UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict awarded Honorary Fellowship

Professor Virginia Gamba, Under Secretary General of the United Nations with the function of Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, and Honorary Fellow of Aberystwyth University

Professor Virginia Gamba, Under Secretary General of the United Nations with the function of Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, and Honorary Fellow of Aberystwyth University

19 July 2019

An International Politics alumna with more than thirty years’ experience as an expert on strategic issues relating to peace and security, human security and disarmament, has been honoured with a Fellowship of Aberystwyth University.

Professor Virginia Gamba, who is originally from the San Martin province of Buenos Aires, holds an MScEcon in Strategic Studies from Aberystwyth University.

She is currently Under Secretary General of the United Nations with the function of Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict.

Throughout her career she has worked in universities, research institutes, multinational organisations, non-governmental organisations, governmental organisations and foundations in Europe, Africa and the Americas, and has led multinational research projects on issues related to arms control, arms management and disarmament. 

In 1995 she shared the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs for efforts toward nuclear disarmament.

Professor Virginia Gamba was presented by Professor Colin McInnes, UNESCO Professor and Director of Research, Impact & Excellence, on Thursday 18 July 2019.

The full conferral presentation is available below, in the language in which it was delivered.

Presentation of Professor Virginia Gamba by Professor Colin McInnes:

Ganghellor, Dirprwy Is-Ganghellor, graddedigion a  chyfeillion.  Pleser o’r mwyaf yw cyflwyno Virginia Gamba yn gymrawd Prifysgol Aberystwyth.

Chancellor, Pro Vice-Chancellor, graduates and supporters.  It is an honour and a privilege to present Virginia Gamba as a Fellow of Aberystwyth University.

It is a privilege and personal pleasure for me to introduce Virginia Gamba for a University Fellowship. Virginia and I were contemporaries as students in the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth in the early 1980s. I was then an undergraduate, while she was a Masters student. However, whereas I was able to graduate in the same Great Hall as our students today, Virginia was not because of the rather inconvenient fact that war had broken out. As an Argentine national, given the conflict over the Falkland Islands, she was unable to graduate in person but received her degree in absentia. It is therefore especially pleasing to see her here today, in person, some 37 years later to receive a Fellowship.

The Anglo-Argentine war proved to be important to Virginia’s work after graduating from Aberystwyth, first in advising the emerging Argentine democratic government on the civilian control of the military, and then as an academic.  At King’s College, London, she wrote with Lawrie Freedman the first great book on the Falklands Conflict, Signals of War. This book was remarkable not least in the way in which it wove seamlessly together the Argentinian and British stories into a single, coherent picture of the conflict.  Whereas Virginia’s co-author, Lawrie Freedman, remained an academic, eventually becoming the official historian of the Falklands Conflict, Virginia’s life became one of distinguished public service, although also maintaining the production of academic publications.

Her life’s work has been concerned with creating a safer world for individuals, especially vulnerable individuals. Although making important contributions in a number of fields, what she is perhaps best known for is her work on the global illicit trade in small arms and how to prevent it. For two decades, Virginia worked with police forces, national governments, international organizations and charitable foundations, especially in Africa. She has been one of the key figures globally both in raising the profile of the problem of the illicit trade in small arms and in leading national and international efforts to control it.

The conflict in Syria, however, led her into new arenas. From 2012, chemical weapons commenced to be used in Syria. At that time, the Secretary General of the United Nations named Virginia as Director of the United Nations Office for Disarmament and, as such, when the massive alleged chemical weapons attack occurred in the Ghoutta district of Damascus in August 2013, she set up the investigative team that ultimately verified the use of Sarin in that attack. This led to the destruction of the chemical weapons arsenal of Syria. Nevertheless, allegations of continued use of toxic substances as weapons in the Syrian Conflict continued to be received. In 2015, the Secretary General appointed Virginia as Assistant Secretary General to Head efforts to identify not only substances used but perpetrators of use in the Syrian Conflict. During this Security Council mission, her team identified repeated use of Mustard Gas as well as chlorine as a weapon, with perpetrators including the Syrian Arab Air Force and the so-called ISIL armed group. 

In 2017, the new Secretary General of the United Nations appointed Virginia as Under Secretary General in charge of the office of monitoring and reporting on grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict. She is the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict. Children are amongst the most vulnerable in society, and this is particularly so in times of conflict. Virginia’s role is to monitor and report to the Security Council the extent of annual violations against children in conflict, develop plans to stop violations against children, attribute responsibility when such violations occur, and ensure the release and recovery of children affected by armed conflict.  It is, I think, one of the most challenging and important roles in the UN system, and I am proud that it is an Aberystwyth graduate that is undertaking it.

Ganghellor, mae’n bleser gen i gyflwyno Virginia Gamba i chi yn Gymrawd. 

Chancellor, it is my absolute pleasure to present Virginia Gamba to you as a Fellow of Aberystwyth University.

Aberystwyth University Honours 2019

Nine individuals are being honoured by Aberystwyth University during the 2019 graduation ceremonies, which take place at the University’s Arts Centre from Tuesday 16 until Friday 19 July.

Honorary Fellowships are presented to individuals who have, or have had, a connection with Aberystwyth or Wales, and who have made an outstanding contribution to their chosen field.

The 2019 Aberystwyth University Honorary Fellows are (in order of presentation):

  • Alan Phillips, retired peripatetic music teacher who worked for Ceredigion Music Service for 35 years
  • Professor Frank N. Hogg OBE, the first Principal of the College of Librarianship Wales
  • Ruth Bidgood, Welsh poet and local historian
  • Professor R Geoff Richards, Director of one of the world's leading orthopaedic research institutes, the AO Research Institute in Davos (Switzerland)
  • Emyr Jenkins, first Director of the National Eisteddfod and former Chief Executive of the Arts Council of Wales
  • Professor Virginia Gamba, leading expert in the field of disarmament research and policy formulation
  • Ian Hopwood, who has worked in the development field for over 40 years in UNICEF HQ and in field assignments in Africa, Asia, and the Arab Gulf States
  • The Rt Hon Carwyn Jones AM, former First Minister of Wales and Leader of the Welsh Labour Party 2009-18
  • Judith Diment, a leading global figure in the campaign to eradicate polio