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Geneva: The hidden jewel of the United Nations

January 11, 2013


Geneva: The hidden jewel of the United Nations
                       By Tunde AkingbadeImage


There is a wooden chair that can be described as the biggest chair in the world. The chair is in front of the United Nations office in Geneva. The first thing that struck me was the chair which reminded me of the Wonders of the World! Then I remembered the wooden horse which the Trojans used as a stratagem to defeat the Greeks in ancient times. But this wooden chair situated in the middle of Geneva right in front of the United Nations Palais des Nations appeared to be a reflection of the hidden materials in the mighty structures of the UN office in Geneva. The Geneva office of the United Nations is the house of the history of the world in modern times. Though I have been to the imposing UN Headquarters in New York with its twisted-sculptured-gun (which symbolizes no-more-wars) it often never occurred to me that that the UN had a beginning in what was known as League of Nations in January 1920. That beginning was in Geneva, Switzerland. The Secretariat of the League of Nations was based there. The secretariat moved to the Palais de Nations in 1936 when the construction was completed. Right from the beginning the architect who designed the Palais de Nations which stands in a 45 – hectare Ariana Park designed it to allow all the organs and people who come to the UN Systems to be able to assemble and discuss “freely, independently and easily in a calm atmosphere” when they want to deal with problems that have global significance. However, the League of Nations was dissolved in 1946 after the formation of the United Nations from the lips President of the United States of America, Franklin Delano Roosevelt who had pronounced the term “United Nations” in 1942. The assets of the League of Nations in Geneva were transferred to the United Nations in 1946. The European office of the United Nations was established in the same Palais des Nations. It became the UN office at Geneva in 1966 and it’s the second most important UN office where several activities take place.

During the Global Platform for Disaster Risk and World Reconstruction Conference, Leoni Brigitte, Head of UNISDR suggested it would be nice if the group of visiting journalists from Nigeria , Ghana South Africa, Cameroon , Kenya , Egypt , Malawi , Jordan , Palestine , Lebanon , Ecuador , Nepal , India and Mexico visit the Palais de Nations. We jumped at it. We had just concluded a session with Tim Sebastian of BBC. With Leoni Brigitte as the leader of the pack, we headed towards the hills where the Ariana Park is situated to have a tour of the United Nations structures and history. A tour of the buildings lasts one and a half hours. We went through the League of Nations ‘ Museum, the conference and assembly halls beautifully designed and painted by renowned artists. Our guide who works in the United Nations office took us through the venue where the League of Nations began until it folded up and United Nations began. It was gathered that under the foundation stone of the Palais des Nations is a casket which was laid on 7th September 1929. This casket contains the document with the names of the League of Nations member States as well as the covenant of the League of Nations. There are also specimen of coins of the countries that were present at the Tenth Assembly of the League.

At every point where we stopped to receive some explanation and record events during the tour of the Palais des Nat ions, there was no doubt that the group of journalist who had just received training on how to report Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) under the auspices of UNISDR were fascinated by the painting, the gallery of historical materials and spots within the sprawling edifice. Even our guide was overwhelmed by the school kids “attributes of adult reporters”.

From certain spots, we looked through the window to behold the mountains and rocks that surrounded Geneva. Then we saw Lake Geneva and the long fountain. This fountain is very famous and tourists want to visit the spot to behold it.   The fountain releases about 500 litres of water every second   and it is as high as 450 feet in the air! As we walked on, we watched with awe the splendor of the Alps which I believe I had flown through, before landing at the Geneva International Airport. From air, I had taken photographs of ice thawing slowly on the mountains. It is pertinent to mention that the UN Office in Geneva had received a prestigious environment award called Nature Reserve Certificate from a Swiss organization called “Fondation Nature and Economie” sometime ago, the award was in recognition of the UN’s maintenance of the Ariana Park where the structures built. Many of the trees in the Ariana Park are over 100 years old. This park was originally owned by the family of Revilliod de Rive. The last descendant of the family, it was gathered gave the 45-hectare park to the city of Geneva who in turn gave it to the United Nations. The park has become a sanctuary for peacocks. No one can kill or harm peacocks because the last descendants of the Revilliod de Rive family gave the free roaming of peacocks on the land as one of the conditions for owing the land. There were so many questions from the visiting journalists as we got to the conference hall for Human Rights and Alliance of Civilization. The questions centred on Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia, Mouamar Ghadaffi of Libya. That was the hall where the UN delegates deliberated on who to impose sanctions on over their abuse of human rights. The Human Rights and Alliance of Civilization Room was decorated by the famous artist, Miquel Barcelo. The Salle de Pasperdus is a place where the monument to mark the conquest of outer space is displayed. We went through the Assembly Hall, which is the largest room in the UN complex. At the Council Chamber our guide further gave us lectures on many historical negotiations which took place there. There were murals made by Jose Maria Sert. Many nations had their inscription on the table and visitors found the names and locations of their countries. At that moment, we all thought we were “ambassadors” from our countries.

“Let me sit on my country’s seat and take a photograph,” said a journalist adding, “This is one opportunity in a lifetime.” We left there and proceeded into the very hall where the League of Nation began. We saw paintings donated by artists from all over the world. One particular striking work of art was where five hefty men carried a big load on their head. This was interpreted by our guide to mean that the five men were the five continents carrying their problems, to be solved in the building. That was where the League of Nations began and deliberated. There was a massive door adorned with the painting of Adam and Eve. Along a corridor was the bust of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and this wife Eleanor.

The United Nations Office in Geneva has a big bookshop where one can also buy and all kinds of gift items and UN souvenirs. While we were inside the UN building what was described as the “Geneva rain” which hardly gives signal before falling showed the city and Lake Geneva with water. Then I remembered the UN Office’s “green project” which involved the use of water from the Lake to cool as well as heat the offices in a renewable energy concept.

We waited for the rain to stop and walked through another route “through the back door out of the complex into the very spot where we began our journey – right in front of the imposing wooden chair of the United Nations. The flags of all the nations are flown in the open. And just nearby is an open space comprising of several fountains. The spot has become a place where parents trooped with their kids to have fun under the fountain.  Geneva is an international city, far from being owned by a country. It is the home of many International organizations such as the World Meteorological Organization, WMO, International Telecommunications Union, the UN agency responsible for Information and Communication Technology, Its magnificent office is almost opposite the UN mini fountains and numerous flags(from all the nations of the world) where parents and kids converge on weekends to have fun. The UN International Strategy on Disaster Reduction, ISDR is also located in the area. Geneva is an international city, no doubt. It’s the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. The building of the Red Cross is just near the UN structures. Though a very cosmopolitan city, Geneva still maintains its green vegetation and the people are close to nature. Most buildings are hidden in between the high green vegetation. 



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