Notre Dame students participate in United Nations drafting session

Author: Kevin Fye

Students At Un

Three Notre Dame students recently had the extraordinary opportunity to participate in the drafting of a United Nations convention focused on the right to development. The students, affiliates of the Klau Center Center for Civil and Human Rights, traveled with Professor Diane Desierto to New York in October. Undergraduates Elizabeth Konfrst and Nelisha Silva, and Notre Dame Law School J.S.D. student Maryssa Gabriel, took part in the confidential drafting sessions conducted by the Group of Experts at the United Nations headquarters.

The undergraduates had the chance to take minutes of the proceedings as well as make official edits as directed by the Experts, while Gabriel engaged in research that helped guide the process.

Konfrst, a political science major, was impressed with the level of involvement they were afforded. “I had the opportunity to network and talk about human rights with some of the world’s foremost experts on the subject,” she said. “I had never visited the United Nations in New York, and I was struck by the magnitude of the work being done there. The ability to talk with the world leaders on human rights issues was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I learned an incredible amount from them.”

Silva is enrolled in the Klau Center’s undergraduate concentration in civil and human rights, part of the Keough School’s Supplementary Major in Global Affairs. For her, the experience highlighted the value of access to the highest levels of international human rights advocacy. “I was surprised by how welcoming and non-threatening the UN Headquarters were,” she recalled. “Obviously, it is the headquarters of a multilateral agency, but there was no air of elitism, just a warm atmosphere where I was invited to share my opinions on matters related to the treaty.” The opportunity to develop in-depth knowledge of policy development also impressed Silva. “I learned a lot about how to advocate for groups that lack a voice in proceedings such as these, and I learned how much prior policy comes into play when developing new policy.”

Gabriel At UnMaryssa Gabriel

Gabriel, a doctoral candidate in the J.S.D. Program in International Human Rights Law (co-sponsored by the Klau Center and Notre Dame Law School), conducted research which examined current compliance mechanisms in the core human rights treaties. “The drafting meetings provided me with an invaluable learning experience, both professionally and academically," said Gabriel. “As expert drafters, our team considered international law standards, treaty law, business standards, contract law and human rights standards and principles. It was surprising to me how so many different areas of law informed the drafting of a new human rights treaty.”

Desierto, who co-authored the draft convention, was impressed by the quality of the student input. “It was historic that the only students present at the UN during the drafting of the new Convention on the Right to Development were our Notre Dame students,” said Desierto. “Their hard work with the Group of Experts and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was greatly valued by all, both as to the quality of the research substance and content, as well as to their immense procedural and logistical support for the textual finalization of the Convention. It was one of my proudest moments to witness as a Notre Dame professor.”

The final draft that emerged from the sessions will be transmitted by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Chair of the UN Intergovernmental Working Group on the Right to Development for vote of the States at the Palais des Nations in Geneva in April.

Originally published by Kevin Fye at on November 18, 2019.