International Unitarian Universalism

Engaging Attention and Action at the United Nations

December 10, 2021 Human Rights Day (written in dark font over a green watercolor painting of a map of the world's land masses.)

By Bruce Knotts

Today is Human Rights Day. Seventy-three years ago today, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In adopting that Declaration, they shared a common aspiration for “all members of the human family” to have these rights recognized, and that one day, Member States would affirm these rights in their national laws.

As we all know, there’s a long way to go before the UDHR is incorporated into the national laws of all Member States.

In 2008, when I started my position advocating for UU values at the UN, I was astounded by the lack of engagement by civil society and the UN itself on human rights relating to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Since our successful advocacy—made possible by donations from UUs like you—brought these concerns to the UN agenda, we now have many allies who join us in raising concerns at the UN about such human rights violations.

Yet around the world, violence and discrimination persists. Our work is not complete.

This year, one of our primary areas of focus has been on state violence inflicted upon civilians who are calling for their human rights and dignity to be respected. Too often around the world, police forces are given roles and equipment more suited to the military.

We’ve seen this all too clearly in the U.S. and Canada when Indigenous water protectors and racial justice advocates are met with violence by law enforcement. Similar incidents are common in countless nations and communities globally.

When those in power feel their power threatened – and when they are furnished with the equipment and training to react with force – they will respond violently.

Your UUA Office at the UN is calling for police forces around the world to stop being furnished with military equipment and training.

It is possible to enforce the law without weapons and without adversarial relationships between police and the populations they serve.

We have discussed this topic with high-ranking officials in the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs. They have agreed that it is important, recognizing that it will take time, persistence, and allies to engage attention and action at the UN more widely.

While many share our values, often the UU@UN is the only voice calling for diversity and the inclusion of marginalized groups to ensure that all voices are heard at the United Nations. In 2021 we hosted events that gave a platform to trans and queer women of color and that spotlighted legacies of white supremacy in religion.

It continues to amaze me that in 2021 we are still often the only voice strongly advocating for radical inclusion and diversity. We have convinced many of our colleagues at the UN to join us, both often we remain the initiators of change.

We need your help to continue this work. Please make a gift today to support our UU Office's continued presence at the United Nations.

This work is a critical part of working towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Sustainable Development is about so much more than infrastructure and economic opportunity. Much of our advocacy for racial justice and human rights is grounded in the 16th Sustainable Development Goal, which calls for peaceful, inclusive societies and accountable institutions.

I have spoken before about the important conversations we are part of at the UN, in coalition with other non-governmental organizations and in dialogue with Member States and UN agencies. Participating in these conversations allows us to voice our concerns in the halls of power at the UN, pointing out where rights are violated and must be upheld.

I hope you can make a gift to the UU@UN today to help continue this important human rights work.

Thank you so much.

Celebrate Human Rights Day every year on December 10! Join the UU@UN for a special webinar on December 15 entitled “Human Rights and Policing Through a Global Lens

About the Author

Bruce Knotts

Bruce Knotts is the Director of the Unitarian Universalist Office at the United Nations. He was born and raised in Southern California. He got his Bachelor’s Degree in History from Pepperdine University and his Master’s Degree in International Education from the Monterey Institute of...


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