Human Rights and International Advocacy – A Reflection on My Time in Geneva

“When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.”

– Helder Camara, former Archbishop of Recife, Brazil

Recently I was offered an opportunity to attend a training on Human Rights and International Advocacy with Edmund Rice International in Geneva. Of course I was thrilled by the opportunity, the fact that I was going to learn about what I am very passionate about, advocacy and building international networks, which I hope might aid my work with children and families I work with in the west of Melbourne. However, what I didn’t foresee was that, I was walking into a life changing experience. I did not know that my perspective about the world would change and consequently would affect how I do my work, in a positive way.

On 27th October, nine participants including myself made it to Geneva, after 3 participants were refused a visa to Switzerland. Participants included two from India, two from Africa, two from South America, one from Timor-Leste, one from the Philippines and myself from Australia. Br Brian Bond and his team, Br. Tino and Br. Bernard warmly welcomed us to their residence for a meal and opening ritual. We were later taken to a nearby hotel which became our home for two weeks.

The training officially started on the 28th October and was successfully concluded on the afternoon of the 8th November. We began the training by being introduced to the passionate ERI team and their amazing work and we also shared our own work and experiences. We were also introduced to the beautiful Geneva and its rich history.

As the core of the training, we over consumed information, I hope, on history of UN, Human Rights, Sustainable Development Goals, UN Treaties and Treaty Bodies, UN Mechanisms, International Advocacy, ERI work in depth, Climate Change with special attention to Laudato Si, early advocacy including work of Jesus and the difference between a charity approach and justice approach.

To put training in to practice, we attended various UN-in-action sessions, including the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Bolivia and a Treaty Body session on Bosnia Herzegovinia. The sessions were eye opening. The detailed discussion and the way governments were trying to defend themselves from being international shamed on their handling of things at their respective countries, was incredible.
Various representatives presented to us including a representative from the Australia Permanent Mission, UN Special Procedures, the UN High Commission for Refugees, International NGOs based in Geneva and many more.
In the end, we were asked to make a plan of action to be implemented back home, which we did successfully.

What shocked me was the among of vital information we or the entire world are unaware of, but which affect our daily lives. But importantly, the energy and passion of ERI team on the delivery and planning of the training is unmatched.
I could go on reflecting for infinity but all I want to say is a heartfelt thank you to OLT, ERMO and formation team for offering me this opportunity. Thanks too to ERCRS team and Board for filling in for me when I was away. And a Big thank you to ERI Geneva Team (Brs. Brian, Tino, Bernard and Kevin) for the hospitality, generosity and wisdom.

I look forward to sharing my learnings with everyone I can reach. God bless.

– Biong Biong
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