Johann Aeschlimann, on the UN Economic and Social Council
A delegate spends four years in New York on average; there is not a lot of time to get accustomed to the institution. If we can make life easier for these ECOSOC delegates, we can help them spend less time and effort finding their way and more time working on substance.
The ECOSOC Handbook, a Practical Guide to the UN Economic and Social Council will officially be launched tomorrow, Friday 28, in New York, by the Swiss Ambassador to the UN.
In advance of its release and online publication, we talked to its author, Johann Aeschlimann, who readily admitted to me at the beginning of our Zoom that “you have to be a bit of a wonk” to read the neatly designed booklet published by the Swiss Foreign Ministry. (Full disclosure: Aeschlimann and I both worked as Washington correspondents in the eighties and nineties.)
Just released: the ECOSOC Handbook, a Practical Guide to the UN Economic and Social Council—courtesy of the Swiss government
PHM: Why should a government publish a handbook on ECOSOC? Isn’t that the role of ECOSOC itself?
JA: The Swiss government has a tradition of publishing handbooks, going back to 2010, with A Practical Guide to the UN General Assembly, which still serves as a reference today. Switzerland is the only country to have joined the UN by popular vote, and we see these handbooks as a way to highlight Switzerland’s attachment and commitment to the organization. This book is not about the ECOSOC in terms of what the Council does or doesn’t do; it’s not an assessment of the ECOSOC’s performance. It’s simply a practical guide that tells you how the ECOSOC operates.
Who is the target audience for the handbook?
Our primary audience is people who work with and in the Council, delegates and diplomats who deal with one aspect or another within the purview of ECOSOC, and of course NGOs—as ECOSOC is the only body where NGOs can have a formal relationship with a UN body. ECOSOC rules and procedures are many and complex, often distributed in many different documents. This handbook brings them together in a single brochure. If you consider that a delegate spends four years in New York on average, there is not a lot of time to get accustomed to the institution– perhaps only two years or so to work productively before preparing for the next posting. If we can make life easier for these ECOSOC delegates, we can help them spend less time and effort finding their way and more time working on substance.
ECOSOC is an arena where power politics—and superpower politics—play out. How do you deal with that?
You are right. But I think it is essential to make a distinction between the institution itself, which is our guide’s sole subject, and how different countries use (or don’t use) the ECOSOC to push for their agendas and promote their interests. To draw an analogy with the Human Rights Council in Geneva, it is not the Council’s fault that certain political decisions are taken the way they are. This is simply a result of the power relations in the world.