US Baha'i community urges strong support for the United Nations - including full US funding
UNITED NATIONS - Among the thousands of NGO representatives at this year's UN DPI/NGO conference were 16 Bahá'ís from local communities in the United States of America.
Their presence at the event represents part of a strong effort within the Bahá'í community of the United States to support the United Nations and its mission of promoting international peace and security.
Since 1947, the American Bahá'í community has been accredited as a non-governmental organization by DPI (Department of Public Information). Further, as a national community, it has over the years been involved in numerous UN-related projects, from the organizing of local UN Day observances to lobbying in the United States Senate for ratification of major UN human rights conventions.
"The Bahá'í teachings explicitly call for the establishment of a world federal system to uphold and maintain world peace," said Jeffery Huffines, the United States Bahá'í representative to the United Nations. "And the United Nations, imperfect though it may be, is the single most important international peace organization in the world."
Most recently, the Bahá'í community of the United States has participated in a major campaign to urge the American Congress to pay its back dues to the UN. According to the UN, the United States owes the organization US$1.6 billion in assessed contributions.
There are some 130,000 Bahá'ís in the United States, living in more than 7,100 localities in all 50 states. Over the last three years, individuals and groups of American Bahá'ís have been engaged in writing letters to their Congressional representatives - and in some cases holding meetings with them - to urge payment of UN dues.
"Our goal is to encourage the United States to be a leader in the whole international system," said Kit Cosby, director of the Washington-based Office of External Affairs for the American Bahá'í community. "We believe that the United States has a legal and moral obligation, not only to live up to its promise to fund the United Nations, but also to be a leader in human rights and other areas required to build the kind of international institutions that are needed for a true global civilization to emerge."
Since 1994, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the US and Amnesty International USA have co-chaired a Washington-based working group of more than 100 national-level organizations urging the US ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). In the past, the US Bahá'í community, working with other US NGOs, has been successful in efforts to urge United States legislators to ratify other UN-negotiated treaties such as the Genocide Convention, the Convention Against Torture, the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Race Convention.
These efforts have been mirrored at the local level throughout the US, where Bahá'ís have long been at the forefront in local observances of events like UN Day, Human Rights Day and International Women's Day.
Last year, for example, Bahá'í communities in the United States were among the main organizers of the 52 state-level "town hall" meetings that were held in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
The willingness of individual Bahá'ís in the United States to support the UN is exemplified by the fact that the 16 Bahá'ís who attended the DPI Conference on globalization paid their own way for the trip to New York.
"I wanted an update on global trends that I can share with colleagues and friends," said Rolando Maddela, a physician from Grand Prairie, Texas. "I've been interested in the UN since the first grade, when our teacher talked about its important role. And as a public health professional, I am aware of the work of the World Health Organization and other UN agencies."
Mark Griffin, an engineer from Oxford, Massachusetts, has been active in the campaign to urge support for the UN. He has asked friends to write letters to their Congressional representatives in support of the UN.
"The UN has an appeal in itself, and I wanted to 'get a flavor' of what it was all about," said Mr. Griffin. "The current importance of the United Nations is that it provides much of an institutional framework for when the world is ready for a world governing body."