DAY 4 (Part 2) – – Benedict Coyne – Human Writes Human Rights Blog – Trip to Geneva for Australia’s Second Universal Periodic Review November 2015

Day 4 – Part 2 – Business, Human Rights and a Well-Suited Mountain Trek Protest

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[Not the photo caption: 2:34pm. Café on Rue des Vermont. 120m from Palais Des Nations main entrance].

Jose Parra is a human rights consultant based in Geneva and has over 15 years of professional experience. He has worked for human rights non-governmental organizations, the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

We met and talked about exciting plans for Synceritas, the UN Business & Human Rights Forum next week he will be attending, organising our meeting with Union Banco Privee (UBP) and his Oxford graduation. We also discussed another exciting venture by himself and two Oxford Colleagues (Annabelle in Canada and Glen in the UK), starting a global environmental rights/climate justice NGO called “Just Planet”.

One exciting innovation they are currently focusing on is using the UN Special Procedures and Treaty Body mechanisms around climate change and environmental rights of current and future generations. Obviously, the landscape of modern IHRL was forged prior to the compelling science of climate change coming to light and thus innovative work need be done to properly pull back the blinkers of current rights rhetoric and usher a new age of rights beyond the Plato’s cave of our current understanding/appreciation of what such rights entail.

It sounds to me like the project is about the full realisation of the “universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated” nature of basic rights as 172 countries agreed in Art 5 of the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. We discussed strategies of getting leverage at the UN Human Rights Council through State-party lobbying and also using UN Special procedures to attempt to expand the jurisprudence around the right to life. Having an independent expert appointed on Human Rights and Climate Change would be a great step which could follow the trajectory precedent of the current UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment John Knox who started as an independent expert.

I discussed recently working with lawyers from Earth Justice International in San Francisco on submissions for my client Adrian Burragubba and the Wangan & Jagalingou people to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights and the UN Working Group on Business & Human Rights (as well as the ALHR letter of support).


Realising I am also meant to be having a bit of a holiday whilst in this human rights fantasy land, I farewelled Jose and decided to head up the mountain for the late afternoon. This involved excitingly taking a bus to France (about 30 mins away) and riding up the mountain on a cable car. I didn’t have time to go back to my Air BnB to get changed so I went up in my suit which resulted in a bit of humour for the locals seeing a well-suited MJ Bale Ozi mountain goat trekking up a slippery winding rocky path in nice shoes with a briefcase and laptop bag – totally incongruent with the surrounds. One old guy dropped his jaw and struck up a round applause announcing “Tres Bon! Se Forte non??!” to his trekking counterparts, otherwise a few raised eyebrows. Other locals raised their eyebrows or just laughed and smiled. The juxtaposition of business attire in the bush inspired me to juxta-pose for a super quick artsy fartsy selfie photo shoot.

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It felt amazing to be in mountains again and reminded me of distant memories of the Annapurna circuit in Nepal (circa 2004 during the Civil War) for which I totally long to return. There is something supremely sacred about mountains for me, a significant soulful stillness and the views of Mont Blanc were stunning. I am feeling very fortunate for the weather we’ve had all week. I then had to scramble down quickly to get back for the last cable car at 5:00pm as the light was getting low. I ran into a young psychologist, Joseph, from the Congo via Belgium who had jut trekked over from France and was heading down to Geneva for the week to stay with his cousin. We had one of those wonderful philosophical excurses on “life, the universe and everything” that you have when synchronistic stars align while traveling out in the world! He had finished his 5 years of psychology studies in Belgium and was now on a global adventure quest to really learn about people and the world. It made me remember, as has this trip, that the most important thing for a fulfilling awesome or awe-full life is to remember to have adventures, go to places you’ve never been and get out of your comfort zone whether overseas or in small adventures back at home.

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As we descended in-squished-sardine-style in the last cable car of the day, paragliders scribbled air signs across the sunsettling-smashed-mango sky continuing their dizzying descents with the dimming delights of another awesome day in Geneva.

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While walking back from the bus I was upswept in a HUGE protest march full of very well dressed Genevans protesting health and education cuts in the budget. There were many home made signs, people of all ages and walks of life, wealthy, working class, cycle powered dreadlocked sound systems pumping out reggae, sambanista drummers invoking a percussive storm-music, dancers, laughers all taking up the main street with very few police. It just went on and on and on…I estimate at least 20,000 people on a Tuesday evening. I was amazed so I spontaneously joined the thoughtful throng which like a civil serpent wound up and around the old city skirting fountains, bars, cafes and cars – quivers, rivers and shivers of shouts arising in the acoustical enclaves of stunning old Genevan architecture. People on the footpaths waving, cheering applauding. It was the best tour of Geneva (and Swiss participatory democracy in action) that I could have done. I met many interesting everyday people who it seemed were out doing there civic duty and exercising their civil rights – hmmm I wish I could bottle this up and take it back to Oz!