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U.S. Youth Observer Travels to Geneva!

March 4, 2013|By Brooke Loughrin, U.S. Youth Observer


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Bonjour from Geneva! On my first overseas trip as the U.S. Youth Observer, I am spending one week at the U.S. Permanent Mission in Geneva, the United States’ largest overseas multilateral diplomatic post, reporting on the range of important international issues covered at the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva. The range of international issues covered here is so broad that the U.S. has appointed four ambassadors to serve in Geneva: the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva; the U.S. Permanent Representative to the World Trade Organization; the U.S. Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament; and the U.S. Representative to the Human Rights Council. Every day, the U.S. Mission in Geneva engages on issues as diverse as refugee crises, global health, international law, economic development, the environment, the internet, human rights, and disarmament.

This week, I will also be working with the 2013 Internet Freedom Fellows (IFF). The IFF program  brings human rights and digital activists from across the globe to Geneva, Washington, DC, and Silicon Valley to meet with fellow activists, members of civil society, and the private sector engaged in technology and human rights, the media and U.S. and international government leaders to discuss human rights and freedom of expression online. This year’s IFF are from China, Russia, Ghana, Nigeria, Sudan, and New Zealand.

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Last night, I had the opportunity to meet the IFF for the first time, and I was stunned by the remarkable accomplishments of these courageous, young human rights and digital activists. Here is a brief overview of their work to promote freedom of expression and human rights:

  • Mac-Jordan Disu-Degadjor (@MacJordaN), an IFF from Ghana, is a co-founder and executive of Blogging Ghana. He promotes freedom of expression through blogs and social media both on and off-line. Since 2009, he and other young Ghanaians have organized 18 BarCamps across Ghana, providing aspiring Ghanaian bloggers with technical help and networking opportunities.
  • FreedomFellowsfromChinaandGhanaattheUN_650Michael Anti (@mranti), an IFF from China, is known inside and outside of China for his career as a journalist, his 2012 Ted Talk, and his commitment to freedom of speech as a fundamental human right. In 2005, Microsoft MSN was forced to delete his award-winning blog under pressure from the Chinese government, causing a media uproar.
  • Edetaen Ojo (@EdetOjo; @MRA_Nigeria), an IFF from Nigeria, is the director of The Media Rights Agenda, an organization that focuses on freedom of expression, access to information, and media development. He has over 20 years of experience promoting and defending internet freedom as part of the broader right to freedom of expression, through monitoring transgressions and limitations on freedom and human rights online. He organized the movement that led the Nigerian legislature to pass the Freedom of Information Act, which empowers journalists to seek and access information from government agencies. 
  • Grigory Okhotin (@okhotin; @OvdInfo), an IFF from Russia, is a prominent journalist and human rights activist. After experiencing detainment for writing about censorship and human rights violations in Russia, he co-founded a portal (www.ovdinfo.org)  to provide a public forum for sharing information about Russian citizens detained while exercising their right to freedom of assembly. His website provides real-time information about those who have been detained, and features interview with activists describing the nature of their arrest and the conditions of their confinement.
  • HumanRightsWatch_650Usamah Mohamed (@simsimt), an IFF from Sudan, is a computer programmer and human rights activist. During the recent waves of anti-government demonstrations in Sudan, he organized peaceful demonstrations and supplied international media outlets with pictures and news on demonstrations throughout the country. The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum follows his blog daily, considering it an important source of news and opinions about Sudan.
  • Bronwen Robertson, an IFF from New Zealand, is the Director of Operations for a London based non-profit called Small Media which works to counter Iran’s efforts to block websites and censor information. In Iran, she spearheaded a research project and report entitled, “LGBT Republic of Iran: An Online Reality”, which led to a number of projects that work to protect the rights of LGBT individuals in Iran. The rights of LGBT people in Iran are comprehensively and systematically denied by the Iranian government, exposing them to horrific punishment, bullying and risk of suicide.
Today, the IFF and I spent the afternoon at the UN Office in Geneva (UNOG) to learn more about the history of the programs and specialized agencies that are based in Geneva. We also had the chance to visit the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and to meet with the Geneva advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, Philippe Dam.

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The UNHRC is an inter-governmental body within the UN system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights across the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations. The U.S. was recently elected by the UN General Assembly to a second term on the Council in a highly competitive race among several qualified Western candidates that are all strong champions of human rights. Since the U.S. was first elected to the Council in 2009, the U.S. has worked with other members to address human rights crises in areas around the globe, including Libya and Syria; establish a Special Rapporteur to assess human rights violations in Iran; pass resolutions on the need to protect the rights of women and girls; and turn global attention to civil and political rights, such as freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of religion and belief.

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In the evening, I attended the opening of the "Faces of Geneva" exhibition at the Palais des Nations. The exhibition, created by Swiss-American photographer Josh Fassbind, includes a portrait of one individual living in Geneva from each of the 193 countries that make-up the United Nations. For each photograph, Fassbind asked the participants to pose in their favorite part of the city or of the canton and to describe their experience of the city in a single word.


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