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20 January 2021

Results - UN75 - Global Conversation

The UN’s Secretary-General, António Guterres, saw UN75 as an opportunity for the organization to listen to the people it serves.

Throughout 2020, the UN carried out its most ambitious effort to date to consult the global public, working closely with UN offices at the regional and country-level, as well as partners from all sectors. It asked people what they most want for the future – and what they most fear. It also asked about their expectations of international cooperation and the UN in particular. 

The results were communicated through the following reports:

13 January 2021

Walking for Freedom: Experiencing Venezuelan Displacement Through a VR Lens

Panel Discussion on the exodus of Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela
By Amy Olejniczak, Sustainable Development Committee Member


On December 17, 2020, the UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee in partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and its nonprofit partner USA for IOM facilitated a discussion about the displacement of refugees and migrants from Venezuela, following the presentation of Walking for Freedom: A Venezuelan Story at the Global Migration Film Festival.

Walking for Freedom: A Venezuelan Story is an immersive 360° documentary short describing the journey of Venezuelan refugees and migrants across the Simón Bolívar International Bridge that links Venezuela and Colombia. The film encourages viewers to quite literally walk a mile in the shoes of refugees and migrants from Venezuela and experience their heart wrenching plight as they walk away in search of new opportunities.

The exodus of Venezuelans is the largest in recent history of Latin America and the Caribbean. Over 5.4 million Venezuelans are living outside of their country as of November 2020. That number is expected to reach 6.2 million worldwide by end of 2021. Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador are their main host countries. A number of difficulties surround refugees and migrants from Venezuela, including decreased income, greater health risks, familial losses, pandemic-related challenges, and increased gender-based violence. 

IOM Washington Chief of Mission Luca Dall’Oglio opened the event, which took place on the eve of International Migrants Day. He highlighted the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the precarious conditions facing Venezuelans across the region. The film’s production team then participated in a panel discussion to discuss their experiences filming and the current situation. Maria Moreno, Head of Operations and Private Sector Engagement for USA for IOM, moderated the panel.

Carlos Macher, Director of Walking for Freedom, shared that he hopes to “represent and portray a story that needs to be shared and told in a 360-degree way to open our eyes to the reality before us and is growing.” 

Executive Producer Juan Pio Hernandez’s drive is sharing the Venezuelan story and changing the narrative around refugees and migrants. Juan Pio says that the imagery in the documentary short “helps the audience conceptualize this place. With virtual reality, we don’t have a frame anymore… it bridges the gap of being there.”

Macher describes his experience filming at the Simón Bolívar bridge, noting “an artificial bridge has been built and you can see the difference at the yellow doors. As a Peruvian, it is heartbreaking seeing two countries and populations who are historically friends so divided.” He remembers going to the border and the remains of trucks offering aid blocked from entering Venezuela.

This is the epicenter of the crisis. The filmmakers experienced the solidarity in the stories of those who give this movement depth and purpose firsthand. Hernandez says the experience was very emotional and seeing the country’s destruction has been difficult.

Hernandez describes life for Venezuelans in their own country. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed even more opportunities to continue to help. The production team was filming in May and June of 2019.

The situation has worsened since this period. Moreno emphasizes that from the UN’s perspective, there is currently a massive inter-agency emergency response underway in an attempt to assist about 3.3 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Refugees and Migrants Response Plan 2021 calls for $1.44 billion to address the increasingly urgent health and socioeconomic-related needs.

Viewers can visit walkingforfreedom.org to see and share the film. The production team calls for action from all: Funding is needed. The crisis is worsening every day. Macher encourages viewers and advocates to commit to action where they can and beyond. It can be as simple as “sharing a post on Instagram or a link to the film.” He adds, “let’s focus on resilience and let’s talk about contributions Venezuelans bring to our society.” 

In closing remarks, Tom Bradley, UNA-NCA Vice Chair of Programs echoes, “let’s work for Venezuelans, advocate for them, support them, resettle them, and make their lives better. They are willing to work to make their lives better – we just need to give them the chance.”

For more information on the film, please visit: http://www.walkingforfreedom.org/ 

06 January 2021

Brian Urquhart (1919 - 2021)

By Ok Pannenborg, UNA-NCA Advisory Council

Credit: UN Digital Archives 

A giant of international relations and universal peace has left us

Last Saturday one of the most consequential leaders of the world's international system in the 20th century passed away at the venerable age of 101. Brian Urquhart arguably was the most accomplished global peace arrangement implementor the world had in the second half of the 20th century and may well join the historical pantheon of the great and the good, next to presidents, economic and social leaders and thinkers, world religious leaders and philosophers and kings. While most of these were or are national or issue-specific protagonists who achieved global recognition, Urquhart was a global leader by nature. As the number 2 at the U.N. for many years, he was seen and respected as a shepherd of the world's international order and system, as a global representative of the world community. While he was born British, he became the quintessential universal leader whose nationality and origin were felt to be irrelevant. His early joint learning experience with Indira Ghandi whom he was in class with at primary school gave him an early feel for the diversity of perspectives that would guide the shape and reach of the international system following the Second World War and emergence of the newly independent states from colonial rule. 

Brian Urquhart's significance lay in his unparalleled ability to implement and bring to fruition the newly minted values, norms and standards embodied in the multitude of United Nations' treaties, conventions and arrangements. Recalling the unique importance of conceptualizing and elaborating the new world ideas, postulates and standards agreed upon in the charters and covenants of the United Nations by such luminaries as Cassin, Malik, Chang, Falk, Myrdal, Röling, Abi-Saab, Galtung and many others, it was Urquhart who subsequently became the prime mover to actually translate these into practice in the real world of major conflict, national political contentions and geopolitical risk. Concepts such as universal peace, individual or collective self-defense, equal rights and self-determination, prohibition of use of force, non-intervention in domestic affairs, war crimes, and human rights and fundamental freedoms are all lofty ideals and currently globally accepted standards, they can remain distant in the letter of international law if not actually applied and regionally, nationally or locally enforced: it was here that Brian Urquhart set the gold standard and showed that these had meaning in the real world and should and could become an integral part of a more peaceful and better human condition. 

His military experiences in WW II, his sense of humor in combination with his phlegmatic calm in crisis, his irreverence and his understatedness guided his successes in lowering temperatures and successfully preventing conflict and war from the 1950s into the 1980s in the Middle-East (Suez, Lebanon, Cyprus, Sinai, etc.), Africa (Congo/Katanga, Namibia, etc.), Asia (Kashmir, etc.) and many other places, all the while overseeing the U.N.'s peace-keeping forces and their deployment (the U.N. 'blue helmet' was among his ideas to ensure they could be distinguished from other forces).

Appropriately, his work and approaches on behalf of the greater good and interests of the world community as a whole, as brought together under U.N. auspices, were recognized by the awarding of the Nobel Prize in 1988 to the U.N. Peace Keeping Forces. 

As students and practitioners of the principles of the United Nations and its Associations around the world -and in particular our U.N. Association here in the U.S. Capital Area- we will miss Brian Urquhart as our shining light of 'can do': while continuing to further develop deeper and better understanding and codification of U.N. ideals and values, we will remember him for a long time to come as the best 20th century champion for implementing these principles in practice among all conflict parties involved, with understanding, humor, tolerance and flexibility but equally with determination and mutual-interest-convincing, for those communities whose well-being and future often is dependent on their actual application.

See BBC radio piece by Mark Mallock-Brown here (45.00 minutes in).

05 January 2021

Our Condolences on Rep. Jamie Raskin's Loss

The Board of Directors and staff of the UN Association of the National Capital Area wish to express our deepest condolences to Representative Jamie Raskin (MD-8) for the recent loss of his beloved son at age 25 to depression.  

Rep. Raskin announced his son's death on New Year's Eve and the family launched The Tommy Raskin Memorial Fund for People and Animals that will benefit the charities he championed, including the Helen Keller Institute and Animal Outlook through the Greater Washington Community Foundation.

The family published an emotional tribute describing Tommy as "a radiant light in this broken world."  The Raskins detailed Tommy's lifelong penchant for helping others, describing him as a "daring outspoken defender of all outcasts and kids in trouble" who "always made time for the loneliest kids in class" at every stage of life.

There are no words to describe the unbearable sorrow the family, friends, colleagues and community must feel. This is a reminder of the need for greater attention to mental health as we work on building a more sustainable future for all.

23 December 2020

Happy Holidays from UNA-NCA

As 2020 draws to a close, we reflect with gratitude on the many lessons learned and are hopeful for what lies ahead. 

This has been an unprecedented year full of challenges and hardships for everyone. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop UNA-NCA from being there for its members and supporters, and it didn’t stop our leaders and staff from pushing through and overcoming obstacles to succeed.

We were tested, perhaps like never before, and through it all we've been reminded of our strength and resolve. In record time, we successfully transitioned our programming to virtual platforms, significantly increasing our outreach and visibility within and beyond our jurisdiction.

This year:

  • UNA-NCA enhanced its digital advocacy capabilities during the pandemic and conducted several virtual meetings with legislators. Over 800 people were engaged in the new “Coffee Chat” series that brought together corporate leaders, policy experts, and UNA-NCA members to explore the SDGs in a virtual roundtable format. Snapshots was introduced with significant blog contributions, policy briefs and SDG spotlights. See more here
  • UNA-NCA’s Global Classrooms DC program adapted its curriculum for online learning, conducted monthly virtual Model UN committee sessions, renewed its partnership collaborations and executed an entirely virtual training conference engaging over 130 participants on the topic of access to vaccines and affordable medicines. See more here
  • UNA-NCA’s Young Professionals Program offered virtual career and mentoring opportunities, and the Graduate Fellows Program grown significantly both in its demand and participation as well as the quality of the program’s offerings.
  • To mark the UN’s 75th anniversary, UNA-NCA held public consultations on how the UN must evolve to meet today’s challenges. A UN75 Consultation Report was submitted to the UN Secretary-General for review during the United Nations General Assembly. Two high level programs on the future of the UN and the SDGs took place in October, involving members of congress, diplomats and UN leaders.  
  • Our recent Human Rights Awards was a resounding success, celebrating inspiring human rights leaders and reaching a record number of participants and sponsors. You can watch the video here

I am amazed not only at how much we have been able to accomplish but at the solidarity, compassion, and resilience demonstrated through the adversity of 2020. We have endured much, taken on more than we may have thought possible, and held our heads high through it all. 

On behalf of everyone at UNA-NCA, I wish you and your loved ones a safe and peaceful holiday season and New Year.

With much appreciation,
Paula Boland
UN Association of the National Capital Area

Consider supporting UNA-NCA this holiday season. DONATE HERE!

21 December 2020

Global Classrooms DC: Year in Review

Curious what GCDC has done to transition Model UN programs online in 2020? Check out major highlights below!

Virtual Programming

Although the Spring 2020 Model UN Conference was cancelled, the GCDC team quickly transitioned to an online model in March. We quickly began offering virtual Model UN committee sessions using topics meant for the Spring Conference, as well as a Professional Development session for our educators. In addition to translating our Model UN programming virtually, we also adapted the entire year-round program in the summer so that it could be facilitated virtually, including distance learning guidance for all activities and a guide for conducting Model UN on a virtual platform. 

Monthly Virtual Model UN Sessions

Beginning in September, the GCDC team held monthly 1 hour virtual Model UN sessions centered around the mini Model UN simulations included in the GCDC Year-Round curriculum. Over the course of 4 months, GCDC executed 5 virtual sessions for schools signed up for the program, as well as workshops with individual schools, with a total attendance of 96 students across all 5 sessions. Each session focused on critical skills necessary for success in Model UN, including an overview of Model UN basics and a deep dive into public speaking. We also brought UN experts directly to virtual classrooms and held a session in partnership with the International Labour Organization focused on this year’s Spring Conference topic on Occupational Safety & Health.

Of the 51 students surveyed across the 5 sessions, 96% reported that they would like to attend another Virtual Model UN session. We look forward to the sessions we have prepared for the spring, including a webinar with the International Organization for Migration!

Fall 2020 Model UN Training Conference

The GCDC team successfully held our annual Fall Model UN Training Conference virtually for the first time! Over the course of three committees, 125 students from 11 schools debated issues related to the topic of  “Access to Vaccines and Affordable Medicines.” This year’s conference also featured a special-edition crisis committee, where delegates were faced with an Ebola outbreak. As a result of the conference, of the 94 students surveyed, 92% reported having a better understanding of the conference while 79% felt more confident applying problem solving and leadership skills in a group setting. Read more about the Fall 2020 Model UN Training Conference here.

Planning for the Spring

Despite the challenges that 2020 has brought to the program, we are impressed by the resilience of our students, educators, and parents. Looking into Spring 2021, the GCDC team is currently planning our annual Spring 2021 Model UN Conference, virtual Model UN sessions and webinars, and a Professional Development with Best Delegate. We look forward to working with you all in the Spring. Whether it be hybrid or virtual, we are ready for 2021!

Want to learn more about Model UN? Watch our Intro to Model UN webinar here.

Interested in GCDC? Learn more about the program here.

Stay connected with GCDC! 


17 December 2020

UNA-NCA Hosts Successful Virtual Human Rights Awards

By Danielle Black, UNA-NCA Program Assistant

On the evening of Thursday, December 10th, 2020, the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) hosted its first virtual Human Rights Awards program, an event put forth annually to commemorate the anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In honor of the 72nd anniversary of the adoption of this milestone document, UNA-NCA recognized individuals and organizations working to improve human rights in the DC community and around the world. This year’s honorees were: Dean Claudio Grossman, recipient of the Louis B. Sohn Human Rights Award; Professor Susan Deller Ross, receiving the Perdita Huston Human Rights Award;  Erin Barclay & Scott Busby, receiving the F. Allen “Tex” Harris Diplomacy Award; and the People for Fairness Coalition, receiving the Community Human Rights Award.  In addition to the award recipients, the event included notable presenters such as the President of the International Law Student Association at the Washington College of Law at American University, Jaclyn Lahr; former Supervising Attorney & Teaching Fellow at the International Women’s Human Rights Clinic at Georgetown Law, Michelle Liu; Ambassador Keith Harper (Ret), former U.S. Representative to the UN Human Rights Council; and Executive Director of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, Patricia Mullahy Fugere. The evening also included wonderful performances from Cage Free Voices.  Cage Free Voices is an international multi-service educational entertainment company that educates youth and young adults who struggle with self-image by way of constructing powerful learning experiences.

UNA-NCA Board Chair, Stephen F. Moseley, kicked off the program with welcome remarks. Moseley talked about the future Biden-Harris Administration needing “to start the process of re-engaging the United States in the Human Rights Council and to help people seeking asylum and protect them from attacks on their human rights.”  He then introduced UNA-NCA PresidentPaula Bolandwho started off by saying: “the UDHR is a milestone document that entails the inalienable rights that all human beings are entitled to, today we acknowledge the importance of this document and human rights.” She then continued on to say “we need to create equal opportunities for all, highlight the failures exploited by the Covid-19 pandemic and apply human rights to end systematic discrimination, corruption, and inequalities.” 

Following Boland’s remarks, we heard from the Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres who remarked upon the various human rights violations that the Covid-19 Pandemic has impacted upon different endangered communities including “frontline workers, women and girls, and minorities.” Next, Michele Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights declared, “Human Rights Day is a call to action and we must end discrimination of any kind, reduce widespread inequalities, encourage young people to participate and finally to work towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and stand up for human rights.”

After messages from UN Leadership, UNA-NCA presented the first award of the evening to Dean Claudio Grossman, Professor and Dean Emeritus at the American University Washington College of Law. Grossman said upon receiving the award that “Covid-19 has been a tragic reminder of the need for equality because Covid effects us all, we need then together to unite forces to avoid and prevent other challenges that we are facing in the future and now, such as climate change, discrimination, and authoritarianism.”

The Perdita Huston award was presented to Professor Susan Deller Ross, who is the Director of the  International Women's Human Rights Clinic at Georgetown Law. She spoke about her efforts to help “develop legislation and human rights reports to persuade parliament to get rid of old laws and enact new ones that do not discriminate against women.”  She was presented the award by her former student, now friend and colleague, Michelle Liu. This award was followed by a moving and passionate spoken word piece by Cage Free Voices titled “The Righteous Ones” that paid tribute to and spoke about the evening’s honorees along with the namesakes of the awards. 

The presentation of the F. Allen “Tex” Harris Diplomacy Award was awarded to Erin Barclay and Scott Busby of the U.S. Department of State. The presentation of this award was preceded by a tribute to Tex Harris, who passed earlier this year. Past President Ed Elmendorf described him as an “advocate for human rights in Argentina and a wonderful family man.” After receiving the award, Barclay, who serves as the Executive Director of the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs at the U.S. Department of State shared that “Pursuing human rights isn’t just the right thing to do: it protects America and sets a precedent. When the U.S. talks about human rights, other countries pay attention and strive towards better human rights.” Scott Busby, who serves as the Acting Principal Deputy Secretary of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. Department of State followed Barclay echoing her thoughts and adding “Harris’s foreign policy work still influences all those who are American diplomats, it not only puts people in the center of foreign policy but also has a dedication of speaking truth to power and an unwavering devotion of justice and fairness whether it is our own diplomats or people overseas.” 

The final award of the night was presented to the Community Award to People for Fairness Coalition, accepted by its Director, Robert Warren. He spoke about the plight of the homeless population of Washington, DC and their work to help end homelessness. Warren spoke about the coalition and their “work in support of the most vulnerable residents of DC.  It is hard work and we try and do it with dignity and respect for all.” The night wrapped up with remarks from UNA-NCA Human Rights Committee Co-Chair Rachel Bergseiker who was followed by Cage Free Voices’ second performance, a spoken word piece entitled “Greatness is Served.”

Special thanks were conveyed to UNA-NCA’s Human Rights Committee, leadership, staff and to our generous sponsors and donors who made this a great celebration of Human Rights Day.

01 December 2020

Students at the Fall 2020 Model UN Training Conference Tackle Access to Vaccines, Ebola Outbreak Crisis

From November 16th to 19th, GCDC held its annual Fall Model UN Training Conference in partnership with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). Global Classrooms DC, the flagship education program of 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 17 years. Each fall, we host a Training Conference to introduce several hundred students to Model United Nations, where they adopt a nation and debate pressing global issues with other delegates. 

This year’s conference was unique as it was GCDC’s first-ever virtual conference due to COVID-19 restrictions on in-person gatherings. This year’s conference featured 4 committees of no more than 50 students, each held over the course of two days to combat “Zoom fatigue.” The GCDC team were thankful for flexibility from students, chaperones, and conference staff as we all navigated the new format. 

Despite the circumstances, GCDC was pleased to have 126 students from 11 schools attend across the 4 committee sessions. For many of the students, who were in 5th to 12th grade, this was their first Model UN experience.

Each committee session was opened by Paula Boland, President of UNA-NCA, with brief remarks. The GCDC team is thankful to have also had Dr. Ok Pannenborg serve as the keynote speaker for this year’s conference. Dr. Pannenborg has worked in over 20 nations around the world in his time at the World Health Organization, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Bank (as the chief health advisor), among other organizations. He delivered a speech on the importance of international cooperation in achieving global health goals, especially as it relates to access to vaccines in the current coronavirus pandemic. Finally, GCDC’s Senior Global Education Manager, Jaiya Lalla discussed her experience with Model UN and explained the logistics of the virtual conference to the delegates. 

GCDC would also like to thank PAHO for their support for this year’s conference. Although the conference was not able to be held at the PAHO building, they provided excellent resources and an informative video on the importance of vaccines.

General Assembly Committees (1-3)

Given the circumstances surrounding the conference, the topics of debate couldn’t have been more timely. In the three General Assembly committees, delegates focus on the topic of “Access to Vaccines and Affordable Medicines.” Delegates began by delivering speeches about their nations’ experiences with outbreaks and stances on access to vaccines and other medicines. Soon, they began holding unmoderated caucuses, an informal period where each delegation strives to find common ground and form blocs with other like-minded nations. Eventually, after several hours of productive debate and writing across 2 committee sessions, the blocs completed their working papers, each containing specific, creative policy proposals to ensure fair and efficient distributions of affordable medicines. 

In Committee 1, which took place in sessions on Monday and Tuesday morning, 28 delegates represented 16 countries. Overall, out of the two produced draft resolutions, the committee passed one resolution that prioritized vaccine distribution to countries with the most number of COVID-19 cases and in densely populated areas, raising income tax to pay for the vaccine, supplying vaccines in pharmacies and hospitals, and encouraging multilateral coordination in addressing this global pandemic. 
In Committee 2, 28 delegates represented 17 countries, producing two draft resolutions through the two committee sessions on Wednesday and Thursday. The passing resolution recommended the creation a global fund for pandemic response funded by UN member states, improving education on vaccines, and advocating for global action against counterfeit vaccines.

Lastly, Committee 3 featured 53 delegates that represented 27 countries. Despite the large committee size, delegates produced 6 draft resolutions that focused on various facets of promoting affordable vaccines and medicines, including providing quality healthcare, combating misinformation on vaccines, lowering supply chain costs, and establishing microfinancing mechanisms for developing countries. 

Crisis Committee

This year, the conference also featured a UN Security Council crisis committee for the first time. The crisis committee served as a training session for seasoned Model UN delegates who had experience at at least three prior Model UN conferences, but limited crisis committee experience. Session 1 began with an announcement of a new outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in Sierra Leone. Delegates became familiar with the fast-paced nature of crisis committees and writing directives, or shorter versions of typical resolutions. By the end of Session 1, delegates passed two directives that highlighted the urgent needs of fund creation for containment efforts, enhancement of the medical delivery system, and increasing input of research and medical professionals. 

In Session 2, delegates were confronted with another crisis update that reversed their progress in their previous session - the UN aid convoy, carrying medical supplies and personal protective equipment was attacked by an armed group on its way to Sierra Leone hospitals. Delegates had an hour and a half before violent action was taken by the local government. This session was designed to prompt delegates to consider the real-world impact of their policy recommendations and how crisis committees can collaborate with each country to solve urgent crises globally. With minutes to spare, the committee unilaterally passed two directives that emphasized the redistribution of the WHO trust fund, enhancement of security for the medical supplies, and implementation of mental health programs for frontline workers and patients, etc.

The Fall Training Conference is part of a year-long curriculum for students who care about their global and local communities. With the collaboration of its partners, GCDC creates a curriculum that uses Model United Nations to cultivate an international perspective, promote understanding of the UN system, and encourage students to interact with others from diverse backgrounds. The curriculum is used by middle schools and high schools from across DC, Maryland, and Virginia, and is an opportunity for students to become more active local and global citizens by being exposed to larger issues and different viewpoints. 

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. Each spring, GCDC also hosts a competitive Model UN conference. You can find out more information on our website.

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