27th March 2017 Geneva, Switzerland
Kicking the Habit
My last blog worried some of you enough that you offered to send biscuits to my children in adult-proof containers. I’d like to offer some reassurance that my kids have started hiding their chocolate almost forgiven me for my thievery and that I am now receiving professional support for my wafer addiction. My wife has put me on a biscuit watch-list and given my photo to all the shops within a 100km radius. I now have to resort to asking my mum to send them out from the UK (pretending that they’re for the grandchildren).
There’s no doubting that Council sessions put a major strain on personal relationships. While delegates spend weeks away arguing the content of UN resolutions with all the energy we can summon, it cuts us off from our children, partners and friends, and leaves no time for the countless daily jobs that life demands. For those of us lucky enough to have them, it’s rare to see our long-suffering partners during the week and if we do it tends to be only for the briefest of exchanges while we’re brushing our teeth. Too many times this last month I’ve had to disappoint after I’ve caught the expectant glint in my wife’s eye, wondering, hoping, wishing that tonight will be the night that I put out the bins.
On the whole it was worth the effort, with successes on all the major votes where the outcome had been in doubt. The country resolutions on Iran and Syria passed with more support than last year, pointing to an increased level of concern among this year’s Council membership. And there was a good result for plucky Georgia who had brought forward a new resolution calling for access for UN human rights monitors to its occupied regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia has been cooperating well with the UN human rights system so the call for access was perfectly reasonable. Russia, which is spending some time off the Council, weren’t happy and managed to influence some Council members to abstain, but not enough to prevent the resolution from passing.
There was also a strong result on South Sudan led by the US, UK, Albania and Paraguay which strengthened the mandate of the Commission set up last year to examine violations and abuses in the country. The situation remains extremely alarming and the Commission has an important role to play in bringing violations to the international community’s attention and preparing the way for accountability.
On Sri Lanka, the Government co-sponsorship of the resolution renews its commitment to carrying out the promises it made to the Council in 2015. While the Council was right to give Sri Lanka time and support, when the High Commissioner’s report on the country was discussed in the session’s final week, many states voiced frustration at the slow rate of progress. It is crucial that the Government now puts in place a time-bound strategy to ensure steady progress on the full content of the resolution as an urgent priority.
And on Burma, the EU’s resolution will lead to a new Fact-Finding Mission to look into recent violations in the country, with a focus on Rakhine State and the plight of the Rohinyga. It was unusual, to hear Egypt take the floor in support of the new Fact Finding mission. Egypt is not normally among those willing to criticise other countries, but on this occasion human rights concerns outweighed other considerations.
There isn’t space to do justice to the many thematic resolutions, but well done to Norway for renewing the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders. Sadly this mandate is needed now more than ever and it will be important to ensure a worthy successor to Michel Forst. And it was important that China did not manage to limit civil society engagement at the Forum on Democracy and Rule of Law. Genuine civil society participation is essential for the success and credibility of UN human rights bodies, and had it passed, the Chinese amendment would have been a sting in the tail, at the end of the session. I’d also like to congratulate William Mozdzierz from the US delegation who impressed the room with a new UN record in speed-reading. Speaking time limits meant that his explanation of vote on the Right to Food resolution was so fast that no one actually heard him call the vote. He’ll always have moonlighting opportunities in reading the light-speed warning at the end of adverts for financial schemes that prices can go down as well as up.
I wish you well as you gradually readjust to your normal lives. Despite my weeks of negotiating, I still have little joy winning the harder arguments with my kids. This weekend I had to accept defeat in a heated discussion with one of them on the subject of what the opposite of teddy bear was. For those wondering, it’s a pig, apparently. I’ve also made it to the end of this write-up without breaking into the wafer cabinet. But with Easter approaching it’s going to be hard not to be tempted by the harder stuff.