2012 Swarthmore Lecturer is Rachel Brett

Rachel Brett is set to deliver the annual Swarthmore Lecture as part of Quakers’ Britain Yearly Meeting assembly in 05/2012. Rachel Brett will speak about Quaker processes and ways of working and how they have been applied to the United Nations sphere. She will particularly talk about this work in the context of human rights, also exploring how the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) selects the areas of work for its programmes and why the Quakers work there.

In recent years QUNO has achieved significant successes for women in prison, conscientious objectors to military service and child soldiers.

Rachel says that human rights work at the UN is a series of breakthroughs and setbacks, just like the game of snakes and ladders, hence the title of the book: Snakes and Ladders: A personal exploration of Quaker work on Human Rights at the United Nations. ‘Snakes and Ladders’ was also the name she chose for her report of the 2002 UN Human Rights Commission (now the Human Rights Council).
“If the work can prevent one more child from being forced to be a soldier,” says Rachel, “or one more mother from being separated from her baby by unnecessary imprisonment, or one more person from being imprisoned as a conscientious objector, then it is worth it.”
The strength of QUNO’s work lies in its steadfast persistence and thorough understanding. “We’re in it for the long term where others run a two or three-year campaign,” Rachel says.  
“My own experience and observation convinces me that Quakers have made a significant contribution in the human rights and refugee fields at the UN, and through the UN have helped to change attitudes, create new understandings, develop new standards and, through these processes, helped to make concrete and measurable changes in government policies and practices and in people’s lives.”
Rachel Brett first started work at QUNO Geneva in 1976 as an administrative assistant. Since then she has worked at QUNO New York and gained a degree in law and a masters degree in International Human Rights law from the University of Essex, where she studied under the late Kevin Boyle, among others. She returned to Geneva in 1993 to her present role at QUNO Geneva.
The Quakers United Nations Office works at the UN in Geneva and New York to address Quaker concerns at an international level. QUNO has “general consultative status” with the UN, enabling it to make formal representations to UN institutions on a range of issues. Staffing of QUNO Geneva is largely funded by Quakers in Britain.
The Swarthmore Lectureship, established in 1907, is under the care of Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre trustees. The lectureship provides for both the publication of a book and for the delivery of a public lecture, to be delivered this time at Friends House in London on the evening of 26/05/2012. Although the first lecture was in 1908, this is the 104th annual lecture as the one in 1948 was disowned by the lecture committee before being delivered. (See Howard Brinton and the World Council of Churches, part way down the page.)

Adults aged 20-26 can gain experience of the work of QUNO Geneva by taking part in their annual summer school. During Summer School there are talks by staff of the UN, non-governmental organisations and diplomats, as well as informal discussion sessions and visits to organisations such as the UN’s Geneva Headquarters, the International Committee of the Red Cross or the World Trade Organization. Emphasis is given to formal and informal discussion sessions so that the 25 summer school participants can gain in-depth understanding of the issues at stake and the dynamics that shape work on these issues. A variety of learning techniques are employed, including lectures, small group discussions, role plays and workshops. The deadline is 12/03/2012.

Reviews of Swarthmore Lectures are available on Nayler here.

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