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Weather Vane: Gauging Directions of Multilateral Threat, Dr. Robert Zuber

16 Sep

Weather

Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.  Benjamin Franklin

We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice; we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dislike in yourself what you dislike in others. Hazrat Ali Ibn Abu-Talib

When culture is based on a dominator model, not only will it be violent but it will frame all relationships as power strugglesbell hooks

This has been a tough week for many.  As storms in the Atlantic and Pacific lined up like aircraft at an international airport, two of them created a special havoc – one in the Carolinas and another in the Philippines, two of the seemingly growing number of places in the world frequented by storms that, over and over, undermine lives and livelihoods.

Though my own inconveniences are minimal, I like others have friends and family in these stormy places.  I have also done work in those places and helped others do their own.  In many of these communities, a lifetime of struggle to raise families and improve living conditions has been drowned and battered yet again by forces that humanity as a whole has done plenty to unleash but to which these residents, themselves, have contributed little.  For them, displacement might become their storm-driven outcome.

The uneven misery from these climate events was underscored by a local reporter covering what is now only the first wave of Florence’s impacts on the Carolinas.

In most disasters, the poor suffer disproportionately, and it is no different here. The neighborhoods struggling to rebuild after Matthew are the same neighborhoods most at risk to flood again. Haggins was barely getting by back then, crashing with friends. After the water receded, she tried to go collect the little she owned from her friends’ houses, but they’d all flooded and everything she had in the world was gone.

Most of us — even those of us who should know better — have a hard time grasping the concept of “everything gone,” indeed often have a hard time grasping the degree to which those bearing the brunt of horrific storms this week were barely “making it” while the sun was still shining and the breezes were gentle.  There is little justice where climate shocks are concerned, no court to hold the likes of Florence and Mangkhut accountable.  There is mostly just a bevy of folks trying to save what’s left amidst the sobering outlook of more storms revving up their deadly engines and blowing away any reasonable prospects for recovery.

But while we can’t hold these storms and their climate incubators responsible, there are mechanisms of justice  (however imperfect they might be at present) that promise some hope for persons victimized by neighbors, insurgents and governments — humans whose collective predation seems recently to have exceeded in intensity and intentionality anything that we have yet witnessed elsewhere in the animal kingdom.  Inside the UN, there has been a steady recognition that impunity for the most serious crimes represents a stain on our collective system of justice; that the failure to hold individuals and states accountable for their crimes – committed against many of the same people victimized by climate shocks – is a glaring mark against the rule of law that undermines what remains of our robust multilateral system of governance.

To its credit, the UN recognizes the danger and is doing its part to build or restore competent, impartial justice systems and create special criminal tribunals from Haiti to Central African Republic, partially in keeping with the general belief that such justice competence is essential for building a world consistent with the our 2030 Development Agenda aspiratons.   The UN has also pushed for accountability on chemical weapons use in Syria through the General Assembly; has created a “residual mechanism” to handle pending cases from the criminal tribunals established for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia; and has (largely through the Security Council) worked to ensure that the use of coercive sanctions is more carefully targeted to punish perpetrators without endangering civilians. The UN and many member states have also continued to vocally support the International Criminal Court despite challenges (including some testy moments with the ICC Prosecutor) from some permanent members of a Security Council which issues ICC referrals and (ostensibly) ensures that states cooperate with the Court’s investigations and warrants.

Unfortunately, we are now in danger of turning our current political “climate” of ethno-centrism, border defensiveness and general suspicion into an art form, leading to a host of double standards – including at the UN – regarding divergent levels of accountability for actions undertaken by powerful states relative to “lesser” countries that simply find it hard to protect themselves from large-state whims.  As evidenced by this week’s tirade by John Bolton, the US is fully committed to joining the ranks of prominent states seemingly “doubling down” on advocacy for an international “justice system” predicated less on the rule of law and more on narrow perceptions of national interest.

Efforts by the International Criminal Court to level the accountability playing field has incurred the wrath of some of the more powerful governments seeking to justify and preserve that age-old entitlement utilized in a somewhat different form by parents content to push their children into a lifetime of therapy – “we do what we want, you do what we say.”

Through dedicated efforts from states (including current and soon-to-be Council members) and civil society organizations, the ICC has in fact improved its investigative and prosecutorial procedures while expanding its focus into the realms of conflict-based sexual violence and, most recently, the crime of aggression.  It has successfully prosecuted criminals such as in the recent (albeit controversial and expensive) case of the DRC’s Bemba Gombo, and has recently accepted jurisdiction on matters related to the forced deportation of Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh.  It’s Trust Fund for Victims has reinforced on the international agenda (despite current funding limitations) the need to ensure reparations and psycho-social support for those victimized by the atrocity crimes that are still much too pervasive in our world.

The ICC’s limitations and growth edges are widely known, and include the aforementioned limitations of state and Security Council cooperation and the Court’s inability to gain traction on crimes committed by the world’s major powers.  That said, it must be noted that the ICC is intended to be a “court of last resort,” to be invoked only in situations where domestic courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute war criminals and other purveyors of mass atrocities.  If John Bolton, for instance, were more interested in ensuring that the conduct of US military operations was in accordance with international humanitarian and human rights law, the alleged jurisdictional threats and related “power struggles” involving the ICC would be quite less alarming.

Nevertheless, these attacks on the ICC remain dangerous at multiple levels. They undermine confidence in international law, especially on the part of victims whose avenues for redress are already far-too-limited.  They undermine confidence in international peace and security still the province of largely unaccountable state powers.  And they undermine confidence in the international system that now seeks to build commitments to action on a wide range of fronts – and specifically to address the climate threats which have this week turned fertile areas of the Carolinas and the Philippines into unusable swaths of water and mud, motivating many to consider abandoning communities that had nurtured their families for many years.

It has been a theme of this space for some time, but it bears repeating here.  We are responsible not only for what we propose, but for what our proposals enable for others, the consequences that ensue when others “take up our cues” and apply them in other contexts.   This week’s ICC-focused “cue” from Bolton is one that the causes of international justice and multilateral effectiveness on climate and other global threats could well have done without.

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