United Nations

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 8-19-2013
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 8-01-2013
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 5-08-2013

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 5-07-2013

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 3-05-2013

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."

Duane Shank 1-24-2013

Ben Emmerson, a U.N. special rapporteur, is beginning an investigation into drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, according to the Guardian.

“About 20 or 30 strikes – selected as representative of different types of attacks – will be studied to assess the extent of any civilian casualties, the identity of militants targeted and the legality of strikes in countries where the UN has not formally recognised there is a conflict.

“The inquiry will report to the UN general assembly in New York this autumn. Depending on its findings, it may recommend further action. Emmerson has previously suggested some drone attacks – particularly those known as "double tap" strikes where rescuers going to the aid of a first blast have become victims of a follow-up strike – could possibly constitute a 'war crime.'"

Several nations, including Pakistan, have requested the investigation.

John Dear 12-13-2012
BAY ISMOYO/AFP/GettyImages

An Afghan girl looks out from the entrance of her mud hut at a refugee camp in Kabul. BAY ISMOYO/AFP/GettyImages

We call upon the United Nations to negotiate an immediate cease-fire to the war in Afghanistan, and to start talks aimed at ending the war and beginning the long road to healing and recovery. 

That’s what the Afghan youth said on Tuesday afternoon in Kabul, along with Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire of Ireland, as they launched their “Two Million Friends for Afghanistan” campaign and presented their petition to a senior United Nations official.

For me, it was the climax of a heart-breaking, astonishing eight days in one of the poorest, most violent, most war-torn, most corrupt, and most polluted places on the planet — and because of the amazing “Afghan Peace Volunteers,” the 25 Afghan youth who live and work together in a community of peace and nonviolence — one of the most hopeful.

Janelle Tupper 12-03-2012
Alexey Kashin / Shutterstock

Photo: Workplace for negotiations on the nature, Alexey Kashin / Shutterstock

Delegates from around the world are meeting in Doha, Qatar this month to discuss United Nations’ climate policy. In the past, these meetings were a source of hope for the environmental movement, as governments came together and committed to reducing emissions to collectively try to halt climate change.

Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.  

Remember the Kyoto Protocol? Even though the reductions it mandated were nowhere near what’s required for us to reverse the trend we’ve started, we haven’t even come close to achieving those reductions. Oh yeah, and the United States didn’t even sign it.

The Protocol is expiring this year, and the U.N. Framework Commission on Climate Change (the body that created the Protocol — stick with me here) is trying in Doha to extend it for a couple years until they can reach an agreement on how to move forward.

So what’s holding the discussions back?

The Editors 11-05-2012

December 2012 photo of the month.

Tom Ehrich 10-03-2012
Laralova / Shutterstock

Fantasy flying island. Laralova / Shutterstock

NEW YORK — Manhattan was a traffic nightmare as the United Nations General Assembly was in session and security precautions ramped up.

Iran's president gave his usual insulting address. Israel's prime minister volleyed with dire warnings of Iran's nuclear-weapons intentions. Not much was expected of a session that was more political podium than problem solving.

But the event did underscore a reality that Americans often overlook: Not everything is about us. The world doesn't turn on a politician's latest line of attack. The fine points of Obamacare or Mitt Romney's 1040 or Paul Ryan's budget? Meh.

On the one hand, this unconcern is nothing unusual; hometown affairs are always of far more interest to locals than to anyone else. I could go months without caring about Kate Middleton's topless cavorting or political show trials in Beijing.

On the other hand, it is good to be reminded that we are one piece of a vast global mosaic. We connect with others but aren't necessarily the center.

Rather than proceed as a nation-level version of the "narcissistic princess" — as one reviewer labeled tell-all author Monica Lewinsky  we should pay more attention to the connections among us.

the Web Editors 9-25-2012
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

President Obama spoke to the United Nations general assembly at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.

Editor's Note: The following is a transcript of President Barack Obama's remarks to the UN General Assembly in New York City on Tuesday, in which he condemns global violence and extremism, framing the speech around the recent tragedy at the U.S. consulate in Libya. 

THE PRESIDENT:  Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, fellow delegates, ladies and gentleman:  I would like to begin today by telling you about an American named Chris Stevens.

Chris was born in a town called Grass Valley, California, the son of a lawyer and a musician.  As a young man, Chris joined the Peace Corps, and taught English in Morocco.  And he came to love and respect the people of North Africa and the Middle East. He would carry that commitment throughout his life.  As a diplomat, he worked from Egypt to Syria, from Saudi Arabia to Libya.  He was known for walking the streets of the cities where he worked -- tasting the local food, meeting as many people as he could, speaking Arabic, listening with a broad smile. 

Chris went to Benghazi in the early days of the Libyan revolution, arriving on a cargo ship.  As America’s representative, he helped the Libyan people as they coped with violent conflict, cared for the wounded, and crafted a vision for the future in which the rights of all Libyans would be respected. And after the revolution, he supported the birth of a new democracy, as Libyans held elections, and built new institutions, and began to move forward after decades of dictatorship.

Chris Stevens loved his work.  He took pride in the country he served, and he saw dignity in the people that he met.  And two weeks ago, he traveled to Benghazi to review plans to establish a new cultural center and modernize a hospital.  That’s when America’s compound came under attack.  Along with three of his colleagues, Chris was killed in the city that he helped to save. He was 52 years old. 

Duane Shank 6-19-2012

Christof Heyns, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, urged Washington to clarify the basis under international law of its policy:

"The (U.S.) government should clarify the procedures in place to ensure that any targeted killing complies with international humanitarian law and human rights and indicate the measures or strategies applied to prevent casualties, as well as the measures in place to provide prompt, thorough, effective and independent public investigation of alleged violations."

The Special Rapporteur again requests the Government to clarify the rules that it considers to cover targeted killings ... (and) reiterates his predecessor's recommendation that the government specify the bases for decisions to kill rather than capture 'human targets' and whether the State in which the killing takes places has given consent,"

Cathleen Falsani 3-23-2012
 Photo via Getty Images.

Dr. Jim Yong Kim, nominee for president of the World Bank, at the White House Friday 3/23/12. Photo via Getty Images.

In a move that surprised many in the world of economics and politics, on Friday morning President Obama nominated Jim Yong Kim, the South Korea-born physician, anthropologist and president of Dartmouth College, to be the next president of the World Bank.

Prior to taking the helm at Dartmouth in 2009, Kim, 52, led the global health and social medicine department at Harvard Medical School, of which he is a graduate. Widely considered one of the leading minds in world health, Kim also has served as a director of the HIV/AIDS department at the World Health Organization, where he focused on helping developing countries improve treatment and prevention programs.

Obama called Kim, “an innovative leader whose groundbreaking work to fight disease and combat poverty has saved lives around the globe.” The President said Kim is exceptionally well qualified for the position but brings “more to the role than an impressive record of designing new ways to solve entrenched problems.

“Development is his lifetime commitment, and it is his passion,” Obama said. “And in a world with so much potential to improve living standards, we have a unique opportunity to harness that passion and experience at the helm of the World Bank.”

Duane Shank 11-07-2011

A round-up of recent Op-Ed columns from the mainstream media.

the Web Editors 10-31-2011

golden calf
Abuse at Afghan Prisons. How Catholic Conservatives could turn the GOP presidential race. OpEd: Jesus would not #OccupyWallStreet. OWS is "largely secular." Religious leaders see immigration as "God's Call." OpEd: Alabama new immigration law has unintended consequences. OpEd: Wall Street Worship. Could 2012 be the most ideological election in years? And much more.

Jim Wallis 10-27-2011

Finally, as President Obama has announced, this American war will soon be over, with most of the 44,000 American troops still in Iraq coming home in time to be with their families for Christmas.

The initial feelings that rushed over me after hearing the White House announcement were of deep relief. But then they turned to deep sadness over the terrible cost of a war that was, from the beginning, wrong; intellectually, politically, strategically and, above all, morally wrong.

The War in Iraq was fundamentally a war of choice, and it was the wrong choice.

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