UNA-Luton

is the Luton branch of the United Nations Association.

We work in partnership with Equality in Diversity CIC and a wide variety of community organisations and statutory agencies to promote equality, justice, peace, human rights, community cohesion and the promotion of sustainable development to combat the threat of climate change.

The UNA-Luton stands for equality, justice, peace, human rights, community cohesion, the preservation of the environment and the protection of minorities. We reject the attempts by terrorists, extremists and populists to set societies and faiths against each other. They will not succeed because the vast majority of people in Britain and across the world wish to live with mutual respect and in harmony.

Join with us to take forward the UN principles of democratic values and sustainable development goals of the UN and make a difference to our society and the world:

  • Combating climate change and finding solutions
  • Promoting peace through a one world approach and a counter-narrative to the propaganda of violent extremism and division in society
  • Working with disadvantaged communities to improve their awareness about the importance of education, health, economic engagement and participation in all aspects of public life
  • Working with disadvantaged communities to improve their awareness about the importance of education, health and economic engagement
  • Promoting equality and human rights
  • Eradicating violence against women and girls
  • Promoting human solidarity, respect for diversity and community cohesion
UN Charter.pdf

The betrayal of Afghanistan

Britain and its allies must live up to their responsibilities after abandoning Afghanistan to the brutal and misogynistic forces of the Taliban. In preparation for the House of Commons debate on Afghanistan on Wednesday 18 August, the United Nations Association Luton Branch supported both Luton MPs by sharing with them a statement of our concerns about the future.

Although the speed of the collapse of the Afghan government was unexpected, the outcome of the untimely withdrawal of the NATO forces led by the United States was widely predicted. That withdrawal was not inevitable but was a deliberate decision of the US government, followed by the UK and other governments. Although the war in Afghanistan is often described as America’s longest, that is in fact the Korean War, which technically has still not ended. 71 years on, nearly 30,000 United States troops are permanently stationed in South Korea, demonstrating American commitment to its independence as a democratic nation. Evidently, the United States does not have the same commitment to freedom, democracy and human rights in Afghanistan. For several years, international forces have not performed a combat role in Afghanistan. The numbers were relatively low, and they were supporting and providing confidence to Afghan forces. The hasty and disorganised withdrawal of American, British and other international forces is a betrayal of the people of Afghanistan - and of all those killed in the conflict since 2001: 457 British troops, 2,448 American troops, 3,846 American contractors, 687 international troops, 72 journalists, 444 aid workers. However, the largest sacrifice was made by Afghans  - 66,000 members of the military and police forces and nearly 50,000 civilians.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy is that we have collectively stolen the future of a whole generation of girls and young women who over two decades have been able to take advantage of education, gain confidence and aspire to careers and a degree of personal independence – and to bring up their families with democratic values.

Following our humiliating and shameful retreat, we no longer have influence on the ground in Afghanistan, so we have to focus on the few areas where we do have control:

1.       While NATO forces still hold the military airport in Kabul we welcome the British government’s commitment to airlift out the interpreters and other Afghans who worked with us, along with their families.

2.       As many MPS an all sides of the House stressed during the debate on 18 August, these events will intensify the world refugee crisis. We are pleased that the government stands ready to accept significant numbers of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers in addition to the existing schemes, but we deplore the fixation with numbers that they displayed during the debate. This is not the time to be tied down to arbitrary numbers. We must demonstrate our core humanitarian values by offering safe haven to whoever needs it - and giving local authorities the money they need to help refugees settle in. These are people who have already helped us. After settling here, they will continue to make a contribution to our national life.

3.       As several MPs pointed out, we need to recognise that Taliban-controlled Afghanistan will be an inspiration for the remnants of ISIS and Al-Qaeda, for Boko Haram and for disaffected young people across the world, including the UK and internationally connected towns like Luton. We must increase our vigilance in identifying potential radicalisation, taking those who represent a threat to society off the streets and supporting young people who are vulnerable to online grooming by extremists.

4.       The risk of exporting violent terrorism should also concern Russia and China, who are stepping into the vacuum we have created and establishing friendly diplomatic relationships with the Taliban, so may have some influence over them. We should make full use of our position in the Security Council to persuade Russia and China that it is in their own interests to persuade the Taliban to adhere to the statements they have made in Doha that they will not take reprisals against people suspected of working with us or the previous government and that they will respect the rights of girls and women to education, work and personal freedom.

The slaughter must end in Palestine and Israel

In May 2021, we wrote an open letter to our two MPs, calling for a cease-fire in Palestine and Israel and for military and financial sanctions to be imposed on Israel until its government complies with international law. Although the bombardment of Gaza has now stopped, there is still no peace in the region, and there cannot be until the rights of Palestinians are recognised and upheld and the illegal settlements and evictions in the occupied territories are ended.

To: Sarah Owen MP for Luton North & Rachel Hopkins MP for Luton South

CC Cllr Hazel Simmons MBE, Leader of Luton Borough Council

12 May 2021


Israeli-Palestinian conflicts and Human Rights

We are writing on behalf of the United Nations Association Luton Branch to express our deep sadness and concerns about the safety of ordinary citizens in Palestine and Israel as a result of the escalation of conflict between Israel and Palestinians during Ramadan – the holiest month for the Muslim world.

Tomorrow will be Eid-Al-Fitr – the largest Islamic religious celebration. This marks the conclusion of strict fasting during daylight for a month, special prayers in mosques and at home, extensive charitable activities, rigorous spiritual development and non-stop promotion of peace. These religious obligations, peace, safety, spirituality and the joy of congregational prayers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third most sacred site in Islam have been denied to Palestinians through acts of provocation by the Israeli government and agencies. Protesters have been brutally attacked and some killed, while the Israeli security services even entered Al Aqsa firing rubber bullets and tear gas, an attack on religious freedom which has never happened before on this scale.

The latest violence has been triggered by the Israeli government’s determination to evict Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem. All of the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are unlawful under international law and the latest moves clearly represent a process of ethnic cleansing. The liberal world that takes pride in the principles of democracy and human rights should show their commitment to justice and fairness by taking action now to impose sanctions on Israel until they are willing to comply with international law. Mere verbal condemnation of the flagrant breaches of human rights and denial of justice to the Palestinians in the occupied territories makes no impact on the ground.

A full-scale war now seems to be raging between Israel and Palestinians with disproportionately higher number of casualties on the Palestinian side – as always. Israel has targeted and destroyed whole apartment blocks in Gaza on the pretext that HAMAS leaders lived in them. Even if that is true, the majority of families living there were not HAMAS leaders and their homes have been destroyed. President Assad of Syria has rightly been condemned for these sorts of indiscriminate atrocities and the same standards should apply to the Israeli government.

Luton people who we know are saddened and disturbed that the world is sitting and observing while Palestinian men, women and children are being killed and their homes destroyed by Israeli aerial bombardments which can never be compared in scale with the rockets fired by HAMAS from Gaza.

We are pleased that Cllr Hazel Simmons MBE has sent a strong letter to the Foreign Secretary about these issues. We are urging you to raise all of them with the Foreign Secretary and in the Houses of Parliament. The urgent debate in the House of Commons today was by and large positive and it was encouraging to see the strength of opinion from almost all sides of the House that the Israeli actions are disproportionate, that the illegal settlements must be stopped and reversed, and that a two-state solution is the only lasting guarantee for peace.

As the cradle of modern democracy and a permanent member of the Security Council, we hope that the British Government will do its utmost in liaison with other Security Council members to:

1.       Stop this war between Israel and Palestinians immediately;

2.       Be a catalyst for bringing a peaceful settlement between the Israeli government and the Palestinian authority;

3.       Stop illegal evictions of the Palestinians from their own homes in the occupied territories;

4.       Stop ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians in the occupied territories;

5.       Ensure human rights of the Palestinians in Israel and in the occupied territories;

6.       Ensure that Israel as the occupying power follows International law, including humanitarian law, in their dealings with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza;

7.       Ensure that the Israel as the occupying power preserves religious freedom in the occupied territories and shows respect to Muslims and their religion;

8.       Ban the sale of weapons and military and police equipment to Israel until their government complies with international law;

9.       Ban the sale in the UK of Israeli products originating from illegal settlements;

10.   Work proactively to negotiate a two-state solution for the Israelis and Palestinians as the only way to achieve sustainable peace in that part of the world.

The world needs inspired and inspiring leadership to promote sustainable peace. As the promulgator of the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the former occupying power under the League of Nations mandate for Palestine until the creation of Israel in 1948, Britain has a unique moral responsibility to work actively to resolve this conflict which has been destroying peace and stability in the Middle East and poisoning international relations ever since. We hope our country and the government can step up to provide the much-needed leadership for protecting the human rights of the vulnerable men, women and children whose lives are being destroyed by this conflict. For the sake of everyone in that region, after so many decades, it is time to bring it to an end.

With our best wishes and greetings for Eid-Al-Fitr and kind regards

Nazia Khanum

Dr Nazia Khanum OBE DL

Chair, United Nations Association – Luton and 6 other community empowerment organisations.

Dr David Cheesman

Secretary, United Nations Association - Luton

Commemoration of HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh

We express our  sincere condolences to Her Majesty the Queen and to the Royal Family for the loss of HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

We also celebrate his life and achievements. The nation, the Commonwealth and the world at large are indebted to him for his work. His legacy will inspire people globally for years to come. In particular, his Duke of Edinburgh Awards have empowered young people across multicultural communities at home and abroad. He was many years ahead of his time in recognising the dangers of climate change as long ago as the early 1950s. He was one of the founders of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in 1961, long before the relatively recent initiatives for Climate Change.  

Finally, we pay tribute to a man who came to Britain as an asylum seeker and went on to embody an image of stability and continuity  for the monarchy, the royal family and the country not just nationally, but internationally.

Solidarity with St Vincent

We stand with the people of St Vincent as they face the the threat to their lives, their livelihoods and their way of life posed by the sudden eruption of La Soufrière  volcano. We trust that the international community will rally round to support this small but resourceful community. Our sympathy goes especially to those people in Luton who are worried about the safety of their friends and relations on the island.

The United Nations marks international Women's Day 2021

UN Women has announced that the theme for 2021 should be: Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world


 Misogyny to be recorded as a hate crime

On 17 March, we supported a petition urging the House of Lords to pass a cross-party Bill that would make misogyny a hate crime. The Lords took half a step towards passing it into law, and  referred it to the Law Commission for review. There is a still a way to go, but it is a start. Home Office Minister Baroness Williams has confirmed that police forces will be required to record misogyny as a hate crime from the autumn.

Exercising our democratic right to sign a petition may seem like a small step, but it is forbidden in many parts of the world and the progress of this Bill shows that it really can help to make a difference. Lord Cookham, who sponsored the Bill with Baroness Kennedy, quoted the petition in his speech. We are grateful to everyone who supported this initiative.

Clearly, the other lesson to be drawn is that we must not relax. There has been some progress - but there should be more!

You can read an update on the petition here.


Criminalise public sexual harassment

We are also supporting a petition which asks Parliament to criminalise public sexual harassment – the insulting and intimidating behaviour which many women experience on a daily basis. 

This petition will have to be considered for debate in Parliament because it has over 100,000 signatures. In fact, it has nearly reached 500,000. The more signatures it has, the greater its impact will be.

Enforcing the law

Of course, legislation is just a first step. A law is only as strong as its enforcement and the criminal justice system has an appalling record when it comes to crimes against women. Less than 4% of reported rapes result in a conviction. Attitudes in the police, the courts and the Crown Prosection Service must change.

Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence

It is disheartening that Turkey has pulled out of the 2011 Istanbul Convention. This was championed by the Turkish government, Turkey was the first signatory and the convention was, until Sunday 21 March 2021 , considered a triumph of Turkish statesmanship. Turkey now joins Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary who refused to join it, while Poland has said it will withdraw. International agreements of this sort help to encourage and disseminate good practice.

We support the statement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director, that this is a difficult time for the world and for gender equality, but a perfect moment to fight for transformative action and to salute women and young people for their relentless drive for gender equality and human rights.

Dr Nazia Khanum, OBE DL, the chair of UNA-Luton, reflects that ‘True equality will be achieved when we ask boys to take their lead from girls, and girls to take their lead from boys, without even thinking of their gender.’

While we celebrate gradual global progress towards gender equality, we still have a long way to go before gender justice is achieved. We call on everyone to choose to challenge all inequalities including gender inequities today and every day and take action to bring about a more just and fair society for all. Click the International Women's Day poster to see the video of the full programme which the UN broadcast on 8 March to mark IWD. It is hosted by Sophia Pierre-Antoine from Haiti who works with the International Organisation for Migration. It starts with a statement by Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, and continues with a lively mixture of speeches, entertainment and discussions.

The programme includes a stimulating discussion between young women which teachers and students may find especially interesting as a starting point for debate. It is facilitated by Eddie Ndopu, from South Africa, who is one of the UN’s eminent advocates for the Sustainable Development Goals. The participants are Katrin Jakobsdottir, Prime Minister of Iceland; Aya Chebbi, Tunisian activist and the African Union Envoy on Youth; and Xiye Batista, Mexican climate activist and co-founder of the Re-Earth Initiative. It covers a wide range of topics, including women’s leadership, reimagining the post-Covid world, climate justice, gender-based violence, energising young people and intergenerational activism.

Schools and colleges may be inspired by the thought-provoking presentations from Generation Equality Forum Action Coalitions in the second part of the programme. 

The fight for democracy in Myanmar

The UNA-Luton calls for an international arms embargo and sanctions against all military officers in Myanmar until the armed forces are brought under democratically elected civilian control. Every day, ordinary people are displaying extraordinary courage, coming into the streets across Myanmar to protest against the theft of democracy. They refuse to be intimidated, and they need international support.

The generals have made a great mistake if they think that Aung San Suu Kyi’s tarnished reputation clears the way for them to return to military rule. This is not about personalities, it is about democracy. As Tom Andrews, the UN Rapporteur on Myanmar, told the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on 12 February, the generals must be made to understand that they are not above the law. The UN Security Council and the UNHRC have both called for the release of all detained political activists.                                                                                                                                                

Following the atrocities committed by the Myanmar armed forces against Rohingyas, Britain and other countries already have sanctions in place against the Commander-in-Chief and his deputy who instigated the coup, along with other individuals known to have violated human rights, but wider multilateral action is needed.

As well as arms embargos and the withdrawal of support from the government of Myanmar, targeted sanctions must go beyond the handful of people at the very top. Every military officer in Myanmar is complicit in an act of corporate treason. All should be subject to sanctions – their overseas assets frozen, any businesses with military officers on their boards or as partners blocked and overseas travel by military personnel banned. If officers lower down the chain of command realise they are vulnerable, this will help to undermine the resilience of the armed services.

Over the past decade, it has often seemed as though democracy was retreating in the face of threats from authoritarian rulers. But the powerful public reactions against crackdowns in Hong Kong, Byelorussia, Russia, Thailand, India and now Myanmar suggest that it is time for the authoritarians to become nervous.

Swift and effective international action will send a message not just to the Myanmar junta but to authoritarians and would-be authoritarians across the world that they will be held to account for their crimes.

Humanity and unity will win:
United Nations Climate Change Conference 2021
COP26, Glasgow 1-12 November 2021

We are delighted that the United States has rejoined the Paris Climate accord, and we hope this will strengthen the determination of delegates to COP26 in Glasgow to seize the moment and turn the tide. As President of COP26, the government of the United Kingdom has stated its commitment to work with all countries and join forces with civil society, companies and people on the frontline of climate change to inspire action.

The greatest longterm challenge facing us is climate change. Floods in Britain, forest fires in Australia, the United States and Europe, droughts in Africa, rising sea-levels and the extinction of animal, insect and plant species are evidence of the threat our way of life poses to the future of humanity. The Covid-19 lockdowns have shown us that dramatic change is possible when the will is there. 
COP 26 is an opportunity to set ambitious targets for practical action to achieve cleaner, low carbon, more resilient economies across the world. 

Events in 2021

Luton and the World

Luton is one of the most diverse towns in the UK, with a wide range of ethnicities, religions and cultures. Its people have links to almost every country in the world. Whenever events happen overseas, somebody in Luton is directly affected, and is well informed about the key issues.
UNA Luton contributes to the UN’s and UNA-UK’s goals by drawing on the wealth of Luton’s human resources, learning from experience in Britain and overseas and acting both locally and globally.

 

Socio-economic challenges

Luton has thriving industries and benefits from its excellent transport links by road, rail and the airport and its proximity to London, but not everyone shares its prosperity. Like many other British towns Luton faces socioeconomic challenges in a number of areas including health, housing, education and employment.
The town has been hard hit by Covid-19 which effectively closed down Luton Airport for a year. Apart from being one of the town's largest employers in its own right, the airport also supports an extensive network of ancillary industries, such as engineering works, hotels, sandwich shops, taxis, etc. A great effort will be needed to recover.

Working with others

We work with a wide variety of local and voluntary and statutory agencies, including Luton Borough Council,  the University of Bedfordshire and other UNA branches. We raise awareness  to trigger activism for achieving a just, fair, healthier, safer, more equal and peaceful society.

We work in partnership with Equality in Diversity CIC, a local community interest company. EiD publishes our reports and YouTube videos, maintains our website and FaceBook page and faciltates our Zoom events.