The UN has been present in Nepal for many years, with the recent addition of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in 2005. There are a total of 22 UN agencies present in or doing some work on Nepal. There are several pieces of work that are worth a brief look.
The recent exhibition ‘Real People Real Needs‘ by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on refugees (with particular focus on the Bhutanese refugees).
Real People Real Needs exhibition, Kathmandu (copyright Robert Godden)
The exhibition was excellent, bringing together photos of refugees from across the Asia region (including the Swat Valley in Pakistan, Tibetans in Nepal, Afghanis in Pakistan, and Bhutanese in New York). It used the vast warehouse space well, with some images blown up to huge dimensions (10 by 15 foot), and included dance performances, audio testimony and good information displays. Much of the credit for the exhibiton goes to Photo.Circle, a Nepalese cooperative of photographers who put on the exhibiton at very short notice. Whether the exhibition had a good strategic base is questionable. After all, if UNHCR had wanted to inform the Nepalese public about the Bhutanese refugees it has left it a bit late as many are now relocating to other countries. Maybe a more timely information campaign could have mobilised public support and built more pressure for the return of the refugees to Bhutan? However, the event received a fair amount of media attention and around 7,000 people attended. The exhibition was then relocated to a small park in central Kathmandu to give the opportunity for more people to see it. UNHCR has been using video to inform the Bhutanese refugees about the countries they may relocate to, as well as working with journalists from those countries to inform the local populations about the Bhutanese refugees. This marries with other interesting visual media initiatives by UNHCR, like the TV soap opera they made in Japan, and they stand out as one of the better UN agencies in regard to the use of visual media.
Another piece of work is the Prison Condition exhibition and photo essay produced by OHCHR. The exhibition went on tour and was aimed at informing people about the living conditions in Nepalese prisons. Again, strategically questionable, after all how were the visitors to the exhibition meant to react? Were they to be mobilised to advocate for prison reform? The conditions people live in is far from great but given that the living conditions of many in Nepal is equally poor it is hard to see how a photo exhibition will generate much sympathy? Some would question why OHCHR was doing this piece of work in the first place, after all there are rather more pressing issues (such as torture in police custody) and some would suggest that they wanted to be publicly seen to be tackling less political issues. So, maybe there was a strategy at work after all? Anyway, the exhibiton certainly provided an insight that many would be unlikely to have otherwise. Check out the OHCHR-Nepal site for a downloadable brochure of the photos.
A rather bad example of the use of photos is the OHCHR-Nepal summary repot on ‘disappearances‘ in Bardiya. This glossy version of the original report is illustrated with a series of small images. However, they are captionless. When I asked a member of staff about this I was told this was for security reasons. I can’t say I buy this as it is perfectly possible to include captions and hide identities, but also how is someone’s security enhanced by you slapping a uncensored image of them in a report? Poor work guys.
Filed under: Multi-media, Photography | Tagged: Asia, disappearances, exhibition, Nepal, prison reform, refugee, South Asia, UN | Leave a Comment »