The four members of the Global Union Executive Council were granted the opportunity to attend this year's Non-Governmental Organization Conference: "Human Security and Dignity: Fulfilling the Promise of the United Nations," where representatives from more than 90 countries gathered to discuss universal human security. Only three universities worldwide were invited to the conference.
The Lehigh students—undergraduates Marina Liokumovich ‘06, Joshua Brickman ‘06, Lindsay Nelsen ‘07, and graduate student Chris Janneck—were accompanied by Bill Hunter, director of the office of international students and scholars, to the Sept. 8 session. They heard speeches and addresses from a number of delegates, including an opening message from U.N. Assistant Secretary General Louise Frechette.
"The students were excited to have the chance to attend a conference in the General Assembly, especially when the Assistant Secretary General and former president of Brazil spoke," Hunter says. The group also saw the off-the-record interaction between delegates and representatives, which one student pointed out was surprisingly laid back and friendly.
Relations may be somewhat loose and casual on the surface, but underlying tensions are undeniable. "I think students were most surprised with the level of American-bashing that took place. It was not overt, but obvious that the U.S. and the U.N. are at odds at this time," says Hunter.
Despite what they heard about U.S. relations with the U.N. at the conference, the students remain optimistic about the future of international cooperation.
"Before I attended the conference I believed international cooperation is possible, and the conference didn't change my perception," says Liokumovich, a double major in math and economics. "In addition, I didn't sense that much personal disdain for myself and the members who came with me considering we were so obviously American."
Brickman, a joint international relations and economics major and Global Union intern, says, "It was refreshing to see so many individuals from around the world who still believe in the ability and functionality of the United Nations."
Nelsen, an international relations major, agrees. "I found it reassuring that thousands of NGOs and member states were willing to come from all over the world to attend this U.N. conference," she says. "I took this to be a sign that while the U.N. often lacks political unity, members and NGOs are still unified around the goal of achieving 'human security and dignity.'"
Brickman also became more privy to the communications technologies that feed our shrinking global society. "As a group, the NGOs are making significant strides due to the increased abilities of our communications mediums," Brickman says. "For instance, the proceedings were being broadcast online, via video and audio, as well as through a forum that allowed viewers to pose questions to the moderators live."
The students also left the United Nations with a clearer picture of its function. "My view of the U.N. used to be focused mostly on its role in international relations, its function as sort of a world forum for addressing global problems," Nelsen says. "After attending the conference, it became evident to me that NGOs from around the world also play an essential role in pushing governments to change U.N. policies on humanitarianism, social and environmental issues and then help implement these policies in member countries."
And the students were also reassured that by virtue of being human, we all strive for and value security and dignity. "As one NGO speaker put it," notes Nelsen, "'human security begins with breakfast.'"