9/11 and the United Nations

By Joseph Donnelly, Caritas delegate at the United Nations in New York

No matter what your source of reading was this week, the primary question being asked repeats itself almost as if we simply don’t understand it. It seems to assume there is an absolutely clear answer. “What impact has the terror attacks on the USA on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, had during these last ten years?”

It is the same question looming large everywhere you go. And it inserts itself with even greater specificity when you take it global. We ask is the common good any closer to being realised?

As a solemn ceremony commemorating the tenth anniversary of  9/11 unfolded at the General Assembly Hall at United Nations headquarters in New York City, there is the same question. While Member States from four corners of the world pause, they are simultaneously bent over like question marks themselves – what impact?

Impacts from 9/11 are felt daily within United Nations. It intends to be ‘The House of the Peoples’, as its charter starts: We, The Peoples. Tens of thousands of people, hundreds of thousands if you include all staff. From Midtown Manhattan to Katmandu, there is massive human and civil energy which multiplies acts of humanitarian and development assistance. But still, it is simply not enough yet. We need another billion dollars today so hunger is faced faster. We will need no more resolutions or proposals if human dignity is absolutely safeguarded.

Part of the UN reform which is part of  follow-up from September 11th has been greater access of civil society to have significant participation with Member States at both the Security Council and General Assembly. With nearly unbearable demands from natural and humanitarian crises from Japan to Haiti, Bangladesh to Zimbabwe, a world in need demands more partners, local and global, from every sector of society.

Progress is far from consistent. UN Secretary General constantly calls on all to be united for great global good. It will take awhile longer to be consistent and substantive in these new transparent partnering ways, but it is the only way forward. With this new experimenting dynamic comes calls for mutual accountability. What are we doing together?

This kind of global partnership, number 8 on the list of MDGs, is a mechanism to absorb both the gross damage to our fragile world and the sustainable power we can collectively manage more responsibly to build back better honestly.

We know billions of dollars matched with millions of experts, volunteers, others meet communities all over the face of this Earth from famines to floods, from farms to factories, working to sustain that human spark to hold on and hope.

Yet, is it still true that what’s local is global? What’s global is local? Too many are pulling away from multi-lateralism, finding refuge in bigger fences, even as multinational meetings, summits, declarations hold onto the language.

As a native New Yorker with grandparents who immigrated to these urban shores, I grew up in a community of great diversity with deep family roots educating us with growing senses of responsibility, service and tolerance. Much of NY still is that way. From church to sports, from schools to jobs, our parents witnessed what can always be achieved with dignity.

That intensely woven fabric of being human, of willfully belonging to one another was what specifically sustained me and those around me that awful Tuesday ten years ago. It has not diminished. It has flourished with its wounds and losses. Countless tears have fallen, but often now from the rebuilding.

Humbly, I recall too that the victims of 9/11 were people from 90 countries. The common language we still share: sacrifice, suffering, solidarity builds up inner dignity with justice for all. The only way to be grateful to God for our lives is to live with absolute respect and unconditional compassion for every human being, everywhere.

No time to waste – being one human family wherever we are. We must be the urgent change we seek if we sincerely wish to have positive impacts.


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