Archive | September, 2013

Youth-SWAP Meet: Walking from the Margins to the Center of Policy

28 Sep

Editor’s Note:   For the past few weeks, Kritika Seth has been examining opportunities and resources for developing a sustainable youth initiative through GAPW.   She will share perspectives from her search in this space throughout the fall. 

Youths are best understood as those undergoing a transition from the dependence of childhood to the independence of adulthood with an increasing awareness of the high level of responsibilities as members of a community.

Youth is often indicated as a person between the age where he/she may leave compulsory education, and the age at which he/she finds his/her first employment.  Today almost half of the world’s population (48%) is under the age of 24; of this 18% are youth. Moreover, while youth is growing in numbers, more and more of them are raised in environments that hinder their educational opportunities, increase the likelihood of unemployment, and force them to confront other burdens such as HIV/AIDS, war and other forms of violence.

In the wake of the recent and ongoing issues faced by young people all over the world, the Inter-Agency on Youth Development (IANYD) along with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) organized a unique meeting last week from September 18th to September 20th. . The structure of this meeting was different from the typical annual meeting that the two agencies conduct. In this instance, the decision was made to invite youth led organizations and networks to participate in open dialogue regarding the newly released System-Wide Action Plan on Youth (SWAP).  The SWAP is a document that teases out four thematic areas that call for our attention immediately – Employment and Entrepreneurship; Protection of rights, political inclusion and civic engagement; Education, including comprehensive sexuality education; and Health. Nonetheless, it should be noted that the SWAP is a framework document to support the World Program and Action on Youth and not replace it. Despite the urgent attention and development needed in youth affairs, the SWAP marks the first steps taken towards fulfilling a viable youth agenda.

During the three-day meeting, participants were given several opportunities to discuss and identify opportunities for engaging young people in the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the Youth-SWAP. There was also discussion of specific tasks that need attention, such as communication strategies, methods of partnering with other organizations and effective ways of participating in the process of youth development. In order to support all these concerns and provide a ‘reality check’, the UNFPA and INAYD team made sure to have a representative from related UN agencies: for example, the presence of the UN Volunteering Program during the discussion on participation; or the presence of the International Labor Organization (ILO) during the discussion on youth employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.

Despite the constant thinking and brainstorming that we were required to do, the room was constantly buzzing with good and positive energy. A horizontal flow of interaction amongst those seeking advice and those who were full of advice was an ongoing sight along with conversations that began with “you are?” and ended with “we should get coffee sometime soon.” Overall the meeting was of great value resulting in concrete recommendations such as the need to personalize the communication of SWAP for better implementation strategies and outcomes, for instance through the creation of a SWAP-specific website in order to more effectively spread the word.

It will be interesting and valuable to follow – and hopefully impact — the next steps on implementing the Youth-SWAP document and other pressing issues. As the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth concluded at the MTV reception, “if you want to walk fast you walk alone, but if you want to walk far we will walk together.”  GAPW is prepared to walk beside this process and we will regularly engage our audience in this space regarding issues affecting youth participation in global policy.

 Kritika Seth

Reinforcing Gender and Small Arms Policy Linkages

21 Sep

The issue of the gender dimensions within efforts to stem the proliferation of illicit small arms and light weapons (SALW) has gained significant traction earlier this year and is likely to continue developing as the year progresses.

In April 2013, the Secretary-General (SG) noted in his report on Sexual Violence in Conflict instances of rape and sexual violence arising from armed groups.[i] Furthermore, the SG’s report to the Security Council on Small Arms reiterated that armed conflict can negatively impact women and men, making them susceptible to violence.[ii] The SG noted that “[a]ttention should be paid to women, who suffer disproportionately from the effects of violent conflict: an abundance of uncontrolled weapons and a context of lawlessness lead to increases in gender-based violence, which includes rape, abduction into sexual slavery and trafficking.”[iii]

It is generally known that SALW can be one of the most pervasive threats to a strong and reliable security sector and that the illicit flow of small arms, including illegally diverted arms, can contribute to the commission of violence against women as well as a source of intimidation for women’s participation in social and political life.[iv] As Global Action has noted in previous policy briefs, the illicit flow of small arms can contribute to acts of sexual violence in conflict which can pose a threat to international peace and security.[v] Additionally, “women can be weapon-carriers, especially as members of militias or armed groups from the national to the local level. Women can likewise promote a culture of guns, especially for the younger generation for which they are often responsible, and ultimately contribute to the proliferation of small arms.”[vi] Furthermore, and perhaps most important to us, the illicit flow of small arms can create security concerns hindering women’s participation in conflict and post-conflict communities, as weapons can be used to intimidate or instill fear.[vii]

Whether it is in the high level meeting expected this month in the Security Council[viii] or within work of the First Committee, or even within the purview of the Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security, it is imperative to reinforce the gender dimensions in efforts to control illicit arms.

Women’s participation in decision-making processes is highlighted in Security Council Resolution 1325, as it is in gender-sensitive Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programs.[ix] Subsequent relevant resolutions have also reiterated gender-sensitive DDR programs and have called for targeted measures against perpetrators of sexual violence in armed conflict.[x] SCR 1960 has called on the SG to include names of perpetrators suspected of committing, or responsible for, crimes of sexual violence during armed conflict in his reports to the Security Council.[xi]

Additionally, the United Nations Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (UNPoA) binds member states to commitments to prevent and combat the illicit flow of small arms. While only in the context of the preembular paragraphs, member states acknowledge that they are ‘gravely concerned’ about the impact the illicit flow of small arms can have on women, children, and the elderly.[xii] Furthermore, the General Assembly Resolution on Women, Disarmament, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control, promotes women’s equal representation in disarmament and arms control processes, “in particular as it relates to the prevention and reduction of armed violence and armed conflict.”[xiii] The resolution promotes women’s participation in the ‘design and implementation of disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control efforts,” as well as in the context of preventing and eradicating the illicit SALW.[xiv]

Finally, it is also worth noting that “[t]he use of conventional weapons, including small arms, in armed conflict is subject to the limitations of international humanitarian law (IHL),” whose purpose is to protect civilians from suffering by controlling the ways and means that can be used to inflict violence.[xv] IHL is violated not simply by the use of small arms, but rather by their unauthorized use, whether by government or non-armed groups, to target civilians.[xvi] “The unregulated proliferation of SALW contributes to violations of IHL by providing abusive actors with the tools used to commit these crimes.”[xvii] It is therefore imperative that emphasis is placed on the prevention and eradication of the illicit flow of these  weapons.

This year has been significant in that early 2013 saw the adoption of two major instruments that further strengthen international commitments to pursue this policy linkage. The impact of the illicit flow of small arms on violence against women was noted in the Agreed Conclusions of the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the main policy-making body on the promotion of women’s rights.[xviii] Additionally, the recent adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty made significant progress in ensuring that the gender considerations are non-negotiable aspects of binding criteria when determining the validity of arms transfers.[xix]

Moving forward, the momentum should be maintained around these issues in relevant UN Processes, of course to the extent that procedural mandates do not already overlap.  The gender dimensions within arms control and disarmament should continue to be highlighted, placing special emphasis on women’s participation in disarmament processes, ranging from decision-makers in policy discussions, to active members of security forces, to equal recipients of benefits available through DDR programs. In regards to 1325 National Action Plans, gender and disarmament dimensions should be integrated therein, in situations and circumstances where it is relevant to the security of women. Finally, one must also remember that women have a distinct and unique set of protection and participation needs which have to be addressed in relevant policies.

–          Melina Lito

[i] See A/67/929, S/2013 399.

[ii] See, S/2013/503, para. 20.

[iii] See, S/2013/503, para. 20.

[iv] See, Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA: A Policy Brief,

[v] See, Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA: A Policy Brief, p.2

[vi] See, Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA: A Policy Brief, p. 2

[vii] See, Gender and Disarmament: Making Important Linkages to the ATT and UNPoA: A Policy Brief, p.2

[viii] See, Security Council Report, Monthly Forecast, Small Arms, September 2013.

[ix] Security Council Resolution 1325 (2008) OP. 1-4, 13.

[x] Re: DDR, See SCR 1889 (2009), OP. 13, 1820 (2008), OP.10, SCR 2106 (2106), OP. 16(a); Re: targeted measures, see, SCR 1820 OP. 5, SCR 2106, OP. 13.

[xi] SCR 1960 (2010), OP. 3.

[xii] UN Document A/CONF.192/15,

[xiii] A/C.1/67/L.35/Rev.1, OP.1.

[xiv] A/C.1/67/L.35/Rev.1, OP.4-OP.5.


Italy’s Minister for Integration Cécile Kyenge — How a 21st-Century Global Citizen Tries to Lead Italy Into the Future

19 Sep

“Exile is strangely compelling to think about — but terrible to experience. It is the incurable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: Its essential sadness can never be surmounted.” – Edward W. Said

It takes a brave and often extraordinarily desperate person to leave familiar settings and migrate toward an uncertain future. One does not only leave their very own comfort zone, but also needs to define and establish a new one with fresh parameters, with rules and values that often don’t match one’s own socialization in the least. For some, random hostilities and prejudices by the hosting community add significantly to the overall experience. “Integration” is the technical term for that process, and every migrant faces it in varied forms and degrees of difficulty.

Cécile Kyenge, Italy’s Minister for Integration and also an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), would most likely be considered an American success story. But Kyenge’s own success has been tempered by a series of racist incidents that have not been widely enough chronicled in the international press. There is a seemingly widespread sentiment that, with a black president, racism in the United States is mostly passé. However, it is sadly important to mention that racism in the U.S. is alive and well as it is in other parts of the world, which includes Europe, both historically and contemporarily.

Within 30 years of her arrival in Italy, Kyenge managed to occupy a public office of tremendous significance, not only for Italy’s future, but also for Europe’s, in her role as Minister of Integration. In April of this year during the 46th annual session of the Commission on Population and Development, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon emphasized, “Migration offers challenges we must face and benefits we can harness,” and described migration as “a fact of life in our globalizing world.” It was not a question of “whether to halt the movement of people across borders,” which was impossible, but of how to plan for such movements and make the most of them, he said.

Some European states are still not willing to see the writing on the wall. A change in mentality is happening very slowly at the expense of people such as Minister Kyenge. She is actively involved in Italy’s progress and preparation for future challenges that will include migration to the country and the subsequent integration of the new residents.

Kyenge has been advocating for a significant reform in the Italian citizenship law by introducing ius soli, a criteria that would grant citizenship to foreign children born in Italy. As a result these second-generation Italians would finally enjoy the same civil rights as their fellow inhabitants who have lived in the country for a number of generations. Meanwhile, the Minister has been experiencing tremendous hardship for her modernization attempts. The latest incident was initiated by the Italian far-right party Forza Nova, whose members draped three mannequins covered in artificial blood outside a town hall where Minister Kyenge was supposed to speak in early September. “Immigration is the genocide of peoples. Kyenge resign!” read fliers bearing the Forza Nuova symbol that were scattered around the barricades.

Headlines such as “More vile abuse for Italy’s first black minister Cécile Kyenge,” “Italy: Northern League councilor sparks row over calls for black minister’s rape,” and finally, “Italy’s first black minister: I had bananas thrown at me but I’m here to stay,” all give an impression of what the Economist called a “horrid introduction to public life.”

At the same time, these inconvenient truths demonstrate shockingly how racism, bigotry, and sexism can affect also those in power who stand out from the perceived norm. In Kyenge’s case, these trespasses are often executed by political equals who should know better and not fail citizens so tremendously as positive role models.

In case of the sitting U.S. President Barack Obama, his protection by the Secret Service began when Obama was still a senator, after receiving a death threat in 2007. This marked the first time a candidate received such protection before even being nominated.

Laudable are Minister Kyenge’s strength and endurance while facing such unspeakable humiliation, at the same time paving the way for new generations of immigrants, a testament to her steadfast resolve.

Fellow Italians are expressing their dismay, connecting racism at home to a general lack of historical awareness. For The Huffington Post, writer and filmmaker Flavio Rizzo writes indignantly, “In Italy concepts of colonialism, post-colonialism, and neo-colonialism are largely ignored along with Italy’s own colonial past.”

Rome’s Mayor Ignazio Marino condemned the latest mannequin incident in an official statement. “Rome is a city with a tradition of taking in all peoples for millennia,” he stated, “An isolated gesture by a handful of violent individuals will not stop the courageous work that the integration minister is doing.”

As the Ethiopian-American writer Maaza Mengiste describes in her article “Italy’s racism is embedded” for the English daily the Guardian, “If Germany had its Nuremberg trials and South Africa its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, then what is missing in Italy is the kind of postwar accountability that forces harsh truths to light and begins the difficult journey towards reconciliation.”

The U.S. media outlet Open Democracy reported in August how Italian civil society often takes matters in their own hands in order to confront racism in their home country:

There are also examples of collective activism taking place in local municipalities, which have developed their own models to promote inclusion and co-existence, despite the lack of support from the state. It happened in Riace, a fishing town in Calabria originally famous for its Greek bronze statues, but where families of refugees and asylum seekers are welcomed by the community and become an integral part of it.

Minister Kyenge visited United Nations’ headquarters in New York City last week to speak on the UN norm “Responsibility to Protect.” The principle defines the state’s responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing, as well as their incitement, in cooperation with the international community. Many scholars and civil rights activists have been discussing the need to implement an early warning system within the norm, in order to prevent those atrocities more efficiently in the future.

During her presentation at UN headquarters, Minister Kyenge emphasized that “Intolerable acts occur even in times of peace and in democratic countries.” She pointed out the importance of atrocity crime prevention in seemingly modern societies that adhere to democratic principles. In a subsequent interview she defined identity as a “long string of personal experiences, not necessarily based on, or shaped by, the country one lives in.”

Minister Kyenge’s resilience, sensitivity, and undaunted dedication to the cause, are those of a world citizen with a long path behind her and perhaps an even longer one ahead. These qualities keep her at the forefront of political reform going forward, and not a victim of her circumstances.


Lia Petridis Maiello


The article was originally published with The Huffington Post.

Creating ‘Green’ Employment to Rebalance Unsustainable Economies

19 Sep

Amidst all the buzz of the impending opening of the UN General Assembly, an interesting meeting was held in the North Lawn building early on Wednesday entitled “Rio+20: From outcome to action, partnering for action on green economy.”  The event was co-organized by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).  As was noted by more than one presenter, this kind of collaborative enterprise is becoming more common in UN circles, though it is still not as common as it needs to be, especially where issues of climate health and global sustainability are concerned.

The meeting was devoted in large measure to an update on the multi-agency initiative entitled “Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE).”  PAGE, which is supported by the Republic of Korea as well as Finland, Sweden and Switzerland, will “build enabling conditions in participating countries by shifting investment and policies towards the creation of a new generation of assets, such as clean technologies, resource efficient infrastructure, well-functioning ecosystems, green skilled labour and good governance.” (

There was much helpful analysis offered by presenters and participants including reminders that we must simultaneously focus on the development of green jobs, green industries and green economies.  Moreover, in terms of business infrastructure, we must commit both to “greening existing industries and to creating new green industries.” And there was an important reminder of the vital role that agricultural workers continue to play within the total spectrum of employment, even though it was acknowledged that, in many parts of the world, such workers suffer disproportionately from malnutrition and other manifestations of acute poverty.  They also face numerous and often unique security challenges in remote rural settings, especially within states struggling with armed groups and the proliferation of illicit weapons.

As with the speakers and organizers, GAPW remains vitally interested in the security challenges resulting from degraded ecologies and grave challenges to climate health.   We seek to promote greater respect for green employment that both sustains families and helps restore our ecological balance.  And we encourage investors and businesses to consider more tangible investments in Lesser Developed States and to help ensure that governments in those States honor basic obligations to their populations for security, development, transparency and human rights – all elements essential to the maintenance of a healthy and sustainable business climate, not to mention a sustainable environment.

We acknowledge the degree to which ‘green’ still represents a category with more sentimental attraction than conceptual clarity.  And we understand the vast gaps that often separate hopeful programs from tangible, climate-friendly outcomes.   These are but two of the growth edges moving forward.

Our policy priorities and interests in this work are underscored by several key organizational relationships from which we learn much and benefit greatly, including the for-profit CGSG Corporation ( and the non-profit Green Map System (  In addition, the 1200 or so civil society organizations that have signed up to attend a major UN event, “Advancing Regional Recommendations on Post-2015,” organized by our friends at the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (, continue to give us hope that strategic and urgent care can overcome the development, security and other crises associated with planetary decay.

The message lying beneath the more obvious messaging of this event was a sober one:  We are simply running out of time to pivot on unsustainable patterns of consumption and governance.  PAGE is one of the vehicles through which governments can find the skills and incentives needed to help their societies respond to the immediate danger posed by a planet under siege.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Neither Black nor White: Relating North-South and South-South Cooperation

18 Sep

Editor’s note: The following is a discussion written by a junior associate, Kritika Seth of Mumbai India, regarding a topic that is important to a wide range of development and security frameworks.  Promoting more holistic collaborations among global south states that often share a common history and current economic challenges builds important skills and helps ensure that policy reflects local social and cultural contexts.

The origin of South-South cooperation can be traced back to the creation of the Group of 77 (G-77) in 1964 to promote economic and technical cooperation among developing countries. In 1974, UNDP created a “Special Unit” for Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC). A high level conference on Economic Cooperation among Developing Countries (ECDC) held in Caracas in 1981 urged negotiations on a Global Systems of Trade Preferences (GSTP) among developing countries to promote joint initiatives in marketing and technology transfer. In 2003, the UN General Assembly formally opted to use “South-South” instead of “ECDC/TCDC” when referring to cooperation among developing countries.

On September 12th 2013, the UN office of South-South Cooperation celebrated the 10th annual United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation at UN Headquarters in New York.

The global south nations have a shared history (colonialism); shared challenges in development progress (low industrialization); and shared experiences as recipients of aid from the global north. Thus it would be reasonable to anticipate that more south-south exchanges would facilitate a more balanced and effective cooperation that would lead to “peer learning” and exchanges of experiences and development-related ‘best practices.’ Such outcomes could, in turn, lead to more positive development outcomes and reduced poverty levels (aligned with the post-2015 development agenda) in the countries of the global south, and even help to avoid the unbalanced relationships characteristic of much North-South cooperation. As the Indian Ambassador, Mr. Asoke Mukherji explained the “UN needs to catch up to this flexible paradigm and not relate it to North-South Cooperation since they both are different.”

The distinction between North-South cooperation and South-South Cooperation was highlighted in a statement repeatedly elaborated by the panel members who spoke during the morning session. “South-South cooperation is not supplementary to North-South cooperation but complementary to North-South cooperation.”

During the inaugural session panelists deliberately made an effort to make these seemingly similar adjectives sound significantly different. The term ‘complement’ is to create a satisfactory, relational whole, whereas the term ‘supplement’ (in non-economic terms) refers to enhancing or filling in a missing void. Thus, complementary acts to bind and make whole while supplementary acts to enhance what exists or make up for something missing.

Therefore, according to the statement reiterated by panelists, South-South cooperation is the satisfactory whole and is not merely an effort to address the deficiencies of North-South Cooperation.[1]  This however raises a question: Why is it important to establish such a defining line between the two types of cooperation?

South-South cooperation should not presume an either-or but should be supplementary (on ideas and capacity assistance) where North-South cooperation falls short and should also make sure to offer more comprehensive, context-specific, culturally sensitive, assistance across the global south as well. The merging of the two types of assistance offers a win-win situation for nations directly and indirectly involved in development assistance to help balance development efforts and make them sustainable   There are gaps to be filled in social development, but the ultimate goal must be to create more holistic and cooperative engagements among states that share a common history, social contexts and economic challenges.  Such engagements can both inspire development in the global south and help reform development frameworks and priorities in the global north.

The morning inaugural session of the event was witnessed by a relatively full audience; however, an afternoon session that was packed with vital strategy proposals and recommendations for implementing sustainable social protection addressed only a handful of people. Overall, the event included involvement by a number of eminent members from the South-South cooperation team including representatives from UNDP, ILO, the IBSA fund and Group of 77.  In the main, this was a well-structured event that deserved broader interest from the UN community.

Kritika Seth, GAPW

[1] Wanjiru Rose, Is the South-South cooperation achieving its intended outcomes? (2009)

Civil Society and RtoP: Prevention and Strong State Capacity

16 Sep

On September 9, 2013 the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR), the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES-NY), the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP), and the Stanley Foundation held the event titled Civil SocietyPerspectives: Building State Capacity to Prevent Atrocity Crimes. This was held as a pre-meeting to the 5th annual General Assembly informal interactive dialogue on the Responsibility to Protect, scheduled for September 11, 2013. Dr. Jennifer Welsh, the newly appointed Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary General on the Responsibility to Protect, as well as Mr. Adama Dieng, the Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, were both present. The event was also attended by many civil society representatives as well as diplomats from numerous Permanent Missions. The event featured civil society representatives who shared their experiences in working towards the prevention of atrocity crimes as well as their recommendations on strengthening domestic capacity. Ms. Valnora Edwin, the Director of the Campaign for Good Governance, provided first-hand experience of RtoP in practice. She explained the post-conflict work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the transitional justice process through the Special Court for Sierra Leone. She also explained how her organization is engaging with the Sierra Leonean government in order to prevent future atrocities.

Both this event and this year’s UN dialogue are focused on Pillar 1 of the Responsibility to Protect, which states, “The state carries the primary responsibility for the protection of populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing”. This is reflected in the UN Secretary-General’s latest report on RtoP, State Responsibility and Prevention.  In the opening remarks Mr. Keith Porter, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Stanley Foundation, stressed that one of the key aims of the dialogue was to discuss how civil society can contribute to the building of societies where mass atrocities are not an acceptable means of holding power. Although the current situation in Syria was widely acknowledged as a challenge, the debate did not focus on it. Instead, Syria was referred to in order to clarify the norm. Dr. Welsh acknowledged that RtoP has been operationalized in the Syrian conflict through the form of sanctions, the acceptance of refugees by surrounding states, and the work of civil society groups as well as UN bodies such as the Human Rights Council and other humanitarian organizations. Nonetheless, the effect of Syria on the future of RtoP was not fully addressed.

In the keynote speech by Dr. Welsh, emphasis was placed on civil society’s role in advancing RtoP and affirming the need for prevention. Dr. Welsh addressed the next steps that need to be taken in the norm’s development including: the necessity for the development of a clearer framework which would facilitate early warning and response, the fact that regional and sub-regional organizations need to take greater ownership of the agenda, the need to strengthen interaction with the members of the Security Council, and that member states should work together to remind the Security Council of its responsibility to prevent atrocities. Moreover, apart from continuing to advance Pillar 1, Dr. Welsh argued that it is time for the General Assembly to pay greater attention to the Pillar 2, or the idea that the international community needs to support states in carrying out their responsibility to protect their citizens.

The first panel of the meeting was chaired by Ms. Angela Bruce-Raeburn, the Program Officer of the Stanley Foundation. The panelists discussed how their organizations work to influence political actors to cooperate in strengthening institutions. Rev. Cannon Thomas Muyya Godda emphasized the need for a common sense of equality and that key causes of conflict, such as poverty, must be addressed. Mr. Kyle Matthews highlighted some of the internal political obstacles to successful RtoP implementation. Referring to Canada he explained how although once a leader of RtoP, Canada has lost this position due to the fact that the current government views RtoP as the work its predecessors – the opposition. Finally, Mr. Noel Morada explained the ‘bibngka approach’ or the necessity for cooperation between the top and bottom – just like when cooking a rice cake, the cooperation of the pan on top with the fire on the bottom is key.

Although all panelists presented great examples of how civil society encourages national legislatures, Ms. Bruce-Raeburn asked a thought-provoking question of what happens when a government changes? In other words, what happens to atrocity prevention when those supporting it are no longer in power? The panelists generally did not provide an answer to this question; nevertheless Mr. Matthews explained how civil societies in Canada try to overcome this issue. Despite his statement, no substantive answer was given. Another issue discussed by the panelists was the relationship of RtoP and sovereignty. There was a general consensus among the speakers that RtoP needs to be presented as a friend, rather than an enemy of sovereignty. The problem of sovereignty often arises in relation to RtoP discussions primarily regarding Pillar 3 or the use of force if a government is not fulfilling its responsibility to protect its citizens. Panelists and Dr. Welsh agreed that rather than restricting sovereignty, RtoP actually has a sovereignty enhancing purpose. This is where the work of civil societies in aiding the strengthening of states and the implementation of RtoP principles into legislatures remains highly important.

The second panel chaired by Mr. Tibi Galis, the Executive Director of the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, focused on reconciliation and peacebuilding as important factors in atrocity prevention. In many post-conflict situations a relapse into violence is highly likely unless appropriate action is taken to address the key issues that caused violence in the first place. Important peacebuilding efforts such as the inclusion of women in decision-making, the use of judicial processes and the development of good governance were also presented through the cases of Sierra Leone, Guatemala and Kenya. Although the presentations were relevant in content, at points the debate seemed to have gotten too specific and the message of how these case studies can contribute to the future general policy development of the RtoP was a bit lost. The overarching issue remains to be the fact that there are very few cases of when RtoP was successfully used in atrocity prevention. Both Sierra Leone and Guatemala highlight situations of post-conflict violence prevention rather than the initial prevention of the opportunities for mass atrocities. Therefore, the Kenyan case, which is often celebrated as a prime example of effective diplomatic action under the RtoP banner, remains perhaps one of the only real examples of RtoP application. Regrettably, there are still cases where atrocities have happened or are now happening, yet where RtoP has not been invoked.

Overall the event presented a good discussion on issues related to the role of civil society in working with states to strengthen their domestic institutions in order to successfully prevent mass atrocities. As the title of the event suggested, much emphasis was placed on the experiences of civil societies from different parts of the world in working together with national governments in order to strengthen measures for atrocity prevention. The debate reaffirmed the crucial role of civil society groups in pushing governments in strengthening their institutions in order to adopt RtoP principles into their national agendas. With many governments remaining skeptical about RtoP and its effectiveness, the role of civil society in keeping the norm at the forefront of government deliberations is key. RtoP is a noble concept yet it continues to go about unfulfilled due to hesitation by governments based in part on a failure to heed their legitimate concerns.


Tereza Steinhublova, GAPW Junior Associate


Time Management: The 2013 RtoP Debate

13 Sep

A less than full Trusteeship Council was the setting for the fourth General Assembly debate on the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP) norm held on September 11.This was the first debate featuring Dr. Jennifer Welsh, the new UN special representative on the responsibility to protect.   Following an opening panel that included remarks from Dr. Welsh, over 60 government statements were offered, most of them positive and all moderated by Adama Dieng, UN special representative for the prevention of genocide.

The debate this year seemed to be, on content alone, preferable to previous iterations.  While delegations continue to raise reservations regarding several aspects of the norm —  a number of which we feel warrant more respectful attention from the RtoP community — delegations also demonstrated greater skill in articulating the nuances of the norm as it has evolved under the guidance of the ‘Joint Office’ on the prevention of genocide and the responsibility to protect and through dialogue with the five reports on RtoP issued by the Secretary General.

Nevertheless, the debate generated surprisingly little controversy or even energy, especially given what has been going on in the world in recent weeks with Syria.  Reactions to the efforts of Mr. Dieng to ‘keep time’ in a packed agenda were significantly more visible than reactions to delegate statements. Our interpretation is that this is not an indictment of the issue and its importance, but rather a reflection on the context for this debate within the UN system.  This context include a number of competitive meetings on September 11 that forced many delegations to spread their involvements thin; renewed energy and excitement over prospects for a new and more robust commitment to post-2015 development goals; even a recognition of the long shadow cast by the Council and its increasingly consolidated power over the specifics of any RtoP response.  Indeed, if there are no clear pathways to the effective preventive response that many delegations called for, to the degree that available responses to atrocity crime threats are in the hands of unaccountable institutional partners such as the Council, this creates disincentives to enthusiastic engagement with the norm.  And there remains a considerable lack of clarity regarding what a commitment to prevention might practically entail, the fitness of the full UN system to engage such a commitment, and the sufficiency of tools and capacities needed to move beyond the politics of atrocity crime response towards a cleaner, more transparent and more principled engagement with these threats.

Under Secretary General Jan Eliasson noted during his own remarks that no one can do everything but everyone can do something.   Until we are able to define what those options for doing something actually are (especially for civil society), and more importantly how those discrete responses impact other facets of the UN’s ongoing security commitments, we will continue to leave assets on the table that we desperately need engaged in the preventive task.   The enduring questions for us relate to how diplomats are to keep track of all of the unanswered questions and unanticipated consequences that characterize RtoP in its current iteration and how we are going to find the right blend of wisdom, skills and capacities to meet new challenges.

Our strong conviction remains that RtoP has outgrown its current expressive formats.   We prefer a more expansive diplomatic engagement with the norm, an engagement that would allow for real dialogue, fewer prepared statements, more resolutions outlining actionable commitments and less need for anyone to be in the unenviable role of cutting off speakers who are making points that the system as a whole needs to consider more fully and under less time pressure.

Any process that allows delegations merely precious minutes to deliver an address on an issue that is both controversial and essential to the work of the United Nations must yield to a process that is more in keeping with the way in which other GA-tethered processes — from small arms to development goals — find expression.   Mr. Dieng, whom we highly regard, should not be in the position of playing time keeper with delegations that, at least for now, have few opportunities to weigh in thoughtfully on the promises of the norm and its still-limited implementation options.

This problem should not be addressed, as some are suggesting, simply by adding days to what is essentially a ‘general debate’ format, which in our view remains the least effective way for delegates to communicate concerns and resolve differences.  In order to facilitate more diplomatic engagement at headquarters, it is time to find ways, including through a more active partnership with the office of the new GA president, to allow this process to breathe more deeply, and especially more regularly.

For RtoP to succeed fully as a fair, viable and implementable norm, it needs more than it currently holds – more stakeholder involvement, more diverse policy voices, more actionable resolutions, more capacity assistance, more diplomatic attention to evolving dangers and their political contexts.   The debate on September 11 made clear that there is steadily growing diplomatic interest in RtoP but there remains an inadequate diplomatic culture of response, one that could help the UN system work through a myriad of political and logistical issues before the next crisis arises.  More dedicated time and space will help expand and enrich such a culture.

Diplomats at UN headquarters navigate a diverse range of issues and structural responsibilities.  RtoP is a primary focus of only a modest portion of UN missions.   We need to ensure that all diplomats have more frequent opportunities to address concerns in a good faith manner such that the 130 or so delegations that did not speak up at this year’s RtoP debate have reason and occasion to weigh in as well.

Dr Robert Zuber

Test Pattern: The UN Gets a Helpful Reminder on Nuclear Testing

5 Sep

Once again this year, the government of Kazakhstan has capably organized events ( to highlight the international obligation to abolish nuclear testing as a precondition for abolishing nuclear weapons once and for all.

The highlight for many was an evening reception on the first floor of the renovated UN conference building hosted by Ambassador Byrganym Aitimova and featuring the art work of Mr. Karipbek Kuyukov, a young man who was born without arms and who shared his artwork with diplomats and other UN stakeholders.  The art, it should be noted, was painted with his feet and was in its own way a remarkable testament to the damage that nuclear tests can do to local populations long past the point at which the ‘test results’ have been tabulated by nuclear weapons states.

It should be noted that, despite the lack of universal ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, nuclear testing is being functionally rendered inert.  Tests are few and far between and subject to almost universal condemnation by states.  At the same time, nuclear weapons states continue to modernize their arsenals, a veritable slap in the fact to those who states that have been pursuing a nuclear free world in a variety of settings – through nuclear free zones, in largely deadlocked fora such as the Conference on Disarmament, through ‘like-minded’ processes such as such as was convened last spring in Oslo, through the Open Ended Working Group in Geneva, or through the high level meeting on nuclear disarmament being organized by the GA president’s office during its opening session in late September.

In addition to diverse policy venues, there are also diverse security responsibilities.   As we have noted with respect to nuclear free zones, there is an important difference between honoring a treaty and supporting the security arrangements of a zone.   Lowering violence thresholds and enhancing human security involves multiple complementary activities that can reduce incentives for (and excuses by) the nuclear weapons states to preserve their nuclear monopoly.

There are many pathways to disarmament and all of them have rough patches, some rougher than others. Despite the fact that nuclear testing sits on few of the top priority lists of member state security concerns, it is critically important that there be no backsliding on testing.  As challenging as progress towards disarmament can be, we cannot afford to burden that agenda further, not to mention place new generations at risk of dangerous fallout from the reckless pursuit of such tests.

The ‘path to zero’ articulated during the panel presentations on September 5 has been winding and full of potholes, but still points us towards a nuclear free world.   There are detours required at times, but no dead end.  While it is not always clear how individual events at the UN contribute to preferred outcomes, it is important that we ritualize even more of these powerful reminders of our nuclear weapons responsibilities.  Just as birthdays, religious and national holidays, anniversaries and more are the signposts through which we reaffirm the deep value to our families, friends and other loved ones, such events as those organized by Kazakhstan can help keep us from turning our attention away from our disarmament obligations before our work is done.

Dr. Robert Zuber


A Matter of Balance and State Sovereignty – DGACM’s meetings on languages

5 Sep

Within the framework of its mandate from the General Assembly, DGACM (Department for General Assembly and Conference Management) held its annual round of language-specific informational meetings with Member States last week.  This meeting was focused on the quality of multiple language and conference services provided during the past year in the six official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish).

The upcoming summary of the 2013 meetings might well read very similarly to the one published in 2012, as the obstacles and problems discussed this past week appeared quite congruent with those from last year.

– As in 2012, it was recommended that the General Assembly should reduce the number of informational meetings from two to one per year.

–  As suggested in 2012, and still highly valid, one delegation proposed to combine the six separate language-specific meetings into one, provided that there was interpretation available. Holding one rather than six different meetings would increase efficiency of tackling the various issues related to language services, and would have a wider overlap in terms of opinion/expert exchange.

–  Overall, an unequal treatment of the six official U.N. languages was stated repeatedly in a number of the meetings.

–  Timing seems to be another permanent issue within the dissemination of multilingual documents within the  U.N. system. Many documents appear to be sent for translation too late, if at all, and therefore are not available when optimally required.

Overall, the importance of making a greater effort to streamline and optimize the language services within the U.N. system were summarized by one speaker thusly, “If only a few delegations have access to all documents within the system, only those delegations can raise their voice in meetings. Therefore it is important to have all the documents available in all six languages at all times. It is a matter of state sovereignty.”

It is also a matter of fairness, impacting the ability of all states to have access to timely, comprehensible documents.  It is equally essential for the press and civil society to have such access.  Translation services are not optional at the United Nations but are essential to the full enfranchisement of all member states and other policy stakeholders.

Lia Petridis Maiello, Media Consultant for GAPW/Journalist for Political Affairs