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Bob Last

Head, UK Mission Political and Human Rights Team

Part of FCDO Human Rights

27th February 2012 Geneva, Switzerland

From limping to sprinting

What a difference a year makes. 12 months ago the Human Rights Council had just limped to the anaemic conclusion of a year-long review process, with many countries and human rights organisations wondering how much longer they could justify spending time and energy on the Council with little to show for it. During its first 5 years the Council had seen some successes but these were few and far between.

Happily, the Council’s first half-decade of general slumber is starting to feel like a long time ago now. The Special Session on Libya last February jump started the Council’s engine which has been roaring like a prize exhibit from the Geneva motor show ever since. The Council has been able to sustain global focus on the appalling violence in Syria through 3 Special Sessions and a Commission of Inquiry which has provided a basis for action at UN headquarters in New York.

Beyond the headline grabbing issues the Council has seen a range of other positive developments in the past year, including a tough resolution on Belarus, a new Independent Expert to help Cote D’Ivoire,  a third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and a new Special Rapporteur to address issues relating to transitional justice (or promotion of truth, justice reparation and guarantees of non recurrence if you want the clunky official title).

Perhaps most surprising of all though was last June’s resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity, which was long considered beyond the reach of the Human Rights Council.

The Council is increasingly showing that it can make itself relevant to the changes happening in the world, whether for good or bad, and all of these would have been hard to imagine just 12 months ago.

Just as hard to imagine have been some of the changes in my personal life. My son Ben was born last March and fittingly timed his entry into the world to coincide with the Council’s annual day on the rights of the child. So far fatherhood has been an overwhelmingly happy experience, but quite an exhausting one. Little did I know a year ago that I would need to add sieving fennel and steaming a week’s supply of butternut squash to my Sunday night chores. Nor did I know quite how difficult banana was to remove from human hair, until I was forced to pretend I‘d adopted a new style for the day after Ben used my head to clean his hands just before I had to leave for work.

The Council’s main March session began this morning. Syria is set to dominate discussion with an urgent debate planned for the 2nd day, followed by discussion of the powerful Commission of Inquiry report later in the session. The Special Rapporteur on Iran will report to the Council for the first time, since his appointment last year and to give an account of the appalling violations which continue there.

The Council will renew its Rapporteurs on Burma and North Korea and looks set to examine the situation in Sri Lanka, with a resolution calling upon the Government to meet its international obligations to investigate allegations of war crimes from the end of the 2009 conflict. It is extremely regrettable that Sri Lanka has firmly refused to engage with the Council to date, choosing to portray it as a threat rather than as a body which can help the process of national reconciliation.

As usual, the March session has begun with its High Level Ministerial segment. This year features a panel discussion organised by the UK and Brazil on the role the Olympics and other sporting events can play in promoting human rights, chaired by the Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne.

I’ve been putting together the Minister’s busy programme of meetings in recent days and like many of my colleagues had an early start this morning. In previous years this was the day when I would aim to leave the house with bright eyes, gleaming shoes and dazzling teeth. This year I was happy to settle for banana-free hair.

1 comment on “From limping to sprinting

  1. Hey Bob! Just decided to check out your blog after a bit of a pause, and glad to hear the Council is still going well. And parenting;)
    Good luck with the session!

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About Bob Last

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

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

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