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UU-UNO Director’s Letter

Bruce Knotts

April 2013

We’ve had an eventful April here at the UU-UNO. Below, I’m sharing with you a few of the highlights:

Spring Seminar: Sex, Love and Violence: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in a Globalized World


The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office hosted the annual Intergenerational Spring Seminar on April 4th though the 6th. The title this year was Sex, Love and Violence: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in a Globalized World. We had 135 attendees of all ages from around the United States and Canada. The seminar illustrated two different perspectives on how to advance equal rights for all humans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The first perspective examined the importance of governments and inter-governmental organizations, such as the United Nations, working on equal protection under the law, by passing laws (countries) and setting global standards (United Nations). The second perspective explored changing the hearts and minds of people, thus creating sustainable change. This can be created through efforts in different constituencies in our communities: religious communities and sports are two important examples. Change begins within yourself, one person at a time.  For more information on the Spring Seminar, please read our blog post here. Click here to watch the Interfaith panel held at the United Nations. 

Ballou Channing District Spring Gathering and Annual Meeting April 27th, 2013

This conference chose the timely topic of "International Migration and Unitarian Universalism" and took place at First Parish Church, in Kingston, Massachusetts, where Rev. Dan King is the minister.


The annual Spring Conference is presided over by Rev. Bill Zelazny, District Executive of Ballou Channing District. I was honored to be asked to provide the keynote address. I discussed global migration patterns and causes, which include human rights violations, economic hardship and climate change. I included a discussion of human trafficking and how it targets women and children; and ways to combat the perpetuation of 21st Century slavery. I tried to demonstrate that concerns over terrorism ought to be directed at better coordination of our security agencies (CIA and FBI) and listening more to foreign intelligence sources, such as the Russians and French. Terrorism concerns should not motivate unproductive curtailments on immigration levels. I discussed international norms of refugee and asylum adjudication; how they have expanded, where they fall short and the critical need to address the upcoming massive migrations which will be caused by climate change, which has no current accommodation under international or national law. I also discussed aspects of U.S. immigration law and enforcement, comparing it to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Migration Workers and Members of their Families. I ended with a proposal based on promoting the best interests of the national economy respecting the human rights of migrants. 

I ended the day with an interview with Rev. Catherine Cullen on her thought provoking radio show, "The Spiritual Life: Growing a Soul and Helping Repair the World," which airs on Sunday mornings at 6:30a.m. on WATD, 95.9 FM. The broadcasts are also available on the Duxbury First Parish Church Unitarian Universalist website here. The interview discussed the conference and the keynote address on global migration which I had just given. We also discussed the history of the UU-UNO and the 2011 merger with the UUA and how that has worked. We ended with a discussion of the UU-UNO's phenomenal success in changing the attitude of the United Nations with regards to sexual orientation/gender identity human rights from near total apathy to complete and supportive engagement to ensure an end to violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

NGO Committee on Human Rights meets United Nations Assistant Secretary for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic

During my tenure as chair of the UN NGO Committee on Human Rights, we have been able to establish a quarterly dialog between our committee and Ivan Simonovic and members of his staff. Mr. Simonovic discussed how the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has gone from a 2 year planning cycle to a 4 year planning cycle, recognizing that human rights need long-term planning and commitment. Mr. Simonovic then invited input from civil society as to the themes that the OHCHR should work on over the coming four years. I asked the first question about sexual orientation and gender identity human rights. (Background: Since I began this advocacy in 2008, I've wanted a U.S. Special Rapporteur to have full-time responsibility to investigate and advocate solutions to violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2008 and 2009, I was told that this was a hopeless quest and that there would be no hope of getting a UN Special Rapporteur position in the forseeable future.) In response to my question, Ivan Simonovic said that there was hope to get a UN Special Rapporteur on Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity this year. 

We invited a transgender delegation from the NYC LGBT Community Center to this meeting and they told Ivan Simonovic that within the LGBT movement, the Transgender community has concerns substantially different from those of sexual orientation and that those concerns are often ignored or insufficiently understood. Other interventions included a plea for a UN Convention to protect older people, attention to the human rights of workers in extractive mineral industry, human rights concerns in East Timor and more. We are very grateful to OHCHR for its constant engagement with civil society through the NGO Committee on Human Rights, which I have the honor to chair. Next month, I will chair a meeting with the High Commissioner herself, Navanethem Pillay.

To learn more about this remarkable woman, please click here

Climate Change: Small Island States

One group of UN member states which have an important story to tell and that doesn't get nearly enough attention is the group of small island states, some of which include Fiji, Maldives, Papua New Guinea, Seychelles, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. As part of the UU-UNO's consistent effort to give voice to the voiceless, together with New York University, we have had two panel discussions featuring diplomats from small island states. The first was at New York University and the second took place at the UN Church Center. The Climate Change Think Tank, established by New York University and the UU-UNO, hosted the second panel, Small Island States: A New Endangered Species, on Wednesday, April 24th, 2013. 

Small island states are low-lying and therefore are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise caused by climate changes. These changes not only affect the economy of these countries, but also have a direct effect on the citizens living in these nations. Small island states deserve to be heard by a larger audience, which is why the UU-UNO and the Committee on Sustainable Development sponsored this event. The Permanent Missions of Tuvalu and Maldives gave outstanding presentations to educate people at the UN and beyond about the effects of climate change on their homelands. 


Speakers included Hassan Hussain Shihab, First Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Maldives to the UN; Ambassador Simati, Permanent Mission of Tuvalu to the UN and Dr. William Hewitt, NYU Global Affairs Professor, author of "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology and What's Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis." The room was packed and included ambassadors and diplomats from several other small island states who contributed greatly to the discussion during the question and answer session. These countries have rich and distinctive cultures which risk extinction due to climate change. 

Every Child is Our Child Assessment Trip

UU-UNO Envoy Coordinator, Kamila Jacob and interns from Fordham University, Anida Fregjaj and from NYU, Jacklyn P. Booth performed an assessment visit to the ECOC project in Ghana. The results of this trip will be published soon on the International Programs of the UUA blog here

Two Who Dared Screening

The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office hosted a screening on April 12th, of the film, Two Who Dared, followed by a discussion. We hosted this film in conjunction with Holocaust Remembrance Day. Two Who Dared is the never-before-told story of Waitstill and Martha Sharp, an American Unitarian minister and his wife who boldly committed to a life-threatening mission in Europe to help save imperiled Jews and refugees at the onset of World War II. For more information or to host your own film screening, click here

Half the Sky Screening
Our intern, Arun Lobo, flew to Durango, Colorado to host a Half the Sky Screening at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Durango, on April 12. Thanks to Arun and Maureen Maliszewski, the Chair of Social Justice at UUFD, the screening was a huge success. You can read about the screening in the Durango Herald here.

The UU-UNO has partnered with the Half the Sky movement in creating awareness on global issues relating to women and girls. This film provides a wonderful platform for raising awareness about critical women's rights issues and opening a space for a deeper discussion of issues and action steps. If you are interested in hosting a Half the Sky screening at your congregation, please contact unitednations@uua.org and we will send you a resource guide for hosting a screening and discussion. 

World Affairs Council of America at the Permanent Mission of the United States

I was invited by the Permanent Mission of the United States to speak to a group of the World Affairs Council of America about the role of Civil Society at the United Nations. I was joined by colleagues from three other UN NGOs, including Oxfam. I spoke about the role the UU-UNO has played in the areas of Climate Change and Human Rights. I also mentioned that as American organizations we needed the American Mission to the UN, while at the same time reserving our right to criticize American government policies, which was a statement enthusiastically endorsed by my colleagues. There were questions about protecting religious freedom, the conflict in Syria and protecting human rights defenders around the world. 

The meeting took place in the U.S. Mission's top floor (22nd story) conference room, which was my first time to see this beautiful conference room with spectacular views of the UN.

Events in April

April 4-6 Annual Spring Seminar: Sex, Love and Violence

April 5 UU-UNO Advisory Board dinner 

April 6 UU-UNO Advisory Board Meeting

April 7 Immigration discussion at Plainfield, NJ

April 10-17 Kamila Jacob and interns perform assessment trip to ECOC Program in Ghana

April 12 Screened Two Who Dared at the Church Center

April 12 Screened Half the Sky at UU Fellowship at Durango, CO

April 13 Conducted Multigenerational Workshop at JPD Conference in Wilmington, DE

April 19 Hosted a group from the UU congregation in Wellesley, MA, which happens to be the congregation featured in the film, Two Who Dared

April 22 World Affairs Councils of America meeting at the American Mission to the UN

April 24 Met with Ani Zonneveld from Muslims for Progressive Values and Peggy Kerry from the U.S. Mission to the UN.

April 24 Hosted Climate Change meeting with Small Island States

April 26 NGO Committee on Human Rights meeting with Ivan Simonovic

April 26 Half the Sky Screening at UU Fellowship of Braircliff, Croton and Ossining

April 27 Ballou Channing District meeting and Global Migration speech

April 29 Meeting with UUA Stewardship and Development VP Rev. Terry Sweetser

Upcoming Events

May 2 Lead Compass to Compassion Progressive Faith leader call

May 9 NGO Committee for Human Rights meeting with High Commissioner for Human Rights

May 12 Half the Sky Screening at Community Church of New York

May 17-19 Canadian Unitarian Council Annual Conference and Meeting, Calgary, Alberta

May 29 Womens Alliance meeting on Dreaming of a Better Tomorrow: Voices of Women and Girls in Ghana 

If you have questions or concerns, please write us at unitednations@uua.org.

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