Headquarters of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, at Wilson Palace, named after former US President Woodrow Wilson, father of the League of Nations that preceded the UN
How to condemn racism in the world on behalf of the international community from a seat that bears the name of a racist?
Chance has caused the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to settle in a 225-room building inaugurated in 1875 in Geneva on the shores of Lake Geneva, which in 1924 was renamed Wilson’s Palace, in memory of former US President Woodrow Wilson .
A century after this president negotiated the peace agreement that ended the First World War and contributed to the creation of the League of Nations (SDN) in Geneva, ancestor of the UN, its positions on human rights, especially about the races, they come to light.
The revision process began at Princeton University – of which Wilson was one of the presidents – but has not yet reached the city of Geneva, often considered the capital of human rights.
Some think, however, that the link between his name and the human rights office should be examined, taking into account his positions on black Americans.
„Wilson was a racist, I think there’s no doubt about that,“ Margaret MacMillan, a historian at the University of Oxford, told AFP.
„The fact that (the Wilson Palace) hosts the human rights office (…) is, from my point of view, regrettable, it’s one of those accidents in history,“ he says.
– A man of his time –
Chance has caused the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to settle in a 225-room building inaugurated in 1875 in Geneva on the shores of Lake Geneva, which in 1924 was renamed Wilson Palace
In Princeton, a group of black students in 2015 pointed to the fact that the name of the former president was attributed to the prestigious international business school of the university.
Princeton created a committee to study various opinions of historians, including evidence that Woodrow Wilson was in fact a reactionary to the black community, adopting segregation policies in the federal administration and surrounding himself only with white supremacists.
„We can not just dispense with Wilson’s racist policy by explaining that he was ‚a man of his time,'“ writes NDB Connolly, a historian at Johns Hopkins University, in a letter to the committee.
Paula J. Giddings, a historian at Smith College University, points out that because of the president’s positions, racial segregation was „inscribed in the heart of the nation.“
The committee finally decided to leave the name of Wilson in its institutions, but claims „transparency about the errors and defects“ of the former president.
– „Multiple facets“ –
The name of Wilson is commemorated all over the world, as for example in Paris, where an avenue bears his name. In Geneva, right next to the Wilson Palace is the luxurious Presidente Wilson Hotel.
While acknowledging the outstanding contribution of the former president in the creation of the SDN, for Margaret MacMillan it would have been more appropriate to assign the Wilson Palace to the UN Conference on Disarmament.
In an interview with the AFP last month, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Husein, assured himself that „always“ has been favorable to a better understanding of history.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Husein, claims that President Wilson is „clearly a multi-faceted man“. „Without him, it is likely that there was not even the League of Nations or the UN“
„President Wilson is clearly a multi-faceted man,“ Zeid said. „Without it, it’s likely that there was not a League of Nations or the UN.“
„The positions on racism were certainly reprehensible in the light of today“ and of „that time too,“ he acknowledged.
Zeid recalled that the Wilson Palace was so named by the Swiss authorities and that the building still belongs to the Canton of Geneva. Therefore, a change in the name, although it is unlikely, would not depend on the UN.
But the High Commissioner could suggest a compromise solution, like the one adopted by Princeton University, where historic buildings or institutions retain their name but inform the public, thanks to a plaque for example, about the prejudices of Woodrow Wilson.
For the person in charge of the association Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, it is important the transparency on the errors of the exdirigente.
„I think the most effective way to deal with this issue is to be clear with the dark areas of Wilson’s history (…) but without denying the fact that he played an important role in the League of Nations,“ he says.