United Nations


Image via RNS/Kit Doyle

Religion reporting doesn’t usually put a journalist in harm’s way. We spend much of our time in church pews and at interfaith singalongs. But a few days earlier, Religion News Service had been offered a chance to go with Samaritan’s Purse relief workers as they distributed aid in Haiti to victims of Hurricane Matthew.

Image via RNS/Reuters/Tim Wimborne

The United Nations human rights office has called on French beach resorts to lift their bans on the burkini, calling them a “stupid reaction” that did not improve security but fueled religious intolerance.

France’s highest administrative court last Friday suspended one seaside town’s ban on the full-body swimsuit sometimes worn by Muslim women, on the grounds it violated fundamental liberties.

the Web Editors 04-21-2016

According to the United Nations’ refugee agency, up to 500 refugees may have drowned last week when an overcrowded ship sank, reports CNN. The 41 survivors of “one of the worst tragedies involving refugees and migrants in the last 12 months” are currently being housed at a stadium in Kalamata, Greece.

the Web Editors 09-30-2015

Screenshot via The New York Times / Youtube

On the first day the Palestinian flag was raised at the United Nations, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority declared his intent to break agreements with Israel, including the 1995 Oslo Peace Accords, which proposed a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, The New York Times reports.

“We cannot continue to be bound by these signed agreements with Israel and Israel must assume fully all its responsibility as an occupying power,” said Abbas.

Despite Abbas’ strong words, it is unclear what practical consequences will follow.

Tad Taube Tad Taube 04-27-2015
Photo via REUTERS / Amir Cohen

An Armenian woman lights a candle in remembrance of the Armenian genocide. Photo via REUTERS / Amir Cohen

One hundred years ago — April 1915 — as World War I raged across Europe, the government of the Ottoman Empire attacked its Armenian citizens. Over the next several years, it is estimated that as many as 1.5 million Armenians died. Able-bodied men were murdered or enslaved as forced labor in the army, and hundreds of thousands of women, children, the infirm, and the elderly were marched into the Syrian desert to face death.

Supported by the Young Turks, an ultranationalist party that approved systematic deportation, abduction, torture, massacre, and the expropriation of Armenian wealth, the German-allied Ottoman government used the excuse of war to initiate the forcible removal of Armenians from Armenia and Anatolia where they had lived for centuries.

The targeting and mass murder of Armenians has been termed a genocide.

Although racial, ethnic, and religious wars have killed millions over the centuries, genocide is a unique byproduct of the 20th century. It requires both a rabid nationalism and the capacity of a central authority to organize and implement a sustained and systematic program of targeted mass destruction. Not until the 20th century had governments the necessary technologies, resources, and means to ally their historical ethnic, religious, or racist hatreds with radical nationalism to end the collective existence of a people.

The Armenian genocide was recognized and deplored around the world, even as modern Turkey resists the “genocide” label. American diplomats, Russians, Arabs, and German officers stationed in Ottoman lands witnessed the slaughter and alerted the wider world. In May 1915, Great Britain, France, and Russia vowed to hold the Turks personally responsible for their crimes. Relief efforts to save the “starving Armenians” were widespread.

Photo via REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS

Pope Francis waves in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on April 15, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Alessandro Bianchi / RNS

The Vatican is set to host a major conference on climate change this month that will feature leading researchers on global warming and an opening address by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The meeting, which the Vatican detailed on its website late on April 14, is another sign of Pope Francis’ “green agenda” and another potential red flag for conservatives who are already alarmed over an expected papal teaching document on the environment that is scheduled for release this summer.

The one-day summit on April 28 will also include participants from major world religions and aims to “elevate the debate on the moral dimensions of protecting the environment in advance of the papal encyclical,” as the papal document is known.

Another goal, says a statement on a Vatican website, is to highlight “the intrinsic connection between respect for the environment and respect for people — especially the poor, the excluded, victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, children, and future generations.”

Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, permanent observer to the UN office in Geneva. Creative Commons image by Jean-Marc Ferré, UN.

The defrocking of a former Vatican ambassador is a “sign of the seriousness” with which Pope Francis and the Vatican are approaching the clergy sexual abuse scandal, according to the Holy See’s representative to United Nations agencies in Geneva.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi was tasked with defending the Catholic Church’s record when he presented reports to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child and the U.N. Committee Against Torture in Geneva earlier this year.

During questioning, Tomasi was asked whether the Vatican would agree to extradite Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, a Polish archbishop and papal envoy, to his native Poland after he was recalled from the Dominican Republic last September on claims of sexual abuse.

Bill McKibben 05-12-2014

We need to show that the zeitgeist is changing, and that there's a steep price for fooling us.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi at WIPO Treaty for the Blind conference in June 2013. Photo courtesy JRandomF, via Wikimedia Commons

The Vatican has effectively addressed the “worldwide scourge” of clerical sexual abuse over the past decade and promoted the reporting of allegations to both church and legal authorities, a United Nations panel heard on Tuesday.

The Vatican’s ambassador to U.N. agencies in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, said the Catholic Church had “crossed the threshold” in its approach to the issue of abuse, saying the church’s internal culture had changed.

Tomasi faced intense questioning from members of the U.N. committee investigating whether the church upholds the U.N. convention against torture beyond the walls of the world’s smallest country, the Vatican City state.

Other members of the Emergency Coalition include: • Raj Shah, Administrator, US Agency for International Development • Alice Albright, CEO, Global Partnership for Education • Strive Masiyiwa, CEO, Econet Wireless • Kailash Satyarthi, Chairperson, Global March Against Child Labour • Aliko Dangote, Chair, Dangote Group and Founding Member, Global Business Coalition for Education • Jim Wallis, Founder, Sojourner • Archbishop Desmond Tutu • Ricken Patel, Executive Director, Avaaz • Fred van Leeuwen, General-Secretary, Education International • Isha Isatu Sesay, Anchor, CNN International and HLN • Mabel van Oranje, Chair, Girls Not Brides
Eric J. Lyman 02-05-2014

The United Nations headquarters in New York. Photo courtesy Steve Cadman, via Wikimedia Commons/ Via RNS

A United Nations panel on Wednesday blasted the Vatican for protecting itself rather than victims of sexual abuse, and it called on the Holy See to create what it called an “independent mechanism” to investigate new charges of abuse.

The 16-page report from the Committee on the Rights of the Child accused the Vatican of “systematically” adopting policies that allowed priests to rape and molest thousands of young people over a span of decades. It also calls on the church to remove known or suspected abusers from its ranks immediately.

“The Committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators,” the report said.

Photo by Tom Page via Flickr

The United Nations Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by Tom Page via Flickr

LONDON — Eight of the 47 countries that hold seats on the United Nations Human Rights Council imprisoned people in 2013 under laws that restrict religious freedom, according to a new report from Human Rights Without Frontiers International, a nonprofit advocacy organization based in Belgium.

The eight UNHRC member states on the group’s second annual World Freedom of Religion or Belief Prisoners List, released Monday, are Morocco, China, and Saudi Arabia (whose new three-year terms begin Wednesday), and current members India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Libya, and South Korea.

Hundreds of believers and atheists were imprisoned in these and 16 other countries for exercising religious freedom or freedom of expression rights related to religious issues, according to the report. These rights include the freedom to change religions, share beliefs, object to military service on conscientious grounds, worship, assemble, and associate freely. Violations related to religious defamation and blasphemy are also included in the report.

Eric J. Lyman 11-22-2013

Yeb Sano, head delegate from the Philippines. Photo courtesy of Sean Hawkey/LWF

The latest United Nations climate summit got off to an unusually emotional start when Yeb Sano, the head delegate from the Philippines, issued a tearful plea at the opening plenary.

With his country ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan — the kind of extreme weather that experts say is becoming more common due to climate change — Sano choked back tears as he announced he would fast in solidarity for his countrymen left without food.

Sano said on Nov. 11 he would refrain from eating during the conference unless important progress was made. Sano’s gesture has so far failed to trigger much of a change in the entrenched negotiations, and with talks expected to stretch into the weekend, he is still on his hunger strike.

Richard S. Ehrlich 11-18-2013
Rohingya camps near the capital Sittwe in Arakan state, Bangladesh. Photo: RNS c

Rohingya camps near the capital Sittwe in Arakan state, Bangladesh. Photo: RNS courtesy Mathias Eick, EU/ECHO via Flickr

At the end of a three-day tour, the Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation told Buddhist-majority Myanmar to repeal “laws restricting fundamental freedoms” after more than 240 Muslims were killed by Buddhist mobs during the past year.

Before the OIC delegates left Myanmar on Saturday, they visited minority ethnic Rohingya Muslims who fled the violence and are now living in squalid camps along the border with Bangladesh in Myanmar’s Arakan state, also known as Rakhine.

Headed by Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the OIC delegation called on the government to continue legal reforms, The New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.

Sister Angélique Namaika (standing, in black), assists women with making clothing. Via RNS. Photo by Brian Sokol/courtesy UNHCR

Angélique Namaika, a Roman Catholic nun, rides a bicycle on the rutted roads of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s northeastern province of Orientale, which is plagued by rebel violence.

On these same roads, the Lord’s Resistance Army, a Christian rebel group led by Joseph Kony, a self-proclaimed prophet of God, has been killing, abducting, and mutilating women and children.

But none of that has deterred Sister Namaika from helping displaced women learn trades, start small businesses, and go to school.

the Web Editors 08-19-2013
Kid President at the United Nations, SoulPancake

Kid President at the United Nations, SoulPancake

On this World Humanitarian Day, Kid President thinks the world needs more hugs. What about you? Join SoulPancake + the United Nations as they host a Google hangout from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PST today to chat about what the world needs more of. 

Renee Gadoua 08-01-2013
Native leaders stand together at the Hudson river’s edge on Sunday to deliver th

Native leaders stand together at the Hudson river’s edge on Sunday to deliver the Thanksgiving blessing. Photo courtesy RNS.

As a young Iroquois boy living on the Onondaga Nation, Hickory Edwards paddled, swam, fished and caught crabs in the creek close to his parents’ house.

To celebrate his love of the water, Edwards is leading a group of about 200 people paddling canoes and kayaks down the Hudson River from Albany to New York City as part of the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign.

“I feel really close to the water,” Edwards said. “It’s life-giving, and to be so close to water is to be close to nature.”

The nine-day journey, from July 28 to Aug. 9, is part of a yearlong educational program marking the 400th anniversary of the 1613 agreement between the Haudenosaunee, or the Iroquois, and the Dutch settlers.

QR Blog Editor 05-08-2013

The U.S. climate change envoy proposed allowing countries to create their emissions reduction plans rather than working toward one goal. The U.S. hopes to bring more countries to the table and energize U.N. climate negotiations. The Guardian reports:

"Countries, knowing that they will be subject to the scrutiny of everybody else, will be urged to put something down they feel they can defend and that they feel is strong," Stern said from Berlin during a summit of environmental ministers focused on ways to advance the UN climate talks.

Read more here.

QR Blog Editor 05-07-2013

On April 2, the United Nations passed an innovative Arms Trade Treaty aimed at regulating the massive global trade in conventional weapons, for the first time linking arms sales to the human rights records of the buyers. For the first time arms manufacturers and dealers will have to consider the end use of their product — how will their customers use the weapons and to make that information public. The May-June 2013 issue of Maryknoll's NewsNotes explains the potential positive impact the treat could have on women and girls:

A particular element of the Treaty that is cause for much celebration is the inclusion of language that protects women and girls from armed gender-based violence (GBV). In the Preamble of the ATT, it states "that civilians, particularly women and children, account for the vast majority of those adversely affected by armed conflict and armed violence."
In the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, violence against women and girls is defined as "any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women [or girls], including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life."
Under Article 7.4 of the Arms Trade Treaty, GBV is included as a binding criterion for considering whether or not to export arms. The exporting party must consider the overriding risk of potential violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), international human rights law (IHRL) and must take into account the risk that the transfer will be "used to commit or facilitate serious acts of gender based violence or serious acts of violence against women and children."

Read the rest here: http://www.maryknollogc.org/article/arms-trade-treaty-global-victory-women-girls

Rose Marie Berger 03-05-2013

On Monday, Olivier De Schutter, U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, submitted his report Gender and Food Security to the U.N. Human Rights Council, adding to the mountains of evidence that if you empower women with education and independent rights, they can substantially, cost-effectively, and generationally reduce hunger and malnutrition. The Guardian's Poverty Matters Blog reported: 

The notion that gender equality can play an important role in reducing hunger and malnutrition has gained increasing traction in development circles. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation claimed in its 2010-11 State of Food and Agriculture report that equal access to agricultural resources could reduce world hunger by 12-17%. Gender and food security also came under the spotlight in the 2012 edition of the World Bank's flagship annual report, where it was argued that parity in areas including landrights, employment and political representation could improve development outcomes.

These ideas are not new. Obliged to raise children, care for sick and elderly people, and run households – work that, valued in monetary terms, would be equivalent to 15% of GDP in low-income countries, rising to 35% in middle-income countries – it has long been argued that women are being denied education opportunities, marginalising them both economically and politically. The challenge lies in convincing policymakers to do something about these multiple challenges.

Says De Schutter:

"We must address how gender roles are being defined within the family and who makes the decisions in government. ...We must refuse to take existing gender roles as givens, and instead allow women to shift the burden to men;where possible, giving women access to more opportunities and better training and education, and exposure to something other than the traditional responsibilities they have been assuming."

"If local NGOs and women's organisations and unions mobilise, using the report to put pressure on the government from below, that will be even more effective than international pressure."