Blog Archives

UNA-GB’s Mission in Action: Annual Advisory Council Meeting and 2012 MUN Summer Institute Kick-Off

Despite the dreary weather on Monday, UNA-GB launched a fantastic week of programming.  Staff and interns took a field trip to Harvard Business School where the 2012 Model UN Summer Institute’s first session kicked off, with nearly 50 6th-12th grade students from around Boston and the country coming together for an intensive week-long program focused on global diplomacy and leadership.

L-R: UNA-GB ED Lena Granberg, Pam Pelletreau, Ambassador Robert Pelletreau, UNA-GB Board VP Arese Carrington, and UNA-GB Board President Richard Golob.

Across the quad, in Spangler Hall, UNA-GB staff, Advisory Council members, and Board officers gathered for our annual Advisory Council luncheon. This year we were pleased and honored to welcome Ambassador Robert Pelletreau and his wife Pamela as our special guests.

Pelletreau has impressive and timely expertise in the Middle East, having served as Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs as well as Ambassador to Egypt, Tunisia, and Bahrain throughout his 35 year career in the Foreign Service. Upon leaving government, he joined the international law firm of Afridi & Angell , and in 2002, along with his wife, became Co-Director,  of Search for Common Ground in the Middle East. Mrs. Pelletreau was an active volunteer of UNA in New York, and since moving to the Cape this year, has become more involved with UNA-GB.

The luncheon opened with an energizing introduction from UNA-GB President Richard Golob, who spoke enthusiastically about the Advisory Council and their role as ambassadors to the Boston community. Council Member Peter Smith echoed Richard’s comments, describing the crucial role of the Advisory Council as not only spokespeople for UNA-GB overall, but also specifically as avid supporters of our Model UN global education programming.

Ambassador Pelletreau spoke next, giving all those gathered at the table a clear, organized and engaging update on the current status of political changes in the Middle East, while also bringing in charming personal anecdotes; he opened with a story about playing squash with former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. During his remarks, he shared 4 general observations on political uprisings in the last year or so:

Pelletreau stated that a combination of these factors was the catalyst for the uprisings, pointing out that in an increasingly globalized world where news access is everywhere and stories can spread like wildfire, it is harder to cut your citizens off from the rest of the world.  Ambassador Pelletreau gave his take on what the future may look like in this region, and in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria specifically, saying that while much is unclear, fighting is likely to continue.  As a final wrap up to his informed commentary, Pelletreau shared another anecdote, this time about Henry Kissinger’s legendary trip to China in 1971, during which Premier Zhou was asked about the implications of the French Revolution – he replied that it was “too early to say”.  All those in attendance laughed at the irony, and with understanding that issues as complicated as those currently faced in the Arab world will indeed take time.

After a brief time of Q&A, Executive Director Lena Granberg updated the Council on UNA-GB programming so far this year, particularly highlighting the successes of our Model UN program, now serving almost 3,000 6th-12th grade students in the greater Boston area. (To catch up on recent UNA-GB events or upcoming programs visit the website). Ann Kirby, who works on educational development at UNA-GB, gave a brief introduction to the Model UN Summer Institute, which teaches 6th-12th graders the values of debate, teamwork, and public speaking while engaging in simulated negotiations on real-world global challenges.

The Advisory Council members then had a chance to sit in on one of the Institute’s sessions to experience the impact of this transformative college-preparatory program firsthand.  The students were finishing up an exercise through which they established a working definition of human rights for use in their simulations. This was followed up by an engaging and entertaining public speaking exercise where they had to go around the circle, state their name, the names of those before them, and an activity/like they have.  It provided much fodder for discussion about the importance of active listening and ways to remember key facts when speaking.

It was great to see various aspects of UNA-GB come together in one place, and to see our mission come alive through the Summer Institute.  Teens from the Greater Boston Area as well as active community members, professionals, and former ambassadors were all laughing and learning together.  And no amount of torrential rain could dampen the inspiration felt around both the work of the UN and UNA-GB’s work to empower the next generation of global leaders that afternoon!

Wondering how you can join in? Check out how to get involved on our website!

-Jessica P

Beyond the Arab Spring: Struggle for Women Rights Continues

On October 24 the world will celebrate the 66th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.  As we near this anniversary it is important to revisit the key missions of the United Nations, which centers around finding solutions to critical global challenges.

In 2010 the Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) concluded with the adoption of a global action plan, which laid out Eight Millennium Development Goals, ranging from extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/Aids. Another one of the goals that has many ties to the rest is MDG 3, which focuses on Gender Equality.  Achieving equal rights for women and girls is a big focus on the global stage currently, and recent headline news reflects this.

Islamic states, Saudi Arabia and Iran have all recently been criticized for their records with women’s rights. In the recent UN Watch Testimony to UN Human Rights, Iran and Saudi Arabia were listed as countries where women are deprived of their human rights.

The legal system of The Islamic Republic of Iran discriminates against women. Similarly, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women cannot drive and women are denied the right to vote and be elected to high political positions. Women, who don’t have the right to drive, however may gain the right to vote.

Recently, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah announced women will have the right to vote in local elections in 2015 and become members of the advisory Shura council. Two days after this announcement a court sentenced a woman to 10 whiplashes for violating the kingdom’s religious rules prohibiting women from driving.  Usually police stop female drivers, and after they have them sign a pledge not to drive anymore, let them go. This is the first time when legal punishment has been ordered for the violation of driving ban in Saudi Arabia. The court acted after a women’s campaign launched on Facebook and Twitter emboldened by the Arab Spring that inspired women to get behind the wheel and drive. These contradictions are the results of an endless fight between the country’s conservatives and those who want to improve women’s situation.

The issue recalls a long time fight that still continues in Afghanistan. In 1928 King Amanulah and his wife introduced new reforms, which included: the abolition of burqa, mixed schools for boys and girls, and the country’s mullahs.  Later, the country’s conservatives and mujahideen began attacking the government.  Presently, the country’s conservatives continue rising up against reforms – which would give basic human rights to women in Afghanistan.

The presence of women in Afghan parliament is a show of democracy. In fact, women holding high-ranking political positions do not have the authorities provided by their positions. Women struggle to play a significant political role and they are continually excluded from peace and security processes as well as solving important issues. The most members of the parliament are warlords, the ethnic militias who fought against each other from 1992 to 1996, killing thousands of civilians. Human Rights Watch published a report called “Blood stained Hand” which referred to warlords as “the world’s most serious human rights offenders.”

Now the Afghan government is willing to sacrifice women’s rights in order to compromise with Taliban. According to Oxfam –  women’s rights are at risk in Afghanistan.  When the international troops withdraw, the government will continue its peace negotiations with Taliban, which will deprive women from some of their basic human rights, which they have regained in the past 10 years with the opening of schools for girls. The spread of insurgency, violence and a corrupted government have left, and will continue to lead, people with no hope of peace.

In Saudi Arabia, the voting rights itself can be a show.  The country’s political system is not different from totalitarian regimes that have been overthrown by the Arab Spring revolution. Saudi Arabia was established in 1932 by King Abd-al-Aziz who united the country under his family’s rule.  After his death in 1953 the political power has been in the hands of the royal family and thousands of its princes.  For centuries the country has been isolated from the rest of the world and censored by the ruling monarchy. Now, through modern technologies, especially social media, people started have begun to realize that Islam has been used to impose the dynasty’s rules  and to exploit the nation’s people.

The conversation about women’s rights in the Middle East, and throughout the entire globe, is an important one that we need to continue having.  Our Women’s Forum focuses on many of these issues and will likely have some events coming up in the spring around women in the Middle East in particular so stay tuned!

In the near time, you can come celebrate the 66th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations with UNA-GB and help us keep the conversation going.  One direct way to do this is to help support the next generation of global leaders learn about these important issues, with the UN Day Model UN mini-simulation at the Massachusetts State House on October 24 -where middle and high school students will debate Gender Inequality focusing on women’s education and employment opportunities worldwide.   You can also hear a powerful UN advocate and female leader, Gillian Sorensen speak at our annual UN Day Luncheon on October 28.  Tickets are on sale now!

Also, if you are more interested in focusing specifically on women’s equality join our Women’s Forum and come to our many interesting events held throughout the year!

-Muzhgan Rasul

A Year of New Horizons: Review of 66th UN General Assembly Opening

It’s been a busy couple of weeks as the United Nations welcomed the opening of its 66th General Assembly. The General Assembly opened its 66th session formally this week at its Headquarters in New York. Former permanent representative of Qatar to the UN, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, was elected as General Assembly president in June and gave the opening speech.

In his opening speech Al-Nasser stressed that the General Assembly is an opportunity for the international community to “define our place in this decisive moment in history,” and to “prove that we have the courage, wisdom and tenacity to seek creative and visionary solutions.” He also said that he was “deeply committed” to working with each member state to “build bridges for a united global partnership.”

On Wednesday Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff became the first woman to ever open a round of UN General Assembly speeches. In her speech President Rousseff touched on a wide range of topics including social inclusion and human rights guarantees. She also spoke about the need to reform the UN Security Council and supporting sustainable development – with a reminder that in June 2012 Rio de Janeiro will be hosting the next world conference on climate change.

On Monday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s High-level Panel on Global Sustainability held its fourth meeting in New York. The Panel was established in 2010 to examine how the globe can reduce poverty and increase sustainability development while protecting our planet.

On Wednesday President Obama spoke at the UN Security Council saying that although he believes there can be peace between Israel and Palestine, there is no shortcut to that peace. He also commented on the US’ opposition to the Palestinian’s bid. “Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN,” President Obama declared. “If it were that easy it would have been accomplished by now.” Rather, President Obama suggested that the international community should keep pushing Israelis and Palestinians toward talks on the four impassable issues that have presented problems since 1979.

Despite President Obama’s speech, the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, submitted an application for Palestine to become a United Nations Member State today. Mr. Abbas submitted the application to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the UN Headquarters in New York this morning.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the release of Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal from an Iranian prison on Wednesday. Bauer and Fattal had been hiking near the Iranian-Iraqi border and a month later were convicted and jailed for spying allegations more than two years ago.

On Thursday, UNICEF welcomed a new agreement between the Republic of the Congo and Benin to protect children from child trafficking which has been a large problem in the region in recent years.

“With the signing of the agreement, a framework is now in place to assist the two countries to prevent, identify and assist child trafficking victims as well as to prosecute offenders,” Marianne Flach, UNICEF Country Representative in the Republic of the Congo said.

It is hard for UNICEF to come up with an exact number of children trafficked, but in 2007 the organization roughly estimated the number to be 1,800. Experts today say that the figure is actually much higher.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all remaining States today to “seize the moment” and sign and ratify the global treaty banning nuclear tests – with the goal of bringing it into force by 2012. Of the total 195 states, 182 have so far signed the treaty and 155 have ratified it. For the treaty to enter into force, ratification is required from the “Annex 2 States.” Of these States, China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the U.S. have yet to ratify it.

“My message is clear: Do not wait for others to move first. Take the initiative. Lead. The time for waiting has passed,” Ban Ki-moon said. “We must make the most of existing – and potentially short-lived – opportunities,” he added.

As demonstrated throughout this week, the UN is an extremely important organization to global security and equity across the board. As a result it is important for us to continue supporting the organization in any way we can. Don’t forget to visit Let US Lead and tell Congress to oppose bill H.R. 2829 which threatens to cut U.S. funding to the UN. Want to go a step beyond signing a petition? Schedule an appointment to meet with your local representative over the Columbus Day recess!

Here at UNA-GB we are celebrating the opening of the 66th General Assembly as well with our 66 for 66 Campaign! Help us raise $3,300 to fund 66 students in honor of this anniversary of the UN. Only $50 provides food and materials for one child to change their perspective, engage in international issues, and build skills that will be relevant in college and their future career path. Help us nurture the next generation of global leaders! Donate today!

-Alexandra

Around the World by Book

Summer is in full swing, with the long hot days, outdoor excursions, and the potential of relaxation beyond the weekends.   During the summer months, people often ask for reading recommendations for their vacation time whether it be on the beach, in the woods, or on the road.  We thought it would be fun to compile a list of suggested books with an international/global theme from those in our UNA-GB networks, including staff, interns, and our Board and Advisory Council members.  Check out our list below and also feel free to share what novels/memoirs/non-fiction books have captivated you lately!:

During a daytime when it is humid and sunny outside, I enjoy staying indoors and reading my favorite books.  One such book is  “A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice” by Malalai Joya. I had read this book while traveling, and it enlightened my tedious commute. There have been many books written by scholars and other experts about Afghanistan, but someone who is a native Afghan and has lived most of her life there, wrote this book. The book is not only about the country, it is also about a strong and inspiring female activist who is forced to live apart from her family and children and changes her home everyday because she has chosen to speak out against the violence and corruption. She has been describes as the “bravest woman in Afghanistan” by BBC.  I think everyone who is interested in world affairs and world issues should read this book.
-Muzhgan Rasul, UNA-GB Program Intern

When will be The End of Poverty? Dr. Jeffrey Sachs gives a new meaning to his PhD, taking up the role of the doctor to impoverished regions and coining the term “clinical economics”, to “cure” the world of extreme poverty. With only four more years left until the 2015 deadline of the Millennium Development Goals, this book is undoubtedly influential to the decisions and policies that will one day eliminate poverty. Dr. Sachs provides a detailed diagnosis of the issues faced by the world’s poorest and weaves in, along the way, vivid anecdotes from his first-hand experience in the rural regions of China, Kenya, Bolivia and other less economically developed countries. Combining all of his research, Dr. Sachs presents a prescription for poverty that calls for international cooperation and action in various domains from infrastructural reforms to increased official development assistance from developed countries. Has Dr. Sachs found the panacea for poverty? Probably not, but The End of Poverty remains a significant contribution to the study of development economics and must be read by anyone who believes in a future without hunger and disease and in a better world for all.  -Wing Miriam Wong, Education Intern

I recently read Arab Voices: What they are Saying to us and why it Matters by James Zogby.  Mr. Zogby is the head of the Arab American Institute, and the book covers everything from the way that Arab Americans feel here at home to extensive surveys on the opinions of Arabs and other Middle Easterners about the US and its policies.  It is a must read for anyone who has an interest in the modern Middle East and the United States’ relationship with the people there or any American who wants to have a fuller understanding of his or her country and the people who make up its rich and diverse society. -Christopher Asmar, Education Intern

“Five to Rule Them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World” by David L. Bosco. This book is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the United Nations and/or international affairs. While many books on the subject are stuffy and academic, Bosco’s account of the formation and history of the Security Council is as accessible as it is interesting. Bosco was formerly a senior editor at Foreign Policy, an international lawyer, and deputy director of a joint UN/NATO refugee repatriation project in Sarajevo. He’s currently assistant professor of International Politics at American University. Also, check out his blog.
-Nick Blake, Education Intern

I would recommend “Paris: 1919” by the great Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan. It regards the negotiation of the Treaty of Versailles in Paris with all of the backdoor dealings following the First World War. MacMillan uses a critical analysis to persuasively argue against many of the accepted beliefs about the Paris peace process. It is a fascinating read and is presented in a very accessible manner, highly recommended for the amateur historian. The book has received a great deal of renown since it has been published and provides a vital backdrop to modern day world politics.
-James Fargher, Education Intern

Dani Rodrik’s The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy is a well argued brief that democracy is necessary to temper the the idealistic notion that globalized markets are self regulating. He dives into fascinating case studies of the world economy and how the most successful and highly developed economies protected their domestic interests from the forces of globalization while simultaneously investing in health care and education which allowed domestic labor markets to take advantage of opportunities as they arose.
– Jennifer Irizarry, UNA-GB Education Coordinator

The Blue Sweater is the inspiring personal memoir of Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder of the Acumen Fund and a dynamic leader committed to combating global poverty in innovative new ways.  The book’s title comes from one of Novogratz’ first experiences with globalization -a decade after she had donated a unique handmade sweater she wore as a child to Goodwill, she came across the exact same sweater on a young boy in Rwanda.  Her story spans the difficulties of development, aid and poverty reduction, beginning from her firsthand experiences on the ground in Africa and follows her as she goes through business school, enters the workforce, and learns the power of philanthropy and finances.  Ultimately her focus becomes a forward form of philanthropic investing called “patient capital”, which is creating the potential to make people self-sufficient and change millions of lives.  As the website aptly describes, this book is “more than just an auto-biography or a how-to guide to tackling poverty; [it] challenges us to grant dignity to the poor and to rethink our engagement with the world.”  Just the challenge worth accepting over the summer!
-Kaitlin Hasseler, UNA-GB Program Manager

Additional suggested readings include: Gandhi: The True Man Behind Modern India by Jad Adams.
-Valerie Epps, UNA-GB Board Member.

The Lady and the Panda by Vicki Croke for an intriguing read. And, it has a local Boston angle to the story too.
-Kari Heistad, Board Member.

I enjoyed the Power of One by Bryce Courtenay and The Power of Gold by Peter L. Bernstein.
-Will Febbo, Board Member.

The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier, an incisive insight into the rampant poverty in the world’s midst of plenty.
-Ajmal Qureshi, Board Member.

Poor Economics by Banerjee and Duflo, 1491 by Charles C. Mann and The Great Bridge by David McCullogh.
-Clark Abt, Advisory Council Member.

Again, please share your suggestions with us as well so we can continue to educate one another on the many global challenges we have and are facing.

-Muzhgan

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

9th Annual Global Film Festival kicks off this weekend!

You’re invited!  If you’ve been looking for powerful, international documentaries depicting some of the very critical issues of the world, now is the time to buy your tickets for the films screening on September 24-25, and October 1-2, 2010.

On the first weekend (September 24 and 25), Friday night we’ll have two films: Sutura, a film about how women in Senegal are organizing to end the silence around rape and sexual violence in their communities; and Democracy in Dakar, a groundbreaking documentary bridging the gap between hip-hop activism, video journalism and documentary film focusing on politics in Dakar Senegal. This film explores the role of youth and musical activism on the political process following rappers, DJs, journalists, professors and people on the street at the time before during and after the controversial 2007 presidential election in Senegal.

Saturday evening’s film is Little Town of Bethlehem, which follows the story of three men of three different faiths, their lives in Israel and Palestine, and each man’s choice of non-violent action amidst a culture of overwhelming violence. The film examines the struggle to promote equality through non-violent engagement in the midst of incredible violence that has dehumanized all sides.

On the second weekend (October 1 and 2), Friday night’s film is Countdown to Zero which will sweep us into a scorching, hypnotic journey around the world to reveal the palpable possibility of nuclear disaster and frame an issue on which human survival itself hangs. 

On Saturday, we are fortunate to have a Sneak Peek of Cape Wind about the divisive controversy over the Cape Wind project, which will be replicated hundreds of times over as industrial-scale renewable energy projects are proposed for America’s deserts, ridge lines, and waterways.

After each film, filmmakers and/or experts will join us for a panel discussion, giving you a chance to discuss your viewpoints.

All films will screen at 7pm at the Harvard Kennedy School.  See our website at www.bostonfilms.org for film descriptions, schedule, venue, and ticket information.

Seating is limited, so purchasing your tickets as soon as possible is highly recommended.

Cheers,

Stephanie Sanchez
Film Festival Coordinator