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Today’s Defense with Congressman Barney Frank

On Thursday the 15th of March, I had the pleasure of going to see Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank at the Harvard Club on Commonwealth Ave. He was delivering a speech titled “The Deficit and Defense” and it was to an audience of around 100 individuals representing both the private and public sector.

Mr. Frank’s speech was geared towards explaining how our inflated military budget, which is currently around $700 billion including the war in Afghanistan, contributes to the national deficit, which is near $1 trillion, and the long term costs of servicing this debt. Our military spending is greater than the next 14 highest spending countries in the world and accounts for over 45% of all the worlds military expenditures. While Mr. Frank is a great supporter of our troops and wants them to have the absolute best equipment and weaponry available, it was clear in his talk that he firmly believes that today’s military strategy and structure is from an era that no longer exists.

The United States built up vast arrays of conventional weaponry (tanks, bombers, artillery, etc) during the cold war that was available in case the unthinkable happened. Today, our enemies have changed in a dramatic way. They are no longer confined by borders, international law, or concern themselves with the worries or desires of the international community.
Mr. Frank made it clear in his remarks that not only is there plenty of potential for savings and gained efficiencies at the Pentagon but that it will be of necessity as the United States is forced to make budget cuts in order to pay for the tremendous debt that has been accumulated over the years. Mr. Frank highlighted the recent effectiveness of international operations in Libya, Kosovo, and other involvements in several other conflict zones as proof that multi-nation coordinated action is the most cost effective and equitable solutions to most of the threats that we should expect in the decades to come.
The United Nations was put on center stage during the revolution in Libya and Mr. Frank could not stress enough how important it is that future engagements are handled in a similar manner. The United States did not enter by themselves, they did not commit to a never ending battle, and they did not enter without consulting the international community, creating clear objectives, and defining an exit strategy. This serves as a template for future administrations and is an extremely effective option for the United States and others as we embark on an more connected, boundless, and inter-dependent world.
At the end of Mr. Frank’s rousing speech I was fortunate enough to be able to ask whether he supported the United States funding UNESCO once again, regardless of their stance on Palestine, and he stated that he did and that he was hopeful funding for the UN would become a greater importance to the Congress over the coming years. While Mr. Frank is not expected to run for re-election and is hoping to have a quieter life with his husband in their home in Maine, I think it is clear that Mr. Frank believes in the importance of the UN now and it’s even greater importance in the future.
Here at UNA-GB, the advocacy committee will continue to engage our members and elected officials alike on supporting the UN and its mission.  We hope you join us!
– Nat Watson, UNA-GB Advocacy Co-Chair

Resolution 2012!

Our work here at UNA-GB is rooted in the founding principles of the United Nations – universal peace, international security, and respect for human rights, to name a few, and as we enter 2012, we are filled with hope and anticipation in this season of new beginnings.  Last year, we kicked off 2011 by sharing the top UN Resolutions of the previous year as a connection to the new year and theme of resolution making, and we thought it was a tradition worth continuing!  This is our New Year’s Resolution, or Resolution 2012!

It is our sincere wish that this coming year be filled with stories of health, equality, and opportunities for positive development, and we will continue to do all that we can to inform, inspire and mobilize the greater Boston community around critical global issues. 

Check out our list of key 2011 UN resolutions below and post in the comments section what issues you hope to see the UN address in 2012!

Resolution 1999 (adopted July 13, 2011) welcomed the membership of the newly formed South Sudan.

On July 9, 2011, South Sudan declared its independence from Sudan and became its own country.  It was then admitted into the UN as the 193rd member state.  In support of South Sudan’s formation, the UN announced its new mission, the UNMISS UN Mission in Southern Sudan that will specifically focus on the development of the new country.  The Security Council voted unanimously to set up a new United Nations mission to help Africa’s newest nation consolidate peace and lay the foundation for longer-term state-building, conflict prevention and economic development.

Resolution 2009 (adopted Sept 16, 2011) created a United Nations Support Mission in Libya.

One of the more violent clashes and uprisings amid the Arab Spring this year was in Libya, and with an unanimous vote to adopt resolution 2009, the Security Council affirmed a leadership role for the United Nations in international efforts to support a nationally led process aimed at building a democratic, independent and united Libya.  The Council decided that the mandate of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) would be to assist Libyan national efforts to restore public security, promote the rule of law, foster inclusive political dialogue and national reconciliation, and embark on constitution-making and electoral processes.  Learn more here.

UNESCO approved a Resolution allowing the member state bid from Palestine at the end of October, sparking a wide controversy that led to the removal of US support for UNESCO.

On Monday, October 31, the full United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) membership voted 107 to 14 with 52 abstentions to accept the Palestinian Authority as a full member of UNESCO.  Due to an existing U.S. law dating back to the 1990s, the U.S. is prohibited from funding any UN entity that gives full membership to Palestine. UNESCO’s vote led the U.S. to cut all funding to UNESCO, which amounts to approximately 22% of the total UNESCO budget.  Discussions are on-going as to how to navigate the impact of the US’ defunding, and sets the stage for continued debate, as Palestine promises to renew its bid for membership in the General Assembly and Security Council.

Resolution 66/137 (adopted December 19, 2011) affirmed the power and necessity of human rights education (something we at UNA-GB are DEEPLY committed to!).

On a busy day in the General Assembly, with over 60 resolutions being adopted, the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training was passed. This declaration was originally adopted by the Human Rights Council by resolution 16/1 earlier this year in March.  Reaffirming the call of the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights, which was held in Vienna, for all States and institutions to include human rights, humanitarian law, democracy and rule of law in the curricula of all learning institutions, the Declaration says that everyone has the right to know, seek and receive information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Declaration specifies not simply what one should learn about human rights, but also how (“through human rights, which includes learning and teaching in a way that respects the rights of both educators and learners”) and also why (“for human rights, which includes empowering persons to enjoy and exercise their rights and to respect and uphold the rights of others”).

The adoption of this new Declaration also offers educators and policy makers an occasion to reassess national policies and priorities in the light of international standards.  It affirms the belief that human rights education is not only the entitlement of every human being, but also a necessity for responsible global citizenship.  Since building a strong network of global citizens is our mission at UNA-GB, we are very excited about this Resolution!  One of our flagship programs is our human rights education program for youth, our comprehensive Model UN program, serving more than 3,000 6th-12th graders in the Boston area each year.  We look forward to strengthening ties with other human rights educators as this resolution gains momentum.

Resolution 1987 (adopted June 17, 2011) recommended the appointment of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to his second term in office.

Adopted by acclamation at a closed meeting, the Council recommended to the General Assembly that Mr. Ban Ki-moon be appointed for a second term of office from January 1, 2012, to December 31, 2016.  Ban’s election was uncontested and nations had approved of his decision immediately.    His appointment was subsequently endorsed by the General Assembly.

Ki-moon is the world body’s eighth secretary-general and the first from Asia since U Thant, from what is now Myanmar, who served from 1961 to 1971.  Upon his election, Ban indicated that ending violence in the Sudanese region of Darfur and tackling climate change were among his top priorities. There has been progress on both fronts, including a recent vote to create an independent state in southern Sudan and evolving negotiated frameworks to address global warming, though significant challenges remain.

Ban has also found himself and the United Nations at the forefront of many crises that few anticipated in 2006. The past year, especially, has been tumultuous given the massive earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis in Japan; the wave of popular unrest in the Arab world; and the continued fallout from the ongoing global economic crisis.  As Ki-moon’s 2nd term begins today, one major agenda item is sustaining the effects of the Arab Spring.

And the National Action Plan (NAP) for Women, Peace and Security, complete with an accompanying fact sheet and Executive Order, was introduced by Secretary Hilary Clinton on December 15, 2011, in support of the landmark Resolution 1325.

The NAP is the outcome of a process that began over a decade ago with the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which encouraged the UN and its member states to integrate a gender perspective in all aspects of peace and security. In October 2004, a subsequent Security Council Presidential Statement called on the “development of national action plans” to further implement Resolution 1325. Before the US’s NAP, thirty-two other countries had already released their own NAPs.

The document makes the compelling case for why it is in U.S. national interest to integrate a gender-based perspective in foreign policy decisionmaking. In countries where women and girls have equal rights and opportunities, there is a strong correlation with economic prosperity and peace. The NAP also includes a workplan for all relevant U.S. government agencies, as well as the creation of an interagency review mechanism to track progress through 2015.  This development is particularly exciting, as we have a strong commitment to gender equity issues and have a robust Women’s Forum program throughout the year.  We hope to focus more on these issues in 2012, so stay tuned!

This list is only a sampling of the hundreds of resolutions adopted in 2011.  See the full list of Resolutions from the 65th and 66th General Assembly sessions and the Security Council.  As both the President of the GA and SG Ban Ki-moon have expressed, 2011 was a year of remarkable advances and improvements, and emphasizes the importance of a global governing body like the UN, which is able to respond to natural disasters, support democracy, and uphold the universal principles of human rights and peace-building.

What Resolution would YOU write in 2012 if you had the chance??

Thank you for all you’ve done to support our work this year and we look forward to all that 2012 has in store!  We’ll do our best to keep you informed and engaged as the UN’s 2012 agenda unfolds.

Happy New Year from the UNA-GB team –Lena, Kaitlin, Jennifer, Rebecca, Ann and our awesome interns!

Creating A Road To Democracy

Happy 4th  of July to all! As we celebrate the independence of our country on this day and the freedoms we are thankful for, we would like to take a closer look at the road towards independence for other countries around the world.  News headlines the past few months have been dominated by the strive for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa.  Here’s our second blog post from our newest blog seriesGet Educated, One Topic At A Time featured every Monday, whose focus today is on this year’s “Arab Spring” from start to present!  And speaking of emerging democracies, stay tuned for a blog post later on this week in honor of Southern Sudan’s official independence on July 9th!

While the term, “Arab Spring” is one of some contention, there can be no denying that there is a major change happening in the Middle East and North Africa.  Said by some to be as important, if not moreso to world history than the fall of the Berlin Wall, the “Arab Spring” has significantly changed the political atmosphere both within the region and around the world.  Beginning when Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian college graduate who was selling vegetables from a cart because of the high rates of unemployment there, set himself on fire on the steps of parliament after corrupt police confiscated his wares, the resulting protests soon spread from Morocco to Iran.  On January 14, 2011, President Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali fled Tunisia, becoming the first dictator to be ousted as a result of the “Arab Spring.”

Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square

Protests soon spread to Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak was the next to step down after three decades in power.  The demonstrations were centered in Tahrir (Liberation) Square in Cairo, Egypt’s capital city.  Thousands of people stayed in the square for eighteen days amid attempts by the government to placate the crowd with small concessions and violent attacks by forces loyal to Mubarak.  The Egyptian people persevered, however, and are now, hopefully, on their way to free and fair democracy.

Today, movements have sprung up in almost every country in the Middle East and North Africa, from small scale peaceful demonstrations for social and political reforms like in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to outright bloody conflict and civil war like in Syria and Libya.

Protesters in Sana'a, Yemen

The United Nations has not become directly involved in any country yet, though it has issued several statements expressing deep concern over the human rights abuses that are taking place.  The UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that “resort[ing] to lethal or excessive force against peaceful demonstrators not only violates fundamental rights, including the right to life, but serves to exacerbate tensions and tends to breed a culture of violence.”  The UN Security Council has also given its support to the NATO mission in Libya, and we will likely see further discussion in other UN bodies as the “Arab Spring” continues.

As the rest of the world scrambles to adjust to the rapidly changing political climate, the people of the Middle East and North Africa continue to stand up for their rights in a region that previously represented the only part of the world virtually devoid of democratic governments.  There is still a lot of hard work ahead for the reformers and nation builders of the “Arab Spring,” but they have taken a revolutionary first step on the road to democracy and freedom.

To keep up with the journey as it continues, follow the Guardian’s “Path of Protest”.

-Chris

Crisis In Libya Continues

The crisis in Libya is quickly escalating. Rebel-pull backs continue in the east after Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s forces unleashed rockets and artillery on the light armed rebel forces today. The rebels, aided by Western air strikes, had made a two-day charge along more than 125 miles of barren coast (about 330 miles east of the capital of Tripoli) and seized strategic oil terminals near Gadhafi’s hometown of Sirte. However, the rebels have now been forced to retreat, giving up valuable gains to Gadhafi’s better armed troops.

On Monday, March 28th, President Obama made his case for military intervention in Libya in a speech to the nation, saying the action he directed was in U.S. interests and had already succeeded in preventing a massacre of “horrific scale.” He said the U.S. would work to remove Gadhafi from power, but made clear that he would rely on political, financial, and other pressures—not military force—to drive him out.

Just one day after President Obama’s speech, 40 world leaders convened in London, insisting that Gadhafi steps down but offering no new suggestions for how to dislodge him from power. Although the leaders pledged humanitarian aid and continued air strikes to protect civilians in the region, they indicated that it would be up to the Libyans themselves to force Gadhafi out.

The question of whether to arm the rebels was not publicly discussed at the summit, nor was the question of how to release frozen Libyan assets to help fund them. But President Obama, in an interview with NBC on Tuesday, said that he would not preclude the possibility of arming the rebels. Obama said, “I’m not ruling it out, but I’m also not ruling it in.” He added, “Operations to protect civilians continue to take out Gadhafi’s forces, his tanks, his artillery on the ground. And that will continue for some time.” While both the U.S. and Britain are not ruling out supplying arms to the rebels, China and Russia are stepping up complaints about the Western-led military intervention in Libya.

The UN, however, has openly pledged it’s support. In a statement released on Tuesday, March 29th, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said “thousands of lives” were saved by the actions of the international community. The Secretary General pledged the ongoing support of the UN to resolve the crisis in Libya and noted that the world body was already engaged in “strong diplomatic efforts.” He reiterated his call for an immediate ceasefire between the military and opposition forces, and said he and his Special Envoy for Libya, Abdel-Elah al-Khatib, remain in close contact with both Libya’s authorities and the opposition.

In total, around 380,000 people are estimated to have left Libya since the unrest – part of wider protests across North Africa and the Middle East – began and another 13,000 are stranded at the country’s borders with Tunisia and Egypt.

Stay tuned with us as we continue to monitor the unfolding events!

-Hanna

Libyan Conflict Reaches the UN

If you have been up to date with the news in Libya, you are probably aware that the situation in Libya is escalating. Libya has now become the center of attention for not only the media but also the U.N.

Libya’s bloody crackdown on protesters and its innocent civilians is alarming. It is reported that thousands may have been killed or injured.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced at a press conference on Wednesday, February 23rd that the current situation in Libya is unpredictable and it is possible that the situation could go in many directions, many of them, which are dangerous. He also stated that the international community should remain unity and act together. While the young people are pushing the frontier of freedom, it is important to note that there should be no violence and instead respect for human rights. He emphasized that the government of Libya should protect its people as attack on civilians are violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and those responsible must be held accountable.

Ironically, Libya is an elected member of the Human Rights Council and now some members have called for its expulsion.

On Friday, February 25th, the UN Human Rights Council met in a special session in Geneva, Switzerland to discuss possible sanctions against Moamer Kadhafi’s embattled government while the UN Security Council met Saturday 26th, in New York for a formal session to discuss the crisis in Libya and Moamer Kadhafi’s refusal to halt his crackdown on democracy protests.  See below for a brief overview of those sessions:

U.N. Human Rights council in Geneva (Friday, 02/25/2011)

Along with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Russia’s Sergei Lavrov, as well as counterparts from Britain, France, Germany, the European Union and Italy, the Human Rights Council, the UN’s top rights assembly, decided unanimously on Friday to approve Libya’s exclusion from the body.

It also launched an UN-led investigation into “systematic violence” in Libya that could amount to “crimes against humanity,” after 1,000 people were reportedly killed in attempts to crush an uprising against Kadhafi.

Security Council Meeting in New York (Saturday, 02/26/2011)

The U.N. Security Council unanimously decided to impose economic and military sanctions on Libya and urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to pursue charges of war crimes against Kadhafi, members of his family, and 16 of his political and military advisers.

At the meeting, U.N Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced that the U.N. receives daily reports of clashes and the “indiscriminate use of violence” resulting in an estimated 1,000 deaths and countless arrests and wounded in Libya. In addition, reports of Kadhafi’s supporting forces killing wounded opposition members in hospitals where they were being treated for wounds, have also reached the U.N.

The results of the meetings were praised by human rights groups, but they also urged the international community to ensure protection of civilians in Libya and justice for victims of violence over the coming months.

How do you think the unrest in Libya should be handled? Is the international community doing enough?  How can peace be achieved?  Let us know what you think and keep posted with UNA-GB on the current situations in Libya.

-NaEun