MHR Student Shares their Experience after Visiting the UN in Geneva

For over five years, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has partnered with the Human Rights Program by supporting our students with research and internship placement opportunities to prepare them for field work and other important work related to human rights. Read about recent MHR alum Sisay Shannon-Tamrat’s experience during her visit to Geneva, Switzerland for the 51st plenary session of the Human Rights Council.


During my time in Geneva, I had the opportunity to listen in and attend a wide range of United Nations human rights sessions. I also had the opportunity to engage in dialogue with several actors within OHCHR. One thing that surprised me about the sessions we attended was the way in which the format of the sessions was conducted. During these sessions, member state after member state made their remarks pertaining to the session topic. I was disappointed to learn of the lack of accountability and honesty that was made in these remarks regarding the human rights violations that were occurring in those very states that deemed themselves as protecting the human rights of people. My travel mate and I continued to push and ask the question, “how is it that state representatives come to these spaces claiming to care about human rights issues and violations but then go about not taking recommendations and making real changes.”

While observing the sessions was instrumental in my learning, engaging with actors from the OHCHR was most helpful and impactful. I had the privilege and honor of engaging in dialogue with Lamar Bailey and Sama of the International Services for Human Rights organization. This meeting was uplifting and motivating. Our interactions reaffirmed the importance of community. I learned that in order for me to make meaningful change, it needs to be with my community, with my own government. If there was anything they wanted us to get out of our trip, it is to gain some tools and resources that we could take and deploy within our own community. 

I also had the opportunity to watch Lamar address the council. This will forever be ingrained in my mind. In her remarks, she called upon states to acknowledge and recognize that institutional racism exists within their own country and that until they recognize that, progress will not be made in addressing the violations that continue to be perpetrated on Africans and People of African descent. Her remark deviated from the fluffed-out remarks made by others and finally said what needed to be said. 

The overall experience in Geneva was insightful and helpful. I so appreciate that I was able to share this experience with a fellow classmate. These experiences contributed greatly to my scholarly and professional growth. It has made me understand the different branches of the United Nations. It has also been helpful in helping me navigate a space in which I might not be seen as important and or knowledgeable. I want to debunk that myth and say this opportunity has made me see that I am an expert in my own community and that, in future endeavors, wherever that might be, it is critical that I bring the “experts” to the table. They are critical to addressing and understanding the issues in their own community.


To learn more about the 51st plenary session of the Human Rights Council and the topics brought forth by the University of Minnesota Masters of Human Rights Program, click here

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