#6 Global Geneva - Fall 2019 Edition

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The EPFL’s Red Sea Project: Saving the world’s corals


Climate Crisis

The Race No One is Winning




Compelling journalism, new ideas and global exploration

Can Afghanistan’s women end its 40-year war?


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EDITORS International Geneva: Not just a hub, but a global reality


The Race No One is Winning


16 | Caribbean Dreams:

Economic Nightmares



Swiss Red Sea Project that could Help Save Earth's Coral Reefs

22 OCEANS The Global Reef Expedition


20 | Letter From Maine's Oyster Lady


35 |


Switzerland, Afghanistan & the Seas

BOOK REVIEW The Future is Asian POLITICS France's ENA: The End of an Era

LETTER FROM SICILY The Mediterranean –

32 | the World's most Deadly Anti-Refugee 'Wall'

Cover photo credit: © Michele Westmorland /iLCP



36 | Development versus environment LETTER FROM FLORIDA


Nur-Sultan: International Geneva's Challenge in Central Asia


INTERNATIONAL GENEVA The Swiss Option: A second Brexit referendum needs to be credible – unlike the last.


INTERNATIONAL GENEVA The U.N.’s Michael Møller Placing International Geneva on the global frontline


49 | Harnessing the power of

on-the-spot media for change FROM THE FIELD

52 | China and the Golden Veins of Henan


LETTER FROM COX'S BAZAR Burma’s Rohingya – a people in need of citizenship, not sympathy


AFGHANISTAN Are Afghanistan’s women the key to ending over four decades of war?


63 | The Price of Purity

by Maxine Rechter

by Mohamed Diagne


65 | Capital


by Nicholas Machen

BREAKING IN Finding that Internship: A Student's Experience in Geneva


CARTOONISTS Chappatte and the stifling of graphic satire


64 | Kyanite


International Geneva:

Not just a hub, but a global reality SEVERAL MONTHS AGO, while chatting with a group of international aid workers in Bangkok, I was asked why we had chosen Global Geneva as the title for our magazine, particularly given that much of our content is produced by writers from all over the world. “It’s an unusual concept,” one of them told me. “But it doesn’t seem to be about Geneva.” It’s an observation we often receive. And it usually takes a few minutes to explain why we consider the ‘Geneva’ brand so important as the world’s leading information hub for planetary themes, such as humanitarian action, climate change, human rights, conservation, health, peace and security, or world trade. And why it is so crucial to report them in a manner that makes them both inciteful and accessible to world-wide audiences, particularly young people. On the surface, ‘international Geneva’ represents some 30 major United Nations and other international organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, World Trade Organization and the World Council of Churches, plus well over 400 non-governmental organizations ranging from the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and Interpeace to Médecins sans Frontières International and Medair. But this does not even begin to take into account the scores of private sector companies, law firms, media groups and banks that operate internationally. Nor the hundreds (if not several thousand) of other globally-oriented players operating out of Switzerland, Lichtenstein and neighbouring border regions. And yet all are part of the ‘international Geneva’ concept. These include organizations such as the Anne Frank Foundation, ArtBasel and Bank of International Settlements in Basel; ETH, FIFA and the Andan Global Citizen’s Alliance in Zurich; EPFL, IMD, International Olympic Committee and the Jan Michalski Foundation in Lausanne; IUCN and WWF in Gland as well as Tree of Life Foundation, IBSA Foundation for Scientific Research and Swiss Stem Cell Foundation in Lugano. A growing number of organizations located in neighbouring France, such as Interpol in Lyons and the Mérieux Foundation outside Annecy, consider Geneva a key focal point. Every year, this exceptional international community hosts major conferences, workshops, cultural events, arbitration meetings or mediation retreats that attract hundreds of thousands of participants from all over the world. This is where Global Geneva is beginning to play a pivotal role. As Michael Møller, until recently head of the United Nations Geneva office, points out (See Luisa Ballin’s article


in this edition of Global Geneva), ‘International Geneva’ is more than just a city. It is a hub with global impact. And in many ways, the term “international Switzerland” might prove more appropriate. Regional UN hubs such as Nairobi, Vienna, Bangkok and even New York are also part of this same knowledge and operations vortex for dealing with issues such as climate change, disaster risk reduction, refugee action and conflict mediation.

REACHING OUT TO A WORLD-WIDE ‘INTERNATIONAL GENEVA’ COMMUNITY Hence our decision to rely on highly diverse articles with ‘insight’ rather than ‘news’ combined with powerful story-telling based on quality and informed journalism provided by our world-wide network of over 2,000 reporters, writers, cartoonists, film-makers, photographers as well as specialists. Our aim is to help make ‘international Geneva’ issues more accessible – and engaging – to Swiss and world-wide audiences. In previous editions, for example, we have published Focus series exploring key global themes such as water, the destruction of cultural heritage and polar regions. These are now part of our regular coverage. In this edition, we are looking at Oceans, in particular, the impact of the earth’s steadily worsening climate crisis, an issue highlighted in one of our lead articles as “the race no one is winning.” Contributors, such as Liz Thompson of the Living Oceans’ Foundation, writes about their five-year planetary investigation by ship with scientists, journalists and students into the state of coral reefs around the world, while Elizabeth Kemf’s Letter from Florida reports on community struggles to save local cultural heritage and environment from rampant urban development, including efforts to protect the coastline against hurricanes. Some of our articles highlight what is being done in the way of innovation or galvanizing expertise for possible solutions to global challenges and problems. The article by journalist William Dowell on Agora Rising examines International Switzerland’s innovative approach to real time cancer research. The essay by Danish scientist Anders Meiborn of the Lausanne-based EPFL explains a transnational Red Sea project that could help save the world’s corals. Another article by Peter Hulm looks into how Coral Vita, an entrepreneurial initiative recognized by UNEP’s Young Champion of the Earth initiative, is already providing ways of ‘recultivating’ new corals.

Equally important for us is to obtain the perspective from the field based on first-hand experiences. Aid worker Louis Parkinson’s Letter from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh on how Burmese Rohingyas are struggling to survive in the world’s largest refugee camp offers a rich personal story that helps us better understand what it happening. Human rights specialist Norah Niland explores in her Letter from Sicily how the Mediterranean now represents the world’s deadliest anti-refugee wall as governments, such as Italy’s, are seeking to prevent humanitarians from doing their civic duty by criminalizing rescue operations. Plus more unusual pieces about unusual places, notably South African reporter Peter Kenny’s look at what must be one of the world’s most architecturally bizarre capitals, Nur-Sultan (former Astana) of landlocked Kazakhstan, with its efforts to become the new ‘Geneva’ of Central Asia. Or Charles Norchi’s piece on how Switzerland – and Afghanistan – have helped enshrine the right of access for all to the oceans in modern-day international law of the sea. Or my own article on how Afghanistan’s women may offer a way of ending the country’s over 40-year-long war with Switzerland as a neutral arbiter to help bring diverse combatants to the negotiating table.

GLOBAL GENEVA: A LEADING MAGAZINE ON PLANETARY ISSUES Ever since our first pilot edition in December, 2016, we have sought to develop Global Geneva into a trusted print and online magazine. It has been a struggle, but we are finally getting there. Numerous editors and journalists from New York and Port-au-Prince to Hong Kong and Islamabad have contributed their time – and content – while various groups and individuals, such as Swiss philanthropists Vera Hoffmann and Yann Borgstedt, and institutions such as the Alcea and Oak foundations, have provided us with grants. Now in our sixth print and e-edition with a website that is increasingly drawing readers worldwide, we are emerging as International Geneva’s leading English-language publication on planetary concerns. Critical to our global outreach is the development of our Youth Writes initiative, which kicked off in late 2018 with our Young Journalists and Writers Programme (YJWP). The purpose is not only to help young people improve their writing skills (a growing concern amongst numerous parents, teachers and university professors), but also how to discern what is credible – and what is not – in social media at a time when disinformation and false news threaten our democracies and ability to make informed decisions. With 4,000 sponsored complimentary copies of Global Geneva being delivered to Swiss international schools from Basel to Montreux, we launched our first young people’s journalism workshop at the ICRC Ecogia Training Centre in Versoix outside of Geneva in March.

We also started a writers’ competition for high school students, whose winners – all focusing (fact or fiction) on International Geneva themes - are scheduled to receive their awards at the Morges Book Festival 6-8 September, 2019. Depending on support, our hope is to extend this initiative world-wide, by developing educational partnerships (including working with high schools in countries such as Liberia and Sri Lanka) as a means of highlighting international Geneva and SDG themes. In this edition, we are also publishing intriguing entries of our young writer laureates. Plus a piece in Breaking In, our section dealing with young people’s experiences in undertaking internships or volunteerships around the world. Finally, as part of Global Geneva’s business plan for the next two or three years, we have adopted an approach not unlike that of The Guardian newspaper. We wish to ensure that our content is made available as widely as possible – for free. This includes our quality print edition (also available in e-format online), which we are finding to be crucial to our outreach strategy. More and more readers, including young people, are telling us that they enjoy the print version as it demonstrates both seriousness and quality. Many, too, say they read the print more readily than online content, which, as research institutions are increasingly demonstrating, is an ‘old school’ phenomenon that needs to be taken into account. People actually read print articles, but tend to skim through – and not necessarily absorb – online versions. Furthermore, our print edition draws more readers to our website. However, in order to achieve an impact, and to survive, Global Geneva, which strives to be editorially independent in the public interest with critical, but solutions-oriented reporting, needs to ensure a mix of foundation grants, sponsorship, advertising, subscriptions and support membership. This coming autumn, we are launching a crowd-funding initiative, plus encouraging corporate subscriptions enabling us to make complimentary bulk copies available to companies, schools, universities and conferences. There are exciting times ahead, but our readers must also be our partners.

Photo by Peter Kenny


Editor-in-Chief Edward Girardet


Announcing the Global Geneva Young Journalists & Writers Award Winners for 2019 The editors of Global Geneva are proud to announce the three laureates of the 2019 Youth Writes Awards for students 14-19 years-old at Swiss schools for their stories – fact or fiction – on ‘International Geneva’ themes.


Maxine Rechter – The Price of Purity INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL OF GENEVA

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Nicholas Machen – Capital BRITISH SCHOOL OF GENEVA

We are publishing the winning stories in the Sept/Oct 2019 edition of Global Geneva as part of our new Youth Writes section. The awards will be presented at the Morges Book Festival (Livres sur les Quais) on Sunday, 8 September 2019 at 16:30 as part of a special panel on the challenges of writing for young people. The panel will include experienced authors and our laureates on how to improve writing skills regardless what they do later in life. Everyone needs to write – and read – well. All are welcome. Entry is free. So please come and support these young writers. The three runners-up are:

• Mina Tang – Hope • Jacob Mansfield – The Chess Game • Zoe Lucas – Orange

All six lead entries will be published online at: www.global-geneva.com Funded by the Lausanne-based ALCEA Foundation, Youth Writes seeks to help high school students in Switzerland to improve their writing skills. It also aims to provide young people with a better understanding of quality journalism in an age of disinformation and false news as well as how to discern what is credible – and what is not – in social media. Finally, Global Geneva is seeking to provide a platform for young people to write about ‘International Geneva’ themes ranging from climate change and humanitarian action to conservation, health, human rights and world trade. Global Geneva is hoping to make Youth Writes an extramural component for all high school students in Switzerland, particularly as part of IB, Matura, ‘A’ level and other related programmes. If you or your school are interested, please contact us. Global Geneva can also help schools set up Young Journalists and Writers Clubs, plus looks forward to publish any works of quality accepted by the editors.

For further information, contact: EDITOR@GLOBAL-GENEVA.COM



GLOBAL GENEVA IS AN INDEPENDENT PRINT AND ONLINE MAGAZINE of quality journalism in the public interest with compelling writing, new ideas and global exploration. Our primary aim is to make “International Geneva” and SDG-related themes more accessible to world-wide audiences with a special emphasis on young people. EDITORS Editor & Founder Edward Girardet (Geneva) America’s Editor William Dowell (New York) Contributing Editor Peter Hulm (Erschmatt) Francophone Editor Daniel Wermus (Geneva) Digital Editor David Breed (Geneva) Assistant Editor Chris Woodburn (Geneva) Photo Editor Tala Skari (Paris) Publishing Director Timothy Weaver (London) CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Leyla Alyanak (Geneva), Edward Barnes (New York), Jeff Carmel (San Diego), Mary Fitzgerald (Marseille), Julian Gearing (Bangkok), Elizabeth Kemf (Florida), Luisa Ballin (Geneva), Peter Kenny (Geneva), Donatella Lorch (Ankara), Jean MacKenzie (Cape Cod), Mort Rosenblum (Paris), Mark Schapiro (San Francisco), Peyman Pejman (Paris), Charles Norchi (Maine) CARTOONISTS Hani Abbas (Geneva) Jeff Danziger (New York) POETRY EDITOR Carla Drysdale (Geneva) VISION & GOVERNANCE Caroline Hunt-Matthes (Geneva) DESIGN, WEB & LAYOUT Nathaniel Daudrich (Paris) ADVERTISING & DISTRIBUTION For further information, contact: editor@global-geneva.com EXECUTIVE ADVISORY BOARD Veronique Barbey, Xavier Cornut, Michael Keating, Anselm Zurfluh EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD Jonathan Randal, Ahmed Rashid, Kim Gordon-Bates


The Race No One is Winning

The Editors


Fossil fuels and other forms of pollution are not being curbed. (Photo: Patrick Hendry on Unsplash)


The theme of the September 2019 Climate Summit in New York is “A Race we Must Win”. Yet, despite irrefutable evidence that the climate crisis is worsening by the day, we have not even left the starting block. It has been four years since nearly every country adopted the Paris Agreement, the international framework designed to reduce carbon emissions and slow global warming. Despite this landmark agreement, climate change continues to be felt across the planet with new records for heatwaves, unpredictable weather patterns and rising sea levels. Most governments continue to mouth the need for action, yet, with time running out, they are proving incapable of making the hard decisions required to reverse this frightening global phenomenon. Global Geneva editors examine what needs to be done.


HE GOAL OF THE 2015 PARIS AGREEMENT is to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the mid-21st century. It calls on all countries, including the leading industrial nations, to slash their climate-altering carbon dioxide emissions, the major source of global warming. These emissions stem from fossil and bunker fuels used by vehicles, international shipping and energy production, and industries with highly adverse forms of pollution such as cement production. The global plan to reduce carbon emissions also appeals for more radically sustainable land use, including a halt to the massive destruction of rainforests ranging from the Amazon in Latin America to the Southeast Asian islands of Indonesia, Malaysia and New Guinea. Governments representing the world’s leading – and most detrimentally polluting – economies have pledged to support developing nations in their climate mitigation and adaptation measures, all the while monitoring and reporting progress. These measures include investing in new sources of renewable energies, more efficient and less destructive forms of agriculture, reforestation, and adopting more intelligent urban development approaches, particularly in megacities where more than half the world’s population now live. The Paris Agreement was meant to herald unprecedented and urgent action. But instead the pace of implementation is slow and half-hearted. In some cases, political expediency and self-interest have led to startling and dangerous setbacks. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro recently accused his government’s own National Space Institute of ‘lying’ about the increasingly high rate of deforestation. Since coming to power in early 2017, US President Donald Trump has condemned climate change as ‘fake news’ and withdrew from the Paris Agreement, arguing that it unfairly penalized key US industries. He blithely rolled back

one environmental protection law after another despite warnings from his own federal agencies.

CARBON DIOXIDE EMISSIONS ARE STILL DANGEROUSLY RISING The impact of such reckless behavior and attitudes is that in 2018 carbon dioxide emissions grew faster than at any time since 2011. Already, global emissions had increased by nearly 50 per cent since 1990. Against this backdrop of complacency, the alarm bells are getting louder. Last year, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Bonn issued dire warnings that the world had less than 12 years to keep global warming to 1.5 Celsius. Scientists pointed out that an additional 0.5 Celsius rise, the planet’s current trajectory, would be catastrophic, significantly worsening the likelihood of drought, floods and heatwaves. The message is stark and clear: the world must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 if we are to limit global warming to 1.5 Celsius. The May 2019 decision by the UK parliament to declare a climate change emergency – a breath of fresh air amid the quagmire of Brexit – is a step in the right direction. But simply stating that Britain will lower its greenhouse gas by 80 per cent compared to the 1990 baseline is not enough. It requires a massive public information campaign, designed to change consumers’ behaviour. It also needs to scale-up low-carbon, energy-saving approaches ranging from more effective – and cheaper – public transportation options to reduce vehicle use to alternative energy subsidies for individual homeowners. Luxembourg’s recent decision to make all public transport free is an interesting new approach that could be emulated by other countries. The expansion of bike lanes coupled with free or cheap rentals in cities such as Paris, Copenhagen and Seattle also has made a significant dent.


Storm devastation. To reduce disaster risk, destroyed buildings need to be rebuilt properly. (Photo: UN)

CLIMATE CRISIS ACTION: TIME TO GET REAL It is against this backdrop that UN Secretary General António Guterres called for the September 2019 Climate Summit. A high-level Summit, he reasoned, was needed to correct the course by re-engaging countries on a collective path to reduce climate emissions and thus, above all, to “save the planet.” A dramatic overstatement? Not at all. Unfortunately, no one seems able to identify the golden bullet needed to put the Paris Agreement back on track. Bold new initiatives – and not just the usual declarations – are required with both rewards and punishments to propel countries to adopt the right measures. These urgently need to include climate sensitive development policies plus a more effective transition away from fossil fuel dependency. But how easy will it be to persuade the leading oil, gas and coal-producing nations, such as the United States, China, India and Australia to embrace the change that is urgently needed?

THE WORLD’S LEADING OIL COMPANIES NEED TO BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE Such an overhaul could mean directing enforceable measures against the world’s one hundred or more fossil-fuel producing companies, such as Saudi Arabia’s ARAMCO (worth US 465.49 bn in 2017), China’s Sinopec, America’s Exxon/Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell. According to the Carbon Majors Database, such operations account for 70 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions since


1988. While companies such as BP and Shell like to present themselves as reformist and open to change, their bottom lines still represent fossil fuel profit. One proposal that is gaining traction is a basic carbon tax. Currently businesses and individuals can “dump” carbon into the atmosphere at little or no cost. Attaching a price tag to such emissions could yield concrete results. Yet, to date, barely 40 countries have priced carbon in some form or another. Other proposals include drastically increasing fossil fuel taxes both at source and at the gas pump or distribution point. For such efforts to succeed, however, public education is required as is the political will to withstand the likely public outcry at the higher prices, such as France’s recent Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Jackets) movement. Unfortunately, there are too few politicians willing to shoulder the political consequences for tackling climate change head-on. Australia’s Scott Morrison was recently re-elected Prime Minister after a divisive campaign dominated by climate change. The image of Morrison brandishing a lump of coal in parliament is a reminder of the lengths politicians will go to demonstrate their commitment to the fossil fuel industry. Burning coal represents the world’s biggest single source of carbon dioxide emissions and nothing less than a hard and fast U-turn on retiring all existing coal-fired power plants is needed. The Green Climate New Deal, promoted by freshman US congresswoman, Alexandra Ocasia-Cortez, aims to limit US reliance on oil, gas and coal. It has been derided as “socialist” by President Trump, and largely ridiculed by many parts of the American political establishment as naive and cost prohibitive.

World-wide, however, there is a glimmer of hope. Citmeeting. In London, protesters have taken to the street ies or regions, such as Barcelona, London, Paris, Cape demanding climate action. Town, Hong Kong and San Francisco are being recogYet, despite much of the good work and momentum, nized for their leadership and climate action. California the most realistic future scenario remains bleak. Whethhas introduced climate change measures that are beginer in the United States, Hungary or Nepal, far too many ning to have an impact. Faced by increasingly frequent politicians still have not understood - or are unwilling wildfires, droughts and floods, it updated its ‘Safeguardto acknowledge the magnitude - of the crisis. Key global ing California Plan’ in 2018 and is implementing 300 difpolitical decision-makers need to wake-up and assume ferent actions to reduce greenhouse gas reduction emistheir responsibilities as their current half-measures and sions ranging from promoting hybrid cars and rooftop go-slow approaches are leaving the planet dangerously solar energy initiatives to more efficient water use and increasingly - exposed to disasters and peril. forestry management. According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Heavily criticized for its use of waste dumping and Risk Reduction (UNDRR) in Geneva, the world is expeuse of heavy residual ‘bunker’ fuels, the world shipping riencing one climate related disaster a week. Without industry, through the International Maritime Organization (IMO), has developed a strategy to reduce by 50 per cent of its carbon emissions by 2050. While difficult to monitor, standards are being set. Maersk, the world’s biggest shipping company, even announced a goal to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Select airlines, too, are making distinct efforts to reduce carbon emissions. According to a London School of Economics report, EasyJet stands at the top Climate change protestors in Paris, France. (Photo: Harrison Moore on Unsplash) of the list aiming to halve the passenger per kilometre emissions rate by 2020 compared a serious and concerted effort to reduce carbon emisto some of its rivals (75gm of CO2 per passenger/kilomesions, the world has little choice but to brace itself for tre) compared with 172gm for Korean Air and 112gm exthe likely consequences. The recent flooding in Iran, pected for International Airlines Group, which includes hurricanes in the Caribbean, heatwaves in Europe and British Airways. Companies with the weakest plans inIndia, and landslides in Bangladesh all attest to the need clude Air China; China Southern; Korean Air; Singapore for ambitious adaptation and disaster risk reduction Airlines and Turkish Airlines. strategies. However, even such actions are not enough. The real question at hand is whether the 2019 Climate Summit will result in a real “leap in collective national YOUNG PEOPLE HAVE GOT IT RIGHT political ambition” or simply result in more public and politically-correct declarations of concern. Nothing less Perhaps the most encouraging, however, is the rising than a tsunami of political change, perhaps one fuelled concern of young people who are mobilizing to demand by an outraged younger generation, is needed to reach immediate action to safeguard their futures. It is, after the 2050 objective of net zero carbon emissions. all, they who will be forced to inherit the next several decades of our failure to respond. Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager, started a global school walkout





Swiss Red Sea project that could help save Earth’s coral reefs Anders Meibom

Over the past three years alone, coral reefs around the world, notably Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and in Hawaii, have seen up to half their living coral damaged or destroyed through mass bleaching. Their prospects for survival remain dire. Many of the world’s reefs, including 29 UNESCO World Heritage sites from the Pacific to the Caribbean, can expect further annihilation with drastic impact on local economies, such as ocean tourism, before 2050. As Anders Meibom, a Danish scientist with Switzerland’s Federal Polytechnic University in Lausanne (EPFL) writes, they are now in the process of launching a cross-border research initiative in the Red Sea involving at least eight different countries that could provide hope for the future of our coral reefs.



T’S NOT EVERYDAY A SCIENTIST GETS TO WORK on a project that has implications of a truly global scope. But recently my research group, along with colleagues from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United States, have been able to show that coral reefs in the Northern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba are extremely resistant to the stress of global warming. This is a small miracle. In most parts of the planet, corals are dying at a depressingly high rate. Entire marine ecosystems are disappearing right before our eyes. As critical sources of marine biodiversity, coral reefs host millions of species. They are also crucial to economic survival, whether as a food source, tourism or protection of coastal areas and disaster risk reduction, for up to 500 million people living in tropical countries worldwide. And yet, this extraordinary natural heritage is in the process of rapidly dying from the effects of global climate change, primarily the steady rising of water temperature caused by increased atmospheric CO2 levels.

the process of photosynthesis, which is the process in which CO2 is turned into nutritional sugars. The symbiotic algae master this process effectively and feed their coral host by handing them the extra sugar (and other metabolites) they produce, but do not use for their own metabolism. The coral can live from this source of nutrients from photosynthesis alone. But when the algae are no longer there to feed them, the corals die within a matter of days. And while the white, bleached corals may initially have a beauty of their own, they are in fact in a death process. Because corals are at the base of the reef ecosystem, when they die the result is a dramatic decimation of other biodiversity in the reefs, such as the fish population.

DESTRUCTION BY CORAL BLEACHING Take for example the Great Barrier Reef, the Earth’s largest coral reef structure (the size of Italy!). During the past four or five years alone, upwards of 30 Coral reefs are crucial for coastal fishing, such as here in Papua New Guinea. (Photo: UN Environment) per cent of this immense reef structure has come under direct threat of extinction, or THE RED SEA CORAL SURVIVAL FACTOR has already died off, as a result of global warming. More precisely, the thermal stress caused by climate Our teams of researchers have now discovered (and crisis coupled with increasingly frequent heat waves on confirmed through numerous controlled experiments) these fragile organisms cause a disease-like condition the presence of at least one region on the planet capable known as coral bleaching, which eventually kills these of harbouring large and highly biodiverse coral reefs that corals. are much more resistant to the effects of global warming, notably the Red Sea – in particular the Northern Red Sea A TWO-STEP PROCESS LEADING TO DEATH and the Gulf of Aqaba (see satellite photo). Here, due to a unique geology and very special Bleaching causes corals to turn white as snow. What evolutionary history, the corals have developed a capacity to happens is that as waters warm, the coral starts losing its tolerate water temperatures much above the temperature population of millions of little single-cell organisms, small at which they currently live. In other words, the Red Sea is algae, that live in symbiosis inside the coral cells and give granting us an incredible gift, a lifeline of opportunity for the coral its vibrant colours. When this symbiosis breaks the rest of the world, because it sustains a large coral reef down due to heat stress, the algae leave the coral and two refuge capable of resisting global warming. things happen: For the moment, despite the Paris Agreements on First, the coral turns white because the white curbing CO2 levels coupled with the refusal of many carbonate skeleton they form underneath their tissue governments to act, it is highly likely that global warming becomes visible. will lift planetary water temperatures by 2-3 degrees C Second, the coral dies, if its population of symbiont by the end of the century. When this happens, as current algae does not recover within a few days. The coral indicators and recent extreme weather conditions suggest, literally starves to death. This is because the little algae all major coral reefs outside the Red Sea are likely to be normally provide a major part of the coral’s diet, through dead or greatly diminished.


If we manage to ensure that the Red Sea corals are properly protected against local environmental stress, then this region could still host a fully functioning coral reef ecosystem. This, in turn, would serve as an immense benefit to the countries with reefs off their coasts. It could also serve as an enormous repository of healthy, heatresistant corals that, with further advances in science, might enable reefs around the world to be renewed. For the moment, however, this is not possible.

THE OPENING OF NEW DOORS AND DIPLOMATIC POSSIBILITIES THROUGH SCIENCE The Red Sea region is host to continuous political tension and conflict, such as the current war in Yemen and complicated Arab-Israeli relations. Nevertheless, through science we can open new doors and create new possibilities for dialogue. Furthermore, in a part of the world touching on the Middle East, Africa and the Indian Ocean, this is where the International Switzerland community can help play both a key diplomatic and scientific role. The fact that the Red Sea corals are likely to survive when other reefs are dead, gives us scientists a unique opportunity, notably to understand more thoroughly these unique organisms and the ecosystems they support. For this to happen, however, the only way to secure the reefs of the Red Sea for future generations is to scientifically study – and, above all, manage – this exceptional natural resource on a regional scale and with global support.

A CRUCIAL ENVIRONMENTAL INITIATIVE WITHOUT FRONTIERS Pollution knows no boundaries and effective environmental protection requires international collaboration, coordination and planning. It is for this reason that we, together with the support of scientific colleagues from the Red Sea region, decided to create the Transnational Red Sea Center (TRSC). Significantly backed by Swiss diplomacy, we are now in the process of pulling together an initiative that will eventually involve at least the eight countries bordering or otherwise linked to the Red Sea (i.e., Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen and Djibouti) as part of a long-term ‘cross-border’ scientific collaboration on the Red Sea coral reef ecosystem. The concept of international scientific collaboration is not new, of course. CERN on the outskirts of Geneva has for years been engaged in ‘quiet’ engineering diplomacy on issues ranging from water to nuclear research involving specialists from all over the world, including countries in open conflict with each other. The TRSC will be somewhat different. Established at my host university EPFL in Switzerland, it will – when properly funded – coordinate scientific work both at home and in the field. Equally crucial, it will create a new dialogue (scientific as well as diplomatic) to underpin effective regional efforts to protect these unique reefs ecosystems against destruction.

The Red Sea. (Photo: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC)

A RESEARCH ENVIRONMENT WITHOUT BORDERS Imagine a Red Sea research ship flying the neutral Swiss flag, equipped with cutting-edge scientific instrumentation and enabling multi-national teams from the region, but also the European Union, United States, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean to work together to study the Red Sea corals, despite on-the-ground politics. For this vision to come through, it will require the help of the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which strongly supports the project, to negotiate appropriate collaborative scientific agreements that rise above politics. Many large-scale socio-economic developments are in progress or planned in the Red Sea region for the coming decades. These include a massive urban development project in the northwest of the Saudi Arabian peninsula which, if not properly planned and implemented, could threaten the entire region’s marine biodiversity. For these reasons, it is important for scientists to work closely with developers in order to help prevent impacts that could undermine the region’s coral heritage, and indeed the financial foundation of the projects themselves. It is absolutely vital that these developments progress in the environmentally most responsible manner. If not, they could result in the destruction of coral reefs on a scale that could prove devastating – and in a matter of few years, humanity would have lost its ‘last reef standing’.

Since 2012, ANDERS MEIBOM has been a full professor in the Institute of Environmental Engineering at the Swiss Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and is also professor at the University of Lausanne, in the Faculty Geology and Environmental Sciences. His research group focuses on understanding metabolic processes in marine organisms, corals included, under environmental stress.


Caribbean Dreams Economic Nightmares

Children’s Bay Cay in the Exuma Islands, Bahamas (Photo: Jeff Carmel)

Peter Hulm

Could Caribbean nations that are counting on cruiseship tourism to rescue their flailing economies be deluding themselves? The competition between resorts is fierce, the cost to local businesses is high, and the long-term viability is questionable. Furthermore, in an age of expanding eco- or sustainable tourism, ‘instant’ visitors remain ignorant of real environmental or cultural concerns. They also contribute little, except – perhaps – to Chinese investors. Contributing editor Peter Hulm, a regular winter Bahamas resident, explains why the temptation may be irresistible but can turn out to be a Devil’s Covenant. CRUISESHIP DAY-TRIPPERS IN THE CARIBBEAN live in a dream world of sun, sand, and shopping, with culture represented by hair braiders, T-shirts and souvenirs. But the trinkets these days are likely to come from China. In one of the few attempts to challenge this superficial tourism notion of indigenous culture in the Caribbean region, the Bahamas National Art Gallery in the visitor haven of Nassau in 2019 gave space to a history professor and a local artist to question stereotypes about the Bahamian capital in sound and images, and particularly its ‘Overthe-Hill’ (OTH) working-class community. “Once a place thriving with Black businesses, nightclubs and hotels, the OTH community now seems to be at a standstill,” says artist Jodi Minnis in explaining the thinking behind the 9th National Exhibition entitled “NE9: the Fruit and the Seed”, which offered a video tour of “ole Nassau” and OTH. Historian Dr Ian Bethell-Bennett challenges the current view of Over-the-Hill as permanently impoverished. “Old Nassau was dependent on Over-the-Hill because that


was where tourists went for entertainment. It was also where Bahamian music was alive, prior to desegregation and the hotels taking over the local bands and paying them more than clubs could. The representation of the area as nothing but a ghetto was historically misplaced and inaccurate.” The Nassau exhibition included works by Los Angeles-based April Bey from The Bahamas, among them a portrait of the young Queen Elizabeth II as “Power Girl” using Chinese knock-off wax fabric and knock-off pearls. “The Queen is depicted with bars of hand-sewn fabric that were purchased in West Africa, and that is marketed as ‘authentic’ African fabric but in reality is just Chinese knock-off fabric sold due to the ‘authentic’ fabrics costing too much for the actual people to afford,” Bey says. She also notes: “Hung around her neck is knock-off made-in-China pearls referencing the obscene levels of wealth the crown carries while at the same time alluding to the Chinese hidden wealth through their knock-off industries built on slave wages.”

Minnis speaks of a “romanticized mysticism” about Nassau. With gentrification, she says, “those living in an area are subject to the whims and plans of more powerful outside entities, encroaching on the space until it is no longer viable for the (often marginalized) inhabitants.” Another recent NAGB exhibition entitled “Hard Mouth: From the Tongue of the Ocean” – “a look at the way language – both verbal and visual – has shaped The Bahamas and how we view ourselves. From the way we speak, to the way that we voice our discontent, to the way we envision ourselves as women and as part of the Black Diaspora, Hard Mouth is a call to the ‘biggity’ and bold nature of Bahamians and a foray into how this archipelago, around the Tongue of the Ocean itself, finds its voice.”

A BADLY SKEWED APPROACH: JUMP-STARTING THE ECONOMY THROUGH CRUISESHIPS Despite this revisioning of Nassau’s past and Bahamian culture, Natalie Willis of the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas points out that local schools still require students not to wear their natural hair untreated. “Employers still request that their sales clerks not wear natural hair exposed as it will turn off the shoppers. To honestly see Black beauty, one must see it without the occlusions of colonialism. Colonialism is still deeply embedded in most of the formerly colonized world.” Yet, on its major industrial island Grand Bahama, 90km from Florida, the national government is encouraging large-scale cruiseship day-tripper tourism in an attempt to jump-start the island’s desperate economy. Welcoming Prime Minister Hubert Minister’s promise of “a significant catalyst for economic growth” on the island, the Nassau Guardian newspaper on 2 March 2019 had to admit: “There has been capital flight and high unemployment. Many residents left in search of work wherever they could find it.” The government’s vision for Grand Bahama is as a futuristic powerhouse of technological know-how – a techno-hub for the Caribbean economic region; a crypto island for disruptive international business innovation; a leader in stem cell-based medical tourism; luxury condo communities for rich holidaymakers; a free-tax zone covering a large part of the island; and a major container and maintenance port for the whole U.S. seaboard up to Baltimore. Tourism currently accounts for 60 per cent of the GDP (gross domestic product) and employs half the labour force in The Bahamas. But tourism management seems badly skewed. The main tourism facilities are in the hands of foreign companies. The profits that emerge flow out of the country because the Bahamas has little to offer immediately to foreign direct investment in local businesses. As Vision 2040, the first state of the nation report, put it in April 2016, the drawbacks include “the absence of quality value-added services and well-formed clusters around the tourist product.” The trouble is, the government’s short-term answer is to increase cruiseship traffic: a new port for the Carnival cruise line some eight kilometres from Freeport, the island’s main city. This is supposed to help produce jobs for


CORAL VITA: MAKING REEF RESCUE FUN – AND A BUSINESS As the international community seeks to deal with the impact of climate change on the world’s oceans, UNEP has given the Young Champion of the Earth for Latin America and the Caribbean for the world’s first land-based commercial coral farm. BY PETER HULM READ ONLINE


MANGROVES: A TOOL FOR CLIMATE CHANGE – AND MORE For World Mangrove Day – 26 July 2019 – we asked IUCN (the World Conservation Union) in Gland to explain what mangroves can mean for conservation and the action required. Raphaëlle Flint stepped up and gave us a very personal view with a message for governments on revaluing this unique ecosystem. READ ONLINE



OCEANS | Caribbean Dreams – Economic Nightmares

the depressed East End of this 153 km-long limestone protrusion into the Atlantic, shaped somewhat like a geological hammer. But the solution – in common with the same strategy embraced by other Caribbean nations – has a big downside. The officially estimated $131 earning from each daytripper, according to the Caribbean cruiseship association, might sound respectable (though the government’s own figure is $70), but that’s by no means all profit. My favourite swimming spot in Grand Bahama, Paradise Cove, with reasonably priced facilities, refuses to pay the hefty sums demanded by cruise lines for featuring them. So don’t look for it in the cruiseship booths. You have to book online or at the port. If that missing $60 went in fees to the offshore Chinese owners of the main port, it wouldn’t surprise me. But daytrippers are not the most lucrative end of the market. Cruiseship tourists account, roughly, for only onefifth of the stopover revenues of $1,878m for the Bahamas. If guests stay overnight, spending per person goes up to $1,381 (16 times as much). These statistics don’t include people like myself who have bought condos in the Bahamas largely because of its environment and spend up to six months of the year on the islands. Even at the bottom end, we must be putting at least $20,000 a year each into the local economy.

THE QUICKEST REVENUE EARNER IS NOT THE BEST STRATEGY As other Caribbean nations have already learned, going for the quickest revenue earner is not the best strategy. As early as 2006 Grenada called in the U.N.’s Geneva-based International Trade Centre for help with a business strategy and learned that instead of daytrippers it should focus on “Heritage Attractions, Cruise, and Marine and Yachting” because these brought in more money per day. Jamaica, stuck in “a chronic state of near stagnation since the 1970s”, according to a 2011 report from its planning institute, also came to ITC for assistance. The planners found their nation had export potential in a number of unexpected sectors: education, entertainment, fashion and computer technology (particularly call centres) as well as aquaculture, coffee, mining and agro-processing. Marjorie Kennedy, President of the Jamaica Exporters Association during much of the process, observed: “We realized that there are so many different industries that we hadn’t traditionally thought of as having export potential. This was really a shift in how we had looked at exports.”

ECO-TOURISM AND EDUCATION: A NEW AND MOVRE VIABLE TOURISM APPROACH The Bahamas has an enviable environmental reputation, establishing the first world sea-land joint nature reserve in Exuma. A man named one of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Young Champions is now promoting the world’s first commercial land-based coral farming company in Freeport. In addition to the restoration facility, Coral Vita offers an eco-tourism attraction and education centre that along with a “swim with dol-


phins” attraction offers something more than sunbathing for daytrippers. This could be the basis for a different approach to tourism. The islands are a magnet for scientific researchers attracted by the first-class opportunities for study. These are people who return year after year and bring students with them. And they are eager to give back to The Bahamas by educating local young people and tourists. After Hurricane Matthew, the ‘green’ nature resorts such as Paradise Cove and Garden of the Groves were up and running a month after the devastation that had wiped out much of the island’s daytourist appeal (only a third of its traditional ‘straw’ market is now operating). But the ‘green’ tourists came anyway. The daytripper cruise ships, on the other hand, reduced their stop-offs, one line even switching a regular vessel to Baltimore to act as a home for workers doing post-hurricane reconstruction up north. A package-tour airline abandoned flights for the season, due to the lack of available hotel rooms. In the meantime, on Grand Bahama, the economic crisis has led to a plague of casual employment for the local population. Trade Unions sent an eight-page position paper to the Minister for the Grand Bahama in advance of a labour rally on 7 June to argue that widespread short hires without full benefits vouchsafed to full-time workers is the reason for the downturn in the economy and depopulation. Kirkland Russell, vice-president of the Bahamas Trade Union Congress, is quoted as saying: “The casual workforce phenomenon […] is rampant in Grand Bahama. We believe casual labour is wreaking havoc on the workforce in GB, adversely affecting a person’s ability to get loans, to be protected, and we believe it is a form of union busting.” As the regular art shows at the Rand Nature Centre indicate, Grand Bahama has a surprising number of creative artists (look on the Web for Sheldon Saint). Promoting the Commonwealth’s painters, sculptors and musicians could be an immense attraction for holidaymakers. It doesn’t have to count on just the carnival show known as junkanoo. Grand Bahama has its own history, from freed-slave settlements and a hermit hideaway, mine-timber exploitation, Al Capone’s supply chain during U.S. Prohibition, one of the first and earliest successful free-zones of the modern era, a tracking station for the Mercury space flights, and a key location for Pirates of the Caribbean (all documented by development planner/writer Peter Barrett). Erika Gates at Garden of the Groves is trying to tell these stories in a museum she is creating in a former golf course clubhouse. But the government should have recognized its potential from the beginning -- and have stepped in to push it forward with as much speed as it has signed the agreements for a new cruiseship port and oil terminal. As the U.S. Administration under President Obama learned, nudges (simple indirect incentives) can be even more effective than top-down, all-out regulation in enabling economies to recover and flourish. And they don’t require you to put yourself into hock for years to foreign investors.

Contributing editor PETER HULM has been a consultant for the UN’s Geneva-based International Trade Centre since 1999.

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Letter from Maine’s ‘Oyster Lady’: The comeback of a healthy mollusk Abigail Carroll

Most serious weekend markets throughout France, whether in Divonnes-les-Bains or St Germain in Paris, seem to host at least one outdoor seafood bar. And while denizens of Lake Geneva can always enjoy a summer of ‘friture du lac’, (the traditional dish of fried perch or other fish such as lake minnows), Abigail Carroll, a coastal maricultural farmer from the chilly waters of Maine known as ‘the Oyster Lady’, recommends that this succulent mollusk not be left off the menu, not just because it appeals even to certain vegetarians, but that it can help save the planet. AS AN EXTRAORDINARY OBLONG-SHAPED BIVALVE, oysters offer a low-carb, low-fat, protein punch packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. Hence its new green age definition as a whole food. They’re so irresistible that there’s even a subgroup of vegans who make a special exception for them. Perhaps it’s due to the animal’s purported aphrodisiac powers! For these reasons and more, oysters have been making a comeback over the past decade in restaurants and kitchens around the globe. Oysters, which exist in salt or brackish water in areas ranging from North America’s eastern seaboard, including the Caribbean, to Europe, Australia, Philippines and Japan, have served as a source of food for thousands of years. The Romans, according to ‘garbage’ archaeologists who explore the diets of the past by rummaging through the remnants of rubbish disposals, engaged runners to carrier fresh oysters as a delicacy from Brittany to elite families living in colonies such as Trevorum (Trier in western Germany) to Augusta Rorica (Kaiseraugst in northern Switzerland), a relay journey that could take three days.



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By the early 19th century in Britain, however, oysters were a sort of precursor to fish and chips as they were considered a mainly cheap working class food eaten fried rather than raw.

A CRUCIAL MOLLUSK FOR COMBATTING CLIMATE CRISIS But the real reason to eat oysters today isn’t how healthy they are for us; it’s how healthy they are for the planet. Farming oysters requires no fertilizer, feed, or freshwater. We put oysters in gear in the water and they feed on naturally-occurring phytoplankton while improving the environment around them. As filter feeders, oysters can clean our oceans’ polluted waters by filtering out toxins. And at a time when with many coastal communities seeking ways of implementing disaster risk reduction in the face of the climate crisis, oyster reefs can also help mitigate storm surge and erosion. Oyster shells break down in the water column, adding calcium to the water which helps counter ocean acidification caused by carbon emissions. In a dangerous algal bloom, for example, when nature delivers too much of a good thing, oysters will just go on a bloated bender and drink and drink until the excess algae is removed from the system. If they didn’t do this, the algae could suck all the oxygen out of the water column and create a dead zone w h e r e no marine life could survive.

A DISASTROUS IMPACT: THE THREAT OF POLLUTION The problem is that for all the good oysters can do, modern day pollution has far outpaced the rate at which these exceptional bivalves can save the planet. The result has been a global die-off in the wild to the point that oysters are now considered technically extinct. There are no longer enough of them in the wild to perform their natural function in the marine ecosystem. Best-selling books in the United States like American Catch and The Big Oyster remind Americans how careless human waste disposal destroyed the massive oyster beds of the New York Harbor at the turn of the century and turned our oyster-loving (and oyster-exporting) nation into a nation of Thai shrimp eaters (and importers). In the 1600s, the harbour was home to 220,000 acres of oyster reefs, ensuring that they served as a meaningful export and staple food at home. The average American ate around 600 oysters a year. By the early 20th century, New York harbour was barren. Today oysters are being summoned back in re-seeding and restoration projects around the world in an effort to restore water quality and marine habitats. The most ambitious of these, New York City’s Billion Oyster Project, is already well on its way to achieving its goal of seeding a billion oysters in the harbour by 2035. I grow crassostrea virginica oysters which are native to the East coast of the US. Another type of oyster known as belons (ostrea edulis), which were introduced from France in the 1950s, now exist in the wild in Maine, but we don’t farm them. Of course, oysters alone can’t save the planet. We need global policies and cooperation on climate change and pollution. However, The Billion Oyster Project could never have happened without the US Clean Water Act of 1972 which prohibited dumping waste and sewage into the harbour. Before oysters could be used to restore the marine ecology, the environment needed to become less hostile to oysters. Today, thanks to the combined efforts of policy and oyster restoration, marine life that hasn’t been seen in New York waters for generations is finally back. New York Harbor is just the tip of the iceberg. We need cooperation at a global level to save one of the best natural combatants of climate change. As a farmer in the Gulf of Maine, where water is warming and acidifying at one of the fastest rates on the planet, our ideal shellfish growing conditions are threatened. Sure, warming waters means faster growing oysters, but it also means more abundant and virulent pathogens, predators and weather. Astonishing increases in significant rain events directly related to climate change keep farms from harvesting oysters for weeks at a time, significantly diminishing revenue. Unexpected spells of arctic temperatures have wiped out farms. Some farmers are starting to look at indoor models of cultivation in order to better control their environment and steady production. But farming oysters inside, with all the infrastructure and power that it requires seems to contradict the very thing we most love about oysters, notably their contribution to our planet.

Oyster farming in Maine. (Photo: Abigail Carroll)

RETURN OF THE OYSTER FARMER Today, the United States are witnessing a growing number of oyster farmers, including myself, who have joined a shellfish coalition in cooperation with the Nature Conservancy that brings together oyster farmers from across the country to lobby for climate policy. Our membership has grown rapidly with chefs and distributors now are joining our ranks. Recently many of our oyster farmer members from the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico united in DC. We met with our respective state representatives, sharing our personal and varied perspectives on how climate change has negatively affected our farms and livelihoods. The result has been a growing list of elected officials from both sides of the political aisle, who have heard our personal stories and acknowledged the economic impacts on our communities. They have expressed a willingness to cooperate on climate policy. This is precisely the sort of collaboration that is urgently needed to save our oceans and the planet. But we also need this type of action on a global level. More advocacy, more policy, and more restoration projects. In the meantime, we can all do our part to encourage more oyster production by simply eating more oysters! ABIGAIL S CARROLL founded NONESUCH OYSTERS, a Maine

oyster farm, and OYSTER LADY, a Maine brand developing Maine seaweed-based skincare products which gives a percentage of profits to oyster restoration projects. Abigail has a Master’s in International Affairs from Columbia University.


The Global Reef Expedition: A mission to assess the health of coral reefs around the world Liz Thompson

They set out to survey the health of remote coral reefs. As Liz Thompson writes, the team returned with the largest collection of high-resolution coral reef maps on Earth.



N 2011, scientists from the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation set out on a mission to explore the remote coral reefs of the world. An international team of scientists, photographers, videographers and conservationists, as well as local leaders, were assembled to map, characterize, and evaluate coral reefs throughout the western Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. They wanted to take a snapshot of the reefs in time, to survey and map the reefs and assess their health before it was too late. Coral reefs are in crisis. We’ve already lost half of the world’s coral reefs in the past 50 years. Current models predict that we are likely to lose most of the other half before the turn of the century. Corals are threatened by a variety of factors including global warming, ocean acidification, overfishing, pollution, development, and disease—all of which appear to be getting worse.

CORAL REEFS: A KEYSTONE ECOSYSTEM One of the reasons the Foundation was interested in studying coral reefs, is that they are considered a keystone ecosystem for assessing the health of the entire ocean. Although they occupy less than one quarter of one per cent of the marine environment, more than a quarter of all known marine fish species spend at least part of their lives in these delicate habitats. It is estimated that one out of every seven people around the world depends on coral reefs for food or income, so their impact on people far outstrips their relatively small size. The grand idea behind the Global Reef Expedition is to get a baseline assessment of coral reef health around the world, and to hopefully find places resilient to change. The expedition specifically chose to explore remote reefs far from civilization, particularly those relatively free from human influence, but we also surveyed the health of reefs that were close to port and heavily fished. Comparing the health and ecological condition between remote and relatively pristine coral reefs with those that have been compromised by chronic stress from human use will enable us to identify high-priority sites for protection. Our ultimate goal is to use all of this information to create models of coral reef health and resiliency, so that we could identify places in need of protection, and those most likely to weather the forecasted coral apocalypse.


Top right: © Keith Ellenbogen / iLCP Orange sea fan. © Jurgen Freund / iLCP. Bottom: diver with measuring stick: © Michele Westmorland / iLCP


Over the course of five years, our scientists nearly circumnavigated the globe on the research vessel M/Y Golden Shadow as they studied over 1,000 coral reefs in 15 countries and 97 islands on the Global Reef Expedition. Many of the reefs visited on the expedition had never been studied before. Along the way they recorded nearly 500 different species of coral, 1500 species of fish, and conducted over 11,000 surveys of what lived on the reef and covered the seafloor. On this epic voyage we witnessed coral bleaching first-hand on pristine reefs in the Indian Ocean, explored the little-known cold-water coral reefs of the Galápagos Islands, and conducted what was likely the last survey of healthy reefs in northern reaches of the iconic Great Barrier Reef. Our first stop on the Global Reef Expedition was in The Bahamas, where we wanted to see how coral reefs were coping with the triple threats of climate change, coral disease, and loss of many of their keystone species. We then traveled to Jamaica and teamed up with local fishermen and conservation organizations to help them establish a fishing sanctuary to preserve local fisheries for current and future generations. Our research eventually took us down through the Caribbean, and across the South Pacific, where we came upon many healthy and ancient coral reefs, a giant swarm of sharks, and indigenous communities who protected their reefs with rules set forth by traditional leaders centuries ago. In addition to conducting research, we spent time with local communities to explain our research, share our results, and listen to hear how they use the reef and what changes they have seen on the reef over their lifetimes. We brought along teachers and educators to teach local students about coral reefs, and award-winning filmmakers and photographers to capture the journey and document what we saw underwater. Nearly 200 scientists from around the world participated in the Global Reef Expedition, lending their expertise and knowledge of the local reefs.

using a combination of Earth-orbiting satellites and field observations. Last month they published the first global coral reef atlas, which contains maps of over 65,000 square kilometres (25,097 square miles) of coral reefs and surrounding habitats—by far the largest collection of high-resolution coral reef maps ever made. To develop the new model to accurately map coral reef and other tropical shallow-water marine habitats, scientists took data collected from extensive SCUBA surveys conducted on the Global Reef Expedition and extrapolated that information across the entire reef using ultra-high-resolution satellite imagery. By comparing the maps with video footage from cameras dropped at precise coordinates along the reef, the scientists were able to verify the accuracy of their new mapping method. The high-resolution coral reef maps they created contain detailed information on the location and depth of different parts of the coral reef (such as the reef crest, fore reef, back reef, and lagoonal reef) visited on the expedition, as well as information on the size of seagrass beds and mangrove forests along the coast. All of these coastal habitats are key components of tropical coastal ecosystems and help to filter water, protect the coast from storms, and provide nursery habitat for commercial and subsistence fisheries. Now, we have completed the fieldwork for the Global Reef Expedition and our scientists are hard at work analyzing the data. By comparing assessments of coral reef biodiversity, oceanographic conditions, and human pressures, we can reliably describe the status of coral reef health, identify major threats, and determine processes and factors that control the health and resilience of coral reef ecosystems worldwide. We are working across vast geographic scales in order to see what factors are most important to maintaining the structural integrity and health of reefs, which will be used to make predictions regarding the future health of coral reefs, including their capacity to adjust to climate change. The data will generate science-based tools and decision aids that can also be used to mitigate the threats to these life-supporting marine ecosystems. As we continue to analyze and understand the data we collected on the Global Reef Expedition, we aim to provide applied scientific knowledge to local resource managers and relevant government officials, bridging science with management to achieve our long-term goal of ensuring health and sustainable coral reef ecosystems around the globe. With this research, we hope to provide knowledge of the critical ecosystem components that promote coral reef resilience and produce effective reef management tools that will influence policy and resource management actions urgently needed to improve and sustain the health of coral reefs around the world.


LIZ THOMPSON is Director of Communications for the Khaled bin

As part of our studies, we were able to access remote reefs to conduct scientific research with the use of the Golden Shadow, a 219 ft (66.7 metres) yacht with dedicated laboratory facilities, a diving recompression chamber, and an onboard aircraft—the Golden Eye—that was used extensively for aerial surveys of coral reefs. This modern and advanced research vessel was made available to the Foundation through the generous support of His Royal Highness Prince Khaled bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia, who donated the use of his ship for the Global Reef Expedition.


Scientists on the expedition also mapped and surveyed the reefs down to a one-square-meter scale to better understand their health and resiliency. In the process they developed a new method to accurately map coral reefs

Sultan Living Oceans Foundation in Annapolis, Maryland, USA. She has more than 12 years of experience in marine conservation, policy and communications and writes about the scientific research conducted aboard the Global Reef Expedition. She also promotes the Foundation’s outreach and education programmes around the world.


Switzerland, Afghanistan and the Seas by Charles H. Norchi

Although landlocked, Switzerland has a long involvement with the seas. And we’re not just talking about Swiss river barges plying their trade on the Rhine from Basel to Amsterdam or Switzerland’s merchant fleet of 29 ocean-going vessels in 2018. Charles H. Norchi explores Switzerland’s unusual and historic role with regard to the world’s oceans.

STROLLING ALONG THE COBBLED-STONE STREETS of Geneva’s Old Town, you can take a quick side-trip by entering the city’s 17th century Hotel de Ville, or town hall, to view the “Salle Alabama”. A dark red-adorned conference room flanked by paintings, this is where, in 1872, the United States and Great Britain agreed to the arbitration of their dispute over the ship CSS Alabama. The United States claimed that Britain had violated neutrality by allowing five warships, including the Alabama, to be constructed knowing full well that they would eventually enter into naval service with the Confederacy during the American civil war and enable them to conduct raids against the Union. Other institutions and events also mark Switzerland’s ocean history. The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), whose charter was signed eight years earlier in 1864 in the same room, marking the beginning of “International Geneva”, according to the official tourism site. The ICRC has long depended on humanitarian delivery by sea as part of its world-wide operations. International conferences to codify the customary principles of the law of the sea also have been held in Geneva. The United Nations Conference the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), for example, met in the Palais des Nations from 1972 to 1982. For many years, too, the Graduate Institute


of International Studies (Institut de hautes études internationales) offered regular courses on the Law of the Sea. Switzerland’s oceans interests have been manifested in trade, shipping, research, exploration and dispute settlement. Thus the Swiss Confederation has pressed for guaranteed access to the seas and has played a pivotal role in securing oceans access rights for all non-coastal and geographically disadvantaged states.

MARE LIBERUM: FREEDOM OF THE SEAS Since the rise of nation-states with the Treaty of Westphalia, humanity has confronted the problem of access versus control of the seas. When Portugal interfered with Netherland’’s trading in 1602, the Dutch East India Company seized a Portuguese galleon leading to a diplomatic incident and a legal claim. A young Dutch lawyer named Hugo Grotius was commissioned to write the brief in the case which was published in 1609 as Mare Liberum or Freedom of the Seas. He argued that the “high seas”, which came to be defined as the open ocean existing beyond national control, must be accessible for trade and exploration. “The sea then, like the air, cannot be appropriated,” he noted. This idea that the seas are open to all evolved as the norm of freedom of navigation.

However, access to the sea and the exercise of freedom of navigation depends on geography: the land dominates the sea. This means that countries which host the largest amount of coastal area also control the optimal marine space. States originally claimed ocean territory sufficient to protect coasts and in those early days, there was only one maritime zone – the territorial sea – whose breadth was the reach of a cannon ball. In multiple treaties afterwards, territorial sea claims were extended and the customary law of the sea was codified, culminating in 1982 with UNCLOS, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The convention basically provided more marine space to countries with broader coasts, leaving fewer high seas. As a result, only coastal states with land can dominate the seas. So what about the world’s 37 landlocked countries, ranging from Andorra to Mongolia or Kazakhstan? Lacking a coastline, they are at a disadvantage, particularly with regard to trade. They depend on transit over the land territories of neighbouring countries. Thus landlocked states have long demanded recognition by the international community of a fundamental right of ocean access and transit to maritime ports.

SWITZERLAND AND AFGHANISTAN AT THE FOREFRONT In 1919 Switzerland submitted a Memorandum on the Claim to a Maritime Flag to the Paris Peace Conference. “The realization of the principle of free access to the sea…has long been cherished by Switzerland,” it stated. “…the Swiss Confederation would attach great value to a formal recognition of this right by the Powers, all the more so since Switzerland, in spite of her landlocked situation in the heart of the continent has a considerable share in the world’s commerce.” Switzerland underscored that during the Great War (World War I). The transport fleet of the International Committee of the Red Cross flew the Swiss flag. On the basis of equal sovereignty and for international trade and humanitarian support operations, Switzerland sought recognition of its maritime flag on the oceans, citing the evolving norm of international law that “every State has the right of unrestricted navigation upon the open sea.” By the 1950s, draft articles on the law of the sea were being reviewed by the International Law Commission of the United Nations. The draft articles, however, contained no provision pertaining to landlocked states. Anticipating the UN Conference that would consider the proposed articles with a view to a binding multilateral treaty, Afghanistan conveyed a note on behalf of such states calling for a universal declaration “stating the right of free access to the sea of all countries whether landlocked or not… and recognizing a universal right to transit by air, railroad, road and waterways through their respective territories.” As a Central Asian and Indian subcontinent country surrounded on all sides by the (then) Soviet Union, China, Iran and Pakistan, Afghanistan sought a legal right to transit, particularly via Karachi to the Indian Ocean, as part of ocean access for desperately needed development. The fact that James Michener’s reference in the opening paragraph

of his book Caravans to the US naval attaché at the American embassy in Kabul may strike some with amusement, it does underline Afghanistan’s dilemma – and deep concern – as a landlocked country.

RECOGNIZING THE RIGHTS OF LANDLOCKED COUNTRIES In 1958 the Swiss government convened a conference in Geneva of “States without direct territorial access to the sea”. Kicking off with the 1957 Afghanistan Memorandum and stressing their geographic common denominator, the participating states unanimously agreed that the new codification of the law of the sea must include the rights already granted by jus gentium (the [customary] law of nations) to landlocked countries. With energetic lobbying by both Switzerland and Afghanistan, the promotion of those norms is now expressed in UNCLOS Part X. Article 125 (1). This proclaims that landlocked countries shall have “the right of access to and from the sea” including “freedom of the high seas and the common heritage of mankind”. It also granted the right of “freedom of transit” through neighbouring ‘transit’ countries, such as Austria through Germany or Chad through Cameroon by all means of transport, such as road, rail, air or water. Afghanistan signed UNCLOS in 1983 but has yet to ratify. Switzerland signed in 1984 and acceded to the Convention in 2009. Being surrounded by stable and friendly European Union States, Switzerland can depend on functioning transit agreements. Afghanistan, however, has difficult neighbors. Port access is through Iran and Pakistan. The Afghanistan–Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) signed in 2010 is supposed to ensure access to Pakistani ports, especially Karachi. Despite this, the agreement has been subject to political uncertainties derived from bilateral tensions, leading to interruption of Afghan-Pakistan border transit. An alternate three-nation transport and transit corridor pact between India, Iran and Afghanistan was signed in Tehran on 23 May 2016. The aim is to secure a Kabul trade route that bypasses Pakistan. And there is a new factor that will bear upon Afghanistan’s transit trade and ocean access: China and the new Silk Route – overland and maritime. Access to the resources of the water column, the seabed and the coastal shelves has propelled civilizations and development. States lacking sea coasts are geographically disadvantaged. Oceans enable nations to trade, fight, fish, exchange cultures and beliefs, and generate energy to run lights, vehicles and computers. When political tensions cause suspension of bilateral transit and maritime port agreements, land locked States can invoke the law. Access to the oceans for all States is now a right enshrined in the international law of the sea---a legacy of Switzerland and Afghanistan.

Global Geneva contributing editor CHARLES NORCHI is the Benjamin Thompson Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Oceans & Coastal Law in the University of Maine School of Law USA.



AGORA Rising:

The new AGORA building designed by German architect Stefan Behnisch overlooking the Swiss university city of Lausanne. (Photo: ISREC Foundation)

International Switzerland’s innovative approach to real time cancer research by William Dowell

The Lake Geneva region is home to the emergence of a unique and highly innovative, experimental approach based on ‘real time’ research that could influence the fight against cancer world-wide. Part of a joint effort led by the University hospital of Lausanne (CHUV) and University of Lausanne (UNIL), the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and University of Geneva’s hospital (HUG), a vibrant new project in the fight against cancer epitomises the sort of out-of-the-box thinking that is beginning to mark ‘international Switzerland’ solutions to global challenges.


DOUGLAS HANAHAN WAS HAPPILY ENSCONCED at the University of California in San Francisco when he received a call from ISREC, the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research, part of the EPFL. Hanahan is an expert in translational oncology, basically, translating the known knowledge about cancer mechanisms into parameters that can be applied in real-life clinical situations. ISREC was created in 1964 with the goal of fostering cancer research in the Lake Geneva area. Although Switzerland had a number of modern hospitals capable of treating cancer, and two Swiss pharmaceutical companies, Roche and Novartis, accounted for a nearly a third of the worldwide sale of drugs for cancer, there was no single centre dealing simultaneously with all aspects of cancer research. Doug Hanahan was interested in integrating different disciplines into what amounted to a distributed centre for cancer research. The centre would operate as a virtual network of hospitals and academic institutions, all working closely together toward the same objective: improving the outcome of cancer patients. It would also operate as a virtual network of hospitals and academic institutions, all working closely together toward the same objective of improving the outcome of cancer patients.

BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN KNOWLEDGE AND APPLICATION As it happened, Hanahan had been looking for an opportunity in the United States to do exactly what ISREC now proposed to do in Switzerland. “What I wanted,” Hanahan says, “was to bridge the gap between knowledge-based research and its application in the clinic.” “I found that it was challenging to interact with clinicians, who were usually extremely busy,” Hanahan adds. “My lab worked on pre-clinical models of cancer that made new therapeutic strategies possible. The clinicians were interested in principle, but in practice it was difficult to pin them down. I was on one campus. They were on a different one. Even when a meeting was on their campus, they wouldn’t show up, or if they did, a beeper would go off. Time was the major problem. I became convinced that even in this world of instant communications, proximity was still important.” In discussions leading up to his hiring, Hanahan kept emphasizing the need to create an environment in which research scientists and clinicians could work together. To his surprise, EPFL’s leadership agreed. Not only that, they showed a readiness to push the idea even further. The obvious partner for such a new hub for clinical work was the CHUV, the University Hospital of the Canton of Vaud. Located in the hilly northern part of Lausanne, the hospital was still a half-hour drive from the ultramodern EPFL campus, overlooking the shores of Lake Geneva. Hanahan suggested devoting a floor of a nearby building to lab space for clinicians and basic scientists. The idea fell through, but by then, Hanahan had developed a close relationship with Yves Paternot,

Douglas Hanahan of Switzerland's EPFL institute. (Photo: EPFL)

president of the ISREC Foundation. The foundation had previously concentrated on supporting the ISREC Institute, but after its merger into the EPFL, the foundation expanded its focus to cancer research and its applications in Switzerland. Paternot was enthusiastic about the idea of encouraging clinicians and research scientists to work together. Instead of a floor, he suggested constructing an entire new building. Project AGORA and a startlingly innovative approach to cancer research was born. Additional brainstorming led to the conclusion that the project called for more than traditional research. “It’s not enough to put a clinician randomly next to a scientist,“ Hanahan explains. ”They need to have something to talk about.” Encouraging interactivity was written into the architectural requirements, and ISREC launched a design competition. Eventually, the German firm, Behnisch Architekten, headed by Stefan Behnisch, was chosen.

INSTANTANEOUS FEEDBACK: OPPORTUNITIES FOR INNOVATION LEVERAGED TO THE MAXIMUM. The City of Lausanne and the Canton of Vaud made a tract of land available adjacent to the CHUV. This gesture fit nicely into the ongoing political and financial support that local authorities had already committed to the development of a world class cancer research pole in the region. Three floors would be devoted to the different aspects of cancer research. Their layout would be designed to place the lab space of fundamental cancer researchers side-by-side with the work space of clinician-scientists involved in the day-today treatment of the particular forms of cancer being investigated by their neighbouring fundamental scientists. The feedback and identification of problems would be almost instantaneous. The opportunities for kindling innovation would be leveraged to the maximum. The ISREC Foundation soon found CHF 80 million in financing for the project. Even before plans for the AGORA building were



crystalized, Hanahan set out to attract further top talent in the world of cancer research to the region. A key success of this collaborative effort was the recruitment of Dr. George Coukos of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who was chosen by the CHUV and the University of Lausanne to launch a new Department of Oncology and by the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research to direct its Lausanne Branch . Today, Coukos, along with Hanahan and Professor Pierre-Yves Dietrich of the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG), also codirects the new Swiss Cancer Centre Léman, of which the AGORA is the latest state-of-the-art platform to be inaugurated. The arrival of Coukos marked the beginning of the AGORA project, and Coukos and Hanahan worked together to propose an innovative structure for the building. The building will eventually house around 300 scientists from the three Lausanne institutions (CHUV, EPFL, UNIL) and the two Geneva institutions (UNIGE and HUG) as well as the from the Ludwig Institute. A year round atrium, envisaged as a gathering place for collegial discussions, links the AGORA building to an adjacent building housing the CHUV’s Pathology department. The opportunity to foster interaction is factored in at every level and extends to an open-plan lobby and café which serves both the hospital’s staff and the scientists, along with interaction areas on all three research floors. Construction of the AGORA building finished in 2018, and its laboratories are expected to start functioning during the summer 2019. What also makes the project unique is its readiness to engage the best science, regardless of nationality. This is an approach steadfastly pursued by the institutions occupying AGORA. Douglas Hanahan, who has championed it at EPFL for almost a decade, himself still does not speak French. Francis-Luc Perret, currently director of the ISREC Foundation, and a member of the committee that oversaw AGORA’s construction, points out that the New York Times ranked EPFL as one of the most international campuses in the world, with faculty and students representing more than 124 nationalities.

A UNIQUE MELTING POT FOR SCIENTIFIC IDEAS At a time in history when there is growing pressure in Switzerland and Europe to control immigration, Perret, who served as vice-president of EPFL for more than a decade, says that convincing Swiss sponsors to support a budget for a student body that was often more international than Swiss, frequently required forceful arguments. In contrast, a striking feature of both the Swiss Cancer Centre Léman (SCCL – see below) and the AGORA building is the smooth level of cooperation among local and cantonal government officials, the private sector and academic institutions. “That kind of collaboration is rare,” says Perret. Coukos, a Greek national, who did his early medical training in Italy and then spent two decades at the University of Pennsylvania in the US, where he created


and directed its Ovarian Cancer Research Center, describes the AGORA as a unique “melting pot for scientific ideas”. Coukos says that he thought he would never leave Penn, but Lausanne was an incredibly attractive opportunity thanks to the presence of its important research institutions. The establishment of an important branch of the Ludwig Institute, which has operated for more than 40 years, and the important new investments that the Canton of Vaud was willing to put into the oncology programmes at the CHUV and the University of Lausanne, were equally compelling incentives. Coukos notes that the AGORA project and the Swiss Cancer Centre Léman fill a fundamental gap in medical science. “In many medical centres doctors and scientists are physically separated, and daily collaboration between the two communities suffers.” Coukos expects AGORA to change that. “We will have the facility to develop new procedures and new technologies in proximity to the hospital,” he says, “and thanks to the close collaboration between the research and the medical communities, take these directly to the patient within the same programme.” Freddy Radtke, a senior scientist working on the molecular aberrations in tumors at the ISREC Institute at EPFL, agrees. AGORA, he says, will help enable his lab to carry out phase 1 trials locally, rather than rely on lab facilities in Barcelona, Madrid and the Netherlands, where their studies are currently performed. Numerous innovative approaches to cancer treatment are earmarked for development within AGORA: Professor Jean Bourhis, who heads radiooncology at the CHUV, is experimenting with a new concept that includes bursts of radiation at 3,000 to 4,000 times the normal rate, lasting only for a fraction of a second. Until now, conventional treatment might require an exposure to radiation for ten minutes or more. Remarkably, these short bursts of high radiation can destroy a tumour without damaging the healthy tissue that surrounds it. Another compelling area for investigation is the development of immune therapy, Coukos’ specialty. Coukos explains that it has already been possible to take lymphocytes, called killer or cytotoxic T-cells, from a patient with advanced metastatic cancer and use them to attack the patient’s tumours. In the past, tumours were often invisible to the body’s immune system, but it is now possible to reprogramme these cells to recognize and fight the tumour effectively. “It is the first time in human history when we’ve been able to reprogramme the entire immune system of the patient with a single transfusion,” notes Coukos. The procedure has proved effective in melanoma so far. The advantage is that, once treated successfully, if the patient experiences a complete response, the cancer rarely returns. The next step is to expand the number of patients who react to the treatment. “It’s only a matter of time before we make these cells smarter and smarter,” suggests Coukos. At the Ludwig Institute a large programme is devoted to building the next

generation T-cell therapies that will then move to the clinic at the CHUV. Coukos, supported by Hanahan, successfully recruited to UNIL and the Ludwig Institute Prof. Johanna Joyce, a leading expert on the cellular environment that drives the growth of tumours, who had held a top position at the prestigious Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Joyce, an Irish national, had been a postgrad researcher with Hanahan back in California. “I never thought we would get her to leave Sloan-Kettering,” he says. For Joyce’s part, she was attracted by the idea of having scientists and clinicians work in close proximity to each other. “A lot of institutions say they are doing this kind of thing,” she says, “but to have clinicians physically side-by-side with the researchers is unusual. It is still not typical for cancer centers”. Joyce’s research focuses not only on brain tumors, but also on the entire universe in which the tumour exists. The advantage of AGORA is that it will provide an ongoing view, in real time, of the cancer’s progress as opposed to a mere snapshot of a brief moment. It effectively introduces a 4th dimension – time – into the research process. The new AGORA building will have a specialized state-of-the-art imaging facility to enable researchers to accurately follow responses to innovative new therapies used to treat cancer. “We need to see how cancer cells behave in real time and how they dynamically interact with immune cells and other cells in their milieu,” Joyce says. “Typically, what we have had to do until now is to stop the experiment at a certain moment in time, which means that we were looking at a snapshot and not visualising these complex dynamics.” AGORA is designed to change that. “This will fundamentally change our understanding and we will be able to leverage that understanding to develop new patient treatments” says Joyce.

AN ADDED VALUE: TALKING TO PEOPLE ON A REGULAR BASIS CAN TRIGGER NEW RESEARCH Dr. Michele De Palma, another research scientist from ISREC@EPFL who will move into the AGORA notes that the environment surrounding the tumour may be as important as the tumour itself. “When you think you have eliminated the cancer, a few cells may just grow back,“ he says, “and you are back to where you started from. If you can kill or re-programme the cells that the cancer depends on to grow, that can be more effective than targeting the cancer cells alone.” De Palma also sees AGORA as making a fundamental difference. “Proximity is not as important as it once may have been,” he points out. “But there is an added value in talking to people on a regular basis. If you have colleagues who share your interests, it will very likely trigger new research.” The Swiss Cancer Centre Léman (SCCL), which the AGORA serves, is a multi-institutional cancer community that is already achieving impressive results. The collaboration between clinician oncologists at HUG, CHUV and the larger community of oncologists

Attracting some of the world’s best: Professor Johanna Joyce. (Photo: Felix Imhof, UNIL)

has enabled the establishment of a regional oncology network. Tumour specimens from cancer patients anywhere in the region can be sent either to Lausanne or Geneva for analysis. CHUV in Lausanne and HUG in Geneva co-chair a ‘molecular tumour board’ that involves a weekly videoconference, where the latest cases and their results are presented and discussed. Doctors can log into the meetings by smartphone from anywhere in French-speaking Western Switzerland. Key clinicians from the CHUV such as Professors Solange Peters and Olivier Michielin, and Professor Pierre-Yves Dietrich from HUG, are building clinical innovation around the AGORA and the regional network. What AGORA will bring to this impressive regional galaxy, besides a dynamic new way of approaching cancer research, is a new wave of talent concentrated in the Lake Geneva region. In that respect, it promises to do for Lausanne and Geneva, what the installation of CERN has accomplished in the domain of high energy physics, and the ‘Human Brain Project’ is chartered to do for neuroscience. The eventual outcome will be to turn Lausanne, Geneva and the surrounding region into an even more impressive world-class focal point for scientific innovation in cancer research and therapy. Although it will certainly take some time or the larger ‘Swiss Cancer Centre Léman’ to evolve, the AGORA Project is already promising significant inroads. For the moment, George Coukos suggests that he would be satisfied to see AGORA assuredly evolve into the innovative hub of this ascendant new cancer centre in Europe.

Global Geneva contributing editor WILLIAM DOWELL, a former TIME magazine foreign correspondent and writer, is the Americas’ editor of Global Geneva based in Philadelphia. He reported the piece out of Geneva and Lausanne. Further reporting by AMANDA NORCHI, a student of Colby College in Maine, as part of a Global Geneva Young Journalists’ and Writers’ Programme funded by the Swiss-based ALCEA Foundation.


Letter from Sicily: The Mediterranean – the World’s most Deadly Anti-Refugee ‘Wall’

New arrivals in Europe (Photo: Pix Poetry on Unsplash)

by Norah Niland

From the Italian island of Sicily, human rights activist and long-time humanitarian Norah Niland explores the cruel impact of a historic maritime gateway to Europe, Africa and Asia combined with a lethal series of European Union and member government policies that should put humanity to shame.



ARLIER THIS YEAR, I HAD THE GOOD FORTUNE to finally get to Sicily, or at least to the ancient town of Palermo and other nearby locations. It was often cold and wet but there were few tourists and much to see. One morning I headed out early to visit the magnificent 12th century Norman-Byzantine cathedral in Monreale that overlooks Palermo. It was built with the help of North African and other Mediterranean craftsmen. It is renowned for its gold mosaics, stunning cloisters and panoramic views from a narrow walkway on the roof. The cathedral and other places of wonder in Palermo were granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2015 given their architectural styles, a fascinating fusion of Arabic, Islamic and Western cultural influences. To escape a heavy hailstorm while waiting for a bus, I took refuge in a small coffee house and ordered a cappuccino. Looking around, I soon noticed a young African man in deep conversation with two Italians who, it transpired, were helping him prepare for a demonstration later in the day. People were protesting anti-migrant legislation pushed by the far-right Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister of Italy, Matteo Salvini; it became law in November 2018. The African teenager, who had arrived from the Sahel a few months previously, was preparing to speak on behalf of his local Municipality at the rally. He was dressed for the occasion in a dark suit and white shirt. He beamed with delight when presented with the Tricolore sash by the Mayor of the small neighbouring town in which he lived. The local Mayor explained that both he and others were in full agreement with Leoluca Orlando, the Mayor of Palermo, widely known for his welcoming attitude toward asylum seekers and other migrants. The Palermitani – inhabitants of the city – enjoy representation on the Council of Culture where, as stipulated by Mayor Orlando, residency is the sole requirement to secure citizenship rights.

SICILY: A MIGRATION HUB SINCE ANTIQUITY Being in multi-cultural Sicily was a constant reminder of the pivotal role of this island in the history of the Mediterranean that acts as a maritime bridge between the continents of Africa, Asia and Europe. Sicily has operated as a migration hub since antiquity. It has provided a home or place of conquest, culture, and commerce to a long list of peoples and civilizations. These include the Phoenicians, people from the Greek city-states, the Roman, Byzantine, Arab and Ottoman Empires as well as Normans, Bourbons, French, Spanish, Austrians and Italians. Yet, in the second decade of the 21st century, the Mediterranean has become a contested space for asylum seekers and other migrants. For those in search of refuge, it has also become the most dangerous transit route in the world. People who have fled their homes to escape war, persecution and life-threatening situations must now do battle

with the lethal policies of the European Union. Brussels, in league with various EU Member States, has invested in the creation of constraints that makes the borders of the EU, including the Mediterranean – the most deadly in the world. According to Reece Jones, a political geographer and specialist on the militarization of national frontiers, some two-thirds of all migrant deaths occur en route to, or at the EU’s border. Together, both the Mediterranean and EU frontiers now stand as a near-insurmountable barrier to keep out refugees and others in need of safety and a modicum of humanity.

A PAINFUL REMINDER OF OPPOSING VISIONS WITHIN THE EU The number of recorded deaths and migrants missing in the Mediterranean in 2018, according to UNHCR estimates, was 2,275. As smugglers do not maintain records of who, or how many, are crowded into their boats, the actual death toll is believed to be much higher. Even if the 2018 figures are lower than previous years given fewer attempted crossings, the mortality rate has changed from one death at sea for 269 arrivals in 2015 to one death for every 51 arrivals, according to the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM). My brief morning encounter in Palermo with those preparing to protest Salvini’s policies and those of other like-minded anti-migrant proponents was a painful reminder of the opposing visions that exist within the 28-member European Union. Europe has yet to address the downsides of globalization that are threatening job security, turbo-charging inequality and fuelling populism. This, in turn, is adding to the ranks of racist and other groups that champion narrow notions of “them-versus-us” nationalism. At the same time, there are millions of Europeans who know all too well that the anti-migrant narrative capitalizes on a vacuum of political and moral leadership in the upper echelons of the EU. In cities and villages across Europe, committed citizens and local officials challenge the demonization and marginalization of those forced to flee. At the same time, they are working to mitigate the harm inherent in policies that treat refugees and other migrants as lesser human beings. Historically, before the age of nationalism and nation-state sovereignty, people on the move usually did not have to worry about official papers such as passports. The Silk Road route, in operation from the time of the Han dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) to the 15th century, linked the Mediterranean with China. Silk Road travellers, such as Marco Polo, needed to understand the culture, climate, geography, political situation and a host of other factors to ensure a safe journey. Passports only became generally necessary after World War I. Current forms of globalization that thrive with the ever-deeper integration of trade, communication networks, capital, goods and services, are antagonistic to the free movement of people, particularly if they are poor, culturally different, or fleeing to hold on to their lives.


OCEANS | Letter from Sicily: The Mediterranean – the World’s most Deadly Anti-Refugee ‘Wall’

MORE WALLS THAN BEFORE More an administrative than a physical wall, EU frontiers contrast significantly with the US-Mexican border, long a source of tension and headlines. Elsewhere, there are more border walls than before ranging from Israel’s West Bank Barrier to the six-meter high ‘buffer’ fences of the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta in Morocco. Border walls have grown from 15 in the 1990s to 70 today. The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 brought to an end decades of division and accelerated the end to the Cold War and the days of the “Iron Curtain”. The border walls of today have a different kind of notoriety: once you crossed the Berlin Wall you were feted and not in danger of being incarcerated or sent back. More walls have translated into a higher mortality rate. As reported by AP in 2018, 56,800 people died or disappeared while crossing an international border between 2014 and 2018. The same trend is evident in Europe where the odds of dying while crossing the Mediterranean have increased. This can be attributed to the determination of Brussels and various state capitals to maintain deterrence measures that prioritize blocking the arrival of asylum seekers and others over the steep human cost of EU policies.

CRIMINALIZED DETERRENCE Eighty-five percent of the global refugee population is hosted in low-income countries neighbouring crisis situations, such as Turkey in relation to Syria, or Pakistan with Afghanistan, but a ‘Fortress Europe’ mentality has shaped EU policy for some time. Efforts to strengthen measures to deter human arrivals from outside gained momentum after Europe’s so-called migrant crisis when the number of asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq quadrupled between 2013 and 2015. The flow of forcibly displaced people seeking refuge in 2015 exposed serious flaws in the EU’s asylum system. Since then, these flaws have become even more pronounced. Lack of solidarity among European states combined with measures to impede and criminalize asylum seekers, but also humanitarians struggling to save human beings in the Mediterranean, have given rise to policies and practices that further imperil lives. Ostensibly designed to disrupt smugglers, these policies are, in reality, cynical ‘let-them-die’ deterrence measures. They feed the anti-migrant narrative as part of far-right political agendas at odds with international law and humanitarian norms.

AN OPEN ABUSE OF INTERNATIONAL LAW EU deterrence measures include its 2016 agreement with Turkey to obstruct migrant flows into the Eastern Mediterranean. With one of the shortest maritime routes to Europe blocked, the EU made a deal (2017) with Libya in exchange for financial and other support to beef up the Libyan Coast Guard (LCG) to restrict trans-Mediterranean migration.


According to studies by Amnesty International and other groups, the LCG routinely interdict people headed to Europe. These individuals are then re-located to horrific Detention Centres where torture, rape and sexual exploitation are the norm. Detainees are also subjected to slave-trade commerce and extortion rackets linked to feuding Libyan authorities. The return of at-risk people to Libya is in contravention of international refugee law that prohibits the refoulement or forced return of individuals to places of persecution. This practice also runs foul of international maritime law that requires the rescue of those in distress on the high seas. In 2014, Italy’s Mare Nostrum air and naval rescue programme that saved thousands of lives in the Mediterranean was replaced by the EU Triton-Frontex border control operation. Soon afterwards, various non-governmental search and rescue (SAR) operations emerged to provide a lifeline to flimsy craft in distress and over-loaded with would-be refugees. This included the SOS Méditerranée, a coalition of German, French, Italian and Swiss Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) teams working on the Aquarius (See MSF story & video) that has rescued or assisted more than 80,000 people in the Mediterranean since 2015. Other privately funded rescue ships included the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), Sea Watch, Sea Eye, and Proactiva OpenArms. All of these and other life-saving operations are no longer able to function in the Mediterranean given a sustained campaign of sabotage and obstruction. In June 2018, Italy and Malta closed their ports to rescue vessels. In December, the Aquarius was blocked from leaving the port of Marseille. Nevertheless, this did not prevent renewed efforts by humanitarians in the summer of 2019 to rescue migrants at sea, bringing them to Italian shores rather than return them to Libya notwithstanding legal threats by the authorities. Zeid Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking in September 2017, noted that EU plans could not disguise the fact that its core concern was stopping Sub-Saharan migrants from reaching Europe. The general absence of legal opportunities enabling non-Europeans to lodge asylum claims or apply for residency permits drives individuals into the hands of smugglers. Yet, as noted by MSF President Joanne Liu in 2017, the EU-Italy-Libya arrangement is feeding an abusive criminal system that treats people as commodities to be exploited. In many ways, Europe is allowing the Mediterranean to be used as a deep blue burial chamber for those seeking to escape torture and other threats or embarking on a journey that risks abuse, suffering and premature death. If lives are to be saved, then Europe urgently needs to reform its policies so that the right to life is prioritized above all other considerations. And in this manner, too, will once again deliver on its international protection obligations. NORAH NILAND is a co-founder of United Against Inhumanity,

an emerging global movement concerned with war-related atrocities and erosion of the international asylum system. A Geneva-based NGO, it has launched a ‘Call to Action’ demanding an end to the policies and practices that prevent people fleeing for their lives from reaching a place of refuge.

France’s ENA: The End of an Era Thomas Hanson

In the wake of the “yellow jacket” protests in France,

an iconic French elite institution is on the chopping block. Since the late 18th century, the country has

developed a series of highly selective “Grandes Ecoles”, a concept also introduced in neighbouring Switzerland in the form of the ETH (Federal Polytechnique) and

among certain former French colonies. Traditionally, these prestigious schools have produced France’s political, administrative and business leaders. But

for many French citizens, they have also cultivated a centralized network of distant professional elitism,

whether on the Left or the Right, often operating out

of touch with on-the-ground realities. Earlier this year, French president Emmanuel Macron announced that he would eliminate the Ecole Nationale d’Administra-

tion (ENA), one of the leading Grandes Ecoles, “among

Parag Khanna’s Latest Book: The Future is Asian William Dowell

other things,” in order to construct “something that

Mention Asia these days and thoughts generally turn

lomat who studied at the ENA, reflects on the nature of

argues that Asia is a great deal bigger than the Middle

functions better.” Thomas Hanson, a former U.S. dipthis unusual institution.

AS A JUNIOR U.S. DIPLOMAT during the late 1970s, I was seconded to the ENA as part of an official academic ex­change. This included a semester-long seminar on “La France Rurale” (Rural France) in which we were asked to come up with policy proposals on French agriculture. Reflecting an American approach, I envisaged a prelim­inary study tour to the French countryside to meet with farmers and observe critical issues problems that con­cerned them. My fellow students, however, dismissed this idea in favour of remaining in the French capital to study dossiers in the relevant ministries. To my mind, this approach risked overlooking factual re­alities on the ground far from Paris. With time I came to realize that this centralizing approach contributed to resentment of bureaucracy in France, a resentment that is now coalescing to threaten the existence of the ENA itself. Since its inception in 1945, the ENA has trained much of France’s administrative, political, and increasingly its economic elites. Four of the eight presidents under the Fifth Republic have been ENA graduates (often referred to as “Enarques”), including three of the past four presi­ dents, as have one third of all prime ministers. President Emmanuel Macron and his own prime minister, Edouard Philippe, are both Enarques, Macron being a member of the 2004 class. Macron argues that the world has changed since 1945 when the ENA was founded by Charles de Gaulle. He as­ serts that the ENA was necessary to rebuild the French state after World War II, but that the challenge now is to manage dynamic change in an era of globalization and emerging technologies.

to China. In the “Future is Asian”, writer Parag Khanna Kingdom and in fact encompasses a wide swath of the

planet ranging from the Middle East to the Philippines and the Indonesian archipelago. In this review by

William Dowell, a former TIME correspondent who

has covered Asia – and China – for decades, explores Parag Khanna’s contention that ASIA IS NOT A

CONTINENT, but an extended region of some five billion people. China’s population, he maintains,

accounts for a mere 1.5 billion. As Khanna sees it, this sprawling continent embraces an immense assort-

ment of humanity that will almost certainly define the future as the Asian Century.

However, Khanna notes,, understanding the full extent of Asia requires a bit of mental gymnastics from Westerners who are accustomed of viewing Asia as a succession of disparate states, separate entities that seem to have little in common with each other. That perspective, Khanna continues, is a lingering after-effect of 19th and 20th century colonialism. As Khanna sees it, even the United States, which always thought of itself as anti-imperialist, has often been an indirect participant in colonial imperialism. The most glaring example may have been the Vietnam War in which Americans initially provided support to France’s postwar efforts to reclaim its lost colonies in Indochina. The United Nations and many of the international institutions intended to provide economic and political stability after World War II also reflect, to a large extent, the power balance that existed in the world towards the end of the colonial era. The result has been a number of strange anomalies when one looks at the global order today.



Letter from Florida: Development versus environment

Elizabeth Kemf

What is the impact of unsustainable development on local heritage? The problem is increasingly affecting communities world-wide, often to little avail despite the galvanizing of local citizens. Elizabeth Kemf reports on how Florida’s plight mirrors the dilemma for environmentalists and coastal communities around the globe. Even where citizens are encouraged to express their views publicly and participate in local government, in contrast to some European nations not far from Geneva, their voices are ignored in the name of business and development. A LONE MANGROVE CLUSTER CLINGS to survival on the Indian River Lagoon in Edgewater, Florida, on Maryann Thorhallsson’s property. After years of struggling to preserve a stretch of the idyllic waterway in East Central Florida, Maryann has lost her bid to save the integrity of her riverside home of 43 years. Despite weeks of heightened protest by hundreds of community members and Floridians from afar – Edgewater’s City Council narrowly voted on 1 July 2019 (three in favour of, and two against) to back an environmentally questionable and dubious development project This was despite the fact that over 175 citizens squeezed into the Edgewater City Council Chambers, including representatives from the Sierra Club, to express their opposition. Many others could not join as there was not enough parking. Ground breaking on the project can begin as early as February 2020, creating a restaurant, with 56 parking places for 152 clients. In addition, a bait and tackle shop, and possibly a 44-slip boat marina, will all be crammed onto less than one acre (0.40 ha) of land, plus a half-acre (0.20 ha) designated right of way collectively-owned by residents who live adjacent to the project site. The Orlando-based Aski Development company intends to concrete the east end of the natural hard-packed shell right of way used for centuries by residents and lagoon visitors, beginning with Native Americans. It will be paved over as part of the developer’s parking lot. Maryann, whose husband suffers from Parkinson’s disease, and her granddaughter, both need wheelchair access. After the project is underway, she’ll face a seven to 10-foot (two to three metres) wall close to her property’s edge. She’ll need to park in the restaurant lot. The wind-buffering mangroves will be uprooted as will native trees on her land, including three types of pine, a Magnolia and several palms. They will be felled to make way for water retention ponds to serve the development.


CLIMATE CRISIS: MORE THAN JUST A GROWING CONCERN Maryann and her community are not alone in their attempt to protect the Indian River Lagoon and keep their peaceful existence. From Palm Coast some 90 kms (56 miles) north to Edgewater, Florida, residents are rallying against unsustainable development and calling for common-sense environmentally sound projects. Many are particularly worried about climate crisis and the resulting rises in the sea level, erosion of river banks, beaches and dunes, flooding, pollution of waterways, and the ravaging effects of tidal waves and torrents on coastal highways. In March of 2019, crews began repairs on a 1.3mile (two kilometres) stretch of State Road A1A that collapsed in 2016 in the centre of Flagler Beach during Hurricane Matthew. Locals are also concerned about algae blooms and red tides, and the loss of fish now rotting on their shores, depriving them of food and income. Citizens across the country are also bracing themselves and preparing for hurricanes. It is distressing that the large majority of proposed or approved development in Volusia and Flagler counties is in or adjacent to coastlines, wetlands, or forests, often old growth, with an array of endangered species including the Florida panther, manatee, right whale and the country’s national emblem and mascot, the bald eagle. Apollo 11’s lunar module was named for the bird and Neil Armstrong, the first man to step on the moon on 20 July 50 years ago, declared to the world when the spaceship touched down: “The Eagle has landed”. Floridians are particularly on high alert this season after three straight years of being impacted by major hurricanes including Matthew, Irma and Michael. After Matthew struck in 2016, a Category 1 hurricane with much less of an impact, it took three full years to repair my house. Some neighbours abandoned theirs usually because of lack of insurance. And

Roseate spoonbills feed in Florida's shallow fresh and coastal waters sweeping their bills from side to side. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

the situation is likely to get worse given the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. Local newspapers and television stations have reported the estimated costs of protecting Florida property: $1 billion in Volusia and Flagler counties alone during the next 20 years. If feasible, Florida would need 9,000 miles (14.5K km) of seawalls by 2100 if trends continue, according to the Center for Climate Integrity. On the U.S. West Coast, the estimated expenses for building seawalls could cost taxpayers and homeowners more than $22 billion, according to the Center for Climate Integrity. Several states forbid the building of new seawalls, including North Carolina, Maine and Oregon, while others restrict their construction as they disrupt natural replenishment of sand. In Edgewater a hard-packed sandlike shell road is going to be paved over, eliminating natural drainage. Like Florida, and up the eastern seaboard into Canada, California has built to the water’s edge, with houses falling off cliffs, or poised to collapse into the Pacific from Malibu to the Big Sur. On Florida’s southeast coast, faeces-filled sewage floods streets near Miami, which combats flooding year-round. Countries like the Netherlands prepared for sea-level rise decades ago, and are sharing lessons with some US cities such as New Orleans. “Florida is by far the most heavily impacted state… with 23 counties facing at least $1 billion in seawall expenses (each),” predicts the Center for Climate Integrity. Through The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) Office housed in Geneva at the United Nations Environment Programme, a global coalition of countries have estimated the value of ecosystem services such as those provided by wetlands, estuaries, lakes, coral reefs, mangroves, tropical wet and dry forests. TEEB’s conclusion: it’s often better to leave well enough and let nature do the work. Meanwhile, Maryann Thorhallsson and her neighbours, as with so many others, find themselves on the losing end of an argument that values short-term economic benefits at the expense of an increasingly unstable environment. Florida’s newly-elected Republican Governor, Ron DeSantis, who was a Congressman representing Flagler and Volusia counties, has given environmentalists

some hope. Recently, he announced a record $360 million for Everglades restoration projects, $50 million to restore Florida’s world-renowned springs, and $25 million to improve water quality as well as to combat harmful algal blooms and red tide, which plagued both coasts in 2018. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the legislature severely underfunded the state’s most important suite of land conservation programmes, Florida Forever.

EDGEWATER: A PIVOTAL CASE Meanwhile, other communities in Central Florida’s Deltona/Daytona Beach/Ormond Beach metropolitan region have been monitoring the showdown in Edgewater. On the same day as its City Council ignored citizens and science in the decision for development, nearly 8,000 residents of nearby Flagler Beach and similar communities, including members of Neighborhood United (a local NGO), petitioned to stop or alter development plans by North Carolina-based Sunbelt Land Management. Just south of Flagler Beach’s city limits, a proposed development, “The Gardens Project”, would create a 9,000+ residential and commercial site. Neighborhood United’s organizer, Sallee Arnhoff, acknowledges the need for high density housing, but not in the middle of the Bulow Creek watershed area. Traffic and storm water runoff would severely impact the the marshes and estuaries along the Old Dixie Highway and my own backyard, The Tomoka State Park. Across this magnificent stretch of Florida, notable for retaining its natural heritage, in contrast to much of the state, commercial development is claiming more and more environmentally valuable land – in the familiar paradox that natural beauty attracts the urbanization that destroys it.

SEE FULL STORY ON WWW.GLOBAL-GENEVA.COM ELIZABETH KEMF is a journalist, anthropologist, writer, and

a member of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas and Tomoka Poets. She lives adjacent to the Tomoka State Park and the Tomoka Marsh Aquatic Reserve in Florida after several decades of campaigning with international environmental organizations based in Switzerland.



International Geneva’s challenge in Central Asia Peter Kenny

It was formerly known as Astana. The modernistic and planned Kazakhstan capital was renamed earlier this year in honour of the country’s founding president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. But it still aspires to be Central Asia’s leading “City of Peace”. With just over one million people, this fast-changing, ex-Soviet city is determined to become the oil and gas-rich region’s new Geneva for global issues by attracting international conferences, companies, UN agencies, NGOs, media and other crucial players.



OME LIKEN LANDING IN NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan’s capital, to touching down in the film set of a futuristic sci-fi movie in Central Asia. It’s one of the most space-age looking of the world’s capitals. It lies in the central northern part of the Central Asian nation, flashing its bold skyline, signalling a city emerging from adolescence. At 21 years of age, Nur-Sultan, formerly Astana, which itself replaced Almaty as the capital in 1997, has just reached full adulthood. More pertinently, it also lays claim to being the region’s “City of Peace”, since being awarded the title by UNESCO in 1999, not unlike Geneva thousands of kilometres to the west. But rather than lying at the foot of the Swiss and French Alps, this former 19th century settlement whose fast-growing modern boroughs are part of an architecturally “planned-from-scratch” capital, the master plan of Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa. It overlooks the sprawling semi-arid steppes along the Ishim River. It also represents the ninth largest country on the planet, but whose population is only 18.5 million. This is where the Old Silk Road used to run, connecting East and West. The city evokes space, abounding with eye-catching landmarks such as the Baiterek Tower, a vaulting observation globe upheld by symbolic trees, that overlooks the city. There is the pyramid-shaped Norman Foster-designed Palace of Peace and Reconciliation; and the surrounding parkland near the presidential palace, and the tepee-like Khan Shatyr, a shopping centre designed by the same architect. Nearby is the majestic Nur-Astana Mosque, the third biggest in Central Asia, with its 40-metre golden dome flanked by four 63-metre minarets. Yet almost eerily, the capital’s main thoroughfares rarely throng with people. Except at rush hour, when the two main boulevards that virtually define Nur-Sultan are clogged with backed-up traffic. In contrast, along the banks of the Ishim River and in the old area of the city, life constantly throbs.

ASTANA: A CITY OF CHANGING IDENTITIES Initially founded by the Russians in 1830 as Akmoly, then Akmolinsk, as a defensive fortification for Siberian Cossacks, the city has undergone various identity transformations. In 1961, the Soviets renamed it Tselinograd, “city of Tselina”, the term used for under-developed but highly fertile lands. Over three decades later, it was renamed Akmola (‘white tomb’) and then yet again in 1997 as Astana (‘capital city’) after replacing Almaty as the country’s administrative heart. Not everybody rejoiced at the name change. Some feel Astana is an established brand and people railed at forking out a fortune for a costly new signposting exercise named after the country’s recently retired first president. In a place where public debate is not encouraged – nor does it proliferate – there is resistance to the latest name change. The old title is often still used. As an aspiring regional vortex, the Kazakhstan capital remains remote. It is not exactly on the tip of everyone’s tongue worldwide. Yet the direct flight time from London to Astana is only 6 hours 50 minutes. From Frankfurt it

is 6:25, taking roughly the same time as to fly to Dubai from the centre of Europe. It is also far shorter hop than from Europe to Beijing, Singapore or Tokyo, plus it is well connected to Istanbul. But it’s going to take a lot more to convince outsiders that Nur-Sultan is not just an artificial hub pushed by inspired political or economic interests, or a desire by the United Nations and other international forums to share their conferences and other global events more equitably with hitherto ignored parts of the world. Geographically, Kazakhstan’s second-largest city is arguably located at the centre of the planet, connecting Asia with Europe as a region of growing importance. Hotels are relatively inexpensive, conference facilities are of surprising high quality, while taxis are cheap and the capital safe. Without doubt, the government is encouraging this image of an increasingly crucial international hub. Two years ago, for example, it hosted Expo 2017, an international exposition focusing on ‘Future Energy’ as its theme. This aimed to spur global debate among countries, NGOs, companies and the public on: How do we ensure safe and sustainable access to energy for all while reducing CO2 emissions?” The Kazakhs are aiming to take this argument to New York for the UN’s 2019 Climate Summit in September. (See Global Geneva article on the current failure to respond to climate action)

ASSERTING ITSELF ON THE WORLD STAGE The more graceful city of Almaty, in the south, ringed by snow-capped mountains and Kazakhstan’s capital during the Soviet era, put itself on the international organizations’ map in 1978 when it held a pivotal conference of health experts and world leaders to commit to health for all. But in October 2018, it was Nur-Sultan’s turn. It co-hosted with WHO and UNICEF the Global Conference on Primary Health Care to renew a world-wide commitment to universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals. Since then, Nur-Sultan has become a platform for high-profile diplomatic talks and summits on critical global issues, such as rounds of Syrian peace talks between the Assad regime and the opposition. In 2003, Nur-Sultan also began hosting the Congress on World and Traditional Religions, a diverse gathering of religious leaders, which is now held every few years, to discuss religious harmony and ending terrorism and extremism with the latest such gathering held in October 2018.

A CITY OF PURPOSE, BUT STILL BESET BY SHORTCOMINGS Unlike Almaty, Astana does not have a history of being earthquake prone. For local native, television programme director Alena Gorbacheva it is a superb home. “It has the right geometry, perfect symmetry and lovely landscapes from the bird’s-eye view,” she explains. This includes excellent facilities, and despite some urban issues, such as public transport, life is manageable. As a city, it also exudes purpose.

FROM THE FIELD | Nur-Sultan: International Geneva’s challenge in Central Asia

Almaty, which is double its size, has a small but efficient underground rail network, but Nur-Sultan’s geomorphic makeup renders it impossible to safely build a subway. For the moment, the city has mainly bus and taxi-sharing, plus a steadily growing bike service, as its principal forms of public transport. While a light-rail service is planned, it still has far to go to develop the sort of transport system that will make it readily attractive to outsiders. “But when you come down from heaven to earth all these vast squares, long, long boulevards and dead public spaces are uncomfortable to walk around and use, due to the harsh weather conditions,” admits Gorbacheva.

SECOND COLDEST CAPITAL IN THE WORLD Climate-wise, summers can be great, but the winters are long and bitterly cold. Nur-Sultan ranks as the second-coldest national capital in the world after Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. That’s a position formerly held by Ottawa in Canada until the city became Kazakhstan’s new capital. As a result, Nur-Sultan is an unlikely ‘walking’ city’. Nevertheless, people such as Gorbacheva are hopeful the government’s strategy to improve the transport shortcomings of the capital, which she still calls Astana, will work. “On the whole, Astana is like any other young city. It has a lot of challenges which are not, fortunately, barriers for it to earn international recognition.” She rattles off the saying “Astana is for work and Almaty is for life,” noting that the former capital has an enviable reputation for cultural events, finance, nightlife and restaurants, but such attractions are now being increasingly found in her city. As a member of Kazakhstan’s ethnic Russian minority, Gorbacheva is optimistic that her country is slowly transforming, including efforts to attract investment, notably from Russia. She studied for five years in Moscow and said that the government is generous in helping students to study at the best universities abroad, provided they come back and work in Kazakhstan. Many students head to Western Europe or the United States under the scheme. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s, the Kazakh language has become the official tongue, but Russian is widely used in government institutions and meetings; Russians remain prominent in every aspect of life. In 1989 Kazakhs were 39 per cent of the population, numbering some 6.5 million, and Russians 38 per cent. Today ethnic Kazakhs make up around 68 per cent of the population, and ethnic Russian have settled at about 20 per cent. While many Russians left following the collapse, some are returning.

GETTING ON THE WORLD EVENTS’ CALENDAR Given its modernist architectural attractions coupled with a keen regional vision, Nur-Sultan is already firmly entrenched in the world event’s calendar. Current plans by Pakistan, Iran and other neighbouring countries to develop rail links through Afghanistan (depending on the security situation) in a bid to link the In-

dian Subcontinent, the Middle East and even Europe with Central Asia, are something Kazakhstan hopes to cash in on. Nur-Sultan is also establishing itself as a tech hub. The Astana Hub Technopark has already established connections with other innovation ecosystems in Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, plus is also reaching out to Silicon Valley and Switzerland’s own EPFL Innovation Park in Lausanne. In keeping with its global peace mission, perhaps influenced by the Geneva experience of Kazakhstan’s new President, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (he served as the UN’s Geneva Director General from March 2011 to October 2013), the country signed on 3 July 2019 a law ratifying the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. As with South Africa, it has publicly eschewed a nuclear armaments’ capability by getting rid of its nuclear weapons, including the closing down of its test site in Semipaltinsk. The UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) based in Madrid and Nur-Sultan are organizing the eighth Global Summit on Urban Tourism under the ‘Smart Cities, Smart Destinations’ theme in the Kazakh capital from 9-12 October 2019. Another significant event will be the 12th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in June 2020. According to Yerkimbayev Daulet, an Expo centre director, the city is expecting trade ministers from 164 member countries and 20 observer countries of the WTO, plus over 4,000 participants. This will make Kazakhstan, the world’s biggest landlocked country, the first Central Asian country to hold such a conference. Much of this comes at a time when global trade is on a knife-edge, especially with ongoing tensions between the world’s two largest economies, the United States and China. For WTO spokesperson Keith Rockwell, Kazakhstan has an historical ability to bring nations together and to understand the perspectives of large countries. “The Silk Road went through Kazakhstan and trade is a part of the historical DNA of the country. But perhaps the event might create new trade, business and investment opportunities as well as to show the facilities of this impressive city,” he said.

This vision was all made evident at the Kazakhstan capital’s 21st anniversary celebrations in July this year, an event that reportedly attracted some 450,000 people. It was also emphasized by Almaty-born Tokayev during his inaugural presidential speech a month earlier. “Over the coming years, the leading issues of our time will come to the fore: which countries will be able to effectively adapt and integrate to the new global realities, and who will be left on the side-lines of world development.” Stressing its ability to respond to the main economic and political “challenges of our time,” he added that Kazakhstan was open for business by developing “creative change” for all. This, he maintained, “is how I view progress.” For Kazakhstan – and Nur-Sultan – to excel, however, much will depend on whether such UN-style speeches can be translated into reality. For Deputy Foreign Minister Yerzhan Ashikbayev, who spoke with Global Geneva during the May 2019 Eurasia Media Forum in Almaty: “Kazakhstan cannot afford to limit its perspective to its geography only. We mean to be part of global development by also contributing to global peace, global stability and global development.”

INVESTING IN MODERNITY AND GLOBAL INFLUENCE Kazakhstan is driving itself into modernity by spending heavily on education and infrastructure. It is also seeking to internationalize itself by focusing more on English in schools. Much to the dismay of Russians, it is also in the process of dropping the Cyrillic alphabet, using Roman letters for the Kazakh language. Nevertheless, despite being rich in oil and gas resources – it boasts Central Asia’s best-performing economy – severe discrepancies exist between the privileged and the poor. It also ranks low on press freedom indices and is accused by watchdog bodies of practising religious discrimination. Kazakhstan’s Jerusalem-born Chief Rabbi Yeshaya Cohen believes that the country, which has a 70 per cent Muslim majority and some 26 per cent Christians (plus several thousand Jews), actually seeks to foster “mutual self-respect” of religions. The country, for example, allows freedom of worship for Eastern Orthodox Christians, Catholics and traditional Protestant denominations but has been criticised for being less tolerant of some evangelical Christian groups and Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as some Islamic groups as well. Human rights are also reportedly improving. As a nation that emerged from the Soviet sphere, Kazakhstan has known the meaning of political repression. The founding Kazakhstan president ruled as a strongman for 30 years, but the 2019 elections were considered to be relatively free and fair. As I learned, people now feel that it is time to open up more, to allow trade unions to flourish, to tolerate more independent media and to permit more dissent. Only in this manner can Kazakhstan seriously embrace its new aspiring role as a regional icon of peace.

South African journalist PETER KENNY covers UN, WTO and international issues from Geneva.


OCEAN PROBLEMS (E.G. PLASTIC): NO TIME FOR EASY ANSWERS Was any environmental campaign as widely successful or so quickly adopted as the movement against marine plastics? But is it offering the right answers? The quick fix may not be a fix at all – as with other environmental pseudo-panaceas. Big questions for the UN's environmentalists... READ ONLINE


ALAIN GACHET – A WATER WIZARD FOR THE PLANET With the growing impact of climate change, an estimated one third of the world’s population lacks fresh water. By 2050 it could well be over one half, some five billion people. That is, unless we not only improve water management, but also create new water resources. A determined French mineral engineer living in the south of France has found a way of locating massive reserves, or aquifers, beneath the earth’s surface using a mathematical algorithm that could completely change our future. READ ONLINE




The U.N.’s Michael Møller:

Placing International Geneva on the global frontline Luisa Ballin

While ‘International Geneva’ is often better known abroad than Switzerland the country, Swiss authorities are finally beginning to grasp the uniqueness of what this city has to offer. The Lake Geneva region, including neighbouring France, represents one of the world’s most innovative knowledge hubs. It also stands out as an exceptional gathering place for critical planetary issues. Michael Møller, until early summer, 2019, the Director-General of the United Nations’ Geneva office (UNOG), has been one of its most persuasive advocates. Contributing editor Luisa Ballin met the Danish-born diplomat to discuss front-burner issues ranging from U.N. reform and whistle-blowing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), fake news and the erosion of trust.




URICH, BERN, BASEL AND OTHER CITIES of SwitThere is a very clear reason, he maintains, why so many zerland’s more dominant German-speaking canU.N. agencies and NGOs are based in this essential heart tons have traditionally looked down on the Lake of Europe, along with cutting edge financial, cultural and Geneva region as a somewhat unpredictable sibresearch institutions. “What international Geneva has to ling backwater. However, many are now begrudgingly adoffer is exceptional. But it is up to all of us to make sure mitting that the ‘International Geneva’ concept – increaswe can benefit from it,” the U.N. diplomat says. ingly known as ‘International Switzerland’ – is emerging The Swiss authorities in Bern have been underwriting as a key global influencer. This is a theme that former U.N. much of what Møller represents, including a hefty chunk chief Michael Møller, who stepped down at the end of of the CHF837m Palais des Nations’ renovation, some June, 2019, has been pursuing doggedly. 400 million CHF in the form of interest free loans from As many of its proponents point out, the ‘internationthe Confederation as well as City and Canton of Geneva. al Geneva’ idea is being achieved primarily by developWhile the Federal authorities may not necessarily be ing the region’s role as a global focal point for informed providing the information support needed to promote expertise and new ideas. This includes highlighting innothe International Geneva concept (there is very little vative business, international aid and medical or science effective backing for independent media, for example), research approaches that incorporate not just Geneva but they appear to be finally recognizing its rising global the whole of Switzerland. Many such initiatives, whether prominence that far belies the official 489,000 population dealing with humanitarian action, climate change, access of both city and canton. to health, the protection of cultural heritage or scientific On 19 February 2019 the Swiss Federal Council research have also helped make Geneva the planetary hub announced CHF 3m for a new Geneva Science and for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. Diplomacy Anticipator for “innovative partnerships Nonetheless, for Møller – who was among a variety of stakeholders appointed Acting Head of UNOG in Noacross national borders”. Former “ vember 2013, and its Director General Nestlé CEO Peter Brabeck-Letmathe of Most people now closing the Austria has been named its President, in June 2015 – it has been no easy task getting both the Swiss – and the Genewhile Patrick Aebischer, former head doors are going to be just as vans – to embrace the International of the Lausanne Federal Institute of affected as the ones they are Technology (EPFL), was appointed Geneva brand name as a pivotal asset on the world stage. Or to get people Vice-President, though some critics closing the doors to… to understand what precisely the 17 would consider this an unholy alliance SDGs mean. of business and academia common in During his tenure, Møller has actively promoted a Switzerland. At the same time, Berne announced “a new new sustainability index that has analyzed over 400 of the strategy aimed at enhancing Switzerland’s attractiveness world’s biggest companies in an effort to persuade them as a host state and centre of global governance”. to “walk the talk”. As a result, “an increasing number of However, its planned 2020-23 budget for this effort, CHF them are changing their policies and business models,” 113m, subject to Parliament’s approval, is less than the Møller says. For some critics, however, this may often CHF 117.2 million spent in 2016-19. have more to do with PR or image than genuine concern. For Møller, International Geneva represents part of Switzerland’s Global Compact Network, which includes the changing governance structures now emerging across companies such as Novartis, ABB and Nestlé, may make the globe. “Cities and their mayors are more important the right noises, but the group tends to skim over critical every day, because it is where citizens get their services… issues. Most, too, still fail to recognize the importance of It is in the cities that you will find these new solutions,” supporting public interest journalism as a vibrant part of he explains. As he further points out, urban communities understanding the importance of the SDG’s. Another probworld-wide are “helping each other” through the lem is persuading the public, both at home and abroad, exchanging of information and best practices. “There is to recognize the often complex but vital role of the U.N. not a [national] government in sight; it’s all done at a city itself, an institution which has made Geneva its European level. They are the ones finding solutions…Geneva is only headquarters since 1947. doing what many other members of the worldwide SDG city network are now undertaking.”

INTERNATIONAL GENEVA: A CRUCIAL EMERGING BRAND For Møller, however, International Geneva – and what it implies – can make a crucial difference. Whether addressing global aid representatives, business leaders or high school students at conferences, concerts, exhibitions and festivals, he has persistently pushed the International Geneva brand with short, to-the-point speeches, but also imaginative outreach projects such as a road show and books on international cuisine and fairy tales.

A SKILLFUL POLYGLOT PUSHING THE UN AND INTERNATIONAL GENEVA AGENDA Møller’s multi-cultural background helps explain why he has been such a convincing International Geneva advocate. As friends and colleagues point out, Møller is that rare bird at the U.N. – straightforward and “scrupulously principled” as one put it. Critics of may not agree, but he has certainly put the U.N. on the map in Geneva – and Switzerland. Whether the Swiss will pursue his legacy is



another matter. So is the appointment of Russian diplomat Tatiana Valovaya as his replacement. The move appears to be a re-imposition by Moscow of its traditional Soviet period political appointees. Many wonder whether Valovaya will have the imagination to think out-of-the-box and to continue with what Møller has started. Born in 1952 (Danish father, French mother), Møller is a skillful diplomat (he is fluent in English, Italian, French, Spanish, German, Greek and Danish), whose wry Nordic sense of humour emerges, especially when making suggestive points about difficult subjects such as public chastising of the U.N. system. “The U.N. has been criticized plenty of times,” he admits. “And will go on being criticized, often quite rightly. But the U.N. is not a magical organization, full of saints. It’s a human endeavour run by governments – 193 bosses, who do not see eye to eye on many issues. It’s at times very messy”. With a B.A. in International Relations from Sussex University in the UK followed by an M.A. in 1978 – also in International Relations with a focus on the EEC – at Johns Hopkins’ Bologna European campus in Italy, Møller joined the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, in Geneva before working in New York, Iran, Mexico, Haiti and other locations. Based in one of the world’s most international – and for many – beautiful parts of the world with its easy access to Africa, Asia and the rest of Europe, Møller quietly ponders whether he considers his job an easy one or not, including Geneva’s role as a humanitarian and logistical operations’ centre as opposed to New York’s political dominance. “I am both satisfied and frustrated,” he declares with an intent, no-nonsense stare. “I am satisfied because we have done quite a lot with very few resources. I am frustrated because we can do a lot more.” The U.N. needs to find more resources, particularly in the private sector, to expand International Geneva’s activities. “In this age of financial constraints, we have to show far more imagination in how we use those resources,” he says.

MOVING FROM LIP-SERVICE TO REAL COMMITMENT For some critics, there has been a general reluctance among Genevans to pay more than just lip-service to the International Geneva concept. Møller would like them to become more engaged. “We have planted the seeds for a different way of telling the story of what we do…We have to make people understand the importance of what the United Nations means in their lives.” Møller has explored new ways of telling the UN narrative. “It’s really a unique story,” he explains. While the U.N. has been in the forefront whether promoting peace in Somalia, ensuring that refugees are treated with dignity in the Mediterranean, or responding to humanitarian crises, such as flooding and disaster risk reduction in Mozambique, it still has far to go. “Our purpose is to make every citizen understand the importance of the U.N. After all, it’s a system that has been around for 70 years…So we have to show that.”


This particular point is vital, he stresses. “If the U.N. did not exist today, one would have to reinvent it.” The encouraging reality is that – despite what critics say – the U.N. has played a crucial role in what is happening in the world today. “People’s lives would be a lot poorer and less positive than they are now.”

INTEGRATING CIVIL SOCIETY, BUSINESS AND ACADEMIA Much, too, depends on member states themselves. “The U.N. is after all their organization; their business,” Møller explains. “We are at a historical point where the support they are giving us is fragmented.” This, he says, is where “the importance of civil society and individual citizens emerges.” Numerous NGOs still complain that they are being side-lined by governments at various U.N. meetings. These include independent human rights rapporteurs barred from discussions, such as Myanmar/Burma or Sri Lanka, or medical groups, notably Médecins sans Frontière (MSF) or NGOs representing traditional medicines, being kept at arm’s length by the World Health Organization. Nevertheless, Møller maintains that civil society, business, and academia are being increasingly integrated into what the U.N. is doing. “They are becoming part of the decision-making processes,” he notes. Notwithstanding such efforts, however, there are public complaints that the UN – and particularly the Palais des Nations – is cutting itself off from ordinary people, primarily for security reasons. At the recent ECOSOC humanitarian gathering in Geneva, nearly 2,000 delegates found themselves waiting for two hours or more to get into the building, many of them missing crucial meetings. Even with Open Days, the Palais is not easily accessible, which means that the UN is losing part of its magic. It is increasingly perceived as a convening place only for governments and international officials rather than ordinary people. Møller admits that “there is a constant tension between the desire for greater openness and the – unfortunate – need for greater security. It involves tradeoffs, but our desire for maintaining and strengthening the Palais des Nations as a House of the People never diminishes. We keep trying to do better!”

DEALING WITH CHANGE REMAINS A CRITICAL UN PROBLEM Seeking to explain how – and why – things have changed, Møller argues that Member States are fully aware of the U.N.’s role. This is illustrated by the fact that they have to take political decisions, which are either for or against. “In some cases,” he says, “you can bring about change by proving that what we are doing makes sense. At the same time, we need to step up our efforts to convince, to educate and to inform the public about what we are doing.” Møller concedes that some of the actions, or lack of action, by certain countries are contributing toward

impatience if not frustration, resulting in two significant structural problems. The first is that most countries have short-term political systems based on three or four-year cycles. Such approaches, he maintains, are “increasingly at odds with the long-term solutions that we need to apply if we are to resolve today’s problems, such as climate change. That gap is getting bigger.” The second is that this creates a system whereby the link between financial and political decisions has evaporated. “The people who make decisions about our budgets... don’t necessarily talk to the people who make the political decisions.” Governments often impose demands on the U.N. without necessarily providing the funding, he says. As a result, peacekeeping initiatives or humanitarian action suffer. This, he adds, can affect mandates, objectives and priorities. “When you put these two structural problems together, you have the constraints that we are obliged to deal with on a daily basis.” So does he consider the UN in danger by recent decisions such as Washington’s withdrawal from UNESCO or threats to cut U.N. budgets? Møller shakes his head: “I don’t believe so.” Nevertheless, there has to be drastic reform if the U.N. system is to confront the fast-emerging challenges of today, including the need to appoint real professionals rather than political appointees. One constant criticism, for example, is the number of ‘politicals’, often with little appropriate experience, still being imposed by member states. More than a few UN agencies are run by individuals with little vision or expertise and whose allegiance often lies more with their own governments than the U.N. This is not doing anyone any favours, critics maintain. “Any bureaucracy, including the U.N., hates change, but this takes time,” says Møller. Both the U,N and individual members states, he continues, “are having a very hard time adapting quickly enough.”

distrust. No one trusts anyone. People don’t trust the U.N. They don’t trust their governments. They don’t trust their media…They don’t trust each other.” As far as the U.N. is concerned, it needs to gain back its credibility not only as a single, overall organization, but as a network of organizations. In other words, the UN needs to develop more effectively as a system. “If we don’t, we will fail!” Møller declares. “We have to show that we have an impact and that we are useful…and that we are making a difference in your life, and in our lives.” Despite varied criticism, whether by civil society groups in India or rightwing conservatives in the United States, who claim that many of the deep and broad reform processes undertaken by the U.N. have little to do with efficiency and more tinkering to meet political demands, Møller argues that these seek to meet “the overall aim of proving to the world that the system is indispensable.” For Møller, this can only be done by ensuring that the U.N. continues to provide the remarkable well-being and peace that it has enabled over the past seven decades, ever since it was created after the Second World War as a new and, it was hoped, more effective version of the League of Nations. (The Palais des Nations was originally built to house the League). “We tend to forget that,” he says. While populations in past and present conflict zones might beg to differ, Møller adds that “many people don’t realize that humanity has never been so well off in its history as it is today.” For their part, leading human rights groups point out that the U.N. needs to become far more assertive with regard to often blatant abuses of some of its members, such as Saudi Arabia, Myanmar (Burma), Zimbabwe or Turkey, Møller recognizes that unless the U.N. takes effective action, it risks sliding back. “It is now up to the international community, including civil society, to convince those who govern us to get things right again,” he says.



For Møller, there needs to be far better collaboration and integration. This means “more concerted action in terms of understanding what is going on and rethinking the way we are working.” The U.N. has already embraced various reform processes, but the organization needs to do far more. This includes confronting the really serious issues at hand, whether abuses by the Blue Helmets or failing to “fix” wars such as Yemen, South Sudan or DR Congo. The U.N. is also needs to deal with sexual misbehaviour or harassment. This is where the public has helped bring pressure in the right places, Møller points out. The #MeToo Movement is forcing governments to ensure that the organizations and those who work in them behave properly. The fact that some of these same governments do not behave properly in their own countries is another question. For the U.N., Møller maintains, it is not just a matter of survival. “We have to determine where the U.N. can play an important role and how.” He is abundantly aware that reform still has far to go, particularly with regard to the Security Council, a “sine qua non,” he notes with a slight smile. “But all of us are caught up in a massive surge of

One area where attitudes can be changed, Møller believes, is the way news is presented, Society needs to deal more effectively with the problems instigated by fake news and the disinformation it engenders. This includes rethinking how to educate – or inform – young people. “In most cases and in most countries, we are still educating our kids for yesterday, not for tomorrow,” he argues. There has to be a recalibration of the way news is presented, and how such content is made available to youth. “There has to be a re-shaping of their perception so that they can become the next journalists to speak the truth and not seek to manipulate. This represents a broad social responsibility, a social engineering project of sorts. This will take time, but we have to do it.”

A FULL VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE IS AVAILABLE ONLINE LUISA BALLIN is a Geneva-based Swiss journalist and contribut-

ing editor to Global Geneva.


How professional – and credible - was Britain’s 2016 referendum? (Photo: Alexander Andrews on Unsplash)

The Swiss option:

A second Brexit referendum needs to be credible – unlike the last. Bruno Kaufmann

The United Kingdom’s first Brexit referendum was shoddy, unprofessional and manipulated by deliberate if not criminal disinformation. As Leave turmoil under Prime Minister Boris Johnson becomes messier by the day, responsible leaders may finally have to revert to a credible plebiscite of the people. That is what direct democracy is all about. Bruno Kaufmann, a Swiss-Swedish journalist and author, explores how Switzerland and other countries arrange for their people to speak through a well-organized and properly-informed referendum process rather than cling to unrepresentative party politics.



VER THREE YEARS AGO, I was among the many thousands of international observers experiencing an extraordinary day of apparent democratic practice across the United Kingdom. On 23 June, 2016, more British citizens than ever before participated in a popular vote: the people of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland cast over 33.5 million ballots as part of a process, which in ordinary language was simply referred to as a ‘referendum’. However, apart from its undermining by various illegalities and disinformation features, the vote – unlike other European countries – completely disenfranchised well over a million if not more British citizens (figures vary) living abroad for 15 years or more, regardless of whether they paid taxes to their home country or not. It was with the unconsidered use – and abuse – of this powerful term, that Britain’s current parliamentary mess began. As a Swiss-Swedish broadcast journalist, I have reported on democratic processes and elections, including referendums, for more than three decades. During this period, I have not only had the opportunity to explore different institutional expressions of people power across the world, but also – as an eligible citizen of several cities, cantons, regions, two countries and the European Union – to participate in more than one thousand elections, citizens´ initiatives and popular referendums. This extensive experience has not only allowed me to become a diligent reporter of democracy, but also a committed supporter of free and fair democratic practices.

HOW TO BECOME A ‘HAPPY LOSER’ – OR ‘ANGRY WINNER’ My takeaway from all this? It is not just the numerical outcome of a popular vote that makes the difference so much as the legal ramifications and public deliberation process. It also depends on whether we are talking about the election of a representative or a decision regarding a substantive issue. It was in the late 1980s that I received my first chance to cast a ballot as part of a Swiss referendum, a truly remarkable form of public vote. On 26 November, 1989, the Swiss decided by 64.4 per cent of the votes cast to dismiss the proposal of a citizens’ initiative of mainly young adults, such as myself, to abolish the Swiss army. As this binding vote was preceded by a comprehensive public debate, the turnout proved a record high; the yesvote emerged as surprisingly strong given that pollsters had forecast less than a 10 per cent majority. Both the press and public parlance dubbed the defeated camp the ‘happiest loser´ in the history of Swiss democracy. And rightly so. Ever since, I have learned to truly appreciate the ability of a genuine democratic community to produce ’happy losers’.

WHAT HAS SWITZERLAND GOT TO OFFER? But what does this experience 30 years ago in a small Alpine republic have to do with the strained state of democracies not only in the UK, but across the world? For one, Switzerland has held popular votes on substantive issues for nearly 170 years. As one of the country’s main

instruments of direct democracy, it offers the Swiss citizen, regardless whether he or she lives in Switzerland, Argentina, Swaziland or Japan, the option to cast a vote on citizens’ initiatives or to have a final say at the ballot box on certain parliamentary decisions. (Editorial note: Any second referendum in the UK needs to include ALL citizens, regardless where they live, in order to be truly representative and democratic. Arguably, too, it should include all European Union citizens resident in the UK and eligible to vote in European elections. ) Switzerland did not invent the referendum. On June 6, 1848, the Swiss adopted the first federal constitution in which citizens´ initiatives and popular referendums were not foreseen yet. However, it took another democratic movement to introduce in 1874 the popular referendum as a legal right and in 1891 to include the citizens’ initiative as a means of amending the constitution. Since then, the Swiss have held 627 nationwide popular votes. In addition, all cantons (states) and most municipalities also have adopted their own direct democracy processes. Unlike the Brexit process, which was based on a single piece of paper asking the people of Britain to vote ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’, the Swiss approach is an elaborate one. It seeks to ensure that every voter is properly informed, clearly detailing both the government and the opposition positions. The ballot paper in four languages is actually accompanied by a small multi-page dossier, a voter pamphlet, ensuring that anyone who has not followed events can quickly read up on the basic pros and cons. So there is no excuse not to be uninformed. And while there are criticisms Switzerland holds far too many popular votes – there is one every three months with about half the electorate taking part – the process is done professionally, credibly and always in the interests of the citizen. And when decisions really matter, people turn out to vote in huge numbers. (Editorial note: Furthermore, a referendum can be held again if it is felt that people were not properly informed. In April, 2019, a Swiss court ordered a historic referendum re-run of a poll held in February 2016, asking whether married couples and co-habiting partners should pay the same tax. Voters rejected the proposal, with 50.8 per cent against and 49.2 per cent in favour. But the supreme court voided the result on the grounds that voters were not given full information. During the referendum campaign, the Swiss government told voters that just 80,000 of married couples were paying more tax than couples living together. The true figure was almost half a million, the government later said.)

THE RISE OF ‘ANGRY WINNERS’ So Switzerland has an interesting example to offer not only to Britain, but the world. A world, which is not only witnessing a revival of autocratic regimes and bigoted populist leaders attacking fundamental achievements in human rights and democratic freedoms, but also the rise of ´angry winners´. Many of these now occupy government offices in countries, such as the United States, Brazil, the Philippines and Turkey.


These ´angry winners’, many of whom openly wish their opponents to be imprisoned or even killed, are products of an increasingly confrontational form of politics, notably societies fueled by black-and-white rhetoric, fear and emotion. Of course, the reasons behind every democratic backlash are as diverse as the societies in which these setbacks occur. Yet there is a red thread in all of these ´retreating democracies´ as the New York-based think tank, Freedom House, refers to them. In this sense, ´representative democracy´ is simply understood as a ´representative government´, or worse as an ´elective dictatorship´.

THE PROBLEM WITH ‘ELECTIVE DICTATORSHIPS´ Now looking at the Brexit turmoil, the United Kingdom has on numerous occasions been described as an ´elective dictatorship´, most prominently by then Lord Chancellor Hailsham in his famous BBC broadcast (The Listener) on 21 October, 1976. The very fact that the Brexit popular vote in 2016 produced a majority, while elected British leaders have themselves for many decades been chosen by a minority of participating voters, has created a truly challenging situation. In no way, however, does this respect the British citizen. The main reason for this current fiasco is not the fact that 51.9 per cent opted to ‘leave’ the European Union´. The main reason is that the so-called and ultimately highly faulty ´referendum´ process was initiated and spun by a single ´elected dictator’, notably Prime Minister David Cameron who was against Brexit. When he lost (and in a true plebiscitarian manner, resigned), it then had to be implemented by his Tory successor, Theresa May. Despite her own convictions favouring ‘remain’, May declared that the “people’s verdict” for leaving the European Union had to be respected, a decision that had more to do with trying to hold her own Conservative Party together than what was best for the nation. What we have been experiencing is the spectacular collapse of a ´representative government´ as the Brexit mess turned messier by the day. And the call for a ´second´ referendum has become increasingly louder. And yet a majority of British parliamentarians on both sides of the aisle appeared terrified of allowing the British people to have their say (again). And this despite more than one million people taking to the streets on 23 March together with nearly six million signatures as part of an online parliamentary petition – the biggest in British history – demanding a new popular vote. (Editorial note: Most UK polls now suggest that a majority – 60 per cent or more – of British would vote Remain). A few days later, a parliamentary proposal for another ´referendum´ got the most support at Westminster – among eight different, but all rejected options for next steps in the Brexit process. The Swiss are invited to vote in referendums every three months on local, cantonal and federal issues. There is an average turnout of 46.7 per cent; however up 85% of the electorate participates in at least one vote per year.


And yet, as obvious and as logical as a ´second vote by the people’ might look (after all, would you decide to sell your house based on accepting any price from a potential buyer?), Britain’s approach toward truly democratic referendum process faces serious hurdles. Similar to the restrictive terminology of supposed ´representative democracy´ or ´representative government´, the proposed ´referendum´ process in the case of Brexit remains highly restricted as a ´plebiscite´. As a form of popular voting process a ´plebiscite´is not normally foreseen by a constitution – and Britain does not even have a written one.. Instead, it represents an arbitrarily (and legislatively adhoc) approach prescribed by a political leader out of a wish to consolidate political power. No wonder autocrats around the world love ´plebiscites´, which enable them to bypass parliament. Furthermore, ‘plebiscites´ are not about providing a final say, whether yes or no, to a legal text, but have a purely advisory role. Such consultative forms of popular votes are in principle regarded as a nuisance by any democracy. True democracies, for example, do not hold ´advisory´ elections. However, where ever you have well-designed and experienced forms of citizens´ initiatives and popular referendums, such as in Switzerland, Uruguay, many of the US states or even Taiwan – you never have Brexitstyle ‘plebiscites’. Instead, you have a binding popular referendum, which always allows the losing side to get back on track at the next legally-provided opportunity, and therefore remaining ‘happy’.

THE QUEST FOR MORE PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY The Brexit debacle does not necessarily represent a ‘democracy in retreat’. But it does send a powerful message reminding all of us, including the European Union, we have to make our democracies more democratic. Despite concerns raised by certain doomsday democracy prophets, what we are witnessing is a critical shift away from purely nation-state based ´representative government´ towards more participatory local, direct and digital ´representative democracies´ across the globe. Much of this democratic development fortunately has been introduced already in the United Kingdom. Powers have been devolved and new forms of genuine people power are under way, locally and regionally. One example is Scotland. Yet while some societies are learning from doing, others are allowing themselves to burn. Britain is now learning the hard way by failing to involve its voters. But it is never too late for a proper – and credible – democratic referendum. Then the U.K. Government (and the world) still needs to learn what its people really want. BRUNO KAUFMAN is a world democracy reporter and supporter

based in Sweden. He is the author of the Global Passport to Modern Direct Democracy and the co-president of the Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy.


Harnessing the power of on-the-spot media for change Rachel McKee

With the rising impact of climate change, ranging from flash floods, landslides and ocean surges, coupled with the urgent need to implement more effective – and long-term – disaster risk reduction, credible journalist initiatives are increasingly playing a crucial role of informing the public. Rachel McKee recounts how Asian journalists are working together to spur essential changes through their reporting from the field.


EEP IN THE HEART OF THE HIMALAYAS, the Koshi River begins its journey as a tiny stream. It makes its way down the northern slopes of Tibet, gains momentum as it traverses Nepal, joins the River Ganges in the northern Bihar region of India, and then, finally, rushes into the Bay of Bengal. For thousands of years, people have lived on its banks, thankful for its life-giving waters, but in recent times, that has begun to change. Development activities and climate change have meant disrupted weather patterns, causFishermen talk to a young radio club member about natural disasters. (Photo: © COAST) ing flooding, landslides and prolonged periods of drought. “We CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACT ACROSS THREE used to bring water from a spring a few kilometres away, but now it has dried up,” says Laxmi Magur, a local woman COUNTRIES living in the Muktin district of Dhankuta, Nepal. “We have taps in every house, but no water. It has been so hard.” The effects of what happens upstream on the Koshi In addition, Nepal’s largest hydropower project is becan be felt over an enormous area spanning three couning built on the Tamakoshi River, one of the tributaries tries. The reporting on climate change effects by localof the Koshi. In this earthquake-prone zone, this causes ly-based journalists is helping to bring these far-flung unrest among the villagers in the region. “If it bursts in issues to the attention of government officials, who have the future, our area will be swept away,” said 81-year-old the power to do something about it, as well as into the Sarimaya Rai, from Barah Kshetra in the Sunsari district, homes of people around the world. Because, let’s face it, where the dam is being built. without on-the-spot reporting, those far removed from Laxmi and Sarimaya’s stories were two of several rethe scenario are less likely to confront the issue. Furthercorded by and made into a series of reports by Ramesh more, journalists need to use a form of story-telling that Bhushal, an environmental journalist based in Nepal. Cureveryone understands. rently a correspondent and coordinator for thethirdpole. Indeed, Bhushal’s series designed to raise the connet, a South Asian environmental online magazine, he cerns of ordinary people in this remote region has made travelled along the tributaries of the Koshi River in 2016 some impacts at higher levels. While it is impossible to with photographer Nabin Baral. Together they reported draw a causal link, it is thought that some related pieces on the challenges faced by people living in the region. published in The Hindu may have inspired India’s Union


FROM THE FIELD | Harnessing the power of on-the-spot media for change

Local journalists are crucial to greater awareness about the impact of climate change. (Photo: © Internews)

Ministry of Water Resources to file an affidavit to the Indian Supreme Court opposing the building of any more dams in the Himalayan northern Indian State of Uttarakhand. In addition, one of Bhushal’s stories pointed out the risk of floods in a region around the Nepal-Tibet border and that an early warning system that had been installed was in poor condition. Thereafter the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology fixed the problem quickly. A hydrologist at the department told Ramesh, “I was following your story, and as you pointed out, the early warning system wasn’t functioning during that time due to some technical problem. It’s working now and regularly sending warnings.” Internews, an international media development organization, has established the Earth Journalism Network to strengthen support for journalists like Ramesh Bhushal. “Media hubs can be credited with getting these stories to larger, more diverse audiences,” says James Fahn, Global Director of Environmental Programmes at Internews. Today, as ordinary people are starting to feel the startling impacts of climate change effects on their lives, on-the-spot journalists are essential in highlighting its human dimension, particularly in developing countries. Not only are they well-positioned to raise awareness of the hardships people are facing at regional, national and international levels, but they are also central to raising awareness about community-led efforts to build resilience in the face of climate change devastation.

a platform from which ordinary people can share how they are adapting to these challenges, and allows them to share what they are learning. “Those hit first by climate change are in a really important position of leadership, as the first to respond and adapt,” says Heather McGray from the Climate Justice Resilience Fund(CJRF), a grant-making initiative dedicated to helping women, youth and indigenous peoples create and share their own solutions for resilience. “Instead of calling them the ‘canaries in a coal mine’, we need narratives that help people see how they’re actively creating powerful solutions that others can learn from. Media hubs are invaluable in helping to raise their voices.”

THE GROWING ROLE OF PHILANTHROPY IN HELPING JOURNALISTS TO REACH OUT Philanthropy and not-for-profit organizations working on climate justice recognise the power of timely journalism and are getting behind media hubs that support strong local reporting in developing countries. For example, through the Earth Journalism Network project, local reporters in regions around the world can help raise awareness of the concerns of ordinary people in the face of climate change. It also trains journalists to report more effectively on such issues, and gathers them together at events so that they can learn from each other. For example, Malu Pedersen works as a radio reporter for KNR Radio, the largest radio network in Greenland. “There is virtually no coverage of climate change issues in local Greenlandic media,” Malu told Internews’ Fahn. “While we have reporters in the larger towns, it

ON-THE-SPOT REPORTING ENABLES ORDINARY PEOPLE TO SHARE THEIR EXPERIENCES It is also crucial for donors, governments and aid organizations to incorporate credible if not critical, solutions-oriented approaches as part of their support for journalistic outreach in the public interest, rather than PR. This is particularly important at a time when disaster risk reduction precautions could significantly limit the impact of earthquakes, floods, landslides and ocean surges on towns, villages and countryside. Because, if you are a farmer who can no longer grow rice on the land you inherited from your great-grandparents, wouldn’t you want to know what others in a similar situation are doing? On-the-spot reporting provides


Bangladeshi man points to where his house used to be. (Photo: © Internews)

is difficult to travel to more remote parts of the country to find out first-hand how climate change is affecting individuals.” Internews brought her to the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco in September 2018. Upon returning to Greenland, she vowed to improve domestic coverage of climate change issues at KNR Radio. “It is still early days,” says Fahn, “This will take a lot of time and effort and, dare I say, investment, but I really think we may have planted a seed here that could blossom into more and better local coverage of climate-related issues in Greenland in the future.”

THE CLIMATE JUSTICE RESILIENCE FUND If you would like to know more about what philanthropy is doing to support the coverage at grassroots levels, please contact: www.cjrfund.org/contact

Local journalism provides solutions at the global level. (Photo: © Rachel McKee/Oak Foundation)

A GROWING PUBLIC REALIZATION THAT INDEPENDENT – AND TRUSTED – JOURNALISM IS CRUCIAL Those on the frontlines of circumstances, often outside of their control, are the ones who know the truth about what is really going on. “If you want to know what really happened in history, ask the underdog”, has been said over the years in many different ways. Or, in more concrete terms: don’t just check the records of the Romans who ruled, but try to find traces of records from those whose villages were pillaged. There is a need today to go right to the roots of the problem, to talk with the ‘underdog’ too, so that balanced, informed reporting can once again win back the trust of civil society. The ways that information is created and consumed is undergoing a profound transformation in recent years, which, while creating some challenges for traditional media platforms, is also opening up many new opportunities for people near the action to raise their voices so that they are heard. As the need grows more urgent to inform communities in a trustworthy manner about how to build resilience in the face of challenges posed by a changing climate, new modes of information distribution have led to an explosive growth in the types of tools and technologies that help analyse, visualize and understand our world. These technologies – digital media and social networks, for instance – are creating opportunities for local media to cover climate issues, with a depth and breadth unimaginable even a decade ago. Many media hubs are supporting journalists to adapt to and benefit from this changing landscape. And finally, too, more and more philanthropies, as well as not-for-profit organizations working on climate justice are getting behind media hubs that support strong local reporting around the world.

RACHEL MCKEE is a communication officer at Oak Foundation

in Geneva. This article was compiled with additional input from US-based Oak Foundation staff, the Climate Justice Resilience Fund and Internews. Rachel McKee worked for more than 10 years at RTE, Ireland’s national broadcasting station and she also has 10 years’ experience in communicating about human rights and social justice issues.

INTERNEWS Internew believes that a strong, independent press and an informed, engaged citizenry forms the underpinnings of democracy. This organization works with citizens and local media in more than 100 countries, supporting the development of thousands of media outlets, including radio and television stations, newspapers, mobile news networks and online news sites. FIND OUT MORE


EARTH JOURNALISM NETWORK The Earth Journalism Network (EJN) connects more than 6,000 journalists covering environmental issues around the world. Together they have developed a rich and diverse media hub that puts vulnerable and under-represented people at the centre of climate discourse. EJN’s approach is people-centred, focusing in particular on training women, youth and indigenous journalists, and on empowering and amplifying local, frontline voices. FIND OUT MORE


INDIA CLIMATE DIALOGUE India Climate Dialogue, a partner of thethirdpole.net, is a media hub that communicates about how climate change is affecting people in India specifically, and how the people are proactively trying to build resilience in the face of it. It aims to provide impartial and objective news and views on all aspects of climate change, how it affects India, and what can be done about it. FIND OUT MORE



China and the Golden Veins of Henan: A film-maker’s view Andy Cohen

Chinese speculators rolled into Henan Province in the late 1990s to stake their claim. But it wasn’t gold they were after – it was blood. Blood as pure as the province’s peasants. Geneva-based film-maker and writer Andy Cohen writes about his experience shooting a documentary (Ximei, 2019) on China’s ‘poisoned’ blood scandal infecting more than 300,000 victims with HIV/AIDS – and then Beijing government’s efforts to do everything possible to cover the scandal up.

Ximei, the film’s protagonist, has been persecuted by theauthorities for highlighting the issue of contaminated blood. (Photo: Andy Cohen)

Local health officials, worried they would get left behind by China’s miraculous economic engine, moved in to exploit and monetize the untapped resource of pure blood from Henan’s peasants. Blood product companies, backed by the central government, rushed mobile blood units into villages. Propaganda campaigns followed, advertising that blood selling is good for your health, good for the country. Heeding the call, villagers lined up in droves to sell their blood, sometimes as often as three times a day, to earn the approximate of five US dollars per sale. The more blood and plasma collected, the more profit everyone made. It seemed like easy money. The blood rush continued unabated. Unsanitary equipment and collection methods were used to collect, separate, and reinject the peasants’ plasma and platelets necessary for the blood products. Many peasants were hooked up to one machine at the same time, with strangers’ blood flowing between them. Uneducated health


officials never thought to screen the blood they extracted. As a result of all this negligence on the part of the health department, AIDS spread rampantly throughout the peasant villages. Instead of generating income, the unchecked rush created one of China’s worst health crises and cover-ups. The peasant population didn’t know what hit them. Nor did the ill-equipped and outdated local hospitals.

THE BEIJING GOVERNMENT: DENYING VICTIMS ACCESS TO CARE, COMPENSATION AND JOURNALISTS Hundreds of thousands of infected peasants later, when the story finally broke, the government – responsible for the blood selling campaign – forbade the victims access to imported medicines, to travel, nor to petition for medical expense compensation. They were sequestered in what

became known as the AIDS villages. To this day, journalists are denied access to these villages. Making a film on so sensitive an AIDS story in a totalitarian society has obvious challenges. Some are predictable, but many are not; particularly in the highly monitored, impoverished rural areas where the pavement stops and the dirt roads start. We started shooting footage seven years ago, but Filming the predicament of Ximei – and 300,000 others – was no easy task. (Photo: Andy Cohen). after only a few minutes of filming in an alleyway in a village of less than a hundred people, we found out that the XIMEI: A HERO OF OUR TIME neighbours of Ximei, our protagonist, an infected peasant woman, were government-paid informants. Westerners, The more I got to know Ximei, the more I realized I usually never seen in these parts, triggered an instant telewas working with one of the great heroes of our times. I phone tag to the authorities. We hid the cameras and scatfollowed and filmed her as she tended to dying victims, oftered our crew in time. fered suicide counselling to those who wanted to end their The law in these areas are in the hands of local authorilife, gave home care for HIV-infected orphans, fought off ties and their para-police thugs loyal to their rural version of discrimination and petitioned the government on behalf the Communist Party. We had to play a cat-and-mouse game of her patients. I became determined to help her by getsince our first shoot in Xincai, and this continued until the ting her story known. final shoot last year, when even filming under cover of giant Documentary journalism is one of today’s cornerwheat fields, the Party’s shiny black sedan managed to find stones of free expression. It shines a light on the dark us. The officials expelled us from the province under threat injustices of the world, gives voice to those whose cries of arrest. are often drowned out. Of course, with this comes a huge Being surveilled is no game if you are Chinese and live in moral responsibility. Because most of my subjects are freeChina. The temporary surveillance our crew encountered is dom fighters, showing their actions on film can jeopardize nothing compared to the permanent surveillance Ximei and them. others encounter on a daily basis. On more than one occaWhen Ximei received reprisals, such as house arrest. sion, our Chinese cameraman and fixer, Huang Huang, was and constant harassment for the film being shown in Gedetained and beaten, the footage along with our camera conneva and for her speaking at the United Nations with the fiscated (Huang Huang has been in jail since May, 2019, for help of one journalist and the UN High Commissioner for his activism). The mother of our driver, who lives in Beijing, Human Rights (UNHCHR), who lobbied the Chinese during was paid a surprise visit by an official. Her son now works an official delegation, the local officials received orders to in a restaurant having given up driving in order to safeguard back off. Ximei has been finally granted proper compenhis mother. Most of the local villagers featured in our film sation and is now allowed more freedom of movement were interrogated by the police and made to sign statements. within China. Creating arbitrary fear is a means totalitarian states use to Ximei remains a great inspiration and role model to me. control people’s freedom of movement and of expression. She struggles daily, not only to wake up and fight through One courageous woman, Ximei, chose not to be intimillness, but to stand up to one of the world’s most powerful idated by these strong-armed government bullies. Possibly governments. She was given AIDS through no fault of her born between 1982 and 1985 – she believes – Ximei was 10own. And instead of helping, her government abused her 11 years old when working in the wheat fields late at night and her fellow patients, hoping they would all die off and with other kids. She got tired and fell asleep. The wheel of the story buried with them. In the end, Ximei brings her a wheat thresher caught her hair, ripping off her scalp. She patients a measure of dignity and humanity. By holding the needed a blood transfusion and this is how she contracted authorities’ feet to the fire, speaking out against unfair treatAIDS. Frail from years of fighting AIDS with substandard ment, the existence of every individual is validated. medications, she dared to stand up for her rights and those of her fellow survivors. Ximei created the Ximei House, ANDY COHEN is an American documentary film-maker, journalist which offered a bed, food and counselling to anyone with and author based in Geneva. He also participated in Global GeneAIDS. With a compromised immune system, she gambled va’s first ‘Youth Writes’ (Young Journalists and Writers Inititiative) her life daily, as she cooked and did chores for her sick paworkshop in Versoix, Switzerland, in March 2019, helping high tients, all the while confronting the local authorities who school students better understand the role of documentary film reporting. continually abused her.


A Rohingya refugee camp on the outskirts of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Over three quarters of a million refugees from Burma (Myanmar) are crammed into a series of sprawling camps waiting to be repatriated, but in safety and with full citizenship rights. Hopes, however, are fading.(Photo: Louis Parkinson)

Letter from Cox’s Bazar: Burma’s Rohingya – a people in need of citizenship, not sympathy Louis Parkinson

Bangladesh is now sheltering more than one million mainly Rohingya refugees who have fled the military-led crackdown in Myanmar, or Burma. Most of them sequestered in sprawling camps, some 750,000 alone poured over the border since August, 2017 from Rakhine state where thousands, including children, were deliberately killed, women raped and villages burned or otherwise destroyed. British traveller and aid worker, Louis Parkinson, has sent us this dispatch from Bangladesh.


“WE ARE ALIVE. WE ARE SAFE IN BANGLADESH. We are happy that our children can learn here,” calmly reflects Mohammed, a father of three, as we escape the intense midday heat in a covered tea shop. A well-presented and educated man, he was formerly employed by Care International in Myanmar, and now volunteers with the Danish Refugee Council in the camps. He adds: “Of course, we want to go back to Myanmar, our home, but only if we are safe and given citizenship rights.” Fleeing with his family and not much else, he left behind a home, a shop, and 22 acres of farm land. In order to reach safety, he had to pay the extortionate $60 per person (borrowed from a friend) for the ferry across the Naf river, the natural land border between Bangladesh and Myanmar. He shakes his head. “Refugee life is not good,” he says. “But we are not powerful people. It is up to the UN and other international organizations.”

A BRUTAL GENOCIDE More than a year and a half have passed since the Rohingya, a mainly Muslim – and stateless – ethnic group (a minority are Hindu) came here in their droves, fleeing their homes, as a barbaric ethnic cleansing arrived in their villages, burning houses, raping, and butchering colossal numbers. Over 750,000 survivors of this genocide now live in Bangladesh, in dense sprawling refugee camps in a region called Cox’s Bazar, just across the Burmese border. Together, they represent the world's largest refugee camp. While many observers are reluctant to refer to mass killings of ethnic groups as ‘genocide’, a September 2018 United Nations fact-finding report clearly stipulated that top Myanmar military officials should be “investigated and prosecuted” for genocide and human rights atrocities against the Rohingya and other minority groups in Myanmar. On the basis of a 2018 legal assessment made by the Public International Law and Policy Group, the U.S. State Department similarly maintains that the killings and persecution represent genocide. This is strenuously denied by the military-backed Myanmar government, including Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Laureate now supporting the Rangoon regime. Hopes of repatriation to their homes in Rakhine state are fading. So is the goodwill and hospitality in Bangladesh, an already over-populated and under-resourced nation. The sprawling camps have spread across a protected and once densely forested area inland from the scenic coastal town of Cox’s Bazar, a favourite tourist spot, famed for its 120km of unbroken beach. The local community, one of the most economically stressed in the country, has been enveloped into the crisis, either benefiting from new sources of income, or discomforted and angered by the consequences of a sudden swelling of population. Conflicts between the local and refugee populations are increasing pressure on the Dhaka government to seek a solution to this dire situation. Recently based in the nearby Indian state of Assam, I made a month-long overland trip through Bangladesh, including a week in Cox’s Bazar. Having spent three years

managing an international NGO in Malawi focused on youth development, I particularly wanted to explore the situation among young refugees. I was able to visit the camps three times, gaining a glimpse into the arduous five-hour commute there and back that both local and foreign aid workers experience each day. Hampered by clogged roads, the route now utilizes the beach at lowtide as a highway to bypass the collapsed main road exiting the town.

BARELY ENOUGH TO SURVIVE I only scratched the surface of the vast expanse of this ramshackle bamboo-built refugee city, guided on foot along a maze of paths by asylum seekers wearing T-shirts emblazoning their status as NGO volunteers. I’m met with a mix of excitement, warmth, indifference, and occasionally suspicion. The scale of the camps, housing nearly a million Rohingya, is difficult to comprehend, and more so, the density. It’s dusty and hot with few trees remaining to offer desperately-needed shade. Sturdy bamboo bridges and crafted steps draw the eye, with concrete drains and sloping-bank reinforcements revealing the considerable efforts to prepare for the coming monsoon season in June. It is a mass of vegetable markets, barbers, tea shops, restaurants, basket weavers, electronic accessory stores, and tuk-tuk (motor scooter rickshaws) drivers. “Businesses sprung up as soon as we arrived,” a young driver recalls. Wearing skinny jeans and a stylish black-and-white patterned shirt, he lies casually reclined in the back seat of his tuk-tuk, slightly suspicious of my interest in him and his taxi business. Three weeks as a driver, renting the vehicle from a Bangladeshi businessman, was earning him roughly $3-4 profit daily, barely enough to support his teenage sister and father. The camps are their own bustling entrepreneurial economy, with formal employment not permitted for refugees, and the basic food rations only just enough to survive on. Some with means have managed to escape to the towns, notably Dhaka. This includes enterprising Rohingya dealers in cahoots with the Bangladeshi drug mafia, mostly trafficking in highly debilitating cheap methamphetamine pills known as yaba. The same priorities drive families here as they would anywhere in the world, chiefly education and good nourishment of their children. As with Syrian or Iraqi refugees living in camps in Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey, they will spend their last taka (the Bangladesh currency) on paying for books, schooling or extra food. Some find low-paid work with NGOs, whilst many rely on money sent from the international Rohingya diaspora. A repeated story is that of community support, where those in need are given food by those who have enough.

READ MORE ONLINE https://www.global-geneva.com/letter-from-coxs-bazar-burmasrohingya-a-people-in-need-of-citizenship-not-sympathy/ LOUIS PARKINSON is a former Country Director of Chance For

Change in Malawi. He is now more than two years into writing and travelling the world (sometimes on a bicycle).


Defending Human Rights Defenders: The Legacy of Martin Ennals John Horekens

Abdul Aziz Muhamat on stage in Geneva delivering his acceptance speech. The presentation slide was taken in Manus; on Muhamat's (blue t-shirt) left is Behrouz Boochani (bare-chested) who was awarded Australia’s Victorian Prize for Literature in January 2019.

Can a human rights award make a difference to the plight of victims by drawing public attention to their situation? Or even protect them from being killed or tortured? John Horekens argues that international prizes such as the Martin Ennals Award – often referred to as the Nobel Prize for Human Rights – can do just that. And even more. They recognize the courage and resilience of those who have decided to stand up for their rights, and the rights of others, regardless of the consequences. AFTER ARRIVING AT THE MANUS ISLAND detention centre in Papua New Guinea, where the Australian immigration authorities sent him under the Canberra government’s offshore asylum policy, Abdul Aziz Muhamat, a Sudanese refugee, became QNK002. This was the identification number given to him by the authorities in the camp where he has been locked up virtually for the past five years. Muhamat was exceptionally allowed to travel to Geneva earlier this year to receive the Martin Ennals Award for human rights defenders (MEA), in recognition of his work as a refugee activist in drawing attention to the inhumane conditions asylum-seekers and refugees are subjected to on Manus Island and in similar places. The highly publicized award ceremony on 13 February 2019 drew international attention to the plight of the hundreds of people who suffer from Australia’s heartless


policies. But also created awareness of the courage and resilience of human rights defenders around the world who work for the recognition of the same rights for all and who challenge those who abuse their fellow humans, politically, economically, socially, or because they are part of minority communities, or because of their gender or sexual orientation, or a multitude of other reasons.

THE MEA: MORE THAN JUST AN AWARD Muhamat’s co-finalists for the 2019 Award were Eren Keskin, a Turkish lawyer and human rights activist who has been struggling for 30 years to promote freedom and defend fundamental rights in Turkey, especially for Kurds, women and the LGBTI+ community; and Marino Cordoba Berrio, a

Colombian community leader who fights for Afro-Colombians and other marginalized groups whose rights are violated by powerful companies who covet their land for logging and mining. Every year for the past 25 years, the Geneva-based Martin Ennals Foundation, named after the British human rights activist who died in 1991, has rewarded a person, or a group of people, for their committed dedication and outstanding courage in standing up for their fellow human beings and to denounce abuse. The small organization has developed its modest award into the world’s major tribute to human rights defenders, sometimes referred to as the Nobel Prize for Human Rights, providing them with protection and support. The nominees and laureates are selected by a jury consisting of ten of the world’s leading human rights NGOs. It all started in London in 1992 when a group of Martin Ennals’ friends and relatives decided to commemorate the activist’s outstanding contribution to the modern human rights movement in creating this award. A founding member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Secretary-General of the National Council for Civil Liberties, Ennals tirelessly advocated equal rights for all and for the development of global human rights. He created several non-governmental human rights organizations and was the first Secretary-General of Amnesty International (AI). During his tenure, AI was awarded inter alia the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 and the UN Human Rights Award in 1978.

BRINGING HUMAN RIGHTS INTO THE LIMELIGHT The group of founders of the Martin Ennals Award, including Hans Thoolen, a Dutch human rights activist (and now blogger: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog), the leading figure of the MEA for the past 26 years who stepped down from the Foundation’s Board in 2019, was driven by the ambition of giving visibility and recognition to the unknown work of the hundreds of people across the world who take life-threatening risks to defend human dignity and rights. The Martin Ennals Foundation itself was formally created in the Netherlands in 1993 in the broad context of the Vienna World Congress on Human Rights (May 1993). As its first laureate in 1994, it selected Harry Wu, the human rights activist who spent 19 years in Chinese labour camps before choosing exile in the USA. He was followed by Asma Jahangir, the human rights lawyer and social activist who co-founded and chaired the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. That 1995 award ceremony in Stockholm further projected human rights into the international limelight. All this was the beginning of a long series of highlights on human rights defenders in all walks of life (See http:// www.martinennalsaward.org/ for full list of finalists and laureates) and from all regions of the world. The list includes Arnold Tsunga, a Zimbabwean lawyer, laureate in 2006, who now sits on the Board of the Martin Ennals Foundation, which is run by a small secretariat and steered by a 10-member board meeting annually in Geneva. After an initial period where the award ceremony operated more as a “travelling circus” around the world, with ad

hoc funding and minimal secretariat support, the ceremony finally settled in Geneva in 1999, where Swiss television (TSR) gave it much appreciated visibility. Gradually, fund raising became more structured and focused, by now regrouping various international donors and NGOs.

MAKING GENEVA THE HUMAN RIGHTS CAPITAL OF THE WORLD By 2007, close links had developed with the City of Geneva, leading to an agreement with the local government providing strong multi-year support for the ceremony itself. Its timing was moved in 2019 to February so as to benefit from increased public interest at a time when the Human Rights Council (HRC) prepares for its main session. Created in 2006 by the United Nations General Assembly, the HRC is the UN body responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the world and for addressing situations of human rights violations. It meets in Geneva for three regular sessions every year to discuss thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention. In parallel, a leading international event dedicated to film and human rights takes place in Geneva, the International Film Festival and Forum for Human Rights (FIFDH). These important events contribute to making Geneva the world’s human rights capital. For Sandrine Salerno, municipal councillor and the leading proponent of the award within the City government, all this only underlines how deeply Geneva is committed to the defence of fundamental rights. “As a host to most major international organisations active in the human rights area, and with a long tradition of welcoming asylum-seekers, migrants, and people needing protection and assistance, the City of Geneva has made the promotion of human rights one its main international policy priorities.” On the occasion of the MEA’s 25th anniversary, leaders of its jury organizations gathered with former laureates, providing an opportunity to discuss the state of human rights and human rights action today. In particular, they addressed issues such as how to influence authoritarians, counter populism, and the means for developing human rights action. “It is not easy to attribute impact to an organization working in the field of human rights”, says Dick Oosting, current Chairman of the Foundation Board. “Awards are only a tool.” But, he adds, “with its jury of ten major NGOs and its partnership with Geneva, the Martin Ennals Award has credibility that can provide real protection. We know this because our laureates and finalists tell us so.” Abdul Aziz Muhamat aka QNK002 on Manus Island can vouch for that. JOHN HOREKENS is a former senior official of the United Nations

and of the international Red Cross. He is outgoing vice-chairman of the Martin Ennals Foundation Board.

The jury of the Martin Ennals Award is composed of the following international human rights organizations: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, FIDH, Huridocs, Diakonie/Brot für die Welt, Human Rights First, OMCT, ICJ, ISHR, Front Line Defenders. Support for MEA in 2019 is provided by: Ireland, Liechtenstein, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, City & Canton of Geneva, Brot für die Welt and a private Swiss foundation.


Are Afghanistan’s women the key to ending over four decades of war?

Edward Girardet There is a long-running precept in Afghanistan, not necessarily in jest, that while men do the talking, the women make the decisions. When British forces invaded Afghanistan during the 19th century, it was tribal women who taunted their men into fighting. And when the communists came to power in a coup d’état in April, 1978, it was a throng of high school girls from the French Lycée Malalai in Kabul who first took to the streets, inspiring nation-wide insurrection. Today, Hassina Syed, a former refugee and now successful businesswoman, believes that Afghan women represent a crucial missed opportunity for achieving peace and stability in her country. There is no reason, she maintains, why women cannot succeed where men and the US-led international community have failed. With Switzerland open to hosting peace talks, this is a message that the international community could well heed.


UCH HAS HAPPENED IN AFGHANISTAN, both good and bad, since 2001,” says Hassina Syed, a small but forceful dark-haired former refugee, referring to the US-led invasion of her mountainous and desert Central Asian homeland in October 2001 to oust the Taliban. “When the Americans came, we had a lot of hope that things would get better. This hasn’t happened. But now there is a whole new generation of Afghans who want something different. People are tired of war. They are tired of the killing. They are tired of the power games. They want a country of peace with jobs and a future. No one can go back to the way it was before. Not even the Taliban.” Now 40 and a mother of three girls, Hassina, who was named a Young Leader of Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum in Geneva in 2016, speaks in words chosen not to offend. “It is important not to blame people but always to keep a door open for honest discussion,” she says. “Only by talking frankly can we find a real political solution to Afghanistan. But this also means involving women. We need to be fully part of the process. This is how I have always done business. Resolving our country’s problems are no different.” For numerous Afghans, but also informed foreigners, one of the biggest problems with Afghanistan’s – and the international community’s – current approach to democracy is that the scheduled elections for the end of September 2019 do not hold legitimacy. Many perceive Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank technocrat whose own 2014 election was highly questionable with votes bought and people intimidated, as arrogant and doing everything possible to remain in power. One key critic, Atta Mohammed Noor, a former governor of the northern province of Balkh whom this writer first met in the 1990s and who is currently head of the Jamiat-e-Islami party, warned of “severe consequences” if the proposed elections are once again marred with incidents of vote rigging and fraud. “Such an election will push the country toward new crisis,” he added, also maintaining that he would join the Taliban if this were to happen. If this occurs, one of the only possibilities, many believe, is to seek the creation of a new interim or transitional government, possibly with United Nations oversight. Even sources within UNAMA (the UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan), which is supporting the 2019 elections whose campaigning officially kicked off with a field of 18 candidates on 28 July, admit that this may have to happen. For the moment, however, they are assuming – ‘hoping’ might be a better word – that Ghani and other presidential hopefuls will “play the game” as one UN official put it. The Afghan Independent Election Commission, which has been criticized in the past for some of its representatives being involved in campaign rigging, has called for fully transparency and for all candidates to “respect the law.” Another problem is basic security with the Taliban and other insurgent groups already seeking to disrupt the election process with armed attacks. Basically, as one respected analyst in put it: “Candidacies are up for sale. The power-brokers are

seeking to ‘buy’ the next elections. Many Afghans know this and that is why there is no trust.” As he and other experienced observers suggest, Americans and Europeans within the NATO and international aid community are fully aware of this, and yet they are still pushing for the elections to happen, regardless of the consequences. This is the political backdrop against which Hassina Syed and other concerned activists are seeking to express themselves. One significant issue, however, is Ashraf himself. According to human rights critics, he and his cohorts have been consistently seeking to threaten or otherwise silence the opposition. The Kabul authorities have been steadily eroding the rights of journalists to report openly about what is happening in Afghanistan. Initially one of the country’s post-Taliban success stories, the development of an independent press – significantly supported by both the United States and Europe – and crucial to any vibrant democracy, is now being effectively shattered as journalists are threatened, beaten up and even killed by various factions, including the Taliban, or unknown assailants. With campaigning barely underway, Ashraf bodyguards reportedly assaulted a cameraman for trying to film a woman who had criticized the president’s running mate, prompting angry journalists to boycott the event.

HIGHLIGHTING THE IMPORTANCE OF AFGHAN WOMEN Over the past year, Hassina, who grew up in Peshawar, Pakistan, after her family fled as refugees from Kabul in 1983 when she was four, has been meeting with both Afghans and internationals to explore the possibilities of a follow-up plan to avoid violence or popular dissent, notably an interim administration, should the elections fail to provide the confidence Afghans need in their country. Such a transitional government, she argues, should represent all Afghans, including the Taliban. It would also give ordinary Afghans “the chance to have a real voice.” As an ambitious entrepreneur-turned-advocate, Hassina returned to Afghanistan in 2002 following the collapse of the Taliban, where she began setting up her own businesses, The Syed Group. These include companies dealing with Afghan marble, food production and distribution, mattresses, drip irrigation and travel. But she is also involved with local NGOs whose aim is to help Afghan women through educational and other capacitybuilding initiatives. For example, Hassina plays an active role in Afghanistan’s National Organization for Women (NOW) promoting training and women’s rights. She later become one of six female members of Afghanistan’s 3,000-strong Chamber of Commerce. Speaking in Afghan-accented English learned while running Gandamack Lodge, an international boutique hotel in Kabul, and other businesses, Hassina feels comfortable dealing with expatriates, whether aid workers or diplomats. She understands how they think. This includes helping foreigners better grasp why Afghan


AFGHANISTAN | Are Afghanistan’s women the key to ending four decades of war?

women are so crucial to both the peace process and long-term recovery. She also acknowledges her refugee experience in Peshawar as invaluable for cultivating contacts amongst the Pakistanis, many of whom, she notes, want nothing more than to see an end to the war. This, she says, would open up of the region to more expansive trade. As Hassina points out, the situation in Afghanistan has improved significantly for women, even if they still represent a small minority in leadership positions. Much of this has been helped by the extensive progress achieved over the past 18 years in nationwide education and health care, particularly for girls and women. Many such initiatives were massively backed by western donors ranging from the United States and Canada to the European Union proving to be one of the most effective programmes of all outside aid support. “There are now far more women in the ministries, the parliament and in business. But we have had to overcome a lot of obstacles. And we still need to constantly prove that we are just as capable, if not more. We’re not just decoration for gender-equality initiatives. We want to have full influence in the rebuilding of our country.” After all, she adds with a twinkle, “women do represent more than half the population. You can’t ignore that.” Hence Hassina’s efforts to ensure that ordinary Afghans, both male and female, have a decisive say not only in the electoral process but also the development of their country without being hijacked by incumbent political interests. As human rights and other groups point out, this needs to include free and fair elections.

SWITZERLAND COULD HOLD THE KEY TO A PEACEFUL FUTURE FOR AFGHANISTAN Over the past year, Hassina has been meeting with numerous organizations and individuals from all walks of life, whether Afghan or foreign, among them elements close to the Taliban. Her purpose, she says, is to listen but also to outline her own views on what needs to be done in order to help bring about peaceful change and end to over 40 years of conflict coupled with genuine national reconciliation. One option, she suggests, is for neutral Switzerland to assume a mediation role by hosting talks in the Alps with the Taliban and other players (“Afghans love mountains,” she explains) as a means of bringing everyone to the table. The Swiss Foreign Ministry in Bern has said that it is willing to do this if asked. Some Afghans are also looking again at the Swiss cantonal model, a process dismissed by the 2001 Bonn Agreement and the new constitution of 2004, giving regions and local populations a far greater say in the running of their country. Hassina considers the promotion of a better economic future to be part of this process. Based on her business experience, one aim is to persuade the international community to provide ‘smarter’ investment and development as part of their commitment to Afghanistan’s long-term recovery. “Why do so many young Afghans want to migrate?” she asks. “Because they see no future


Hassina Syed meeting with international diplomats and aid coordinators in Kabul. (Photo: Syed)

in Afghanistan. They just see more war and no jobs.” In addition, as both she and others point out, the lack of employment is one reason why the insurgents, including outside groups such as ISIS, can attract support, notably by paying fighters. Or claiming to hand back Afghanistan to Afghans without the presence of foreign military forces. Hassina’s very deliberate but low-key outreach approach includes establishing contacts with internationals ranging from United Nations agencies, NGOs and European Union development teams to the Pakistanis and visiting US officials. This past summer, for example, she has travelled both to Europe and the United States to meet with players interested in what is really needed to help forge an end to the war. For her, the key issue is to bring on board what ordinary Afghans, such as farmers, health workers, mullahs, or local business people, have to say because, as she maintains, it is very much a different message from what many politicians purport to be on the agenda.

AFGHANISTAN: AN ENORMOUS FOOD SUPPLY POTENTIAL “I want our foreign friends to understand what is at stake,” she explains. “Afghans want them to be part of our future, like helping to set up new businesses, rebuilding infrastructure, buying our products. There is no reason why Afghanistan should not become a key trading partner for the entire region.” For example, Hassina has already helped establish more than 1,000 drip irrigation initiatives. She believes that with proper development, drip access in areas where there are no traditional rainfed or irrigation water options will enable Afghanistan to open up new land for young entrepreneurial farmers, many of whom would otherwise have no access to farming. Afghanistan, she insists, could become “a major supplier” of quality fruit, vegetable and other food products to places such as the Gulf countries. Furthermore, given Afghanistan’s strategic position on the cusp of Central Asia and the subcontinent, new roads and railways could open the country to China, Iran, Turkmenistan, Pakistan and even Europe. “But this will only happen if there is peace and proper investment as well as with good relations with all our neighbours,” she adds. Pakistan, for example, recently declared plans

to build a railway from its northwestern border post of Chaman to the Turkmenistan frontier, a project that would help both Pakistani and Afghan exports. This is the reason why ordinary Afghans need to be part of both the political and peace process, Hassina stresses. There can be no “ifs and buts”, she adds, pointedly contradicting the arguments often raised by western diplomats or Afghan politicians that women cannot play an influential role in traditional society, notably Pushtun areas where the Taliban rule. Hassina further observes that female leadership is nothing unusual, even for countries with dominant or large Muslim populations, such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Turkey. “What about Indira Gandhi or Benazir Bhutto?” she maintains. “They were very successful female prime ministers.” At the same time, she points out that much of this reticence among conservative circles has more to do with culture than religion. “Yet things are changing. Women are far more outspoken today than before. And they don’t want to lose their rights. Or return to the past.” Demographically, times have changed, too, Hassina points out. Well over 60 per cent of the country is now under the age of 25. These are young Afghans with no experience of the Jihadist period against the communists during the 1980s and 90s, or even the post-1996 Talib regime. “Afghanistan is a much different country today. People want to feel that they are part of the future and that the government is listening to them. This includes any arrangements with the Taliban. No one wants deals imposed from the outside. This is why we need to involve ordinary people more, and to listen to them.” For the moment, as some observers note, the current US-led talks with the Taliban do not represent the movement as a whole. Not unlike the mujahideen (holy warriors) who rose to power during the Soviet-Afghan war, there is no one overall Talib leadership. Instead, the Taliban consist of a broad movement of numerous semiautonomous factions based on local, regional, military or tribal affiliations. Some, too, are criminally-based, making fortunes out of trafficking, such as opium production, or extortion. Certain groups also maintain close contacts with outside players, such as the Pakistanis, Iranians and Saudis. The end result is that, even with a ‘deal’ in Doha, no one faction can claim to represent all of Afghanistan’s Taliban. What we need to do now, says Hassina, is to try and influence such processes in a positive manner. “Peace cannot be imposed. There are no quick fixes for Afghanistan’s future.” Nor will more military intervention achieve long-term peace. People want security, but this cannot be done artificially. “The grass roots need to be part of it, so One Afghan, One Vote, would be a great start.”

EVEN THE TALIBAN WANT A GOOD FUTURE FOR THEIR FAMILIES Responding to criticisms that such a broad sweep of nation-wide representatives would be difficult if not impossible to convene, Hassina shakes her head. “People need to feel that there is something in it for them. A better

future for their families. Or proper education for their children. Or marketing support for farmers. Everyone needs to feel that they can look forward to a better life. Even the Taliban.” Part of the problem, analysts maintain, is that Afghanistan is now paying for the misguided efforts of the international community since Bonn, which sought to impose a top-down, western-style solution on the country. Not only did much of the US-led intervention ignore basic on-the-ground realities but it also failed to listen properly to the concerns of ordinary Afghans. This then encouraged a military rather than a development or investment-inspired approach to resolve Afghanistan’s security problems. Hence the call for an interim – and, above all, accountable – government with no one faction or group of politicians in control. For Hassina, such a transitional government could include UN or international involvement, not unlike Cambodia’s interim administration during the 1990s following the collapse of the Khmer Rouge. “But it has to be seen as an administration operating in the interests of ordinary Afghans,” she maintains. “It also needs to include a cross-section of Afghans, and to involve the Taliban, but more as individuals representing their own communities than a political movement.” This is the message that Hassina and other concerned Afghans are now seeking to put across. One seemingly basic key to credible elections is the urgent need for a fully-implemented electronic voter or national biometric ID. Initially proposed during the early 2000s, the idea was abandoned as “too expensive” or “inappropriate” but there has also been political opposition to the concept. For the moment, there are only some biometric IDs but no properly computerized electoral procedures, a system that could have saved billions of dollars in pointless military or development outlay and avoided even more war. The current approach with the use of printed registration cards (with an estimated 13 million eligible votes, some 24 million voter cards were produced) still invites abuse. As Hassina argues, biometric IDs would enable women to take a more active part in the elections. “They could finally vote without someone looking over their shoulder telling them what to do. If women are involved properly in any election, we will see a dramatic change throughout Afghanistan. Women are the ones who have to deal with their families, particularly if their menfolk are killed or unable to work.” For a successful entrepreneur and women’s rights advocate, Hassina strongly believes that Afghan women can make a difference. She also maintains that it is time to confront a new reality. “Everything has changed with education, the internet, mobile phones, satellite television…Ordinary Afghans, particularly young people, can see the benefits of peace and contact with the outside world. Afghans now know what real development can bring, namely a future.”

Global Geneva editor EDWARD GIRARDETis a journalist and writer who has covered Afghanistan since just before the Soviet invasion in December 1979. He is author of several books, including “Killing the Cranes: Reporting 30 years of war in Afghanistan,” as well as co-editor of “The Essential Field Guide to Afghanistan.”


Youth Writes

The following stories are the three winning entries of Global Geneva’s 2019 Youth Writes Awards (Young Journalists & Writers Programme) funded by the Alcea Foundation. Nearly 40 high school students from Swiss schools participated in the competition, which focused through fact or fiction on themes relating to International Geneva themes and the Sustainable Development Goals. We will present our laureates with their awards at a special young writers’ panel at the Morges ‘Livres sur les Quais’ book festival, on 8 September, 2019. The purpose of Youth Writes is to encourage young people not only to improve their writing skills, but also their ability to discern what is credible – and what is not – in social media. This is a concern that numerous teachers, parents and college professors have expressed to us. More and more high school students are arriving at the university level with poor writing and even reading capabilities. Nevertheless, the quality of the entries by the Youth Writes competitors has proven encouraging. Many of the stories, articles or podcasts entered proved to be exceptional and often highly imaginative. As part of Global Geneva’s commitment, all entries were edited and commented on by professional editors from around the world who offered suggestions to the students on how to improve the writing. We also held our first Youth Writes workshop in March, 2019, at the Ecogia International Red Cross Training Centre in Versoix, Switzerland. We hope to expand this initiative across Switzerland in 2019/20 with more workshops by collaborating more closely in English and in French with international and state high schools, but also to expand the programme globally given the exceptional interest we have received from various schools ranging from Frankfurt, Brussels, Bangkok, Nairobi and even Liberia. Global Geneva is also developing other reporting initiatives, notably ‘Global Journeys’, aimed at bringing young people in direct contact with the need for quality reporting from the field.


LEFT Maxine Rechter (1st Prize) MIDDLE Mohamed Diagner (2nd Prize) RIGHT Nicholas Machen (3rd Prize)



The Price of Purity

Maxine Rechter (Year 13) International School of Geneva


CREAMS, THAT’S ALL SHE COULD HEAR. Gut-wrenching cries as her sister writhed on the stained table, the dirt encrusted blade approaching her tender flesh. Eshani felt a tear trickle down her cheek as she remembered the feeling of that cold intruder. Nasrin’s head swung wildly, the tendons in her neck taut, her fists clenching and her muscles straining as she tried to fight the crude restraints. Eshani could already see the red marks as the twine scraped against her sister’s skin. She wanted to reach out, hold her hand but as she stepped forward Auntie Faduma shot her a warning look before stomping over, her heavy gut swinging, and sitting down on her sister’s chest. The table’s legs trembled at the additional weight, as did Nasrin’s arms. “Eshani...please…” a broken voice whispered. “Help me, sister...” Finally she looked upon the begging face. Wide eyes looked back, sources to the river of flowing tears, touching quiveringlips, and she saw the fear. The pure terror that had inhabited her own features just a year ago. She knew it well, like she knew the pain and the shame. She also knew that her sister would survive, as she had. As if sensing her powerlessness, the wide eyes squeezed shut, the tense lines forming around them betraying the disappointment felt underneath. And as flesh was cut and thrown onto the ground with sickening squelches, a needle was held up, eager to sew. Nasrin continued to bleed for days, her sheets, newly bloodied every morning. Eshani knew that something was wrong, but the elders said that it took time to heal and that her sister had needed more to be cut, to make sure her rebellious spirit remained contained. She never questioned them; they must be right. They tended to Nasrin every day, plastering dried leaves to her injured tissue and ripping them off every night. The nights were the worst. As Eshani attempted to sleep in the bed next to her sister, choruses of sobs and cries, often interjected by moans of pain as she moved her bound legs, echoed against the walls of their room. Eshani had offered to help her on numerous occasions but after her refusal to cut the ropes around Nasrin’s thighs, her sibling had only offered stoic silence as a response. Tonight was different, Nasrin had been trembling all day and Eshani had heard her mother frantically whisper the words “fever” and “dehydration” to her grandmother although she didn’t understand the complex vocabulary at her young age. Nasrin kept moving, pulling her blanket up only to remove it seconds later, her teeth violently chattering against each other all the while. “Eshani, help me.” was the feeble mumble that came from the bed. “Of course, what do you need?” the elder sister answered, jumping off her bed, eager to finally help. “I need to go to the bathroom.”

First, Eshani helped lift her sister’s upper body, a painful process. Then, together, they gently swung Nasrin’s bare legs to the edge of the bed, her bare feet barely touching the ice-cold floor. Eshani wrapped her sister’s hot arm around her shoulder and slowly, Nasrin stood. Warm drops fell on Eshani’s shoulder, the tears accompanying the weak cries of pain. Each step, each rub of thighs brought more until they finally arrived to the dirty cubicle. Slowly, her sister lowered herself onto the yellowed, chipped seat. As the slow trickle of urine began , Eshani could see the pain it caused reflected in her face, her sharp teeth digging so hard into her delicate lips that a small drop of blood appeared, mingling with the stream of salty water that already ran down her round cheeks. She looked away. When she was finished, they lifted her off the seat and proceeded, slower than before, towards the bed. As they marched forward, Eshani felt her sister’s tense body beginning to shake against hers. It became more violent as they advanced and soon a thick, warm liquid fell onto her feet and the tang of metal filled the air. She looked down to find stark scarlet drops. She noticed the rivulet of red seeping down her sister’s trembling leg and horrified, glanced up to her sibling’s beautiful face, her hair soaked in sweat, in time to see her brown eyes roll back into her head as she collapsed to the stone ground. “This happens to the impure and unfit, you know this, Halima” my grandmother told my mother’s sobbing form, as she hunched over my sister’s cold, dead body. The elders said that it was Nasrin’s fault, that she had resisted too much, hadn’t accepted the leaves they generously offered, had failed to become the woman she needed to be for her community. Hearing these vicious words about her kind-hearted sister, brought for the first time true anger into Eshani’s heart. It mounted within her, slowly turning into fury as she woke every day alone in her room and slept fitfully every night, accompanied only by a deafening silence, missing her sister’s soft breathing. As she ate every meal without her sister’s joyful laughter and lived while her sister lay cold in the ground, forgotten and shamed, Eshina’s fury raged and consumed her. It flickered and died as the years passed, as more girls were taken. As her five year old cousin was brought to that dust-filled room, as the dirt-encrusted blade reappeared, as more flesh was thrown onto the growing pile. As her cousin’s small muscles strained like Nasrin’s once had, like hers had. And as she watched the twine encroaching into her thin wrists, her auntie cutting off her protests, roughly covering her mouth with her callused hands, she simply stood against the tarnished wall, broken and powerless. “Hopefully this one won’t die” she whispered to herself as the screams began anew.



Mohamed Diagne (Year 13) International School of Geneva


STARED IMPATIENTLY at the white-tiled ceiling as I lay flat on my back, questioning if this was anywhere near worth missing my one day-off; one that I had planned to spend cushioned on my comfortable, serene sofa, reading the brilliant “Don Quixote” outside my wellwarmed fireplace. However, I simply couldn’t forget the bespectacled gaze in my sister’s eyes as she blissfully reminisced over this “International Awareness” session. She described it as a “daunting enlightenment”, one that would ultimately change the way I viewed myself and my origins. It was at that description that I realized exactly where this was headed. As a cisgendered Norwegian male, I was very likely going to be listening to some misinformed “humanitarian rights” activist ramble on about why I should fight for the rights of minorities, despite the extremely evident fact that many of these “minorities” have already achieved the basic rights that I possess. As I laid on an obscurely shaped sofa in a nearly empty room, a short, young man entered through the door opposite me. He wore an informal collar shirt, and stood in an unsettlingly elated manner, as if he had just won a first-prize ticket to the Alpines. He couldn’t have been any older than 25. “Hello, sir! I’m Brian Archwood. Are you Elias Nilsson?” “Yes.” I replied nonchalantly. There’s only one room in this painfully petit building. Who else would I be? “Excellent.” he said as he pulled out what appeared to be a box of deep blue needles from his side pocket. “I’m going to ask you to close your eyes as I perform a simple acupunture. This method utilises needles carved from authentic kyanite, a gemstone that grants the spiritual gift of wisdom and knowledge. Be prepared for....minor hallucinations, and don’t hesitate to stop me if this is too painful in anyway.” It’s been quite sometime since I’ve had to restrain myself from rolling my eyes. Gemstones are nothing more than amalgamations of different sediments in the Earth’s crust. In other words: dirt. Even then, it seems rather presumptuous to assume my supposed need of their hypothetical “wisdom and knowledge”. Regardless, I closed my eyes and tried to distract myself from the sheer idiocy that I’d gotten myself into. As I felt a sharp pain in my arm, I saw a blurry image of a man with skin darker than ebony itself. He was sobbing. I took a deep breath and concentrated on the image for a better view. I instantly regretted it. With a loud, sharp gunshot, the man fell to the ground. It was only then that I realized what appeared to be his loved ones surrounding his slain corpse. Another man, with skin mirroring the white scleras of the fallen dark silhouette, has walked up to his shattered victim, and began to yell excessively at the neighboring individuals, who displayed varying


emotions that I could just barely make out; heartbreak, indignation, sin, outrage, remorse, and one that I realized I’m all too familiar with - misery. The image started to fade away, and all I saw was a white message in the far corner of my sight that read “Police Brutality”. A feeling of deep guilt washes over me, an overwhelming wave. I can feel the prick of tears crawling out of the corner of my eye, though I can’t tell for certain if it is from the blinding brightness of the vision, or its dark context. Another one appears. A young girl, no older than 16, is screaming fiercely at a tall, dark figure. As I sharpen my vision, the figure focuses and becomes a blond man with a crooked smile on his face. For some reason, this strikes an unwarranted sense of concern in my chest. My vision becomes misty again. It’s then that I notice a bed beside the two figures, with the tall one furiously forcing the smaller one onto the sheets. All I hear is a loud scream echo across my mind, as another white message appears to reveal another missive: “Rape”. The next comes faster. A thin figure, surrounded by several small silhouettes, shakes in a petrified manner. He’s grasping his scalp desperately, as if he believed it would offer some sort of refuge for him to hide in. It was then that I realize that there is a disturbing aura emitting from his head, as if his mind is tainted. The surrounding silhouettes slowly point their sharp-edged fingers, and begin to laugh impishly. The poor child falls to his knees, as if his head is about to shatter into billions of broken pieces. The cruel, dusky shadows enlarge until I can no longer see the boy anymore. A white light dissolves the image and presents a new message that read “Ableism”. At this point, my body was shaking furiously. There was a painful temptation to open my eyes once more and free myself from this nightmare, but an even stronger urge to finish the lesson I’d asked for. The final image was the simplest. There was a young boy, with skin as pure as silk and a mind as clear as day. Surrounding him was a crowd of bright silhouettes, reaching their hands up to him as if he was destined for success. The image flashed in the blink of an eye, and I was greeted to a message I didn’t have to read to understand the image: “Elias.” I woke slowly to find that my arms and chest were sore from the various needles implanted in me during my slumber. I searched with puzzlement for the man who was here not too long ago. “Had I fallen asleep?” I questioned myself in disbelief. Next to me was the box of blue needles. Kyanite, was it? Discretely, I slipped a needle into my coat pocket, as a….souvenir. As I left, I noticed a sticky note and a pen on the desk beside the door, and decided to leave a small note for the kind gentleman. “Cheers, Brian.”


Nicholas Machen (Year 11) British School of Geneva I remember the first time I truly figured out that they controlled everything. I put on my televisor and decided, for once, to switch to one of the entertainment programmes everyone got for free; to see what the differences were. I don’t remember it precisely, but it went something like this: “One could but dream about the changes we’ve made these last few years. Mechanised whirrs of robots fill the air with the sounds of progress; all jobs have been artfully perfected by automation, and people live in a time where work is no longer necessary in complex fields. There are no stressful jobs; there are no workplace accidents; there are practically no human errors possible. All thanks to ISM. Now, ISM has not ‘taken over the world’, as some are worried, it has simply become… a cog in it. We care, that’s why we’re here.” “Thanks, Frank. I too agree that ISM is a wonderful service that has improved not only the quality of all of man’s goods and services, but has also created tons of community and medical buildings to support the weak and vulnerable. This has been our interview, and thank you for watching out there, button-mashers! Keep up the hard work!” I shut off the televisor as a familiar blue light and ditty began to fill the room, soon to make way for three giant letters that finalised every programme: ISM. “So this is what low-class televisor programmes are like,” I had thought, “it’s all just more propaganda.” I’m taking a long drag of a tobacco-substitute cigarette now as I walk out onto the balcony of my apartment which overlooks the crowded, trashy streets below me. I’m not one of those wage-slaves down there, you see; I was one of the few to realise the capabilities of the Incorporated Shipping… whatever it is early, buying big in the company’s stocks when it was still on its first legs. Now? I live off my fortune, but it’s hard to see meaning in a life where everything I do has no point; where everything I could do, robots could do better. What is the joy in putting effort into something you can just as easily have done for you? Didn’t stop me from looking, I guess. Still, it’s not worth anything anymore; everything is pointless. You either live a life of devout, unflinching slavery, or you sit there like some sadist bastard and watch the lower classes burn. Nothing you do has any meaning here; not since machines took meaning and perfected it. Painting, writing, even newscasting like the show I’d seen all that time ago was scripted corporate honey to entice the working class into watching propaganda. “Anything you can do, I can do better!” I chuckled as I remembered old commercials advertising the release of a mechanical butler for your household. “I can do anything better than you!” I whispered along. I had been one of the first to really believe that machines could do it, become people like us, make great things, advance humanity. In a way, I was right. In all others, oh so wrong. I found an old beer bottle one night in a gutter, from back then; early 2016. Realised the old caps didn’t even have a way to remove them from bottles without buying a tool. It’s amazing to see the changes that happened since just a short while ago. Comparing even the most basic and seemingly dynamic things from only 10 years past to what we’ve got now, it’s like looking at ancient relics. It didn’t take long for employers to see potential in this new, sleepless model of worker. It took even less time for it to start being used to their advantage. In only a few years, they WERE the workers. Everyone else just sat there, staring into blue blankets of light, putting the weight of their fingers down on multi-coloured buttons. Nothing they did meant anything anymore; they didn’t need their fancy degrees, or their high-strung educational superiority, and it showed. Some people realised it, tried to buy ‘local’ as it were, got handmade toys, hand-painted pictures; bought hand-raised dinner. But they couldn’t compete with the dirt-cheap prices of the new trading market, ironically so inflated in price now. The ISM: Incorporated Shipping… Mercantile? I think that’s it,

can’t remember for sure. Anyways, ‘they’ launched with the goal of becoming the first ones to set up trading on Mars (and beyond when they could). It’s funny, really; even now we haven’t set up more than a colony anywhere besides Earth. Everyone had a good laugh at their goal, myself included, but I liked where their head was. I wanted to go to space too, like science fiction always told us we would. I wanted to fly out into the black kaleidoscope of stars, the great expanse. I’d always wanted to be an astronaut as a kid, and I suppose I never really stopped wanting to, since just a few days later, I bought some stock. Ridding my ‘cigarette’ of its built-up dust, I position myself so I’m leaning back upon the glass door to the open balcony, sucking down the last of the smoke from what I guess you could call my post-modern corncob pipe. I’m smiling, remembering how I always used the dull task of disposing of a cigarette’s burnt paper and leaves to dramatically punctuate my sentences. Guess I’m done with it, so I’m shoving it into an ashtray now. I guess, in a way, I do regret the stocks. I don’t blame myself for the rise of the ISM, as it was bound to happen anyway, with the government rolling over and showing its soft underbelly to every rich company that came to pet it, but I know I contributed. I bought stock in the place before I knew that it took its goals to be “greater than ever” so seriously. I suppose I’m expected to be jolly with my ‘nice life’ up in the higher apartment floors, with good food and fancy drink and beautiful company, but I’m not. I never could get over that feeling of no… meaning. Hell, I’m one of the few left who decided they wanted to live in a world like this. Maybe I’m not smart enough to end it now, I don’t know, but look at what good it’s done me; sitting here writing in a notebook about all the reasons life no longer matters like some deranged psycho. Christ. If we’d had some way of stopping this whole mess, somebody to step in and say “No!”, maybe we’d be OK. But we don’t, and we’re not. I remember a conversation I had with one of the other investors the other day, a Samuel Greenwood. Way he figures is people at the top can’t be too happy either, but if they give up their money to help a few button-mashers, they’ll be in an even worse position, and said low-class people might just use the money to turn against all the highclass people. So instead, they keep everyone dormant with low wages and high prices and brainwashing and all this… meaningless drivel. I can’t speak for Sam’s credibility there, but I know I’d rather be one of those smug richies than stuck with no income and no purpose. At least they manage a company. Yet I don’t know how I’d feel now had I been one from the start. I wonder how many times I’ve broken down since the beginning of all of this, asking questions I can’t answer. I’ve wept and I’ve hollered, and gotten drunk and high and everything I could think of to go somewhere else, somewhere interesting. I tried visiting the world, but everywhere I go is just the same corporate cyan buildings with towering navy-blue billboards that read ‘ISM’. The first few months of nothing quickly dissolved into absent-mindedly drugging myself until nothing mattered anymore. Not my wife, who ran a company before it was starved into submission by the ISM, not my kids, who decided they couldn’t take the tainted world’s crap anymore and moved to Mars, not my friends who I can’t support because I don’t have enough for both them and me, nothing. The ISM, the capital ISM, ruined everything when it gained control of it all. Maybe you’re in better times, maybe I’m still alive or maybe I’m not, I don’t know. But if you are rather than I, don’t forget why your times are better; because world trade is trade, and not just a shipment of exorbitantly priced supplies from one part of a company-turned-government to another.



Finding that internship: A student’s experience in Geneva Amanda Norchi

Many high school or college students either work – if they can find a job - or seek to do an internship or voluntary programme over the holidays or during their time off. Faced with rising competition but also a general reluctance among numerous organizations to take

on young people, this can prove a daunting process. Furthermore, considering that much of the recruiting is done online, even strong candidates feel as if they are applying into a

vacuum. Often, too, they never receive a response. As American undergraduate Amanda Norchi points out, however, persistence – and imagination – are imperative.


AST YEAR, I WAS ONE OF THOSE STUDENTS, nervously searching for a position. I was also aware that simply sending out applications was not the solution. Not only do messages get lost in overflowing inboxes, but reviewers are often swamped with overwhelming numbers of applications. So, how does one stand out in a highly competitive crowd? I am a rising senior at Colby College, a small but acclaimed liberal arts school in the US state of Maine. On completing high school in Massachusetts, I was proud to have made it into Colby, which is renowned not only for its academic programmes and world-class professors, but also the ability of its students to endure incredibly frigid winters (Maine ranks as one of the 10 coldest of the United States). I am currently studying psychology and neuroscience, plus taking prerequisite classes to eventually enter medical school. My favorite class was Neural Plasticity and Behavior taught by Professor Melissa Glenn. Over a semester, my lab group induced glutamate dysfunction in rats, which is seen in patients with schizophrenia; we did this through MK-801 injections (an N-Methyl-D-aspartate, or NMDA, receptor antagonist) in order to investigate how the impairments would affect anhedonia, startle response, sensorimotor gating, and fear and anxiety. Although my course load is science heavy, I enjoy writing and other humanity-based courses. Frankly, I wish I had more time for these.

OBTAINING AN INTERNSHIP: A UNIVERSITY REQUIREMENT One of the many special, yet unusual, features of Colby is the requirement that students devote at least three separate January months over the course of their four-year education to take either a non-traditional class on campus, or complete an off-site internship. Both options are designed to provide exposure to something novel and to further stimulate interest in subjects a student may not typically have time to explore. There is also strong support for travel. After having spent the last two “Jan-Plans” on campus taking classes of interest, I was set on going abroad and completing an internship with an organization focusing 70

Students take part in the Model UN at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. (Photo: UN)

on a topic about which I was passionate. I wanted to work somewhere where I could combine my interest in medicine and healthcare with writing, preferably under the tutelage of a great mentor. January is not a typical time for college students to complete internships. There is less competition, but also fewer opportunities. I dedicated my time and effort to finding an organization passionate about working with young people, even if only just for a month. I first went for the obvious by contacting the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva. But as with so many international institutions, a second-year undergraduate is not on their radar of interest. They prefer students who have already completed their Masters’. But then, asking friends and relatives (you have to use every contact possible to reach out), I discovered Global Geneva magazine, Their compelling writing and focus on current events – while reminding readers of the very relevant need to understand recent historical context – convinced me to contact Edward Girardet, the European-American editor, founder, and veteran foreign correspondent who has lived and worked through many of the events that have altered our world over the past few decades. During our first conversation, Mr. Girardet cheerfully came up with various suggestions for internships in Switzerland, but warned that for most organizations, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross or Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), three weeks was too short. They also preferred students with more experience. At the same time, he explained, Global Geneva was aiming to increase collaboration with young people, such as its Youth Writes programme.

I described my interest in science, specifically healthcare, and Mr. Girardet suggested I assist primarily on a story about the AGORA project, a new cancer centre in Lausanne. One of their top veteran journalists, William Dowell, formerly of TIME magazine, was coming in to do the piece. This opportunity would allow me to learn from successful writers while simultaneously living in my dream location. Eventually, I opted for Global Geneva over other opportunities and flew from Boston to Switzerland, where I spent an exciting January of 2019. Immediately upon joining the Global Geneva team, I realized how much there is to learn about the craft of journalism and the business of running a magazine. Essentially, I received a crash course. I was invited to attend nearly every meeting, interview, and relevant event, such as an international journalism conference but also networking functions, that were either available to the team or relevant to my AGORA project assignment.

HELPING REPORT A MAJOR ARTICLE The first major task I was given was to extensively research the AGORA cancer centre, compile information and present summaries to both the article writer and the magazine editor. This allowed us to maximize our knowledge about the project and how best to prepare for interviews with subject matter experts. Because this cutting-edge facility was not yet fully operational, relatively little was known in the media. I scoured the internet for existing information and became unexpectedly excited when it dawned on me that journalists had not yet extensively covered AGORA. The Global Geneva piece would be the first major article about the project. At one point, our team received a tour of the AGORA centre, which we also photographed. I was thrilled to learn that some of the images I took would eventually be used in the final article. As part of our investigation, we interviewed those at the heart of the project. An incredibly informative standout among many memorable interviews took place with Dr. George Coukos. He brought to life how AGORA differs from other cancer centres by enabling collaboration among researchers from multiple institutions in close proximity to the patients, while emphasizing community and tumor microenvironment. Dr. Coukos discussed how those at AGORA will use investigative methods to develop new therapies, summon engineers to become partners in development, and eventually take new treatments to the clinic. His passion for medicine and desire to help future cancer patients reminded me of why I am drawn to the medical fields. I was open and enthusiastic to taking any potential opportunities, and Mr. Girardet encouraged me to contribute to other projects. This means that although my primary task was to assist on the AGORA piece, I also performed background research for a writer working on an article on the current and future state of medical marijuana, specifically in Switzerland. The work included accessing library databases (such as in the ones I accessed after traversing the mazework of the United Nations), creating detailed summary sheets regarding different topics within the realm of medical marijuana, and

contributing to brainstorming sessions. This experience allowed me to build further on a prior internship with a Canadian pharmaceutical company that is developing cannabinoid-based therapeutics and to continue to learn about a space that is already influencing our approach to diseases and pain management.

HELPING TO REACH OUT TO YOUNG PEOPLE Another project I worked on involved collaborating with Global Geneva’s young writers programme, Youth Writes. This initiative encourages a young 14-18 year old audience to submit pieces specific to the magazine’s focus. Winning entries are placed on the website (to be announced in September, 2019), while those of the highest quality are printed in the magazine. I was happy that my ideas were actively sought and employed, which was personally rewarding considering that I was within this age group not that many years ago. Internships should be about experience and developing greater awareness of both countries and fields of interest. While I spent the majority of my time in Switzerland dedicated to the magazine, my weekends and evenings were devoted to exploring Switzerland and France. Living near the border allowed convenient access to a variety of locations. As a big skier in the American Northeast, I’ve always dreamed of skiing in the Alps. With that said, I made unforgettable trips to Verbier and Flaine with some new friends. While these days provided incredibly memorable highlights, I also cannot speak highly enough of the day spent in Annecy. The cobblestone streets, vibrant town life, and beautiful Lake Annecy led to an indelible imprint of postcard views of this picturesque city. Although these were among my favorite experiences, I had plenty of opportunities to familiarize myself with Geneva, often favoring walking over public transportation in order to better learn the area surrounding the Lake. I would return to Switzerland and participate in a similar internship in a heartbeat. My advice is that if given an opportunity to complete an internship or work in a different country, you should consider it. Also, many colleges and universities, including Colby College, provide some funding assistance to students who successfully apply so that these dreams can be made a reality; this allows students to receive a stipend to defray living expenses for a valuable and interesting, yet unpaid, position. Perhaps most important, my month in Geneva quickly shoved me from my comfort zone. It also taught me to be a better writer, while immersing myself in medical topics, plus provided me with lasting friends and memories. Even though my French is rudimentary at best, I ended up having truly one of the best months of my young adult life. By the way, if you’re like me, I recommend investing in a translating app! AMANDA NORCHI is an undergraduate at Colby College in

Waterville, Maine. She contributed this article to Global Geneva magazine as part of our Breaking In section.



Chappatte and the stifling of graphic satire Luisa Ballin

In early June 2019, the New York Times announced its decision to halt the use of political cartoons. This was primarily because of the social media fallout that erupted from the paper’s publishing of a cartoon by Portuguese cartoonist Antonio Moreira Antunes. It portrayed a blind US President Donald Trump with a Dachshund-like Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, on a leash. According to critics, the cartoon was anti-Semitic. Others, however, including numerous cartoonists worldwide, argued that this is precisely what cartoonists should be doing, notably embracing political satire. Good cartooning, they say, cannot be politically correct. A similar furore arose when the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, published a series of cartoons considered to be anti-Muslim in 2005, sparking world-wide protests, including threats against both the cartoonist and paper. According to the NYT editors, Chappatte will no longer be producing his twice-weekly cartoons, but will still collaborate on projects. The question for many, however, is whether the much-respected US daily has now embarked on the slippery road of self-censorship and political correctness, ultimately threatening freedom of the press and even heralding the end of political cartooning.



HE CARICATURE BY ANTONIO MOREIRA ANTUNES was initially published by Espresso, a major Portuguese weekly, and offered to the New York Times as part of a syndication service. It was then used in the NYT’s international edition provoking a broadside of criticism, particularly in social media, claiming that its portrayal of the two political leaders with Trump wearing a kippa (skull-cap) and Netanyahu a Star of David medallion was blatantly anti-Semitic. Two days later, the NYT announced that its publication had been an ‘error of judgement’. The editors of the NYT then offered a somewhat grovelling apology noting that “such imagery is always dangerous” and particularly at a time with anti-Semitism on the rise “it’s all the more unacceptable.” The paper went on to maintain that such an incident would not be allowed to happen again and that the paper would revise its editorial process. It also announced that it would terminate all its syndication contracts as well as end the publication of daily political cartoons, including those by regular graphic editorialist Patrick Chappatte. According to opinion editor James Bennett, the paper had already stopped running political cartoons in its North American edition, so there was really nothing new about its decision.

Chappatte, who also draws for the Swiss dailies Neue Zürcher Zeitung and Le Temps as well as the German weekly, Der Spiegel, says the Portuguese cartoon should never have been published by what he describes as the “world’s best newspaper.” For him, it has also brought enormous disappointment. “All I can do is sigh when I put down my pencil. So many years of work, destroyed by a single drawing, not even by me.”

THE NEW YORK TIMES: CATERING TO POLITICAL CORRECTNESS For many, however, the NYT’s catering to political correctness sparked even more outrage, particularly amongst journalists and cartoonists. They condemned the paper for its ‘cowardice’, ‘feebleness’ and ‘lack of commitment’ to a free and outspoken press. According to Plantu, chief cartoonist for Le Monde and a founder of Cartooning for Peace (a Global Geneva media partner), the move was ‘stupid’ as it endangered democracy and freedom of opinion. He could not imagine, he said, “a newspaper without political caricatures”. For Marianne, a French weekly, the decision was like “killing a mosquito with a bazooka”. Some went even as far to say that the NYT editors were no better than the autocratic political leaders around the world who seek to stifle the right of cartoonists to express themselves. Among the latest victims: Turkish artist Musa Kart, currently in jail, and Zunar, a Malaysian cartoonist and 2016 Cartooning for Peace laureate, who has faced 43 years imprisonment for sedition under the previous regime before it was voted out in 2018. According to British cartoonist Martin Rowson, who described the NYT move as pompous and hypocritical, this is also why five cartoonists were murdered in the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. Or why dozens of British cartoonists were on the Gestapo death list during World War II. So where does this leave Patrick Chappatte, who works between Geneva and Los Angeles, and is known professionally as Chappatte? How does he see his role as a cartoonist, or graphic editorialist as he describes himself, in the early 21st century, when so much of the press is under attack?

CARTOONING REQUIRES AN ENORMOUS SENSE OF RESPONSIBILITY For Chappatte, who was born in 1967 in Karachi, Pakistan, of Lebanese mother and Swiss father, his own “unique freedom to draw has always been guided by an enormous sense of responsibility.” It is this professional commitment, he maintains, that enabled him to produce two cartoons a week for the International Herald Tribune (later International York Times), a collaboration that began in 2001. It also led him to win – as the first non-American – three unprecedented Overseas Press Club Awards (formerly known as the Thomas Nast Awards) for his drawings on international affairs in 2011, 2015 and 2018. Chappatte, who first drew attention to the NYT decision to cancel cartoons in his personal blog, noted that he thought Americans understood the concept of political caricatures. However, as he also pointed out, “that was before…” A number of America’s best cartoonists, he maintains, “have lost their jobs because their editors considered them too critical of Trump.” As a cartoonist, Chappatte has spent considerable time focusing on editorial collaboration with other cartoonists, particularly in conflict zones such as Syria, Gaza and Lebanon, with the goal of promoting dialogue through cartoons. Since 1995, he has worked in what is known as comics journalism, which seeks to use cartooning and reporting tools as part of graphic novels. Also published


POLITICAL CARTOONISTS | Chappatte and the stifling of graphic satire


by the NYT, these include Plumes Croisée (Crossed Pens), an initiative that has taken him to the slums in Nairobi or to report on gang violence in Central America. In a similar vein, he has undertaken educational workshops supported by the Swiss Foreign Ministry aimed at street kids.

SOCIAL MEDIA DO NOT SERVE DEBATE, BUT PROMOTE POLEMICS It is for this reason that Chappatte’s reflection on the role of cartooning is more subtle if not profound. Freedom of expression and satire need to be properly managed, he maintains. This is one reason why he helped found Cartooning for Peace in October 2006 in Geneva, together with Plantu and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. He is currently its Vice-President. The suppression of cartoons by a newspaper as influential as the NYT also points to the insidious role of social media which, he says, “do not serve debate, but rather promote polemics.” “Perhaps we should start getting worried. And to be disgusted,” Chappatte declares. “Press cartoonists were born with democracy and when our liberties are threatened, they themselves are menaced. But I fear that it is not just the drawing of caricatures which is under threat, but journalism and freedom of opinion in general.” “We are living in a world now where moralistic crowds inundate social media and rise up like a storm…These demand immediate public actions by editors leaving no room to ponder or to engage in dialogue,” he continues. So how to resolve this? For Chappatte, one solution is to encourage journalistic colleagues to “stop being intimidated by angry throngs. In this mad world, we need visual commentary more than ever…as well as humour.” \Despite having sacrificed its star cartoonist on the altar of social media brouhaha, the New York Times has proposed continuing its collaboration with Chappatte, but through other projects that do not entail political cartooning in its Opinion pages. These include developing new graphic novels or visual reportages along the lines already produced by their star artist. As one of the world’s leading and innovative cartoonists, Chappatte has little need to distinguish himself. Among his books is a ‘BD’ (comic strip) of his visit to the Elysée Palace in Paris. Together with Plantu, Chappatte also helped raise funds for the Cartooning for Peace Foundation by doing ‘live’ drawings during a direct broadcast of the Suisse Romande Orchestra. One particularly powerful project was Inside Death Row, a five-part graphic journalism series for The New York Times, the first time the paper had ever published this form of graphic journalism. Created in 2016 together with his wife, journalist Anne-Frédérique Widmann, the project emerged from a larger initiative, Windows on Death Row, aimed at fostering a conversation on capital punishment. It was also part of a broader art exhibition bringing together works from U.S. editorial cartoonists and contributions by death row inmates, who were invited to illustrate the reality of isolation. The Swiss cartoonist’s ability to express himself also lies within the perfect symbiosis that exists between his

Patrick Chappatte at his studio in Geneva, Swtizerland. (Photo: Patrick Chappatte)

subtle pencil strokes and an open, universalist mind. Together with his family, he lived in different parts of the world, notably Lebanon, Singapore and the United States, before coming to Geneva to work as an intern with a local newspaper. He also used this time to develop his graphic talents. Chappatte’s persistence finally paid off. Not only did he emerge as a perceptive and incredibly creative cartoonist for different quality newspapers, but he made it to the ranks of the New York Times. He did this by patiently convincing its editors that they needed a more international perspective that only he as an artist-cartoonist-journalist could bring. Chappatte cartoons began assuming a prominent place on the opinion pages of America’s best known newspaper.

IS POLITICAL SATIRE NO LONGER WELCOME? “This is the amazing thing about American pragmatism. There is a certain spirit that I appreciate and from which one can always learn. They know how to listen and give you a chance. If an American editor says, sure, let’s do it, it’s convincing. In Switzerland or France, on the other hand, they would tell you: you haven’t understood. I told you no! They would have looked at my proposal as a form of jostling for power. I was only able to publish my drawings in the United States because I lived in New York and understood how it all works.” For those concerned by the need to encourage a more vibrant and independent press, particularly at a time when independent journalism is under attack, it is hard to grasp why such a reputable newspaper as the New York Times almost immediately kowtowed to the clamours of social media. And in the process not only opted to curb one of the world’s leading cartoonists, but also send a message that critical satire is no longer welcome. The question now is whether Chappatte – and other cartoonists – can convince not only the NYT but other papers that have also dropped graphic satire that such critical voices are desperately needed. LUISA BALLIN is a Swiss journalist and an editor at Global Geneva


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