Our journey began on Monday, in the early morning. Seventeen motivated students – all suited up –travelling to one of the most important cities in international relations: Geneva! The trip was organized around the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) eCommerce week 2019, but it ended up much more extensive than that.
After a relaxed flight and a quick stop at the hotel to drop our luggage, we started with a visit to the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (the ICRC). After a short introduction movie about the work of the ICRC, a presentation was provided by Robert, Head of the Project Management Office. The Red Cross is divided into three different layers. The National Red Cross, the Federation and the ICRC. The ICRC is only applicable in armed conflicts and other situations of violence. The main goal of the ICRC is to protect and assist victims of war and to prevent violations of the law on war by educating governments and other parties. The ICRC is neutral, impartial and independent. That is, in my opinion, the main reason why the ICRC is allowed entrance in so many conflict areas. The ICRC does things its own way. The organization does not provide evidence to (criminal) courts. It is solely there to protect the war victims. The personnel do not carry guns. Nor are they being protected by UN peacekeepers. In the last six years, the ICRC has grown immensely. It now faces challenges because of the new digitalized world. New, modern technologies – such as artificial intelligence and a huge digital database – are now part of the organization. We were very impressed by the ICRC and all the important work it does in the world. Since we had some time left before our next visit, we decided to have lunch in the restaurant at the ICRC. With a clear sky, a nice temperature and a beautiful view on the Palace des Nations, it was also time for some (maybe a little bit to many) photos.
We soon continued our trip to another very interesting institution, located in a beautiful palace: the World Trade Organization (the WTO). The visit began with a tour through a part of the building, provided by Fernando, Press Officer. He brought us to an impressive conference room, where all the 164 Member States have a seat at the table. Representatives have a seat across each other, the first step to creating a dialogue. There is also room for observers; countries who haven’t entered the organization yet, but who are interested in following the work of the WTO. After the tour and (again) some pictures, we were provided a presentation in a small conference room. The WTO was installed in 1995 through the Treaty of Marrakesh. Member States gave up a part of their trade sovereignty in order to make sure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible. If parties can’t reach an agreement about a trade issue, the rulings of the WTO are binding. With the recent issues around trade in the world, we had plenty of questions for Fernando. Impressively, he was able to answer all of them. Again a very interesting institution, with a huge impact on the trade developments in the world. We closed day one together at a café restaurant called Scandale. A cold beer and great pizzas sure gave us new energy. All ready for day two: a day at the Palace des Nations!
We started day two with a few hours of free time. We met in front of the Palace des Nations at noon. We were accompanied by Tristan and Mariana, two interns from the UNCTAD Youth Team. They provided us with a tour through the gardens of the Palace des Nations. It was time for some pictures again! After that, we attended a High-Level Dialogue at the UNCTAD eCommerce week. The Dialogue was themed ‘From Digitalization to Development’. Representatives of various institutions took part in the conference, such as the African Union and the World Bank. The session was presided by Mukhisa Kituyi, the Secretary-General of UNCTAD. E-Trade for all, that is his main goal. There’s a digital divide that’s creating inequality, between countries but also within countries. This week’s goal is to make sure everyone profits equally from digitalization. Access to internet is still not guaranteed in some of world’s developing countries, while the internet is ‘the oxygen of eCommere’. Not only governments need to take action to make sure everyone profits from digitalization, also Digital Media Platforms have a responsibility. It was an informative and interesting session, with impressive delegates from the different institutions.
After all this new information, it was time for some food. Since two people we met separately recommended to have dinner at the Lake View and Fondue, there was no other choice for us than to have dinner exactly there. It was located on the peer at the Geneva Lake. Surrounded by the smell of melted cheese, we had a nice fondue dinner. After that, it was time to explore Geneva’s nightlife. We had some beers at a local pub and our star darts player Julie even got to play a game!
The next day was the final day. After a quick breakfast, it was time for us to go to the World Health Organization (WHO). We were provided two presentations there, an introduction to the WHO and a presentation on the eradication of polio. The WHO has 194 members, one more than the UN. The institution provides service to its Member States on health issues. The WHO sets norms and standards concerning health issues (for instance around vaccination, travel advice and policy on snake bites). The personnel of the WHO assist Member States in emergency situations (such as epidemic outbreaks, natural disasters and war). One of the latest outbreaks the WHO had to deal with (and still does), is Ebola. It go the chance to spread so quickly, because of many reasons, one of which is the difficult access to health care by the people of the countries who were struck by the epidemic. One of the successes of the WHO is the Polio Eradication Initiative: it went from 350.000 cases of polio in 1988 to 33 reported cases in 2018. There are three types of Polio, from which two have already been fully eradicated. Polio only exists now in Afghanistan and Nigeria. Over the past years, the WHO has vaccinated many children. WHO personnel and volunteers knocked on many doors and stood at the boarders of countries in order to vaccinate as many children as possible. With result, we can now conclude. This was, again, a very interesting visit at an institution that does a lot of good in this world. It was especially interesting for Isabelle and Femke, our two participants studying Public Health Sciences. They had the opportunity to ask many questions, from which we all learned a lot.
Our second visit was at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR). We were provided a presentation by Masiha, an Associate Human rights Officer. The OHCHR leads global human rights efforts and speaks out objectively in the face of human rights violations. It also assists governments and individuals on subjects related to human rights. Masiha works in the department of Woman’s’ rights and Gender Equality. After a short introduction of the work of the OHCHR, we had the opportunity to ask questions around the topic of human rights. It was especially interesting for our law students.
The final visit of our trip, was at UNICEF. We met with Sohini, who provided us with a presentation about UNICEF. It began with an introduction about UNICEF and the work it does in the world. The organization was established in 1946 to provide short-term relief to children in the aftermath of World War II. It became a permanent part of the UN in 1953. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (the CRC) forms the bedrock of the work of UNICEF. UNICEF works in 190 countries across the world. It advocates for the protection of the rights of children, the fulfillment of their basic needs and the expansion of opportunities to meet their potential. UNICEF also responds in emergency situations. After the introduction, Sohini gave us an insight of her career. She is currently working in the Private Fundraising Division. Sohini started her career at UNICEF in 2008, working at a regional office in India. She made efforts to bring back the number of cases of child marriages and school drop outs by girls. By setting up a system by which parents receive money if their daughter finishes high school or university, UNICEF influenced the lives of twenty million people. At UNICEF, we noticed the connection between the various institutions we visited throughout these three days. For instance, the WHO and UNICEF work closely together when it comes to vaccinations. And the ICRC, the WHO and UNICEF work together in war areas. Sohini closed her presentation, saying that if you work in the field, it’s okay to sometimes lose the fight, as long as you win the war. Sohini is an extraordinary woman, who had a huge impact on the lives of children.
After this final visit, it was already time to go home! We look back on a very interesting trip with a great group of students. We met many impressive diplomats and got the chance to visit many of the interesting institutions located in Geneva. See you next year, Geneva!