Joshua Faber '05
Class of 1966 Dickey Intern
United States Mission to the United Nations in Geneva
On January 15, 2004, I left Philadelphia en route to arrive in Geneva, Switzerland the following day. I had never been outside the United States before, did not know any details about the job I would be doing, and did not speak a word of French. On May 14, 2004, I returned from Geneva to Philadelphia. In the meantime, I visited three nations, was an actor helping to implement U.S. foreign policy on a multilateral scale, and did not pick up a word of French.
During the winter and spring terms of 2004, I was the intern for the "political and specialized agencies (PSA)" section of the United States Mission to the United Nations and Other Organizations in Geneva, Switzerland. A mission is similar to an embassy, except that an embassy can only be located in another state's capital city. About 10 people comprised the PSA section, which has several different duties. About half of the section is focused on human rights and other political issues that are brought before the United Nations in Geneva. In addition, a health attach� (who attended World Health Organization meetings), an international resource officer, and a labor officer (a fellow Dartmouth alum who attended International Labor Organization meetings) also worked out of the PSA office. Most of my time was spent assisting those people working on political and human rights issues, though I did help the other members of the section when necessary. The mission also is home to several other sections besides our political section: the economic section, the refugee and migration section, the disarmament section, and the public affairs office are some examples. My job rarely necessitated working together with these other sections; however I did get to know the people who worked in these sections and what exactly they did through asking questions and attending staff meetings.
I used the first days of my internship primarily to get acclimated to the procedures in the office as well as for the completion of my pre-arranged security clearance. Once this was completed, I was able to access confidential documents that were located on the computer, which would be vital to the work I would do for the following months. Embassies and missions communicate with each other and Washington through cables, which are sent out from one post and can be read by anyone in the State Department with a security clearance. On average day, about 100 cables were sent in total from all posts throughout the world. Therefore, I could pick and choose which issues I was interested in, and this was a way I could see what steps the State Department was taking throughout the world to implement U.S. policies on a daily basis, as Washington often sent out cables that gave guidance in response to questions or concerns emanating from various posts.
After spending my first days on the job becoming familiar with office protocol (and security procedures, which were extremely strict,) I began attending working groups at the United Nations. There are working groups on various issues that convene annually, usually for two weeks, at different times in order to discuss progress (or lack thereof) in a specific area. A working group consists of any nation or non-governmental organization (NGO) that wishes to participate along with invited experts in the field being discussed. The PSA section at a minimum monitors all U.N. working groups, and it usually participates actively in them. I attended my first working group, which discussed the "Elimination of racism, xenophobia, and other forms of intolerance through the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action" along with an officer in the political section. She explained the background of the Durban Declaration, which the United States did not sign, and procedures of this working group, which was similar to the others I subsequently attended. The Durban Declaration is one of the many treaties that the U.S. has not agreed to (along with the Declaration of the Rights of Women and that of the Rights of the Child) because, although we agree with the general ideas and principles, there are specifics within the text that are contrary to U.S. law. It was interesting to see a general divide between the countries of the northern and southern hemispheres on this issue, as the southern countries insist money is necessary to combat racism while the north is reluctant to agree that this is the best way of eliminating racism. The U.S. had not participated in this working group during the past two years, and though we only participated on a minor scale this year, most nations took this as a positive sign that the U.S. was once again willing to discuss various ways of combating racism throughout the world.
The working group on the "right to development" (RTD) was the second two-week working group that I attended. By this point, the PSA section trusted that I knew enough about how the U.N. operates in order to allow me to attend and monitor these meetings myself. Again, as in the previous working group, there was a general north-south divide, as the south believed immediate aid should be given by northern states to those of the south in order for them to be able to develop. Most northern states were using tactics designed to postpone monetary payments, insisting that stable political infrastructure is necessary to ensure that these funds would not be embezzled and would be put to their correct, intended uses. The United States was the only state to reject the concept of RTD out of hand. Our position was that obligations were only possible between state governments and their citizens. One state cannot be obliged to another state, and therefore northern states should not be obliged to given aid to those of the south. Therefore, we reject out of hand the concept that there is a "right to development." The U.S. insists that no state should hinder another's development, but the right to development is not a human right.
The right to development is a specific example of a general divide between rights in the United Nations. There are two distinct sets of rights that the U.N. recognizes: civil and political rights (CPR) and economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR). The U.S. maintains that all people should enjoy CPR, but ESCR (such as right to housing, right to health, etc.) are not necessarily inherent rights that should be classified in the same manner as those under the CPR category (such as freedom of speech, right not to be tortured, etc.) Whereas the U.S. insists that ESCR can only attained only after CPR are established through a stable government that enacts policies designed to help a nation in the long-term, many southern states insist that the creation of a government that respects CPR is only possible after the economic and social network is established to maintain that government. Other northern states tend to take a mixed view, insisting that CPR and ESCR are equally important as rights but remaining reluctant to provide massive funding in order to make the establishment and adherence to the currently accepted ESCR feasible.
During this RTD working group, my main task was to take notes and have a general idea about each participating state's views. I then relayed these positions to the people at the mission who were more familiar with the topic than I was. They were able to determine which countries had modified their stances since the previous year's working group. They were also interested to see what the invited experts were saying. This also helped them see the direction that the general debate was proceeding in, thus enabling them to write a statement that they would make in the working group on behalf of the United States criticizing the right to development.
I would estimate that for over half of the working group's duration, I was left alone to monitor the proceedings, while for the remaining portion I was aided by other members of the PSA section. Although it was a little intimidating at first (as my boss told me initially not to �screw up, since you are now single-handedly representing three-hundred-million people�,) I began to enjoy listening to the debate and forming my own opinions about the issue. Members from NGOs and other nations began to come over to ask me questions about the U.S. position, and I quickly found myself doing research both before and after meetings as well as during lunch to learn more about the background to RTD and U.S. actions in previous working groups. In addition, merely having casual conversations with people in the office helped me understand the American stance as well as the positions of other states. By the end of the session, I found that I became very well versed in the issues and I understood almost everything (both procedurally and relating to the issues at hand) that was going on in the working group. In addition, being by myself gave me the opportunity to begin meeting delegates from other states, as they asked me questions and I did the same to them.
The last working group that I attended was the working group on the "Elaboration of an Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)." The optional protocol would be created in order to allow individuals to bring a complaint before a United Nations committee if they felt that their government was not providing their ESCR. Since the U.S. does not recognize ESCR and has not signed onto the ICESCR, we would not be subject to these complaints. However, we are always interested in (and usually opposed to) the creation of new U.N. instruments since we bear a large percentage of the financial burden for funding all U.N. committees. There was great debate by many states during this working group. Many states from the south reasoned that since there was an optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), there should also be one to the ICESCR. Others, even some such as India and Poland that were supporters of ESCR, insisted that ESCR were fundamentally different than CPR and not amenable to the same structures applicable to CPR. For instance, anyone living in any state should be able to bring a complaint to the U.N. if they are jailed for dissent and their state is a signatory to the ICCPR. However, if a state agrees to the ICESCR but does not provide housing or adequate food for all of its citizens, it should not be held responsible in a U.N. setting, since it may not have the resources to do so. There was also great debate on what jurisdiction this complaints mechanism would have and what ramifications its recommendations would have. Needless to say, the United States tried to derail all attempts to establish this complaints mechanism since it is not a party to the ICESCR nor does it want to fund a committee that it feels would not be useful.
The main reason that the mission accepted me as an intern was to help them during the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). The CHR is an annual six-week session taking place during March and April that deals with various human rights issues. The outcomes of all the working groups that take place throughout the year are presented at the CHR, where they are officially voted on and, if passed by a majority, adopted. All nations participate in the CHR, but only 53 member-states are able to record final votes, and the remaining nations are observers. These observers can participate and shape the text of resolutions that are brought forth to be voted on, however only members can vote on these resolutions. Member states, as well as observers, break themselves off into five regional groups: African, Asian, Eastern European, Latin American and Caribbean, and Western European and Other (WEOG), to which the U.S. belongs.
Many people from both the State Department in Washington and the U.S. Mission to the U.N. in New York come to represent the United States during this six-week forum. In total, the U.S. had over fifty representatives that came for either the entire six-week duration or for a portion of it. My initial job, before these delegates came in March, was to prepare a briefing book that we provided to all U.S. delegates in order to help them become familiar with the issues they would be discussing. There were over 100 resolutions and decisions drafted and debated during the six-week session. Most countries are interested in only those that directly affect them. The U.S. was the only nation that participated in the consultations and drafting of each of these resolutions. My job was to get together with my boss and determine which representatives who were coming should be assigned to follow which resolutions. Then, I had to communicate with Washington to determine who in Washington was following each of the resolutions, and I had to pair the person in Geneva with the person in Washington. This was necessary because every delegate in Geneva was to get specific instructions from Washington regarding text of the resolution and how the U.S. was to vote on the final document that was produced. The briefing book also contained several other stockpiles of information, including the rules and regulations of the CHR, general U.S. guidance for the CHR, updated cables that were sent about the CHR, seating maps and schedules of informal gatherings, etc. Putting this together (and subsequently making over 50 copies of the book, which was over 200 pages long) was mostly an exercise in patience, but it was a valuable resource for those people who came to Geneva as U.S. delegates, as evidenced by the fact that these books were carried around all the time.
On average, I was at work from 7:30 a.m. until at least 8:00 p.m. during the six weeks of the CHR. Every morning began with a U.S. delegation meeting, which I attended. Upon listening to everything that the delegates and ambassadors had to say, I could keep track of what progress was made dealing with various issues and what would be coming up that day. Often, there would be informal meetings where the text of a specific resolution would be debated. After each of these meetings, a revised text was produced, and it was my job to gather all of these texts, scan them into the computer system, and make sure they were sent to Washington in order for them to give us specific guidance. In addition to keeping track of the progress of these informal meetings, I also was busy attending the formal CHR gathering. Though specific resolutions and decisions are not drafted in this formal meeting, countries give official speeches about various topics that are being discussed by the CHR. Many U.S. delegates took turns listening to the various speeches and taking notes, but it was my job to make sure that there was always someone at the U.S. desk taking notes and ensuring that we were always represented. This was important because if the U.S. was ever criticized by name, we were allowed a "right-of-reply" to defend ourselves. In the past, several countries have taken advantage of when we had no one present to attack our policies, so we wanted to ensure that this did not happen this year.
I also was present for many WEOG meetings. In these informal gatherings, the western countries discussed common goals and the best manner to attain these. Strategy was often discussed, which helped me realize how things were done behind the scenes. Often, pressure would be put on a country advancing a resolution that the WEOG group did not approve of, and more often than not, this pressure would be effective in subtly suppressing or transforming this resolution to something the WEOG members approved.
All resolutions and decisions discussed in the CHR were broken down into about 20 agenda items. Some dealt with country-specific resolutions (which are most important to the United States) while others dealt with more general worldwide resolutions (such as limiting racism.) The United States' main objective this year, as always, was to pass a resolution condemning the human rights situation in Cuba. Much of our day was spent lobbying other commission members, both in Geneva as well as directing senior level members of the State Department to communicate with their counterparts in �swing-countries�. After over five weeks of incessant (and sometimes frantic) efforts, the resolution did pass by a one-vote margin. The U.S. also sponsored a resolution condemning the human rights situation in China, but this failed by a large majority. This was expected from the outset, as many of the commission members maintain a heavy reliance on China economically and they would face severe repercussions if they voted for the resolution.
For each agenda item, the U.S. had the option to make a speech about our general proclivities, and often we decided to do so. If a nation chooses to make a speech, it is required that they pass out copies of the speech to all members and non-member states present at the CHR. Often, these speeches were passed back and forth between Geneva and Washington until they were agreed upon. After this, even more changes were made. I had the job of making sure the person giving the speech had the final copy and to ensure that copies of the final speech (often not finalized until an hour before the speech was to be given) were made and distributed to all countries.
During the course of the CHR, I met delegates from nations that spanned all six continents. Many were based in Geneva, but some were from their own capital specifically in Geneva to lobby for their objectives. I also had the opportunity to meet other high-ranking officials involved in the CHR, including the acting high commissioner for human rights (Bertie Ramacharan) as well as the Chairman of the CHR (Mike Smith), who this year was the ambassador from Australia. During the CHR, Kofi Annan came to Geneva to give a speech insisting how important it was for the U.N. to support and maintain human rights throughout the world. In addition, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with two U.S. ambassadors. One, Kevin Moley, was the permanent U.S. representative in Geneva and I got to know him very well during my three months in Geneva. I frequently would ride alone with him in his bullet-proof Mercedes from the U.S. Mission to the U.N. In addition, during the six-week CHR, I spent lots of time with Richard Williamson, who was the U.S. Ambassador in charge of the CHR delegation. I did a number of tasks for him during the course of the CHR and got to know him very well, and at the end of the CHR he and his wife invited me to lunch to thank me. I don't know of any other opportunity that would have allowed me to get to know delegates from nations around the world as well as high-ranking officials from the U.S.
In addition, I had the opportunity to personally lobby for the U.S. position for one resolution. As mentioned before, all resolutions are drafted in informal sessions. Informal sessions for different resolutions often take place at the same time. When one delegate had two different informal sessions to attend on resolutions they were covering, I was often asked to sit in on one of these informal sessions to find out what changes were being made. In one instance, a delegate told me to attend an informal session while giving me a brief summary of talking points detailing the U.S. position on the resolution. In this session, I spoke to other delegations about the U.S. position and made specific points about the text of the resolution that America could not accept and alternatives that would be agreeable to the U.S. Doing this gave me the opportunity to aid my country in the attainment of one of its foreign policy goals, however limited in scope and importance this specific resolution was.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time and my internship in Geneva. The work-days were very long, and the pay was non-existent. However, the knowledge and experience I gained from working at the U.S. mission are inimitable, invaluable, and irreplaceable. I did not agree with everything that the U.S. did, nor did I agree with all of the U.S. policy decisions. However, I now can better appreciate and understand the motivations behind many of our foreign policy decisions. I would recommend this internship to anyone who is interested in foreign policy or for anyone who enjoys interacting with delegates from other states in a multilateral setting. I would be difficult to find another job or internship that I could have accepted that would have allowed me to develop more intellectually while simultaneously enabling me to experience more cultural diversity within a four-month span of time.
Joshua Faber '05 is a Government and History major from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He spent the winter and spring 2004 terms in Geneva, Switzerland interning in the political section of the United States Mission to the United Nations during the 60th Commission on Human Rights. His interest in political science is not limited to foreign affairs, as he interned in his Congressman's office while participating in the government department's Washington, D.C. "foreign" study program. At this time next year, Josh has plans of attending law school, preferably in a city with professional sports teams.