Interview with Mark Cassayre, IDLO Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva
Mark Cassayre is the Permanent Observer of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva. He has over 25 years of diplomatic experience including in senior roles, such as Deputy Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN in Geneva and Office Director for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Among Mr. Cassayre’s other diplomatic assignments were postings in Mozambique, Namibia, Ukraine, and Kenya. An alumnus of the Geneva Graduate Institute, Mr. Cassayre also holds degrees in Political Science and French Literature from the University of California, Santa Barbara. NewSpecial interviewed Mr. Cassayre in the context of IDLO’s double anniversary – 40 years since its founding and 10 years since the establishment of its Permanent Delegation to the UN in Geneva.
You have seen International Geneva under many lights, first through your studies, then as a U.S. diplomat and now as a representative of an intergovernmental organization. Is Geneva still relevant in today’s complex world?
Absolutely. Seventy-five years ago, the post-war world turned to multilateralism. Geneva’s history of global norms setting, humanitarian action, and international problem-solving made it the ideal place for States to collaborate. Today, climate change, inequality, global conflicts, and nationally focused populism are powerful centrifugal forces tugging at the multilateral system and threatening peace, stability, and development. Geneva’s concentration of international organizations, skilled diplomats, and engagement opportunities, makes it the ideal place to solve today’s problems. Geneva represents the aspiration that, by working together, States can improve people’s lives and tackle new challenges. We need to reinvigorate that belief in cooperation by proving the value of the work we do here and delivering tangible results for people. The actors in Geneva are essential to making that a reality.
Geneva’s concentration of international organizations, skilled diplomats, and engagement opportunities, makes it the ideal place to solve today’s problems.
What will it take for international Geneva to have a real impact in overcoming these challenges?
Motivated individuals change the world. It’s not only Henry Dunant or Kofi Annan that mark history. I have often witnessed the impact that a driven international civil servant, a very small national delegation, or an NGO can have on international affairs. The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, the International Health Regulations, and other recent initiatives began with an idea and the tenacious optimism of a handful of people who put the issues on the agenda, made the effort to understand others’ positions, and then pushed their own and other governments to agree. International Geneva is at its best when the actors here are able to step out of the comfort zones of fixed speeches at recurring meetings, focus on people’s needs, and take necessary risks to find compromises and collaborate.
Where does IDLO fit into this picture? Could you provide our readers with an understanding of IDLO's mission and your role in Geneva?
IDLO is the only global intergovernmental organization devoted exclusively to promoting the rule of law to advance peace and sustainable development. Created 40 years ago as a judicial training institute, IDLO currently works with countries in every region of the world to strengthen justice institutions and enhance people’s access to justice. We work with governments and civil society actors alike, with all legal systems across the justice chain and related institutions, formal and informal, to help build more peaceful, inclusive, and resilient societies. IDLO’s mandate is particularly relevant to face the challenges I mentioned earlier. With our headquarters in Rome, the majority of our staff work from our nearly 20 country offices, plus our offices in New York, The Hague, and Geneva. We work in over 40 countries and partner closely with UN agencies, not only through our observer status at the UN, but also through joint programming, research, and advocacy. My role as IDLO’s Permanent Observer in Geneva is to collaborate with the organizations, institutions, and diplomatic partners here to advance the rule of law around the world.
What is it about the "rule of law" that you believe makes it so fundamental?
The rule of law is a powerful tool. It is essential for nearly every aspect of life. Peace and security, human rights, health, trade, sustainable development, climate mitigation, anti-corruption and investment all require the rule of law. This is because good intentions are not accountability mechanisms for governments or citizens. Laws, regulations, and policies are. Genuine rule of law goes deeper than laws on the books. It requires inclusive decision-making, adherence to international standards, fair implementation, and a focus on solving people’s problems. It responds to the needs of the most vulnerable and treats all equally under the law.
The rule of law generates trust in institutions and governance. It is a cornerstone of peace and prosperity. The rule of law generates trust in institutions and governance. It is a cornerstone of peace and prosperity.
But isn’t the rule of law under threat? What can be done to address failing institutions, political instability, discrimination, and waning trust in governance that you mention?
The rule of law is under threat in many places. Inequality, discrimination, repression, and disregard for the law undermine people’s rights and undercut development. Governments, international bodies, civil society, and everyday citizens must defend the concept of the rule of law and continue to strengthen institutions, as agreed in SDG 16. Political will and investment at the national and international levels are a must. Although exact numbers are hard to come by, it is estimated that less than two percent of overseas development assistance went to justice funding. At the national level, investment levels vary widely. Yet, people rely on the rule of law for solutions. The advantage of looking at governance through the lens of the rule of law is that it has such positive benefits, not only for accountability and enforcement, but for economic growth, human rights, peace, and stability. Our partner countries have specifically invested in the rule of law because they see the benefits in terms of economic growth, stability, and sustainable development.
Our partner countries have specifically invested in the rule of law because they see the benefits in terms of economic growth, stability, and sustainable development.
What specific initiatives or projects does IDLO propose to address these challenges, and how can others collaborate with your mission?
IDLO has a toolbox that States and civil society can use. We regularly support countries’ efforts to improve justice service delivery, be it through enhanced capacity building, strengthened legal frameworks, and improved accessibility. To cite a few examples, IDLO’s model for judicial oversight assists governments to curb corruption in the judiciary. Our pro bono legal support for LDCs enhances investment and helps resolve international commercial disputes. IDLO has done innovative work to improve the standards used by customary and informal justice systems. Working with WHO, we support countries’ efforts to combat non-communicable diseases and respond to health emergencies. We work at the nexus of climate and gender to advance women’s participation in decision-making and responses, and our legal reviews are empowering governments and communities to roll-back laws that discriminate against women.
I would be happy to explore opportunities to collaborate with potential partners in Geneva. I am only a phone call away. I also invite partners in Geneva to join our anniversary events in October and November, where they can contribute to discussions about how the rule of law can promote human rights, peace, and sustainable development.