04 July 2011

Rachel Brings News

The Tynedale branch of the United Nations Association invited Rachel Brett of the Quaker UN Office to tell us about the work she did in Geneva. Mrs Brett was introduced to the audience of twenty-two people present, as a former law lecturer, and began her lecture titled, "How a small NGO can make a difference through the UN".

During the next thirty minutes she explained that the Quakers have offices to the UN because of their longstanding commitment to pacifism and because pacifism in and of itself was found to be insufficient. A means of dispute resolution was required and the UN was thought to be that means. In support of this argument Mrs Brett cited William Penn's, "An Essay towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe by the Establishment of a European Dyet, Parliament or Estates" which, since it was published in 1693, massively predated both the league of nations and the UN.

Brett explained that they had two offices, one in New York, the other in Geneva and they have volunteers who got to Vienna to participate in UN crime prevention issues. The New York office is concerned with peace building and is funded by the American Quaker society, while the Geneva office is concerned with those parts of the UN in Geneva: the Human Rights Council, Refugees, disarmament and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This office is funded by the British Quakers.

The Geneva office participates in three different kinds of work,
  • issues, eg women in prison, children of prisoners, prisoners of conscience, refugee issues, climate change displacement, and
  • respond to help Quakers in particular countries, eg, the recent Australia Gov/Aborginee conflict.
  • Informal off the record meetings.
The story Mrs Brett told about the Australian aboriginees was of interest. The organisation was quite concerned about Australia's, Northern Territory National Emergency Response,
"(also referred to as "the intervention") was a package of changes to welfare provision, law enforcement, land tenure and other measures, introduced by the Australian federal government under John Howard in 2007 to address claims of rampant child sexual abuse and neglect in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities. Operation Outreach, the intervention's main logistical operation conducted by a force of 600 soldiers and detachments from the ADF (including NORFORCE) concluded on 21 October 2008."
As part of a response to this Australian intervention, the Quakers in the UN were asked to look after two aboriginal elders who were to address the UN with their plight. This had some positive effects; see, Australia condemned by UN as “new apartheid” nation. Other examples of work done by the Quakers was to take an interest Europes Roma people, the largest minority in Europe. This work was done through a process of invites to informal discussions but the work was found to be very difficult with some governments ignoring these invitations. Thus far, some Roma have been put forward to be appointed by the UN to look at particular UN/Roma issues. Mrs Brett explained the workings of other mechanisms that were used to gain influence. So, as an NGO with consultative status they could make a statement to the UN. The organisation undertook preliminary research (for example, discovered that there was a general pattern of increasing numbers of women being imprisoned across the world. This was due to mandatory sentences being applied across the world's justice systems for drug mules which are typically coerced women. Following on from the preliminary work, a broader piece of research was conducted concerning the state of women prisoners throughout the world. This issue was scrutinised further by producing a commentary of the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners; since this document was produced by the UN in 1955, the commentary could concentrate on shortfalls due to the document not keeping up with human rights jurisprudence and gender disparities. More recently the Thai government proposed new UN rules on the treament of women prisoners through the Vienna Crime Commission process. (Mrs Brett explained that the eldest daughter of the the Thai Crown Prince trained as a lawyer, visited prisons, and was influential in this process).

Questions As usual the questions from the floor were of interest. Why is their opposition to the Roma by some European govs? ... not opposition but denial that there is a problem. Are links to the far right causing Roma problems? ... the problem is more due to a break down of States in the East of Europe. The far right are not linked to this phenomenon but it does play on the instability of these States. The rise of the right is also linked to 'not so right govs taking a righter direction'. Whilst even within the same gov (according to Mrs Brett's experience) very different views emerge. How many NGOs are there and how do you get represented? ... There are over 2000 NGOs but not all are actively engaged, a lot of them being only one person. There is a process to get consultative status. What contribution do you make to resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict? ... Have links with consciencious objector groups in the area: Israel is an extremely militarised country the support, for example, teenage girls who don't want to join the army. What is happening about disarmament? ... UN's conference on disarmament is so dysfuntional that they are not able to agree a program of work. Other points that came up during the question and answer session; have you read, War Games: how NGOs have been taken over by governments? Do you have an opinion about security council reform?

Lastly, Mrs Brett discussed climate change and environmental issues with regard to Human rights. She set out a scenario of displacement of peoples caused by two aspects of environmental change. These changes were broken down into two parts - sudden onset, eg tsunami; or, slow onset.

The latter could cause a problem; eg, what happens if people aren't prepared to move? Should a State use force to move them 'for their own good'?

At which point the meeting was wound up. Very interesting, thanks to the organisers and to Mrs Brett.

No comments:

Post a Comment