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USM Students Address UN Human Rights Conference in Geneva

Three University of Southern Maine students on Thursday, June 6, addressed the 23rd regular session of the UN Human Rights Conference meeting at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

The students, representing the non-governmental agency, l’Ecole Instrument de Paix (EIP-School as an Instrument of Peace), addressed the conference briefly regarding three countries, France, Tonga and Botswana. They commented on what is called the “Universal Periodic Review” of the countries, presenting what is known as “interventions” on the progress and deficiencies made by the countries regarding human rights. The review is done every five years for each conference member country on a rotating basis. 
The students are part of a 12-member USM Study Abroad program, “Human Rights in International Law With Study in The Hague and Geneva,” under the supervision of Julia Edwards, USM political science lecturer in the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. Six USM students were asked by EIP to participate and worked in teams to prepare the two-minute-long interventions.

“All three interventions brought up issues that no one else did and gave voice to people who would otherwise not have one at the UN,” Edwards stated by e-mail Friday. Because of their poise and presentations, some of the students already have received job offers, she said.

The Botswana intervention, prepared by Georgia Foss, graduating senior from Sanford, and Nicole Gabree, graduating senior from Kennebunk, with Foss presenting, elicited a strong response, the USM instructor said.

The USM students had less than 24 hours notice that they would be making the presentations on behalf of EIP. Cailley Bonti, USM senior from Bath, and Tim Stretton, graduating senior from Lewiston, researched and drafted remarks on France, with Stretton presenting. The remarks on France called in question the impact of nuclear testing on the population of Tahiti and France's respect for and protection of the indigenous rights of the Kanak people of New Caledonia, a French territory.

“Being able to deliver a speech on the floor of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva was unbelievable,” stated Stretton, who also was secretary-general for the 15th Maine Model United Nations Conference held in May at USM. “This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. After being involved in Model UN while in college, there are no words to explain how I felt giving a real speech on human rights violations by France before the real UN. I am so appreciative of the opportunity I was given and will truly remember this experience forever.”
Bryan Noyes, USM senior from Portland, and Phoebe Borden, USM senior from Kittery, did Tonga, with Borden presenting. The Tonga remarks focused on gender equality and gay and lesbian rights and urged Tonga to ratify a number of human rights treaties.
The interventions are a chance for NGOs to comment on the reviews of a state. Each state being reviewed gets 20 minutes to provide additional details or elaborate on their country’s report. Then other states get three minutes each to comment on the review report, with the NGOs following. The state being reviewed then gets a chance to respond if desired.

“In Botswana's response in particular, they directly took issue with our student's remarks on their country,” Edwards stated. “It was quite something because they denied on the record that problems we know to be problems exist.” 
Edwards stated that the USM delegation later was asked to prepare and present on a panel regarding the International Bill of Rights, discussing how social media and youth empowerment can be used to spread and inspire movements.

“They were so poised, so prepared, again with less than 12 hours to put it together, and a major hit,” Edwards stated. “I've rarely been prouder of our students. They presented to, fielded questions from, and discussed complex issues with UN officials and representatives of civil society.”
In another unexpected event, Mohamed Mohamed of Freeport, a USM senior who also staffed the Maine Model United Nations Conference, managed to become friends with the ambassador of Somalia and representatives of Djibouti, Rwanda and South Africa, Edwards stated. The USM student was able to attend the private, closed-door sessions of African diplomats and “has gotten an inside track into how diplomacy really works,” the USM instructor said.
The UN video of the presentation by Stretton can be seen at:Chapter 24, UN Web TV
More information about EIP can be found at:
l’Ecole Instrument de Paixl .

For more information, visit USM Study Abroad programs .