The United Nations Associaton is an NGO that exists to support the work of the UN. Durham University hosted its annual Conference this year .The agenda contained a fair degree of formality because the UNA is an ageing institution, set up at the same time the UN was formed, just after the second world war. Many of the stalwarts are in their eighth decade, and most of the hair is grey, although, like the Young Greens, there was a youth wing, UNYSA, sharing the conference.
The incoming president is Lord David Hannay, who was the UK Permanent Representative at the UN 1990-95 and was a member of the UN High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, commissioned by Kofi Annan, which prepared the way for the UN Summit last year. A big beast. He bears an amazing resemblance to Sir Humphrey. It is weird stuff for a Green to be mingling with Lords and ageing gentry, and humbling to discover that despite appearances, they share the same concerns about humanity as ourselves. There were three Green Party members present, one of whom, Paul Ingrams, was there as an invited expert to lead the workshop on Peace and Security.
The agenda was familiar to anyone who has been to Green Party emergency motion session: motions on human rights, Guantanamo Bay, street children, natural disasters and women, oil extraction from the Niger delta, peak oil, while some dealt with UN structure: security council reform, world Civil Society Union, Disaster Relief (calling for a fleet of UN helicopters on standby). There were peace and security topics: arms trade control, Darfur, Trident was opposed, must be debated in Parliament, the NPT, and a neat little motion to ban duty-free glass bottles on airliners on grounds of weight and weapons potential.
Development covered economic development in the Middle East, Clean Water for all, the Millennium Development Goals, and there were motions on climate change, and fish stocks.
UK foreign policy motions criticised the war in Iraq, rendition, the Middle East and proposed a UK Commissioner for Peace.
Most items were voted through without much dissention. There was a sharp division in which I took part when it was suggested that there should be compromise between the rights of indigenous peoples to their land and the right of the state to exploit resources on that land. The matter was referred back.
The Board has decided not to adopt this Index of Human Rights in the UN because there are too many indices floating around in the UN already. Of all the reasons not to adopt, this is one of the weakest I have heard so far. The pressure will continue.
At the end, as after any conference, you wonder what was achieved? Many worthy sentiments were expressed, which go up to the UNA Executive, who communicate them to Government (mainly the FCO) who - well, do with them what Government always does to suggestions coming from NGOs. Not a lot, but it is better that Government is aware of what the people are thinking, and the UNA’s opinion has a certain weight. I would encourage Greens to join their local UNA. We have much to teach, and much to learn from this respected organisation.