International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust

unacto127th of January is the day designated by the General Assembly of the United Nations as the annual International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. The day marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp and its purpose is to instil the memory of the tragedy in future generations to prevent genocide from occurring again. Recalling the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations General Assembly reaffirms that ‘the Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one-third of the Jewish people along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice“.

Since the Holocaust, genocide prevention has become central to human rights discourse.  The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, signed in Paris, 9 December 1948 defines “Genocide” as:
Killing members of the group; Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, or forcibly transferring children of the group to another group (

Berlin Holocaust Memorial
Berlin Holocaust Memorial

“Never Again,” first proclaimed following the Holocaust – has become both a uniting slogan and an embarrassing lie. The massacres in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur have all occurred since the Holocaust, preventable atrocities that have occurred as a result of the international community’s failure to act. Human Rights, rather than bureaucratic red tape or national interest ought to be the central focus moving forward. United to End Genocide outlines six countries currently at risk: Burma, the DRC, Libya, Sudan, South Sudan and Syria. The endurance of these conflicts is demonstrative of their complexities; however, this warning emphasizes the critical urgency required in reducing tensions, encouraging peace and fostering stability.

After Genocide: The Significance of Transitional Justice &  the Nuremberg Trials

In order to heal and prevent the likelihood of conflict and gross human rights violations in the future, transitional justice mechanisms emphasizing justice, truth, reconciliation and reconstruction are critical.

The Nuremberg trials, an ad-hoc tribunal established in order to prosecute Nazi war criminals played a defining role in the establishment of future judicial measures addressing gross human rights abuses, such as the International Criminal Court. However, court proceedings alone are not sufficient to redress the atrocities that occur in times of genocide. The complexities of post-conflict settings require a holistic, multifaceted approach addressing the social, cultural, historical and economic and international factors that lead to violence. Accordingly, Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, reparations and other projects,  alongside judicial measures must be pursued. Not a “one-size fits all” approach, but rather a specific, nationally focused process, transitional justice measures are critical to avoiding relapses of violence, and most importantly, in helping to redress the factors that led to conflict in the first place. Victim recognition and support is crucial to this process.
(Film Recommendation: Judgement at Nuremberg)

Holocaust Remembrance Events, at the United Nations and in Vancouver

On Tuesday, January 27 2015, there were several ceremonies all around the world in observance of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz Birkenau.

In particular, the 2015 observance of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust coincides with two milestone events: the anniversary of the Second World War’s end and the founding of the United Nations.

The Organization’s establishment seven decades ago in 1945 reflects how deeply it was shaped by the experience of the Holocaust. This year’s events include the annual ceremony, exhibits, a film screening, discussions and a special exhibit that recognizes the work of the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme since its creation 10 years ago by the United Nations General Assembly.

The United Nations Holocaust Memorial Ceremony was held at the UN Headquarters in New York and included remarks from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, H.E. Mr. Reuven Rivlin, President of the State of Israel, and H. E. Ms. Samantha Power, Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations.

The memorial ceremony also recognized the 10th Anniversary of the Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme.

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 7.55.31 PMIf you want to commemorate this day in Vancouver, you can visit the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.

The centre is currently hosting a new teaching exhibit “Carl Lutz and the Legendary Glass House in Budapest”, that illustrates a little-known story of diplomatic rescue and moral courage during the Holocaust in Hungary.

On Sunday, January 25, 2015, at 7 PM, the centre screened Numbered, a documentary film by Dana Doron and Uriel Sinai.
It was followed by candle lighting in memory of those who perished.

For more information, visit the United to End Genocide Page:


Post by UNAC-Vancouver website writers Brittney Potvin and Sabrina Miso.

UNAC & other NGOs call for an end to torture

unacto1On Human Rights Day, the United Nations Association of Canada joined other non-governmental organizations in calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to strengthen global efforts to stop torture.  The letter was crafted and managed by Amnesty International and was signed by non-governmental organizations from across the country.  In particular, the letter calls on PM Harper to ratify the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on Torture, which aims to establish national and international systems for inspecting detention centres.

As the letter states, the Optional Protocal “seeks to pierce the shroud of secrecy that allows torture to continue at such alarming rates around the world.  Amnesty International has documented torture in 141 countries in the last five years.”

For more information on the open letter, see the following link:

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

unacto11.jpgAugust 9th is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, to promote and protect the rights of the world’s indigenous population.

Through the International Day and Decade on Indigenous Peoples, the United Nations aims to strengthen international cooperation for solving problems faced by indigenous people in such areas as human rights, development, education and health. Also, it celebrates the achievements and contributions of indigenous people to improve world issues, such as environmental protection.

In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly decided that the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People shall be observed on 9 August. The date marks the day of the first meeting, in 1982, of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations of the Sub-commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.

Indigenous People in Canada

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 8.46.22 AMOn June 21st each year, National Aboriginal Day in Canada recognizes and celebrates the cultures and contributions of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.

Unfortunately, despite living in the developed world, indigenous peoples of North America often suffer many social obstacles. These factors can play into indigenous peoples’ social dislocation and alienation from both their ancestral lands, and North American society in general.

Also,  Aboriginal People have serious environmental concerns: the natural relationships that have sustained them are now altered because of the exploitation of the land and water. These changes have accelerated in recent years with health issues related to toxic chemicals and pollution.

On a positive note, Canada was one of the first countries in the modern era to extend constitutional protection to indigenous peoples’ rights. This constitutional protection has provided a strong foundation for advancing indigenous peoples’ rights over the last 30 years, especially through the courts.

Indigenous peoples and the Millennium Development Goals

A group of United Nations experts stated that the new global sustainable development agenda must include specific references to indigenous peoples and the challenges they face.

As the experts say: “Indigenous peoples can contribute significantly to achieving the objectives of sustainable development because of their traditional knowledge systems on natural resource management which have sustained some of the world’s more intact, diverse ecosystems up to the present”.

More on the the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and their references to indigenous peoples in the next blog post.


BC Representative for Children & Youth speaks out on National Child Day

Below is a statement from Ms. Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, British Columbia’s Representative for Children and Youth.
Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 6.37.44 PM

National Child Day, a date that commemorates Canada’s adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), is more than just a day of recognition — it’s a reminder of the role we all have to play in protecting the rights of children.

As B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, the work of my Office is based on these rights and upholding the underlying values: that children have a right to be protected and kept safe, that families are the best environment for raising a child, that parents and extended family have the primary responsibility for a child, and that children should have input into decisions made about them.

Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 6.39.51 PMWe have a particular responsibility in this province. B.C. continues to have a staggering level of child poverty (and these estimates under-report poverty levels for children), which impacts their health and development, and limits their potential to grow and succeed with their peers. Approximately 12 percent of children live in poverty in B.C. — enough to fill BC Place almost twice over. Nearly half of First Nations children and youth on reserves live in poverty.

It is the single biggest risk factor for limited opportunities to achieve their full potential, and yet we continue to lack a plan to support those children living in poverty and to improve their health, education and safety. Equal opportunity and human rights remind us of the need to focus on giving these children a fighting chance in life.

For National Child Day 2013, let us all take a moment to raise awareness of these intrinsic rights of children, enshrined in the UNCRC. Read more at Share the word on social media. Make it part of your daily conversations.

But let’s also take the next step – turning those conversations into action. Upholding these rights is fundamental to improving outcomes for vulnerable children and youth in British Columbia and across the globe. A better future for all children and youth depends on our ability to listen to their voices and learn from what we hear.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond

Representative for Children and Youth, British Columbia

Link to the original statement here: National Child Day_2013 Final

Unitarian Reverend Steven Epperson on the United Nations & Canada

unacto1The following remarks were given by Vancouver Unitarian Reverend Steven Epperson on the occasion of the 2013 John Gibbard Award presentation.

There’s a poem by Vancouver based spoken word artist Shane Koyczan that I want to quote from to introduce my remarks.  Goes like this:

Remember how we forgot?  (Shane Koyczan)

Remember how we forgot?
Remember how no one ever really died in the wars we fought?
Because each gunshot came from our finger tips
And we never really kept them loaded just in case
Because each enemy was a friend and none of it was about oil, religion, or land
It was all just pretend.
Remember how we used to bend reality
Like we were circus strong men
Like our imaginations were in shape then
Like we were all ninjas trained in the deadly art of “did not”.
Like “I totally got you”
“Did not”
Remember how we forgot?

“When I was a child,” wrote Saul of Tarsus, the early Christian disciple, “when I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became an adult I put away childish things.” (I Cor. xiii. 11).  Shane’s poem and this line from the Letter to the Corinthians came to my mind when I read the following sentence in an article in The Economist; it was about the Canadian government’s dubious plans to reform First Nation’s textbooks and curriculum:  Here’s the quote from The Economist: “Mr Harper’s people are not famous for listening to outside advice and [they] have a special disdain for the UN.” (“These schools…,” Economist, October 19, 2013)   Well, on this Sunday, we are commemorating the United Nations and celebrating the John Gibbard Memorial Award to Ms Vaisey for her achievements in promoting diplomacy, climate change awareness, education about the crucial role of water for a flourishing biosphere—on this Sunday, I think it’s important to consider the distinction between childish things and behaviour on the one hand, and the kinds of actions and attitudes we expect from adult, mature persons, institutions and governments on the other.

Playing games of pretend—like “I totally got you!”/”Did not!”—we expect and go along with these antics when kids do it, because we know they are, in fact, formative steps toward the art of the real; steps that disclose what is pretend, what is not; what is fair, what is foul in human beliefs and behavior.

If it’s the case that our nation’s current government believes that the United Nations is in need of fundamental reform; if it objects to perceived bias against Israel; if it finds ludicrous the presence of repressive regimes in the UN’s Human Rights Council—if that’s the case, and those may be legitimate grievances—is disdain and disengagement, is not living up to financial commitments, is walking out on meetings while others are speaking, is not contributing to peacekeeping, is dragging heels for years in not signing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples…and the list goes on and on—is that the kind of behavior we would expect from a mature, grown-up government that represents us at the United Nations?

Let’s say that our neighbours are throwing a party that gets unruly and unduly loud late into the night.  What do we do?  Whine and fret about it in the safety of our apartmeScreen Shot 2013-11-09 at 11.33.12 AMnts and condemn them to depths of hell?  Call the police so that someone else can take care of it?  Or do we go next door in our pajamas and ask them to tone it down because our kids can’t sleep or we’ve got to get up early in morning to go to work, or whatever.  I know that the latter option may take some guts; it may mean something of a confrontation.  But chances are our neighbours, too, are adults and didn’t realize the decibel level had gotten out of hand, and that they’d turn down the volume for the sake of peaceful co-existence and neighbourly goodwill once it was brought to their attention.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became an adult I put away childish things.”  And so F. W. de Klerk brought Nelson Mandela out of Robben Island prison and negotiated the advent of majority rule and the end of apartheid in South Africa.  And so the government of Great Britain entered into talks with the Provisional IRA in order, eventually, to secure the Good Friday Peace Accords for Northern Ireland fifteen years ago.  And so Obama and Hassan Rouhani, the newly elected president of Iran spoke before the UN General Assembly—to friend and foe alike—something that it seems Canada has nearly given up on; and these two presidents even talked on the phone together breaking a 33 year long taboo of disdain, demonizing and disengagement.  It’s no wonder, someone quipped recently, that Canada couldn’t get elected dogcatcher at the United Nations today.

I want to commend the Vancouver Branch of the United Nations Association in Canada for their good work and endurance through this time of petulant disdain by our government for the UN.   I do not believe that childishness is Canada’s long-term prospect with regard to the United Nations.  Eventually, we will put away childish things; an adult will walk into the room.  It will be someone like Saskia Vaisey whose good work we honour today.  I want the Association and Ms. Vaisey to know that Unitarian support for the aspirations and work of the UN runs deep and does not waver.  Our faith affirms and supports the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.  And though it may be a flawed vessel (what human institution isn’t?), we affirm the vision and good work of the UN past present and future.

Just this past week, I was deeply moved by the story of medical teams working for the UN’s World Health Organization, their efforts to eradicate polio, and of their work to staunch an outbreak of that dread disease in Syrian refugee camps. This is a concrete example of what the UN does best and how it has, for decades now, contributed to building a sense of world community and advocating of the well-being of all.

So in closing, again, I want to thank the members of the Vancouver Branch of the UN Association of Canada, and extend our heartfelt congratulations to Ms. Vaisey on receiving this year’s John Gibbard Memorial Award.