On Tuesday, April 2, 2013, a gathering of several hundred students, faculty, administrators and honored guests convened in Hennessy Hall (The Mansion – an historic building housing classrooms and administrative offices) on the bucolic campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University/Madison. Those in attendance were treated to an evening of enlightening and engaging conversation from the night’s featured speaker United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal and moderator Dr. Jason Scorza, Vice-Provost for International Education and Professor of Political Science and Philosophy.
The topic of discussion, Communications and Public Information: Key to U.N. Success or Failure?, centered on how the U.N. crafts its message, how the global body highlights its achievements and the positive work it does around the world and what communication tools do they utilize – new media, traditional print and electronic (TV and radio) media, or a combination of both?
Dr. Scorza posed a series of excellent questions for Mr. Tieffenthal, and the FDU professor fully engaged the audience in the conversation with the U.N. official, which set the stage for what ultimately turned out to be a very enriching and educational experience for all.
Under-Secretary-General Tieffenthal began his remarks by highlighting some of the important work and
accomplishments of the U.N. such as the assistance to refugees and displaced persons in Syria, the 2.5 million children saved from vaccinations directly as a result of the work of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the world body’s efforts on the frontlines in conflict zones. The major challenge, he believes, is how the U.N. translates its work from its headquarters in New York City directly to those who need help the most on the ground in the developing
Dr. Scorza began by asking the speaker the following question: What is the Department of Public Information? UNDPI was established in 1946 and there are 750 employees of the department in New York, in addition to 63 offices and information centers around the world. According to the UNDPI website, the mission of the department is to Inform. Engage. Act. The DPI uses a combination of new media and traditional media to disseminate its message. On social media platforms, like Twitter, there are 1.3 million followers of the global body as well as 3 million followers on Weibo in China.
Dr. Scorza followed up by asking some specific questions about UNDPI. What does DPI do when the U.N. General
Assembly makes a decision? How do you evaluate the effect of celebrity involvement in the work of the U.N.? The UNDPI takes advantage of all communication mediums to convey decisions of the U.N. General Assembly.
Celebrity involvement raises the public consciousness of specific U.N. issues; whether it is Forest Whitaker’s advocacy on behalf of child soldiers or Elie Wiesel speaking out against anti-Semitism or Angelina Jolie’s work with refugees as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Special Envoy and her work to eliminate land mines, the effect a celebrity has by having their name attached to a particular issue is immeasurable. As Mr. Tieffenthal pointed out, the only real measurable of celebrity involvement is the noticeable increase in social media traffic that occurs as a result of their high-profile efforts. The Austrian diplomat added that it is very important that the U.N. have partners like Hollywood, Bollywood (India) and Nollywood (Nigeria) as well as the private sector to increase the efficacy and visibility of its messages.
Q&A Session Equally Engaging
If anyone needed confirmation that this audience was paying attention to the one hour of conversation that occurred, they only had to listen to the questions posed by the attendees. Each question was well thought out in advance and
allowed for further discussion on the important issues addressed. They covered a rather broad spectrum from: How does the UNDPI track if their publications, UNTV, UN Radio are being monitored? What was the single, largest challenge the speaker has faced? How can U.N. leadership separate out their personal involvement on an issue, like U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s (the UNSG is South Korean) closeness to the North/South Korean situation? How does the U.N. “keep the energy going” long after an event has ended?
Based on the overall presentation, Mr. Tieffenthal clearly followed his department’s mission as he was informative, engaging and certainly appeared to have some in the audience ready to act.
Think for one moment of a time when you were extremely thirsty and in need of a drink of water. Perhaps you may have been exercising or working outdoors on a hot summer day; to quench your thirst you proceeded to the kitchen faucet or refrigerator and filled your glass with safe, clean drinking water. None of us have ever given it a second thought that the water would not be there for us. It is something that those living in the developed world take for granted. We have all been conditioned to believe that water is an infinitely abundant resource; always there when we need it. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Water scarcity presents a real problem and constitutes a growing threat to the stability in many regions of the world.
Are you skeptical or do you know someone who may be skeptical about this issue? Well, imagine the same scenario of working outdoors under a hot summer sun; only now, rather than residing in the developed world, the skeptic is living in the developing world. Desperate for some water, you may head to a nearby village or stream in search of water. Sadly, when you arrive you learn the villagers have no water and the stream you sought water at is polluted. Hard to contemplate, isn’t it? Yes, of course, but this is the cruel reality many of the worlds’ citizens face each and every day. Are you or that person you know still skeptical? Let’s take a closer look at the issue. United Nations Leads the Way by Taking Note of the Problem
Historically, the U.N. has taken the lead when it pertains to the global crisis of water. Through its international
conferences such as: The United Nations Water Conference (1977), the International Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation Decade (1981-1990), the International Conference on Water and the Environment (1992) and the Earth Summit (1992), the U.N. has been at the forefront in assisting the peoples of the world garner access to clean water. Through the 10 year period, “The Decade”,
the world body was able to help 1.3 billion people achieve success in gaining access to clean water – no small accomplishment! In 1993, the U.N. declared March 22 as World Water Day in an effort to heighten awareness of this issue. The global body deemed 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation. Based on U.N. statistics, the added attention the crisis receives is highly warranted.
For example, there are close to 1.1 billion people who do not have access to clean water, and approximately 2.5 billion people who lack proper sanitation. As a result, 6-8 million people die each year from waterborne diseases and from the consequences of disasters. The exponential growth in the global population places an undue burden on an already fragile resource. By 2050, estimates peg the world population at 10 billion people –4.4 billion of whom will reside in areas where severe water shortages will undoubtedly occur. By 2030, there will be a 50% increase in the demand for water; the greatest portion of the demand coming from agriculture, which uses in excess of 70% of the global water output. The majority of the usage comes from irrigation of farmland necessary for food production. A growing population will require more food increasing the hardship of an already weakened resource. Further exacerbating the problem, the U.N. points out, is the fact that 85% of the global population dwells in regions where the geography is unforgiving; namely, the land is extremely arid. To illustrate this, consider that 300 of the 800 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live in water-scarce areas and this part of the continent will fail to meet the Millennium Development Goals target by 2015. NGOs Pitch in to Tackle the Problem
According to the international Christian organization, Samaritan’s Purse, 1.58 million people die from diarrhea caused by contaminated water, improper sanitation and poor hygiene. This equates to one person dying every 20 seconds. Regrettably, the majority of the deaths are children. This is all very preventable. Samaritan’s Purse has been doing their part to assist the new nation of South Sudan mitigate some of its water scarcity issues. The organization is drilling wells to help communities gain access to a clean water source. “Every well will provide water to about 60 households, which is about 300 to 400 people,” according to Ken Isaacs, the Vice President of Programs and Government Relations. http://www.samaritanspurse.org/article/wells-for-south-sudan/
Mr. Isaacs continued by saying, “That well will give them access to clean water. That well will give them closer proximity to the water source, reducing the amount of time that the ladies have to walk to get it and also increasing the amount of total liters or gallons that’s available for the household. The net result of all this is a healthy family.”
Another international NGO performing quality work in this respect is WaterAid. The organization lays out four aims as
part of its Global Strategy:
“…promote and secure poor people’s rights and access to safe water, improved hygiene and sanitation.”
“…support governments and service providers in developing their capacity to deliver safe water, improved hygiene and sanitation.”
“…advocate for the essential role of safe water, improved hygiene and sanitation in human development.”
“…further develop as an effective global organization recognized as a leader in our field and for living our
What was particularly alarming to me personally in WaterAid’s report was the statistic that 4,000 children die each day from diarrhea. Can you imagine a child in the developed world dying from diarrhea? It’s a travesty that this occurs in our world today. The Human Right to Water
In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly acknowledged that every person has a human right to sufficient, safe, acceptable, affordable and physically accessible
sources of water. International human rights law recognizes water as a human right whether specifically stated or inferred as part of another right, such as the right to an adequate standard of living. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenants on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Civil and Political Rights (two documents from 1966) protect the human right to water under the auspices of the right to life, health, housing and food.
The residents of the developing world have the same right to this basic necessity of life that we in the developed world enjoy; the U.N. has taken some important steps to ensure this happens.Important to Educate and Keep This Issue Front and Center
Is skepticism still part of your thinking,
or perhaps the person you know? I am not quite sure after all that was said how
one could still not believe that we face a global water crisis of immense
proportions. It is imperative that we continue to engage in a dialogue on this
matter. The U.N.’s International Year of Water Cooperation (2013) is an
important step to keep the issue at the forefront and on the minds of
policymakers, and citizens alike.
The month of March marks two years since the Syrian uprising began. What started peacefully quickly deteriorated into full-scale conflict. From western democratic government inaction to Russian and Chinese intransigence in the
United Nations Security Council, the world has learned a very hard lesson on what type of outcome eventually follows a failure of global leadership: If left unchecked, man is capable of committing unspeakable brutality upon his fellow
man. As I write this piece, this is exactly what is occurring in Syria. President Bashar al-Assad left to his own devices has systematically committed acts of a horrific nature against his own people. U.N. INDEPENDENT PANEL INVESTIGATES CRIMES
The independent panel looking into these violations of human rights will compose a list of individuals that ultimately, one hopes, will be held accountable for their actions. The list is to be submitted in March. In its report the U.N.
Commission of Inquiry on Syria stated, “The situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic has continued to
“Since 15 July 2012 there has been an escalation in the armed conflict between Government forces and anti-Government armed groups. The conflict has become increasingly sectarian, with the conduct of the parties becoming significantly more radicalized and militarized.” (http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/A.HRC.22.59_en.pdf
The report continues by saying immediate action is required in order to bring all of the responsible parties to justice. According to the report, from 15 July 2012 to January 2013 the Commission conducted 445 interviews that documented wide areas of the Syrian Arab Republic involved in “continuous combat, involving more brutal tactics and new military capabilities on all sides” This has become the norm. Both Government and anti-Government forces share responsibility for violating international human rights law. REFUGEE CRISIS OF IMMENSE PROPORTION
Speaking in Geneva to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday, February 26, 2013, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Assistant High Commissioner (Protection) Erika Feller issued a dire warning with respect to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Ms. Feller said, “The displacement is not only about loss of homes and economic security. It is also, for many, accompanied by gender-based crimes, deliberate victimization of women and children and a frightening array of assaults on human dignity.”
There are approximately four million people in need of humanitarian assistance, two million of whom are internally displaced persons (IDPs) because of the conflict. In addition, 920,000 people have fled to countries bordering Syria. The Assistant Commissioner also indicated that children were “becoming a defining feature of the Syrian conflict.” Moreover, Ms. Feller said, “reports of torture and death of detained children… are particularly harrowing.” She stressed to the Council to closely look at these violations and adequately address issues of protection for women and children. Personally what I find disturbing are the crimes committed against children as well as the number of children under the age of 15 forced to take part in the fighting. The most serious and egregious violations occur when children are involved. Is the international community paying attention to what is happening in Syria? Do they not see the long-term consequences of their inaction? Evidently, they do not. If they did, one would think some action would have been taken long ago to prevent the heinous acts Ms. Feller describes. SPILLOVER TO BORDER COUNTRIES HAS LONG-TERM RAMIFICATIONS
As the number of refugees in Syria swells, the Syrian border states of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, as well as the North African countries feel the impact the most. The capacity of these nations to handle the continual influx of Syrian refugees is not limitless; burdened and overwhelmed, it is now clear that the global community must take appropriate action to stem the tide. Lebanon is particularly at risk. According to a front page article in The New York Times
on Sunday, February 24, the U.N. places the refugee population in the country at 305,000;
others peg the figure closer to 400,000. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/24/world/middleeast/syrian-flood-into-lebanon-stirs-fear-of-looming-disaster.html?pagewanted=all A COMPELLING REASON TO INTERVENE?
In the most recent issue of The Economist
magazine, the cover story deals with the crisis in Syria. The
publication’s lead editorial lays out a compelling argument as to why the U.S. has a national interest in seeing this conflict end. The magazine says, “As the world’s superpower, America is likely to be sucked into Syria eventually. Even if the president can resist humanitarian arguments, he will find it hard to ignore his country’s interests.”
“If the fighting drags on, Syria will degenerate into a patchwork of warring fiefs. Almost everything America wants to achieve in the Middle East will become harder. Containing terrorism, ensuring the supply of energy and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction: unlike, say, the 15-year civil war in Lebanon, Syria’s disintegration threatens them all.” http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21572193-syria-disintegrates-it-threatens-entire-middle-east-outside-world-needs-act?spc=scode&spv=xm&ah=9d7f7ab945510a56fa6d37c30b6f1709
As I have written in this space on a previous occasion,
) I do believe the international community has a Responsibility to Protect (R2P)
based solely on humanitarian grounds. Nevertheless, when one reads the British
publication’s argument it becomes quite evident that time is running short for
the world to act before the scenarios the magazine details come to
As the world’s leading democracy and proponent of the ideals of liberty, justice, equality, and respect for human
rights, the United States regrettably stands alone with some of the world’s most egregious violators of womens’ rights. The U.S. is one of six nations that includes Iran, Somalia, Sudan, and the two small island nations of Palau and
Tonga who have yet to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Elimination and Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). CEDAW is a global treaty adopted in 1979 that strengthens and enhances human rights and equality for women and girls. As with all global agreements, U.S. leadership is crucial in sending a message to the rest of the world that we fundamentally affirm our commitment to the values we cherish here at home and; therefore, ratification of CEDAW by the U.S. conveys the importance we place on protecting these values for every woman and girl of this world. This should be our hope and aspiration that they can equally share the ideals we hold in such high regard. Furthermore, for the critics and opponents of ratification of CEDAW based on economic considerations, there is good news: The U.S. would not be required to incur any costs because of our signing of this agreement. With the information we now know, is there any reason why the U.S. should not join with the community of nations and ratify
CEDAW? Do we really want to continue to be mentioned with some of the world’s worst abusers of human rights? The answer certainly seems quite clear: The time has come to be the 188thnation to ratify CEDAW.
The CEDAW Framework
Once a nation commits to ratifying the treaty, it places itself squarely in the camp of those who wish to see discrimination against women and girls of this world ended. Each nation has a roadmap to follow that the international agreement laid out to ensure every country can achieve success in promoting the fair and equal treatment of women and girls. The blueprint sets forth a list of parameters for countries to follow to assist in adhering to the spirit of the agreement.
The list includes:
A reduction in violence against women and girls and recognizing such violence as a crime. ·
Providing educational assistance.
Enhancing the right of women to become participants in the political process.
Increasing access to maternal health care.
Abolishing child marriage, forced marriages, and allowing women to have the right to property
Eliminating the discrimination against women by allowing them the right to employment and to become business owners.
It is important to note that CEDAW is quite explicit in making known it is up to each individual nation to determine how to administer guidelines and incorporate them into a country’s own laws and policies.
CEDAW Success Stories
There have been a number of successes achieved directly resulting from nations who have ratified CEDAW. Women across the globe, emboldened by CEDAW, have joined with their respective governments to expand the opportunities available to them. In Bangladesh, for example, the government has used CEDAW to create a more level “playing
field” in education and has vowed to eliminate all inequities between boys and girls by 2015. Mexico has seen an
exponential rise in gender-based violence and it has taken advantage of CEDAW by incorporating provisions of the international agreement in to its General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free from Violence. A positive development is that all 32 Mexican states now have this as law. Indonesia is another country that has taken steps in this direction. The nation of Kenya decided to address the disparity that exists between men and women as it relates to rights of inheritance. By utilizing CEDAW, the government was able to create gender equity in the area of inheritance. Finally, Kuwait allowed women the right to vote in 2005 after the CEDAW Committee recommended it
to the Kuwaitis.
The Usual Opposition Arguments Out in Full Force
As is the case with any U.N. treaty or agreement, opponents inevitably roll out the same tired and worn out arguments in their attempt to make the case as to why the U.S. should not sign or ratify an international document. The number one reason always deals with the issue of sovereignty, and how the U.S. will be relinquishing it to the global body by becoming a signatory to a particular agreement. In the case of CEDAW, opponents are wrong are on this front. If there is a conflict between the international agreement and local law, a nation can communicate the conflict through “reservations, understandings and declarations” (RUD). RUDs are essentially a compromising mechanism that allows changes to occur to the agreement. However, it is my contention that these changes cannot infringe upon the spirit of the agreement to satisfy its opponents. Moreover, there is no enforcement authority associated with the CEDAW Committee; it makes recommendations on how nations can improve, and the nation then moves forward with how best to implement them.
Where Do We Go From Here?
On July 17, 1980, the administration of former President Jimmy Carter signed CEDAW and it was sent to the Senate in November 1980. Since former President Carter signed the treaty, it has been voted out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on two separate occasions: 1994 and 2002. In 1994, the vote was 13-5 in favor, 2002, 12-7. Unfortunately, this is where it ends. The treaty has not
made it to the full Senate for a vote despite wide support from the American
people, including some very large and influential groups such as the American
Bar Association and the National Education Association. The Obama Administration
is a strong supporter of the agreement. If this is the case, then President
Obama needs to push harder for the full Senate to vote on ratification. The U.S.
is a beacon of human rights and the democratic ideals of freedom, liberty,
justice, and equality for the peoples of the world. We are look to for
leadership in these areas. This is why the U.S. must ratify CEDAW
October 29, 2012 is certainly a date that will remain etched in the minds of residents of the New York/New Jersey region forever. It was on this day that many lives were changed and families faced the devastating consequences of a “Super storm” they called “Sandy”.
There was no one who escaped the impact of this storm, but there were no residents hit harder than those living along the shoreline. The damage left in its wake is difficult to calculate; however, estimates put the rebuilding efforts in the tens of billions of dollars. There is no doubt the region will recover because of its resiliency, but the emotional scars it has left on those who lost all of their personal memories remain for a lifetime. THE GLOBAL WARMING SCENARIO
Many experts and policymakers alike immediately began to discuss the role climate change may have played in the catastrophic weather event. The naysayers, like those at the Heartland Institute, attempted to squelch any talk of a causal connection between global warming and Hurricane Sandy. However, the predictions from climate scientists as to what could happen to New York City and its outlying areas were extremely accurate. For those to refute the evidence as to what we all experienced is simply the height of arrogance. UNITED NATIONS CONFERENCE TAKES AIM AT CLIMATE CHANGE
On Monday, November 26, 2012, over 200 nations met in Doha, Qatar for the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP18). This is the 18th session of these annual gatherings that will run in the Qatari capital until December 7. This is the first time the meetings are being held in a Gulf state. The significance of this is that Qatarhas the world’s highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions, yet the decision was made to allow them to host this year’s conference. As a moderate state in the region, analysts who are closely following the event feel Qatar genuinely wants success to be achieved and, furthermore, will give it every chance to do so through cooperation and conciliation.
Last year’s conference held in Durban, South Africa was very productive because it generated the Durban Platform. It brought together the developed (rich nations) and the developing (poor nations) world to agree on a binding agreement on climate change by 2015. However, without U.S. leadership this agreement will ultimately fail. The U.S.is on the record as saying that Chinamust be onboard before they agree to anything. Because of China’s rapid industrialization and significant economic growth, they have become a major carbon emitter.
It is paramount that nations come to the full realization of the ramifications of inaction on climate change, especially those in the developed world like the U.S.as well as the emerging economies of China and India.
One recent U.N. study revealed that global temperatures would rise between 5.4-9 degrees Fahrenheit directly because of fossil fuel emissions. What this portends is more droughts, floods, heat waves and a continued rise in
sea levels. The U.N. Conference faces enormous challenges.SUSCEPTIBILITY TO CLIMATE CHANGE WEIGHS HEAVY ON THE DEVELOPING WORLD
Climate change does not discriminate when it comes to those who are affected by its devastating effects. Unfortunately, people living in the developing world will suffer the disproportionate effects of climate change in
A report issued last year by UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) indicated that children residing in East
Asia and the Pacific are most at risk. According to the Climate Vulnerability Monitor, estimates reveal that 99% of all deaths associated with climate change are in the developing world and 80% are children. Small island developing states in the Pacific and countries located in Central and South Asia are extremely vulnerable.
The UNICEF report titled “Children’s Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Disaster Impacts in East Asia and the Pacific”
states that those who are hit the hardest are individuals who subsist on less than $2 per day. Moreover, these people make up 60% of the world’s population. One can certainly see from reading this report why the need
to act is now!
Helen Clark, the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) Administrator, recently gave a lecture at Stanford University titled, “Why Tackling Climate Change Matters for Development”. http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/speeches/2012/11/08/helen-clark-why-tackling-climate-change-matters-for-development-/
Administrator Clark began her lecture by saying, “Climate change threatens to undermine hard won human development and other gains – indeed the impact of severe drought and flooding around the world suggests that it already is.”
UNDP Head Clark went on to say, “Significant finance already exists for climate change adaptation and mitigation…Tackling climate change can help accelerate economic and energy transformations, drive revolutions in technology, and spur the creation of new production models…To tackle climate change, the whole world must develop differently.” The last part of Administrator Clark’s statement reflects one of the significant challenges facing us as a global community “…the whole world must develop differently.” This requires a change in attitude and lifestyle,
something that is very difficult to do.GLOBAL FOOD SECURITY AND THE THREAT CLIMATE CHANGE POSES
The volatile and shifting global weather patterns recently seen correlates to a significant threat to the world’s food security. The changes that occur in rainfall patterns resulting in droughts in some parts of the world to massive flooding in other parts significantly affects the growing seasons for crops. As a result, global food prices skyrocket placing an additional burden on areas of the world that can least sustain the price increases. A burgeoning
population requires more food, and reduction in global crop yields adds further stress to an already fragile situation that has resulted in riots and instability in many areas.
According to Lester R. Brown, President of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., and author of the book “Full Planets, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity”
, “In this era of tightening world food supplies, the ability to grow food is fast becoming a new form of geopolitical leverage. Food is the new oil. Land is the new gold.”
At the U.N. Conference in Doha, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations held an event called “Sustainable Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change: How Can Climate-Smart Approaches Help Build Resilience in Food Security and Agriculture?”
The focus of this event centered on promoting ways to develop agriculture in a sustainable manner. The key point was to encourage avenues to prevent natural resource exploitation while simultaneously growing crops in the most efficient and environmentally safe manner as possible. This was a very valuable seminar as it is extremely vital that there are solutions developed that will mitigate the effects of climate change in the most vulnerable areas of the world; finding ways to boost food production while preserving the environment is another essential component of this equation.
“IT’S GLOBAL WARMING, STUPID”
The November 5-12, 2012 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek
hit the proverbial “nail on the head” when it exclaimed on the cover of its magazine, “It’s Global Warming, STUPID”.
This headline states in a very clear and unequivocal manner for those who continually deny that this problem exists. It could not be any more straightforward and honest. One massive storm, the size and scope never witnessed before, nor do any of us ever want to experience it again, brought an entire region to a complete standstill. The U.N. in holding these conferences sheds light on the problem,
but unfortunately, it does not garner enough media attention. As a result, the
global public shifts its attention elsewhere and the story of global warming
falls by the wayside to the detriment of many in the world.
As the month of September ended, and the calendar quickly turned to October, the 67th annual United Nations General Assembly began its business. As world leaders converged upon U.N. Headquarters to discuss the myriad of challenges confronting the international community, there was one thing that could be assured: expect the unexpected.
From Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe on the desk at the 1960 meeting to the deceased Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi seeking space in New York City’s Central Park to erect his Bedouin tent, or the outrageous rhetoric that
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spews, there has always been an element of theater associated with the global gathering. However, such drama is best left for the producers in Hollywood; the world body had many critical
matters requiring urgent attention that such grandstanding by global pariahs would not deter from the important work at hand.
RENEWED COMMITMENT TO THE RULE OF LAW
At the opening of the U.N. meeting, an important measure was adopted that rededicated the world body to the rule of law. The Outcome Document on the Rule of Law stated, “We reaffirm that human rights, the rule of law and democracy are interlinked and mutually reinforcing and that they belong to the universal and indivisible core values and principles of the United Nations.” The aim of the meetings was to address the nexus between the rule of law and economic growth, sustainable development and the global eradication of poverty and hunger.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued the following remarks with regard to the rule of law. He said, “The
wider body of international law developed at the United Nations gives the international community a basis to cooperate and peacefully resolve conflicts – and the means to ensure that there is no relapse of fighting.” In addition,
Mr. Ban Ki-moon called on Member Nations to recognize the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), instituted in 1945 as a legal dispute mechanism for Member States.
The leader of the world body had other crucial matters he wished to convey as well to the General Assembly in addition to the importance of the rule of law. He also said in his opening address, “I am here to sound the alarm”, he said as he spoke about the vitally important issues such as, widespread insecurity, deepening inequality, government waste and the impacts of climate change. Furthermore, he went on to say, “This is a time of turmoil, transition and transformation – a time when time itself is not on our side, They [individuals struggling in conflict areas like Syria
and Mali as well as those dealing with the effects of the rich-poor gap as a result of globalization] needed ideas,
leadership and results ‘now’, not in the distant future.”
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT IN THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY?
When the bright glare of the cameras turn off, and the world leaders return home to their respective countries, and the media focus shifts to the next great and pressing issue of the day, what does the General Assembly do then? It is at this point the real work of the body commences.
Under the guidance and direction of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, there are a number of new matters on the agenda for the Member Nations to grapple with, including, but not limited to, “women, disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control and addressing the socioeconomic needs of individuals and families affected by autism spectrum disorders and other developmental disorders.” The general image the U.N. portrays, at least in the United States I believe, are those blue-helmeted peacekeepers funneling into conflict zones in an attempt to “keep the peace.”
However, as these new items on the agenda signal, the U.N. is so much more than blue helmets and peacekeeping. This is the message that should be conveyed in areas of the world where support may not be as strong.
The new President of the General Assembly (a new leader is elected in each session) is Vuk Jeremic’ from Serbia.
President Jeremic’ painted a picture of the General Assembly when he spoke to the gathering of world leaders in September. He said it is a “…grand pantheon of hope for the peoples of the world,” and “We must find a way to act in concert, so that legitimate needs and concerns of Member States can be met.”
How does the General Assembly tackle the multiplicity of issues it must handle? The GA is divided into committees based on specific issues it will discuss. For example, the Assembly’s First Committee is charged with matters of disarmament and international security. The Second Committee deals with economic and environmental questions, the Third Committee social and humanitarian matters, including human rights, the Fourth is specifically designated with any other political matters not taken up by the First Committee, and the Fifth and Sixth address budget and legal issues respectively.
“A MIRROR OF THE WORLD AS IT IS, NOT HOW IT SHOULD BE”
U.N Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson made this comment at a briefing with the media where he gave his thoughts on what he felt were some of the important themes coming out of the 67th General Assembly. It is important to note that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), prominently discussed in many of the speeches presented by world leaders, are a little over two years away from their expiration date of 2015. Some of the special initiatives like Every Woman Every Child, the U.N Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL), Scaling Up Nutrition, polio, and Education First were all development related events taking place.
As we move forward, especially in a U.S.presidential election year, it is important that we remain steadfast in our commitments to the U.N. and remain fully engaged globally. Both candidates, either of whom may
be elected on November 6th, need to heed this advice, as the international
threats we face are as real today as they were at the founding of the global
body in 1945.
Everyone has seen them. If you walk down any street in your neighborhood or through your town, you have come across the curb ramps at pedestrian crossings that assist the disabled. The monumental law of 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), mandated these “ramp runs”, as the statute calls them.
For most people, these “ramp runs” do not garner a second look; however, for the physically challenged in society, they are vitally important in allowing them to maneuver and maintain a sense of independence.
One organization that took notice of the plight of people with disabilities was the United Nations. Adopted in December 2006, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has been deemed the U.N. framework for persons living with a disability. On July 30, 2009, the U.S. signed the CRPD. There are now 117 signatories to the CRPD. What waits is U.S. Senate ratification.
To place this matter into some perspective, consider that there are approximately 650 million individuals globally living with some form of disability today – a staggering figure! A very good reason as to why I would urge readers of my blog posts to take action themselves by contacting their U.S. Senators and urge them to vote for ratification.
ALWAYS GETTING A BAD RAP
As is the norm when discussing matters pertaining to the U.N., there are those who carry out their assaults by creating certain claims having no merit in fact simply because their agenda is to see the U.N. abolished. This issue, unfortunately, is no different.
However, the naysayers could not prevent the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from voting 13-6 to send the CRPD to the full Senate for a vote.
What needs to be perfectly clear is this vote was no small feat: Members of the Senate Committee from both the Democratic and Republican parties came together in support of this very worthwhile accord.
To demonstrate the importance of this U.N Convention, former Senator Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and former Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Calif.), writing in The Hill’s Congress Blog said, “By ratifying the treaty, the U.S. Senate will stand up for the equality and dignity of people with disabilities around the globe, just as Congress did for Americans in 1990.” The two former and influential lawmakers went on to say, “…ratification does not require changes to laws in the U.S. Ratification would signal to the world that the U.S. is committed to international standards for disability rights and will play a leadership role in implementation of the treaty obligations.” Furthermore, they added, cost is not an issue associated with the CRPD and U.S. businesses will “…benefit economically…because it will encourage the adoption of U.S. business’ innovative technology to improve accessibility around the world.”
Critics have long argued that ratification of certain U.N. treaties will cede U.S. sovereignty to the global institution. However, former Senator Dole and Representative Coelho make a rather compelling case to the contrary: Ratification of the CRPD will not “…require changes to laws in the U.S….” It certainly would appear that the arguments against the CRPD have no standing.
U.S. LEADERSHIP IS NEEDED-AGAIN!
We are a nation that prides itself on fairness and a sense of common decency. Well, what could be more fair and decent than protecting those members of our global community who require assistance due to their physical limitation?
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice remarked that discrimination involving the physically challenged “hinders economic development, limits democracy, and erodes societies.” The U.N. Ambassador made her remarks following the July 2009 U.S. signing of the CRPD.
The Obama Administration hoped to ratify the CRPD on the anniversary date of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – July 26, 2012. This did not occur.
ANOTHER OBSTACLE TO CONFRONT
The plan for ratification faltered when Republican Senator from South Carolina Jim DeMint held up further consideration of the treaty in July.
A statement issued on behalf of the South Carolina lawmaker said, “The United States is already the world leader in addressing the needs of the disabled and it’s foolish to think Americans need to sign away our sovereignty to exert our influence around the world.”
Well, the Senator from South Carolina is right out of central casting. If it is dealing with the U.N. then, of course, it must be the sovereigntyissue. Right? Wrong! I would hasten to say that Mr. DeMint did not read Mr. Dole and Mr. Coelho’s piece on this topic. He should take the time to review it. There have been obstacles before to confront on other issues, and there will be other obstacles as well, but they should not deter those who stand on the right side of this issue.
We have a moral imperative and duty to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) to allow those living with a disability an opportunity to maintain their sense of dignity, and to give them the same equal access to everything that we all enjoy.
The recent scenes from Aurora, Colorado, the site of the deadly shooting inside a crowded movie theater, were horrifying.
A lone gunman, a mad man if you will, with all of the cold-blooded and bone-chilling calculation that one’s imagination could possibly muster, entered the cinema and promptly began his terroristic assault upon unsuspecting victims.
This individual had a cache of weapons stored in preparation for what he, in his mind, could only have foreseen as an all-out war.
The ease to which one could amass this arsenal of weapons and ammunition is, frankly, overwhelming. How many innocent lives shall be lost and families shattered before reasonable action rids us of this scourge of guns permeating our world today? UNITED NATIONS LOOKS TO TAKE ACTION
The United Nations made the conscious effort to begin the process of regulating the $60 billion global arms trade in December 2006 when the U.N. General Assembly voted to come together to establish the Arms Trade Treaty (A.T.T.).
The U.S., under the guidance of then President George W. Bush, voted “no” on joining with other member nations on
establishing the A.T.T. This was certainly not surprising that the Bush Administration would vote “no” given their close affiliation with the gun lobby.
However, by October 2009, with the Obama Administration now in place, they were able to reverse the Bush policy.
The U.S. supported a General Assembly resolution to conduct four preparatory meetings, and a U.N. conference held from July 2, 2012 – July 27, 2012 with the goal to reach agreement on an arms treaty.
To the dismay of many, and I include myself amongst them, all of the major media outlets reported on Saturday, July 28, 2012, that negotiations broke off and agreement failed to be reached on the A.T.T. WHAT HAPPENED? WHY DID IT HAPPEN?
“There is no consensus and the meeting is over,” declared Ewen Buchanan, a representative for the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs, and with that, four weeks of work came to an abrupt end.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “The conference’s inability to conclude its work on this much-awaited A.T.T., despite years of effort of member states and civil society from many countries, is a setback.”
The U.S.indicated they needed more time to review the treaty and, fittingly, Russia and China did not miss an opportunity to join them.
Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of Amnesty International USA in an interview with the Associated Press
, spoke angrily in expressing how she felt with regard to these turn of events, “This was stunning cowardice by the Obama Administration, which at the last minute did an about-face and scuttled progress toward a global arms treaty, just as it reached the finish line,” the Amnesty International USA leader said. She continued her terse comments by adding, “It’s a staggering abdication of leadership by the world’s largest exporter of conventional arms to pull the plug on the talks just as they were nearing an historic breakthrough.”
In a blog posted on Amnesty International USA’s website, http://blog.amnestyusa.org/us<
Ms. Nossel said, “…the United States, Russiaand China, are trying to promote weaker treaty rules. The United States should seek better company.”
It would certainly appear election year politics factored into the decision-making process when the U.S. decided to
take a step back from the treaty. Why would they do this? Perhaps they saw the most recent issue of Time Magazine
with the cover story titled "How Guns Won: Why Americans have turned against gun control" written by Joe Klein. At the eleventh-hour, the Obama Administration – perhaps not wanting to provide any issue for his opponent and his gun lobby supporters –made the determination, wrongly in my view, to table the matter until after the election. There are much larger issues at stake here than simply domestic political concerns. Allowing the export of weapons to countries like Syria in order for them to continue to perpetrate their atrocities on their own citizens is completely unacceptable, and this treaty would assist in regulating such actions.
True leadership requires making not only the right decisions, but the tough ones as well. It would have shown strong leadership by moving forward until an agreement was in place. As it stands now, this matter will be set aside for several more months. NRA MISSES THE MARK ON THIS ISSUE
Those who cloak themselves in the Second Amendment, as the National Rifle Association does so nicely, opposes any regulations that may impede upon an individuals’ right to own a firearm.
The NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre stated to the U.N. recently, “Any treaty that includes civilian firearms ownership in its scope will be met with the NRA’S greatest force of opposition.”
Their fear is the “Right to keep and bear arms” will be usurped by the A.T.T.; however, what the NRA Director and his members seem to ignore is this treaty, or any other treaty for that matter, does not – nor cannot – take precedence over the United States Constitution – the Supreme Law of the Land.
Their fears are misplaced. The U.N. treaty does not, nor will not, infringe upon domestic ownership of firearms. Their arguments are baseless and without merit.
However, if this treaty prevented an individual such as the Colorado gunman from obtaining weapons for his diabolical plot, would they still oppose it? This is a question they should be asked. Would they say it is this person’s
“Right to keep and bear arms.” NO DENYING THE NUMBERS SUPPORTING A STRONG TREATY
The U.S.has 5% of the world’s population and 50% of the guns. The illegal global trade in small arms continues to fuel conflicts, criminal gangs, militant insurgents, terrorists, and pirates as in Somalia. With half of the world’s supply of guns in its possession, the U.S. should be front and center on this matter.
By the end of 2010, approximately 27.5 million people deemed internally displaced due to conflict, came about because of the continued trade in small arms.
The estimates project that one person every minute dies in the world as a direct consequence of gun-related violence. This one number, one would think, would be enough to move those member states – stalling on this matter - to act more quickly to see passage of the A.T.T. is achieved.
These statistics do not lie. The Arms Trade Treaty (A.T.T.) deserves swifter consideration and evaluation or the world will continue to see these numbers grow.
We all saw the images cross our television screens over a year ago – these were the images of the Arab Spring. Average citizens, students, and professionals took to the streets to demand greater freedom, democracy, and
change from their governments. For the participants in the uprisings that swept the Arab world, one of the most important tools at their disposal was Internet access. SOCIAL MEDIA AS A FORCE FOR CHANGE
Social media is a very powerful mode of communication and, like it or not, it is here to stay. Governments realizing the power people have when afforded Internet access have made every attempt to try to cut it off and suppress its influence.
In a lead article in the January/February 2011 issue of Foreign Affairs
magazine titled, “The Political Power
of Social Media”
,author Clay Shirky, Professor of New Media at New York University, mentions a very interesting statistic in his piece. He says, “Since the rise of the Internet in the early 1990s, the world’s networked population
has grown from the low millions to the low billions.” Professor Shirky continues to say that,“…social media have [sic
] become a fact of life for civil society worldwide…” With this many global citizens now having Internet access, make no mistake about it, the “social media genie” has already been let out of the bottle – and it is not going to be put back.
The protesters of the Arab Spring know very well how powerful social media can be and they were able to convey their message to the world through this medium via the Internet. The pictures of the drama unfolding in the
streets were uploaded and viewed on YouTube and many individuals on the ground kept us informed through real-time Twitter feeds. No, this was not the first instance of social media being utilized to force change; but to the degree to which it was used, and the number of people and countries involved, it was unprecedented.
All of this prompted me to think and ask: Was Internet access a human right for the protesters of the Arab Spring?
Do citizens have a human right to be free from tyranny and repression? In addition, if so, by what means do they have to change the government they are living under. The Internet, if used properly and for good intent, can serve as a powerful tool for change. If individuals have a human right to be free from abusive regimes, and Internet access is a tool at their means to initiate change, then why would Internet access not be equally deemed a human right? It
is certainly difficult not to respond to these questions in the affirmative knowing what we all know now. UNITED NATIONS WEIGHS IN
Those who believe the United Nations is about to take over the Internet need to step back, take a deep breath, and closely examine the facts.
The mass hysteria began last December at a meeting of the International Telecommunications Union (I.T.U.). Russia and China led efforts to seize control of the oversight function of the Internet handled by a consortium of public and private groups and transfer the authority to the I.T.U.
The conclusion drawn by many of the anti-U.N. advocates could only be one thing: The U.N. is “calling the shots” on all matters related to the Internet, and this was their way of taking control of it.
Furthermore, one of the opponents Vinton “Vint” Cerf - the so-called “father of the Internet” and vice president at Google - fanned the flames at a congressional hearing when he testified by saying the following: “The open Internet has never been at higher risk than it is now. A new international battle is brewing – a battle that will determine the future of the Internet.”
This kind of rhetoric ignited the passions of those who would like nothing better than to see the U.N. become a marginalized global body, or more extremist viewpoints foresee it eliminated altogether.
Opinion pieces in the print media with titles such as “Get the UN’s hands off the Internet” http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/hands-internet-article-1.1108624
and blog posts online were equally
as vitriolic. SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT
The I.T.U. December meeting documents were leaked last month, and they revealed no indication whatsoever that the I.T.U. has any plans to take control of the Internet. Moreover, the U.N. agency stated it does not
seek Internet governance authority.
The hallowed principles of free speech and expression cherished by every American, and many of our fellow global citizens, will remain protected as the U.N. stands with the U.S. in protecting these ideals. In addition, the I.T.U. specifically believes in an individual’s right to access the Internet as a human right.
When he was elected in 2006 as Secretary-General of the I.T.U., Dr. Hamadoun Toure made it known, when addressing Internet access, “we are not talking about I.T.U. taking over governance.”
In a speech Dr. Toure gave recently in Canada, he indicated that those who believe the U.N.-I.T.U. are looking to take over the Internet are “simply ridiculous.”
Earlier this year, the I.T.U. issued a statement that read in part: “ITU has always been an advocate of an equitable and democratic global governance framework – and was multi-stakeholder from its inception.” LOOKING AHEAD
This December the I.T.U. will meet in Dubai at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). An important piece of business is on the agenda; the International Telecommunication Regulation (ITR)
– the treaty that was adopted in 1988 and lays out the I.T.U.s’responsibilities
– will be up for revision. By all accounts, there does not appear that there
will be any changes granting the I.T.U. greater authority as it relates to
Internet governance. Any proposals relating to this matter can be expected to be
As negotiators completed their work on the outcome document presented to world leaders at Rio+20, the United Nations Secretary-General warned them that time is short and this document must “…meet their [Heads of State and Government] expectations…”
Momentum has been building to this point: the start of Rio+20, formally known as the U.N. Sustainable Development Conference, which has officially begun in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Despite the negative pre-summit press coverage, a who’s who of world leaders, diplomats, captains of industry, and civil society heads converged on the Brazilian city in what I believe can be a successful conference; one where finding solutions to the problems confronting global sustainability can be achieved. Does a difficult task await the delegates? Absolutely! Can solutions be found? Is it doable? Yes, I feel it is. What is the alternative? Failure? This is not an option and cannot even factor into the equation at Rio+20.
As the world’s attention remains riveted on the small European nation of Greece, its ongoing economic troubles, and its deleterious effects on the global economy, as well as the political turmoil following the results of the Egyptian elections, the world must not lose sight of the important work to be done in Rio de Janeiro.
Hope was high back in 1992 when the first Rio conference took place and the concept of sustainable development was born; now, 20 years hence and, several intervening summits having taken place, the world continues to face
enormous challenges – economically, environmentally, and socially – all the more reason why this summit is so important. WHAT AWAITS CONFEREES
The conference will focus on the three linchpins of sustainable development. The delegates will look at ways of creating prosperity, trimming the level of those living in poverty, preserving the environment, and building a
more equitable social structure.
Secretary-General of the Rio+20 Conference Sha Zukang, head of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, quoted recently as saying, “Rio 2012 is humanity’s chance to commit to a transition to a green economy and
lift people out of poverty. We cannot wait for another 20 years. The time to commit is at Rio 2012.”
The U.N. General Assembly set forth its commitment to the conference by laying out three official objectives:
Securing renewed political commitment to sustainable development;
Assessing progress towards internationally agreed goals on sustainable development; ·
Addressing new and emerging challenges relating to sustainable development.
With respect to the third General Assembly objective, a number of threats have arisen since the first Rio summit that delegates to the first Preparatory Committee (PrepCom 1) listed as clearly needing added attention at Rio+20. The issues they felt required additional focus were:
1. achievment of MDGs
2. biodiversity and ecosystem loss
3. climate security
4. energy crisis
5. financial crisis
7. health security
9. natural disasters, preparedness, and recovery
10. water scarcity SEVEN KEY AREAS OF PRIORITY
The preparations preceding Rio+20 highlighted seven (7) critical issues of importance.
First, the global economic recession took an enormous toll on jobs around the world. Global unemployment rates remain tremendously high, and to combat these levels “green jobs” is where job creation expects to come from
in the coming years. One of the themes of the summit is a “green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.”
Second, energy encompasses all of the major challenges presented at the conference. Energy needs and global economic strengthening are inextricably linked, so much so that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has an initiative titled “Sustainable Energy for All” (SE4ALL). His goal is to increase the use of renewable energy and spur efficiency around the world. The Secretary-General has the backing of the United States, who launched their own
set of programs in support of the leader of the U.N.
Third, cities face considerable challenges in the near future. Populations in urban centers continue to expand as people move there to search for jobs. As a result, an increasing population in cities places enormous burdens on social services, creates congestion, and further worsens an already horrific pollution problem. The conference anticipates discussions on creating sustainable cities.
Fourth, the matter of food production and its accompanying security is an item atop the agenda at Rio+20 this week. Climate change puts additional hardships on agricultural development as fluctuations in weather patterns wreak havoc on growing seasons. An estimated 925 million people are deemed hungry in the world today, and population growth only exacerbates the chronic global hunger problem.
Fifth, water expects to garner equal billing with food production as life’s sustaining resource is facing critical scarcity. Matters of quality and accessibility are problematic. Climate change also has a role as weather shifts create sustained droughts diminishing the water supply. In addition, scarcity in areas of the world where nations share water supplies has the potential for conflict breaking out as each tries to take their rightful share.
Sixth, the worlds’ oceans and their sustainability face critical dilemmas as well that conference delegates are certain to address at some point during their meetings.
Seventh, and finally, disasters that have occurred recently such as the earthquake in Haiti, the tsunami in Japan to the flooding in the Midwestern portion of the U.S. has tremendous environmental and economic consequences, not to mention the toll it takes on one’s own livelihood. Undoubtedly, such events will receive added attention at the summit. NOT EVERYONE IS HAPPY WITH SUMMIT DEVELOPMENTS
On June 19, diplomats agreed to a draft text on green global development that environmentalists deemed “weak” and felt did not go far enough in addressing the core issues such as climate change.
The draft text did not include a clause agreed upon by the G20; it called for the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies by the year 2020. A reduction in subsidies was expected to reduce overall demand of global energy by five (5) percent and emissions of carbon dioxide by six (6) percent.
Two countries who blocked the clause were Venezuela and Canada, not surprisingly countries who are large oil producing nations.
"THE FUTURE WE WANT”
In an op-ed piece in The New York Times
) last month titled “The Future We Want”
, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon outlined his goals for the Rio+20 summit.
Mr. Ban Ki-moon writes, “…we can not continue to burn and consume our way to prosperity…we have not embraced the obvious solution – the only possible solution, now as it was 20 years ago: sustainable development.”
The leader of the global body continues by saying that Rio+20 offers another opportunity for the international community to come together to find reasonable solutions that confront us today.
The U.N. head highlights three “…clusters of outcomes…”where he believes the delegates to the conference should focus their attention.
He believes the summit should do the following:
· “…Rio+20 should inspire new thinking – and action…”
· “…Rio+20 should be about people…”
· “…Rio+20 should issue a clarion call to action: waste not.”
Delegates to the conference should ask themselves some important questions when they are in Rio de Janeiro: Is
this the future that we want? Is this the future that I want?
I suspect when they ponder how to respond they will be surprised to hear their