25th March 2013 Geneva, Switzerland
The session is over, the resolutions are all adopted and UN blue smoke has finally risen through the holes in the Council ceiling. After weeks of lock down without food, daylight or other things that make us happy, the Council delegates can start to think about a return to normality.
But for those afflicted by Post-Traumatic Council Disorder it can take some time to recover. Some delegates will wake up for weeks to come in the middle of the night, fretting over a misplaced comma or a procedural ambush which didn’t materialise. And by day, the phantom sounds of blackberry alerts will ring in their ears, in no small part thanks to Peter from Austria who always seems to have his volume set to ‘wake the dead’ levels.
I certainly feel more than 4 weeks older for the experience. My relationship with sleep can be fractious at the best of times but it hit such a low this session that I was expecting to come home to find empty wardrobes and a note from sleep on the kitchen table saying “enough is enough”. And it was clear that things were getting out of hand on the personal grooming front when my Qatari colleague asked whether he should believe the rumours that I had joined the Muslim Brotherhood.
But it was all worth it as the Council chalked up success after success this session. The US-led resolution on Sri Lanka passed by a stronger margin than last year, sending the Sri Lankan government the clear message that it needs to do much more to achieve reconciliation and accountability for past violations.
The latest resolution on Syria, which renewed the Council’s Commission of Inquiry, went through with a crushing majority with only Venezuela the lone voice on the side of Assad. And there were good resolutions which will ensure on-going attention to the situations in Burma and Libya, with both countries engaging constructively, much to their credit.
Members of the Council were able to reach agreement on two difficult resolutions, one on freedom of religion or belief and the other on combating intolerance and negative religious stereotyping. These are weighty and very sensitive issues which include tackling restrictions on religious minorities and addressing burning of religious texts.
Progress on these resolutions played as the Council’s background music for the entire session and it was important to secure agreement on both initiatives by consensus. It is crucial that political leaders can find agreement on how to keep moving forward on these issues and on how to respond when things go wrong.
Norway deserves credit for securing a strong text on ‘protecting human rights defenders’ which calls on states to cease imposing restrictions on human rights organisations by blocking foreign sources of funding. Successful proposals by France and Belgium will mean that the Council discusses the death penalty for the first time next March. And in a welcome move on the final day, Egypt was forced to defer its controversial resolution on ‘protection of the family’ when it became clear that they did not have the votes to succeed.
The proposal was designed to appear friendly but on closer inspection the resolution was more prickly porcupine than fluffy bunny. It risked damaging the rights of individuals within the family, especially women and children, by making them subservient to the rights of the family as a whole and it sought to limit the definition of a family to a rigid concept, outdated or unsuited to the reality across all societies.
But for me the big success story of the Council was the new Commission of Inquiry to investigate violations and possible crimes against humanity in North Korea. A year ago Mrs KimHye Sook described the incredible suffering perpetrated in Camp 28, one of North Korea’s political prison camps in which up to 200 000 people are thought to be detained.
The creation of the new Commission is a major achievement for the Council and a tribute to the bravery of Mrs Kim and the handful of other escapees who have brought the horrors of the prison camps to the world’s attention.
I wanted to add a word of thanks to my UK colleagues who ended up covering my work in week three when I had to spend a few days away unexpectedly when my son was in hospital. Thanks. My blog got a mention on this cricket – related feature which kept me entertained through some difficult nights.
Diplomats often ask enthusiastically what they should read or watch in order to better understand my compatriots. If you really want a profound insight into the workings of the British psyche, then middle of the night contributions to coverage of a rain-disrupted cricket match should stand you in good stead.
So, that’s it for another March. I’ll be back soon, clean-shaven and sparkly eyed. In the meantime, for those of you celebrating, I wish you a pleasant spring equinox, Passover, Novruz and Easter. I hope it’s resolution-free and restful.