The 46th Congressional Staff Delegation convened on Friday morning, July 12, with a working breakfast at the United States mission to the United Nations. United States Ambassador and Alternative Representative for Special Political Affairs Jeffrey DeLaurentis explained the critical value and importance of the United Nations, in particular to the realm of global security and international peacekeeping. Ambassador DeLaurentis stressed the fact that the United Nations takes on the challenge of peacekeeping in places where no one else goes, stating that it ‘shares the burden of global security’ and identifies with the strong values of democracy and equality, qualities that are embodied within the United States. Ambassador DeLaurentis went into great detail, describing the United Nations peacekeeping missions in Africa, specifically in Sudan and South Sudan, where U.N. officials are providing aid and protection to civilians as well as intervening within the territorial conflicts between the two nations.
After breakfast, the discussion of global security in Africa continued at the United Nations Headquarters led by Mr. Christopher Colman, Head of the Mali and Sahel team, Department of Political Affairs. Mr. Coleman discussed the importance of security, especially considering the infiltration of Al Qaeda in the northern parts of Mali. Mr. Coleman highlighted that the key challenge in Mali is the weakness of the state itself, lacking the legitimacy and national leadership to protect its borders. As a long-term project, he explained the role of the U.N. Department of Political Affairs in providing logistical support and monitoring the day to day political situation in the Sahel region, with the goal of helping the transitional states in the region become stronger, by attaining legitimacy and sovereignty.
The next speaker was Ms. Grainne O’Hara, a Senior Policy Advisor for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Ms. O’Hara first discussed the responsibilities and functions of the UNHCR Liaison Office in New York City, one such responsibility being cooperation with the different U.N. agencies UNHCR works with that are also located in New York City. In addition, Ms. O’Hara explained to the participants the key function of tracking the mandate of different U.N. missions and assessing their progress and development with relation to the displaced populations so that they may explain the dynamics of the refugee mandate in correlation to the peacekeeping operation. Doing so would effectively keep the member-states of the United Nations informed of these joint operations considering that both peacekeeping and refugee assistance have a strong correlation, and in several instances, depend upon the success of each other. With a very small staff in the New York office, the responsibilities of the advisors are divided geographically. For instance, Ms. O’Hara explained that her work covers Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, as well as Northern Africa (Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Western Sahara) and the Americas, with Haiti’s situation being one of the issues on the Security Council’s agenda. She discussed the importance of traveling and interacting in the field where these refugee mandates exist to develop a better understanding of the situation and what steps are necessary to achieve the goals of the mandate. As a Senior Political Advisor herself, Ms. O’Hara just returned from Damascus, where she spent three months working on refugee situation in Syria. The UNHCR also works on logistical matters involved in repatriation which includes, but is not limited to, helping with reintegration through building shelters, providing food and water assistance, and supporting agricultural production. Following the briefing by Ms. O’Hara the delegation participated in a private tour of the United Nations Headquarters.
The final speaker of the day was Ambassador Christopher Ross, the personal envoy of the Secretary General for Western Sahara. Ambassador Ross spoke about the importance of the conflict in Western Sahara, citing it as one that does not garner much attention, yet is comparable in level of severity to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Also labeled as the last territory in Africa to be considered a former colony, the Western Saharan territory has been subject to dispute between Morocco and the Polisario, both of whom claim sovereignty over the territory. Ambassador Ross explained the difficulty of the dispute, having had referendums for self-determination that have failed, in addition to discussions and negotiations which have also made no progress. Through the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara, the goal is to arrive at a mutually acceptable political solution which will provide for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara. While the dispute is on-going with negotiations far from occurring, Ambassador Ross and the U.N. mandated peacekeeping mission MINURSO continue to work towards finding a resolution.
Afterwards, the participants proceeded to a working lunch with various U.N. ambassadors and diplomats. Mr. Amir Dossal, the founder and chairman of the Global Partnerships Forum, as well as a member of the Humpty Dumpty Institute Board of Directors, addressed the delegation and introduced the lunch speaker Mr. William Gardner, Senior Political Affairs Officer at the Department of Peacekeeping. Mr. Gardner outlined the work done by DPKO in Haiti highlighting the importance of restoring peace and security as well as supporting the immediate recovery, reconstruction and stability efforts in the country after the devastating earthquake of 2010. Mr. Gardner finished his remarks by emphasizing the commitment of the U.N. to eradicate the cholera outbreak in Haiti.
Troy Clair, Chief of Staff, Representative G.K. Butterfield, Jr. (D-NC)
Lale Mamaux, Chief of Staff, Representative Alcee Hastings (D-FL)
Arthur Sidney, Chief of Staff, Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA)
Julie Nickson, Chief of Staff, Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA)
Stanley Watkins, Chief of Staff, Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL)
Lanier Avant, Chief of Staff, Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS)
Jane Hamilton, Chief of Staff, Representative Marc Veasey (D-TX)
Brandon Garrett, Chief of Staff, Representative Robin Kelly (D-IL)
Angeline Muckle Jabbar, Assistant Chief of Staff, Representative Donna M. Christensen (D-VI)
Kellie Adesina, Legislative Director, Representative Marcia Fudge (D-OH)
LaDavia Drane, Executive Director, Congressional Black Caucus
Hassan Christian, CBC (Representative Yvette D. Clarke, D-NY)
Latrice Powell, CBC (Representative Emanuel Cleaver, II, D-MO)
Ayofemi Kirby, CBC (Representative Adam Smith, D-WA)
Stefania Piffanelli, Deputy Director, United Nations Information Center
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