01 February 2003
by Artashes Melikyan
Interview by Caroline Stiebler, Head of Communications Unit, UN Volunteers
Artashes Melikyan, an Armenian, has been based in Kazakhstan for the past three years as a UN Volunteer and human rights specialist. He has assisted the Government in creating an ombudsman law and office. Cooperating with a range of international organizations, Artashes Melikyan works with government bodies to compile reports on the country's human rights situation. He also provides advice and training to the Government, NGOs, mass media and academic institutions on issues of international human rights law and their application in Kazakhstan. Artashes is part of a global network of 17 UN Volunteers under the Human Rights Strengthening Programme (HURIST), a joint initiative of UNDP and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to mainstream human rights into the development programming of UN agencies and civil society organizations.
What is the nature of your work as a volunteer?
I assist governmental and non-governmental partners in Kazakhstan in developing national capacities for human rights protection. Engaging in a range of promotional activities, assisting in the development of institutions, drafting legislation, training and networking are part and parcel of my work. Cooperating closely with key local and national organizations, capacity building, education, awareness, operational advice and training, proactive advocacy, research and reporting constitute the essence of my assignment as a UN Volunteer HURIST human rights promoter. The Human Rights Strengthening Programme (Hurist) is a joint initiative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to mainstream human rights into the development programming of UN agencies and civil society organizations.
How did you find out about the opportunity to work as a UN Volunteer, and how were you selected?
I learnt about this interesting opportunity in 1995 from UNDP and immediately was enthusiastic. I applied in 1998 and was included in the UNV roster. In 2000, I was contacted on a possible deployment to Kazakhstan. After two successful interviews - one by UNDP/UNV Kazakhstan and another by UNDP/UNV in my home country, Armenia - I was, indeed selected for the position in mid-2000. I started my UNV assignment in August 2000.
What prompted you to become a volunteer?
The idea of contributing to peace-building and development activities by volunteering at the international level was very tempting! I also hoped to gain valuable professional experiences and learn from and about other cultures. The opportunity to work in a multicultural setting, requiring the flexibility and readiness to adapt to challenges and differing conditions was very appealing too. The idea of doing this not for a financial benefit but as a voluntary service through such a highly respected organization like UNV seemed to me exactly what I was looking for.
What were your expectations of volunteer work, and were these met?
My image of a volunteer has been and still is the notion of someone ready to be flexible, to adapt, to listen and to understand, to identify problems and to propose solutions. To put it in a one word, a person who is ready to help the people. I am happy to say that my expectations have been fully met!
Please describe your work as a volunteer.
Cooperating with national authorities, NGOs and universities dealing with human rights issues is the major component of my work. I closely assisted the drafting of an Ombudsman law and in the following process of creating an Ombudsman institution in Kazakhstan. Since the start of my assignment in August 2000, I have lectured students of five universities on the topic of UN and International Protection of Human Rights. Initially this was a special course - which is currently being included in the regular curricula of the universities. For me, the communication with the younger generation - the future of Kazakhstan - proved to be very beneficial. I was highly impressed by the vivid interest expressed by the local law students towards UN and human rights law.
What were your views about volunteerism before you started work, and how have these views changed as a result of your work as a volunteer?
My views were basically related to making a voluntary contribution and helping the people. In this sense, there has been no change. However, as a result of my work as a volunteer, I came to realize the impact of volunteer contributions worldwide. Enough to bring about change on a global level! Volunteers might help to improve realities in any given country by developing the economy, establishing a legal culture, preventing and resolving conflicts - doing a lot of extremely useful work. Previously, I did not realize that the impact of volunteerism could be so huge. I think the IYV 2001 was a great opportunity in this sense, which helped opening the eyes of the world vis-à-vis the tremendous benefits of volunteerism.