Last week, I went to the United Nations. THE. UNITED. NATIONS. But before I talk about my visit, I am going to go back three years, back to when I made my first visit to the United Nations in New York.
I was interning for a women's rights organization in Manhattan, and my supervisor asked me if I wanted to attend CEDAW (Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) hearings at the UN. I jumped at the opportunity, and the next day I was in a room with diplomats and NGO representatives, listening to debates on major women's rights issues. Although the visit was intellectually gratifying, the actual visit to the UN building was not as impressive as I had imagined. The UN building was crummy. The CEDAW meeting room was in a trailer (yes, an ACTUAL trailer) behind the main entrance because it was not safe to be in the main building--when I walked passed the metal detectors I found a sign in big bold letters that said, "WARNING: ASBESTOS." The outside was beautiful but on the inside, things were falling apart and no one seemed to care, which I guess, for the cynics out there, is an accurate description of the UN.
When my IBJ supervisor told me that I could attend the Human Rights Council hearings at the UN headquarters in Geneva, I was excited, but also realistic. My romantic image of the UN as an efficient, sparkling building was long gone, and I prepared myself for yet another asbestos sign, maybe in French this time.
Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised.
The Geneva building is beautiful. It looks like a superhero headquarters! Everything sparkles, everything is modern, and everyone inside looks glamorous. It was the UN I expected to see three years ago, and it was worth the wait.
The Human Rights Council hearing was fast yet efficient. Diplomats and NGO representatives were discussing practical obstacles on how to reform human rights abuses in Mali, and discussed the possibility of creating a permanent UN mission in the country. It was inspiring to see actual human rights work in action--a glimpse into my future job.