A Recap of the International Human Rights Work at the UU-UNO in 2014


December 10th is International Human Rights Day. Guided by our principles, Unitarian Universalists are called to advocate for international human rights; to be a voice for the voiceless by promoting the inherent worth and dignity of all living things. Our Unitarian Universalists United Nations Office is the UU voice to the United Nations. I would like to share with you all of the important accomplishments of our office in 2014.

High Level Consultations

The UU-UNO’s reputation has grown over the past few years, to the point where we are consulted and asked to speak at very influential forums. Over the course of 2014, we have been invited to speak and consult with the: Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development on human rights including religious freedom, women’s rights and sexual orientation and gender identity human rights. These consultations included staff from the Office of the Prime Minister. We enjoy a close working relationship with Amnesty International’s UN Office, and their offices in Canada and the United Kingdom.    1

We have been asked to join a consultative group at the United States Department of State that pulls together faith-based leaders to advise the State Department on the areas of Social Justice, Development, Peace and Conflict Resolution. We have played an important role on the Social Justice subcommittee which has focused on sexual orientation and gender identity human rights. (more…)

The God Wound

The Philippines: Typhoon Hagupit barrels by EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection 

tetRev. Tet Gallardo, minister of the Bicutan UU Church in Manila (Philippines), reflects on the challenging process of healing, grappling with doubt, the relativity of certainty, and resiliency in the face of natural disaster.

The following is excerpted from Rev. Gallardo’s blog, The Spiritual Theorist.

Today, the sound of howling winds too often heard in these parts tear through the glass windows sealed for comfort. Incorrigible. The deaths of 10,000 or so in one island during the last supertyphoon of this magnitude is still fresh in the collective memory of those in the 7,000 islands of this country that were spared. The winds don’t lash or buffet, they crush any sliver of faith that God will spare us from danger. At least for me.


How does one heal from a God wound?


Barely a year has passed after Typhoon Haiyan, today we get Typhoon Ruby. At this time, although it has made landfall, the news we get is that our luck can be summed in the few lives snuffed this time. Barely a handful this time.


But I sorely remember how 2 days after Haiyan hit, after we all prayed in our heart of hearts and our deepest faiths to our God, that damage caused by the typhoon was zero. Somehow, it magically disappeared. And this to my mind was how the nuns in my Catholic high school described one typhoon that magically split into weaker forces getting lost in a mountain range. How it was a miracle, nothing is impossible with God.

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Social Entrepreneurs Challenge: International Bridges to Justice

laraThis guest blog post comes from Lara Fuchs, an MDiv student at Meadville Lombard Theological School working towards becoming a UU minister. She is also President of the UU’s of Basel (Switzerland), Secretary of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists’ Executive Committee, and current intern with International Bridges to Justice.

Ending Torture as an Investigative Tool

My first year of seminary Community Studies field placement is an internship at the offices of International Bridges to Justices (IBJ), in Geneva.

Karen Tse founded IBJ and was also the speaker for the Service of Living Tradition at the UUA’s 2012 Justice General Assembly in Atlanta. She received her MDiv from Harvard University along with a legal degree and founded this organization as a human rights lawyer to fight against investigative torture and extensive pre-trial detention happening in disadvantaged places around the world.

IBJ has instituted many programs directed at training lawyers and police in human rights law and lawful, effective investigative techniques, as well as raising awareness in communities so citizens know more about what their legal rights for due process are, and how to report incidents of torture.

Additionally, IBJ has a number of programs focused on women and youth, as well as interfaith coalitions; it has had incredible success in reducing violence in the areas it operates and also in decreasing the length of time people are held for pre-trial detainment.

During my internship, I’ve been working on grant proposals for ongoing programs in India, Cambodia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, China, Burundi, and Singapore; it’s been a deeply meaningful learning experience, affording me the opportunity to witness the global impact of this powerful work.

IBJ Needs Your Support

Last night I attended an International event in Basel, Switzerland, on torture. Panelists were from Amnesty International, OSZE, a torture survivor from Uzbekistan, and Karen Tse. There are 140 countries in the world who have agreed to not torture, and about 90 of them still do! IBJ’s mission is to give them ways to stop, and the programs it implements have been proven to work. Help IBJ make a difference, and make the world a safer place for everyone.

There is currently a Crowdrise campaign to raise money in support of IBJ’s programs, as part of the Skoll Foundation’s annual Social Entrepreneurs Challenge (#SEChallenge). This Challenge helps some of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs raise funds to support their work and it ends on December 5 at 1:59pm EST.

I’m writing to raise awareness in the U/U global community around IBJ’s participation and to ask for your generous support as I raise funds, alongside my IBJ colleagues, for this life-changing work!

The ten teams that raise the most during this Challenge period can earn additional bonus prizes; so far, IBJ has received over $10,000 in bonuses from weekly bonus #SEChallenges with the support of passionate donors committed to protecting the basic legal rights of ordinary citizens in the developing world.

Please visit my Crowdrise campaign page and make a gift with a global impact (more…)

Shape the Global U/U Story: Participate in #GivingtUUsday



In the United States, we have one day for giving thanks, two days for getting deals; now, globally, we have a day for giving back: #GivingTuesday.

On Tuesday, December 2nd, families, students, community centers, businesses, and charities around the world come together for the common purpose of celebrating generosity, and to give.

Please join the Unitarian Universalist Association in this celebration of giving by sharing posts of generosity. You might share a description, image, or video on social media of what you are doing to celebrate Giving Tuesday, or, tell us why you give, with the hashtags #GivingTuesday and #GivingtUUsday.

Need a few ideas? How about exploring the work of the Coalition of International Organizations for inspiration! Here are a few sample tweets of UU values in action, globally:

As you consider which organizations to support on Giving Tuesday, please consider making a contribution towards international Unitarian Universalism!

Want to learn how giving can become part of your spiritual practice? Check out the video below!

UU-UNO Fall Fundraiser 2014


Terry Sweetser

The Unitarian Universalists United Nations Office  held its third Annual Fall Fundraiser on November 5th, 2014, at the Fourth Unitarian Universalist Society. An enchanting architectural structure located in the Upper West Side of NYC, with a Central Park view and a rustic feeling. Upon entering the beautifully lit 4th U in the heart of New York City, guests were greeted with subtle hues of orange and green, candle-lit tables, the soft melody of a grand piano, and high-rising, angular arches coalescing into the lofty ceiling looming above. The event honored Reverend Terry Sweetser for his efforts and accomplishments within UU communities, along with his support of the varying human rights issues targeted by UU-UNO. He highlighted the importance of supporting our young people and congratulated them on their lifelong UU (or “cradle UU”) status. The applause was strong and supportive for the two young ladies he invited to stand – “this is why we do this” – he said, the important work of supporting our young UU’s and their passion for putting their faith in action. (more…)

UU United Nations Office: Join Us for Our Fall Fundraiser!

This November, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office invites you to be part of its fall fundraiser: “Celebrating the Inter-Connected Web of Life.”

Featuring a silent auction, food, music, and more, the event will honor Rev. Terry Sweetser for his instrumental role in uniting the UUA and UU-UNO; all are welcome!

If you’re not close in proximity to the NYC area but are close to this invaluable work in spirit, please consider donating an item to the silent auction! Each item donated goes a long way in support and celebration of Unitarian Universalist values represented at the United Nations and in engaging congregations in the world-shaping work of the UN.


The event will take place Wednesday, November 5th from 6:00PM – 9:00PM at Fourth Universalist Society located at 160 Central Park West, New York, NY 10023.

Get Involved

  • Tickets –  Each ticket is $50.00 and can be purchased online
  • Donate – Have an item or service that you’d like to donate, for use in our live and/or silent auctions?
  • Sponsor – Sponsor a prospective Fall Fundraiser attendee!
  • Volunteer – Interested in volunteering your time? We are always looking for extra help to make this evening a great success!
  • Share – Share the Fall Fundraiser invite with your friends, family and local congregation. RSVP via Facebook and invite your friends!

If you are interested in donating, sponsoring or volunteering, please get in touch!

UU Basel Joins Hands with OnePeople

Lorraine Rytz-Thériault, of the Unitarian Universalists of Basel, Switzerland, shares the following update from the fellowship’s social action program.

UU Basel’s Social Action program is still young in the making, yet strong in its conviction in supporting causes that align with our UU Principles. OnePeople, a new Swiss Verein (Association) with a global reach, is proving to be a good fit. Their global initiative of making our connection as One Human Race a tangible, lived experience – by creating human-chains spanning the world – is a celebration of a one world community that’s dear to our beliefs.

UU Basel members, aged from 7 to 70+ turned out on 20th September to participate in OnePeople-Day 2014. We joined hands & hearts, together with hundreds of people encircling the beautiful Schützenmatt park proclaiming OnePeople’s message, ‘We may have different religions, different languages, different colored skin – and we all belong to ONE human race.’

It was a grand opportunity to debut our Standing on the Side of Love yellow t-shirts, and to share UU publications while speaking to people about our UU Basel fellowship as an open, inclusive and welcoming faith community. We invite you to save the date 20th September 2015, as this annual event definitely deserves a growing global following. UU Basel plans to be there!

The People’s Climate March

 UU-UNO Logo



UU-UN Office reflections from the historic People’s Climate March Sunday September 20, 2014.




 “The People’s Climate March on September 21st, 2014 brought together people of all identities from around the world.  What struck me the most about this march was the boundless positive energy throughout the march.  We all saw the humanity in one another, we were connected spiritually and emotionally, and we moved as one strong body. The UU-UNO participated in the march held in New York City and thanks to screens set-up throughout the march we were able to see marches in other countries.  Many international participants in the NYC march wore the flag of their country proudly.  Humans working solidarity around the world as global citizens and participants of this movement.  What an energizing and inspirational time in history that will be talked about for years to come! We came together, calling attention climate change and climate justice – we need to take action now.  We sang, we danced, we chanted, we meditated, we lifted our voices and we were present in intentional international community for the good of the globe.”

– Kamila Jacob, Envoy Coordinator


“From the powerful signs like “I can’t walk on water!”, to the march and people on the sidewalk cheering, clapping and singing to each other, an incredible force of spiritual empowerment has risen along Central Park West on Sunday, September 21. This is a historic day to be remembered, where over 400,000 people joined the People’s Climate March in New York City.


rayInspired by each other, people picked up the yellow sign distributed on the street that writes: Another ___ for people’s climate. So, there we went, another “Buddhist”, another  “bike rider”, another “hot lesbian”…The collective empowerment doesn’t stop at people’s creativity in the various ways they identify themselves. The empowerment is tremendously diversified and widely disseminated through collaboration among different people and different groups.


There was one moment when the host asks us to connect our spirit with the ones standing next to us. Our office intern, Kira, reached out to the two people sitting on the ground in front of her, and connected with their hands against hers. Public voices take place in so many different forms that is built on one another’s ideas and power. By gaining affirmation and collaboration from hundreds of thousands of people, we will be able to heal the world like we never have before. After all, this world belongs to all of us!”

– Danning, Intern


“To me, being part of the march meant to explore what it means for me to be a woman. I joined 400,000 other individuals from every part of the world to march in solidarity with mother nature. I find it no coincidence that mother nature is being abused in exploited by what I deem our misogynistic global community.”

– Bri, Intern


“It was truly an amazing experience to be part of something so historic. The collective energy was so invigorating and powerful. I believe the best way to get someone to hear what you have to say is by showing up and saying it, and boy did we. Over 400,000 global citizens came together to get our message across and I don’t see how our world leaders and policy makers can ignore the message shared yesterday. Not only from the people in New York City but from marches all around the world. I felt truly spiritually connected to everyone there, just being people of the earth. One other thing that stuck out to me was the fact that not one arrest was made. I feel like this spoke to the overwhelming positive energy behind the commitment, focus, and message of the people.”

– Kira, Intern


“The empowering and inspiring march united 400,000 people with a message for world leaders on climate change. At the starting point near Columbus Circle, many marchers held signs with a variety of powerful words: “There Is No Planet B”, “Preserve Our Fossil Carbon”, “Solutions Exist”, “Respect for the interdependent Web of All Existence of Which We Are a Part” and “Jobs, Justice, Clean Energy”. Marchers expressed their thoughts and souls in order to let their voices be heard by all the people living on the motherland. Different appeals rising in the demonstrators include clean water and air, green forest, less carbon emission, global warming, new alternative energy instead of fossil fuels, etc, which inspired people on the street to join the march. People hold the same strong faith and beliefs that we need to save the earth and we can do it through the collaboration among diverse organizations, ethnic groups, races and ages. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to get involved in this historic and memorable event with other awesome marchers. I believe every major social movement can be achieved when people get together.”

– Meng, Intern             kira


“Marching in the People’s Climate March was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life.  I have never participated in an event of that magnitude.

I was not only impressed by the sheer volume of people, but our commitment to fighting for a more just and sustainable way of life. That commitment was evidenced in the hours and hours people waited to march. In the miles that people with disabilities covered, despite their physical limitations. In the countless signs people made. And in the myriad other ways we expressed our shared concern for the only place we call home.

I was especially pleased that the Climate March organizers purposely placed Indigenous communities in the front of the march, in order to highlight in the plight of these communities. These peoples are on front lines of climate change now, so it was appropriate for them to lead from the front of the march. They bear the brunt of climate change, as their way of life is threatened by increasing frequency of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, droughts, increasing water shortages, and the spread of tropical-born diseases. Out of all of us marching yesterday, it is these communities whose circumstances are the most dire, and I was grateful that they were front and center.

At the Climate March, I heard calls to action, languages I did not know, chanting, the drums of indigenous tribes, singing, and laughter. I felt proud to be unified with my brothers and sisters for a cause that is bigger than all of us. But I also felt the weight of the issue at hand. As Chris Hedges said recently: “It is both an obligation and a privilege to be around right now.” Indeed, I am inspired by the Climate March. But I also feel the immense obligation to do my part to secure this earth for us and for future generations.”

-Raymond, Intern


To learn more about our work to combat climate change, visit our UU-UNO webpage, the Climate Portal and the UUA Commit2Respond initiative. For more photos from the People’s Climate March, visit our Facebook page.

A Seminarian’s Experience at Tsubaki Grand Shrine

Ranwa Hammamy is a UU seminarian & 2015 M.Div candidate at Union Theological Seminary. In September 2014 she was the recipient of the UUA’s Tsubaki Grand Shrine Scholarship. Tsubaki Grand Shrine is an ancient Shinto shrine in Suzuka, Japan, and an historic interfaith partner of the UUA. In this essay, Ranwa reflects on her powerful, moving experiences in Japan.

Sitting in my dorm at Union, I often hear the bells of Riverside Church chime in the morning to announce the 8:00AM hour. I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity to pause and listen to their familiar ring, reminding me that a new day is beginning – new opportunities, learning, and connections await. On days when my time management is lacking, their sound is also a reminder that I should be preparing for class. The Riverside bells have become a welcome piece of my routine, serving roles beyond simply being a marker of time.

Since my return from Japan, these bells have taken on a new function. They remind me of another sacred sound, one that became familiar and welcome in my routine at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine. Every morning for my 10 days at the shrine, I would hear the sound of the taiko drum at 8:25AM, five evenly spaced beats, announcing that it was time for chohai, or morning worship. On most of these mornings, I would be helping clean the inside walkways of the shrine or sweep leaves from the gravel paths of its outside grounds.

This practice of cleaning, of purifying the shrine, took place every day before worship. Its deliberate motions helped me remember each morning that the ground I walked upon was sacred. When the drums sounded at 8:25, I would pause in my cleaning and perform temizu, a purification ritual with water, before entering the main sanctuary for worship. The drum would return later in the service, as the leading priest would beat a specific rhythm towards the end of worship. I asked Ochiai, one the priests at the shrine, what the drum beat meant. He told me it was another form of purification. When I felt its vibrations run through my body, I was inclined to agree. (more…)

Interfaith Dialogue for Human Rights


Abby McBride is a youth representative for the UU-UNO. She attends Lehigh University and is pursuing a a degree in International Relations.  She is a blogger and manager for The Assembly.

Religion tends to have a bad rap in the media. When people think of zealous religious figures, terms such as “bigot” or “xenophobe” often come to mind. A group of religious non-governmental organizations met at the United Nations on Friday, August 29th, 2014 to discuss putting an end to this trend. The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) sponsored the interfaith dialogue workshop, entitled “Interfaith Progressive Values Promote Universal Human Rights” as part of the 65th Annual UN DPI/NGO Conference. Co-sponsors included Muslims for Progressive Values, the NGO Committee on Human Rights, the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace, and Security, the Tzu Chi Foundation, Soka Gakkai International, Won Buddhism, and Buddha’s Light International Association.


Kamila Jacob and Debra Boudreaux
Kamila Jacob and Debra Boudreaux

In the workshop, participants emphasized that, while faith is important, it should not stand in the way of basic human rights. Debra Boudreaux, Executive Vice President of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, spoke of her dedication to Buddhism, but said her foundation will help any kind of person, not only Buddhists. Kamila Jacob, representing the UU-UNO, told the workshop that her drive for social justice is put into action by her faith.


Hiro Sakuri of Soka Gakkai International voiced his regrets that there is no longer an interfaith conference at the United Nations. In 2005 he established an interfaith conference at the UN, with support from 75 member states, 15 UN agencies, and a set of religious non-governmental organizations. Following this development was the first ever General Assembly high-level dialogue on inter-religious communication for peace. However, the interfaith conference no longer occurs since members of certain agencies and organizations have left. Now, he struggles to find committed people to bring this conference back to life.


Bruce Knotts and Ani Zonneveld
Bruce Knotts and Ani Zonneveld

Ani Zonneveld, President of Muslims for Progressive Values, addressed the conflict that occurs between religion and human rights. She proposes that it is not religion itself that creates tension with human rights, but men’s interpretation of it. Of her own faith, Islam, she said “Sharia law is the interpretation of that divine inspiration [Sharia] by men of patriarchal society.” Zonneveld clarified that Sharia is the spiritual path of Islam. However, Sharia law has been warped by the values of the time (centuries ago) when it was enacted and the cultural issues it conflicts with today.

The UU-UNO affirms the Unitarian Universalist belief that there is inherent worth and dignity in every individual. Humanity is diverse in race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion, and the UU-UNO recognizes and embraces this fact. The UU-UNO wants to foster interfaith dialogue so that no religious groups stand in the way of the rights of individuals. We must be aligned in what is true, what is right, and what is good.

The UU-UNO recognizes that if religious groups are to succeed in protecting human rights, a greater degree of dialogue and cooperation in the future is essential. The workshop cast a look at what such a future might entail. Members attended from a plethora of religious groups – Jewish, Humanist, Catholic, Atheist, and a variety of others. The UU-UNO is hopeful that interfaith dialogue will continue as we need unity to secure fundamental rights around the world, rather than the division that has plagued religious dialogue in the past.Audience2 - nb