Relentless:  The UN Doubles Down on a now-Familiar Foe, Dr. Robert Zuber

10 Feb

Desert

The melody of your ears must not be the cries of the powerless.  Shahla Khan

Morality, after all, had fallen with society. He was his own ethic. Richard Matheson

Many also bear their cross of imagined deprivation, while their fellow human beings remain paralyzed by real poverty.  Anthon St. Maarten

Yet we must choose each step we take with utmost caution, for the footprints we leave behind are as important as the path we will follow. Lori Lopez

In the desert, the only god is a well.  Vera Nazarian

One of the things that our interns notice quickly about life inside the UN is the extent to which issues are often raised but not routinely resolved.   From development financing and ocean health to efforts to restrict the production of small arms and the recruitment tactics of terrorist groups and criminal elements, most key issues on the UN’s agenda are certain to “come around again” before too much time elapses.  This tends to frustrate onlookers, especially the young, who yearn to see greater levels of intentional movement towards more reliable resolutions to today’s multiple threats, some of the “footprints” which we older folks would do better not to leave behind.

However, given the degree of difficult associated with many global problems, this doubling-down is mostly appropriate.  As any good therapist (or parent) knows, naming a problem accurately is only the first stage in a successful outcome, not to be confused with the solution itself.   Many problems we confront in policy, much like problems within ourselves and our families took a long time to evolve into their current forms.  Like a ball of yarn, we wind ourselves and our societies into tight, if destructive habits that cannot untangle overnight, if at all.  If they are indeed to untangle, such will require us to engage over and over in a complex “dance” that includes elements of sometimes-painful honesty, careful assessments, legal accountability, and a continual renewal of our intent to see these processes through to a healthy conclusion.

And yet we in this UN space habitually seem to over-simplify what it takes to sustainably resolve global challenges.  We pass resolutions, year after year, without attaching assessments of why so many of these resolutions have so little impact.   We continue to raise the right issues in diverse conference rooms without also raising the stakes on success – integrating honest and careful analysis of what we’ve learned since the last time such issues came up for consideration and what we now must resolve to do differently.   In essence, we “double down” on our consideration of global challenges without also doubling down on both our reflection and our resolve, as though the solution to our current stable of grave threats requires little beyond ratcheting up a bit of additional political will to do more of what we’ve already committed to doing.

One of these “come around again” threats was examined on Friday during a Security Council “Arria Formula” on how accountability for crimes can serve as a contribution to prevention.  The specific context for this Arria is the often-horrific violence perpetrated mostly against women and girls in situations of armed conflict.  Led by Germany with the endorsement of most current Security Council members, the event was a reflection of a problem to which much energy has properly been devoted, but where progress has been elusive (or even non-existent) as was reinforced by prosecutors of the Special Court established to deal with such abuses in the Central African Republic.  Women especially remain the “currency of conflict” as claimed by Ireland’s Ambassador noting that we must refuse to separate the physical security of women and men abused in conflict zones with what she referred to as “other forms of security” including of the social and economic variety.  In a similar vein, the director of the Global Justice Center reminded delegations that the genesis of much abuse can be laid at the feet of our persistent and toxic inequalities, including of gender, reinforcing our own view that we must do more to “level the playing field” before it can properly be groomed.

This broader security must also integrate accountability for abuses already committed, as several states and the always-thoughtful Tonderai Chikuhwa of the UN Office on Sexual Violence in Conflict duly maintained, underscoring the importance of ensuring that, however painful it might be for some, such crimes must never be stricken from the “historical record” of states.

But if we must, as Chikuhwa and others insisted, double down on accountability for these humiliating crimes, Council members and others insisted that our lens must also focus on related matters, specifically the call by Germany and other speakers for more victim services to help minimize prospects for “re-traumatizing.” Indeed, states including Côte d’Ivoire and Chile, insisted on the priority need for “healing” — in part a function of services and reparations but in part a function of ensuring that there is a “cost” for such abuse, a “cost” that can be made consistent across states and that can be employed to help citizens remain mindful of the deep trauma suffered by far too many.

In listening to this good discussion with one of our interns, two things came to my mind.  First was the “relentlessness” of the dehumanizing abuse which casts a fog over human life that never quite seems to lift.   In the relative triviality of my first-world bubble, I have encountered only episodic stalking – by a few people who wanted things from me I was unwilling to give them or through exposure to online hackers demanding ransom in exchange for keeping silent about alleged behavior which, thankfully, never took place.

And yet even within these limited and mostly modest bouts with our sometimes frayed and predatory social system, one now defined by a largely “fallen” and self-authorizing morality,  I could revisit some lessons about the unrelenting nature of more grave abuse, specifically the degree to which external violations leave “footprints” within us that continue to hijack our best selves long after the physical or psychological violence stops: those remaining in hyper-vigilant mode for signs that stalkers might be close at hand; those refusing to communicate unless completely sure who is on the other end; those dreading turning on the computer because of yet another virus ready to inflict mayhem in ways much like the “virus” of conflict-related abuse — doing its dirty work now from inside the systems on which we must rely and changing how we engage the world in ways that we are more likely to defend than to carefully examine.

And the second, related insight comes courtesy of the 2030 Development Agenda which is filled with positive implications for those who might otherwise risk humiliation in conflict zones, but which insists to all who participate that we must not only “leave no one behind,” but that we must reach “those in greatest need first.”  It is difficult and at times counter-productive to create priority lists for human need, and yet there must be some special dispensation, some special accountability in situations where grave crimes have been committed against women and girls, men and boys in too many conflict zones, crimes more akin to slavery than to the “first world” dramatics that we far too routinely indulge.

I confess that my own patience for “first world problems” is now even lower than before, not because growth and change in own my life are no longer needed (they are), but precisely because I acknowledge more deeply an unearned privilege allowing me to trust (albeit with gratitude) that my own fog is destined to lift, my “well” is largely close at hand, my erstwhile “deprivation” is almost entirely imaginary.  The “cries” of the powerless don’t always penetrate my thick skull as they should, but neither have they become the “melody” that transforms sexual violence as a tactic of war and other traumatic circumstances from something preventable and accountable to something that we simply accept as part of the price tag for getting on with the “world’s business.”

The “paralysis” of many trapped in poverty or in cycles of dehumanizing despair must never become acceptable to those of us ensconced in the policy world, including “accepting” that the drama of our own lives constitutes some rough equivalent.  We at Global Action were deeply appreciative of the reminder provided to us on Friday by Germany and other Security Council members, a reminder that while many windows of opportunity seem always to be open to us, such windows are still largely and even serially impaired for persons humiliated or otherwise traumatized at the point of a gun.

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