Aletia Dundas, New South Wales Regional Meeting
The Annual face-to-face meeting of the New York Quaker United Nations Office Committee (QUNC) began on 28th March 2019 at the beautiful Quaker House in New York, a 4-story city dwelling with a delightful courtyard out the back. Representatives from the four Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) regional sections, representatives from American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and staff gathered in fellowship and were graced with dappled spring sunlight gently streaming through the window.
The Quaker United Nations Office in New York (QUNO-NY) together with the Geneva office represents the concerns of Friends about global peace and justice to the international community. The Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) is granted “consultative status” with the Economic and Social Council of the UN and this allows QUNO in Geneva and New York to attend UN conferences and meetings, and engage with diplomats, other civil society actors and UN bodies on concerns related to peacebuilding, the prevention of violent conflict, human rights, disarmament and sustainability through quiet diplomacy, research and creating space for dialogue. QUNO-NY focuses mainly on the areas of peacebuilding and the prevention of violent conflict.
We heard from the Director, Andrew Thomlinson, about the challenges and opportunities of the current United Nations landscape. The USA’s increasing resistance to the United Nations poses a challenge while the Secretary General’s new Peacebuilding framework and the upcoming 75th Anniversary of the United Nations both provide opportunities to reflect on the role of the UN and Quakers in working towards a more peaceful world.
A breakfast with the Programme Assistants (PAs) gave committee members an opportunity to show appreciation for the work of PAs, and a chance for the PAs to network with committee members from around the world.
On the second evening, a bus took us all down to Pendle Hill in the quiet Pennsylvania suburb of Wallingford, where we woke to the first blossoms and birdsong of spring and were served home cooked, healthy meals. During our time at Pendle Hill we heard from the Director of QUNO Geneva, the AFSC fundraising team, and from the committee leading the QUNO-NY strategic planning process.
Strategic Planning for QUNO New York was a significant focus area in this meeting. We heard about the process of developing the strategic plan for the next few years, which would be conducted in the style of a clearness committee. During a session where all those present shared words that came up when they thought of QUNO, we realised that words and phrases like power to influence, quiet diplomacy, enduring presence, advocacy for people/human rights and trusted partner came up for quite a few of us.
We heard from Joyce from AFSC about the financial challenges facing the organisation, and how these have had a follow-on effect on QUNO. QUNO and AFSC share a number of values and visions, and climate change is a particular area that both see as a priority. We also heard from the different FWCC sections, and learnt of the concerns in the Africa section for conflicts in the region, concerns in the Section of the Americas about the treatment of immigrants, and a growing concern about troubling government developments in Europe in the Europe and Middle East Section. The World Office has been concerned with global sustainability and climate change and addressing privilege and historical injustice.
We heard reports from the program teams. The Peacebuilding program has worked hard to ensure civil society involvement in UN peacebuilding activities, particularly ensuring civil society engagement at the High Level Event on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace. The Prevention activities have seen the third China-Swiss seminar take place in Beijing looking at the role of China in mediation, peacebuilding and multilateralism. The third area of work – holding the space – has seen QUNO support the peacebuilding capacities of a diverse group of diplomats from around the world.
Throughout our weekend together, I was inspired yet again about the work Quakers do in the pursuit of peace in the multilateral space, and the way they go about it – quiet diplomacy, patient persistence and always in a spirit of discernment and reflection.