SUMMARY OF MAIN SPEECHES
900 social workers and students gathered at the United Nations on Monday 31 March to mark the 25th anniversary of the annual social work day at the UN. The purpose of the day is to highlight the work of social workers and to provide a foundation for the continuing work by IFSW and IASSW to ensure that the United Nations is aware of the contribution of social work. The theme of the conference reflected both the 25th anniversary of the day and the 60th anniversary of the Convention on Human Rights.
David N Jones [IFSW President] and Abye Tasse [IASSW President] welcomed participants. David Jones pointed to the impact of globalisation and the growing social crises resulting from climate change, mass migration, ethnic and religious conflict and the decline in community. He noted the fact that social workers are increasingly moving around the world to seek employment and also that there are international implications of many social problems handled by local social workers. David Jones said that all social work is now international and governments are looking to social work for answers to these social crises.
Kathleen Kendall, 98 years old and Honorary Life President of IASSW, spoke about her work as the first social worker employed by the United Nations. She did the first study of social work and social work education in the 1940s.
The keynote speaker was Craig Mokhiber, Deputy Secretary in the UN Office of the High Commission on Human Rights. He welcomed participants on behalf of the United Nations and commented that he had never seen such a well attended conference in the UN building.
In an impassioned speech, Mr Mokhiber paid tribute to the work of social workers as a key profession in supporting human rights.
He highlighted the political risks to the concept of human rights and the UN work on the Convention. He noted that a human rights approach is not about charity but social justice and rights. He said that effective implementation of the convention, given the lack of impact since its adoption, meant that new strategies were required. It is not good enough to carry on doing what had been done in the past, in particular using legal routes. He said that social workers are in the front line in the battle to implement human rights. Social workers are inevitably monitoring implementation of the convention through their routine work. Meaningful implementation must focus on empowering people to assert their social and political rights and not just giving cash handouts and palliatives. He urged social workers and their associations to contribute to the shadow reports prepared by NGOs when governments come to defend their human rights record.
Margaret Bruce described her role as a member of the UN staff supporting the first Human Rights Commission as it drafted the Convention. She described her experience of working with some of the key people involved, including Eleanor Roosevelt.
Lena Dominelli [former IASSW President], Abye Tasse and Christophe Lobry-Boulanger [American Red Cross] then talked about different aspects of social work in an international context.
Helen Hamlin [International Federation of Aging] summarised the proceedings and again stressed the unique perspectives on social problems which can be offered to the United Nations by social workers. She described some of the ways that the experience of social workers is brought into the UN system.
David N Jones [IFSW] highlighted the work of the IFSW and IASSW teams not only at the UN in New York, but also in Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi.
The UN day conference was preceded the previous day by a student conference on international social work attended by around 300 students mainly from the USA and Canada.
David N Jones