Spread the word » Facebook Twitter

UU-UNO Director’s Letter

Bruce Knotts

October 2013

Urgent Action

The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities has been signed by 155 nations and ratified by 126. The United States has signed this important convention, but an attempt to ratify it in the Senate last December failed by 5 votes with 61 votes in favor and 38 Republican votes against, failing to meet the two thirds majority of 66 votes needed for ratification. We have learned that there may be Senate hearings in November in another attempt to pass this important UN convention. Please write your senators and urge them to join the majority of the rest of the world and ratify this important UN Convention.

The 19th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC and the 9th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol will take place from November 11th to 22nd. The conference will be held at the National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland. The UU-UNO worked hard over a period of months to gain consultative status with the UNFCCC, which it gained last year. We have a volunteer delegate to this conference and we are working for its success. You can join us by writing your government leaders to ensure that they help move forward global efforts to slow and stop human contributions to climate change and to mitigate the damage already done. Unfortunately, North American governments have not always been leaders in this effort and have often frustrated the efforts of other nations. It is time for us to lead to save our planet and preserve its life sustaining abilities.


UNSMIS United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria

The UNSMIS was established by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2043 on April 21, 2012, initially for a 90-day period, to monitor a cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties and to monitor and support the full implementation of the Joint Special Envoy's six-point plan to end the conflict in Syria. After an initial relative lull, hostilities in Syria resumed and on 15 June 2012, UNSMIS had to suspend its activities owing to an intensification of armed violence across the country. On 20 July 2012, the Security Council extended the mission for 30 days and said that any further extension could be possible only "in the event that the Secretary-General reports and the Security Council confirms the cessation of the use of heavy weapons and a reduction in the level of violence sufficient by all sides" to allow the UNSMIS monitors to implement their mandate. As those conditions were not met, UNSMIS mandate came to an end at midnight on 19 August 2012. 

I get calls and emails asking how we can solve the Syrian problem. A negotiated settlement with Syria and under the supervision of the United States, Russia and the European Union has the best chance of success, followed by a reestablishment of UNSMIS to monitor a cessation of armed violence. Also, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and other UN agencies are in desperate need of funds to help the growing numbers of refugees and internally displaced people.

Recently, there has been an outbreak of polio and there needs to be a pause in hostilities to vaccinate those who have been exposed to the virus. Such pauses in fights to vaccinate people happened in the Afghan war and it can be done in Syria. It needs political will and concentrated action.

I left for a series of overseas diplomatic assignments in 1991 and returned in 2004. I was alarmed at how divided our nation had become. In 1991, Republicans and Democrats agreed fairly substantially on foreign policy issues, which allowed the American president to conduct diplomacy with a strong united America behind him. That unanimity in defense of what's right and in defense of our most basic national interests has been broken due to the most petty of party politics. We fight about taxes and other matters, but we need to unite behind a solution to the fighting in Syria to end a humanitarian tragedy of enormous proportions.

The 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly 
This year's UN GA started in September and will extend to December. This exciting time at the United Nations always begins with a parade of leaders speaking to the world from the United Nations podium. I would like to highlight just a few:

Canada: The Canadian Prime Minister did not attend the UNGA, but was presented by H.E. Mr. John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs who stressed the importance of considering what the United Nations was achieving rather than how it arranged its affairs. "The billions who are hungry, or lack access to clean water, or are displaced or cannot read and write do not care how many members sit on the Security Council," he said. The global family would never achieve its potential "unless we address the peace and security concerns that shackle human opportunity". Rejecting the "pernicious notion that human dignity can be sliced up, compartmentalized or compromised", he said that is a pluralistic society, it was impossible to protect some human rights and freedoms while infringing upon others. -Read more here

United States: BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States, said that, although the end of America's involvement in a decade of war was a shift away from a "perpetual war-footing", a glance at today's headlines indicated the dangers that remained. The convulsions in the Middle East and North Africa had laid bare deep divisions within societies. Peaceful movements had been answered by violence - from those resisting change and from extremists trying to hijack change. Nowhere had those trends converged more powerfully than in Syria. -Read more here

Iran: HASSAN ROUHANI, President of Iran, declared that the age of "zero-sum games" in international relations was over. Coercive economic and military policies, practices used to maintain old forms of domination, and the practice of globalizing Western values negated peace, security and human dignity, as did the persistent "Cold War mentality". There was no guarantee that the era of quiet among big Powers would remain immune from violent discourse, practices and action, he said, warning that the impact of violent and extremist narratives must not be underestimated. Read more here

Israel: BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, Prime Minister of Israel, said there was a "striking, extraordinary" contradiction between the President's words and Iran's actions. Though he praised Iran's democracy, the regime executed political dissidents by the hundreds, jailed them by the thousands and had participated directly in murdering and massacring tens of thousands of men, women and children in Syria. President (Hassan) Rouhani had condemned terrorism, yet in the last three years Iran planned, perpetrated or ordered attacks on five continents. Read more

The Gambia: AL HADJI YAHYA A.J.J. JAMMEH, President of Gambia, said that civil strife and terrorism caused by the behavior of some world powers were undermining human security and even the viability of States. Poverty, hunger and disease still decimated countless communities, while the capacity to respond to man-made humanitarian crises remained discriminatory and inadequate, he stated. Noting the United Nations duties to find lasting solutions for peace and for the protection of human life, he called for informed and honest decisions, instead of "those driven by the interest of a few self-appointed gods thereby causing irreparable damage to the social fabric and economies of these countries in conflict." He argued that all forms of human tragedy and catastrophe emanated from the same Western Powers. Regarding homosexuality, he said that all living things needed to reproduce for posterity. They would become extinct when they could no longer reproduce. Any person promoting the end of human reproduction was promoting human extinction. -Read more

The Canadian Press and Huffington Post reported: 

The president of Gambia is using his address to the United Nations General Assembly to attack gays and lesbians, calling homosexuality one of the three "biggest threats to human existence." President Yahya Jammeh said that homosexuality, greed and obsession with world domination "are more deadly than all natural disasters put together." It's not the first time that the Gambian ruler has used such harsh words. In 2008, he told gays and lesbians to leave the country or have their heads cut off. Jammeh also has drawn international criticism for his claim that he can cure AIDS with an herbal body rub and bananas. He first took power in the tiny West African country after a 1994 coup. Read more

More. . . . 

When Yaya Jammeh returned to the Gambia, he withdrew from the Commonwealth of Nations, a day before it was to meet and when he probably would have faced criticism. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe did the same years earlier for the same reason.

Imam Baba Leigh of The Gambia

Those of you following my letters know that I served a Deputy Chief of the American diplomatic mission to The Gambia and befriended Imam Baba Leigh in 2003. In 2012, the Gambian dictator/President Yaya Jammeh began executing prisoners and demanded that nobody plead with him to stop, because it was, in his words, his "Islamic duty" to execute all offenders. One person disobeyed, Imam Baba Leigh, who began a series of sermons preaching against the death penalty. (Note: The Gambia had abolished the death penalty, which was reinstated by Yaya Jammeh when he took power in a military coup in 1994. He's ruled The Gambia ever since.) In December 2012, agents of the Gambian National Intelligence Agency illegally detained Imam Baba Leigh as he was leaving his mosque and tortured him for nearly 6 months. I immediately alerted Amnesty International, the U.S. Department of State and others. After a demarche by the ambassadors of the USA, UK and EU demanding Imam Leigh's release, he was finally released in May 2013. Imam Leigh is now in the United States. 

An official from Amnesty International and I nominated Imam Leigh for the African Human Rights Defender award. We were notified that Imam Baba Leigh was a winner and that he would be flown to Banjul, The Gambia. I strongly advised Imam Baba Leigh not to return in person to accept the award, but rather to send a video and have his representatives accept on his behalf. The awards were presented by the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders and the African Human Rights Commission in Banjul, The Gambia. Imam Leigh won the award for the West African Human Rights Defender along with human rights defenders from four other regions of the continent. Then, Imam Leigh was chosen as the Human Rights Defender for all of Africa. Several governments sent representatives. Conspicuous by its absence was any official from the Gambian government. 

Climate Action Teams

The UU-UNO launched an appeal to congregations to form climate action teams. We have done this together with the UU Ministry for Earth, Green Sanctuaries, Ethical Eating Program, UUSC and other UU organizations concerned with climate change and environmental justice. One of the first (if not the first) climate action teams was formed at First Unitarian Dallas, Texas. We have had over 50 expressions of interest. Some congregations are already doing things about climate change and environmental justice, some have groups already formed. We want to see climate action teams form in all congregations or to become part of existing climate groups. We hope to see these teams learn about climate change and environmental justice and then decide to take action. The UU-UNO and other organizations stand ready to provide information and suggestions for action. Obviously, the UU-UNO will focus on UN climate change research and UN sponsored climate change conferences, like the one happening in Warsaw in November 2013. UU-Ministry for Earth will be the go to people for domestic issues, such as the Keystone pipeline. Those that want to green their sanctuaries will go to Green Sanctuaries.   
One activity which has perhaps the greatest impact on the climate is how we eat. How much of a carbon foot-print does our food have to grow/raise it and transport it to our table? The Ethical Eating Program has the answers. Want to know about the crucial issue of the world's water supplies and who has access and who doesn't? UUSC has the answers. This is the most important issue of our day and we need to do something about it. Get involved and form a climate action team at your congregation. 


UU-UNO Annual Fundraiser and Awards Ceremony

This is the time of year when the UU-UNO raises most of the funds it needs to keep our programs going all year round: Every Child is Our Child Program in Ghana, the amazing UU-UNO internship/volunteer program, advocacy for women's rights, migrants rights, indigenous people's rights, sexual orientation/gender identity human rights, the human right to peace, the right to sustainable development and more. This is when we raise the funds necessary to host an amazing Spring Seminar in April. Congregations are celebrating the UN's birthday with services and collections for the UU-UNO. 

We will also host a fundraiser at All Souls Church in New York, which has donated it facility for this purpose. The gala event will be on November 8th from 6:30pm-9:00pm. Donations are $100 to attend. However, if that's not in your budget and you want to attend, call us and tell us what you can afford to donate and if we can, we'll welcome you at what you can afford. If you live far away, but want to support the vital programs of the UU-UNO, buy a ticket or several so that we can allow interns and others to attend.

At this gala event, we will honor an important partner in our effort to protect and establish human rights, Ken Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. Mr. Roth will speak about the excellent work of Human Rights Watch and may refer to times when HRW had partnered with the UU-UNO. 
Commission on the Status of Women's 58th Session - CSW 58

The UU-UNO is actively participating in the planning of CSW 58, which will take place from March 10-21, 2014. This year's priority theme for 2014 is addressing the challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls. The UU-UNO will be hosting two parallel events during CSW 58. Read here for more.  

Congregational and other visits

September 5th: Human rights speech about Africa at the Human Rights Campaign, D.C. 

September 22nd: Towson, MD Unitarian Universalist Church

October 6th: Kingston, ON Unitarian Church

October 13th: White Plains, NY Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

October 20th: Toronto, ON First Unitarian Church

October 27th: New York, NY, 4th Universalist Society

November 10th: San Francisco, CA Unitarian Universalist Church

December 1st: Montclair, NJ Unitarian Universalist Church 

December 8th: Warrington, PA Bux Mont Unitarian Universalist Church

December 15th: Watertown, NY Unitarian Universalist Church

January 19th: Ottawa, ON, Unitarian Church

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

To support this important work please visit https://giving.uua.org/UU-UNO

Donate to the UU-UNO Today!