By Ellen Barfield, Head VFP Representative to the UN Department of Public Information (DPI)
The seven-year major refurbishment of the UN Headquarters compound in New York City, though not finished, is done enough that access has been opened again to many areas. Fortunately the rumored denial or restriction of NGO access seems not to have developed, and as best I can tell we get even more invitations now, so not just the weekly briefings but a range of events are open to NGO's.
With greater attention being paid now to VFP's relationship to the UN, there are several possible ways for VFP members to connect and help increase VFP's UN interaction.
- The New York planning committee for the 2016 NGO Conference to be held in S Korea in late May and Early June still needs participants.
- VFP is allowed several attendance slots for that conference, and registration will be soon since the conference is earlier in the year than usual.
- A coalition of NGO's is working on organizing for education for world citizenship, and VFP could
- participate in particular by providing input about counter-recruiting in schools.
- The Department of Public Information Board elections will be in May, and a VFP candidate could run.
Email, Ellen Barfield @ firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in any of these opportunities.
Below is a report on various UN events I attended during 2015. As far as I know, no other VFP Rep was able to attend any events at the UN last year. As I will report below, the President and a Board Member did attend one event with me.
**The end of January is the time for UN European Holocaust remembrance every year, and usually I avoid those events since of course they often defend Israeli government behavior by connecting it back to the killing of only Jewish victims by the Nazis, ignoring many other holocausts in history along with the approximately 6 million OTHER victims of the Nazis. Even though the "pink-washing" Israel does to burnish its image by trumpeting acceptance of lgbti people is another distressing Zionist behavior, still I was willing to attend the 29 January, 2015 NGO briefing on "The Holocaust, Homosexuals and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Today". Of course homosexuals WERE some of the OTHER Nazi victims, and several speakers had expertise on that topic as well as modern advocacy.
History Professor Erik Jensen from Ohio Miami University noted that 10,000 gay men were sent to concentration camps and 7000 died, medical experiments included castration of 800 gays and hormone shots on others. Lesbians were not targeted by the Nazis, probably because they were less identifiable since they had not organized during the wild 1920's.
Charles Radcliffe, on staff with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that 40 governments have instituted lgbt rights since the 1995 UN Declaration Free and Equal.
Marianne Mollman, Program Director for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, decried the 3 main myths plaguing lgbti's, that the issue is new, that lgbti's are all the same, and that it's all about sex. She mentioned that greater visibility helps the cause but can create danger for individuals.
**In 2007 the UN set 25 March as International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade (another holocaust). On 25 March, 2015, the permanent memorial the Ark of Return was unveiled in a very prominent location on the UN Visitors Plaza with hundreds of people in attendance on a chilly, drizzly day. High-level speakers included the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and the designer of the monument, black Caribbean architect Rodney Leon was honored. The monument can be walked through to view a world map noting the global reach of the slave trade, and a full-scale enchained man facing a diagram of the inside of a slave ship.
I now walk through every time I go to the UN.
The NGO briefing on Thursday 26 March was another part of the ongoing commemoration of the slave trade, "Women and Slavery: its impact on women's rights today". Speakers discussed many historical women who challenged slavery, as well as current struggles against residual ills.
Dr. Francoise Verges, Global South Chair of the College of Global Studies in Paris, praised the successful Haitian revolution against France, and quoted the statistic that modern trafficking of people, essentially international slavery, is the 2nd biggest world business after the drug trade, and women and girls are 55% of those trafficked, for sex or household service.
Eola Dance, of the US National Park Service, spoke about coordinating the northeast region of the Network to Freedom, which links 540 sites on the Underground Railroad and shows long-hidden history.
I was able to comment during the Q&A session, mentioning an article I wrote on the sad fact that many US white women suffrage activists said nasty things decrying former slave men getting the vote before educated white women, and that when "woman" suffrage passed in the US, many black women still could not vote due to Jim Crow voting obstruction.
**The DPI NGO briefings include a communications workshop every year, for 2015 on 11 June. Having been a UN Rep for a long time it amuses me to see how social media savvy and youth-focusing the UN has gotten, when it was not long ago at all that the UN was quite backward in its electronic status. The panel for "Acting Globally in the Digital Age" was five young international students and interns who presented techniques and advice for social media strategies and online crowdfunding. Bruce Knotts of the Unitarian Universalist UN Office during Q&A reminded us that many nations obstruct or even shut down social media and harass and kill journalists or citizens reporting events and urged that the UN do a better job supporting press and internet freedom.
**On September 9th, VFP President Barry Ladendorf, Board Member Tarak Kauff and I attended the High Level Forum on the Culture of Peace, the 4th one of these daylong events. Some of it actually-a whole day of talking heads is too much! Gandhi's grandson was the keynoter, urging nonviolence as the key to world peace. Link to his speech here. Gandhi noted that poverty and overconsumption are violence, and told the story of The Mahatma sending him back out to find a 3-inch pencil stub he had thrown away.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke in the opening segment with Gandhi, then a panoply of 27 national statements including a young woman speaking as the Palestinian representative, then several panels. The Ambassador from Colombia, Maria Mejia, noted that she is helping advocate that the soon-to-be-chosen next UN SecGen be a woman. Then Amina Mohammed from Nigeria was so inspiring that Barry leaned over and whispered SHE should be the new SG. A bit later I shouted "YEAH!" over applause when Federico Mejor from UNESCO decried 20,000 mostly children dying every day while billions are spent on war.
**On 1 October the German Mission hosted a session on "Small Arms and Light Weapons: The Real Weapons of Mass Destruction". Oscar Arias Sanchez, former Costa Rican President and deserving Nobel Peace Laureate, keynoted, and recalled a Guatemalan indigenous woman 28 years ago when that peace accord was signed thanking him for her child in the mountains and the child in her womb, but, he said small arms and therefore violence remain. The hoped-for Convention on Small Arms could happen just like the landmines treaty did, with enough pressure from people, perhaps regulating ammunition because guns with no bullets are just metal.
This session was strong, but continued the focus on illegal gun-running, ignoring the massive "legal", but deeply immoral, weapons sales, in which the US leads the world. No representative from the US spoke of course. I had the pleasure of sharing personal info with the young man seated next to me, an employee of the British Mission who knew about VFP UK!
**Mohandas K Gandhi's birthday on 2 October is the International Day of Non-Violence, observed since 2007. I listened in on the General Assembly opening national statements from Andorra and Macedonia with the ticket I was given as an NGO Rep for the first week of the GA, and then adjourned to the scheduled Gandhi day event, where sadly men strongly predominated. A film loop of Gandhi's life misrepresented that he INVENTED nonviolence, when actually he openly credited Tolstoy, Thoreau, Adin Ballou and others as teachers of his.
The Bangladeshi Finance Minister recalled being 14 when Gandhi died and not much liking him with a father in the Muslim League but still crying, and since coming to appreciate Gandhi's advocacy for Dalits-untouchables, and Harijans-the poor. South African Ambassador Mamabolo reminded the audience that Gandhi began his political career in South Africa after serving as an ambulance driver in the Boer and Zulu wars, and noted that Nelson Mandela thanked Gandhi for urging that black South Africans and the various "colored" immigrant workers work together to challenge the white elites.
I returned to the GA to hear the Syrian representative say Syria wanted Russian airstrikes.The Iceland speaker called for the expansion of Security Council seats beyond the winners of WW2. The Bahraini speaker criticized Iran, the speaker from Lichtenstein called for SC reform and noted that mass atrocities can only be prevented, not remedied. Belizean and Granadan speakers called for attention to flooding and hunger problems for coastal and low-lying nations from sea-level rise and climate change.
**On October 14th I juggled two events at almost the same time, the African Continental Framework on Youth Development, and Gender and Inclusive Mediation through UNSC Res 1325 on including women at all stages of peacemaking. I started in the Africa session, where 12 speakers were poised to address the fact that 70% of Africans are under 30. I heard that Mandela was 26 when the African National Congress formed, and that Niger is spending more on its military to fight Boko Haram, whose soldiers average 16 years old and are paid $3 a day when there are few other jobs. The youth and energy in Africa, if focused skillfully, could be a demographic dividend.
Then the Gender Mediation session was powerful women speaking about peacemaking before and after the passage of 1325. Northern Irish Monica McWilliams told about Irish women courageously demanding places at the peace table before 1325 and what a difference that made. Lisa Buttenheim from the US has headed the 51-year old Cyprus UN Peacekeeping Force since 2010, the first woman UN force commander. She said just in May 2015 a Cypriot gender equality commission has been established.
Elisabeth Rehn, former Finnish Defense, and Equality, Minister, spoke about working with Crisis Management International in Bosnia-Herzegovina before 1325 and Liberia and Guatemala since 1325, and really seeing a difference, with justice and restoration after conflict, and no impunity for perpetrators.
**Combatting Racism in the 21st Century was the theme for the NGO briefing on 3 December, to Commemorate 50 years of the Convention for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Launch of the International Decade for People of African Descent. The 5 presenters were incredibly active people in the arts, education, social work and healing ministries. A particularly powerful comment was Baltimore Attorney Stephanie Franklin stating that African American children in foster care are given hugely disproportionate amounts of psychotropic medications to white children. Afro-Nuyorican (NYC African Puerto Rican) William Garcia, a Masters student in education at Columbia, said that the Latin American nations did not enact the extremely oppressive Constitutional restrictions on Africans that the US did, and noted that African Latinos are still not acknowledged in the US census.
Social Work professor Onaje Muid advocated absolving African Americans of taxes and tuition instead of cash or land payments as reparations for slavery and Jim Crow.
**A new UN commemorative day was launched on 9 December, the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of This Crime, the 67th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the first international human rights treaty. Raphael Lemkin, A Polish Jew who lost 49 family members to the Nazis, coined the term genocide. The speakers were all researchers or staffers at the UN or human rights organizations except for one member of a genocided group, Armenian Ambassador Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, probably to the aggravation of representatives of Turkey which still rejects the term for what they did to the Armenians. David Tolbert, President of the International Center for Transitional Justice, noted there are currently 40 truth commissions worldwide to deal with previous atrocities. The audience video scans for the jumbotron screens included zeroing in on me for a cameo shot, perhaps because of my Palestinian kheffiyeh scarf.