Students & Campus
27 February 2023

Institute Hosts 2023 Geneva Debate with Oxford Union and the British Embassy in Berne

On 15 March, the Geneva Debate hosted Oxford Union to debate in favour of or against the motion: "The house supports ecocide as a principle in international humanitarian law". The Debate with Oxford Union is a collaboration with the Great British “Brain Off” initiative of the British Embassy in Berne. The “Brain Off” aims to engage and foster dialogue with the youth in Switzerland and the UK on pertinent issues.

The British Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, James Squire, called the coin toss and the Institute's team opted to argue in favour of the motion. 

Ambassador Squire and PhD candidate and President of the Debate and PhD candidate, Ryan Mitra, explain more about the event. 


Ambassador Squire, the Geneva Debate took place with your support and that of the British Embassy Berne. Why did you choose to support this initiative?

Ambassador Squire: The UK’s Presidency of COP26 clearly established that addressing climate change and biodiversity loss is one of the UK’s international priorities. We want to link those priorities to our work on youth engagement. The "GREAT Brain Offs", featuring selected United Kingdom and Swiss universities, are designed to encourage bilateral exchange, amplify young voices on this issue, and develop a fresh and motivated group of stakeholders to "See Things Differently".

Why is the debate's location here, at the Institute, in the heart of international Geneva, of particular importance?

Ambassador Squire: We were keen to work with the Geneva Graduate Institute because of its reputation as a highly acclaimed, research-focused institution, and one which regularly engages with stakeholders working in international issues. It was fantastic that they shared our ambition and wanted to work in partnership with us. It has also been invaluable for the Embassy team to work alongside the seasoned professionals of the Geneva Debate and we are grateful for the support of the Institute’s event and administrative teams. The Geneva Graduate Institute’s place in the heart of international Geneva means that it has a particularly international outlook with a campus where diplomatic and student communities cross-pollinate, which seemed a natural fit with our objectives.

Ryan Mitra: The Geneva Debate, since its inception, has been about building a forward-looking culture of critical thinking and policy deliberations. Over the last two editions, we’ve debated contemporary issues regarding COVID-19 and Nuclear Energy in the Context of the War in Ukraine. These editions have demonstrated that the Institute houses immense talent in research, articulation and public speaking, as well as the ability to tackle a question from an array of vantage points. We wanted to channel this talent vis-a-vis external partners on an issue that is central to the diplomatic and policy questions of International Geneva. Additionally, to bring Oxford Union (one of the premier debating societies in the world) to the Institute to go head-to-head against an in-house team is organisationally a huge achievement for us. The Invitational, in many ways, is the culmination of various initiatives we had envisioned back in 2021. We look forward to building on this and continue giving the Institute students a platform to speak on issues of importance to International Geneva and beyond. 

A number of young people explored an issue of global relevance during the Debate. Why is it critical for younger generations to take an active role in asking questions and finding solutions to global challenges?

Ambassador Squire: Last year, HM The King released a video message to mark International Youth Day. In it, he noted that “by investing in the potential of young people, society […] will feel the positive benefits for years to come.” The window of opportunity the world has to tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis is shrinking. Urgent action is needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C and to end species decline and environmental destruction.  We all have our part to play in meeting that challenge. I strongly believe that providing a platform for wider engagement on this topic with both Swiss and British youth will benefit all of us.

Ryan Mitra: Environmental disasters and the climate crisis are the fundamental issues of our times. The current generations and the generations to come will live in hotter, more mercurial, and more volatile conditions in the coming decades globally. The question of Ecocide is fundamental to updating our structures to be suited for these times. However, it is important not to look at it solely as a solution. In parallel to solutions, equity and accountability are critically important to navigate what lies ahead. Now, all of this seems very easy to illustrate and demand on paper, but they are contentious exercises that require time, energy, patience and deliberation. This debate and the issues it will engage on, I hope, is a small (but fundamental) experience in shaping these exercises. 

Learn more about the Geneva Debate. 

Pictured left to right: British Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, James Squire; Geneva Debate President and PhD candidate, Ryan Mitra