ANU Law alumna Jane Connors (BA ’75, LLB (Hons) ’76, LLM ’80) has marked one year since she was appointed the first Victims’ Rights Advocate for the United Nations by Secretary-General António Guterres in late August 2017.
She has spent the past 12 months fighting to ensure that the UN response to sexual exploitation and abuse perpetuated by UN personnel focuses upon the rights and the dignity of the victims.
“Essentially [the role] is to advocate for the victims of sexual exploitation and abuse which has been perpetrated by those under the UN flag, and they can be UN peacekeepers, they can be non-UN troops under a Security Council mandate keeping the peace, or building the peace; and they can be UN staff members,” Jane explains.
“This role is to give a voice to the victims, to focus on their experience, hopefully prevent this experience, but if it’s happens, to focus on ensuring that there is a capacity to collect evidence so there can be a proper investigation of the events, so that possibly there could be accountability, but essentially also to make sure that the process the victim goes through takes into account at the highest level the rights and entitlements of the victims.
“I like to say we want to translate the victim into a survivor.”
Thus far, she has visited the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Haiti, Lebanon and Jordan to understand how UN actors work to support victims of sexual exploitation and abuse, and to inform her recommendations on necessary improvements.
Jane says she pursued a Bachelor of Laws and higher research because of the professional qualification it provided and her interest in medico-legal issues and the interface of confidentiality with the interests of victims of domestic abuse.
“Living in Canberra provided access to Australian politics and the law teachers at ANU, particularly Constitutional Law made me conscious of how politics and law were intertwined,” Jane recalls.
“During my time in the law school we tended to read the primary sources (the cases and legislation) rather than textbooks, but I did enjoy reading articles and medico-legal texts, especially by Bernard Dickens.
“I had various positions as a research assistant and tutor during my postgraduate studies and liked reading and writing.
“I was also interested in feminist theory and the human rights of women, with these topics being the focus of most of my later teaching and UN work.”
After her BA/LLB (Hons), Jane then studied her Master of Laws and conducted a thesis on reporting child abuse, a topic now relevant to her current role.
During her time at ANU, Ms Connors was the President of the Law Students’ Society and was taught by inspiring teachers such as the late Professor Leslie Zines.
“Professors David Hambly and Helen Gamble also gave me a lot of support during this time,” Jane says.
“Professor Don Greig suggested I work abroad after I finished my thesis.
“He helped me find a short-term appointment in the Law Department of the University of Nottingham in the UK in 1982, and this began my career abroad.”
Since graduating from The Australian National University, Ms Connors has had an impressive career in the human rights sphere.
She worked for the UN from 1996 until 2015, holding positions such as the Director of the Research and Right to Development Division and Chief of the Special Procedures Branch at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Most recently, Ms Connors was the International Advocacy Director Law and Policy for Amnesty International in Geneva. She has also taught in universities in both the UK and Australia.
Based in New York, Ms Connors is currently working on multiple projects in her role as the UN VRA, which should be available in 2019.
They include: mapping victim’s rights approaches and services available through the UN system and beyond; collecting the best practices of states and civil society; and developing policies and tools to strengthen victim support.
Learn more about Jane Connors, you can listen to her interview with Professor Kim Rubenstein as part of Professor Rubenstein's ARC linkage oral history project 'Trailblazing Women and the Law' project . Jane is also profiled in the online exhibition Australian women lawyers as Active Citizens.