#24 The G|O Briefing, November 24, 2020


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

Today in The Geneva Observer, it’s not even thanksgiving in the US, but that didn’t stop a seasoned practitioner of International Geneva from telling The G|O that “it’s feeling a bit like Christmas.”  Well, firstly, it’s our longest-ever Briefing—an embarrassment of riches for you. But also, and perhaps more importantly:

  • President-elect Biden is making all the right signals as he begins to announce his cabinet,
  • Geneva was at the heart of things at the virtual G20;
  • The World Wildlife Foundation has published a highly anticipated independent report into allegations it was funding ‘vicious paramilitary forces to fight poaching’; and
  • UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi’s mandate is extended by the General Assembly. As well as an interview with Zahi Haddad, author of the book 126 Heartbeats for Geneva International, published today. We caught up with Zahi on the day of his book launch.  The interview is published in full and in French and in English bellow the briefing and on The Geneva Observer’s website.

Biden’s cabinet picks enthrall International Geneva

"I bet you that many Foreign Service officers around the world" are drinking champagne today, says a political analyst on CNN, commenting on Tony Blinken's appointment as US Secretary of State.

Our phone calls and  texts around International Geneva confirm his  words. The US’ siege of International Geneva is over. Orwellian “newspeak” will no longer be (so) shamelessly spoken. National interests will be defended, there will be disagreements, but the relentless, ideological attacks on multilateralism (think WHO, WTO, or the Human Rights Council) won't be the norm anymore. Diplomacy will be back shortly to an International Organization near you.

As former US State department Chief of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter writes in The G|O:
"Faced with a global pandemic and climate change, political leaders around the world should re-examine exactly what makes their citizens more or less secure. They will find that investing in domestic resilience and international diplomacy and development makes more sense than boosting military budgets." This is, of course, what Joe Biden’s plan is.

As we report below, unlike the Republican establishment still humoring Donald Trump's delusional pronouncements, the G20 participants are already vocally reaffirming international solidarity. As we also report below, that is certainly non-negligeable, but it is certainly not enough either. Experience and competence matter. So does familiarity.

For this city, Biden's first cabinet nominations read like a dream team. It goes beyond Tony Blinken (seen here on the children's program Sesame Street) telling Grover (a loveable blue Muppet) that "refugees are just like you and me."Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a thirty-five-year veteran of the Foreign Service, nominated to become UN Ambassador with a seat in the Cabinet was Head of the Refugee and Migration section at the US Mission. People who have worked with her in Geneva describe her as extremely professional, "a dedicated humanitarian and a truly good person." It is expected that she will weigh in on the choice of the next American Ambassador here.

Janet Yellen, the first-ever female Treasury Secretary, and arguably the key cabinet member as the US battles the pandemic and its devastating economic impact, is a labor economist. At the same time as international Geneva, from the ILO to the Graduate Institute, grapple with and reimagine the "future of work." And, although the new climate czar John Kerry won't come here as often as he once was, we are impatient to spot him again at his favorite chocolatier (Auer, before you ask)

Elsewhere in the ecosystem

Geneva’s G20

The G20 summit was held virtually over the weekend, hosted by Saudi Arabia. It could well be renamed the “Geneva G20” due to the omnipresence of Geneva-based international organizations in its discussions. With Trump on his way out, leaders were able to include, for the first time in three years, a full chapter on climate change in the final declaration, including explicit references to the Paris Agreement. It has generated partial relief in the city.
Essentially, three items with a profound and direct impact on Geneva were on the Summit’s agenda:

  • the future of WHO
  • WTO reform, and
  • the consolidation of multilateralism as a central tool to deal with global problems.

WHO and the persistent financial gap

One of the central issues was WHO’s attempt to get assurances from leaders that COVAX would be fully financed. The final statement in part reflects this demand: “We will spare no effort to ensure their affordable and equitable access for all people, consistent with members' commitments to incentivize innovation,” it says. “In this regard, we fully support all collaborative efforts, especially the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) initiative and its COVAX facility, and the voluntary licensing of intellectual property. We commit to addressing the remaining global financing needs.”

Regarding the role of the health agency itself, the final declaration reads: “We emphasize the important mandates of the United Nations' system and agencies, primarily the WHO, while considering the ongoing evaluations, its stated commitment to transparency, and the need to strengthen its overall effectiveness, in coordinating and supporting the global response to the pandemic and the central efforts of Member States.

We take note of the assessments of gaps in pandemic preparedness undertaken by relevant international organizations and we look forward to the work of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response and the IHR Review Committee on evaluating the global health response to the pandemic.” While the commitment of governments was received with enthusiasm in the WHO, its leadership made no secret of its frustration with the lack of details and firm financial commitments at the end of the event.

On Monday, Tedros Ghebreyesus raised the issue at this regular press conference: “It was encouraging to hear world leaders expressing their support for WHO and their commitment to the ACT-Accelerator.” But the Director-General also made it clear that the promised had to be translated into money. With US$ 4.3 billion still needed for 2020, and an estimated US$ 23.8 billion needed in 2021, he warned that “only a fundamental change in funding and approach will realize the full promise of the ACT-Accelerator.”

The scientific community’s speedy development of a vaccine has certainly set “a new standard.” Dr Tedros said that it was now up to the international community to “set a new standard for access.” He added, “The urgency with which vaccines have been developed must be matched by the same urgency to distribute them fairly.” Unfortunately, as things stand, there is a real risk that the poorest will be “trampled in the stampede” to get inoculated.

WTO and the future trading system

On the same lines, the G20 leaders tackled WTO reform. Once again however, no details were mentioned. The group declared that “supporting the multilateral trading system is now as important as ever. We strive to realize the goal of a free, fair, inclusive, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable, and stable trade and investment environment, and to keep our markets open. We will continue to work to ensure a level playing field to foster an enabling business environment. We endorse the G20 Actions to Support World Trade and Investment in Response to COVID-19.” They also “reaffirmed the objectives and foundational principles of the multilateral trading system as well as to demonstrate our ongoing political support for the necessary reform of the WTO, including in the lead up to the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference.” The EU and other countries such as Brazil and Japan did attempt to include in the final declaration the need to re-establish the dispute settlement bodies of the WTO, as well as principles that could guide the new institution. But these attempts were blocked by the US negotiators.

Multilateralism’s return

And, once again, a direct reference to the central role of multilateralism was back in the final declaration. Countries committed to “stand united in our conviction that coordinated global action, solidarity, and multilateral cooperation are more necessary today than ever to overcome the current challenges and realize opportunities of the 21st century for all by empowering people, safeguarding the planet, and shaping new frontiers.” Confirming the agenda for 2021, the new president of the G20 and prime minister of Italy, Giuseppe Conte, made it clear his program of work for the next twelve months. “Multilateralism is not one of the options. It is the only option,” he said.

…but with a revamp says Guterres, as he hosts a closed-door meeting to renew it Both at the UN and amongst negotiators at the G20, many are aware that multilateralism needs to be rethought in order to avoid another wave of criticism. On the day after the G20 had concluded, António Guterres met with all UN agencies and regional organizations to prepare the ground for the debate on the future of multilateralism. In a closed-door meeting, he insisted that his New Social Contract and New Global Deal was the way “to ensure that power, wealth and opportunities are shared more broadly and fairly both at the national and international levels.” “In order to do so, international cooperation must adapt. We need a new, reinvigorated multilateralism,” he claimed. As such, two principles would guide the work of the UN in 2021:

  • a networked multilateralism, in which the United Nations, regional organizations, international financial institutions and others work together more closely;
  • an inclusive multilateralism, fully representative of all components of our societies—in particular women—and drawing on civil society, cities and local governments, businesses and young people.

WWF publishes investigation into allegations it was funding ‘vicious paramilitary forces to fight poaching

In March of 2019, in a lengthy investigation conducted in Africa and Asia, Buzzfeed accused WWF of funding “vicious paramilitary forces to fight poaching.” Buzzfeed accused WWF of having provided “high-tech enforcement, cash, and weapons to forces implicated in atrocities against indigenous communities.”

The story made headlines around the world and shocked the conversationist movement. In response, the Gland-based organization set-up an independent commission chaired by former United Nations High-Commissioner for Human Rights Navy Pillay to investigate the accusations.

Nineteen months later, the highly anticipated, 193 pages long report “Embedding Human Rights in Conservation” was published today on the organization’s website and presented during an online press conference. While confirming the allegations, the report denies that WWF personnel was ever involved in such violations or incited them. “The rangers accused of abuses were employed and managed by governments, not WWF,” write the investigators. In the body of its report, however, WWF recognizes that it “has not fulfilled its human rights commitments with regard to the activities it supports in Salonga National Park” in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The independent investigators’ report makes eleven recommendations and details specific actions that should be taken to correct the shortcomings they identified, main among them the failure to follow-up the complaints about the rangers which were swept under the rug. Quoted by the Swiss News Agency, WWF Director General Marco Lambertini said its organisation will implement all the report’s recommendations. “We recognize our responsibility, and I am saddened by the fact that people had to suffer.”

And finally, the UN General Assembly has voted to extend Filippo Grandi’s mandate as UNHCR chief, a decision that seems to have been greeted with satisfaction. While the organisation is not without problems, Grandi is credited with trying to solve them and with implementing positive reforms. A senior UNHCR veteran worker of 17 years currently in Africa tells The G|O that Grandi is “bringing UNHCR decision-making closer to the field with the regional Bureaux, as well as taking a strong stance on UNHCR staff behavior and commitment.” Adding that Grandi “also advocates tirelessly for the inclusion of the refugees in the economics of countries hosting them.” First elected on January 1, 2016, the extension of Grandi’s mandate for a further two and a half years was recommended to the General Assembly by the UN S-G António Guterres. WHO D-G Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus welcomed the decision. "Congratulations, my friend. Thank you for your outstanding leadership and work to protect refugees around the world," he wrote. “I see it as a clear recognition of UNHCR staff’s efforts to protect and help the refugees, internally displaced and stateless people who are at the heart of what we do,” said Grandi.

Interview with Zahi Haddad, author of '126 Heartbeats for International Geneva'

What is the concept of the Book? Why 126 Heartbeats?

On the 15th of November 2020, we celebrated the one-hundred-year anniversary of the League of Nations’ first meeting in Geneva and 100 years of multilateralism. I wanted to pay tribute to the unique place that is Geneva by taking an interest in civil society. Civil society makes Geneva shine around the world, through original projects, no matter what sector of activity the people I met were involved in: human rights, education, economy, sustainable development, culture, sport, or philanthropy. That said, they all had one thing in common: bringing positive change to our societies. It also seemed interesting to me to represent as many original nationalities as possible of all these Genevans. After all, Geneva is said to be home to as many as 180-190 nationalities. I wanted to see what it was like and show the face of our Canton. So, we have the five continents represented, from the largest countries to the smallest island. The result is quite magical!

In the end, I had over 130 portraits and numerous contacts with various personalities. But some people’s lives took a different direction while others were international civil servants which did not correspond to the entrepreneurs I wanted to find. The final number was, therefore 126.

Le 15 novembre 2020, nous avons célébré le centenaire de la première réunion à Genève de la Société des Nations ainsi que du multilatéralisme. J’ai voulu rendre hommage à cette place unique qu’est Genève en m’intéressant à la société civile qui la fait rayonner aux quatre coins de la planète, via des projets originaux, quel que soit le secteur d’activité des personnes que j’ai rencontrées : les droits humains, l’éducation, l’économie, le développement durable, la culture, le sport, la philanthropie. Cela dit, avec un point commun : apporter un changement positif à nos sociétés. Il m’a aussi paru intéressant de représenter un maximum de nationalités d’origine de tous ces Genevois. Après tout, on dit que Genève est forte de 180 à 190 nationalités. Je voulais voir ce qu’il en était et dévoiler le visage de notre canton. Ainsi, les cinq continents sont représentés, des pays les plus vastes à la plus petite île. Le résultat est assez magique ! Au final, j’avais plus de 130 portraits et de nombreux contacts en cours avec diverses personnalités. Mais la vie de certains a pris une autre direction alors que d’autres étaient des fonctionnaires internationaux ce qui ne correspondait pas aux entrepreneurs que je souhaitais trouver. 126 est donc le chiffre final.

Why are you attached to International Geneva?

I grew up with the idea that the world was open. My father ran an aviation company, and my mother received their guests around elaborate meals. Discussions mixed languages. Then, I was lucky enough to be able to travel, to live in different countries, to meet people from all over the world. In the end, I have worked a lot internationally, which always reminded me of what Geneva represents on the planet. Like the day I met the governor of Shanghai who was impressed by our city and its aura. I remained silent, thinking of the twenty million inhabitants of the Chinese metropolis and the projects it was carrying out on all fronts.

J’ai grandi avec l’idée que le monde était ouvert. Mon père dirigeait une compagnie d’aviation et ma mère recevait leurs hôtes autour de grandes tablées. Les discussions mélangeaient les langues. Puis, j’ai moi-même eu la chance de voyager, de vivre dans différents pays, de côtoyer des personnes venant d’un peu partout. Enfin, j’ai beaucoup travaillé dans l’international, ce qui me rappelait toujours ce que Genève représente sur la planète, comme ce jour où j’ai rencontré le gouverneur de Shanghai impressionné par notre cité et son aura. Je suis resté coi, pensant aux vingt millions d’habitants de la métropole chinoise et des chantiers qu’elle menait sur tous les fronts.

What was the biggest surprise for you in researching the book?

I was very touched by all the journeys we trace in the book and by the possibility of seeing oneself in them in one way or another. Whether it’s emigration, disruption, courage in the face of adversity or the will to bounce back, there is a very universal dimension in these portraits. The "surprise" comes mostly from those who told me they had to come to Geneva to launch and carry out their projects. Because Geneva is the UN and its agencies, hundreds of NGOs and international actors. But it’s also international finance, it’s an artistic and cultural center, especially when you think of the role of the free ports, or the importance—perhaps underestimated—of the Grand-Théâtre. Not to mention the platform for a number of commodities such as agricultural products or oil.

J’ai été très touché par tous les parcours évoqué dans le livre et par la possibilité de s’y raccrocher d’une façon ou d’une autre. Qu’il s’agisse d’émigration, de ruptures, de courage devant l’adversité ou de volonté de rebondir, il y a une dimension très universelle dans ces portraits. La « surprise » vient surtout de ceux qui m’ont déclaré devoir venir à Genève pour lancer et mener leur projet. Parce que Genève, c’est l’ONU et ses agences, des centaines d’ONG et d’acteurs internationaux. Mais c’est aussi la finance international, un centre artistique et culturel que je connaissais mal, notamment lorsque l’on pense au rôle des Ports Francs ou à la place, peut-être sous-estimée, du Grand-Théâtre. Sans oublier la plateforme pour nombre de produits de base comme les produits agricoles ou le pétrole.

People often say there is a disconnect between "local" Geneva and "international" Geneva. Do you agree? Why? Has it always been the case?

Clearly there is a real disconnect. But probably the same as it exists between different industries, without much interpenetration. At the end of the day, everyone lives very well in an almost self-sufficient way. More specifically, I worked for a long time to build bridges between the local and the international, too often surprised to meet people who do not speak a word of French after many years spent on the shores of Lake Geneva or others who barely know that the European headquarters of the UN is based in Geneva. The civil society actors I present in my book show that it is possible to erase, if I can put it that way, those invisible borders. I think the "126" are working on it. Some of them know how UN agencies work from having collaborated there. They are privileged interlocutors to intervene in the field and also act as bridges in the field of change. They show that we can combine skills; that we can be creative. To move towards a common well-being. To get out of the logic of "making new with old"; just create something new. In this regard, I am thinking of the Emotional Well-Being Institute, founded by Professor Basseer Jeeawody (Mauritius, in the book), which seeks to put us back in a “healthier” mode. There is also the superb testimony of Rainer Juan Gude (Spain, in the book) who says he lives at "5 kilometres an hour," the right speed to focus on the essential.

Cette distinction existe très clairement. Probablement comme elle existe entre différents secteurs d’activité, sans beaucoup d’interpénétration. Finalement, chacun vit très bien de façon presque autarcique. Plus spécifiquement, j’ai longtemps travaillé pour jeter des passerelles entre le local et l’international, trop souvent surpris de rencontrer des personnes qui ne parlent pas un mot de français après de nombreuses années passées au bord du Léman ou d’autres qui savent juste que le siège européen de l’ONU est basé à Genève. La société civile présentée dans mon livre montre qu’il est possible d’effacer, si je peux le dire ainsi, les frontières invisibles. Je pense que les « 126 » y travaillent. Certains connaissent le fonctionnement des agences onusiennes pour y avoir collaboré. Ils sont des interlocuteurs privilégié pour intervenir sur le terrain et aussi des ponts sur le terrain du changement. Ils montrent que nous pouvons conjuguer les compétences ; être créatif. Pour aller vers un mieux-être commun. Sortir de la logique « faire du neuf avec du vieux » ; juste créer du neuf. À cet égard, je pense au Emotional Well-Being Institute, fondé par le professeur Basseer Jeeawody (île Maurice dans le livre), qui cherche à nous replacer sur un mode plus « sain ». Il y a aussi le superbe témoignage de Rainer Juan Gude (Espagne dans le livre) qui vit à « 5 kilomètres heure », le temps de se recentrer sur l’essentiel.

Today's Briefing: Philippe Mottaz

Edited by: Paige Holt