1970 - 1985: Family Ancestry and a Childhood spent Abroad; growing up at the Vicarage
Caecilia Johanna van Peski (1970) is a Dutch national who spent her childhood in Switzerland. She stems from a family of ship brokers, clergymen and diplomats that, towards the end of the 18th century, journeyed to the sprawling Port of Rotterdam after having left their native village of Peski in Russia, Poltava Oblast (present day Ukraine). Both her paternal grandfather as well as her paternal great-grandfather functioned as members of the diplomatic corps (i.c. Honorary Consul and Consul General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the Republic of Paraguay). Caecilia is the youngest of two children.
Caecilia's father, dr Adriaan Mari van Peski (Rotterdam 1925 - Tilburg 2002), a keen Theologian and prominent Minister within the Dutch Remonstrant Brotherhood, was a Fullbright student (1962-1963) at the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, USA. Union (est. 1836) is the oldest independent seminary in the United States and has long been known as a bastion of progressive Christian scholarship, with a number of prominent thinkers among its faculty and alumni. In the 20th century, Union became a center of liberal Christianity, serving as the birthplace of Black Theology and Womanist Theology, and other theological movements. Union is affiliated with neighboring Columbia University. Since 1928, the seminary has served as Columbia's constituent faculty of theology.
It was at Rockefeller's Riverside Church, part of Union Theological Seminary, where the young dr Van Peski met with dr Martin Luther King, who at the time was a reverend at Riverside. On August 28, 1963, the inspiration from these meetings, together with spiritual inspiration found in the writings by second Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, prompted dr Van Peski to march the Freedom March to Washington D.C. in what would be the largest mass movement and civil rights demonstration ever in the United States.
Caecilia's mother, Klasina Arina van Peski-van der Hucht (Nuth 1937 - Tilburg 2008), was an independent spirit and a warm-hearted Kindergarten teacher. She studied Montessori pedagogy as well as classical opera singing. Ina van Peski held a great love of children and was a firm supporter of a more liberal, child-centered upbringing. She combined home-making with being a pro-active vicar's wife. In addition, she held infinite creativity in music, nature and the arts.
Caecilia's roots in the Remonstrant Brotherhood have greatly influenced her views on society at large.The Remonstrant Brotherhood, an indigenous type of Protestantism, was established in the Netherlands in times before Calvinism. The church associates with the views of Leiden University scholar, Jacobus Arminius (Oudewater 1560 - Leiden 1609). At its very core, the Remonstrant Brotherhood seeks to impose a system of doctrines. In 1610, the Remonstrant Brotherhood presented a "remonstrance" to the States of Holland, in which they stated five articles characteristic of a free church. The Synod of Dordrecht (1618) expelled the Remonstrants and dismissed 200 Ministers, many of whom were banished or imprisoned. These Ministers formed themselves into a "brotherhood". From 1630, persecution slackened and churches were built. By 1860, the membership of the Brotherhood had fallen to 4,000, but then, as a result of the rise of religious modernism in terms of biblical criticism, modern science and philosophy, response to modern culture, and secularization, the Brotherhood with its evangelical freedom began to appeal to many. Today, the Remonstrant Brotherhood has some 6.000 members. Since 1921, one congregation has been located in Friedrichstadt an der Eider, Schleswig-Holstein, Federal Republic of Germany.
The statement of principle of the church reads: "The Remonstrant Brotherhood is a community of faith which, rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ and faithful to its principle of freedom and tolerance, seeks to worship and serve God". Most Remonstrants place a lot of emphasis on personal faith, on which they are by no means always in agreement with each other. What binds them together is the statement of principle.The Remonstrants proclaim that the responsibility of man, pre-ordination through foreknowledge of faith, and the death of Christ is sufficient for all. In line with the progressive views on religion, Remonstrants have been blessing same-sex partnerships on an equal footing as different sex weddings from 1986 onwards with the legally acknowledged civil same-sex marriages becoming possible in the Netherlands only in 2001. In this, the Remonstrant Brotherhood was the first Christian church in the world to bless same-sex relationships similar to other relations. The Remonstrant Brotherhood is also the first church in the Netherlands to introduce the ordination of female Ministers. Today, the Remonstrant Church is actively involved in dealing with contemporary issues of society, mission and diakonia, and in the reflection on being the church of Jesus Christ in the world today.
"Growing up as a child at the Vicarage meant that already at a tender age, I was introduced to matters concerning theology, philosophy, history, science, ethics, art, literature and music. Our home was often filled with foreign guests and spirited debate. I remember afternoons at which my father surrounded himself with friends and fellow scholars in his study cabinet. If I kept quiet enough, I was allowed to enter into the room and play in my little corner. I think it was through witnessing these sessions that my initial interest in people, their thoughts, ideas and the various places they came from was impelled." - Caecilia van Peski
Throughout her childhood, as an effect of her father's professional calling, Caecilia's family moves from one parish to another. For the family this entails that a swift adaptation to new circumstances is requered. Between 1970 and 1985, the Van Peski Family lives in Breda, Thusis (Switzerland) - here Caecilia's father finds appointment with a congregation in the Zwinglian tradition (Swiss Reformed Church) and the World Council of Churches in Geneva - Rotterdam, Soest, Amersfoort, Leusden and, eventually, Tilburg.
"Although it was difficult to leave behind best friends and familiar playgrounds, moving to new communities did make me highly adaptable to change. I made new friends and discovered new places, all of which broadened my perspective on the world. It helped me to understand that people stem from different backgrounds, holding ideas of their own that might not coincide with the assumptions, notions and values that I myself am accustomed to. I feel I was taught a valuable lesson at an early age never to assume that the circumstances that one accepts as given are the same for anyone else." - Caecilia van Peski
1985 - 1995: Formative Years; Construction of Visions on International Citizenship
In her adolescent years, Caecilia van Peski is introduced to the vision and ideas of Dr Doris Twitchell Allen (Old Town, Maine, 1901 - Virginia, 2002), American psychologist and founder of CISV International. In the post-WWII years, Dr Allen initiated a peace movement that found fundament in the founding Charter of the United Nations. Today, CISV International focusses on peace educational programmes that are designed to have a life-long impact on all those involved. The organization is active in more than eighty countries around the world, involving many thousands of volunteers who together form a community of active global citizens working for peace. In 1987, Caecilia becomes a general member of CISV International; in 2003 she registers life-membership.
"I started by being a participant in several international CISV programmes. It was here where CISV's global vision took hold of me - big time. So I went on to become Trustee for CISV The Netherlands. Many CISV years later, my final appointment was that of Member of CISV's International Expanded Executive Committee. CISV has had a profound effect on the way how I stand as a world citizen today. Involvement in CISV presented me with a vision of a more just and peaceful world. I firmly believe that we can all take responsibility for making this happen. CISV programmes have shown me it is possible. I am proud that in 2013, CISV International received the prestigious European Citizen's Prize by the EU Parliament in recognition of exceptional achievements to promoting better mutual understanding and closer integration within the European Union." - Caecilia van Peski
As a young adult, Caecilia van Peski is active in the European Commission Program 'Youth in Action Europe'. The Program aims to encourage young people to contribute to society. The aim is supported by concrete action in the form of youth exchange programmes. In the context of 'Youth in Action Europe', Caecila attends several thematic youth meetings on topics such as youth participation, inclusion strategies, unity in diversity, international citizenship, recognition of non-formal learning, Roma and Sinti integration, young people and health and the thematic European Youth Forum. The youth meetings take place on various locations across Europe, ranging from Lisbon (Portugal), to Modena (Italy), Reyjavik (Iceland), Riga (Latvia), Belgrade (Serbia), Skopje (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), Mainz (Germany), and further.
1995 - 2000: Educational Values; Studies, Exploration and entry into the World of Work
As a student, Caecilia van Peski majors in Educational and Cultural Psychology at Tilburg University, the Netherlands. She holds further degrees in Traumatology (Tilburg University), Global Education (Utrecht University, the Netherlands), and International Development Studies (Centre for International Development Studies, CIDIN at Radbout University Nijmegen, the Netherlands).
At the start of her professional career, Caecilia van Peski's work revolves around teaching and training. Her first job is with a private educational institute, teaching managerial and secretarial skills in adult education. Some years later, Caecilia becomes an educational psychologist at SOM, a state-owned educational councelling service. Here Caecilia refines her skills in the design and delivery of training, individual coaching, councelling and mediation, the use of diagnostical instruments including the intrepretation of tesing results, and the methodology of vetting, assessment, grading and evaluation. After Caecilia gains mastership over these topics, she goes on to join Fontys University of Applied Sciences in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.
At Fontys University, Caecilia is appointed lecturer and researcher, as well as project leader 'Internationalization of Higher Education'. She sets up various international student exchange programmes, building strong partnerships with universities from within the European Union (Erasmus Programme, the EU Action Scheme for Student Mobility) and the rest of the world. Caecilia first works at the Universities Faculty of Educational and Pedagogical Sciences, than steps up to the Fontys Academy of Public Administration, BAZN. After Caecilia designs and delivers 'Fontys' International Summer University on Active Global Citizenship', she leaves the University to further persue her international career.
"The first ten years of my professional life form two distinct era. During the first half, my primary focus lay with individuals and individual developmental needs. I was working with children who had learning disabilities, adolescents that were right in the midst of their formative years, and adults that had started a second, sometimes even third career. During the years, my focus gradually shifted from working with individuals to working with groups, regions and nations. Once I had come to understand the individual, I was able to transfer what I had learned to a broader level. And as the groups that I worked with grew larger, also the complexity of my work expanded proportionally as did the geographical contexts I worked from. From there on I chose to work for the enhancement of the position of national minorities, marginalized people, displaced people, prosecuted people and peoples, regions and nations at risk. Today I can say that for individuals, groups, regions, nations and countries - continents and the world alike; all that is valuable in global society depends on the opportunity for development accorded the individual." - Caecilia van Peski
2000 - 2008: Professional Maturation: generating Results, professional Establishment
In the role of senior expert, Caecilia van Peski works in close liaison with various governmental and non-governmental organisations, including the United Nations, the European Commission (AidCo), the Council of Europe, OSCE/ODIHR, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Carter Centre Atlanta, International IDEA, the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO), and Pax (Peace Movement). She provides customised advice, facilitation and training that foster awarness on global perspectives. Resulting from her international work, Caecilia lives over extensive periods in the United States (Cincinnati, Ohio), Norway (Os, Hordaland) and the Republic of Georgia (Gori, Sjida Kartli).
"Working within the context of peacekeeping, human rights, elections and democratization in more than thirty (post)conflict countries, I feel I have amassed a great amount of experience from within different cultures. I have witnessed suffering generated by distrust in fellow man, the plight of the disadvantaged and damage caused by disregard for the preservation of the natural environment; all of which have instilled in me a firm sense of equality, justice, and compassion for all communities. Furthermore, these experiences have contributed to my passionate commitment to international relations and to translate my global vision into workable operation." - Caecilia van Peski
In 2008, Caecilia concludes the postgraduate programme 'Civilian Personnel of Peacekeeping and Peace-building Operations' at the UNITAR-POCI United Nations Training and Reserach Centre of the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna di Pisa in Pisa, Italy. During summer 2009, she enroles in the intensive programme 'Russian Language and Culture Studies' at the Pushkin Institute in Moscow, Russian Federation. In the same year Caecilia commences her reserach work as a PhD candidate at Maastricht University, the Netherlands. Her research topic involves the assessment of elections and processes of democratisation.
Caecilia van Peski goes on to join the Dutch Armed Forces through her involvement in Civil Military Interaction (CMI/CIMIC). CMI functions in support of both the military mission as the civil environment. Through this, CMI works as a force multiplier when it comes to the coordination and joint planning with civilian agencies in support of the mission, i.e. safety and security assistance, intelligence, curriculum development and training, capacity building, public affairs and cultural heritage protection.
Caecilia van Peski involves in election observation via Election Observation Missions of the European Union (EIDHR; European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR; Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights). She is deployed to over thirty EOMs, in various capacities. Caecilia specializes in processes of democratisation and elections in post-conflict societies.
"Elections belong to the people, not to institutions. It is the people who determine who is in power, and who is not. Yet elections do not determine how this power is used. The 'democracy gap' in politics and elections today spells a sense of powerlessness by people. The result is an increase in the number of voters who drop out, do not vote, or listlessly vote for the 'least worst' alternative. Citizens, politicians and electoral experts alike need to underscore Rule of Law, Democratic Governance and Citizen Empowerment as inalienable elements of the electoral cycle. It is for this reason that I promote and protect the integrity of elections. By being an election observer, as well as by standing for elections myself." - Caecilia van Peski
2008 - 2010: International Recognition; promoting Fundamental Freedoms and Human Rights
In 2010, Mr Maxime Verhagen, then Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, appoints Caecilia van Peski as United Nations Women's Representative for her country. In October 2010, Caecilia addresses the 65th UN General Assembly in New York with her statement ‘Deepening Democracy’. Subsequently, she is invited to stand for elections in the 2012 Parliamentary Elections - Lower House of Representatives - of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
"The Special Representation to the UN placed me in the most powerful position. I was instantly aware of the impact that my actions would have now that I had the force of millions of women behind me. UNSCR 1325 marked the first time for the UN to address the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women, recognized the under-valued and under-utilized contributions women make to conflict prevention and peacekeeping. During my tenure, I seized the moment by bringing forward the lives of the women involved. I did so by listening to women in war zones - from the DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone. By meeting these women in their respective countries, I could observe at first hand the impact that war had had on their lives. I subsequently carried their stories to the UN in New York. Addressing the UN General Assembly was the most potent way I could construe to make the voice of these women heard. Speaking in front of the UNGA was a cardinal moment in my career." - Caecilia van Peski
Caecilia van Peski receives international recognition for her work on promoting fundamental human rights of people living in regions of conflict and war. She is regarded as being among the most influential women of her generation in the Netherlands - listed among the top-400 most influential Dutch women by ‘Viva’ Magazine (2009) and among the top-100 most influential Dutch women by 'Opzij' Magazine (2010). Caecilia is the recipient of the 'Ambassador for Peace' Award granted by the Dutch Ministry of Social Affairs and Education. She is the holder of a 'Pro Pace Unum' medal for her work in international EU missions - European External Action Services. In her capacity as an independent diplomat and senior expert on international relations and foreign affairs, Caecilia van Peski displays above average expertise on topics involving democratisation, elections and human rights.
2010 - 2014: Mission Deployment: Stagnation, Recovery, and Transformation
In 2010, working as a seconded EU diplomat through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Caecilia's work revolves around human rights and humanitarian assistance within the Republic of Georgia, namely, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Appointed as Team Leader Human Rights within the European Union Monitoring Mission to Georgia (EUMM), the focus of her work is on stabilisation, confidence building and post-conflict reconstruction. It is during this mission that Caecilia suffers severe injuries. As a result of these injuries, Caecilia is forced to undergo intensive medical treatment and subsequent rehabilitation in the Netherlands.
"People working in conflict zones tend to shy away from the prospect that a seemingly secure situation can suddenly turn dramatically wrong. One does so in order to cope with feelings of anxiety and stress that come with working in hazardous environments. I too had convinced myself that a pernicious event would not happen to me - untill it did. When ill-faith struck that wretched day, at first I could not understand what had happened to me, and why. During my many weeks in hospital, I slowly regained strength and eventually was able to find acquiescence with what had happened. In the end, I also found back my vigour to work for the protection of others. Having survived a near-lethal incident in a mission environment has had a profound effect on many aspects of my life. However, I did recover from the trauma and today feel blessed that I survived. Since the incident, I have become a fervent advocate for safeguarding the security of peacekeeping personnel. I do so for the benefit of all those men and women who serve in peacekeeping operations because of their dedication and courage in the work for peace." - Caecilia van Peski
In 2011, Caecilia van Peski joins the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in The Hague. She takes on the position of Senior Policy Officer Democratisation and Good Governance at the MFA's Governance, Democratisation and Human Rights Department. Caecilia is responsible for the briefing of Dutch Members of the Lower House of Representatives and the European Parliament on Election Observation Missions (incl. PACE, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and Inter-Parliamentary Union). She assists in drafting the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy & Security Report 'Deepening Democracy: A Strategy for Improving the Integrity of Elections Worldwide'. Caecilia executes the assessment of the Multi Annual Strategic Plans (2011-2015) for the Royal Netherlands Embassies, analysis of governance strategic goals, modalities and methodology. Furthermore, Caecilia contributes substantially to the training of International Election Observers, including Members of Dutch Parliament and European Parliament.
2014 - present: Heralding a deeper Understanding of the Dynamics driving Conflict and Peace
Caecilia van Peski places importance on the transmission of knowledge to others, especially to younger generations. She functions a patroness of SIB, the United Nations Student Association in the Netherlands and engages in the selection and guidance of the United Nations Youth Representative from her country. She is a frequent speaker to younger audiences of students and young professionals in international co-operation (e.g. Young Democrats, Youth in Action Europe, European Youth Parliament, UNOY, Young SIETAR, UPEACE, Rotaract, Trias Politica/Thorbecke Academy, RABO Bank World=U). As an international visiting professor - with appointments at the University of Bergen (Bergen, Norway), Birkbeck College (London, UK), Fordham University (New York, US) and Sungkyunkwan University (Seoul, Republic of Korea) - Caecilia lectures to a large audience of international learners.
"I find it essential to share my knowledge with others. At the work place, formal learning cycles are set up for the transfer of knowledge. Since I myself have also learned a great deal through contexts of informal learning, I feel it is necessary for me to take a step further, reaching out to generations younger than my own. To this end, I interact with students and young professionals who share a similar fascination for global matters. I enjoy the contact I have with them, as they show me a novel approach to future challenges. When in August 2013, the Peace Palace The Hague - home to the International Court of Justice - celebrated its Centenary, I took it on me to be the project leader for the "Centenary Peace Palace Model United Nations". This placed me in the rewarding position of being able to invite an audience of 250+ young professionals in international co-operation to honor Peace and Justice at the Peace Palace The Hague." - Caecilia van Peski
Early February 2014, in the aftermath of the Euromaidan movement in Kiev, violent demonstrations by pro-Russian, ultranationalist and anti-government groups break out in major cities across Ukraine. Subsequently, the Crimean Peninsula is annexed by the Russian Federation. One month later, protests in the eastern Donbass region escalate into armed insurgency by non-state actors leading the Ukrainian government to launch a military counter-offensive; ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operations). On 21 March, 2014, all fifty-seven OSCE participating States sign a consencus agreement to deploy the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (OSCE SMM). Caecilia van Peski is amongst the first responders who are deployed to Eastern Ukraine's Donetsk Oblast. Based in Donetsk, Kherson and Mariupol (2014-2016 )she contributes to the reduction of tension, building of security, escort of humanitarian aid convoys and monitoring of the cease-fire agremeent. In 2014, at Kherson Oblast right at the disputed Administrative Boundary Line with the Crimean Peninsula, Caecilia van Peski is involved in the negotiations between Military Command of the Ukrainian and the Russian Armed Forces regarding the hand-over of a 9km land spit bordering the Azov Sea (Arabatska Strilka). One year later, she is appointed Second-in-Command at the OSCE SMM Patrol Hub Mariupol. Here, she leads her team in its efforst to enforce a local ceasire-fire in the village of Shyrokyne. Based on her frequent contacts with JCCC representatives (Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination) and the population of Shyrokyne, her and her team are able to facilitate dialogue between the warring parties.
"The years of deployment to Eastern Ukraine were, from a professional standpoint, highly rewarding. I ammassed substantial knowledge on the internal and external dynamics that fuel armed conflict. Also, the professional experience aided me in the development of skills necessary to successfully negotiate cease-fire. However, witnessing the grave human suffering on both sides of the contact line has been a tremendously heavy load. In a similar fashion, I have found it challenging to carry responsibility over a team of international monitors that had to carry out their duties in a high-risk theater. Many times, the lives of the members of our OSCE patrols were under threath. My own life too was at risk multiple times, most prominently during that week in June, 2014, where my colleagues and I were taken hostage. Today, I am thankful for the prompt and diplomatic manner in which H.E. Ambassador Ertuğrul Apakan, OSCE SMM Chief Monitor, negotiated our swift and safe release at the time. Another deeply tragic episode during this mission was the downing of Flight MH-17. The disaster left 298 persons dead - 193 of them my countrymen. I am grateful for the competent manner in which the OSCE SMM responded during the first hours after the crash. What touched me most during my years in Ukraine was being witness to the profound human suffering resulting from the conflict. I recall the agony of the local population, their strive to be heared, their call for justice. I vividly remember the pain I saw in the eyes of mothers, the expressions of despair in the eyes of the military and the solemn resignation in the manner in which farm cattle carried itself through the paddock after their limbs had been ripped off by an explosion... I have made it not only my professional but also my personal quest to make the storiy of the peoples of Ukraine - all Ukraine - known to the world." - Caecilia van Peski
In the fall of 2016, after concluding her three year tenure with the OSCE SMM Mission, Caecilia is offered the post of Chief, Peace Programming Section with the United Nations Development Porgramme (UNDP) / UN Volunteers Programme (UNV) at Bonn HQ, Germany. As Section Chief, Caecilia oversees and implements UNV’s Peace Programme Strategy in countries which are predominantly in a state of (protracted) crisis and post-crisis recovery. She manages the portfolios of twenty-six crisis / post-crisis countries across the globe, with an emphasis on countries on the African Continent, the Middle East and Arab States. The countries under the Peace Section are by nature under transition, subject to fragile socio-political conditions, and undergoing protracted peace to development recovery efforts. Together with her team, Caecilia focusses on the deployment of civilian personnel to UNDPKO Peacekeeping Operations and UN special political / peace building missions. Again, post-conflict electoral processes make part of her portfolio. Early recovery activities (e.g. restoration of basic services, community services, design of early-warning systems, community resilience programmes) as well as peace building and conflict prevention activities in the immediate aftermath of conflict are the core of her professional activity. At UNV, Caecilia also supports the establishment of volunteers' legal frameworks and infrastructures, mainly aiming at strengthening social cohension and recovery through participation.
"At the end of the day, I find that at the core of all my work lays a deep longing for global justice for all mankind. It is my strong personal conviction that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that they should act towards another in a spirit of brotherhood. Pursuing global justice will lead the world to peace." - Caecilia van Peski
Caecilia van Peski contributes to research through academic publications. She has been editing for 'Interspectives', Journal on Transcultural Education, and 'Ukraine Magazine' (the only Dutch-language print publication fully devoted to Ukraine). In 2014, Caecilia keeps a blog for Security and Human Rights' under the auspice of the Netherlands Helsinki Committee.