17th March 2015 Geneva, Switzerland
Statements of Intent
As nice as it can be living out here, there are many drawbacks to not being in the UK. It’s easy to lose touch with friends, to miss out on historic national moments and to forget about sending a card in time to arrive for Mother’s Day. Unfortunately, during the March session the only way of getting my attention is by circulating a Council text, holding a side event or making an announcement in the plenary. My mum is seeing if she can arrange all of them for next year.
The Council session is proving to be a bit of an odd one. At the start of week 2 the Gaza Commission of Inquiry unexpectedly requested more time to produce its report on last year’s conflict to deal with extra information which it recently received. The Council looks set to agree to this request on Monday which will mean the report is discussed in June instead. This follows an earlier Council decision to consider the High Commissioner’s report on the international investigation on Sri Lanka in September instead of this session. In both cases it was the independent figures leading the reports who asked for more time and in both cases it seems only right to grant the requests. Both reports stand to benefit from having extra time and additional information to draw on. But without the two weightiest reports the Council was due to deal with, the session, which is usually the most difficult one in the year, has ended up less political.
Everything falls prey to fashion sooner or later and the Council is no exception. In times gone by, the Council’s business was all about which resolutions were being run, with the outcomes held in mysterious suspense until the voting took place at the end of the session. Joint statements were used sparingly, as a way of testing the Council’s waters with a new issue before following up with a resolution. But these days, joint statements are taking over. Amongst the many topics covered by statements this session are the anniversary of World War Two, the right to Health, International Women’s Day, Women’s Rights, the destruction of cultural heritage by ISIS, the protection of Christians in the Middle East, the protection of all minorities in the Middle East, the UPR process, Human Rights and Sport, the situation in South Sudan and many more.
Among the more traditional resolutions being debated, I covered this week’s meeting on Burma. It was disappointing to hear some countries question whether the resolution was still needed at all this year and whether it belonged under the Council’s agenda item 4, reserved for situations of concern. The report by the Special Rapporteur on Burma, Yanghee Lee, left no doubt at all that both the resolution and the continuation of the her own mandate are very much required. While Burma has made welcome progress over recent years on releases of political prisoners, ceasefire agreements and easing media restrictions, there is still a long way to go. Ongoing conflict and violence remains a major worry in parts of the country with alarming reports of sexual violence continuing to emerge. The situation of the Rohingya remains especially dire and cannot be addressed without a long term solution to their citizenship. The international community needs to help Burma ensure democratic space remains open in the build up to this year’s election and the monitoring provided by Ms Lee’s mandate can play a crucial role.
The high number of meetings often leaves delegates with little time for NGO side events but I always try to make the effort when I can. Last week Amnesty International hosted a moving event on Disappearances in Sri Lanka. One of the speakers was Sandhya Ekneligoda, wife of disappeared cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda who went missing in January 2010 when he went to report on Presidential elections meetings. Sri Lanka has the second highest number of cases of any country before the UN Working Group on Disappearances – well over 5000- though the estimated total number of disappearances is much higher. Ms Ekneligoda was joined at the event by Estela Barnes de Carlotto, President of the Grandmothers of the Plaza del Mayo in Argentina. Ms Carlotto has dedicated her life’s work to seeking the truth about disappearances in Argentina’s dirty war, and discovering the true identities and whereabouts of children taken from those who were disappeared. Her story is one of profound loss and struggle – her own daughter was disappeared when pregnant in 1977. But it is also one of hope. Ms Carlotto’s organisation has helped find the true identities and whereabouts of over 100 disappeared grandchildren and last year Ms Carlotto was united with her own grandson after 36 years. Ms Carlotto’s presence in Geneva sent a much needed message of solidarity for all those in Sri Lanka still seeking the truth about what has happened to their family members and was a powerful testament to what can eventually be achieved in the struggle for truth justice and accountability.