Friday, April 25, 2008

Switching Sides?

After I quit my job In Bosnia, I stayed in Sarajevo for another 6 weeks to travel to Kosovo and Belgrade, but mainly to write. Because I did not work anymore, I had additional time to read as well, and one of the books I read was a book by Richard Holbrooke, called 'To End a War'. Holbrooke is a controversial person in Bosnia, and his book is met with sceptisism. He was the one who was the US 'peace broker', and the leading US diplomat/ politician who made the frame work and let the negotiations to the Dayton Agreement.

I found the book an easy read, and the writer, with all his personality flaws, fascinating. Fascinating, because he did what I want to be able to do in my career as well: to jump ships, and to keep on doing that. I.e.: he had a career in which he kept on jumping between the private and the public sector. In Holland this seems impossible; it is as if it is not seen as 'jumping ships', but 'switching sides'. Once you have chosen for the public sector, it is very hard to get into the private sector (although the other way around is possible, but if you want to go back in private after a while, it seems difficult). And that is a shame. I believe that they can both benefit from each other, and I believe that working for the public sector should be rewarded in the private sector (in the US you see very often that a high ranking banker becomes a secretary of treasure - think Henry Paulson, or think his predecessor, John Snow, who did public work while in private office); that is how it should be. My dad used to say that what happens in the US, happens 30 years later in Holland. Well, let's hope that that is true. Because Holbrook is about 36 years my senior. So there is hope- maybe in 30 years it is possible...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Universal Periodic Review

This week the human rights situation in the Netherlands was discussed in a body of the UN, namely in the Human Rights Council. The seat of this council is in Geneva, in one the the two headquarters of the UN (the other being in New York).
It was the first time the situation in the Netherlands was under review; the Human Rights Council is a new UN body that scrutenizes the HR situation in all countries in the world, not just that of those who have a questionable track record. The review is called Universal Periodic Review, the Un acronym being UPR and the acronym for the State under Review being SuR (guess why).
The review is done based on a report by the country itself, a report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (not surprisingly abbreviated to OHCHR) and the reports of several national Non-Governmental Organizations. One of those NGO's invited me to be part of their delegation to the proceedings, so my name was on the list- my profession being 'writer', according to the attendance list (I am very proud of that).

The UPR was odd. It is a highly politicized event, whereas the idea is that it is not. Holland was criticized by Iran, Algeria and Belarus because of allegations that it practices torture in its prisons, and Pakistan asked Holland questions about the Geert Wilders movie Fitna. In an informal meeting a few days later, the Permanent Representative of Pakistan (that is the Pakistani Ambassador to the UN) admitted that Pakistan did not want to ask this question, but felt some political pressure from the countries of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the OIC, of which Pakistan is the current president. So much for no politics...

For a while it looked like Holland was the bad boy in class, whereas Morocco and Tunisia, who got complements from their friends because of their report, seemed the world- champion in Human Rights. The UPR was an interesting piece of 'politicized non- politicization', and i have not figured out yet what I find of it. It is indeed fair that the situation all around the globe get attention. However, I am not sure whether this form of reviewing does not water down the interest for other, and sometimes more pertinent human rights situations...

But it was interesting for another reason: it was a reunion of my time in New York. The man who was the deputy Permanent Representative of the Netherlands to the UN in New York (and thereby one of my bosses) is now the Dutch Human Rights Ambassador at large and one of my fellow interns at that same mission was during the UPR the spokes person for the NGO delegation. Seeing those people in this UN setting, made me almost nostalgic, and for a morning it was again fall of 2002, winter 2003, in which I was in NYC and pretended to save the world. As an intern...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The end of a season...

...was today. Today was my last day of the ski season 2007/ 2008. The beauty of living in Switzerland, is that the skiing, just like in Bosnia, is excellent. Whereas the ski conditions (it est 'snow') in Bosnia where much better than here, Switzerland has some of the most amazing ski-resorts in the world. And if they are not to your liking, you can go to France. Which I most of the time did, admittedly.
Today I went to Chamonix, and I think I did the, hands down, coolest run ever, called La Vallee Blanche. A slope which took me about 4 hours, and which was almost all fresh powder. I have skied since I was 4, and this was one of the best days. Well, not counting the cable car ride to the top, which I did with my eyes closed (no joke)- I am suffering from a sudden but serious form of Acrophobia. While roping down (!) from the cable car station to the slope, I seriously considered crying. However, since that would have been both uncool and not helpful, I rejected the idea. Nevertheless, it was a great run. And a worthy end of a season.

And the end of one season is the beginning of another- the wedding season: over the coming 6 months I have 6 weddings, and counting. One is in France, one is in Spain and one is in Brazil. I am thinking of making a career switch- and become a wedding planner for my friends- at least I get to go to friendlier places than as a lawyer in humanitarian law...

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Track Impunity

Imagine: internal armed conflict breaks out. Your son is taken away from your home by a band of armed men, never to be seen again. The band of armed men fall under the responsibility of your own government. Five years later peace breaks out, but your son does not return. Imagine, five years later he is still not back, but you see one of the band members walk around your village. The government, the same government who is responsible for those who took your son, claims not to know where he is. He has disappeared.Imagine.

Some people do not need much imagination to understand the feeling that I would like to convey above. To them it has happened.
According to the European Court of Human Rights, the situation that you must be in as a next of kin amounts to degrading treatment; so when a government is engaged in enforced disappearances, it does not only violate the right to life and the right to a fair trail of the individual they let disappear, but they also violate the right to family life and the prohibition of torture with regard to the family members who stay behind.

And as we all know, violations of rights will usually end before a court. Even if the violators are states.

Currently I am working for a legal organization who makes this (and a lot of other things as well) happen- a Non- Governmental Organization called TRIAL. They indeed try to find the missing, try to get information about their whereabouts and try to get governments to give information on the lost loved-ones. People most effected and affected by war are usually the poorest, the least-developed, the ones without voices or contacts. However, becoming a victim of war can be bad luck of the draw- that is what I understood from the stories of my family in the 1940s and from my friends in BiH in the 1990s. It can happen to anyone. Even more so, for enforced disappearances you do not need a conflict. TRIAL recognizes that, and the lawyers who work there as well. They work for little money, next to their regular jobs as lawyers, to give voices, to find, to counter the bad luck of the draw and to Track Impunity. Always.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


For once I would like to use my blog to give good advice (although I do not know to whom in particular- see it as advice to all readers. And maybe don't see it as advice, but more as a tip): don't life life through dogmas.
Dogmatic thinking makes one less curious, less interested in the rest of the world, and it kills creativity. Life is a learning process, I figured out, sometimes the hard way. And a learning process implies failing at some things as well.

I come to this, because someone gave me a book he wrote, a children's book. In it, he wrote a dedication, which in translation is some much as:' "because life is for those who dare." And I like that thought. Life is indeed for those who dare. Think big, take risks, dare to do, don't be afraid to fail. Good things do not happen if you wait- they need to be actively pursued. I sound like a feel-good guru when saying those things, like a mental coach, but I like the phrase. And I'll use it, because I believe in it. As a motto, not as a dogma. Because life is indeed for those who dare. Amen!