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Hello, this is Paula, with the major headlines from international Geneva for the month of March. The UN Human Rights Council dominated much of diplomats’ agendas for its four-plus weeks, with Ukraine holding steady as an undertone amid often politically divisive discussions over other human rights crises.

Far beyond Room XX at the Palais des Nations, Geneva’s scrutiny over abuses could be felt in Peru, from where we reported on how condemnation by the international community of state violence and civil rights curtailments was falling on deaf government ears.

Back in Switzerland, ICRC staff called for an audit after the group’s director general Robert Mardini announced massive budget cuts, confirming belt-squeezing pressures across the aid sector. We heard from young people hoping to enter the field in the midst of the crisis.

Global climate experts and UN members agreed on language for the latest major IPCC report, after horse-trading in Interlaken. And an important grain deal between warring parties Russia and Ukraine was extended last minute, albeit for a shorter guaranteed period than usual, to allow essential food exports to countries relying heavily on them. Finally, we delved into the virtual world of the metaverse, a new area that international Geneva has been increasingly working on.

photo journaliste

Paula Dupraz-Dobias


Human Rights Council

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Erik Møse, Chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, addressing a press conference at the UN in Geneva, 16 March 2023. (Keystone/Martial Trezzini)

A year after Russia was sacked from the Human Rights Council, the latest session returned to the issue of rights abuses committed since its invasion of Ukraine. A special commission mandated last March found that Moscow had committed serious war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. The council also heard how in neighbouring Belarus, “widespread, unnecessary and disproportionate” force had been used by authorities against people protesting against Ukraine’s invasion by the government’s ally, Russia.

Meanwhile, an independent investigation on Venezuela that reported “gross human rights violations and international crimes”, including arbitrary detentions and torture by authorities, found support as well as opposition from delegations, reflecting political sensitivities towards the role of the UN human rights body. Iran’s repression of protests in which more than 500 people have been killed was also condemned, and a damning report was presented on “widespread” human rights abuses by the government of Nicaragua and the effects they were having on the region, due to an unprecedented human exodus. All of these reports concluded that the governments committed possible crimes against humanity.

The must-reads

🇵🇪Peru protests: when humanitarian aid runs scarce. More than three months after leftwing president Petro Castillo was ousted from power after attempting to dissolve congress, lethal state repression of anti-government protests continued. We report on how Indigenous demonstrators pursue their call for justice amid increasingly challenging humanitarian conditions.

Paula Dupraz-Dobias

🥽International Geneva zooming into the metaverse. Whether it's for playing virtual games or getting a realistic image of a sales product, the metaverse has been creeping into people’s lives. Organisations in international Geneva have also been getting into the act, finding uses of the technology for training purposes and marketing, as well as discussing governance issues and challenges for developing countries.

Maurizio Arseni

🇵🇸UNRWA funding shortfall puts Palestinian refugees in jeopardy. The UN agency provides critical aid to Palestinian refugees in occupied territories, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, including education to half a million children. It now warns that an acute funding shortfall, triggered by geopolitics and donors stretched across multiple humanitarian crises, may pose regional security at risk.

Pip Cook

🤔Humanitarians mull over how to deal with Wagner. The Russian militia, founded by an ex-convict reportedly close to President Vladimir Putin, has a nasty reputation. Having recruited tens of thousands of prisoners to fight in Ukraine, as well as having sent troops to a number of African countries, international experts are nonetheless challenged by their legal status as fighters.

Frédéric Koller

Profile of the month

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Ilwad Elman is one of Somalia's leading human rights defenders.(Paolo Spallasso/Right Livelihood)

Ilwad Elman: the woman paving the way to peace in Somalia. As the daughter of the country’s “father of peace”, assassinated shortly after she, her mother and her two sisters escaped the violence in the early 1990s, Elman has worked towards helping Somalis affected by the ongoing conflict. During her visit to the International Human Rights Film Festival, she told Geneva Solutions about how she and her mother have since returned to help build Somalia for a better future.

Pip Cook

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