Not just a talking shop

9 Mar

“Oh, the UN is just a talking shop, ” is a comment I sometimes hear. But a talking shop which brings truly diverse groups together and then sparks a genuine conversation – is something different, surely? Well, I was ring-master at just such an event in Bangkok recently, entitled HIV and the Law – the Regional Dialogue for Asia and the Pacific, convened by the UN’s Development Programme. It was the first of a number of such regional events being planned by the UNDP and as such, no one knew quite what to expect – not the organisers, nor the participants, nor me, to be quite frank. The result was electrifying…

Electrifying because gathered in the round chamber  were groups of people who never usually get to meet, let alone talk to each other – people living with HIV, pressure groups of various sorts representing the most vulnerable groups, parliamentarians, judges, health professionals, police officers, lawyers and several senior UN executives (the latter merely as observers!). My role as  ring – master was to give everyone a fair shout and to try and kick-start a dialogue between opposing viewpoints with a view to figuring out practical changes to laws and access to justice. Amazingly, it worked – people were genuinely engaged with the debate, and by the end of the day, came up with a packed action plan to feed into the UN’s Commission on HIV and the Law.

Here are my memorable moments from a long day of debate and dialogue.   When Akai, a beautiful transgender woman from South India, suddenly burst into song to recount her painful story – that was an electrifying moment. Princey from Sri Lanka’s determination to champion her legal rights to get access not just to healthcare but to protect her property – that was profoundly moving for everyone in the chamber. Stuart from Singapore’s unexpected account of how the local police had changed tack in dealing with key groups like men-who-have-sex-with-men, even though the law was as draconian as ever – struck a much needed positive note.  And Commissioner Jon Ungkaphorn’s masterful  account of how intellectual property laws were threatening access to cheap generic anti-retroviral drugs – was a lesson in jargon-free communication.

If you were at the Round Table in Bangkok  – what were your highlights? What do you think we achieved? What happens next? Please add your comments below!

7 Responses to “Not just a talking shop”

  1. Aroon - photographer 09. Mar, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    The whole event was very special. To see all groups, as stake holders, sit together, was an extraordinary experience.

    The highlight for me was at the end – Steve Kraus / UNAIDS, who asked the very simple question, “are we human?”.
    If we respond “yes”, the rest seems feasible. We could ask policemen in Sri Lanka, are you human in treating Princey and her family negatively?
    Or ask the owners of pharmaceutical drug companies, are you human? (in seeing children of AIDS positive, die or be orphaned). In 2007, Thailand used CL (compulsory licencing), I worked for Al Jazeera as a fixer for their program. We interviewed a 12 year-old girl who lives with her 73 years old grandmother. Her parents died from an AIDS infection when she was 2 years old. The girl survives and is healthy due to a donated medication. This is the tip of the iceberg. The pharma co. gain billions of dollars profit every year. They don’t seem to be human. They continue to destroy an effective but cheap drug.

    I hope, if you wish, you continue to be the ring master for next UNDP Regional Dialogues.

  2. Clifton Cortez 10. Mar, 2011 at 2:43 am #

    Substantive discussions that can lead to intelligent action on such sensitive issues as criminalization (as opposed to public health and human rights-based approaches) of drug use or sex between men requires three things: facts (as opposed to hyperbole), open dialogue, and great facilitation. Nisha, you not only were a wonderfully dynamic moderator but you also provided intelligent and laser-sharp questions that added greatly to the dialogue, itself. This dialogue, and everyone involved, from governments to civil society, will surely contribute to a better HIV response, and to improved human rights perspectives in the Asia and the Pacific regions.

  3. Michael Kirby 15. Mar, 2011 at 11:32 pm #

    As you know, I was with you in Bangkok at the regional consultation for Asia and the Pacific of the United Nations Development Programme. I was there as a Commissioner of the UNDP Global Commission on HIV and the Law. I must admit I was a bit sceptical about the procedure of such a consultation, wondering how we could possibly get a representative sample of viewpoints from such a huge and diverse region as Asia/Pacific. Whilst I think we could possibly have done with some more people from the Pacific, the fact is that the consultation was a great success. Much of the credit for this belongs to you. I was also a bit sceptical about engaging an outside journalist. Would they reduce a serious dialogue to confrontation or infotainment: the hallmarks of much journalism in the 24-hour news cycle today? On the contrary, you had really done your homework. You understood the issues. You knew where we were all coming from. You realised the importance of the task. You were sensitive to the fact that many of the people present were living with HIV and knew friends who had died of HIV. Yet you were hardnosed in gathering the opinions and suggestions for the ongoing work of UNDP.
    Thank you for an outstanding job. I would certainly recommend you for UN activities that have a strong practical cutting edge. You can help gather diverse points of view and to conduct a dialogue in which people may not agree, but respect and understand the viewpoints of others.
    I hope we work together again in the future.
    With admiration, Michael Kirby
    Australian Judge 1975-2009; Commissioner UNDP Global Commission on HIV and Law; Gruber Justice Prize 2010.

  4. Mike Zoghbi 21. Mar, 2011 at 6:44 am #

    What a great set of comments Nisha…and lovely to see the difference you are making on such a fundamental issue.

  5. Marius 27. Mar, 2011 at 8:44 am #

    Thanks for the great insights! On behalf of Challenge the Best I welcome you so much to St. Gallen and we look forward to have you as our “ring master” here!

  6. David 20. Apr, 2011 at 7:39 am #

    Very good blog…I like it!

  7. Marcy Dates 12. Mar, 2012 at 7:03 pm #

    We do not have a monopoly. We’ve market share. There exists a difference.
    The genius of a good leader is always to leave behind him a scenario which common sense, minus the grace of genius, can handle successfully.

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