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Rob Fenn

Head of Human Rights and Democracy Department, FCO

Part of Stay Ahead of the Games UK in Brunei

6th September 2012 London, UK

Brunei and the Paralympics

Pusat Ehsan member at the British High Commission booth.

You can tell a lot about a country from the way it treats it citizens with disabilities. You can tell a lot, that way, about the planet as a whole. That’s the message of the London 2012 Paralympic Games: a call for “Enlightenment” and a celebration of the fact that athletes with disabilities are taking centre stage.

Brunei Darussalam has had a successful Olympics already, with personal bests and national records on the track and in the pool. Like the rest of the nation, I am cheering on Brunei’s wheelchair javelin medal prospect, Shari Haji Juma’at, whose throw of 29.83 metres this April made him ASEAN record holder and Number One in the IPC Official World Rankings for the Men’s Javelin F55 event. Go Shari!

The most impressive performance of all, however, has come from civil society in Brunei, which got behind all its athletes, regardless of disability, ethnicity or gender.

By happy coincidence or brilliant planning, Brunei’s disability NGO, Pusat Ehsan, held its annual fund-raising bazaar during the Paralympic Games. For the programme, I contributed a “testimonial” to the work of this fantastic organisation, with which I have a personal connection. Pusat Ehsan were generous hosts when my mother’s favourite charity, the Journey of a Lifetime Trust (JoLT), brought disadvantaged kids from Britain to Borneo for a life-affirming adventure.

Which partly explains, I suppose, why the British High Commission found itself in the position of “defending champion” for the coveted title of “Best Decorated Booth”. Inspired by the Paralympic Games, we devised a “Wheelchair Challenge”. Contestants tried to match Shari’s personal best in the Shot Put (7.83 metres) from a seated position. (We toyed only briefly with the idea of mounting a “Javelin Challenge” in the middle of a crowded festival.) To lend glamour to our event, we invited Brunei’s other Olympic heroes to have a go: the 400 metre duo Hafiy and Maziah – the latter Brunei’s first female Olympian. It all came to a head when Pusat Ehsan’s Guest of Honour, Her Royal Highness Princess Masna, visited our stall.

HRH Princess Masnah with Brunei’s first female Olympian Maziah, and fellow 400m Olympian Hafiy.

My 3 minute film [see here] captures that moment, and – I hope – the good-humoured, open-hearted, inclusive atmosphere which prevailed all weekend in Bandar Seri Begawan. A society which nurtures institutions like Pusat Ehsan has much to teach the Paralympic Movement about Enlightenment.

Oh, and yes, in case you were wondering, we did win “Best Decorated Booth” for the second year running – thanks to the diverse talents of “Team GB” at BHC Bandar.

HRH Princess Masnah meets the Fenn family, visiting our BHC stall.
Showing HRH Princess Masnah one of the Raffle prizes from our Spirit of the Games Art Competition
Brunei Olympians pose with the painting being presented to HRH Princess Masnah, Guest of Honour at Pusat Ehsan Charity Bazaar 2012 launch.
Brunei’s first female Olympian, Maziah Mahusin, attempts our Wheel-chair Shot Put Challenge.

More pics can be found on our Facebook page CLICK HERE.

About Rob Fenn

Rob Fenn has been Head of the FCO’s Human Rights and Democracy Department since March 2014. His last formal responsibility for human rights was in the mid 1990s, when he…

Rob Fenn has been Head of the FCO’s Human Rights and Democracy Department
since March 2014. His last formal responsibility for human rights was in
the mid 1990s, when he served as UK Delegate on the Third Committee of
the General Assembly in New York (with annual excursions to what was
then the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva). Recent celebrations of
the twentieth anniversary of the creation of the post of UN High
Commissioner for Human Rights – a resolution he helped pilot through the
GA – came a shock. The intervening 20 years have flown: in Rome
(EU/Economics), in London (Southern European Department), in Nicosia
(Deputy High Commissioner) and latterly in Bandar Seri Begawan.
Julia and their two sons loved Brunei, where British High Commissioners
are made especially welcome. The family’s activities included regular
walks in the pristine rainforest, expeditions upriver to help conserve
the Sultanate’s stunning biodiversity, and home movie making (in Brunei
it is almost impossible to take a bad photograph).
all those saturated colours, Rob worried that the move back to Britain
might feel like a shift into black and white. But the reunion with
family, friends and colleagues, and the boys’ brave reintegration into a
North London school, have been ample compensation. Julia’s main regret
is that, now she walks on Hampstead Heath, she no longer has an excuse
to carry a machete (“parang”).
problem is summed up in two types of reaction from friends outside the
office. On hearing that he is “in charge of human rights and democracy
at the FCO”, some think it sounds like a vast job: what else is there?
Others think it sounds wishy-washy: not in the national interest. Rob’s
mission is to take the Foreign Secretary’s dictum that “our values are
our interests”, and help his colleagues translate it into action in a
world so varied it can contain both Brunei’s clouded leopard and the
civil war in Syria.

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