Crisis in the Central African Republic

unacto1“The worst crisis most people have never heard of” – Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the UN.

As a community of people who share an interest in peace and humanity, and realize the importance of working together to ensure the world acts to help the most vulnerable, we all need to be, at the very least, aware of what is happening in the Central African Republic (CAR).

This landlocked country situated, as its not very imaginative name suggests, in the center of the African continent has been a victim of its geography and its colonial history for many decades. A former French colony, it became fully independent in 1960. Its independence has been marred by corruption and military rule. Added to this, its unstable regional neighborhood includes Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, the DRC and the Republic of Congo. This country has always been battling against the odds.

Screen Shot 2013-11-30 at 9.20.27 AMIn 2007, an alliance was formed under the name Séléka (‘Union’), which was made up of three rebel groups. In April of that year, President François Bozize, who himself had ousted the former president from power in 2003, negotiated an accord with Seleka, resulting in them joining the CAR army.

In 2012, a turbulent situation began deteriorating rapidly. The Séléka rebels, angry that promised peace accords were not being followed, began to take up arms, separate from the army. They gained control of much of the north and midlands of the country. In March of this year, the rebels led by Michel Djotodia, overthrew Bozize and took power in the capital city of Bangui. The country, home to nearly 4.5 million people has experienced the worst levels of brutality and lawlessness mainly along religious and ethnic lines ever since.

Screen Shot 2013-11-30 at 9.21.34 AMSlowly, and not a moment too soon, we are seeing signs that the first substantial action to be taken by the international community could be imminent. The Security Council convened an emergency meeting last Monday to discuss the situation on the ground. They are currently considering an arms embargo and a travel ban on certain troublesome individuals[1]. France has 450 troops stationed in the country and has promised to raise this to a thousand troops in an effort to bring some stability and back up African Union troops[2].

Journalists who have stayed on in the country despite serious security concerns are reporting stories which the world simply cannot ignore. David Smith of the UK Guardian, reporting from Bosangoa in the northwest, describes “a massacre of the innocents” with common scenes of “unspeakable horrors” being carried out by militia and mercenaries[3]. Thousands of civilians have been murdered, mass rape and torture is becoming routine, villages are being razed and children are being forced to fight. Diseases such as malaria are rampant.

France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabuis, warned last week that CAR is on the “verge of genocide”[4]. The world stands yet again on the eve of another Rwanda. In six months’ time, I truly hope we don’t hear another politician usher the infamous last words ‘never again, can this be allowed to happen’.

Some stories, too grotesque for this article, show the sheer evil we are capable of and we must not allow willful blindness to soothe our conscious

Renate Shearer Human Rights Award to be presented to Indira Prahst Dec 11th

unacto1The United Nations Association in Canada, Vancouver Branch and The B.C. Human Rights Coalition  cordially invite you to a Celebration to Commemorate the 65th Anniversary of the   UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Wednesday, December 11, 2013
JJ’s Restaurant- Vancouver Community College (3rd Floor)

250 West Pender Street – Vancouver, BC V6B 1S9 5:30 – 8:00 pm
Admission by donations

The 25th Anniversary presentation of the Renate Shearer Award will be made to:

Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 8.00.27 PMIndira Prahst

In recognition of her exemplary commitment as an advocate, activist and educator on challenges related to intercultural and inter generational issues in the South Asian community of British Columbia

Hors d’ oeuvres, no-host bar and live music provided. Accessible facility, presentations begins at 6:15pm.

For additional information please call 604.689.8474

Screen Shot 2013-11-27 at 7.57.17 PMEach year, the Renate Shearer Memorial Award is presented to someone who has made an outstanding contribution in the filed of human rights. This award is a memorial to the life and work of Renate Shearer who was a champion of equality and dignity for all.
Link to pdf invite: Invite2013

2013 John Gibbard Award presented to Saskia Vaisey

unacto1It was with great pleasure that the United Nations Association of Canada – Vancouver presented Saskia Vaisey with the 2013 John Gibbard Memorial Award today, Sunday November 3rd,  at the Vancouver Unitarian Church.

Saskia Vaisey, a first year university student earned the award for her work in promoting environmental awareness on a local and global level.   Amongst her many accomplishments was completing an endurance marathon in Botswana while raising awareness of water shortages in developing countries.  This past summer, Saskia also cycled 1700 km to Inuvik in order to raise awareness about climate change and promote connections between youth in the North and South of Canada.

IMGP8496In her acceptance speech, Saskia spoke about the need for all of us to take risks in order to make the world a better place.   She gave detailed examples of how each of the challenges she has undertaken started out seeming impossible, but were indeed possible with devotion and determination.   It was a fine parallel for the immense challenges faced by the United Nations in 2013 and her speech was a beacon of hope for the future.  Reverend Steven Epperson picked up on Saskia’s theme and spoke about the need for Canada to use the United Nations as a forum to make a positive difference in the world.

John Gibbard was a member of the Unitarian congregation, and a long-time devotee to promoting the ideals of the United Nations.    The John Gibbard Memorial Award is given annually to a young student or group of young people from the Lower Mainland who demonstrate dedication and commitment in working for a better world.

Analysis of Nobel Peace Prize nominees

unacto1Nobel Peace Prize nominees are a shining light for all who work for peace.  

The 2013 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The intergovernmental organisation was formed in 1997 to promote and verify the Chemical Weapons Convention which prohibits the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and outlines procedures for their destruction. The organisation hit the headlines recently for its ongoing role in Syria and so quickly emerged as a potential winner of this year’s award. Syria submitted its application to sign up to the treaty and join the organisation as part of the process to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile. The OPCW is not a UN organ; however the two bodies do have a strong working partnership and cooperate on many issues relevant to both parties.

Not intending for one second to overshadow the great work of the OPCW or question the decision of the Peace Prize Committee but for me, what was interesting about the award was learning about some of the lesser known contenders and the tireless and brave work they are doing. The Guardian newspaper launched a poll for their readers to vote on possible candidates for the Nobel Peace prize. There were some very recognizable names and some less so. All have their own stories and struggles which led to their inclusion on the list. One name that quickly stands out was Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot by the Taliban last year for her work promoting women’s right to access education in Pakistan. Hassan Rouhani, the new president t of the Islamic Republic of Iran also made the list. This was due to the early signs that he is steering his country away from the more hostile and sinister route which his predecessor Ahmadinejad had taken.

I didn’t really have any personal preference for who won the prize, they were all very worthy for different reasons. I was struck by the power of the biography given for Teresita Quintos Deles who is an adviser to the president of the Philippines for the Peace Process in Mindanao. Her impact on this protracted conflict is extraordinary. The conflict as described by Simon Tisdall has claimed the lives of nearly 120,000 people over 40 years of fighting between government forces and the Muslim insurgency, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Mindanao. Quintos Deles is a former teacher who has worked for years as a women’s right activist. Her calm and patient mediation of the conflict has brought the two sides very close to a peace deal which is being stalled only by a small number of extremists.  Her inclusive approach, ensuring that all stakeholders to the agreement, whether they are in political office or on the streets, felt a part of the peace process, has made the difference.

Another sterling ambassador for peace is Denis Mukwege. Trained as a gynaecologist, Denis has helped thousands of women who suffered the torture of gang-rape during the DRC conflict. He has travelled the world advocating for more to be done to help the victims of this conflict and punish the rebels as well as the DRC and Rwandan governments. His work led to an assassination attempt which he survived. His injuries and fear for his family’s safety, forced him into exile. In early 2013, Mukwege returned to South Kivu to continue his work and treat the women who still suffer from this most gruesome ‘act of war’. Denis Mukwege will never be a household name but his advocacy, bravery and morality in the face of pure evil should be respected and honoured.

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 8.24.09 PMThese people along with many others, offer great hope for humanity and it is important that people who make a real and tangible difference on the ground are recognised for their efforts.

Post written by UNAC-Vancouver website writer, Barry Hynes

UNAC- Vancouver Announces 2013 John Gibbard Award Winner

unacto1It is with great pleasure that the United Nations Association in Canada – Vancouver Branch announces the recipient of this year’s John Gibbard Award, Saskia Vaisey.   Saskia is a first year university student at the University of British Columbia whose dedication to promoting awareness of environmental issues both locally and globally is inspiring.

This past summer, Saskia biked 1,700 km from Vancouver to Inuvik with three students to raise awareness about the impact of climate change in the Arctic.   The group held workshops along the way and reached out to youth from summer camps, community centers, and youth centers.  Through blogs, articles and social media, Saskia worked to make North-South connections between youth, inspiring them to think critically about environmental and social issues.

Saskia wasScreen Shot 2013-10-27 at 12.13.01 PM also one of eight fully sponsored North American Youth Ambassadors for i2P’s Botswana Expedition. In Botswana, she ran a 182-km ultra-marathon in four days to raise awareness about the impact of water shortages in developing nations & about defying personal limits.   Saskia’s own story attests to the importance of defying personal limits as she went from battling Lupus five years ago to an ultra-marathoner today.

The selection committee was also impressed with Saskia’s work locally.  She has continued to present to classrooms and speak at community events on issues that she is passionate about.  She also volunteers with the Canadian Parks Society, the Mossom Creek Hatchery and the Catching the Spirit Sociey.

2013 is the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation.  Saskia’s work in promoting discussion around climate change and water shortages highlights the fact that youth are actively involved in attempting to fulfill the ideals of the United Nations and making the world a better place.  The John Gibbard Memorial Award is named after a man who was dedicated to involving youth in the creation of a better world for all.   Saskia Vaisey embodies the ideals of Mr. Gibbard and the UNAC-Vancouver branch is pleased to recognize her inspiring work.

Today we salute Saskia and all the other young people who inspire us to try to make the world a better place. 

The John Gibbard Memorial Award will be presented at the Vancouver Unitarian Church, at 11:00 AM on Sunday, November 3rd.    The Church is located at 949 West 49th Avenue, at 49th and Oak Street in Vancouver and all are welcome.