Last month, Fordham University had the honor of hosting the 2016 Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS) Annual Meeting – an event that coincided with the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs’ (IIHA) 48th International Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance (IDHA). The ACUNS Annual Meeting, “Meeting the Challenges of Development and Dignity,” explored a myriad of topics across the spectrum of humanitarian affairs and international development, including justice, security, human rights, dignity, gender equality, education, international cooperation, conflict prevention and reconciliation. Throughout the conference, these themes were contextualized within the current global landscape, particularly given the early challenges faced in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the recent World Humanitarian Summit that brought together United Nations Member States, Heads of State and Governments, and representatives from civil society, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector to chart the future course of humanitarian action.
The Annual Meeting was opened by ACUNS Chair Lorraine Elliott, IIHA Executive Director Brendan Cahill, and Fordham University Provost Stephen Freedman, Ph.D., who offered welcome remarks and an introduction to familiarize attendees with not only the work of ACUNS, but also the well suited location of Fordham University in New York – a University bolstered by its Jesuit mission and ultimate commitment to social justice.
UN Deputy Secretary General and former Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation (CIHC) Board Member Jan Eliasson delivered the Keynote Address, “The United Nations in Today’s and Tomorrow’s Global Landscape.” In his address, Eliasson described his role as Deputy Secretary General: “to reduce the gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be [which] won’t happen overnight.” Citing particular factors that can help the international community deal with today’s current challenges, Eliasson highlighted the evolving trend and essential need for women’s full empowerment and the advantageous power of youth. Eliasson emphasized that “rather than thinking what can we do for youth, we should also be asking the question, what can we do with youth.” In addition to the enormous potential of women’s empowerment and youth engagement, Eliasson addressed the importance of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as they provide the groundwork for horizontal development, especially in the crucial areas of knowledge, science, technology, health and sustainable energy. According to Eliasson, the word “together” may be the most important word in the world today. Nations must work together in order to achieve universal goals, such as conflict prevention and reconciliation. After all, “we are all developing countries,” Eliasson reminded the audience. He noted that it may not be easy in the short run, “but in the long run, closing up the world is much more dangerous than opening up the world.”
The following day, H.E. Ibrahim Gambari gave the John W. Holmes Lecture, “Security and Justice at a Crossroads: The Future of Global Governance.” Gambari began the lecture by describing the concept of “just security,” the fusion of global security and justice which “aims to forge a mutually supportive global system of accountable, fair, and effective governance and durable peace.” He stressed the importance of both security and justice “if humanity is not only to survive but to thrive with dignity.” With terrorism at an all-time high, battle deaths at a 25-year high, the number of refugees and displaced persons at a level not seen in 60 years, and the continuing presence of grave human rights violations and discrimination against women, children, and minorities, Gambari emphasized that “the world [has] approached a critical crossroads: both global security and justice face severe, in some areas unprecedented threats and challenges.” While acute crises and conflicts can often detract from long-term political culpability, Gambari believes the main foundational problem of security and justice today is rooted in the uncertain, weak, and corrupt governance at national, regional and global levels, which have time and again been “a gateway to insecurity and injustice.” In order to achieve global systemic change, UN Member States, global civil society and international civil servants must all work together, according to Gambari. Citing Martin Luther King Jr.’s powerful maxim, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Gambari underlined the need for international cooperation in creating a just and secure world. Gambari is currently the co-chair for the Commission on Global Security, Justice and Governance, a joint project of The Hague Institute for Global Justice and the Stimson Center. He previously held positions as the Permanent Representative of Nigeria, and as Foreign Minister of Nigeria, respectively.
Throughout the meeting, IIHA and CIHC staff were frequent contributors. The plenary on “Education as the Engine of Development and Dignity” featured, among other panelists, Gonzalo Sánchez-Terán (IDHA 16), CIHC Deputy Humanitarian Programs Director. Sánchez-Téran spoke knowledgeably about the SDGs, drawing attention to the essential need for education in emergencies – what is and can be a life-saving intervention. Noting that the SDGs do not adequately target refugee or displaced children, Sánchez-Téran emphasized that until this gap is addressed, education for all will remain a goal rather than a realization. Throughout his presentation, Sánchez-Téran continued to stress that “we must place forcibly displaced children at the heart of the international development and humanitarian agenda.” According to Sánchez-Terán, “with children representing half of refugees worldwide, the refugee crisis is therefore, a children’s crisis.”
The workshop panels were also home to familiar faces, such as Jana Lozanoska (IDHA 16), Ph.D. Candidate at the United Nations Mandated University for Peace, who presented her paper, “Human Dignity as Core of Human Rights through Hanna Arendt Oeuvre” at the workshop panel, “Human Dignity, Human Security and Social Reconciliation.” During her introduction, Jana credited the IIHA and her participation in the IDHA program with igniting her interest and passion in human security and human dignity.
The Annual Meeting continued on into the weekend, with Saturday marked by a book talk and signing of H.E. Francis M. Deng’s Bound by Conflict: Dilemmas of the Two Sudans, which was sponsored by Fordham University, Fordham University Press, and the IIHA. Deng is the Permanent Representative of the Republic of South Sudan to the United Nations and the former Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide. In discussing his book, Deng shared with the audience that “managing diversity constructively means promoting inclusivity, dignity and human rights for all.” Throughout his honest and thoughtfully constructed remarks about the two nations of Sudan and South Sudan, Deng emphasized that “until we find a solution to internal differences in each country, we will not find a solution to differences between two.”
The closing plenary discussed takeaways from the World Humanitarian Summit, and included the contributions of IIHA Humanitarian Innovation Fellow, Giulio Coppi, who participated as a panelist alongside Lesley Bourns of the Policy Analysis and Innovation Section, Policy Development and Studies Branch at UNOCHA and H.E. Oh Joon, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea to the UN and President of ECOSOC. The panel was moderated by Stephen Browne, Co-Director of Future UN Development System (FUNDS) Project at the CUNY Graduate Center.
The 2016 ACUNS Annual Meeting came to a close with the eloquent remarks of Melissa Labonte, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Fordham University, who reflected upon the key themes of dignity, solidarity, justice, and agency. Though the conference was in itself a great success, she encouraged further action from the audience: “I hope that each of you will continue the dialogue and forefront from this conference.” ACUNS Chair Lorraine Elliott also offered closing remarks, stating, “This has provided a valuable conversation on development and dignity with participants from over 30 countries.” She concluded by asking the audience, “Should we be hopeful in thinking forward? I very much think so.”