Robert Dann at the “Courting the Greats” gala dinner at UQ on Saturday night.
Robert Dann at the “Courting the Greats” gala dinner at UQ on Saturday night.
5 July 2010

A United Nations peace negotiator who has worked on high-level mediations in some of the world's most sensitive trouble spots was named The University of Queensland's Young Alumnus of 2010 at a gala dinner on Saturday night.

Robert Dann graduated with a UQ Bachelor of Arts in 1993 and a Bachelor of Laws (First Class Honours) in 1995.

As Chief of the Regional Affairs Unit in the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr Dann is regularly engaged in negotiations and consultations involving Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, the broader Arab world, the UN Security Council and the Middle East Quartet — the international group which has former UK prime minister Tony Blair as a special envoy.

Mr Dann has held his Jerusalem-based role since 2005, during which time he has advised UN envoys in efforts to end the 2006 war in Israel and Lebanon and the 2008-2009 war in Gaza, advance Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations for a Two-State solution, and build the institutions of a future Palestinian state.

Mr Dann, 36, grew up in Brisbane, and attended St Joseph's College, Gregory Terrace.

At UQ, he won a University Medal and firsts in many subjects. He was Class Valedictorian and President of the Law Society.

Mr Dann told UQ News the 2010 Alumnus of The Year award was a great honour and an affirmation of the University's "global outlook".

"It may be a long way from the Great Court to the difficulties in Jerusalem or the debates in the UN Security Council, but the world is getting smaller and more interconnected," he said.

"The conflict in the Middle East is one of those open sores that truly affects global peace and stability.

"It is an entrenched and complex dispute. It can be desperately sad and often appears hopelessly intractable. But with the right mix of international resolve and partnership, we can and must help Israelis and Palestinians to find peace.

"At UQ, I learnt not only to argue a point of view, but also to put myself in the shoes of others. This is essential if you want to get beyond violent conflict and build genuine peace.

"My work has made me realise how lucky I was to be born in a stable society free from conflict, and to have had the highest quality education at the University of Queensland.

"In a place like Gaza, where the whole population suffers from heavy blockade, poor government, and periodic violence, a quality education — championed and often provided by the UN — is key to saving future generations and preventing an entire society from falling apart."

After gaining his UQ degrees, Mr Dann spent 18 months as an Associate to Justice Dawson in the High Court in Canberra. He then won a Rhodes scholarship and attended Magdalen College, Oxford, where he gained a Master of Philosophy in International Relations in 1999.

He graduated from Oxford with Distinction (First in Year) and won the prize for best Oxford International Relations thesis, with his work titled: Are We Beasts? Winston Churchill, the Laws of War and the Strategic Bombing of Germany.

Mr Dann was a prizewinning debater, and participated in national and international debating championships at UQ, and later as a member of the Oxford Union debating team, with which he toured the United States in 1998.

Mr Dann's United Nations career began in 1999, when he helped establish a humanitarian affairs office in Belgrade after NATO Operation "Allied Force". In 2000, he became the Special Assistant to the Secretary-General's Special Advisor on Cyprus.

In this position, he was intimately involved in negotiating with all parties and developing the terms of the Annan Plan, the UN peace plan submitted to referenda on both sides in Cyprus in April 2004.

In 2003, Mr Dann became a speechwriter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He drafted keynote speeches, reform reports, Security Council interventions, statements and newspapers articles on a range of international peace and security, development, and human rights issues.

In 2005, he was closely involved in drafting Mr Annan's UN reform agenda, a document titled In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security and Human Rights for All.

The same year, Mr Dann received a French Government "Future Personalities" award, allowing him to spend time in Paris studying Islam in France.

Mr Dann has appeared in the media and has been a speaker at universities, seminars and conferences throughout the world on subjects including UN reform, peacemaking, peace-building, Cyprus and the Middle East.

He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and two sons.

Media: Fiona Cameron, UQ Communications, ph 07 3346 7086, 0407 113342