The United Nations Asia Network for Diversity & Inclusion (UN-ANDI) hosted a panel discussion on “Making the UN Charter a reality” to celebrate the 77th UN Day.
Asian nationalities, ancestry, or descent are underrepresented among UN employees, especially at the senior management level.
Survey results and personal interactions with constituents show that various forms of racism and discrimination are experienced by UN employees of Asian heritage, which calls for immediate action.
The Joint Inspection Unit is currently reviewing policies and procedures for preventing and combating racism and racial discrimination in UN system institutions.
The first survey by UN-ANDI on racism and racial discrimination experienced by UN employees of Asian ethnicity or origin was done in the summer of 2022 and were available in five languages.
The United Nations Asia Network for Diversity & Inclusion (UN-ANDI) hosted a panel discussion on “Making the UN Charter a reality” to celebrate the 77th UN Day. On October 27, the conversation was held virtually, and participants from all over the world participated.
Former Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN (1996–2001) and keynote speaker Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury emphasized the necessity for the UN to be “proactive in oversight, accountability and transparency” and the significance of “practically guaranteeing gender diversity.”
UN-ANDI is a group of UN employees with similar viewpoints from Asia who work to advance a more inclusive and diverse UN culture. After laying the basis for several years, this interest group was finally formed in May 2021.
The UN-ANDI initiative is the first attempt to unite the diverse group of UN system employees from Asia and the Pacific (nationality/origin/descent), including current and past workers, consultants, interns, and ambassadors.
Geographic, regional, and gender diversity
In keeping with the event’s theme, “Making the UN Charter a reality,” I would like to emphasize that the UN Charter is the first international agreement to explicitly affirm the principle of equality between men and women, with references in Article 8 stating that both men and women are eligible to participate in various UN organs without any restrictions.
Therefore, it would be crucial for the UN to promote equality, inclusion, and diversity in a genuine and meaningful way in its hiring practices, according to Chowdhury, a former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN (2002–2007).
“To keep the noble purpose of the UN and its Charter alive – encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all – we must continue to hold the UN accountable to do even more to cultivate a culture of equality and non-discrimination internally and externally, including by ensuring a work environment free of sexual harassment and abuse,” said Antonia Kirkland, the global lead on legal equality and access to justice at Equality Now.
We hope to motivate, increase awareness of, and work for a more inclusive, just, and transparent Organization as we observe UN Day. The UN has diversity appreciation as one of its basic values. Yuan Lin, one of the UN-ANDI coordinators, stated that it is crucial to have UN staff and personnel from various backgrounds (i.e., nationality, race, culture, religion/faith, etc.).
“However, the UN’s organizational structure and workforce do not now reflect this reality. Asian nationalities, ancestry, or descent are underrepresented among UN employees, especially at the senior management level. This glass ceiling has prevented the Organization from receiving meaningful contributions from our community and has produced an unfair and discriminatory work environment, according to Lin, who is the Chief of the Business Relationship Management Unit for the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The population of the globe surpassed 8 billion in November of this year. Around 4.3 billion people live in the Asia-Pacific area, which accounts for 54% of all people on earth.
According to paragraph 3 of Article 101 of the UN Charter, “due regard should be paid to the importance of recruiting the staff on as broad a basis as geographically feasible.”
However, according to the International Civil Service Commission’s 2021 annual report, only 19 percent of employees in the Professional and above categories in UN familiar system entities were from Asia and the Pacific.
Asia and the Pacific region has the most underrepresented (8) and unrepresented (17) nations. 25 nations in Asia and the Pacific were underrepresented among workers in 10 or more organizations with no established requirements for regional allocation.
Staff members from the global North have the most senior decision-making positions. Because they serve as stepping stones to regular employment inside the UN system, most internships and JPO programs favour the global North, thus aggravating the problem.
There is a severe lack of diversity in senior managerial positions (P-5, D-1, and D-2 levels) at the UN, according to the report of the Secretary-Task General’s Force on Addressing Racism and Promoting Dignity for All in the United Nations Secretariat. As of the end of 2020, just 16% of the P-5, D-1, and D-2 workforce were from Asia-Pacific States.
Only 14.5% of those promoted to the P-5, D-1, and D-2 levels from 2018 to 2020 were from Asia-Pacific States.
Racism and racial prejudice
Racism in the UN system is a pervasive problem with numerous manifestations. This predicament is also made possible by fundamental problems with the UN system’s policies.
According to Article 1 (3) of the UN Charter, one of the organization’s goals is to promote and encourage respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights for all people without differences based on race, sex, language, or religion.
The UN Staff Union President and General Secretary, Aitor Arauz, noted that “creating an actively anti-racist work environment is not a passive gain – it requires active engagement and daily work to understand each other, value the cultural wealth that our differences bring to the UN, and overcome the biases we all inherently have. Survey results and personal interactions with constituents show that various forms of racism and discrimination are experienced by UN employees of Asian heritage, which calls for immediate action.
He reaffirmed the Staff Union’s dedication to the fight against racism.
To address the issues relating to racism and racial discrimination in the UN system, Tamara Cummings-John, a Steering Committee member of the UN People of African Descent and Senior Human Resources Officer at the World Food Programme in Kinshasa, said, “There is still so much for us to do – and there is so much for us to learn from the outside world, particularly the private sector, and above all by listening to our personnel.”
According to UN workers, national or ethnic origin is the primary justification for racism and racial discrimination, according to the report of the Secretary-Task General’s Force on Addressing Racism and Promoting Dignity for All in the United Nations Secretariat.
Staff are hesitant to report or take action against racial discrimination when they see it because they think nothing will happen, lack trust, or are afraid of retaliation. This may indicate a lack of support for those who experience racial discrimination and a lack of confidence in the systems in place to deal with this problem.
Attempts to put the UN Charter into practice
“Invisible and hidden power seeks to challenge certain norms and practices of who gets preferential treatment, who is promoted when trying to build a transparent, inclusive, and equitable culture in an organization,” said Tanya Khokhar, Consultant of Gender Racial and Ethnic Justice – International at the Ford Foundation. This is the most difficult to accomplish and requires years of the creative team and organizational methods.
Going back to the work you all are doing through the network, she added, “It’s crucial to acknowledge the history, cultures, and rich diversity of the places you represent and develop a strong community, to advocate for one another, to align on objectives, and to boost each other up.”
UN-ANDI backs the Secretary-initiatives General to combat racism and advance human dignity inside the UN. To prevent racism, it collaborates closely with the UN Staff Union. Additionally, it encourages cooperation with networks and organizations inside and outside the UN that have comparable goals.
The Joint Inspection Unit is currently reviewing policies and procedures for preventing and combating racism and racial discrimination in UN system institutions. UN-ANDI participated in this review.
The first survey by UN-ANDI on racism and racial discrimination experienced by UN employees of Asian ethnicity or origin was done in the summer of 2022 and were available in five languages. The survey’s objectives were to gather statistics and essential information from an Asian perspective and pinpoint the underlying factors contributing to racism inside the UN system.
To address numerous vital concerns of racism and racial discrimination in the UN system, UN-ANDI will publish a report on the survey results.
As members of UN-ANDI, Lin exclaimed, “We can make a difference and contribute enormously to the UN by engaging our community members in a range of important issues facing the UN! With our talent, education, experience, and diversity!”
UN-ANDI is confident its viewpoints and findings will speed the transition to the paradigm embodied in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Analysis by: Advocacy Unified Network