Published: | By: Christoph Stieglbauer
The first visit on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, took us to the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). During our visit to the ICRC, we had the opportunity to talk to Benno Kocher, Operations Coordinator. The conversation was based on a question and answer session where we touched upon the ICRC's action in Ukraine, the purpose of field missions, the enforcement of principles of Humanitarian Aid and Kocher's personal experience as a humanitarian. We also had the opportunity to talk to Dominik Stillhart, outgoing Director of Operations, who also spoke to us about his experience and work at the ICRC. We were drawn in particular to the ICRC's approach to negotiations under challenging circumstances, such as with Russian diplomats on the issue of humanitarian access in Ukraine or the evacuation of civilians from combat. At the end of our visit, we were guided into the ICRC building to look at the Nobel Prices, medals and other awards received by the organization.
After a short walk through the diplomatic quarter of Geneva, we were welcomed at the Permanent Mission of Colombia to the United Nations Office and other international organizations by Minister Plenipotentiary Álvaro Ayala Meléndez, Counselor Garrido Restrepo and Counselor Arango Blanco. The session started with input about the Mission's work in Geneva and the critical role UN agencies played in successfully negotiating and implementing the Colombian peace process. At the end of the discussion, the focus was placed on the Mission's human rights efforts within the UN system and the human rights environment in Colombia. In addition, the current situation regarding Venezuelan migrants and refugees in Colombia was highlighted.
We returned to Avenue de la Paix and entered the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG) grounds, the Palace of Nations. During a guided tour, we were shown the different buildings on site, including the most advanced meeting space of the UN worldwide, room XIX, funded by the State of Qatar. We were also able to observe the ongoing session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) from the spectator gallery and admire the stunning ceiling sculpture of the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room, created by Miquel Barceló as part of a Spanish donation to the UN. The ongoing renovation and construction work prevented us from entering some structures. However, we could visit the Palais des Nations library wing and look at some of the exhibits on display.
The final visit on our first day took us to the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations Office and other international organizations, where we had a chance to participate in an hour-long discussion with Fridtjof Dunkel, First Secretary of the Human Rights Section of the German Mission. The discussion centred on the theoretical and practical aspects of the work of the UN Human Rights Council, the role of NGOs, the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, as well as on Mr Dunkel's professional experience in negotiating and drafting official UN HRC documents. On another note, the most recent developments regarding Germany's membership at the UN HRC and the termination of Russia's membership in the Council were discussed. The day concluded with a group photo.
Our second full day took us to the headquarters of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). We had the chance to, first of all, learn more about the organization and its role and then engage in a meaningful Q&A session with Julian J. Pfäfflin, Senior Policy Specialist and Spokesperson Safa Msehli on topics such as IOM's funding scheme, its projectization model, the organization's mandate and presence in regions such as Libya, Haiti, Indonesia, Spain and Ukraine; its relation with donors and member states and how it can (or not) affect its neutrality; and lastly IOM's position and work on detention camps and voluntary returns. IOCM students interested in migration issues were provided with information materials and textbooks after the meeting.
Back on the grounds of the Palais des Nations, we were hosted in the newly completed building H by Nisha Manjooran, who serves in the Office of the Director of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Humanitarian Financing and Resource Mobilization Division, Florent Mehaule, Desk Officer for the Syria Crisis at OCHA, and Sergio da Silva, Civil-Military Coordination Officer at OCHA. The session in a space previously used as OCHA's situation room as the humanitarian situation in Ukraine developed began with a presentation of OCHA's working method, their current engagement in Ukraine and an overview of OCHA's activities at the headquarters in Geneva. The speakers then opened the floor for questions and shared a lively dialogue with the IOCM students on topics such as; the challenges of coordination in complex emergencies, OCHA's cluster approach, funding mechanisms, the role of gender in humanitarian affairs, humanitarian access, advocacy and humanitarian aid, the aid-development nexus and counter-measures against aid dependency. The speakers touched upon their field experience and career pathways, and the meeting ended with a detailed overview of OCHA's current activities in Ukraine and their challenges.
On Thursday, our last full day in Geneva, we first paid a visit to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and spoke with Fernando Puchol, Communications Officer with the WTO, about the work of the organization, the historic building overlooking Lake Geneva, and some of the ground floor premises, whose design still hinted at its past as the headquarters of the International Labor Organization (ILO). A thematic focus of the discussion was the recently concluded MC12, the 12th ministerial conference of the WTO, which lasted from 12-16 June 2022. It ended with an unexpected negotiation success and the adoption of the Geneva package. Victor Stolzenburg, Research Economist in the Economic Research and Statistics Division, then discussed career entry and internship opportunities at the WTO with us and shared valuable tips and insights.
The final part of our study trip was a successful visit to the World Health Organization (WHO). We were welcomed by high-ranking officials, including Catharina Boehme, Chef de Cabinet of Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – Director General at WHO, Carmen Dolea, Head of International Health Regulations (IHR) Secretariat at WHO, and Munjoo Park, Technical Officer at the Office of the Director General. After a gratefully received sandwich lunch, the three experts devoted their time to us and, in a short presentation, outlined the current challenges WHO is facing as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and how a reorientation and adaptation can be accomplished to better face future pandemics. The subsequent talk had to be extended in time so that the many questions of the students could be answered in detail. Among other things, possible reforms of the International Health Regulations, the plans for the so-called Pandemic Treaty and the strengths and weaknesses of the institutional structure of the WHO were discussed extensively. The WHO representatives were impressed by the students' level of expertise and asked for further collaboration with the cohort to discuss possible approaches to optimize the organization's operation.
In the evening, the cohort came together once again to have dinner in the old town of Geneva to conclude the excursion and to toast the successful trip together. On the following Friday, the cohort returned to Thuringia.
The excursion was only made possible by the generous contributions of our friends and partners, the City of JenaExternal link, the Ernst Abbe FoundationExternal link, the United Nations Association of Germany (Deutsche Gesellschaft für die Vereinten Nationen – DGVN)External link, PROMOSExternal link, and the Friedrich Schiller University Jena.