The UN: Vital, Relevant & Misunderstood

September 20, 2011|by Patrick Madden, UNA-USA Executive Director
As I pen this edition of my World Bulletin contribution, the 66th Annual General Assembly has already opened, and this week we will see the real fireworks. The “quiet phase” of the General Assembly is where a great deal of the action really happens. However, few know of the “quiet phase” since heavyweight world leaders descend on New York City this week for main stage speeches – and the media pays attention – at least for a few days.

In my six months as the head of UNA, I have quickly come to understand one of the UN’s biggest problems – the media and its message. The UN is so dense, so complex, and so broad. I think the media has given up on trying to understand it, and attempting to give it a fair shake in coverage – except for the speeches. Beyond September speeches, Security Council votes, nuclear crisis, or natural disaster, it’s difficult to find the UN’s work in your daily paper. Even in New York City and Washington, DC.

In my research (admittedly, not scientific and completely based on my personal and professional travels to red, blue, and purple states), I’ve found that citizens are not only curious about international issues, but also smart enough to consider and discuss a range of topics regarding foreign policy that aren’t wrapped in drama or controversy. Yes, that probably doesn’t sell papers. However, this week there will be speeches offered at the UN that may make American citizens uncomfortable (because they directly challenge the US government’s position on foreign policy issues) and some votes that you may personally disagree with (the vote considering the Palestine Authority’s membership into the UN) – this sells papers.

So my effort here is to get you beyond the headlines of the UN’s General Assembly:


  • What is the future for the UN? Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will lay out his vision for his second-term. What will he focus on over the next five years? Learn more about all of the upcoming UN events and high-level meetings at the UN this week.
  • Every Woman, Every Child – Last year, the Secretary-General launched a Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health. The purpose of the effort is to provide an unprecedented opportunity to improve the health of hundreds of millions of women and children around the world. He called on governments, civil society, the business community and academia around the world to come together, and their action over the past year has already saved the lives of 16 million women and children. On September 20, the Secretary-General will host an event to further the momentum of Every Woman, Every Child.
  • Non-communicable Diseases – such as heart attacks, cancers, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease account for over 63% of deaths in the world today—the biggest cause of death worldwide. Worse, more than 90% of these premature deaths from Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) occur in developing countries, and could have largely been prevented. Heads of State will meet during the UN General Assembly to shape a new international agenda to help prevent and control NCDs. Learn more about NCDs and the High-Level Meeting on NCDs this week.
  • Combating Terrorism – just days after the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the UN will continue its collaboration with the U.S. government and other Member States to combat threats of international terrorism during the International Counter-Terrorism Cooperation Symposium. Learn more about the UN’s Counter-Terrorism efforts.
  • Famine in the Horn of Africa – the first famine in more than 20 years and projections suggest nearly 750,000 people could die if assistance does not meet the demand. Significant funding is needed to meet the need stemming from this humanitarian emergency.
  • Stewarding Human Rights – Most accounts suggest more than 2,600 people have been killed in clashes with the Syrian government. Expect this situation, along with Yemen, Belarus, and Sudan to appear on the agenda of the Human Rights Council. This session will be conducted under ta new President, Laura Dupuy Lasserre, the Ambassador of Uruguay, and first female president of the Council.

These are just a few of the “non-speeches” that are occurring at the UN during this General Assembly. The real work of the UN doesn’t always get headlines, but its work is relevant, vital, and makes an impact in the lives of millions every day.

As UNA-USA members I hope you’ll quench your thirst for the details on the UN’s work and you will learn more on the websites. Pass this along to friends. Spark up a conversation over your next coffee with neighbors. We need more citizens to become active with their interest in UN. With that, we can expect that the citizenry will hold their elected officials more accountable when it comes to the U.S.’s global engagement.

One final note: There are efforts beyond First Avenue this week to move the public past the headlines. The 2nd Annual Social Good Summit is a gathering of bloggers, influential minds and passionate activists to unlock the potential of new media and technology. Check out the wide range of speakers discussing the UN, international issues, and join the conversations in New York via Livestream

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