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Rob Fenn

Head of Human Rights and Democracy Department, FCO

Part of UK in Brunei

30th April 2013 London, UK

Dawn Ceremony for ANZAC Day 2013

I never used to be a “morning person”. At university, I could stay up until dawn (studying!), but then I had to sleep for 24 hours.

Here in Brunei my body clock has changed completely. I need to get the boys to school by 0720. So I set my alarm for 0600. But I am frequently awake before then, keen to watch the sun come up out of Brunei Bay.

The dawn view from our house must rank amongst the best in the world. And because we are on a hill, you can’t hear any traffic on Kota Batu. Instead, you hear the water slapping on the hulls of fishing vessels bringing their catch home. (Now there’s a job for early risers.)

But to get me onto Muara Beach, booted and spurred, by 0530 in the morning does take a special motivation: namely, the ANZAC Day dawn ceremony. My home movie below captures the atmosphere, I think. It is an international occasion, uniting old adversaries as well as old allies.

It is wonderful that Brunei marks the spot where Australian troops came ashore in 1945. But the symbolism goes much wider than that. We are remembering all those who died for their countries, long ago in history, or within our own, privileged, lifetimes.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

As a diplomat, I admire the military – here in Brunei and wherever governments manage to marry force with discipline. As a father, another thing which gets me up in the morning is my wish to help build a world in which I never have to send my own sons into battle.

As a spectator of last week’s triumphant ASEAN Summit here in Bandar, I rejoice that – as in Europe, so here in S E Asia – leaders have succeeded in making war “unthinkable”.

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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