QUNO and Human Rights
One facet of the work of the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) is to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights through the United Nations. In particular, QUNO focuses on the interface between human rights and armed conflicts, the protection of refugees, the rights of indigenous peoples and gender issues.
In the 1960s, QUNO worked with Britain’s Anti-Slavery Society to bring concerns about the persistence of slavery in the modern world to the attention of the UN’s ECOSOC Commission on Human Rights. QUNO facilitated discussions and one-to-one meetings with human rights and democracy advocates from countries such as Guatemala, Burma, North Korea and Columbia.
Leading up to and following the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, QUNO New York held meetings and discussions with a wide range of delegates.
Similarly, in preparation for the UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in 2001, QUNO facilitated governmental and grassroots initiatives.
In 1978, QUNO helped to draft a resolution permitting conscientious objectors to seek asylum in member states. Due in part to the persistent work of QUNO Geneva, the right to conscientious objection was recognised by the UN Human Rights Commission in 1987 and is now explicitly recognised under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Since 1979, QUNO has worked to raise awareness of the issue of child soldiers. They helped to develop international standards prohibiting anyone under 18 being recruited into the military or used in combat. In 1998 QUNO helped to found the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.
QUNO has long worked for the rights of refugees and others displaced by war, natural disaster or economic pressure. They are concerned with both the root causes of forced migration, and the situation of those living for years as refugees, who may be denied fundamental rights such as access to adequate food, adequate housing and protection from sexual violence.
In 1984 QUNO began working with delegates to draft an international convention on the rights of migrant workers, adopted by the General Assembly in 1990. Those who have not left their own countries – such as the thousands who fled their homes in places such as Rwanda, Burundi and the former Yugoslavia – are not defined as refugees and are therefore not protected by the UN mandate. In 1992, QUNO helped to persuade the UN commission to appoint a representative on internally displaced persons and has since worked closely with them to develop guiding principles.
QUNO is working with both the World Trade Organisation and the International Labour Organisation to develop fair trading rules that support core labour standards for migrant workers, workers in developing countries and others vulnerable to exploitation.
QUNO has also drawn attention to the largely unrecognised problem of statelessness and the importance of States becoming parties to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
QUNO worked to promote the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People in 2007 and continues to support Quaker organisations that put pressure on individual governments to adopt its provisions.
In 2003, QUNO began work on the rights of prisoners (particularly women prisoners). In conjunction with other Quaker bodies, they were instrumental in getting the UN General Assembly to approve, in 2010, new standards for the treatment of women prisoners known as the “Bangkok Rules”.In the course of this work, they became aware of the issues that arise for the children of parents in prison. Although millions of children worldwide have a father or mother in prison, there are no international standards on how countries should act to protect their rights and welfare. QUNO’s activities have brought increasing attention to the issue, and in 2011 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child dedicate a day of discussion the children of prisoners.