Posts Tagged ‘Multilateral diplomacy’

Sergio Pinheiro, UN human rights veteran, speaks out

September 21, 2020

Jamil Chade in Geneva spoke with Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, 25 years with the UN, recently as Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria. Swissinfo published the result on 20 September 2020 under the title UN human rights veteran is a target in his native Brazil

swissinfo.ch: After 25 years of service at the UN, what role do you believe the international body can actually play to protect human rights? 

Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro: If we think of the United Nations as a whole, from the very beginning human rights have been at its core, starting with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They are present in decisions at the General Assembly and the Security Council. All UN agencies protect human rights around the world. But the most important body that ensures this is the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, with its special rapporteurs [in place] since 1979 examining the human rights situation in various countries, assisted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Paulo Sergio Pinheiro (centre) listens to an official while visiting the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar, during his visit to the Asian country in November 2007 as an independent rights investigator. Keystone / Str

Have you experienced any frustrations because of the limits of the international role?

Only the victims – whom I prefer to call survivors – of human rights violations can feel frustration. Those of us who try to bring rights violations to light and seek justice are only frustrated by UN bodies that don’t function as they should. After more than 10 years of human rights violations and war crimes [in Syria, for example], the malfunctioning of the Security Council means that these crimes are not being tried at the International Criminal Court. This is not only frustrating but also inexplicable for survivors of the war.

In Burundi, in your first assignment in 1995, there was a real expectation that progress would be made. Did it work out?

The special rapporteur has no magic wand to change the situation in a particular country. But it makes a difference that there were special rapporteurs and, after 2016, a commission of inquiry. Local civil society is stronger, and the government feels empowered in the area of human rights. My best interlocutor there was the human rights minister Eugene Nindorera, who later became a UN director of human rights for missions in Ivory Coast and South Sudan.

You also spent years dealing with Myanmar and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, when she was still under house arrest. What were those meetings like?

Myanmar was an exceptional case, because it was a military government that wanted to get closer to UN human rights bodies and civil society. During the first four years, I got access to all the places and institutions I requested. But neither I nor the other UN representatives in the country responded satisfactorily to this openness. The government therefore was not able to justify our presence to the military junta [which effectively ruled the country] and was eventually ousted. I did not go back until four years later, in 2007, when there was an uprising by the [Buddhist] monks and civil society.

The war in Syria is now nearly ten years old, and the inquiry you are leading has gathered an unprecedented amount of information on the crisis. What can you do with this information? 

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic is not a court, and it doesn’t have any competence in political negotiations. The aim of these commissions is to investigate and document human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. We work to address the right to truth of the Syrian people.

Our database has been used in investigations into human rights perpetrators of the conflict that were opened in several countries. Our data has also been used by the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism on Syria, which is preparing criminal cases to be brought before the courts in the future.

2020 also marks the 75th anniversary of the UN. What is there to celebrate? 

There is more to commemorate than there is to regret. Let’s imagine that the UN did not exist. International conflicts would be much more intense, humanitarian crises would not be addressed, and there would be even fewer guarantees of economic and social rights. And the application, even if flawed, of the principles of the Universal Declaration and the human rights conventions would be even less effective. My assistant when I was working in Burundi, Brigitte Lacroix, said to me when she left: “Paulo, what really matters is what you will do for the victims. From the perspective of the survivors, we must be glad because they are at the centre of our actions.”

The UN and multilateralism are at a crossroads, and the response to the pandemic is showing that. Is there a real risk to the system?

The pandemic has clearly exposed the inequality, the concentration of income, and the racism that continue to prevail in almost all societies, both in the North and the South. No one has escaped. Those who were poor are getting poorer, the healthcare situation of the poor has gotten worse, not only in the lack of care for those affected by Covid-19, but in the right to healthcare in general.

I don’t think that after the pandemic there will automatically be greater solidarity […] or better care for the disenfranchised. For this to happen, UN member states, instead of denying resources to the system – as they did with the WHO – have to increase their political support and financial resources to the UN.

Has your Brazilian citizenship helped you in your international work over the last 25 years?

Latin America, as a former French ambassador to Brazil, Alain Rouquié, says in one of his books, is the “Far West”, a category apart from the western world. Because they are in this group, Brazilians are perceived as being independent. After the return to democracy in 1985 and until the Dilma Rousseff administration [in 2016], Brazil was considered an honest broker – a reliable negotiator. Because during this period we never denied serious human rights violations in Brazil. Every country wanted to be in the picture with Brazil – until the coup against President Dilma Rousseff took place. At the UN Human Rights Council, Brazil was always present for the most sensitive resolutions, such as on homosexuality, racism, and violence against women and children. I think that Brazil’s aura has certainly been of benefit to me.

You were included in a list [of so-called “anti-fascists”] prepared by the Ministry of Justice in Brazil this summer – a dossier of sorts of those who question the government.

It was a strange honour to have been included, when it would have been enough to open Google to see what I think, say and do in Brazil, in UN bodies and around the world. It was a regrettable initiative to resurrect the abhorrent political espionage dossiers of the military dictatorship.

Fortunately, the Federal Supreme Court made a historic decision – in a 9-1 vote on August 21 – to prohibit the Ministry of Justice from distributing these reports on what certain citizens think and do.

https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/un-human-rights-veteran-is-a-target-in-his-native-brazil/46025454

Geneva and the future of multilateralism

November 16, 2019

Cedric Amon in Digital Watch of 17 September 2019 reported on the event “Geneva and the future of multilateralism“. Although it did not deal directly with human rights, I refer to it anyway as Geneva plays such an important role as the world’s hub for human rights, featuring regularly in this blog. The event was organised by the University of Geneva in partnership with the Swiss Federation, the Republic and State of Geneva, the City of Geneva, the United Nations Office at Geneva, and the Fondation pour Genève. The event celebrated 100 years of multilateralism in Geneva in remembrance of the creation of the League of Nations in 1919, which marked the beginning of modern multilateralism and the rise of International Geneva:

Mr Yves Flückiger (Director of the University of Geneva) spoke about the three principles which have contributed to Geneva’s central role on the international level: universality, unanimity, and consensus. He also underlined the importance of scientific institutions for the cohesion of the international system.

Flückiger further called for a more inclusive form of multilateralism to face today’s challenges. Moreover, he said that despite the current focus on new technologies, the human aspect in multilateralism and international co-operation should not be underestimated.

Mr Ignazio Cassis (Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland) noted that the first general assembly of the League of Nations on 15 November 1919 put Geneva and Switzerland on the map of the international scene. This assembly also meant that Switzerland had to take on the responsibilities of a host state. He retraced Switzerland’s historical evolution and the official recognition of Switzerland’s neutrality at the end of the First World War (WWI). Cassis further explained that although the League of Nations had failed as an institution, it laid the groundwork for today’s multilateralism and served as the basis for a number of international organisations and scientific collaborations such as CERN.

Moreover, Cassis mentioned that the Swiss government had signed a joint declaration reaffirming their commitment to International Geneva and the multilateral system, introducing Switzerland as a host state during the 2020–2023 period. He also mentioned that projects such as the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator had already been created in line with the strategy.

Ms Tatiana Valovaya (Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva) underlined the importance of the League of Nations for today’s multilateral system and said that the League of Nations had created the foundation for the work of the UN, ranging from justice and minority production, to the improvement of work and the respect of international public law.

As Geneva is the birthplace of the League of Nations, Valovaya mentioned the importance of the Palais des Nations’ archives in Geneva.

Valoyava further noted that in a fragmented and polarised world, multilateralism is needed more than ever in order to address today’s challenges and to find global solutions to them. According to her, the multilateral system is not in crisis but transitioning. Therefore, it is important to shape this new system to make it more inclusive.

Mr Sacha Zala (Director of the Research Centre Dodis and Co-Editor of the publication ‘Switzerland and the Construction of Multilateralism’ (unreleased diplomatic documents)) explained that Switzerland has been very active in world politics over the past 100 years. Zala mentioned that the right to self-determination which was recognised at the dawn of WWI, created challenges for the unity of Switzerland and threatened to break apart the country. However, Switzerland has established itself as a vibrant centre for world politics, thanks to the many international institutions in Geneva and Bern. Multilateralism has since then become a cornerstone for Switzerland, the same way that Switzerland’s neutrality was essential to it becoming the host country of the League of Nations. Zala also mentioned the importance of hosting the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in maintaining Geneva’s status as a diplomatic capital.

Ms Heba Aly (Director of The New Humanitarian) moderated the debate. She mentioned that the most common symptom of the crisis of multilateralism is the incapacity of addressing the crises around the world, given that institutions seem blocked and the respect of International Humanitarian Law is fading.

Ms Laurence Boisson de Chazournes (Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Geneva) observed that there is a disenchantment regarding international co-operation which stems from inside the countries. She explained that this sentiment stems from the problem of sharing the benefits of global co-operation, which means that certain populations feel abandoned and left out. She urged for a fundamental rethinking of the collaboration, and is hopeful that certain forms of private-public partnerships on specific areas will help strengthen multilateralism.

Boisson de Chazournes also mentioned the impetus given by the sustainable development goals (SDGs) which are also contributing to reshaping the current state of international co-operation. Moreover, she spoke about attributing responsibilities to the private sector by adopting global, rather than national, regulations in order to help support multilateralism. Regarding Geneva in particular, Boisson de Chazournes recognised the efforts being undertaken, but noted that the next challenge will be to digitise diplomatic practices to create a more inclusive system, and reduce travelling costs for face-to-face meetings with different actors.

Mr Francis Gurry (Director-General of The World Intellectual Property Organization) pointed out that the architecture of global institutions to address the current challenges is outdated. He identified this as being the greatest challenge of the UN system along with the attacks on the idea of multilateralism. Gurry emphasised that this is a political problem, given that he does not see a political will to reform international institutions. However, according to Gurry, there has been a transfer of power and capabilities, from the public to the private and non-governmental sectors, which must be reflected in the architecture of the international system.

Furthermore, he went on to recognise the mostly positive track record of UN institutions and indicated that abandoning multilateralism is not a choice, given that today’s problems are global and need global solutions. Moreover, short-term projections are a difficulty for the success of diplomacy. He explained that diplomacy means building relationships over time, to build trust. In an interconnected world this is more difficult, given the ease at which information travels and how used we have become to finding immediate solutions.

According to Gurry, technical co-operation, such as is practised at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is a good way to ensure the sustainability of co-operation in an increasingly complex world.

Mr Jean-Yves Art (Senior Director, Strategic Partnerships at Microsoft) pointed out that we are witnessing an increase in human relations in all aspects of our lives, which relies on private infrastructure. Art indicated that because of this, private actors operating these infrastructures also have a responsibility to find solutions to problems generated by this increase in human connections.

Another important problem which he recognised was that 50% of the world’s population is not connected. Given the importance of new technologies, not being connected will prove to be a major handicap and important obstacle to development.

According to Art, multilateralism is often associated narrowly with the UN system. However, he believes that multilateralism goes well beyond UN institutions, as was proven by the numerous calls involving all relevant stakeholders (for example: the Paris Call for Peace, and the Christchurch Call). These dynamics from outside the UN system are now also finding their way into its institutions. He also mentioned the approach of the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation which is spreading its recommendations through ‘champions’.

Ms Yusra Suedi (PhD student at The Global Studies Institute, University of Geneva) noted that one of the most pressing challenges of multilateralism is to find solutions on how to integrate different actors, such as youth, into the global system. In order to successfully do so, Suedi also stressed the importance of setting clear goals about the aim and extent of involving these new actors.

According to Suedi, the model of the Human Rights Council is a very important, and one of the most successful ones at the UN given that it managed to integrate the voices of civil society. However, she still sees room for improvement to include a more representative role for non-governmental organisations. For example, they could be allowed to introduce draft resolutions rather than simply expressing their point of views regarding the state of human rights in the various contexts.

Iran’s election to a UN ‘Gender Equality’ body should not obscure the real work

March 18, 2019

UN Commission on the Status of Women opening session, March 2019. Photo: Li Muzi/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved.

Anne Marie Goetz in Open Democracy of 13 March 2019 goes in more depth on what the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York can do and points our that  “Never before has social protection – pensions, health insurance, social security, child benefit, parental leave – been addressed by the CSW. Achieving progress on these issues is threatened by both religious and market fundamentalisms – though a number of states including Lebanon, Namibia, and Uruguay are resisting this backlash.“…

The US, Bahrain and Malaysia have reiterated during this week’s CSW discussions that the family – not the state – is the main source of social protection for many women. This is what I’d call a ‘family fallback’ approach which, combined with cuts to public services, requires women to expand their mothering roles to pick up the slack. Some countries, including Russia and Saudi Arabia, defend this maternal focus as a national cultural preference. The US is now among those supporting this view, arguing that any proposals on women’s rights should only be applied ‘as nationally appropriate’. This allows the notion of ‘national sovereignty’ to trump global standards on gender equality.

But the US position is so extreme that Shannon Kowalski, advocacy and policy director at the International Women’s Health Coalition, told me it’s expected that “major fractures will emerge” even with its conservative friends. Few developing countries can stomach the Trump government’s drift towards abstinence as the foundation of family planning.

Moreover, the US’s refusal to participate in the 2018 Global Compact for Immigration discussions has alienated countries such as the Philippines, Mexico and Indonesia, which have proposed, for instance, that social security benefits earned by immigrant women should be portable and redeemable when they return home.

A diverse counter-movement against the current global ‘illiberal drift’ is also visible at this year’s CSW. The ‘Buenos Aires Group’, consisting of many South American states (notably Argentina, Chile and Uruguay), has emerged as a defender of LGBTIQ rights and a skeptic about privatisation of public services. This year Tunisia and Lebanon, in the Arab states group, and South Africa, Namibia, Liberia and Cape Verde in the ‘Africa Group’ of countries, are championing progressive positions on women’s rights as well. This support from the Global South vitally shows that the gender equality agenda is not just the concern of the usual suspects in the North – Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and the EU.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/religious-and-market-fundamentalisms-threaten-gender-equality-un-summit/

Training Programme on how to work in the UN Human Rights Council: 2 – 6 February

January 14, 2015

The Graduate Institute and the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights organise jointly a training course specially designed for diplomates and NGO representatives in the UN Human Rights Council. The classes are on 2 – 6 February 2015 in the evenings from 15h30 to 19h15 in the Villa Barton, Geneva (final timings to be confirmed). The fee is  CHF 950. – (excludes housing).

Excerpts from the brochure:

Multilateral diplomacy in the advancement of Human Rights (primarily through the Human Rights Council) is one of the main activities of International Geneva.  Established in March 2006, the Council is now a well-established mechanism of the United Nations and is approaching its 10th year–yet the individuals who engage at the Council sessions often change, and they often juggle a larger portfolio of responsibilities.Human Rights Council

Everyone benefits when the Council functions better, and the council functions better when individuals arrive fully prepared to contribute at their best.

This reflects the non-partisan spirit in which this training has been designed.  Preparing for high-level professional engagements requires a deep understanding the rules of the council–as well as the personal acumen to advocate and negotiate with good judgment and strong communications skills–all of which comes from familiarity, practice and individual preparation for the Council sessions.

In order for delegates and representatives to better tackle the substantive and practical challenges ahead, we are offering this training program for individuals who aspire to perform more effectively in a multilateral context.  The programme is designed to enhance personal skills in multilateral diplomacy, with a particular focus on the human rights context.

Learning Themes

While taking examples on the work of the HRC and its special procedures, the training will highlight some of the prevailing substantive issues as well as the behaviors of the Council, in order to teach participants to better navigate in their aspirant work.  The training will be organised around the following themes:

Functioning of the Human Rights Council:

The phenomenon of working within and across “groupings”:

Leadership in the Human Rights Council:

Learning outcomes & skills-building

  • Functioning and rules of the Human Rights Council
  • Chairing formal and informal multilateral meetings
  • Drafting skills (in the Human Rights context)
  • Negotiation and mediation skills & techniques
  • Oral communications skills for public speaking “on the record” in the human rights context
  • Advocacy and lobbying techniques

Methodology

The training will combine some theory, background and insights (about negotiations, the HRC and its functional history) with applied skills and techniques–including best practices and opportunities to enhance personal effectiveness.  Sessions will be designed to address cross-cutting issues and will build participant skills through simulation exercises, small group breakouts, and role-playing.

Instructors will include those from the Graduate Institute and Geneva Academy, as well as actors working with (or in the domain) of the Human Rights Council.

http://graduateinstitute.ch/fr/home/executive/training-workshops/multilateralism-winter/multilateralism_winter_programme.html.