CISD’s Study Tour to the United Nations in Geneva

By Fadil Elobeid|March 11, 2020|News|0 comments

A blog post by CISD Students Anahita Ghanbari Parsa and Toma Moran.

The month of February is an exciting one for students at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy. After months of preparation by the student committee and several information meetings, the time has finally come for everyone to embark on the week long trip to Geneva, Switzerland for CISD’s annual trip to the United Nations headquarters. 

The anticipation was high as students arrived, and we huddled on to the train, just in time. The journey was very straightforward and of course our coordination amongst multiple group chats helped make sure everyone found their way. Our second train from Paris to Geneva was particularly entertaining as we came across a famous French magician, Roland, who genuinely blew our minds and brought Anahita to tears. 

Magician: Roland Barthelemy

Anahita enroute to Geneva

We finally arrived in Geneva- a little drained, but very much ready for the week ahead. 

Monday morning started off with information sessions regarding the UN with focus on its Geneva location. This was followed by a particularly engaging session on Sustainable Development Goals, and the work of the United Nations in ensuring development goals are met amidst the climate crisis and shifting socio-economic contexts. We were equally as engaged in the UN cafeteria’s lunch choices and the range of pasta on offer. Our particular interest for the Geneva study tour was definitely being given the opportunity to hear first-hand what the various UN agencies do, and how they operate within such a huge international institution. For me (Toma) the most interesting speaker of the trip was coming up in the afternoon, considering his field work experience prior to coming to the UN. 

Christophe Peschoux who works for the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights spoke to us about the various objectives of the OHCHR, its function but also the mechanisms that have been put in place in recent years to try to hold states accountable for Human Rights violations worldwide, such as the Universal Periodic Review. Something in particular I appreciated about him as a speaker was his vast experience in the field of Human Rights, working in many different positions all over the world and his willingness to speak on this and give insight into the difference between UN work and his past jobs.

CISD Students Sharon Martins and Marcelle Brown

Following this presentation one of the most anticipated events was coming up, the CISD reception in the delegates’ restaurant. During this event, thanks to the organising committee, we had the opportunity to meet directly with various diplomats and representatives from state missions and NGOs. We both had to make our way upstairs first with some of the other members of the committee in order to begin preparation for the delegates’ arrival- which came quite quickly. As the first delegates began to arrive, students began to make their way, overcoming the initial timidity which naturally comes as an aspiring diplomat in these spaces, and began engaging with delegates. The picturesque view from the balcony was fascinating and so naturally, many were busy taking portraits and selfies for some well-earned social media updates, but as the room began to fill up with guests, everyone made their way inside. 

Throughout the week, watching fellow students chair the formal sessions was brilliant, as they held their own and spurred on particularly thoughtful and insightful question and answer sessions. I (Anahita) was starting to feel the nerves in anticipation of the session I would be chairing, hosting two speakers from the Inter-Parliamentary Union. 

Wednesday was a particularly busy day for the both of us- I started off chairing the IPU session. In my opinion, this was arguably one of the best sessions of the week, as the speakers, Zeina Hilal and Anda Filip, set off with a brilliant discussion on the work of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and its role in ensuring democratic practice, and achieving gender equity cross governments and their initiatives. The questions from the students covered a number of especially engaging and important issues- from the role of the IPU in bettering and highlighting LGBTQ+ representation amongst various governments, to the realities of achieving meaningful change in different cultural and social contexts as an external organisation. I have spent my academic career researching and writing on the issues of gender within international relations, particularly in regards to international security and diplomatic practice, and so it was an honour to be able to chair this session, and engage with both Zeina and Anda in debate over our shared passions for this issue. It stirred my excitement for what could possibly be ahead beyond graduating from CISD. 

We then both headed over to begin co-ordinating what was a highlight of the week for us- the SCRAP Weapons panel event. With a team of student volunteers, we ushered in students, academics and diplomats into the room having greeted them with a pretty satisfying range of baguettes and drinks to choose from. Once everyone was full and ready to listen, our panel event began. It as a brilliant range of speakers, from our very own Dr Dan Plesch, to renowned Marc Finaud of the GCSP, who had also previously spoken at SCRAP’s panel event at the Conference of State Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty in August, and had supported Anahita in her very first experience speaking at a formal panel event. They were joined by Renata Dwan of UNIDIR, and Mrs Tatiana Valynova, UN Director General in Geneva, and the discussion was chaired by Ambassador Zhanar Aitzhanova of Kazakhstan.

CISD Student Shruti Punia on the SCRAP Weapons Panel

 It was also a really special opportunity to cheer on our fellow students Zahraa and Shruti who offered the opening and closing statements brilliantly. The event drew a range of diplomats from a number of states, and this was particularly reaffirming of the work SCRAP hopes to achieve working alongside missions in pushing for disarmament. As Dwan highlighted, it was also great to see a panel with a range of speakers- primarily women- offering a more representative and fruitful discourse on the challenges of arms control ahead of the NPT conference coming up this year. 

CISD Student Zahraa Kapasi on the SCRAP Weapons panel

After a celebration of the event’s success, we had hit the halfway point of the week. There were more interesting sessions with UN agencies and, a little more downtime than the first, hectic half of the week. On Thursday night, Anahita pulled together everyone on the course to relive one of her passions- karaoke. At Jame’s Pub, a Thai-Irish bar, the entire of CISD bonded over some snacks, and a lot of chart toppers. CISD Student Support Officer Matthew Poulton’s freestyle, ‘Straight Outta CISD’ was most definitely the best bit of the evening and a great way for everyone to bring the week to a close. 

The next morning, we all miraculously made it on time to the morning’s first session. I (Toma) instead attended a meeting at the Irish mission, returning for another very warm welcome to myself and other CISD students to meet with the mission’s delegates to discuss Ireland’s bid for the security council in 2021 as well as the various humanitarian and human rights issues Ireland was trying to focus on. We also discussed possible collaboration between SCRAP and Ireland’s disarmament team for the upcoming NPT revcon where Ireland will be leading the New Agenda coalition. Having the opportunity to meet and discuss with diplomats in this wway really is a privilege and happening for the second time in a row, I really can’t thank the mission enough especially Jean, Michael, Declan and Jamie.

By lunchtime, most of the students had gone for a final venture by the lake and into town to do some exploring, souvenir shopping and one final taste of the Geneva famous cheese fondue. Satisfied, tired, a little sad to say goodbye, but most definitely positive, we all gathered at Cornavin station to head home to London, after what was a great week of bonding amongst the students, and delving into the many possibilities of life after CISD.

You can view more pictures from the Study Tour here.

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