New Zealand Law Society - Captain Andrew Thomas, UN observer and lawyer

Captain Andrew Thomas, UN observer and lawyer

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The opportunity to get paid on an OE that differs from the norm was one that lawyer and Territorial Force officer Captain Andrew Thomas couldn’t pass up. Not having “any desire to spend two years working for a law firm in London”, Captain Thomas “jumped at the opportunity” to land a much sought after role as a UN Military Observer (UNMO) in the Middle East with the New Zealand Army. 

At the start of May 2011, Captain Thomas left his job as a lawyer in Auckland to fly to Jerusalem for his UN induction training. From there he move to his first outstation, Tiberias in northern Israel. He is currently working in the Israeli Occupied Golan. He will spend the next year observing and reporting upon the 1974 ceasefire agreements between Israel and Syria and the relevant UN resolutions that relate to Lebanon and Israel.

“When this came up I thought, I can serve on operations with the New Zealand Army and at the same time do some travelling in one of the most interesting parts of the world, because I’ll get lots of time to travel. You get plenty of leave – normal leave plus extra deployment leave. I think I’ll be working three weeks on then have four or five days off. I’ll get the normal army salary, then you get an overseas allowance and a UN allowance on top of that. It’s definitely financially positive.”

While perhaps not an obvious choice for a lawyer on his OE, Captain Thomas says many officers want the role and it is unusual for a Territorial Force officer to get it, “mainly because all the Regular Force [officers] want it.”

“The Air Force and Navy sometimes want the trip as well so the Joint Forces Headquarters had to approve the application and like all other UNMO applications it had to then be forwarded onto the UN via the New Zealand Defence Force representative in the UN for approval. This time when it came up I jumped at the opportunity. I put myself forward and got recommended by my commanding officer but didn’t really think I’d get it.”
Captain Thomas’ experience stood in his favour though. Joining as a Territorial Force officer while he was still at university, Captain Thomas has now “been in” for eight and a half years on both a full-time and part-time basis and has completed all the necessary courses  to apply for the role. 

Captain Thomas will be working on the borders between Israel, Syria and Lebanon as part of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) to observe and report upon the relevant international agreements in the area to “ensure the three countries observe the UN resolutions”.

“There’s Israeli Occupied Golan between Syria and Israel which has been fought over in both the 1967 (Six Day War) and 1973 wars and the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel which comes from the cease fire in 2006. We’ll be ensuring the troop numbers are what they are supposed to be, there’s no equipment there that’s not supposed to be there – for example bringing a battalion of tanks up without anyone knowing about it, or any violations of the agreements”

Working in groups of four officers, he expects to do a lot of patrolling on the ground and observation from the towers that the UN maintains in the area. “We’ll be going down to the villages, checking what’s going on, having a chat to the Israeli soldiers checking they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Then reporting any breaches of any resolutions or ceasefires to the UN.”

The opportunity came at the perfect time for Captain Thomas, who had started thinking about leaving on an OE after working for at Knight Coldicutt doing commercial property “and a bit of RM” and before that at Duncan Cotterill.

The deployment is his second overseas trip with the army. In 2008-9 he went to the Solomon Islands as a platoon commander as part of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands. LawTalk 729 ran a story about the New Zealand Army bringing his boss at Duncan Cotterill in Nelson over to the Solomon Islands in a Hercules as part of “Operation Bosslift” to see the work he was doing.

Captain Thomas is interested in eventually having a career as a lawyer working for the UN, and hopes the role might provide him with a foot in the door with the organisation. “There are plenty of opportunities for lawyers in the UN. Most of the jobs I’ve seen require a lot of experience though, and getting the relevant experience can be difficult. Apparently it is a question of who you know. Hopefully I’ll get a good reference.

Captain Thomas’ deployment with the New Zealand Army won’t be all work and no play however. “Afterward I’ll probably go to the London Olympics,” he says.

This story was published in LawTalk 778, 12 August 2011, page 12.

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