Ever suspected that the hooligans running UN Youth New Zealand have stolen the United Nations’ name and logo without really having anything to do with it? What’s the connection between us here in New Zealand and the international behemoth fighting for peace and justice around the world?
If my computer skills allowed, I’d draw you an elaborate family tree. Instead, let me direct you to any UN Youth letterhead, business card or conference brochure you may have on hand. There, you’ll find the following blurb:
The United Nations Association of New Zealand (The United Nations Youth Association of New Zealand Branch) Inc is the youth arm of the United Nations Association of New Zealand, a member of the World Federation of the United Nations Associations (WFUNA).
To begin at the beginning, “The United Nations Association of New Zealand (the United Nations Youth Association of New Zealand Branch) Inc” is UN Youth’s legal name. This is the name by which we are registered as an Incorporated Society (meaning the organisation is essentially a legal person) at the Companies Office and at the Charities Commission. Since a makeover last year the organisation has traded as UN Youth New Zealand – regardless of our legal name, this is what we call ourselves when communicating with members and stakeholders. We feel it makes a lot more sense than “UNYANZ”, an acronym easily confused with a vegetable.
While a separately incorporated organisation, UN Youth New Zealand is a branch of the United Nations Association of New Zealand (UNANZ). In other words, while UN Youth New Zealand is its own legal person with its own bank accounts and legal powers and responsibilities, it is nonetheless just one part of another organisation. That other organisation is UNANZ, established shortly after the United Nations itself came into being in 1945. Its primary mission is the same as ours: to promote an understanding of and support for the United Nations amongst New Zealanders. While UN Youth New Zealand serves those under the age of 25, UNANZ focuses on New Zealanders more generally.
UNANZ is one of over one hundred UNAs around the world. Soon after the UN Charter was signed in 1945, these non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were established as “peoples’ movements” for the UN. The enthusiasm and drive of those citizens who got these UNAs underway is best understood in the context of 1945. With the human catastrophe of World War Two fresh in their minds, the UN Charter’s pledge “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” was felt very personally. It was recognized that politicians and officials needed support from a broader public understanding and appreciation of the United Nations – back then a new and novel concept. Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States, was among those early UNA members, fighting in particular for the recognition of human rights – enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and elsewhere.
The blurb above describes UNANZ as a member of the World Federation of United Nations Association (WFUNA – an appropriately awkward acronym pronounced “wa-foo-na”). WFUNA was established in 1946 as the international umbrella organisation responsible for representing and coordinating UNAs. Today, its work includes international campaigns and the facilitation of relationships and cooperation amongst UNAs and with UN agencies. Although an independent NGO, WFUNA is recognized with Category One Consultative Status at the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). ECOSOC is the UN organ responsible for overseeing and coordinating UN agencies in the realm of economic and social policy. Uniquely, WFUNA and its member UNAs are entitled to use the UN’s name and emblem. In New Zealand, this is otherwise prevented by the Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981.
WFUNA’s supreme governing body is a plenary assembly of all member UNAs held every three years. This elects a President and an Executive Committee to oversee the organization in the periods between. In turn, WFUNA has a secretariat of staff and interns at offices in the UN Secretariat Building in New York and the Palais des Nations in Geneva. The secretariat is run by a Secretary General.
UN Youth New Zealand’s relationship with WFUNA is strong. I attended the WFUNA Plenary Assembly in South Korea in 2009, having the pleasure of meeting the then President of WFUNA, Hans Blix (former IAEA Director and leader of the weapons inspection team that famously concluded that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. You may also know him for his cameo in Team America). It was there that I also met Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. In 2011 I was appointed to a Youth Advisory Group assembled to advise the Secretary General on a new strategy for WFUNA’s engagement with youth. We met in Argentina last July and have since formed the WFUNA Youth Network, which you can follow on Facebook here.
UN Youth New Zealand is an organisation distinct from the United Nations proper. We are a not a formal part of the United Nations system. Rather, through WFUNA and direct contact with UN agencies such as the UN Information Centre in Canberra we have a formal, established and recognized relationship with the United Nations. It’s this that gives us our legitimacy as a United Nations Youth Association.