As most of you know, since 1991,Veterans For Peace has maintained a seat and is represented at the United Nations as the only veterans Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). As President of the Veterans For Peace, Board of Directors, I am privileged to serve as one of the four representatives from VFP to the UN. This year, VFP’s other three representatives are Ellen Barfield, VFP’s long-standing representative to the UN who has done an amazing job over the years, Michael McPhearson, VFP Executive Director, and Col. Ann Wright.
To obtain a better understanding of the role VFP can play as an NGO at the UN, I attended a highly informative, live-streaming, two day conference hosted by the UN for new UN representatives. Each conference presentation provided essential information for NGOs. I only wish I would have gone to New York to attend the conference in person as It provided an invaluable opportunity to ask questions about the potential role of VFP in the UN and to network with other NGO representatives.
According to a recent story inThe Nation, the UN needs to be revitalized: it currently has more UN peacekeepers on the ground then ever before, and funding for life-saving humanitarian relief for millions of refugees is nearing depletion. With a new Secretary General to be elected this year (possibly the first woman), an emerging powerful bloc of developing nations coming into existence, and anticipated greater transparency revitalization is in the offing.
It was against this backdrop that the two day orientation conference for new NGO representatives took place. What struck me was the UN seemed to be opening its doors in a new and bold way to more actively involve civil society with NGOs becoming more active in supporting UN activities, asking questions of member nations, networking with other NGOs that have similar missions, and inviting NGOs to consider upgrading to “Consultative Status” and the advantages that status brings. While I have advocated upgrading our status to consultative because of the greater influence and access we could have, I now believe, as Ellen has suggested, that we in VFP need to demonstrate a stronger commitment to the UN and engage more actively within the UN Department of Public Information (DPI), the public information arm of the UN and the UN department which works with NGOs.
Lessons learned from the UN Orientation Conference:
- Being involved in the UN helps NGOs and representatives to shed their tribal and nationalistic thinking and think more like a citizen of the world.
- VFP can become more actively and creatively involved in disarmament, climate change and poverty issues. It was not long ago that the US Army said climate change, worldwide income inequality and worldwide poverty would be the leading causes of international conflict and chaos.
- NGOs should not be content to simply attend meetings; they should actively lobby their country’s Mission to the UN. We could regularly be at the doorstep of the US Mission on the Israeli/Palestinian issue, climate change, disarmament and banishing nuclear weapons, and the push for peaceful resolutions in worldwide conflicts amongst other issues.
- VFP could network with other likeminded NGOs and form coalitions to press member nations on issues important to our Statement of Purpose. In concert with our NGO partners, VFP could visit the Missions of member nations to lobbying on issues similar to those mentioned above,
- Although VFP has four seats for representatives, I discovered we also have two additional seats for people the UN defines as “youth”. The UN recently increased the age of what it considers a “youth” from 23 to 32. One thing is clear, just as VFP seeks to find young veterans to join its ranks, the UN is making a concerted effort to involve the young people of the world to become actively involved in UN activities. This presents an opportunity for VFP to seek out young veterans who have an interest in working with the UN. These young veterans might well be college students in and around New York, New Jersey and New England who could intern for VFP and write reports on the UN activities in which VFP has an interest. These reports could be posted on the VFP website, in our newsletter, inPeace in Our Times, etc.
- The UN encourages VFP to take a leadership role in the UN and use our unique voice. The DPI will assist VFP in making our voice heard and in contacting other NGOs with similar goals and interest.
- There are also opportunities for academic engagement with research and institutions of higher learning as well as in areas of peace and security and human rights.
- Finally, building bridges with other NGOs and member states can serve as a conduit to veterans groups around the world which would interested in joining VFP efforts where are goals and interests are intertwined.
How Do We Become More Involved:
- We need members who have an interest in the UN and its work to volunteer their time and energy.
- We need to seek funding to help members to participate in the activities of the UN. I would like see travel, lodging and per diem for meals to UN events in NYC and possibly elsewhere in the world be covered so that members do not have to pay their way to these events.
- We need to work with our foreign chapters to send representatives to UN events in Europe and elsewhere.
- Finally, if you have an interest in assisting VFP as a representative at the UN, or for those members who are 32 years old or younger, as a “youth” representative, or you have any suggestions on how VFP might more fully engage with the UN, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org., or Ellen Barfield at email@example.com, or Michael McPhearson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
President, Board of Directors
Veterans For Peace