple in Vietnam. Similar machines have reportedly been set up in Hanoi, Hue and Danang provinces in Vietnam.

​Many of the effective measures responsive to the particular need of beneficiaries appear to be locally based, or community based, and operated on a small scale. For example, Women Enablers Advocates and Volunteers for Empowering and Responsive Solutions (WEAVER) and the Divisoria Peatland Farmers Association are working in response to specific needs in small communities in Leyte province, the Philippines. They encourage senior citizens to engage in collective subsistence farming.This activity aims not only to secure food sources, but also to open up more livelihood opportunities for the local population by pursuing the replanting crops that have multiple uses.

​In similar interventions, materials used can be uniquely local, too. For example, in Cotabato, Philippines, weavers and workers in a cooperative exporting bamboo products have shifted from its ordinary business to making face shields using bamboo frames.

Oftentimes, such interventions were of self-help type, assisting in the identification of specific needs of the group and the preparation of responses that benefit them most effectively. For example, in Taiwan, the first labour union by and for foreign workers has provided tailored assistance to migrant workers. Not only did they distribute medical supplies to migrant fishermen, but also provided legal support and information on human rights-related issues such as the exploitative nature of their work, especially in the time of COVID-19.

As with the above example, where business entities are involved, numerous examples of repurposing economic activities were collected. Amongst them, the example of immediate repurposing by a business corporation making surgical masks during the phase of mask shortage in Japan at the onset of the pandemic, appears to have made a positive impact on the population seeking to protect themselves. Other business corporations followed suit by manufacturing thermometers, thermal cameras, partitions, face shield and masks.

One type of service appeared frequently in the team’s search for good practice, and seems effective and cost-efficient. That is the provision of accessible and understandable information for target groups. One subtype is raising awareness about COVID-19 prevention, necessary measures and treatment, and COVID tests and medical services available. Another subtype is providing information about available services, both public and private, on a range of issues including educational resources, housing and necessary commodities.

An example of such is the use of a digital networking application for accelerated training and recruitment of medical practitioners. Docquity is such an application used in Indonesia. With the cooperation of the Health Ministry, it provided on-line training platforms. Seminars, on-line lectures and training by medical experts were provided to trainees and volunteers. Through the use of this digital network, recipients can update and develop their practical medical knowledge, and boost hospitals’ capacity to deal with COVID-19 patients and related issues. This also accelerated recruitment of volunteer medical practitioners.

The practice of a foundation working on women’s shelters in Taipei city, Taiwan, is also a good example. The Garden of Hope Foundation from the Asian Network of Women’s Shelters not only provides services, but also assists survivors of gender-based violence through information on available resources such as shelters.


Preliminary findings indicate that interventions based on existing networks and particular strength of actors, which are locally provided based on the specific situation of target communities effectively assist in protecting vulnerable and marginalized groups. In this time of pandemic, various actors, including different types of civil society groups, self-help networks and business entities, have been innovatively repurposing their responses. It is particularly apparent that technology is being used to tailor services to respond to particular needs and situations of target beneficiaries.

The crowdsourcing research is presently at a stage of checking with organizations and beneficiaries involved to determine the effectiveness and sustainability of the practices identified in the database. Where beneficiaries stories confirm that the service helped ease the vulnerability/marginalization caused by COVID-19 and related restrictions, and where the practice may be transferable to other services, target groups or geographic areas, the research team will recommend sharing and expanding these examples as universal model responses. Further information on these best practices in the region will be collected simultaneously.

The following student researchers made contribution​s: Amishi Agrawal, Raymond Andaya, Tong Fei, Paul Namkoong Hwa, Dinesh Joshi, and Chihiro Toya. ​Additionally, the author would like to thank Mr. Raymond Andaya for editing this submission.

IHL Moot Japan 2020: Heartful Congratulations to the University of Tokyo team

On 28-29 November, ICRC International Humanitarian Law Moot Court Japan 2020 was held on-line.

The University of Tokyo team won the best council (1st prize) at the IHL Moot Court Japan. Two of the team’s mooters, Chris Clayton and Mei Kanehara, won the two best mooter prize (same score) as well.

The team had three members: Timothy Massie, Mei Kanehara and Chris Clayton, and they all started learning the ABC of International Law in my class several months ago, lured into the world of IHL Moot competitions by their friends, who won the last year’s Moot.

Here, you can see their performance in their finals. Team 208, you are amazing, absorbing all the new knowledge and information and presenting them in a convincing, logical way. Most of all, their very amicable and supportive team spirit made the team a nothing but a joy to coach.

One of the mooter’s notebook full of logics and cases amazed me, as well as the cards that the team was producing quietly and politely in preparation for rebuttal in the Finals.

And the learning curve! I thoroughly enjoyed challenging their arguments in the coaching sessions. Your dedication will one day save real people who need protection.

Heartful congratulations!

Speakers who participated in the IHL Moot this year, supporters who made it happen, thank you very much, and congratulations! Members of the ICRC, organizers behind the scene and distinguished judges, thank you very much for organizing the event. My team testifies that this was the most exciting and great learning curve we’ve had, and we admired the professional, neat organization of the event.

The University of Tokyo team: from right to left – Chris Clayton, Mei Kanehara, Timothy Massie (the team) and me the coach

(We were obviously wearing masks all the time, had partitions between speakers and had hand sanitizers and wipes to ensure safety for all.)