Letter to the Editor: Thoughts on the cancellation of the UNESCO Chair


Dear Editor,

Greetings with regard for universal peace and a prioritization of one universal love for humanity.

Has anyone within the University of Connecticut heard whether University administrators will work to restore Dr. Amii Omara-Otunnu to post as UNESCO Chair of Comparative Human Rights at University of Connecticut or at minimum honor him for over a decade of commitment in service to the mission of promoting human rights as a framework through which to resolve global issues?

The work done there is commendable and people around the world are wondering how such a short-sighted decision could be made without review, without notice, without communication, and without regard for inquiry from those who have engaged with the the University of Connecticut through the UNESCO Institute of Comparative Rights.

Off the top of my head, the UNESCO Institute of Comparative Human Rights has welcomed leaders of all ages from at least the following nations within the time I’ve born witness to its work:

USA, Canada, Mexico, Honduras, Peru, Guyana, St. Kitts, Jamaica, Bahamas, Trinidad & Tobago, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Cuba, Brazil, Mali, Senegal, Guinea, Kenya, South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, Columbia, Venezuela, Barbados, St. Kitts & Nevis, France, Italy, Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Israel, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Armenia, Turkey, Greece, Portugal, Thailand, Ivory Coast, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ethiopia, Morocco, The Gambia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Togo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Tunisia, Australia, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China, Japan, South Korea, Burma, India, & Pakistan

That’s an impressive accomplishment for one program at one tertiary institution. The work that has gone into establishing, nurturing, and sustaining a cohesive performance would, if subjected to 360 review, reveal humility in leadership and administration among the staff as well as commitment to sustaining what has been in the interest of humanity.  There are a list of stories from around the world that illustrate that the net impact to the brand of the University has been positively profound.

It would be a short-coming of the University of Connecticut to fail to inquire globally as well as locally within the United States among U.S. born-and-raised citizens why the University of Connecticut and the United Nations should ensure a remedy to the alleged logistical complication, which results in a major programmatic shift to a program that broadened and deepened the knowledge shared and generated within both institutions.

It would be a disheartening sign to say that administratively both institutions illustrate a lack of true commitment to human rights work if institutional practices at such a level demonstrate that they shall uphold the promotion of power over the protection and provision of justice.  This conflict between power and justice as it pertains to procedures of legitimacy underscore the essential debates within the world of international law and global justice.  What we practice today sets precedent for the future.  How do we – as citizens, as stakeholders in the aforementioned institutions, and as protectorates of human decency on Earth – signal to the University of Connecticut that a world of leaders and human rights practitioners continue to inquire about this decision to remove the first UNESCO Chair in the United States issued for the field of human rights remains at post in a time at which the infringement upon the basic rights of human beings in this nation and abroad increase?

This is the ultimate irony and the fundamental argument presented in the series of events that could have led to changes made and changes made through the way they appear to have been made.  At this point, my colleagues and I around the world ask what course of action the University requires of us in addition to offer letters of support and testimonies to the real impact the UNESCO Institute of Comparative Human Rights and its flag-bearer, Amii Omara-Otunnu.  As it stands, the perception by many is that the contributions made and the institutional connections gained through the UNESCO Chair & Institute will be absorbed by the University with no regard for the servant leadership that facilitated their genesis.

May this message reach the University of Connecticut and the Storrs campus, especially, with a positive note of appreciation for its hospitality demonstrated to leaders who have visited and returned to it with the utmost confidence that they found a U.S. institution willing to champion human rights in earnest.  May it serve as a reminder that the work transcends rhetoric and lives or dies with the smallest actions each day.  What is the word from UCONN, and what is the update from UNESCO regarding this matter?  

Rodney L. Smith

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