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   Date: 8/12/10 Bookmark and Share

Notes From Abroad

While spending her Junior Year Abroad in Geneva last year, Bethany Singer-Baefsky served as an intern for UN Watch, where she found out early that she would have a larger role than she’d assumed.

Speaking Out for Human Rights

By Bethany Singer-Baefsky ’11

It was about a year ago, on August 19, when I arrived in Geneva to begin my Junior Year Abroad.

Before leaving, I had arranged an internship in Geneva with UN Watch, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that focuses primarily on United Nations oversight and human rights. It monitors the U.N.’s performance, exposing bias and selectivity where present, praising actions that warrant praise, and holding the organization accountable to its own charter. My work with UN Watch became the center of my experience in Geneva.

Bethany Singer-Baefsky displays her entry pass outside the United Nations in Geneva.

My first day at UN Watch was also the first day of a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, a body charged with promoting and protecting human rights around the globe. During council sessions, my assignment was to take verbatim notes of proceedings, but I soon learned that my job would entail not only watching international politics unfold, but also participating in the process.

Two weeks into my internship, the executive director of UN Watch told me, “the speech is yours.” I would address the U.N. Human Rights Council. I decided to address what I see as the council’s bias against Israel, to which it devotes 80 percent of its condemnatory resolutions, while downplaying human rights violations in other nations, including Iran, Sudan, Burma and North Korea. The Human Rights Council often fails to live up to its noble mandate, I said.

The executive director gave me the opportunity to speak twice more in March. In the first speech, I urged the Human Rights Council to lead the international community in holding Iran accountable for its numerous human rights violations, particularly for the violence that followed the fraudulent June 2009 elections.

My second speech strongly criticized the Goldstone Report, a document detailing the results of the fact-finding mission into Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s military response to thousands of rocket attacks fired from Gaza against Israeli civilians. The speech was not well-received by the council president, who publicly instructed me to watch my language.

As a government major, witnessing and participating in the behind-the-scenes work of the United Nations was the most incredible opportunity I could have imagined, despite what I viewed as the frustrating world of U.N. bureaucracy. But it is because the U.N. has such potential as an agent of positive change in the world that the work of UN Watch is so vital.


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