#6 The G|O Briefing, June 18, 2020


This is an onsite, slightly edited republication of the complete G|O Briefing newsletter


Today in The Geneva Observer, the Human Rights Council’s hybrid 43rd session is very much underway. In a powerful and moving speech yesterday (Wednesday, June 17, 2020) opening the urgent debate on the current protests on racially inspired human rights violations, the brother of George Floyd called for an independent commission of inquiry to investigate police killings of black people in America and the violence used against peaceful protesters.
“You watched my brother die. That could have been me. I am my brother’s keeper. You at the United Nations are your brothers' and sisters’ keepers in America, and you have the power to help us get justice for my brother George Floyd. I am asking you to help him. I am asking you to help me. I am asking you to help us, black people in America.”

It’s very easy to call out the hypocrisy of many countries taking the floor to decry the treatment of peaceful protesters and police violence in the United States (China, Venezuela, Brazil, North Korea, etc.—it’s a long list. And sure, it was slightly, if depressingly, amusing to watch Venezuela’s representative for the Maduro regime gleefully excoriate “Yankee imperialists,” or China confess itself “saddened and shocked” by the idea of police brutality, or Iran talk up “Martin Luther King’s ideal of a beloved community.” But, while Philonise Floyd called for a specific mechanism for the US, the debate went beyond territorial boundaries applying to racism of persons of African descent everywhere.

It is surely not negligible to have countries around the world—and questionable regimes (see above)—participate in an explicitly pro-human rights forum, even if that engagement is primarily rhetorical. Does paying lip service to the concept of human rights—even when blatantly disregarding them at the same time—serve to legitimize them implicitly? Our answer to that question, another of International Geneva’s impossible meta-questions, is that it may not be much, but it is still better than not even paying lip service… right?

We will have more for you on Tuesday as the dust will have settled on the Council’s proceedings.

In poisoned chalices news: WTO leadership race update!

“The WTO is a mess. The WTO has failed America, and it has failed the international trading system.”

Those were the words yesterday of Robert Lighthizer, the US Trade representative testifying before the  US Senate  Sounding more like Donald’s Trump tweets than the expression of a carefully thought-through statement expressing a reformist agenda to renew multilateral institutions, Lighthizer called for “fundamental reforms” at the WTO without spelling them out—as is the fashion these days with such calls.

No hope either on the question of the appellate court, whose appointments have been blocked by Washington, effectively crippling the body’s ability to settle disputes. “I don’t think the appellate body was working well… I think that would be fine if it never goes back into effect,” said Lighthizer.

Given that, one has to wonder why anybody would want the top WTO job at this juncture. Lighthizer warned that any contender with “a whiff of anti-Americanism in their past actions” will face an American veto.

As a reminder, following Robert Azevedo’s surprise announcement that he would be resigning a year early, the list of the contenders includes:

Jesús Seade Kuri

Mexico’s former ambassador to the GATT and chief negotiator in the creation of WTO, a former Deputy D-G of GATT and WTO, he also renegotiated the US-Mexico-Canada trade deal

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Nigeria’s former finance minister, board chair of GAVI, and former World Bank number 2, inter alia

Tudor Ulianovschi

Moldova’s former foreign minister and ambassador to Liechtenstein and Switzerland, and former Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office in Geneva and to WTO)

Abdel-Hamid Mamdouh

Swiss-Egyptian international trade lawyer, nominated by Egypt, former WTO Director of Trade in services and investment division

The presence of two competing African candidates is unfortunate, particularly at a time when the African Union had wanted to coalesce behind a candidate. Nigeria’s last-minute swapping of candidates (replacing their previous nominee with Okonjo-Iweala) lead to the Egyptians calling foul and accusing Nigeria of disrupting the AU process. Nigeria then nominated Okonjo-Iweala directly, as did Egypt with Mamdouh.

On the EU side, Phil Hogan (EU Trade Commissioner) is a serious possibility also. The EU has been putting in place conflict of interest and other measures to shield him during the nomination process. However, EU governments are yet to decide whether to unite around one candidate from Europe or to throw their weight behind another candidate from elsewhere—probably Nigeria’s well-known nominee Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Hogan, and the EU, had anticipated Lighthizer’s backing, but all they got from yesterday was that “ultimately, we have to get something worked out with Europe.”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

-The G|O