What Being an "International Civil Servant" Means to Me

I solemnly declare and promise to exercise in all loyalty, discretion and conscience the functions entrusted to me as an international civil servant of the United Nations, to discharge these functions and regulate my conduct with the interests of the United Nations only in view, and not to seek or accept instructions in regard to the performance of my duties from any Government or other source external to the Organization. -- Staff Regulations of the United Nations, Article I, Regulation 1.1

I began thinking about this issue long after I probably should have. The opportunity offered me by the United Nations precipitated my journey into this very unique, and I think very advantageous and honorable, situation of being an international civil servant.

Until this whole thing happened to me (and there is really no better way to phrase it), I had been a long-time holder of the Alien Registration Card, better known as the"green card." I've beein in the United States since 1976, and had been a permanent resident of the United States since 1981, while I retained my Japanese citizenship. Being a foreign national in the United States led me to think deeply and thoroughly (at least, as much as a 30-year-old can) about my identity, as it is tied to my nationality and my (un)chosen place of residence. Retaining my Japanese citizenship while being a U.S. permanent resident enabled me to enjoy all of the benefits of dual citizenship, except suffrage. Whether my apolitical nature led to my disinterest in my right to vote, or vice versa, is not all that important now; nevertheless, I have always thought it to my advantage that I can observe and develop opinions relatively free of the subjectivity with which those who have a vested interest in maintaining their right to vote are burdened.

Additionally, since whenever I became self-aware, and became cognizant of the fact that I was becoming fast bilingual (and, consequently, bicultural, as I've discovered), I thought that working for the United Nations in some capacity -- translator or simultaneous interpreter came to mind -- would be a very good thing to do when I grew up. Later on, as a teenager, I had given up on that idea, once (1) I had learned that people get burned out after about two years, (2) I discovered the world of teenage-dom, and (3) I fell in love with the theatre. I still felt the pull of doing something international, even in that last capacity -- I still dream of writing a completely bilingual play that can be understood by people who only know one of the languages. However, the idea of working for the United Nations must never have truly left me, as I included Geneva in my spring break itinerary during my junior abroad at Sussex, specifically to visit the Palais des Nations, the building that houses the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG), among other UN programmes and Specialised Agencies.

As it turned out, the opportunity for this germ of a thought that had been in and out of my life to become reality also turned out to signal the end of my enjoyment of my pseudo-dual-citizenship. Despite all of my efforts to convince the great bureaucratic edifice that is the United Nations, I was told, summarily, that if I am to be employed by the United Nations as a staff member of the Secretariat, I must give up my U.S. permanent residency.

This set into motion what I suppose can be called the "Nagumo Family Wheel O' Activity." My sister and I discussed the ramifications of this turn of events. My mother called the immigration lawyer who had helped our family obtain permanent residency 20+ years ago. My father even volunteered to become an American citizen to make it easier for me to regain my permanent residency, should I choose to leave U.N. employment, and actually went to visit the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, as well as the office of Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs for consultation.

In the end, I gave up my green card. In a way, it was really rather anti-climactic, and in fact, I still have the card, physically. Because the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo failed to collect my green card when they issued my G-4 visa (the visa for international civil servants), I still had it in my possession when I came back from Japan. I've of course now been instructed by the United States Mission to the United Nations that I should surrender it when I next exit then reenter the United States (time to make a little visit to Canada, perhaps?). In any case, with that, I thought, ended one period of my life, the end of a rather fortunate status.

However, I have come to think that perhaps that was a blessing in disguise. With my ties to Japan, as the nation of my birth, and the United States, as the nation of my upbringing, I had become very much mired in the push and pull of the two countries. Working at the United Nations has reminded me that these two countries are not the be-all and end-all of international affairs. My supervisor is a man from Ukraine; two of my colleagues are from Germany, one from Syria. In one day, I helped people from the permanent missions from Vietnam and Suriname, and people from countries I am embarrassed to admit my ignorance of their location. In the American (and western European) preoccupation with their own political affairs, we forget that the United Nations also serves peoples in Africa, Asia, in Central and South America, places where little attention is paid, except in television images showing devastation whether caused by natural disasters or human cruelty. Even if I leave this insitution only with this, I am thankful for this opportunity.

What truly gave me the impetus to consider all of this, was the Declaration I was required to sign upon my induction as a staff member of the United Nations Secretariat. The significance of this Declaration may not be immediately clear. However, the more I thought about the meaning of this solemn promise, the more I thought that, with my letting go of my green card came a gift that may better befit me as a person who believes herself to be a citizen of the world. By signing this Declaration, I promised that I would not pledge allegiance to any one nation or authority, but only to the United Nations, the Secretariat, and the Secretary-General. I promised that I would treat peoples and individuals with fairness and equanimity, and giving no one special treatment. I could become the international person that I thought I always should be, by virtue of becoming an international civil servant.

This, in essence, is what being an international civil servant means to me. It means that I must always strive to be the epitome of fairness and equal treatment of all individuals, whatever their race, color, national origin, ethnicity, nationality, or any other method of categorization with which people have attempted to differentiate one group or individual from another. I think that this is one of the most noble causes that any single individual can attempt to achieve.

A note: "International Civil Servant" is NOT the same as "Diplomat." Diplomats have the interests of the countries they represent, and they are responsible to and report to the ministries and departments of the countries that sent them. International civil servants serve these diplomats in the best way possible through various services, including someone like me, who, as a librarian, attempts to provide them with the information they need to accomplish the goals of world peace and security through cooperation and various non-violent methods.