Archive for the 'World travel' Category


Mongolia’s election to the Human Rights Council

Since I am currently in Mongolia I thought it might be a good idea to blog something about the country. I promise not to include any patronizing asides to acknowledge Mongolia’s ‘rich culture and history’, a phrase that seems to be compulsory for any international article on Mongolia. And no trite references to Chinggis Khaan or eagle hunting. No, I want to look at Mongolia’s election to the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) and specifically at the interview given by State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs D.Gankhuyag about what that election means.

Countries are elected by other member states for 3 year terms to serve on the UN HRC. Countries can serve for two consecutive terms. This means a country could serve for two terms, take a term off and then run again to serve for another two terms, if they so wished.

 This is Mongolia’s first ever election to the UN HRC which is definitely a positive thing for the country. However, it should be noted that a country’s human rights record is not an important factor when deciding who becomes a member of the UN HRC. For example, right now we have states like China, Kazakhstan, and Saudi Arabia currently serving on the UN HRC (and that is just from Asia Pacific), hardly leaders in the field of human rights.

Part of the dilemma is that no States’ human rights record is good enough and to exclude States from being eligible to become members of the UN HRC based on their human rights record would only serve to make the UN HRC more political than it already is. Which leaves us with this non-credible body infiltrated with known human rights violators who are responsible for upholding and championing human rights around the world – its far from ideal.

Even though Mongolia’s human rights record leaves much to be desired, it certainly is better than some of the other countries on the list. However, it should be kept in mind that Mongolia’s human rights record does not receive the same kind of scrutiny as some other countries. This lack of focus may be leading some to think that things aren’t so bad. However, lack of attention speaks more to lack of resources, lack of strategic importance of the country, and lack of initiative on the part of the human rights community. Perhaps Mongolia’s accession to the UN HRC will have the (unintended but welcome) consequence of putting a greater spotlight on its own human rights record. That would be a good thing.

In the interview the Secretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs suggests that Mongolia’s election was in part to a) careful planning and effective campaigning on the part of Mongolia; and b) because other countries highly evaluated:

Mongolia’s human rights practice, its achievements for promoting and protecting human rights, execution of its obligations to international treaties and conventions, as well as future goals related to human rights issues.”

I’m not convinced that there is any evidence to support this second point. As noted above, countries with terrible human rights records are consistently voted to the UN HRC. Second, many countries would not be fully aware of the full extent and nature of human rights violations taking place in the country (and probably don’t care).

I would also refute the assertion that Mongolia’s pledges played a role in their election victory. States seeking to be elected to the UN HRC often make ‘voluntary pledges’ ahead of the elections as a way of showing how serious they are about human rights. I’m too lazy to do a full analysis of these pledges but many pledges tend to be quite vague and non-committal. Also, mostly they are not implemented. (If a State implemented a pledge they would have to come up with new ones for the next election).

But here’s hoping that the experience is a valuable one for Mongolia and that they take the role seriously enough to a) make positive changes at home, and b) speak up about human rights violations around the world, particularly in relation to its neighbours China, Russia and North Korea.

ukok-plateau-mongolia-5029(Mongolia: a country with a rich culture and history and eagle hunters)



Today was the first day of classes. My class is full of Japanese students and only four non-Japanese, including myself. I already have several pages of new words that need to be absorbed. In the afternoon I joined a student tour of the Edificio de Universidad de Salamanca. It was in Spanish so I didn’t really catch very much – just a few words and phrases here and there. However, I did run into the two other students that I met yesterday including the French student who was so helpful. After the tour we concluded at the gift shop and I splurged on a pencil sharpener.

Amazingly I also went for a run (it would be more accurate to call it a ‘jog’ but I’m told that its not cool to say that anymore). I feared I would truncate the run that was planned due to chronic laziness but I managed to complete the circuit. However, I didn’t time the run very well as the last part through the old town was too crowded. I either need to run at a different time (during siesta) or I should run a longer circuit that goes around the old town entirely.

Below is a photo of the courtyard of the building where class takes place.


Below is a photo of the courtyard at the Edificio de Universidad de Salamanca



Soju, Sake and Sangria?

Going off topic (but keeping with the S alliterations) I am in Salamanca, Spain about to undertake some Spanish classes. Why not? I landed in Madrid on Sunday and made my way to Salamanca by bus, arriving mid evening. This morning (Monday) it was exam time. Because I am a beginner all I had to do was write my name at the top and then make a few random guesses at some of the early questions – nothing could be easier. Not surprisingly, I’ve been placed in the “how did you even get yourself from Madrid to Salamanca with such poor language skills – absolute beginners” class.

The best thing that happened today was that I met a fellow language student from France. Her Spanish is already awesome and she is looking to qualify as a teacher of Spanish. She very generously helped me to figure of my mobile phone situation. I am now the proud owner of a very cheap phone and pay as you go sim card.


In the afternoon I took a walk around to see if there were any promising jogging paths.  The good news is that the path leading down to and along the river, Rio Tormes, looks promising. It remains to be seen if I actually get motivated to go for a run.


Hong Kong Pics


South Korea holidays

There weather has been fairly nice for the past few days, which was lucky since we had the Buddha Birthday weekend. I popped up to the lantern parade last night and the street festival today, though both seemed little changed from the last time I attended a few years back. After wandering around the street festival I was able to enjoy my first iced coffee of the year, which is always a treat.

On the theme of nice weather, a few days ago I went for a walk around Samcheong Park. Some photos:

Samcheong Park

Samcheong Park


Spending time in Korea

A trip to Korea has long been in the planning. Its hard to believe that its actually happening and that I’ll be in Korea in less than a week, staying until June. Since leaving in 2003 I’ve only been back 2-3 times and only for a week or so… this time, instead of just being confused by how much has changed, I’ll hopefully have a chance to regain my bearings. I checked the weather and it still looks a little cold right now, ugh.


Flowers for Kim Il-sung – the review

Diversity is everywhere yet in a society such as North Korea it can be very difficult to see the diversity that exists behind the façade of a homogenous and closed society. A country with 20 plus million people does have a diverse range of people, even if we can’t always see them. From the artist to the sportsperson, the poets, the accountants, scientists, musicians, and librarians. In the world of Kim Jong-il diversity is less apparent to the outside world.

The exhibition, “Flowers for Kim Il-sung” is a rare glimpse into North Korea because it not only shows depictions in painting of the secretive state, but because it shows us a country that houses true artistic talent. The majority of the paintings are from the last decade and less than half show the two despicable leaders. What remains is a treasure trove of beautiful art works depicting life in North Korea, sometimes idealised and sometimes starkly honest.

On the basics, the exhibition is in a square room. The outside wall shows paintings that do not include the Kim Jong-il or Kim Il-sung. The inside wall, roped off, shows paintings which include these two figures. There is a section of propaganda posters calling on North Koreans to work hard, keep the streets clean, and work hard. Another section includes information on the Juche Tower and there are pictures of notable architecture in North Korea; the May Day Stadium, the ice rink, and the Juche Tower. But what holds your attention are the paintings on the outside wall.

This is not all kitsch propaganda although there are clues in some of the paintings. The art is predominantly oil on canvas. Paintings of happy children in the fields and such may include on kid amongst the group holding a toy gun, or a child dressed as a soldier. Others paintings will not include such an image. There are two women in a boat looking at the ducks on the pond. Two ladies in traditional dress engaged in a striking dance. A peasant woman in a bare house, holding her baby while her young son looks on.  A cartoonish painting of men at an ox market. Striking images that do not remind or engage the viewer in a political fantasy.

Not all the paintings fall into that category. There are also the happy workers striding to the countryside on their day off to ‘volunteer’ for farming work. The generals on mighty horses riding out of town in the bitter cold with a look of stoic determination and the painting of great factories puffing out smoke and workers smiling after a hard days work. And as I mentioned, kids playing in the field with a toy gun hiding somewhere in the painting. But even these are beautifully depicted. All paintings are signed by the artist. This is their work.

The inside wall is different. A 1994 painting shows Kim Il-sung looking plump and healthy surrounded by the North Korean people. A depiction of a man who is omnipresent, eternal and loved by his people. A painting of the two Kim’s walking down a darkly lit street in heavy snow apparently talking about work. Always working, always thinking about the people. Kim Jong-il working late at night in his office. Kim Il-sung is mostly painted in scenes where he is with the people or talking to people but Kim Jong-il is mostly with the military. Of course there is overlap, Kim Il-sung also has paintings of himself with military officials but he is depicted more as a man of the people than his son is.

As for giving money to the regime, there was no need to worry. We went on a Saturday, which is free entry including for the exhibition. The merchandise was not very exciting. A couple of large coffee table books of North Korean art, and North Korean propaganda posters, which I did not buy. A range two postcards and a little notepad. I got two postcards and two overpriced notebooks.

This exhibition was well worth the trip to Vienna. Some of the paintings were so striking and beautiful depictions, they remain vivid in my mind. Of course it didn’t hurt that the weather was fabulous and that we also enjoyed  a few other sites while we were there.

Schloss Belvedere

Schloss Belvedere

Museum Quartier

National Art Museum

I didn’t buy a hat because I couldn’t find the kind of thing I was looking for. I’m off to Barcelona in a couple of weeks so I might try there.

July 2018
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