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Good morning, this is Kasmira. With just a few weeks until the end of the year, there’s been no let-up in activity in Geneva, including discrete talks that took place over the fate of $3.5bn in frozen Afghan funds, recently transferred from the US to Switzerland. We caught up with one of the trustees of the new foundation set up to manage this money that, for the time being, seems no closer to being disbursed back to the Afghan people.

In the days ahead of Human Rights Day on Saturday, Geneva Solutions also had the chance to moderate a conversation with the UN’s new human rights chief Volker Türk on the occasion of Geneva Academy’s 15th Anniversary. He talks about navigating arguably one of the toughest jobs at the UN and his duty “to be the voice” for human rights.

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Kasmira Jefford


The Monday interview

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Account holders queue outside a bank in central Kabul on 15 August 2021, after the Taliban seized power. (Credit: Keystone/Agence VU/Andrew Quilty)

💰 What will happen to Afghanistan’s frozen funds? In January, the trustees of a Swiss foundation set up to manage $3.5bn (CHF3.34 billion) in frozen Afghanistan central bank funds will meet again after gathering in Geneva for the first time last month. Dr Shah Mehrabi, co-chair of the foundation and chair of the audit committee of the Afghan central bank, spoke to Geneva Solutions about the outcome of their initial meeting, the future of the funds, and the fateful day last year when everything changed.

Geneva Solutions (EN)

On our radar this week

☣️ Biological weapons talks wrap up on Friday. As with many multilateral conferences, the first days start off with bold statements, high hopes, and a raft of proposals presented by member states. Halfway through, as issues being discussed become more complex it becomes difficult to anticipate what the outcomes, and the contents of the final report, might look like. That was one western diplomat’s characterisation of the current state of affairs as the biological weapons convention’s ninth review conference wrapped up its second week. The tough negotiations will begin in earnest this week and there will be more visibility on whether the conference can be described as a success.

🦎 Pressure for nature deal is on. The Biodiversity summit in Montreal expected to deliver a Paris-like agreement for nature is entering its second and final week, with campaigners frustrated over the “slow paced progress” of negotiations. Ministers and other high-level officials are due to fly in this week to take over the draft text and finalise the deal, but negotiators have apparently been unable to overcome divisions over key issues including finance, implementation mechanisms, human rights and indigenous peoples, WWF International has warned. One delegate told the Earth Negotiations Bulletin that they wondered whether they “would ever see some light at the end of the tunnel”.

💪Will development get its needed boost? Marking half-time since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, the Global Partnership on Aid Effectiveness is holding its high-level gathering in Geneva from 12 to 14 December. Created in 2012, the initiative is meant to bring donors, recipients and other actors together to improve the quality of development work. But its performance reviews have reportedly shown disappointing results, bringing into question its monitoring process. A new framework has been in the making for the past two years and is due to be adopted this week.

International Geneva moves

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Czech ambassador Václav Bálek to the UN in Geneva has been elected president of the Human Rights Council for 2023. (UN Photo/Jean Marc Ferré)

🇺🇳 Czech ambassador to take the helm at Human Rights Council. Václav Bálek, the Czech Republic’s representative to the UN in Geneva, was elected on Friday as president of the human rights body for one year beginning on 1 January 2023. A mechanical engineer by training, Bálek turned to diplomacy early on, rising through the ranks at the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs over the span of nearly 25 years.

Bálek came first to Geneva in August 2021 to represent his government before the UN. The Czech Republic took over Russia’s seat at the Human Rights Council in May, after it was suspended for invading Ukraine. Acknowledging the divisions that have crippled the human rights body, Bálek told fellow members to “be creative” and “work on the basis of consensus”. As the Czech diplomat steps in, Argentinian ambassador Federico Villegas takes a bow. Geneva Solutions interviewed him in September ahead of his last session as council president.

Out on the town

🎳 That’s a strike! When not discussing bioterrorist threats and other heavyweights topics, biological weapons wonks like to let loose with a customary night of bowling. Delegates attending the ninth review conference of the Convention on Biological Weapons in Geneva headed out last Thursday for their Bowling World Cup, as is tradition, hosted this time by Switzerland and Italy. According to Richard Guthrie, editor of CBW Events, which tracks chemical and biological weapons policies (and their hobbies!) Barbara Hemmerle, political affairs intern at the UN’s office of disarmament affairs was crowned the winner with runners up from the European Union and the Netherlands.

🎵 Hidden talents. Sticking with extracurricular activities of Geneva’s disarmament community, Geneva Solutions learnt last week that some have hidden singing talents – among them, UK disarmament ambassador Aidan Liddle. Music reached our ears at a reception for the UK community in Geneva, hosted at the UK ambassador to the UN Simon Manley’s residence, where The Holy Trinity Church choir – including Liddle – serenaded guests with Christmas carols around the piano. If only member states at this year’s string of disarmament conferences were as in tune with each other – there would be more to feel festive about.

Have you got tips to share for our new diary section or International Geneva moves? Get in touch with us at info@genevasolutions.news

Also on the agenda

If you still have time

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UN rights chief Volker Turk at an event for Geneva Academy's 15th anniversary. (Credit: Geneva Solutions/ML)

‘It’s my duty to be the voice of human rights’. The UN’s new high commissioner for human rights Volker Turk told Geneva Solutions about the challenges of navigating what is arguably one of the toughest roles in the UN system – one where predecessors have been criticised either for not speaking up loudly enough on human rights abuses or for lacking diplomatic tact. “It’s important to have a high commissioner who is not beholden to any agenda, except for the one that the UN Charter puts forward and that the human rights regime puts forward,” he said, speaking at an event marking the Geneva Academy’s 15th anniversary.

Geneva Solutions (EN)

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