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UU-UNO Director’s Letter

Bruce Knotts

March 2013

We’ve had an eventful March here at the UU-UNO. Below, I’m sharing with you a few of the highlights:

International Justice Day: July 17th

I’m asking you to organize programming in your congregation celebrating International Justice Day on July 17th. The UU-UNO is committed to international justice through its dedication to the International Criminal Court (ICC). In the 1990s Elaine Harvey (Canadian) and John Washburn (American) working at the UU-UNO led the faith-based caucus to establish the ICC, which ensures that massive human rights violations cannot be committed with impunity. Your UU-UNO leaders insured that the ICC pays particular attention to protecting women from genocide and crimes against humanity.

On March 7th, I attended an excellent presentation sponsored by the Mission to the UN of Finland entitled, “ACHIEVING GENDER JUSTICE: THE CASE FOR REPARATIONS.” Ms. Elisabeth Rehn, from Finland, who is a member of the Board of Directors of the ICC Trust Fund for Victims, spoke of efforts to attach the assets of the perpetrators of violence against women in order to have funds to help the victims of the violence. It was recognized that no amount of money could compensate for sexual violence done to these women, but there was a critical need for funds to help victims put their lives back together. 

American Ambassador Stephen Rapp, Ambassador at Large in the Office of Global Criminal Justice at the U.S. Department of State also spoke. I asked why the U.S. has not ratified the Rome Statute and joined the ICC. Ambassador Rapp spoke frankly about how the United States does not join many international treaty bodies that we should join, such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the recent failed attempt to get the U.S. Senate to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by a vote of 61 in favor to 38 against, which failed to achieve the necessary 2/3 majority. However, even with the current U.S. Senate, from which it seems impossible to obtain any UN treaty ratification, the U.S. Obama Administration is working cooperatively with the ICC in every way possible within the law.

Today, I chair the Faith and Ethics Network for the ICC. This week on March 27th, Mr. Stephen Arthur Lamony, Senior Advisor to the Coalition for the ICC on African Union, United Nations and African Situations spoke to FENICC on the topic of, “Does the ICC unfairly target Africa?” The short answer is NO. It was, in fact, African nations which pushed for the creation of the ICC due to the inaction of the International Community during genocide in Rwanda. African nations wanted an international court which would ensure that the international community would not be able to again turn a blind eye when genocide and crimes against humanity were being committed. However, some African leaders became nervous when the UN Security Council had the ICC indict a sitting head of state, Sudanese President Omar Bashir. The ICC is looking at potential cases in Syria, Colombia and other parts of the world, but Lamony feels that criticism of the ICC, however unjustified, will continue.


Commission on the Status of Women: Educating Women and Girls for Communities Free Gender Based Violence

The first two weeks of March is a very special time at the United Nations, when the Commission on the Status of Women holds their events. Women from all over the world come to the UN to discuss the current status of women and plan for the year to come. On March 11, the UU-UNO also hosted an event during this very exciting time. We had originally been assigned a very small room, but at the last moment, we were assigned a much larger room and we worried we would not fill it up. We did with, an overflow crowd.

The speakers on our panel included: Tiloma Jayasinghe, the Executive Director of Sakhi for South Asian Women, a non-profit organization working to end gender-based violence. She was formerly a Social Affairs Office at the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women, where she was responsible for analyzing and identifying policies and practices eliminating violence against women from an international perspective. Pauline Park, Chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA) and president of the Board of Directors as well as Acting Executive Director of Queens Pride House, which she co-founded in 1997. Dr. Jean D'Cunha, Global Policy Adviser for Employment and Migration UN Women, based at UN Women HQ. She was the Regional Programme Director for the former United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) East and Southeast Asia Regional Office and the Regional Advisor/Programme Manager for the former UNIFEM Asia-Pacific and Arab States Regional Programme on Empowering Women Migrant Workers in Asia.

In order to combat and eliminate violence against women and children, further efforts must be directed towards prevention. The panelists illustrated international models for using education as a tool to combat violence against women as well as considering other tools. The panel discussed some of the successes and failures these models present as well as recommendations for the international community for moving forward. Some of the questions considered included: Is education a useful tool? How can we utilize and integrate education in a culturally sensitive way? What additional factors must be considered when developing policies and programs that utilize education as a means for addressing the issues surrounding gender based violence? Panelists also discussed other methods to protect women and children from abuse that go beyond education. The panelists illustrated the importance of educating communities against the discrimination of women to reduce violence and the significance of engaging all stakeholders in the conversation of violence. The causes and felt individual and community impacts of violence against women are complex and will only be effectively addressed through collective action. This panel provided an opportunity for information exchange among international experts on successful gender rights campaigns, programs, and policies using education to prevent and eliminate violence against women. 


UU-UNO Partners in Global LGBT Work

Human Rights Watch, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the Council on Global Equality are three of our most important partners. All three of these organizations do magnificent work to advance equality for all of us on a truly global scale. They work here at the United Nations, but their focus is global in nature, so we don’t necessarily see them here at the United Nations every day, because they are focused on the myriad of issues that crop up on a daily basis around the world. They monitor and support courageous implementing partners in many parts of the globe as well.   When I was a Foreign Service Officer, it was my privilege to work with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, verifying information they had and acting on information they provided. I often talk about being able to convince Assistant Secretary of State Kristen Silverberg in 2006 to change the U.S. vote at the UN to include LGBT organizations for consultative status. I also consulted with my former colleagues at the Department of State to advise ways to ensure that the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission could gain UN consultative status, which happen in 2010. I’ve had the highest respect for their work for many years.

Our work has been guided and enriched by Human Rights Watch which first alerted us to the situation in Uganda, and continues to inform and guide our work. Council on Global Equality has done an amazing job to turn U.S. Foreign Policy around with regards to LGBT issues. All three of these important organizations are vital players on the world stage in defense of equal rights for all. The UU-UNO’s niche is to be a constant witness to our faith and values on a daily basis here at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. This is work of critical importance that fits as a part of the mosaic of work done by the very fine and courageous people around the world defending human rights. Human Rights Watch, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the Council on Global Equality are giants in this very important work. I could go on to name other stellar organizations, such as ARC International, the Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration, Amnesty International and others. I have highlighted just a few of our partners and will mention others in upcoming letters. 

I was delighted to see Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer from the United Church of Christ on the PBS News Hour last night. He and about 100 other faith leaders are part of a consortium of progressive faith leaders the UU-UNO began in 2009 at the suggestion of Human Rights Watch. The UU-UNO is privileged to do its part as a witness to promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are apart along with our other principles here at the United Nations Headquarters every working day.

FIRST YOUTH-LED BRIEFING - Raising and Empowering Youth to Break the Cycle of Violence against Women and Children

On March 25th, Kamila Jacob, the UU-UNO Envoy Coordinator was one of the first youth leaders to conduct a United Nations Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organization briefing on the very important topic of breaking the cycle of violence against women and children. The briefing used an innovative interactive technique designed by Kamila to see how many of the audience members had been touched by violence, bigotry and discrimination.


A Season for Nonviolence 2013: Words and Water: Our Thirst for Peace: H2OPE

I was honored to be the keynote speaker at an event sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme and organized by the Temple for Understanding, which is an outstanding interfaith partner working on human rights and sustainable development. 


Sister Joan Kirby, walking towards me with her camera, has been an important ally who spoke at our seminar on empowering women for a better world. I spoke of the world’s diminishing supply of water and how as we now fight wars over oil, we will soon fight wars over water. I emphasized the importance of maintaining forests, especially rain forests as a way to protect the global water supply. Finally, I talked about how an individual who is intelligent, determined, patient, persistent and who can build alliances and networks can change the world; and can do so even when very young. I also mentioned that it is important to realize that the issue that may energize you, may not energize others. This is not an obstacle, but an opportunity to build an alliance where you can help your friend who campaigns to empower women for a better world and thus be able to claim her support in your quest to preserve the world’s supply of water ensuring that everyone everywhere had enough clean water to drink.


UN Sunday at All Souls Church, NYC

The UU-UNO Envoy Committee at the Church of All Souls in New York city organized a small function to celebrate UN Sunday, which included a viewing of the UU-UNO documentary film entitled, “Our Search for Peace: Our Voice of Hope,” which you can see by clicking on this link: http://vimeo.com/52860891 . Former UU-UNO Board Presidents, Peggy Montgumery and Marilyn Mehr spoke at this event. I talked about our 2012 seminar which discussed the Doctrine of Discovery and the UN Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.


UU Seminarians at Union Theological Seminary

There are currently 15 Unitarian Universalist seminarians at the prestigious Union Theological Seminary, which has been the home for such luminaries as Walter Rauschenbusch, Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, James Cone, Cornel West, and others. I happened to see and shake hands with Cornel West on Monday, March 27, which was the day I had the chance to speak to UU seminarians. We are working on an agreement with Union Theological Seminary so that we can be assured of having a UU seminarian as an intern/fellow at the UU-UNO for every academic year. However, Union requires that we pay $3,300 a year to the Union intern/fellow. We don’t have that in our very tight budget. If you are interested in donating specifically to ensure that we have a UU seminarian at the UU-UNO in the coming academic year, please contact me. Our current UU Union Theological seminarian is Dylan Debelis who is working on a very important project, with important advice from First Unitarian Toronto senior minister, Rev. Shawn Newton to ascertain how UU-UNO programming can become more relevant to UU congregations. Dylan has been calling ministers and assembling data so that we can formulate plans and programs which will be assets to congregational programming and engage members in the work of the UU-UNO.

Committee Meetings

I chair three important committees at the United Nations. They are the NGO Committee on Human Rights and its Anti-Racism Subcommittee, the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security, and the Faith and Ethics Network for the International Criminal Court. If you want to attend any of these meetings, please let us know. We held the following meetings recently:

1.     February 28, 2013: NGO Committee on Human Rights and the NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security: The Human Right to Peace.

2.     March 11, 2013: Commission on the Status of Women Side Event sponsored by the UU-UNO on Educating Women and Girls for Communities Free of Gender Based Violence

3.     March 27, 2013: FENICC meeting: Does the ICC unfairly target Africa? 

4.     March 29, 2013: Climate Change Think Tank at the Kimmel Center at New York University.

Congregational Visits, Spring Seminar, and other events

·      March 3, 2013: Morristown, NJ

·      March 16, 2013: Shelter Rock, NY visit to the UU-UNO

·      March 24, 2013: All Souls NYC, NY

·      March 26, 2013: Attended anti-DOMA rally at Beit Simchat Torah Synagogue led by Rabbi Rachel Weiss where we (UU-UNO staff) read a prayer by Rev. Bill Sinkford.

·      April 4-6, 2013: Spring Seminar, NYC, NY

·      April 7, 2013: Plainfield, NJ

·      April 12, 2013: Screening of “Two Who Dared” at the UN Church Center

·      April 12-13, 2013: JPD Conference: UU-UNO Workshop on April 13th

·      April 27, 2013: 2013 BCD Spring Conference keynote speaker in Kingston, MA

Spring Seminar

We have a truly outstanding Spring Seminar planned this year, titled: Sex, Love and Violence: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in a Globalized World. We will have an array of outstanding speakers from all parts of the world, different faith traditions, and much, much more. We will have an Interfaith panel, a Media panel and more. 

To sponsor an attendee, please go the the registration payment page (uucsj.org/pay) and use trip code: UU-UNO. Instead of your name, please put "Scholarship," we will know your name and email address for follow-up from the cardholder information. 

If you have questions or concerns, please write us at unitednations@uua.org.

To support this important work please visit https://giving.uua.org/UU-UNO

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