Servas and the UN

The United Nations was founded in the aftermath of WWII and dedicated to promoting world peace and forever ending the scourge of war. In this regard, the UN and Servas enjoy a singleness of purpose. Servas is dedicated to the premise of Mahatma Gandhi that international peace is built upon each and every individual friendship. The majority of Servas members are themselves dedicated to the cause of peace, justice and human rights and are usually members of other organizations such as Amnesty International which espouse these goals. This, coupled with the knowledge and experience of Servas members as avid travellers, puts Servas in a unique position to contribute to the goals and purposes of the United Nations.

Non-governmental organizations have been welcomed into the United Nations community since its founding. They balance the reality that not all governments represent all people. This introduces a stabilizing and enriching force into the proceedings and activities at the UN.

On a political level, is the CEDAW (Convention to End Discrimination Against Women), which not all countries comply with. To combat this problem, Shadow Reports documenting violations of the law are prepared by NGO's within the country. These reports are presented at the Hearings by NGO's. In cases where this would be too dangerous, they are delivered by other NGO's outside the country reporting.

The primary purpose of the NGO-UN relationship is one of exchange of knowledge. The UN is a vast source of information about conditions in the world that do not capture the attention of the media.

The UN can disseminate information through NGO's on poverty alleviation, conditions of refugees and other topics. Presentations have been given at the UN to the NGO's on the plight of the Tibetans under Chinese occupation and the effect of the UN sanctions on the children of Iraq who are dying by the thousands monthly. The NGO's in turn take this information to their members. What follows next is the birth of creative solutions such as iodized salt programs, shadow reports, letters of protest and sensitivity to the plight of others on our planet.

The purpose of Servas at the UN is to participate in and contribute to the ongoing process of creating and maintaining world peace and making the world a better place to live for each and every one of us on the planet.

Servas International holds briefing at the UN

On November 2, 2000, Servas International sponsored a UN briefing on Responsible Tourism. This presentation was given to the community of NGO`s which meet every Thursday morning at the UN.

Responsible Tourism as envisioned by Servas representatives included Eco-tourism, combatting Sex Tourism and the political aspects of alternative travel.

William McCoy, the Executive Editor of Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel Magazine, replaced Frommer, who was unable to attend due to surgery. He discussed sustainable and educational travel through lodging with member host families around the world and global volunteer adventures, which seek to empower local communities and thereby foster cultural sensitivity and interaction.

McCoy also included eco-tourism in his presentation to replace the Guatemalan Trade Commissioner, Roberto Rosenberg, who had fallen ill. Here he discussed the attraction of virgin eco-systems and cultures for tourists. Many developing nations and Small Island States are threatened by the development of profit-motivated international capital investments intended to attract and cater to tourists. These conflicting priorities must be approached to protect the targeted environments while simultaneously educating tourists to the reality of inter acting with indigenous conditions at all levels.

Carol Smolenski of ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) spoke on the most insidious aspect of tourism today the exploitation of sex as a tourist commodity. So-called "Sex Tourism", promoted on internet and through some travel agencies, targets children and adolescents in direct relation to the degree of poverty of the victims. The impact is psychological, spiritual and physical damage, including increase of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, loss of childhood and often ostracization by families and communities. It was brought out during the question and answer period that European airlines warn passengers about penalties for involvement in these activities because of pressure from their governments. American airlines are not pressured and refuse to give such warnings. It was suggested that we lobby our government on this important issue.

The original idea for the briefing came from Lorraine Gerwitz. Other organizers were: Lynne Murguia, Sharon Wallenberg, Issac Skelton and Jeanette Gear.

Servas members who would like to visit the weekly United Nations NGO briefings should contact the New York Servas office.

Sharon L. Wallenburg, Chief Administrative Officer,
United Nations Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Representative

Commission on Human Rights 56th session

The 54-nation member Commission on Human Rights 2000 met for its 56th session in Geneva from 20 March to 20 April.

Close to a hundred governments and 200 Non-governmental Organizations (among them Servas International) assisted on an observer status.

Among the items examined were the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the establishment of a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

In a "special dialoge" on Human Rights and Poverty, Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, declared: "Poverty is denial of Human Rights." Kofi Annan, Secretary General, said in a speech that persons around the world who were suffering from human-rights violations needed genuine, effectived and lasting action in defense of their rights and liberties, and that it was up to Governments, the United Nations and all who cared about human dignity to answer the call without delay.

Hilda Berer, Servas UN representative in Geneva.