Archive | November, 2015

An Ode to Advent’s Personal Blessings and Policy Challenges, Dr. Robert Zuber

29 Nov

Based on a sermon preached in Ann Arbor, Michigan in early November

Each year I write an Advent message to my friends and colleagues highlighting some part of our neglected spiritual heritage.  This is a tradition that some have begged me to abandon, but the original impulse came out of the my experiences in a Roman Catholic church in particularly challenging area of Harlem where I found a spiritual home and to which I attempted to provide some pastoral support in the late 80s and 90s. Much of the “neglect” I tried to expose through those Advent messages related to our lack of collective thoughtfulness about ourselves, our actions and their consequences, our creeping inability to sit still in a quiet place, staring at the stars and heeding the lessons of the void: beholding the irony that in the vastness of creation, on this little spec of a planet that we neither properly care for nor can easily replace, we have our niche, our role, our responsibility.   Somehow, some way, despite the testimony of deep space and the annual descending of Advent’s unsettling darkness, we continue to matter, sometimes even deeply.

I was going to use the opportunity of preaching in an Ann Arbor church to test out some ideas for this year’s message, to speak again about our reflection deficits, our aversion to the occasional bout of healthy melancholy, our predisposition to indulge in too much reaction and too little reflection, firmly invested in appearances rather than intimate disclosures, turning too much of life into one big selfie.

And then Paris happened, with echoes of Beirut before it and Bamako to come.  And the world quickly pressed into service all of the patriotic rhetoric, the grim determination and the increased military fire power needed to ostensibly “eradicate” this contemporary menace.

Ironically perhaps, the lessons in the Christian bible for pre-Advent Sundays were largely about wrongdoing and retribution, the evil that we experience and the God who will, or so some of us believe, both eliminate evil doers and vindicate our own choices.   This is a faith narrative that is rooted in divine power to restore the moral order as well as an affirmation of confidence in our own place in that cosmic drama.  It is a narrative eerily well suited to these threatening times, this need that some of us have for a deeper sanction for the pursuit of our own “righteous” responses to the evil we experience.

This deep instinct to right the wrongs of the world is hardly unique to our religious institutions. Where I work now, in a small independent policy office at the UN in New York, the single most pervasive aspiration of diplomats and officials is to bring about an end to impunity for the most severe violations of international law, such as we see in Syria, Yemen, Central African Republic and also Paris and Mali. Perhaps no issue undermines the credibility of the UN quite like the perception that wrongdoers get away with wrongdoing to a degree that most of us can barely imagine and certainly cannot sanction.  “Oh Lord how long must evildoers triumph” is a lament that could just as easily be heard in Security Council chambers as in churches. And yet, despite these reputational challenges, or perhaps because of them, there are few aspects of the UN’s work that are as intensely engaged as this one.  We mean business on impunity, even if our business model remains slightly flawed.

As well we should mean business.   With all due regard for the mild hypocrisy embedded in the ways that we at the UN formulate the law and single out perpetrators to address by those same standards, there is no more essential element to a healthy multi-lateral system than a clear articulation of and commitment to international principles — the norms by which we choose to live together and conduct our affairs. Indeed, in the absence of such lived principles, it is unclear how we will ever find our way to a place of trust and confidence in the ability of our evolving global system to solve pending development, climate and security threats. Or even find reason to hope that the cycles of bombings and terror attacks can once and for all be made to grow silent.

And let’s be clear — ending impunity is no abstract matter confined to states and situations like Paris. From children “telling” on each other and barking at parents who they believe have meted out punishment unfairly to the complex matters of jurisdiction and jurisprudence characterized by our international legal mechanisms, fairness in the moral order is part of our cultural expectation. And regardless of where we fall on psychological standards of moral sophistication, or whether we privately posit some deity at the beginning or end of those standards, it is both inconceivable and even emotionally paralyzing that so much abusive and humiliating behavior remains unpunished in this world.  Many of us in New York (what I often refer to as the “global capital of self-importance”) bristle when we are “cut” in line or delayed by insensitive subway behavior.   What should then be our response to unaddressed crimes against humanity?   Surely we can find ways to apprehend and mete out appropriate justice to mass murderers at a higher rate than the street level drug users or “Black Friday” shoplifters who are routinely being squeezed into our prisons.

Surely we can.  But we don’t seem to always know how, and we certainly don’t seem to have many strategies to suggest that don’t involve lots of bombs and missiles and drones.   In other words, we don’t seem to know how to respond to threats of terror without recourse to acts of dubious moral value which simply fuel the next cycles of retribution, the next incarnations of evil which we will then be compelled to address.

We can do better than this.  Indeed, our survival as a species depends on it.

But where is our inspiration for this different way to come from? As the days grow shorter and our fattening squirrels get the message that the feasts of fall are nearing an end, our liturgical lessons of my faith tradition shift their tone – from hard retribution and divine justice to softer, more reflective tones.   Less about what a God is going to do and more about what we have yet to do; less about divine vindication and more about our own thoughtful engagement with the ethical dimensions of local and global governance; less about evil doers and more about our common humanity, humans who seem so clever and powerful at times, until those moments when we catch our breath at the true majesty of the created order, the creation outside our smart phones, even beyond the reach of our deep spacecraft, scoffing at our social conventions and confounding all our policy certainties.  In our anxiety and impatience to deal with all the problems staring us in the face, we lose sight of this bigger picture and its lessons of humble discernment –all of us – more often than we acknowledge.

We have much to fix in this world, much to account for, much to overcome.  We have terror to subdue, development promises to keep, a planet to heal. It may be that the God of one or more faith traditions will somehow, sometime, rush to our side to vanquish and vindicate.  But my suspicion is that this one is mostly on us, our moment to gain some compassionate control – of ourselves and our world – to bring justice which is thorough but not partisan, and to recognize the cycles of violence and abuse that stain all of our political and religious banners.

As I have noted elsewhere, the great Reinhold Niebuhr once said that “the evils against which we contend are the fruits of illusions similar to our own.”  This can be a crushing insight to those who feel that “the good” is found only in the values and practices of their own households, only within their own social rituals and political policies, only at the tips of their own weapons of retribution.   It isn’t so.  It never was so.   Our response to grave threats requires much of us, surely including discernment and some lump-in-your-throat courage. The time for righteous crusades is long past.

During this period when vindication seems to be the understandable order of the day, I beseech us all to keep some energy in reserve for the distinctive blessings of Advent – its vast and awesome uncertainties, but also its deep emotional longings for a peace that is more than patchwork.  Behold the wonder of sitting at the edge of a hillside in the chilly starlight and calling out to anyone who will listen — oh come, oh come Emmanuel.   We have a lot to sort out here.  We have a lot of hard decisions to make.  We need insight and clarity now more than tools of vindication. And we could certainly use a hand.   Emmanuel’s hand.  May it come to us.


High Anxiety:  Selling Reassurance and Resolve in the Security Council, Dr. Robert Zuber

22 Nov

Saturday in Central Harlem, a group of volunteers headed by Stephanie Ali held a Thanksgiving distribution of groceries, including turkeys.  Some of the volunteers, me included, have done virtually weekly “pantry duty” for well over a decade.

Our pantry lines have been long, even in times of economic recovery.   Not everyone on the line needs the food.  What more of them need – and get – is connection and reassurance.  Connection with people they know and care about.  Reassurance that, in a world of increasing anxiety – caused in part by a confluence of external shocks and increasing feelings of powerlessness – there will be someone “out there” who is dependable when rising sea levels start to flood Manhattan streets, the economy crashes again, and our latest security sector efforts to “bully the terrorist bullies” end up restricting more freedoms than alleviating terror threats.   These people also need some reassurance that authorities entrusted to respond to these and other emergencies will keep the economically marginal at least somewhat close to their hearts.

The world around our pantry clients might be uncertain and beyond their control, but they do read the papers, they are anxious about the longer-term state of city and world affairs, and they are looking for some helpful assurances beyond the immediacy of provisions.  In its own small way, this pantry and its volunteers seek to be part of that larger assurance, week after week, year after year.

Anxiety is not the sole province of the elderly and working poor populating a pantry line.  This emotion literally flourishes inside the UN as well.  Personal anxieties are related to career, relationships and money.  And of course there is professional anxiety related to performance in a volatile security and development framework, including as we saw this week in relation to attempts to address the short and longer-term needs of Least Developed Countries and Small Island States; the challenges of ending drug and arms trafficking; the need to reform overburdened UN peacekeeping operations; the responsibility to urgently reverse damage to oceans and watersheds; the need to head off further violence (and incitement to violence) in Burundi;  and of course the responsibility to craft a proportionate and rights-based response to the recent spate of high-profile terrorist acts.

In these and other multilateral venues, policy is developed that is grounded in anxiety about the current state of global affairs while also producing residual, longer-range anxiety in global constituents.  The questions posed to us on social media are both emotionally charged and relevant.  Are policymakers up to the current complex tasks?  Do they understand the implications of their decisions for diverse communities?  Have they learned sufficiently from past mistakes such that they can say with assurance that key mistakes are not being repeated?   Are states able to process their own policy failures, social limitations and other culpabilities while also attending to grave policy responsibilities such as the ISIL menace?

On these questions, the jury is still out.   Friday in the UN Security Council, Resolution 2249 was hailed as significant milestone in Security Council cooperation on what few would argue is a significant challenge for the international community.   The resolution cites ISIL as (having thankfully deleted the word “unprecedented”) one of the “most serious threats” to international peace and security and invokes the uneasy “all necessary measures” language (without directly mentioning military action) to help “redouble and coordinate” efforts to stymie ISIL and its collaborators.

Of course, few would argue the need to vigorously address terrorism, and many here at the UN are set to welcome Tuesday’s briefing by the Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee on “Foreign Terrorist Fighters.” But it’s not as though the “fight” against terror started in earnest last Friday.  Already, there have been thousands of bombs dropped, sanctions imposed, weapons transferred, surveillance enacted, funding halted, freedoms restricted. Were these methods lacking in strategic merit or policy seriousness?  For instance, were the detonated bombs that have already (by admission of defense officials) killed more than a few non-combatants simply dropped by mistake?  And, more to the point, assuming that existing measures have not been frivolous, what assurances are there that this round of “by whatever means” responses will actually eliminate terrorist carnage more effectively than the last round of responses?

Part of the narrative of this current iteration of our now-endless terror war is that the “unjustified” nature of terrorist acts, regardless of motivation, is the only relevant precondition for aggressive responses by Council members and other states.   Unjustified these acts certainly are, by any reasonable standard, but they also did not appear out of nowhere.  And whether your origin points for such brutal violence involve the Assad regime, the unrelieved discrimination of Palestinians, the US invasion of Iraq, prior dubious Council resolutions on Libya or any other causal links of preference, such points are also not without relevance. “We” are not responsible for terror violence, but “we” are also not without responsibility for the conditions in which such violence can apparently flourish – neither for the high anxiety that policies more robust than strategic might create in constituents.

We would make the case that “all necessary measures” can (and should) be applied to our own societies as well to the terrorists.  External vigilance is needed to be sure, but also accountability is required to the norms, values and expectations that give meaning to social existence and contextualize our growing levels of “high anxiety.”  These are high bars to reach, to be sure, as they are in part the consequence of prior policies that have not met expectations, have not alleviated the suffering we all hoped they might, have not inspired confidence that we can vanquish our enemies without also assessing ourselves.

We very much appreciate the references in the resolution to international human rights and humanitarian law, as well as (thanks apparently to the Russians) to the UN Charter.   These reassurances, as helpfully underscored by Chile and others at the Friday Council meeting, are hopefully more substantive than rhetorical.   Should such references end up being marginal “window dressing” in the implementation of anti-terror initiatives, it is highly unlikely that any tribunals will be organized to investigate the resulting carnage.   Nor will future acts of terror, when and if they occur, be seen as an actionable indictment of the limitations of this particular Council resolution or what would otherwise be seen as legitimate responses to ISIL and its cohorts.

My GAPW colleagues and I spend much time in the Security Council chamber, significantly more than in any other single UN meeting room.   And we have deep regard for the tenacity of Council members and the sometimes fitful progress of this chamber on transparency and working methods, driven especially at this current moment by some extraordinary non-permanent members.  But transparency and accountability are not the same.   The Council lacks structures of accountability for its limited policy scope or errors in judgement.   There is none to hold the Council, and especially its permanent members, responsible to the standards to which they routinely attempt to hold others.

This is one source of anxiety in the longer term, the notion that prior Council actions which demonstrably failed to achieve full objectives end up having little or no consequence for future resolutions.  Indeed, if we are not accountable for our errors, there is simply no reason for others to believe that future actions will avoid similar pitfalls.  For reasons related to limited time or institutional culture, we simply aren’t learning enough from previous experience to alleviate the anxieties of those dependent on this sometimes pedagogically-challenged policy community.

During Friday’s discussion following the unanimous vote on Res. 2249, Lithuania solemnly noted, “We will have to deal with the uneasy question of how much of our liberties and freedoms we are ready to sacrifice to ensure our safety and security in a way that does not support repression.” For my part, I would prefer a bit more liberty even if it means taking on a bit more risk.   After all, liberty’s road to repression is much longer than the one defined by safety and its multiple compromises.

In any case, these are the bargains that will continue define a world wrestling with its political polarization, excess materialism and militarism, and tepid commitments to ending social and economic inequalities and giving this overly-stressed climate a chance to heal.  And we are already seeing governments and their party oppositions ravenously grasping for political space in the aftermath of the recent terror attacks; ostensibly to protect people from terrorists, certainly to protect governments from uneasy conversations about their role in helping to protect the core principles, values and aspirations of people and not merely their physical bodies.

What is apparent, in settings as widely distinct as a Harlem food pantry and the chamber of the UN Security Council, is that our efforts to alleviate anxiousness regarding current affairs must take into account the deeper and “longer” anxieties – people who have good reason to wonder what will become of themselves and their families; and why this recent, welcome show of Council unity and resolve will be able to climb over bars of policy effectiveness and regard for international law when other efforts have mostly fallen short.

Shock Therapy:   Promoting Wider Pathways to Humanitarian Participation, Dr. Robert Zuber

16 Nov

This week, I was in Michigan sitting with groups of social work students trying to find pathways to blend the community resiliency they seek to build with a policy community that seems largely disinterested in their skills and testimonies. Among other things, these students struggled with the demands of personal and familial crises, as well as the problems and opportunities that poor, marginalized, disabled persons and others experience for which few if any bureaucratic protocols are entirely relevant.  How, they wondered, do they make a different and preserve their jobs?  How do they communicate the things they have learned in their face-to-face encounters with human need to which their employers are often deaf?  How do they find ways to insert their quite considerable skills into a system that they largely believe to be under-staffed, under-funded and even under-caring?

And make no mistake about it: from the abandoned streets of Detroit to the swollen refugee camps of Lebanon, the international humanitarian system could rightly be described as under siege.  Given the carnage of Syria and Yemen, the generational poverty of Central African Republic and massive refugee flows in the Mediterranean Sea that are rewriting the boundaries of national concern, we are witnessing the evolving of a social and political challenge that is without precedent.

In briefing after briefing to the UN Security Council, OCHA’s USG Stephen O’Brien and others paint a painful picture of impeded access to sites of misery, funding commitments unfulfilled, children abandoned to their own devices, and political resolutions stalled or abandoned.   The burdens now borne by the UN and its major humanitarian partners are trumped only by the misery of so many displaced persons facing a future that seems as grim as the camps that currently hold them.

There will be an attempt to reform our understanding of and responsibility for these crises at the first Humanitarian Summit to be held next May in Istanbul, Turkey. After an extensive process of regional consultations throughout much of 2014 and 2015, a “Co-Chairs summary” was published attempting to crystallize major findings. As the summary noted, “Underlining the entire consultation was the recognition of the common value of humanity and the strong call for the reaffirmation of the universality of the humanitarian principles and upholding international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law. There was a clear call to put affected people at the heart of humanitarian action. Emphasizing that humanitarian action can never replace political solutions to crises, responsible action by global leaders is urgently required to prevent and solve crises and address root causes”

The co-chairs highlighted several themes germane to the consultations and to the core work of humanitarian assistance itself:  Dignity, Safety, Resilience, Partnerships and Finance. Attention was given throughout to helping communities utilize local skills and relationships to become better prepared for crisis response, as well as affirm and finance strategies for caring for persons dislodged by complex humanitarian emergencies occasioned by natural disaster or shocking human violence.

While not expressly named therein, these humanitarian deliberations very much mirror those  that led to the 2030 sustainable development goals – highlighting needs for reliable funding, flexible data, enabling access by host governments, and especially broad participation by diverse stakeholders. In many ways, the participation question is the heart of the matter, the need which if left unfulfilled will jeopardize any hope that we can move humanitarian assistance from response to prevention, from bureaucracy to local contexts and control.

Here in New York, there have been some interesting discussions with suggestions for the type of humanitarian action that delivers with people rather than for them, and that can take its place within a UN system devoted more and more to early political engagement to head off crises before they develop and to strengthening local capacity to deal with crises in the worst instances:

  • Create more rapid response capacity that can anticipate disasters before they materialize and build active, inclusive community partnerships that can help direct humanitarian assistance in the most productive ways.
  • Forge closer relationships with UN political affairs and special political missions inasmuch as many humanitarian crises are political in origin and their most deadly consequences might at least be minimized through robust diplomatic efforts.
  • Promote a better understanding of the security-humanitarian dynamic, including the ways in which overly militarized responses to looming crises can trigger cycles of frustration and retribution that dampen local participation.
  • Create more opportunities for locally-driven response and resiliency plans, developing and coordinating with local assets and placing them effectively and sensitively in the service of humanitarian response.
  • Curb the excessive and often de-contextualized “professionalization” of humanitarian relief, which can result in needlessly inflexible mandates that patronize local residents, instead of incorporating them as agents of response.

In Latin America, as noted often by our colleagues at Instituto Mora, there have been some significant recent successes in response to humanitarian emergencies, though propensities can still be observed to overly-militarize responses even to what are primarily natural disasters – earthquakes, typhoons and flooding.  In addition, what might be called ‘triggers of passivity’ – trafficking in arms and narcotics, gangs, etc. – also inhibit broad community participation in regional humanitarian efforts. Our Mora colleagues are now helping to promote a welcome movement away from humanitarian assistance which is not sufficiently coordinated or financed, does not incorporate local skills, or is discharged by inflexible bureaucracies that do not incorporate into their planning both the benefits and limitations of conventional humanitarian responses and their security arrangements.

While welcome changes are coming, the classic incarnations of humanitarian response are still too often slow to respond, too disconnected from humane political and security arrangements, and certainly too dismissive of local agency. This combination of discouraging factors undermines trust by local communities which we simply cannot afford to squander any longer.  We are simple leaving too many skills on the sidelines – in Mexico, in Michigan and in virtually every community seeking to do its part to preserve and restore human dignity in crisis.  We hope that Istanbul and its preparatory processes can energize responsibilities among diverse stakeholders, and above all make room for the millions of skilled persons seeking and deserving a larger role in humanitarian efforts.

Cooks in the Kitchen:   The UN Tinkers With its Menu of Structures for Ending Impunity, Dr.Robert Zuber

8 Nov

During this past week, as General Assembly committees finalized resolution text to send on to the full GA membership, the Security Council held its breath on Burundi, and preparations for the Paris Climate Conference sought appropriate levels of urgency, fond global aspirations were finding policy expression throughout the UN.

Many delegations now seek the means to elimination nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction from national arsenals.  They seek the means to address water crises, those related to drought and to restricted access.   They seek ways to promote adherence to a broadening base of human rights obligations, including a growing rejection of the death penalty, to ensure that access to these rights is as universal as the aspirations they contain.  Delegates seek to create peacekeeping operations and special political missions that work well in tandem, are fully transparent to membership, and can head off violence rather than merely address its aftermath. And they seek ways to ensure that coercive measures such as sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council are undertaken in a thoughtful, even-handed way that neither punishes the innocent nor subtly reinforces the political preferences of one or more Council members.

But perhaps the most pervasive aspiration is for an end to impunity for gross violations of international law, such as we see in Syria, Yemen, Central African Republic and other troubled venues. Perhaps no issue undermines the credibility of the UN quite like the perception that wrongdoers get away with wrongdoing to a degree that rank-and-file citizens cannot even imagine.  And yet, despite these challenges, there are few aspects of the UN’s work that are as intensely engaged at present as this one.

Simply put, the need to affirm principles of international law and to hold both state and non-state actors accountable to that law is pervasive and growing in importance within the UN.   As well it should be.   With all due regard for the mild hypocrisy embedded in the ways that we formulate the law and single out perpetrators to address by that same law, there is no more essential element to a healthy multi-lateral system than clear articulation and fulfillment of international principles that represent the standards by which we choose to live and conduct business.  Indeed, in the absence of such lived principles, it is unclear how we can ever find our way to a place of trust and confidence in the (at least) relative fairness of our international legal system.

Ending impunity is no abstract matter confined to states and the most egregious perpetrators of injustice.  From children “telling” on each other and barking at teachers who they believe have meted out punishment unfairly to the complex matters of jurisdiction and jurisprudence characterized by the International Court of Justice and other legal mechanisms, fairness is part of our cultural nomenclature. And regardless of where we fall on psychological standards of moral sophistication, or whether we posit some deity at the beginning or end of those standards, it is both inconceivable and even emotionally paralyzing that so much abusive and humiliating behavior remains unpunished in this world.  Many of us in this city bristle when we are “cut” in line or delayed by insensitive subway behavior.   What would then be our response to unaddressed crimes against humanity?   Surely we can find ways to apprehend and mete out justice to atrocity criminals at a higher rate than we incarcerate street level drug users or persons harassing subway riders with aggressive begging or “show time”?

Surely we can.  For three consecutive days this week, the UN engaged the question of the institutional forms best suited to help the international community identify, address and ultimately eliminate impunity for gross abuses.   On Wednesday, Spain and Romania hosted an event to explore challenges related to the formation of an International Court against Terrorism.

Spain’s Ambassador Oyarzun has taken considerable leadership (with Lithuania and Malaysia) on terrorism issues within the Security Council. Here he noted that his interest in this court arises out of a belief that terrorism constitutes the largest threat to the civilized world, and that states seeking to prosecute terrorist acts and end impunity once and for all could use the type of assistance that such a court could provide.  For his part, the Romanian Director General for Legal Affairs noted some of the specific challenges of such a proposed mechanism, including stable funding and what he termed “legitimacy” — by which he might have been referring to the proposed Court itself in some combination with its Council authorizers.  He might also have done well to highlight the still-vague definitions of “terrorist” that are sufficient for political purposes but still falling short on actionable legal consensus.

In another conference room on Friday, the General Assembly’s Sixth Committee was also “cooking in the kitchen” of structures to promote international law and end impunity for gross crimes.   Mention was made on numerous occasions of an initiative, mostly notably ascribed to Belgium, to draft a treaty to deter and address crimes against humanity, with a special focus (as highlighted by the Netherlands) on improving extradition and prosecutorial arrangements. And while some states, including Singapore, sensibly urged caution in “rushing ahead” to endorse such a treaty without sufficient regard for how it might impact existing legal mechanisms to address mass atrocities, there was general agreement in the room that such a treaty process deserved additional diplomatic attention.  Indeed, most states fully aligned with Mexico’s assertion that “there must be no derogation” regarding the prohibition against crimes against humanity.

One of the core concerns that came up in both the aforementioned events was the relationship of such proposed mechanisms to the Rome Statute and the work of the International Criminal Court.  In both conference rooms diplomats were quick to assert, as noted by Ambassador Oyarzun, that the proposed new instruments would be “fully complementary” with the requirements of the Rome Statute.

But to what extent do we take this reassurance of support and respect at face value?  To what degree are these various chefs in danger of getting in each other’s way, indeed of making it more likely that none of them will be able to bring the meal to table that we so badly desire?

Ironically, perhaps, the ICC’s Chief Prosecutor, Ms. Fatou Bensouda, was also in town this week to report on the work of the Court in Libya as required by SCR 1970 (2011).   Her statement and Tenth Report covered ground that was both familiar and disturbing, including allegations of torture perpetrated against defendant Saadi Gaddafi who had been ordered to be turned over by Libyan authorities to the ICC.

Madame Bensouda is a most forceful advocate for the ICC and for strong international justice in general.  On Thursday, she made it clear to Council members that we must not stand idly by while Libya is at risk of degenerating “into chaos and further instability.”  Many Council members expressed both sympathy and support for the Court and its expanding workload, noting in some instances that crimes worthy of ICC attention are growing both in their numbers and in their “authors.”

As she has done in the past, Madame Bensouda cited three dimensions of her work that are highly challenging and even undermining of positive outcomes:   a lack of secure and stable resources, a lack of basic security, and a lack of cooperation from both states parties and the Security Council.    These are discouraging and even damning allegations that cut to the core of the ICC’s work.   It is impossible to carry out thorough investigations without funds, without basic security, without the cooperation (let alone full consent) of the host country or of the authorizing Security Council. These are not incidental complaints, but speak to the lifeblood of any successful efforts by the ICC to end impunity and lay the groundwork for sustainable national reconciliation.

In the Council, Chile was one of the states that most clearly got the message, chiding fellow members for “our limited follow up” and reminding all that referrals from the Council are “not an end in themselves.”  Others chimed in with comments that seemed to indicate that current bottlenecks in the pursuit of justice could not properly be laid at the feet of the Prosecutor and her sometimes beleaguered staff.

Given these pervasive problems with regard to the ICC, it is fair to wonder how – or even whether — we should move forward on new legal mechanisms until we have gotten the ICC – the structure that other potential mechanisms pledge to respect — fully fit for purpose.  Madame Bensouda made clear to the Council, as she has done in the past, that ending impunity for atrocity crimes remains as achievable as it is necessary, and she reiterated her suggestion for a justice-oriented “contact group” for the ICC in Libya to help that process maintain momentum. But the message behind the message indicates that more careful and helpful attention to the ICC is needed, and needed now.

Our view is that a series of well-meaning but sub-standard meals will drive away more customers than it will attract. We need instead the equivalent of a showcase dining experience, a standard of excellence to which all new treaties, courts and other legal mechanisms can aspire.   Let’s first address with firmness the three ICC challenges noted by the Prosecutor, and in so doing create the standard and inspiration for the next iterations of legal responses to impunity’s challenges.

Assessing the 2030 Development-Security Linkage in Latin American Contexts, Dr. Robert Zuber

1 Nov

The following represent slight revisions (improvements) of remarks given in Mexico City on October 29.

I want to pay tribute to Dr. Simone Lucatello and his colleagues at Instituto Mora for holding this launch event and for their excellent guidance on this publication.

This is one of several books that we worked on thoughtfully over the past year or so.  We have very little funding and the UN in New York is a very large institution to cover and analyze.  Why do we invest our time and resources in this way?

  1. First, it helps to build credibility for our project as we seek to weigh in on a range of complementary initiatives that make up the UN system.  If we have a demonstrable “expertise” at all, it is this sense of how issues fit or should fit — the complementarity of concerns and interests that serves as a sound intellectual and political basis for effective policy.
  2. Second, it represents a contribution to leveling the policy playing field that can help dismantle some of the hegemonies of scholarship and policy that persist in our current world. There are so many voices across Latin America, including perhaps within this institution, which have yet to find their proper level.   Given all the security and development challenges we have to face today in the international community, there is seemingly little rational about keeping other talent on the sidelines. As I have said often to others, I have had my turn.  In our office, we have our turn every day.  It’s someone else’s turn and we want to do what we can to make space for that policy balancing.
  3. We have a special regard for young people who have much to learn but also to teach. They are inheriting this world and its challenges as we gather here.   My generation has made some real messes and they will be responsible for the clean-up.  The least we can do is give them the broadest and most hopeful access to multi-lateral institutions, channels to respected publications (like this one), and experiences in making sound policy that we are capable of providing for them.

As you in this institute know, many strategies are now being suggested for the 2030 goals implementation, but three seem to be rising most quickly to the surface:  robust, flexible data; reliable funding sources, and a stable social fabric.  We must stay connected to all three areas of concern, but the last one is of special interest.

Keeping the social fabric safe without engendering feelings of intimidation or fear remains an area of considerable challenge.  As we were writing and organizing this book, it became clear that some states are still quite reluctant to establish a strong security-development linkage and there are several reasons for this. From my standpoint, this reluctance his has something to do with what I would prefer to call a security-culture linkage.   Many indigenous and rural persons, many politically active and outspoken persons, many marginalized persons such as live around me in Harlem, New York — they often fear the “culture” of the security sector, and often for sound empirical reasons. At the same time, it is very difficult to hold that same security sector itself accountable for abuses, or even to acknowledge that they are CAPABLE of abuses.  In the US, it is a struggle to hold police accountable for their mis-behavior.  It is a struggle to hold military officials responsible for bombing civilian targets in the name of fighting terror; indeed many persons in the security sector take refuge in a system and its culture that only rarely acknowledges failure of any kind.

To promote a viable security-development linkage in the 2030 goals is to actively engage this possibility of cultural failure, a predisposition in more than scattered instances to discriminatory and excessive and even unprovoked use of force that can and must be reformed to serve the cause of social development rather than impede it.  Few still have the stomach to engage the security sector on its conduct – reminding the sector that it has the skill to enhance 2030 implementation in many ways, including addressing various forms of trafficking that overwhelm many Latin American communities, but that it also possesses more than sufficient power to frighten, intimidate and discriminate.

Similar levels of scrutiny are needed regarding agreements to regulate or prohibit weapons. The Arms Trade Treaty is one of the agreements that found some criticism in the book.  Some people will evaluate this Treaty and decide that something is better than nothing. The question we should be asking is if the remedy is sufficient to the cure that we have already held out as a promise to global constituencies? It is not enough to give a child suffering from pneumonia some hot tea and a Vitamin pill.  Such acts may be helpful at some level, but they certainly don’t rise to a level of effectiveness that is even in “radar range” of the cure from armaments that we so badly need.

If the global arms trade (its volume not only its shipping) is as serious a problem as many of us maintained it was – and still is – we continue to need a more robust set of instruments than we now have. Since its negotiation and adoption, the ATT has been politicized; it has attracted more than its share of mercenary NGOs more comfortable with branding than discernment; it has been permitted a secretariat function that is almost completely emasculated; it has invited the diversion of much time and energy from the UN Programme of Action, which engages the practical, multi-lateral work of stockpile management, marking and tracing of weapons, trafficking in weapons, and better security at borders and ports. And of course the ATT, through no intrinsic failure of its own, has no actionable outcome with regard to weapons that have long since left the factory, the weapons that do so much damage every day in Libya, Mali, Yemen, Nigeria and elsewhere.

When we step back from this type and level of scrutiny and aim higher, we recognize that security and development represent more than bookend obligations by states; they point to inter-related existential threats to a planet that has quite enough to cope with at present.  A failed 2030 development project –data that is politicized, funding that is unreliable and applied in a discriminatory fashion, policy that reaches in the direction of the most vulnerable but never quite makes physical contact – these and related limitations are as likely to exacerbate excessive militarism than address its defects.   And conversely, a security policy that inhibits the education of children, the political participation of women, the promotion of a free press and the fair administration of justice will not develop people so much as keep them in subordinate social and political contexts.  Trust in the state and in each other is an under-analyzed dimension in community development, and heavy handed security has a much smaller role in trust’s promotion than security advocates would want us to believe.

So now we have our 2030 development goals and we have what will hopefully become reformed security arrangements.  Moving forward, we must understand their mutual influences and minimize the more toxic aspects of their respective practices.  As though we needed reminding, human beings are imperfect creatures.  The 2030 promises we have broadcast to a world full of anxious, long-suffering constituents will require us, as the Pope reminded the UN earlier this fall, to become less imperfect still.   These are “development” promises of course, but their implications are virtually existential. If we fail to make our “best faith” effort to meet these promises, including on security, it will do more than bring discredit to the UN; it will signal that we have likely crossed a threshold of trust, health and peace from which our species might never find its way back.