A Transformative Middle Ground
Question & Answer with Andrew Tomlinson
Andrew Tomlinson heads the New York Office of the Quaker United Nations Office. He is a member of the Chatham-Summit Monthly Meeting in New Jersey.
Why do Quakers care about the United Nations?
The United Nations is based on the “we the peoples” of the world. It’s about bringing those peoples together to approach common and collaborative solutions to the problems that face the world. With 193 governments and dozens of civil society groups working together, this has to be based on respect and listening.
The UN charter, particularly the introductory segments, is largely one that Quakers could have written. A huge amount of the charter is about trying to prevent war, and that resonates for Friends.
How does the UN work against state violence and the coercion of the weak by the strong?
The UN cannot exist outside the political realities of the world, but it pushes back against big power dominance in part by trying to set up a whole set of ground rules. Most obvious is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It sets out in the clearest possible language that every individual human being has a series of rights, not only political and civil but also economic, social, and cultural. So, inherent in every individual is dignity and worth.
Can the United Nations achieve peace?
We are trying to find where there is the potential for a transformative middle ground. For us, like FCNL, it's trying to find ways forward based on nonpartisanship, which we see as another important Quaker value in this context. We're trying to, over time, find ways to assist and accompany the UN in changing the world to be a more peaceful place.
How is QUNO’s work at the United Nations like FCNL’s work with Congress?
As I understand it, FCNL tries to find ways to foster communication and engagement in an increasingly polarized political environment. In Washington, there are largely two sides. At the UN, you have 193 sides, in addition to the regional organizations like the European Union and the African Union.
How does QUNO work for peace and progress?
We explicitly set out to bring in different voices. So, in our work with member states, we are reaching out not just to hear and to understand but to engage delegates from many different countries to together try to discern paths forward. My colleagues in Geneva, for example, have hosted quiet, off-the-record dinners with carefully chosen people around the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
QUNO (www.quno.org), with offices in New York and Geneva, works to promote peace and justice at the United Nations and other global institutions. It was established by the Friends World Committee for Consultation, the Quaker Peace and Social Witness Central Committee (Britain Yearly Meeting), and the American Friends Service Committee.