A conversation with Paula Souverijn-Eisenberg (CRS ‘95,’96, ‘98), Administrative Officer at the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals and member of the LAJF Board of Directors

Paula (CRS ‘95, ‘96, ‘98) first joined Camp Rising Sun as a counselor in 1995, and has since spent several summers as staff and a visitor, and is now a member of  the LAJF Board of Directors. She currently is the Administrative Officer  of the Hague Branch of the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT). Inna Kuvich (CRS ‘01,’02, ‘06) chatted with her about the work of the UN, the impact CRS has had in her life and her work at the Board of Directors.

Inna Kuvich: What do you do now and how did you get there?

Paula Souverijn-Eisenberg: I am theAdministrative Officer at the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, which is a successor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. We have  branch in the Hague which deals with cases related to the genocide in the former Yugoslavia and a Branch in Tanzania which deals with cases related to the Rwandan genocide. It is one of the few international criminal tribunals in the world, and I am very happy to be part of this. For victims as well as our international justice at large, it is incredibly important to ensure that justice is served where it is due, even if it takes decades.  

I started working for the UN 13 years ago in the area of gender, and quickly moved to knowledge management and best practices in the New York UN headquarters’ Department of Peacekeeping Operations. I then went to Sudan to do peacekeeping work in the field for 2 years. There I became interested in how those big missions are managed, specifically from a support side, how logistics work. It is a big puzzle that really interest me. Back again in NY HQ, I joinedthe Department of Field Support where our work involved ensuring the timely availability of human and financial resources, as well as logistical matters such as rations, accommodation, aviation, troops movements, etc. for peacekeeping missions.

Inna: How did you get interested in this type of work and what was the first job that got you to the UN:

Paula: I have always had a very strong interest in developing countries. I wanted to become a doctor and join Doctors Without Borders, but med school was not in the cards. I studied Development Studies, with a focus on man-made disasters, linking relief and development, from emergency aid towards more sustainable development. How can you move away from an emergency situation towards a more sustainable one? Out of this interest, during my studies I conducted research in the Tamil region of Sri Lanka, spent some time in Somalia and Nairobi doing research for my masters thesis, and also interned at the UN HQ in NYC.

During my university studies I worked at Camp Rising Sun and met Ian Eisenberg, who is now my husband, and moved to NYC after graduation. I spent some time working in different fields, volunteering for the Red Cross after 9/11 and heading the leadership department of a small NGO working with people with disabilities, when I was told about a UN position in a gender related project which I applied to and got.

Inna: Can you give an example about a mission for the UN?

Paula: It depends on what part of the UN we are speaking about and it depends on the mandate by the UN Security Council. UN Peacekeeping missions today include:  DRC, Central African Republic, Darfur, South Sudan, Haiti, Afghanistan, couple in Middle east, among others. They can cover  anything from the really traditional monitoring of ceasefire agreement like in Cyprus, Kashmere or the Golan Heights. And then other much more active ones in war zones, like in Congo or South Sudan, where the mission actively contributes to making peace, not just keeping peace.

In short a mission is a combination of a military component, a police component and civilian component. The civilian component includes substantive functions (political affairs, humanitarian help) and a support side (administration, logistics, and just about everything to make sure that the military, the police and the substantive civil component have the means to carry out their work).

Inna: Why do you find most inspiring about what you do?

Paula: There are two basic things that I love about my job. On the practical level, sorting out logistics and everything that is needed to support a UN entity is a big puzzle, we keep a million balls in the air at the same time, which I find very exciting. But at a much higher level, what I do contributes to something that I find valuable. An international Tribunal is an organization that brings justice and that purposefulness really drives me.

Inna: How does the current political climate impact your work?

Paula: Since the Former Yugoslavia and the Rwanda tribunals have been around for 20 years, and they have a solid mandate that we implement, the current political climate does not immediately affect my daily work. However, it brings a whole lot of questions at other levels: will the US stay in the UN? Will it pay its dues? Will the UN be undermined?  

Another aspect is the current political climate in Europe. See the refugee crisis, for instance. Many of the people arriving in Europe come from countries where the UN works. We must understand the circumstances that are making people flee. While I understand to some extent some of the frustrations feeding dislike of refugees, there seems to be very little understanding by many in Europe or the US of the situation that causes people flee. I don’t understand how we can be so hard refusing entry to people who are fleeing war.

In the case of Syria, one could imagine that acts committed there could very easily qualify for an international tribunal, but this would have to be agreed upon by the Security Council and would likely be vetoed by 1 or more of its permanent members, so it is not very likely.

Inna: How has your experience at Camp Rising Sun shaped your worldview?

My experience has been different to that of campers, given that when I started working there, I had already chosen my field of studies and was already at university at the time. However, I remember very clearly that in 1996 we visited Washington DC and the World Bank. I remember holding very strong opinions, and some of the campers disagreed with me in a discussion we were having, which was one of the first times I realised that views held by others are equally valid. This made me open my mind. I was initially taken aback, but in hindsight I was very impressed by the knowledge these campers had and their ability to articulate and defend their arguments. It was a good lesson for me to accept and truly internalise that there are other points of view out there.

Inna: Why is Camp Rising Sun important today?

Paula: I just find the Camp Rising Sun community very inspiring. Especially in today’s political climate, irrespective of where we stand in the political spectrum, the atmosphere has become very polarised, and very crude and rude. Where in the past getting a Palestinian and an Israeli camper together was a big achievement, now the challenge is also getting campers from different political backgrounds to foster this understanding and promote communication at a young age.

It is also becoming harder for campers from certain nationalities to enter the US, and the harder it becomes the more important our mission becomes.

I believe that humanity is not intrinsically bad, and that Camp Rising Sun contributes to making the world a better place, in some way. Times are grim today but we need to keep pushing forward, and bringing different people together is a way to do so.

Inna: Why did you join the Board of Directors and the  New York and Dutch Alumni Associations?

Paula: Firstly, I love, respect and desire to see LAJF succeed for many generations to come. I want LAJF and CRS to live a healthy and long life. I’d love my kids to be legacy campers in 2025 and 2027. I wanted to take a more active role and contribute to the very interesting discussions that are going on about the future of Camp Rising Sun. On the other hand, being a board member contributes to my own professional development. I have been on the Boards of small Dutch NGOs, but never of  a US or international organization.

Also, it is important for me to highlight that my only CRS campus has been Red Hook, and that I have a lot of love for that campus. That was my first camp, I spent 3 summers there, met my husband there, I was proposed to in the Council Ring at Red Hook. That campus is important to me, as it is to many of our alumni. That’s why the Board’s strategic plan, including its commitment to try to re-open RH, is important. We also have to be realistic though. Contributions will have to significantly increase. It’s good to take a breather to assess the possibilities available to us. 

Inna: What is the most important value that Camp Rising sun has given you?

Being open to other points of view. And the importance of getting people of different points of view together, to break out of our bubbles. It is hard to force ourselves to be open irrespective of which side we stand on. The opportunity to be amongst a group of people from different backgrounds is incredible.


There is a discussion about careers at the UN in the Camp Rising Sun alumni forum that you can contribute to here.

If you found this conversation interesting and would like to be interviewed or interview another CRS alumnus/a, let us know. We would love to hear from you.