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11 December 2018

OLLI December 10 2018 Human Rights Conference

Presentation By: Ed Elmendorf, Past UNA-NCA President

A personal note: in the 1960s I had the privilege to work, as a very junior foreign service officer, at the US Mission to the UN in NYC.  Like Eleanor Roosevelt 15 years earlier, I was assigned to a UN body then considered unimportant, the UNGA Third Committee, responsible for HR. I worked then also with John Humphrey, Director of the UN Secretariat HR Division, and represented the USG in the UN Committee on Periodic Reports on HR – the primitive and unsophisticated predecessor of the present Universal Periodic Review.

International institutions, especially the UN, have been central to articulation of HR norms ever since WWII. UDHR 1948 and Human Rights Covenants 1966 were 2 of 3 tiers of International Bill of HR. The first and second tiers were declarations of principle and their presentation in legal form. Third tier – ‘measures of implementation’ – has proved much more difficult.  This is hardly surprising, given our own experience in the United States. It is the focus of my presentation today.  ‘Measures of implementation’ include not only formal legal enforcement actions, but also public and private dialogue and TA.

International measures of implementation for HR force us to face the central tension in the UN Charter, between the Charter mandate for the UN to promote HR and the Charter requirement not to intervene in any matter ‘essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of member States.’  In practice, the threshold separating domestic jurisdiction from international concerns has shifted substantially since the UN’s early years away from full autonomy for state action. This is the first of two remarkable changes in international relations over the past 70 years. The second is the enormous growth in the importance of non-state actors on the international stage, from the business community, NGOs, terrorists, and individuals.  Both of these changes open up space for HR action.

While the UN is not and cannot be engaged in enforcement of HR, outside the framework of SC action under UN Charter Chapter VII on threats to peace, the UN now engages with the HR performance of its member States, in quite specific ways. To do this it has equipped itself with institutions, procedures and practices which bring successes and failures in individual countries to light and strengthen domestic action for HR respect. The range is notable, and goes well beyond the standard treaty bodies established under international conventions to review reports by states on their respect for rights established under individual treaties.  Institutions include the UN High Commissioner for HR, the UN Human Rights Council of 47 states and its so-called ‘special procedures’ of independent experts, the Council’s Universal Periodic Review of country HR performance based on the UDHR standards, and special  commissions of inquiry, as on Syria and North Korea. This is not just a matter of dramatic public confrontations but more importantly of continuing contact and pressure, including through human rights officers in UN local resident coordinators’ offices and advisers in 27 countries, and on peacekeeping missions, as well as technical assistance and individual thematic and country-specific expert mandates at the country level. 

None of these institutions is perfect; indeed, many, such as the Human Rights Council, are deeply flawed – reflecting the messy world in which we live. The apex of measures of implementation is the International Criminal Court – not formally a UN body but certainly part of the global structure of institutions and procedures falling under the term of ‘measures of implementation.’  Beyond states, civil society plays a key role, in Geneva and beyond.

My focus here is on civil and political rights, in a more or less traditional sense.  But, we cannot forget the wide range of UN action on women’s rights and gender issues.  A few years ago, the UN merged several smaller entities into what amounts to a large and increasingly consequential UN agency, called UN Women.  There is also a major intergovernmental body, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).  The CSW has a long and distinguished history, and now has an annual meeting at the UN bringing together thousands of people.

The media make the failures of the international community successfully to address dramatic HR violations apparent. International accountability for HR violations remains rare today. Full international accountability cannot be expected for the foreseeable future, and would probably require some type of world-wide federated state – something not acceptable today, or tomorrow. The international HR system remains an expression of the world as it is, and only actions by states can change that. Remember that, for many, the UN Secretary-general is, and should remain, more ‘secretary’ than ‘general.’

UN HR successes are less widely known than failures, but they cannot be ignored even if poorly documented, in Sri Lanka and other countries.  One concrete example: A 3-person UN Mission on HR in South Sudan visited that country and investigated the horrendous HR conditions prevailing there in conditions of civil war, including violations by local armed forces. Drawing attention to widespread lack of accountability, the Commission showed that the local government can be held accountable, when a Military Tribunal imposed jail sentences on ten soldiers.  Victims requested the UN Commission to assist in assuring that those who commit crimes are identified and prosecuted. Such assistance goes well beyond any traditional notions of domestic jurisdiction.  It would be difficult to contemplate such action by UN experts in this country, for example in the current conditions along the US border with Mexico! 

The present challenges to the web of procedures and institutions stimulating improved HR performance at and by the UN are many: To mention but a few: decreasing space for civil society action in many countries, the disdain for human rights of the Trump Administration AND those other governments which emulate its positions around the world, and the actions of so-called spoiler states at the UN which may have more or less satisfactory HR positions at home but align themselves in the UN with China, Russia and others who hide behind the argument of sovereignty to limit UN HR actions.   

What can we as citizens do by ourselves and through our communities NOW to help overcome the weaknesses of measures of implementation? Three things:

One: Push the USG and the UN to establish an independent investigation of the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Independent UN HR experts have already publicly called for an international investigation. I believe the US has an interest in a UN inquiry because that would take the issue out of US-Saudi bilateral relations.

Two: Show that UN HR actions are consistent with American values and Congressional policies.  Write and speak publicly!

Three: Advocate with our local and national political leaders for US support for UN HR activities, including re-engagement with the UN Human Rights Council and UN HR system. Join the UN Association and participate in its advocacy and human rights activities. Bring your local faith groups together to act on the UN and HR.


19 November 2018

Tackling the Global Opioid Crisis at the Fall 2018 Model UN Training Conference

On November 15, 2018, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) hosted the 13th Annual Fall Model UN Training Conference. The United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) has been partnering with PAHO, the Latin American branch of the World Health Organization, for almost 16 years now. Each fall, we have hosted a Training Conference where several hundred students act as country delegates to discuss current issues and gain experience in Model United Nations.

IMG_0048Thank you to all of the UNA-NCA staffers and volunteers who helped us create this amazing event!

Over the course of the day-long conference, the students came together to discuss the Global Opioid Crisis. While we were expecting more schools this fall, the unexpected snow weather prevented several registered schools from attending the conference. However, we were lucky to have five schools (three from DC and two from Maryland) participate in the conference, with 78 students who represented 29 countries in the World Health Organization (WHO). This year we also welcomed three teachers from schools in Maryland and North Carolina who are starting new Model UN clubs.

The conference showcased the important work of the WHO, as well as the diversity of issue surrounding opioids around the world. According to the CDC, opioids are a class of drugs used to reduce pain. Opioids range from prescriptions, such as Oxycontin and Hydrocodone, to illicit drugs such as Heroin, and are considered to have very strong addictive properties. The day began with a welcome from Paula Boland, the Executive Director of UNA-NCA. She was followed by the keynote speaker Dr. Meg O’Brien, PhD. Dr. O’Brien is currently serving as the Managing Director of Global Cancer Treatment at the American Cancer Society. She leads the American Cancer Society’s international efforts to improve access to high-quality cancer treatment, including chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery, and pain relief. Before coming to the American Cancer Society, she was the Research Director of the Consortium for Strategic HIV Operations Research at the Clinton Health Access Initiative and worked for three years in HIV treatment clinics in Tanzania for the Harvard School of Public Health.

IMG_0057Following the opening ceremonies, students began the WHO committee session to discuss how to best address the Global Opioid Crisis from the country’s perspective that they were representing. Students learned about the key role of WHO in leading international action to address the Global Opioid Crisis and to solve the many issues surrounding the crisis around the globe. Many Americans may be familiar with the epidemic happening in our own country, but the easy availability of opioids have caused the increase in misuse and deaths that lead to worldwide crisis. In addition, many countries are extremely restrictive with life-saving pain medication, and suffer from too little access.

The second half of the day focused on writing their resolutions. In Model UN and the real United Nations, resolutions are summaries or recommendations of what countries would like to do in order to resolve an issue or crisis. To do this in the training conference committee, students had to engage in international conversations and hone their writing, negotiation, and public speaking skills. The conference concluded with the delegates presenting their joint solutions to address the Global Opioid Crisis around the world.

IMG_0060By the end of the day, students had passed one resolution, and had worked together effectively to brainstorm solutions such as setting up clinics, training doctors, supporting rehabilitation, creating laws to prevent illegal opioid trade, and more.

Global Classrooms DC (GCDC) is the flagship education program of UNA-NCA. With the collaboration of partners, GCDC creates year-long curriculum for students who care about their global and local communities by cultivating an international perspective, understand the UN system, and interact with other students from diverse backgrounds. It is an opportunity for students to become more active local and global citizens by being exposed to larger issues and different people.

The Global Classrooms DC Fall Model UN Training Conference is implemented by the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area, which is a chapter of UNA-USA. Global Classrooms DC also has a year-round program that offers reduced-cost global education curriculum.

For more information, visit our website!

14 November 2018

Children in a Digital World: A UN Day Celebration - Event Coverage

By Samer El-Amine, UNA-NCA Program Assistant


On October 29th, 2018, the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area along with the UN Information Centre, and the Embassy of Italy to the U.S. Digital Diplomacy Series hosted a UN Day Celebration, marking the 73rd anniversary of the United Nations with a special program featuring the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director, Henrietta H. Fore for a discussion on "Children in the Digital World." This celebration was designed to catalogue and discuss the many nuances and challenges that face children in navigating an increasingly digital world.

The event took place at the Embassy of Italy to the U.S. and began with a keynote address by Henrietta H. Fore. An informative panel followed, as guest speakers Henrietta Fore, Suzanne Kianpour, and Dr. Robert C. Orr discussed the role of Children in a Digital world. The discussion had several elements, most notably the online threats facing children and youth online; the challenges children around the world face especially in developing countries in accessing the internet; and the UN’s role in expanding access to technology and working with the private sector to use this newfound access in the name of humanitarian assistance, education, and economic opportunity.

IMG_5219_1To kick off the panel, UNA-NCA President, Stephen Moseley thanked the United Nations Federal Credit Union and AirSchott for sponsoring the event and a warm welcome to the various UN agencies, U.S. agencies, academic institutions, press and news organizations, and community members in attendance. Furthermore, he thanked the UNA-NCA intergenerational membership in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Northern Virginia, and noted that of the many UNA-USA chapters across the country, UNA-NCA is one of the largest and most active.

Moderating the conversation was Suzanne Kianpour, a BBC foreign affairs and political journalist, Emmy-nominated news reporter and producer, experienced moderator of foreign policy panels, and guest lecturer at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. Ms. Kianpour opened her remarks by mentioning how far the digital world has come, especially on an international level to become an all-encompassing force. She set the tone for the following discussion with a question about the potential of the increasingly digital world to the audience, “Is it a boon to human kind, offering unlimited opportunity for communication and commerce, learning, and free expression, or is it a threat to our way of life? Undermining the social fabric, political order and threatening our wellbeing.”

IMG_5213_1Henrietta H. Fore became UNICEF’s seventh Executive Director in January 2018. She has had a long and illustrious career with many distinguished positions including Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); Director of United States Foreign Assistance; Assistant Administrator for Asia; Assistant Administrator for Private Enterprise. She served as Under Secretary of state for Management, the Chief Operating Officer for the U.S. Department of State, the 37th Director of the United States Mint in the U.S. Department of Treasury, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Holsman International, Global Co-Chair of the Asia Society, Chair of the Middle East Investment Initiative, and much more. She also was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award and the Alexander Hamilton Award.

One of UNICEF’s main priorities is making the digital community affordable, accessible, available, open, and inclusive to each child in every community. One-third of all youth in the world are online. In Africa, only two-fifths of children are online in comparison to Europe, where only one out of twenty-five children lack access to the Internet. These statistics are symbolic of the disparity in internet access between industrialized countries and their developing counterparts. Other obstacles impeding the progress of universal internet access are language barriers and poor access to digital infrastructure around the world.

IMG_5217_1“The world that children face is increasingly a complex one, particularly when we think about the technological revolution that we are all living through, technologies are changing how we live, how we work, and how we relate to one another.” Executive Director Fore explained. “Today’s children and young people are affected most of all. After all, they will be the major creators, users, and beneficiaries of technology in the decades ahead, so digital issues are children’s issues and young people’s issues. Are the governments of the world adapting to these changes quickly and effectively enough? The answer is no.”

Executive Director Fore also emphasized our responsibility to join forces with the private sector and innovators around the world to better target the great primes of digital technology to the needs of children and young people that protect them along the way. “We must simultaneously empower and protect children in a digital world.” On one hand, we must expand the role of technology around the world and make use of its potential to educate, protect, and stimulate children. On the other hand, we must be aware of the adverse consequences that come with an increased presence of children and youth in the digital world.
Ms. Fore addressed also UNICEF’s role in combatting the dark side of the digital world: cyber bullying, trafficking, harassment, exploitation, and abuse. Seventy-one percent of all young people are online, and one-third of all the people in the world who are online are children or youth. UNICEF has played a huge role in working with governments like El Salvador, the Philippines, Ghana, Malaysia, Kenya, Jordan, Guatemala, and Tanzania to create new laws to combat online predators and develop cybercrime investigation units. UNICEF additionally provides resources to countries with high rates of online sexual abuse. For example, Kenya, in partnership with UNICEF, established a national child help-line that offers counselling and support to victims of online abuse. She ended her remarks by emphasizing the importance of developing new technology to anonymize children online to better encrypt their data and protect them from online predators.  

IMG_5212_1Dr. Robert C. Orr serves as Dean at the University of Maryland (UMD) School of Public Policy, previously serving as the United Nations Under Secretary-General and Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on Climate Change. Dr. Orr has had a long distinguished career in which he held various important positions such as: Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Planning in the Executive Office of the United Nations Secretary-General, Principal Advisor to the Secretary-General on counter-terrorism, peace building, women’s and children’s health, sustainable energy, food and nutrition, institutional innovation, public-private partnership and climate change, Executive Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government, Director of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington DC, Deputy to the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, and Director of Global Affairs at the National Security Council.

Dr. Orr picked up right where Ms. Fore left off. He reiterated many of her concerns regarding the danger facing children and youth in a digital world. He also added an area of concern: online radicalization. “These kinds of behaviors are global, they’re sophisticated, and they target the most vulnerable among us,” he noted. When asked how we can ensure students are equipped with the tools to navigate a digital world, he responded, “We need to focus on this much earlier than we think we do.” He alluded to the fact that children are developing their online habits at a much younger age than we have seen in the past. Most children in the United States tend to develop digital literacy in early childhood and form their online habits by the age of 12. He also cautioned against using children in the United States and their relationship to the digital world as a model for the rest of the world, “We tend to extrapolate our own experience on digital to the rest of the world. Well, it just ain’t so.” He spoke about the digital literacy of his own children, and their ability to possess this digital literacy because of the country they grew up in and their socio-economic status. For the rest of the world, it is much more about creating access to the digital world than it is about dealing with the consequences of this access.

As a capstone to the event, UNA-NCA and the Embassy of Italy were pleased to give tribute to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who passed away in August at the age of 80.

07 November 2018

Fall 2018 Career Dinners Coverage

07 November 2018

Opportunities for UN Support

By Stephen Moseley

After every election, there is a renewed opportunity to introduce the critical issues and support needed for U.S. engagement with the UN, to our new representatives at the State and National congressional offices in our region.  Yesterday a number of new leaders, at the local, state, and national level in both Maryland and Virginia came into office. Global issues were not the main public issues being debated, however the background against which the midterm elections were held, had a great deal to do with changes in world order alliances for peace, international  trade, human rights, migration, and social and economic opportunity throughout the world and in relation to our community. 

The United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) and it’s parent organization, the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) along with nearly 200 chapters throughout the country, are all non-partisan and non-profit.  They are directly responsible in their mission to provide education and advocacy about the critical role of the U.S. and its engagement and financial support for the UN, and to help the U.S. remain in the debates surrounding rapid global changes that directly affect our lives in the U.S. and abroad. 

With the new congress, in 2019 there will be the need and opportunity to promote understanding and commitment to maintain peace under many treaties and compacts already in place, to further consider the challenges of climate change that are already having severe impact on our local communities, to address the unraveling of global trade pacts that effect everyday economies of most of our citizens, and most importantly the challenge facing all of us in addressing the millions of people uprooted from their home countries by international wars, and local and regional violence in their counties. The UN responsibilities with their member countries are: to constantly review and implement programs that meet these human needs; to promote economic and social development; to build peace and keep the peace; and to keep our planet safe from environmental destruction.  

We fully recognize that there are major disagreements and strong resistance in the current administration on many of these global issues, which has already in the past two years resulted in Executive Orders to have the U.S. leave the Paris Climate Change Accords; to pull out from its alliance with its traditional country partners around the world on the Iran Nuclear arms accord; to stop humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza; to drop out of membership in UNESCO which leads global education for all along with it’s role in cultural heritage preservation; and finally to be the only nation to drop out of the new UN Pact about to be adopted by all member states to suppress the global crisis of migration everywhere. 

In the months ahead, UNA-NCA and its members will be dedicated throughout 2019 and 2020 to education and analysis of these issues in it’s forums on peace and security, sustainable development, education for youth and school children in our community, human rights, and international law. We will have active events to bring together community leaders along with legislative representatives from the State and National offices in the region to actively participate in the debates on these critical issues. It will be a collaborative effort as we join along with other associations and civil society organizations to address these issues together.  

We welcome and thank the many wonderful new and renewed political leaders who are dedicated to representing all of us from DC, Maryland and Virginia, to find new ways to make our community and world a better place.  We ask our members and friends to renew their dedication and engagement with UNA-NCA now and for the year ahead. Please take the opportunity to join in this advocacy and education mission, and register for the next major UNA-NCA event on December 6th, the Human Rights Awards Reception celebrating the 70th anniversary of the signing of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. See our website, www.UNANCA.org, to register.


31 October 2018

Russia and Human Rights in the United Nations

The Impact of Russian Diplomacy on the UN System for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, and the Role of the UN System in Addressing Human Rights in Russia

Human Rights Committee Report

By: Doug Wake and the UNA-NCA Human Rights Committee

Introduction by Steve Moseley, President, UNA-NCA

The following is a slightly updated version of a paper originally published by UNA-NCA in June 2018, reflecting some recent developments including discussion at a public event on “Russia and Human Rights in the United Nations” that UNA-NCA organized at the American Jewish Committee’s Washington office on September 13, 2018.[1]  The present paper represents the second venture of the UNA-NCA Human Rights Committee in addressing the UN human rights record of a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council. In 2016 UNA-NCA partnered with Freedom House on an examination of the UN and human rights in China. I want to commend the UNA-NCA Human Rights Committee for the September event and the synthesis in this paper, and I hope that the review of China and Russia by the Committee will be complemented by examination of the UN human rights record of another P-5 country, the United States. 

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) considered Russia’s human rights record at its May and September 2018 sessions. 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 60th anniversary United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) summit. UNHRC scrutiny of Russia at a 2013 session produced more than 225 recommendations from other Member States, over 160 of which Russia undertook to implement in full or in part. Other Member States directed over 300 recommendations to Russia in 2018, of which Russian authorities at least partially accepted 225.[2]

Coincidentally, Russia’s record of implementing the United Nations Convention against Torture (CAT) also came under intense scrutiny in Geneva in 2018, when the expert Committee against Torture reviewed Russia’s latest periodic report on CAT compliance. The Committee issued extensive findings and recommendations for far-reaching changes in Russia, in a session that attracted international media attention shortly after Russian civil society and independent media highlighted serious cases of torture of persons in Russian detention facilities.[3]

Russia is also the subject of a series of UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions adopted since Russia’s 2014 occupation and illegal “annexation” of Crimea. These resolutions all condemn human rights violations in Crimea and call on Russia as the occupying power to address these abuses. Most recently, in December 2017, the Assembly adopted A/RES/72/190, “Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine)” by vote of 70 to 26, with 76 abstentions. In so doing, the Assembly urged the Russian Federation to uphold all its international legal obligations as an occupying Power and requested the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a thematic report on the situation of human rights in Crimea and Sevastopol.[4]

The regular reviews of Russia’s human rights record through the UPR process and the review of its CAT report, as well as the unprecedented attention to Russia’s responsibility for human rights abuses in occupied Crimea make it timely to consider the broader context in which these developments take place. In particular, given the scrutiny that Russia’s record is now receiving, it may be of interest to review the role that Russia and the Soviet Union have played over the years in shaping the evolution of the UN system for the promotion and protection of human rights. Similarly, to place the most recent developments in historical context, we may consider how the human rights performance of Russia (and previously the USSR) has itself been scrutinized by UN machinery.

Without extensively addressing the substance of particular human rights violations in Russia, we can proceed from the premise that very serious and large-scale violations of human rights were systematically perpetrated in the Soviet Union, that serious abuses continued to take place in the Russian Federation throughout the post-Soviet period, and that such abuses have again become much more widespread and systematic over the past several years.[5] In its final report on the September 2016 parliamentary elections in Russia, for example, a mission fielded by the leading regional multilateral human rights and democracy institution noted that “democratic commitments continue to be challenged and the electoral environment was negatively affected by restrictions to fundamental freedoms and political rights, firmly controlled media and a tightening grip on civil society.” [6]

Most objective observers suggest that the situation continued to deteriorate in 2017 and early 2018 in the run-up to the 18 March 2018 presidential elections, which President Vladimir Putin won in a landslide. As the most prominent anti-Putin politician and well-known blogger Alexander Navalny called on fellow citizens to take a stand against corruption, galvanizing them by the release of a documentary focusing on Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s alleged abuses, widespread protests were met with disruption and large-scale detentions. The lack of freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly is an issue that the people of Russia have learned to deal with by being creative with their dissent. But with the limited action taken by the government to fix the issues that the people see to be the most important, these dissenters are taking their anger and frustration to the streets. The authorities have responded, in turn, with increasingly draconian measures allegedly targeting “extremism” and “foreign agents” but actually designed to limit the space for political and social dialogue. An International Election Observation Mission deployed for the March 2018 Presidential elections concluded that “restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression, as well as on candidate registration, have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition.”[7]

Most of the issues discussed in 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. Some of the key questions which remain to be answered are to what extent the UN human rights system can serve as a valuable vehicle to address human rights violations in Russia (or any other country) and how effective the UN system can be in addressing such abuses, at a minimum to draw attention to serious concerns and if possible to encourage actual improvements in the situation faced by individual victims of human rights abuse.


Russia and the UN Human Rights System


What has been the role of the Government of the Russian Federation (and previously the USSR) with regard to the evolution of the UN human rights framework, what are its official positions today, and how does it employ its diplomatic and other tools to advance, hinder or shape the UN's human rights work?

Russia (and previously the USSR), as a major world power and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has played a key role in shaping the UN approach to human rights throughout the world. As the state recognized internationally as the legal successor to the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation inherited both a set of international legal obligations in the field of human rights and a complex historical / diplomatic legacy for dealing with human rights issues in multilateral settings.

On the legal side, in the first instance, the USSR was a founding Member State of the United Nations that agreed (albeit reluctantly) that its purposes and principles would include “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion” (UN Charter, Article 1, paragraph 3). Moreover, the USSR was an active participant in the drafting and Russia has taken over the USSR’s status as a state party to almost all the international human rights instruments negotiated through the UN system.


One part of the legacy inherited by the Russian Federation, however, is that the USSR was one of the only Member States that did not vote in favor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948 (it abstained, along with its closest allies and South Africa). Another is that the USSR, after accepting the UDHR in principle and supporting the adoption of legally binding instruments to further define human rights obligations, was constantly among those states most actively seeking to limit the scope of those obligations and increase the number of permissible limitations which could be imposed on the exercise of human rights by individuals. The USSR was also among the states most opposed to the establishment of any independent oversight bodies at an international level that would have investigative powers or a mandate to deal with matters deemed by the state concerned to be “essentially within [its] domestic jurisdiction”.[8]


The Soviet Union was also always at the forefront of efforts to deflect attention from individual civil and political rights, where it was clearly at a disadvantage, while placing emphasis on economic and social rights or collective rights.The USSR also gave lip service to the right of peoples to self-determination in the context of decolonization (while rejecting its applicability to territory and peoples under Soviet domination) and to “security” (including the rights to life, peace, and development). Soviet and then Russian approaches to human rights in the UN system must be seen as part of a continuum, not only because of the legal continuity of Russia as the USSR’s successor state but also due to a large degree of continuity among personnel and policies from the Soviet period into the present day. Many of the positions taken by Russian diplomats at international meetings in the second decade of the 21st century are quite similar to those taken by Soviet diplomats in the early 1980s.


At the same time, it must be recognized that first Soviet and then Russian policy toward these issues evolved radically in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at least rhetorically accepted international norms on human rights, openness and electoral democracy. The radical shift from traditional “hardline” Soviet policies perhaps culminated in Russia’s support for the outcome of the 1993 Vienna World Conference on Human Rights. On that historic occasion, Russia joined the broad international consensus that agreed among other things on the establishment of a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (which the Soviet Union had consistently opposed) along with the transformation of the historically weak UN Human Rights Centre in Geneva into a more robust Geneva-based Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).


The Russian statement at the conclusion of the Vienna Conference on Human Rights included the following remarkable passage:


“The final document has confirmed that every individual belongs to the human family in general and is neither the property nor an instrument of the State and that human rights are therefore not the internal affair of any one country. In the past it was precisely our country, the former Soviet Union, which initiated the sad tendency to evade control or criticism by invoking sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs. We spread this cunning idea throughout the world, pressing it on many. Unfortunately our resourceful disciples are still numerous and active. We therefore feel a special responsibility and are particularly satisfied that we have been able to record, in the final document, that the defence of all human rights is a subject of legitimate concern to the international community and that, notwithstanding the specific circumstances of different States, every one of them has a responsibility, notwithstanding those specific circumstances, to promote and defend all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”[9]


Subsequently Russia agreed to many innovative mechanisms within the UN system and the rapid expansion of OHCHR. Nevertheless, by the early 2000s Russia began to revert to a position which was more critical of – in some cases hostile toward – much that the UN human rights machinery was doing.This tendency could perhaps be correlated quite roughly with the election of a new Russian president in the year 2000, although this would be an oversimplification; Russia had already strongly opposed the concept of humanitarian intervention, for example, as advocated by Western countries in the context of the 1999 Kosovo crisis. Russia’s opposition to robust UN action on human rights has become more pronounced over the past decade, however; it has been particularly strident since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, intervention in Eastern Ukraine, and active military involvement in the Syria conflict.

Russia expressed a particularly dim view of the UN Security Council (UNSC) delving deeper into human rights issues during a recent thematic debate chaired by the United States, when the Russian representative:

“shared the concerns of those who feared that human rights might be used as a means to exert power over other countries.  He went on to say that it would be impossible to guarantee respect for human rights without first guaranteeing peace and security, stressing that preventing and settling armed conflicts were the main prerequisites for correcting human rights violations, and not vice versa.”[10]

This position has been expressed in recent years not only through opposition to UN resolutions relating directly to Russia and its interventions in Ukraine but also to vetoes of multiple Western-led efforts to expand the human rights focus of the UNSC (specifically including vetoes of draft UNSC resolutions addressing human rights, for example, in Myanmar and Syria).[11]

Several sources have documented what they describe as an increasing alliance of Russia with other leading human rights violators, including China, to thwart UN actions perceived as threatening to national sovereignty.[12] It would be inaccurate to suggest that such efforts have always been successful or cost-free, however. The Russian Federation failed to gain election to the UNHRC in 2016, when the UNGA decided by secret ballot to seat other candidates from the Eastern European Group of States rather than the Russian Federation. This was the first and thus far only case in which a UNSC permanent member sought but was not elected to the UNHRC. In fact, it was a rather rare case of a permanent member failing to be seated in any UN subsidiary body to which it was a candidate. Most observers attributed Russia’s failure in this case to its position on Syria, which drew opposition not only from Western and other states with strong human rights records but also from a broad group of Arab and other Islamic countries.[13]



The UN’s Universal Periodic Review of Russian human rights performance

How have various stakeholders, including human rights defenders and other civil society groups, attempted to use the UN human rights system (especially the Universal Periodic Review mechanism) to draw attention to the human rights situation in Russia?  How has the Russian Government reacted?

The UN Universal Periodic Review is a procedure instituted after 2005 to ensure that the human rights performance of all UN Member States is reviewed on a regular schedule (roughly every four to five years), with ample opportunity for the state concerned to present its “case” and for other UN Human Rights Council members to ask questions and make recommendations to the state under review. The state concerned must then decide whether or not to accept the recommendations and undertake to implement them. In the ongoing third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review,[14] Russia’s record was considered by the Human Rights Council’s UPR Working Group on May 14, 2018 and the Working Group adopted its report on Russia on May 17. The Russian Government submitted a report outlining its official view of the way that Russia is meeting its international obligations and the way it has addressed recommendations from prior UPR sessions in 2009 and 2013, when Russian Government officials participated actively[15] (In both 2013 and 2018, Russia’s large delegation was headed by its Minister of Justice.)[16]

The deadline for “other stakeholders” such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and regional organizations to present their views on Russia’s human rights record through the UPR process was October 2017, and many NGOs – both from inside and outside Russia – prepared their own submissions, which are posted on the OHCHR website.[17] (A separate document summarizes information on Russia’s record from various official UN bodies.) The engagement of Russian NGOs is consistent with a pattern established already during the first and especially second UPR sessions; an OHCHR summary[18] and the full texts of the 36 "stakeholder submissions" from the second session (many of them submitted jointly on behalf of multiple NGOs) are also available on the OHCHR website. Taken together, the NGO submissions detail the full panoply of abuses allegedly committed by the Russian Federation up through mid-2017.[19]

Thus it is clear from past experience and the recent discussions in Geneva that relevant Russian NGOs have a strong interest in highlighting concerns about Russia as well as capacity to engage with the UN human rights machinery through the UPR process. While NGOs do not themselves participate in the “UPR Working Group” session where Russian officials present and defend their record, they do have the opportunity to make “general comments” in the UPR plenary session where the outcome of the UPR process is discussed. Several Russian and international NGOs took advantage of this opportunity in 2013 and again in September 2018.[20]  It is also clear from the recommendations made by many Member States to Russia both in 2013 and 2018 that they have drawn extensively on information and documentation prepared by NGOs. Records of the UPR proceedings indicate that the Russian authorities devoted considerable attention to defending themselves and explaining/justifying their actions, directly in response to questions / criticisms / recommendations from other Member States but indirectly also in response to such “other stakeholders” as the Russian human rights NGO community.

During the UPR Working Group’s May 2018 session on Russia, which can be viewed on the OHCHR website, 115 delegations took the floor and made 317 recommendations for Russia to improve its respect for human rights.[21]

Some of the recommendations, especially from Russia’s close friends and allies, were mundane or even somewhat ridiculous, along the lines of “the Russian Federation should keep up its wonderful work.” For example, Cuba advised Russia to “continue efforts to strengthen the legislative framework of the national system for the promotion and protection of human rights” and Venezuela urged Russia to “oppose the politicization of human rights and their use to interfere in internal affairs of sovereign countries.”

Many of the comments and recommendations from European countries, the United States, Canada and other democracies were extremely critical and concrete. These countries made recommendations that add up to a roadmap for addressing Russia’s failings in such areas as respect for freedom of assembly, association, and expression as well as discrimination on grounds of religion, political views and sexual orientation. For example, Spain urged Russia to “repeal the law on foreign agents” and ensure that “freedoms of assembly, association, expression, demonstration and press are not limited” while the U.S. called for Russia (among many other things) to “relinquish de facto executive control over the media, parliament, and courts...” Several delegations made direct reference to Russia’s obligations to respect human rights in illegally occupied Crimea and in territories where it exercises effective control such as southeastern Ukraine (the Donbass region) and occupied regions of Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia). Some delegations also framed their recommendations to address very specific human rights abuses, such as New Zealand’s call on Russia to investigate allegations of “abductions, secret imprisonment, torture and other ill-treatment, and killings of gay men in Chechnya.”[22]


In response, while diplomatically thanking other delegations for their input and pledging continued Russian cooperation with the UN on human rights issues, the Russian delegation essentially rejected critical comments about its increasingly poor record by blaming them on misinformation or claiming that allegations were baseless. The Russian delegation immediately rejected all recommendations related to territories outside its formal jurisdiction, claiming that it has no responsibility for the human rights situations in Russian-controlled areas of the Donbass, Abkhazia or South Ossetia. Conversely, while taking full responsibility for the situation within Crimea (citing the “referendum” in which people supposedly expressed their “right to self-determination”), the Russian delegate claimed that no human rights abuses are taking place there. He also summarily rejected allegations of abuses related to discrimination, politically motivated prosecutions, religious freedom, LGBTI rights, classification of civil society organizations as “foreign agents”, or the decriminalization of domestic violence. Parroting comments offered by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov regarding abuses against gay men in Chechnya, he claimed that Russian Government inquiries found neither abuses nor any LGBT community in Chechnya at all. He concluded by pledging that the Russian Federation will continue to perfect its work to guarantee human rights and claimed that “no country is more interested in human rights than the Russian Federation itself.”


When the UNHRC considered the report on Russia in its plenary session on September 21, 2018, the Russian Minister of Justice announced that authorities in Moscow had carefully studied all the recommendations and claimed to welcome even those criticisms that it described as being constructive. At the same time the Russian Justice Minister lashed out at certain unnamed states for making repetitive recommendations based on what he described as “unverified” or “incorrect” information as well as mistaken interpretations of Russian law. Eleven international NGOs voiced their concerns and criticisms, both about Russia’s record and its failure to accept relevant recommendations, and 10 other delegations took the floor. Rather oddly, however, the delegations intervening in the plenary session came only from countries which praised Russia for its declared willingness to cooperate in the UPR process and purported progress in implementing previous recommendations. No member of the European Union or other “Western” country, nor any of the leading “non-Western” democratic governments took the trouble to intervene in this public session.[23] 


Opinions will certainly vary about the value and especially the effectiveness of the UPR process and other UN engagement on the actual enjoyment of human rights in Russia, and questions can certainly be raised about whether even ardent proponents of a multilateral approach to promoting human rights are paying sufficient attention to the details of the process. What is beyond doubt, however, is that the UPR review provides a rather unique forum both for official delegations and NGO critics to document human rights abuses by Russia (and every other UN Member State) through a formal multilateral process in which Russia officially participates. While Russian authorities may choose not to accept and are unlikely in the foreseeable future to implement the most substantial recommendations offered through the UPR process, the UPR background documents and records of the proceedings represent a serious effort to highlight gaps between the country’s international human rights obligations and the real situation on the ground.


Beyond the UPR: Other UN consideration of human rights in Russia, and official Russian interaction with the UN’s human rights machinery


How 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? .


The recent UPR discussions of Russian human rights performance and ongoing consideration of the Crimea human rights case are somewhat 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).[24] 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.[25]


UN treaty bodies have played a quite active and serious role in examining and commenting on Russia’s record. The most recent examples include those of the August 2018 session of the Committee against Torture, cited above, as well as a very thorough and critical review of Russia conducted in 2017 by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination established under the relevant UN Convention.[26]  Similarly, the latest report of the UN Human Rights Committee (the treaty body overseeing implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR)[27] provided a very thorough and critical survey of key concerns and makes extensive comments / recommendations about Russia’s human rights performance as of 2015 (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).[28]


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;[29] 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.[30]


Finally, two additional indicators of Russia’s evolving approach to UN human rights machinery may be the evolution of its official rhetoric concerning the UN human rights system and its willingness to accept a long-term OHCHR presence in the country. On the first count, various observers have noted that Russian dismissals of the UN and other serious multilateral approaches to human rights (and to any criticisms of Russia itself) have grown increasingly strident and hyperbolic in recent years. On the more practical matter of Russian cooperation with the UN human rights machinery, 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”.[31]


[1] A video of the event can be viewed at https://youtu.be/LhWtH1dL3bY

[2]Report of the UNHRC UPR Working Group on  the Russian Federation, 2013; https://www.upr-info.org/sites/default/files/document/russian_federation/session_16_-_april_2013/recommendations_and_pledges_russia_2013.pdf; Report of the UNHRC UPR Working Group on the Russian Federation, 2018, A/HRC/39/13 and Additional Comments by thr Russian Federation on Recommendations (Advance Unedited Edition, in Russian only, A/HRC/39/13/Add.1).  While Russia did accept 163 recommendations made by other Member States in 2013 and 225 recommendations in 2018, it also rejected or merely “noted” more than 70 recommendations in 2013 and nearly 100 recommendations in 2018. Many of the rejected recommendations addressed such subjects as torture, arbitrary detention and political prisoners, the death penalty, restrictions on NGOs, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, human rights abuses in the North Caucasus, the death of Sergey Magnitsky, and implementation of recommendations from international election observation missions.

[5]See, for example, the Russia sections of the annual reports of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House (Freedom in the World) as well as the Russia chapters of the annual United States Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

[11]http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/13/middleeast/russia-unsc-syria-resolutions/index.html; While generally resistant, Russia has not consistently blocked the UNSC from taking any action on these human rights matters; for example, had Russia objected, the UNSC President would not have been authorized to issue a strong statement “on behalf of the Council” on the situation Myanmar on 6 November 2017 (seeS/PRST/2017/22)

[12]See, for example, Colum Lynch, "At the U.N., China and Russia Score Win in War on Human Rights", Foreign Policy online, March 26, 2018; see also a recent study by Theodore Piccone of the Brookings Institution…

[17]The OHCHR compilation of civil society and “other stakeholder” submissions and links to all of the submissions for the 2018 session can most easily be accessed from the website of the NGO “UPR-INFO.” For some specific examples, see reports submitted by Article 19, PEN International, SOVA Centre, Roskomsvoboda, Mass Media Defence Centre, and OVD-Info, Anti-Discrimination Center "Memorial" and the Russian LGBT Network, Civicus.org, Cultural Survival, Russian Alliance against Sexual Exploitation of Children

[22] The Working Group’s report is in UN Document  and Russia’s response to the recommendations is is document A/HRC/39/13/Annex 1. The Russian reply simply ignores all recommendations related to its actions in such areas as Abkhazia (Georgia) and eastern Ukraine.

[23] Apart from representatives of the Russian Federation and non-governmental organizations, the full list of plenary speakers represented Angola, Belarus, Bolivia, Botswana, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, North Korea, Egypt, and Gabon.


[27]Not to be confused with the intergovernmental UN Human Rights Council or its predecessor, the UN Commission on Human Rights

[29] Nor is the United States.

25 October 2018

Celebrating UN Day As We The Peoples

By Stephen F. Moseley, UNA-NCA President

The greeting given on United Nations Day from UN Secretary-General António Guterres, underscores our need to stand in solidarity around the world to "heal our planet, to repair broken trust and to leave no one behind." The same day, October 24, we in the United States saw pipe bombs delivered across the country in an attempt to kill major leaders including President Obama, Secretary Hillary Clinton, key leaders from Congress, civil rights leaders, a past CIA Director, reporters at CNN news headquarters in New York, and the philanthropist George Soros, amongst others. We are reminded by all this that the United Nations, founded now 73 years ago by nations of the world in 1945 (now with 196 countries), came about in the aftermath of a world war which threatened to end all freedoms for people across the world, and to deny dignity and prosperity for all. 

The founding of the UN, with the signing of its Charter, begins with the words, 

“WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war … to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women, and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom."

Since its founding, the UN Charter and work of the UN has served well as the framework to hold our world leaders to sustain civil discourse, seek more equity for the most vulnerable, share technical progress in the health and education fields, increase economic productivity, protect those affected by man-made or natural disasters, and more. With the advent and dissemination of weapons of mass destruction in the 1940’s, 1950's and 1960's, the creation of frameworks and treaties, as well as subsequent monitoring and inspection led by the UN for nuclear non-proliferation, has been a bulwark to save our planet from total destruction.

In the past two decades, the UN has updated its mission and capabilities with near universal agreement in the Sustainable Goals for 2030. Among others, these goals include several important tasks such as eliminating poverty for all people on earth and reducing manmade climate change, which threatens our world today. The goal relating to climate change encourages us all to work together to reduce carbon emissions, protect trees, and change our dangerous behaviors of pollution and overconsumption. 

Today this mission and responsibility for all of us as local, national and international citizens of a common globe can see and understand that a strong and compassionate United Nations is essential for each of our daily lives. This long-term commitment to the UN must be a priority for all nations, especially the US. In the face of many global challenges such as war and violence, natural disasters, and growing inequities among billions of people, we must celebrate this UN Day standing together for the UN. We must call for civil discourse about our role in the world and provide generous financial leadership and engagement at the UN through our U.S. political leaders in Congress, the White House and our ambassadors to the UN.

Vitriolic discourse and actions are a danger to our democracy and lead only to greater violence at home and in the world. To save the planet and make the world a better place for all of us, we must cease attacking or withdrawing from global cooperation treaties at the UN. Neglecting to do so will be to the detriment of our own community and to the national social fabric at home today in US. The engagement of the U.S. and its citizens in the UN is the mission and purpose of UNA-NCA. Please join and support our events for the balance of this year including our UN Day Celebration with UNICEF Executive Director on October 29, our annual Human Rights Awards event on December 6, and in our ongoing advocacy efforts and other programs.

23 October 2018

Coverage of Eleanor Roosevelt Happy Hour 2018

UNA-NCA celebrated the birthday of Eleanor Roosevelt, the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Day of the Girl on October 11th at the Eleanor in DC! Watch the video for remarks from the District of Columbia's representative, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Director of the U.S. National Committee for UN Women, Susan Cutri.

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