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16 August 2017

Statement from UNA-NCA President Stephen F. Moseley on the Violence in Charlottesville

From the President of UNA-NCA

Our UNA-NCA Chapter joins with fellow citizens and neighbors to condemn the tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12 and 13th, resulting from the assembly of white supremacist demonstrators and their organizers. UNA-NCA’s mission is to espouse the rights of all peoples of the world, and in our communities here in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, to gather and peacefully express their opinions in order to foster better understanding and cooperation. Our American Constitutional rights of assembly and free speech, as well as the rights of others to assemble and express opposing opinions, are still subject to reasonable boundaries which must respect the peaceful rights of all to express themselves without violence.

All of us must strongly condemn any and all expressions of racism, anti-Semitism or intolerance. There are not two moral sides in the dispute between neo-Nazi ideology and those who oppose it. Groups who proffer neo-Nazi views encourage the hatred of, and incite violence against, other races and religions. The goal of such groups, as has been demonstrated throughout history, as well as the recent events in Charlottesville, is to suppress any legitimate opposition through violence and intimidation. Any ideology that seeks to suppress opposing views through intimidation or violence cannot be countenanced by any interpretation of our constitutional rights nor by any person of moral character.

The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, modeled in many ways upon our own American Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, also makes clear that we can never condone views that incite violence against or hatred of others. Our association will always oppose those who advocate for racial supremacy, discrimination, or intolerance. We therefore applaud and welcome the Virginia Governor’s call for an investigation of the horrendous actions and violence experienced in Charlottesville. Our Federal Justice system must underline and make clear that Constitutional protections of free speech and our tradition of public discourse cannot be used as a shield for incendiary views that encourage acts of violence.

We have witnessed too often violations of human rights in other countries, including member states of the United Nations. Often these violations are enshrined in imperfect laws and led by both private and public oppressors with authority. We must stand up to stop any such violations in this country whether it be a demonstration of hatred at the local level or a coordinated assault on voting rights at the national level. We must also join with other nations to support the freedoms and rights of people everywhere. Through the UNA-NCA's Human Rights Committee's work and our other education and advocacy programs, we are dedicated to fostering human justice and peaceful resolution of differences. UNA-NCA will continue to espouse our principles for inclusion and tolerance of all people regardless of background, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, race and religion or economic status, including all immigrants, people of color, refugees, and women and children whose rights are protected by our laws and system of justice. Where intolerance, lack of common decency and failure to recognize the humanity and dignity of all people results in violations of justice by private or governmental groups, we must work together to call for tolerance and peaceful dialogue, and respect for all peoples rights in our communities.

UNA-NCA is the Chapter of the UNA-USA which represents the communities and people from Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, with about 1,200 members with great diversity including youth, young professionals and adults who are citizens and working and volunteering together for these beliefs and to help support the effectiveness of the United Nations, and support of it by the people and government of the U.S. Never has this been so important for all of us to apply these principles in our own communities. Join us in standing up and speaking out for tolerance and inclusion of all.

Stephen F. Moseley
President, United Nations Association of the National Capital Area

16 August 2017

Congress and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): A Lawmaker’s Perspective on Strong U.S. Leadership in the United Nations and on Climate Action

On August 8, 2017, UNA-NCA's Sustainable Development Committee hosted a program featuring Representative Don Beyer (VA-08)  discussing the potential consequences and risks associated with the United States’ recent withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. The event highlighted the importance of building and maintaining strong US leadership on the global issues, most notably those pertaining to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

By: Jordan Hibbs, Member, UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee


On August 8, 2017, the Sustainable Development Committee of the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) hosted a program entitled, "Congress and the Sustainable Development Goals: A Lawmaker's Perspective on Strong U.S. Leadership in the UN and on Climate Action." The event took place at the Rayburn House Building on Capitol Hill, where more than 100 people gathered to hear about the experiences and challenges of U.S. Representative for Virginia, Don Beyer.

UNA-NCA President Mr. Steven F. Moseley, began the event with introductory remarks, explaining the framework of the Global Development Agenda that comprises 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Following Mr. Moseley's opening remarks, UNA-NCA Executive Director, Ms. Paula Boland stressed the advocacy work of U.S. Representative Don Beyer by saying ,"More than ever we need champions in the US Congress."

Thomas Liu, a rising senior at Langley High School and the event lead, introduced U.S. Representative Don Beyer (VA-08). Mr. Liu emphasized the role that U.S. Congress should play since President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, saying, "It is imperative for members of the U.S. Congress to reaffirm the role that the U.S. should play in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)."

Congressman Don Beyer opened his remarks by acknowledging the diplomatic career of his grandmother and role model, Clara Beyer, who was part of the American Delegation that set the basis for the founding of the United Nations in 1945. He then shared his concerns about members of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, as well as the Natural Resources Committee in the U.S. Congress who do not believe that climate change is real. He noted, "The vast majority of the population does not understand that climate change is real and that it is affecting us every single day."

In spite of the retreat of the current U.S. Administration on climate action, Congressman Beyer emphasized that the U.S. has created a “vacuum of leadership and natural supply of public goods." He indicated that Congressman Bill Foster (the only current holder of a Ph.D in Physics in Congress) added an amendment in the committee on the National Defense Authorization Act stating, "Climate Change is a national security issue." Despite opposition, ultimately it was included in the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY18.

In closing, Congressman Beyer applauded the continued support of the American people in the Paris Agreement, climate action and low carbon policies despite the decision made by President Trump. He highlighted his continued commitment to advocate for strong U.S. leadership on tackling issues such as climate action and the SDGs.

Following his remarks remarks, Mr. George Ingram, Senior Fellow with the Global Economy and Development Unit at the Brookings Institution, followed-up with a series of questions for Congressman Beyer and took questions from those present in the room and online.

To conclude the event, Mr. Patrick Realiza, Chair of the UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee, reiterated the role and importance of the U.S. Congress in the successful implementation of the SDGs and the potential contributions and actions that everyone can take to be a lead voice in their respective communities and cities in the quest to resolve global climate change and other related issues around the world.

Photos from the event may be viewed here, along with video footage from C-Span and Nexus Media.

We are very grateful to our speakers, sponsors, videographers, photographers, and all who attended the event!


01 August 2017

2017 Summer Session with Latin American Youth Center Highlights Important Leadership Skills

Global Classrooms DC had the opportunity to work with the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC), a local organization that serves over 4,000 youth and families in DC and Maryland’s Prince George’s Counties at four sites and dozens of service points through partner schools and organizations.

Throughout July, GCDC worked with the Center’s Latino Youth Leadership Council, a summer program focused on learning leadership skills that the high school participants can take with them, whether in university or life beyond school.

Over the course of three sessions in as many weeks, GCDC focused on learning about the Sustainable Development Goals and the impact of the United Nations, public speaking skills, and writing effective policy recommendations.

For the first lesson, the high schoolers showed an interest in the United Nations and how the international organization functions. One of the girls mentioned that she had always pictured the UN as a big building with only very important people sitting around a table making decisions. Instead, they learned about examples of how kids their age, inspired by the SDGs, were making changes in their communities around the world, not just in Latin America. With this context, the participants had an in-depth and thought-provoking conversation about peace and violence, and how to accomplish Goal #16 on Peace and Justice.

The second session gave the kids an opportunity to practice good public speaking skills. After warming up by pretending to sell random objects around the room, the high schoolers broke down what made effective speeches and could keep their audience engaged. They even used these skills by reading a speech from Malala Yousafzai in small group work. While some students had difficulty in grasping concepts and with the pronunciation of certain words in English, the youth became more confident practicing their English and actually applying the skills the entire group had been talking about.

The favorite part of the lesson was when students were read a statement, decided whether to agree, disagree or remain neutral about it, and debate their position with everyone else. The high schoolers were excellent at creating arguments and trying to convince their opposite groups. The students’ skills were put to the test and they were able to speak passionately on issues that they have strong opinions about.

Finally, the last session had the students write a letter to their Congressperson, describing the issue they care about the most about and what solutions they think could work. The students picked topics related to quality education, immigration reform, peace and justice, and gender equality. Even they had to write in English, the kids persevered and turned out beautifully written, personal letters that combined their own stories and their passion to change their community. The students were engaged and were proud to share their letters with the entire group.

All in all, the collaboration with the Latin American Youth Center proved to be a success, both in the Global Classrooms DC team having the opportunity to work in the DC community, and in the high school participants learning new skills.

                   Written by Nicole Bohannon, Global Classrooms DC
                                                  Photo Credit: LAYC

19 July 2017

Whither the UN and Human Rights? Why 2017 Matters

IMG_4011On July 12, 2017 UNA-NCA, in partnership with the American Jewish Committee, held “Whither the UN and Human Rights? Why 2017 Matters,” a discussion on the critical importance of the relationship between the United Nations and the United States in strengthening the human rights agenda. Felice Gaer, Director of the American Jewish Committee’s Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, Vice Chair of the UN Committee against Torture, and 2016 UNA-NCA Louis B. Sohn Awardee, provided her perspective on human rights and the role of the United States. UNA-NCA President, Stephen F. Moseley, moderated the conversation.

Ms. Gaer provided detailed background information on the UN Human Rights system, and the role that each aspect of the system has in protecting human rights around the world. Most central to Ms. Gaer’s remarks was her discussion of the Human Rights Council and the implications of the United States’ recent suggestion to leave the council. She highlighted the urgency of the United States’ threat, “Abandonment of the Council by the United States would guarantee that human rights would shrink on the world stage; that human rights would shrink within the United Nations; and that mechanisms and states would pay a phony lip service to human rights.”

IMG_4016Citing the Jacob Blaustein Institute’s report, Game-Changer: the US at the UN Human Rights Council, Ms. Gaer argued that United States’ presence in the Council has, in fact, made a difference. She highlighted four main impacts that the United States has had on the Council: scrutiny of the world’s worst human rights violators, promotion of universal human rights principles, improved treatment of Israel, and a more rights-respecting approach. The United States has been a game-changer in the Council, and continued participation could result in further improvement. Ms. Gaer concluded her discussion with a call for the United States to continue to be an active participant in the Human Rights Council- “The US must lead, not leave.”

Read Full Remarks Here

IMG_4029UNA-NCA President, Stephen F. Moseley led the group discussion with Ms. Gaer, allowing attendees to seek the speaker’s expertise in a wide range of human rights issues. The group discussed the increasing role of China, ways to strengthen the UN Human Rights system, and the future of human rights in the United Nations.

Special thanks to the American Jewish Committee (AJC), the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, and Ms. Gaer for helping to make this event possible.

19 July 2017

Felice Gaer's Keynote Remarks: Whither the UN and Human Rights? Why 2017 Matters

The UN Charter, adopted in 1945, mentioned human rights 5 times. It also mandated a Commission on Human Rights as a subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council -- the only such ECOSOC body mentioned by name in the Charter.  The United States served as the first Chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights, which first met in 1946. The US was a member of that body for all but one of its 60 years in existence.

Importance of Human Rights to the US and the US to Human Rights

The US role in the struggle to promote international human rights has been unique. The US has been a leader and a fighter – for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 and other achievements to enshrine the universality of human rights for all. The US was the principal mover behind the creation of the post of High Commissioner for Human Rights in 1993.  Until now, it has been the largest contributor of voluntary funds to the Office of the High Commissioner as well.

Americans view respect for human rights of every person as a defining feature of political life. Since the 1970s, the quest for human rights has been given a significant role in American foreign policy.

That role, and the UN body foremost in pressing to advance human rights (the Human Rights Council), are now under threat. The threat is more than the usual one  which comes from rights violating countries seeking to neglect, minimize, distort and defuse human rights standards and measures to protect those rights.  The current threat is from the United States – which threatens to leave the Council, not to lead it. Abandonment of the Council by the United States would guarantee that human rights would shrink on the world stage; that human rights would shrink within the United Nations; and that mechanisms and states would pay a phony lip service to human rights, which would be distorted to protect ‘sovereignty’ not citizens; religions not the individuals who are adherents to the religions; the right to abuse your citizens in the name of the general population and not the protection of  individual rights against the state.  Scrutiny of gross violator countries would decline, and the UN would isolate rights in a Geneva based body rather than mainstream it throughout the UN system and the world writ large.

The UN Human Rights System

Let’s step back for a moment and consider what has been constructed in and through the United Nations to promote and protect human rights:

  1. The Human Rights Council has replaced the Commission on Human Rights in 2006. It’s a political body like the Commission, and it sets standards, authorizes investigations, criticizes countries for rights violations, and has established, most notably, an array of independent expert mechanisms, called special procedures, (special rapporteurs and independent experts) to investigate thematic issues in human rights –like torture, religious intolerance, freedom of association and expression, violence against women- as well as country situations, and to respond to urgent cases of abuse, and report publicly on its findings. It has also established a Universal Periodic Review system through which every country in the world is up for peer review once every 4 ½ years; that system is still in its formative stages.
  2. A ‘treaty body system” of 10 committees of independent experts to monitor compliance with 9 major human rights treaties. Every country in the world is party to at least one of these treaties and the scrutiny now extends to   individual complaints under the treaties as well.
  3. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, based in Geneva, which now involves the High Commissioner,  2 ASGs, one in Geneva and one in New York, and  over 1000 staff members based throughout the world, often in country-specific monitoring missions. Some missions are authorized by the Security Council as parts of peacekeeping missions. Others are in country teams under the leadership of UN development programs. 

This is a far cry from the ‘conference room’ diplomacy of decades past.

The Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council was established in 2006 after a recommendation from then-SG Kofi Annan who criticized the Commission as having lost credibility due in part to politicization and a lack of professionalism.

The US did not initially join the Human Rights Council and its record in its first several years was dreadful: several key mechanisms were eliminated (special rapporteurs/experts on Iran, Belarus, Cuba ) and the well-honed anti-Israel bias was increased such that some 80-100% of early country resolutions were all and only against Israel.

During the Obama Administration, the US ran for election to the Council in 2009, and was elected twice; sat out a mandatory gap year; and was elected again to a 3 year term beginning in 2017—this year.

The Trump Administration has argued that the Council must reform if the US is to remain a member, even though it has a 3 year term ahead of it.  

Arguments against staying in the Council are:  The Council has performed badly, is severely politicized, and lacks credibility –like its predecessor. Its membership includes some gross violators who shouldn’t be there; it hasn’t condemned some of the world’s worst violator countries ; and it has a structural and actual bias against Israel that is unfair and inappropriate, making it clear that the Council “is flawed” and making the UN look ridiculous.

Ambassador Nikki Haley said the Council members are ‘corrupt.’ She said she would go to the Council to ‘put them on notice’ in June – and she recently made that trip. There, she called on the Council members to make reforms : 

a) to identify and condemn gross violators starting with Venezuela

b) to reform membership of the Council by ending the practice of ‘clean slates’, to require competitive elections; to ensure all votes are open, not secret ballots; etc. &

c) to end agenda item 7 which singles out Israel for routine condemnation, alone among all states in the world. This has results in more than 70 resolutions condemning Israel in the Council’s 11 year history and, she complained, only 7 on Iran. Her proposal is to merge item 7 into item 4 where violations in any part of the world are considered.

Has the US Presence on the Council made a difference on performance on country-specific resolutions and on treatment of Israel?

Yes it has—Our assessment, presented in Gamechanger: the US at the UN HR Council, is that US participation has brought results in key US priority area, but further reforms are necessary and achievable, and that US interests incl w respect to Israel would not be served by a US withdrawal from the world body.

  1. US presence has resulted in scrutiny of many of the world’s worst human rights violators - 

A key accomplishment is an increase in the number of country-specific human rights monitors (“Special Procedures”) designated by the Council, from eight in 2009 to 13 in 2017.The US has also led efforts at the Council calling for independent examinations of human-rights violations perpetrated by egregious violator countries and terrorist groups, such as Boko Haram and the so-called Islamic State (Daesh).This improved performance of the Council can be seen in  March 2017,when,  with strong American support, it adopted stand-alone resolutions on Syria, North Korea, Iran, Myanmar (Burma), South Sudan and Libya.

2. The Council has  promoted universal human rights principles as a result of US engagement

Moreover, US leadership at the Council has ensured that it reaffirms important universal human-rights principles, among them freedom of assembly and association, freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of religion or belief.  American leadership has also mobilized the Council to rebuff attacks on human-rights norms launched by its worst members. During the period of US membership, the Council ended a longstanding series of resolutions titled “defamation of religions,” which justified states’ use of anti-blasphemy laws; rejected challenges to resolutions calling for the protection of human-rights defenders; and defeated attempts to carve out exceptions to a resolution condemning terrorism.

3.     US participation has improved the HRC’s treatment of Israel

Notwithstanding years of US efforts to promote change, the Council continues to devote an exceedingly disproportionate amount of its attention to condemning Israel’s human-rights record. No country has ever been subjected to more resolutions than Israel in any single year since the Council began, in 2006. No other country is the focus of a stand-alone item on the Council’s agenda. Yet the degree of the Council’s bias against Israel has lessened over time: from 2006 to 2008, when the US was not a member, Israel was condemned in more than half (17 of 33) of all the country-specific resolutions adopted. As a result of US efforts to increase the number of other countries that the Council scrutinizes, the five resolutions it passed on Israel in 2016 represented 19 percent of the country-specific resolutions it adopted during the year. The US and its allies have also repeatedly signaled that it is inappropriate for the Council to maintain a stand-alone agenda item on Israel.

4.     The Council’s membership is more rights-respecting as a result of US membership/leadership

Today, the rights records of the members of the Human Rights Council generally outperform the average for countries in their regional groups, with more countries ranked “free” by the Freedom House organization, which measures civil and political rights worldwide, and fewer “not free” countries than might be expected for Council members from all regions of the globe, except for Latin America.

None of the world’s nine worst human-rights offenders, as ranked by Freedom House through a scoring measure (Syria, Eritrea, North Korea, Uzbekistan, South Sudan, Turkmenistan, Somalia, Sudan and Equatorial Guinea), has ever been elected to the Council. This is no small achievement, as Syria, Eritrea and Somalia obtained membership on the Human Rights Council’s predecessor institution, the UN Commission on Human Rights.

While Belarus, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran and Zimbabwe were also members of the former Commission, they have not been elected to the Human Rights Council; although several have tried, they were blocked.

Of course, US efforts did not prevent countries — such as Venezuela and Cuba — from obtaining membership on the Council, where they, like several other states with poor rights records, some of whose candidacies were not opposed by the US, have sought to shield themselves and their allies from scrutiny.

In sum: US has been a game-changer and ongoing participation and commitment to reform could bring significant improvements.

The future? 

US foreign policy interests can be best served by the US remaining as a member of the Council and redoubling its reform efforts, for the following reasons:

1.     Engagement is not endorsement but an opportunity to promote change

2.     Key decisions will be made in 2017 – there is a new Secretary-General, financial limits are affecting OHCHR, Haley’s reform requests (the Netherlands organized a join tstatement of 48 countries on needed reforms for the HRCouncil), there will be a 2020 review of Treaty Bodiess; Council reform will be a subject for review in 2021? – So timing of action this year is critical

3.     Membership in the Council can advance core US interests – especially  human rights policy and principles
    • Cuba transition/ Venezuela transition/ Belarus/ Uzbekistan/Turkmenistan others
    • Stand up for American and universal values  (e.g., women’s equality; Freedom of Association)
    • Advance and protect universality of rights from growing threats
    • Promote development of remedies for rights violations
    • Advance HR at ground level
    • Reestablish negotiating control on key thematic resolutions
4.     An opportunity to challenge bad actors

5.     An opportunity for US leadership


Decisions made this year will shape the work and character of human rights for years to come – will affect country specific scrutiny, future of special procedures, protection of human rights defenders, and NGOs.

Thus the US should be an active member of the UN Human Rights Council.

13 July 2017

UNA-NCA Facilitates Peacebuilding Conversation with Cypriot Youth

On July 10, 2017, UNA-NCA partnered with Cyprus Friendship Program to engage 26 Cypriot teenagers in a discussion about the UN and peacebuilding at the United Nations Foundation. Half of the youth were from the North, and half were from the South. The conversation centered around youth engagement in the United Nations. UNA-NCA President Stephen F. Moseley spoke to the teens about the United Nations Association as well as the United Nations Association of Cyprus, urging the students to get involved in their local chapter as a means for change. Mr. Moseley also engaged the groups in a short conversation about the Global Goals, asking them which goals they felt most connected to.

The group participated in an activity to learn more about how perceptions and stereotypes contribute to certain attitudes toward countries and international issues. This was followed by a wonderful discussion with Robert Skinner, Director of the United Nations Information Center. Mr. Skinner talked extensively about the most recent attempt at peace negotiations in Cyprus, and the history and future of the UN in Cyprus.

The students came back to the Global Goals later in the program with an in depth discussion on Goal 4, Quality Education. The group discussed how the goal applied to Cyprus and how a focus on the goal could contribute to peace in Cyprus. The teens were very passionate about education and wanting to invest in the history of Cyprus by educating students about the common Cypriot history everyone in the room shared.

All of the students were extremely enthusiastic and passionate about being actors of change in their country. Overall the group highlighted that they didn’t want the international community to give up on Cyprus.

Thank you to the Cyprus Friendship Program, Robb Skinner of the UN Information Center, and the United Nations Foundation for working with us on this amazing and enriching event.

29 June 2017

The Refugee Crisis: Dispelling Myths and Misconceptions

By Jose Muela, UNA-NCA Program Assistant and Patrick Realiza, Chair, UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee

Contributors: Anick Chaipraditkul and Kenneth Lemberg, Members, UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee

On Wednesday, June 21, 2017 the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) Sustainable Development Committee hosted a panel discussion entitled, “The Refugee Crisis: Dispelling Myths and Misconceptions” at the United Nations Foundation in Washington, DC. The event focused on Global Goal #16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. Patrick Realiza, Chair of the Sustainable Development Committee, served as the moderator for the panel of four.

The panel reflected the diversity of the Refugee Crisis. Each of them approaching the issue from a different background, they provided unique and complementing lenses through which to view the crisis. They discussed the backgrounds, experiences and personal perspectives of refugees and other displaced persons, as well as of those working in the field to resolve the crisis. As noted by Mr. Realiza, “With peaceful inclusive societies and common interest, people across the globe can help bring justice and safety to all those affected and displaced by the refugee crisis.”

Native to the North region of Darfur in Sudan; Niemat Ahmadi, current President of the Darfur Women Action Group, shared some of her past experiences as a refugee, including the compelling story of her journey  to the United States. She highlighted the ongoing refugee crisis in Darfur, especially the overwhelming lack of intervention from outside entities- proof that Global Goal #16 has yet to be witnessed in her home country. She discussed the importance of understanding just how many people are considered refugees and that, in most cases, it is an involuntary status- one in which people are forced into in order to survive.

Faith Akovi Cooper, a Regional Advisor for the West Africa Disaster Preparedness Initiative (WADPI) at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Accra, Ghana, was born in Liberia. She entered the United States in 1993 as a refugee. In her remarks she noted the importance of disaster management and how it could be effectively be used across the globe to resolve world issues such as the refugee crisis. She noted that roughly 42,500 people are displaced each day and that this has led to the present day number of over 65 million displaced persons worldwide, with approximately 22 million of them as refugees. Ms. Cooper further described the need to address and find solutions to the current crisis as noting that this among her passions and that recent conflict such as the Syrian civil war have only worsen the crisis by adding nearly 13.9 million new refugees in 2016 alone. In addition, acknowledged the progress already made by governments and institutions who have worked to help find solutions, as seen with the significant the decrease in war on the continent of Africa. However, the number of refugees continues to grow due to the continued and increasing impact of climate change which is also heavily connected to issues concerning food security, deforestation and ocean erosion. Ms. Cooper stressed the importance of advocacy and local participation by citizens by holding their respective government leaders accountable. She highlighted that refugees do in fact positively contribute to their respective host countries’ economies because of their common desire to work hard and survive from their circumstances.

Daniel Sullivan, Senior Advocate for Human Rights at Refugees International (RI), provided a snapshot of the work through Refugees International, an independent global advocacy organization dedicated to providing better support for displaced and stateless persons around the globe. He shared his recent experiences in Myanmar (Burma) and the continued challenges faced by the Rohingya people, a Muslim based population primarily from the Rakhine State (Arakan). He noted that as many as 500,000 Rohingya refugees currently reside in nearby Bangladesh which was a consequence of decades of persecution led by the Myanmar government. Since October 2016 alone, as many as 74,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh. Mr. Sullivan noted Rohingya continue to face dangers which are tied to government actions and climate change. In addition, he cited that Cyclone Mora recently damaged or destroyed as much as 80% of the Rohingya makeshift settlements. Mr. Sullivan noted that climate related displacement continues to deepen the refugee crisis with as many as 24 million people being displaced directly by it in 2016. However, he explained that progress has indeed been made and cited the work of former U.S. President Obama in calling for a summit on refugees and the work of the United Nations to create of a global compact addressing migration and refugees. Today, many of these programs and initiatives designed at resolving the refugee crisis face the potential for paramount cutbacks, noting the potential withdrawal of funding and participation by the United States. Although better aid would be helpful to resolving this crisis, Mr. Sullivan stressed the importance of finding durable and lasting solutions.

Larry Yungk, Senior Resettlement Officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the United States and the Caribbean, stressed assistance to refugees and resettlement as a great stabilizing investment, as it works against radicalization. Instead, refugees face impossible obstacles to reaching safety, a significant waste of human capital and talent that has consequently had a lasting negative impact on not only those individuals, but on societies as a whole. He defined refugees and other displaced persons as “those seeking to flee their respective countries due to a well-founded fear of persecution,” citing that the true number of displaced persons is even larger than what is reported, primarily because they are “not recognized”- a problem in and of itself.

Mr. Yungk closed by highlighting the importance of discussing and demystifying the myths and misconceptions that we hold about the refugee crisis. He explained the incredible worth of hearing first-account stories and challenges faced by refugees, like those of Ms. Ahmadi and Ms. Cooper.

Mr. Realiza concluded the event by highlighting the salience of the discussion and indicated that there is still much to do done. He thanked and recognized the key contributions of his fellow committee members as well as participating partners - the United Nations Foundation, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Nexus Media News and the Forum on International Affairs (FIA) for their continued involvement and support on the planning and execution of this successful event.

28 June 2017

UNA-NCA Participates in UNA-USA 2017 Leadership Summit

Over 300 members and supporters from 40 states attended last week’s UNA-USA Leadership Summit, with both leadership and members from the National Capital Area turning out in full force. More than a dozen panels and discussions involving high-ranking UN officials, covered issues ranging, including personal experiences working on submitting local recommendations through the UN commissions; building partnerships for the Global Goals at the local level, and sharing chapter best practices. That was just the first day! Advocacy_Day

One of the panels discussed how to turn the same passion kids learn in Model United Nations into advocating for the UN itself. At the Annual Spring Model UN Conference held at the State Department this year, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson emphasized the same message. He encouraged the students attending the conference to pursue their passion in international relations, and use the skills they acquired in Model UN beyond school. Being able to speak up and advocate for issues young people care about translates into any interest they pursue.

The second day of the Leadership Summit was just as packed with talks around international action on climate change, UN plans for women and girls, and much more. They also covered the refugee crisis, which one of the most recent UNA-NCA events elaborated on. The event, moderated by Patrick Realiza, Chair of the UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee, served as a platform for refugees to share their first-account stories. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #16 on Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions aims to find peaceful means to end the lasting violence, and finding people-to-people connections to contextualize what’s happening on the ground is the first step to progress.

Special guest speakers at the Leadership Summit included the President of the UN General Assembly Peter Thomson, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights at the UN Human Rights Office Andrew Gilmour, Hamilton: An American Musical’s Samantha Ware, among others.

But perhaps the favorite day of many attendees was Advocacy Day on the Hill, reported to be the largest convening ever of Americans advocating for strong US-UN engagement, reaching more than 50% of the entire Congress (271 meetings). Over 25 UNA-NCA members met with their local Congressman or Congresswoman and Senators from Maryland, Virginia, and the District. Each delegation was well-represented, and everyone was able to tell their stories about how much the work of the UN meant to them, including an 8 year old elementary school student. Ana_Statement

We called upon our congressional representatives to do everything they can to ensure that these cuts are not realized, and to continue to support strong US-UN relations. Our Maryland team prepared talking points on the wide ranging work of the UN, as well as how the administration’s proposed budget cuts would jeopardize and endanger key programs, populations and many parts of the world for use by the members of congress on CSPAN and sign-on letters.

Having constituents speak directly to their representatives or office staff member had an enormous impact, and brought the UN face-to-face with Congress in ways that couldn’t have been done without the dedication and passion of our members.

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