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Influence of the UU-UNO at the United Nations

How the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) Works to Make Our Voices Heard at the United Nations

By Bruce Knotts; April 11, 2010

United Nations (UN) Consultative Status

For a non-profit organization to have any influence at the UN, it needs to have UN “consultative status.” There are two types of UN consultative status:

  • Department of Public Information (DPI): The UU-UNO has DPI consultative status. DPI non-profits work to extend the UN's Department of Public Information's mission to explain and gain support for the UN's mission in the world. Our educational programs (Spring Seminar, UN Sunday, etc.) fit well into this mandate. Non-Profit organizations are referred to as “NGOs” or “Non-Governmental Organizations”) NGOs with this status are represented collectively at the UN by the NGO/DPI Executive Committee (about 1,400 member organizations). I serve on the Board of Directors. The NGO/DPI Executive Committee works with the UN DPI to organize an annual conference. In 2008, the DPI/NGO conference went overseas for the first time with the topic of Human Rights. Significantly, it was at this conference that the UU-UNO presented lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights for the very first time. We led a workshop and co-moderated a larger breakout session. In 2009, the conference was in Mexico City and it was on Disarmament. In 2010, the conference will be in Melbourne, Australia, on Global Health. The next NGO/DPI Executive Committee meeting with be in September 2011 in Böhn, Germany: "Sustainable Societies Responsible Citizens."
  • Economic Social and Cultural Committee (ECOSOC): The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has ECOSOC consultative status and our office exercises this status on behalf of the UUA. NGOs with ECOSOC status are those that are interested in policy issues within the UN system. The Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO) represents about 2,000 NGOs with ECOSOC consultative status. CONGO has organized several substantive issue committees. Please visit the CONGO website for more information.

CONGO Committees

Here are the CONGO committees on which the UU-UNO serves:

  1. NGO Human Rights Committee: This committee connects directly with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) who has her offices in Geneva with another office at UN HQ in New York. Both the OHCHR and the NGO Human Rights Committee want to see the UN headquarters in New York pay more attention to human rights. It is in this committee that we can advocate for all of our human rights concerns.
  2. Committee on Sustainable Development (CONGO, NY): This Committee wrote a document “Climate Change: Summary and Recommendations to Governments” that was signed by over 100 NGOs, and was delivered to leaders at the Copenhagen Climate Conference COP15. Subsequently the Committee has focused on post-Copenhagen climate issues, and also on topics of the18th Commission for Sustainable Development.
  3. NGO UNICEF Committee: This committee connects directly with UNICEF which works to advocate on behalf of children's issues.
  4. NGO Disarmament Committee: This Committee is led by two UU-UNO former EDs: Vernon Nichols and Jim Nelson and works to achieve world peace through mutual and verifiable disarmament policies among nations with nuclear capability and/or weapons of mass destruction.

AD HOC Groups

In addition to the formal groupings of ECOSOC and DPI groups, there are ad hoc groups at the UN with which the UU-UNO works to influence events. These ad hoc groups include:

  1. Sudan/Chad working group. The UU-UNO is a key member of this group. With other members, the UU-UNO has contacted every member of the UN Security Council to ensure that the UN peace keeping force in Darfur, Sudan has the mandate and equipment to protect civilian populations.
  2. Gender Based Violence (GBV) Sudan: This is a group founded by the UU-UNO to specifically look at ways to protect women and children in Sudan from the tragedy of gender based violence. We do this work in partnership with UUSC.
  3. Faith and Ethics Network for the International Criminal Court (FENICC): The UU-UNO under the leadership of Elaine Harvey (former Canadian UUA representative at the UU-UNO) and John Washburn (former UU-UNO Board President and former Special Assistant to former UN Secretary General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar) led the faith-based coalition for the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the 1990s. Elaine Harvey is credited contributing much to the Rome Statute, especially in the area of protecting women from violence. This is one of the most significant accomplishments in UU-UNO history. John Washburn, who is now the Convener of the American NGO Coalition of the International Criminal Court, invited me to assume the leadership of FENICC whose purpose is to get united faith and ethical traditions in the USA to urge the U.S. Government to ratify the Rome Statute and join the ICC. We are working with other faith and ethical traditions to get the USA to join the ICC.
  4. Ecumenical Working Group: This interfaith group of religious denominations invited us to join to represent liberal faith-based voices within the UN. This is another group where we can project our values in relation to sexual orientation/gender identity, human rights, climate change issues and women's rights.
  5. The United Nations Association/USA (UNA-USA) is a grass roots organization with chapters across the USA to support the UN. It is also a source of outstanding research on many issues that face the UN. I am currently serving as the vice chair of the organization for New York City.
  6. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has organized a consortium of its faith-based members. We have been asked to co-lead this group in concert with GLAAD. Patricia Ackerman hosts periodic international conference calls. Recently these calls have focused on the dire human rights situation in Uganda.
  7. Religions for Peace/USA: World Conference of Religions for Peace and its USA supporting organization were originated by UU minister Rev. Homer Jack. From 1970 to 1983, Homer Jack was Secretary General of the World Conference of Religions for Peace at the United Nations in New York City. Simultaneously, he was chair of the NGO Committee on Disarmament from 1973-1984. The only UU-UNO endowment fund is named after Homer Jack. Homer was also director of the Congress of Racial Equality 1964-1970. During the same time period he directed the UUA Office of Social Responsibility.

I hope this brief introduction to how the UU-UNO works to make UU voices heard within the UN is helpful. As always, we stand ready to assist you and your congregation in our denominational quest for world peace, acceptance and social justice.

For more information contact unitednations @

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Monday, January 13, 2014.

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