Saturday, April 19, 2014

10,000 Pageviews

This is just a little item in the Big Scheme of Things.


Sometime within the last month, this blog recorded 10,000 pageviews. It's a significant milestone for this little corner of the internet.

According to Blogger (which hosts our blog), a total of 10,563 pageviews had been logged as of April 19, 2014. That's an average of more than 500 visitors / month.

Our first post on this blog was published on July 14, 2012. Since then, we have offered news and commentary on topics ranging from human trafficking to the rights of people with disabilities to "Agenda 21" -- and more.

We like to think that our posts through this medium have contributed to the mission of our Association -- To educate, inspire and mobilize support for the values and vital work of the United Nations.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Hidden in Plain Sight

To Gain the Trust of Foreign Victims of Human
Trafficking, Cultural Sensitivity is Essential


The website of the California Attorney General has an insightful statement about the crime of human trafficking:

"Human trafficking is often hidden in plain sight. Victims of human trafficking often do not know where to turn for assistance and can be too intimidated to ask for help...."

The mindset of a trafficking victim is described in greater detail in a Fact Sheet published by the federal government's Office of Refugee Resettlement:

"A human trafficking victim may develop a mindset of fear, distrust, denial, and conflicting loyalties. Foreign victims of trafficking are often fearful of being deported or jailed and, therefore, they may distrust authority figures, particularly law enforcement and government officials. Similarly, traffickers may convince sex trafficking victims who are U.S. citizens ... that, if they report their traffickers to the police, the police will jail the victim for prostitution while the traffickers, pimps, or johns will go free. Many victims of both sex and labor trafficking fear that if they escape their servitude and initiate investigations against their trafficker, the trafficker and his/her associates will harm the victims, the victims’ family members, or others."

This combination of factors -- fear, distrust, manipulation -- is a burden for victims who have been trafficked from abroad.

Isolated by their lack of language skills and cultural understanding, foreign victims of human trafficking are often the most difficult group to identify, rescue and restore.

Special training and resources are needed to overcome the cultural and language barriers that separate trafficking victims from the people who want to help them. That's why the OKC chapter of the United Nations Association is organizing a Cultural Competency Committee in support of
Oklahoma's Human Trafficking Task Force.

The next meeting of our committee will be:

Friday, April 4th -- 1 to 3pm
3813 N. Santa Fe, Suite 135
Oklahoma City, OK   73118
Phone (405) 622-2026

If you're interested in supporting our work, you are welcome to attend the meeting. We need more volunteers -- people who are smart, energetic, aware of community resources, etc. To join the committee, please send an email message to Bill Bryant at Bill.Bryant.OK@aol.com. (You don't have to be a member of the UN Association to participate in this activity).

How many foreign victims of human trafficking are there in Oklahoma?

It is not possible to know for sure. Unfortunately, many crimes of this nature go undetected and unprosecuted. Anecdotally, we know that foreign persons who are trafficked in the United States often wait years before coming forward to report their abuse.
For a survivor's story, watch this 2-minute
video on YouTube, "The Professors: Ima."

Yet, there are some indicators that give us clues about the scope and scale of human trafficking in our state. For example, consider the following facts:
  
In the last 5 years, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, more than 700 calls have been placed to the National Human Trafficking hot line from Oklahoma.

Of these calls, it was determined that there were 138 credible cases of potential human trafficking reported from across the state.
 

According to the NHTRC, the cases break down like this:

  
Moreover, it was determined that 44 of the cases involved Foreign Nationals -- that is, people who are not U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents of the United States.
  
In some of the NHTRC reports, the language of the caller to the hot line was denoted. In most cases, the caller spoke English. In other cases, the callers spoke various foreign languages, including:
  • Spanish
  • Turkish
  • Tagalog
  • Vietnamese
  • German
  • Unknown
This illustrates the diversity of nationalities that are represented in the NHTRC database. It demonstrates that human trafficking in Oklahoma has many dimensions, and it potentially involves people from across the globe.
  
Therefore, in order for Oklahoma to respond effectively to the needs of human trafficking victims, we need the ability to offer survivor services that are culturally sensitive and responsive in many different languages.
  
In short, the goal of our committee is to support the cultural competencies of human trafficking responders (law enforcement, social service agencies, etc.).
  
In previous meetings of our task force, some ideas were given for pursuing this goal. It was suggested that our committee should:
  • Identify cultural community leaders / partners
  • Build / locate culturally appropriate resources
  • Identify language resources
  • Develop Cultural Awareness Fact Sheets (to include verbal, non-verbal communications, religious / spiritual customs, preferred / required foods, clothing, etc.)
  • Develop a database of interpreters 
  • Identify Cultural Outreach opportunities
  • Faith based services
It seems like a big project. But, we know that the largest projects can be broken down into manageable tasks. And, some of these resources are already available. We don't need to re-invent the wheel.
  
Can you help us improve our capacity in this area? Please feel free to attend our committee meeting. Bring ideas, and don't be shy about sharing your knowledge. 
 

What is Known About the Origin of Foreign Victims

Who are Trafficked into the United States?


The data is imprecise. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime publishes periodic reports on human trafficking around the world. Their 2012 report (pdf) found that, "One of every five trafficking victims detected in the Americas during the reporting period was a national of a country in East Asia." The following map attempts to describe the trafficking patterns that have been detected. A majority (65.1%) of trafficking victims in the North American - Central America - Caribbean region are from within the region.


"The United States is widely regarded as a destination country for modern slavery. The U.S. Department of State estimates that 14,500 to 17,500 victims are trafficked into the United States each year. This figure does not include victims who are trafficked within the country each year."

--Office of the Attorney General, State of California
 


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Bridges of Understanding

Using Cultural Competency in the
Fight Against Human Trafficking


Do you want to support the fight against human trafficking in Oklahoma? Here's another way you can help.

Your Oklahoma City chapter of the United Nations Association is organizing a Cultural Competency Committee in support of Oklahoma's Human Trafficking Task Force.

Our mission is to assist law enforcement and social service organizations as they carry out "rescue and restore" operations for survivors of human trafficking. We intend to create a dynamic database of community-specific resources that may be used in support of survivors -- focusing especially on survivors who are foreign nationals.

We recognize that one of the greatest challenges in any rescue and restore operation is to reach out effectively to human trafficking victims who may have limited English language skills and who may be unfamiliar with American laws, customs, and culture.
Lili Samad, a survivor of international
labor trafficking, holds her 3-year-old
daughter. Photo by Jason Winshell /
SF Public Press.
Read her story.

We will build bridges of understanding to span the culture gaps that separate human trafficking victims from the local people and organizations who want to help them.

The next meeting of our Cultural Competency Committee will be:

Friday, April 4th -- 1 to 3pm
Central Oklahoma Workforce Investment Board
3813 N. Santa Fe, Suite 135
Oklahoma City, OK   73118

Phone (405) 622-2026

If you're interested in supporting our work, you are welcome to attend the meeting. We need more volunteers -- people who are smart, energetic, aware of community resources, etc. We're looking for people who can reach out to community partners through email and social media -- people who can make phone calls, send email messages, manage a database, put up a website, and so on.

Even if you can help in a small way, you will be welcome to join our committee. To join, please send an email message to Bill Bryant at Bill.Bryant.OK@aol.com.

(You don't have to be a member of the UN Association to participate in this activity).

For some helpful background information on human trafficking in Oklahoma, please see these articles:

"Evolution -- How Oklahoma's New Human Trafficking Laws Evolved From a UN Treaty on International Crime"
http://una-okc.blogspot.com/2014/01/evolution.html

and

"A Crime That Shames Us All"
www.una-okc.org/carina


How the United Nations
Defines "Human Trafficking"


Human trafficking is the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them.

Smuggling migrants involves the procurement for financial or other material benefit of illegal entry of a person into a State of which that person is not a national or resident.

Virtually every country in the world is affected by these crimes. The challenge for all countries, rich and poor, is to target the criminals who exploit desperate people and to protect and assist victims of trafficking and smuggled migrants, many of whom endure unimaginable hardships in their bid for a better life.

-- United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

Saturday, March 15, 2014

CSW-58

We're proud that "one of our own" is at
the UN Commission on the Status of Women


Last weekend, as our celebration of International Women's Day was wrapping up, one of the guests at our luncheon program slipped quietly out the door. She caught a plane and flew to New York City, United Nations headquarters.

Michelle Rodriguez will be in New York City for two weeks. She is participating in the 58th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW-58).

Any meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women is bound to be an auspicious, high-profile affair. Official delegates from 45 UN member nations are in attendance. Credentialed delegates from Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO's) also attend from around the world. It could be a mighty intimidating event for a 20-something young woman from Oklahoma.

Michelle is taking it in stride. She has been attending various seminars, panel presentations, and side meetings. She has also been posting a few pictures on her Facebook page.

Michelle attending a session on human trafficking
We checked with her via email earlier this week. This is what she wrote:

"Today, so far I have participated in the following sessions:
 
"United States federation for Middle East peace - ensuring equal access to education and training for girls and women
 
"World health organization (WHO), Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Global Women's Institue, George Washington University - the role of the health sector in addressing violence against women
 
"Council of Europe, US and Austria - Trafficking in human beings- a severe form of violence against women and girls and a flagrant violation of human rights
 
"PLAN international - how to end child, early and forced marriages.
 
"It's very individualized about five side events per session time - they are each about 1 hour and 30 minutes, and run from 10am- 7pm. Then have the NGO briefings daily. I will be going to one tomorrow at 1:30pm with the other SustainUS delegates....
 
"I'll bring back awesome books and information! I am about to attend the human trafficking session now, looking forward to it!"

Michelle is attending CSW-58 as part of a delegation representing "SustainUS," an international NGO that is focused on empowering young people to advance sustainable development.

Over the course of the last 10 years, "SustainUS" has sponsored delegations to international conferences on climate change, sustainable development, social development, women, and biological diversity. More than 500 young people have participated through the Agents of Change program sponsored by SustainUS.

Michelle was selected for the Agents of Change program following a rigorous application and review process. We're glad she was invited, and we're especially happy that she is able to give us first-hand reports on the important business that is being conducted at CSW-58.

We're proud to say that "one of our own" is attending the UN Commission on the Status of Women. We hope to hear more from Michelle after she returns to Oklahoma.

About the UN Commission on the Status of Women


During the inaugural meetings of the UN General Assembly in London in February 1946, Eleanor Roosevelt, a United States delegate, read an open letter addressed to “the women of the world”:

“To this end, we call on the Governments of the world to encourage women everywhere to take a more active part in national and international affairs, and on women who are conscious of their opportunities to come forward and share in the work of peace and reconstruction as they did in war and resistance.”

A few days later, a sub-commission dedicated to the Status of Women was established under the UN Commission on Human Rights. On 21 June 1946, the sub-commission formally became the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), a full-fledged Commission dedicated to ensuring women’s equality and to promoting women’s rights.

Today, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. The CSW is instrumental in documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

During the Commission’s annual two-week session, representatives of UN Member States, civil society organizations and UN entities gather at UN headquarters in New York. They discuss progress as well as emerging issues that affect gender equality and the empowerment of women. Member States agree on further actions to accelerate progress and promote women’s enjoyment of their rights in political, economic and social fields.

The priority theme of CSW-58 is, "Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls."

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Don't Say "Sustainability"

Is Freedom of Speech Debatable
in the Oklahoma Legislature?


Rep. Gus Blackwell (R-Laverne) doesn't want you to say, "Sustainability."

Mr. Blackwell -- a state representative from western Oklahoma -- opposes the recognition in our state of any term like "sustainability" or "carbon footprint." These words can be manipulated for political purposes, he says.

So, he wants the State House of Representatives to go on record opposing any group, individual or program that uses these words.

He has introduced House Resolution 1033:

A Resolution opposing recognition in state of certain
term; opposing any group that integrates certain
term; opposing recognition in state of certain
alliances; opposing certain national or international
pacts; and directing distribution....


The Resolution, which Rep. Blackwell introduced last month, goes on to propose:

"THAT the Oklahoma House of Representatives opposes the recognition in our state of any term like 'sustainability', which has no solid universal definition and can be manipulated to enforce overreaching regulations....

"THAT the Oklahoma House of Representatives opposes any group, individual or program that integrates the term 'sustainability', or any related term like 'carbon footprint' or 'trip bottom line' that hinder production agriculture...."


Representative Blackwell's proposed Resolution is a reaction, he says, to "United Nations Agenda 21" -- you know, the comprehensive plan of global control that is being covertly pushed into local communities through local initiatives to promote "smart growth" and "resilient cities."

(For a serious description, see our blog post, "What is Agenda 21?")

Obviously, the United Nations Association does not support House Resolution 1033. We generally oppose governmental restrictions on free speech.

If you enjoy your right to say "Sustainable" (or "green," etc.), you might want to send an email message to Speaker Jeff Hickman. As the elected leader of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, Rep. Hickman has some influence over the items of business that are brought up for a vote in the Legislature. You might want to suggest that action on HR 1033 should be deferred indefinitely.

Speaker Hickman's email address is jwhickman@okhouse.gov

Thanks!

"No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session."
--Gideon John Tucker

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Province of All Humankind

The UN's Plan to Save the World
From Hazardous Near-Earth Objects


When I don't have enough other things to worry about, my mind sometimes wanders to the dinosaurs. No, I'm not worried about a Jurassic Park scenario. (That was a great movie, though, wasn't it?). Rather, I'm worried about the type of cataclysmic event that caused the demise of the dinosaurs. Could a similar disaster in the future bring an end to our current enterprise on Earth? A direct hit from a mile-wide asteroid would not be a pretty sight. It could be a ruinous day for our Anthropocene Epoch.

Actually, even a grazing strike from a large meteor would cause damage and panic on a wide scale. Remember the meteor that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2013? Fifteen hundred people were injured by shattering glass and collapsing structures.

I know enough about astronomy and our solar system to realize that it is only a matter of time before one of those big space rocks will smash into our lovely planet again. It happened before, numerous times. It will happen again.

Despite this depressing certainty, I'm not a fatalist when it comes to asteroid catastrophes. There may be occasions when passive observation is appropriate. But, this is not one of those times. We need action to protect our planet from the doomsday rock with our number on it. We have the knowledge and the capacity to defend our Earth. The time for action is now!

A fireball explodes over Chelyabinsk, Russia,
as captured on a dash cam.
That's not just my opinion. The UN General Assembly agrees.

In December, 2013 -- partly as a result of the meteor strike in Chelyabinsk -- the members of the United Nations adopted a resolution expressing serious concern "about the devastating impact of disasters." (See Resolution A/RES/68/75 on International Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space).

The General Assembly's Resolution went beyond a simple statement of concern. The UN has actually had a committee laboring on this problem for a number of years. So, as part of its Resolution, the General Assembly endorsed an action plan that was proposed by a working group of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

Here's the operative language of Resolution A/RES/68/75:

"The General Assembly...
"8.   Welcomes with satisfaction the recommendations for an international
response to the near-Earth object impact threat, endorsed by the Scientific
and Technical Subcommittee at its fiftieth session and by the Committee at
its fifty-sixth session."


It is a prosaic statement, not like other well-known UN documents which have inspired action on human rights, peacebuilding, disease eradication, and other issues of global concern. In this case, the action of the General Assembly will be remembered for its substance -- not for any flowery language.

Here's a short description of the UN's 3-point plan for saving our planet from near-Earth objects.

(1) Identify and Validate the Threat. The UN will establish an International Asteroid Warning Network (IAWN), which will be a clearing house for receiving reports on observations of Near Earth Objects (NEO's) -- basically, any asteroids or comets which could pose a potential threat to Earth.

Bill Nye, the Science Guy, is the CEO of the Planetary Society
-- one of several agencies and groups that are part of the
United Nations Working Group on Near Earth Objects.
The Network will process all NEO observations, deciding which ones should be catalogued for future reference and which should be singled out for notice as a "potentially hazardous object."

(2) Deflect / Mitigate. Under authority of the UN, the space-faring nations of the world will establish a space mission planning advisory group. The group will consider "...the framework, timeline and options for initiating and executing space mission response activities."

Deflecting an incoming NEO will not be an easy task, and it will carry some risks. The advisory group will weigh "the various options for deflection and the implications (technical readiness, political acceptability, cost of development and operation...) of a particular deflection strategy."

If a defensive space mission is not feasible, the IAWN will mobilize existing national and international disaster response agencies to prepare for a potential NEO impact event. "IAWN should... assist Governments in their response to predicted impact consequences. This does not limit the possibility of organizing, in this respect, additional international specialized advisory groups, if necessary."

(3) Promote Continuing International Cooperation in Space.

(The 3-point plan described above is summarized from the "Final Report of the Action Team on Near-Earth Objects," published by the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, 11-22 February, 2013)

With regard to international cooperation in space, it should be noted that this is not a new topic for the United Nations. The UN has been promoting and supporting space exploration for more than 50 years -- dating back to the creation of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in 1959.

For example, the UN has developed a body of Space Law to guide international cooperation among the Earth's spacefaring nations. These agreements include:

• The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which established the principle that, "The exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;"

Mazlan Binti Othman is a Malaysian astrophysicist who
is the director of the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs.
• The Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space (the "Rescue Agreement"), in 1968;

• The Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects (the "Liability Convention"), 1972;

• The Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (the "Registration Convention"), adopted by the General Assembly in January, 1975; and

• The Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the "Moon Agreement"), which entered into force in 1984.

It makes sense for the United Nations to take a leadership role in protecting our planet from the hazards of space. It is the largest international organization in the world; its membership encompasses nearly every nation, including all spacefaring nations.

With its long history of leadership on issues of global security and cooperation in space, the UN has the credibility, respect, and organizational legitimacy needed to mobilize the resources of nations, international space agencies, scientific organizations, etc.

When we find a big space rock hurtling toward us, we want our best people to be focused on forming a life-saving solution -- not squabbling about who is in charge.

Knowing all of this, I'm able to sleep a little better at night -- but only a little. I still worry about the unknown hazards lurking in the dark corners of our solar system. There are thousands of asteroids that haven't yet been catalogued, and more are being discovered every day.

Our capacity for detecting these objects is improving, but not fast enough for worry-warts like me. We're really just in the infancy of our efforts to protect our planet from NEO hazards. (I'm especially concerned about the big one that didn't show up when we thought it would).

I support the UN's efforts on the coordination of outer space activities. I just wish they had more resources and could move a little faster.

Bill Bryant
Director of Communications
Greater Oklahoma City Chapter
United Nations Association of the USA

Messages from Space Explorers to Future Generations
In honour of the fiftieth anniversary of human space flight, and to pay tribute to the extraordinary journey of the men and women who have flown into space, the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) invited past and present space explorers to provide a message that might inspire future generations.

Here is the message that was shared by Anatoly Ivanishin, who flew on the International Space Station in 2010 and 2011. (See more at the UNOOSA website)


Sunday, February 16, 2014

Women In Prison


 
Female Incarceration is Part of the Reality
We will Explore at our International
Women's Day Luncheon on March 8th


Oklahoma puts more women in prison, per capita, than any country on Earth.

Have you reserved your place for our International Women's Day program / luncheon on Saturday, March 8th? Tickets are just $20, and you can reserve yours now with our online form:

http://survey.constantcontact.com/survey/a07e8wgqi6jhrce9kxh/start 
(Sorry ... our online registration form has now closed)

The program will be:

Saturday, March 8th
The Center
4325 NW 50th Street
Oklahoma City, OK   73112


Check-in is at 11:30am. The program kicks off at 12 Noon.

Our keynote speaker will be Lou Kohlman, Chair of the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women.

As a leader of OCSW, Ms. Kohlman is well-versed in the myriad complex of issues facing Oklahoma women today -- including issues of aging, women's physical and mental health, as well as our state's high rate of female incarceration.

There are about 2,600 women locked up in Oklahoma's prisons -- a rate of incarceration that is about twice the national average.

A Reuter's news article in 2013 defined the problem this way: "The female incarceration rate in Oklahoma stands at 121 per 100,000 population, compared with a national average of 65, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics."

Why does Oklahoma lock up so many women?

Kristin Davis, executive director of the Oklahoma Women's Coalition, addressed this question in a commentary in the Oklahoma Gazette last November. She wrote:

"Many factors contribute to the high female incarceration rate. However, the root cause is one that makes for uncomfortable conversation: the fact that women and girls in our state are not treated well.

"Oklahoma has an inordinate number of girls who suffer abuse and other forms of trauma in childhood and then carry the symptoms of trauma into adulthood.

"The fact that our state ranks among the top five in the U.S. for the rate of child abuse deaths is an obvious indicator of the high rate of child abuse that exists.

"According to the state Department of Corrections, more than 66 percent of incarcerated women report having suffered physical or sexual abuse during childhood. Without resources to provide them with early intervention, treatment or support, these women foundered and made choices, such as self-medication, that led them on a path to prison."

Beyond the social factors -- abuse, poverty, unwed and teen mothers, drug use, etc. -- that influence our crime rates, some observers think Oklahoma's laws are too harsh.

One of these people is Susan Sharp, a University of Oklahoma sociology professor. She has been studying Oklahoma's treatment of female offenders for the past two decades. She is the editor of the book, “The Incarcerated Woman.”

Dr. Sharp thinks Oklahoma has too many “mean” laws and too many politicians who are unconcerned with the rehabilitation of criminal offenders. (Read a news story about her remarks at a recent forum at the United Way of Central Oklahoma).

Her comments are supported by a fact sheet (pdf) from The Sentencing Project showing that incarceration rates for women have been rising over time -- not just in Oklahoma, but nationally as well: 

"The number of women in prison increased by 587% between 1980 and 2011, rising from 15,118 to 111,387."

Women are more likely to be in prison for drug and property offenses, their report notes, while men are more likely to be in prison for violent offenses. Including women who are on probation and parole, the Sentencing Project estimates that more than a million women across the United States are under the supervision of the criminal justice system.

As noted, the problem of female incarceration is not the only challenge faced by Oklahoma women. But, it is an indicator that helps us to have an informed understanding of the status of Oklahoma women today.

We are fortunate that we will have the perspective of Lou Kohlman to put this condition, as well as others, into a meaningful context for us.

Join us on March 8th -- reserve your seat today!
(Sorry ... our online registration form has now closed)