Kevin Chang has been working at the intersection of conflict, poverty and human rights for the past 15 years. Originally trained in conflict resolution, Kevin came to realise that, as the world’s conflicts got more complex, he needed more tools as a practitioner. “In my early experience working on conflict, I realised that justice and the rule of law are fundamental to every peace process – whether it relates to child soldiers, constitution, transitional justice or power-sharing”. And so he made the decision to return to law school. As a lawyer, Kevin finds his legal expertise makes him a better mediator and advocate.
A strong supporter of the UN’s mission, Kevin has worked for various parts of the organisation across development, humanitarian and peacekeeping mandates – with UNDP in Geneva and Nepal, UNHCR in Pakistan, and the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste. He teaches and researches on the UN’s role in peacekeeping, conflict prevention and development as a Visiting Scholar at the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney. He has also served as legal and policy advisor with the Australian Government.
Notwithstanding his dedication to the UN’s mission, Kevin is concerned that the organisation has compromised its own reputation in recent times through acts that have harmed the very population it is mandated to protect. This has been the motivation behind his recent work to promote a more ethical and accountable UN through training and advice on conflict-sensitive approaches and strengthening of the organisation’s accountability mechanisms. “Despite representing the loftiest ideals of humanity, like any organisation, the UN can make mistakes” he says. “For the organisation to remain a moral authority, it must conduct itself by the same international standards it seeks to promote”.
Kevin is a Taiwanese-Australian who, when not working on peace and development issues, enjoys trekking in Asia’s mountains, finessing his one-handed backhand, and enjoying a bowl of hot noodle soup.
What is the first website you visit after you get up and why?
News and political analysis, and more of the same through social media feeds. ABC News (Australia), The Guardian, Al Jazeera are early morning treats. I also love my sport and keep an eye on the NBA and tennis when I have time.
Tell me about a book that has had an impact on your life and why.
There are a few, but “Why Weren’t We Told?” by Australian historian Henry Reynolds opened my eyes to the treatment of Australia’s Indigenous peoples that I did not learn in school. “Delivering Us from Evil” by William Shawcross introduced me to the UN’s immense challenges, and the adventures of figures like Kofi Annan and Sérgio Vieira de Mello in the early days of UN peacekeeping.
Who are your favourite authors?
I have to mention my maternal grandmother, Lin Hai Yin (林海音), who is a celebrated author in modern Chinese and Taiwanese history, and one of the first feminist writers across two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
I don’t find a lot of time to read books. From my lawyerly/academic side, there are several present day scholars and advocates that I admire – mainly people who write on human rights issues.
What historical figure do you identify with?
I am inspired by Martin Luther King for his courage and principles, Muhammad Ali for his flare and defiance and Nelson Mandela for his strength and compassion.
Who are your heroes in real life?
My grandparents on both sides had the foresight to uproot their families and flee to Taiwan from Mainland China during the Chinese Civil War, leaving loved ones behind. In today’s terms, they would be called refugees, but growing up in Taiwan, my family never considered ourselves as such. They rebuilt their lives successfully in Taiwan, and helped make it the miracle it is today, but the pain of war always remains. My paternal grandfather was separated from the rest of the family, and my father grew up without knowing him, until two decades after his passing.
What is your favourite occupation?
In my approach to work, three factors are essential – making a tangible difference in people’s lives, rising to the technical challenge, and enjoying the process along the way.
What influenced your career path?
The experience of war and displacement in my family, as a result of separation of China and Taiwan, motivate me to work on peace, justice and international relations. My experience as a migrant to Australia motivate me to work on issues of human rights and equal opportunity.
I don’t look at my career as a ‘path’, as I tend to reject conventional considerations. I have led what most people would consider an unorthodox career trajectory, given the number of degrees I’ve completed (six) and the professional fields I’ve dabbled in (law, conflict, human rights, environment). I see a career as synonymous with a continuous enlargement of knowledge, experiences and relationships, rather than security, money or status.
What do you like about what you do?
Seeing the world, learning new perspectives, bringing people together, honing your craft, improving yourself. What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
Helping to implement Nepal’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement, leading the UN integrated security sector reform programme in Timor-Leste, and supporting colleagues to become better practitioners in peace and development.
My admission as a Lawyer to the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory was a special moment. Another one fell on my 21st birthday, when I officiated in the Australian Open final as a tennis umpire in front of 15,000 people and millions more on TV.