Tuesday, March 28, 2017

UN Rapporteur on Freedom of Association Visits Washington DC and Finds International Human Rights in Crisis

by A. Edward Elmendorf

Delivering a Global Justice lecture at Georgetown University’s Alumni House on March 15, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association Miana Kiai found human rights in crisis around the world. 

Introduced by UNA-NCA Leo B. Sohn Award Recipient and Georgetown University Professor Mark Lagon, Kiai called for people to show persistence in organizing. He observed that many NGOs in developing countries have an accountant and a lawyer, at donor request, and often a planner, but rarely an organizer. Yet he considered that the only profound changes in respect for human rights have come from persistent, organized effort from below, rather than above, in response to the demands of masses of people.

He was greatly worried by incursions on freedom of association under populist threats in many countries, mentioning Philippines, Zimbabwe, the United States and others. He spoke freely of China and Russia as being unresponsive to the requests of UN rapporteurs. Kiai lamented that only three percent of the UN budget is devoted to human rights, and asked rhetorically whether with such a small budget share human rights could be considered the third key pillar of UN activity. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Miracle of Holland

By Jocelyn Cordell, UNA-NCA Fellow

On a moderately temperate Friday two weeks prior to this post, the UNA-USA Graduate Fellows met together for our habitual weekly session. While an opportunity to connect as a community, these meetings are the foundation of our development as students, as fellows, and ultimately as global citizens, as cliché as that sounds! Over the course of a two-hour class, the fellows had the opportunity to discuss the assigned reading for the week, followed by an integrated simulation on Climate Change, mediated in part by UNA-NCA Fellows Program Director Laurence Peters. The following section refers to the readings in Module Five for the class as depicted in the online course, with due reference given to the source materials as provided.

A child prodigy hailing from the Dutch Republic in the 16th century, Grotius was a lawyer and leading politician whose work served as a precedent for a number of United Nations conventions, norms, and the legitimacy surrounding the “rule of law”.

In 1603, Grotius defended a legal case for a relative. Lacking any official authorization, his three ships sailing under the banner of the Dutch East India Company attacked a Portuguese ship off the coast of Singapore; the resulting stolen cargo landed on Dutch soil. In contrast to international law at the time, Grotius argued:

“individuals could not own the sea, states which derived their power from individuals could not own that stretch of water or lay claim to the cargo either and therefore the state could not file suit against a seizure of such cargo…”

While he did not win, Grotius introduced a principle leading to the contemporary notion of the “Freedom of the Seas” as enshrined in the UNCLOS:

Other important themes solidified under Grotius discussed throughout the course included: the introduction of “universally declared human values in the shape of international laws”, legal accountability and the restitution of and by states for unjust war, criminal responsibility of individual leaders for what we today consider “crimes against humanity”, a “common law among nations” based on moral values, the precursor to the modern Responsibility to Protect, and the notion of a “civil society” outside of the realm of government.

While Kant dismissed Grotius as a “sorry comforter of mankind”, and his views were far from a modern moderate ideal; his contributions were extremely important to the modern representation of the United Nations. From the Code of Military Laws to Be Observed in War written by King Gustav of Sweden to the Nuremberg trials to the introduction of “We the Peoples” in the United Nations Charter, the hand of Grotius can be traced through history to many of the norms and values we hold dear today. In short, I believe the following quote sums up the first half of our session quite nicely:

"The idea of international society which Grotius propounded was given concrete expression in the Peace of Westphalia… Grotius may be considered the intellectual father of this first general peace settlement of modern times"

The Realpolitick of Climate Change Policymaking: Parts I &II

For the second half of the course, the participants separated into their distinct pre-assigned presentation groups to participate in a lively, if unconventional simulation. Yours truly, as a part of the Conflict Resolution presentation group, had the respective honor of representing first the interests of Greenpeace with respect to the future of the Paris Agreement, and subsequently the position of China in the Security Council to debate the proposed available options.

In summary, the results of the simulation demonstrated a few key themes:
I.             It is extraordinarily difficult to rise above the lowest-common denominator, even with a threat as pervasive and essential as Climate Change, when politics overtake the discussion
II.           Climate Change has a direct impact on not only the environment, but the political, economic, and social future of society as we understand it today
III.          To overcome the political and formulate adequate solutions, it is essential that civil society at all levels, and the citizens of every country in the world, hold their respective governments accountable for the part they play in the resulting discourse

I commend the Climate Change presentation group, who was the first among us to present their findings in an articulate PowerPoint presentation. They truly opened my eyes to the severity of where we are today, and subsequently they inspired me to go out and do something about it!

On April 22nd, 2017, an interconnected global community will join together to celebrate Earth Day. I invite each and every person who took valuable time out of their day to read my post to join me in learning more about this issue. The theme this year revolves around climate literacy, and the focus of educating people about the threat climate change poses to inspire collective action.

Do you have the courage to take a step in the right direction? To learn more, please visit the Earth Day website at http://www.earthday.org/earthday/ and stay tuned for more blog posts from the UNA-USA Graduate Fellow community!

Today’s Challenges Facing UN Peace Operations

By Ashley Brekke, UNA-NCA Fellow

Peacekeeping is one of the United Nations’ primary functions, taking three main forms: peacemaking missions, peacebuilding operations, and peace enforcement. Currently, there are 126 countries contributing personnel, a $7.87 billion budget for peacekeeping, and 117,024 personnel. Traditional peacekeeping typically includes observing, monitoring, and reporting; supervising a cease-fire; and serving as a physical buffer. More recently, multidimensional peacekeeping comprises of security and stability, dialogue promotion, reconciliation, governance and assistance with coordination of all participating actors. Throughout the years, the UN has dealt, and continues to deal, with questions regarding the role of consent, sovereignty, and the role of UN personnel in peace operations. Recently, the increased role of non-state actors in conflicts complicates the above concerns.

During this Graduate Fellows’ session, the Conflict Resolution group presented peacekeeping failures: UNAMIR, UNPROFOR and UNOSOM II; and successes: UNAMSIL, ONUB and UNMIK; and a question regarding the status of UNFICYP. A detailed analysis of MONUSCO, MINUSCA and MINUSMA provided insight to the use of robust postures, stabilization missions and the large support these three missions receive in terms of finances, materials and personnel. Specifically, these three missions comprise 41% of deployed UN personnel, 40% of the peacekeeping budget, and 57% of total peacekeeping fatalities in 2016. Additionally, the MINUSMA mission is working with UNESCO in order to maintain cultural preservation of ancient artifacts. Finally, the presenting group offered critiques and methods for improvement for the UN leadership regarding future peacekeeping missions. Critiques include selective involvement; not enough, and poor, mission planning; appointment of unqualified military officers and diplomats; accountability and legitimacy; inadequate and incomplete reporting mechanisms; and failure to protect women and girls from sexual- and gender-based violence. Suggestions for improvement consist of providing a long-term solution in mandates; deployment and resupply of troops in a timely manner; efficiency; implementation of the Kigali Principles; engagement of local female leaders; and required dialogues led by gender-sensitive facilitators.

The UNA-NCA Fellows had the pleasure to hear from Paul Williams, an Associate Professor of International Affairs at George Washington University, and the Associate Director of the Security Policy Studies M.A. program at George Washington University, as he presented on a recent article he wrote entitled, “The Peace Operations Challenge for the Next Secretary General.” Williams described five challenges for the UN’s ongoing and future peace operations: ensuring the use of peace operations as political instruments, deciding if the principles of UN peacekeeping are appropriate, improving the UN’s force generation process, identifying and assessing performance standards for UN peacekeepers, and ensuring peacekeepers are held accountable for their misconduct. Following his detailed presentation, Williams answered questions from the Fellows, including questions regarding the criteria for monitoring and evaluating peace operations, rebuilding during long-term operations, women in the UN, conduct and disciplinary issues of UN peacekeepers, the role of donor countries, the pros and cons of surveillance drones, and the principles of peacekeeping.

Reality necessitates changes for the future of peace operations as the United Nations faces new challenges and unprecedented situations. The controversies over UN peace operations’ requirement for consent, use of force and lack of accountability ought to be resolved in order to improve the effectiveness and stability of such operations. As the world and its threats change, it is critical that missions aiming to resolve conflicts and maintain peace have the proper tools and adequate resources, such as accountability for misconduct, involvement of women and reliable protection for civilians.

The Paris Agreement: One step forward to the future, but still many steps to go

By Seulbee Jung, UNA-NCA Fellow

This week, UNA-NCA Fellows discussed Climate Change & its impact on Climate Refugees.


Even though climate change has become a major topic in international negotiations, most international negotiations on climate change have failed because climate change is not only an environmental problem but also a political and economic problem. Since various actors’ interests are involved in climate change problems, the international community has ignored the seriousness of the problems and it has been hard to agree on solutions and implement them.

Against its historical background, the Paris Agreement shows substantial progress in dealing with global environmental problems. Compared to past agreements, the most noticeable change is the increased political will of great powers. The U.S. and China agreed not only on committing to reducing CO2 emissions but also cooperating to achieve the common goals of the agreement. COP-21 also succeeded in establishing transparency and monitoring mechanisms, such as the Capacity-Building Initiative for Transparency, extending time-scale for actions, providing financing support with a $100 billion climate fund for climate change adaptation and mitigation, and strengthening multilateralism.

However, there are still to in the Paris Agreement. Compared to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Paris Agreement is weak in terms of accountability. The agreement is dependent on voluntary commitments without a common metric to evaluate a state’s performance and an objective standard. This makes it difficult to monitor self-assessed reports of 193 countries and shows that without the will of great powers to follow the agreement, the goals of the agreement will not be achieved. Furthermore, there are few legal binding mechanisms to achieve the targets. Since climate change actions are highly influenced by a state’s stakes and will, states are reluctant to add strong words that have legal binding power.  For example, even though countries have to submit new emission reduction targets every five years to check whether they achieve their goals and technical expert review, there is no requirement for them to achieve the numerical targets they have set.

Another key element for the success in the Paris Agreement is fundraising. Despite the fact that developed countries reaffirmed a $100 billion pledge and promised to increase financial support by 2025, this promise is not legally binding. Lastly, there is a concern about global environmental governance. Due to increased concerns about climate change, the role of the UN is becoming more significant in environmental governance. However, the UN system is highly fragmented and there are numerous international actors whose mandate includes reducing climate change. For example, the United Nation Environmental Program (UNEP), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the World Bank work on climate change with their own specific lens. The Word Bank also provides their own plan, the Climate Change Action Plan, to help countries meet the agreement. Since there are various policies and programs about climate change, overlapping mandates among the actors may undermine the effectiveness of the Paris Agreement.

Despite these several shortcomings, the Paris Agreement is a stepping stone in developing a collaborative behavior. Through the Paris Agreement, the world can share a single perspective on climate change and can get one step closer to resolving climate change. The agreement provided global actors with a place where they can debate the global problem as well as a forum to discuss international cooperation as a crucial element to resolving climate change problems. Now it is time for the world to walk into the future and make the Paris deal real.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Road to 2030: Paving the Way to Transforming Our World

by Yulia Krylova, UNA-NCA Fellow

On February 17, UNA-NCA Fellows attended the 2017 Members’ Day at the UN Headquarters, which is one of the most important annual meetings for members of UNA-USA. We had a splendid opportunity to hear informative discussions by UN experts on the most pressing issues facing the UN, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


The panel titled, “The Road to 2030: Paving the Way to Transforming Our World” focused on three of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Goal 5 Gender Equality, Goal 13 Climate Action, and Goal 16 Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions. This panel featured moderator Donna Rosa, President of the UNA-USA Northern New Jersey Chapter, and three panelists: Rachel Snow, Chief of the UN Population Fund; Juan Chebly, Head of the UN Environment Management Group; and John Romano, Coordinator of the Transparency, Accountability and Participation Network.

Beginning her presentation on Goal 5, Rachel Snow invoked a powerful image of the 10-year old girl for whom this goal is fundamental in terms of the success she will achieve in the course of the next 15 years. Her well-being in 2030 will be a crucial indicator of the success of the Sustainable Development Agenda. In Snow’s words, “Goal 5 underpins the success of all the SDGs because we are talking of whether or not 50% of the world’s population will be genuinely able to bring their intelligence, opportunities, and vibrant interest in making a better world.” Yet, there is much work to do to achieve this goal. Snow highlighted continuing inequality of opportunities for 10-year old girls globally. There are over 16 million girls in the world, with about 89% of them living in developing countries. In West Africa, 43% of girls will be married before the age of 18 and 16% before the age of 15. 1 in 3 of these girls will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime. Snow pointed out that “very few of them will ever achieve the chance to be heads of corporate boards, full professors at universities, or artists exhibiting their works in the world’s finest galleries.” Concluding her presentation, she indicated that the 2030 Agenda is a 15-year window of opportunity for all of us to change the future of these 10-year old girls. And the first thing we can do for them is to ensure that child marriages are over by 2030 and women can participate in this world as full citizens.

In his presentation on Goal 16, John Romano highlighted three groundbreaking fundamental shifts that the 2030 Agenda brings to our understanding of international development. Most importantly, for the first time, the global community acknowledged that governance, peace, justice, and accountable institutions are interlinked with each other and with other SDGs. This gives us a unique opportunity to tackle all these issues at the same time in a holistic manner. Another profound shift in the 2030 Agenda is that it overcomes a traditional North-South divide in international development. It is a universal agenda targeting both developed and developing countries. To illustrate this point, Romano gave an example of the US that faces serious challenges in achieving Goal 16, such as improving access to justice, eliminating small-arms trade, and protecting freedom from violence.  Another tectonic shift in the 2030 Agenda is its people-centered orientation and focus on engaging citizens, holding governments accountable, and promoting fundamental freedoms and human rights. As a concluding remark, Romano noted that the 2030 Agenda is a huge opportunity for all of us to ensure that we all have, and demand from our governments, the same rights notwithstanding the countries we live in.

Introducing Goal 13, Juan Chebly drew attention of the audience to the abstract paintings on the walls of the UN General Assembly. In his words, “it is a real reflection of the work the UN is doing to transform into reality very abstract issues that have all kinds of different interpretations, such as human rights, development, and peace.” As for climate action, Chebly highlighted two issues. First, there has been relatively little progress on achieving Goal 13 so far. Second, global commitments in this sphere, including the Paris Agreement, will never become a reality unless we, as an international community, start “to put money where our mouth is.” Chebly suggested that the only approach to achieve Goal 13 is to act “out of compassion and love to our neighbor.” For example, developed countries produce most carbon emissions, yet, it is the most vulnerable populations in developing countries that suffer the greatest effects of pollution. Despite the difficulties, it is possible to achieve Goal 13 if we remember that the change begins within us. 

In the Q&A section, Donna Rosa raised a very important question about the greatest challenges in achieving the SDGs. As for gender equality, Snow indicated that extreme poverty, education, peace, and justice matter since they are directly related to child marriages, discrimination, and gender-based violence. Speaking about peace and justice, Romano named several issues, such as growing nationalism, populist movements, xenophobia, and shrinking civil space all around the world. Unfortunately, these disturbing trends are noticeable even in advanced economies. In terms of climate action, challenges highlighted by Chebly include the disconnectedness of people across the world, insufficient climate finance, and short-term mentality that precludes governments from assessing long-term environmental risks and damages.  To overcome these challenges, it is critically important for the UN community to make governments and people across the globe understand that the achievement of SDGs is a win-win situation for all of us, men and women, North and South countries, advanced economies and emerging markets. In this respect, the greatest advantage of the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development is that it insures that there are no losers and we all are winners.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (2016): Can we make the global compact happen?

By Monzima Haque, UNA-NCA Fellow (2017)

         The issue of refugees and migrants has remained a politically charged subject matter for a long time. The sensitivities that surround this topic have played an enormous role in shaping the political discourse and direction of the recent American and European elections. On one side, liberals see the potentials of inclusiveness and cultural progress blended in the expertise that migrants bring along; while the conservatives highlight the risks associated with it citing instances of insecurity and terrorism. In an era of xenophobia, hate speech and negative media regarding refugees and migrants, what can be done to protect the rights of the people who are citizens of the same world we live in? What are our responsibilities as global citizens in this post-truth world?

According to the United Nations refugee agency, at least 3,800 migrants perished in the Mediterranean Sea in 2016 in an attempt to reach Europe. These are not mere statistics but a reflection of how we think and act. As global citizens of the post-truth world, it is our responsibility to confront the negative narrative about migration. The UN may not be able to force member states to abide by their commitments, but citizens have the power to shape policy makers’ opinions and preferences. It is at our end to determine what world we want to live in and employ our intellect and resources to make it better.

On the sidelines of a vibrant Members’ Day at the UN headquarters in New York, the 2017 UNA-NCA Graduate Fellows engaged in an enlightening discussion with Kellie- Shandra OGNIMBA from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The discussion complements the past session with Tom Bradley, member of the Board of Directors of UNA-NCA and Vice President of Development, who shared the traumatic experiences of Syrian refugee children and women. One of the key arguments that came up during the past conversation was the lack of consensus on the issue of migrants’ rights and the understanding that there is more work to be done. In line with that argument, the young professionals learned about the latest landmark New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants (2016) and discussed its potential to address the complications that surround the subject of migration in today’s changing context.

At the UN Summit on September 19, 2016, member states expressed their commitment to the protection of the rights and responsibilities of refugees and migrants. It was certainly a global expression of political will to create a platform of conceptualizing the protection of refugees and migrants as member states’ obligation. As noted by Ms. Kellie, from a human rights perspective, this declaration is a practical tool for a global compact on migration where member states have come together to develop a better approach to deal with the issue of migration. The declaration provides for two compacts: Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) and Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM). The New York Declaration is, therefore, a human rights instrument that contains tangible plans and timelines to achieve meaningful global compact to protect the lives of refugees and migrants based on common principles.

While this is certainly a historic step to create consensus surrounding the rights of refugees and migrants and to systematize the process of response, it is also likely to encounter challenges.  It is based on normative commitment rather than a legally binding agreement. The draft resolution and modalities have yet to travel a long way before reaching the final global compact. Undoubtedly, this still needs the expression of determination to be continually displayed. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Combating Global Pollution Needs Clean Energy and Efforts on All Levels

By Yi Ren, UNA-NCA Programme Assistant



On February 9, the UN Environment Programme’s North America Office held a half-day event entitled Towards the UN Environment Assembly: Combating Global Pollution, addressing actions being taken to combat pollution at the national, state and local levels, as well as the impact of pollution on human health and the environment.

Ibrahim Thiaw, Deputy Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme delivered the keynote address and highlighted that more than a quarter of annual global deaths are attributed to environmental degradation. Air pollution is a significant factor and 7 million people die from it each year, and the damage extends beyond individuals’ health to economic development in developing countries. For example, a large number of factories and construction sites in Beijing are forced to shut down temporarily in order to reduce the pollution, and the airport in Dubai has to close for days because of poor visibility. This puts employees out of work and temporarily hinders the local economy. The implications of pollution are widely agreed upon and Thiaw emphasized the importance of clean energy as a solution.

Pollution has other profound implications on our safety and social aspects of life as well. Fortunately, these observations (of impact on health, safety, economic development) are agreed upon broadly and the appropriate actions can be taken. On the topic of energy, clean energy can help us reduce pollution, including solar energy.  He took Africa as an example. Currently, three fourths of Africans do not have access to reliable energy but it is anticipated that this will change at the end of this century. Instead of traditional energy sources like coal, if clean energy like solar can be provided with a lower price with the help of technology development, the air pollution situation in Beijing and Delhi today would not be repeated in Nairobi, Lagos or other African cities in the future.

Two enlightening panel discussions followed, composed of distinguished representatives from government, civil society and the private sector. The first panel, entitled The Impact of Pollution on Human Health and the Environment, consisted of Tommy Wells, Director of D.C. Department of Energy and Environment; Radha Muthiah, CEO of Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves; and Terry Yosie, President and CEO of the World Environment Center. Tommy Wells talked about managing polluted rivers, which is a universal problem. He believes that a strong public–private partnership is an effective way to clean up contaminated water. Radha Muthiah illustrated that indoor pollution, in the form of smoke from burning traditional energy, causes a variety of diseases and is not only a rural problem but also an urban one. She said that indoor pollution is closely correlated to outdoor pollution with as much as 30 percent of outdoor pollution in India coming from indoor pollution such as cooking and heating. Terry Yosie pointed out that combating global pollution should be linked to sustainable development more closely and that the private sector could play an essential role in reducing pollution globally.

The second panel discussion focused on Addressing Pollution at the International, Federal, State and Local Levels. Panelists included John Matuszak, Senior Policy Advisor of U.S. Department of State; Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, Executive Director of the Environmental Council of States; and Elgie Holstein, Senior Director for Strategic Planning of the Environmental Defense Fund. They discussed the truly universal nature of environmental pollution as a global issue.  Tackling this problem and reducing the implications of pollution require global efforts from the local to international levels.

The event ended with the election of the North American Regional Major Groups and Stakeholders Representative, who will share the civil society perspective at the third session of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-3). UNEA-3 will convene environmental leaders in Nairobi, Kenya in December 2017 to address the serious global pollution threat.