Danilo Türk is a Slovenian diplomat, professor of international law, human rights expert, and political figure who served as President of Slovenia from 2007 to 2012. Türk was the first Slovene Ambassador to the United Nations, from 1992 to 2000, and was the UN Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs from 2000 to 2005. On 11th January, 2020, he will be delivering the keynote address at the next installment of the Cosmos Dialogue’s Distinguished Speaker Series.
He is a visiting professor of international law at Columbia University in New York City, a professor emeritus at the Faculty of Law of the University of Ljubljana, and non-resident senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China in Beijing. Türk is the founder of the Danilo Türk Foundation, devoted mostly to the rehabilitation of child victims of armed conflict. He is also the chairman of the Global High Level Panel on Water and Peace and the chairman of the board of the Global Fairness Initiative, a Washington-based NGO dedicated to economic and social development in developing nations.
In 2016, Türk was an unsuccessful candidate for the post of Secretary-General of the United Nations. Türk was born in a lower-middle-class family in Maribor, Slovenia (then part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia). He attended Maribor Grammar School No. 2. In 1971 he enrolled at the University of Ljubljana, where he studied law. After graduation (1975) he served as the secretary of the commission for minority and expatriate affairs at the Socialist Alliance of Working People (SZDL), an organisation sponsored by Yugoslav Communist Party. In December 1979 he became the chairman of that commission and a member of the executive committee of the SZDL. At the same time he continued his studies. He obtained an MA with a thesis on minority rights from the University of Belgrade’s Law School. In 1978, he became a teaching assistant at the Faculty of Law in Ljubljana. In 1982, he obtained his PhD with a dissertation on the principle of non-intervention in international law at the University in Ljubljana and received a full-time job as an assistant professor at the University in Ljubljana’s Faculty of Law. In 1983, he became the director of the University of Ljubljana’s Institute for International Law. In the following years, he worked on human and minority rights. In the mid-1980s, he collaborated with Amnesty International to report on human rights issues in Yugoslavia. Between 1986 and 1992, he served in a personal capacity as a member the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities and was the UN Special Rapporteur on the Realization of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Together with Louis Joinet (France), he was also the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression. In 1987, he initiated the establishment of the Council for Human Rights in Slovenia and served until 1992 as the council’s vice-chairman. In 1990/91, he co-authored the human rights chapter in Slovenia’s constitution.
From 1992 to 2000, Türk was the first Slovene Permanent Representative to the United Nations. During this time, he secured the election of Slovenia to the UN Security Council (1998–1999) and was president of the United Nations Security Council in August 1998 and November 1999.  Between 1996 and 1998, he was a member of the UN Human Rights Committee. From 2000 to 2005, he served as UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs under Secretary General Kofi Annan. In 2005, he returned to Slovenia and became a professor of international law; from May 2006 to December 2007 he served as the vice dean of student affairs at the University of Ljubljana’s Faculty of Law. Türk has published over 100 articles in various law journals and three books. He authored the first Slovene book on international law, titled Temelji mednarodnega prava (Foundations of International Law, 2007, revised 2015).
In June 2007, Türk ran in the Slovene presidential election. As an “independent” candidate, he was backed by a broad coalition of left-wing parties, composed of the opposition Zares party and Social Democrats, the Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia, and the extra-parliamentary Christian Socialist Party and Democratic Party. In the first round of the presidential elections, held on 21 October 2007, he placed second with 24.54% of the votes, which brought him into the runoff against the centre right candidate Lojze Peterle (who received 28.50% of the popular vote). He won the runoff on 11 November 2007 with 68.2% of the votes becoming the third president of Slovenia on December 23, 2007. Türk ran for reelection in 2012, but lost the election to Borut Pahor in a second round of voting, held on 2 December 2012. He received roughly one-third of the votes.