We were sad to farewell Virginia Brás Gomes on Friday. During her visit, Virginia engaged in the life of the Centre with great warmth and verve, meeting with PhD and early career researchers, hosting a masterclass on the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights, and delivering a public lecture on the challenges currently confronting the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Virginia was appointed to the Committee in 2008 and has served as vice-chair, as well as rapporteur on the Committee’s revised guidelines on reporting, and co-rapporteur on its General Comment on Social Security. She is currently involved in drafting a new General Comment on article 7 of the Covenant, on the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work. Virginia also gave an informal seminar at the Office of International Law in the Attorney-General’s Department. Members of the Office were interested to learn more about the working methods of the Committee and to hear about three new General Comments that it will soon begin drafting: on the business sector and human rights; on the relationship between the environment and economic, social and cultural rights; and on the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications, recognised in article 15(1)(b) of the Covenant.
On Friday 8th May, Dr Roland Rich, former Executive Head of the United Nations Democracy Fund, gave a fascinating lecture on five pathologies that in his view impede the work of the UN: pathologies of sovereignty (meaning the UN tends to work with governments while ignoring civil society); risk aversion (a pathology shared by all bureaucracies but which is particularly acute at the UN); regional politicisation (resulting in membership of UN bodies that reflects regional loyalties rather than what is required to ensure these bodies function effectively); a culture of politeness that impedes improvement via informed criticism; and a culture of secrecy that is costly and self-defeating.
In forthcoming events, we are looking forward to a public lecture by Madeleine Rees of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, on Wednesday 27th May, and an informal seminar by Mareike Reidel on Friday 29th May.