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UN Environmental Programme Post-Paris Update

A Broken World. Photo Credit: Rennett Stowe http://bit.ly/1PAm1jC

 

“Later that night, I held an atlas in my lap,

Ran my fingers across the whole world,

And whispered… where does it hurt?

It answered

Everywhere

Everywhere

Everywhere.”

--Warsan Shire 

Last week I attended a United Nations Environmental Programme event held in collaboration with George Washington University that invited speakers and organizations to discuss their plans to incorporate the goals set by the Paris Climate Agreement. There were two keynote speakers from the White House and three panels consisting of 10 high-ranking members of various organizations known for their efforts to curb climate change.

The Children of Syria: Continuing to Educate a Generation in the Midst of Conflict

Syrian Refugee Children at a UNICEF school in Lebanon

Syria has quickly become the leading producer of refugees in the world, with 4 million people fleeing the country–half of them children. Due to the increase in violence throughout the country, Syria has grown to be one of the most unsafe places for children in the world.

However, the conversation surrounding the refugees has stopped short of addressing the millions of children who are now in need of humanitarian aid, including the ability to gain an education. With so many Syrians missing key years of primary education, it is a concern that there will be a generational gap of educated people in Syria.

Syria is currently in desperate need of an investment in education, as access to primary school has been rapidly declining for Syrians since the beginning of the civil war. With a high attendance record and a 90% literacy rate, Syria’s education system used to be envied by various countries in the region. However, in the past five years, 2.8 million children of primary school-age have been removed from their schools due to conflict in their neighborhoods. Many Syrian parents have safety concerns and are reluctant to send their children to school in the middle of conflict. This is not surprising, since over 4,000 schools in Syria have been destroyed by bombings or turned into shelters and storage facilities over the past few years. Syrians who flee their homes often end up in refugee camps which are overcrowded and underfinanced, leading to education being neglected.

Chill, It's Just Gender-Based Violence: The "Comfort Women" Settlement

Statue commemorating "comfort women"

East Asia neighbors South Korea and Japan have recently made international headlines in light of their brash resolution for “comfort women.” Heard of it before? Chances are more than likely you haven’t.

In arguably the most brutal crime against women in history, “comfort women” refers to the massive sexual slavery of thousands of Korean women at the hands of the Japanese government. Up until news of the recent “resolution” between South Korea and Japan regarding just this, the subject of comfort women has remained notably absent from the international conversation. But why all of the silence regarding such a pivotal part of history?

The answer is simple: the lives of women and the violence they too often suffer simply do not matter.

This is made alarmingly clear by the lackadaisical manner in which Japan and South Korea have "resolved" the comfort women debacle. Vacuous at best, the so-called comfort women resolution is a slap in the face to the very women who endured the unthinkable, the un-survivable. And despite the very public disapproval of Japan’s proposed resolution by surviving comfort women, the Korean government has accepted Japan’s settlement, which includes the removal of a statue honoring the legacy of the ever-resilient “comfort women.”

The passivity, and some may argue continued lack of acknowledgment, by the Japanese government trivializes this historic venom and shows us all just how undervalued the lives of women truly are.

Japan’s longstanding and blatant unresponsiveness to this historical obstruction of human rights parallels the global community’s tendency to pacify, trivialize, and/or ignore altogether human rights abuses against women.

World Interfaith Harmony Week : Steps Toward A Harmony Renaissance

2012 World Interfaith Harmony Week celebrations by Bethak CC in Pakistan

The Association of World Citizens, a non-governmental organization in consultative status with the United Nations, cooperates fully with the World Interfaith Harmony Week, which takes place February 1-7. The UN General Assembly designates the first week of every February as a time for cooperation for a common purpose among all religions, faiths and beliefs.

The General Assembly, building on its efforts for a culture of peace and non-violence in which World Citizens have played an active part, wishes to highlight the importance of mutual understanding and inter-religious dialogue in developing a creative culture of peace and non-violence. The General Assembly recognizes “the imperative need for dialogue among different faiths and religions in enhancing mutual understanding, harmony and cooperation among people.” The week has a potential to promote the healing of religion-based tensions in the world.

As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote,

At a time when the world is faced with many simultaneous  problems—security, environmental, humanitarian, and economic—enhanced tolerance and understanding are fundamental for a resilient and vibrant international society. There is an imperative need, therefore, to further reaffirm and develop harmonious cooperation between the world’s different faiths and religions.

The Debate on Banning Trump

Donald Trump

The United Kingdom has been one of America’s closest allies for over 200 years. Yet the British Parliament recently engaged in a debate on banning a possible U.S. presidential candidate.

On Monday, January 18th, in response to a grassroots petition signed by over 574,000 British citizens, members of Parliament discussed whether Donald Trump should be permitted entry into the United Kingdom due to his consistent use of hate speech and possible influence on preexisting radical groups in the country.

The debate even touched on whether Trump’s message could be considered terrorism itself. Tulip Siddiq of the Labour party stated,

His words are not comical, his words are not funny. His words are poisonous.

She along with other Muslim members of Parliament spoke on personal experiences of bigotry due to the rhetoric spurred by Trump’s speeches.

Those against the ban questioned whether it would cause more harm than good; banning Trump could possibly increase his popularity among his supporters both in the UK and the U.S. They also argued, somewhat ironically, that the debate itself is fueling Trump’s publicity. Other arguments included the difficulties that could arise if Trump is indeed elected President. Imposing a ban could make foreign policy conversations between each country very difficult.

UN Calls for Summit Forum on Refugees and Migrants

Karen AbuZayd (UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras)

Last month I suggested that a UN-led conference would be necessary to confront the growing refugee and migrant crisis. Now I am pleased to report that the UN has called for a high level Summit on “Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants.”

The forum is scheduled for September 19, 2016 at UN Headquarters in New York, one day before the opening of the UN General Assembly. A report of the Secretary-General will be published in May to structure the discussions and to facilitate research and the collection of up-to-date information at the national and regional levels.

Ms. Karen AbuZayd of the U.S. has been appointed as the Special Adviser--effectively the organizer--for the Summit. From 2005 to 2010, she was Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Previously she held high posts in the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. She is an academic specialist on the Middle East.

Dear Obama, Thank You for Banning Coal Leasing on Public Lands

Beulah Mine in North Dakota

It was a Thursday night. I was overwhelmed by midterm papers and exhausted from the afternoon's track workout. But rather than spending my evening studying, I was waiting in line in the bitter cold, filing slowly into a packed auditorium in downtown Spokane. Why? Because my environmental studies professor had "strongly encouraged" me and my classmates to attend that night's NEPA hearing.

A NEPA (National Environmental Protection Act) hearing is an event where each citizen gets a small window of time to voice their support or opposition to a government project. The government is required to consider what every person says... but they don't necessarily have to act according to majority opinion. This particular hearing concerned plans to build a railway to transport cheap coal (deemed to be of too low quality to burn in the US) from the Powder River Basin to Vancouver, WA, where it would then be exported to China.

Once we settled into our seats, the novelty of the event disappeared. My brain became so inundated with numbers that citizens were rattling off--statistics about noise pollution and air pollution, rates of asthma, claims about the number of jobs that would be lost or created, etc—that it began to switch off....

Then, thankfully, it was jolted awake by an impassioned voice. A Cheyenne elder from the Powder River Basin was speaking about how tearing up the land for coal mining was not only contaminating the Tribe's air and water, but was literally tearing up their culture—a culture engrained in the land. Ten other Cheyenne tribe members followed the woman's speech, echoing her sentiments. [Click here to read more on the Northern Cheyenne Tribe's relationship with coal]. 

Robert M. Hutchins: Building on Earlier Foundations

Robert M. Hutchins, left, shows a volume of Great Books of the Western World to publisher of Encyclopædia Britannica William Benton (Courtesy of Encyclopædia Britannica Kids)

Much of our current work for a more just and peaceful world builds on the thinking and efforts of earlier foundations. The work of Robert M. Hutchins, long-time president of the University of Chicago, played a leading role.

In 1929, at age 30, Hutchins--already the dean of the Yale Law School--was tapped by the University of Chicago to become the youngest university president in the United States. But it was his creation and leadership of the Committee to Frame a World Constitution in 1945 that made him one of the intellectual founders of the movement for world federation and world citizenship.

The University of Chicago had been one of the centers of research for atomic weaponry in the U.S., and while Hutchins was not directly involved, he saw that the world would never return to a pre-atomic condition and that new forms of world organization were needed. On August 12, 1945, less than a week after the U.S. detonated two atomic weapons over Japan, Hutchins made a radio address called “Atomic Force: Its Meaning for Mankind.” He said that the recently adopted United Nations Charter was not strong enough for a world where such destructive power had been unleashed.

Catholic Social Doctrine and World Parliament

Pope Francis meets with poor children in the Philippines

The following is the introduction to an updated paper by Dr. Maja Brauer and Mr. Andreas Bummel with the German-based Committee for a Democratic UN (KDUN). The full paper is available on KDUN's website here.

On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis published his second encyclical titled Laudato Si (Praise be to you). On behalf of Christianity, the Pope urged responsibility in dealing with humanity’s “common home,” the earth.

The statement elaborates in detail on critical economic, social, and ecological grievances in the world. In view of these, the Pope calls on all human beings--Christians as well as followers of other religions and disbelievers--to “bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development.” This is supposed to lead to a more humane world society that ensures a dignified existence not only of all alive today, but also of future generations, as well as of “Sister Earth” itself.

In addition to discussing ethical norms and possible political measures, the Pope also addresses the underlying conditions of the global political system. Referencing his predecessor Benedict XVI, he calls for the creation of a “true political world authority” that is able to cope with global challenges. To explain this more fully, Francis quotes a passage from Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth):

Book on Immunity from Atrocity Crimes: A UN Favorite

Official logo of International Criminal Court

On December 31st the UN Library announced via Twitter that its most popular book of 2015 was Immunity of Heads of State and State Officials for International Crimes by Ramona Pedretti. When this tweet appeared in my newsfeed, I had a flashback to a Scandal episode in which a murderer gets off scot-free because of his diplomatic immunity. But, as I've learned, things are often more complex in the real world than they appear in ShondaLand (except maybe relationships). Diplomatic immunity is no exception.

What is diplomatic immunity?

It is widely believed that diplomatic immunity originated during the 12th Century Crusades and stems from an agreement between Saladin (of the Ayyubid dynasty) and Richard the Lionheart; the two agreed that delegates delivering messages for the enemy would not be harmed.

The current rules concerning diplomatic immunity are set forth in the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The treaty basically states that, for example, country A's diplomat cannot be arrested for breaking country B's laws while she is conducting business in country B.

Diplomatic immunity has given rise to dramatic incidents in recent years. Just last September, Majed Hassan Ashoor, a Saudi First Secretary working in Delhi, was accused of holding captive and raping two Nepali women whom he had hired as domestic workers. Saudi Arabia refused to revoke Ashoor's immunity, preventing India from trying and punishing him.

Why does it matter?