By Jayden Crozier
Working at the United Nations Human Rights Council as the Castan Centre Intern was a life-changing experience. I learnt about the paramount importance of human rights, and the challenges the international community face in protecting them. My mentors and colleagues at the Australian government mission showed me what a career in international relations looks like, whether that be in DFAT or a non-governmental organisation, and demonstrated the skills and diplomacy required to successfully fight for those most in need.
Throughout my six weeks in Geneva, I took part in many of UN procedures in relation to Australia’s role as a council member. It was such valuable experience, particularly the insight into the way a state prepares for and operates during the Human Rights Council.
While attending council, I witnessed evidence of many human rights abuses and saw the UN’s response to unfolding humanitarian crises. Early in the sessions, we witnessed reports regarding Myanmar, where ethnic cleansing in the Rakhine State had decimated the Rohingya population. The images were sobering, but they highlighted the need for the United Nations, and NGOs, to intervene on behalf of the Rohingya people’s human rights.
One issue that particularly interested me was the abolition of capital punishment. I was inspired to see the progress the international community has made in this regard, to the point that Africa was heralded as the ‘next abolitionist continent’. Nonetheless, public executions are still used in many states, not for justice, but to create fear in the population and thereby consolidate authority. It still continues to be a prevailing issue around the world; however, I felt proud seeing the Human Rights Council stand up for its abolition.
As part of the internship, I played a role in drafting resolutions. This took shape through the meetings of various state delegations, where we would workshop draft resolutions paragraph-by-paragraph, ensuring that they satisfied all states wishing to see them adopted. While some of these meetings could be quite laborious, it could get more intense depending on the issue being discussed. All the hard work paid off, as Australia’s resolutions were passed by the council.
Perhaps my greatest highlight was speaking before the UN Council on Australia’s National Disability Insurance Scheme, as part of the Council’s session on Persons with Disabilities. I was elected to speak on this issue because of my experience working in the healthcare industry. Australia was commended for its policies for people with disabilities by the Special Rapporteur, and so it was an honour to thank the Special Rapporteur for their positive words, and share Australia’s initiatives with the world. I was also honoured to represent Australia when attending World Down Syndrome Day at the UN, which involved listening to inspirational speeches by disability activists, including the youngest speaker ever before the UNHRC: a two-year old child from China with Down Syndrome.
Another issue I care deeply about is the rights of Indigenous peoples. The Council examined various issues facing Indigenous people globally, including dispossession of tribes in South America, neglected poverty in United States and Canada, and the universal struggle for respect and recognition in the face of cultural erasure. Hearing the Governor-General, Sir Peter Cosgrove, give an acknowledgement of country, before this global stage, made me grateful for the steps Australia has taken to recognise Indigenous Australia, but also mindful of the further work that needs to be done.
Throughout my time in the Human Rights Council, I became aware of the various challenges in protecting human rights. Certain issues seem at times too overwhelming for the international community to handle, such as climate change, or the many millions of displaced people. Ideological, religious and political differences complicate how human rights are framed. For certain governments, it will always be in their geopolitical interest to ignore human rights (which is why it is critical to have multilateral institutions such as the UN holding them to account).
Nonetheless, I remain firmly convinced that the world’s major humanitarian issues can be resolved if we listen and cooperate with one another, and I am inspired by all the Council was able to accomplish while I was there. I am grateful to the Castan Centre, the Bennelong Foundation and the Australian Mission for giving me this opportunity, and I look forward to applying all I have learned going into the future.