It’s not often that an undergraduate intern can have international impact.
Following a strong speech given by Melissa Fares ’14 in June on the floor of the United Nations Human Rights Council, as part of a debate on human rights in Belarus, a decision was reversed by officials of the country.
Fares was arguing for the reappointment of a Special Rapporteur as part of a debate on human rights in the Eastern European country. Special Rapporteurs are appointees to the United Nations whose job is to investigate, monitor and find solutions for human rights problems in the country they represent.
Fares, a journalism intern with United Nations Watch last year while she attended the study abroad program in Geneva, was offered the opportunity to speak before the Human Rights Council during her last week on the job.
Prior to Fares’ speech, the United Nations official, or Distinguished Representative, for Belarus had declared that there was no need for a Special Rapporteur for his country, and that the position would not be renewed.
“Belarus does not need a Special Rapporteur,” he said, addressing the Human Rights Council, in reaction to a report by the Special Rapporteur for Belarus alleging human rights abuses. “We reject the accusations and opinions contained in his report. We reject it as non-objective and biased.”
Fares’ speech followed. “United Nations Watch commends the report of the Special Rapporteur, which sheds light on the alarming situation of human rights in Belarus,” she said. “In Belarus, there is systematic oppression of dissenting voices and defenders of human rights, and denial of civic, religious and political freedom. The facts show that criticism is silenced through state ownership of major media, the persecution of independent outlets, and the detention and harassment of journalists. There are no legal guarantees against discrimination.”
On June 13, about a week after Fares’ speech, the Special Rapporteur’s mandate was renewed for another year.
“In terms of long-term improvement and change in Belarus, I suspect it will take some time to see how such recommendations will manifest,” said Fares. But having the Special Rapporteur’s mandate renewed for another year is a good start. “This is great news!”