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Bob Last

Head, UK Mission Political and Human Rights Team

Part of FCDO Human Rights

30th March 2016 Geneva, Switzerland

Mr Council

Time to go home

The Council closed last Thursday after a health sapping, sleep deprived and occasionally fractious month, but the results were good. Following weeks of pressure from all regions, South Sudan accepted that its human rights record should be kept under close scrutiny by the Council and committed to cooperating wtih a strong new Commission of investigators over the next year. The Syria Commission of Inquiry was renewed for another year, as were important Special Rapporteurs to keep pressure for improvement on North Korea, Iran and Burma. And an ill-judged attempt by Russia to weaken Norway’s resolution on human rights defenders by tabling a record 31 amendments resulted in nothing more than Russia enduring the longest and -to quote the Mexican Ambassador- most “absurd” string of voting defeats any delegation has suffered.

It was such a busy session with so many late finishes that my young children thought I’d been away for the last month. I took inspiration from my son’s favourite author and told them I’d been in a place called Council-land. With pictures by my endlessly talented wife, this is what we came up with.
Mr Council

In a country not far from here, there’s a special place called Council-land. In Council-land people come from all over the world to talk about making things better in their countries and how to help people in places with very big problems. Some of the men and women in Council-land are happy to be there, some of them would rather not be there and all of them are tired because they spend so long working there instead of sleeping. Not everyone speaks the same language but it doesn’t matter because in Council-land there are clever people called interpreters who speak into your ear all day to help you understand.

This story is about someone who lives in Council-land, called Mr Council. He’s a happy sort of man and no one is sure how long he’s been there. One cold winter’s morning Mr Council woke up early and got ready for work. He washed, shaved, got dressed smartly, said goodbye to his family and went out to a meeting. Meetings last a long time in Council-land. A very long time. They can last so long that seasons can change without anyone noticing.

Mr Council starts a session.
Mr Council starts a session.

At work Mr Council tried to get lots of people to agree on what to say about a country called Big Problemland where things were not going well. It was an unhappy country where a few people were taking everything they wanted for themselves and wouldn’t share things or let anyone disagree with them. It was not a nice place to live and the people who wanted to make things better and talk about problems openly could find themselves in big trouble.

In Council-land people disagree about lots of things all the time. There are some, like Mr Council, who think the best way to make things better is to talk about what happens in places like Big Problemland and ask the people in charge to change what they are doing. And then there are other people who think the best way to deal with bad things is to just ignore them, say nothing and hope that no one notices.

Getting people to agree in Council-land is not easy. People feel very strongly about which words to use, and the longer people talk about what words to use, the more tired they get. And the more tired they get the less they want to change their minds. So Mr Council had to stay very patient and think very hard about finding exactly the right words which everyone could agree on (even if it didn’t always make sense).

Mr Council looks for a compromise
Mr Council looks for a compromise

Mr Council spent many days speaking to people in Council-land to see if they could all find a way of saying something together to the people in charge of Big Problemland. Sometimes he spoke to many people all at once in very big rooms and sometimes he spoke to just a few people in small rooms.

Mr Council and good friends
Mr Council and good friends

After Mr Council had met lots of people every day for four weeks it was time to make a decision. Like many things in Council-land, decisions are made in rather an unusual way. Everyone goes into a special room and sits at a desk with three buttons on it. If you want to agree with somebody then you press a green button. If you disagree then you press a red button. And if you aren’t quite sure then you can press a white button.

Mr Council was very happy because everybody pressed the green button for him. It meant that everybody agreed that the people in charge of Big Problemland would have to make things better for the people there and must let people from Council-land into their country to show them that things really were improving.

By now Mr Council was really rather tired and dishevelled. His hair was bushy, his face was whiskered and his bag was messy. He knew it was time to go home. He walked outside and found it wasn’t winter anymore and that spring had come. So he picked some flowers from the ground and took them home to his family. He walked through the door and smiled. And had a long, long sleep.

Time to go home
Time to go home

If your mum or dad hasn’t been around for a few weeks, maybe they have been in Council-land too.

17 comments on “Mr Council

  1. I missed a reference to the three-hour session during which 31 Russian amendments were voted on and all rejected.

    1. Thanks Klaus – it’s there in the first paragraph, but didn’t quite deserve to be in the story.

  2. Hi Bob,

    I liked the story and the pictures.

    I think my Dad has been in council – land for a while as well!
    Love Olivia (age 8).☺
    Jacky and Ed ‘s Granddaughter.

  3. More of this, please! Love the illustrations – the last one is spot on… Look forward to Mr Council’s stories from HRC32.

  4. Dear Mr. Council, I enjoyed reading your adventures in Council-land and look forward to reading your next chapter.

  5. “Some other Council-land people flew over the ocean to join Mr Council. They helped to make things better in Problemland and spent hours sitting in meetings, talking to other people, reading statements and writing reports. They were also happy to be back to their families and beds after 4 weeks away from home” Thanks Bob for a great blog!

  6. This is fantastic and congrats to your family for the creativity and drawings. A wonderful story and three cheers for Mr. Council! I can’t wait for the next adventure.

  7. Such a great piece! No wonder everyone is sharing this!

    You manage to keep it fresh and positive, hats off to you!!

  8. Excellent and well written Bob. You helped all of us explain to our families what we do!

  9. Hi Bob,
    This is a beautiful co-production, or in Council-land you would perhaps call it a core-group draft.

    (and it saves me the trouble to write a summary report on the session for capital).

  10. Even the roof in Council-land seems less dangerous to cave in on one’s head.

  11. Dear Mr. Blog,
    Thanks for this excellent piece. It should be translated in all council-land official languages so all kids wishing to travel one day to this mysterious and faraway land can have an idea of what to expect.
    Congratulations to your talented wife for her ability to capture the essence of Mr. Council!

  12. Loved the drawings Bob. Not bad for a man nearing 40! As ever, an insightful and humorous blog. Hope you have a well earned rest.

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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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