Tag Archives: Geneva

An update genevois

27 Feb

Dear all,

I recently attended a meeting of the Inter Quaker Criminal Justice Liaison Group (also known as IQCJLG, one of many acronyms I encounter on a daily basis), formed by different Quaker organisations and individuals worldwide who work on Criminal Justice issues.  I found this particularly interesting as whilst Quakers may often have similar objectives, their specific focus may well differ between different contexts and it was interesting and useful to find out what Friends are working on, to share contacts and information. A number of the participants will represent Friends’ interests and concerns under the Friends World Committee for Consultation (QUNO’s parent body) in the UN Crime Commission in Vienna this April. As the meeting was in Friends House in London I was also able to take the opportunity to meet up with fellow Peaceworkers Owen and Rhiannon, who I had not seen since the blissful days at Woodbrooke Study Centre back in August.


The winter in Geneva has not been as bitterly cold as we were lead to believe, I think last year’s lows of minus 12 degrees were exceptional. The emergence of crocuses and daffodils in the Quaker House garden herald the impending arrival of spring, whilst the odd snowflake reminds us not to be too hasty in our anticipation of warmer times. I haven’t yet ventured into the mountains, which many have chastised me for, so we are planning to go ‘snow-shoeing’ this weekend. I’m working my way up to skiing… possibly. Certainly the lifestyle here is generally a very healthy one (my monthly unlimited swimming pass must be heavily subsidised as it costs just £14) despite the endless fondue. On my recent trip to Spain I met a Ecuadorian lady who told me she wanted to leave the country (like the 40,000 people who fled the financial crisis there in the first six months of last year) and head for Switzerland, hoping that she can tap into some of the wealth and opportunities that reside here. Geneva’s 40% expat population certainly make it an interesting place to socialise, I found myself running between two parties last weekend and speaking four different languages at both – definitely an advantage of living here!

The next session of the UN Human Rights Council has just begun, when the vast corridors of the UN become alive with activity, exhibitions, events, networking opportunities, political negotiations and new resolutions. We are holding a side event on the issue of children of prisoners, to disseminate the results of the EU-funded COPING project that QUNO was involved in for the last three years.

A plus,



Swiss Occurings

22 Dec

Dear all,

In recent months, one of my main areas of work has been connected to the COPING project. COPING is a three year EU funded research project on the mental health of children of prisoners. QUNO has been involved, alongside a consortium of nine other NGOs and academic institutions across Europe. Whilst my involvement comes at the very end of the project, I am enjoying participating in the process of making recommendations from the research findings as well as disseminating the results in and around the UN. One disturbing statistic from the research is that 25% of children with a parent in prison are at high risk of mental health problems. Key recommendations include seeing a child’s visit to see their parent in prison as a right of the child rather than a privilege of the offender. I attended the final conference of the project in Brussels in November. Whilst I was there, I was fortunate to be able to meet fellow Programme Assistants; Chris and Bethany in person at the Quaker Council for European Affairs. QUNO’s counterpart represents Quaker concerns at the European level. Look out for a guest blog post from them, coming soon to PO Box Peace!

As stipulated in my recent journal letter, another of my highlights so far, has been seeing Turkey give their first ever report to the Human Rights Committee relating to their obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The issue of Conscientious Objection to Military Service featured strongly. With this and other issues raised by NGOs and Turkish human rights activists, in a prior meeting with the Committee, being subsequently put to the State by individual Committee members. Whilst the topic of the lack of recognition of Conscientious Objectors (and their subsequent imprisonment and exclusion from access to government services) has often been raised at the European Court of Human Rights, due to the language barrier and lack of general knowledge about UN processes, many lawyers and NGOs in Turkey have not been aware of the Human Rights Committee as another method with which they can hold their government to account under its international legal obligations.

Outside of work, I have been sampling wine in local vineyards, practising Tai Chi by the lake, visiting thermal baths, enjoying the snow in Quaker House garden (see below), venturing to a Christmas market in Basel and generally enjoying what this part of Switzerland has to offer. I have also been busy with different writing projects. Fellow Peaceworker Owen and I wrote a review[1] in The Friend of David Gee’s excellent book on peace and nonviolence Holding Faith, and an article I co-wrote called Genocide and settler colonialism: can a Lemkin-inspired genocide perspective aid our understanding of the Palestinian situation? [2] was published in the International Journal of Human Rights. All in all it has certainly been a busy few months!

Joyeux Noel à tous!



[1] Please note you will need to register for a free trial to The Friend to access this article.

[2] The views expressed in said article are entirely that of myself and my co-author and do not in any way claim to represent the Quaker position on the situation in Israel/Palestine.


Musings on Climate Change and Cheese Fondue

19 Oct

Musings on Climate Change and Cheese Fondue…

Hello everyone!

My name is Ellie and, like Haifa, I am a new Programme Assistant for the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva. As Haifa has already told you all about who QUNO are and what they do, I will tell you a little bit about the programme I work on: Human Impacts of Climate Change. As the name suggests, the programme focuses on what the consequences of climate change will be for humanity, working on cooperation over natural resources, climate change and migration, and the international climate negotiations. Quakers are realising that the environment is a peace and equality issue. They therefore recognise that we need to limit the impacts of existing climate change, as well as mitigating future man made changes, in order to reduce the vulnerability of its victims. What’s really struck me since I started this job is how easy it is to assume that we can somehow damage our environment without damaging our people as well, or that climate change remains a distant Armageddon-like scenario. Over the last few weeks I’ve heard the stories of those whose lives have been devastated by environmental change and it’s hit home that for so many people around the world climate change is already a reality.

In my third week at QUNO I travelled to Vienna to attend a conference on Climate Change and Migration, which, as well as providing an opportunity to eat the world’s best crêpes and wander the city’s palaces, gave me a lot to think about. Questions of what will happen to people displaced by climate change have not yet been answered, whether it’s protection for rural farmers who can no longer make a living or the communities whose islands may someday soon disappear beneath the waves. At times it feels like these problems are too big for us to solve. When so much time is wasted in disagreement between States, the challenge we face can seem overwhelming and I worry that any solution we find will be too late to help these people. But I have faith that if we have taught ourselves to live within the current broken system, we can un-teach ourselves as well. That’s when I find it reassuring to be at QUNO and surrounded by people who are determined to make change happen, people working behind the scenes here at the UN in order to find ways to bring the right people together and move things forward.

When not pondering questions of climate change, me and Haifa have been busy finding the cheapest falafel in this ludicrously priced city and retreating from the cold to saunas and cheese fondue, with the occasional Autumnal dip in the lake (a freezing experience I’m not sure I will be repeating!)

Thanks for reading and Happy Friday!

Ellie, Quaker United Nations Office, Geneva

p.s. I leave you with two photos to brighten up your Friday afternoon. Swiss fondue and a Genevan lake. Beautiful.



Greetings from Geneva!

12 Oct

Hello everyone,

I am spending this year working at the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva, (QUNO) on their well established and respected Human Rights & Refugees programme. QUNO represents the concerns of Quakers worldwide at the international level, which for the Human Rights and Refugees programme means engaging with UN human rights processes. QUNO is known and respected for its lunches whereby diplomats and country representatives are invited to meet at Quaker House over lunch in an informal setting and I was privileged to witness such an event in my first week. It was refreshing to observe the relaxed atmosphere and see how a safe space is created for questions to be asked openly.

Quaker House is a lovely place to work. As the name implies it is house, converted into an office but retaining its dining room, kitchen, balconies, garden and ‘fumoir’ –smoking room (see below and I should add that it is no longer used for smoking!).


The UN Human Rights Council was in session for three weeks in September, which meant that as well as following the events in the spaceship-like chamber (see below) there were also many different meetings, side events, and receptions all clamouring for my attention.


I spent a lot of time getting lost in the Palais des Nations (the main UN building in Geneva) through the labyrinth of corridors and rooms, passing a few peacocks on the way…


I like the way that the government representatives are referred to by their country’s name, how people say “Germany is in the room” as though the room were of Tardis-like proportions. My highlight of the month was undoubtedly reading an oral statement in the Human Rights Council on behalf of the Quakers, regarding children of parents sentenced to death. You can view the video here.

Outside of work, Ellie and I have been making the most of life in Geneva, including swimming in the lake, renting bikes to explore the city, popping to France and a local market to do our weekly shop and the ritual baulking at the cost of a pint compared to the UK.

Thank you for reading, feel free to ask any questions or make comments and do share our blog.


Haifa Rashed, Quaker United Nations Office, Geneva.

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