U.N. Secretary-General
Starting in 1946, the United Nations assigned its first Secretary-General while still in its infancy as an organization. His name was Trygve Lie from Norway, and there have been eight successors since; Antonio Guterres currently serving as U.N. Secretary-General.


The Role of a Secretary-General

The U.N. Charter, the foundational treaty of the U.N., describes the Secretary-General as “chief administrative officer” of the Organization, “who shall act in that capacity and perform ‘such other functions as are entrusted’ to him or her by the Security Council, General Assembly, Economic and Social Council and other United Nations organs.”

Overall, the U.N. Secretary-General is someone who is supposed to symbolize humanitarian ideals of equality and hold an interest for obtaining peace among nations.

On a day-to-day basis, the Secretary-General attends U.N. meetings, consults with world leaders and other state officials and must remain up-to-date on important international and national relations.

In times of crisis, the U.N. Secretary-General should take it upon his/herself to speak in front of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and rally support for action. This role requires the utmost responsibility to maintain international peace and security — if there are any conflicts occurring within or between borders that goes against human rights and international security, the Secretary-General must be aware and ready to rally support.


The Seventh Secretary-General

One man who truly upheld and set an example in his role as U.N. Secretary-General was Kofi Annan. Annan, born in Ghana, worked for many years with the U.N. before becoming Secretary-General in 1997.

Human dignity was central to Annan’s mission with the U.N. — he sought to advance human dignity in three predominant ways:

  1. He promoted human rights standards and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)
  2. He worked through the U.N. institutions themselves to reform their machinery and ability to act (specifically by starting the Human Rights Council)
  3. He focused on zones of conflict to build U.N. operational efforts in needed locations

In the early 1990s, and prior to Annan’s entrance as a Secretary-General, the Cold War left the international field in a state of tension. In zones of conflict, such as during the Rwandan genocide, U.N. was seen in a negative light. Due to a lack of resources and a clear mandate for peacekeeping units to use force, the Rwandan genocide became known for its mass atrocities.


The Revolutionizing Ability of the Secretary-General

Annan had been Undersecretary-General at the time, and vowed to make positive changes starting in 1997; specifically, he wanted to make human rights a concept known and promoted for every member state. While the idea of protecting human rights was casually thrown around in the mid-late 20th Century, it was never fully given the attention it deserved.

During the World Summit in September 2005, all governments in attendance recognized the R2P and even gave it the nickname of being the “Annan doctrine” due to the intense lobbying the Secretary-General did during his years in office for human rights. The R2P meant that all governments within the U.N. clearly accepted their collective responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

Never before had a Secretary-General put so much effort into humanitarian causes and the protection of birth right; but during Annan’s 10 years in office, U.N. peacekeeping grew both in terms of scale and efficacy. The governing body also increased the annual budget for U.N. peacekeeping from $1 billion in 1997 to $5 billion in 2006. Annan transformed not only the role of the U.N. and its member states, but positively impacted the lives of thousands (if not millions) of people.

– Caysi Simpson

Photo: Flickr

What Is the United Nations Girls' Education Initiative?

Thirty-one million school-aged girls are not in school, and 17 million of them are likely never going to be. Almost 60% of those who do not complete primary school are girls, and two-thirds of the world’s illiterate are female.

The United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) is an organization formed 17 years ago out of Dakar, Senegal. Then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan founded the initiative to improve the educational opportunities for girls and gender equality across the globe.

The UNGEI is in partnership with 24 other organizations including Campaign for Female Education (Campfed), The Commonwealth Secretariat and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). The value in these partnerships contributes to the efficiency and functionality of the legal movement of these organizations’ collective goals via resident policymakers. By expanding its network through partnership, the presence of the organization is strengthened and enables the project to improve conditions globally by working locally.

All stakeholders in the UNGEI promote change through policy advocacy. According to their website, UNGEI cites these four crucial focuses as targets:

  1. The enhancement of marginalized groups.
  2. The prevention of gender-motivated violence in schools.
  3. A brighter future through education for girls.
  4. Continuation of school for girls.

These goals are accomplished through policy solutions that involve gender issues in education. UNGEI actively advocates to chief platforms that influence education policy and funding allocation.

In 2003, Annan stated that, “if we are to succeed in our efforts to build a more healthy, peaceful and equitable world, the classrooms of the world have to be full of girls as well as boys.” A growing economy and the formal education of girls are positively correlated. The prevention of HIV/AIDS and a decreased occurrence of infant and maternal mortality are guaranteed when more girls are educated, Annan argues.

A 2012 Education for All Global Monitoring Report found that if all mothers completed primary school education, maternal deaths would decrease by two-thirds. Furthermore, there would be a 15% reduction in child deaths, and malnutrition would affect 1.7 million fewer children.

On March 8, 2017, UNGEI and Global Partnership for Education launched the Guidance for Developing Gender-Responsive Education Sector Plans. This outline helps guide developing nations toward a gender-sensitive educational environment. UNGEI has greatly contributed to the increase in children attending school.

Today, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative continues to strive toward its mission’s core values. Data suggests that by 2050, only five countries will have a rate of above 20% of the population receiving no education, and with continued work by the UNGEI, perhaps these countries can someday reach a 100% education rate.

Sloan Bousselaire

Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Africa

Renewable energy in Africa is one of the continent’s most promising industries. The Africa Progress Panel acts as one of the many entities responsible for making renewable energy such a priority across the continent.

The Africa Progress Panel

The Africa Progress Panel is run by 10 members and founded in 2008. Kofi Annan, recipient of the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize and one-time United Nations Secretary-General, serves as chairman for the panel.

The remaining members come from all walks of life and numerous professional backgrounds. Politicians, economists and advocates representing organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and The World Bank make up the Africa Progress Panel.

The overarching mission of the panel is to “advocate for equitable and sustainable development for Africa.” The organization’s advocacy covers numerous areas, including agriculture and education, but the group’s most recent focus is energy.

Africa and Renewable Energy

Africa’s natural resources represent a great opportunity for renewable energy to prosper in the continent, but millions of Africans continue to live without access to electricity. The role of the Africa Progress Panel is to influence African governments and international entities, such as The World Bank, to invest in low-carbon or renewable energy projects that move away from the dangers of fossil fuels and bring quick and widespread energy access to citizens.

Caroline Kende-Robb, the Africa Progress Panel’s executive director, wrote in an editorial piece that the panel hopes by 2030 energy will be available worldwide. The Africa Progress Panel’s 2015 “Power, People, Planet” edition of their annual publication — the Africa Progress Report — focused on achieving this goal.

Power, People, Planet

In this report, the panel outlines a number of proposals to governments, organizations and companies both inside and outside of Africa. These recommendations include terminating subsidies for fossil fuels, creating new urban centers with renewable energy in mind, setting higher goals for energy production, increasing international financing and enhancing both innovation and transparency.

Thankfully, the panel’s recommendations are taking hold — Africa is quickly becoming a hotbed of renewable energy. Solar, wind, hydroelectric and geothermal projects are expanding across the continent as countries begin surpassing their benchmarks for energy expansion and financing.

A recent article by CNN explores many of these projects, including the Olkaria Geothermal Power Plant in Kenya, which will eventually energize more than 250,000 homes throughout the country, and Rwanda’s Solar Power field, which brings electricity to 15,000 households.

Poverty-ending Potential

These new initiatives in renewable energy in Africa have the potential to end poverty for millions of Africans. According to the Africa Progress Panel’s Africa Progress Report 2015 — Power, People, Planet, new renewable energy bring “prices as low as US$1-2/kWh, implying cost reductions of 80-90 percent”.

Many Africans are extremely dependent on agriculture, as it is one of the continent’s largest industries. The Africa Progress Report 2015 expressed that the inconsistent availability of energy is damaging yields for farmers and forcing them to use techniques that are harmful to the environment. New technology will not only bring electricity to countless homes, it will also re-energize agriculture in Africa by helping to produce more food and protecting the ecosystem.

This rise of renewable energy in Africa will introduce light to the dark, impoverished and long-forgotten corners of the continent.

Liam Travers

Photo: Pixabay

El Nino

In response to the El Niño weather phenomenon, The Elders have asked that world leaders take initiative in filling the $2.5 billion gap in funding. This funding is necessary to alleviate the global effects of El Niño on poorer communities.

The Elders and Their Cause

The Elders are a group of activists and advocates brought together by Nelson Mandela in 2007. They work together, using their influence and experience, to promote human rights, peace and justice on a global scale. Their attention has turned toward the problem of human-induced climate change due to the effects of the El Niño weather event. This year brought the strongest El Niño yet, which led to numerous droughts and severe flooding in many areas.

While the weather pattern itself is over for the year, the aftermath is still very much present and widespread. A lack of water in many areas caused extensive crop loss and increased food prices. Food shortages are running rampant in eastern and southern Africa as over 26 million children lack food security and one million suffer from severe malnutrition. Food shortages, however, are not the only concern. El Niño also warms bodies of water, which in turn contributes to the spread of the Zika virus, a virus transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito.

All of the issues associated with El Niño could lead to mass migration as communities are forced out of their regions by uninhabitable weather and poor health conditions.

Aid Options

The Elders have recommended two steps that governments can take to aid victims of El Niño. The first step is to financially assist governments of climate-vulnerable countries by developing contingency plans and creating safety measures in the event of another climate-related crisis. The second step is to create and agree upon a “concrete road map” at the United Nations Climate Conference. This road map will hopefully lead to funding the $100 billion annual commitment to climate action in developing countries by the year 2020.

The current climate crisis requires immediate aid but The Elders believe that El Niño also needs a long-term response.

Kofi Annan, chair of The Elders, addressed the most recent El Niño event in a letter to all world leaders. “I am confident that your country will play its part in ensuring that the world’s most vulnerable people are protected now and into the future,” said Annan.

This sentiment reverberates to those struggling through El Niño’s devastation and serves as a reminder that global solutions require global support.

Jordan R. Little

Photo: Flickr

It was only twenty years ago that the now infamous “Genocide Fax” was sent, a detailed letter to the United Nations headquarters in New York explaining the brewing events leading up to the mass slaughter that we now know as the Rwandan Genocide.

The letter, sent by the then-Force Commander of the UN peacekeeping mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR), General Romeo Dallaire, explained that ethnic Hutu extremists were stockpiling weapons and distributing them to the militias. An informant had also revealed to him that “he has been ordered to register all Tutsi in Kigali” in preparation “for their extermination.” These harrowing discoveries prompted Dallaire to contact UN headquarters, convinced that it was necessary to act. The final line of the letter read, ‘Peux ce que veux. Allons-y,’ translating to ‘Where there is a will there is a way. Let’s go.’

The UN however, decided against acting. Then-Head of UN Peacekeeping Operations, Kofi Annan, instructed Dallaire to essentially do nothing, as “unanticipated repercussions” could ensue.

The repercussions that Dallaire anticipated did ensue, following the tragic plane attack that killed then-President Habyarimana just three months later.

Then came the horrifying Rwandan genocide that claimed nearly one million lives in less than 100 days.

Twenty years later the nation has far surpassed anyone’s expectations. Due to an onslaught of foreign aid and a revitalized Rwandan pride, the country has built itself back and shows no signs of stopping.

Under the leadership of President Paul Kagame, more than one million Rwandans have lifted themselves out of poverty and nearly all children attend school. Investment has nearly tripled since 2005 and economic opportunities abound. Malaria deaths have fallen more than 85 percent, and nine out of every 10 Rwandans claim that they “trust in the leadership of their country.” The transformations that Rwanda has made are far from over, as the country aims to be a middle-income nation by 2020.

These achievements prove just how much can be accomplished in the face of adversity. The Rwandan people have lifted their country out of despair and created a beacon of hope to all of those who still suffer under the dark cloud of genocide.

Not only that, but they have taught us a valuable lesson.

We have a responsibility as human beings to protect each other from such mass atrocities. Unfortunately, the United Nations learned this in a painful way. However, they have now been at the forefront of putting a stop to genocides in countries such as Libya, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Twenty years later we remember all of those who lost their lives in the Rwandan genocide, and we thank them for the valuable lesson that we now must put into practice.

Mollie O’Brien

Sources: The Guardian, The Huffington Post
Photo: Global Solutions

roosevelt Quotes from World Leaders on Human Rights
1. David Cameron, UK Prime Minister
“If we are going to try to get across to the poorest people in the world that we care about their plight and we want them to join one world with the rest of us, we have got to make promises and keep promises.”

2. Irene Khan, former Secretary-General of Amnesty International
“Poverty is not only about income poverty, it is about the deprivation of economic and social rights, insecurity, discrimination, exclusion and powerlessness. That is why human rights must not be ignored but given even greater prominence in times of economic crisis.”

3. Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

“Discrimination and multiple deprivations of human rights are also frequently part of the problem, sentencing entire populations to poverty… It is surely a matter of outrage that over half a million women die annually from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. This is nearly half the annual global death toll, and arguably, a direct reflection of the disempowerment of women in social, economic and political life.”

4. Jesse Jackson, American Statesman and Civil Rights Activist
“The great responsibility that we have today is to put the poor and the near poor back on front of the American agenda.”

5. Pope Francis “A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table, but above all to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being.”

6. Dalai Lama XIV “No matter what part of the world we come from, we are all basically the same human beings. We all seek happiness and try to avoid suffering. We have the same basic human needs and concerns. All of us human beings want freedom and the right to determine our own destiny as individuals and as peoples. That is human nature.”

7. Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani Human Rights Activist
“I don’t know why people have divided the whole world into two groups, west and east. Education is neither eastern nor western. Education is education and it’s the right of every human being.”

8. Pranab Mukherjee, President of India 
“There is no humiliation more abusive than hunger.”

9. Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations
“Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.”

10. Barack Obama, President of the United States
“This is the moment when we must build on the wealth that open markets have created, and share its benefits more equitably. Trade has been a cornerstone of our growth and global development. But we will not be able to sustain this growth if it favors the few, and not the many.”

11. Desmond Tutu, Noble Peace Prize Laureate
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

12. Vladimir Putin, President of Russia
“History proves that all dictatorships, all authoritarian forms of government are transient. Only democratic systems are not transient. Whatever the shortcomings, mankind has not devised anything superior.”

13. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian President
“The world is in need of an encompassing and of course, just and humane order in the light of which the rights of all are preserved and peace and security are safeguarded.”

14. Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, Cuban Foreign Minister
“This problem will knock on the doors of all of us, whether through uncontrolled and unmanageable migration flows, by means of diseases and epidemics, as a result of the conflicts generated by poverty and hunger, or as a result of events which are today unforeseeable.”

15. Warren Buffett, American Investor and Philanthropist
“Someone is sitting in the shade today, because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”

Tyson Watkins

Sources: Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights: Quotes, Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights: Statement by Navenethem Pillay, Catholics Confront Global Poverty, Dalai Lama, Think Exist, Brainy Quote

Photo: Vintage 3D

“Millions of children are victims of violence and exploitation. They are physically and emotionally vulnerable and they can be scarred for life by mental or emotional abuse. That is why children should always have the first claim on our attention and resources. They must be at the heart of our thinking on challenges we are addressing on a daily basis. We know what to do, and we know how to do it. The means are at hand, it is up to us to seize the opportunity and build a world that is fit for children,” remarked Ban Ki-moon, Secretarty-General of the United Nations on November 20, 2009, on the Twentieth Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Just as Ban Ki-moon mentioned, children are not physically or mentally ready to enter the labor force. With the lack of physical abilities, the safety of the workplace cannot be ensured, for both the children and other employees. In fact, children are more likely to be abused and mistreated in an environment centering around child labor.

“Few human rights abuses are so widely condemned, yet so widely practiced. Let us make (child labor) a priority. Because a child in danger is a child that cannot wait,” stated Kofi Annan, Former UN Secretary-General. Around the world, more than 211 million children between the age of 5 and 14 are being forced to work. Among these children, 120 million children are working full time.

To eradicate child labor, people should first understand what leads to such situations. For example, poverty is the first and foremost reason of child labor.  Since many parents do not have the capability to support their household, children end up working to help support the family’s daily lives. Another reason for child labor is a poor education system.

When education is expensive or not readily available, impoverished parents do not see the benefit of learning and think that working is a better alternative. In the United States, there are many laws that prohibit child labor, however, in some countries, child labor laws exist, but are not enforced. Companies can thus take advantage of the cheap labor and further exploit it.

On the other hand, many organizations have been striving to put a stop to child labor by various programs. For example, the United Nations has been running campaigns to raise the awareness of child labor across various nations and airing them in global events such as the World Cup. Moreover, in order to raise the level of education in poverty stricken areas, the Red Cross and governments of third world countries have been recruiting teachers to volunteer in remote areas.

Phong Pham

Sources: Child Labor Public Education Project, UN: Agencies Urge Greater Action, International Labor Rights Forum, UN: Child Labor
Photo: Addicting Info


Facts about Child Labor

For many of us in the developed world, places like Swaziland or South Africa seem so far off that the problems they face fall to the wayside of our own concerns. In today’s world, fraught with distractions, it is increasingly difficult to inform people that issues facing even the most remote corner of the globe bear the possibility of becoming our own concerns, especially when it comes to public health.

Every year concerns are raised about West Nile Virus, and it is not difficult to understand why. In less than a generation, the virus had made its way from the Nile all the way to California. Although only those with specific genetic predispositions are susceptible to the disease, even the slightest change in the global climate is a boon to the disease.

Similarly, in 2003, the global health community went into panic at the prospect of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) becoming a pandemic. Overnight, airports around the world transformed into what looked like surgical conventions.

While each new disease understandably has its time in the limelight, one in particular remains a constant source of illness in some areas and an ever-postured threat in others.

In the United States, the Center for Disease Control estimates that each year 50,000 people are infected with HIV. Moreover, the CDC estimates that, of the one million people living with HIV/AIDS, a fifth are unaware that they have the disease. In countries such as the United States, a mark of development is the ability to adequately quell the spread of disease. Through education, treatment, and preventative measures, HIV/AIDS has not reached the heights of its potential.

In developing nations, particularly those of sub-Saharan Africa, the story is much more bleak. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan famously declared that between 1999 and 2000, more Africans died as a result of HIV/AIDS than from all of the wars on the continent combined.

Without adequate education, sufficient intervention is made nearly impossible. When Pope Benedict XVI traveled to sub-Saharan Africa in 2009 and publicly decried the use of condoms, global health officials were sent into frenzy. With 22 million infected, dissuading the use of condoms greatly inhibits efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa.

With clear indications of the dampening effect education has on the spread of disease, many are compelling global health organizations to shift the brunt of their resources toward education in the sub-Saharan region. A study conducted by Pennsylvania State University found that through formal education, residents in Sub-Saharan Africa are able to make cognizant decisions about the disease.

In a recent release, the researchers explained that “more educated people have the cognitive tools to make better sense out of facts presented to them. We have shown that when there is sufficient information, and no misinformation, people with education adopt healthy strategies to avoid infections.” While global health organizations are doing compelling work with the disease, the researchers at Penn State believe they are simply treating the symptoms rather than the disease itself. “The kind of information being supplied by NGOs is scandalous because it is so simplistic and minimalist, particularly for low-educated people, that they are not going to figure this disease out in time to prevent their own infection.”

The rate of HIV/AIDS in Africa will remain a source of concern for even the most developed nations in the world into the foreseeable future.

– Thomas van der List 

Sources: NCBI,, National Academy of Sciences, The Guardian, Penn State
Photo: Made4LLCom

Clean Cookstoves CampaignHunger is not the only food-related problem faced by people in the poorest parts of the world. Even if people have access to nourishing foods, the methods they use to prepare meals can pose significant health risks in the form of in-home pollution.

According to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, nearly 3 billion people globally cook food and heat their homes using open fires or traditional cookstoves. Smoke exposure from these methods poses a significant global health threat that is responsible for 4 million premature deaths every year, according to Radha Muthiah, executive director of the Alliance. Those figures, Muthiah noted, make “the simple act of cooking a meal the fourth greatest health risk in the world.” Women and children are particularly vulnerable.

The Alliance is a large partnership-based organization that was launched by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative. It started with just 19 founding partners. Three years later the organization is significantly larger; currently, it is working with 700 partners around the world.

The success of the Alliance lies in an early effort to outline clear goals and methods of achieving those goals. The ultimate vision is to achieve universal clean cookstove adoption by 2030, but the organization is taking a step-by-step approach. First, the organization is working to get 100 million households globally to adopt clean cookstoves and fuel by 2020. To reach that goal, the organization will work with its partners on six continents.

According to the Alliance’s website, the organization uses a three-pronged strategy: enhance demand, foster an enabling environment and strengthen supply. Enhancing demand involves everything from raising consumer awareness to providing access to financing and developing better technologies. Strengthening supply means making sure there are enough cookstoves available for consumers at prices they can afford. Fostering an enabling environment involves promoting international standards and documenting new research about the benefits of clean cookstoves.

The Alliance has had a number of famous champions in addition to Clinton. They include actor Julia Roberts, Chef Jose Andres, and former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

There have been some questions about the long-term health effects of the clean cookstove movement since it started gathering steam. In 2012, a study by a group of Harvard University and MIT professors looked at one specific city, Orissa, India, where the alliance had worked. The study found that there was a meaningful reduction in smoke inhalation during the first year a household used a clean cookstove, but the benefits diminished as time went on because the stoves were often abandoned if they were damaged. The results provided a note on how the movement could be improved.

– Liza Casabona

Sources: Devex, Clean Cookstoves, Bloomberg
Photo: US Embassy

Profile: the Better World Fund
The Better World Fund was founded in 1998 by media mogul, philanthropist, and humanitarian Ted Turner.  The man who brought us the cable station CNN started the Fund as an umbrella organization to facilitate public-private partnerships to address a range of global concerns, including health crises and environmental problems.  The fund also serves as an advocacy and outreach organization to support the work of the United Nations and to lobby for the US Government to provide political, financial and sometimes military support for UN humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts.

The major initiative of the Better World Fund is the Better World Campaign, whose publicity and advocacy work currently focuses on what the organization calls its “key issues.”  The top three of those issues are climate change, global health, and international security.

In each of these areas, the Better World Fund and the Better World Campaign work to build support for UN initiatives.  On climate change, they advocate for the adoption of the Copenhagen Accord, which establishes a registry to keep track of the ways that different nations are responding to climate change. The Accord also commits developed countries to provide up to $100 billion per year by 2020 to reduce emissions and take other measures to address climate change.

In the area of global health, the Better World Fund supports UN education and treatment efforts to combat HIV/AIDS and malaria, and it supports vaccination efforts to eradicate polio.  In the area of international security, the Fund advocates for UN efforts to end nuclear proliferation, to combat international terrorism, and to enforce maritime laws governing the activities of governments and businesses, and the management of marine natural resources.

The Fund’s Board of Directors includes former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, civil rights leader Andrew Young, and Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan.

– Délice Williams
Source: Better World Campaign, Charity Navigator
Source: Glogster