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07 February 2017

“The UN Association – USA: A Little Known History of Advocacy and Action” by James Wurst (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2016) Reviewed by Robert J. Berg

Robert J. Berg is the Chairman of the Alliance for Peacebuilding and former senior adviser, UNICEF, UNDP, UNESCO, UN Economic Commission for Africa and World Federation of United Nations Associations.

"I recommend the history of UNA-USA by James Wurst, but maybe for different reasons than other reviewers.

First, the good points..and they are many. The history of UNA-USA and its predecessor, the American Association for the United Nations, is one that is amazing. We are all well versed with how leading Americans in the mid and late 1940s backed the UN...Eleanor Roosevelt, et. al. In addition, I learned, there were a Who's Who of corporate, labor, media and national political figures who worked for and supported the AAUN and UNA-USA. And I learned that Eleanor Roosevelt didn't just support the AAUN, she started in late 1952 as a very active volunteer in it and later chaired its board for many terms.

The insiders who ran AAUN/UNA were not mere rooting sections: they helped shape numerous UN policies and were closely consulted by, e.g., FDR and several secretaries of state. I dare say that few civil society organizations of its modest size (never much over 30,000 members) had such influence on the global stage.

Well before the concept of "Track II Diplomacy" was named, the early leaders of AAUN/UNA were acting directly to help shape international relations. "Parallel" studies focused on hard issues like Russia, China and Iran. Numerous policy recommendations helped shape the UN system.

Naturally, there was an historic UNA focus on U.S. financial support of the UN that was an important counter to recurrent attacks starting with McCarthyism in the early 1950s and continuing to current times. And here the leadership of major corporate leaders involved in AAUN and UNA (an example is John Whitehead, former head of Goldman Sachs) has had an outsized influence for the good. And there were a whole set of less well known outstanding citizens who were able to help in UNA's work. I am sorry that Andy Rice was not given due recognition in the book, but am glad so many were.

Rarely was there clear sailing. Always there was the need to deal with the consequences of poor performance in a few parts of the UN (e.g., the desire to control news, a policy adopted in UNESCO; and more famously the General Assembly equation of Zionism with racism) and the furor of Congressional UN-bashers of various stripes. This called for great political creativity and persistence by the US defenders of the UN. It is inspiring to read about all this.

At the same time, the book is perhaps too quick to say that the decline in U.S. Government support of the UN meant that UNA was almost fated to decline in the last couple of decades. In fact, U.S. financial support of the UN increased over these years. And the UN has and is accomplishing amazing things. An example is the impact of all the actions pursuant to the 1990 World Summit for Children. (Full disclosure: I was senior adviser to the Summit.) As a consequence of the agreements at the Summit and heroic work particularly by UNICEF and WHO with numerous national governments, infant and young child mortality has dropped so much that the UN could (if its public affairs leaders were bolder) claim that the UN has saved more lives in this one campaign alone than were lost is all of WW II. Similarly, overall, the Millennium Development Goals were an historic success. For example, if current trends continue the world is on course to eliminate for the first time in all of human history the worst forms of poverty, by 2030. And in the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (the SDGs) there is now a goal to institutionalize conflict resolution expertise in all countries. The SDGs and the UN-brokered climate treaty provide a course that will mean a better chance for billions of people.

All this progress is being challenged, of course, by an as yet unproven but already scary Trump Administration which leads, perhaps as never before, to the need for a powerful UNA.

The book does, in fair part, explain why the UNA is not today up to the task to lead to the scale of major positive impacts it had in the past. It is a sad litany. Basically, the board of UNA failed in its duty to secure solid leadership and finances for UNA. It certainly had a fine example of leadership in the presidency of Ed Luck (1984-94) who went on after his service in UNA to be Special Advisor to the UN Secretary General and to invent a major advance in human rights with the policy of the Responsibility to Protect. Ed came into UNA's presidency and had to rescue finances while he built up solid programs...so he proved this is possible. After a not too graceful change of presidents in 1994, UNA had a string of inadequate presidents. And when the person who presided during 1999-2009 came in, he ended UNA's excellent public policy work, a move that I told the then UNA chair was akin to a self-inflicted lobotomy. Among other things, not having stellar public policy work lessened the marketability of the Association with key funders.

Whether or not it was inevitable to save the organization by merging into the UN Foundation is another issue. One can say, however, that the Foundation has the kind of major leaders in its ken that UNA used to have. The question for the future is whether the citizen activists remaining in the UNA network will be able to have the sense of influence on policy and connection with major leaders that the book so nicely recalls for us today. That is a challenge the Foundation needs to meet.

I want to thank Ed Elmendorf, former UNA-USA president, and many others who worked with him, for making the book possible.

I recommend that a 20 page summary of the book be provided to each member of the UNA."

31 January 2017

Statement from UNA-NCA President on US-UN relationship

As Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation" went to war to save the world from Nazi/Fascism, a small group of quiet thinkers met secretly in the State Department to plan the postwar peace. Spurred by the visionary leadership of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and Harry Truman, the United States developed a new world architecture designed to sustain the peace. Cognizant of the failure of the League of Nations to prevent the second world war after it was abandoned by the United States, American leadership in San Francisco and in Congress (in quickly ratifying the UN Charter) established the institutions that are dedicated to the peaceful resolution of conflict, the promotion of universal human rights, and the global uplifting of standards of living. The anchor, the United Nations, has not worked exactly as envisioned, but it has done extraordinary work in resolving many conflicts, advancing universal values and norms, improving the lives of the poorest members of the global community, providing essential humanitarian assistance to victims of natural and man-made disasters, and facilitating global cooperation in many sectors such as aviation, telecommunications, agriculture, trade, and disease prevention. Most importantly, for more than 70 years there has been no major war among the great powers. Presidents from both political parties have supported this new world order, and the United Nations has been most successful where there has been strong and effective US leadership, such as the support provided by and for President George H. W. Bush during the first Gulf War.

Many UNA-NCA members have expressed concerns, given the uncertain signals and chaos of this transition period, that the world order designed and supported by bipartisan US leadership for more than 70 years may be under attack. We at UNA-NCA recognize that the UN is an imperfect institution that needs strong US leadership to enable it to fulfill the vision of its Charter. Through quiet diplomacy, working with like-minded states, great progress has been made and will be made in the future. But the US must be at the table. Arrogant threats, the withholding of funding, and non-participation in programs where we don't always have our way are completely counterproductive and based on ignorance about how diplomacy actually works. Legislation pending in Congress to defund the UN unless the Security Council reverses it resolution on the West Bank settlements is a case in point. 14 Members of the Security Council voted for the Resolution, including Great Britain and France. If US leaders are concerned about this resolution, they should be talking to our allies who voted for it and not trying to make the forum in which the vote took place the scapegoat. Given the uncertainties of the moment, the greatest threat to the global world order is simply ignorance of history and ignorance about the work, values and potential of the United Nations and other international institutions. So what can we do about it ? Here are a few suggestions:

    • Join UNA-NCA's energized Advocacy Committee and let your members of Congress know how important US leadership is at the United Nations.
    • Get involved and help organize programs that inform and educate policy leaders, the public and the next generation of leaders about the work and values of the UN.
    • Support UNA-NCA to enable us to expand our educational programs for the next generation of global citizens and broaden our reach in the national capital region.
    • Support the UNA-USA's "Adopt-A-Future - Educating a generation of refugee children." If the US Government is stepping down, US citizens must step up to meet this global crisis. Our chapter will be soon launching an initiative on this—stay tuned.
History teaches that the US Government and the United Nations ultimately respond to the wishes of the people, especially as they organize to make their hopes and aspirations known. As US citizens and as global citizens, now is the time to take our stand and make our voices heard.

Many other UNA chapters across the country are also organizing to express their members' strong support for continued US full funding of the UN by Congress and the Administration.

-Ambassador Donald T. Bliss (retired)
United Nations Association of the National Capital Area

26 January 2017

SAVE THE UN! Tell President Trump to Give Ambassador Haley a Chance.

We are expecting President Trump to sign Executive Orders tomorrow to drastically cut funding to the United Nations. These orders could also prevent the U.S. from supporting international treaties that affect several important American priorities, not the least of which is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). We must take urgent action!

Reports indicate that the first of two draft orders calls for at least a 40% decrease in U.S. funding toward international organizations. These cuts would severely cripple UN agencies like the UN Refugee Agency, UNICEF, and the World Food Program. In addition, the order calls for switching how we contribute to the UN, which would lead to radical funding reductions and our withdrawal from the body we helped found. A separate draft Executive Order appears to preclude the U.S. from supporting international treaties designed to prevent discrimination of women worldwide at the very moment when there is a rising tide of support in America for gender equality.

If signed, these Executive Orders would directly contradict what U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said last week during her confirmation hearing: "You can never win with slash and burn techniques. That doesn't work."

Please urge President Trump to follow Nikki Haley's advice and not "slash and burn" UN funding! We cannot advance U.S. interests and push for reform at the UN without funding the organization.

UNA-USA encourages members to contact President Trump in four ways:

Now and always, we are thankful for your critical advocacy on behalf of the UN. Stay tuned for more advocacy updates.

-Chris Whatley,
Executive Director, UNA-USA

23 January 2017

Join the Human Rights Committee

UNA-NCA’s Human Rights Committee offers human rights activists and others committed to the fight for human rights locally and globally opportunities for engagement, advocacy, and learning.  Aside from membership in the United Nations Association, no special expertise is required of members – only the willingness to engage, to learn, and make a difference. The Committee organizes panel discussions and events, including the annual Human Rights Day program on Capitol Hill to celebrate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly in 1948.  If you are passionate about human rights and are eager to help, we would love to have you join our committee. The next committee meeting is on February 6th at 6 p.m. For more details please contact co-chairs Christina Hansen ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) or Heather Hill ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).

Learn More

23 January 2017

Support a Strong US-UN Partnership

In response to proposed legislation to cut U.S. funding for the UN, Better World Campaign President Peter Yeo advises, "Withholding funding from the UN will significantly jeopardize America’s influence and ability to steer the international agenda." Despite the many benefits of the UN, "U.S. funding for the UN amounts to only 0.1 percent of the total federal budget. Working with our allies through the UN means that the U.S. can share the burden of solving global challenges – and doesn’t need to go it alone." Read Peter Yeo's full statement here

A bipartisan poll confirmed that more than 88 percent of Americans support active engagement at the UN. Furthermore, more than 67 percent of Americans agreed that the U.S. should pay our dues to the UN on time and in full.

Let’s make sure the Senate hears us loud and clear: Active engagement at the UN is in our national security interests. Sign this letter and Tell Your Senators to Fully Fund the United Nations. Learn more about Why Congress Must Oppose Efforts to Withholding Funding to the United Nations.

Learn More

23 January 2017

Advocate for the United Nations!

In response to proposed legislation to cut U.S. funding for the UN, Better World Campaign President Peter Yeo advises, "Withholding funding from the UN will significantly jeopardize America’s influence and ability to steer the international agenda." Despite the many benefits of the UN, "U.S. funding for the UN amounts to only 0.1 percent of the total federal budget. Working with our allies through the UN means that the U.S. can share the burden of solving global challenges – and doesn’t need to go it alone." Read Peter Yeo's full statement here

A bipartisan poll confirmed that more than 88 percent of Americans support active engagement at the UN. Furthermore, more than 67 percent of Americans agreed that the U.S. should pay our dues to the UN on time and in full.

Let’s make sure the Senate hears us loud and clear: Active engagement at the UN is in our national security interests. Sign this letter and Tell Your Senators to Fully Fund the United Nations. Learn more about Why Congress Must Oppose Efforts to Withholding Funding to the United Nations.

Learn More

04 January 2017

UNA-NCA President Rings in New Year and Welcomes New UNSG, Antonio Guterres

Dear UNA-NCA Members:

I hope you have had a peaceful holiday season and are refreshed and ready to work for a strong and constructive US-UN relationship, so essential to achieve world peace and a better world for all human beings. Please take note of Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ January 1st  Appeal for Peace.

The UN Foundation, the Better World Campaign (Peter Yeo) and UNA-USA (Chris Whatley) and others  have been working hard during this transition period to show the value and importance to the incoming US administration of strong US support for the United Nations. Please note my article published in Pass Blue, showing how the United Nations would greatly enhance the new US administration’s foreign policy. The President-Elect has stated that the UN has great potential and we agree. We at UNA-NCA plan through our programs and actions this coming year to show how this  potential can be harnessed to advance US national security, economic, diplomatic, military and humanitarian objectives. US support for UN peace keeping, peacebuilding and implementation of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Agreement are critical to ending conflict, combatting the root causes of terrorism,  and creating a more stable global environment. We welcome your thoughts and suggestions as to how and to whom we should convey this message.
For those of you discouraged by some of the comments emanating from the transition and from Congress in response to the US  abstention from  Security Council Resolution 2334 of December 23, 2016 (intended to preserve the Israeli-Palestine two state solution),  it is worth remembering that in our democracy and at the UN,  it is the voices of citizens and civil society that makes good things happen. And those voices must speak out and be heard. Those of you who know my work  with Mark Twain will not be surprised if I close with a Mark Twain quote (with apology for the lack of gender neutrality):
          “In a republic, who is ‘the country?’ Is it the Government which is for the moment is in the saddle? Why, the Government is merely a servant – merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is patriotic and who isn’t. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them. Who, then, is ‘the country?’ Is it the newspapers? Is it the pulpit? Is it the school superintendent? Why, these are mere parts of the country, not the whole of it; they have not command; they have only their little share in the command. They are but one in the thousands; it is the thousand that command is lodged; they must determine what is right and what is wrong; they must decide who is a patriot and who isn’t. “Who are the thousand– that is to say, who are ‘the country?’ In a monarchy, the King and his family are the country; in a republic, it is the common voice of the people. Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of the pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians. Each man must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may.”

Let our voices be heard.

Ambassador Donald T. Bliss (retired)
United Nations Association of the National Capital Area

14 December 2016

UNA-NCA Hosts Annual Human Rights Awards Reception

By Tselmegtsetseg Tsetsendelger, UNA-NCA Human Rights Committee

On Thursday, December 8th, UNA-NCA hosted its annual Human Rights Awards Reception in the beautiful Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office Building. This event correlated with the 68th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Human Rights Day, celebrated on December 10th. The room was filled with people who were excited to celebrate the award recipients’ strong commitment to human rights while enjoying classical music by the DC Youth Orchestra.
_RLS1898 This year’s inspirational honorees shared their experiences working to advance human rights through their respective fields, positions, and organizations. They spoke honestly about the challenges facing human rights today, their experiences creating change throughout their careers, and their continued dedication to push for human rights. The reception began with opening remarks by Ambassador Donald T. Bliss (ret.), UNA-NCA President, and Robert Skinner, Director of the UN Information Center, who shared the message from the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and talked about the UN global campaign “Stand Up for Someone’s Rights Today.” This call to action set the tone for the rest of the reception, inspiring and empowering the audience to advocate for human rights.

Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, came, as she said, from India to present the 2016 UNA-NCA Louis B. Sohn Human Rights Award to her colleague and friend Felice Gaer.

Ms. Felice GaerDirector of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the 
Advancement of Human Rights and the Vice-Chair of the UN Committee Against Torture, opened with an acknowledgement of the phenomenal work that Sohn had done in the development of international law and human rights. She also spoke about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reiterated Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote—“This is no ordinary time”—explaining that it is as relevant today as it was over 70 years ago. Furthermore, Ms. Gaer talked about the U.S.’s history on human rights and how all the rights from freedom of religion to freedom of speech are enshrined in the country’s foundation, emphasizing that they must be practiced and protected.  

“The destiny of human rights lies in the hands of us, for us to take action, for us to call on these issues, recognize, realize and implement.”
-Ms. Felice Gaer

Remarks by Felice D. Gaer can bee seen here.

Ambassador Robert R. King, Special Envoy on North Korea Human Rights Issues at the State Department, presented the 2016 UNA-NCA F. Allen "Tex" Harris Human Rights Diplomacy Award to Mr. Eric Richardson.

_RLS2024Mr. Eric RichardsonPolitical-Economic Counselor at the U.S. Embassy for Libya, addressed the amazing work that Tex Harris had done in exposing the killing and disappearance of people in Argentina in the 1970s. He recounted three stories about his work with the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to illustrate “how the Human Rights Council can do more than articulate standards and make concrete differences on the ground.” He described the UNHRC resolution on China and the nuances and successes of the work, atrocity prevention in relation to the UNHRC emergency session, and council action to address accountability specifically in Sri Lanka in 2009. These insightful stories explained the strength of the UNHRC and the importance of continued U.S. engagement.

Karen Mulhauser, former UNA-USA Chair and UNA-NCA President, presented the 2016 UNA-NCA Perdita Huston Human Rights Award to Ms. Ritu Sharma. 

_RLS2093 Ms. Ritu Sharma, Co-Founder and former President of Women Thrive Worldwide, and Director of the Center for Gender and Youth at the International Youth Foundation, started her remarks with a nod to Huston, having read her work during her studies. Ms. Sharma shared her experience of living with women and girls who survive on less than a dollar a day; and how being able to advocate for others is a privilege. She pushed the audience to confront the current challenges facing human rights and US-UN cooperation. She also emphasized that, as coastal liberals, we need to understand the grievances of Middle America and work towards a brighter future with greater empathy.

“The global women’s movement owes a lot to the UN’s support, and its investment in movement building.” -Ms. Ritu Sharma

Mr. Jose Antonio Tijerino presented the 2016 UNA-NCA Distinguished Community Human Rights Award to the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC). 

_RLS2136LAYC President and CEO, Lori Kaplan received the award on behalf of the Latin American Youth Center. LAYC exists to empower a diverse population of youth to achieve a successful transition to adulthood through multi-cultural, comprehensive, and innovative programs that address youths’ social, academic, and career needs. Each year, LAYC serves over 4,000 youth and families through youth centers, school-based sites, and public charter schools. The organization truly embodies the phrase, “Think globally, act locally”.

“The LAYC was born out of a strong social justice movement and a commitment to human rights for all is imbedded in our fabric.”
-Ms. Lori Kaplan

Remarks by Lori Kaplan can be seen here.

UNA-NCA Executive Director, Paula Boland, closed the program thanking everyone who made the evening possible and quoting someone who was instrumental in the shaping of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: 

“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 neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

You can view a photo album from the event here. Additional information about the event, bios, and articles from each of our awardees, can be found in the Program Book. If you are interested in learning more about our awardees, we encourage you to check out the Spotlight! interview series on the UNA-NCA blog.

We are very grateful to our sponsors, honorary chairs, photographers Elliott Lyles and Scott Chism, and Representative Donald S. Beyer, Jr. who provided the space for the Awards reception.

Congratulations to all of our awardees and we look forward to your active engagement in 2017!

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