Human rights proposal

By Autumn Melody Thomas

Narrative: Give added power to the UN Peacebuilding Commission to enact pre-conflict transformation through alleviation of structural human rights issues 

The essence of human rights is to protect individuals; by affording them not only the basic necessities of survival, but the opportunity to thrive in a safe and habitable environment, full of dignity and free from fear. If human rights are prioritised and preserved; civil unrest vanishes, backlash against governments quells, and the need for third party humanitarian intervention is thwarted. Regardless of the resources peace keeping missions may bring or the accountability international agreements aspire to bind states to, if the underlying cause of conflict remains at the local level, violence still remains a possibility. Therefore the preservation of human rights remains paramount to cultivating a lasting culture of peace. 

The most sustainable way to eradicate conflict is to target the structural factors which cause the gravitation towards violence in the first place. By pre-emptively addressing systemic human rights grievances and violations, issues can be peacefully resolved at the source before they reach the point of erupting into violence. Early operationalising of pre-emptive conflict prevention, works towards an ideal environment of ‘Positive Peace’, in which elevated economic and societal outcomes, paired with a diminished number of grievances, lowers levels of violence and the will to resort to it. Positive peace can be easily understood as a society free from the structural problems that would lead its citizens to resort to violent actions. Or, in layman’s terms, violence is rendered unnecessary because there are no issues to fight over. For example: If human rights are upheld, society is functions well, and citizens are generally happy…a peaceful environment prospers naturally. 

To create an environment free from conflict-igniting human rights violations takes firstly, a clear and comprehensive understanding of what ‘human rights’ means globally, what it takes to uphold them, and how the international community is obligated to act when these rights become jeopardised. States must have an obligation to refrain from violations of internationally agreed upon human rights standards and further, must act swiftly and decisively when violations arise, before they have a chance to erupt into violence. The creation of this understanding, and the will to engage in globally-backed peace keeping initiatives takes research, leadership, education, policy changes, and a normative will to triumph human rights as invaluable. 

Proposal 1: Elevate Positive Peace as a Core Objective of the UN 

UN facilitated deliberative and diplomatic approach to pre-emptive peace building through early identification of grievances and potentials for violent conflicts. Paired with early local level outreach designed by international peace keepers in tandem with local authorities to target the area’s unique issues and needs. 

Proposal 2: Expand Accountability Mechanisms to Defend International Human Rights 

Building on initiatives such as the Responsibility to Protect, UN member states must accountably bind themselves to upholding human rights standards, initiating unanimous international reactionary efforts when violations begin to occur, and cultivating a normative shift towards a culture that rejects human rights violations and the resort to conflict as viable options.The UN Peacebuilding Commission is the best UN mechanism to take this proposal forward and they must be afforded the support and resources to do so.  

Nuclear weapons proposal

By Saoirse McGilligan

Steps towards the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons 

When we think about peace we often think about war as an antonym. Indeed, Tolstoy’s War and Peace comes to mind (although thankfully my proposals are much shorter). 

It seems inevitable that we come quickly to the issues of security and disarmament, therefore, when discussing war. The topic is vast and so in keeping with recent UN developments, and specifically the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, I chose to focus on nuclear disarmament. 

Article 11 of the UN Charter states that the General Assembly might consider the principles of cooperation including the disarmament and regulation of armaments.  

There are two key proposals on how to achieve peace involving disarmament. The first is to focus on what is happening in the world around us right now. 

In 2017, the UN passed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Currently there are 84 signatories and 46 parties, yet the treaty requires 50 countries to sign it in order to achieve its ratification. I suggest that the UN look to ongoing projects, such as the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear weapons. ICAN won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. One particularly effective strategy is the #ICANSAVE MY CITY campaign on social media, which encourages individuals to campaign to their local city, the local city signs up to ICAN and in turn campaigns the government. So far Paris, Sydney, Kannur and Nagasaki are just some of the cities to sign up to ICAN. 

My second proposal ensures that nuclear weapons and killer robots are part of people’s everyday understanding. We need to understand what they are, their history, their role in society today and the ethical questions surrounding them. Most people will not engage in a topic if they do not understand it or do not think it relevant. The reality is that nuclear weapons affect us all, as humanity but also as a planet. Therefore, we all need to know about them. Proposal Two is inspired by work already happening by some organisations, such as Pugwash which is currently organising an ethical science festival for young people. Proposal Two focuses on workshops for young people so that they can engage in the ethical questions of nuclear weapons and killer robots. 

Who would run these workshops? Well, it’s unlikely that one solution would fit all, but in the UK for example there are various UN university societies across the country. Students who are members of these societies could run the workshops for younger people in the surrounding areas. This could ensure a multidisciplinary approach.  

So, the two key proposals. 

Proposal One: Coordinated activity led by local politicians and university students to persuade city authorities to join the #ICANSAVE My City campaign, moving public opinion towards support for the ratification of the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. 

Proposal Two: Noting the adverse impact upon human development by the development of nuclear weapons over 75 years, University UN associations in the UK lead an ethics-based campaign to raise awareness of the similar dangers posed by Lethal Autonomous Weapons (killer robots), leading to their control and elimination.  

My time at the UN


Over three weeks ago I had the privilege of joining my United Nations Association (UNA) group in London, to embark on a study tour to the UN headquarters in New York. Through my role as deputy co-chairman of the UNA Westminster Young Professionals Association (the largest branch in the UK), I considered that the trip would be a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the organisation and gather insights on current programmes and other branches.

During my week’s experience here, we sat in on over sixteen incredibly interesting briefings and held daily meetings with many UN officials and experts, such as the standing committees on counter terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, where we learned more about the hideous weapons as yet undeveloped and the UN’s planned strategies to contain the use of these within existing and new protocols. There were various presentations on climate change, the Sustainable Development Goals, the application of the Rule of Law, UN Women and the tensions between UN peacekeepers and UN health staff seeking to work in war-torn states.

I was also fortunate to visit the UK’s mission to the UN, where we learned more about the UK’s role in the UN and was also hosted by the Board of the United Nations Association New York Cha2pter on the 44th floor boardroom of Akin Group, which led to some fantastic views over downtown Manhattan.


Our group took the opportunity to visit the UNA Westminster’s sister chapter in Westport, Connecticut, to share in its annual UN celebration day. We met with some senior UN officials, where we discussed many pertinent issues close to my heart including climate change and the environment.

The trip was also a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the structure and history of the UN and the implications it faces for the future. Established on 24 October 1945 with only 54 members, the UN now has over 193 members. Since its inception, it has been at the forefront of resolving many international conflicts; it has helped save the lives of millions of impoverished children and has pulled millions of people out of poverty, over 750 million (and eighty nations) have been freed from the jaws of colonialism, and for the first time the majority of the world states has reached an international consensus on climate change.

However, during my time at the UN headquarters, I was disappointed to hear about the challenging future the organisation faces. The main cause of concern was the deteriorating situation in the Security Council where the five permanent member states (USA, England, France, Russia and China) are stuck in a permanent quagmire over complex political differences such as Syria and Ukraine. This has, according to the officials I spoke to, led to the most poisoning and divisive atmosphere in the organisations history. The UN also faces major uncertainty due to impending threats from President Trump, who has threatened to implement major cutbacks to the funding of the organisation, which could have major repercussions as the US currently contributes around 22% of the entire UN budget.

Yet despite the challenges and indifferences the organisation faces, I left the UN headquarters feeling optimistic and hopeful for the future. I was inspired by the dedication and altruism of the UN staff workers, particularly those risking their lives in the field and pondered that despite its limitations and inherent need for reform, the UN remains a remarkable force of good in the world today.


By Harry Wright

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Protecting the World’s Oceans: A collection of personal accounts

Harry Wright (Co-Deputy Chair of UNA-WYP) is founder of The Conservation Project, a unique charity which aims to use collaborative ideas to ensure environmental conservation. Below are some testimonials from the project’s important staff, and why they believe their mission is so important.

“Do we really care so little about the earth on which we live that we don’t wish to protect its greatest wonder from the consequences of our own behaviour” Sir David Attenborough

 Harry Wright: Lawyer and founder of The Conservation Project 


For thousands of years the world’s oceans have held a special place in our imagination. Without them life would never have evolved.

Today some 4 billion years after they were formed, our oceans continue to dictate life on earth. They flow over nearly three quarters of our planet, hold 97% of the planets water, regulate the earth’s climate and weather systems and produce half of the oxygen in the atmosphere. Nearly 3 billion people rely on fish as a major source of protein and they generate economic benefits worth over $3.2 trillion annually.

Tragically this most precious of assets is under greater threat. As the human population exceeds 7 billion, our oceans are struggling to cope. We have lost 49% of our marine vertebrates since 1970, three quarters of the planets fish stocks are depleted and only 3.4% of the ocean is protected.  At the current rate of decline we will lose the world’s entire coral reef systems by 2050 and there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

Our oceans are the most precious thing we have, by jeopardising the future of our oceans we are also putting our own future in balance.

Tom Rainey: Adventurer and Olympic Sailor  


The Ocean to me is a living animal, the absolute mother of the world. She can change in an instance and swallow you up good and proper, but treated right and you’ll be blessed with the most soulful experience. I work and play in the seas of the world, rowing, sailing and surfing the salty waters filled with animals that continue to amaze us all. The connections I’ve made with the deep dwellers will stay with me for life, especially with those of the true seadogs– the grand old turtle.  For me, what makes the ocean so special though, above all is that it’s the resting place for my dad. I know he’s out there taking on the waves like a true captain and I’ll continue to join him for the rest of my life. I just hope and pray that the world will appreciate how important and lucky we are to be blessed with such incredible oceans, and especially the mind blowing creatures that live within them.

Tom Young: Surf Photographer

tom young

The feeling I get when floating in the ocean, is like no other. It’s a constant reminder of how insignificant I am and how powerful Mother Nature is, a force not to be reckoned with. As a surf photographer, I’ve travelled extensively and documented hundreds of waves across the globe. This has been a real eye-opening experience. I’ve swam in some of the clearest waters in Tasmania and also dodged rubbish in some of the filthiest water I’ve ever seen in Indonesia. This is a sign of the times, a depressing reminder that we need to do more to protect our beautiful planet and prevent its rapid decline before it’s too late.

Abi Croker: Ecology and Conservation student


The ocean, that seemingly infinitely bountiful, ever awe inspiring blue, covers more than 70% of the earth’s surface. Yet despite the enormous benefits that the ocean brings to us, we ignore the ever increasing issues that are affecting a very large number of the earth’s species.

Coral reefs support approximately 25% of all marine life yet only cover less than 1% of the ocean floor leading to many believing that they are the most biodiverse biome in the world. These magical reef systems have survived for thousands of years but cannot sustain the current rates of climate change. Scientists have recently predicted that a quarter of the world’s coral reefs have been ‘damaged beyond repair’ due to an unprecedented increase in anthropogenic impacts. Staggeringly, 93% of the entire Great Barrier Reef is now severely damaged through coral bleaching.

In the future there is the potential that we will lose one of the most diverse biomes on the planet. This needs to be stopped through people getting involved in marine conservation and educating others on how they can live more sustainably.

Together we can all help make a difference, before it’s too late.

If you would like to help or learn more visit The Conservation Project today or join their Facebook page

You can also follow Tom Young on Facebook to view some more amazing shots.

Passionate about film and current affairs? Then check out The We The Peoples Film Festival!

Since 2006, The We The Peoples Film Festival has captivated audiences from around the world by inspiring individuals with its astonishing films on human rights, international development, security and peace. The festival initiated the UK’s first peace-themed film season and has screened over 150 films, becoming the world’s first festival of films on international development by young directors.

The festival seeks to raise awareness about the UN’s Three Pillars of Freedom and the Millennium Goals as well as inspire new audiences to make a positive difference to people’s lives in the UK and across the world. The United Nations Association Westminster Branch is proud to sponsor such a great event.

The festival this year will run from the 7th to the 20th of November and screen a number of powerful films covering issues ranging from the Syrian crisis to the genocide in Rwanda. The opening night will be held at the prestigious Century Club on Shaftsbury Avenue and the subsequent screenings will be held at venues around Central London.

The trailer for the 2016 WTPFF

For full details about the Festival’s schedule and how to register, please visit here:

You can also follow the festival on Facebook and twitter to remain up-to-date!

The myth of a ‘less nasty’ form of FGM

In June The Economist met with a great deal of controversy for its piece “An agonising choice”, which advocated replacing total abolition campaigns against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) with promotion of “the least nasty version”. This meant instead of advocating for a blanket ban of FGM activists should instead encourage parents to choose to have their daughters undergo a ‘symbolic nicking’ in place of more severe forms of FGM such as infibulation or excision. Unsurprisingly, advocates and NGOs were quick to condemn the piece, with CEO of the FGM Charity the Orchid project calling it a “highly regressive step” that “puts discussion back by decades”.

The response to the piece in such a prominent and influential publication has placed renewed emphasis on the ‘medicalisation’ debate surrounding FGM. Medicalised FGM, as defined by the World Health Organisation, refers to FGM procedures carried out anywhere by a health care provider, with broader definitions by groups such as ‘28 Too Many’ also including actions taken to only minimise the health risks of FGM such as facilitation of access to medical equipment or training. Most relevantly to the Economist’s piece, another key component of their medicalisation definition is replacing severe forms of FGM with “more symbolic types of cutting to reduce the health complications”.

The broader definition that ’28 Too Many’ provides hits the nail on the head when it comes to facing the challenges of FGM and how to best combat them. Whilst it is clear that the terrible risks of infection or, in worse cases, death are some of the worst outcomes surrounding FGM medicalisation campaigners fail to tackle the key nature of the issues involved. The Economist piece makes passive acknowledgment to the “good arguments” for a blanket ban; that medical procedures with no health benefit are arguably unethical and that there is revulsion at the’ misogynist roots’ of the practice which is often done to make women appear pure and desirable to men. However, the author actually fails to make reference to the key point which underpins the issue, which was highlighted recently by the UNFPA chief Dr Babatunde Osotimehin. All types of FGM violate a young women’s human right to their own body and by extension, can be called a form of child abuse.

Medicalised FGM has been a trend in recent years which campaigners and governments have been trying to combat, admittedly with mixed success. This has come in part as an unintended result of previous FGM campaigns that primarily focused on health risks, as some development practitioners have tried to reduce harm to women through infection or botched medical procedures by facilitating the use of clean equipment and staff training. Whilst these actions have come from a compassionate desire to protect young girls from harm many say the short-term nature of the approach has inadvertently leant legitimacy to the practice and the impression that, when done medically, FGM is safe and routine.

This is far from the truth, as just in May an entire hospital in Cairo was shut down by the Government after 17 year old Manar Moussa died undergoing FGM secretly by two medically trained doctors. Egypt, where an estimated 95% of women have undergone some form of FGM according to a 2005 study, introduced a law passed in 2008 forbidding FGM in all forms and saw its first prosecution under the law in 2013 when 13 year old Soheir El Batei was killed undergoing the procedure. Initially found not guilty, after campaigning by anti-FGM groups the girls’ father, who had forced her to have the procedure, and the doctor who carried it out were both arrested for manslaughter.

Whilst the author of the Economist’s piece claims that the prevalence of FGM in current times demonstrates that blanket ban policies are not working, they overlook the rapid progress which has been made in recent years. FGM has recently begun to lose its taboo and the public is more prepared to discuss it openly, with the Guardian calling 2015 “the year the world woke up” to FGM thanks to the campaigning efforts of people such as Bristol campaigner Fahma Mohamed and the BAFTA nominated “The Cruel Cut” documentary by survivor Leyla Hussein. More governments are also legislating and prosecuting every year, with 50 arrests made in Uganda in 2014 alone. The prevalence that still exists may in fact be an outcome of ‘harm reduction’ strategies from earlier years. To return to this emphasis is dangerous and apathetic, and one must wonder if the author would find ‘less nasty’ forms of FGM so harmless if they or a woman in their life were to undergo it.

Medicalising FGM does not guarantee safety, as the high numbers of women who have died by the hands of health care professionals (two in one week in August alone) reflects. Whilst it is often sourced in a desire to protect women’s health it risks being short-sighted, ignoring the huge psychological impact upon women and the difficulties still caused in later life from physical complications which affect menstrual cycles, sexual health and fertility.

The same month that Mannar Moussa died undergoing an FGM procedure in Cairo the national TV network of Saudi Arabia aired a video on how to ‘properly and humanely’ beat and discipline one’s wife. The video and its misdirected approach to the ‘humane treatment of women’ was rightly met with ridicule and condemnation. So too should arguments for medicalised FGM. The video equally misses the point, that a women’s right to the body, and by extension their life, is fundamentally the crux of the issue at hand. “Harm reduction strategies” may lessen the amount of blood spilt but do little to protect the rights of young women by guarding against the psychological scarring and physical complications that the procedure entails. It also perpetuates the idea that a woman’s right to their body is not their own. As best put by the Orchid’s project petition “belief in a ‘safer’ cut through medicalisation or a ‘lesser’ cut, does not constitute progress” as “lives are at risk and rights continue to be violated.” 2015 might have been the year woke up, but we must ensure that 2016 isn’t they year we apathetically pressed the snooze button by failing to tackle the issue at its core.

Like this blog piece and want to see more like it? Like the UNA Westminster Young Professionals on Twitter and Facebook for updates or message us on either if you would like to contribute a guest blog!


Representing refugees: Why the images we use matter

The recent event on Syrian refugees, organised by the Young Professionals Committee of the United Nations Association Westminster, aimed to reignite the debate around the Responsibility to Protect, as well as to ask to what extent applying this political commitment to the Syrian crisis could have helped prevent the escalation of the conflict and, consequently, the death of thousands of Syrian citizens.

That is, the event aimed to move the conversation away from its current focus on the implications of the refugee crisis to the European Union and to the United Kingdom, and toward the causes of the conflict that has originated such fluxes (according to the UNHCR, Europe received almost one million asylum applications from Syrian citizens between April 2011 and February 2016 while Amnesty International states that more than 4.5 million Syrians are in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt).

This effort must by accompanied by a similar change to the ways in which the crisis is represented, i.e. both in terms of the vocabulary and of the images that are used to depict it.

Regarding the former, one can notice a positive trend: politicians, journalists and political analysts are increasingly aware of the language that they use to describe and analyse the refugee crisis. This is evident in pieces from very different British and international news channels (see The Guardian, The Telegraph, CNN and the International Business Times, for example), which foreground the differences between the terms “migrant” and “refugee”. UNHCR is clear in this regard: refugees “are persons fleeing armed conflict or persecution” while “migrants choose to move not because of a direct threat of persecution or death, but mainly to improve their lives by finding work, or in some cases for education, family reunion, or other reasons. Unlike refugees who cannot safely return home, migrants face no such impediment to return.”

Using the term migrant to refer to a refugee is not only incorrect; it also puts the onus of the decision to move to a different country on the refugee. That is, when we use the term “migrant” to refer to a refugee, the decision to leave one country for another appears not as a survival strategy responding to external conditions (a war that has no end in sight) but as an individual decision. This has a profound impact on the ways in which refugees are seen and hosted by their new local communities, and subsequently in the positions taken by political leaders in the management of the crisis.

However, as welcome and as crucial as these discussions are, they are also limited to the analysis of the vocabulary that is used in the representation of Syrian refugees. That is, they fail to consider to what extent the images that we use might also be contributing to a profoundly limited understanding of the Syrian crisis as an ahistorical, depoliticised humanitarian emergency.

The role of images in our encounter with and understanding of international events is growing. This is evident not only in printed newspapers or in their digital versions (which give increasing importance to strong imagery) but also in the fact that political leaders, parties, think tanks and other organisations increasingly use image-based media such as Instagram, Snapchat and Periscope. In this context, the use of images to depict complex international events must be more thought-through and strategic.

I would like to propose three main principles guiding the selection of images to illustrate pieces about the Syrian and the refugee crises.

  • Away from the individual refugees; towards the Syrian conflict. When selecting photographs to illustrate their stories, journalists and writers should make an effort to change the focus away from the individuals leaving Syria and in the direction of that from which they are trying to escape: the Syrian civil war. Specifically, pieces on the refugee crisis should aim to include images depicting the Syrian civil war or the destruction of Syrian cities.
  • Neither migrants nor mere victims. Those whose lives are impacted by conflict or violence are often portrayed as victims: begging, crying and demanding pity from the viewer. Although the previous point stressed the need to represent refugees as having limited individual choices in a context of war, denying them any agency or subjectivity would be equally disrespectful. Whenever possible, pieces about the crisis should include also images representing Syrians as they are active or in moments of joy.
  • The power of personal stories. Personal stories are a particularly effective way of balancing the need to provide context (and to deindividualise the narrative about the refugee crisis – the first point) with that of telling the story of refugees in a manner that is respectful (the second point). Sharing the names, background, hopes and traveling accounts of Syrian refugees – all unique yet interconnected – not only develops a sense of empathy in the viewer or the reader. Doing so also strikes a complex balance: it directs the viewer’s attention to the broader picture (a war that must be urgently stopped) while reminding her of the urgency of assisting the millions of lives that have been impacted by this conflict.


By Mafalda Dâmaso

A candidacy campaign unlike any other

After months of dedicated campaigning from all parties and endless press coverage, Londoners elected Sadiq Khan as Mayor this month. It was a historic result, with Khan reportedly winning with the largest personal mandate a UK politician has ever received, which leaves him responsible for building a fair, prosperous London for its 8.6 million inhabitants.

At the conclusion of this and the council elections, UK citizens have now turned their attention to the next significant voting event on their horizon: the upcoming EU referendum. However, there is in fact another revolutionary campaign underway that has been overlooked by the media thus far, and it is about to arrive right on our doorstep, relevant not only to London’s 8.6 million but the global population at large. At London’s Barbican Centre on June 3rd, nine candidates vying to become the UN’s next Secretary General have been invited to make their case for selection under the scrutiny of not only an expert panel but civil society at large, answering questions from the audience and social media users in the second event of its kind.

London is an appropriate host for this debate; UNA-UK, one of the organisers of this event and its precursor in New York last month, has played a huge role as the co-founder of the ‘1 for 7 Billion campaign’, arguably the reason they have been held at all. The campaign is a global movement of over 750 NGOs which have battled since 2013 to create a new process for the selection of the Secretary General. Since the UN’s establishment in 1945, eight individuals have been appointed through an undefined selection process characterised by opaqueness and back-room deals within the Security Council. The UN Charter describes the process for selecting the Secretary General in just one sentence, stipulating that the Security Council must present their recommended choice of nominees to the General Assembly who then vote to approve their appointment with a 2/3 majority.

Although the UN celebrated its 70th birthday last year and publicly reflected on past achievements and developments, it was clear that the election process for Secretary General was one issue that had fallen to the wayside. The Assembly’s role had mostly been reduced to rubber stamping the choice presented by the Security Council after closed-door negotiations. The Assembly itself was provided with no information about the suitability of the candidates, making the process a formality, another area in which only the Security Council had meaningful control.

Enter the ‘1 for 7 Billion’ campaign. Started in 2013, this 170-million-strong movement campaigned member states and the global public to review the selection process for Ban Ki-Moon’s successor as he prepares to step down on December 31st of this year. The group was cited by the President of the General Assembly as one of the main reasons the ground-breaking Resolution 69/321 was passed in September last year, which implemented a number of the changes they had lobbied for in response to international attention to the issue. These modifications have greatly increased the transparency of the process, re-emphasising the selection of candidates based on merit, not political dealings. The most notable changes to the selection process include the creation of a clear timeline, a defined statement of selection criteria that Security Council Members and the General assembly must use when judging suitability and the declaration of candidates being considered with publication of their credentials. More importantly, it states a commitment to increasing informal dialogue between candidates and member states, as well as civil society at large. The first event of this kind occurred in March, where webcast hearings hosted at the UN had candidates collectively answering over 800 questions from member states on a plethora of global issues. April’s New York debate and London’s next month are a result of NGO’s attempts to bring the level of engagement to a more informal level with civil society at large.

What makes the above so significant? After all, the Secretary General is defined as ‘chief administrative officer’ of the organisation, not a key policy creator or activist. Moreover, the Security Council still holds final say on who it selects to present to the General Assembly, meaning candidates will still be those unlikely to ‘rock the boat’ with the P5. Truthfully, how much these reforms matter will become clear through the possibilities they create for the legacy of the Secretary General role, rather than in their immediate impact.

The UN needs to reaffirm the confidence entrusted to it now more than ever, especially in the wake of scandals such as that in the Central African Republic, where peacekeepers were accused of sexual abuse. Moreover, the UN and its complicated structure has caused many to see it as inefficient and bloated, described by recently resigned United Nations Assistant Secretary-General Anthony Banbury as ‘a Remington typewriter in a smartphone world.’ In the case of the previous Secretary General selection process, this criticism was actually fair, as no private company or organisation would likely approve such a shrouded, unmerited process for their own staffing. However, the UN needs to work to dispel such perceptions and create a meaningful connection with the global population it works tirelessly to assist. These reforms provide a unique opportunity to do so.

To many, the Secretary General represents the global face of the UN and is a symbol of its successes and political will. To dismiss it as simply an administrative role with little impact ignores the significance of public support and interaction. By reforming the process to make it more open and inclusive, the role of Secretary General can be granted greater legitimacy. Reigniting engagement with the public by making its main mouthpiece more accountable can be the shot in the arm the UN needs to show it is an organisation that can evolve and respond to an ever-changing world, dispelling the common perception of an unmoving institution dominated by the interests of only five states. Giving the public and member states a chance to have a real say in the process of selecting the Secretary General can do much to rebuild a real sense of stake in the UN’s operations and impact. It also takes away some of the P5s power by making the consequences and accountability of their recommended candidate selection have far greater impact.

In the wake of endless tongue-in-cheek speculative coverage about the impact of a Trump Presidency on the world, the global media has largely let exposure of a race the entire world has real stake in fall to the wayside. Perhaps this is simply a symptom of the above disconnect the general public has with the everyday structural operations of the UN. However, the progress resulting from the work of ‘1 for 7 Billion’ and UNA-UK heralds an opportunity to create lasting change in the role of Secretary General. If you want to be part of this revolutionary and process and take the opportunity to have an impact on politics of a huge scope, book to attend the London debate here or submit your own question online to scrutinise the candidates. The campaign to change the Secretary General selection process is not over, as ‘1 for 7 Billion’ is currently pushing to see specified terms introduced. However, the possibilities presented by what it has already been achieved give an assuring indication that the UN structure is not as inflexible as it is often considered. Personally, this author will be submitting this question to the candidates; “What would you do with the role to make the world think ‘why on earth didn’t we change this sooner?’”


by Grace Carroll




Zika: A multifaceted response

In the last few months the Zika virus has swept from obscurity to the forefront of global discussion. Predominantly present in South American Nations but now seeing reports of cases in the United States and France, it is thought to have infected over 1.5 million people in Brazil alone. 80% of carriers are unlikely to display symptoms, and those that do only experience mild ones such as fever or conjunctivitis. However, despite these seemingly minor effects the World Health Organisation has declared the virus an International Health emergency due to its suspected link with birth defects.

Whilst causal links to these defects are not formally proven, the Brazilian Health Ministry issued a warning in November last year due to a rapid increase in Microcephaly in new-borns from infected mothers. Microcephaly is a birth defect that that leaves new-borns with undersized craniums due to underdevelopment of the brain during pregnancy. Those with the condition face a variety of possible problems for the rest of their life, such as development delay, intellectual disability and physical inabilities. The number of reported cases in Brazil 2015 sky rocketed from an average of 163 cases per year to over 4,000, with many of the mother’s carrying the Zika virus. This circumstantial evidence alone was described ‘worrisome” by the WHO’s Director General and has motivated a global response in anticipation of an estimated global spread to 3-4 million people by January 2017.

Zika’s impact cannot be combatted best only through the lens of a public health approach. Like most outbreaks of this type, its causation and remedy comes from various cross cutting policy areas. Whilst the UN has implemented action across various agencies, the short-term responses of various Latin American governments have failed to tackle the intensified impact the virus has upon women and those under the poverty line.

Governments from various affected countries such as Colombia, Ecuador and Panama have advised women to avoid becoming pregnant for roughly 6- 8 months in an attempt to reduce the number of new-borns affected whilst research on the virus’s risks is still young. El Salvador’s Deputy Health Minister, Eduardo Espinoza, has even urged women to delay pregnancies for a whole two years. These time frames are not only arbitrarily selected, as the virus’ global research leader, the Butantan Institute, has claimed that a Zika vaccine won’t become available for an estimated 3 to 5 years, but the request itself reflects a short-sighted contradiction with national policy.

Many of the nations advising delayed pregnancies fail to provide easy access to contraception, sex education or, in necessary cases, abortion. El Salvador in particular denies access to abortion under any circumstances including rape or danger to the mother or fetus. 95% of abortions carried out in Latin America already take place under unsafe conditions, and the renewed sense of desperation for fear of being unable to provide the necessary care for a child with Microcephaly has caused rights campaigners to speculate that these numbers will only increase. This not only puts the health of scores of women at risk, but sees them possibly face legal consequences. The UN’s own High Commissioner for Human Rights, Cecile Puilly, has criticized this contradiction of policy and advice, saying “it’s not enough for health officials to tell women to postpone pregnancy without also offering them contraceptives and termination as a final solution”.

The advice is also characterised by naïvety. Without providing access to contraceptive methods, the implied expectation of abstinence as the main means of delaying pregnancy is unrealistic. An estimated 56% of pregnancies in Latin America and the Caribbean are already unplanned, and many pregnancies (especially in teens), are a “product of sexual violence and abuse” according to the US-based Center for Reproductive Rights.
Even in countries where there is access to contraception, distribution centres are often physically inaccessible to those living in areas of poverty. Such areas also tend to be at higher risk of Zika infection due to the prevalence of stagnant water pools which the Aedes Albopictus Mosquito (the main carrier of the virus) thrive in. Their prevalence is largely due to lack of infrastructural piping in poorer areas, such as towns in Brazil’s North East. This means not only are many in poverty left without access to contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and Zika’s possible impact, but are also more likely to contract the virus itself in the first place.

The United Nation’s various departments have sought to target not only immediate healthcare provision for those affected but also these more far-reaching issues to curb the spread and impact of Zika. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has placed renewed emphasis onto its existing mandates and is working to increase access to contraceptives and family planning information under the WHO’s ‘Global Zika Strategic Response Framework and Joint Operations plan’ in Latin American and Caribbean Nations. Under this plan the emphasis of education will be on both men and women, shifting the onus of responsibility and opening the narrative about sexual health. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UNFOA) is also targeting vector management by spreading household advice on how to clean and store water containers in high risk areas.

Government’s cannot tell people who are sitting in a sinking boat and can’t swim that the best way to stay safe is to avoid going swimming. The options are to provide them with a life jacket, teach them how to or, better yet, repair the boat. The United Nations and its cross agency response, which targets sexual education, contraception provisions and vector control, has done well to capture this notion. Now, with the Zika outbreak forcing sexual health and abortion policies into the international spotlight, it is time for Latin American Governments to do the same.

by Grace Carroll

The Paris Agreement- A triumph of multilateral diplomacy?

Today marks Mother Earth day, which celebrates the planet’s bountiful nature and renews emphasis on humanity’s need to protect it. Appropriately, the same day sees the Paris Agreement opening for signatures at a ceremony at the UN’s New York Headquarters. The agreement, created within the framework of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), was settled upon by 195 countries and the European Union at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) on the 12th December 2015 and was championed by UN secretary General Ban Ki Moon as “a resounding success for multilateralism”. Hailed as a landmark by governments, environmental groups and the private sector, it is the first international climate change agreement that involves the world’s largest polluting nations, such as the US, Russia and China.
The signing ceremony will be a grand event to encourage attendance so that states sign as early as possible and maintain the momentum of December’s success. Upon signing, states will commit to avoiding actions that “defeat the object and purpose” of the agreement and to beginning the process of accepting or ratifying domestically. It will be open for signatures for one year and will only enter into force if 55 nations that represent at least 55% of the world’s global carbon emissions sign in that time. This is likely to be achieved very quickly as in March the US and China (who together accounted for over 40% of global Carbon emissions in 2011) announced their intention to sign a joint presidential statement. Various other nations, such as the rapidly industrialising India, have made similar pledges.

The agreement contains a number of ambitious aims, specifically a declared goal to keep the global average temperature “well below 2 °C”, above pre-industrial temperature levels, the temperature at which a number of environmental scientists have speculated would cause catastrophic impact. This explicitly stated, low figure has been celebrated as one of the Agreement’s most notable strengths, as it pressures nations to ensure that carbon emissions reach their peak in the near future, preventing them from constantly delaying implementation under a vague target. Nevertheless, whilst the Paris Agreement was a landmark in terms of consensus and goal setting, as the date of signing approaches and nations prepare themselves to actually implement what was agreed upon, it is important to consider whether this is also a landmark in terms of impact. Whilst the treaty contains some laudable aims and has done well to unite the previously fragmented international landscape where its predecessor the Kyoto Accord failed, the means by which it seeks to achieve these reveals a disconnect between rhetoric and structure.

The greatest weakness of the agreement stems from its self-determined voluntary nature, as it is not a legally bound punitive treaty. Under the agreement each nation determines and submits its own emission reduction targets through plans titled Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which are ratcheted up in ambition every 5 years. Although a verifying monitoring system has been designed so that nations send proof and updates on their progress to an, as-of-yet, unannounced UN Committee, the targets are all set by states with no floor level for ambition. Although the lack of data from post-2030 makes a clear analysis difficult, a number of studies have already estimated that, based on nation’s intended NDC proposals, global temperature could still see rises of up to 3°C. This discrepancy between stated intent and implemented reality highlights the Paris agreement’s main weakness; it sets a holistic goal whilst not establishing a mechanism to see individual nations’ accountability make it achievable.

Should a state fail in attaining its INDC targets, there is legally no punitive system in place to allow consequent political or economic sanctions. The agreement instead relies on international pressure from other nations, the media and the general public to ensure implementation. This optimistically assumes that the public is united in favour of climate protection, whereas in America (whose inclusion is essential) Republican Candidates for the upcoming Presidential election have mobilised support as a result of their pledge to drop the Paris agreement. Moreover, even in the four months since its agreement there has been evidence to show pressure alone cannot ensure action. In February, the Australian government announced its intention to cut more than 350 scientific jobs relating to climate modelling and monitoring over two years. The decision was met with condemnation from the international scientific and political community, who pointed out in a widely circulated open letter that the cuts “severely curtailed Australia’s capacity to deliver on key promises of the Paris agreement”. However, despite this outcry the cuts are still scheduled to proceed and risk setting a worrying precedent.

The Guardian newspaper branded the Paris Agreement the “world’s biggest diplomatic success”, but can diplomacy really be measured simply by the number of signatories if this comes at the expense of an overarching goal or cooperative justice? Although it is a treaty praised for its multilateral involvement, the final document is contradictorily characterised by a Westphalian opt-in system of self-enforcement. Measures and modifications made to appease polluting developed nations and ensure they remain at the table has largely compromised the agreement’s ability to actually make its signatories accountable to pursuing their stated goals. Consequently, in its effort to get “all hands on deck”, the Paris treaty can best be described as slightly delaying the speed at which the world inevitably careers towards the rocks, rather than actually changing the course.

by Grace Carroll