#181 THE G|O BRIEFING, MAY 23, 2024

ILO Appoints Chinese Official Who Dismissed Concerns about Uyghurs | Webster Geneva Drops “University” Under Legal Pressure | Don't Believe the AI Hype | Trump, Israel, Hamas—Is Anyone Above the Law?

Today in The Geneva Observer:

A Former Chinese Official Dismissed the ILO’s Concerns about Discrimination of the Uyghurs—and the UN Labour Body just Appointed Her

Eyebrows have been raised at the ILO and among some of its Member States after the nomination of Xiaoyan Qian, a former senior Chinese official, as Director of the ILO Decent Work Technical Support Team for East and South-East Asia and the Pacific. Requesting anonymity, a source at the International Labour Organization described Ms. Qian’s nomination as “appalling” in light of her past statements denying the violation of human rights and discrimination against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, which have been alleged by the UN’s human rights body, the ILO’s independent Committee of Experts (CoE), and numerous human rights organizations.

Ms Xiaoyan Qian takes up post as ILO director for Thailand, Cambodia and Lao People’s Democratic Republic
‘Crimes Against Humanity’: UN Report Accuses China Of Human Rights Violations In Xinjiang
China dismissed the report saying it is based on “disinformation and lies fabricated by anti-China forces.”

In 2022, representing China during a discussion before the ILO’s Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS) about ILO Convention 111 on discrimination at work, Ms. Qian vigorously denied the Committee’s concerns and objected to the ILO’s oversight, according to the interpretation of her remarks: “Since 2020, China has supplied the Committee with numerous reports and elaborating facts, showing sincerity. This shows that we are a responsible member of this Organization. Regrettably, the Committee has adopted such a groundless position against China, asking China to stop the so-called and non-existing discriminative practices against Uyghur populations. We firmly reject such a practice. […] There exists no discrimination against any ethnicities. On China’s application of Convention No. 111, there are always a handful of anti-China forces who are manipulating this issue and criticizing using the Convention and this platform.”

Mrs. Qian represented Beijing’s government in her capacity as Deputy Director-General of the International Cooperation Department of the Chinese Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MOHRSS). At MOHRSS she worked under Mr. Hao Bin, who in 2023 was appointed ILO’s Assistant Director-General for Corporate Services.

While Mrs. Qian’s appointment to a technical position in the Bangkok bureau was the ILO D-G’s prerogative under the organization’s regulations, some ILO constituents and Member States are nevertheless expressing concerns: “Pulling someone directly from the Chinese government to oversee the ILO’s supervision and assistance in a region where, as in China, workers do not enjoy freedom of association, where unions are not authorized, is strange,” a diplomatic source familiar with the matter admitted to The G|O, referencing labour rights issues in Cambodia and Laos. “That kind of appointment does lead to some questions about the integrity of the ILO’s assistance in that sub-region and in the comfort that governments will have in assessing it. But the ILO is a large organization, and its norms and standards departments and other officials are heavily involved in the question,” the source added, expressing some hope that Ms. Qian’s positions may now defend the ILO's mission than her government's positions.

This controversial nomination comes on top of what informed, long-time ILO watchers consider a worrisome loss of institutional knowledge at the UN labour body. As a consequence of the D-G’s reorganization last year, many highly experienced specialists and managers have retired early or departed, and are no longer providing early warning signals about possible criticism of the organization when sensitive decisions are being considered. It runs deep, according to some sources. Recently, a senior ILO official had to apologize to a Member State’s representative for the sub-par quality of an important document emanating from senior management, one source outside the organization told me.

Requests from comments addressed to the ILO have remained unanswered.


Under Legal Pressure from the Canton of Geneva, Webster Finally Rebrands

Webster University Geneva, a private higher education institution established in the city in 1978, has rebranded to Webster Geneva Campus. This change came after legal pressure from the Geneva Cantonal authorities, which engaged legal proceedings against Webster after its initial refusal to comply with new Swiss regulations and drop “university” from its name.

Ryan Guffey, Director of Webster Geneva Campus, confirmed to The Geneva Observer via email that “[t]he name change occurred earlier this year.” The institution’s rebranding follows a clampdown by Swiss authorities on the use of the term “university” by several private educational institutions, a situation first revealed by The Geneva Observer more than a year ago.

Could Webster University have to rename itself?
By Sarah Zeines A change in the Swiss Higher Education Act, which aims to coordinate, maintain the quality, and ensure the competitiveness of the entire higher education sector in Switzerland, has prompted several schools to apply for a federal accreditation. Without the national government’s stamp of approval, schools with

As of January 1, only private higher education institutions certified in Switzerland are permitted to use “university” in their names. While several institutions successfully obtained certification under the new law, Webster began the certification process but eventually withdrew its application. Sources close to the discussions between the Swiss Certification Board and Webster told The G|O at the time that compliance with the new requirements would have necessitated significant changes to Webster Geneva’s business model, impacting its revenue. 

In the wake of this enforced name change, Webster Geneva is “assessing the broader implications of the new legislation across Switzerland,” Guffey emphasized in his email, adding that Webster “continues to be accredited by the US Higher Learning Commission.”

This rebranding occurs amid recent reports of serious financial and managerial difficulties faced by Webster University in the US.


Webster seeks to unrestrict millions in endowment funds
Beset by financial challenges, the university is seeking to reclassify $34 million in endowment funds to meet liquidity obligations for a $30 million loan.

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Don’t Believe the AI Hype

MIT's economist Daron Acemoglu has another critical take on AI: “If you listen to tech industry leaders, business-sector forecasters, and much of the media, you may believe that recent advances in generative AI will soon bring extraordinary productivity benefits, revolutionizing life as we know it. Yet neither economic theory nor the data support such exuberant forecasts,” he writes:

According to tech leaders and many pundits and academics, artificial intelligence is poised to transform the world as we know it through unprecedented productivity gains. While some believe that machines soon will do everything humans can do, ushering in a new age of boundless prosperity, other predictions are at least more grounded. For example, Goldman Sachs predicts that generative AI will boost global GDP by 7% over the next decade, and the McKinsey Global Institute anticipates that the annual GDP growth rate could increase by 3-4 percentage points between now and 2040. For its part, The Economist expects that AI will create a blue-collar bonanza.

Who’s Above the Law?

“No one,” the US claims loudly, as its former president sits on trial in New York. “Indeed,” concurs Kharim Khan, the International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor, in requesting arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders. In which case, wonders Daniel Warner in his op-ed, why does Washington object?

While statements that “No one is above the law,” are repeated in the US over the trials of former President Donald Trump, can the same be said when it comes to international law? Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan of the International Criminal Court (ICC) answered yes, by analogy, when he announced he was seeking arrest warrants for Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Today's Briefing: Philippe Mottaz

Guest Essay: Daron Acemoglu

Op-ed: Daniel Warner

Editorial assistance and research : David Jenny

Edited by: Dan Wheeler

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