The Latest from UNA-NCA

September 27, 2023

By A. Edward Elmendorf, Past President, UNA-NCA

UN supporters and UNA-NCA members looked forward with great interest and engagement to President Biden’s September speech in the UN General Assembly (UNGA). So, I have read and reread his speech against the hopes and anticipation that we brought to it, and particularly in light of the recommendations for U.S. priorities in the Assembly for this year formulated by Advisory Council and recently sent by Council Chair Sam Worthington to the United States Representative Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

My global assessment is that the speech was full of the right rhetoric, including reference to a present “inflection point” in world history. But it was disappointingly lacking in new ideas and commitments to action by the United States in the UN, globally, or at home within this country. The UNGA General Debate in which the President spoke offers opportunity for speakers to address both global and national issues. President Biden’s speech was notable for its failure to talk about what global issues and agreements mean for action within the United States now. At times, it seemed as if the speech had been written by National Security Council staff without reference to the Domestic Policy Council.

Here are a few specifics about the President’s speech and thoughts for the way forward building on the Advisory Council’s proposed priorities for the USG in the UNGA this year.

On the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the President said, “The United States is committing to doing its part to get us back on track,” and recognized that “We all have to do more.” “More,” in the President’s words, meant new partnerships for climate financing, filling gaps in the pandemic response system, ensuring that women and girls benefit fully from progress, and grappling with the debt of low- and middle-income countries. In the discussions on the SDGs in the course of the UNGA committee meetings, the President’s “More” on the SDGs should recognize the universality of the SDGs, including their relevance to domestic action in the United States. The US UNGA delegation needs to expand President Biden’s “More” on the SDGs to domestic action, including a specific commitment to submission of Voluntary National Reviews (VNR) of US SDG performance twice by 2030, as proposed by the UNA-NCA Advisory Council. This is especially important because he United States stands out as one of only five countries that have yet to submit a VNR.

On the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) the President covered recent actions to increase World Bank financing and proposals for developing countries’ increasing voice in the IMF. He mentioned asking Congress for “additional funds to expand World Bank financing by $25 billion.” But the scale of his plans and proposals was woefully inadequate to the needs and he ignored UN Secretary-General Guterres’ repeated very concrete proposal for an annual $500 billion SDG stimulus package. The critical issue of the complex relationships between the IFIs and the UN and more broadly between the global financial architecture and the UN merits urgent consideration within the United States Government, so that the US is prepared to go beyond platitudes in the forthcoming UNGA committee debates and be willing to accept that IFI reforms can and should be negotiated not only in the IFIs but also in the wider world community represented by the UN..

On democracy and human rights, President Biden said, “We convened the Summit for Democracy to strengthen democratic institutions, root out corruption, and reject political violence.” But he could have gone much further by expressing specific support for the next Democracy Summit in Korea. He rightly said, “We cannot turn away from abuses, whether in Xinjiang, Tehran, Darfur, or anywhere else.” The credibility of his remarks would have been greatly enhanced if his reference to“anywhere else” had explicitly rather than only implicitly included Minneapolis and other US cities and states. He mentioned that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted seventy-five years ago capturing “a remarkable act of collective hope.” But he gave no indication of the importance of the 75th UDHR Anniversary, nor of the willingness of the US Government to take this occasion for renewed action to celebrate the Anniversary at home and take new action to address violations of it within the USA. In the UNGA debates it’s important that the US delegation underscore the 75th Anniversary, as the UNA-NCA Advisory Council has proposed, and outline plans for domestic action for the Anniversary.

I was glad to see the President endorse reform of the UN Security Council and reiterate his announcement last year that the US would support expanding the Council by increasing the number of permanent and non-permanent members. He also mentioned the consultations under way by Ambassador Thomas Greenfield on reform issues and possibilities. But there was nothing new, no sense of the way forward beyond generalities and what has been said previously, on Security Council reform. If SC reform is to be realized, it must gain overwhelming support in the UN, among Member States, in civil society and the general public, and – last but not least – in the US Senate for ratification of the required amendments of the UN Charter. A small coalition of Member States, with strong US engagement or even leadership, will be needed to define and realize the reform. Perhaps the Summit of the Future, planned for 2024, can be a forum for establishment of such a coalition and agreement on sufficient content of the reform to move ahead.

Common efforts are critically need, the President said, on the accelerating climate crisis. He justifiably reiterated actions taken by his administration and mentioned working with Congress to quadruple US climate financing. But here, too, there was nothing new, no new actions or initiatives offered by the President. I hope that the US delegation in the UNGA committees will be able to build on the Advisory Council statement and push forward with individual countries, especially China, and public and private sector coalitions.

The President referred to US “efforts to build a more sustainable, integrated Middle East.” He also said, “We work continue to work tirelessly to support a just and lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians – two states for two peoples.” He gave no indication of what the Big Deal being discussed for normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel might contain, nor what it might mean for the Palestinians. The emphasis in the President’s statement seemed to be more on“continuing” than on anything that might be new, or what the Big Deal might, for example, mean for the United Nations.

Addressing the issue of food security, the UNA-NCA Advisory Council recommended that the US UNGA Delegation should work to “safeguard the uninterrupted flow of grains and fertilizers through the Black Sea Agreement.” It also proposed that the US “actively explore convening a global food security summit” at home and abroad. President Biden did not refer to the Black Sea Agreement and framed support for food security under the SDGs. He said only that the US has invested more than $100 billion in “bolstering food security,” education, health care systems and fighting disease, without further reference to food issues.

Both President Biden and the UNA-NCA Advisory Council recommendations strongly addressed violations of the United Nations Charter. The Advisory Council stated that the USG “must continue to take decisive action to reaffirm the UN Charter.” For his part, President Biden stated, “Sovereignty, territorial integrity, human rights – these are the core tenets of the UN Charter, the pillars of peaceful relations among nations, without which we cannot achieve any of our goals.” It’s evident that the President could have been even more specific in his support for the Charter. I hope that the US UNGA Delegation will pick up and underscore this theme, whether in connection with peace and security, the SDGs or other topics.

While the recommendations of the Advisory Council did not address the Russian aggression in Ukraine or China, President Biden rightly gave these topics great attention. His focus was more immediate, while that of the Advisory Council was logically more medium and long-term. “Reshaping the global narrative by leaning into global challenges” was a key point in the Council’s paper for the US Delegation – an important task for the United States in the UNGA, other international forums, and in its bilateral relations with key countries. We should also remember that the global narrative is, indeed, truly global, and that this implies action by the Biden Administration as well as the NGO community, to reshape the global narrative at home, with the Congress and the public.

President Biden twice mentioned that we are at an “inflection point” in history, and that we can “bend the arc of history.” But he failed to present specifics on how the United Nations might contribute to this bending. The planned Summit for the Future next year will provide the Administration multiple opportunities to work with others to bend the arc of history by strengthening the United Nations and making greater use of this critical diplomatic tool.

September 12, 2023

Presented by the Advisory Council of the United Nations Association-National Capital Area (UNA-NCA)

In the face of widespread challenges to democracy and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is evident that backsliding is universal and persistent. The United States, with its exceptional position of influence, has a crucial role to play in leading and collaborating with other nations to reverse these trends.

The U.S. can strengthen democracy at home, while also promoting it worldwide, through a combination of strength and humility. The potential of democracy to deliver positive outcomes at home and abroad cannot be underestimated. By leaning into these challenges, the U.S. can leverage its considerable assets to reshape the global narrative during these uniquely challenging times.

September 11, 2023

Towards Transformative Change for Racial Justice and Equality

By Danielle Dean, UNA-NCA Advocacy Committee Co-Chair

The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council will convene its 54th Session on Monday, September 11th, and the agenda promises an expansive discussion on everything from country reports on the Universal Periodic Review, the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, and sessions on cyberbullying, youth, and gender equality. But there is one discussion I will be following closely. On October 5th, the International Independent Expert Mechanism to Advance Racial Justice and Equality in Law Enforcement will present its recently released report following experts' tours of several prisons in major cities in the United States, including Washington D.C., Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis, and New York.

August 30, 2023

UN OHCHR Permanent Forum on People of African Descent

In recognition of the International Day for People of African Descent on August 31st, UNA-NCA invites members to hear from UNA-USA leader London Bell, to learn more about the UN Permanent Forum for People of African Descent.

July 5, 2023

2023 Summer Intern Model Arab League

By Peter Toto,  Global Classrooms DC Program Assistant

The Summer Intern Model Arab League (SIMAL) was a chance for the interns of the National Council of United States Arab Relations (NCUSAR) to experience the rules and parliamentary procedure of the Arab League. For some, it was a chance to show their Model Arab League/United Nations skills; for others, it was an opportunity to gain firsthand experience of these activities. The day would be spent deliberating on the issue of the safety of journalists in Palestine and ultimately passing a resolution on the matter. 

July 5, 2023

UNA-NCA at the Rangel Summer Enrichment Program

By Peter Toto,  Global Classrooms DC Program Assistant

Veronica McIntire, Program Coordinator for the Summer Enrichment Program, began the session by briefly introducing each speaker. First was Gabrielle Gueye of Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation (WCAPS). She then Introduced Sarmat Chowdhury of the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area. Veronica described the panel as having a question-and-answer format. She would later ask a few general questions to the speakers directly and then defer to the Rangel scholars for a more direct Q&A session. 

June 27, 2023

The UN, the US, and Me…

By Jill Christianson, UNA-NCA Board Chair

While the United States and many other nations celebrated Pride this June, state sanctioned discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ has expanded, especially in the form of legislation.  

The global backlash on human rights has weaponized attacks on identity and diversity, curtailing the rights and freedoms of the most vulnerable. As the United Nations Human Rights Council convenes its 53rd Session, we must highlight the continued assault on LGBTQ+ rights. For me, this issue is international, national, and personal.

June 21, 2023

Coverage of the 2023 UNA-NCA Annual Meeting

By Andrew Rovinsky, Global Classrooms DC Research Assistant

Jill Christianson, UNA-NCA Board Chair, opened the program with the statement that this meeting would be a “reflection on where we have been and where we are going.” This assertion perfectly encapsulates what this evening was about. In the following two hours, various speakers would highlight the incredible achievements from 2022 and 2023, but also explain what the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area will do in the next year.

June 21, 2023

The United Nations Association of the National Capital Area Announces Election of 2023-2024 Board of Directors

On June 13, 2023, the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area (UNA-NCA) announced its newly elected Board of Directors at the 2023 Annual Membership Meeting.

Our congratulations to the candidates for their successful appointment. All of us at UNA-NCA look forward to working with them to strengthen public understanding and support for the United Nations.

May 25, 2023
It is with much sadness that we share the news of Ambassador C. Steve McGann's sudden passing on May 25, 2023. Ambassador McGann served initially on the UNA-NCA Advisory Council and later on the Board of Directors, serving as Vice Chair of its Resource Development Committee.  He also served as the Co-Chair of the Women's Refugee Commission. During his leadership, Ambassador McGann initiated the Insider Briefing Series engaging in conversations with high level UN officials on pressing global issues, and serving as speaker and mentor to our Graduate Fellows Program.   

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