A Union of Opposites

UN HRC Ceiling, Palais des Nations
Ceiling of the Human Rights Council’s room at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland

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.”

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Today at the United Nations Human Rights Council

A Day at the United Nations Human Rights Council

Today I am at the Human Rights Council in Geneva for the Universal Periodic Review of Morocco. (Photos are not allowed, but I snuck this one with my iPhone.) Along with colleagues from The Advocates for Human Rights and Global Rights, we have been lobbying the Human Rights Council delegates on the issues of violence against women and the death penalty/conditions of detention in Morocco.

Countries from Botswana to Bangladesh have raised the issue of women’s rights, with particularly, strong pressure coming from Belgium, Estonia, Spain, Switzerland, and Thailand to pass a comprehensive law to protect women from violence. In response to criticism of Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code (which I wrote about previously in Amina Filali and Violence Against Women), which essentially allows a man to escape prosecution for rape of a minor if he marries her, the Justice Minister noted that this law was “traditional” but currently “under study.” Shortly after he made that statement, the Netherlands and Norway made strong recommendations to revise the penal code and pass a new law to protect women from violence and ensure equality.

Argentina, Austria, France, Italy and Spain are among those countries who have called on Morocco to abolish the death penalty and commute all death sentences to life. Hungary even declared they would be “happy to share” their own recent experience in abolishing the death penalty.

The Universal Periodic Review is a new human rights mechanism, the result of recent UN reform. Morocco was one of the first countries reviewed in 2008, and is now one of the first countries to return for a second UPR review. Today I see the Moroccan government standing up before its peers -the governments of other nations – and answering questions on what they are doing to protect human rights for all in their country. It is encouraging to see the governments taking the process seriously.  At the end of the day, there was palpable relief on the face of the Minister of Justice and the other members of the delegation. Whether or not the UPR is a human rights mechanism that works in the long run, I think that the accountability I am seeing today is both good and necessary.