Bob Last

Bob Last

Deputy Head, UK Mission Political Team

Part of Foreign Office Human Rights UK in Switzerland

23rd June 2014 Geneva, Switzerland

Human Rights and Carbohydrates

I wonder what Napoleon Bonaparte would have made of the Human Rights Council.  I suspect the man who said an army marches on its stomach would ask how on earth we all survive. By week 2, the typical Council diet goes something like this:

Breakfast: coffee, and gummy bears (5 minutes).

Lunch: a sandwich that curls up at the corners and if truth be told, you’d rather not be eating (a 12-second speed gobble)

Dinner –A nice home-cooked wholesome meal, but only if your partner hasn’t forgotten that you live in the same house after weeks of early starts and late nights (to inhale appreciatively before getting back to work)

This session the UN seems to have realised that Council delegates need sustenance to make it through the marathon sessions and has taken it upon itself to feed us carbohydrates in varied forms at a newly opened pasta and noodle bar in the coffee lounge. It’s proving a big success and seems to be helping. Colleagues have been looking slightly less haggard of late, despite the ridiculous pace of meetings over the last fortnight.

The new pasta and noodle bar in action
The new pasta and noodle bar in action

As usual week 2 was particularly fraught, as states all rushed to finalise the resolutions they would present by Thursday lunchtime’s deadline for tabling. There’s a real mix of the good, the bad and the ugly this session.   One of the most positive developments this session has been Ukraine’s readiness to discuss its human rights situation at the Council. It has brought a resolution focused on international assistance to the country as it tries to grapple with many human rights challenges. The resolution praises the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for responding rapidly to the crisis in the country by deploying human rights monitors. These have drawn attention to  Ukraine’s progress and the many ongoing problems especially those related to the serious violence in the east of the country. So far monitors have been denied access to the Crimean peninsula, following Russia’s illegal annexation of the territory, but have still managed to draw attention to the worsening situation there, especially for minorities living there.

Regrettably, the resolution tabled by South Sudan bore little relation to the gravity of the situation in the country. It completely overlooks reports by the UN’s monitoring mission of crimes against humanity and wide scale human rights violations and forsees no further Council discussion for a year and a half. It remains to be seen whether South Sudan can be persuaded to adopt a more realistic text that responds more accurately to the situation on the ground but it should be clear that the current draft will not be acceptable to the Council membership.

Egypt has pressed ahead with its resolution on protection of the family and set up a group of states to support them called “the friends of the family”.  This is another attempt to put a positive spin on what is a truly dangerous resolution. Of course families are a good thing and I’m yet to meet anyone who thinks otherwise. But the way the resolution would have things poses a serious threat to women and children’s rights by putting the family before the rights of its individual members.

There’s been little solace to be found on the football field this week and the UN is a particularly bad place to be during the world cup when you’re losing. I managed to make my excuses and quickly escape my Uruguayan colleagues on Friday morning after England’s defeat only to bump straight into the Costa Ricans. Rather than getting downhearted about our early exit though, I like to dwell on the fact that after years of trying, England are finally as good as Spain.

Good luck to those of you still in the tournament.  And for all Council goers who plan to stay up for the late night matches ahead, I hope you get plenty of carbs to keep you going.

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About Bob Last

Bob Last (MBE) is Deputy Head of the UK Mission Political Team. He worked on human rights in the UK and Uganda before joining the UK Mission to the UN…

Bob Last (MBE) is Deputy Head of the UK Mission Political Team. He worked on human rights in the UK and Uganda before joining the UK Mission to the UN in 2002. He hopes to share regular thoughts and experiences, following the work of the Human Rights Council and other UN human rights meetings in Geneva.

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