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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Visit to the United Nations by Meg Munn, Labour MP, Sheffield Heeley

Saturday, December 1, 2001

Since 11 September hardly a day has gone by without the United Nations being mentioned in the news. The work of the Security Council, and the negotiations between Afghan parties in Bonn, have had a particularly high profile recently. I was pleased therefore to be chosen to join a group of seven Members of Parliament to visit the UN in New York for five days.

The work of the UN in peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance is well known. However, there are lots of other aspects to an organisation that has grown from a membership of 51 countries at its establishment in 1945 to 189 countries today. It attempts to solve some of the problems that challenge humanity. In a varied programme we met key personnel working in the areas of human rights, development, conflict prevention and the fight against disease.

The Security Council has recently set up a Counter Terrorism Committee, chaired by the UK representative, to oversee action that countries should take to prevent terrorism. However the morning I attended, the Security Council was receiving reports on the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Sitting only a few feet away from the Rwandan Minister for Justice, I heard him describe the continuing aftermath of the genocide in 1994 when over one million people were killed.  Many women were not only widowed but also raped. As a result there is a high incidence of Aids and many children who lost one parent in the genocide are now being orphaned. The legacy of that conflict will continue for many years. The role of the UN has developed since and in such circumstances today it would not stand by, as it did then.

A meeting with UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, identified the spread of HIV and Aids as a major growing concern. Already in areas of the world, such as parts of Africa, large numbers of children have been orphaned. Britain has more than doubled its contribution for work with children over the last four years. Here as in many other meetings the work of the Department for International Development received considerable praise.

We were able to meet Mr. Han Seung-Soo of Korea, President of the General Assembly*. I was somewhat surprised when his assistant shook my hand first and said how much the President was looking forward to meeting me. Mr. Seung-Soo told me that he had both studied and taught at York University, where I too had studied. He had many happy memories of his time there. He added gallantly that he was sure I would only have been in nursery school at the time!

I spent a very interesting morning at the British Consulate in New York learning about their role in trade and investment. I was particularly pleased to meet Howard Drake, Director of Invest UK*, which aims to promote the UK as a location for US companies’ activities in Europe. Last year their biggest success was Insight Enterprises who are investing over £80 million in establishing their European Headquarters, Call Centre and Service Centre in Sheffield bringing in nearly 2000 jobs.

While at the Consulate we met staff that supported British families whose relatives were victims of the attack on the World Trade Centre. Also there were British police officers who had gone over to New York providing a vital link between the families and the local police. This is a particularly hard job when so few bodies have been found in a condition that enables visual identification.

From my visit to the UN I learnt much about the work of this large organisation. Despite the difficulties of getting 189 countries to work together and the experience of poverty, war and violation of human rights in the world, I came away convinced that it is essential. The aims of the UN may sometimes seem out of reach but I believe it has demonstrated that it is a force for good.

Meg Munn

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