Anyone who’s lived around Geneva for a while will know that the weather here plays nasty tricks. In winter the sun shines down serenely on fresh snow all week, only to turn into a vicious arctic ice-blast by the weekend. And in summer the downpours coincide with Friday afternoon work-leaving times just a little too suspiciously. This year the weather has felt particularly spiteful: after hiding in its bedroom like a moody teenager for weeks, the sun finally put in an appearance just as the June Human Rights Council session got underway.
Even though we don’t get to see any of it in the UN’s underground chambers, the hot weather seems to be having a bit of an impact on our work and there’s been a sense of lethargy among many delegates and fewer resolutions around than normal. This is also down to the heavy workload we’ve already got through this year: March was the busiest session on record and we followed this with the second round of UPR and a further Special Session on Syria. This Council session has already kept up the pressure on Syria with the Commission of Inquiry returning last week to present a further hard hitting report on the appalling and ongoing gross violations of human rights in the country.
Another country under the spotlight last week was Belarus, which was the subject of a first Council resolution a year ago. The High Commissioner for Human rights presented a report detailing the serious deterioration on human rights in Belarus of the last 18 months since the December 2010 Presidential election. The Belarus government refused to engage with the High Commissioner’s office and has conducted a massive crackdown on human rights groups, the media and political opponents. With human rights groups now refused permission to leave the country there is an urgent need for external and independent monitoring. To address this, the EU has tabled a resolution to establish a Special Rapporteur to report to the Council and provide a focal point for human rights defenders in Belarus. The resolution received wide backing when the EU presented it in negotiations last week, and with only China, Russian and Cuba speaking up in Belarus’s defence, the resolution looks likely to be adopted this session.
It looks increasingly as though the Council will also address the situation in Eritrea. In March over 40 countries joined together in a statement which highlighted a range of serious violations in Eritrea as well as the fact that the country has never held national elections, has no political parties except the ruling party and does not allow independent media or NGOs to operate. This session the Council looks set to take matters a step further and several African states have put together a tough draft resolution. An African led resolution on this situation would mark another important step forward for the Council.
One of the more fanciful questions that’s been on people’s minds has been whether the current session would see the return of the pigeon who took up lodgings in the Council Chamber’s ornate ceiling earlier this year. His impromptu flutterings around UPR sessions and Council meetings have been met with general delight and for his fans he has come to symbolise not so much a beacon of peace as a token of the chaotic and occasionally misguided optimism which pervades much of our work. He’s not put in an appearance yet and I hope his absence is under happy circumstances.
Finally my apologies that it’s taken until the end of week two for a blog post this session. I tend to put my thoughts together on a Sunday evening but I spent last week hiding behind the sofa waiting for England to follow one of its longstanding football traditions of succumbing on penalties. I’m starting to suspect we’ll see global harmony on human rights long before England ever achieve football glory. I suppose I could settle for that.