Every year the United Nations General Assembly in New York dominates the headlines for a few days. Cameras are pointed at presidents, kings and foreign ministers, who come and go at the end of September during the session of the General Assembly in New York. However, detailed operational work only starts afterwards when the six GA subcommittees meet. This also applies to the Third Committee which addresses human rights issues and meets for around eight weeks every autumn. Janina Hasse, desk officer for human rights at the Federal Foreign Office, describes the situation as follows:
During this period, there is a lot of work to do so that the Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic of Germany to the United Nations is glad to have helping hands (and minds) from Berlin. As a human rights desk officer at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, I assisted my colleagues dealing with human rights at the Permanent Mission in New York this year, too.
Broad spectrum of topics
The so‑called Third Committee deals with resolutions on issues such as violence against women, children’s rights, human trafficking, the right to development, freedom of religion, and racism. Resolutions are United Nations decisions containing either decisions that are binding under international law (such as those of the Security Council) or recommendations for the member states (such as those of the General Assembly).
“Negotiations on a resolution“ sounds like a rather abstract notion. In practice this means that, with regard to each resolution text, we carefully consider the political and practical implications of individual phrases and how we can effectively formulate our objectives. In most cases, negotiations take place with our EU partners, that is to say that the German position is coordinated and harmonized with those partners on a daily basis.
In often protracted negotiations (which always run in parallel) we try to reach a compromise with all UN members. In reality, this means constant moving back and forth between negotiations, bilateral consultations and discussions with UN Special Rapporteurs. The lunch break is often used for so‑called side events with representatives from politics, business and society. In the evening Berlin must be briefed about the events of the day. All in all, it is an exciting but also very demanding time.
One highlight: Germany is elected to the Human Rights Council
One highlight of my stay was 12 November when Germany was elected to the UN Human Rights Council by the General Assembly. The election, which I was able to follow live, was a sign of confidence in Germany. The votes were counted individually. The atmosphere in the meeting room was very tense and in the end we were more than happy about the result. The Geneva‑based UN Human Rights Council is among other things responsible for the Universal Periodic Review to be prepared by all member states.
For us, membership of the UN Human Rights Council means that, as of January 2013, the New York rhythm of negotiations, coordination within the EU and votes will become regular practice in Switzerland, too. Berlin, New York, Geneva – there is always work to be done in human rights policy at the United Nations.