22nd February 2021 Geneva, Switzerland
One of the things I like the least in this job is having to say goodbye to so many good people. Just over three weeks ago I had to bid adieu to our long-serving team leader and unsung Council hero Matt Forman. It’s been a long three weeks since then, and I’ve been awake most of the time, mostly due to the coup in Myanmar and the resulting Special Session of the Human Rights Council. We’re into the swing of the regular session now and there’ll be plenty more to say on that in the weeks ahead. But for now, please enjoy Matt’s farewell reflections.
Moving On : Guest Blog by Matthew Forman
The time has come to pen some farewell thought for Bob’s Blog. I remember reading my predecessor, Ian Duddy’s Parting Thoughts, four-and-half years ago, after his five years in the job, and wondering if I would ever get under the skin of the UN, human rights, and multilateralism in the way that he had. There have been wobbles along the way, but I needn’t have worried too much. After going through one year of the HRC cycle (‘What a difference a year makes’) I understood the basics, and as the time has gone on the value of what we do at the Human Rights Council has become clearer than ever, particularly given all that the world has gone through during that time.
I remember Bob telling me early on about the value of career UK diplomats rotating through Geneva every 4 or 5 years: Working hard, learning lots, making a difference, and then getting the hell out of there. He assured me this wasn’t personal, but that during his career at the Mission he had repeatedly seen the positive impact that ‘ex-Geneva’ colleagues had had, as they took away an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the UN, the Human Rights Council, and the ways in which human rights can be – and should be protected – to future and often senior jobs. When I look around the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, I can also see great examples of this. I commit to upholding that same responsibility in the future – an Ambassador for the HRC, if you will.
What else will I take away from my time in Geneva? Professionally, the experience of leading an amazing group of people, made up of career FCDO diplomats working indistinguishably alongside locally recruited human rights experts, as well as a series of dauntingly smart interns. I’ve learnt lots from impressive senior leaders, communications experts, executive assistants, and am grateful to the people that keep the Mission running. Having the responsibility of providing direction, motivation and empowerment to a great team has been a real privilege.
I’ve also been responsible for some really important and sensitive files, such as Yemen and Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories – which I had the privilege of visiting several times during this role. I’ve worked on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Media Freedom, and on LGBTI rights. I have worked with some great like-minded partners (and not so like-minded), trying to reach agreements that would ensure human rights violations and abuses were not ignored.
It’s safe to say the world has had a fairly rocky time during my posting, beyond human rights. The UK said goodbye to the European Union, and we locally bade a fond farewell to the human rights team at the EU Delegation and our counterparts in the members states – though I’m pleased to say we are still in close contact given our strong shared interests at the HRC.
I’m very fortunate to have had the best part of 3 years in Geneva ‘pre-pandemic’. I got to meet people in person, make friends, talk to civil society representatives in the Serpentine, rather than via a computer screen or through a mask. For people who have arrived more recently, I can only hope that these opportunities return as soon as possible. I feel lucky to have been In Switzerland as the world adapted to the pandemic, not least because of the great job the UK Mission has done to look after its staff. The HRC has been an important forum to start to understand and take steps to address the profound human rights implications of a pandemic like this.
There’s much more I could say about my time here. As well as professional highlights, Geneva has been an amazing place for my family to have spent almost 5 years, and we’ve enjoyed and benefitted from all that Switzerland has to offer.
But for my final word, I want to celebrate my team, and in particular (it is his blog after all) Bob Last. No longer the Deputy, he now takes his rightful place as the Human Rights Counsellor at the UK Mission, where he will bring experience, expertise, and – as this blog demonstrates – brilliant judgement, layered with a healthy dose of essential humour. Long may that continue.