On June 20th, we celebrate World Refugee Day with this year´s theme “Every Action Counts” which might raise three questions that will be discussed in this article: 1) Why do we celebrate international days and what is the idea behind it? 2) What exactly is a refugee and what related terminology do we need to know? 3) What does it practically mean that every action counts? Let´s address each of those important questions individually.
First of all, international days are important as they are critical tools to raise global and public awareness about certain issues that affect all of humanity. Whether those days are directly related to historic achievements, to the death or life of significant figures or strategically chosen to amplify their impact – the importance of such special days can´t be underestimated! They function as both advocacy tools as well as days of celebration to cherish the progress we have made on certain issues so far while recommitting to more action and dedication for the future. Therefore, international days contain some sort of tension that allows anyone who hears about or celebrates them, to engage on a deeper level with the particular issue raised on that very day.
Now that we have established the nature and significance of international days,
let´s take the example of today´s World Refugee Day – what are we celebrating today? In our polarized world, refugee has become a loaded term and often confused with related terms like asylum seekers, internally displaced people, stateless persons, and returnees. Therefore, here is a list with a short definition for each one of those terms by the United Nations (https://www.un.org/en/observances/refugee-day):
“A refugee is someone who fled his or her home and country owing to “a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”, according to the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention. Many refugees are in exile to escape the effects of natural or human-made disasters.”
“Asylum seekers say they are refugees and have fled their homes as refugees do, but their claim to refugee status is not yet definitively evaluated in the country to which they fled.”
“Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are people who have not crossed an international border but have moved to a different region than the one they call home within their own country.”
“Stateless persons do not have a recognized nationality and do not belong to any country.” “Statelessness situations are usually caused by discrimination against certain groups. Their lack of identification — a citizenship certificate — can exclude them from access to important government services, including health care, education or employment.”
“Returnees are former refugees who return to their own countries or regions of origin after time in exile. Returnees need continuous support and reintegration assistance to ensure that they can rebuild their lives at home.”
It is critical to be aware of those distinctions, not only to be politically correct, but most of all to be able to address people individually by not throwing them into a vague pool of “foreigners” which tends to be very disrespectful as it usually neglects the past and emotions of a human being and dignity. We celebrate the World Refugee Day because rather sooner than later this world should be striving for/achieving societies where there are no refugees because of inclusive and respectful treatment of each other. Regardless of how far away we as current society might be though, this year´s theme shows us the right approach: “Every Action Counts”!
“Every minute 20 people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror”, according to a recent statistic by the United Nations (https://www.un.org/en/observances/refugee-day). This fact cries out for people from all over the world to take bold steps in this regard as it matters! Sometimes our individual influence and impact might seem trivial in this humongous world.
However, looking at the COVID-19 pandemic and the current anti-racism protests all around the world, we can clearly see that they only way to move forward sustainably into a more inclusive and equal society is if, and only if, we do it together. Educate, talk to, encourage and listen to each other so that each voice is heard and brought to the table. Change is driven by all of us and not only the political authorities which the current protests and the quarantine regulations have clearly exemplified. One step at a time to ensure that no one is left behind! It won´t happen over night but by collective and repeated interaction with each and every part and person of society! Refugees are as much part of the society as you are, so let´s make sure that their voices are heard, amplified and acted upon!
“Everyone can make a difference. This is at the heart of UNHCR’s World Refugee Day campaign. This year, we aim to remind the world that everyone, including refugees, can contribute to society and Every Action Counts in the effort to create a more just, inclusive, and equal world.” (https://www.un.org/en/observances/refugee-day)
The World Environment Day has been celebrated on June 5th since 1974 (https://www.un.org/en/observances/environment-day). It has been an effective tool for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and part of its strategy to engage all stakeholders – governments, businesses, civil society, etc. – to achieve this overarching goal: raise awareness and create action to protect the environment. This year´s theme is biodiversity which is critical for all life on land and below water. It is a highly sensitive and interconnected system that, if affected, could have negative effects on all its members.
The International Day of Living Together in Peace has been celebrated on May 16th since the resolution 72/130 got adopted at the end of 2017. It makes the 2020 celebration the third ever, but arguably the most important one so far. Due to the Coronavirus, this world is experiencing an unparalleled crisis that is often compared to the Second World War in terms of its impact on the global society. If this world needs to live together in peace, now almost more than ever is the time.
The importance of this claim shouldn´t be understated at all but repeated over and over again. Multilateralism is a fleeting reality and global governance a distant idea that current political leaders refuse to focus on because of their own national problems. Nationalism is on the rise and with-it discrimination against anything that we started cherishing in recent years. Diversity, culture, and creativity are increasingly viewed as threats to the individualistic and narrow-minded approach of only caring about myself and like-minded people.
This crisis is deeply intertwined with the fear that politicians use globally to make their citizens behave in a way that they want them to. This rederick is shockingly popular and reveals even deeper problems in our society. Leaders all across the world rather use fear and force than the solid reasoning and empathy to cope with this crisis. Therefore, the biggest wars moved within national boundaries. All the progress on multilateralism and global governance seems to be dismissed, due to COVID-19.
However, as dramatic, painful and horrible this pandemic is – again, this shouldn´t and can´t be mentioned often enough – it is vital to lift our heads up and use this time to the best of our abilities. At the end of the day, the whole world is in this crisis together which is an unprecedented case. It allows the world to see its essence in the rawest and most transparent way which reveals some ugly truths about us as society as indicated before. Nevertheless, in light of the day we are celebrating today, it is a strong reminder and opportunity to reorient ourselves to true peace.
“Living together in peace is all about accepting differences and
having the ability to listen to, recognize, respect and appreciate others, as
well as living in a peaceful and united way.”
(https://www.un.org/en/observances/living-in-peace-day, May 15th 2020)
The Coronavirus allows us to see ourselves, our identities, strengths, and weaknesses on several levels including personal, relational, local, national, and international ones. There seems to be no way around it but examining our entire life. This exceptional opportunity should not be wasted or ignored. Obviously, the crisis has a different impact on each and every one. While many people lost their jobs, others are incredibly busy organizing businesses in a sustainable way so that future jobs are secured. Many people have lost dear ones and are afflicted by severe physical, psychological, and spiritual pain. Still, there are some people who aren´t affected tremendously by this pandemic due to their job, lifestyle or at times ignorance.
It is crucial to acknowledge all of us in this situation to think about how to create true peace. There will always be differences in ideologies, beliefs, opinions, etc. However, contrary to the common assumption peace doesn´t aim at unifying all those differences to one correct option. Rather, it encourages differences to exist since humanity is far too diverse, creative, and unique to be limited to one particular form of life. True peace is found in listening, recognizing, respecting, and appreciating each other in our differences. This is only possible if we – each and every one of us – express who we really are and how we view our life.
Obviously, there is a lot more to discuss and to go deeper into in this matter. However, the International Day of Living Together in Peace, especially this year in this pandemic, should be seen as an invitation to “further promote reconciliation to help to ensure peace and sustainable development, including by working with communities, faith leaders and other relevant actors, through reconciliatory measures and acts of service and by encouraging forgiveness and compassion among individuals” (https://www.un.org/en/observances/living-in-peace-day, May 15th 2020). It is rather the start of a process than the proclamation of a conclusion. True peace isn´t a result but a continuous process in all of society.
Therefore, true peace can never exist nor last if it is forced upon each other. It must come from each one of us and eventually will move an entire society closer towards each other. Even though we seem very divided at the moment with many things in an uncertain condition for a longer period of time, let´s encourage one another to make good use of this time to be there for each other. Change towards true peace is a daily commitment, but it starts with one to galvanize others. Why shouldn´t you be the one who brings about that change in your life and community? On this note, happy International Day of Living Together in Peace!
The International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims
The International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims – a special day that has been celebrated annually on March 24th for the past 9 years. Human rights defenders have always been in risky positions. Speaking up on behalf of people who have been marginalized has historically never been something that was accepted with immediate overwhelming support. However, it is those bold individuals who personify the need for the right to the truth for everybody. Especially in our current society that faces more information than it could ever process in a single lifetime, truth is more than ever the single most relevant aspect and challenge that we face.
As we commemorate today, speaking out truth doesn´t always come without consequences. Gross violations of human rights and humanitarian law are mostly covered up by different authorities and rarely addressed on big political platforms. At times, it takes decades to address such violations adequately. Nonetheless, the pain of victims, their relatives and friends can´t be pushed back at all. Furthermore, it is those who address their suffering who are in danger to endure the same fate as other victims. It is not enough if one single person stands up but it takes all of us as society, as humanity, as people of this earth to come together and jointly stand strong with those who cannot stand right now; who lost their voice in their human rights battle; who gave their lives so that future generations might have a better life.
“As we recognize the courage of human rights defenders
everywhere, let us commit to protect those who seek truth
and justice, and provide victims with effective remedies and restore their dignity.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres
This quote by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres is a clear message about the purpose of this day. As much as it is about honoring and paying tribute to human rights defenders, it is a call for action to all of us. It is our responsibility as society to make sure that their efforts weren´t in vain. We are charged with the task to protect current human rights defenders more than ever. It is our shared mission to turn this international day into a celebration because of the fulfillment of the right to the truth throughout this world.
Therefore, it is crucial to know the way and the progress that has been made so far. It is impossible to commemorate human rights defenders on this day without recognizing the important work and values of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero of El Salvador. His day of death – March 24, 1980 – was chosen by the United Nations General Assembly to specifically honor and pay tribute to human rights defenders like him that were willing to die so that others may hear the truth.
Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was assassinated by a death squad after he repeatedly denounced human rights violations against the most vulnerable people in El Salvador. He strived for the fulfillment of the right to the truth in his work and was shot while celebrating mass on March 24th, 1980. His legacy is a clear message to all of us that we need to value truth and the access to it much, much more. It certainly has been changing lives and sheds light onto those areas and aspects of our society where the most vulnerable have been repeatedly violated without any public notice.
This day, the International Day for the Right to the Truth concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims, is a reminder that it is our task – yours and mine – to use all the resources we have to spread the truth into every corner and part of society. Truth is a privilege, but, moreover, it is a call for action. We can´t hear the truth and pretend like we haven´t heard of it. We can´t neglect the fact that millions all over the world like Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero have died so that others might have a better chance to live their life with dignity and enjoyment of all human rights.
Now, it is up to you. It is up to me. Do you accept the task of promoting truth so that all those human rights defenders, all their families and friends did not die in vain?
On February 20th, we celebrated the World Day of Social Justice. Social Justice – not only is it a key aspect to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, but much more than that, it is what millions of people are hoping for to experience one day. Let´s take a look at some statistics of the International Labour Organization (ILO): Over 60 % of all workers lack any kind of employment contract and thus, are subject to the individual rules and commitment of their employer. Furthermore, over 600 million jobs need to be created by 2030 only to keep pace with the growth of the working age population. Lastly, one in five workers still live in extreme or moderate poverty (Source: ILO). One week after celebrating this day, the numbers haven´t changed dramatically. Well, what is actually next for us to achieve social justice?
In order to answer that question, we need to understand what social justice is. There are many different definitions on what this term means, but it essentially refers to impartial, fair and equal treatment of humans due to their inherent and equal human dignity. Consequently, there ought to be fundamental principles in any workplace like equal pay for equal job, right to education, equal opportunity, etc. As nice as all of those principles sound, they are not a reality all across the world for several reasons. The event “Closing the Inequalities Gap to Achieve Social Justice" organized by the Permanent Mission of the Kyrgyz Republic to the United Nations and the International Labour Organization Office for the United Nations was both very helpful and eye-opening to hear experts, government officials and ambassadors share the challenges they face in their particular country.
Before going into any example, it is crucial to mention that most if not all the challenges addressed in this event are highly interconnected and thus, not able to be focused on individually without touching on another issue. Throughout this event, it became very apparent that the case of the SDGs is very similar. It is almost impossible to look at eradicating poverty (SDG #1) without sustainable cities and communities (SDG #11), to achieve gender equality (SDG #5) without global partnerships (SDG #17). As much as we make of our personal heritage and country, the most serious challenges we face are global ones that require the unfiltered attention by all world leaders in order to be properly addressed. We will only achieve the 2030 Agenda if we take a holistic and systemic approach, acknowledging that we are all in this together and need each other to make significant progress.
However, in terms of social justice, the issue of gender equality was a very prevalent topic. Whether it be patriarchy, climate change or migration – whatever root cause it is, women experience disadvantageous treatment in terms of wage but also concerning job opportunity. The shocking lack of women studying or working in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is a great example of how our society is clearly behind in closing the gender gap. Those are areas of work that will impact our future greatly and if they are dominated by men, then we are missing out on the perspective of more than 50 % of the world´s population. The trickle-down effect could be enormous and not only keep us from closing the gender gap by 2030, but also widen it once again. Unequal pay and treatment of women are all in violation of the foundational principle of social justice and the human rights agenda in general, namely equal human dignity for all. Due to its size, gender equality has been viewed as crucial part to close the inequalities gap significantly.
Lastly, the inequalities gap is a lot bigger than we think. In order to close this gap, we need to reconsider our approach. “The opposite of poverty is not wealth. It is justice!” – Bryan Stevenson. Especially in the Western world, we are tempted to confuse our basic needs with our own desires. The quote from Bryan Stevenson is actually groundbreaking. As important money and wealth are to kick-start projects, initiatives and overall change, they are neither the solution nor the goal. It hit me hard to realize that I have been confusing wealth with justice. We live in impressive cities and aspire to turn our lifestyle into a sustainable one so that no one is left behind. However, if we don´t understand such a foundational concept, can we even reach a goal like closing the inequalities gap to ensure social justice for all?
Nonetheless, we must not give up! As unjust and unequal our society has been treating women, the environment or any marginalized group, we have come a long way to have such a meeting at the UN to hear truth and exchange valuable ideas on how we can seriously close this gap. As mentioned before, our world is highly interconnected which is why the problem we face is extremely comprehensive. Let´s listen to the voices of those who have been marginalized so that we gain a better understanding of who we are as humanity and also, to understand better what we are actually striving for.
I am convinced that there is a lot more to learn about what a sustainable lifestyle looks like, what a socially just society looks like. Since nobody of us has ever lived in such a place, it remains a distant future for now. That is why we need to keep exchanging our ideas, maintain close relationships across the globe so that we can encourage each other in our defeats as well as our victories because, at the end of the day, we are all in this together.
What do people think of the United Nations? It is unnecessary! It saves many lives! If I walked around and asked random people on the streets, I might get very controversial answers. Even though this supranational organization has existed for the past 74 years, there are still opposite viewpoints, mostly depending on the country of origin. Nevertheless, even within the same country you might get very different responses on the UN, its importance and impact on this world. However, it seems that this organization and its advocating NGOs are based on a very fundamental truth that humanity often forgets about. Let me share my limited insight from my brief, but intense experience with this matter so far.
My name is Lukas Wenninger and I started interning here at the Congregation of the Mission at the United Nations in New York a little bit over a month ago. I was born and raised in Austria but went to Niagara University for my undergraduate in International Studies and Spanish for different reasons. I also studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain for one semester which enhanced my cultural awareness and appreciation of diversity. However, when I started this internship in mid-September, I had to face reality in a way I haven´t done before. It is one thing to study and experience international relations in school, but – as important as it is – it is just a very small piece of practically working in this field. Given that I am just a fresh intern, my experience so far is very limited, but mostly overwhelming, due to the work we do here at the Congregation of the Mission. At this point, it is fair to mention that my boss, Guillermo Campuzano – or Memo as he wants to be called – is not treating me like a regular intern but with his great leadership style and support, he kind of threw me into the cold water. What do I mean by that?
Immediately, I got familiarized with the core project of our organization as part of the Working Group to End Homelessness (WGEH) and got assigned various tasks to participate, investigate and work in a very meaningful way. Memo took me to almost every meeting he had where I not only met very knowledgeable and experienced people, but also had to face the issues that this world is encountering daily. It is a normal part of a human being to filter information and remember only the things that are pressing or important to us in some way. By nature, we receive too much information daily and have to ignore or forget a big portion of it in order to function properly. However, besides this fact, there is another type of information that we as human beings neglect or often even oppress. It is the reality that we are living in. We live in a self-centered society that is predominantly focused on me, myself and I. Even if we do charitable things, it is mostly to feel better about ourselves because we want to see positive change in our immediate environment. As great and important as those charitable actions are, they are just the top of the iceberg that our minds are trying to marginalize as much as we can.
Every day 15,000 children die of treatable causes across the globe.
Every year one billion children – half of the world´s children – experience violence. Right now, 1.8 billion people are inadequately housed or homeless, most of them being women, children and indigenous people.
Let those facts from experts sink for a moment. That is horrifying news for a huge portion of humanity and it influences them in this very moment while I am writing this article, while you are reading this article. As I dwelt on these facts, I became downcast and almost depressed since there doesn´t seem to be a quick and easy solution. Those failures and violations are the result of systemic exploitation over centuries. It is engrained in our daily lifestyle if we want it or not. There is no quick fix nor single action that can stop this misery. The complexity of the UN is partially due to this reality. There are billions of people with different experiences, needs and opinions that deserve to be addressed in a supranational organization that tries to work for the good of all people all around the globe. I don´t want to justify its complexity because I truly believe that it can be reformed, made simpler and more effective. However, now that I am practically starting to experience UN meetings and to face really pressing issues daily, it became crucial to me to find meaning in the work that God has blessed me with.
It seems foolish to me to ignore the reality billions of people are suffering under every day as foolish as it is to solely brand the UN and NGOs as idealistic, but complex. Even though latter two descriptions definitely contain some truth, they don´t tell the whole story. Given my limited experience and insight, there is one aspect that might be the most important one when it comes to practical implications for you and me dealing with the UN. It is this: The UN starts with you!
As weird and platonic as it sounds, it contains profound truth. The United Nations tries to uphold human rights, advocate and work on the behalf of the good for the entire world. You and me – we are part of this. Your life, your voice, your actions matter not only on a local, but global scale. Obviously, that is easy to say as part of Civil Society. More importantly though, you don´t need to be engaged in Civil Society, because you – with all your gifts, friends and influence – can be a driver of change that has global consequences. Let´s take the example of Fridays for Future. Some people are describing it as idealistic approach to have a minor impact on today´s society and future generations. However, it is so much more than that. Fridays for Future is a great example of people all around the world, mostly younger generations, realizing that their voice matters on both a local and global scale.
Humanity is often tempted to solely think on a big scale, meaning only big changes are significant. We need to realize though that big changes consist of little steps in our local community. As I have learned in my internship so far, we have the resources to change the status quo into a sustainable home for all human beings. The world´s problems are not a quick fix which makes global organizations like the UN seem so abstract because it tries to work on behalf of billions of people, especially those that are easily forgotten about. However, in order to make the UN simpler, in order for you and me to see big changes and find meaning in the daily work we do, we have to start with little steps in our daily life.
As much as globalization fostered the gap between rich and poor, powerful and marginalized people groups, it allows one big advantage: each action even in the smallest community on this earth has global significance. Sometimes we might not see it. However, if I have learnt one thing at my internship at the Congregation of the Mission so far, it is that little steps matter and have great impact. There are countless stories of communities that have been impacted by little steps which are now gaining global importance. Events like the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty or expert reports at UN committee meetings like Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF Ms. Charlotte Petri Gornitzka clearly show that even though a lot more needs to be done, each action matters on the global scale.
I am very grateful to have experienced this challenge of facing reality so far throughout my internship. There are many little steps undertaken at this very moment and I encourage you to contribute your part because together we can have a great impact. As much as politics and bureaucracy might often prevent rather than foster sustainable progress, each little step in a local community can culminate to an even great impact that saves and improves lives all across the globe. No matter how limited your insight or experience is, the internship here at the United Nations proved to me that you and I matter for so much more than our only life. We are together in this world to bless others with each action we undertake.
This year´s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty was celebrated on October 17th with a big event at the UN Conference Building in New York. Under the theme “Acting together to empower children, their families and communities to end poverty” along the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Truly, the event was a celebration of listening to voices that are often overheard. The program consisted of short remarks by the Permanent Missions of France and Burkina Faso to the United Nations as well as by the UN Secretary General delivered by the Director of UN DESA. However, the core part and majority of the program was contributed by children as well as community activists that shared their experience.
Alongside of two songs delivered by local high school members, one of the messages given was by 5th grade students from Gregory “Jocko” Jackson School, Brooklyn who expressed their desire to live in a sustainable world where they can pursue their dreams not restricted to systemic structures that increase inequalities but enable every child to live up to its potential. Their message was followed by Elizabeth Madden, an activist from Cork, Ireland. Her speech was moving since she had experienced hardship as well as homelessness when she was a young adult while she was pregnant. Ms. Madden shared her love and passion for her child to grow up in different environment that is not determined by poverty or other systemic failures allowed by this world´s governments. She began to stand up and use her voice as an activist of Cork Anti-Poverty Resource Network to help others to bring about lasting change. Ms. Madden realized that her voice is important to not only help herself but all the children and families that are affected by poverty and its consequences.
Furthermore, the messages given by two community leaders from the Wadah Foundation from Jakarta, Indonesia – Mr. Hasan Azhary and Mr. Ricardo Hutahaean – exemplified the need for cooperation around the globe. Poverty is not some abstract issue but affecting children day by day. The lack of quality education and living removed from schools are daily challenges and a reality for children around the globe that ought to be mastered in order to give them the opportunity to live up to their fullest potential. The two community leaders from Jakarta shared their experience of working and trying to change that reality for children in their local sphere. They passionately described and encouraged listeners to stand up for the right thing to do.
Another moving speech was given by three girls – Paula, Alma and
Raquel – from Madrid, Spain who are part of the Tapori Children´s Group there. They described their life heavily influenced by poverty. Due to their young age, it seemed that they had everybody´s attention when they illustrated what the issue of poverty means practically for their life. They concluded their message by not only mentioning their mum´s who work hard every day to change their current living situation. However, the three girls knew and acknowledged it proudly that the work of their mum´s is not only for the present but for a lasting and great impact in the future for their girls!
On this note, it was remarkable to notice that almost half of the attending people where young people that were still enrolled in school. This seemed to be a key aspect of the event that not only Civil Society attended but that the people it represents on a daily basis could come, share and experience itself that people from all around the world are trying to end child poverty together, to empower children and their families to live a better life. Therefore, it was moving to hear three of the voices of children where their mums are trying hard every day to give them the chance to have a better future without poverty.
Indeed, poverty didn´t end because of the event for the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. However, this limited time at the UN Conference Building in New York allowed listeners not only to be encouraged, but to aspire more in their work and daily lives. Poverty is not insoluble and even if some of us might not see it every day, there are millions of voices working every day to bring about change, even if it is just in little steps in the local communities. This event gave children and local activists the opportunity to feel and see that they are heard on a bigger scale than they could imagine. However, the fight continues and all stakeholders including Civil Society are encouraged and compelled to end poverty for the people, for the children and families that they are representing and partially saw at this event through their advocacy work.
On October 17th, 2019, the Symposium on Women and Children/Girls experiencing Homelessness/Displacement was hosted by UNANIMA International at the Baha´i International Community Center. It was an extraordinary event due to the variety of knowledgeable experts and speakers. The first speaker was Guillermo Campuzano, C.M. – Father Memo – to provide a report and overview on the work of the Working Group to End Homelessness (WGEH). In this report, he made it clear by referring to several statistics that the issue of homelessness is of utmost urgency since about 1.8 billion people on this earth are homeless or inadequately housed – that is almost every fourth person. This shocking fact is accompanied by the reality that this affects the most vulnerable people groups, namely indigenous people, women and children. Father Memo made it clear that in order to accomplish the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, those highly affected groups require special attention so that no one is left behind.
Throughout the meeting it was emphasized and mentioned repeatedly that the issue of homelessness regarding any group of people requires strong collaboration between the existing networks and working groups. The recent accomplishment by an expert group meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, was a definition of homelessness which is intended to be used in all advocacy work to reach the common goal of ending this particular crisis. As there is a lack of measurement, the following definition was a large achievement to be able to move forward on this issue collectively.
“Homelessness is a condition where a person or household lacks habitable space with security of tenure, rights and ability to enjoy social relations, including safety. Homelessness is a manifestation of extreme poverty and a failure of multiple systems and human rights.”
Amongst the great variety of speakers was one representative of the UN delegation of Ireland, but also two in the audience, one from Slovakia and one from Burkina Faso. While assuring their cooperation with Civil Society, the expert speakers shared their experiences of how they target the issue of homelessness. Leilani Farha – UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing – provided insight on her efforts to collect data, raise awareness and establishing a program called “Shift”. It intends to push states towards implementing systemic change so that this human and basic right for every human being to have adequate housing is guaranteed across the globe. Along with other speakers, Ms. Farha highlighted the reluctance of states to act as well as the misunderstanding of the public concerning the identity of homeless people. The perception of the lazy man that only lives off benefits from society is simply not true. Women who don´t want to abandon their children, people ousted by society for being less fortunate is vast majority instead. As the community activist from Ireland, Elizabeth Madden, shared from her personal experience, being homeless created huge obstacles finding a job or support by government but mostly changed how people treated her.
On the other hand, John McEvoy – a representative from Sophia Housing in Dublin, Ireland – emphasized the reluctance of the state to admit and solve the issue of homelessness within its borders. Shelters aren´t the solution which is why Sophia Housing focuses on long-term housing to ensure immediate reintegration of homeless people in society. The reality for many homeless people to be moved around from one shelter to another one was also mentioned by UNANIMA International Research Fellow Kirin Taylor. The lack of existing literature, but also technology makes it difficult to grasp the size of the issue of homelessness. Ms. Taylor emphasized the urgent need to develop those two key aspects in order to provide better and more effectively resources to affected people groups. She is currently working on finalizing several case studies that will be released and shared with Civil Society as soon as possible. However, the findings so far are highly valuable which was also greatly appreciated by the two speakers from UN institutions.
Mr. Chris Williams – Director of UN Habitat – as well as Ms. Renata Kaczmarska – representative of UN Focal Point on the Family – emphasized the need for cooperation between Civil Society and their institutions. The urgency of the issue of homelessness along the lack of sufficient data makes it difficult to target each affected group adequately. The fact that mostly women and children are affected is of even greater significance since they are the core of the future generation. Systemic change is not only necessary, but possible if worked together. Furthermore, some progress has been made, especially mentioned by Mr. Williams concerning the WGEH and his increased interest to work together.
Lastly, the 58th session of the Commission for Social Development will take place from the 10th to the 19th of February 2020. Since the priority theme will be “Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness” all the speakers highlighted the importance to advocate and to aim their efforts towards this highly significant week as a short-term goal. Overall, the event “Symposium on Women and Children/Girls experiencing Homelessness/Displacement” was very valuable to listen to different experts and connect with them to fight homelessness together. Each country on this earth faces the issue of homelessness with no exception and the number of affected people is very high and the systemic change comprehensive. Therefore, it requires several coalitions to fight homelessness together. It starts on the local level and continues by sharing best practices as well as data collectively. The Symposium on Women and Children/Girls experiencing Homelessness/Displacement was an important step to ensure future partnership as well as exchange of data to fight homelessness together.
This year is the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which is the most ratified human rights treaty in history of this world. We look back to significant improvement across the globe, increasing regulations and support by states to ensure that children in any circumstances have the best opportunities possible to grow up and reach their fullest potential. Especially the global study conducted by Mister Nowak that was introduced to the Third Committee at the United Nations Headquarters on October 8th, 2019, provides valuable insight that even just recently established measures already show that states´ regulations have improved several aspects of some of the most vulnerable groups of children across the world. The number of children kept in state institutions has dropped by 2.6 million (more than 32 %) since 2006 while there are more than 50 % less imprisoned. Mister Nowak explains those significant changes by referring to several regulations implemented more effectively by several states that adhere to human rights treaties. As this year´s theme of the International Day of Eradication of Poverty indicates, it is vital to view children not as objects that need to be dealt with but part of a community, moreover of families that are the key supporters to ensure a protected and healthy child development. When we talk about ending poverty, we have to break down this issue to the smallest communities to fight and solve the root causes. Children are often forgotten in the fight against poverty, but as stated multiple times by several experts at the UN Third Committee Meeting on October 8th, 2019, they have to be put at the forefront of this fight. The consequences of children growing up in a broken and unstable environment are detrimental for the whole society. The economic costs alone – 7 trillion dollars per year according to the UN Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence Against Children – are beyond imagination. How much worse are the negative consequences on a child´s development, heart and health.
Indeed, there has been significant progress, but a lot more needs to be done. The issue of poverty as well as providing stable and safe circumstances for children to grow up in remains to be a pressing one. As the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF reported to the Third Committee at the United Nations Headquarters on October 8th, 2019, 15,000 children die every day of treatable causes. Furthermore, poverty is the main driver of child labor while every year one billion children – half of the world´s children – experience violence. Those statistics are a horrifying reality for children around the world. As this year´s theme of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty shows – Acting together to empower children, their families and communities to end poverty – it requires a joined effort to end poverty, especially at the smallest level of society. As Vincentians, our commitment to serve the poor doesn´t exclude children, but rather should be primarily focused on them. They are the future of this world! In order to create lasting, systemic change, promote peace and dignity – as our core Vincentian beliefs state – we need to start with those who suffer of a system and circumstances that they neither created nor chose to live in.
Along the goal of the UN Sustainable Development Goals to leave no one behind, as Vincentians we ought to take a leading role in serving the world´s poor and most vulnerable ones, those who are the future of this very planet. Lasting change starts by supporting and influencing the smallest communities which is the family. Parental care is a key element to prevent early exclusion, neglect and discrimination of children. As the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF stated repeatedly, stable and protected circumstances are vital for children to grow up and reach their fullest potential. Ending poverty requires a systemic change of our society´s behavior that protects the most vulnerable groups on this earth to develop and grow in a healthy way. In St. Vincent de Paul´s example, we as Vincentians ought to serve the poor with relentless effort. The poor in the context of economic resources but also the ones who are poor in spirit. Those who had no choice but grow up in a broken and unjust system that prevents them from reaching their fullest potential and support a lasting, systemic change. Serving the poor starts with serving the most vulnerable to maintain this unfair distribution in this world, not because they choose that deliberately, moreover as they don´t have a different choice. It is our responsibility to serve them first and foremost to create lasting change.
Lastly, since this is the 30th anniversary of one of the most influential human rights treaties in human history, it is a great opportunity as Vincentians to look back on our efforts and evaluate what we can do better or more effectively. As countries and organizations around the world remember this historic ratification, we as Vincentians should keep in mind that it is a joined effort to fight poverty. As this year is an ideal time to review the past three decades, it allows us to strengthen our partnerships, create new allies and build more effective strategies for our service to the world´s poor to ultimately end poverty on this earth!
An Open Discussion on CsocD 2020 - "Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness"
Tuesday June 4, Brian Wilson - The Working Group to End Homelessness hosted an open discussion on “Affordable housing and social protection systems for all to address homelessness.” The meeting began with an opening presentation from Memo Campuzano. He began by sharing a story called the Tree of Love. The story is about a group of homeless people who had no place for privacy and therefore had no place to be intimate with their partners. The tree was the only place for these people to feel like they had a private place. It was a powerful way to begin this meeting since stories such as the Tree of Love reminds all who are present the importance for advocating for the homeless. After Memo’s presentation, moderator Jean Quinn opened the discussion to the panelists. The panel members included; Daniela Bas from United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), Iris Bailey, Sr. Winifred Doherty of the Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors, Craig Mokhiber of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights New York, and Dame Louise Casey who is the chair of IGH.
Perhaps the most memorable and moving moment of the morning came from Iris Bailey who recalled her life as a homeless woman. Throughout her experience as a homeless woman she witnessed and felt the effects of homelessness first hand. Ms. Bailey was placed in mental health institutions as well as temporary shelters. She remembers the fear and feeling of uncertainty in this period of her life. She recommended that the government “Stop building shelters and start building affordable housing.” She also called for the end of discrimination of homeless people. Ms. Bailey’s brave remarks moved everyone in the room and her final message to all of us was that “You have to live it to know it.”
Everyone in the room agreed that homelessness is a violation of human rights. Daniela Bas was the first to speak on this point. She said, “To have a home is a human right.” She also spoke energetically of the need to develop policies to enforce such human rights as well as stopping the violations before they can happen. Craig Mokhiber called homelessness a breach of human rights. He said that homelessness is a complex issue and it can be the catalyst to many other human rights violations, which is why Mr. Mokhiber called homelessness an “octopus” because of the way it can be connected to so many other issues. Sr. Winifred Doherty echoed Mr. Mokhiber’s view and spoke about its effects on women and children. Homelessness can leads to lack of education and malnutrition for children.
Many of the speakers offered recommendations that could be done. As Ms. Bailey said the government should “Stop building shelters and start building affordable housing.” This was reflected by Dame Louise Casey’s remark that “You can not always ‘house’ your way out of homelessness.” She also called for nations to begin collecting data and statistics so that there can be action. Similarly, Mr. Mokhiber said people often forget that homelessness is a human rights violation because there is no data or statistics to support it. Another recommendation was made from Daniela Bas who said that focusing on peace and security efforts is crucial since conflicts are a large factor of homelessness around the world.
The major theme from this meeting was the call for a common definition, description or language on homelessness at United Nations. This is an urgent issue with the future of the Working Group to End Homelessness but also for the future of homelessness globally. The obstacle the WGEH is facing is creating language that is inclusive and non-controversial so that it does not ostracize any member states or NGOs. At the meeting, there were people who spoke on behalf of the need for common language as well as those who cautioned against it. During the opening presentation Memo proposed using the language established by a group of experts on the issue in Nairobi, Kenya recently,
"Homelessness is a condition where a person or household lacks habitable space with security of tenure, rights and ability to enjoy social relations, including safety. Homelessness is a manifestation of extreme poverty and a failure of multiple systems and human rights”
Dame Louise shared that it is time for a common description as soon as possible. She warned the group against waiting around another decade for a description or definition. Others in the room, such as a representative from the Mission of Austria as well as Daniela Bas, recommended against establishing a description or definition like the one proposed by Memo.
Overall, this meeting was a great opportunity for the WGEH to meet and come together before July’s high level political forum at the United Nations.