The top lawyer of the United Nations on Friday exhorted new law graduates of New York University (NYU) to help usher in a new era of accountability across the world and never to allow cynicism to erode their commitment to the cause of justice.
"I hope that, as lawyers, you will recognize that your contributions to the legal field may not yield immediate results, but that does not make your day-to-day efforts any less important," the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and UN Legal Counsel, Patricia O'Brien, said at the convocation of Master of Laws (LL.M.) graduates of the NYU School of Law.
O'Brien pointed out that in the decades following the Nuremberg Tribunals in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, international criminal justice seemed unattainable, amid the divisiveness of the Cold War. In recent years, however, many of those most responsible for atrocities and war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Cambodia have been brought to justice.
"We have changed the global landscape by chasing criminals and putting them on trial where they meet the hands of justice and the eyes of their victims," O'Brien told the graduates.
She urged them to emulate some distinguished members of the NYU alumni, including Carol Bellamy from the class of 1968, who went on to serve as Executive Direct of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) for 10 years after exemplary public service in New York State and New York City politics.
"From the class of 1974, Mohammed ElBaradei became the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)," O'Brien said. "For his efforts to prevent nuclear energy from being used for military purposes, he too won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005."
The NYU law school also produced countless members of the United States Congress, including Elihu Root from the class of 1867, who served as a US Senator and a Secretary of State. Root was a pioneer in international arbitration, an architect of the Permanent Court of International Justice, and a Nobel Peace Prize Winner, O'Brien pointed out.
"I would urge you to make your choices with a keen awareness of the incredibly privileged position that you are in. By virtue of holding a degree from this esteemed law school, by being part of this legacy, you will have doors open to you that are not open to others," she said. "You will have access to people and opportunities that others could never imagine to have for themselves - with the privileges of access and opportunity, comes the responsibility to speak out."