Turtle Bay

U.N. security keeps out ten year old boy

What do you do if you are a ten-year-old kid, your mom’s a human rights advocate, and you’ve been barred from entering the U.N.’s Geneva headquarters on bring-your-kid-to-work day? Well, of course, you write a protest letter. Santiago Penados de Rivero, 10, was stopped on Thursday morning by U.N. security guards as he tried to ...

What do you do if you are a ten-year-old kid, your mom’s a human rights advocate, and you’ve been barred from entering the U.N.’s Geneva headquarters on bring-your-kid-to-work day? Well, of course, you write a protest letter.

Santiago Penados de Rivero, 10, was stopped on Thursday morning by U.N. security guards as he tried to enter the Palais Des Nations, the U.N.’s Geneva headquarters, with his mother, Julie de Rivero, a Geneva representative for Human Rights Watch.

Ms. Rivero had planned a set of meetings with other advocacy groups to review ongoing discussions at the U.N. Human Rights Council, and a subsequent meeting with representatives of U.N. governments. In preparation, she provided her son with little flags so he could identify their countries. "He was so excited," she said.

But security said the boy was too young to enter the building, and that the annual Swiss take-your-child-to-work-day tradition ended at the steps of the United Nations. "Geneva ends when you step foot in this building. This is not Switzerland," one of the guards told them, she said.

U.N. officials in New York said that they were unaware of such a policy. "As far as I’m aware, children are allowed into U.N. Headquarters in New York when accompanied by their parents or other responsible adults. School groups regularly have tours and educational programs in the building," said the U.N. secretary general deputy spokesman Farhan Haq. He referred calls on Geneva’s rules to the press office there. Efforts to reach someone late Thursday were unsuccessful.

With the work day shot, Ms. de Rivero went home with her son and explained how human rights activists responds to unfair acts. "When there is an injustice we write a letter and we tell people what it is," she said.

So Santiago got to work.

"My mother works for an NGO that defends human rights. Most of her time she works at the Palace of Nations, where she speaks and meets with governments," he wrote to four U.N. officials, including the head of the U.N. committee on the rights of children, the head of U.N. liaison office. Her job, he continued, requires her to convince governments "to do good things: for example: end slavery, end injustice and protect the rights of the children."

"On November, 11, 2010, I was preparing to accompany my mother to two meetings at the United Nations," he wrote. "I was impatiently looking forward to this day. I really wanted to see the human rights room in the Palais Des Nations and to see how meetings are conducted. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the United Nations the security agents said that children under 16 did not have the right to enter. We explained to them the importance of this day in Geneva but they said the U.N. was not Switzerland, nor Geneva. So, my mom was not allowed to work or meet with diplomats."

"The U.N. invented the convention on the rights of children but they don’t really respect it," he said. "I think that the U.N. should let children accompany their parents who have a pass to work there on [bring your kids to work day]. What do you think of this?"

We’ll let you know when we find out.

Update: In an email, Corinne Momal-Vanian, spokeswoman for the U.N.’s Geneva office wrote that diplomats and U.N. officials are allowed to bring children into the building. But "for security reasons, representatives of NGOs cannot bring in visitors," she added. "However, exceptions may be made for children if security services are informed in advance. Children are frequent visitors to the Palais des Nations. They form the majority of the participants in the guided tours and  there are several events organized every year specifically for children, in partnership with schools."

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola