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Rob Fenn

Head of Human Rights and Democracy Department, FCO

Part of UK in Brunei

19th November 2012 London, UK

British High Commission Fire Training "Away Day"

Safety is a key component of the Brunei Brand: “Abode of Peace”. For Brunei Shell, it’s a yardstick against which the whole operation is measured; because, they tell me, managers with a strong safety record tend to get the rest of the job right too.

The High Commission also prizes safety. For us, the challenge is to stay safety-conscious in a situation where our hosts take such good care of us. How to avoid complacency? And how to get all the fringe-benefits which come while working at Health and Safety? Such as high morale; and a team which watches out for one another.

If we needed a wake-up call, the Bandar Fire Brigade were just the people to sound the alarm. So we spent a morning with the Balai Bomba. The film below depicts the “short sharp shock” administered by Instructress Andy and her colleagues.

I can still hear her voice: “Think fast! What are you going to do?” I can now, I hope, grab the right kind of fire extinguisher (Water, Foam, Carbon Dioxide or Dry Chemical Powder) to suit each blaze.

Of course, we hope our homes and workplace in the Yayasan Complex will never catch fire. Fire prevention and other security disciplines are important to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, wherever we find ourselves in the world.

But it’s a comfort to discover that the Royal Brunei Fire Department upholds the same high standards; adapted to this particular terrain. Check out the references to bees, wild boar and snake-catching.

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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