10th June 2013 Geneva, Switzerland
Let there be light
Week two of the June session is never much fun. The end is just a bit too far from sight, there’s a huge amount of fiddly sorting out still to do and almost everyone is in a ratty mood from having spent too much time together. Tempers tend to reach optimal fraying point at about midday on the Thursday just before the deadline for submitting proposals.
This is just about the worst time to say anything to anybody who is running a resolution for their country unless your words are “I’d like to co-sponsor your resolution”. Co-sponsoring essentially translates as one country saying to another “yes honey, your resolution is for me” and is the formal way of demonstrating a high level of support for a proposal.
For the individuals involved in putting pen to each other’s paper it is strangely reminiscent of a playground romance. It’s an intense and heartfelt alliance that feels really important at the time but fades quickly into memory with no hard feelings.
This week saw several months of quiet and careful work by the Human Rights Council President come to fruition when he proposed a way forward on the Universal Periodic Review of Israel. Israel’s non- participation in the UPR process has caused considerable anxiety, with many states keen to find a way to bring Israel back into the process and preserve the UPR’s universality.
The President has won many plaudits with his deft handling and Israel’s review has now been scheduled for October. Let’s hope this holds.
The third and final week promises to be illuminating both inside and outside the Council chamber. Negotiations and lobbying will come to a head for good or ill on the 25 resolutions which were tabled last week, with a lot still up in the air.
Country resolutions on Belarus, Eritrea and Syria all seem set to pass though the margin of victory and the content of the final resolutions won’t be known before the votes at the end of the session. There’s still a big question mark over what action the Council will take on Burma.
Like many countries, the UK has spoken out against the violence which has affected Muslims in Burma, especially the Rohingya in Rakhine state. The strongest criticism this session has come from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation whose members seem ready to push for tough measures unless Burma engages constructively to address the problem.
The African Group has proposed a new resolution on discrimination against people with albinism and an albino human rights defender explained the rationale for this in a powerful statement on Friday. He described how persons with albinism in many African countries are violently attacked, and their body parts sold for huge sums of money to be used in ‘medical’ cures.
He described in moving detail the case of Lugolola, a seven year old Tanzanian albino boy who was killed along with his 95 year old grandfather who tried to protect him. The African Group resolution proposes much needed research into the problem and seems a sensible way of ensuring more detailed consideration in the future.
For all those who have spent time in UN meetings it is all too easy to become cynical and jaded, and to think that nothing really makes a difference. The truth is that many people who spend their working lives in Geneva actually do have the potential to make the world a bit better.
For the final week of the Council session the UK is sponsoring the Luminarium #uklumiun which will combine art with human rights diplomacy and challenge visitors, UN agencies and Human Rights Council regulars to think more creatively about how to advance human rights in the world.
There will be public events taking place throughout the week in a one thousand square metre square walk-through sculpture on the UN grounds and should be inspirational for all who visit. It’s time to cast all dark thoughts aside. And head towards the light.