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Reflections on a few days at the home of human rights

Simon Woolley looks back at the United Nations conference he attended recently and reflects on the shared experiences of many communities across the world.

It is a week since I arrived back from the UN conference on minority issues and political participation in Geneva Switzerland.

There were 600 delegates from over 100 different countries around the globe. We all converged to explore one issue: how can minorities; racial, cultural, religious, or any other have greater political say in the governance of their country or region?

A Geneva delegate

Walking into the United Nations is in itself an intimidating prospect: the several hundred seats set out in a semi-circular formation, the bank of simultaneous translators translating speeches into a kaleidoscope of languages, and then to see your name at one of the desk is enough to make you ask: “have they made a mistake. Do they really mean me?”

Having just about suppressed the imposter syndrome, the enormity of why your there began to sink in.

Speaker after speaker rails against the injustices that occur in their countries.

Ms Epsy Campbell told of the terrible plight Black Costa Rican’s faced in her country. Jamaican’s were brought there at the turn of the century to build the railways for the banana industry, but poor wages meant that they could not afford to return home but where never given any rights or even allowed to enter the capital city.

After fighting in that nation’s civil war in the 1950’s, many were given limited citizenship. Fast forward 50 years and although things have changed it is still a divided country.

Simon Woolley

Campbell seeks to change all that by literally running for President. Her style is Obamaesque as she seeks to bring communities together with a new vision for this tiny Central American county. ‘Politics empowers, politics can make the difference’ are her mantras.

The persecution of the Roma’s featured strongly in many presentations across Eastern Europe. Senegal, South Africa, Nigeria all made strong presentations about deep political injustices to minorities in these countries.

Greek African-American, Yvette Jarvis, now special advisor to the Mayor of Athens told how so many Black people who have lived in Greece for more than 40 years still cannot get citizenship and therefore vote. She asked her European partners to lobby their governments to demand Greece does better.

Government representatives were given space to outline their good practices on how they are addressing giving power to minorities. Some nations spoke about their constitutions, or directives, which too many activists sounded somewhat hollow.

Although I was somewhat heartened by the British representative Chris Lomax who in presenting aspects that where encouraging cited a government backed OBV project as an example of good practice.

During those intense three days, I’d like to think that I learnt a great deal, particularly that paralleled experiences bind us in unity and solidarity. I also learnt that the UN matters both in the UK and globally, and we ignore its possibilities of change at our peril.


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