How We Work at the UN

View of the United Nations building.

Unitarian Universalists are bold leaders in action for social justice around the world. In our daily lives, we strive to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Each day at the United Nations, the Unitarian Universalist Association Office at the United Nations (UU@UN) strives to affirm and promote every person’s human rights on the international stage.

Influence of the UU@UN at the United Nations

The UU@UN participates in meetings, conferences, and committees at the United Nations with Member State representatives and key UN bodies such as Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Department of Global Communications (DGC), the United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and more, to discuss with them how they can act in the interest of creating a world community that is accepting, just, and compassionate.

Representing the interests and values of Unitarian Universalists in the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and the Canadian Unitarian Council (CUC), the UU@UN's advocacy at the UN is guided by statements and resolutions adopted by those bodies at UUA General Assemblies and CUC National Conferences.

United Nations Consultative Status

For a non-governmental organization (NGO) to have any influence at the UN it must be accredited through the United Nations system. The UU@UN has three types of accreditation which allow us to do our work:

  • Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC): The Unitarian Universalist Association has special consultative status with ECOSOC. NGOs with ECOSOC status are those that are interested in policy issues within the UN system, and consultative status grants us the ability to contribute to the United Nations agenda, voicing issues that are of concern to Unitarian Universalists. The UU@UN’s advocacy at the UN on human rights, climate change, disarmament, peace, and security all fit into its ECOSOC status.
  • Department of Global Communications (DGC): The Unitarian Universalist Association is also formally associated with DGC (formerly DPI, Department of Public Information). As an NGO in association with DGC, we work to extend the UN Department of Global Communications's mission to explain and gain support for the UN's mission in the world. Our educational programs (Envoy program, Intergenerational Spring Seminar, UN Sunday, etc.) fit well into this mandate.
  • UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): The UU@UN's affiliation with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change allows us to send credentialed observers to represent Unitarian Universalist values at UN climate conferences. In recent years we have prioritized access for indigenous and frontline community representatives whose perspectives are often excluded from international conferences.

CoNGO Committees

The Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CoNGO) facilitates the participation of Non-Governmental Organizations in the UN system. CoNGO works to ensure that NGOs have adequate access to UN meetings, conferences, special events, and documentation. The UU@UN serves on the following CoNGO committees, with Director Bruce Knotts taking a leadership role in many:

  • NGO Committee on Human Rights, Bruce Knotts is a co-chair
  • NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace, and Security, Bruce Knotts is the chair
    • The NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace, and Security publishes the Disarmament Times.
  • NGO Committee on Sustainable Development which works on climate change related issues, Bruce Knotts is on the governing board.
  • NGO Committee on Migration which works on global migration issues.
  • NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

Other Committees and Groups

  • NGO Security Council Working Group which meets with all the members nations of the UN Security Council for off-the-record meetings.
  • Commission on the Status of Women which works to empower women for a better world.
  • NGO/DPI Executive Committee which coordinates the 1,400 NGOs associated with DGC. Bruce Knotts was the chair in 2015-2019.

Impact of the United Nations

It is important for Unitarian Universalists to have a strong presence at the United Nations to help shift global policy towards peace, justice, and liberation for all. In the last five years, the United Nations' impact has been felt through its work providing accurate information on critical global issues through:

  • the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which gave the world a 12-year warning to get our act together before our planet is no longer liveable as we know it.
  • the World Health Organization (WHO), which brought countries together to address crises such as Ebola outbreaks in Africa and the current COVID-19 pandemic.
  • the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which helps us to make sense of the ongoing global migration crisis, separating the facts from disinformation.
  • and many, many more.

The UN's impact is also felt through the establishment of platforms to seek global solutions to global problems. A prime example of this was the creation of the Paris Agreement, established at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in 2015 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The progress achieved at COPs leading to and since Paris is not enough, but is an indispensable step towards creating climate justice. (Learn more about Unitarian Universalist efforts to Create Climate Justice.)