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05 July 2018

The Times They Are A-Changin’: Cause for Upholding the Role of the UN

By Stephen F. Moseley, UNA-NCA President 

The Times They Are A-Changin’, a famous song written, played, and sung by Pulitzer Prize writer Bob Dylan 55 years ago, captured the imagination and prophecy of the 1960's generation at the beginning of the Vietnam War protests across the country and around the world. Concurrently, there was a strong surge in protests to end race discrimination, declare a domestic war on poverty, and demand equal civil rights for all, including equal opportunities for women. These protests became a defining voice across the U.S. for changes in government policy that would engage communities and businesses to bring about more equal access to the benefits of the growing economy. This also led to questions and criticism of America’s decision for unilateral intervention in the far-off land of Vietnam; Americans saw a dominant U.S. clashing against a tiny country, demonized as a dire communist threat to America. Eventually, the United States lost the war. Since, we have struggled with the lesson that the world is never so clear cut as it may seem at any point in time from the vantage point of a single country. Most importantly, we began to better understand over time that peace among our communities is vital, and to appreciate our wonderful diversity of cultural, racial, religious ways of life.
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28 June 2018

2018 UNA-USA Leadership Summit Advocacy Day

Advocacy_DayOn Tuesday, June 12th, UNA-USA members from across the country visited almost 500 offices on Capitol Hill in one of our largest advocacy pushes in history. UNA-NCA members visited the offices of their Congressional representatives from Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. As part of this initiative, under the leadership of UNA-NCA staff, our members from DC visited an additional 180 Representatives and Senators offices’ to advocate for continued U.S. support of the UN and their mission. In honor of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), team members left a copy of the UDHR and other materials, spoke to staffers and advocated for continued support of the UN and the need for strengthening the US-UN relationship.

Many team members also had opportunities to sit down with staffers in the offices of Representatives and Senators, where each group discussed the UN's stance on issues such as protecting reproductive rights, peacekeeping missions, the environment, human rights, education, the future of the United States within the United Nations and budgeting concerns.
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27 June 2018

Withdrawal from the Human Rights Council is an Untimely Backward Step

Donald T. Bliss, UNA-NCA Past-President and Co-Chair of the UNA-NCA Peace & Security Committee

The withdrawal of the United States from the UN Human Rights Council is another abdication of US global leadership, following withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords and the Trans Pacific Partnership, among other “go it alone” initiatives of the Trump Administration. It is most unfortunate that this comes during the 70th anniversary of the Universal  Declaration of Human Rights, by which the world’s nations unanimously adopted the aspirational values to which our nation’s founding documents aspire.

One stated reason for the withdrawal is that the 47-member Council includes some “bad actors” with poor human rights records like China, Venezuela, and Cuba; however, the US withdrawal empowers these countries to shape the global human rights agenda. Another “bad actor,” Russia, lost its election to the Council during the Obama Administration.

Another reason given for the withdrawal is the Council’s longstanding bias against Israel. It is true that Israel is the only country that has a stand-alone item on the Council’s mandate, No. 7, providing for special sessions. During the first three and a half years under Bush ‘44, when the United States had no ambassador, there were six special sessions on Israel. President Obama nominated Keith Harper, to serve as Ambassador to the Council, and during the following seven years of the US representation on the Council, there was only one special session on Israel.


According to some reports, a third reason for withdrawal may be a recent UN report criticizing the US record in addressing poverty. Why should the US be immune from criticism?  With 25% of the world’s incarcerated, with proposed Muslim travel bans and policies that separate migrant children from their parents, why should the US not be held accountable for our adherence to the values that we have long espoused?

Importantly, historical evidence shows that US leadership is critical to an effective Human Rights Council.  US leadership on the Council during the Obama Administration was able to redirect the agenda to serious human rights abuses in countries such as North Korea, Iran, Eritrea, Burundi, South Sudan, Belarus, Sri Lanka, and Syria.

Given this Administration’s downsizing bilateral human rights advocacy in its dealing with states like North Korea, China, and Saudi Arabia, it should be especially important to work multilaterally to advocate for human rights globally. US leadership at the Human Rights Council over the long term should be the most effective way to address widespread abuses.  The Council is far from perfect, but, like most UN agencies, it works a lot better with strong US leadership.

Donald T. Bliss is a former President to the United Nations of the National Capital Area and served as U.S. Ambassador to the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization.



20 June 2018

A Statement on the Occasion of World Refugee Day


By Stephen F. Moseley, President, UNA-NCA


Every year on June 20th, we celebrate the UN World Refugee Day. This year, we must stand up and speak out for the human rights of the more than 65 million refugees and displaced people. Most of these, nearly 80%, are refugees who have had to flee their homes, towns, and countries because of violent conflict and warring parties where there is no end in sight. Every day, we see on TV or read in the front page headlines the horrors of their plight in camps, on boats, on unstable rafts trying to find safety, food, and shelter. The wars that underpin this tragedy are now fueled by not-so-hidden competing big powers, particularly Russia and the U.S., and many state or national governments battling both their own citizens, and terrorist groups. The world's refugee crisis is made even more difficult by the increasingly immoral and illegal treatment of refugees at borders which often ends with the incarceration of women and children, who are usually already separated from their husbands and fathers, for months at a time.


Now in the U.S., the current practice is a cruel approach of deliberately separating desperate mothers from their babies and young children by placing them in separate detention centers in the U.S. This week we now see that after separating them, the mothers are then deported, leaving their children in cages and detention centers run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Border Patrols. The President and the Attorney General have issued a zero tolerance policy towards these women and children who have crossed our border out of desperation from Central and South America. The President says they might be criminals or terrorists, yet the pictures of this tragic and inhumane treatment of women, babies, and children ages 2 to 15, show that these are just immigrants seeking asylum in accordance with our laws, even if they have tried to enter the country openly or at night across borders. Ironically, many of today's migrants seeking to live peacefully in the U.S. would have been welcomed in any prior administration provided they had the opportunity to make their case. They would have been allowed to keep their children close, and in most cases start a path to good lives, and been a welcome worker and neighbor to all of us.


The scar upon America for this inhumane process will run deep for years to come due in part to the explosive fuel that is added to every discussion or reasonable attempt to find a better solution for America and these desperate people. We are in direct violation of international law for protection of refugees which the U.S. and most nations in the UN have signed.


In the wake of our invasion of Iraq more than 15 years ago on the grounds of fake facts from an earlier administration, there is now a flood of conflict through the Middle East. From Iran to Iraq to Syria to Yemen to Turkey and Lebanon, the United States and its key allies are not responsibly addressing these issues. Indeed, for nearly four years we turned a blind eye to one of the most desperate tragedies for the Rohingya people who fled under conditions of deliberate genocide from the Myanmar government forces.


Sadly on June 19th, the eve of World Refugee Day, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States will immediately withdraw from membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council. This is a decision that effectively abandons the serious attention given to major human rights abuses and the considerable progress in reforming and improving the Council made by the U.S. since re-joining in 2009.  


Today, all of us throughout the United States, and those of us who vigorously support the work of the UN, its Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the High Commissioner of Human Rights, must make our voices known to the Administration, to Congress and our State leaders. We must ensure that the U.S., no matter the challenges, must create a better immigration policy that serves our nation. We can never forgo our common dedication to human rights for all, and to our country's founding principles of commitment to everyone's dignity. Our country is stronger for being the land of immigrants and freedom.





20 June 2018

2018 Annual Membership Meeting

On Friday, June 8th, over 100 members, volunteers, and staff of UN Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) met at the United Nations Foundation for the 2018 Annual Membership Meeting. Guests heard from UNA-NCA President Stephen F. Moseley on the 2018 Annual Report and progress of UNA-NCA in the last year. This year’s keynote speaker was Gillian Sorensen, former Assistant Secretary-General for External Relations, who spoke on the need for continued support of the UN and the work on the current refugee crisis. Three awards were presented, as well as the announcement of the new members of the UNA-NCA Board of Directors.
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20 June 2018

Refugees: Why They Are Not An Economic Burden

June 19, 2018
By Prof. Hartwig de Haen and Richard Seifman (Board Member of UNA-NCA)
Globally, there are over 22 million refugees. This number is growing, with the majority of refugees concentrated in the Global South. Whether the result of natural or man made catastrophic events, refugees are usually cast as economic burdens for host countries – yet the facts provide conclusive evidence that they are not.

It is time to recast the economic discussion on refugees based on sound science.

Often national or local media and politicians fix on incomplete data or an incident that reflects badly on the “outsiders,” skewing the common perception and government response to refugees. Anti-refugee sentiments expressed recently in Germany, Sweden, Italy, Slovenia, and the United States are examples of this.

Our search for studies that assess whether refugees generate costs or benefits for host countries indicates that this research is largely limited to developed country cases. Few examinations take both short- and long-term views to determine the costs and benefits of integrating refugees into society.

Typically, public expenditure is used to determine costs, e.g., processing, accommodations, and provision of basic needs, including health, education, and social welfare, for refugees during the first years after entry into a country. A long-term view would include the costs to and benefits received directly or indirectly from refugees by the state.
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19 June 2018

UNA-NCA President Stephen F. Moseley Remarks from 2018 Annual Membership Meeting

Welcome to Members, Officers and Board members - continuing and newly elected - AC members, loyal donors, and friends and relations of UNANCA. First, a thanks to our sister organization the UN Foundation and our parent organization UNA-USA for their kind support to host us once again in their lovely building here on Pennsylvania Avenue. I’d also like to recognize Chris Whately and Rachel Pittman, if they are present.

Our meeting this evening is to mark yet another year of great accomplishment by our UNA-NCA Chapter in meeting our mission to inform the public, engage our members, reach out to our policy leaders here in our area of Maryland, Virginia and DC in the Congress and the administration to support the strong continuing bipartisan and nonpartisan engagement by the US with the UN.

You will read, in this Annual Report being presented here, that your association has been very active in many ways with its programs and by advocacy to accomplish this mission while giving special attention to the UN's leadership in human rights, sustainable development, international law, youth and student engagement through our Global Classrooms programs and in our Young Professionals programs. Paula and I have jointly signed our letter of the year to thank you, our colleagues and supporters. I want to recognize and thank my predecessors presidents Don Bliss, Karen Mulhauser, Ed Elmendorf and Edison Dick (who is not here tonight) for their continuing great efforts and support of the work we do.
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07 June 2018

The UN, Human Rights and Russia: Part IV

By: The UNA-NCA Human Rights Committee 

This is Part IV of a IV-Part Series which will be released on a weekly basis, and will detail Russia's human rights record in the United Nations. 

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) considered Russia’s human rights record at its May 2018 session. This review took place as part of the UNHRC’s third cycle of reviewing all Member States’ implementation of international human rights commitments through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism established after the 60thanniversary United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) summit. Most of the issues discussed in the remainder of this paper are not so much about the human rights situation in Russia itself but about the interplay between Russia and the UN’s human rights system. If you missed the previous part of the post please read it here (LINK).  

UNOHCHRHow have different parts of the UN human rights system (including the OHCHR, treaty bodies and special procedures as well as the Human Rights Council and other intergovernmental bodies) reacted to the information and inputs they have received from various sources, including the authorities as well as civil society groups and individuals, about alleged human rights violations in Russia? How has the Russian Government interacted with different parts of the UN human rights system? Most of the issues discussed in the remainder of this paper are not so much about the human rights situation in Russia itself but about the interplay between Russia and the UN’s human rights system. If you missed Part III of the post please read it here

The recent UPR discussions of Russian human rights performance and ongoing consideration of the Crimea human rights case are relatively unusual instances of the UN’s formal intergovernmental machinery devoting detailed attention to allegations of human rights violations in the Russian Federation or previously in the Soviet Union. Prior to 2014, for example, neither the USSR nor Russia was ever the subject of a UN human rights resolution specifically referring to developments which Moscow considered to fall under its sovereign authority. (The UN did repeatedly if indirectly condemn Soviet human rights violations in Afghanistan following the USSR’s 1979 invasion of that country, and on at least one occasion the UN Commission on Human Rights adopted criticism of human rights violations in Poland when it was a Soviet ally.)

While the UN’s intergovernmental bodies have for largely political reasons been unable to adopt many human rights decisions relating directly to Russia or the USSR, the performance of Russia (and previously the USSR) has regularly been reviewed both by treaty bodies established through the main UN human rights instruments.  In more recent years, Russia has occasionally been scrutinized by ad hoc or special mechanisms and procedures established to consider specific human rights issues (torture, involuntary disappearances, religious intolerance, freedom of assembly and association) and in a few cases Russia even invited those with such special mandates to visit their country. 

The history of interactions between UN human rights bodies and Russia is summarized on OHCHR’s website, which also contains links to reports from these bodies (some of which have been quite critical).[1]In line with its standard practice, in advance of the May 2018 UPR Working Group session on Russia, the OHCHR also prepared a compilation of all UN information on Russia’s human rights situation that has been issued by UN bodies over the past several years.[2]UN treaty bodies have played a quite active and serious role in examining and commenting on Russia’s record. For example, the latest report of the UN Human Rights Committee (the treaty body overseeing implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR)[3]provides a very thorough and critical survey of key concerns and makes extensive comments / recommendations about Russia’s human rights performance (including its responsibility for violations in occupied areas of Ukraine and in the North Caucasus, as well as a range of thematic issues including torture and violations of the rights of LGBTI persons).[4]

It is notable, however, that Russia’s voluntary cooperation with UN “special procedures” has been limited and is now almost non-existent. For example, a UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges visited Russia in 2008 and 2013, issuing fairly direct and substantive reports, and a number of other mandate holders paid visits to Russia prior to 2014. However, the only recent UN human rights mandate holder allowed to visit Russia has come to address the issue of “Unilateral coercive measures” – a human rights “special procedure” opposed by Western countries, because it is intended mainly to criticize the alleged human rights impact of punitive sanctions (such as those imposed against Russia for its annexation of Crimea). Russia is not one of the 118 UN Member States that have issued standing invitations for any of the special procedures to visit their country without limitation;[5]in recent years Russia has either rejected or failed to respond to requests to visit the country issued by a range of UN mandate holders on such topics as torture, freedom of assembly, disappearance, human rights defenders, extrajudicial executions, and arbitrary detention.[6]

Finally, one indicator of Russia’s evolving approach to UN human rights machinery may be the evolution of its willingness to accept a long-term OHCHR presence in the country. The OHCHR website tells a story of expanding cooperation and even a joint program of activities between the OHCHR and Russia as late as 2007-2016, involving the presence in Russia of a Senior Human Rights Advisor and a small office representing OHCHR. The Russian Government advised the OHCHR in 2016, however, that the services of its office were no longer needed. The OHCHR reports, without comment, that “the function of the Senior Human Rights Adviser was discontinued in May 2016”.[7]
 




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