In celebration of UN Day, UNA-UK’s Executive Director Natalie Samarasinghe was pleased to award this year’s Sir Brian Urquhart Award for Distinguished Service to Dr Purna Sen, Executive Coordinator and Spokesperson on Sexual Harassment and Other Forms of Discrimination at UN Women for her long-standing dedication to human rights.
UN day reception
This year’s reception began with opening remarks from the Canadian Commission’s Deputy High Commissioner Sarah Fountain Smith. She discussed Canada’s role at the UN in addressing contemporary global challenges.
These remarks were followed by a keynote speech given by the Honourable Lloyd Axworthy, chair of the World Refugee Council and one of Canada’s leading voices on global migration and refugee protection. In this keynote speech, Lloyd Axworthy thanked UNA-UK and the Canadian High Commission for inviting him to speak at Canada House, which he emphasised as a place of personal significance in his lifetime.
Speaking on the Global Compact for Refugees, he stressed that it is our collective responsibility to create and maintain global institutions which strengthen global governance, seek to avoid conflict, and establish international confidence.
The Sir Brian Urquhart award
UNA-UK Executive Director Natalie Samarasinghe then presented the Sir Brian Urquhart award to Dr Purna Sen. Natalie spoke about the value of the UN in addressing today’s challenges, along with UNA-UK’s new “Together First” initiative to renew and invigorate global governance..
Dr Purna Sen, Executive Coordinator and Spokesperson on Sexual Harassment and Other Forms of Discrimination at UN Women, was a awarded for her work on sexual exploitation and abuse within the UN – an issue UNA-UK has been working on with respect to peacekeeping - and her extensive experience as an activist, academic and practitioner promoting human rights and feminism.
Prior to taking up her role as Executive Coordinator in April 2018, Dr Sen was serving as UN Women’s Director of Policy. Prior to joining UN Women, she worked as Deputy Director of the Institute of Public Affairs at LSE, Head of Human rights for the Commonwealth Secretariat and Director of the Asia-Pacific Programme at Amnesty International. She has held a variety of consultative, committee or advisory roles with NGOs including the British Council, Refugee Women’s Resource Project and Southall Black Sisters, and she was Chair of the board of the LGBT charity Kaleidoscope Trust and board member of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
In her acceptance speech, Dr Sen thanked UNA-UK for the award. She began by paying particular respect “to women and girls of the world who have for generations been deprived”, and denounced the violence and abuse that has “blighted their lives, or that has ended the lives of others”. On her work combatting violations of human rights, she sought to shine a spotlight on the experiences of women, stating “torture is what happens to us everyday, it happens in our homes and it happens when we go to work, it happens when our rights are not recognised as part of the human rights programme”. She went on to stress the need to rework our understanding of violations, stating “we need to realise that sexual violence is neither unusual nor is it minimal or trivial”.
On the notion of ending conflict, Dr Sen highlighted that “war ends and peace comes when [women] have control over their lives”. She stressed that more work needs to be done to improve mechanisms which investigate and report on violence against women; and for these mechanisms to strengthen, we need to see a shift in the cultural understanding of the human rights of women.
UNA-UK would like to thank our partner the Canadian High Commission in London for hosting this year's UN Day event, held on 24 October 2018. In the absence of an official commemoration, every year UNA-UK joins with an embassy partner to allow the London diplomatic community to mark the event. Around 150 people attended, representing the diplomatic community, government, civil society, academia and the media. The event was one of many; local UNA-UK groups also marked the anniversary of the UN across the country.