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Bob Last

Head, UK Mission Political and Human Rights Team

Part of UK in Switzerland

10th July 2018 Geneva, Switzerland

World Cup Council

There’s little point writing about anything not related to football at the moment and I wouldn’t expect anyone to give it much attention if I did. By a happy coincidence, plenty of the countries who qualified for the World Cup finals were busy at the Human Rights Council too. I’m happy to report that we got through the session without too many instances of diplomats rolling around on the floor, feigning injury or trying to get each other sent off, though as with all UN meetings, there was still a fair bit of time wasting. Here’s how everyone got on during the latter part of the Council session.

World Cup debutants Iceland are set to fill the US’s empty seat and become a Council member for the first time. Their Council appearance this session was brief but meaningful with a joint statement on the killings in the Philippines, associated with the campaign against drugs. Iceland have shown impressive leadership for a small delegation and there’s growing expectation of what their membership may bring.

There were big wins for Colombia and Mexico, in line with their early World Cup fortunes. Both countries led on a strong resolution on discrimination against women and girls in the economic sphere. They took a firm stance throughout and managed to defeat an amendment to delete important wording on comprehensive sexuality education, which Russia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia had proposed.  Such education is essential for young people to protect their rights and to make informed decisions about what they do with their bodies and objections to this belong in the past.

Peru, Portugal and Tunisia all enjoyed more success at the Council than they did in Russia. Peru’s resolution on human rights and the civilian use of firearms was adopted without a vote for the first time, mainly due to the US’s absence, while Portugal had two early wins on the Right to Education and HIV and AIDS, alongside Brazil.  Tunisia teamed up with Ireland, Sierra Leone and Chile, who were all free from World Cup distraction, to deliver a further resolution on civil society space. This was one of the better resolutions to come out of the Council session, though it was regrettable that Russia, China and Pakistan sought to weaken the resolution through amendments.

UK Ambassador Julian Briathwaite speaks during the voting

There were two Council victories for Switzerland, and with much less controversy than the goal celebrations against Serbia. The resolution on ‘Peaceful Protests’ passed relatively peacefully. There was slightly more fuss with the resolution on improving the Council’s prevention role, which Switzerland presented jointly with Norway, Colombia and Sierra Leone. It was a shame to see nine countries vote against the resolutions and that the issue of doing better at preventing human rights violations arouses such fear among delegations like Venezuela, who called the vote. Happily, the resolution passed with a strong level of support and opens the way to much needed discussions on improving the Councils prevention role.

Russia didn’t have to qualify for the World Cup as host nation. And they don’t seem to have to qualify as a Council member to get themselves noticed. They kept up their tradition of trying to spoil everyone else’s work by tabling many hostile amendments to important Council resolutions. Their team was certainly not short on effort, but this can only get you so far and they crashed out  on penalties when it came to voting, losing every single amendment.

England of course do not feature at the Council, but there’s a decent contingent of England fans within the UK delegation’s ranks. In the same week as England’s record world cup win, we delivered a record level of support for a Council joint statement, with more than 150 states supporting the UK’s call for 12 years of quality education for girls. At the sharper end of Council business, the Syria resolution passed by a good margin, repeating the call for violations and abuses to end, with a stronger focus on gender-based violence. It was encouraging to see Ecuador move to a vote in favour this time around.

Team UK

I’ve seen too many tournaments to have confidence of England getting any further, but I did at least put some childhood ghosts to rest during the penalty shoot-out against Colombia. The Colombian delegation joined our team to watch the match and handled the result with considerable grace and magnanimity.  And so on to the semi- finals with nerves a-jangling. I couldn’t help but notice that Belgium, Croatia and France all had suspiciously quiet Council sessions.  I wonder what else they might have been doing these last few weeks?

The British and Colombian Ambassadors, before the match

1 comment on “World Cup Council

  1. Great blog as ever Bob. Good to see that all those Russian amendments were defeated. Keep up the good fight!

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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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