The arrival of world leaders this week at the United Nations made headlines, but some United Methodists know that global issues related to human rights and world peace demand year-round attention.
United Methodist agencies have held a status as nongovernmental organizations at the United Nations for decades. The desire to help the voices of grassroots communities reach world leaders spurred the construction of the Church Center for the United Nations, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013.
United Methodist News Service asked the Rev. Liberato (Levi) Bautista, who heads the United Methodist Board of Church and Society’s United Nations office, to reflect on the current U.N. session.
The 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly officially opened Sept. 16. What are some of the top agenda items for this session?
The U.N. has its hands full — stretched in resources, dealing with the eradication of hunger and poverty, mitigating climate change, meeting head-on the devastation brought about by epidemics and pandemics like the Ebola crisis in Africa.
The top agenda of the U.N. remains its charter obligations — maintenance of international peace and security; development of friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principles of equal rights and self-determinations of peoples and the achievement of international cooperation, including promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
In real terms, this agenda translates into how the international community, through the U.N., deals with ongoing wars and conflicts and the many threats to peace … and then the suppression of acts of aggression which are more than just breaches of the peace.
Top agenda items include the post-2015 development goals — especially because the millennium development goals were a mixed bag of tepid success and more failure — followed by climate change, global migration, peace and human rights, security and disarmament matters, and global health, especially new epidemics and pandemics.
What is the status of the Board of Church and Society and other United Methodist groups in relation to the United Nations? How do you expect to work with other nongovernmental organizations on some of these agenda items?
Our U.N. and international affairs ministry works to represent the understanding of the church on international issues. In return, we bring back to the church the necessary information and knowledge that better informs our advocacy as a faith group proclaiming God’s justice and peace in the public square.
What the Church Says
Church and Society works in concert with other faith-based non-governmental organizations through ecumenical and interfaith venues and mechanisms as well as through caucuses and coalitions that address any given number of topics that the United Methodist General Conference has mandated us to address.
One of the first events of the 69th session was the Sept. 23 Climate Summit, which drew an accompanying grassroots response, including a Sept. 21 march in Manhattan. Does any of this have real potential to influence U.N. member states to take action on climate change?
As a church, we are fortunate to have a year-round presence at the United Nations through our office at the Church Center for the U.N. While we remain a non-governmental entity, we have opportunities to be outsiders looking in. We are outsiders but have inside access. That physical access is also political access.
The potential to influence is there in these varying degrees of physical and political access. Public pressure is a key political act, be it in the local, national or international arenas. The People’s Climate March was a barometer of how countries, governments, corporations and the international community have advanced or ignored the hopes and aspirations of the peoples of the world.
In general, how would you rank the importance and effectiveness of the United Nations in dealing with world crises today?
Even warring parties, when called by the U.N., gather around the negotiating table.
The importance of the U.N. lies in its capacity and obligation to develop international norms that are not simply the political culture of one country but a negotiated norm that all countries can subscribe to.
Effectiveness is not solely the responsibility of the U.N., if by that we meant the U.N. Secretariat (staff, with the Secretary General at the helm). Questions about effectiveness must point to governments that, while assembled under the umbrella of the U.N., continue to prosper only their national self-interests and therefore impede the rest of the international community in achieving international agreements.
Last year, United Methodists celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Church Center for the United Nations, which was called “a hub for the world’s peoples.” Why is it important for the denomination to continue this commitment?
Because of its proximity to the U.N. — across the street — the Church Center may be the closest that the world leaders get to hearing authentic voices of pain and anguish about poverty and hunger. But there’s also joy and a sense of dignity demonstrated in many of the meetings, strategizing sessions and stock-taking that happens in the offices and meeting rooms of the CCUN.