Friday, October 6, 2017

A Conversation with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein

By Esther Jung, Global Classrooms DC Program Assistant

On September 18, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted a lecture with Carnegie President William J. Burns and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. The discussion focused on the role of national and international leaders promoting humanitarian efforts and human rights and how they can take action in this changing global landscape. High Commissioner Al Hussein addressed a variety of current international issues, and highlighted the significance of humanitarian and human rights activism, especially in the changing political climate in the US.

High Commissioner Al Hussein raised an interesting point by referring to the entire international system as a ‘fading memory.’ While discussing the personal role of the UN High Commissioner and the role of the UN Human Rights Council, High Commissioner emphasized the increasing threats against the international system, whether it would be the security system, the financial system, or the rights-based system. With that being said, many people have addressed the problematic issue of seating documented violators of human rights as members of the Human Rights Council, such as Saudi Arabia (fact check?). 

In response, the UN High Commissioner stressed the importance of bridging a country’s internal beliefs and its external preaching. As we recall the ‘memory’ or antecedents of the system itself, it is important for the international system to continuously use the agency of shame to put pressure on these countries so that they confront these internal and external inconsistencies. 

In one instance, the High Commissioner expressed deep concerns about the changing role of United States in its commitment to the fundamental beliefs of the international system. He referred to US President Donald J. Trump’s criticism against singling out the media and the free press in Arizona shortly after Charlottesville. He warned against singling out the media and individual journalists because it creates a ‘climate of intimidation’ within the country but it also has a precedence for other countries like Cambodia who cited Trump’s comments, following a restriction on their public radio.  

The discussion was followed up with a series of hard-hitting questions about severe human rights violations across the world. During this time, many local news outlets asked questions about Iran, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Burma and Ethiopia. 

As the High Commissioner addressed each question, he continued to refer to the fragility of this world. “As humanity, we have broken the world twice, we can break it again,” he said. As such, the High Commissioner pressed the importance of the UN institution, but also recognized all defenders of human rights across the world who risk everything and symbolize this hope for mankind. 

It was quite an honor and pleasure to have had the opportunity to listen to the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights who spoke with great charisma, honesty and hopefulness for the future. As a student, it inspires me to work harder in hopes to be one of the many defenders of human rights in the future. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Why Model U.N. Matters: Thinking Outside the Box

by Taylor Dumaine 

Taylor Dumaine served as a Global Classrooms DC Program Assistant during the summer of 2017. She currently attends the George Washington University, and is entering her junior year in the Elliott School of International Affairs. She's majoring in International Affairs with concentrations in development and Asia.

My high school experience can be summed up pretty well by the fact that I was voted “Most Opinionated” by my peers. While winners of this superlative in years past saw this as a bad thing, and others thought it was a mean superlative, I was in my element.

I was proud of my ability to think for myself, research issues, and come to an informed consensus about those issues. A lot of this is thanks to Model UN, and especially my coach and teacher Mr. DiNardo. 

Entering high school, I already knew that I loved international affairs and that I wanted to be a part of the team, although I did not join until my sophomore year. Going into it, I wasn’t a soft quiet kid – in fact, I was already pretty well-known for speaking my mind. 

Model UN and Mr. DiNardo taught me to put a little more thought into my opinions before opening my mouth so that I could be more persuasive and engage in a better dialogue on issues. I was consistently challenged to represent positions I didn’t agree with, and represent countries that had opposing positions on nearly every issue I cared about. But those challenges expanded my knowledge and understanding on those topics and about international affairs in general. 

Mr. DiNardo was also my AP US History and AP Government teacher for my last two years of high school. Having a role model and mentor who treated me and my passion seriously, while also helping me to grow as a thinker, a student, and a person, was an invaluable experience that has had a profound impact on my life. 

Model UN encouraged me to think outside the box and speak up, but not before I carefully thought through the reality of certain topics and situations. It teaches kids to think critically not just about international issues, but also solutions and how various organizations and stakeholders are working on the solutions. 

While I was a crisis delegate for most of my Model UN career, I was able to tackle current international issues in historical and fictional contexts, challenging me to think as creatively as possible. Working in the ad hoc UN Security Council committee kickstarted my engagement with current events and the role of the international community in those events. 

I believe Model UN is one of the best things for young people to get involved in to grow into a better researcher, debater, and thinker. 


This is part of a series by Global Classrooms DC, an education program under the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area that uses Model United Nations as an activity and tool to teach international issues and geopolitics to students grades 5 – 12. Many of the current and former interns and staff have participated in Model UN, and for many it has been a reason for the field we study and ultimately has a soft place in our hearts. This series was sparked by the recent publication of “What Model U.N. Is, and Why It Matters,” by Spencer Mariotti in The Huffington Post – Teen Edition 

Monday, June 26, 2017

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders on Threats to Democracy

By: Tiffany Monroy
Program Assistant, UNA-NCA

On June 22nd, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hosted a conversation with U.S. Senator and former Presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders. Sarah Chayes, a Senior Fellow in Carnegie’s Democracy and Rule of Law program, facilitated the discussion on threats to democracy.

Senator Sanders, having recently returned from a European tour, reflected on his experience abroad, discussing looming threats to democracy and the resulting implications of those threats. Authoritarianism emerged as the most central of these threats. He highlighted the troubling universal shift in an authoritarian direction, not just in the United States, but also abroad. He described a resurgence of a politics of bigotry and resentment, led by leaders who only serve to further the growing divide between people.

The distinction between partisanship and the threat of authoritarianism to our democracy is critical, the Senator from Vermont expressed. Disagreement is not of surprise to anyone. In fact, it is a fundamental and important aspect of democracy. Still, he argued, we should be prepared to listen and engage with disagreement. No matter our perspective, we must do everything in our power to promote the system that allows us the ability to hold opposing views. The President’s recent budget proposal serves as a perfect example. Debate over the proposal can and will be had, but it is in the ability to debate in the first place that the beauty of our system lies.

Authoritarianism poses a threat to the system we cherish. Our democracy faces the threat of a system in which opposing views are not only discouraged, but eliminated. The threats to our democracy are tangible. Blatant disregards towards the sanctity of the Judicial branch and a shift in affection towards once-scorned authoritarian leaders are merely latest examples. The threats are not solely domestic, though. Authoritarianism implies a disengagement with the international community. U.S. disengagement from issues abroad would create a vacuum, Senator Sanders explained, that would allow for a climate of terror to prevail. What are we saying to those abroad who fight each day to establish and preserve democracies, if the United States, the model of democracy, does not fight to preserve our own? We must oppose these threats. We must preserve our system and reject this shift towards intolerance and injustice. Simply put, we must oppose authoritarianism, not only for the sake of our democracy, but also for the sake of the democracies of our neighbors.

So, what is the way forward? Coming together. Senator Sanders called for each of us to come together, no matter our views, to raise the issue and talk about moving forward. “Our duty is to respect our constitution and democracy, we must come together to protect the country we love, improve democracy, and stand up against those who want to move us towards authoritarianism,” he explained.

Acknowledging our differences is merely the first step towards eliminating authoritarianism from our system. The world in which we live faces problems, and it is our job to come together, not as Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, left or right, but as Americans. We must recognize our disagreements, put them aside, and remind ourselves that democracy is the common denominator.

Monday, June 19, 2017

2017 Nature Summit: Celebrating World Environment Day at the Embassy of Canada

By Alexandra S. Gross
Program Assistant, UNA-NCA

On June 5, 2017, UN Environment’s North America Office brought together an enthusiastic, multi-talented set of panelists who convened to share their individual ideas and experiences in regards to environmental advocacy. The Nature Summit was hosted by the Embassy of Canada in Washington, DC to celebrate this year’s World Environment Day. The theme, “connecting people to nature,” ignited in-depth discussion among speakers and guests pertaining to the development of effective, innovative strategies for promoting environmental awareness. Given the abundance of conflicting voices in the current public sphere surrounding issues of climate change and sustainable action, it is critical now more than ever before to strengthen the the global community’s engagement to protecting the planet.

The day’s program was moderated by David de Rothschild - British adventurer, ecologist, environmentalist, storyteller, and head of the Sculpt the Future Foundation. De Rothschild emphasized that all members of society, especially its leaders, must strive to fully embrace the intersection of communication, technology, science, and psychology when forming solutions to international problems. Such partnerships can be enormously valuable when it comes to the specific challenges of protecting endangered species, preserving healthy ecosystems, and reducing mankind’s carbon footprint and its harmful behaviors.

√Člisabeth Lacoursi√®re, Director of Outreach and Marketing for Parks Canada, was one of the first panelists to speak and shared her firm belief that the more exposure people gain to experiences in nature during their early lives, the more likely they will be to protect and care for it throughout their lifetimes. Sean Southey, CEO of PCI Media Impact and Chair of IUCN Commission on Education and Communication, built on her idea and challenged the audience with the thought-provoking question, “When exactly was the moment you first fell in love with nature?” Audience members were quick to share their favorite childhood experiences, moments of wonder, and memories of simple yet meaningful lessons they had learned from the time they had spent outdoors. Southey went on to argue that these first narratives train and make a lasting influence individuals’ environmental values and behaviors. Leyla Acaroglu, social scientist, entrepreneur, and sustainability expert, also had much to add concerning how it is essential to promote a stronger love of nature in people rather than instill a fear of it. She insisted that “we all need to think differently - immediately” if we are to develop real solutions rather than fall back on reductionist ways of addressing problems.

WED2.jpgWhile the Summit’s core focus was on the topic of nature, much of the conversation centered around the ways in which technology holds the potential to be one of the best assets in building curiosity and appreciation of nature within the community at large. Lauren Bowker, founder of THEUNSEEN, spoke on her “environmentally sensitive” materials house; groundbreaking fashion pieces that essentially change in color as they chemically react with the surrounding elements of the physical world. Darrell Hartman, co-founder of Selva and Jungles in Paris, discussed his video, photography, and journalism projects that beautifully spotlight stories of nature and culture from various countries. Sol Guy, music and media producer, spoke passionately about modern civilization’s need to learn from groups that are more deeply connected to nature, “the original environmentalists” as he put it, in order to rekindle mankind’s connection to the planet. MIT student Xin Liu, engineer and media artist, captivated the audience’s attention by sharing highlights from her latest virtual reality project that allows individuals to experience the life of a tree. She explained that her work stems from her vision of “enabling technology as a powerful resource that helps people to reconnect with nature.”

Every single effort that people make to advocate for environmental protection contributes toward the larger movement of inspiring others to seek meaningful action. World Environment Day serves to remind us that we inhabit the planet together as global citizens and must therefore work together to preserve its wellbeing. This goal, which has further been called to attention by the mission of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, cannot be achieved without the constant dedication, mindful decisions, and active participation of people at all levels of the population - and the first step is advocacy.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Not Goodbye, but See You Later: Parting Thoughts from a U.S. Diplomat

By Luis F. Mendez, Una Chapman Cox Fellow and U.S. Foreign Service Officer

Mentoring session with high school students

It’s no secret.  These are challenging times. 

·         We’re witnessing the highest level of refugee displacement ever recorded. 
·         North Korea is on a relentless drive to build up its nuclear arsenal. 
·         The planet is warming at alarming rates.
·         Batman versus Superman, the movie, was such a letdown.  

You get the point.  It is enough to make you feel bummed about the world.  But I have a confession.  I feel more hopeful today than ever before.  You see, over the last nine months, I have met hundreds of inspiring middle and high school students in the D.C. area, who represent the best of what America has to offer the world.  

·         There’s the group of former Burmese refugees that joined Model UN to better understand migration and displacement patterns and are now helping newly arrived refugees get acclimated in their homes. 
·         There’s the D.C. middle school that launched its own Model UN conference that is inspiring countless other middle schools to think globally.
·         There’s the first generation of Central American immigrants fighting to combat inequality in their neighborhoods and the Iranian-Americans out to dispel misconceptions about Muslims. 

There are countless other stories similar to these. 

I set out on this journey nine months ago to inspire the next generation of global leaders and along the way you have inspired me.  The part that is so exciting is that your journey is just beginning.  I think about all the amazing things you are going to accomplish and that lifts me up. 

For those still feeling down about the world, here's what I know.  You are an incredibly resilient bunch and while things may seem cloudy now, the clouds will pass.  It may not be tomorrow or the day after, but a brighter day will come.  I promise.    

One of the things that I love most about being a diplomat is seeing how much good there is in the world.  How many good people there are out there fighting the good fight without any recognition – ordinary people just like me and you doing extraordinary things.  These individuals are not different from you.  Whether you realize it or not, Model U.N. has already prepared you to fight the good fight.  It’s taught you to not be afraid to fail.  That finding common ground and developing consensus begins with listening, even to those you may not agree with.   That allies and partners are important in advancing your position forward.

So, I want you to ask yourself:  What your contribution to the world will be?  Will you be a voice for the voiceless?  Will you fight for justice and equality?  Will you be an advocate for peace?  I am counting on you.  America is counting on you.  Our planet is counting on you.  Make us proud!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Sharing Passion and Ideas for a Better World: The Final Meeting of the 2017 Graduate Fellows with UNA-NCA Leadership

by Yulia Krylova, UNA-NCA Fellow

On April 24, UNA-NCA Fellows attended their last meeting during the 2017 Graduate Fellowship Program where we had a wonderful opportunity to meet former, current, and future Presidents of the UNA-NCA who shared their perspectives on how to be actively involved and contribute to making the UN stronger and more effective.

It is symbolic that for our final meeting the UNA Fellows gathered together at the Historical Home of Stewart R. Mottt. Mott purchased this house in 1974 to host various activities and projects of the Fund for Peace. Since that time, the house’s premises have been used by various nonprofit organizations for meetings, events and ceremonies. As its official website indicates, “given Stewart Mott’s philanthropic interests, it is not surprising that most of the regular occupants of 122 Maryland Avenue are progressive in nature.” On this particular day, UNA-NCA leaders shared their progressive ideas about the UN and a critical role that a new generation could play in making it stronger, more powerful and effective. At the beginning of this meeting, Hanna Hayden, Director of Membership and Programs, told us about the UNA Young Professionals Program. With more than 120 UNA-USA grassroots Chapters across the country, young professionals have a wide range of opportunities to contribute their efforts and energy to making a better world. 

In his presentation, Stephen F. Moseley, UNA-NCA President Elect, focused on the UN role under the current US leadership. Speaking about the impact of the new Administration on the UN’s work, Moseley observed that there are many serious concerns, including official statements diminishing the UN to just a club “for people to have a good time,” de-prioritizing human rights issues home and abroad, and the lack of reverence for existing principles and agreements regarding free and open trade. Yet, Moseley offered his optimistic perspective about the relations between the UN and the new Administration that will soon realize enormous benefits of the UN and multilateral cooperation on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the US economy and society.  In this respect, Moseley called on all of us to participate in the process of advocacy for the UN and SDGs. In his words, “every citizen on Earth has a responsibility to help make SDGs a reality” in his own country and in our global community.

In her speech, Karen Mulhauser, former UNA-NCA President, stressed the importance of promoting the women’s agenda for the UN and supporting gender equality globally. She focused on two critical issues: the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) and the Women Peace and Security Resolution. CEDAW was adopted in 1979 and was ratified by all Member States, except for six countries, including the US, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Tonga, and Palau. Mulhauser encouraged us to participate in the advocacy process at the municipal level in cities, counties, and towns across the US to adopt policies that implement principles of CEDAW. As Mulhauser’s article shows, several US cities that have already passed this legislature demonstrate its positive impact on gender equality at the local level.  Another important UN’s Resolution on Women Peace and Security was adopted by the Security Council in 2000 to mitigate the disproportionate impact of armed conflicts on women and to increase their role in peace negotiations. It is well-documented that women bring a stronger element of diplomacy and thinking about future generations to the process of peacebuilding activities and conflict prevention. In this respect, Mulhauser encouraged us to contribute to the work of the US Civil Society Working Group (CSWG) on Women, Peace and Security that was created in 2010 to support the US Government’s efforts in the adoption of a National Action Plan (NAP) focused on women.

Ed Elmendorf, who served as both President of the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) and President of its largest local Chapter of the National Capital Area, identified several lessons for Graduate Fellows concerning our roles in making a better world.  As one of the contributors to the recent book entitled The UN Association USA: A Little Known History of Advocacy and Action, he drew our attention to the fact that as members of the UNA, we are part of the organization with a very distinguished history. The UNA was founded in 1943, with two key goals to educate the public about the UN system and to encourage the active participation of the US in this organization. A huge amount of projects and programs within the UNA are based on volunteering. One prominent example is Eleanor Roosevelt who personally volunteered to advance the work of the UNA because she strongly believed in the role of the UN in promoting global peace and the importance of US leadership in this process.  Elmendorf lamented that often voices of some UN’s critics are stronger and more passionate than voices of its numerous supporters. In this respect, Elmendorf encouraged us to voice ourselves to support the UN and share our passion with other people. 

In their closing remarks, both Ambassador Donald Bliss (retired), current President of the UNA-NCA, and Tom Bradley, Vice President for Development, focused on advocacy, reforms, and leadership. Recognizing that US leadership is critical for the UN, they suggested that advocacy would become a central part of our mission. They also pointed to various ways to reform the UN and improve its work. They infused us with optimism that as future leaders, we can make the world a more peaceful and prosperous place to live. Summarizing the meeting, Laurence Peters, the Director of the UNA-NCA Graduate Fellowship Program, indicated that we have a profound responsibility to inspire other people and make them understand and feel our passion and commitment to the UN and our globally interdependent world. This is critically important because there is nothing more contagious than passion.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Nothing for Women Without Women: Raising Voices for Change

By Hanna Hayden, UNA-NCA Director of Membership and Programs

Found on Page 4 of the Final Report on Women’s Economic Empowerment
On April 12th, the International Development Program at Johns Hopkins SAIS and the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security hosted a conversation with Dr. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women.

Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka, one of the most influential African woman leaders and a global champion for women and girls, discussed some of the leading barriers for women’s equality in an evolving international landscape. These include issues of gender equality in both the public and private spheres, and major factors both driving and stalling progress towards women’s economic empowerment. She also addressed thoughts on effective actions for change.

Dr. Jeni Klugman, Adjunct Lecturer of International Development at Johns Hopkins SAIS, and Managing Director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security facilitated the conversation.

The direction of this conversation was influenced by the 61st Commission on the Status of Women in March 2017 that focused on “Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work,” and the final report of the High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, also released in March. Both the report, and the two weeks of CSW establish that significant progress has in fact been made since the 1995 Beijing Declaration, and gender equality is more present in international dialogue, but significant work remains.

The importance of continued work on gender equality is not just evidenced as it stands on its own as Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but the successful inclusion and equality of women is central to each SDG. We cannot fight poverty, end hunger, or achieve peace and just societies without the inclusion of women. Reduced inequalities, good health, and economic growth require the engagement and success of women. If we are to make significant progress on the 2030 Agenda, we must use a gender lens, a gender-sensitive approach, to all of the work that we do.

Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka stressed the universality of the SDGs and our approach to gender equity: “We don’t need to change women and girls to fit the world, we need to change the world to recognize that women and girls exist.”

Of course progress has been made since Beijing, but just because we’re talking about it doesn’t mean that we have achieved gender equality. The illusion of progress is and must be broken by the data that shine a light on continued inequalities. Progress towards gender equality must also remain universal, a key foundation of the SDGs. There is no way to ignore that only two countries don’t guarantee paid maternity leave – the US and Papua Guinea.

Other shameful facts on gender inequality include:
  • 155 countries have one or more discriminatory laws, preventing women from doing certain jobs or fulfilling contracts, lacking wage protections, containing discriminatory property, inheritance laws, and family laws.
  • Only 22.8 per cent of all national parliamentarians were women as of June 2016, a slow increase from 11.3 per cent in 1995 [UNWomen].
  • Globally, there are 38 States in which women account for less than 10 per cent of parliamentarians in single or lower houses, as of June 2016, including 4 chambers with no women at all [UNWomen].

So what can we do? Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka and Dr. Klugman highlighted some actions and efforts we can make and some that have already seen positive contributions.

The use of data for name-and-shame campaigns has had a great deal of success, because no country benefits from being portrayed negatively on the world stage. Some countries have been pushed to action by reports demonstrating high rights of poverty and low rates of education for women and girls.

In July 2017, in a High Level Political Forum on Eradicating Poverty and Promoting Prosperity in a Changing World, 40 countries will voluntarily self-report on their progress on the SDGs, particularly on goals 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, and 14.

This work to enact change and develop protections on a legal level must simultaneously include a bottom-up approach that works to change the culture. While Malawi has banned the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting, the culture still supports it and the practice continues. Legal measures and protections must be in place at the government level, and the culture of discriminatory practices must be addressed on the local level with native leaders.

To make the most progress, we must talk to boys and girls about the importance of gender equality. Even when seemingly presented with the same opportunities, cultural norms and expectations get in the way of a young girl’s ability to succeed. Without including boys in the conversation, there is no interruption of the cycle of sexism and discriminatory practices that diminish women.

Globally, financial inclusion for women sits around 56% where in some countries it is in the single digits. The last few decades have shown the expansion and success of microcredit, and the prevalence of mobile networks significantly advances women’s economic empowerment. Access to digital technology, particularly through growing mobile banking, allows women more access to and control over their own finances, and spending for the household.

This is also a great opportunity for businesses and the private sector to invest in the informal economy. Companies that make even a small investment in women have seen a massive impact on their communities. In South Africa alone 23,000 women have been brought out of poverty through a strategic partnership between UN Women and Coca-Cola. Coca Cola’s endeavor to raise 5 million women out of poverty by 2020 (5By20) shows how the private sector can advance their bottom line while supporting gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.

Perhaps one of the largest areas where governments and the private sector need to step up is providing increased education and opportunities for women to move from the informal to the formal sector. Women make up the bulk of the informal economy and unpaid work, which is why women are the face of poverty. There’s a huge need for more training education, skill building, and entry points to renter the labor force. For women to achieve economic independence, we need to give second chances and alternative opportunities to women that face significant obstacles to financial freedom. For women who were married as children, have incomplete or no education, that left work to have children, who missed chances for promotions or where they were otherwise seen as a liability, governments and the private sector have the unique opportunity and responsibility to bring women back into the fold of the formal economy. According to UN Women, “If women played an identical role in labour markets to that of men, as much as US $28 trillion, or 26 per cent, could be added to the global annual Gross Domestic Product by 2025.”

It’s not just about employing women, but providing the infrastructure to support women through education, legal protections, economic empowerment, and political inclusion. There is established and growing evidence that women's leadership in political decision-making processes improves them. Women demonstrate political leadership by working across party lines through parliamentary women's caucuses - even in the most politically combative environments - and by championing issues of gender equality, such as the elimination of gender-based violence, parental leave and childcare, pensions, gender-equality laws and electoral reform [UNWomen].

It is unfair to put the burden of gender equality on those women who do rise to positions of power. We also need men that are in power to put forth a gender sensitive agenda and hold space for conversations of gender equality. Achieving gender equality requires that boys and men demonstrate zero tolerance for sexism. If men removed the glass, women wouldn't have to break through it.

At the end of the day, women are resilient, and will continue to organize for equality. Organizations of women in the informal sectors have the power (and have show that power) to influence governments and companies to work for change. It is the organization and agency of resilient women like Dr. Mlambo-Ngcuka that raise the voice and plight of women worldwide.