Summary: Geneva, 24th Session of the Human Rights Council, Week 2, Day 3 of my backup assignment.
Today it’s Item 4 on the agenda, when countries get to question the Council on the most critical situations around the world, in the Central African Republic, China, Sudan and Russia, for example. Some get it in the neck, though they are quick to riposte, singling out the Western democracies. In mote-and-beam vein, I hear Belarus sharply denounce human rights violations by Norway (hum). Other states, which dispute this exercise on the grounds of the principle of sovereignty, choose not to speak about third countries... an old north/south divide. The NGOs also have their say. Cuba and the USA lay into each other when one of them tries to bring up the situation of a dissident. In Cold War mode, they each line up their best allies behind them, for or against the “point of order”. The herd is never far away in multilateral forums.
Back to the negotiations. I have unpicked the PPs (preambular paragraphs) and the OPs (operative paragraphs) of the ten resolutions I am tracking. We examine them in turn for each resolution. But the informal meetings are piling up, I can’t follow them all from start to finish. I leave the room on OP7 and dash to another where we’re on PP5. I am less tempted by the subject matter than by the sandwich at the side-event. Sometimes, it is only when I get there that I discover the latest amended draft. Taken unawares, I decide to cast my lot in with our traditional friends. I place the “France” name card vertically in front of me when I want to speak. Did I really need to chip in, à propos of OP3, to say that “France supports the amendment put forward by the UK, Denmark and Sweden in favour of ‘welcomes’ rather than ‘takes note’”? Yes, I did, in order to show solidarity. We share out roles to defend this or that amendment. If a European position on a resolution has been coordinated beforehand, I let our colleague from the EEAS (European External Action Service) speak first, as a single voice. The idea is to not cut the ground from under his feet: he has sometimes worked very hard to unify the position of EU28. Just last evening I found myself answering an e-mail sent at 11.00pm: “Dear John, it is unlikely now that we will receive instructions from Paris before the European coordination meeting on this point at 8.00, but France...” (your point wasn’t really essential either, John; why don’t you just go to bed?).
- Embarking on negotiations - Source: [Gifplomacy->http://gifplomacy.tumblr.com/]
Into the final straight before texts have to be filed at 1.00pm. The negotiations completed, my last request to Paris for instruction can be contained in a file attachment, “draft resolution as tabled”, and three words: “Are we on?”. A one-word answer from Paris: “OK”. Now is the time when the first authors of the resolution will seek the last cosponsors, the countries which will be identified as co-authors. Their name will appear at the head of the text. For “our” resolution on arbitrary detention, the whole French delegation gets to work, spreading through the Palace like a flock of sparrows bearing a list of signatures, into the Bar Serpent and the corridors and even Conference Room XX, where the Human Rights Council holds its plenary sessions.
I want to win over the Ukrainian. Her place is empty; I get ready (thank you, feminine instinct) to approach a tall, blonde woman. Not her: damn stereotypes. Thinking “half a loaf” I head for the Croatian delegation, but the fellow I find there does not have instructions to sponsor the resolution. He sends a text to his capital. It’s 12.50. I tackle a delegate from a country which shows little concern about its prisons. She bursts out laughing and tells me she would never sign (is that the soundtrack from Midnight Express I can hear?). I head back over to Croatia. He’s waving his phone at me: it’s in the bag, he’s received his instruction and can sign. 1.00pm. We gather up the lists. We’re making a bit of noise in the conference room and get told off by security. We hurry over to the Council Secretariat, slightly breathless, with the last-minute signature of Montenegro. We will have a very good score.
Back to Paris, back through the looking-glass
In Paris, the hustle and bustle of Geneva is barely perceptible. The outcomes of this session will go virtually unnoticed in our established democracies. Leaving the Palace, you pass the blue peacocks bequeathed together with the majestic Park by its immensely rich owner “on condition that they may roam there freely”. One could think cynical thoughts: Belle du Seigneur comes to mind. But there is also a nagging feeling that the Human Rights Council suffers from the reputation of its ancestor, the Commission on Human Rights, and doubtless does not get the recognition it deserves. And yet it manages to get countries to focus on situations which used to be routinely ignored. And there are also those diplomats in Geneva who, step by step by solid, rigorous step, advance the cause of human rights so that governments respect them and so that the situation changes on the ground. The voice of Geneva, inaudible in France, is heard in those places, we are told: by NGOs in Burma, women in DRC, homosexuals in Russia and Cameroon, journalists in China, children in CAR, Baha’i in Iran, the tortured in illegal gaols, Copts, mutilated women and all those who hope that the “international community” will maybe, one day, help them to become once again people with rights.