Br Barry Lobbies at the UN

The work of Edmund Rice International (ERI) has always been of great interest to me from its founding and I have slowly, over the years, built a great sense of belief and confidence in a ministry that not only seeks to help and support those who are made to be marginalised but also to effect lasting change at policy level that will change and protect the lives, and provide justice for the voiceless and those disadvantaged.  This work of ERI provides fresh hope and brings a new reality to our charism as Edmund Rice Brothers.

The phone call from Denis asking that I come in on the task and process of lobbying on behalf of the grassroots, in this case CARE, was an opportunity to experience and journey at the heart of ERI and seeing the channel that connects its work in Geneva to the grassroots, the voiceless, and the marginalised for whom we work.

Arriving in Geneva was an overwhelming first experience. It took me a while to make the mental shift from novitiate formation in Killarney to the diplomatic world of Geneva. Brian accompanied me from the airport to the ERI office, the hub of ERI and Franciscan International (FI) as the parent organisation.  I received a tremendous welcome from the team at the office as Denis introduced me in his usual flare and inventive style.  I was just in time for the birthday of an FI colleague who had just retired, so the birthday cake and coffee, was all part of the welcome. As this FI colleague ends his chapter mine was about to begin. It was ‘full steam ahead’, as I was briefed on the lobbying process. Denis had all the delegations we wanted to speak to, contacted and appointments made.  It was at this point that the reality hit that our work for the next few days is crucial both for CARE and ERI, as they monitor how this new approach will work.

The report on St. Lucia Universal Periodic Report (UPR) lobbying, complied by Denis gives a comprehensive and analytical look of the UPR of St. Lucia and how the process has so clearly worked for the cause of CARE.  I need not duplicate this success story; however, if I were to highlight a few significant learning and outcomes for me, they would be as follows.  The UPR, created through the UN General Assembly in 2006, is a key element of the Human Rights Council and a wonderful tool that seeks to hold member states to account on their human rights obligations before the international community. It is a cooperative process which reviews the human rights records of every country. Currently, no other universal mechanism of this kind exists. The UPR is one of the key elements of the new Council which reminds States of their responsibility to fully respect and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The ultimate aim of this new mechanism is to improve the human rights situation in all countries and address human rights violations wherever they occur. And so every country regardless of size, influence, power, economic status, is held accountable at the same level.  The UPR “has great potential to promote and protect human rights in the darkest corners of the world.” –(Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General).  This offers a sense of hope to grassroots organisations and initiatives like CARE who continues to work to improve the plight of those who are disadvantaged and marginalised, but may find it difficult at effecting change at policy level locally that will allow a more permanent improvement to the lives of the poor.  Brothers and lay people on the ground should be aware of this effective platform for voicing their causes around justice and human rights.

Another learning outcome worth noting, and maybe one for ERI, is the use of the strategy of physically bringing someone from the grassroots to be present and to engage with the lobbying process, is significant.  There was a great interest by the delegations we met to hear what I had to say as someone coming from the ground.  The perspective of ERI is clear and known, but the real stories and experiences from the ‘horse’s mouth’ touched into another level, were convincing, and gave an applied approach to encouraging delegations to speak on behalf of issues. Four (4) out of six (6) of the delegations approached directly mentioned our recommendation during the UPR.  This is very high based on UPR standards.

Our approach to a partnership, friendship and collaboration with Government, but also firm and critical stance, in voicing issues, paid off very well and got key persons, in this case St. Lucia’s Ambassador to the UN in New York, who was leading the St. Lucia delegation for the UPR, to view the causes put forward from the perspective of the NGO.  Not only did we win the confidence of the key persons representing the St. Lucia government, but an unprecedented promise of support for CARE and a partnership with government that will encourage other NGOs to do likewise.

The measure of success of this effort by ERI and CARE is long-term. Now the detailed work of following-up begins – a task for CARE on the local scene. The recommendations outlined in the report on St. Lucia lobbying is critical to achieving the success of this work.

In conclusion, a significant aspect of my experience of ERI and their witness and presence in Geneva is the life of the Brothers as a community living and witnessing in the spirit of Edmund Rice.  Amidst the diplomacy of the work of ERI in Geneva there is a wellspring of trust, support, prayer, friendship that the Brothers return to after the task of the day. I thank Brian, Denis and Moy for the experience of welcome, sharing, hospitality and brotherhood that forms a fundamental aspect of the life of ERI. It was no doubt an inspiring, enriching, learning and rewarding fruitful experience of the work of ERI.

Br Barry Noel fpm

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