21st Century Oceans: The International Maritime Organization

unacto1The following post was written by Sierra Wylie, one of our new UNAC-Vancouver website writers.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), a semi-independent branch of the United Nations, was created in 1948 to deal with all matters concerning maritime safety and shipping regulations. The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 signaled a pivotal moment in global marine history, and prompted the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS), which in turn paved the way for the IMO’s creation years later.[1] With the heightened influence of globalization, this organization plays a crucial role in international politics. The IMO has sought to involve all economically active powers, and presently includes 171 member states with various Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOS) that cooperate and contribute to the IMO.[2]

Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 10.01.24 PMIn recent decades, the IMO has evolved to combat critical issues plaguing our oceans. Pollution, deep sea drilling and oil spills have taken a terrible toll on marine ecosystems and the global climate, and thus the members of the IMO have had to develop measures to prevent future disasters.[3] Additionally, the melting of the ice caps and sea level rise have had a major influence on the openings of new shipping routes through previously unnavigable arctic straights. With one of the main tenants of the IMO being the provision of sustainable, secure shipping, shifts in marine climates are a major concern. Fortunately, the IMO is working with organizations like the Arctic Council and its parent organization, the UN, to overcome these challenges and build for the future.

This tall order of organizing the entire world’s oceans and nations to ensure safety and sustainability is no easy feat. Considering that the IMO Assembly only meets once every two years, one might question as to whether they are able to effectively meet this goal. Fortunately, the independent UN agency has several affiliated programs, such as the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC), GloBallast Partnerships, the London Convention of 1972 (which dealt with marine debris pollution), and many more.[4]

Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 10.02.02 PMThe IMO came into the news quite recently with the adoption of the Polar Code. This legal instrument provides a much stricter set of rules for arctic shipping, limiting waste dumping, and establishing a prohibited perimeter around sensitive marine ecosystems.[5] Even though this is a regional protocol, and its limitations to not apply globally, the Polar Code sets precedence for other regional organizations to begin to adopt more environmentally friendly regulations for shipping.

In the 21st century, global organizations are becoming more conscientious of sustainable shipping procedures and the importance of protecting the fragile marine environments. The IMO stands at the forefront of this development, and under the umbrella of the UN, it has been able to make steady progress towards effective management of the seas.

[1] http://www.imo.org/About/Pages/Default.aspx

[2] ibid

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

[5] http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-n-agency-adopts-polar-code-to-prevent-sea-pollution-1431711578

Rohingya Migrants Stranded in the Andaman Sea

unacto1The following post was written by Emma Lange, one of our two new UNAC-Vancouver website writers. 

Thousands of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh are currently stranded on ships in the Andaman Sea seeking shore to land on. The future of these refugees remains unsolved as countries in the region are refusing to accept additional migrants and are ordering their navies to turn them away. This has resulted in ships floating back and forth for months between Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia hoping to be allowed access to shore. The conditions on the boats are unsanitary and crowded. Further, the migrants, who are suffering from dehydration and starvation, are fighting over limited supplies.

Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 9.56.15 PMThe stranded migrants are largely made up of ethnic Rohingyas from Myanmar’s western Rakhine state, but are also joined by impoverished Bangladeshis seeking a better life elsewhere. According to the UN refugee agency, over 120 000 Muslim Rohingyas have fled Myanmar over the past three years, due to the strong persecution they face in the country.[1] The Muslim group suffers extreme state sanctioned discrimination from a Buddhist majority and is subject to violent attacks by Buddhist extremists. The Rohingya minority have long suffered oppression by the government, which has recently intensified with the reforms President Thein Sein introduced in 2011.[2] They are fleeing because they are denied basic services, are prohibited from possessing land rights and their movements are restricted. They have also recently had their “temporary registration certificates” revoked, preventing them the right to vote in upcoming elections.[3] These restrictions, along with the strong anti-Muslim sentiment they face, makes them feel unwelcome in Myanmar and has led the UN to deem the Rohingya one of the most persecuted groups in the world.[4] The ethnic Rohingya Muslims are now part of a humanitarian crisis where the do not feel secure in their own country but cannot find an alternative host to accept them.

Non-governmental organizations claim the neighbouring countries have a moral imperative to feed and supply refugees since they are stranded in their waters.[5] Navy ships from these countries are intercepting the boats to provide the migrants with food and water and then sending them away, prohibiting them from landing on their shores. Many are fearful that without a coast to land on the migrants will perish at sea, resulting in immense pressure on these countries to find a solution.

http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2015/05/14/malaysia-turns-away-two- boatloads-of-rohingya-and-bangladeshi-migrants.html

Malaysian, Bangladeshi, Thai and Indonesian foreign ministers are scheduled to meet to meet in June to discuss the issue. All of the countries are opposed to accepting the migrants because they fear it would open the floodgates for additional migrants. Malaysia and Bangladesh have been the main recipients of ethnic Rohingya refugees in the past but claim they must now focus on their own interests, especially since Bangladesh already suffers high levels of unemployment.[6] Malaysia is the coveted destination for the migrants because of its predominantly Muslim population and its need for unskilled labour. The Muslim majority in Indonesia makes it another desired destination, however the government has warned they will expel any migrants who make it ashore.[7] Last month, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged governments in the region to remember their obligation to open their ports to abandoned migrants at sea and “to ensure that the prohibition on refoulement is maintained”.[8]

The countries are aware of their responsibilities but lament complying while the leaders of Myanmar refuse to accept blame for the migrant situation or engage in talks.

While short-term humanitarian action must come from the countries in the region, pressure must also be exerted on the government of Myanmar to address the plight of the ethnic minority and mitigate their reasons for fleeing.

Works Cited

“600 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar Arrive in Indonesia.” CBC News 10 May 2015, World sec. Web. 3 May 2015. <http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/600-rohingya-muslims-from-myanmar-arrive-in-indonesia-1.3068326&gt;.

Heed, Jonathon. “The Unending Plight of Burma’s Unwanted Rohingyas.” BBC 1 July 2013, Asia sec. Web. 6 May 2015. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-23077537&gt;. “Why Are so Many Rohingya Migrants Stranded at Sea?” BBC News 18 May 2015, Asia sec. Web. 11 May 2015. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32740637&gt;.

[1] “Why Are so Many Rohingya Migrants Stranded at Sea?,” BBC News, 11 May 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32740637.

[2] “Why Are so Many Rohingya Migrants Stranded at Sea?”

[3] Ibid.

[4] Jonathon Heed, “The Unending Plight of Burma’s Unwanted Rohingyas,” BBC News 1 July 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-23077537.

[5] “Why Are so Many Rohingya Migrants Stranded at Sea?”

[6] “Why Are so Many Rohingya Migrants Stranded at Sea?”

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

Nominations open for Gibbard Award for Youth

Do you know of a youth or youth group who are working to make a positive change to our world?  Nominate them today for the John Gibbard Award.

This is an annual award given by UNAC-Vancouver on the occasion of United Nations Day to celebrate the United Nations and its work towards peace, justice and security.

The John Gibbard Memorial Award is presented annually by the Vancouver Branch of the United Nations Association in Canada in recognition and memory of John Gibbard who was a supporter of the League of Nations from its creation in 1919, in the wake of the First World War.  When the League ceased to exist, John Gibbard continued to support the ideals upon which the League had been founded.  When the United Nations was formed after the Second World War, John Gibbard became an active member of the United Nations Association in Canada.  He was dedicated to involving youth in the creation of a better world for all.

The Award is given to a young student or group of students in recognition of their dedication and commitment in working for humanity and a better world.


  • Nominees must be individuals or groups of individuals under 25 years of age.
  • Candidates cannot self-nominate
  • Nominations must be made in writing and sent to UNAC Vancouver at unacvancouver(at)gmail.com  by September 20th, 2015.  You may choose to use this document for the nomination form, although it is not obligatory: John Gibbard Nomination Form 2015  You may also choose to find a creative way to tell us why the person or group deserve the award; however, it must be submitted by email.
  • Nominees must be residents of the Metro Vancouver area.
  • The Award will be presented at a ceremony to be held at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, Oak and Granville Streets, on the  Sunday which is the closest to October 24th, United Nations Day

Event – Truth and Reconciliation Commission Final Report

unacto1Vancouverites are invited to join Survivors, Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada releases the Final Report Findings and Recommendations. The event will take place on Tuesday, June 2nd from 8:00am – 11:00am PST. The Vancouver Coordinating Committee for TRC Closing Events welcomes six panelists to the event, including TRC Honorary Witnesses and both Indigenous and non-Indigenous community leaders, to reflect on the closing of the TRC and the possibilities moving forward.  UNAC -Vancouver Past President Patsy George will be in attendance as an Honorary Witness.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 9.31.53 PMTogether we will recognize and celebrate our diverse histories and unique strengths in attempt to find a New Way Forward for Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians.

Details of the event and registration:

  • Honorary Witness Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, City of Vancouver
  • Rev. Mary Fontaine, Hummingbird Ministries
  • Honorary Witness David Wong, Architect, Community Activist and Writer
  • Doug White, Director, Centre for Pre‐Confederation Treaties and Reconciliation, Vancouver Island University
  • Jody Wilson-Raybould, Regional Chief, B.C. Assembly of First Nations
  • Linda Morris, Senior Vice President, Business Development, Member and Community Engagement, Vancity

Attendees may attend both the Live Broadcast and the Panel Discussion, or they may join us just for the Panel Discussion component. Please note that there will be a short break between the Live Broadcast and the Panel Discussion.

We are expecting seats for this event to fill, so please register early.

UNAC-Vancouver sponsor’s DOXA film

unacto1The United Nations Association in Canada (Vancouver Branch) was pleased to sponsor a film at the 2015 DOXA Documentary Film Festival.

The screening of Uyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd was held at the VanCity Theatre on Wednesday, May 6, 2015.   The screening was well-attended, and the audience was clearly engaged in the issues presented in the film.

The film charts the incredible journey of a group of 22 men who are members of the Uyghur community. The Uyghurs are a minority grouScreen Shot 2015-05-19 at 9.45.13 PMp of Turkic-speaking Muslims living in western China. In fleeing persecution in their own country, they were unwittingly caught up as victims in the so-called “war on terror” which began in the Middle East in 2001. They eventually found themselves transported to the American military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where they were detained for several years.

UNAC-Vancouver board members at the DOXA screening

The film was included in the festival’s Justice Forum, so it was followed by a thought-provoking question and answer session. The guest speaker was Dr. Nicole Barrett of the Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Barrett has worked extensively in the international human rights arena, and has witnessed the difficult circumstances faced by prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

photo-4The evening concluded with informal discussions with audience members at the UNAC information table in the lobby of the theatre.

Our thanks to Dr. Nicole Barrett, Executive Director Kenji Maeda, Programming Coordinator Selina Crammond, and to all DOXA staff and volunteers for making this year’s festival such a success. We look forward to working with you again in the future!

Please click here to read UNAC-Vancouver Board Member Karen Truscott’s Opening Remarks at the event : DOXA Opening Remarks