at OHCHR - A tough and disappointing day - Reisverslag uit Genève, Zwitserland van Jolijn Santegoeds - at OHCHR - A tough and disappointing day - Reisverslag uit Genève, Zwitserland van Jolijn Santegoeds -

at OHCHR - A tough and disappointing day

Door: Jolijn

Blijf op de hoogte en volg Jolijn

16 December 2011 | Zwitserland, Genève

Yesterday evening, 14 December, I arrived in Geneva in a very shaky plane (we had a lot of turbulence). And then I made my way to Hotel Moderne, which is really looking like the 70s style. My hotel room is almost a small apartment, quite cosy. And I had a good night, although quite short.

Today, Thursday 15 December 2011, I got up early and took a tram to the OHCHR at Palais des Nations in Geneva. I was there quite on time, but I was at the wrong entrance, so first I had to walk to the other side of the building to register and get a UN ground-pass.
At the registration I got some trouble, because of the way I look, with my punky clothes and my rainbow-coloured Mohawk. Just right after the printing of my pass the security guard came to me, and asked me to wait at a seat before the actual entrance, while he was making several phonecalls. I didn’t know what was wrong. Then the security explained me that there was a dresscode, and he wasn’t sure whether I could enter. He said men with short pants were also not allowed, so he had to check. I felt the tears coming. How could the UN OHCHR be so discriminatory??? I had been invited to this meeting, and I had double-checked my registration, and I was on the participants lists. How could they even consider rejecting me for the way that I look? It costed me about 400 euro to be there, and I made all these efforts on my own account, and now they were discriminating me. I couldn’t believe it. I actually cried.
The security guard asked if I had any other clothes, and I said “no, these are my best clothes and I like them a lot myself, and I put a lot of efforts in my hair as well, how can this be a problem at the UN !?” (sniff sniff). He still looked at me in doubts, mentioning that there are certain rules such as dress code, and then I said: “I can take the metal chains of my pants, in case that helps”. He wanted me to do so, so I “undressed” myself and put the chains in my bag.
Then the security guard took me to the security office, to ask the lieutenant whether I would be allowed. This man said it depended on the organization of that particular conference. Then both guards walked with me through the hallways, until the lieutenant realized that this made me look like I was a criminal.. He left, and the other one escorted me to the conference room XII.
Then the security talked to the organizer, and I was still feeling quite upset. I couldn’t believe there was a chance that I had to leave the UN because of the way I look. Fortunately the organizer allowed me to stay and participate. The security guard left, but I was still really feeling weird after such an entrance. This wasn’t how I had expected it to be at all. I had expected the opposite, that they would like diversity and so on.

I told some other participants what had happened (some saw me being taken by the security) and soon everyone seemed to know about this. Everyone was shocked by it. Then Vivian Lozano (Human Rights Officer at OHCHR) came to apologize for the trouble I had had at the entrance, and she repeated that this wasn’t right and that the security would need awareness training, because their attitude wasn’t acceptable for UN standards. She really apologized a few times. I said it was okay, and that I was happy to be welcome after all. And then I tried to forget it.

The meeting was very theoretical and abstract, about various torture-prevention-mechanisms and about reporting what to who. For me it was the first time at OHCHR, and the first time to participate within the Torture-framework. I learned a lot of new abbreviations and new UN body parts. It was quite a challenge to get a good understanding of all those various actors, but I managed to keep up with the information that was shared. It was like a college to me, and I was trying to catch it all.
I will summarize the contents of the meeting tomorrow, because then I will have more time, so now I’m only sharing my experiences of today.

I can’t help to feel disappointed. The CRPD was hardly mentioned, and even when Dorottya Karsay from MDAC and me brought it up, it wasn’t mentioned again.
I managed to ask the Special Rapporteur on Torture if he was aware of the WHO Quality Rights-project, which could be a partner in monitoring and improvement, and he didn’t know about it (so I will inform him). And also I asked whether he would add “mental health care” to his list of priorities, because we live in the age of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. He said he would. That would be great.
But somehow I felt that I shouldn’t have too high expectations on the Torture framework, because they simply are not experts on mental health, and they don’t seem to know much about it. They didn’t call forced treatments torture, in fact, it wasn’t mentioned at all, and I haven’t seen an opening to bring that up yet (because it’s mainly about strategic reporting and frameworks).
I was quite disappointed that forced treatment wasn’t mentioned as being torture (it wasn’t mentioned at all), and I felt like I had had the wrong expectations. I thought these UN-people were progressive, and that I would feel in place there, but I didn’t feel in place, and I didn’t feel like these people were my allies. In fact I felt very lost and lonely at the meeting. (maybe it was the entrance-trouble that strengthened the loneliness and disappointment).
I’m not a lawyer or a legal expert, and I didn’t know all ins and outs on UN-reports and UN bodies like CPT, SPT, APT, CAT, OPCAT, UPR, NPM’s, Special Procedures, Special Rapporteurs and so on. It’s quite complex, so that made it very hard to actively participate from the beginning, but I feel like I’m understanding the frameworks now. And I learned a lot today. It really was like a college to me.

I addressed the confusing language: It’s all about “places of detention, and persons deprived of their liberty” which are not only prisons but also mental health care. It’s a pity that this isn’t clear with these terminology on itself. And also, the Special Rapporteur on Torture had released a statement on Solitary Confinement several weeks ago, which was about prisons, while the CPT has written another general recommendation on solitary confinement on the same time, which differs from that, and is about all forms of solitary confinement (also in psychiatry). This confusing language and unclear boundaries isn’t helping us, user and survivors.

So during the day I got disappointed little by little, by the lack of expected expertise and the unclear inclusion of psychiatry, by the abstract and distant scope of the meeting, and by the entrance-trouble. I didn’t really feel in place.

I was planning to talk to Juan Mendez, the Special Rapporteur on Torture, but he left early. He will be there tomorrow as well, so then I can talk to him, I hope.

After the meeting, on my way out, I was again bothered by security. I was close to the exit, when another guard came to ask me if I had a badge, and he wanted to actually check it.. Yeah, I do feel unwelcome and criminalized by the UN OHCHR, unbelievable.. And on my way out I cried again, of all the disappointment coming together. I felt like I was on a wrong track, and like I wasn’t understood, unwelcome and lost, and like my traumas were excluded and so on.. It was very tough.

After this break down at the end of the day, I felt like I will give the UN OHCHR one more chance, but if I feel like this again tomorrow after the second day, I don’t think I will ever register for such a meeting again. I feel like I don’t belong here.
I remembered my participation at WHO, where I was welcome and valued, and where my expertise was actually very useful and constructive, and where I felt in place. I really missed that feeling at OHCHR. At the moment, I don’t like OHCHR, but I will give them another chance tomorrow.

Now I'm going to dream...

  • 16 December 2011 - 08:55

    Je Moeder:

    Wat vervelend voor je. Bedenk: je bent goed zoals je bent! Twijfel daar niet aan, ook al reageren de mensen zo op je. Kop op en succes voor vandaag.
    Heel veel liefs en dikke kus,
    je moeder

  • 16 December 2011 - 11:27


    Hey meiske!! Hou vol hé! Toon ze dat ze het mis hebben. En dat ongeacht je uitstraling en hoe je er uit ziet.. Als het vandaag weer gebeurd, zou ik een officiële klacht indienen als ik jou was. Hang on there!! Focus on the missie. Die mensen zouden zich moeten schamen, zo overijverig. Het zou vandaag tóch bekend moeten zijn dat je er bij hoort. En dat je er gewoon door heen mag. Laat ze anders contact opnemen met die dame, Vivian Lozano, en tel tot 10.

    dikke knuffel, en ik vind het kei stoer van je, dat je het probeert en laat ze maar een poepie ruiken, jou zo te behandelen.


    hang on !!


  • 17 December 2011 - 13:22


    Hope you at least managed to get through to some of them, don't give up :)

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rondreizen en ontdekken hoe mensen met psychiatrische problemen overal (over)leven en kijken waarmee we elkaar kunnen helpen.

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