Two of SI’s UN Representatives in Geneva, Sabine Kinzer and Sina Stiffler, decided it was time to get Swiss Soroptimists inside the UN buildings, so they could see what it is all about.  Sina writes this blog for SI about the visit.

The UN’s second biggest centre is found in Geneva, a comparably small city in western Switzerland.  For security reasons the UN in Geneva can only be visited by guided tours.  This makes it difficult for many people to visit the UN site, including Swiss people who live nearby.

The UN is located in the middle of the beautiful Ariana Park which overlooks lake Geneva, and on a clear day you can even see the highest mountain of Europe, Mont Blanc.  The Ariana Park was bequeathed to the City of Geneva by Gustave de Revilliod de la Rive on three conditions, one of which is that peacocks should be freely allowed to rome the grounds of the park, and they still do to this day!

We were shown around by very knowledgable guides and were divided into three groups – two for Geman speakers, and one for French speakers.
The question came up why Geneva became the second biggest UN centre in the world.  It all started when a Geneva businessman, Henry Dunant, travelled in Northern Italy in 1859.  By coincidence he witnessed the battle of Solferino which is renownd for the suffering of 40,000 wounded soldiers, whom due to lack of facilities, were left on the battle field.  Dunant was moved into action.  Consequently he published his famous book , “Memories of Solferino”, which in turn led to the foundation of the International Committee of the Red Cross.  The Red Cross continues to ensure protection and assistance for victims of armed conflicts and strife to this day and its international headquarters remain in Geneva.
Later, on the 22 August 1864 several European states met in Geneva and signed the first Geneva Convention. The first Geneva Convention defined the “rules of international law for the protection of vicitms of armed conflict”, and is inextricably linked to the International Committee of the Red Cross.  Already Geneva was establishing itself as a place for global leaders to meet and agree on international principles and action.
After First World War the League of Nations was founded in Geneva to provide a forum for resolving international disputes. It was then a natural step for the UN to set up a Centre in Geneva.  The buildings that were onced used by the Leauge of Nations with their high corridors and magnificent views are still used to this day.  The buildings are also now home to  many sculptures and pictures relating to human rights that were given to UN by member countries as presents.

All the Soroptimists were taken into one hall and were informed on how the big conferences are organized: 193 UN member countries sit in alphabetical order in international conferences including sessions of the ILO (International Labour Organization), and the WHO (World Health Organisation).  SI UN Reps, as NGO representatives, get to sit in the back rows.

The guides took us to the new buildings with several huge round halls where big conferences can take place simultaneously.  CEDAW and the Universal Periodic Review (the Human Rights Council’s review instrument) meet in these buildings.  The official languages of the UN are English, French, Chinese, Arabic, Spanish and Russian.  Meetings are translated ‘live’ and you can listen to the proceedings in the language that is best for you through a special earpiece.

Through being an SI UN Representative I have been privileged to see the workings of the UN from the inside.  Thinking about everything that has happened in history in these buildings can be quite humbling.  The signing important declarations, negoatiating peace agreements and the creation of new international organisations have all happened here.  All of us on the tour had a wonderful time, and it is was fascinating seeing the UN through the eyes of a visitor.

Sina Stiffler