Archive | May, 2013

Fueling the Syrian Conflict From All Sides

29 May

As the conflict in Syria rages on, ostensibly slipping further and further into an increasingly grievous civil war, the European Union decided on 28 May 2013 to lift an arms embargo thereby allowing for the option to provide arms to the Syrian rebels fighting against President Bashar Al-Assad and his government. The decision to lift the embargo was supported mainly by the UK and France. Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, remarked that the non-renewal of the arms embargo comes with certain conditions—weapons can only be sent to the so-called moderate Syrian National Coalition and the affiliated Free Syria Army and can only be used to “protect civilians.” While the embargo sets the stage for weapons transfers to the Syrian rebels, there is no immediate plan to begin authorizations of weapons as the earliest possible time for such transfers would be August 2013 (after a conference is to be held in Geneva next month to negotiate a peace agreement). Nevertheless, this policy change is indeed a worrisome development in the context of a bloody, prolonged, and seemingly intractable civil conflict in a region of unsettling politics and violence. Several countries have rightly argued that more weapons will inevitably mean more death and destruction no matter to which parties to the conflict they are intended.

Particularly in light of the recent adoption of an Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in the UN General Assembly (set to be open for signature next week on 3 June 2013), the dangers of transferring conventional arms to governments (or, in this case, entities) with the potential to violate international humanitarian law, international human rights law, undermine peace and security, or be used to commit acts of gender-based violence or violence against children are highly relevant to the debate over supplying arms to “stabilize” a conflict versus “exacerbating” the violence. The original intent and impetus of an ATT—preventing the human suffering associated with the unregulated and illicit arms trade—are interestingly on display in the Syria case. The human suffering apparent in the Syrian context is indisputable. The UN estimates that nearly 80,000 individuals have died in addition to the dire refugee and displacement crises and the overall disruption of livelihoods. Such violence has been committed with imported (legally and illicitly) weapons of all kinds as arms flow into and within the region. Moreover, the dangers of “legitimate” arms falling into the hands of “non-legitimate” entities are even more severe in the context of Syria given the lack of information on the rebel groups and the instability of the region writ large. The determination of which groups are the “legitimate” representatives of the Syrian people is hardly clear.

Applying the ATT to the Syrian case is not straightforward, but an interesting case study nonetheless. Export assessment criteria represent the linchpin of the ATT operability insofar as these criteria must be examined prior to any arms authorization by the exporting states party. The agreed criteria in the ATT do provide an interesting backdrop to the discussion of whether or not such export authorizations are in line with international legal obligations. Of course, a major difference (and ultimately a major complication and what would seem a “loophole” in the Syria case) that must be noted is that the ATT covers inter-governmental transfers and does not explicitly elaborate on criteria related to transfers to non-state actors. A prohibition against transfers to non-state actors was a hotly debated issue during the ATT negotiations and, ultimately, was not included in the final text. Many of the loudest objectors to the text, including many Arab states and the three states that formally objected to the text at the conclusion of the March 2013 negotiations (the DPRK, Iran, and Syria), noted the absence of this prohibition as a major oversight in the drafting. They noted that although the majority of states called for this prohibition, it was purposefully left out. Therefore, the ATT, even if it had already entered into force and the relevant parties were state parties, would not apply in this case. If instruments such as the ATT are to have a real impact, then treaty criteria must be incorporated into all export decisions and not just those which are explicitly referenced. Otherwise, a policy of criteria avoidance could be easily adopted and implemented.

In the same week that the EU lifted the embargo, the Russian government announced that it would move ahead with the transfer of anti-aircraft missiles to the sitting Syrian government as a “stabilizing factor” that would “deter” foreign intervention into the conflict. It is clear that arming either side—the Assad regime or the rebel groups—is doing little to bring the violence to an end or address the dire humanitarian crisis. The Syrian conflict has ultimately moved from a rebellion to a civil war to a regional war by proxy with external forces such as Iran and Russia eager to counterbalance moves by the EU and the US.

The insertion of more weaponry on either side has little hope for changing the political or practical dynamics of the conflict and, thus, instigating hopes for bringing forth a negotiated peace. As Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted to the Human Rights Council in Geneva recently, “The message from all of us should be the same: we will not support this conflict with arms, ammunition, politics or religion.”


–Katherine Prizeman

Body Building: Supporting Treaty Bodies at Headquarters

24 May

This past Wednesday afternoon at UN headquarters, there was (for me at least) a truly remarkable sight — the chairs of the human rights treaty bodies seated on the dais preparing to hold consultations with the 20 or so non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that gathered to consult with them.

Though GAPW (in consultation with other human rights groups especially the International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture) only covers three of the treaty bodies (Human Rights Committee, Committee against Torture, and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) we have long believed that the full complement of treaty bodies represent the lifeblood of the UN system.  Despite severe resource challenges, the indifference of some diplomatic missions, and the hesitancy of some states to fulfill their human rights obligations, Committee sessions represent some of the few venues in the UN system where independent experts can directly and actively examine state conduct on key aspects and constituencies related to the UN human rights agenda – women, torture, children, refugees and much more.

This session followed one earlier in the day chaired by Ambassador Gunnarsdottir of Iceland and Ambassador Percaya of Indonesia who have consulted on and off with civil society groups and other stakeholders, mostly in New York and Geneva, regarding the most effective ways for the UN to select Committee members and for the Committees themselves to discharge their diverse responsibilities. Their responses to NGO comments, many of which are included in their “Way Forward” documents, were not always hopeful, citing the need to balance “budget savings and capacity reforms.”  These documents, largely intended for states, contain insights partially noted in a report issued in April 2013 and are available here.

Some of those commenting NGOs, including Amnesty International and Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, have provided important guidance to Committee members on a variety of matters related to working methods, including strategies for maintaining the independence of members not only from state pressure but pressure from Secretariat offices and NGOs as well. While there is a general expectation, especially from the civil society side, that human rights are indivisible and must be upheld without reservation, many NGOs recognize that Committee members must be given significant leverage in the discharging of their responsibilities, including how they interpret state reports, the line of inquiry they pursue in formal Committee meetings, the ways in which they engage and incorporate testimony from local and international civil society groups, and how follow-up recommendations are crafted and pursued.

Such leverage is essential for several reasons, including preservation of the integrity of the investigative and interrogation processes, but also because Committee members along with diplomats and others involved with the promotion and protection of human rights must make judgment calls about how hard and far they can push states given limitations of time, available resources, and the will of states to honestly pursue improvements in human rights practices.  As anyone who has participated in Fifth Committee discussions knows well, there are many parts of the UN system clamoring for additional allocations from the regular UN budget.   Not all requests are granted and even fewer are granted in full.  And NGOs like ours are not always as sensitive as we might be to the political and fiscal tradeoffs that shadow the work of all aspects of the UN system, including the Committees.  While keeping a proper eye on the goal of universal adherence to human rights principles, we can do more to understand, appreciate and weigh in on the best ways to navigate these trade-offs, some of which require that we know more about related processes and issues than we generally care to know.

There is at least one other thing that we can do more of to help promote the Committees and communicate (though not always support) the difficult trade-offs that in part define their roles. In our view, the limitations noted above point to another, potentially fruitful dimension of NGO engagement, one that is complementary to discussions about integrated calendars, the frequency of reporting, the way in which Committee members are selected, and the best means of engaging civil society testimony.

As a number of readers of this blog recognize, GAPW engages a broad organizational mission that stresses the inter-relationships between security issues and seeks common engagement on core UN concerns – including human rights – by diverse stakeholders.    Our work highlights the gender implications of atrocity crime prevention, the security dimensions of development policy, the impact of illicit weapons on internally displaced persons, and other ‘cross-over’ concerns.

We, of course, are not alone in seeking complementary engagements.  It is important to many of our other partners that our discussions with diplomatic missions and other policymakers span a wide range of concerns – from UN media policy reform to reparations for victims of state-sponsored sexual abuse.  Diplomats, especially in the smaller missions, have to juggle what seems to be an endless stream of policies and the resolutions and treaties that seek to rationalize and bind our responses to them.   Diplomats need help juggling at times and can often receive that help from NGOs that are sufficiently attentive to their contexts and frames of policy reference.

One of those frames must have more to do with the treaty bodies, an indispensable UN contribution to which many diplomats pay less attention to than they probably should.   It is critical, while NGOs work to impact the diverse policy agendas of the missions, that Permanent Representatives and others are encouraged to receive regular updates on the issues, needs and challenges of Committee members – not only their expectations of state conduct but what is needed to ensure a robust engagement on the rights which the Committees do so much to uphold.

Those of us who regularly weigh in with missions on issues such as the arms trade, the Responsibility to Protect norm , nuclear disarmament and the dual obligations to promote women’s full participation and end impunity for gender violence can do more in those (and other) contexts to promote the essential work and testimony of the treaty bodies. We can, from our diverse organizational vantage points, insist that states engage more robustly with this vital and fundamental obligation to the entire community of states, an obligation that is essential to the integrity of the UN system and to the maintenance of trust worldwide.

The UN’s work in so many diverse fields intersects with both the policy and promise of the treaty bodies.   We all have a responsibility to build their capacity and enhance their reputation.  We urge Committee members to reflect more with us on their successes and frustrations and to also share more about their capacity needs in enhancing state practices with respect to their human rights obligations.   For our part, we need to recognize more fully the treaty bodies as a significant focus of organizational outreach and intent, even  if the term ‘human rights’ does not appear on our letterhead or in our organizational mission statement.


–Dr. Robert Zuber

Open-ended Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament Convenes in Geneva

20 May

The Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) to “Develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons” began its first session in Geneva last week. Thus far, member states, members of civil society, and representatives of international organizations have engaged in discussions in the context of thematic panels such as “Multilateral treaty-based obligations and commitments”; “Nuclear weapon free areas”; “Other initiatives and proposals”; and “Lessons learned: Transparency, confidence-building measures and verification”. While the general tone seems to be positive inasmuch as this OEWG represents a welcome opportunity to address the substantive issues around nuclear disarmament, particularly in light of the prolonged stalemate effective across the UN disarmament machinery. Nevertheless, there remains hesitation from some member states regarding diverting attention from the Conference on Disarmament (CD), abandoning the so-called “step by step” approach, and taking any measures that might alienate the nuclear weapon states (NWS).

OEWG presentations from the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR), academics such as Ward Wilson, and civil society representatives including those from Reaching Critical Will (RCW) and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) have enriched the conversation through concrete and substantive proposals and reflections on the current state of nuclear disarmament. Generally, members of civil society reiterated that maintenance of the status quo is simply unsustainable and unacceptable. Ward Wilson, author of Rethinking Nuclear Weapons, offered remarks on the “mistakes” made in understanding the utility, use, and overarching properties of nuclear weapons. In particular, Wilson underscored the myth of “deterrence” as well as the notion that nuclear weapons are anything but clumsy, immoral and dangerous. Likewise, Beatrice Fihn of RCW, a member of ICAN, reminded delegations that while the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is a “landmark” agreement representing the only binding, multilateral commitment to nuclear disarmament by the NWS, this commitment lacks a timeframe or any other concrete requirement beyond the obligation to simply “pursue negotiations.”

Issues stemming from a “Ban Treaty,” as opposed to a comprehensive treaty complete with disarmament obligations and a verification regime, were also addressed. Thomas Nash of Article 36, also a member of ICAN, outlined in more detail what a proposed “Ban Treaty” would require. Nash stated that such a treaty is envisioned by its proponents as “a step in a process—the ban would be an additional tool towards a nuclear weapons free world” noting that elimination usually follows prohibition. Furthermore, Nash identified three “framings” for a ban on nuclear weapons—fulfilling existing disarmament obligations, particularly those codified in Article VI of the NPT, building on nuclear weapon free zones, and banning all forms of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Additionally, much attention has been rightfully paid by civil society to the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and the refocusing of the disarmament debate on this humanitarian initiative that has been reinforced through joint statements at the NPT Preparatory Committee (Prep Com) in May and the UNGA First Committee last October.

While the substance of the panelists is important in its own right, the general exchange of views among member states revealed continued reluctance to fully embrace comprehensive proposals for moving forward on nuclear disarmament. Moreover, many delegations are still loath to engage in a process perceived as “alternative” to the CD. Ambassador Mehta of India, representing a nuclear weapon state outside of the NPT regime, was clear in her general statement that nuclear disarmament can only be achieved “by a step-by-step process underwritten by a universal commitment and an agreed multilateral framework that is global and non-discriminatory,” as well as reached by consensus. Likewise, Ambassador Hoffman of Germany supported the notion that “a big bang creating a world without nuclear weapons is highly unlikely” and, therefore, “building blocs” were needed to make practical progress towards this larger objective. Ambassador Hoffman went so far as to say that it is “simply not true” that the “step by step” approach has not yielded results and that the NPT, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the IAEA safeguards and Additional Protocol are examples of successful results. The delegation of Sweden agreed that the “most viable” way forward was a continuous process of adding agreements and commitments to existing ones to build a “stronger international regime.” Such a regime, the Swedish delegation argued, would require the nuclear possessor states’ participation. This is a position in stark contrast to that of ICAN and other civil society advocates who believe that a treaty negotiated by non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS) would be a ‘game changer’ regarding the legal framework governing nuclear weapons and, thus, have an impact beyond those states that would be most likely to formally adopt it in the first instance (impacting the nuclear possessor states—the NPT NWS as well as the DPRK, India, Israel, and Pakistan).

In contrast to those delegations that continue to cling to the perceived indispensability of a “step by step” approach, the delegation of Ireland strongly (and in our view rightly) spoke out against this approach in its general statement debunking the myth that the “step by step” approach is the only logical way forward. The delegation questioned the narrative of ‘sequencialism’ proposed by other states noting that such “steps” are neither identified nor clearly explained. The Irish delegation also called for an appraisal of conceptual terms during the OEWG, as well as a robust review of the practical implications of such proposals and concepts. Ultimately, unwavering commitment to a sequential approach has not, as the delegation of Germany insisted in its statement, yielded results at the level necessary for achieving genuine nuclear disarmament. More specifically, in terms of the “successes” identified by Ambassador Hoffman, there is much to be desired. The NPT’s credibility has been increasingly questioned due in large part to the failure to convene a conference on the establishment of a WMD-free zone in the Middle East as well as the lack of tangible progress with regards to Article VI obligations. The levels of frustration around the inability to fulfill the items laid out in the 2010 NPT Action Plan, most especially the 22 items that related to disarmament, are only growing (as evidenced by the decision of the Egyptian delegation to withdraw from the recent NPT Prep Com session). Furthermore, while negotiation of the CTBT is welcome, its seemingly permanent status in “entry-into-force limbo” is hardly impressive and the IAEA safeguards and Additional Protocol have a distinct non-proliferation bias.

Precisely what the OEWG will yield, beyond the resolution-mandated report that it must submit to both the upcoming session of the First Committee in the fall and to the CD, is unclear. Nevertheless, the Irish delegation was correct in stating that reiterating proposals and concepts is not enough. Rather an emphasis on “taking forward” negotiations and assessing the practical implications of approaches are vital to the success of the OEWG. If the obligation to develop proposals to “take forward” multilateral disarmament negotiations is not vigorously pursued throughout these OEWG sessions, it will be difficult to label them a success, as opposed to a lost opportunity.


–Katherine Prizeman

Conversation Starter: Civil Society Consultations

14 May

On the morning of the 14 of May at UN headquarters in New York, four panelists reflected on an important regional consultation that took place recently in Guadalajara, Mexico with the support of the Mexican government.  The Guadalajara meeting was part of a larger process designed, in part, to assess and integrate regional civil society concerns in laying out follow-up processes for the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework and the Rio plus 20 Conference on Sustainable Development held in June 2012.

The speakers highlighted the value of more regional engagement as a post-2015 agenda begins to take shape.   Also noted was the need for clear feedback loops that can help civil society track their impact on documents prepared by States and the UN Secretariat to help guide movement on development going forward.

In listening to the speakers, I was both grateful for this attention by UN stakeholders to the needs and wishes of civil society groups and also dismayed by what seems to be the unwillingness of speakers to publicly identify some of the enormous challenges associated with conducting a genuinely consultative process at this moment in our collective history.  There are now so many civil society groups, so little civil society consensus, and some particularly ‘muscular’ non-governmental organizations (especially in New York) that brand their work in ways that deflect as much civil society involvement as they invite.   We in New York are too often prone to gate-keeping more than assessing and promoting a wide range of voices from diverse social, geographic and economic circumstances to help address shifting circumstances. Gate keeping, perhaps more than any other NGO activity, is anathema to the kinds of consultations which the panelists envisioned.

It is probably valid to say, as one or more of the speakers mentioned, that the initial MDG process in 2000 lacked a clear consultative element.  It is also true that we were in a different period then with respect to civil society involvement.   For one thing, there are so many more of us than there used to be, a great blessing to be sure, but one which makes fair and transparent consultation difficult to implement.  What is the dividing line for involvement–   a history with the issue, connections to groups in New York, or perhaps a defined skills set related to some sustainable development priority?

There are certainly no firm criteria for participation in consultations and certainly no consensus by civil society groups regarding how development-related issues should be articulated and supported, both politically and financially.   It is wishful thinking to think that it is otherwise, and it is disappointing to hear people talk as though the key to a good consultative process is merely wanting it to be so.

Moreover, there is an issue about how civil society interventions in consultative processes should be assessed.  Is it solely about the number of times when language favorable to our own organizational mandates appears in resolutions of the General Assembly or its constitutive bodies?   Given the uneasy relationship between resolutions and practical engagements on the ground, is resolution language alone the bar that we need to be reaching for?  Are there deeper levels of engagement to which we should be pointing, engagement that continues to reach out beyond the most widely known ‘players’ to the many new leaders and organizational assets anxiously awaiting their turn?

This is not a critique of the specific panel hosted by Mexico, but rather a reflection on the degrees of difficulty that we face when we try to organize a field (civil society) that is expanding more quickly and in more diverse directions than we can map its movements.   There are many challenges and limitations in our sector that we must address, such as when we settle for new resolution language when so many in the world are clamoring for just and robust implementation of existing resolutions; or when we endorse existing ‘seating’ arrangements at a time when there are so many more chairs that need to be set up at the policy table.

It is possible to be thankful to the Mexican government and speakers that there is more consultation moving forward on development priorities, and still lament all of the ways in which civil society participation is still very much a work in progress.   While there is an abundance of responsibility to share among different stakeholders, including governments and the UN itself, much of this development-related work is the responsibility of civil society groups themselves. We need development in our sector that can complement and enrich prospects for development on the ground.

–Dr. Robert Zuber

Taking Forward Multilateral Disarmament Negotiations

13 May

The forthcoming Open-ended Working Group (OEWG), which will convene in Geneva for fifteen working days this year, has its first session from 14-24 May (with follow-up sessions 27-28 June and 19-30 August). The OEWG is a result of resolution A/C.1/67/L.31 tabled at the 2012 session of the First Committee by Austria, Mexico, and Norway entitled “Revitalizing the work of the Conference on Disarmament and taking forward multilateral disarmament negotiations.” This initiative was one of the more concrete results from the sixty-eighth session of the First Committee as it offered a tangible method of seeking to break the impasse currently paralyzing much of the UN disarmament machinery, including and most importantly, the so-called single, multilateral negotiating body for disarmament—the Conference on Disarmament (CD). The resolution called for the established of an OEWG (open to the participation of all member states as opposed to the limited membership of the CD) to “develop proposals to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations for the achievement and maintenance of a world without nuclear weapons” as well as for the submission of a report to the next session of the General Assembly reflecting the discussions held and proposals made whereby a record of the work of the OEWG would be available to impact future discourse. The OEWG will be chaired by Costa Rican Ambassador Manuel Dengo.

While the mandate of the OEWG has never been entirely clear, it is assumed that the group will take up substantive issues rather than procedural ones. Ambassador Dengo wrote in his letter to member states which included a draft program of work for 14-24 May session, “The main purpose of the May session will be to promote better knowledge and understanding of the different aspects of nuclear disarmament and the challenges faced by multilateral nuclear disarmament.” As noted in Ambassador Dengo’s memo, the OEWG will operate in an interactive manner consisting of thematic panels with a more general exchange of views held at the conclusion of each panel. The centrality of interaction among member states, experts, civil society representatives, international organizations, and other relevant stakeholders is a most welcome aspect of the process. Discussions on disarmament, even when they are labeled “debates,” rarely feature such interactivity. Themes to be covered by the OEWG include: multilateral treaty-based obligations and commitments; nuclear weapon free zones (NWFZs); transparency, confidence-building measures and verification; the necessary framework to achieve and maintain a world without nuclear weapons; and the roles and responsibilities of nuclear weapon possessing states and non-nuclear weapon states.

While this thematic discussion is important, it would seem counterintuitive to discuss substantive proposals for taking forward nuclear disarmament negotiations without specifically addressing the procedural questions around the stalemate that continues to plague the CD (the de-facto reason why the OEWG has been established in the first place). Separation of the substantive from the procedural will not provide the necessary comprehensive approach to breaking the negotiating paralysis in the field of disarmament.

The current position of the nuclear non-Proliferation (NPT) nuclear weapon states (NWS), also known as the permanent 5 (P5), is that they will not participate in the OEWG, which is an unfortunate development. The P5 has generally opposed all initiatives and proposals that are perceived as “alternative” processes labeling them “distractions” from the measured, “step-by-step” approach they see as necessary to achieve nuclear disarmament. France, Russia, the UK, and the US all voted against the October 2012 resolution with China abstaining. During explanations of vote (EOV), the delegations of France, the UK, and the US offered a joint statement noting that the proposed OEWG seeks to “circumvent” established mechanisms such as the CD and the UN Disarmament Commission and does not clearly fit into the NPT framework and corresponding 2010 Action Plan. The same type of reasoning was offered with regards to the recent humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons conference held in Oslo in March 2012 that the P5 states jointly decided to boycott.

This reasoning is weak at best and hypocritical and contradictory at worst. The P5 themselves have started a so-called “alternative” and parallel process in the form of the Nuclear Security Summits (NSS) that began in Washington, DC in 2010, which was followed-up with another NSS in Seoul in 2012. Moreover, the argument that the work of the OEWG does not “fit into the NPT framework” is disingenuous. As is noted often and with an increasing sense of urgency and frustration by non-nuclear weapon states (NNWS) at NPT meetings, Article VI obligates the NWS to pursue good faith negotiations for the unequivocal and complete elimination of their nuclear arsenals. Establishing a body, not to mention one without a negotiating mandate, to discuss a range of themes related to Article VI obligations clearly fits within a larger framework of engagement and in no way threatens the (seemingly faltering) NPT regime.

The more pressing threat to the NPT regime is burgeoning frustration (embodied in the decision of the Egyptian delegation to withdraw from the 2013 NPT Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) session) over the failure to convene a conference on the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East pursuant to the 1995 resolution on the Middle East and the 2010 NPT Action Plan. The Egyptian delegation ominously stated in its final remarks to the 2013 NPT PrepCom before withdrawing, “We cannot continue to attend meetings and agree on outcomes that do not get implemented, yet to be expected to abide by the concessions we gave for this outcome,” referring to the indefinite extension of the NPT in exchange for the promise of the establishment of a NWFZ in the Middle East. It would seem that this growing fissure in the NPT framework, the so-called “cornerstone” of the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament regime, is of much greater concern than the establishment of an OEWG, which is essentially an opportunity to discuss and brainstorm proposals without obligating any state to commit to binding agreements over already existing agreements (even those whose validity is now being seriously questioned).

The threats to the NPT regime, the increasing isolation of the P5 during the Oslo humanitarian consequences conference, the recent NPT PrepCom, and the forthcoming OEWG session, have all further opened up conversation among NNWS and civil society over the role these states should play in “taking forward” multilateral negotiations. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) and others in civil society have advocated for NNWS to take the lead in establishing the necessary framework to obtain a world without nuclear weapons rather than continuously wait for the P5 to meet their Article VI obligations. ICAN has advocated for a “Ban Treaty” building on momentum spearheaded by the NNWS through the humanitarian consequences initiative that would hopefully change the global, political, and legal landscape surrounding the continued existence of nuclear weapons by negotiating and concluding a ban on the use, possession, stockpiling, trade, and manufacture of such weapons. Such a ban could be a simple treaty composed of general obligations with room for additional protocols to which the NWS could eventually sign, but would not necessarily have to negotiate. This course of action has been perceived as an approach different from a Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC), which envisages framing obligations not only to prohibit the development, testing, production, stockpiling transfer, use, and threat of use of nuclear weapons, but also to ensure their elimination through disarmament obligations and a verification regime (such as the obligations and verification mechanism in the Chemical Weapons Convention). A NWC, therefore, would necessitate the participation of the nuclear weapon possessors.

Whether there is a question of sequencing or whether a “Ban Treaty” could serve as a precursor to a NWC is not necessarily of the question of highest importance, but rather it is how to achieve nuclear abolition as comprehensively and quickly as possible. Perhaps a ban negotiated by the NNWS would inspire the P5 to negotiate an agreement among themselves to eliminate their arsenals in a reasonable period of time. Nevertheless, the call to NNWS to take a more prominent and active role in pursuing the goal of nuclear disarmament is essential to future progress towards this objective. Maintenance of the status quo is simply no longer an option given the stalemate across the UN disarmament machinery and the obstinacy on the part of the P5 with regards to any new proposals or initiatives seeking to address disarmament. Clearly they fear losing “veto power” derived from the consensus rule and the inherent imbalance in the NPT that ultimately privileges the NWS and their “step by step” process.

As the OEWG begins it work, there is some hope that the proposals gleaned from the discussions will provide the necessary injection of momentum to take forward disarmament negotiations that will genuinely make progress in nuclear disarmament, although it would seem that this will have to be done without the nuclear possessor states, which include the P5 as well as the DPRK, India, Israel, and Pakistan (those outside of the NPT regime). “Nobody should assume that any regime structured on a have/have-not principle can be sustained forever,” argued Angela Kane, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, at the Annual NATO Conference on WMD Arms Control, Disarmament, and Non-Proliferation on 6 May 2013. It is time for an honest appraisal of strategies through the OEWG for nuclear disarmament that do not perpetuate a regime that maintains the status quo.


–Katherine Prizeman

Highlighting a Human Security Approach

9 May

Co-sponsored by the Human Security Network (Austria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Greece, Ireland, Jordan, Mali, Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland and Thailand, with South Africa participating as an observer) and the Human Security Unit (HSU) of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), a high-level event was held yesterday at UN headquarters both underscoring the importance of a human security approach to multi-faceted challenges and celebrating the recent adoption of General Assembly resolution 66/290. This resolution adopted last September marks the first time the General Assembly (GA) was able to agree on a common understanding of the concept. The high-level event featured remarks from the Secretary-General as well as his Special Adviser on Human Security, Mr. Yukio Takasu, who was appointed in 2011.

Global Action is deeply invested in supporting a cross-cutting, broad-based approach to a robust human security agenda. As noted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his remarks to the event, it is imperative to identify comprehensive solutions to an inter-linked program of human security as it is impossible to end poverty without empowering women and girls, to ensure respect for human rights without addressing climate change, or to tackle security sector reform without guaranteeing equitable prosperity in communities. Global Action fully embraces this comprehensive approach and welcomes the inclusion of human security as a central factor, particularly with a view towards developing a robust post-2015 development agenda, which can help address a plethora of interlinked security challenges. The GA resolution provides a solid, basic framework for moving the concept forward and mainstreaming its characteristics across the range of UN activities to better address shifting peace and security concerns.

The human security concept provides a useful entry point for dealing with prevailing security issues. First introduced in 1994 through the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in the “UN Development Report: New Dimensions of Human Security,” the term has evolved over the last decade. The 1994 UNDP report highlighted four characteristics of human security—universal, people-centered, interdependent, and early prevention – as well as seven interconnected elements, namely economic, health, environmental, personal, community, and political. Subsequently, in 2001, an independent Commission on Human Security was established to elaborate on the understanding of the term and to develop it further as an operational concept. In 2004, the HSU was established under the auspices of UNOCHA to mainstream the human security concept in UN activities, which also manages the UN Trust for Human Security (UNTFHS) that finances activities carried by the UN and/or UN-mandated organizations to translate the human security approach into practical actions.

The importance of the consensus adoption of UNGA resolution 66/290, “Follow-up to paragraph 143 on human security of the 2005 World Summit Outcome,” rests in its inclusion of a common understanding of the notion of human security. The resolution also welcomes the “Secretary-General’s Report on Human Security” (A/66/273) from 2012 upon which a GA plenary meeting was held in June 2012 and around which consultations were held. The resolution outlines the following characteristics of human security—(a) freedom to live in dignity and free from poverty and despair; (b) a people-centered, contextual, comprehensive, and prevention-focused approach; (c) recognition of the inter-linkages between peace, development, and human rights; (d) clear distancing from the responsibility to protect norm and its implementation; (e) non-inclusion  of the use or threat of use of force and ; (f) national ownership and governmental responsibility. The resolution also calls on the Secretary-General to submit a report to the sixty-eighth session of the GA on the implementation of the resolution seeking first the views of member states.

A strong commitment to mainstreaming human security and a common understanding of the concept, while allowing some flexibility in its implementation, are welcome developments that will serve the international community well in addressing diverse, root causes of insecurity. The translation of a somewhat abstract concept, human security, into concrete action is also an important exercise that is often not seen in many others aspects of UN work. The UNTFHS has carried out over 200 activities in 80 countries increasingly applying this concept in field operations across all global regions under the primary ownership of local individuals. This conversion of the abstract into the concrete is a challenge for many working simultaneously on security and development issues.

Ultimately, a robust human security agenda cannot be pursued in silos, but rather must take into account cross-cutting contributors to insecurity. As the international community continues to embrace a more well-defined human security concept, the world will be better equipped to humanize the concept of security and help it evolve into one that is much more reflective of today’s transnational challenges.


–Katherine Prizeman