by Habibatu Jalloh, UNA-SNY Young Professionals Editorial Director
At the Global Engagement Summit on February 23, over 1,800 United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) members and other social justice advocates from across the country and beyond came to the United Nations to discuss pressing social justices issues facing member nations, particularly the U.S, in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals. The summit touched on all the main issues driving inequalities; extreme poverty, social injustice, and climate change. This year, the summit speakers highlighted the United States’ regression on all its social fairness progress: ending extreme poverty, tackling inequalities and injustices and climate change. Ultimately, the Summit speakers urged attendees on the necessity to advocate on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) locally.
Keynote speaker, Professor Jeffrey Sachs, lamented on the ever widening gap between the poor and the rich in the United States. He reminded us that even the Global Goals, which we may think are no long relevant to us, actually are; like ending extreme poverty (SDG 1) zero hunger (SDG 2) and reduce inequality (SDG 10). A claim substantiated by Professor Deaton’s article in the New York Times, in which he highlighted that there are currently 3.2 million Americans living on under $1.90 a day. The article went on to point out, that $1.90 is used to measure extreme poverty in the developing countries, for the US that would be equivalent to $4. He went to note that the number of Americans living under $4 a day is 5.3 million. It is concerning and disheartening to learn that millions of our fellow citizens are living in extreme poverty, in one of the richest countries on earth. Professor Sachs went on and said that economic progress must be socially inclusive and environmentally friendly, a fact Eleanor Roosevelt recognized long ago. In order for meaningful progress on social justice to be made, we must first tackle extreme poverty. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said “You cannot speak civil rights to hungry people”.
In the session on climate change, Hollywood actress Megan Boone reminded us all that regardless of where we live, the effect of global warming will reach us all, if we do not change course now. Within the same session, Lia Cairone, Senior Policy Advisor at New York City Mayor’s Office on Sustainability, discussed the city’s commitment to implementing the Paris agreement, highlighting current policy proposals to ensure drastic reduction on the reliance of fossil fuels. She also highlighted New York City’s aim to shift to fully renewable energy by 2050. Jamil Ahmad, UN Deputy Director and Head of Intergovernmental Affairs, UN Environment, emphasized the dire need for serious action on global warming. He stated that even if all current agreements were implemented by member states, it would not be a enough to meet the challenges of global warming. Ayesha Barenblat of Remake, discussed the role of the fashion industry in economic inequalities and environmental pollution, and her organization’s effort leading the way in creating environmentally friendly fashion.
Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director for Alliance of Families for Justice, focused on an often neglected group, the human rights of incarcerated populations and their families. She discussed the abuses they face; overcrowding, rampant assaults and other forms of abuses that are widespread in our current jails and prisons. She also discussed her organization’s advocacy efforts in ensuring that these people’s rights are protected. During his keynote speech, Professor Sachs pointed out the United States’ embarrassing high incarceration rate compared to our counterparts around the world. He added that we are the only developed country lagging on peace and justice strong institutions (SDG 16), explaining the current epidemic of mass shootings, a result of our government’s inability to pass sensible gun laws; is evidence of lack of peace and strong justice institutions.
In the closing session, the great-granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt; Perrin Ireland, reminded us of her great grandmother who chaired and helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; believed and fought for refugees’ right to choose their country of destination. However; Amir Ashour of Iraqueer, an Iraqi LBGTQ advocate and refugee rightly pointed out to us in an earlier session, how far we have moved away from Eleanor Roosevelt’s vision, by drastically reducing the number of refugees we allow to enter our country. He said, “Lebanon, a country about the size of Brooklyn took in 2 million Syrian refugees, while the United States, only accepted 1,600 refugees.” Restaurateur and Chef Lidia Bastianich, a Champion of Adopt-a-Future, highlighted how she herself was once a refugee and understands what it is like to have nothing but hope, and urged summit participants to hold-on to that America that welcomes refugees and gives generously. She encouraged UNA-USA members to host dinners in support of UNA-USA’s Adopt-A-Future Champion initiative; to help fund refugee children’s education in Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, in Kenya.
Clayton Ferrera, the Executive Director of Ideas for Us, emphasized the power of technology and how it has revolutionized advocacy for the better. He explained that we can educate ourselves on what our government is doing just by browsing websites like https://www.opensecrets.org/ and taking action on websites like https://hearmyvoice.com/. He emphasized the importance of using technology to harness advocacy and by educating ourselves on the issues we care about, we can become more effective advocates.
Bearing in mind, the focus of the United Nations Association is to advocate for United States support for the work of the UN, the main summit takeaway is, that now we need to have a dual advocacy focus; to support the UN work abroad, while also advocating for implementation of these essential global goals locally. We must advocate for the three pillars of the United Nations: the promotion of peace and security, human rights and sustainable development locally, in order for us to be effective and credible champions of the UN’s three pillars globally.
The United Nations Association Southern New York Division voted to establish the Queens Committee with Margaret Shannon as interim Chair. The Charter of the Queens Committee is:
The Queens Committee of the UNA Southern New York Division educates, inspires, and mobilizes Americans to support the principles and vital work of the United Nations, strengthening the United Nations system, promoting constructive United States leadership in that system, and achieving the goals of the United Nations Charter for the Borough of Queens, New York City.
The Division looks forward to an active and fruitful collaboration with the people of Queens! Learn more about the Queens Committee in their Facebook group.
- George Garland, President, UNA Southern New York Division
At the end of the Second World War, the international community led by Eleanor Roosevelt, embarked on a journey to prevent the atrocities of WWII from ever happening again. That effort gave yield to the draft document that on December 10, 1948, was adopted as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR); which proclaimed the inalienable rights everyone is entitled to as a human being- That is the right to live in freedom, safety and wellbeing regardless of race, gender, nationality, social or political opinion or other status. As time passed, it was clear that these fundamental human rights are still elusive to millions of people, mainly migrants and refugees.
In past five decades, the West (US, Canada, and Western Europe) has seen a steady increase in the number of people seeking refuge in their countries. Increasingly, these vulnerable peoples’ quest to seek a better life for themselves and their families, is made much harder with the advancement of technology which has made countries adopt stricter and more sophisticated border control mechanisms. These vulnerable people exposed themselves to more dangers in their attempt to get to the West such as having to take riskier journeys and rely more and more on people smugglers who take advantage of them. The horror stories told by those who survived these dangerous journeys -mostly youth; from trafficking, assault and exploitation, are all too common stories. It was no surprise then, after decades of the campaign, in order shine the light on the plight of refugees and migrants around the world- on December 04, 2000 the United Nations declared December 18, International Migrants’ Day.
While the plight of migrants is nothing new, due to the war in Syria and other conflicts, the scale of migration has grown exponentially. Sadly, in the last three years, we have seen how these vulnerable migrants, fleeing conflict and poverty have had their human rights curtailed, or altogether denied. As Syrian refugees fleeing the war, with no other alternative to reach Europe embarked on the deadly journey by sea on tiny boats. While we watched in shock and horror on our TV screens, boatloads of migrants capsizing and drowning of dozens and sometimes hundreds in the sea. We were shocked again, to watch the CNN International undercover footage, that shows African migrants trying to get to Europe being sold into slavery in Libya for as little as $400. As we ponder on why people will put themselves at such grave risk, to make it to the West, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres provided a fitting response. He stated migration is not a new phenomenon, it has only been exacerbated due to instabilities, inequalities and labor demand, our responsibilities are through collaboration to solve the factors that increase mass migration while safeguarding the rights and safety of these migrants.
The Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo shared, during a joint press conference with French President Macron in Accra on December 4, 2017, that African youth are not taking the hazardous journey to Europe because they want to, they are doing it due to the lack of economic prospects at home. He continued, should socio-economic climate in their country change, many of these youngsters would not embark on this odious journey. People have always moved to escape wars, persecution, and poverty. This is true for African youths, as it is for Syrian refugees and other migrants from all around the world.
President John F Kennedy once said, “The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened” Bearing in mind the millions of people around the globe, whose human rights are continuously threatened daily, advocating for the human rights of all is still as pertinent today as it was 70 years ago. It is evident that tighter border securities do not deter people fleeing wars, persecution, and poverty, but it does diminish our collective human rights. What can deter mass migration and reduce the rampant abuse of their fundamental human rights, are as highlighted by the UN Secretary-General and President Akufo-Addo above; working collaboratively to foster peace, create opportunities and ensuring safe movement of people who choose to migrate. As we reflect on the challenges and successes of the last 69 years of UDHR, and we gear up for a year long celebration of the 70th anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, let us all do our part to champion this year’s theme: stand up for human rights- let stand up for the freedom, justice and dignity for all peoples.
by Jeanne Betsock Stillman
UNA-SNY Vice President, Chapter Developtment
The Southern NYS Division, SUNY Global Engagement Program and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., sponsored a program to celebrate the 72nd anniversary of the United Nations. Held on October 27 at the SUNY Global Center, the program celebrated Global Goals / Local Leaders, and focused on Goals 16, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions and 17: Strong Institutions for the Goals. About 65 attended from the SUNY GEP, Borough of Manhattan Community College, Adelphi University and SUNY Farmingdale, in addition to representatives of NGOs, Alpha Kappa Alpha Chapters Eta Omega Omega, Zu Theta Omega, and Tau Omega, and UNA-USA members from throughout the Southern NYS Division.
The program was moderated by S. Ilgu Ozler, who directs the SUNY GEP. Prof. Ozler explained how Goal 16 was directly relevant to the United States and the tie-in to the Division's ongoing work on Race, Criminal Justice and Human Rights. Troy Wolfe, UNA-USA Senior Director for Education and Learning spoke about his work and his recent trip to Charlottesville, Va.
Ms. Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director, Alliance of Families for Justice, spoke on Goal 16 and the work of the Alliance on advocating for prisoners and their families, including in the recent march from Harlem to Albany. Dr. Ruth Hassell-Thompson had been taken ill, and Ms. Elijah expanded her presentation (they otherwise would have had a "conversation" about issues).
Dr. George Garland presented Local Leader awards to Ms. Elijah and to Dr. Hassell-Thompson, with Donna Drayton accepting on behalf of Hassell-Thompson.
Dr. Schwank, Economic Affairs Officer, Financing for Development Office, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and Dr. Aniket Shah, Program Leader - Financing for Sustainable Development Initiative, New York, spoke on the global issues related to financing development worldwide. Dr. Schwank talked about SDG #17 and financing for it in relation to public and private resources. Dr. Shah spoke about private capital and the SDGs, and how the flow mainly goes from rich countries to rich and moderate countries. There is plenty of money worldwide to eliminate poverty, but the decision to do so is not there.
by Joanna Blaz, UNA-SNY Young Professionals Editorial Director
The United Nations Association Southern New York Division Young Professionals are co-sponsoring UNA Brooklyn's third annual celebration of United Nations Day.
UN Day celebrates the founding document of the United Nations: The UN Charter. October 24, 2017 marks the 72nd year since the charter’s ratification. The day is observed as a public holiday for all member states.
The celebration will include discussions on the future of the UN from UNA leaders, a reception with food and drink, and networking with Brooklyn activists and policy professionals.
The event will take place at Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon Street, on Tuesday, Oct. 24 from 6 to 9 p.m. Please RSVP on Eventbrite.
Nick Birnback- Chief of Public Affairs for the United Nations Department for Peacekeeping Operations & Field Support
Nick Birnback has more than 20 years of experience with the United Nations.
Munira Khalif- 2017-2018 U.S. Youth Observer to the United Nations
Munira Khalif is a passionate advocate for women’s education worldwide. As this year’s U.S. Youth Observer, she gives young professionals a voice at the United Nations.
5 p.m.- Doors open
6 p.m.- Introductory remarks, Speakers, Q & A
7:30 p.m.- Reception with food and drinks
Co-sponsors include: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Delta Rho Omega Chapter & Tau Omega Chapter; National Parks Conservation Association; New York Life-Mark Lewis; Southern New York State Division of the United Nations Association and Young Professionals; and 10x Management
Interview with Suzy Hansen, Author of Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World
by Joanna Blaz, Editorial Director, Young Professionals Program, UNA-SNY
At the United Nations Association of New York Book Talk for “Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World,” first-time author Suzy Hansen answered questions from the audience about her ten years as an American journalist living in Istanbul, feminism in the Middle East and the meaning of “Post-American.” The talk took place at the Institute of International Education and was attended by about 40 people.
Hansen writes in the same direct, intelligent and unapologetic style as she speaks, as she sets out to answer one main question: how does the rest of the world see Americans?
From the lyrics “where at least I know I’m free” to the way we dress as tourists, Hansen holds a mirror to the everyday cultural subtleties Americans never stop to examine, and attempts to understand when they started to seep into our subconscious.
“For all their patriotism, Americans rarely think about how their national identities relate to their personal ones,” Hansen writes. She often describes the country as an “empire” and presents the idea of two Americas: one viewed from the inside and one viewed from the outside.
After the Book Talk, Hansen answered a few questions for UNA-SNY YP.
JB: What was your impression of how the idea of the American free press and journalism is viewed abroad?
SH: “American foreign correspondents in particular do tend to have this attitude that we have the best journalism. That only American journalism is truly objective in a way, that it aspires to different standards than other countries… I think that Americans just forget to be self-critical.”
“[They] still have a way of looking at things that comes from being the most powerful country in the world… Even if you’re a liberal, even if you are self-critical, you have these kind of tendencies that come from power.”
JB: How do you think this book will speak to American immigrants?
SH: “A lot of these problems are enshrined in the immigrant experience actually. We tend to think that America’s so special because of the immigrant experience but one of the problems is when an immigrant comes to this country and they are starting anew, and they are told to forget the past… but it’s not just forgetting the past from that (country)… it’s that they don’t then realize that in order to become American, you also have to adopt the history of America, which is a bloody and violent history.”
JB: You were very self-aware about your own American bias. How did you keep your objectivity in mind while still exposing yourself to the culture when you chose the sources and locations in the book?
SH: “That’s why I kept the book so closely attached to my experience. I did not set out to report this book, it is all reflective.”
“I decided that in order to figure out how I had gone from being that person in 2007 to this person in --- by the time I started writing the book --- 2013… I just felt like I had to trace it. It wasn’t necessarily that I was going to set out and ask people ‘What do you think of America?’ Because then it wouldn’t be authentic but then also all the problems and issues that you’re raising would come up, like ‘Who did you select?’”
“But I knew that I had this transformation… there was this arc. And I just wanted to write a book that accounted for how that arc happened.”
by Joanna Blaz, UNA-SNY Young Professionals Editorial Director
sThe United Nations Foundation hosted a reception last week to welcome the sixth annual U.S. Youth Observer to the United Nations, Munira Khalif.
The U.S. Youth Observer is appointed through a competitive, politically active pool of 18 to 25 year olds. The program is run by the U.S. Department of State and UNA-USA with the goal of engaging youth in international affairs.
Khalif will represent American youth at the 72nd UN General Assembly and at other United Nations events throughout her year-long term.
On Saturday night, the newly-appointed Khalif was eager to share with UNA-YP what she would like to achieve during her term.
“Oftentimes there are these high-level meetings… about issues that affect young people and young people are not at the table,” Khalif said.
One of Khalif’s defining experiences in activism was with the United Nations Foundation program Girl Up. As a Girl Up Teen Advisor, Khalif saw how many young women often feel marginalized and overlooked when she lobbied for the “Girls Count Act of 2015.” This law (then bill) ensures that women in developing countries obtain birth certificates and become legitimate members of society. “How do you make those people visible and make sure they’re counted?”
Khalif’s passion for women’s rights started early. Growing up in an immigrant family, Khalif was aware of the sacrifices her Somalian parents made.
“My mom is one of those women who is just such a strong advocate for women that you can’t help but become passionate for women’s issues and just gender equality in general,” Khalif said.
It’s no surprise that the Sustainable Development Goals that Khalif is passionate about are “Gender Equality” and “Quality Education.”
“Even though I had access to education, education was something that wasn’t easily accessible to girls just like me in many parts of the world, including Somalia.”
This inspired Khalif, with the help of her siblings, to start “Lighting the Way.” The organization aims to make education more accessible in east Africa.
Khalif sees other education activists as role models, and actually got to meet one of them in her home state.
“(Malala) is literally one of those examples of overcoming… immense obstacles that were put in her way to receive an education. That’s really what I’m inspired by.” Khalif said she met Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai when she came to Minnesota to speak to recent immigrant Somali girls and refugees about the importance of education.
“You have this education… we have these degrees, but it’s just the question of what are you doing, how are you making a better world, not only for yourself and your family, but also for the people around you?”
While advocating for others to learn, Khalif is pursuing her own education as an Economics major at Harvard University. Besides her education and advocacy, Khalif still finds time for her creative hobbies.
“I’m a nerd!” She laughed through her bold pink lipstick, while admitting she enjoys blogging and writing poetry.
As U.S. Youth Observer, Khalif is looking forward to meeting people from different GenUN chapters and finding out what they are passionate about.
“These institutions like the United Nations exist not for some people, but for all people,” Khalif said. “You don’t really have to look too far to actually realize where you could have an impact.”
As fall approaches we wanted to update UNA-SNY members on the best ways to continue to advocate for and learn about the most pressing sustainability issues. See below for events and resources:
Make sure to sign up for our newsletter to be notified of advocacy actions and panels and discussions led by UNA-SNYs Energy Project.
by George Garland, UNA-SNY President
At the Social Good Summit, a day after the climate march in Manhttan, the Greenpeace Executive Director noted the planet will be fine without people—oceans won’t acidify, forests will flourish, groundwater will recharge—it’s the people who are at risk.
The vast majority of the global community supports the Paris Accord. Bill Mc Gibben, 350.org, cited agreement that a 1.5 degrees centigrade increase would keep the global community safe. Yet agreed actions lead to a 3 degrees centigrade increase. The Clean Power Plan, a key US action, now not supported by US leadership.
Forecasts from complicated mathematical models aside, the Great Acceleration shows why global action is needed. Major increases in both environmental and socio-economic indicators from 1950 to present bring us out of the Holocene, the last 10,000 years with temperature variations limited to about one degree centigrade. This favorable climate for human development now gives way to the to the Anthropocene. Now human activity can take us into uncharted territory including the ability of acidifying oceans to supply fish, deforestation changing rainfall patterns, and water scarcity.
The Great Acceleration continues in the Age of Sustainability. The Earth Institute’s Jeff Sachs points out that global product will triple by 2050 while carbon load must be cut in half—change by a factor if 6 in carbon intensity to keep us safe. We will add many more mega-cities and global increases in purchasing power will put pressure on supplies of food, energy, and water.
Our global challenge is well summarized in Doughnut Economics. Raworth combines the Planetary Boundaries of Johan Rockstrom’s Stockholm Resilience Institutes Planetary Boundaries with the aspirations of the Sustainable Development Goals to demonstrate a safe space for humanity.
Moon Shot Mentality Vandana Shiva argues for a massive effort to restore the functionality of soils versus geo-engineering schemes such as filling the atmosphere with pieces of aluminum. Partnership with the microbial universe is indeed the way forward with energy from biomass, food and energy savings from green roofs, vertical farms which need much less water, and composting of animal manures to restore the carbon capture and ground water recharge capabilities of soils as the goals of a sensible latter day Moon Shot.
by Lidia Koljancic
On the occasion of World Refugee Day, Christopher Swain, a courageous, experienced swimmer and advocate for refugees, swam two miles across New York Harbor, from the Statue of Liberty to Manhattan, then walked four miles to the United Nations, to bring attention to the millions of people forced to leave their native countries by persecution and war in the worst refugee crisis since World War II. His aim was to highlight the vital work of the UN for saving lives, protecting rights and trying to build a better future for refugees.
The event was part of a fundraising effort of the UNA-USA Westchester Chapter to support schooling for child refugees in Kenya as part of the UNA-USA and USA for UNHCR “Adopt a Future” campaign.
At a reception in the conference room of the UN Foundation, Rachel Bowen Pittman, UNA-USA Senior Membership Director, greeted Christopher. Ninette Kelley, Director of its New York Office, spoke on behalf of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and former Kenya ambassador to the UN Bob Jalang’o, of the UNA Westchester Chapter, described the “Adopt a Future” campaign and the schooling efforts in refugee camps in his country.
Christopher Swain gave a very moving speech -- not just the words of an heroic swimmer but also the words of a descendant of refugees from the Irish Potato Famine, an American who advocates for a strong positive role for the USA in the world, and a father who wants a bright future for his and others’ daughters. He urged that we recognize the refugee and immigrant heritage of most of us, that we realize the USA could use its role and resources as a global superpower to change the lives of millions of refugees, and that as humans we can and should embrace all of our human family.
The message of the evening was that World Refugee Day must be important for each of us: We are all humans. In supporting the “Adopt a Future” campaign we should care for and give to refugee children as if they were our own – for ultimately they are. It is still possible to make donations. Your donations will be matched by a generous philanthropist.
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