Warning of ’empathy gap,’ Ban urges faith leaders to speak up against injustice and brutality

UN Secretary General with Faith Leaders at the April 22, 2015 Session of the UN General Assembly

A recent UN press release informed us that United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged faith leaders gathered in the General Assembly on April 22, 2015 to stand up for the collective good and amplify their voices in support of moderation and mutual understanding. He warned against an “empathy gap” that causes people to turn their eyes from injustice and numbing them to atrocities.

“At a time when we are seeing so much division and hatred, I wanted to bring people together under the banner of the United Nations to explore how best to respond,” the Secretary-General said on the second day of a gathering at Headquarters in New York of leaders representing diverse faiths, including Islam, Judaism, Christianity, as well as ministers, academics, and spiritual teachers.

Mr. Ban said that he was deeply concerned as today communities rushed to point out an affront against themselves, but ignored or dismissed the legitimate grievances of others. “I am worried that a certain numbness and helplessness may be setting in as people witness atrocity after atrocity,” he said.

“Religion does not cause violence, people do,” the Secretary-General continued. “Today we turn to what you as men and women can and must do in this vital endeavour,” he told the High-Level Assembly meeting on Promoting Tolerance and Reconciliation, Fostering Peaceful, Inclusive Societies and Countering Violent Extremism.

“The dignity and worth of the human person, the equal rights of men and women, tolerance and living together in harmony…these principles are our bedrock and they are what this organization defends,” he emphasized. (more…)

2015 Spring Seminar Recap

For the last 48 years, the Unitarian-Universalist United Nations Office has hosted annual Spring Seminars on pressing social, economic, and political issues. Participants in these seminars learn about a topic and are also asked to consider their own connections to the issue and develop the capacity to take action on behalf of meaningful change. This year’s seminar, “International Criminal Justice: From Punitive to Restorative,” detailed the myriad flaws of the punitive model of criminal justice and called on all attendees to work for a more just system. In this post we hope to share some of what we learned and experienced during the seminar.

UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts opened the seminar with a stirring invocation of the memory of Unitarian-Universalist civil rights martyr Viola Liuzzo, who was killed while fighting for equal voting rights by members of the Klu Klux Klan. America no longer has laws that take away rights on an explicitly racial basis, but it does have a criminal justice system that in more ways than one emulates the infamous Jim Crow system of oppression. By remembering the strength and courage of those who have fought for civil rights, while drawing upon our own conviction and determination we can help make the “New Jim Crow” history.


UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts kicks off the seminar

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The UU-UNO’s contribution to the Commission on the Status of Women

This week is the start of the 59th annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Every year, delegates from all over the world come to New York to discuss the challenges that women worldwide face. After discussing these issues, they come up with concrete plans of action to raise the status of women worldwide. 2015 is a particularly meaningful year for the movement, as it is the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, also known as the Beijing Conference. That conference featured a memorable speech by Hillary Clinton declaring that “women’s rights are human rights” and ended with a groundbreaking declaration that set the agenda on women’s rights for years to come.

As an NGO, one of our key missions is to educate delegates and members of other NGOs. On Tuesday March 9th I had the pleasure of attending a panel organized by our Women’s Initiative Intern, Nazli Boroshan. The panel was moderated by UU-UNO chair Bruce Knotts and featured two wonderful speakers, Dr. Marciana Popescu and Jomana Qaddour talking about of the effect of humanitarian crises on women’s reproductive and mental health.

Dr. Popescu is a professor of social work at Fordham University who specializes in international social work and protecting women in unsettled environments against violence. Her remarks focused on the trips she made to Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake and the conclusions she drew from this first-hand experience. Throughout her remarks, she emphasized the paramount importance of ensuring that women feel safe and secure. Even when women have equality under the law, they may not be able to exercise their rights or receive benefits they are legitimately entitled to for fear of sexual or physical violence. She recounted the problem of refugee camps in Haiti where supplies were adequate, but violence against women was so rampant that women had difficulty making use of them. Bruce underscored the importance this point with an example from his own experience- during his time in the State Department, as a regional [something] in West Africa in he received reports of male teachers sexual harassing female students in USAID funded schools . In this case, the basic right to education was under attack not from lack of access, but from a lack of security. Dr. Popescu also made the important point that the disaster in Haiti did not begin with the earthquake, rather the foundations for it were laid by years of political unrest and unresolved societal conflict.

The other panelist, Jomana Qaddour is a former patent attorney born in Syria who co-founded the Syria Relief & Development charity with her father in 2011. Her work has brought her onto the front lines of one of the most acute humanitarian crises in the world today and given her a strong perspective on the struggles of women in a country turned upside down by a brutal civil war. Ms. Qaddour brought up many timely issues, one of the most striking of which was the use of women as a weapon of war. Though women rarely participate in pitched battles, both sides in the civil war have made extensive use of violence against women (or the threat thereof) to achieve their objectives. As a result of this violence, it has become very difficult for women to put their trust in institutions that could provide them with assistance and support. The percentage of Syrian women receiving medical care has dropped dramatically since the start of the war, not just because of the massive exodus of doctors, but also because women face the threat of violence when they leave their homes.


A packed house

Every Child is Our Child: Supporting Local Solutions to a Global Crisis

My name is Jonathan, and I am the Every Child is Our Child (ECOC) intern here at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO). In this post I will outline the mission of this program and highlight its role in bringing about development and empowerment.

During the past decade, the world has made massive strides in confronting the HIV/AIDS crisis. New infections have fallen by 33% since 2001, new infections in children have fallen by more than 50%, access to anti-retrovirals has increased by 40-fold and yearly HIV/AIDS related deaths have fallen by more than a quarter in the last ten years. Though there are still more than a million new cases every year, the combined initiative of governments, NGOs, and countless individuals has prevented millions of infections.

Despite this heartening progress, HIV/AIDS remains an inescapable reality for millions of people, many of whom already suffer from or are at risk of severe economic deprivation. More than fifteen million children have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS and many of those children are HIV positive themselves. The UU-UNO’s Every Child is Our Child program to support the education of children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS is our response to this crisis. It began with the realization that the the AIDS crisis has many dimensions and is grounded in the principle that co-operation with grassroots organizations is essential to bringing about lasting positive change.

Providing medical treatment to those suffering from HIV/AIDS is a necessity, but it is also only a first step. A HIV positive child whose parents have died can be given anti-retroviral drugs, but their road to mental wellness and personal development will often be littered with obstacles. The ECOC program is based on a partnership between the UU-UNO and the Manya Krobo Queen Mothers Association. Manya Krobo is one of Ghana’s poorest provinces and also one of the hardest hit by HIV/AIDS.  The Queen Mothers are traditional female community leaders who have taken on the responsibility of supporting children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS. While many aid programs work in top-down fashion, ECOC is meant to support the existing goals and initiatives of the Queen Mothers. By providing the supplies needed for children attend school, it furthers the Queen Mothers’ stated goal of improving local society through education. On a larger scale, the program reflects the Unitarian-Universalist commitment to addressing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Formulated in 2000 by the UN, the MDGs consist of eight ambitious development goals. By providing access to education for vulnerable children ECOC is meant to work toward the goals of achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, and combating HIV/AIDs.

Supporting gender equality . In Manya Krobo, as in many poor areas, girls are far more likely to drop out of school than boys. The negative effects of this are deep and broad, as not only are girls without education are less likely to find meaningful jobs later in life, they are also more likely to be forced into exploitative relationships with older men. These relationships often lead to them contracting HIV, which makes finding regular employment even more difficult, thus leading to further dependency. To have any chance of breaking this vicious cycle it is essential to start at the beginning by ensuring that girls have the opportunity to become financially and socially independent women.
Maria, Bruce, Joseph and Children holding up postcards

Former UU-UNO Intern Mario Militano and UU-UNO program director Bruce Knotts making a site visit in February 2014

When it started in 2004, the program supported 20 students. Today, thanks to the support of many donors, it provides for the expenses of 120 students. To learn more about the program you can visit our website. You can help these students and give other children the opportunity to participate in this program by making a generous donation.

Committee on Teaching About the United Nations (CTAUN) Conference: Perspectives from Two UU-UNO Interns

On Friday, January 30th, 2015, two interns from the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office attended the Committee on Teaching About the United Nations at the UN Secretariat. Danning Zhang and Brieanna Scolaro, both who are graduate social work students, were excited to attend the conference and share their thoughts and reflections below with you.

 

 

   Committee on Teaching About the United Nations    

 

Danning Zhang:

Having interned for five months at the United Nations Church Center, right across the street from the UN Headquarters, I never considered myself well educated about the UN’s history, structure and its functions. When I receive comments like, “The UN is just a bunch of people doing nothing but having meetings all day,” I never knew the most effective response. Sometimes I would say things such as, “We need to come to solutions to the world’s problems by engaging in dialogues”, or “Things take time to change.” However, things have changed since my attendance to the Committee on Teaching about the United Nations on January 30, 2015. I can now give a better, more comprehensive answer to the question, “How does the UN work?”

United Nations is a change agency itself. For developing countries such as Sri Lanka and Palau whose resources and technology may be limited at times to fully promote the social welfare of their citizens, the UN comes to help them implement programs to increase the literacy rate, reduce infant mortality, and provide support for disaster relief. With the collaborative effort of different sectors of the UN and many non-profit organizations that are affiliated with the UN, school lunch programs are implemented so that less school children are hungry; teachers are sent to the most impoverished areas of the world so that children living in poverty can have a brighter future through education; protocols on reducing carbon emission are signed so that people can breathe clearer air.

The United Nations is not only a symbol for peace, but a meaningful message to be carried on from generation to generation. A central theme of the CTAUN conference included the idea that in order to reach peace, we need to teach peace. Many schools and teachers are building peace by carrying the UN’s spirit of peace in their daily curriculum to their young students. Two teachers at the United Nations International School, who won the “Best Practice Award”, implement daily peace and mindfulness activities with their students. Two PS 119 teachers, the other winners of the “Best Practice Award”, create a culture of peace that their students live in, by facilitating peace marches, peace games, and other forms of activities that promote the message of peace – a seed planed early can grow big and wide.

The United Nations is a mission. Kenneth Payumo, Chief of Peacekeeping Operations Support Section in the UN Department of Safety and Security, is a peacekeeper in South Sudan that risked his life to protect thousands of innocent civilians that would have otherwise been harmed by armed forces during political riots. Others, like Pamela Falk, UN Resident Correspondent, fight continuously for freedom of expression and justice for journalists who have been killed. Individuals such as Payumo and Falk continue to inspire individuals in the community, such as myself. Inspired by the CTAUN conference, I now have developed a better idea of who I am and what I want to do with my future peace building career. More importantly, I am certain that regardless of what I do with my life and how I want to achieve my career goals, I will always bare the peace building mission in my mind.

 

    CTAUN - Brie and Danning

 

Brieanna Scolaro: 

For me, the most intriguing part of the CTAUN conference was the opening discussion of the United Nations history. Bob Clark, Deputy Director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, provided us great insight into how the UN came to be a result of the passion and values of FDR. Similar to Danning, I had never fully understood the roots of the UN – how it relates to the League of Nations, how other presidents have attempted some sort of international diplomacy effort but were not supported by the citizens. I was never aware that only two weeks before the first UN meeting, FDR had passed away, leaving Eleanor Roosevelt to bring FDR’s dream to reality. It is interesting that everyone doubted Eleanor and did not know exactly what to do with her – despite this, she became a champion of change. Eleanor’s efforts and passions are something that we all need to keep in mind when considering and advocating for the role of women in developing a sustainable world.

I felt excited to be in a room full of teachers, current and past, that so directly connect with our youth on a daily basis. I agree that in order to have a peaceful world, we need to teach and practice peace. How can we build peace if we cannot sit with ourselves and find inner peace? The conference reminds us to look inside ourselves, explore ourselves, find similarities with others, and to celebrate diversity in the world. The UN explores issues such as women’s rights, freedom of speech, the role of social media in development, nuclear disarmament – they have been working towards the The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which are the world’s time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions, and are currently developing the next set of goals, the Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals. I challenge you, the reader, to ask yourself what world you want to live in. What should be at the forefront of our world’s next set of priorities? In addition, I would challenge those of you who already engage in social justice and global human rights to consider how we can continue to act locally but think globally.

UU-UNO Climate Change Initiative: International Human Rights

People's Climate March
People’s Climate March in New York City

As part of our series on International Human Rights, we would like to highlight the important work of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office on Climate Change initiative.Climate change is posting an immediate and far-reaching threat to the basic elements of life for all people now and in future generations. It is time for us to avoid furthering the impacts of climate change. The UU-UNO is guided by our UU principles to respect and promote the interdependent web of existence, well being, peace and justice throughout the world. UU-UNO collaborates with other environmental agencies at the United Nations in order to promote climate change mitigation initiatives on a global scale and protect to protect our rights and those of future generations. Climate Change

On September 20, the UU-UNO helped to organize and co-sponsored The Climate Crisis: Which Way Out? event at All Souls Church, New York City. On September 21, the office members and interns participated in the inspirational People’s Climate March with over 400,000 marchers from around the world. We lifted our voices, faith and values as one to save the earth. Read more about the People’s Climate March here.

We host the UU-UNO Climate Portal, which was created by and is maintained by Dr. Jan Dash. The portal is a world-class website covering most of the wide ranging topics discussed at UN climate conferences. It contains educational information and current climate news on climate science, environmental impact, and mitigation/adaptation “what we can do” strategies, renewable energies, politics, negotiations, ethics. We updated the Lima Climate paper for the Lima Climate Conference in December focusing on sustainable strategies for adaptation and mitigation.

The UU-UNO is participating in the Commit2Respond (C2R) initiative, which is a new UU climate justice campaign to accelerate the shift to clean, renewable energy, grow the climate justice movement, and advance the rights of marginalized communities. The program development groups initiated a collaborative process of developing General Assembly workshop proposals involving C2R’s partner organizations and beyond.

The UU-UNO is facilitating the creation of networked Climate Action Teams (CATs), which are groups generating involvement in efforts together to mitigate climate change. Find more information about CATs on the UU-UNO Climate Portal and the instructions to start a CAT.

To support our continued access to the highest levels of the United Nations and to the Canadian and American governments, please donate generously to the UU-UNO.

Migration Justice: Peace, Liberty, and Justice for all at the UU-UNO

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Thursday, December 18th, 2014 is International Migrant’s Day, and the UU-UNO is celebrating by holding a special film screening on Migration Justice and reviewing its major accomplishments.

Over the past year, the UU-UNO’s efforts around Migration Justice have led us closer to our goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all .The office would like to end a year of successful human rights work by hosting a special film screening on immigration justice from 9:30 AM – 12:00 PM on Thursday, December 18th, 2014.

Winner of the 2013 Cinematography Award, “Who is Dayani Cristal” will be screened on the 10th floor of the UN Church Center and is open to all that would like to attend. The event is co-sponsored by the Immigration Committee of the Unitarian Church in Westport, Peace and Justice Task Force, and the Racial Justice Initiative.

RSVP on Facebook!  (more…)

2014: A Big Year for UU-UNO’s Work on LGBT Human Rights

lbbt UNMy name is Raymond Firmalino and I am one of the UU-UNO‘s LGBT Program interns. As part of our blog series on International Human Rights Day, I on behalf of the  UU-UNO will highlight our work this year on one of the most pressing issues of our time: the plight of lesbian, gay, lesbian, and transgender (LGBT) people.

The current situation is dire. Many LGBT people around the world endure brutal acts of violence; are denied opportunities to work, learn and receive healthcare; and must flee their countries–all because of who they are. In some 80 countries it is illegal to be gay or to be suspected of it. Consequently, many LGBT people are excluded from the full measure of human rights.

We raised this issue repeatedly at the United Nations. This past summer, the UU-UNO participated in the UN Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals Agenda, a policy process in which member states, major groups and civil society developed international development goals for 2015 and beyond. The UU-UNO proposed policies that promote and protect LGBT human rights, and was the only NGO at the UN’s proceedings to do so. (more…)

UU-UNO Spring Seminars: International Human Rights

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As part of the human rights advocacy work of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, we host an annual Intergenerational Spring Seminar, where youth and adults from around North America come together to spend three days in New York City learning about an issue of global concern.

The seminar works to help our participants find themselves in the global U/U story with regards to international human rights. Each year focuses on a different human rights theme. Past themes have included women’s rights, poverty, HIV, human trafficking, peacekeeping, climate change, and race and immigration.

The annual spring seminar is a major program of the office that brings together all UN-office interns, staff, and an inter-generational planning committee across and outside UU congregations to collaborate on the planning of the amazing program. (more…)

UU-UNO Women’s Initiative in Light of International Human Rights Day

CSW59 Image Retrieved from UN Women

My name is Nazli, and I am the Women’s Initiative intern here at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO). As part of our series of posts on International Human Rights Day, I will uncover the works and efforts of the UU-UNO on or referring to international women’s rights issues.

Here, at the UU-UNO, our focus is to incorporate Unitarian Universalist (UU) principles along with the values of the United Nations (UN) into our efforts advocating collective fair treatment and global civil liberties. Guided by UU principles, the mission of the organization is to recognize and encourage the inherent worth and dignity of all living things.

The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office staff and interns work hard on a number of varying programs that encompass universal unalienable rights and social justice violations, one of them being the Women’s Initiative.

The Women’s Initiative program, concentrates on various aspects of human rights violations against women and girls. As an Intern of UU-UNO, I have been privileged to have the opportunity not only to work on a project where I can offer my own unique ideas and perspectives, but also design and propose panel discussions for events pertaining to UU-UNO and the UN. (more…)