Raising the Stakes on Conflict Prevention Stakeholders

25 May

On Thursday, an unusually large crowd of diplomats, invited guests and NGOs gathered in the Security Council to observe the veto of a resolution on Syria (S/2014/348) that had been drafted by France and endorsed by an array of other states inside and outside the Council.

The gist of the resolution was a referral to the International Criminal Court as one measure of ending impunity or at least, in the words of the Australians, to remind abusers that there is no ‘statute of limitation’ on crimes being committed in Syria.

Such reminders are important, to be sure, though it is unclear that the ICC is well suited to conduct investigations and render judgments in the midst of a protracted civil war.   The Chief Prosecutor of the ICC speaking at a briefing on Libya earlier in the month pointed out to the Council that conducting investigations with little funding while confronting massive security threats is difficult at best.  That Syria (like Libya) features massive abuses by multiple parties only complicates jurisprudence, perhaps placing the attainment of justice in this instance well beyond the reasonable capacity of the court.

The failed resolution on Syria seemed somehow consistent with a recent pattern in the Council of trying to ‘do something’ by punting the political football to DPKO (in the form of more complex and coercive mandates) or the ICC (in the form of hastily conceived, unfunded, imprecise referrals) rather than examining the limitations of its own power and process.   The Council remains among the most politicized spaces in the UN.  It is also among the most uneven spaces from the standpoint of power and influence.   The non-permanent members (with the exception of their time as president) largely populate sub-committees and make public statements.  The Russians and Chinese would have little say on many resolutions if they could not force Council members to pay attention to them through threat of the veto.   And the rest of the UN system too often sits on its proverbial hands waiting to see if the Council will take on yet more ‘thematic concerns’ for which it then presumes to act as global legislator.

The present preoccupation with veto restraint within some parts of our policy community is a diversion that belies full recognition of the limitations of the Security Council and the under-tapped resources of the broader UN system (including the Joint Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect) which the Council seems largely to ignore.    As we have written previously, effective veto restraint implies the existence of depoliticized findings of impending mass atrocity violence, a sincere and robust commitment to solve violence primarily through diplomatic means, and Council members whose motives are transparent and attached to the kinds of assessments and accountabilities that have eluded that body for most of its history.  In a system where findings are politicized, where preventive measures are under financed and too often disregarded, and where there is no way to hold the Council accountable for its own mistakes, veto restraint would simply be a gift to the P-3, one which they have not necessarily merited.  Whether or not such restraint would also be a ‘gift’ to victims has to do in part with organizational assessments of the relative efficacy of diplomatic vs. militarized solutions to complex patterns of violence.

Capacity support is the lifeblood of the UN system, and this is true for atrocity crime prevention as in other areas.   But the success of such support is only enhanced when the full complement of stakeholders is acknowledged and engaged.  Regarding RtoP, for instance, it has never been clear who the relevant stakeholders are.  Is it permanent Council members?  Other member states?   The small group of NGOs that gather around the issue here in NY?  Regional or national governmental/military alliances?   What is the role for a small office like GAPW aside from routine (and often ineffective) ‘squawking’ about systemic limitations?   What is the role of media?  Business?   Education?  Development agencies?   Local civil society organizations? Is atrocity crime prevention a responsibility of the entire, extended UN ‘family’ or is it a responsibility of a few powerful states and some random national focal points?   It has often seemed as though the RtoP/atrocity crime prevention community has been more effective in shutting off hard questions than in welcoming them, of closing the gates on offers of energy and commitment rather than finding ways to put such to work.   But our own limitations notwithstanding, the stakes remain critical for the prevention of mass atrocities. We need to get this right, by which we mean to establish reliable and fair structures that are largely prevention oriented and that encourage the broadest possible stakeholder involvement.   We remain far from that goal.

The UN Charter does, indeed, confer upon the Council the primary responsibility for maintaining peace and security.    However, this does not indicate ‘sole’ responsibility nor does it imply that ‘maintenance’ is primarily a reactive matter rather than a preventive one.  Whatever the results of the parallel reform movements afoot within the UN regarding the membership and working methods of the Council, it is imperative that the current Council takes stock of itself and does more to address violence than fling accusations across the desks of political adversaries. Perhaps it could start with an examination of its own ‘franchise.’ After all, the more the Council is understood (or understands itself) as the only relevant player on atrocity violence the more unlikely it is to endorse and encourage other stakeholders.  However, such endorsements and encouragements are the key to an effective system of protection from mass violence that can both energize diverse conflict prevention capacities and help spare the international community the spectacle on Syria that we recently witnessed and which frankly was hard to watch.

Dr. Robert Zuber

 

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