UNA-USA Youth Leader
2012 Leo Nevas Human Rights Fellow1. Why is the United Nations important to the world?
The UN provides an unmatched space for the world’s 193 countries as well as innumerable civil society groups to come together to address the world’s most complex and pressing issues. A world without the United Nations is one of heightened uncertainty, less cooperation, shared insecurity, and ultimately deflated hope for the future. The United Nations is unique in providing not only a place for discussion and collaboration, but also—and most importantly— a sense of legitimacy linked with its members’ outcomes and decisions. Whether the UN Security Council’s decision to authorize the protection of Libyan civilians by “all necessary measures” in 2011; the UN Human Rights Council’s passage of a pioneering resolution on the protection of human rights defenders in 2013; or the more than a dozen peacekeeping missions currently operating worldwide, it is clear the UN—while not perfect— contributes to a just, better, and vastly more secure world for all.
2. How do the UN and its work affect your work or life?
As someone with deep interest in human rights and international peace and security, it is difficult to identify a day where the UN is not impacting these areas. To me, the UN offers a window through to which to understand, and of course contribute to, an emerging global consensus on such issues. Overall, I have sought to use that opening to join a burgeoning international conversation on topics ranging from the fundamental human rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons to the need for strong U.S. leadership and engagement within institutions like the UN Human Rights Council. This work, in particular, has included collaborating and being inspired by tireless UN advocates including members of the UNA-USA Leo Nevas Human Rights Task Force, U.S. State Department, and innumerable other civil society representatives both domestically and abroad.
3. Why should Americans care about the UN’s work?
The United Nations is a place where the U.S. can advance the principles and values at the heart of not only its founding, but also the country’s most critical foreign policy interests and objectives. It, specifically, provides a platform for supporting international peace and security, human rights, and global public health, among many other important issues. The United States, while a critical global leader and voice on a range of issues, cannot expect to do everything on its own and be everywhere at once. In fact, strong engagement with the UN can guarantee U.S. principles and values resonate not only at UN headquarters in New York, but truly every corner of the globe. Americans should also remember that critical precedents like the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights were made possible by strong U.S. engagement with the UN rather than the opposite. While few would argue the UN is perfect, it nonetheless represents an investment that has inarguably yielded exceptionally high returns for core U.S. interests and values.
4. In your opinion, what has been the UN’s best moment to date?
By far, the best UN moment was the acceptance of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the UN General Assembly. To be clear, this passed the General Assembly in 1948 by a vote of 48 to 0. This meant the principles inherent to the declaration transcended not only political borders but also religious, cultural, and other distinctions. This single act over 60 years ago has stewarded and informed countless human rights mechanisms, instruments, and institutions within the UN system ranging from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to the recent establishment of the UN Human Rights Council. It has also both inspired and united both countless individuals around the planet to continuously strive for the realization of common goals based on universal and inalienable rights.
5. What do you think is the most exciting opportunity for the UN going forward?
Since the establishment of the UN Human Rights Council in 2006, the body has made remarkable strides in promoting, advancing, and defending human rights worldwide. While much work remains to be done in terms of the Council’s development and focus as the world’s premier intergovernmental human rights body, it has broken new ground on a variety of important human rights issues of global concern. From passing the UN’s first resolution on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity to creating an International Commission of Inquiry targeting North Korea, the Council has made significant progress in recent years. Given such movement it will be fascinating as it will be vital to observe how the Council continues to develop and respond to emerging thematic and country-specific human rights challenges around the globe.
6. What is the most effective element of UNA-USA’s work?
UNA-USA connects thousands of Americans who are passionate about the United Nations with their policymaking representatives but also the multifaceted and vitally important work of the United Nations. The UNA-USA Global Classrooms program, in particular, contributes to this incomparable network by identifying and engaging youth in an activity emphasizing real-time diplomacy, problem-solving, and the timeless art of compromise. Having participated over the years as a Global Classrooms volunteer, facilitator, and speaker it is clear to me this initiative not only inculcates critical leadership skills among youth, it also raises awareness about issues young people will encounter no matter what professional path they endeavor upon. In short, no another institution can boast the association of enthusiastic volunteers and worldly career professionals UNA-USA has fastidiously molded and helped thrive though Global Classrooms.