Tag Archives: ECOSOC

Peacebuilding Week:  The UN Seeks a Sustainable Culture Shift, Dr. Robert Zuber

26 Jun

At a time in its history when so much is on the UN’s plate, so much globally and institutionally is perceived to be on the wrong track, the demand for reform is considerable.  More and more, people cannot fathom – and with justification – how structures designed for one era’s crises can be expected to overcome the new and daunting hurdles that lie before us.  A briefing on Syria last Tuesday under the auspices of PGA Lykketoft gave Special Envoy de Mistura and USG O’Brien an opportunity to tell the full UN membership about tentative humanitarian and peace progress, but also just how much further we need to go before we stop adding to the bloodshed and trauma that already stretch our common capacities to their breaking point.

We at the UN often run behind responsibilities and crises rather than head them off.  We negotiate resolutions on weapons systems that have already evolved more dangerous iterations.   We create agreements on climate and development destined to require more energy and resources to clean up previous messes than prevent new ones.  We seek to address the mass trauma from so many victims in so many conflict zones, at times overlooking the obvious fact that the only viable means to effectively address such trauma is to do more to ahead of time to minimize its occurrence.

Like much of the national legislation with which its own policies interact, the culture of the UN system is reactive more than proactive.   Diplomats now speak regularly about the need for better early warning mechanisms and prevention strategies, but this is still largely at the level of aspiration, not representative of a sustainable shift in culture.  As a system, the UN’s “directional” continues to stick on the “post” side of conflict rather than on marshalling wisdom and resources to address conflict threats that we increasingly have neither the skills nor the resources to heal once “threat becomes reality.”

The week’s numerous events on and references to UN Peacebuilding and the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) represented more than branding for a still-fledgling, underfunded and even under-appreciated capacity.   On Monday, the PBC’s Burundi configuration (Switzerland) met to discuss that country’s many current fragilities.  On Wednesday, the Security Council held a briefing on potential directions for the PBC as noted in its 9th annual report. Thursday the PBC was in session all day with excellent opening and closing events and more intimate sessions in workshop format.  At that closing, current PBC Chair Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya made important pledges to take the “longer view” on peace and security, to find political alternatives to military interventions that “rarely promise peace,” and to do what is necessary to “raise levels of ambition” at the UN for ensuring more peaceful and inclusive societies.

The following day, the Economic and Social Council held an historic, joint session with the PBC on the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Sustaining Peace.”  Such linkages hold no surprises for the many civil society organizations (and their constituents) living daily with the conflict implications of failed development policies and their implications for trafficking in weapons, narcotics and human beings.   Still there was an urgent energy on display here that would have been encouraging if not reassuring to global constituencies.

It was truly, as noted on Friday by Ambassador Kamau, a “Peacebuilding week” at the UN.  But this was more than a routine assessment, more than a commemoration of “configurations” well-tended.  It was an affirmation that UN Peacebuilding is staking genuinely hopeful ground, hope that the UN can do more – sooner and tangibly – to reduce levels of global tensions and deprivations before they spill over into active conflict.

We have long advocated for a higher profile for the Peacebuilding Commission.  We laud its ability to attract some of the very best diplomatic talent in the UN system; its longstanding affirmation of the primacy of diplomacy and political engagement; its flexibility in assembling the most contextually relevant and competent stakeholders; its commitment to a full-spectrum engagement with peace, including its economic, development, environmental and cultural dimensions.

Our wish for the PBC, one which is intimated in the Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding review, is for the PBC to reach that point where it transcends its current structural and “cultural” limitations: able to assess and address peacebuilding needs beyond the “configuration” states; able to provide guidance on peacebuilding to states that are anxious but not yet in turmoil; able to provide perspective on the conflict implications of all three UN pillars within an evolving culture that seeks to broaden the policy tent more than control its location and functions.

As part of that transition, the PBC and its evolving UN partnerships must help the development-security linkage to find a deeper discernment, what Korea’s Ambassador Oh Joon on Friday outlined as that “blending of a universal agreement and a fundamental responsibility.”   Part of that discernment was offered by Mexico’s Deputy Ambassador who outlined the “healthy social fabric” needed to sustain peace, but also (along with the Swedish Minister) chided governments for investing more in weapons of war than in tools for building and sustaining peace.

The Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, someone on whose leadership we often reflect fondly, predicted on Friday that the culture change we are seeking, and that was represented by Friday’s joint meeting, is well on its way.  If the problems we face are linked, Eliasson noted, our solutions must be also.   We can and must all do more to claim more “horizontal” and collaborative space if we are to build and then sustain an institutional culture that encourages – as noted by Australia’s Ambassador Bird — full-spectrum response to our diverse peace and development challenges.  “Delivering as one,” she noted, is still frustratingly rhetorical within UN settings and must urgently become the go-to strategy of a reformed, cooperative, preventive UN culture.

We have planted many seeds here at the UN on peace, development, climate and justice, but too many of those seeds have fallen on thin soil.  As the words of Kamau, Bird, Eliasson and others grow deeper roots at the UN, the flexibility and wisdom gathering within the PBC can help ensure a more hopeful, predictable harvest for more of the world’s people.

Home Improvement:   The General Assembly Initiates Some Deferred Repairs, Dr. Robert Zuber

10 Apr

Anyone who has followed this space knows that Global Action is committed to a UN system that is suitably structured both to focus on needs and threats that states can’t solve alone, and to better honor its many development and security promises made to global constituents. If and when the UN bogs down in petty concerns or takes undue liberties with its vested authority, the hopes that people have invested in this community will continue to fade.

Our own humble contribution to this system has long focused on the way we do our collective business as much as the content of that business.   The promises of a disarmed world, of an end to extreme poverty, of responsive governments that respect the rights of their people, of a planet that can find healing amidst the relentless onslaughts of human ambition – these and more require structures of global governance that privilege effectiveness and whose movements and rationales can be more easily discerned by the governed.

Those of you who rightly wish for the UN to “do more” on development, climate and security should recall: When the home roof is leaking, the boiler barely functions, the tap water is contaminated and the weeds have taken over the lawn, the quality of life of the family is compromised, as is its ability to make meaningful contributions to the life beyond the home.

Indeed, the three major bodies that constitute the UN’s “home” base have all heard rumblings in recent years that their structures and methods of work are simply insufficient to the many challenges on their collective agendas.  In the Security Council, the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) group is just one of several initiatives designed to ensure a Council that is better able to respond to security threats at earlier stages and assess past decisions so as to eliminate future mistakes, while strongly urging the permanent members to “work and play” better both with elected members and with other core components of the UN system.

Under the presidencies of Austria and now the Republic of Korea, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has recently recovered its own footing, demonstrating through the High Level Political Forum and other structures that it is able and committed to creating meaningful and reliable space for assessment and oversight of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals — including its emphasis on ending economic and social inequalities — perhaps the single most far-reaching “promise” issued by the United Nations over the past decade.

As the most representative of UN organs, the General Assembly (GA) has also had its share of effectiveness-related issues. In the recent past, it has struggled trying to manage the needs and expectations of a growing roster of member states, including the expectation that the UN as a whole must become more democratic in its core concerns, including on matters of peace and security.  At the same time, the Assembly suffers under the burden of one-year rotating presidencies that make it difficult for leaders (especially from some of the smaller states that have recently held the position) to get full policy traction. The GA has also been limited by a funding mechanism that does not provide resources adequate to any sort of ambitious presidency (which exacerbates tendencies to bend the rules as appears to have been the case with 2013 GA president John Ashe).  And the president has always to contend with large and powerful states (including permanent Security Council members) that do not wish to have the Assembly wandering into their policy territory.

Into this morass in 2015 wandered the current GA president (PGA), Mogens Lykketoft of Denmark, who has made much of his country’s diplomatic reputation and links to the European Union (perhaps even exploiting his country’s pre-eminent levels of happiness) to rapidly enhance some of the GA’s luster.  He and his senior leadership have done so through massive infusions of attentive energy, insisting that this GA house be restored to purpose and set on a path of relevance to a new standard of global expectations.

His strategy has had multiple facets, but two stand out for us.   The first is his office’s omni-presence in the system.  Just this month, he has presided over/keynoted discussions on topics as diverse as African development, trafficking in persons, disaster relief strategies, and peacekeeper abuse in the Central African Republic.  He has traveled to other UN sites to share and to listen. He has also been an indispensable voice in efforts to open up the selection process for the next Secretary-General, a process that might well result in the first female SG but one which will surely change forever the dynamics affecting future selections.  This presence from the PGA has been both consistent and understated, permitting the president to define the GA’s stake in key global issues without undermining the expertise and authority of others, nor the many helpful precedents in the UN system that have brought us to this current, reform-minded place.

The second facet is related to a decision by the PGA’s office to hold fewer key policy discussions in a mostly formalized GA Hall setting – where prepared statements rule the day – in favor of more informal, less predictable discussions in other UN conference rooms.   President Lykketoft did not invent this format by any means, but he has seemingly embraced it in a way which allows delegations to reflect on responsibilities without the burden of producing resolutions, and which also underscores the abundant skills within the general UN membership that simply must be energized if the current collection of existential threats is to find permanent relief.  That some delegations continue to read prepared statements in such informal settings testifies in part to the complexities of the UN’s diplomatic habit; perhaps even to a lingering mistrust in a process that is likely to result in what for Global Action would be a welcome leveling of decision making authority within the entire UN system.

There are no either-or impediments looking forward.  We can find ways to honor both policy precedent and policy innovation.   We can test our current working methods to ensure they are sufficient to our policy challenges without throwing the UN system into procedural chaos. We can show competence on issues and contribute to their resolution without excluding other relevant stakeholders or marginalizing other helpful contributions.   We’re learning how to function as a system – as a home base — slowly but steadily.  It’s an exciting moment; but also an essential one.

The recently released Panama Papers provide those who question the motives of government officials with yet one more reason to do so.   For the UN, deviating from the revised direction recently established for our most important policy organs must not now be an option.  We seem at this point to have the energy and urgency to take better care of our home business, initiating the repairs we have long needed to make. We need to stay this course so that the hope still invested in this global policy community is not in vain.

Looking Backward:  Anticipating a Verdict on our 2030 Development Responsibilities, Dr. Robert Zuber

7 Feb

This was an unusually synchronized week at UN Headquarters.  The Security Council was largely focused on the London pledging conference for Syria and then returned to the urgent need to plot next steps – including likely new sanctions — in response to the DPRKs latest missile launch.  Instead, most of the building was preoccupied with assessing and enriching the early stages of implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This past Monday, ECOSOC kicked off a two-day youth event that brought out an “A” list of presenters, mostly to encourage youth to join in the full implementation of the 2030 development agenda.   We’ve written previously about the ways in which UN youth events tend to patronize their audiences – fairly heralding their talents and urging their full involvement, but without either expressing regret for much of the state of the world nor insisting, as older people used to do in my life, that youth are not yet quite as ready for prime time as we have previously convinced them they are.

For its part, the General Assembly held its own informal review of the early stages of implementation of the 2030 development goals, featuring addresses by the President of the General Assembly and the Deputy Secretary General.   DSG Eliasson’s recent presentations have helpfully integrated his own vast institutional memory, and here he noted the considerable differences in energy and urgency on SDG implementation in comparison with the Millennium Development Goals of year 2000. The morning sessions urged development leadership that can “inspire confidence on the ground,” and heralded the implementation of the “Technology Facilitation Mechanism” deemed essential to broad SDG fulfillment. The DSG, PGA, the European Union and many states noted the enormous development challenges and responsibilities that we all have assumed in these urgent times, a commitment that we should not seek to control and at which we simply must not allow ourselves to fail.

On top of these, the 54th Session of the Commission for Social Development convened under Romania’s leadership.  While the Commission room was often half empty (due less to NGO interest levels than to the manner in which “secondary passes” were distributed), the Commission spawned some interesting side events that also helped to clarify our roles and responsibilities to the 2030 Sustainable Development process.

One of these events focused on the launch of the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) report on global labor trends.   While few if any want the Security Council tampering with unemployment statistics, the status of labor clearly poses major implications for international peace and security.   Unavailable work, dangerous work, work that fails to pay a livable wage – these and other employment circumstances stoke social unrest and grave discouragement. While the ILO struggles to define and then promote its best understanding of “decent” work, our global economy remains in the hands of elites stubbornly unaccountable to workers; indeed largely unaccountable to the UN itself.  Another “manufactured” global recession will deepen poverty for some and throw others back into previously untenable economic options, which could well spark new waves of violence but will surely compromise the fulfillment of the SDGs even beyond their employment-specific targets.

Another side event exuded a more positive energy, this an event on “social protection” hosted by Ghana and featuring several of its ministers and parliamentarians.   Ghana has done good work establishing and maintaining social protection floors, including innovative ways of paying for state services, in ways that could well provide a model for its regional neighbors and others far beyond the African continent.  Indeed, we have already suggested to two other African states that they also consider placing their most hopeful “protection” measures on display for the review and edification of the international community.  There is never enough of this good development news.

This event (and others of the week) also stimulated thinking on the best strategy for maintaining what the DSG referred to earlier in the week as “positive energy” towards fulfillment of the SDGs.  Concerns in this regard are fully appropriate. Indeed, at a side event this week focused on positive changes in the mining industry in the DRC, Ireland’s Ambassador Donoghue was forced to admit that he is only “cautiously optimistic” that the SDGs will eventually achieve their targets.   Along with Kenya’s  Amb. Kamau,  Amb. Donoghue’s leadership on sustainable development goals was nothing short of heroic.  But he also understands the UN system, its political and fiscal compromises, its acceptance of “good enough” when only the best is called for.  As I understood his comments, his discouragement has less to do with the goals themselves and more to do with the limitations of the institution that houses them. Moreover, as understood by those leading the ILO event on labor, fiscal contingencies brought about by those persons and institutions perpetuating gross inequalities could easily dry up the revenue available (and necessary) to modulate and clean up the planet, and bring concrete hope to those most often abused or unreached.

Fortunately, side events associated with the Commission are providing some intriguing options to soften the contingencies of inequality and caution.  As a set of global norms, the SDGs (and their indicators, now in progress on several fronts) seem somewhat unforgiving.  Either we meet the goals and targets or we don’t.  And of course we should meet them once we can agree on the scope of their indicators.  But there is another way to look at the SDGs, less as a normative burden and more as a menu of resources for replicable and sustainable social change.

While watching images and listening to stories about persons in the DRC who had been abused by and then gained their freedom from the extraction industry, it seemed obvious that this is the sort of story that the SDGs were designed to magnify: identifying the relevant norms, to be sure, but also the available (fiscal and other) resources and the responsible parties.  Used in this way, the SDGs become part of the cutting edge of global problem solving, a stimulating factor in replicating things gone right, rather than a set of directives which we are almost destined to fall short of fulfilling.

Fifteen years from now, when a generation first cutting its teeth on development policy walks through that creaky door towards middle age, how will they assess our current commitments?   How will they feel when they look back at the choices we now make and the steps we now take to heal what has been broken and reach beyond our comfort levels to those who most need relief?   Looking backward is always precarious business, tinged with the inevitable “second guess,” but 15 years is a veritable blink of an eye.

We’ll be there before we know it, most probably with health and equity left to pursue, but hopefully with so many innovative and energizing successes that can inspire another generation to help save the rest.  The more creatively — and less punitively – we can harness the power and hopefulness of the SDGs, the larger the number of global communities that will be able to find their stride.  Hopefully, then, these will join to help another set of communities find their own.

A Climate Conducive to Peace:  The UN Confronts its Exterior and Interior Spaces, Dr. Robert Zuber

5 Jul

The unofficial theme of this past week at the UN was ‘climate week,’ from the High Level Political Forum in ECOSOC and a General Assembly High Level event, to numerous side events ranging from Oceans to Migrants and an Arria Formula discussion in the Security Council, led by Malaysia and Spain, focused on climate as a ‘threat multiplier.”

Among the features of this week’s events, in addition to momentum-gathering efforts to counter what the Secretary-General referred to as a “snail’s pace” of urgent UN action on climate health, was the high-level presence of policy leaders from the Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

SIDS political and civil society leadership have long called for urgent measures to stem the tide of an eroding climate, a “tide” that is causing mass flooding, the destruction of fish stocks, the pollution of ocean habitats, even what Kiribati activist Alofa cited in the Security Council as the “great sadness” occasioned by the very real possibility of eventually having to abandon her family home.  As Seychelles noted, the SIDS must be considered as a “special development case,” but many states are coming to realize the degree to which SIDS crises have both been ignored and are increasingly being mirrored in other global regions.  As an Italian Minster warned, climate threats “know no borders, require no visas.”

Despite this growing awareness, progress on firm, remedial measures remains stilted. In the General Assembly, Kiribati’s President Tong cited a “loss of hope” from telling the same story over and over and wondering if anyone is listening.   As noted by Palau Minister Beck in the “One Ocean” event, whether we are prepared or not, the dire predictions of last generations’ climate scientists appear to be coming true.  And as Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Debrum prodded the Council (which had last taken up climate 2 years ago), “what has really changed” in our collective response? The answer echoing through all the week’s events was, clearly not enough.  As DSG Eliasson lamented with a good deal of off-the-cuff passion, “we are not at peace with nature.”  We have not, as Sweden shared in the Arria meeting, done our part to “supplant national red lines with nature’s red lines” nor have we fully grasped, as noted by Poland, the full relationship between the health of oceans and other ecosystems and the success of our development efforts to eradicate poverty once and for all.

And while some states wondered if the Council should be heavily invested in climate issues apart from interactions with ECOSOC and other relevant UN agencies and programs, the peace and security implications of climate were also laid bare.  Lithuania was one of several states which highlighted the degree to which a damaged climate can be a “driver of insecurity.”  And Chile provided its own thoughtful statement that underscored climate’s role in bringing otherwise latent conflicts, especially over water access, into the open.  In this context, Chile wisely reinforced the human rights and gender dimensions to any Security Council or other UN actions designed to counter or even reverse climate-related security threats.

All of this discussion – in the Council, in ECOSOC and the General Assembly, in some extraordinary side events – was welcome if perhaps a bit late in the game.  But all of it also pointed to another ‘climate’ dimension, the climate we have created within our diplomatic and UN walls, a climate that equally needs attention and even healing if we expect the global public – and especially younger generations – to trust our ‘strategic sincerity’ to manage this planet-threatening  crisis.

Why indeed, many wonder, is it taking so long for the international community to respond to what is such an obvious external threat, risking an overheated and contaminated bequest to future generations of which we should be at least alarmed and probably also ashamed?  We have our own analysis, but many of the answers lie in the words of the diplomats whom themselves are authors and products of an interior version of our ‘climate’ challenge.

Part of this struggle of internal climate is related to the habits, some helpful some destructive, that we dutifully cultivate but rarely interrogate.  In ECOSOC it was Romania’s MP Borbely who noted how the most “beautiful” sustainability plans are undermined by our “stubborn mindsets.”    South Africa chimed in at the same event, noting our collective consumer culture that has gotten “out of hand,” a habit that is difficult to break but which must somehow be tamed if we are to convince skeptical publics that UN climate policy can truly inspire altered behaviors on the scale needed.

Then there are the other messages we send, often incidentally, that undermine public confidence in our internal climate and the decisions that proceed from it.  For instance, in a discussion in the Security Council this week on Darfur and the International Criminal Court, as is protocol in such matters, the Sudanese Ambassador was given the final word, attacking the professionalism of Prosecutor Bensouda and allowing those who were witness to the statement to come away thinking that the Sudan government was a victim of a witch hunt rather than a perpetrator of abuse on a mass scale.  As is their habit, the Council members had already spoken.  None came to the defense of Bensouda’s mandate amidst the Sudanese assault, and protocol granted no permission for her to come to her own.

The next day in the Council’s monthly ‘wrap up” session the UK’s Ambassador Rycroft called attention to another sometimes dispiriting aspect of our institutional habit – the endless reading by officials of policy statements, largely in impersonal and dispassionate tones. His concern seemed to be in part with presentations that are repetitive, abstract, do not respond directly to other state positions and are, as New Zealand noted during the same meeting, a means of “scoring points” rather than solving problems in places like Yemen, Syria or Palestine. Such failures of political resolve, as Malaysia noted, undermine confidence in a fundamental responsibility of the UN system, and this confidence is eroded further as states address in monotone while onlookers seek some passion.  As someone new around the Council table Amb. Rycroft’s statement suggested, perhaps against hope, that Council members can communicate a more personal, caring and even urgent engagement in their dealings with each other and with respect to the billions of people living at the edge of our policy decisions.

The sometimes tired, habitual  and even mean-spirited messages that can be experienced in many UN meeting rooms may seem unrelated to climate policy, but such messages can collectively undermine public confidence in our ability to adjust institutional habits in constructive ways to fit the world’s urgent circumstances. If we at the UN — people of education and privilege — cannot (will not) shift the energy of the structures and protocols of our institutions and their (in this instance) climate-related decisionmaking, there is little reason to believe that the more modestly situated will be able and willing to do so.  Especially on climate, it is discouraging at best to see stakeholders fussing over ice cream that is seconds away from melting on the floor.

Back at the General Assembly event, the Secretary-General virtually begged delegations to “quicken your pace and raise your ambitions.”   That an existential threat such as climate change would require such a plea is perhaps more telling than the plea itself.   We understand full well that science-generated data sets alone do not drive policy, let alone its consensus.   But the circumstances to which this data points will require all of us one day to answer for any and all vestiges of our stubborn neglect.   By not changing our messaging and (more importantly) our policy content on climate, we risk being roundly scorned in our absence by another generation that will be forced to cope with a crisis that may no longer be able to be resolved.

In that same General Assembly event, President Tong of Kiribati expressed his longing, one day soon, to be able to say to the world’s children “you don’t need to worry anymore” about climate health.  Getting to this ‘peace of mind’ (not to mention ‘peace with nature’) will take more compassion from all of us, as Elder HE Mary Robinson explained during a recent side event; but also an institutional commitment to “prioritize the most vulnerable and least responsible.”  In other words, we must commit more to encouraging that hopeful combination of less change in our external climate, and more change in our internal one.

The Iran Nuclear Deal – “A new beginning for the people in the Middle East”

17 Dec

A master-class in balanced analysis was elegantly presented by Trita Parsi, founder and current president of the National Iranian American Council, at a recent UN meeting in the Economic and Social Council Chamber (ECOSOC) organized by the Women’s International Forum. The topic at hand was, “The Iran nuclear deal – how we got here and what it means.” This subject matter could have very well attracted controversy and heated exchange on both sides of the fence, if not handled with care, wisdom, expertise and a mindset that is willing to acknowledge the multiple facets that assemble a somewhat objective reality. Parsi managed to integrate all of these aspects, not by simply explaining the status quo but by highlighting the tremendous impact that the recent nuclear deal with Iran could well have for the entire region and as a result, the international community.

“Diplomacy is making some significant headway,” Parsi explained introductorily, referencing the nuclear deal set up between six major powers of the international community and Iran, but without neglecting the fact that the current compromise is no more than an “interim agreement” — albeit of historic proportion.

It is meant to put on-hold key elements of Iran’s nuclear enrichment in exchange for temporary easing on some of the economic sanctions that had been imposed by the U.S., the Security Council and others. The installation of new centrifuges for uranium enrichment that Iran had acquired has been stopped, and the measures in place make it virtually impossible for Tehran to build a nuclear weapon without being detected. In return, Iran will receive partial relief in regard to trade sanctions and renewed access to a number of its frozen currency accounts overseas. In case Iran violates the agreement’s terms, the sanctions can be re-employed at any point in time.

“This agreement, although yet to be implemented, is not only referring to Iran’s nuclear aspirations, but has an impact on the entire region and the very direction Iran is taking as a country.”

Parsi named a number of “decisive factors” that smoothed the way for the most current political breakthrough. “The Iranians recently elected Hassan Rouhani for president, the most moderate person among the candidates. With him, a centrist cabinet came into power that had made numerous proposals to the West before, which had unfortunately failed in the past.” Rouhani visited the United Nations in late September to the U.N.’s first ever High Level Meeting of the General Assembly on Nuclear Disarmament.

The HLM showcased the Iranian head of state as an authority on ridding the world of nuclear weapons, rather than acquiring them. Rouhani did not only get invited to present on this politically charged topic, but among the eight plenary speakers addressing the global leaders, he received the number three slot in the lineup.

Furthermore, Parsi explained how the Iranians had been cooperating more closely with the U.S. in 2001, only to then be added to the “axis of evil” by former President George W. Bush as a response to the terror attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. on 9/11. This led to hardened political statements in tones that were often infused with hostility. “In the eight years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, Iran and the West went in different directions, which could have escalated into a military confrontation.” With the election of Rouhani, “there was suddenly someone in power worth investing in by the White House.” Parsi was referring here in part to U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, “defending the nuclear deal to a very skeptical Congress only yesterday. There is now confidence that Iran delivers.”

Parsi stated that the pressure the U.S. administration experienced regarding an optional military intervention in Syria on behalf of the American public, “pushed Obama into deep diplomacy,” when he was confronted with the subsequent Iran negotiations. As a result, noted Parsi, Iran which had recently been considered “the most difficult issue within the region” became “low hanging fruit in comparison to the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict or the dangerous situation still in Syria.” Parsi repeated that the second step, the actual implementation of the landmark accord, will be the real difficulty the six negotiating world powers are facing. Earlier this week, expert level talks began in Vienna to work out specific details of implementation. Officials from Iran, The United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia met at the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the agency that will play a central role in verifying that Tehran carries out its part of the deal.

The interim agreement will also, in Parsi’s view, have tremendous implications for Iran within the region, specifically in improving relations with neighboring states. The agreement “implies de-containment, both politically and economically.” For some time, Iran has not had a recognized role within the region and the country has been excluded from meaningful participation in many international bodies. Parsi explained that the negotiation process would bring an image change for Iran, certainly a different approach to their policy on Israel, as well as positive, long-term repercussions for many Arabic states. “Nobody is going to lose out in the long run. Iran is not going to have a nuclear bomb, and it doesn’t lie in the interest of Israel or Saudi Arabia to continue a perpetual conflict with Iran.”

Parsi concluded, “Ultimately, this is about so much more than enrichment or centrifuges. If this agreement can be implemented, it will determine who will define Iran for the next decades. This can be a new beginning for the countries and the people of the Middle East.”

Parsi provided valuable lessons in contemporary diplomacy, and reminded the UN audience why the threat of war can no longer be accepted as the “continuation of policy by other means” in the 21st century.


Lia Petridis Maiello


This piece was originally published with The Huffington Post.

Discussing New Media at International Day of the World’s Indigenous People

14 Aug

On 9 August 2012, the annual conference commemorating the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples was held in the ECOSOC chamber at the United Nations. This year’s conference was focused specifically on new media efforts. Representatives from indigenous groups discussed projects they had created to disseminate information, while UN officials offered brief comments on those projects.

Unfortunately, at times, it seemed as though the event was something of a formality from the UN perspective. The Secretary General’s very short opening comments, which received respectful applause, appreciated all the progress that indigenous communities have achieved thus far using new media. It did not contain specific recommendations moving forward or comment extensively on the international community’s role in addressing the needs of indigenous people.

The many achievements that the Secretary General alluded to were elaborated on throughout the day. Speakers included founders of internet news coalitions, Native American TV stations, video productions about local initiatives, a hip hop artist, and many radio stations from all over the world. A full list of speakers can be found here.

Still, along with celebrating progress, and showing many video clips to exemplify that progress, the indigenous speakers had some major criticisms of UN policy. This disapproval rose to the surface in the question and answer period. Many called for more international funding and support for the new media projects that were being celebrated. Other questioners criticized the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People for “having no teeth,” for implicitly claiming that indigenous people had lost their sovereignty, and for not acknowledging that it lacked a mechanism by which indigenous communities could regain political control. Finally, one questioner from West Papua asked the UN why it had taken no notice of the massive human rights violations in his reg.

Ultimately, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples was a successful afternoon. It’s likely that the most important result of the session will be the networking opportunities it created. After almost every question, a panelist or fellow attendee would note that they should connect to the speaker after the event. In fact, the introductions and mingling began even before the session ended during the closing remarks. In a room where strangers rarely chat, this level of communication was a sight to see.

In his opening statement, Grand Chief Edward John (Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues) was clear that in discussing new media, communication, stories, and languages were all at stake. One indigenous language, he told the attendants, dies every week. He highlighted the important role that the media can play in telling stories. Everyone was in agreement that mainstream media sources in their respective countries had failed to communicate properly due to corruption and negligence. Through alternate new media forms, indigenous people all around the world have ironically made productive steps balancing immensely varying pasts. It’s a step in the right direction for indigenous communication that the UN is very right to celebrate. One can only hope that UN officials listened to everything that was communicated in the ECOSOC chamber.

–Henry Neuwirth

ECOSOC Discusses the Women, Peace and Security Agenda

10 Aug

For those who followed the discussions of the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) on the theme of “The Empowerment of Rural Women and their Role in Poverty and Hunger Eradication, Development and Current Challenges,”it was disappointing to see that there were no agreed recommendations. It was disappointing not only for the process, but also for what the lack of agreement says about the importance of the issues of rural women. CSW is part of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and is a global policy-making body focused on gender equality and the advancement of women. Annual meetings are held during which member states evaluate progress and establish global standards on these issues.

At the recent ECOSOC session, after a statement made by Ambassador Kamara of the Republic of Liberia who chaired the 56th session of CSW, member states discussed the progress that has been made with regard to mainstreaming a gender perspective into all policies and programs in the UN system. While many applauded the creation of UN Women and the work of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), states were nevertheless frustrated about missed opportunities and felt that much more work needed to be done to advance women’s rights. Mexico, El Salvador, the United States, Belarus, Israel, Australia, Indonesia, Argentina, and Japan all mentioned that the inability to reach consensus on rural women at the 56th session was disappointing. Some states indicated that working methods should be reevaluated. Many highlighted forms of gender-based violence and discrimination that they believed should be focus points moving forward.

Nonetheless, the discussion at the most recent ECOSOC session did not just focus on the CSW; a few draft resolutions were also passed but only one of these – Situation of and Assistance to Palestinian Women – was contested. The United States shared its commitment to support women in Palestine and improving the humanitarian situation, but also expressed concerns over how the situation in Gaza and the role of Hamas can be a barrier to women’s fundamental rights. Finally, the US was not satisfied with the status of the text and encouraged ECOSOC to look at mutual goals. Israel and Canada agreed that politicizing the situation of Palestinian women was not justified and reminded the Council of the many human rights violations attributed to Hamas. These states asserted that an ethical draft would have focused on supporting Palestinian women, and would have been written primarily to address the challenges they face. Palestine reiterated that Israeli occupation is a major difficulty for Palestinian women and girls. The draft passed with 30 votes in favor, 2 opposed, and 18 abstentions. By adopting the resolution, the Council encouraged the international community to take special note of the human rights of Palestinian women and girls and to increase measures to help these women and girls in the challenges they face.

Overall, while discussions on the advancement of women are always welcomed and there can never be too many, we hope that more issues will get on the ECOSOC agenda that are complementary to other issues in the UN system, especially as the 57th session of the CSW approaches with the theme of “Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls.”

–Melina Lito and Henry Neuwirth