A Union of Opposites

Inaugurated on 18 November, 2008 in honor of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the “Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations” room (better known as Room XX) is the home of the United Nations Human Rights Council  at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.  Part of my work involves advocacy at the United Nations’ human rights mechanisms, so Room XX  is a place I visit regularly.  (Photos are not allowed, but I snuck these photos with my phone anyway.)

May:  At the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland
At the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland

Spanish abstract artist Miquel Barceló created a a massive work of art for the ceiling of the room with paint composed of pigments from around the world.  More than 30 tons of paint were sprayed on the 1,500-square-meter dome ceiling, with the many layers of paint creating a textured rainbow of stalactites.  Depending on where you are in the room, the colors of the stalactites change based on perspective.

Barceló  describes his work in this way:

“All of it is a sea upside down, but it is also a cave.

The complete union of opposites,the ocean surface of the Earth and its most concealed cavities.”

PHOTO ESSAY: Cartooning for Peace

Cartoon by Kianoush

In May, I was in Geneva to participate in the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review of Morocco and India.  I went for a run one day along Quai Wilson on Lake Geneva and discovered an exhibition of political cartoons. The exhibition was sponsored by Cartooning for Peace/Dessins pour la paix, an initiative conceived of by French political cartoonist Plantu and launched at the United Nations in 2006.  The goal of Cartooning for Peace is to promote better understanding and mutual respect between people of different faiths and cultures.  Cartooning for Peace also works to promote freedom of expression and to protect the rights of cartoonists.

Cartooning for Peace and the City of Geneva created the new International Prize for Editorial Cartoons to honor cartoonists for their talent, outstanding contribution and commitment to the values of tolerance, freedom and peace. On May 3, 2012  – the World Day of Press Freedom – the prize was awarded for the first time to four Iranian political cartoonists.

Cartoon by Mana Neyestani
Cartoon by Mana Neyestani

The exhibition Dessins Pour La Paix  2012 displayed the work of the award-winning Iranian artists Mana Neyestani, Kianoush,  Firoozeh Mozaffari and Hassan Karimzade.

In addition, the exhibition included dozens of political cartoons by cartoonists around the world on the themes of freedom of expression, the Arab spring and the rights of women.

The exhibition in Geneva ran from May 3 to June 3, 2012.  The full catalogue of the cartons featured in the exhibit is now available online.

Take a stroll with me along Quai Wilson and witness the power of the cartooning for peace!




Photo credits to Amy Bergquist

Originally posted on 8/7/12 on

The Advocates for Human Rights’  blog

The Advocates Post.

Le Respect

I was in Geneva last week and happened upon this bit of public art on my way to the tram.  “Le respect, c’est accepter quelqu’un même si on ne l’aime pas”. Translated loosely: “Respect is accepting someone even if you don’t like him.”

This was displayed on the wall of a school in the Pâquis neighborhood of Geneva (which you may recall is in the francophone part of la Suisse/Switzerland).  I lived in les Pâquis twice when I was in law school and have stayed there several times since when I have had work to do at the United Nations.

Palais des Nations, the former home of the League of Nations. The three-legged chair sculpture honors the victims of landmines worldwide.

In all my experiences in the neighborhood, however, I had failed to discover:

1) Tea Room la Vouivre (The Wyvern Tea Room) where Cary Grant’s sweet smirk is reflected in gilded mirrors as you enjoy your pain au chocolat and sip your cafe au lait from a Maoist pug dog cup;

2) Buvettes des Bains, the nude-beach-by-summer turns out to be (quelle surprise!) the best-fondue-place-in-the-world-by-winter;

3) the fabulous second hand shops (!!!!), where you can find vintage French dresses, designer Italian shoes, and hand-knit baby hats for 2 Swiss francs (this really deserves a separate post); and

4) the meaning of the word respect.

The school and the artwork is easy to find – it’s on Rue de la Navigation, just past the Melting Pot Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurant (which, in theory, also serves crêpes, although not the night I ate there).   On the other side of the mural, the sidewalk actually passes right through an elementary school playground.  Not a responsible adult in sight during recess, I almost got hit by a dodgeball and, sadly, couldn’t help pondering the stark contrast with the locked doors and color-coded alerts at my own children’s American schools.

There is a second mural as well:  Pour avoir des amis il faut les respecter.”    “To have friends you have to respect them.”   Both of these sayings make sense to me, but that wasn’t the real lightbulb moment for me.

The word respect, as the pictures of these walls illustrate, is both a noun and a verb.  According to the Random House Dictionary, Le respect – the noun – means “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality or ability, or something considered as a manifestation of a personal quality or ability.”  Respecter, the verb, means “to hold in esteem or honor” or ““to show regard or consideration for.”   French dictionaries add a slightly different twist: “Le respect est une attitude qui consiste à ne porter atteinte à autrui.”  In other words, an attitude of not harming others.

The lightbulb moment I had on Rue de la Navigation, as I dodged balls on the place de jeux d l’école de Pâquis-Centre, was this:  respect requires both the noun and the verb.  You need the essential, positive, affirming elements of the subject/object (the noun). And you need to take action (the verb), including the action of NOT doing something harmful.

As the sign below says, much smaller and not in neon:

“The respect is a precious gift.”

In Small Places, Close to Home

This is my first original post on World Moms Blog

Eleanor Roosevelt once said,

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.”

She knew what she was talking about.  Eleanor Roosevelt was the chair of the UN Human Rights Commission and even wrote part of the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948).  Eleanor Roosevelt was also the mother of six children.

Mothers have an important role to play in making the world a better place for all children.   This is not to minimize the roles of fathers or grandparents or guardians or anyone charged with the responsibility of raising children. But I do believe wholeheartedly that mothers have a special role.  It is our job to change the world, one kid at a time.

Often mothers are the most vocal advocates for the rights of their children.  This is true whether you are a mom trying to get your special needs child the services she deserves or trying to get your child out of arbitrary detention in Iran (like Shane Bauer’s mom).  There are many examples of mom/human rights advocates-  Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina, Mothers of Soldiers in Russia .

I personally have had the chance to meet and interview mothers involved with the organization ANFASEP in Ayacucho, Peru.  These are mothers whose sons were disappeared during the long, violent conflict in Peru.   For nearly 30 years, these women have been trying to find out what happened to their family members and where their remains are.  One of the women we talked to had four family members who were disappeared.  She wants to know where they are and who killed them.  “We’re looking for justice,” she said, “and we want to know the truth.”  As Mama Angelica Mendoza, President of ANFASEP, told us, “We’ll never forget about all the killings.  We’ll fight to the end.”

Mothers of the disappeared (ANFASEP) in Peru.As Eleanor Roosevelt implied more than 50 years ago, the most important place for human rights to begin is at home.

Human rights are the standards that allow all people – each and every one of the 7 billion of us on this planet- to live with dignity, freedom, equality, justice and peace.

Aren’t these the principles that govern the way we want our children to be treated?  And, in a nutshell, aren’t these also the core values that every parent wants to instill in their children?

The secret to a better world is not only protecting our children from human rights abuses inflicted on them by others, but also by making them better citizens of the world.  Caring about others, judging right from wrong, standing up against bullying or racist comments or sexist jokes. These are the human rights that are essential to the full development of each child as an individual, as well as to the community in which they live. This is the human rights work that changes the world.

Here are my three reasons to work for human rights.  I’d love to see and hear about yours!