Turkish Delight

And so, since my program had come to an end, it was time to embark on a journey to explore parts of Europe I’ve never seen before. This started with a 5-day trip to Istanbul, Turkey with my friend Reese. We left early Monday morning, having only slept about an hour the night before due to the need to say goodbye to everyone, pack and clean our rooms. I got onto the 7 AM flight with every intention of sleeping soundly the whole way to Istanbul but became irrationally excited when I found that we had a personal TV screen for an in-flight movie as well as meal service. We were flying Turkish Airlines, and I had forgotten what real airlines provided for international flights, having flown EasyJet and Ryan Air for the past 4 months, the cheapest airlines in Europe. So naturally, being as excited as I was about what felt like first class treatment, I didn’t sleep a wink on the way to Istanbul. We arrived and got to our hostel around 1:00 in the afternoon. I had been a bit skeptical about our hostel, the Stray Cat Hostel – which yes includes real cats, but it had good reviews, had cheap private rooms and was in a good location so I decided to just roll with it. Instead of finding a crazy cat lady running the hostel, as I had expected, I found a staff of young guys, probably in their late 20s, and the owner Sedat, probably in his mid-30s, and they were by far the best hostel staff I have run into yet in Europe. They were extremely helpful, taking the time as soon as we had settled in to get us tea and show us all the best places to see, where to eat and how to avoid tourist traps. Armed with this new information Reese and I went off in search of what Sedat had told us were the best kebabs around and were not disappointed when we found the place about 10 minutes away from the hostel.

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All Good Things Must Come to an End

I cannot begin to describe how quickly my last couple weeks in Geneva flew by. During the last couple weeks I mostly stuck around Geneva except for a day trip to Annecy to enjoy a warm and sunny day by the water. We had beautiful weather our last couple weeks in Geneva, making our lake lunch tradition that much more enjoyable. Since I’ve been at the office, on days when it’s nice out I meet a group of my friends that work in the same area as me down by the lake for lunch. It’s a beautiful little spot surrounded by tulips with a view of the mountains and the Jet d’Eau.

For our last lake lunch my friends Grace and Mary Bridget, who had finished work a week earlier than the rest of us, met us at our lunch spot with bread, cheese, chocolate and wine for a lovely little picnic to celebrate the end of our internships.

As my class came to an end, so did my time at the Mission of Honduras. The last two weeks were spent working on primarily administrative duties, such as composing letters to other country missions asking them for their support for our candidature to the Human Rights Council and preparing letters to send back to the government of Honduras along with documents we had received from the UN. While these duties were not particularly exciting, they helped me to better understand the day-to-day work of the Mission. During my last week at the Mission I was able to attend a couple meetings at the UN. These meetings were of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review during with the reviews were conducted for a number of countries. The Mission of Honduras made statements during the reviews of Canada, Colombia, Cuba and Germany. I had been tasked with writing up a summary of the human rights situations in each of these countries in order to help us prepare our comments for these reviews, therefore I was extremely interested to attend the reviews themselves. Due to scheduling and the fact that it was my last week, I was only able to attend the reviews for Germany and Canada. It was interesting to hear these reviews take place, although I have to say that may favorite moment came during the review of Canada. The representative from the DPRK was speaking and recommended that Canada expand freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in the country, as well as work to eliminate torture. I almost burst out laughing at my desk. North Korea suggesting that Canada does not have freedom of expression or assembly and practices torture is perhaps the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. There are legitimate critiques to be made of Canada regarding human rights, they certainly do not have a perfect record, however for North Korea to make suggestions regarding freedom of expression and assembly and the use of torture – considering North Korea’s widespread and systemic human rights abuses especially regarding the use of political prison camps – was simply absurd. This is an inevitable consequence of these meetings though, that countries will make hypocritical statements. I thought it was an overall constructive process though and one that has the advantage of ensuring that each and every country has their human rights situation examined without exception. Canada I thought did an exemplary job in handling their review. They brought experts from various departments within the government and stepped into the discussion from time to time to address specific questions and concerns and seemed truly dedicated to participating in the process and were receptive to the comments by other states.

Looking back at my work at the UN, it has been an excellent learning experience. I’m still not entirely sure whether I would want to work for a national government, civil society organization or international organization but I have a better idea of how the three are related. Right now I am reading Kofi Annan’s book Interventions, and he describes the work of the UN at a higher level, brokering peace deals between warring factions and assisting with the creation of the International Criminal Court. Working as a special rapporteur, a legal counsel in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights or another legal department within the UN would be a fascinating job I think. The most important aspect for me is to feel like I am actually accomplishing something and am actually contributing to improving the human rights situation on the ground and not simply mediating conversations between ambassadors with no tangible results. I hope that while I am in law school I’ll have the opportunity to explore more opportunities pertaining to international human rights law to discover how I can be most effective in promoting human rights around the world.   

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To Boston, With Love

I haven’t updated my blog for awhile, and I’ll update later on my trip to Paris, my activities in Geneva and my work at the Mission of Honduras, but right now only one thing is on my mind - Boston.

What a week it has been. While I was born and raised in Minnesota, Boston is my second home and is very dear to my heart, so this week has been mentally exhausting as I tried my best to figure out how to deal with what has been going on from so far away. I had spent the days leading up to Monday anguishing with my friends here, who are mostly BU and BC students, about how much we wish we could be in Boston for Marathon Monday, the most important holiday in Boston. It is easily the most fun day of the year for a college student in Boston. Everyone has school and work off because it’s Patriot’s Day and so we get up early to spend the day with the rest of community cheering on the marathon runners. At Mile 21 of the marathon is Heartbreak Hill, the most challenging part of the marathon, and it goes right by Boston College. As the runners come down that toughest section and towards the home stretch they are greeted by thousands of BC students and community members cheering their hearts out to motivate them to keep going for those last 5 miles. A couple hundred BC students run every year to raise money for the BC Campus School, a school on campus for students with multiple disabilities. Overall, it is a special day for many reasons and I often describe it as the happiest day of the year, when the whole Boston community comes together. I spent most of the day Monday telling my friends to keep me in constant contact through texts and snapchats so I could feel like I was there on that beautiful day.

I was sitting in the hallway on the ground floor of my building on Monday evening Skyping with my friend Katie and booking our tickets for our 10-day trip across central Europe. Suddenly a bunch of people started running downstairs and towards the basement. “Did you hear?” my friend Divya asked me as she reached the ground floor. I shook my head. “There were bombs at the end of the Boston Marathon.” I froze. I couldn’t really process the information. I told Katie, but realized that I couldn’t really explain the gravity of what it meant, as it’s impossible to truly understand the events of Monday if you’ve never experienced Marathon Monday in Boston. I told Katie I’d have to call her back and immediately checked in with my sister, Bridget, who lives in Somerville and my roommate Lexi. Both were safe, and it sounded like most of my friends were luckily still on BC’s campus. Unfortunately the TV wasn’t working in the basement so a bunch of us set up in the hallway on the second floor with our laptops - streaming the news, checking Twitter and Facebook to make sure all of our friends were ok and trying desperately to figure out what was going on. It was a scary night and we all lamented over being so far away, despite all of our families’ thankfulness that we were in Europe, safe from harm’s way. News reports of suspicious packages throughout Boston - in Harvard Square, in Kenmore Square, even reports of one at St. Ignatius on BC’s campus - kept us all glued to our computers and fearing for our friends. Luckily no more violence occurred that day and no one here had friends that were injured. And so things started to settle down.

Then, yesterday’s events happened. I woke up in the morning with a CNN alert that a cop had been shot at MIT but it didn’t seem like any more details were available. Unsure of the link between this act and the Marathon Bombing, I was saddened by the continued violence but continued on to work. Throughout the day I received more updates about what was going on in Watertown, just a couple miles from BC’s campus. When I saw that the city was basically shutting down I knew it had to be serious and I couldn’t focus on my work all day as I constantly refreshed CNN and kept in touch with friends in Boston, trying to figure out what was going on. I was talking to one of my coworkers about what was going on, explaining to him how terrified I was for my family and friends, nervous that when I got back to Boston I would be afraid all the time of something like this happening again. He replied that I should try coming to Honduras sometime. Honduras has the highest murder rate outside conflict zones in the world and the violence of criminal organizations is rampant and affects the lives of everyone there. He wasn’t unsympathetic, but it made me realize that despite the horror of what was happening, I lived in a city where when someone attacks the people, they literally shut everything down, bring out all of their resources - BPD, State Police, police from neighboring cities, SWAT teams and the FBI - to find them. That is a comforting thought, and something most people in the world don’t have.

And so I kept in tune with the news all day and all night, finally tearing myself away to go to bed around midnight. I woke up in the morning with the best news I could have hoped for - they caught the second suspect alive. The BC community celebrated with American flags, vuvuzelas, and a giant party in the mods, as BC students are wont to do when terrorists are found (look up a video of Bapst Library after Osama Bin Laden was killed to see what I’m talking about). As happy as I am that Boston can relax now and that this criminal will be brought to justice, there is something that is still concerning me. According to news reports, authorities are invoking a “public safety” exception that allows them to question the suspect without reading him his Miranda rights. Senators McCain and Graham have argued that he should be tried as an enemy combatant, thus denying him the right to be Mirandized or have counsel when questioned. Over the past 24 hours I’ve seen plenty of people posting on social media statements such as “I hope they torture him” or “Send him to Guantanamo.” This is the wrong reaction for multiple reasons. First, this creates a bad precedent. Dzhokar Tsarnaev is a terrorist, yes, but he is also an American citizen, and as such he has certain civil liberties. Some people may want to say that what he did should be an exception, that extrajudicial measures should be taken to punish him. But that creates a precedent whereby the government does not have to respect the rights of its citizens, and once you cross that line it’s hard to decide what exactly constitutes a “special circumstance” that would allow the government to do that again. The founding fathers foresaw occasions in which American citizens commit grave crimes and they set up a system to deal with it - the judicial branch of the government. And this brings me to the second reason why we should not use extrajudicial measures to punish this suspect. I have full faith in the American justice system, I think it is the best in the world. We have a beautiful system in place in which every citizen is given the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury, to be confronted with witnesses against him and obtain witnesses in his favor, to have the assistance of counsel for his defense, and to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. This is what our founding fathers outlined in the Bill of Rights, and it is what makes our country great. If we compromise this document, as cliché as it sounds, that is when the terrorists have won. We must show the world that in the face of the gravest of evil, the United States remains a country based on justice and the rule of law and not a country based on petty revenge. Our justice system is powerful enough to try the worst criminals in the world in accordance with our laws and let them feel the full weight of justice.

I love you Boston, and I have faith that next Marathon Monday will be the best yet.

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Edinburgh, Cliffs of Moher, Dublin

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Easter Adventures (and misadventures)

What a week it’s been!

My Easter break started at 5:00 AM Wednesday morning when I caught the bus to the airport in Geneva for my flight to Edinburgh where I met the lovely Katie Pribyl and two of her friends from her study abroad program, Betsy and Erin. Our first day in Edinburgh we got lunch and went to Edinburgh Castle, then went to the Elephant House - the café where J.K. Rowling wrote most of Harry Potter. It had some great graffiti in the bathrooms:

Then, on Thursday we went on a bus tour up to the Scottish Highlands, visiting Loch Ness and Glen Coe which was absolutely gorgeous, even if our bus driver was a tad, um, interesting. He was wearing a kilt though so A for effort in making it as traditional a Scottish experience as possible.

After our full day bus tour we grabbed a late dinner and hit the pubs for a little while. Me and Katie made sure to sing “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond” in our best Scottish accents while walking arm in arm back from the pubs to channel our inner Scotsmen. After that it was off to bed because I had an 8 AM flight to Dublin since it had been cheaper to book that than the 8:40 PM flight that Katie, Betsy and Erin were on. I figured I’d use my extra time in Dublin to work on a paper that I had due Monday morning and maybe do a little sightseeing on my own before they got there. Everything went smoothly, I got to the airport and to my gate with time to spare. I went up to board the plane when the gate attendant informed me that since I did not have an EU passport, I was supposed to have gotten my passport checked and my boarding pass stamped at the check-in desk before going through security. I had not been aware of that, never having flown Ryan Air before, and by this time it was 7:55 AM and there was no time to get down to the check-in desk and sort everything out before the 8 AM flight. Travel hiccup #1 of the weekend. So I went back downstairs, furious that I had made so stupid a mistake and furious with Ryan Air for having what is really a ridiculous rule. So I had to book myself on the 8:40 PM flight to Dublin - so much for it being cheaper to take the morning flight. I spent the morning working on my paper in a Scottish Starbucks and then the girls and I went for lunch and got delicious sticky toffee pudding - that helped cheer me up. Then Katie and I walked around and explored the town for awhile before we all headed to the airport for our flight to Dublin. That travel went much more smoothly, although we didn’t get to our hostel until about 11:00 PM and by the time we got settled we realized that perhaps we should have eaten dinner earlier because everything was closed. We were exhausted, hungry, dirty (none of us had showered for a couple days) and overall in a pretty bad mood, especially with the knowledge that we had to leave the hostel at 6:30 the next morning for our bus tour to the Cliffs of Moher. We decided to give up on dinner and headed to bed hoping we’d all be feeling a bit better the next day.

Luckily by the time we got up the next morning and got onto the bus we were all feeling much better. Showered, fed and at least somewhat rested, we headed off to the Cliffs of Moher. It took us a few hours to get up there which gave us all some time to take a solid bus nap and eat our fill of apples, granola bars, peanut butter and Nutella. The sun was shining, the cliffs were beautiful and we had plenty of time to hike around and explore the area. 

After exploring the Cliffs, we stopped for lunch at a pub and I got a very traditional Irish meal - sausages in gravy, cooked cabbage, two different kinds of potatoes and a pint of Guinness. Absolute perfection. Safe to say that any bad mood I had before was long gone by then. We stopped at a few other places on the way back, to explore the limestone on the beaches and see an old Irish castle, and then it was back to Dublin. We headed out for a delicious dinner of burgers (ok, not that cultural but whatever, I’ve been craving a good burger since January). It was absolute perfection. Since we were all so sleep deprived we decided it would be best to head back to the hostel and get a good night’s sleep. We woke up Sunday morning and headed to Easter Sunday Mass at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral which was beautiful. After mass we went to brunch at a cool little restaurant that had a DJ playing surprisingly awesome music, enjoyed some eggs benedict and an awesome bloody mary - a luxury I can certainly never afford in Geneva since they’re usually about $15 a pop. After brunch we went to what I would term as the mecca for the Irish people - the Guinness Storehouse. 

It was a magical experience. We toured the storehouse, drank our free pints of Guinness, got souvenirs and headed back to the hostel. We had come to learn that people in Ireland go out for the night much earlier than we are used to so we headed to the pub around 9:00. We had a great time, met some British guys in the middle of a Cowboys and Indians themed bachelor party that we joined for a little while. Apparently finding groups of British guys doing themed pub crawls is becoming a theme of my European adventures. We headed back to the hostel at the end of the night and I set about 5 alarms for myself for the next morning because I had a 6:50 AM flight back to Geneva.

And then it all went wrong.

Not really, but I woke up at 7:00 AM in a state of sheer panic. I had totally and completely missed my flight - it was already in the air by the time I woke up. I ran out of my bed, grabbed my already packed backpack and ran out of the hostel as quickly as I could. I knew there was no hope in making my flight - it was gone - but I figured that getting myself to the airport as quickly as possible was my best bet at finding a way back to Geneva. I knew that the flight I was supposed to be on was the only direct flight between Dublin and Geneva of the day and I had to give a presentation in my class the next day so I really had to get back. After running around like a madwoman in the Dublin airport, almost breaking down in tears a few times, and struggling to find both Euros and WiFi, I finally was able to book myself an 11:00 AM flight to Copenhagen followed by a 5:15 PM flight from Copenhagen to Geneva, all courtesy of Scandinavian Airlines, possibly the most random airline I could have thought of. It was all fine once I worked that out however and I actually highly recommend Scandinavian Airlines, it was a very nice airline. I got back to Geneva around 7:15 absolutely drained and thrilled to back to my shower and my bed. Overall it was a very fun weekend, despite the travel hiccups, and I’m so glad I had the time off from work to spend time with Katie and see Scotland and Ireland. Now I have a little time to relax and settle back in for a few days before heading to Paris this weekend. It really puts my problems into perspective remembering that whatever issues I may be having I’m having them while gallivanting around Europe, so it really can’t be too bad.

À plus tard.

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Human Rights Council Wrap Up

After 4 weeks, the 22nd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council came to a close last Friday. So here are a few lessons that I learned from my time at the Council:

Noncooperation is the exception, not the rule.


Not to give a political science lesson, but I think it’s helpful to briefly explain a basic rule of international relations. There are three main schools of thought in international relations - realism, liberalism and constructivism. Realism says that survival is the primary goal of states and since the international system is anarchic the way to secure survival is through maximizing power and acting purely out of self-interest. Liberalism has several components, one of which being that states will pursue absolute gains over relative gains, thus allowing more room for cooperation between states. It also states that international organizations can be a useful forum for states to find common interests and work with one another. Constructivism is a whole other animal that for the purposes of this brief explanation I won’t go into, suffice to say there are no real rules in constructivism - if realism and liberalism are the Da Vinci and Michelangelo of international relations theory, constructivism is Jackson Pollock.

I would generally put myself in the liberalism school of thought. I think it’d be tough to pursue a career in international law if I was a realist. But I’m still somewhat skeptical when it comes to states’ cooperation, and I guess on a certain level I did think that the UN Human Rights Council would show me that states are unwilling to make human rights a priority in their national policy and unwilling to pay attention to recommendations of the Human Rights Council - after all their resolutions are not binding, only UN Security Council Resolutions are binding under international law. I have to say I am much more optimistic after my time at the UN HRC however. There are, of course, states that are uncooperative. North Korea gave some very passionate speeches about how their government is chosen by the people and human rights abuses do not occur in their country to the point where I had to wonder if they actually believed it. Iran was somewhat uncooperative as well - mainly to the extent that they refused to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran. There were many countries that were opposed to these country specific mandates. I would agree with this on some level except that the states usually saying this were North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran and other states with notoriously bad human rights records. Overall, however, these are the exceptions and not the rule. Most states are very cooperative with special procedures, welcoming them into their countries and cooperating with their investigations and reports and taking steps to implement the recommendations. It is unfortunate, however, that the states that have the worst human rights records tend to be the rogue states that do not cooperate. Despite this, it is helpful to see that the vast majority of countries are willing to take the Human Rights Council seriously and participate constructively in its work.

The US has few to no allies on Israel


The situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories was a major issue that was brought up at the HRC this session, as I’m sure was true for previous sessions. I sat about 5 seats away from Israel’s seat the HRC and not once was it filled by an Israeli representative. Some argue that this is because the Human Rights Council is biased against Israel, that they do not see both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian issue, etc. After attending the Human Rights Council, I find it hard to believe that all the human rights experts that spoke on the issue have a bias against Israel. I wrote a paper earlier this semester on the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and there really is no way to make the argument under international law that the Palestinian people do not have a right to self-determination in the form of their own state. It’s also impossible to deny that, under international law, the territory that Israel gained after the 1948 UN Mandate for Palestine was gained illegally through force. This is not to say that Palestinians have not acted contrary to international law through their own use of force but this does not justify decades of occupation. Perhaps I will be ostracized from the United States for these comments but as an aspiring international human rights lawyer I can’t hep but view the issue from that perspective. The overwhelming consensus in the international community should also be a sign. It is not just Iran and Syria calling for Palestinian statehood, it is Western European countries as well. 4 resolutions were presented by Palestine at the Human Rights Council this session. On each resolution there was only one vote against it, and that was from the United States. This is not to say of course that I am anti-Israel or am going to go on some insane crusade saying that Israel does not have the right to exist. Israel does have the right to exist as a sovereign state free from external force. But Palestine has that right too, and that can only occur if Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian territory and stops violating the basic human rights of the Palestinian people.

The Battle of Cultural Relativism vs. Universality wages on

I guess I had hoped that by 2013, 65 years after the passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, this debate would be over but my experience at the Human Rights Council showed me that it’s still not over. The cultural relativism side of this argument says that every society has its own distinct culture and traditions and that outside powers cannot impose their views on this society for any reason, including for human rights abuses. The universality argument says that certain human rights are universal and inalienable and cultural traditions cannot justify them. A good example of this is in the case of women’s rights. Cultural relativism would argue that if according to a society’s values and traditions, women are obliged to be submissive to their husbands, to accept arranged marriages, to produce children and to raise the children in the home that those are the traditions of the society and no one should interfere with that. Universalism would argue that education and freedom of expression are universal rights, that the right of a child to be free from a forced marriage is universal and that the freedom to choose one’s life path, be it to work or to stay at home, is a universal right. I, and most of the civilized world, are on the side of universalism. I can see where this gets tricky with the idea of democracy, as I would say that democracy is necessary for the true fulfillment of all human rights, but with the principle of sovereignty I can at least understand why the UN tends to back away from this to a certain extent. Yet the number of times I heard states (and almost exclusively states with notoriously horrible human rights abuses) talk about Western imperialism infringing upon their sovereignty was a little absurd to me since we were at the Human Rights Council. Human rights are not a western phenomenon that are solely available to western societies. Human rights are human, it does not matter your race, ethnicity, culture, national identity, gender, etc., by definition they belong to all human beings.

A good example of this is a resolution that was initially brought forward but later withdrawn. It was on the Right of the Family. This sounds relatively benign, but the problem was that it addressed the family as a unit, not the rights of each individual member of the family. That in itself is problematic, but what was more concerning was the fact that it defined the family in a very specific way - mother, father, children. The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of different kinds of families in the world - single parent, grandparents raising children, same-sex couples, etc. You cannot define what is a family in narrow terms and then create certain rights for that unit that don’t apply to each individual member of the family. The fact that this resolution never made it to the floor is a sign that the situation is improving, but the fact that the UN Human Rights Council is still dealing with issues like this is disappointing.

Overall the Human Rights Council was an incredible experience. I got to hear brilliant experts speak on important human rights issues, hear the opinions of a wide variety of countries on issues, witness resolutions be drafted, see the cooperation of governments and civil society, meet diplomats from around the world, and experience all the hard work and effort that really goes into the international promotion of human rights. My colleagues at the Mission of Honduras are amazing - seeing how much they truly cared about the issues, the tireless effort they put in to addressing human rights situation in Honduras and their commitment to the difficult task of international diplomacy was truly inspiring.

Of course, I am not done with my internship yet! I have the week off of work which is absolutely magnificent. Semana Santa is a very important holiday in Honduras so we’re not in this week which means I’m leaving on Wednesday to go to Edinburgh and Dublin. After that I’ll be back in the office, attending meetings at the UN, writing up briefs and reports, translating documents, etc. It’ll be quieter than it was during the Human Rights Council but I’m excited nonetheless to see other aspects of the United Nations. I can tell I’ve got a lot more to learn.

Hasta luego.

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Minnesota comes to Geneva!

Recovering from London was a multiple-day process but luckily I had time to rest up and prepare myself for a visit from Katie, one of my best friends from high school who is studying abroad in Segovia, Spain. I couldn’t have bee more excited to see her after a long week at work. On Thursday I attended a meeting with the UN Working Group on Mercenaries and was surprised to learn when I showed up that the meeting was just between myself (representing Honduras) and three members of the Working Group. One of the other diplomats from the Mission showed up later luckily so I wasn’t completely alone but that was a somewhat stressful experience as I realized how much responsibility I really had at my internship. I think I handled it well though and that night Katie arrived!

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Not only was it wonderful to see her but she arrived on her 21st birthday and just in time for St. Paddy’s day weekend! I greeted her at the airport with a bottle of wine and some Swiss chocolate, we stopped at my place to drop off her stuff and then headed to UN intern drink night. I had to work on Friday but I wrote up a nice little guide for her to get around Geneva and she came to meet me at the UN when I got done with work. We went out to fondue (for a truly Swiss experience) and then to The Clubhouse, our favorite bar in Geneva, but called it a night early so we could get a good night’s sleep before heading to Chamonix in the morning. We got to Chamonix around 10:30 AM and were scheduled to go paragliding at 11:00 but unfortunately it was too windy out (so the guide claimed, although the weather looked gorgeous to me). It was a bummer because I was really looking forward to that but that just meant we had more time to ski. It was a gorgeous day for skiing, 35 and sunny, and we started out with lunch on top of the mountain and glasses of vin chaud. It was a little icy but other than that it was a wonderful day on the slopes.

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We got back to Geneva and got ready to head out to Clubhouse for a continuation of the St. Paddy’s day celebrations. There was live Irish music and Guinness and we had a great time with all my friends from my program.

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Unfortunately, we maybe had too good of a time because we failed to wake up in time for Katie’s 6:55 AM flight to Madrid. Woops. She was able to get on a later flight back to Madrid luckily and then I returned to my building for round 4 of the St. Paddy’s day celebrations. We made brunch (by which I mean other people made brunch, I was at the airport with Katie while they were cooking) and had mimosas before going back to - you guessed it - Clubhouse. We’re becoming regulars there. We were also definitely the liveliest ones there on a Sunday afternoon and it was a great end to the weekend festivities.

Now it’s back to work and the last week of the Human Rights Council which I’ll post more about later this week. This weekend I’m going to Gruyères on Sunday with my program and then since I have the week off for Easter next week I’m reuniting with Katie to go to Edinburgh and Dublin! Hard to believe that I’m almost halfway through my internship already, the weeks really are flying by. Have to make the most of it while I can.

À plus tard.

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London Calling

Wow it has been a really long time since I blogged! Lots to catch up on but I’ll start with my London weekend.

I went to London last weekend (as in about 10 days ago) for a very quick 36 hour trip with my friends Steff and Mary Bridget. We arrived late Friday night and immediately went to bed to rest up for a big day of sightseeing the next day. Saturday morning we got up and left our hostel around 9:00 to go take a picture with the Platform 9 3/4 sign at King’s Cross Station thus fulfilling all of my Harry Potter-related childhood dreams (short of ACTUALLY going to Hogwarts).

Then we went to walk around Hyde Park and saw Kensington Palace before heading over to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guards. After that we headed over to see Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye and the Millenium Bridge which are all located in the same area.

It was chilly and foggy (surprise, surprise), so we decided to stop for coffee and stumbled into a little bakery that I’m almost positive came straight out of a children’s story. There were displays of macaroons and elaborately decorated pastries, cute drawings on the wall and tables with big comfy armchairs around them. We ordered coffee and scones which came warmed up and with little individual pots of jam, it was absolutely adorable.

We also stopped to get fish and chips and pints of Guinness for lunch at a pub near Covent Garden. After that we went to the British Museum and saw ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian items such as mummies and the Rosetta Stone. Then we stopped at Harrod’s to see all the wonderful items we could only dream of being able to afford. By that time we were ready for some dinner so we went to Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, supposedly the oldest pub in London (although there are several pubs that make that claim) as my mom had told me that was the best place to get sticky toffee pudding and I couldn’t go to London without having sticky toffee pudding (at least according to my mom). So we got there, got a table and went up to the bar to order when a group of guys with monocles and fake mustaches came in singing and clearly having a grand ole time. They started talking to us and asking if they could buy us drinks and since they seemed like very stand-up young gentlemen we let them. They explained to us that they were in the middle of a monopoly-themed pub crawl and they had marked a different pub for every square of the monopoly board they had with them and were making their way around it. They asked us to join them for the rest of it and well, a monopoly-themed pub crawl with guys in monocles seemed like the better London experience than eating sticky toffee pudding (sorry mom). And so we made our way around London pubs, stopping to try to get into a club but the guys were dressed too “posh” to get in so we went to a casino instead (more fitting really).

They were even so kind as to take us out for pizza after we realized that we had originally gone to the pub to eat dinner and that never actually happened.

We finally got back to our hostel late at night and absolutely exhausted and had to be up at 6:30 the next morning to catch our flight back to Geneva. It was a whirlwind adventure and I was wiped out by the end but it was well worth it.

I also learned that monocles are surprisingly hard to use. 

À plus tard.

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Coming Full Circle

Today was my first day of my class for the second part of my program, Activities of International Organizations. We meet every Tuesday and have lecture in the morning and a visit to an international organization in the afternoon. Today, we were visiting the Palais de Nations, which probably would have been cooler if I hadn’t been working there every day for the last week. It was interesting though to go on the tour and see parts of the UN I hadn’t seen yet. The best part was when we went into one assembly hall where many peace agreements have been negotiated and signed. It particularly struck me when our tour guide told us that this was the room where the negotiations took place between the government and the FMLN during the Salvadoran Civil War. This struck me because I don’t think I’d be here today if it wasn’t for a trip that I took to El Salvador the summer after my junior year of high school.

We went to El Salvador to learn about the Salvadoran Civil War and especially the role that the U.S. played in supporting the government. This was my first real experience learning about grave human rights abuses and especially how the U.S. could justify funding a government that killed thousands of civilians. This experience is what brought my interest to international human rights and to live out the phrase so often heard in Latin American states, nunca más, or never again. I wanted to contribute to a society that would never again allow human rights abuses such as those that occurred in El Salvador, Guatemala, Argentina, Chile and Nicaragua, all supported by the United States and all in the name of preventing the spread of communism. 

Hearing that I was in the place where peace negotiations to end the Salvadoran Civil War took place was exactly the boost of motivation I needed after a week of talks from various dignitaries and the hypocrisy of hearing states that are notorious human rights abusers try to defend their record. Despite some of the flaws that exist in the international human rights system, there can be good that comes of it. There need to be people who are committed to reforming the system in order for change to happen. I hardly believe that I will single-handedly change the structure of the UN, but without people firmly committed to enacting real change that affects the lives of people on the ground this reform can never happen. Today I found a renewed commitment to this goal.

Hasta luego.

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It’s a Party in the ONU (Organisation des Nations Unis)

The rest of last week at the Human Rights Council went great. The High Commissioner for Human Rights gave her annual thematic report identifying six key areas the Human Rights Council should focus on: 1. Discrimination, 2. Impunity, rule of law and democratic society, 3. Poverty and economic, social and cultural rights, 4. Migration, 5. Violence and insecurity, 6. Human rights mechanisms and law. After the High Commissioner’s report there was an interactive dialogue in which country representatives and NGOs could express their questions, concerns and views on the High Commissioner’s report and the High Commissioner responded to these remarks. Most of the remarks by countries were typical - reinforcing their support for issues that the High Commissioner had mentioned, stating that the High Commissioner should focus on an issue that was of particular importance to their country, etc. Developing countries focused heavily on the right to development and the need to assist developing countries in ensuring the rights of their citizens, especially economic, social and cultural rights and especially in light of the recent global economic crisis. Many developing countries also expressed the view that the Office of the High Commissioner focuses too heavily on developing countries while ignoring the human rights abuses of developed countries. I would agree that most developed countries have human rights records that are far from perfect, but its difficult to take this claim seriously when it’s coming from oppressive dictatorships such as Cuba or North Korea. Overall I got the sense that the USA is not particularly popular at the Human Rights Council and it’s not surprising - between the War in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, the use of drones and our constant support of Israel despite its dubious human rights record, not to mention the activities of the CIA in previous decades and I’m sure clandestine operations that violate human rights abuses continuing today, we’ve definitely got some issues. I guess I hadn’t realized just how strongly the rest of the international community feels about Israel but that is certainly something I have learned from this experience. It’s hard to deny that Israel is in violation of international law by denying the Palestinian people the right to self-determination (not to say that the Palestinians are perfect but they do have the right to have a sovereign state). Also Israel is the only country in the entire United Nations system to refuse to participate in the Universal Periodic Review, thus threatening the integrity of the process. Suffice to say the USA was the only country that spoke at the Human Rights Council that attempted to advocate on behalf of Israel.

Another interesting issue that came out at the interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner was the clear polarization in the international community regarding LGBT rights. Most of the Western countries, including many Latin American countries and most of the EU, all spoke about the rights of LGBT persons, including the prohibition of discrimination against this community and the decriminalization of homosexual activities in states that still have these laws on record. Several African countries and many Middle Eastern countries countered this by saying that there is no international consensus on the rights of LGBT persons and thus this should not be a topic addressed by the Council and that the promotion of LGBT rights were contrary to the traditional values of some societies. Considering all the talk that there has been at the Council on the universality of human rights and how justifications cannot be made for cultural reasons I still can’t wrap my mind around how countries can make these claims but it shows that this is an area where much progress still needs to be made. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”

On Friday we had a panel on Human Rights mainstreaming, essentially how to incorporate human rights into all the activities of the United Nations, into the policies of national governments and especially into the post-2015 development agenda. That talk was particularly interesting because Ban Ki-Moon spoke, as well as the Sheika of Qatar, the Director General of UNESCO, the Director General of the ILO, the Director General of the WHO, the Deputy Executive Director UNICEF and the Under Secretary General of the UN Development Program. (Side note, I only speak in acronyms now - it’s a side effect of working for an international organization. NGO, IO, UPR, VDPA, ICESCR, ICCPR, OHCHR…I could go on for days). The link between education and the realization of all other human rights was stressed as well as the inextricable link between human rights and sustainable development, with Ban Ki-Moon noting that full realization of human rights was a precondition for sustainable development and peace. Overall it was interesting panel discussion, which was followed by remarks by countries and NGOs.

But enough about all that, this post was called “Party in the ONU” for a reason and that reason is that the UN knows how to THROW DOWN. Actually though. After the session on Friday, there was a party where many country delegations brought food and drink from their countries. Honduras brought tamales and enchiladas, Canada brought waffles covered in maple syrup, Thailand brought pad thai and eggrolls, America brought burgers and Budweiser, Ireland brought Jameson and Bailey’s, Germany brought beer, Russia brought vodka, Brazil brought margaritas, Spain brought Sangria, Peru brought some mystery cocktail and whenever my glass of it was empty someone from the Peruvian delegation miraculously found me and refilled it…it was pretty amazing.

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There was also a dance party during which I saw distinguished diplomats singing Wiz Khalifa’s “Young, Wild and Free” and doing the Gangnam style dance. After a bit too much time bonding with the Russian delegates over vodka (by the way, 1 Russian shot=about 4 American shots), we decided it was probably best for us to leave. It was a great time though and a perfect end to a great week at the UNHRC.

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Hasta luego.

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