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Dag Hammarskjold (29 July 1905 -18 September 1961) Crisis Manager and World Community Builder

A collage of stamps from around the world honoring Dag Hammarskjold

You wake from dreams of doom and −for a moment− you know: beyond all the noise and the gestures, the only real thing, love's calm unwavering flame in the half-light of an early dawn. Dag Hammarskjold Markings1

Dag Hammarskjold became Secretary-General of the United Nations at a moment of crisis related to the 1950-1953 war in Korea, and he died in his plane crash in 1961 on a mission dealing with the war in the Congo. The first Secretary-General of the UN, Trygve Lie, had resigned in November 1952 in the light of the strong opposition of the Soviet Union and its allies to the way the United Nations Command operated in Korea. Even though it was called the “United Nations Command”, the main fighting forces and the logistic support were provided by the United States.

Among UN Security Council members and other important delegations, it was felt that, given the way Trygve Lie was pushed out before a second term, he should be replaced by a person from a Nordic country, and the name of Dag Hammarskjold started to be proposed as a suitable candidate from an appropriate country, Sweden. It took five months of discussions before on 10 April 1953 Hammarskjold took office in New York.

Sri Lanka Signs UN Anti-Landmine Treaty

On March 3, Sri Lanka became the 163rd state to agree to the Ottawa Treaty, a UN anti-personnel mine ban convention. It's an important step toward recovery from the country's 26-year long civil war, a conflict that claimed upwards of 80,000 lives, displaced an estimated 280,000, and left the Northern and Eastern regions covered in landmines.

Weapon of Choice in the Civil War

The Sri Lankan Civil War ended in 2009, but unexploded mines and ordinances (UXOs) made returning home a risky proposition. Both the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan military relied heavily on landmines, scattering thousands undetonated devices across conflict areas.

Demining efforts, in turn, became a vital part of restoring Sri Lankan civil society. But progress was slow due to random placement, lack of maps on their locations, and too few flair machines, which safely detonate landmines.

Signing the Ottawa Treaty

By joining the convention, Sri Lanka has agreed to destroy all stockpiled anti-personnel mines it owns and/or controls under its jurisdiction within four years. The country must also continue its efforts to clear the devices and assist victims. (Over 21,000 people were killed or injured by landmines during the war, according to Landmine Monitor.)

Robert Muller: Crossing Frontiers for Reconciliation

The time has come for the implementation of a spiritual vision of the world's affairs. The entire planet must elevate itself into the spiritual, cosmic throbbing of the universe."--Robert Muller (1923-2010)

Robert Muller, whose birth anniversary we mark on March 11, was the former Assistant Secretary-General for Economic and Social Service to the United Nations. After his retirement, he served as Honorary President of the Association of World Citizens. He was brought up in Alsace-Lorraine, which was still marked by the results of the First World War.  As a young man, he joined the French Resistance movement during the Second World War when Alsace-Lorraine was re-annexed by Germany. At the end of the War, he earned a Doctorate in Law and Economics at the University of Strasbourg. Strasbourg was to become the city symbolic of French-German reconciliation and is today home of the European Parliament.  

Determined to work for peace after seeing the destructive impact of war, he joined the United Nations Secretariat in 1948 where he worked primarily  on economic and social issues. For many years, he was the Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, which brought him into close contact with NGOs whose work he always encouraged

International Women's Day

IWD, International Women's Day, Women's Rights, UN Women

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), the day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women around the world. In honor of the day I think it is important  not only to recognize the historical influence of women, but to also look forward and promote a gender equal future.

International Women’s Day was first organized by the German socialist and theorist Clara Zetkin along with 100 delegates from 17 countries in March 1911. It was instituted in response to the numerous movements worldwide advocating for women’s right to vote, hold office and be given equal employment rights as men. It began as a massive protest by strong, brave, independent women when it was not “progressive” or “cool” to be a strong, brave, independent woman.

Since then, the holiday has evolved into a day of awareness on women's progress in the ongoing fight for gender equality and a day to address issues across the globe that directly affect women. It has also expanded from one day to encompass the entire month of March, recognized as Women’s History month by President Obama in 2011. It has gained support in the media and across the internet; every year Google posts a doodle on its homepage in support for women around the world.

The Importance of Equal Representation in Syria Peace Talks: Where are the Women?

Syria Peace Talks in Vienna

As the international community attempts to revive negotiations for the ongoing conflict in Syria, it is important to notice who is invited to the peacemaking table. Too often women, despite their participation in the war-torn society, are sidelined in the post-conflict conversation.

The United Nations’ roadmap for a peace process in Syria is trying to overcome this pattern by “encouraging the meaningful participation of women in the UN-facilitated political process for Syria.” The creation of a Women’s Advisory Board is an attempt to include women through the scope of civil society. Any incorporation of women in peacemaking talks is a step in the right direction. However, the Women’s Advisory Board is not an official stakeholder in the negotiations, which drastically undervalues the contribution of women.

UN Environment Programme Post-Paris Update

A Broken World. Photo Credit: Rennett Stowe


“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




--Warsan Shire 

Last week I attended a United Nations Environment 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.

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.

Robert M. Hutchins: Building on Earlier Foundations

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.

International Migrants Day: Time for a UN-Led World Conference on Migration and Refugee Flows

December 18 was set by the UN General Assembly to call attention to the role of migrants in the world society. The date was chosen to mark the creation of the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. The aim of the Convention was to ensure that migrants and their families would continue to be covered by the human rights standards set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Covenants, and other human rights treaties.

In practice, migrants are often “between two chairs”--no longer of concern to the State they have left and not yet covered by the human rights laws of the State to which they have gone.

Ratifications of the convention have been slow, with several governments making reservations that generally weaken its impact. In 2004, a commission of independent experts was set up to study the reports of governments to the UN on the application of the convention--a commission that is part of the human rights treaty bodies. Reports from each government party to the convention are to be filed once every four years. However, the discussions within the migration treaty body and its subsequent report attract the attention of only a small number of people. The discussion deals with the report of only one government at a time, while migration is always a multinational issue and can have worldwide implications.

Moreover, many States consider that earlier International Labour Organization conventions deal adequately with migrant rights and see no need to sign a new convention.