Thursday, November 02, 2006

What am I doing here?

Before I left for Geneva, a friend asked me why I wanted to work with the United Nations. It’s an interesting question. The UN is criticized for being too bureaucratic, for being a talk-fest and for achieving very little. And certainly it has its problems. The system of consensus is quite different to the Quaker model, where those with a concern are genuinely listened to and a final statement is agreeable to all. Instead, countries use the power of veto as a tool of control, with the frustrating result that often no decision is made at all. In some meetings, each country will feel the need to comment on the timeliness of the meeting and congratulate the Chair on their recent election, which can leave no time for discussion of substance to take place.

So, why work with such an institution? I came to some clarity on this question when I was in Brussels. The keynote speaker at a Quaker Peace Conference pointed out that we don’t stop engaging with our national governments because they are not exactly the institution we would like them to be. Indeed, he pointed out that it is for this reason that we should engage most vigorously with them. The role of my organisation is to engage with the world's government. By advocating for international positions on human rights, disarmament and fair trade and facilitating dialogue and understanding between government representatives, we can have an impact on the current system. We can also model the kind of international diplomacy that we would want to see throughout the UN.

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