Continued: Int’l Day of the World’s Indigenous People and the MDGs

unacto1As was discussed in a previous post emphasizing the impact and significance of the 2000 Millennium Development Goals, parties are calling on the 2015 Post-Development Agenda to recognize the special relationship that Aboriginal peoples have to the international goals. Specifically, it is the Aboriginal communities in Canada who have played a pivotal role in ensuring Canada maintains its integrity to issues of environmental sustainability.

Continually these communities have resisted pressures from both the public and private sector in order to preserve and protect the land. A recent UN News Centre article (“Indigenous peoples’ must feature in new global development agenda, stress UN experts,” July 2014) emphasizes the reality that despite the substantial contribution made by Aboriginal communities to environmental sustainability (Millennium Development Goal #7 – Ensure Environmental Sustainability), the reality in Canada is that Aboriginal communities are often the group most lacking in the enjoyment of the other goals. For instance, the overall prevalence of low income is significantly greater among Aboriginal people than among the non-Aboriginal population, while half of Aboriginal children live in poverty (see:  Education for Aboriginals is also troubling; as the need to close the gap between Aboriginal (26.5%) and non- Aboriginals (9.8%) obtaining university degrees is increasingly emphasized.

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 8.59.48 AMWhile the MDG’s do not touch on post-secondary education (the aim is to achieve universal primary education), Canada’s level of development ought to also address issues of access to education for our specific circumstances, that being our Aboriginal children and young adults.

Although concerns not limited to education, poverty and governance continue to characterize the Aboriginal experience here in Canada and are frequently cited, this does not represent the multifaceted reality of a group that is not one, but many communities that span an entire nation, representing those living on and off the reserves, in Canada’s biggest cities and in the some of the most remote locations of the world.

A 2009 study by the C.D Howe Institute, “Breaking the Stereotype: Why Urban Aboriginals Score Highly on ‘Happiness’ Measures ” (Dominique M. Gross & John Richards, Toronto 2012) illustrated that when urban Aboriginals in Canada were asked “Overall, are you happy with your life?”, the response was comparable to other urban communities. Greater access to and success in education and employment, the study concluded, would further increase happiness rates. Although this paints a simplistic picture of the Aboriginal experience (of which the authors have not personally experienced), it helps emphasize the continued importance of the application of the the Millennium Development Goals here in Canada (as well as their adaptation to our country-specific needs), and their direct impact on urban Aboriginals here in our city.

As United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated: “We must ensure the participation of indigenous peoples – women and men – in decision-making at all levels. This includes discussions on accelerating action towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals and defining the post-2015 development agenda. ”

vafc-logo_438x0_scale.pngIt is critical that Canada recognize and seek to incorporate, Aboriginal knowledge, culture and philosophy into the wider development agenda, while simultaneously seeking to redress the inequalities this group still faces.

We encourage readers in the Vancouver area to show even more gratitude and solidarity with the Aboriginal community by continuing to learn from and enjoy the cultural contributions seen in Aboriginal art, music, museums, etc. as well as in local knowledge that our city is so fortunate to be able to enjoy.

Nelson Mandela Day

unacto1Nelson Mandela’s recent passing late last year brought an end to a lifetime of unyielding courage and commitment to social justice, peace and equality.  Adopted in 2009 by the United Nations, Nelson Mandela Day enters its fifth year this week on July 18th.

Nelson Mandela’s work is so intertwined with the Human Rights movement over the past century, that it is impossible to speak about “freedom, justice and democracy” without recognizing his contributions.  The effects of his work in South Africa were not only a catalyst for change nationally, but also globally inspired  generations to come.

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 9.01.07 PMMandela famously stated, “Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.” What will your legacy be? How can you become involved today, in order to improve the livelihood of those in the future?  As we come to the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and approach a new development era, we are provided with a fresh opportunity for renewed commitment, insight and especially, participation.

The MDGs set out in 2000  have achieved considerable success in many sectors. Importantly, they have laid the foundations for our work in years to come. Drawing on the inspiration of Mandela, the importance of belief and especially ongoing dedication, cannot be overstated. 

The MDGs include:

1.    To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2.    To achieve universal primary education
3.    To promote gender equality and empower women
4.    To reduce child mortality
5.    To improve maternal health
6.    To combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
7.    To ensure environmental sustainability
8.    To develop a global partnership for development

These goals are still especially relevant to our existence here in Canada. Some issues of particular importance that come to mind include the Enbridge Pipeline proposal and its potential harmful effects on Canada’s environment and our Aboriginal Communities (#7), the insufficient efforts to find our missing Aboriginal women as reported by the United Nations (#3) and specifically, the continuation of poverty and homelessness in Vancouver’s downtown core (#1). 

Although the context for the MDGs are broad in scope, their application can be applied to our local circumstances.  Once we can recognize this applicability our immediate potential for contributing towards their achievement becomes tangible.

With the inspiration of Nelson Mandela in mind, we encourage readers to reflect upon these goals and to remain committed and optimistic for the 2015 agenda. 
Further information on the upcoming Development agenda will be featured in upcoming blogs this summer/fall.

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 9.02.22 PMPlease see the United Nations page for  a timeline of Mandela’s life and further information about the day:

Post written by UNAC-Vancouver website writer, Brittney Potvin.

Visa denial raises interesting debate about hosting the UN

unacto1This week we witnessed a very interesting element of the workings of the United Nations. The UN headquarters is located in New York, and thus the US is required to allow UN diplomats gain entry to the US in order to carry out their work. It does still have the right to refuse diplomatic entry visas, however this is rare as in doing so it gives the US a say in who represents the countries at the UN and its various bodies.

The US on Friday, denied Hamid Aboulatebi, Iran’s chosen UN envoy, a US visa, effectively blocking him from taking up his new role. Despite a 35-year diplomatic malaise in which the countries broke off relations, Iran retained its presence at the UN. Its diplomats and visiting leaders are confined to New York but are approved diplomatic passage for the sole purposes of the UN. The reason behind America’s decision to deny a visa to Mr. Aboulatebi is his involvement in a group linked to the infamous Iran Hostage Crisis between 1979 and 1981. The incident involved 52 American diplomats and citizens being held hostage for 444 days by student supporters of the Iranian Revolution. Mr. Aboulatebi insists his role was ‘limited to translation and negotiation’[1]. Previous denials of visa’s linked to UN work include another person involved in the Hostage Crisis who was sent to speak to the UN in the 1990’s as well as more recently, Omar Al-Bashir, President of Sudan.

The issue at hand here hasScreen Shot 2014-04-13 at 7.48.54 PM wider implications for the running of the UN as a multilateral institution, which should not be beholden to US domestic decisions. The argument is summed up in the American and Iranian positions on the Aboulatebi case. Reaction from America since the decision that the selection “was not viable”, has been mixed. Senator Ted Cruz said the administration “did the right thing barring this acknowledged terrorist from coming into the country”[2]. Conversely, an interesting editorial in the Los Angeles Times points out that Mr Aboulatebi was 22 yrs old when the hostage incident took place. They write that “it is not unknown for youthful radicals to mature into middle-aged statesmen”[3]. An example of this from my own country, Ireland, is Martin McGuinness. The former IRA leader is now Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Only this week, Mr McGuinness attended a state banquet hosted by Queen Elizabeth for the Irish President. His attendance at the Queen’s residence, even standing to toast the British Monarch, would have been unthinkable for both sides only a short 10 years ago.

Iran, itself, believed the rejection was “not acceptable” and “in contravention of international law, the obligation of the host country and the inherent right of sovereign member-states to designate their representatives to the United Nations.”[4].

It would be desirable that Nations conducted their affairs at the very highest standards and respected the forum, which the UN offers. It is debatable whether Iran did that in this case. However, it is still worth discussing whether America as host country, does have obligations to see the UN and its work as separate from its normal diplomatic protocols. As Iran refuses to name an alternative, the debate will continue. Analysts are wondering how this spat will affect the recent détente between the US and Iran.

Post written by UNAC-Vancouver Board member and website writer, Barry Hynes.





General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon Travels to Sochi

unacto1On the eve of the opening ceremony for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, it is hard to think of a positive news story over the last month. Between homophobia, unfinished hotels, terror threats, stray dogs and dangerous snowboard half pipes, it has been a tough buildup to Sochi 2014. Ban Ki-Moon arrives in Sochi today to carry the Olympic torch and meet with Russian President, Vladimir Putin ahead of attending the opening ceremony. Many Western leaders have, for one reason or another, decided against attending the grand opening which takes place tomorrow. This could be seen as politically motivated; perhaps it is, but the Winter Olympics is not as mandatory to attend as its summer equivalent would be.

Ban Ki-Moon has arrived in Russia with a single message to spread. That sport is a great unifier. The Olympic movement is perhaps the biggest embodiment of this and it is vital that its important message is not lost.  He praised the power of sport to “promote human rights and unite people regardless of their age, race, class, religion, ability, sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.”[1] Ban didn’t explicitly mention Russia’s new laws on Gay propaganda, but he did hit out against discrimination and hatred of any kind. Mr. Ban said that the “Olympics gives us an opportunity to celebrate everyone’s right to compete on equal terms, no matter where they come from or whom they love.” The Secretary-General concluded his remarks saying that he appreciated President Putin’s assurances that there will be “no discrimination whatsoever” at the Sochi Olympics.

Screen Shot 2014-02-06 at 7.43.12 PMMr. Ban also used the global stage afforded to him by an Olympic audience to call for an “Olympic Truce”[2]. He called on the warring sides in conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic to “lay down their weapons” for the duration of the Olympic games to allow for the humanitarian agencies to reach those most in need and improve the chances of dialogue between the political leaders involved.

Here’s hoping for a safe and progressive games with the athletes, and their extraordinary dedication and commitment to their craft, making the headlines. It would be an added bonus if Mr. Ban’s sentiments could echo around the world bringing positive change via the Olympic message.

Post by UNAC-Vancouver writer Barry Hynes.

A Turbulent Week at the UN

Human Rights Committee Report on the Vatican

This week two UN reports appeared high in the headlines. They dealt specifically with the plight of children. Neither offered any good news, but it is essential that these issues are kept in the mainstream so action to prevent them can be top of the agenda. The first report[1] followed an investigation into the Catholic Church’s handling of Child sex abuse. The report was damning and has elicited a strong rebuke from the Vatican. The UN panel accused the Vatican of “not acknowledging the extent of the crimes committed”, nor have they, in the panel’s view, “taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children.” The panel reiterated a charge against the Vatican, which has been made numerous times before, that it has for decades put its own reputation and interests above those of children who have suffered while under the church’s care.  Pope Francis was the only member of the Vatican leadership who garnered any sort of positive feedback from the panel who described him as “progressive”. The Vatican responded to the report, the first in 14 years, claiming it had been “unfair” and had “distorted” the facts by failing to include the child protection measures that had been implemented by the Holy See.

 Secretary-General Report on Children and Armed Conflict in Syria

The second report[2] was based on UN investigations into the treatment of Syrian children during the country’s three year old civil war. It found that children in Syria are not safe from combatants on either side of the conflict. The report estimated that at least 10,000 children have been killed and “grave violations…had been carried out by all parties to the conflict”. Widespread reports of torture, sexual abuse, incarceration in government institutions and recruitment of child soldiers by the opposition, paint a starkly grim picture of the day to day lives of the most vulnerable in Syria.

UN Mission in South Sudan

In an effort to provide some grains of positivity from this update of the week at the United Nations, I came across some positive news (hidden amongst the awful news) from South Sudan. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous commended as a huge success the UN’s decision to allow 85,000 civilians onto 10 peacekeeping bases around the country, to shelter them from vicious fighting. Ladsous commented that had the action not been taken, “it would have been many thousands or tens of thousands of civilians who would have been killed. I think it shows a great example of what we do.”[3] The UNMISS focuses on three pillars, the protection of civilians, human rights and the creation of an environment in which the humanitarian actors can do their work.

Situation still anarchic in CAR

Since my last post on the Central African Republic, the Muslim Seleka Rebels have disbanded after the coup leader Michel Djotodia, stood down under strong international pressure. He was replaced by Interim President Catherine Samba-Panza. Sectarian fighting between the ‘former’ Muslim Seleka Rebels and the majority Christian militia anti-Balaka has worsened despite the presence of nearly 7,000 African Union and French troops. Reports coming from Human Rights Watch today, detail the instability of the situation. A man, accused of being a former Seleka member, was lynched by members of the CAR armed forces. The callous murder was made all the more ominous as it took place moments after the Interim President’s motorcade had left the area having re-introduced the army as the stabilizing force in the country[4]. The Central African Republic Armed Forces (FACA) faded into the background following the coup last March. It was hoped that its re-emergence today backed by Interim President Samba-Panza, would bring some level of stability. This incident casts huge doubt over that plan.

Post by UNAC-Vancouver website writer Barry Hynes.