Sunday, October 26, 2014


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Rhyme And Reason Behind Little-Known UN Tradition

UN headquarters in New York s (in)famous for its idiosyncrasies, including bed-bug scares and snarky exchanges between ambassadors. But at the end of the year, the Third Committee's poem-reading tradition stands as the most endearing.
UN headquarters in New York s (in)famous for its idiosyncrasies, including bed-bug scares and snarky exchanges between ambassadors. But at the end of the year, the Third Committee's poem-reading tradition stands as the most endearing.
By Courtney Brooks
UNITED NATIONS -- Helen Walker, the head of the United Kingdom's delegation to the UN body that oversees social, humanitarian, and cultural affairs, ended 2012 with poetic justice.

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for giving me the floor
Before everyone runs for the door.
When I took on this human rights position
I was handed the mantle of this time-honored tradition
Of reciting a little U.K. ditty
To mark the end of Third Committee.
So as this is my first time
I'd beg indulgence of my little rhyme.

Capping the so-called Third Committee's last session in verse is all in good fun, and part of one of the UN's merriest end-of-the-year customs.

The tradition has been played out for at least 25 years, according to U.K. Mission spokesman Daniel Shepherd.

"No one is sure how and why it all began, and why, despite a short break when New Zealand took over for a year or two, it's always the U.K. who do it," Shepherd told RFE/RL by e-mail.

"It's a major responsibility for the author," he wrote. "She has to make people laugh, not duck the issues that have been the subject of heated debate, and yet not be so rude that it upsets delegates or their governments. It's quite a diplomatic tightrope to walk."

He added that Walker "pulled it off with aplomb."

Human Rights In Verse

In recent years, Egypt has joined in on the fun by replying with a rhyme of its own. Egyptian delegate Monzer Selim began this year's offering thusly:

I take the floor to super-briefly exercise my right of reply.
Unfortunately, Mr. Chairman, the two-minute rule will not apply.
I will need more for what Helen [Walker] said
With the procedures it doesn't comply.

Selim says he is unsure about the precise origins of the literary UN custom. But he notes that Egypt began exercising its "right of reply" -- in light-hearted compliance with UN procedural rule No. 115 -- five or six years ago.

Each of this year's poems poked fun at UN goings-on and were laced with inside diplomatic jokes.

Walker, for example, referenced the natural disasters that disrupted the committee's work this year.

They say bad luck comes in three
And what other number for this committee could it be?
In 2012 we had fire, wind, and snow
But the show must go on
Was our motto.

She earned a laugh from the room with her next rhyme about superstorm Sandy.

Then second came a tropical storm.
Such problems were far from the norm.
The hurricane left many IDDs,
"Internally displaced delegates," even me.

Egypt's Selim, meanwhile, took aim at the wordiness allowed by the secretary of the committee, Otto Gustafik.

I thank my dear Otto for trying to apply the rules of procedure.
But Otto, this session you nearly gave me a seizure.
Rights of replies are of the essence
Only when formal debates are in presence
But with explanation of vote after the vote
Dear Otto, Rule 115 you shouldn't invoke.

UN headquarters is (in)famous for its idiosyncrasies, including bed-bug scares and snarky exchanges between ambassadors. But at the end of the year, the Third Committee's poem-reading tradition stands as the most endearing.
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