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Lynn Finnegan - journal letter August 2012

Related pages: Journal Letters

QUNO, Geneva

Dear Friends,

It has been a year since I arrived at the Quaker UN Office as Programme Assistant in Global Economic Issues. Since my last journal letter in March, we have had a busy and eventful summer in the office. We have been continuing our work on Food & Sustainability, working with a variety of international processes that impact on agricultural trade and investment as well as access to, and control over, seeds.

Alongside this work, I have had the opportunity to attend various Quaker events. One of this year’s highlights was April’s 6th World Gathering of Friends in Kabarak, Kenya. There, I got to spend time with Quakers from all over the world, including many who work in small-scale farming and are on the front line of changing climates, as well as many others who are seeing firsthand the effects of our current economic system on environments and natural resources. After the Conference, multiple 12 hour bus rides along bumpy roads brought us to small holder farms where Quakers generously and enthusiastically showed us around. We also got to see the work of the Quaker Rural Service Programme in Western Kenya, and understand first-hand how organic farming can impact on family health and wellbeing. Local ownership and management underpins their ability to respond to community needs. This seems a most basic statement, but I feel it is a truth that is sometimes lost at UN level.

It was interesting to come back from Kenya and move into May which brought Britain Yearly Meeting. Here I saw the hard work being done by British Quakers to respond to Minute 36, from Yearly Meeting Gathering 2011, which called us to become a low carbon, sustainable community. In particular the links between the environment and economic justice were brought forward as a promising place to focus Friends’ attention. For me it is a source of strength that Quakers from all over Britain are considering the links and overlaps among the Testimonies of peace, truth, simplicity, equality and care for the environment.

As I have become familiar with working in a Quaker organisation I have come to appreciate the Quaker commitment to building peace - whether it is among families, communities, conflict zones or international institutions working for peace. To quote Adam Curle’s 1981 Swarthmore Lecture,

‘The task of the peace maker has two dimensions. The first is to transform unpeaceful into peaceful relations. The second is to work for conditions conducive to peace and unfavourable to violence.’

International guidelines can play a key role in creating these conditions conducive to peace. QUNO is starting to work on policy links between natural resources and peace, considering how Quaker experience in peacebuilding can help address inequalities in, and conflicts over, access to water, food, seeds and land. In my previous journal letters I have talked about international deals that buy up tens of thousands of hectares of land, marginalising and dispossessing local communities. They often create conditions that are not compatible with peace, but instead contain many ‘seeds of war’. As such, they must be considered as more than a mere economic phenomenon.

An example is the impact of extractive industries on Indigenous communities.

This was the subject of a recent report from the UN Expert Mechanism on Indigenous Peoples. The gradual but steady loss of control over their traditional territories and natural resources is a critical concern for Indigenous communities around the world. It was another highlight of my year to see the Expert Mechanism in the flesh as its members met in Geneva for a week in July. We held a Quaker meal where country delegates and the Indigenous panel of experts discussed the report and possible next steps. The report stresses an urgent need for equal partnerships between Indigenous Peoples and States or business enterprises. It is frustrating to see these words being responded to so slowly, as research increasingly emphasises the negative impacts of many large scale land acquisitions. This feeds directly into our Food & Sustainability work, as without land there is little chance a community can access safe, adequate and nutritious food.

To help engage young people in these issues, and wider UN themes, QUNO organises an annual Summer School during the first two weeks of July. After much organisation, almost two dozen young people from a dozen countries descended upon the office and for two weeks learnt more about UN work than we thought possible! They were a particularly motivated group, with sharp and challenging questions being asked of everyone they encountered. These included representatives from the Human Rights Committee, the World Trade Organization, UN AIDS, the International Labour Organization and the High Commissioner for Refugees. In between sessions we also managed to go swimming in the lake, and hike in the Jura Mountains to the North of Geneva. The office felt quiet when they left, and I will remember for a long time what a special group they were.

As I end my year as Programme Assistant I’d like to thank all the Friends whose contributions make the placements possible. I know final Journal letters are often full of praise which may seem obligatory, but this is authentic. It has been a brilliant year - albeit with highs and lows - which I would whole-heartedly recommend to young people interested in international law and Quaker processes. Such an opportunity has become even more important at a time when young people are expected to work for free, and job opportunities are few and far between in the ‘international’ field. I am fortunate enough to be able to continue at QUNO for another year, working as Project Officer in Food & Sustainability. I look forward to all the opportunities and challenges this will bring.

In Friendship,
Lynn Finnegan