My internship with VIVAT International at the New York Office took place in the first half of 2023. It was a gradual introduction to some of the UN processes and mechanisms that VIVAT International is actively involved in. To help me navigate the maze were Paul Rahmat, SVD, and Marides Santos, SSpS, who, together with Daniel Le Blanc, OMI, are members of the New York VIVAT Team.
For family reasons, I needed to interrupt and re-schedule my internship. However, the time I managed to spend with the NY VIVAT team in January, April, and May opened my eyes in many ways. I appreciated the behind-the-scenes work that is always going on to raise the bar for inter-governmental negotiations and translate outcome documents into operable commitments and verifiable actions. Even when documents and treaties are not legally binding, the very fact that they are debated and discussed openly in public fora at the United Nations is a building block for community-building and for ‘uniting the nations,’ as it were, on a global scale.
I arrived not knowing what to expect and left with a sense of the need for engagement. It appears obvious to me that the UN and individual governments will not effect change unless civil society organizations (CSOs) and faith-based organizations (FBOs) provide the necessary – and insistent – push and support for course correction. As religious congregations, we are challenged to actively seek out and occupy spaces for engagement where we have the unique opportunity to make room for those who are not yet at the table – those who are marginalized, underserved, and underrepresented – so that they can speak for themselves at global fora provided by the UN. Participation in a couple of monthly meetings of RUN (Religious at the UN – a gathering of Catholic religious orders advocating at the UN) drove home this point very effectively.
Some striking features of discussions I attended and that really got me thinking:
United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), 17-28 April 2023: 80% of all remaining planetary bio-diversity is in territories that are indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands or are safeguarded by native/ first nation peoples – who represent just 5% of the global population.
I realized my need to understand better the complex links between the climate crisis and the historical, ongoing alienation of peoples from their native territories through wars and unjust economic and political systems that continue to result in massive, forced migration and the de-naturing of the human family and of the earth community.
Forum on Forests, 8-12 May 2023: At the opening of the UNPFII just a month earlier, the UN Secretary-General had used these words: “The United Nations is committed to keep promoting the rights of Indigenous Peoples in policies and programming at all levels and amplifying your voices… Let us learn from and embrace the experiences of indigenous peoples.”
And yet, at the Forum on Forests, which immediately followed the UNFPII, I heard only one indigenous representative!! I could not help feeling that this seemed, at the very least, a case of the UN struggling to keep up with itself. Clearly, multilateralism still has a long way to go – but what is worrying is that time is not on our side. Post-pandemic, much momentum for the achievement of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) was, sadly, lost. It is catch-up time now!
Some limited participation with CSOs in the Voluntary National Review process for Zambia helped me appreciate what is so aptly described at VNR 2022 Synthesis Report.pdf (un.org): “It is evident that the process of preparing a VNR helps create national hubs for peer learning, channeling knowledge and sharing information, which can facilitate sustainable development and support acceleration of programs that accelerate national actions… to achieve the SDGs…”.
This is a clear pointer to the importance of engaging in the VNR process as FBOs. As FBOs carry out, especially in some parts of the world, a significant part of all systematic and long-term efforts towards the achievement of the SDGs, it makes sense that they need to be involved in review processes and avail themselves to be part of such engagement. I think that as Comboni Missionary Sisters, we have our work cut out for us!
Thanks again to the amazing people, not least the VIVAT team and other religious whom I interacted with and learned from in the course of my internship. Together with them and with many busy and dedicated members of networks of CSOs and FBOs lobbying at the UN, we can make our voices – as well as the voices that would otherwise go unheard – reach far and reach into a future of active hope.
Anns James, CMS