Have a message

‘Have a message’, by Mr. Stefan G. Ziegler, Humanitarian Practitioner, Lecturer and Trainer

I am honoured to be part of a small but intriguingly special university institute and particularly among my colleagues in the faculty. My background is based on praxis. Of course, I did have the chance to study sociology of development and international relations at the age of 30 after having managed a number of small-sized businesses.

Subsequently I joined the International Committee of the Red Cross at 34 and later the United Nations (UN). I always preferred to work on the ground and with the people directly affected by conflict. Advocating for those whose voices are not very well heard, if at all, I became astutely aware of the necessity to build capacity of organisations and individuals within them, to ensure results were felt on the ground. I am therefore no stranger to talking to beneficiaries and officials, donors and international community representatives.

Eventually, in the summer of 2013 I took another major step in my career. I established myself as an advocacy and capacity building specialist trainer seeking to strengthen the skills of those serving impacted populations.

In 2014 GSD opened its doors to me where I could impart my competences and experience with students. It was a great privilege as I never saw myself as an academic per se. But to be appreciated, as a practitioner giving from his experience to students ready to embrace careers in the international relations arena was quite a cornerstone in my life, one I would not like to have missed, particularly in a School such as GSD.

All along the time that I have been serving GSD, I have had a rather special project, which I drove on beside my other training and lecturing work. I had the ambition to make a documentary film on a subject I know very well. I had been initiating Wall monitoring in Palestine’s West Bank ever since joining UNRWA in 2005, a year after the international Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an Advisory Opinion rendering the Wall Israel had built predominantly on Palestinian land, illegal.

In 2009 the Swiss Government’s Agency for Development granted UNRWA the money to establish what we called the Barrier Monitoring Unit (BMU), a project combining emergency and development objectives in its project design. For three years I was at the helm of this unit and the indicators showed we were on track to deliver this unit to the Palestinian Authority after a second three-year term.

For many reasons, but primarily political reasons (no other State supported the monitoring of the Wall, nor did UNRWA feel particularly easy dealing with both refugees and non-refugees) the unit was closed down.

The day I was leaving the West Bank and my job I remember sitting on an aircraft at Ben Gurion Airport. I knew that my road ahead had a distinct fork in it. I could go and try getting a new job at the UN or another organisation, or I needed to keep advocating for the roughly 750’000 people, without voice, in communities directly impacted by the Wall. I also knew that I was the only person who knew the methodology to implement such a monitoring system, and many other aspects, more than anybody else in the world. Ethically speaking, there was only one way to go.

To advocate for those countless human beings as a one-man show was near impossible. I took some time to reflect and eventually I came up with the idea to make a documentary film looking at the problematic from an international law point of view starting with the ICJ Opinion of 2004.

After contacting an American-Palestinian Filmmaker, Mohammed Alatar, who showed his readiness to make a film on the Wall again, his first documentary came out in late 2005, we started collaborating on this highly ambitious project.

Now, over two and a half years later the film “BROKEN – A Journey Through International Law” is about to be released. The films rough cut was shown to students of GSD at its first public viewing. Their critical feedback was helpful and will be incorporated in the final version. For more information about BROKEN, please click here. 

My passion for ever changing knowledge and understanding in a highly complex world drives me to pursue my projects whose spirit make it into my teaching and training sessions. I hope my students like my teaching as much as I like their freshness in contributing to topics of advocacy and communications, humanitarian diplomacy and project management in field operations.


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