Like many Millennial and Gen X New Zealanders of my generation, my knowledge of New Zealand’s nuclear history has been told through my parents’ stories. My mum protested after the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in the 1980s and my dad traveled throughout the Middle East when the Soviet Union was the dangerous part of the world to travel to. But aside from studying these events and time periods in high school history, I have little firsthand knowledge and understanding of the impact nuclear weapons have had on our society. Despite the Soviet Union collapsing only a few years before I was born, I really have no idea what it was like to live in a society which feared nuclear war.
We don’t really appreciate how lucky we are to live in an isolated country where exposure to nuclear weapons is unlikely. We don’t live in fear, although being nuclear-free is a big part of our identity. Our generation is actually largely apathetic towards nuclear issues as we feel the war has already been won. It’s hard to imagine the destruction which these types of weapons have caused the planet or to imagine that we could still potentially experience it again in our lifetimes.
The Cold War is over, the arms race is over. Despite this, there is still a risk that nuclear weapons will continue to pose a threat to the world. They are difficult to disarm in a way which ensures their very existence is a continuing threat. In the wrong hands, one nuclear weapon has the potential to destroy the world as we know it, hence the need for disarmament and neutralization of nuclear weapons. As much as they may form part of a state’s identity and sense of pride, they pose grave danger to the rest of the world.
While nuclear energy can also form a crucial aspect of a state’s energy reserves, it can too pose a grave danger if left unchecked. Nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima demonstrated the deadly and destructive power of nuclear energy, even when they are not weaponized. The nuclear forces of today are hundreds of times more powerful than the weaponized bombs of World War II, and could destroy our planet with a mere press of a button.
Every 15th of September, we celebrate the International Day of Democracy, which was established by the United Nations in 2007 to celebrate, promote and recognize the principles of democracy. While the way in which democracy is expressed across the world may vary, it is defined by citizens’ ability to participate in public decision-making, typically through choosing their government.
In New Zealand, we accept democracy as a fact of life, perhaps to the extent that we forget that many other countries around the world do not have the right to choose their political representatives based on their policies and ideas. Not only do we take for granted our right to choose our leader, but also the other freedoms associated with democracy – our rights to freedom of association, of assembly, of protest, of speech and expression. We feel that we can ultimately hold the government accountable for decisions we disagree with, so the government is wise to largely adhere to its voters’ views.
To understand how democracy forms an integral part of society, you only need to spend some time on the steps of New Zealand’s Parliament, watching groups with posters, banners, microphones and passion, loudly and visibly bringing public and political attention to an issue which is important to them and holding the government to account, no matter how big or small the issue. New Zealanders feel secure in their right to criticize the government directly, in the news media, or online. We take these rights for granted, however, it is important to remember that people overseas in 2018 have been arrested for less.
In many ways, democracy is about more than just casting a vote. It represents a system where the government serves the people, not subdues or controls them. We give over money through taxes and some rights to our personal autonomy in favour of a government which administers the collective funds and rights for the good of the majority. We trust the government to do well by us and if it fails, it loses in the ballot box.
For most New Zealanders, the thought of living under a non-democratic or one-party government is resigned largely to dystopian literature and films. The turnout of young people at the voting booths is low; we underestimate the power our vote has to influence the future of tomorrow. However, some of our closest geographic neighbours have restrictions on political freedoms which we really cannot fathom living under. We are lucky in this regard – New Zealand can look forward to a future where everyone is free to express their views, disagree with or criticize the government, protest, and be actively encouraged to do so.
To celebrate the International Day of Democracy, think about how you can participate fully in political life. Did you vote in the last election? If you didn’t vote or you aren’t yet old enough to vote, do some research into the importance of voting in a democratic society, find political parties whose policies align with your beliefs, and understand what is important to you and how best you can have your voice heard by the leaders of our country.
Central to the work a humanitarian does, is the care of people and promotion of their welfare.
A couple of weeks ago World Humanitarian Day recognised the incredible work done by our many humanitarians across the world, particularly aid workers who put their lives at risk for the welfare of others. This day also strives to raise awareness of the countless people adversely impacted by armed conflict. Where finding safe drinking water and nutritious food is a daily struggle. Where children are stripped of their innocence and right to education by being used to fight wars they didn’t start or want. Where women are degraded. Where every citizen, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and occupation are put in a compromised position of mental and physical safety day in and day out.
The work our countless humanitarians do is particularly important when considering our contemporary societal contexts; where conflicts are rampant.
We, as citizens of Aotearoa are placed in a fortunate position in the sense that these aren’t problems for us – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care about the welfare of others; that doesn’t mean we can’t be humanitarians in our own respects. I challenge anyone reading this to be a humanitarian – to thank your friends, families, caregivers, bus drivers and teachers for doing all they do to make your life a safe and enjoyable one. I challenge you to take the time to reach out to both those you know, and those you don’t, and offer a hand, a shoulder to cry on.
My high school principal used to tell a lot of super inspiring stories. There are a few that stand out. Among these, lies the message that small acts of kindness can go a long way. Therefore, I challenge you to be there for those around you, to support them; to be a humanitarian. Let’s do our part to help make a world ridden of conflict, one a little brighter and a little safer.
With the 2019 delegation of the Global Development Tour being announced, I thought it was a good opportunity to share some of the 2018 delegations experience, in the hope that it can inspire the next delegation and encourage those wanting to apply in the future.
In January this year I was fortunate enough to be part of the 2018 Global Development Tour delegation.
We travelled around Europe and to New York learning about global development, international cooperation, and the role the United Nations plays in both. In essence we were shown the world through a future lens – as it could be in 2030, meeting policy makers, businesses and NGOs and being shown how they are working to meet the Global Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.
Each of the cities we visited represented a theme within the Sustainable Development Agenda and we looked at the SDGs from three different angles; Policy, Business and Community. It was incredibly inspiring to see the work and connectedness of these organisations in different parts of the world.
We also were very lucky to attend a Model United Nations conference at Columbia University in New York. CMUNCE hosts delegates from all over the world and it gave us an opportunity to actively participate and engage with like-minded delegates from varied backgrounds and the chance to engage in real-world diplomacy and listen to some fabulous speakers! My role as China on the Security Council debating the situation in Myanmar enabled me to further interact with Human Rights NGO’s and learn about the real work that is being done on the ground.
The trip is a chance to meet new friends and create amazing memories. This has been an incredible life-changing experience and for those, thinking about applying in the future, DO IT, you will not regret it.
Further Reflections from other delegates:
Being one of the few delegates coming new into UN Youth in the GDT group, the trip had very different impacts on me. I had heard of the organisation but had not engaged with the events offered to people my age until the application for the Tour. I was honoured to have been picked from so many outstanding candidates and veterans of the organisation. The Tour changed my life because it opened me up to so many new people and new experiences. On the Tour we met many amazing people doing important jobs to attain the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, people who could make real differences. We had the chance to listen to their past achievements, plans and future goals; while picking their brains and giving our own suggestions. Along the way we got to interact with the landscape of the world, living the cultural and historical differences. Since getting back from the Tour I have strongly kept in touch with others from the delegation as we all embark upon new chapters of our lives. I was inspired to give back to the organisation and enjoy frequently volunteering at UN Youth events, meeting new people and making connections. GDT changed my outlook on sustainable development, helped me make lifelong friends and connected me with an organisation which encourages civics interaction through youth facilitating youth events. It is fair to say my life was clearly changed for the better.
– Emily, 18 Wellington
When people call something life-changing they usually mean it in a cliched way, and I guess it’s unfair to say that GDT totally changed my life, but it did make it better and it made me better. I’m now a much more confident, assertive person than I was before embarking on the tour. Seeing the world has given me experience that is directly applicable in the law and arts conjoint I’m studying. GDT was an amazing experience and I’m feeling it’s impact still. I’d recommend it and other UN Youth events for anyone and everyone. It was such a great time.’
– Chris, 18 Auckland
The Global Development Tour was an incredible experience and something I had dreamed of for a long time. The message that stood out to me the most from our meetings was that development and sustainable development was not an isolated problem that only impacted small parts of the world far away from me, instead if we truly want change and progress, then a concerted united global effort was necessary. This has completely changed how I viewed a number of global issues. Following the tour, I have had the chance to speak to groups about my experience and helped to organise Victoria University’s very first Sustainability Week. But more importantly to me, it has shifted how I talk about international issues such as the health of our waters, gender equality and ending poverty. I have realised that I can make a difference in my own life, in my community and in my country – which all contributes to changing the world and being a global citizen.
The United Nations Human Rights Council is a body that seeks to strengthen, promote and protect human rights. A task that is not only important, but seemingly more and more relevant. Anyone living in a democratic nation would almost automatically assume their government would support such a venture. So it would seem at first glance odd that the United States, a country that places freedom and democracy so highly, would withdraw from the Human Rights Council. Yet for anyone watching closely this was no shock at all. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, calling the US departure “disappointing, if not really surprising.”
The US rationale for leaving the Council centres on one topic – the Israel/Palestine conflict. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, firstly accused the Council of a having a “chronic bias” against Israel, and followed up by labelling it a “hypocritical and self-serving organisation that makes a mockery of human rights.” This comes after a vote in May deciding to send war crime investigators to Gaza to investigate violations and abuse of civilian protestors. Since protests began in March of this year, Israel has killed 106 Palestinians, including 15 children. These figures do nothing to sway the American stance – that too much focus is put on Israel by the Human Rights Council.
The withdrawal from the Human Rights Council is a consequence of a larger problem, a persisting, one-sided, and frequently inaccurate narrative that runs through American rhetoric. The US government continuously attributes outbreaks of violence to Hamas, the de facto governing body of Palestine widely considered a terrorist group. Following protests and killings in May, spokeswomen for the US State Department claimed any “misery” faced by the people of Gaza was entirely because of Hamas.
Yet this ignores two vital elements to the reality of this conflict. Firstly, those killed in protests are generally unarmed civilians – videos from cellphones continuingly affirming this. In addition, there is no acknowledgement of the role that Israel has played in the suffering of Palestinians. The occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel is the longest in history, dating back to 1967. The Blockade of Gaza Strip has carried on since 2007, banning both necessities, such as blankets or shoes, and seemingly harmless goods, including crayons, chocolate, and shampoo. Israel has been an active participate in the suffering of Palestinians, regardless of what crimes have been committed by Hamas.
What is most concerning is the underlying idea that the politics of the moment trump human rights. The United States have long supported Israel, but that does not invalidate Palestinians entitlement to basic rights and protection. No matter who is at fault in this conflict, there are innocent men, women and children suffering in Gaza. Instead of addressing this head on, the United States has again reverted inwards and avoided international cooperation. The High Commissioner commenting that, “given the state of human rights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back.”
To celebrate World Refugee Day we spoke to one of New Zealand’s most inspiring former refugees, Rez Gardi. Rez was named Young New Zealander of the Year 2017 for her services to human rights. She was born in a refugee camp and arrived in New Zealand under the refugee quota.
Rez told us that growing up, she was embarrassed of her refugee background. The desire to fit in and be as “Kiwi” as possible was strong. Now, she has learnt to be proud of her background. Her unique refugee journey has instilled her with drive and passion to make a difference. She says she is only one, among many incredible former refugees who make a huge impact locally and globally. However, negative opinions and thoughts about refugees still linger.
Her organisation Empower is trying to change the negative connotations and stigma attached to being a refugee and re-define it as a term that embraces resilience and strength.
We asked Rez in more detail about some of her work, life as a young refugee, and what other young people can do to support people of refugee backgrounds.
What work do you do that lead to you winning the Young New Zealander of the Year Award in 2017?
I foster and support participation, leadership, and empowerment opportunities for young refugees in New Zealand. I founded the Empower Youth Trust, a mentoring and support initiative aimed at addressing the underrepresentation of refugees in higher education.
Our mission is to empower, educate, and enable refugee youth in New Zealand through education, leadership, and capacity-building to pursue meaningful paths of their choice.
This initiative goes in hand with the University of Auckland refugee scholarships I have helped establish. I was one of the original founding members of the Global Refugee Youth Consultations, which led to the establishment of the Global Youth Advisory Council (GYAC) for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Through my work as a global youth advocate, I reinforce youth as connectors and peacebuilders by channeling and reinforcing youths’ abilities to build connections across social, cultural, linguistic, political, and other differences, and support them to contribute meaningfully to peacebuilding processes. I have used this award as a platform to raise awareness about the adversity and challenges that many marginalised groups face in New Zealand, and globally, and to promote a greater tolerance and acceptance for diversity.
How are the challenges that a young refugee faces different from those the average young person in New Zealand faces?
Through the Global Refugee Youth Consultations in 2015/2016, young refugees analysed causes and impacts of the difficulties they face. Although the context of each country is specific, the challenges that refugee youth identified are remarkably consistent. We identified ten challenges:
Difficulties with legal recognition and obtaining personal documents;
Difficulty in accessing quality learning, education, and skills-building opportunities;
Poor access to youth-sensitive healthcare, including psychological support;
Lack of safety, security and freedom of movement;
Discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and “culture clash”;
Few youth employment and livelihood opportunities;
Challenges for unaccompanied youth;
Lack of opportunities to participate, be engaged, or access decision makers;
Lack of information about asylum, refugee rights, and available services; and
Gender inequality, discrimination, exploitation, and violence, including for LGBTI youth.
In addition to all the usual challenges young people face in New Zealand, the situation is exacerbated for those of refugee background who have come to New Zealand with absolutely nothing and are thrown into a completely foreign and new world. They are starting on a back foot for a number of reasons.
Firstly, due to the trauma they may have experienced having fled their homes and being exposed to violence, the culture shock of arriving in New Zealand with no understanding of culture or norms. Coupled with language barriers, assumptions and xenophobia in regard to their experiences and culture many refugee youth experience bullying and discrimination.
Many young refugees experience and interrupted or lack of education so they have to play ‘catch up’. Aside from financial issues, when youth miss years of schooling due to being on the move, some refugee and migrant youth face issues enrolling in the level from where they left off as legally they are too old and have no available options to catch up. This requires us to be innovative in the way we approach education issues. It is common for many refugee youth to encounter a reversal in roles with their parents. At such a young age, they are called
upon to translate for their parents at the doctors, appointment, supermarket and even during their own parent-teacher interviews. There is a sense of responsibility as a refugee youth that is never placed upon mainstream New Zealanders.
What can young New Zealanders do to support refugees within their local communities and globally?
New Zealand is one of the most ethnically diverse nations on earth and we are also one of the most peaceful: it’s up to us, as everyday New Zealanders to ensure this is a legacy we leave for future generations.
Our biggest challenge is how we choose to live our lives and what kind of country we let New Zealand become. I ask all young New Zealanders to welcome and get to know the people in our community. What you do makes all the difference.
Simply accepting new New Zealanders into our country with open arms can contribute to their resettlement in a completely foreign place and shape their integration process and sense of self-worth. Pause a moment in what were once my shoes. How would you want to be treated?
What will you do to help your community? What will you do to help make the world a better place? What role will you play?
We don’t have to wait until we’re older. We can all do something now. Empowered youths transform societies and we can all be champions of change.
Why is it important to have organisations such as empower which support people from refugee backgrounds?
When it comes to the needs of children and young people, education is paramount. However, the reality for refugee children globally is that only 1 out of 2 get primary education. No child should have to pay the cost by missing out on schooling. Yet we see whole generations of refugee children from areas of conflict that have to leave their homes and schools, and other children on the move unable to secure an education. Education is every child’s basic human right. When these young people arrive in New Zealand, we need to provide them with a nurturing environment for the full realisation of their rights and capabilities.
Higher education serves as a powerful driver for change, by maintaining their hopes for the future, fosters inclusion and non-discrimination and acts as a catalyst for the recovery and rebuilding of post-conflict countries.
I believe education is pivotal to changing the future for child refugees and migrants; there is no future unless children learn today, and receive an education that gives them the tools and skills to be empowered to make positive change. Education empowers not only the individual, but their family, and entire community.
My charity, Empower provides a mentoring and support initiative to try to address the underrepresentation of refugees in higher education in New Zealand. We are the only organisation dedicated to refugee youth which focuses on assisting and supporting individuals with both their professional and personal development.
If we empower, educate, and enable refugee youth in New Zealand through education, leadership, and capacity-building to pursue meaningful paths of their choice then they will be empowered to contribute to Aotearoa socially, economically, and environmentally.
It’s not hard to see why Rez was named young New Zealander of the Year. She delivers a great message for all young people wanting to create positive change. “We are all in a position to make a difference to the world we live in – how big or small that may be. Only you can decide that. Champions are people prepared to face difficulty…They’re defined by passion, confidence and the strength from within. We can all be champions but our task it to discover and unlock our greatness.”
You do not need to be a political expert to know that Donald Trump has long hated the Iran Deal. As with almost everything, Trump made his thoughts emphatically clear. In 2016, he labelled it the “worst deal ever.” On 8 May he finally acted on his dislike for the deal, withdrawing the United States from the agreement. Yet while Trump is always happy to share his opinion, in a political sphere there should always be a logical rationale attached to an opinion. The Iran Deal is a real agreement and pulling out will have very real effects – so it matters what Trump’s reasoning for pulling out was.
On the spectrum of international agreements, the Iran Deal (formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the JCPOA) is relatively simple. It is a classic trade-off: economic sanctions on Iran will be alleviated, in return Iran would dismantle or limit its current nuclear program. The result is that Iran is now incapable of building a nuclear weapon, which seems to be an inherently positive achievement. Yet Trump is not the first American politician against the agreement. Before it was even finalised, feelings on the Iran Deal were divided down partisan lines. In 2015, senator Tom Cotton canvased 47 Republican senator’s signature for a letter to the Iranian leaders. It warned them that this deal would likely not last, as it could be reversed “with the stroke of a pen” with a new President.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently gave a speech that not only highlighted Trump’s reasoning for withdrawing, but the general Republican stance. Firstly, the workability of the deal is questioned as the Iranian’s entered in “bad faith” and “continues to lie” today (although the UN has repeatedly confirmed Iran’s compliance). Additionally, they see the deal as enriching Iranians and leading to their “cost-free expansion” of power. Overall though, there is a belief that the deal simply does not go far enough to limit a nation who supports violent regimes in the Middle East, such as the Taliban, Hamas, and the Assad government.
It is not that the Trump administration does not want a deal with Iran. They want a better deal. Pompeo listed 12 demands, including releasing American hostages and withdrawing forces from Syria. Until Iran agrees, the US will use “unprecedented financial pressure.” The question is whether this will be enough in light of the bridges Trump has burnt over the past month. The European countries in the deal – including Britain, France and Germany – are unlikely to lend support as they grapple to save the deal. Especially as Iran’s requirement for remaining in the deal is that they cover the cost of US sanctions. There also appears to be little consideration given to the history of the US and Iran relationship. From the era of the Iranian Revolution onwards, it was a relationship defined by tension and distrust. America withdrawing from their agreement and issuing threats poses the potential of reverting back to this state. If so, Iran’s co-operation would be anything but an easy road.
The specific details of why Trump pulled out may matter less than what it more broadly reflects. His approach to the Iran Deal demonstrates that he believes international affairs should be dealt with by using strength, aggression, and ultimatums. He is placing himself in direct divergence from the norms that have developed over the past hundred years, norms of diplomacy and peaceful cooperation. The fallout from his withdrawal will give an indication of the consequences of such a strategy.
We hear a lot about conflict; scenes of war flood television, computer and smartphone screens almost as quickly as they disappear from our minds and thoughts. We see cities destroyed by bombs and guns, we see millions of displaced people in refugee camps and we see terrible suffering. We might not be personally affected by war and unrest overseas, but we will always feel relief when the conflicts come to an end.
But what happens next, after a conflict has ended and left a decimated society to rebuild itself? This is where peacekeepers come in. Contrary to common knowledge, the role of peacekeepers is not to enforce peace, but to facilitate it after an agreement has been reached. Their presence is to demonstrate ongoing stability, as opposed to a protection from violence. Many criticise peacekeepers for being ineffective; early peacekeeping missions have demonstrated the potential pitfalls of installing non-combat personnel in what may be a fractured, unstable and frightened society which is clinging desperately to a tentatively-held peace. The reality is that peacekeeping is a new concept, one which reflects new values which the world strives to share – peace and cooperation, while still recognising and reflecting individual states’ sovereignty and right to self-govern.
Above all, peacekeepers are human beings; they work in dangerous and frightening conditions at considerable risk to their own personal safety, all in furtherance of an ideal of world peace. Since the end of World War II 3,700 peacekeepers have lost their lives while serving. They are an example of how governments can cooperate and work together and can signify commitment to upholding ongoing peace and stability. They are not a foreign invasion seeking to dominate a tentative, fledgling state; they are there to facilitate and strengthen law and order.
The International Day of UN Peacekeepers reminds us of those who had lost their lives facilitating peace and reminds us of 100,000 who serve across the world today. The aim is to prompt discussion around the roles of peacekeepers, honour the one million peacekeepers who have served since World War II, and to look to the future at how peacekeeping can be improved. Peacekeepers signify a commitment to peace which is worth upholding and worth striving to improve.
We're always on the look out for passionate young New Zealanders to help do what we do even better.
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