From the 25 – 29 July 2016, I attended WFUNA’s Human Rights Youth Program at the United Nations in Geneva as a representative of UNA-Scotland. The program was a fantastic way to end my time at UN House Scotland, where I had been working as an intern since February.
The program has been running for six years and is dedicated to building the capacity of young people working in the UNA network to engage effectively with UN human rights mechanisms and implement human rights projects in their communities.
For one week I worked alongside twenty-three young people from UNAs of Argentina, Armenia, Canada, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Georgia, Iceland, Tanzania, Sweden, South Africa, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, and Zimbabwe. In addition, young people from Brazil, Jordan, Australia and Spain with an interest in human rights and the work of UNAs participated in the program.
The program was divided into two parts. First, it examined the UN Human Rights Council Mechanisms and the varied ways civil society organisations can interact with them. Second, the program covered an introduction to Project Cycle Management.
The first part mainly consisted of the delivery of presentations by professionals working in different departments and branches of the UN. For example, Mel Schmidt, a deployee with UNHCR spoke about his experience working in the field and gave an account of what humanitarian relief work is like on the ground. We also heard from representatives of NGOs whose work is closely aligned to the work of the UN. A representative from UPR-Info, Hans Fridlund, spoke about the Universal Periodic Review (hereinafter ‘UPR’) process and the ways in which the NGO he works for attempts to promote and strengthen the effectiveness of the UPR. It was fascinating to hear about the different experiences of people working both within and outside the UN.
The second part of the program focused on Project Cycle Management using a Logical Framework Approach. This was incredibly useful on a number of levels. First, the Framework is useful for planning a project. It is comprehensive and takes account of the big picture while also ensuring that important details are not missed. Second, the Framework is presented in such a way that could appeal to potential donors. Therefore, it is not only a useful tool for planning and implementing a project, but can also be instrumental in securing the necessary funding to run a project. We then put the skills we learned in practice and applied the Framework to our own project ideas.
Over the first three days of the program, each participant was given a ten-minute slot to present a major human rights issue in their country as well as an idea for a human rights project to tackle this issue. This was one of my favourite aspects of the program. It required me to reflect on the major human rights challenges facing the United Kingdom. Despite being categorized as a developed and relatively rich country, in the UK a key underlying cause for human rights problems is the socioeconomic climate. The fulfilment of economic, social and cultural rights is critical to the effective enjoyment of civil and political rights. In the UK, the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing. Austerity means that there have been extensive cuts to public services and a massive reduction in the welfare social security net that many families are dependent on. This can give rise to a number of human rights problems as well as exacerbate pre-existing human rights issues. I chose to focus on modern slavery in particular as a major human rights issue in the UK. This has been recognised by the UK government and parliament; in 2015, the Modern Slavery Act was passed.
Having gone through this period of reflection in relation to my own country, it was really interesting to hear from the other participants about major human rights issues in their respective countries. This ranged from the right to health and LGBT rights in the United States to selective abortion in Slovenia to refugee rights in Georgia and Jordan. Many of the participants drew from their own experiences, professional and personal, in focusing on particular human rights issues.
At the end of the program we had to complete a quiz testing our knowledge on the topics covered during the program. I was pretty happy to take the prize for first place (a UN teddy bear) home on behalf of UNA-Scotland!
Geneva is a beautiful city and Switzerland is a stunning country, so it was great to make the most of my time in Geneva and do some exploring in the evenings. The majority of the participants stayed in the same hostel together – an option given to you when you confirm your place on the program. Due to my dissertation being due one week after the program, I decided to book my own private room in a hostel nearby in case I needed to do some work on my dissertation. This proved to be a sensible decision because I also ended up having to prepare for a skype interview for my current job (working at UCL’s Centre for Access to Justice). For future participants on this program, however, I would definitely recommend leaving your work at home and staying in the hostel with the other participants if you can!
Fortunately, I still had time to explore Geneva and spend some time socialising with the other program participants. One evening that was particularly memorable was spent having drinks on a boat on Lake Geneva. WFUNA planned a number of evening activities and on nights that nothing was planned, program participants still went out for dinner and walks around Geneva. Some of the other participants extended their stay so that they could catch the train to other parts of Switzerland at the weekend. Again, for future participants I would definitely recommend staying a few extra days in order to make the most of your time in Switzerland.
It was fantastic, and somewhat inspiring, to work with and get to know such a diverse group of people who are all passionate about human rights. I learned a lot not only from the program, but also from conversations and discussions with the other program participants. I came home not only with new knowledge about the UN (and a UN teddy bear!), but also with a network of young people from all over the world working within the human rights field.