Since my arrival in Geneva, I have already had so many opportunities to engage in the core United Nations agenda here—Human Rights.   I also had the joy of linking both with friends from our NGO office in New York and old friends who are now representing organizations in Geneva.

Some came to attend the 42nd Regular meeting of the Human Rights Council, which took place September 9 to 27.   The Human Rights Council is comprised of 47 nations responsible for promoting and protecting human rights globally.  Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, presided.

October 17 is International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. “Let us remember that ending poverty is not a matter of charity, but a question of justice.” – UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres

Among issues addressed were emerging forms of modern slavery. Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Urmila Bhoola, noted that 40 million people are enslaved globally. She called for accelerated action to address the scourge.  She said that anti-slavery efforts must be “systematic, scientific, strategic, sustainable, survivor-informed, and smart.”   Multiple other human rights concerns were considered, such as the situations in Venezuela, Sudan, Myanmar, the Ukraine, and Yemen.

Sr. Catherine Prendergast

Other colleagues visited especially to attend the Social Forum, which took place October 1 and 2.  It focused upon “The promotion and protection of the rights of children and youth through education.”   This theme coincides with the 30th anniversary of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (opened for signature on November 20, 1989, and taking force on September 2, 1990) and with International Youth Day (in August), which spotlighted “transforming education.”   The right to education is articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 26), UNESCO’s Convention Against Discrimination in Education, The Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 28) and within Sustainable Development Goal 4, as well as in other instruments.

These themes are close to the heart of the Vincentian Family in so many different ways, particularly as we approach International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, October 17.   There is a very close nexus between education and the elimination of poverty, in addition to the links between ensuring children’s rights, their access to education, ending inequalities, and ensuring that children are safe and protected.

What struck me is that the Social Forum was really about amplifying voices from the grass roots. The focus should never be just on the people at the “head table,” but rather on those who experience poverty and inequalities.  That was really strong. There was an emphasis upon equality of opportunity.  And we know that is key to emerging from poverty.

Cynthia Mathew, CJ, and Cecilia O’Dwyer, IBVM, were visiting Geneva for the Human Rights Council and Social Forum.

Among topics addressed were girls’ access to education in Africa, overcoming barriers to learning for street children, understanding poverty and realizing education for all, education for indigenous children, safe schools, education and peace, inclusive and quality education, creativity, youth perspectives on changes needed to prepare for future types of employment, inclusive education, the nexus between education and children’s human rights, and many more.

“The focus should never be just on the people at the “head table,” but rather on those who experience poverty and inequalities. That was really strong.”

Of particular interest was the screening of a film entitled, “A Path to Dignity: The Power of Human Rights Education.” It is a 28-minute movie which presents three stories illustrating the impact of human rights education on: school children in India; law enforcement agencies in Australia; and women victims of violence in Turkey.   To access the film, click the video at the beginning of this article, or go to this link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQeTvTCncrU

The Social Forum 2020 will meet for two days in Geneva, and will focus on a topic close to Vincentian hearts– “good practices, success stories, lessons learned and current challenges in combating poverty and inequalities.”   To be inventive in addressing poverty and inequalities is our Vincentian call.

For more information about the 2020 Forum, email the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights at: socailforum@ohchr.org


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