This blog post was published under the 2015 to 2024 Conservative government

Lucinda Stallard

Lucinda Stallard

Counsellor: International Law

27th October 2022 Geneva, Switzerland

Lessons from a lawyer: my first year in multilateral diplomacy

With thanks to the dedicated photographer, Bob Last.

The close of the 51st Session of the UN Human Rights Council marked a full year since I started my role as Legal Counsellor to the UK Mission in Geneva.

Truth be told, I almost missed the anniversary completely. According to those that have been around far longer than I have, it was one of the busiest Council sessions to date, with over 40 resolutions negotiated. The UK Mission were front and centre on various files, including the request for a debate on Xinjiang and the creation of a Special Rapporteur to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Russia. While the former did not pass, the progress that raising Xinjiang in the Council represents is not to be underestimated, nor is the unprecedented move to bring Russia’s domestic human rights record to the Council’s agenda. A number of complex thematic resolutions also required a great deal of engagement with HMG departments and Missions based in Geneva, including those on Emerging Technology in the Military Domain and the Republic of the Marshall Island’s resolution on Nuclear Legacy.

While this Session has been the busiest to date, it is not dissimilar to the year of 2022. Russia’s unlawful invasion of Ukraine has influenced the work of each and every UN body and forum for which I advise. From the World Health Assembly Resolution on the health emergency in Ukraine caused by the conflict, to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Review Conference, I have had the privilege to advise on and represent the UK on its response to the conflict within the UN system. Such a fast pace of work comes with little time to reflect. My first year has flown by, and it’s time to make time.

Part of the UK delegation at the NPT RevCon in New York.

First off, multilateral diplomacy has been an adjustment. My primary experience of diplomacy before arriving in Geneva was limited to UK-EU exit bilateral negotiations. Putting aside the various extensions of the transition period, there was a clear ‘end’ point where a treaty needed to be in place. Multilateral diplomacy differs. The objectives are more multifaceted. Yes, it’s about agreeing a negotiated outcome, but it is also about providing a forum for discussion where alternative forums are not available, and understanding that sometimes a discussion is a success in itself. It is about iterative progress, as we saw in the 51st Session with the Xinjiang decision, where even raising this within the Council would have been unfathomable a few years ago. It’s also a world in which a red light means the microphone is on (something I will never get used to).

Secondly, I am no longer an international lawyer in the sense I had become accustomed to back in London. My role here in Geneva is different. It’s one of legal diplomacy and outreach to deliver tangible outcomes and project HMG’s profile on the international stage: legal books are exchanged for microphones (with red lights when I’ve had my coffee). While I advise the UK Mission on legal matters, this requires a more acute sense of the political and diplomatic context, relationships and delivery.

My final reflection is about the importance of people when at Post. Missions are effectively microcosms of HMG. This is particularly true for the Mission in Geneva which covers a wide range of areas (human rights, disarmament, trade, intellectual property, environment, migration, humanitarian – the list goes on). The breadth of areas covered by a small number of staff is only made possible by the working relationships fostered in the Mission and across the UK. And of course, having an unabashed willingness to get stuck in helps. The same goes for the networks staff build outside of their work. All Missions face similar issues – enormous portfolios split between a handful of colleagues – where the building of relationships and sharing of information is essential to getting the job done. This has been essential to my first year in Geneva. I am Head of the International Law Section where the ‘section’ is one: me. Forging a wide circle of fellow lawyers (/loners) across Geneva has been essential to my role to date. An added bonus is that these lawyers have become close friends – sure does make untangling questions on Rules of Procedure slightly more bearable.

With two years remaining in this role, I hope to continue to find windows to reflect on the extraordinary experiences that a Posting with the FCDO offers. Watch this space.

Some fellow lawyers enjoying the sights of Lac Leman.

About Lucinda Stallard

Lucinda is a Counsellor of International Law at the UK Mission to the UN and other International Organisations in Geneva.

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