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Bob Last

Head, UK Mission Political and Human Rights Team

Part of FCDO Human Rights

27th June 2016 Geneva, Switzerland

From Rain to Roast

Civil service convention dictates that I should avoid expressing a public view on important domestic matters, so I’ll leave all talk of last week’s referendum to others. I’m free to discuss the weather though and after endless weeks of rain, this week’s dramatic rise in temperature caught many of us by surprise. As someone who grew up in Manchester’s moderate climate I struggle to retain solid form when the temperature goes above 25 degrees, so when it went above 30 this week I was actually pleased to be able to shelter in the UN’s underground, windowless, air-conditioned caverns, safe from the melting elements outside.

It's hot outside
It’s hot outside

The more time I spend in the UN building the more convinced I am that it was designed by practical jokers. The rooms we use for human rights meetings are numbered without any sense of logic whatsoever and if anyone can tell me why rooms 19 and 20 are two floors above rooms 18 and 21 I’ll buy you a jumbo pack of gummy bears. There is not a single person I know who knows where in the building all the meeting rooms can be found, and I suspect if you were to look hard enough, you’ll find a committee that’s been in session for decades, simply because people are too embarrassed to admit that they don’t know how to get out. My own personal bugbear though is the way the lights go out on a timer switch when you’re in the toilets. You can almost hear the ghostly cackle from the building’s founding fathers every time it happens.

As things heated up outside, week two of the Council session got increasingly frantic as we approached the mid-point tabling deadline. It coincided with the end of the group stages of the European Football Championship, and felt very much like the session’s own half time break. Tabling deadline day brings a rare lull in proceedings as people pause for breath after a hectic week and a half of working flat out to finalise the version of the resolutions they want the Council to pass judgment on. I’ve been getting increasing remarks at home about when I was planning on sorting out my disheveled appearance or whether I was planning on living under a bridge. So I took advantage of my first break for lunch in the last few weeks and got myself a haircut, much to the amazement of anyone who saw me that afternoon. A haircut? During the Council? Yes, I said, and I even had time for a sandwich too.

There were 30 resolutions put forward last week on a wide array of topics ranging from the succinctly titled “civil society space” led by Ireland, Tunisia, Sierra Leone, Chile, Japan and Tunisia, to the slightly more descriptive “Addressing the impact of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence in the context of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance on the full enjoyment of all human rights by women and girls” by 5 Latin American countries.

It is encouraging that Ukraine has presented another resolution this session in order to carry on regular consideration of its own situation. Ukraine has admirably been cooperating with the UN’s Human Rights Monitoring Mission in the country since 2014, and for the last year it and has been willing to have an open discussion of its own human rights challenges in the Council every few months. But Russia has become increasingly uncomfortable with the UN’s reporting for drawing attention to serious abuses in illegally occupied Crimea, which the UN is unable to access, as well as to Russian support for illegal armed groups in Eastern Ukraine. It was bad that a large portion of countries abstained on the resolution last year under pressure from Russia, and hopefully this year Ukraine will get the support it deserves from the Council.

The main event in the final week will probably be what happens on the resolution on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity which Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Uruguay are running. It is staggering that at the UN’s preeminent human rights body, the idea that no one should be subjected to violence or discrimination on the grounds of their sexual orientation should be a cause for so much alarm and vitriol. I very much hope that the principles of universality that underpin everything we do here will win through and that the resolution will pass.

I’ll let you know next Monday how the session ends up. If you bump into me in the Council this week, please keep the conversation to work, or football, or best of all, the weather.

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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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