The increased awareness of the crime of human trafficking in recent years has helped nations to identify the signs and assist the victims who have fallen prey to the most unscrupulous individuals living amongst us. July 30th is World Day against Trafficking in Persons. In light of this day, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres remarked “On this World Day against Trafficking in Persons, let us reaffirm our commitment to stop criminals from ruthlessly exploiting people for profits and to help victims rebuild their lives.”
The revenue component of this crime is the biggest challenge confronting the global community. Human trafficking is an extremely lucrative industry generating approximately $150 billion per year. These profits are made at the expense of the most vulnerable peoples of the world. Individuals risk their lives when they flee violence and conflict in their home country because they simply seek a better way of life for themselves and their families. Along their perilous journeys many fall into the hands of traffickers.
Since 2003, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has compiled information regarding the victims of trafficking. One thing is certain: No nation is immune from the crime of human trafficking. In 2010, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons encouraging the international community to take action to put an end to the heinousness of human trafficking. Moreover, the Plan of Action seeks to blend the “…fight against human trafficking into the UN’s broader [programs] in order to boost development and strengthen security worldwide.”
Earlier this year, the UNODC released its Global Report on Trafficking in Persons which showed that the number of cases hit a 13-year high, but at the same time the data reflected an increase in the conviction rate. The UNODC’s Executive Director, Yury Fedotov, stated that “The report was undertaken for a simple reason: If we want to succeed in confronting human trafficking in all its manifestations, we must better understand its scope and structure.” Further, he indicated that “We need to appreciate where human trafficking is happening, who are its victims and who is perpetrating this crime.”
The ability of countries to collect data has improved while the number of nations who have institutions dedicated to monitoring instances of trafficking has increased to 65, the 2018 report shows. On the other hand, Asian and African states have lower conviction rates and lower detection numbers. As the report states, this “does not necessarily mean that traffickers are not active.” What this does reflect is that countries in these regions of the world have higher instances of trafficking and operate in an environment with higher degree of impunity.
The most vulnerable individuals are women and girls. As the report points out, the vast majority of detected victims of trafficking [occurs] for sexual exploitation and 35 per cent of those trafficked for forced [labor] are female.” From region to region of the world, the victim profile varies. However, many of the victims are trafficked for sexual exploitation particularly in the Americas, Europe, and East Asia and the Pacific.
This year has brought this issue to light as news reports show the horrifying photos of migrants attempting to make their way to the United States. The people who make this dangerous trek often succumb to the nefarious motives of human traffickers. Migrants from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala oftentimes must pay smugglers to assist them in making their way north. They leave to escape the devastating consequences of gang violence and poverty. Sixty percent of the trafficked victims are children based on reporting from UNODC.
Civilized nations would agree that the practice of human trafficking is morally reprehensible; yet, what is equally reprehensible is the treatment of migrants on the border. They arrive to this point after what is usually a harrowing journey only to find conditions in which they are detained equally deplorable. It is time for the U.S. take back its position as global leader, end human trafficking, while also ending its misguided policy towards migrants.
The unofficial start of the summer season is upon us, schools will soon close, and people’s attention shifts towards vacation and a time to decompress. However, there is one day which everyone should remember: The International Day of U.N. Peacekeepers on May 29th honoring the service of the men and women who seek to bring peace and stability to parts of the world that have only known conflict.
Unfortunately, most Americans are unaware of this day, but they should be. Why? Because these brave individuals are thrust into some of the world’s most dangerous hotspots so the U.S. does not have to send its own troops into harm’s way. It should be noted that since 1948 over 3,500 U.N. peacekeepers have lost their lives in the name of peace. A reason to pause and take note on May 29th.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has stated that “For millions in conflict-affected situations around the world, peacekeeping is a necessity and a hope. Let us work together to make peacekeeping more effective in protecting people and advancing peace.” This year’s theme, “Protecting Civilians, Protecting Peace,” coincides with the 20th anniversary of the “…first time the Security Council explicitly mandated a peacekeeping mission (UNAMSIL in Sierra Leone) to protect civilians.”
Since this mission, civilian protection has been the centerpiece of U.N. peacekeeping. Presently, 90 percent of peacekeepers involved in 8 missions – Abyei and Darfur, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Lebanon, Mali, and South Sudan – operate under civilian protection mandates. Today, there are 14 peacekeeping missions serving on four continents. Peacekeeping comprises a fraction of total global military spending and has proved it is a worthwhile investment. The savings that peacekeeping provides, as compared to having to insert U.S. troops into these situations, is significant. Moreover, the return on investment since 1948 has been quite palpable as many people have been able to participate in free and fair elections through the peacekeeping mission’s stabilizing force.
In 2018, the Secretary-General set in motion a new initiative called, “Action for Peacekeeping (A4P), which sought to strengthen peacekeeping missions. As a result, 150 Member States and regional organizations declared their support for the initiative through the “Declaration of Shared Commitments.”
Despite the accomplishments of U.N. Peacekeeping, it is not without its challenges specifically from its largest contributor (28 percent) – the U.S. The current U.S. administration, earlier this year, proposed drastic cuts to the Contributions to International Peacekeeping Activities (CIPA), which is the account that provides the funds for many of U.N.’s Peacekeeping Operations, according to a report by UN Dispatch. The administration has sought $1.136 billion for CIPA, a figure that is $60 million less than its request last year. The U.S. has already accumulated significant outstanding debts owed to U.N. Peacekeeping, and this request further diminishes the capacity of the global body to fund its operations.
Secretary-General Guterres has already warned that the U.S. administration’s decision to halt paying the full amount of its peacekeeping bill is “…hanging peacekeeping missions out to dry while creating financial woes for the countries that provide the blue-helmeted troops and police officers.” The consequences of the White House’s actions have caused the U.N. to hold back payments to those nations that are the largest contributors of troops – Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Rwanda, India, and Nepal. In the first quarter of this year, only 50 percent of the payments could be made, according to reporting by Pass Blue.
The evidence is clear: U.N. Peacekeeping benefits global security. For the U.S., it’s an added foreign policy tool at its disposal. From the ashes of World War II in 1945, the U.N. was born with the U.S. taking the lead role in its creation. The central component of the U.N., peacekeeping, is under attack. For those peacekeepers who have lost their lives in their attempt to preserve peace, the international community – particularly the U.S. – owes it to them to ensure that the institution of peacekeeping remains a vital mainstay of the U.N. Let us show them the respect they deserve.
An important day is upon us and we should all take the time to reflect on what occurred in 1915
– the Armenian Genocide. April 24th is Armenian Genocide Memorial Day – a day
commemorating the deportation of Armenian intellectuals from Constantinople (present day
Istanbul, Turkey). This is a day that flies under the radar for many Americans, which is one
reason why the Northern New Jersey Chapter of the United Nations Association has determined
that shedding light on this event is extremely important. The State of New Jersey has a large
Armenian diaspora community. Moreover, New Jersey was a key player in assisting the
survivors of the Armenian genocide. The victims of this horrific event should receive the honor
and recognition that they deserve.
As World War I was about to commence, the total number of Christian Armenians residing in
the Ottoman Empire was two million. In 1922, the number was less than 400,000 thousand. The
remaining 1.5 million had been killed in what was determined to be genocide – the systematic
extermination of a certain group of people based on race or ethnicity. The author David Fromkin
in his book titled, “A Peace to End All Peace,” wrote that: “Rape and beating were
commonplace. Those who were not killed at once were driven through mountains and deserts
without food, drink or shelter. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians succumbed or were killed.”
For the Turks, the events of 1915 are dismissed. They assert that genocide did not occur as
historians have concluded. Today, in Turkey, it is a crime to mention what happened to
Armenians. In fact, one of the last stages of genocide is denial. Denying the occurrence of the
tragic events perpetuates its existence and continues to do harm to the survivors and their
The Government of Turkey justifies their denial of the events of 1915 by blaming the victims,
according to Dr. Gregory Stanton, the former President, International Association of Genocide
Scholars and presently the Research Professor in Genocide Studies and Prevention at the
Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, Arlington, Virginia.
The Turks indicate that the “killings were in self-defense,” and profess that the Muslim Turks
also had numerous deaths during this time; however, these deaths came from battling European
troops. Further, he stated, the Turks claimed that the deaths occurred because of a lack of
essentials such as food and water. But such assertions have been disproved, Dr. Stanton said,
through eyewitness accounts from Armenian survivors, “American consular offices,
missionaries… [and the] archives of Ottoman allies, Germany and Austria-Hungary.”
Polish-Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, was impassioned by the suffering and the plight of the
Armenians that he decided he would explore the atrocities perpetrated by the Turks upon the
Armenians. The significance is Lemkin was the individual who coined the term genocide;
however, this did not happen until 1943 during the Holocaust. But it is important to note that
genocide has its origins in the Armenian genocide, as scholars point to it as being the first
genocide to have occurred during the modern era.
The United Nations followed Lemkin’s direction in 1948 adopting U.N. General Assembly
Resolution 260 on December 9 of that year establishing the Convention on the Prevention and
Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The Convention subsequently entered into force on
January 12, 1951.
As of 2017, 29 nations recognize the genocide as well as 48 of 50 U.S. states. Alabama and
Mississippi are the only two states that do not recognize the genocide. This month Senator Bob
Menendez (D-NJ) and his colleague, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), introduced a resolution
affirming and recognizing the Armenian genocide. Senator Menendez has been a champion of
U.S.-Armenian relations. It is time for the U.S. to stand firm, despite pushback from the
Executive branch and pressure from the Turkish government and recognize the events of 1915-
The writer wishes to express his sincere and heartfelt thanks to Valeria Moumdjian, our website
designer, for her recommendation and suggestion that I write a blog regarding the April 24th
commemoration of the Armenian genocide. On a personal note, I can say that writing this piece
was both a moving and educating experience. It is our hope that people will take the time to
pause and read the piece and understand what occurred to the Armenian people in 1915.
Back in 1945, the United Nations had the foresight and vision through the signing of its Charter
to recognize and focus upon the principle of equality between men and women. It became the
first international agreement to do so. It was in 1975 that the U.N. celebrated the first
International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8. IWD came to light because of the efforts of the
labor movement in North America and Europe. The day became official in 1977 with the passage
of a General Assembly resolution pronouncing this day to be a U.N. Day for Women’s Rights
and International Peace.
Through the years, the day has taken on added global significance shedding light on the
inequities in the international system for women from a political, social, cultural and economic
standpoint. It is a day to build support for women across the world.
One document that seeks to remedy the plight of women globally is the 2030 Agenda for
Sustainable Development adopted in 2015 as the successor to the Millennium Development
Goals (MDGs). It comprises 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Gender equality and
women’s empowerment is key to the success of the SDGs. Several of the SDGs point directly to
the importance of the role of women in society, including SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being;
SDG 4: Quality Education; SDG 5: Gender Equality and; SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities.
The 2019 theme of International Women’s Day is: “Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for
Change.” This year’s theme ties in perfectly to what the SDGs hope to accomplish. In addition
to the ambitious “Planet 50-50 by 2030” agenda, this year’s focus emphasizes thinking “outside-
the-box”; specifically, developing “innovative approaches that disrupt ‘business as usual’” which
is vital to “ensuring that no woman and no girl is left behind.”
In the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the gap between men and
women remains large and closing this gap needs to be given high priority. Women must have the
ability to have their voices and ideas heard in order to transform “future societies.” In this vein,
IWD 2019 will look to many sectors of society, including private industry and business start-up
ventures to speed the process of gender equality.
There is no doubt there is work to be done if we are to achieve the gender balance the 2030
Agenda seeks. If one is skeptical as to why we need an International Women’s Day, one does not
have to look further than the statistical reporting on this issue. It provides the evidence. For
example, thirty-three percent of women globally have experienced some form of physical
violence in their lifetime. Each minute 6 women are threatened with female genital mutilation
(FGM) and every 2 seconds a girl under the age of 18 is married. These figures heighten the
motivation that the global community needs to pressure governments who allow for such
behavior to continue.
IWD is a day, not only to highlight the progress women have made, but also to educate global
citizens regarding the injustice and indignity women continue to suffer in many nations. The
respect of women and their rights is at the heart of IWD. The cultural beliefs many nations
espouse allow for the continuation of such atrocities.
In 2005, the late U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, delivered remarks at the forty-ninth
session of the Commission on the Status of Women marking the 10-year review of the Beijing
Conference and Platform for Action. He said the following: “…study after study has taught us
that there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.”
Moreover, he added, that “…women themselves have the right to live in dignity, in freedom from
want and from fear.”
No more eloquent words could have been spoken to encapsulate the central focus of IWD. It is
imperative now that all of us take them to heart and speak out when we see injustices being
perpetrated upon women and girls around the world.
In remarks before an informal session of the U.N. General Assembly on January 16, 2019,
Secretary-General Guterres stated that when he spoke in 2018, he had “issued a red alert” for the
world. In his comments earlier this year, he indicated that the “Alarm bells are still ringing.”
The problems confronting the international community are significant. From persistent conflict
adding to the growing number of displaced persons worldwide, to the unwavering issues of
global poverty and hunger, the gap between rich and poor, the ever-present matter of climate
change, continuing violations of human rights and the relentless attacks on journalists, when
viewed in total, greatly impacts the lives of individuals around the world.
The inability of global leadership to address these issues equates to greater mistrust in the
institutions of governance, including, as Guterres pointed out, the U.N. In this global
environment, the work of the U.N. is more important than ever.
The leader of the global body cited reforms that have been instituted under his guidance to make
the U.N. more responsive to the needs of people. One such measure relates to the issuance of
“new delegations of authority to more than 200 heads of U.N. entities” which he says will “cut
red tape and bring decision-making closer to the point of delivery.” He believes these reforms
will see a U.N. in 2019 that will be “working for all.”
A greater point of emphasis will be placed upon Africa as the U.N. seeks to bolster its
partnership with the African Union as both entities strive for lasting peace on the continent,
especially in countries like “Mali and the Sahel, South Sudan, Somalia, the Central African
Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
In Yemen, a humanitarian disaster of immense proportion continues because of the ongoing
conflict. Guterres stated the Stockholm Agreement prevented what would have become a
disastrous military battle in Hudaydah exacerbating the famine in the country.
The efforts of the U.N. in Libya as a result of the ceasefire it helped to broker has remained and
he cited the need to advance this process by creating a National Conference to move towards
“reconciliation and future elections.” Syria, on the other hand, remains mired in conflict creating
a humanitarian nightmare displacing millions of people from their homes. The Secretary-
General’s appointment of a Special Envoy brings hope that a peaceful outcome can occur to a
country that has only experienced violence and chaos.
Obstacles continue to remain in the Ukraine, Myanmar, Afghanistan and the Caucasus. These
challenges require a unified Security Council, which in and of itself is no small matter. In
addition, moving towards peace requires women to be “full participants” in any peace process.
This is one of the Secretary-General’s top five priorities for 2019: A greater use of diplomacy to
solve such intractable conflicts.
Second, greater attention must be paid to climate change and its devastating consequences.
Under the Paris Climate Agreement, Member States are required to “assess progress and submit
new pledges to meet the goals to which they agreed.” This must be done by 2020. Guterres
further added that “by 2050 we need to reach net zero global emissions.” To this end, he will
have a Climate Summit on September 23 rd bringing together all the key actors, including
business, civil society, and political leaders.
Third, following the September Climate Summit, the leader of the world body has asked world
leaders to join together to discuss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He has not seen
the progress he had hoped for with the 2030 Agenda. It is in the vein he has summoned the
presence of global leaders to find ways to jumpstart these efforts.
Fourth, Guterres wishes to address the challenges posed by the development of new
technologies. He said that “reducing digital inequality, building digital capacity and ensuring that
new technologies are on our side as a force for good.”
Fifth, he believes it is the values of the U.N. that “binds us together” specifically mentioning
“peace, justice, human dignity, tolerance and solidarity.” It was these guiding principles that
were at the heart of the U.N.’s creation over seventy years ago. And they continue today to
remain the bedrock upon which the global body was built.
As the busyness of the holiday season is fully upon us, it is important for the world to take a moment to remember two days this month: The 70thanniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on December 9thand Human Rights Day on December 10thmarking 70 years since the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
The Genocide Convention came to life in the post-World War II period following the mass atrocities committed against European Jews by the Nazis. It was the Polish-Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, who advocated for an international law for the crime of genocide. Before 1944, there was no law; however, in the wake of the Holocaust, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 260 (III) A on December 9, 1948 outlawing genocide. On January 12, 1951, the Convention came into force. Forty years later, on November 5, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Convention. Senator William Proxmire from Wisconsin was one of the strongest advocates in the U.S. who urged its signing. Today it remains a vital piece of international law.
Genocide is defined as “…acts committed, with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group…” Article 2 sets forth the following parameters (a) “Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Yet, today, despite the forces for good who acted 70 years ago, having experienced the horrors of genocide firsthand, we still witness tragic acts of violence – which meet the criteria for genocide - against the Rohingya in Rakhine state in northwestern Myanmar, Christians and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria, the Nuer and other ethnic groups in South Sudan, and the Darfuris in Sudan.
The U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has argued that genocide continues to remain a “threat and reality.” She urged nations to act based on the “warning signs” often preceding genocide. She added that the crime of genocide is as real today as it was at the time of its signing. There are still 45 U.N. Member States who yet to ratify or agree to the Convention.
The world should not feign ignorance to the crime of genocide; for it knows full well what occurred during World War II, what happened in Rwanda in 1994 and; moreover, what is happening today to different ethnic groups around the world. What is required is a willingness to summon the courage to act in the face of unspeakable atrocities being committed. The U.N. acted 70 years ago in the aftermath of WWII; it’s time for the world to take greater action.
The importance of human rights did not go unnoticed in 1948 as the next day, December 10th, the UDHR was ratified in Paris, France. Though not a legally binding treaty, the UDHR expresses the core values of human rights such as dignity and justice, development, environment, culture and gender that all civilized nations of the world share. President Carter signed the UDHR in 1977, but the U.S. has yet to ratify it.
The U.N. has three key objectives in connection with the 70thanniversary of the UDHR. The first is to promote the UDHR by increasing the public’s knowledge of the document and educating people as to how it affects them. Second, the U.N. seeks to engagethe global community to protect human rights. Third, reflectupon the UDHR and look closely at what has been achieved to date and what are the challenges that lie ahead.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), the global nongovernmental organization, reports that “thirty landmarks across the globe will shine bright blue on December 10, 2018” as the world celebrates Human Rights Day. The lighting seeks to signify all that the UDHR stands, most importantly the “human dignity” of all individuals.
As HRW’s executive director points out, “This is a challenging moment for human rights, but while the autocrats and rights abusers are capturing the headlines, they are spawning powerful resistance.”
It is always good on Human Rights Day to reflect on the words of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a key actor in drafting the UDHR. In 1958, she made the following remarks:
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he [or she] lives in; the school or college he [or she] attends; the factory, farm, or office where he [or she] works. (…) Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.” Her words should be noted by all global leaders considering the human rights violations we continue to witness across the globe today.
Chapter Note: The topics of this month’s UNA-NNJ blog addressed the very delicate subjects of genocide and human rights. The Chapter is quite aware of the sensitive nature of the matter under consideration. Our mission is to educate and advocate for issues related to the United Nations to the public-at-large, and that was the goal of this month’s blog. It sought to recognize the longstanding achievements of the global body regarding the 70-year anniversaries of the signings of the Genocide Convention and the UDHR. We are quite cognizant of the mass atrocities committed in the early part of the twentieth century and empathize with those families who continue to experience the trauma of this time period. We wish to point out that there is no specific clause contained within the Genocide Convention that would have it apply retroactively, particularly as it pertains to cases from earlier in the twentieth century.
As many us enjoyed this long Thanksgiving weekend holiday with family and friends, there is an important day which – likely – will fly well below the radar of many people. The day referred to is the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women that occurs on November 25th.
The U.N. defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.” Violence against women (VAW) is a significant problem requiring greater focus by the international community.
The issue of VAW has garnered its fair share of attention in recent times through the #Me Too Movement social media campaign. To highlight this matter, one only needs to look at the data from the World Health Organization (WHO). It shows that 35 %, or approximately 1 in 3 women, have experienced physical abuse in their relationships.
VAW does not discriminate based on age, socioeconomic status, education or geography. However, what underlies this problem on a global scale, is the fact that there is not enough evidence of this phenomenon provided by nations. For example, only 107 of 195 countries can provide data on “intimate partner violence.” Moreover, the issue of data collection is a problem as well as women fail to come forward to report such violence. There are 49 countries today that have no laws on the books protecting women from domestic violence.
What can be done to improve upon these numbers? VAW is a public health problem; there is no disputing this fact. In addition, it is a clear violation of women’s human rights. When looking more closely at the data, it is astounding that approximately one-third of women worldwide have experienced some form of physical abuse. Globally, 38 % of murders of women have come at the hands of their male partners. Research has shown that abusers possess a limited education, experienced abuse as a child or saw their mothers experience violence. This is not only a matter of criminal behavior, but also a psychological and sociological problem as well.
Several studies have been conducted to look at what types of prevention and responses to VAW are needed. The WHO, the global health arm of the U.N., is one such organization looking more closely at this matter. In 2005, the WHO performed a study titled “Multi-Country Study on Women’s Health and Domestic Violence.” The researchers sought to document the VAW issue.
There were 10 countries involved in the study which utilized population-based sampling. The countries represented a widespread and diverse set of nations from Africa, Asia, Europe and South America. There were 24,000 women interviewed as part of the study.
The findings of the report confirm what has been known for some time: That VAW is a public health crisis that demands immediate attention from the global community. Some of the specific findings show that between 15% and 71% of women in a relationship have experienced some form of physical abuse. In addition, the areas under study indicated that greater than 5% of women suffered violence during pregnancy. Also, women involved in an abusive relationship were more likely to show signs of emotional distress.
The WHO report provided a list of recommendations for nations to take to remedy this tragic problem:
October 24 is a special day on the calendar for those who support the United Nations. This day marks the signing in 1945 of the U.N. Charter in San Francisco, where 50 countries united in their mission to establish the world body. This year takes on added significance as it coincides with the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
Seventy years ago, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, First Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights – responsible for the drafting of the UDHR – delivered the following remarks at the U.N. on March 27, 1958:
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he [or she] lives in; the school or college he [or she] attends; the factory, farm, or office where he [or she] works. (…) Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.” Powerful words that should resonate to every corner of the globe.
The UDHR is not a treaty, so therefore it is not a legally binding document; however, States – as U.N. members – are expected to uphold the core values inscribed within the UDHR. What are the core values of the UDHR? Dignity and justice, development, environment, culture, gender and participation.
The U.N. has three key objectives in connection with the 70th anniversary of the UDHR. The first is to promote the UDHR by increasing the public’s knowledge of the document and educating people as to how it affects them. Second, the U.N. seeks to engage the global community to protect human rights. Third, reflect upon the UDHR and look closely at what has been achieved to date and what are the challenges that lie ahead.
Promote, engage and reflect are the keywords encompassing the U.N.’s goal to achieve universal human rights. In late September, 14 nations and the European Union launched an initiative called “The Good Human Rights Stories” with the intent of fortifying individual rights and energizing nations to respect these rights.
What does the UDHR specifically state regarding how countries should conduct themselves? It lays out in no uncertain terms in its Preamble that “the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”
The principles underlying the UDHR are quite sound, but, states do not always adhere to them. For example, Article 5 states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in all their forms.” Saudi Arabia is a case in point as to how states violate the principles and norms underlying the UDHR.
The Mideast nation is one of a handful of states that were not signatories to the UDHR. Despite its objections, as a U.N. member state, as we know, they have a duty to uphold its core values. However, unfortunately, the opposite is true. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has violated the human rights of women, people of conscience, and have threatened the family members of expatriates in exchange for silence.
In recent days, we have all seen and heard the news account of the death of The Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, at the hands of Saudi Arabia. The Middle East nation violates every norm of civility.
The Khashoggi case was just a continuation of their abusive treatment of individual rights. This tragedy should shine a bright light upon this nation. Leaders of civilized nations around the world should speak out forcefully against them. Some have done so, but the leader of the free world – the United States – has bought the company line emanating from Saudi Arabia.
The United Kingdom, France and Germany issued a joint statement calling for a thorough response from the Saudis as to the nature of what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. But, like the White House, will undoubtedly place economic rights above individual rights. It’s high time that the Saudis are held to account by civilized nations of the world in the true spirit of the UDHR and Eleanor Roosevelt’s vision.
With the United States poised to lead the United Nations Security Council for the month of September, one thing is certain: There will be no shortage of drama. The leadership of the Security Council rotates between member states, and this month the U.S. will lead during the global body’s busiest time – the opening of the 73rd session of the U.N. General Assembly on September 18th. General debate begins on September 25th when world leaders take to the podium to discuss many of the thorniest issues confronting the international community.
The General Assembly (GA) comprises all 193 Member States and it serves as the “chief deliberative, policymaking, and representative organ of the United Nations.” The GA is a forum where international issues are discussed and debated in a unique multilateral setting. Moreover, the GA plays an important role in setting standards and codifying international law.
Critics are quick to point out the absence of any concrete results emanating from the annual meeting. However, this is not correct. For example, in 2005, President Obama used the gathering to move Member States to accept the Paris Climate Agreement. Unfortunately, President Trump decided to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement. But for critics to say that the UNGA does not achieve measurable results is simply not true.
On September 26th, the U.S. president will chair a U.N. Security Council debate regarding Iran. According to reports, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, indicated that the president seeks an open forum where Iran’s “violations of international law” and its role in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen can be discussed. His goal is to bring the issue of Iran to the forefront while the attention of the world is focused upon the U.N. The U.S. decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal has been roundly criticized by world leaders.
Privately, U.S officials are quite concerned about having the president chair such a highly divisive issue like Iran. There have been internal discussions regarding the possibility of reframing the session to a broader discussion of the Middle East. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohamad Javad Zarif, commented recently that the U.S. president will use this opportunity to “blame Iran for horrors US & clients have unleashed across” the Middle East.
U.N. protocol allows for the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to be invited to the session Trump will chair. The session permits the U.S. president to call upon Zarif or Rouhani; however, the chance that either is present during this time is remote. The action of calling upon the Iranian officials occurs only after all 15 Security Council members have spoken. Reports indicate that if Trump leaves the session early, his duties will fall to Haley.
The point of focusing upon Iran for the administration is to highlight their rogue behavior in several of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. The president’s position runs counter to the core U.N. principle of collective security which emphasizes the importance of countries acting together in an alliance to ensure each other’s security. In addition, the president’s view on Iran places him in direct conflict with Russia and China – two Permanent Members (P-5) of the Security Council who have veto power.
In 2009, President Obama presided over a Security Council meeting resulting in passage of a resolution increasing the level of surveillance on nations involved in nuclear proliferation. For Trump, his reasoning to focus upon Iran is less about monitoring its nuclear program than it is about advancing his own personal agenda. The ability to work through multilateral institutions is vital to solving the numerous intractable problems facing the international community. The president has no interest in working through organizations like the U.N., and this is an issue the global community must reckon with to solve matters like nuclear proliferation.
In May 2016, former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convened the first global humanitarian summit in Istanbul, Turkey. The purpose was to develop ways to confront the burgeoning problem of providing humanitarian assistance to those in need in a constantly changing world. Ban Ki-moon’s Agenda for Humanity and its five-point plan outlined steps needed to help ease the suffering of those living in conflict zones, chief among them was finding ways to prevent and end conflict.
The U.N. General Assembly designated August 19th as the day to commemorate humanitarian workers coinciding with that fateful day in 2003 in Iraq when 22 humanitarian aid workers were killed in a bombing, including the special representative for the U.N. Secretary-General, Sergio Vieira de Mello. The Brazilian diplomat sought to bring his talent and skills to bear in some of the most challenging places on earth. From Bangladesh to Sudan, Mozambique to Cyprus, Lebanon, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor and post-genocide Rwanda, he worked tirelessly to bring peace to countries that only knew conflict. In her 2008 book, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, wrote that given the current crises we face today “there is no better time to turn for guidance to a man whose long journey under fire helps to reveal the roots of our current predicament – and perhaps the remedies.”
This day takes on added meaning as the world body seeks to broaden it by including civilians affected by humanitarian crises through the mobilization of its Member States and civil society to support and recognize peoples of the world affected by humanitarian nightmares.
The launch of last year’s #NotATarget campaign saw close to two million people act through social media urging global leaders to protect civilians and aid workers in conflict zones. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and its partners have created an innovative approach through the use of a “global digital campaign” to muster support from citizens, decision makers and celebrities acting together under the guise of the #NotATarget message to sign the “first ever ‘living petition” to protect civilians.
Rather than having an actual signed document, the “living petition’ will project people’s faces, names, locations onto screens and onto a socially-powered sculpture” designed by an artist commissioned by the U.N. The facial image of the sculpture will “address ordinary citizens and world leaders at the General Assembly, and speak up for civilians caught up in conflict with the use of a voice-over.”
This campaign, including all the key stakeholders, coincides with the annual report issued by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres regarding the protection of civilians in armed conflict. In May of this year, Guterres remarked before the Security Council that “the most effective way to protect civilians is to prevent conflicts and to end them.” “Conflict prevention, resolution and peacebuilding” will continue to remain a top priority for the global body. Moreover, he added, there are 128 million people globally in need of humanitarian assistance due to conflict.
The Secretary-General stated that “more than 26,000 civilian women, girls, men and boys” died or were injured because of conflict. This figure encompasses just 6 countries: Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Somalia, and Yemen. Many of the injuries and deaths occurred in Afghanistan.
A prime example of the importance of raising our collective voice in support of aid workers and the plight of civilians is Yemen. In recent days, we witnessed the horror of the Saudi-led coalition airstrike on a school bus carrying innocent Yemeni children. Scenes of such tragedy should galvanize the world towards greater action to prevent and end such conflicts. The U.N. deems Yemen one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
The heinous nature of targeting humanitarian aid workers and civilians, especially children, has become the new dynamic of war. Wars today are relegated to urban centers where the percentage of civilian and aid worker casualties are very high. This, of course, does not justify or make the images of human suffering any easier to view. The power of social media can be used as a force for good evidenced by the U.N.’s #NotATarget campaign. It is incumbent upon civilized society to act together to pressure global elites to put an end to these conflicts in the name of diplomats like Sergio Vieira de Mello who worked his entire life in the name of peace.
Michael Curtin, NNJ Chapter Editorial Chair