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Bob Last

Head, UK Mission Political and Human Rights Team

Part of FCDO Human Rights

5th March 2012 Geneva, Switzerland

Panels, Protocols and Ponchos

It’s been a busy week. With our Ministers in town for the Council’s  High level Segment, we’ve all been suffering from higher than average  stress levels. Many Ministers chose to use their statements to focus  on the appalling violations in Syria, which the Council addressed in an urgent debate on Tuesday. Council members spoke out forcefully and  passedanother strong resolution calling on the Assad regime to stop  deliberately killing Syrian citizens and to allow humanitarian  agencies into the country to provide aid. With the number of countries  voting against the resolution down to just 3, Assad is clearly more  isolated  than ever and it must surely now be a question of when he will go, not if.

With less attention, but also in the news, was  a good  news story on  human rights: twenty countries signed the new Optional Protocol to the  Convention on the Rights of the Child at a high level signing ceremony. Once 10 countries have ratified it, the protocol will enter into force and for the first time children will be able to bring complaints about violations of their rights to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. As I sat through the ceremony, I couldn’t help but wonder what my 11 month old son would like to complain about.  No doubt this would  include the right never to have clothes put over his head, freedom to  pull the cat’s tail and stringent protections against enforced  nose-wiping.

I spent the early part of the week looking after the programme of UK Minister Jeremy Browne who managed to squeeze plenty into a short trip  to Geneva. His meetings included one with Uruguay Minister Dr Luis  Alamagro, the star of last year’s March session who surprisingly turned out be one of my blog readers.  Gracias por leerlo Dr. Almagro.

Jeremy Browne moderated a panel discussion on how to better use  the Olympics and other major sporting events to promote awareness and respect for human rights. My colleague Chris had spent many hours putting the event together and went beyond the call of duty, spending his weekend setting up an Olympics exhibition and  even sewed together London 2012 flags to make a banner hanging from the UN ceiling. I was  hoping we’d round off the day with some improvised UN Olympics for  willing delegates with events to test out strength , stamina and speed like carrying the cumbersome Council chairs, staying awake through  the entire High Level Segment and hurtling across the coffee lounge to find a vacant table.

If you’ve been struggling to get a hotel room in Geneva this week it might be down to the Geneva Motor show. But it’s more likely to be down to the Sri Lankan delegation. Sri Lanka has sent the biggest governmental delegation in memory, complete with 6 cabinet ministers to work against an expected resolution  calling for greater action  towards accountability for serious violations committed during the 2009 conflict. Sri Lanka’s main argument appears to be that they need more time to implement the recommendations in the report of their domestic Lesson’s Learned and Reconciliation Commission.Unfortunately, to date Sri Lanka has a bad record on responding to previous domestic commissions into human rights violations. And with  so little achieved towards accountability and reconciliation  in the  nearly 3 years since the conflict ended, their arguments are not convincing.

The week ended on a lighter note as colleagues donned colourful  outfits for the Council’s annual national dress day. I’m not sure that the UK has national dress and I’m usually left in a bit of a quandary as to what to wear. This year I toyed with the idea of turning up in my teletubby outfit but wasn’t sure that this would help me in  negotiations. As ever, my colleague Chris came through for the team and put on traditional Yorkshire dress, complete with flat cap. Regrettably UN security wouldn’t let him bring his pet ferret into the Council Chamber, so colleagues will have to watch his award winning display of ferret legging  another time. Maybe that’s something else to introduce at the Olympics?

My Peruvian colleague had little difficulty deciding what to wear for national dress day

2 comments on “Panels, Protocols and Ponchos

  1. The ferret needs to be a regular feature. Well done to all of you. Hope Ben has a good birthday. xx

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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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