Chapter 2

multilateralism in action

historical places

Salle de la Réformation

 

Salle de la Réformation

© UN Photo: UN Archives Geneva

In 1920, the Secretariat of the League of Nations moved to Palais Wilson in Geneva (formerly the Hôtel National), from London. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Council of the League of Nations met regularly at Palais Wilson. To meet the demand for a conference facility with a greater capacity, the meetings of the Assembly of the League of Nations between 1920 and 1929 were held in the Salle de la Réformation, a Geneva concert hall built in 1867. From 1930 to 1936, these meetings were held in the city’s Bâtiment Electoral.

Forty-one delegations took part in the first meeting of the Assembly in November 1920 at the Salle de la Réformation, which was renovated ahead of time to provide enough space for delegates, journalists and the general public.

The Salle de la Réformation was the room in which the League developed. It was there that Germany was welcomed as a member in 1926. This act was a turning point of the interwar period, marking significant progress towards the easing of international tensions. In the same room, Aristide Briand presented his project to establish a European federation, in September 1929.

After the Second World War, the room returned to its original use as a concert hall. Though it was demolished in the 1960s, a plaque can still be found today on Rue du Rhône in the Cité district of Geneva, indicating exactly where the building was located and the important role it played in supporting multilateralism.

REMEMBRANCE

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© UN Photo - Violaine Martin

Every year, UN Geneva comes together to commemorate events and people that have moved the world and impacted on the work and principles of the United Nations. We pay tribute to those who have stood up in the face of danger to support peace and human rights. We remember those who have lost their lives, pledging to keep their spirit alive as we strive to build a better world for future generations.

International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust (27 January 2019)

Every year, International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust presents
an opportunity to be informed about and remember the genocides and crimes against humanity that have been committed, and to honour and remember the victims of those atrocities.

Seventy-four years after the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, Benjamin Orenstein shared his testimony with hundreds of students at the Holocaust remembrance ceremony held this year at UN Geneva. The 93-year-old survivor is one of approximately 7,500 who escaped near-certain death in the largest Nazi extermination camp. 

An emotional documentary, Who Will Write Our History, was also screened to teach the numerous students in attendance about the important actions of a group of resistance fighters who risked their lives so that the truth would survive, even if they did not.

“An ideological battle is taking place and we hear the troubling, hateful echoes of eras long past, and noxious views moving into the mainstream,” warned the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, at the beginning of the year.

World Radio Day (13 February 2019)

Using radio to promote peace and counter fake news goes back further than one might think. In fact, in 1936, Members of the League of Nations signed the first International Convention concerning the Use of Broadcasting in the Cause of Peace.

Today, digital radio has replaced transistors in many parts of the world; however, the importance of an audio medium for broadcasting important news and information has not changed. In his broadcast for World Radio Day, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, highlighted the fact that even in today’s increasingly digital world, radio still reaches more people, including some of the world’s most difficult-to-reach populations, than any other media platform.   

For the United Nations, especially in peacekeeping operations, radio is a vital way of informing, reuniting and empowering people affected by war. That was the message shared by UN Radio journalists working in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Senegal and South Sudan, who spoke to UN Geneva radio team members Alexandre Carette, Alpha Diallo, Daniel Johnson and Sarah Mbengue via a live link-up.

International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade (25 March 2019)

To mark International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, on 25 March, UN Geneva screened the documentary From Sugar to Rebellion. This moving documentary focuses on the inhuman conditions in which
more than 7 million Africans were deported and exploited. The film also denounces the racial dichotomy of the slavery system which still prevails in society today. The exhibition Remember Slavery, Say It Loud was also on view, featuring the work of 21 African diasporan architects, who through their perseverance and creative talent have gained recognition for their contributions to their field. 

International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda (7 April 2019)

“Never again!”, cried a group of 25 students in unison to mark the 25th International Day of Reflection on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. In all six official UN languages and Kinyarwanda, the students shared their message of hope for a brighter future. UN Geneva Director-General Michael Møller, the Permanent Representative of Rwanda, François Xavier Ngarambe, and genocide survivors, ceremoniously lit candles and shared a heartfelt minute of silence.   

“We are here today not just to remember the genocide in Rwanda, but to speak. To speak wherever we witness hate,” said the Director-General, denouncing dangerous hate speech and discrimination.

The annual ceremony brings together the international community in Geneva to pay tribute to the victims and the survivors, to recognize the process of reconciliation and renewal in Rwanda, and to recommit to the collective responsibility of genocide prevention.

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© UN Photo - Violaine Martin

World Press Freedom Day (3 May 2019)

The media belongs to all of us, and we all must protect its freedom. Sadly, there are countless stories of journalists and members of the press who are threatened, arrested, beaten and killed while working to inform the public about devastating attacks on human rights, environmental disasters, and more. 

Their stories are emblematic of the enormous threats the media is under globally.   

“No democracy is complete without access to transparent and reliable information,”stressed the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, in his message on World Press Freedom Day.

The Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, said that “in this environment of threat, we continue to hear politicians, so fearful of criticism and investigation, denigrate the press as enemies”.

According to the UNESCO observatory of killed journalists, 1,373 journalists have been killed since 1993, of whom 56 were killed in 2019.

World Press Freedom Day 2019 was a wake-up call for many to become more focused on protecting the media, journalism and elections, which need to be defended in these times of growing disinformation. There can be no strong, stable, healthy democracies without a thriving media.   

Hear some remarks about World Press Freedom Day and what it represents.

International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers (29 May 2019)

Honouring those who have lost their lives in the cause of peace, an observance was held at UN Geneva to pay tribute to the dedication, courage and high level of professionalism of the many women and men who have served and continue to serve in United Nations peacekeeping operations. In 2019, more than 83,768 military and police personnel from 121 Member States, 12,607 civilian personnel and 1,245 UN Volunteers were deployed in 13 peacekeeping operations on four continents.   

“Peacekeeping is among the United Nations’ most noble and distinguished roles. It is at the very heart of our organization created to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” said UN Geneva Director-General Michael Møller.

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© UN Photo - Violaine Martin

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© UN Photo - Jean-Marc Ferré

World Humanitarian Day (19 August 2019)

World Humanitarian Day is a reminder of the day in 2003 when 22 people were killed at the United Nations office in Baghdad. The commemoration is an opportunity to pay tribute to those who have lost their lives in humanitarian service and to honour the thousands of aid workers who continue to provide much-needed support to people suffering in conflicts and disasters around the world.

The commemoration in 2019 highlighted the remarkable bravery of women humanitarians, whose dedication and selfless contributions unquestionably strengthen global humanitarian responses. UN Geneva Director-General Tatiana Valovaya, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, led a candle-lighting ceremony in honour of all humanitarians who have lost their lives working to make the world a better place.

International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (17 October 2019)

For International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, UN Geneva joined hands with ATD Fourth World to visit the Pâquis-Centre primary school in Geneva to talk with children and their teachers.   

Groups of students reflected on poverty and what it meant to them, in line with this year’s theme of acting together to empower children, their families and society to end poverty, and in the spirit of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which marked its 30th anniversary in November.

Through a variety of methods, they expressed themselves on the issues they found most important: inequalities, discrimination, exclusion, and the violation of rights.   

“Countries voted for the rights of the child, but those rights are still not respected in some countries,” said Ruth, a student in attendance. 

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© UN Photo - Adam Kane

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© UN Photo - Mariia Sorokina

International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People (29 November 2019)

A special meeting was held in the Council Chamber of the Palais des Nations in November to mark International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The day traditionally provides an opportunity for the international community to focus its attention on the question of Palestine. The Secretary-General noted that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remained one of the most intractable challenges facing the international community. 

“On this International Day of Solidarity, let us reaffirm our commitment to upholding the rights of the Palestinian people,” read a message by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres.
“The United Nations will not waver in its commitment to the Palestinian people as we strive to achieve their inalienable rights and build a future of peace, justice, security and dignity for Palestinians and Israelis alike.”

NGO EVENTS

5,142 representatives of 1,048 NGOs in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) were accredited to UN Geneva. This represented an increase of 7% compared to 2018.

96 NGO events were held in the Palais des Nations in 2019

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UN Geneva, a focal point for multilateral diplomacy

The complex issues discussed, and decisions made at meetings and events held at the Palais des Nations have a far-reaching impact on people everywhere around the world, every day. 

In 2019, high-profile world leaders, representatives of Member States, intergovernmental organizations, civil society, academia and the private sector were welcomed into the Palais des Nations to advance international cooperation.

UN Geneva supports the multilateral process through organizational, administrative, security, logistical, technical, language and documentation services. 

As the preferred venue of choice for the international community and beyond, UN Geneva continues to strengthen its ability to support and enhance meetings of global importance.

More than 12,300 meetings, conferences and events were hosted at the Palais des Nations in 2019, including the 40th–42nd sessions of the Human Rights Council, the annual sessions of the International Labour Conference and the World Health Assembly, and the First Global RefugeeForum.

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© UN Photo - Jean-Marc Ferré

Secretary-General António Guterres arrives at the Palais des Nations to participate in the first Global Refugee Forum on 17 December.

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© UN Photo - Pierre Albouy

King of the Kingdom of Tonga, His Majesty King Tupou VI (left) meets Director-General Tatiana Valovaya of the United Nations Office at Geneva (right).

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© UN Photo - Jean-Marc Ferré

Julienne Lusenge, President of Female Solidarity for Integrated Peace and Development (left), Secretary-General António Guterres (centre), and Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (right), launch a joint appeal for global action to prevent and end conflict-related and gender-based violence in February.

Read the Secretary-General’s remarks on conflict-related and gender-based violence.

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© UN Photo - Jean-Marc Ferré

TV5Monde filmed its Objectif Monde programme focused on the global climate crisis at the Palais des Nations in May. Titled, “What solutions to save the planet?”, the interview featured Secretary-General António Guterres and was broadcast to more than 60 million viewers in 84 countries.

Watch the full programme. 

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© UN Photo - Jean-Marc Ferré

Secretary-General António Guterres (centre), United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet (right), and President of the General Assembly María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (left), arrive at the opening of the 40th session of the Human Rights Council on 25 February.

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© UN Photo - Jean-Marc Ferré

At the 40th session of the Human Rights Council on 7 March, the 2019 Council President Coly Seck, Ambassador of the Republic of Senegal (left), with Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed (right), discuss progress on implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

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© UN Photo - Jean-Marc Ferré

Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir,  Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, addresses the 40th session of the Human Rights Council on 27 February.

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© UN Photo - Violaine Martin

Nasser Bourita, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Kingdom of Morocco, speaks to the press at the end of the second roundtable meeting on Western Sahara on 22 March.

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© LWF Photo - Albin Hillert

Archbishop Musa Panti Filibus, President of the Lutheran World Federation (left), speaks with UN Geneva Director-General Michael Møller (right) on 17 June.

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© UN Photo - Adam Kane

Jack Ma, Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group (left) and Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (right) participate in the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation on 21 January.

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© UN Photo - Jean-Marc Ferré

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of the Republic of Turkey (left) greets Secretary-General António Guterres (right) at a bilateral meeting during the Global Refugee Forum on 17 December.

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© UN Photo: Antoine Tardy

Memory Banda of the Republic of Malawi, Rebecca Kabuo of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Hamangaí Pataxó of the Federative Republic of Brazil and Nadia Murad of the Republic of Iraq participate in the Young Activists Summit on 10 December.

EXECUTIVE BRIEFINGS

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© UN Photo - Iryna Turtaieva

Executive Briefings have become an essential source of information for Geneva’s diplomatic community and International Geneva. This platform provides a space for senior UN officials to address current issues and lead dynamic discussions directly with delegates. The meetings help people across International Geneva become better informed about the global work of the UN, and enable a better understanding of the role of UN Geneva as the Organization’s operational hub in Europe.

In 2019, there were 19 Executive Briefings featuring high-level officials, including Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. Discussions focused on themes such as sustainable development, regional conflicts, opportunities for humanitarian assistance, peace and security, innovations in digital cooperation, the rule of law, and disarmament.

MISSIONS OF THE DIRECTOR-GENERAL IN 2019

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Michael Møller

January
World Economic Forum
Davos, Switzerland

Copenhagen International Fashion Fair
Copenhagen, Denmark

February
Oxford Guild
Oxford, United Kingdom

March
Meetings with Swiss parliamentarians to discuss the role of International Geneva
Bern, Switzerland

Religions and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Conference
Vatican City

April
Forum annuel de la Planta
Sion, Switzerland

Showcase 2030
Lausanne, Switzerland

Community of Chairpersons of the World Economic Forum Annual Retreat 2019
Zurich, Switzerland

May
Second edition of the Global Sustainability Forum
Rome, Italy

Global Network Advisory Board Summer Meeting of the World Economic Forum
San Francisco, United States

May-June
2019 Seminar for Special and Personal Representatives and Envoys of the UN Secretary General (SRSG)
Glion-sur-Montreux, Switzerland

June
XII Glion Colloquium
Glion-sur-Montreux, Switzerland

Meetings to bid farewell to the Host Country authorities
Bern, Switzerland

Tatiana Valovaya

August
United Nations Oath of Office Ceremony
New York, United States

September
Introductory meeting with Ignazio Cassis, Head of the
Federal Department of Foreign Affairs
Bern, Switzerland 

74th Session of the General Assembly and
UN Climate Action Summit
New York, United States

October
141st Assembly of the International Parliamentary Union
Belgrade, Serbia

November
International Colloquium: Global Civilizations from History to Sustainable Development Goals 
Milan, Italy

Meeting with the President of the International Olympic Committee, Olympic House
Lausanne, Switzerland 

Meeting with the President of the Union European Football Associations (UEFA)
Nyon, Switzerland 

INTERNATIONAL LAW SEMINAR EXPANDS ITS REACH

Since its inception in 1965, more than 1,250 people have travelled from 177 countries to take part in the International Law Seminar hosted by UN Geneva. This unique programme enables participants, many of whom are working legal professionals or academics, to widen their understanding of the work of the International Law Commission, and of the progressive development and codification of international law.

The 2019 seminar brought together 25 scholars, government officials and young lawyers specializing in international law. It included participants from two previously unrepresented Member States, San Marino and Solomon Islands. Gender balance within the seminar is a priority, and a nearly equal number of women and men have participated in the programme over the past five years. The International Law Seminar’s alumni network, created in 2018, also held its first conference in 2019 in Geneva. Participants in previous years’ seminars have begun coming back together to share stories and experiences about the impact and influence that the seminar has had on their careers.

Find out more about the International Law Seminar.

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Photos submitted by participants

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The 100Elles* project on gender and equality highlights the role of 100 women, people with marginalized orientations or gender identities and intersex people, who have made positive contributions to Geneva.
The project is organized by l’Escouade, a Geneva-based feminist organization, in partnership with the City of Geneva.

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Rachel CROWDY

1884-1964, Official of the League of Nations

© UN Archives Geneva

Rachel Crowdy: League of Nations Official

Rachel Crowdy (1884–1964) was the only female section chief in the Secretariat of the League of Nations. During the First World War, after volunteering as a nurse with the British Red Cross and teaching for the National Health Society, she established first aid centres throughout the United Kingdom. She later moved to France to set up medical centres on the front lines of some of the bloodiest First World War battles. For her work, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Ms. Crowdy began working for the League of Nations upon its establishment. She was chosen to lead the fight against the opium trade and trafficking of women and children. Throughout her career, she fought to ensure that humanitarian issues would always be an important focus for international organizations. During the Second World War she worked to prevent arms trafficking while serving as a regional expert for the British Ministry of Information. After her retirement, she continued to promote the presence of women in the United Nations and international organizations.

TEMPORARY INFRASTRUCTURE FOR CONFERENCES ENSURES CONSISTENCY FOR MEETINGS AND EVENTS

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© UN Photo - Elodie Sabau

At the core of UN Geneva is its work on business and operational continuity, to provide infrastructure to support multilateralism.
This work goes on throughout the year, to accommodate important meetings and events that promote United Nations efforts towards international peace and security, protection of human rights, the advancement of disarmament, the provision of fast and effective humanitarian assistance and the implementation of sustainable development practices.

The Strategic Heritage Plan has been designed so as to maintain the availability of conference facilities and services throughout the building and renovation works being undertaken at the Palais des Nations. To ensure continuity, construction of the Temporary Infrastructure for Conferences began in 2019. This space will provide flexibility for meeting organizers, as it can be divided into three rooms of 200 seats each, or configured as one large conference room with 600 seats.

As its name implies, the Temporary Infrastructure for Conferences will only be used during the project and is planned to be removed when the Strategic Heritage Plan is brought to completion.

USABILITY + ACCESSIBILITY + INCLUSIVITY:
DESIGNING AN OPEN UN FOR ALL

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© UN Photo - Josie Bauman

How easy is it to navigate the Palais des Nations? To find a conference room or a meeting room? Navigating a building is just one example of usability. Usability, accessibility and inclusivity are often associated with accommodating persons with disabilities, but they go far beyond this important priority. There are also innumerable obstacles and barriers that hinder the achievement of global peace, rights and well-being.

In November, UN Geneva held its first celebration of World Usability Day, which fitted well with the Secretary-General’s goal of making the UN more inclusive and accessible. The presentation and workshops featured experts from academia and industry: Carolyn Phillips, Director of the Center for Inclusive Design and Innovation at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Bryce Johnson, Inclusive Lead, Product Research
and Accessibility at Microsoft.

“You cannot talk about usability if you don’t talk about accessibility, they absolutely go together.” Carolyn Phillips

Discussions explored various methods of incorporating usability, accessibility and inclusivity into our print and web designs, physical spaces, signage and daily work to ensure that the UN is truly open for everyone.

“Everyone has abilities, and limits to those abilities.” Bryce Johnson

Adopting the “born accessible” concept, which has inclusivity built into all of our services right from the beginning, UN Geneva is working to ensure an open multilateral process with everyone at the table – essential for overcoming the biggest challenges of the future and finding solutions that work for all.

Accessibility projects ongoing at UN Geneva:

  • Improved indoor navigation and wayfinding
  • A new website incorporating accessibility features (responsive, plain language, screen-readable)
  • Speech-to-text to rapidly transcribe meetings
  • Sign language interpretation booth in the newly renovated room XIX
  • Real-time captioning in many conference rooms
  • Commitment to multilingualism, with interpretation and translation in the six official UN languages

Hear more about the importance of incorporating inclusivity, usability and accessibility in our physical spaces and products.

SPORT FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

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Over 1,500 people gathered at the Place des Nations for the Escalade run training session, now in its sixth year. © UN Photo - Adam Kane

Sport is not simply physical activity. Sport is also an important enabler of sustainable development, recognized for driving peace and development by promoting tolerance and respect. It contributes to the empowerment of women, young people, individuals and communities, and is known to improve health, education and social inclusion.

In 2019, UN Geneva and International Geneva hosted several activities with an athletic theme at the Palais des Nations, including a historic taekwondo demonstration, a meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee for Physical Education and Sport, an International Day of Yoga event on the benefits of the discipline, and a training session for Geneva’s annual Escalade run.
All the events celebrated cultures and understanding while positively promoting health and well-being.

Extraordinary session of the Intergovernmental Committee for Physical Education and Sport

Established in 1978, the Intergovernmental Committee for Physical Education and Sport recognizes the role of sports in promoting peace, social integration and economic development in different geographical, cultural and political contexts while disregarding geographical borders and social class. Tasked with driving government action in the areas of physical education and sport, and with ensuring the implementation of effective policies on sport, the Committee met for an extraordinary session at UN Geneva in March.

Taekwondo 

One World, One Taekwondo for Peace, a dynamic performance featuring martial artists from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea, was held at the Palais des Nations in April. The two neighbouring nations came together on stage to perform a spectacular display of their common Korean heritage.

Yoga 

Led by Indian yogi Sadhguru, an event to raise awareness of the physical, mental and spiritual benefits of practising yoga, and its power of inclusiveness, was held at UN Geneva in June to celebrate the fifth International Day of Yoga. Many limber practitioners and others interested in yoga gathered for a conversation with the guru.

Marche des enfants

Schoolchildren were welcomed for the annual Marche des enfants, an excellent opportunity for local youth and their teachers to discover the UN and its objectives and programmes. The students walked a course that had been charted through Ariana Park and the Palais des Nations, to raise money for scholarships for young girls in need around the world. The event, held in September, has been organized by the United Nations Women’s Guild since 2002.

Escalade

More than 1,500 people came to the Place des Nations to warm up and then run in the sixth annual Escalade training session, on 27 October. Co-organized by UN Geneva, this yearly practice event is a great way to prepare for the Course de l’Escalade, the traditional running race held in Geneva each December. The Escalade is known as one of the most important sporting and cultural events for the city and people of Geneva.

Sporting Chance Forum 

The Sporting Chance Forum provided an excellent opportunity to explore how different actors can use their individual and collective abilities to achieve a world that fully respects human rights in sports. The Forum, held at the Palais des Nations in November, featured compelling examples of progress, and of challenges that remain for all parties to improve respect for human rights in sports.

Watch “One World, One Taekwondo for Peace”.

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Martial artists from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea performed at One World, One Taekwondo for Peace. © UN Photo - Iryna Turtaieva

PEACE, SECURITY AND PROTECTION FOR RELIGIOUS MINORITIES

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© UN Photo - Elma Okic

Following a series of shocking attacks on synagogues, churches and mosques in various parts of the world, a three-day summit was held at UN Geneva to establish international guidelines for combating hate speech and to protect religious minorities. This collective global response was intended to reduce the divisions among nations and among people.

Delegates worked to enhance the protection of religious minorities, refugees and migrants by building bridges, fostering inclusivity and countering hate speech.

“Big massacres start always with small actions and language. No one would forget that the Holocaust was preceded by hate speech, hate crimes,” said Adama Dieng, Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide. It started with those words. And what we are seeing today, is pretty close.“

ACHIEVING OUR GOALS THROUGH DIALOGUE AND COOPERATION

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© UN Photo - Adam Kane

“Civil society participation is important for informed, effective and sustainable policymaking,” said Director-General Tatiana Valovaya. She emphasized that for UN Geneva, “engagement with the NGO community has been a priority and practice for decades. I am committed to preserving an environment at the Palais des Nations that enables inclusive and meaningful action together with civil society”.

Civil society plays an essential role in promoting, and collaborating on, the UN agenda. Often disseminating and implementing the results of our collective work, civil society has a great deal to contribute to intergovernmental discussions on global concerns, and provides a much-needed perspective from the affected communities. Increased engagement with non-governmental organizations is a key priority for the Director-General.

In 2019, 5,142 representatives of 1,048 non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council were accredited to UN Geneva, an increase of 7% compared to 2018. This enabled them to participate effectively in UN activities and meetings, and to organize events. 

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© UN Photo - Adam Kane