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A Recap of the International Human Rights Work at the UU-UNO in 2014
A Recap of the International Human Rights Work at the UU-UNO in 2014

December 10th is International Human Rights Day. Guided by our principles, Unitarian Universalists are called to advocate for international human rights; to be a voice for the voiceless by promoting the inherent worth and dignity of all living things. Our Unitarian Universalists United Nations Office is the UU voice to the United Nations. I would like to share with you all of the important accomplishments of our office in 2014.

High Level Consultations

The UU-UNO’s reputation has grown over the past few years, to the point where we are consulted and asked to speak at very influential forums. Over the course of 2014, we have been invited to speak and consult with the: Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development on human rights including religious freedom, women’s rights and sexual orientation and gender identity human rights. These consultations included staff from the Office of the Prime Minister. We enjoy a close working relationship with Amnesty International’s UN Office, and their offices in Canada and the United Kingdom.   

We have been asked to join a consultative group at the United States Department of State that pulls together faith-based leaders to advise the State Department on the areas of Social Justice, Development, Peace and Conflict Resolution. We have played an important role on the Social Justice subcommittee which has focused on sexual orientation and gender identity human rights.

In June, we participated in a high level meeting at the White House to discuss global sexual orientation/gender identity human rights. This meeting was convened by the American National Security Advisor, Ambassador Susan Rice. The meeting included business leaders, non-profit human rights leaders, faith leaders, entertainment leaders, bankers and more to put our heads together to strategize how to ensure LGBTI human rights. The day-long meeting ended with dinner at the residence of the American Vice President where we shared a delightful evening with him and Dr. Biden. Read more here.

We have consulted with the Council on Foreign Relations on the Ebola crisis in Africa, the Anti-Homosexuality Law in Uganda and President Obama’s immigration policy.

We have consulted and spoken at pivotal meetings at the United Nations as it formulates Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030). We have advocated that the Sustainable Development Goals must include strong language supporting global human rights goals,including explicit reference to sexual orientation/gender identity human rights. At the beginning, we were the first and only voice calling for explicit reference to LGBTI human rights. However, very quickly we joined with many other human rights organizations who also want strong human rights language and to include explicit reference to the human rights of LGBTI people, people with disabilities, women, indigenous peoples, and other groups in need of protection from majority bias. We are very happy that the activism which we began has worked its way to the European Union Parliament passing a resolution calling for explicit reference to sexual orientation/gender identity human rights in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030). To read more and see a video of me speaking at the UN here.

We participated in discussions with the Williams Institute (University of California at Los Angeles), the World Bank and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) on the roll-out of their study which quantifies the economic growth (GDP) benefits to granting and protecting the rights of LGBTI people. The UU-UNO participated in a discussion on the drift towards religiously based authoritarian government in Turkey by the Center for Dialogues: Islamic World-U.S.-The West at New York University. We have formed close partnerships with the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at the New York University School of Social Work to work with the UU-UNO on finding ways to engage the faith community to support LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees and also to support the UU-UNO’s program in partnership with the Manye Krobo Queen Mother’s Association in Ghana to ensure that vulnerable and orphaned children in the community get an education and health care. Interns assigned by the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice worked with local educators to devise a sex education curriculum model loosely on the Unitarian Universalist Our Whole Lives (OWL) curriculum. Teachers will test out this curriculum next year. We are also working with the McSilver Institute on this new curriculum. We are partnering with Housing Works in New York City to build faith-based support for LGBTI asylum seekers. Housing Works provide medical, social, housing and legal support to LGBTI asylum seekers from Africa, predominantly from Nigeria. We brought representatives from Housing Works and LGBT Asylum Seekers to an All Souls Interweave meeting to engage them in the important work of helping LGBT asylum seekers. We continue to exercise leadership roles on United Nations NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Committees including the:  
  • NGO Committee on Sustainable Development
  • NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace and Security
  • NGO Committee on Human Rights
  • NGO Security Council Working Group
  • Faith and Ethics Network for the International Criminal Court
  • NGO/DPI Executive Committee (DPI=Department of Public Information)
We continue to have excellent consultative relationships with both the American and Canadian Permanent Missions to the United Nations. We also meet with officials from several other Permanent Mission to the United Nations including those of Jordan, Israel, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, United Kingdom, India, South Africa, Pakistan, India, Maldives, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Australia and others. We have regular contact with the United Nations’:
  • Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
  • Department of Public Information
  • Department of Peacekeeping Operations
  • Office of the Special Advisor on Genocide
  • United Nations Development Program (UNDP)
  • United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
  • The World Bank

Events of 2014

  Spring Seminar 2014: This year’s Seminar on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and environmental justice was the most successful we’ve hosted in several years, with over 200 participants. We received a great deal of help in organizing this seminar from the Canadian Unitarian Council and the congregations in Ottawa and Kingston, ON. Read more about the 2014 seminar here. Spring Seminar 2015: Next year’s seminar will be on criminal justice examining the lack of justice for indigenous women, racial bias in criminal justice, the death penalty, the mentally ill in prisons, restorative justice and pointing the way forward to better criminal justice for all of us. Learn more about our seminar here. 2014 Fundraiser: We had a very well attended fundraising event at the 4th Universalist Society in New York. It was very well attended and we had the chance to honor and thank Rev. Terry Sweetser for his pivotal role in bring the UU-UNO back to the UUA. Read more about our fundraiser here. People’s Climate March: The UU-UNO helped organize and co-sponsored the climate event at All Souls Church, New York City the day before the People’s Climate March and helped organize UU participation in the March itself. The All Souls event packed the sanctuary and turned away large crowds. The event featured Senator Bernie Sanders, Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Chris Hedges, and others. Reverends Peter Morales and Eric Cherry and many other UUA Boston staff were attended in the All Souls event and at the march the following day. Read more about the People's Climate March here.                 Every Child is Our Child: The UU-UNO Director and an intern from the NYU School of Social work visited the Every Child project in Ghana. The UNO partnered with the UU College of Social Justice and the NYU McSilver Institute to enhance its work in Ghana. In collaboration with the UUCSJ there was a pilot internship over the summer, we are gathering information and feedback from all parties and hope to see another internship project in the future. Learn more about the Ghana visit here. International Conference of Unitarian Universalists: The UU-UNO was honored to host a panel discussion on Human Rights and Religious Freedom at the UN Church Center for the international conference of Unitarian Universalists (ICUU) in January of 2014. United Nations Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organization Conference in New York: This event has been hosted by different countries and was back in New York this year. We ceased the opportunity to participate through an exhibition panel and a workshop drawing interest from international and local participants – Kamila, Envoy Coordinator, reports that a security guard approached her with interest in the work of the office. The UU-UNO presented a ground-breaking workshop on the role of progressive religions in defending human rights and the importance of faith voices in the post-2015 agenda. Speakers included Unitarian Universalists, Progressive Muslims and Progressive Buddhists. The UU-UNO was proud to help Muslims for Progressive Values obtain consultative status at the United Nations. To learn more about Muslims for Progressive Values here. Read more about the Interfaith panel discussion here.   UU-UNO Interns: The UU-UNO attracts exceptional interns every year from New York University, Fordham University and Columbia University Graduate Schools of Social work, as well as Union Theological Seminary.. Our interns posted the following “meme” in our office which pretty much sums up the dedication, enthusiasm and idealism of our interns. Read more about UU-UNO internships here.   To support our continued access to the highest levels of the United Nations and to the Canadian and American governments, please donate generously to the UU-UNO.   Yours Sincerely, Bruce Knotts Director Bknotts [at] uua [dot] org

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