Tag Archives: ” gender

Pick Six:  The Security Council Bids Adieu to some Stellar Elected Colleagues, Dr. Robert Zuber

17 Dec

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. Thomas Edison

When we create hope and opportunity in the lives of others, we allow love, decency and promise to triumph over cowardice and hate. Kirsten Gillibrand

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. Milton Berle

I’m sitting in the office on a Sunday with my pulled-from-the-dumpster Christmas tree glistening in the background.   The tree is enticing me to pen a Christmas message today, but given that next Sunday is Christmas Eve, that message can wait just a bit.

There are many other messages emanating from the UN community this week that seem a bit more urgent, including new (and heated) discussions on responses to DPRK missile launches, preparatory discussions in Puerto Vallarta on issues affecting global migration governance, a Security Council warning to South Sudan’s leadership to take the renewed “Revitalisation Forum” convened by the InterGovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) with upmost seriousness, the decision by the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to activate jurisdiction over the”crime of aggresssion,” and an “Arria Formula” UNSC session devoted to the urgent linkages between climate change and global security.   Moreover, in keeping with a bevy of recent discussions and articles chronicling abuses committed against women, including the arbitrary withholding of otherwise well-deserved opportunity, a significant gathering in Lima sought “windows of opportunity” to integrate Latin American women into regional peace and security sectors.

But the end of 2017 also signifies the end-of-service for six elected (non-permanent) Security Council members:  Egypt, Italy (which is “sharing” a 2-year seat with the Netherlands), Japan, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay.  This has been an engaged and often thoughtful group in the midst of many difficult obligations and challenges.  Egypt, for its part, took leadership on many aspects related to the UN’s counter-terror response, including sanctions committees and educational events on related UN member responsibilities often undertaken in conjunction with the UN Counterterrorism Executive Directorate (CTED).  In addition, its public role with regard to stubbornly unresolved conflicts in the Middle East, now including unilateral declarations related to Jerusalem’s status, has been appropriately simmering and measured.

Due in part to its international prestige and excellent mission leadership, Italy was able to make its mark on the Council despite having only one year in this current configuration to do so, applying a steady hand to the urgent matters of preserving the Iran nuclear agreement (JCPOA) and maintaining fair and effective sanctions, as well as drawing careful attention to the peace and security implications of climate change, food insecurity and forced migration. Italy also highlighted a problem it previously identified (with Jordan) regarding the discouraging destruction of cultural property and its resale by terrorists groups to fund their recruitment and resulting abuses.

Japan has been a particularly generous (and under-the-radar) contributor so to many dimensions of UN security and humanitarian relief efforts, and those contributions at times spoke with a more convincing voice than its routine Council statements or even its leadership of the sub-committee reviewing Council working methods.  However, steadily escalating tests and tensions in the Korean Peninsula, including DPRK missile launches provocatively sailing over Japanese air space, forced Japan into the spotlight as a major participant in DPRK-related discussions and, as current Security Council president, into a robust organizing and facilitating role for such discussions.

Senegal handled its Council responsibilities with understated dignity and grace.  Indeed, as so much of the Council’s agenda is focused on sub-Saharan states as well as on solidifying trustworthy arrangements with the African Union, IGAD and other regional players, Senegal’s importance to Council deliberations belied its size.  Indeed, on the many issues negatively affecting the peoples of the Sahel region and Lake Chad Basin, Senegal’s enabling logistics and wise counsel was indispensable, underscoring for us and for others the importance of protecting and enhancing active Council involvement by committed African states.

The quality of Ukraine’s Council participation also grew steadily over their two-year term.   At first, it seemed as though Ukraine’s election was largely a political response to Russia-sponsored military activity first in Crimea and then in Donbas and other areas of Eastern Ukraine.   And Ukraine rarely refrained from referencing “Russian aggression” and the human rights violations that have been (slowly) documented in and around Donbas.  But over these two years, Ukraine’s mission and growing appreciation for, investment in and leadership on a wide range of global security concerns far beyond the Crimea has been noted and appreciated by many.

And then there is Uruguay, one of those Council members to entirely eschew the use of twitter, which has made it a bit more difficult for us to tell them how much we have appreciated their efforts.   Uruguay has been a champion both of Council transparency and of the need to link Council actions to the concerns, interests and skills of the wider UN membership.   Ambassador Rosselli and his colleagues have often requested the floor in “public” session to clarify the stake of non-Council members in Council decisions, to rebuke permanent members for their political maneuvering and manipulation of Council working methods, to compliment and expand on presentations by secretariat briefers, even to debunk the alleged value of the more “secret” informal discussions in the “consultations room” to which Council members often retire.

While not all of their statements hit the mark, this small state took on tough positions in a visible way that, for us, helped to clarify the role we believe elected members can and must play in making the Security Council more effective and accountable.   While there are risks associated with this, risks which some delegations would never be authorized from capital to take, it is important that at least some elected members are able and willing to remind their colleagues that the Council is part of a larger system of states and agencies with which it must work more collaboratively; that statements of national position which fail to reference the testimony of briefers or the concerns of colleagues are little more than time-consuming show and tell; that too many conflicts finding their way to the Council’s agenda (not to mention situations like Venezuela or Cameroon that have trouble getting any traction) are the result of a failure-to-prevent that often predicts long and arduous episodes of violence and recovery; that we must address the unwillingness of states (especially permanent members) to thoughtfully assess decisions that large states have largely pushed for, including confessions of regret and lessons learned when situations (as they have certainly done) go horribly wrong.

To paraphrase an old American Express commercial, “membership does indeed have its privileges.”  But being on the Council is highly demanding work, especially for the smaller states, and most of those “privileges” as we know accrue to the larger, permanent members.   Where windows of privilege are opened for the others, allowing them to shed some light on violence that could have been but was not prevented; peacekeeping that could have protected more civilians but was not properly equipped to do so; tensions that could have been lowered if not for careless and inflammatory rhetoric; women who are often “subject matter” for Council meetings but whose voices around the oval are still woefully under-represented; then we must all do what we can to ensure such opportunities are properly utilized.

We honor these six elected members, as we have honored many of their predecessors over the past dozen years, because of the windows of opportunity they have seized, not only to improve the effectiveness of the Security Council, but to bring the UN closer to honoring its peace and security promises in an ever-more complex global landscape.  It may well be, as some commentators have alleged, that large-scale Security Council reform is mostly a pipe dream.  But it is our contention, born of a long and consistent engagement with the Council, that thoughtful, connected, committed, opportunity-minded elected members can still do much to push all Council colleagues to revisit and better honor the confidence that the UN Charter has placed in their work.

Thanks to all six of you for this important reminder.

Community Watch: Localizing our SDG Responsibilities, Dr. Robert Zuber

30 Apr

If the government is big enough to give you everything you want, it is big enough to take away everything you have.  Gerald R. Ford

I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.  Will Rogers

If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

This past week, we were privileged to welcome Ms. Thalassa Cox from the office of the Solicitor-General of St. Lucia.  Thalassa has come to explore the UN, but also to learn what we are hopefully well-suited to teach – what the UN can and cannot do well, and how best a small state government can participate in (and in turn influence) global policy in this highly-complex and often self-referential institution.

And what a week it was for her to come.  The Security Council took on South Sudan, Syria and especially North Korea, in the latter instance drawing an oval punctuated with Foreign Ministers, some of whom (especially the US) seemingly determined to “act” instead of talk, but without a plan for managing the (perhaps dire) consequences that an as-yet-undetermined plan of action might itself create.  At the same time, the General Assembly was deeply engaged in its own revitalization, including its sponsorship of major upcoming discussions focused on human migration and the health of our oceans. The Peacebuilding Commission endorsed a peacebuilding plan for Liberia that can serve as a model for other states emerging from conflict. The Committee on Information met to review how the UN tells its story and in which languages it chooses to tell it.  And the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues brought splashes of color and moral resolve to the UN, including the presence of women in tribal costume holding their babies, reminders both of our collective, gendered responsibility to “First Nations” and, in the case of the babies, of precisely on whose behalf we do our policy work.

After years in this multilateral space, I am convinced that a more regular presence of persons representing different human abilities and cultural contexts — and their babies — would help us make better policy, and become better people as well.  People wearing headdresses or in wheelchairs, people walking with guide dogs or facing unique forms of discrimination; these and more come from families and communities with their own dreams, some of which can occasionally find expression at the UN, but others of which are even larger and more poignant than what we can routinely appreciate in this space.  

Also this week, in a mid-sized conference room and under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council, the Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) met in session to explore, among other matters, the role of local governance in the fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  While we have covered a bit of CEPA in past years, we were gratefully present for more of the discussion this year, in large part due to Thalassa’s enthusiasm for the learning which the diverse CEPA experts were well-suited to provide.

As we have mentioned often in this forum, the SDGs represent a promise that we have made to the economically poor, the politically marginal and even to generations yet to come; a promise to define and implement a plan to level the social, political and economic playing fields, to eradicate persistent poverty, to empower women and cultural minorities to kick open doors to participation, to remove the dangerous masses of plastics and other toxins poisoning our oceans, to preserve our dwindling biodiversity and fresh water access,  and to create structures of sustainable production and consumption that can help reverse climate change and create desperately needed jobs for youth and families.

This grand promise holds direct and compelling implications for peace and security.   In our view, if we can collectively make our “best faith” effort on the SDGs, our chances of “sustaining peace” will improve dramatically.  But if our effort falls short of “best” then the crises that now overwhelm our existing peace and security architecture will only grow in numbers and complexity.  Moreover, and given our stubborn reliance on ever-more-sophisticated military arsenals, what is left of our credibility on conflict prevention and peace will likely have eroded as well.  Serial promise breakers are generally not highly sought after as conflict mediators.

We and our office colleagues often ask what else is needed if the promises of the SDGs are to find a satisfactory fulfillment.   The UN is working hard on appropriate stakeholder arrangements, on predictable funding (including increased and corruption-free domestic revenue), on comprehensive data and robust technology transfers.   All of this is necessary, though none by itself is sufficient.

What else is missing?  Some clues were offered by CEPA itself, which included the quite sensible notion that, as important as global norms can be, the promises embedded in the SDGs must attract large numbers of local champions if they are to succeed.  Such “champions” can provide context-specific remedies for habitats in need of restoration, lifestyles that need to be healthier, economies that can better respond to local consumer needs, schools that promote knowledge of hometowns and not only of other towns – even government officials who can back commitments to “open, inclusive” governance with specific measures to protect media and information freedom, promote access to justice, and guarantee fair and competent government services.

As the Moroccan expert in CEPA made clear, there is a need to “decentralize” our approach to the SDGs, not so much because the largest structures of global finance and multilateral governance are deemed serially indifferent, but because constituents in real danger of being “left behind” by behemoth institutions can more easily be identified and their development needs addressed through responsive local structures. In addition, from our own vantage point, such decentralization points the way to perhaps the most essential and largely missing ingredient in SDG implementation; the willingness of people worldwide, in areas rural and urban – including right here at the UN – to “up our game” in response both to immediate crises “created on our watch” and to warnings of disasters that would, if not prevented, weigh so very heavily on the skills, resources and dreams of future generations.

Local government can and does have its own limitations regarding accountability to the public and its financial obligations, as well as to genuine openness and fairness.  As obsessed as we sometimes are by globally-impacting events emanating from places like Washington and Beijing, there is plenty to watch and report on at local levels as well, some of it equally frightening and/or even at times a bit humorous.  But fear and laughter aside, unless we can improve at local levels standards of government transparency and inclusive service delivery; unless we can enable citizen-centered governance where people have a role to play and not just a complaint to lodge; unless we are willing to defer to local testimony regarding who actually remains “left behind;” then the SDGs will remain an elusive promise at best.  And the conflict potential emanating from a damaged planet and its chronically disappointed people will continue to grow.

In the often “nomadic” world of global diplomacy it is relatively easy to lose sight of local rhythms, those that promise social progress and others that impede it.   Despite the relatively small audience for its UN deliberations, CEPA is helping pave the way for closer and more effective SDG interactions among all levels of government, while continuing to insist that efforts at local level to eradicate poverty and fulfill other SDGs offer the most direct, most personal “diagnoses.” Moreover, as CEPA certainly recognizes, local initiatives are best suited to encourage and unlock opportunities for people from diverse cultures and with wide-ranging capacities to contribute directly to the fulfillment of a large and complex SDG promise, a hopeful dream for a better world that we simply cannot afford to ignore.

Highlighting the Gender-Disability Nexus, Felix Balzer

13 Apr


Editor’s Note:  The following is from Felix Balzer, a graduate student in the Global and European Studies Institute at the University of Leipzig in Germany.  He spent the month of March at Global Action’s office (courtesy of FIACAT) with lots of time spent across the street at UN Headquarters. Felix came to us with a passion for disabilities rights, and here he reflects on a relationship that deserves higher-profile policy attention from both the gender and human rights communities. 


You can not be strong at the expense of the weak. Hanan Ashrawi

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.  Friedrich Nietzsche

The difficulty of formulating policies of universal validity within the United Nations can at times be considerable. Finding common ground between actors is often complicated by the need to vindicate national or personal interest in ways that impede the creation of synergies between parties. When this is the case, clear and honest discourse can take a back seat to statements that prove of too-little value in inciting dialogue, but rather concretize the status quo when a larger and more connected vision is urgently needed.

Given this need, the present contribution seeks to raise attention towards a synergy that could prove crucial for the implementation of future strategies for sustaining peace. The example to be cited here was vividly discussed at a recent UN side event and shows in my view a viable approach towards a vital discourse within the UN that is capable of revitalizing a crucial linkage for the UN’s broader human rights and sustainable development agenda.

The event, “Working to improve our own future,“ took place on the sidelines of last month’s 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The event stressed the need to strengthen networks of women with disabilities through the promotion of their human rights and economic empowerment, with the larger aim of fostering their participation and independence. This attempt included assessments of the responsibilities of governments, international agencies, and civil society that are involved with one or more of the stakeholders in this important but generally neglected relationship.

The current president and CEO of World Learning, Donald Steinberg, who was also past Deputy Administrator to USAID and a former US Ambassador, moderated the side event. He initiated the discussion by rendering a slogan pertinent to the movement for the political rights and participation of people with disabilities, a movement that seeks to alter often prejudicial views on disability: “Nothing about them without them“ or as the original slogan goes: “Nothing about us, without us.“

The first speaker on the panel was Ms. Sarah Costa, Executive Director of the Women’s Refugee Commission. She emphasized that the largest problem migrants with disabilities face is the stigmas they experience from others, especially but not only in “destination communities.“  At the same time, she criticized the lack of funding for institutions that can research needs and issues affecting women with disabilities, urging creation of more robust advocacy and service institutions and agencies that can “walk the talk” for people (and especially for women) with disabilities.

The next speaker on the panel was Stephanie Ortoleva from the Women Enabled initiative. Her group promotes advocacy strategies and legal advice to enhance women’s rights and disability rights globally. Stephanie stressed that 19.2% of women in the world are also persons with disabilities; thus complementary efforts to improve the social acceptance and general status under the law for these women are urgently needed. Further, she identified one of the key problems hindering the implementation of effective social policies in this area: the pervasive “siloing” of gender and disability rights communities rather than their mutually-supportive engagement. .

As the presentations came to an end, the panel stood in agreement that holding together the concerns of gender and disability can assist communities in bridging the development – humanitarian divide in the particularly challenging situations that often befall migrants; and even help to strengthen community resilience during times of unusual stresses and “shocks.“ People with disabilities are often in danger of being overlooked in our development and humanitarian assistance planning, despite the many contributions they are capable of making to more just and sustainable societies. This “overlooking“ appears to be even more pervasive when those persons with disabilities are women.

The event also demonstrated the need to “de-silo“ as much as possible all research and advocacy related to the rights and freedoms of persons. In the case of women with disabilities, the hope is that mutual engagement of their needs and rights could serve as a model motivating advocates to seek and find common ground in other emancipatory struggles for equality and human rights. Further research and policy deliberation focused on this gender-disability nexus is therefore needed to build knowledge and insight capable of informing human rights and development policy from a yet under-developed, but certainly rich perspective.

Through the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the  Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and political gatherings such as the CSW, the UN is determined to do everything possible to guarantee the human rights of women and persons with disabilities.  The side event described above was a call to the communities surrounding those conventions to pool their considerable energies and talents for the common good.

Water Logged:  Maintaining Water Threats on the UN’s Collective Radar, Dr. Robert Zuber

26 Mar

Empty Chamber

Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation… even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.  Leonardo da Vinci

Time is short and the water is rising.  Raymond Carver

Earlier this week, I agreed to contribute to an informal project the theme of which has long informed our larger work but not dominated our attention for some time:  the “state of play” in NGO relations with one another and especially with the issues and resources of the UN system.

Key to this effort, of course, will be the willingness of other NGOs to join us in what we trust will be an honest process of assessment.   The assumption of this community often is that our deficits – where they exist at all — are about our resources, not our energy or discernment.  We have attempted to bureaucratize this work but not taken account of the emotional toll it takes on all of us, inside the UN but in especially in diverse communities; not only because of the injustices and abuses we constantly engage, but also because of glacial pace at which meaningful change occurs. We do this work because we can and because we must; but we also want to be able to look our children and grandchildren in the eye and tell them that we did all we could to reverse levels of global threat.

Time indeed is short; and more than the waters are rising.

As with the UN itself, we in the NGO world spend much time branding the things we’ve done while ignoring those many things left undone, the questions we’ve misplaced, the policy connections we’ve refused to draw, the voices we have all-too-intentionally muted, the doors of innovation and reform we have simply refused to walk through.

The photo at the top of this post, taken by one of our longtime mentors in this work, could well be the starting point for an honest assessmen of our practices and priorities.  The photo was taken in the Trusteeship Council chamber in which the president of the General Assembly was hosting a system-wide dialogue on water-related goals and targets within the Sustainable Development Goals.

The photo shows the top (NGO) section completely empty.  There were a few water activists (bless them) in our row of seats below that section, but the blue seats were, for most of the day, completely and utterly vacant.

Granted it was an unusually busy week at the UN, with the Commission on the Status of Women and its focus on economic empowerment; two other important General Assembly dialogues on oceans (SDG 14) and climate (SDG 13); Security Council ministerial events on conflict in South Sudan and the protection of Cultural Heritage from terrorist trafficking; a special event to recall the moral darkness of the trans-Atlantic slave trade; and preparations for Monday’s opening of a conference to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons.   While we were directly engaged with these and other events this week, we do understand that there are times at the UN when our metaphorical logs simply get saturated, when the volume of issues, options and injustices simply overwhelms our responsibility to be in all the rooms where our skills and attentiveness are needed.

But this particular GA session was about access to water, our most indispensable and (now) threatened resource, an issue that is as cross-cutting as the gender discussions that were happening in rooms below us, as grave an impediment to peace and security as the machinations of ISIL, as potentially existential a threat to our common survival as our most powerful weapons and damaged climate.  As our largest sources of planetary fresh water melt into the sea; as what remains of our domestic water supplies become ever-more subject to corporate hijacking and cross-border struggle; as water inequalities become even more pronounced than those involving personal incomes; as scarce coastal fresh water is contaminated, more and more, by climate-induced rising sea levels; the threats to agriculture, to public health, to security, to life itself continue to grow.

You might think that a conversation on such matters would have warranted a bit more attention, certainly from the communities that have formed around the UN to promote gender justice, sustainable development or international peace and security.   The photo leading this post tells a somewhat different tale.

Fortunately, the diplomats seemed to have a handle on at least some of the urgencies at hand.  For his part, PGA Thomson emphasized the implications of our current water crisis for all three core UN policy pillars.  The UN Secretary-General’s water Envoy made his own strong case for why water deficits must be understood as primary peace and security concerns.  The event’s co-chair, Ambassador Bogyay of Hungary reminded delegates that “acting now on water is a matter of human dignity, justice and survival.”  Both Brazil and the European Union specifically highlighted the gendered dimensions of our water policy, citing the degree to which water access burdens excessively impact the health, nutrition and safety of women most often responsible for water gathering tasks.  And the Holy See, ever blunt, made clear that “unresolved water issues are a likely cause of future war.”

Other experts and delegations highlighted the dramatic impacts of water in our evolving, climate-damaged reality: severe drought in some areas such as Somalia; severe flooding in others such as in Peru; both posing grave challenges to the health and food security of families and communities.  In response, Slovenia called on more effective “early warning” to help us anticipate water-related disasters.  Vietnam, Kazakhstan and other states urged greater regional and international cooperation and, in some instances, more robust forms of water governance to help states head off what Guatemala called “tragedies from water misuse.”   For his part, PGA Thomson linked all measures for such water governance to ongoing reviews of the overall effectiveness of the UN Development system.

To our mind, the event left dangling some important considerations related to the funding of capacity support as well as the most cost-effective structures to keep states fully focused on their collaborative water challenges.  Moreover, we agree with Cuba that protection of water resources would more effectively be grasped as an integral part of a more generalized responsibility to “protect the full richness of nature,” including our forests, oceans and wildlife.

But the urgency of our expanding water crisis – including its gendered, peace and security dimensions – thankfully very much survived the morning.   As Ambassador Bogyay reminded the gathering, “there is no life without water.”  Thus, failure to cooperate on water “is simply not an option.”  Hopefully such cooperation will not struggle to fruition in conference rooms with vast empty seats symptomatic of the insufficient attention of the UN’s NGO community.

Creating Spaces for Creative Participation:  Practicing Fairness, Heeding Evidence: Dr. Robert Zuber

25 Jan

One of the tangibly hopeful things around UN headquarters is the degree to which participation concerns have been legitimized in policy.   The skills and perspectives of people across gender, race, age, culture, social class, nationality, (dis) ability and more receive at least rhetorical confirmation somewhere or other within the UN’s increasingly busy schedule of policy deliberations.

From the vantage point of the still-excluded voices, gender gets the most attention these days around the UN, with strong agency leadership and NGO support from those running a gamut of gender-specific issue concerns – from ensuring more women’s voices at UN functions to the complete dismantling of patriarchy in all its forms.

And certainly there is plenty to atone for where women’s rights are concerned.

Nevertheless, despite all this legitimate, multi-layered attention, there remain structural and political limitations to enacting our participation concerns.   At the UN, as in much of the rest of the world, we have ample evidence for a tenuous relationship between the things we discuss and the things we actually change.   Sometimes conversation serves as a springboard for personal or institutional reform; other times it serves as their substitute.

In the case of gender, our participation-related limitations take multiple forms.  For instance, despite all of the current institutional focus on gender equity, we still have too many single-gender panels at UN Headquarters.   We still put excellent diplomats such as Luxembourg’s Ambassador Lucas in the awkward position of having to remind her peers, as she did during Friday’s 70th Anniversary celebration of ECOSOC, of the pervasive male dominance of much UN agency leadership.  Despite our generally supportive gender rhetoric, we still have not fully grasped the degree to which national economic policies, peace and mediation processes, poverty reduction efforts and much more remain exclusive domains, including exclusive of too many women.

As Denmark noted during Thursday’s “Implementing the 2030 Agenda to Accelerate Realization of Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls” event, we must do more than we are now doing to ensure that we bring the “marginal into the center.”  This has implications beyond gender, but certainly many implications for how women – including working class women, women with disabilities, and indigenous women – find space to pursue their policy skills and interests. As Regions Refocus’ Anita Nayar stated, the 2030 development agenda gives us another opportunity – one we would do well not to squander – to claim the space needed to “democratize and feminize” implementation of the new development goals.

Indeed, at Thursday’s “gender and development” event, there were many important statements that fit under the heading of “not squandered,” including several shared by men.  For instance, Latvia highlighted the need for more attention to the “gender digital divide” and better indicators to monitor gender-specific compliance. UNCTAD’s Carpentier raised the concern that the current preoccupation with “public-private partnerships” is not delivering the goods on women’s employment. Cuba went so far as to criticize diplomatic training, noting that if such training is gender-biased, future diplomatic placements are likely to remain biased as well.  And Canada noted “evidence” that gender equity signals many important social benefits, and urged all to listen more carefully to that growing body of evidence.

But the event also highlighted an even broader, more systemic concern.

There is a pervasive flaw, in our view, in events around the UN that are “given over” to issue interests:  Gender advocates talking about gender.   Indigenous advocates talking about indigenous issues.  Youth advocates (however you define “youth” these days) talking about youth concerns.   Disabled persons talking about the unmet needs of persons with disabilities.

These mostly branded conversations rarely add as much as we imagine to the evidence base of the largely knowledgeable audiences around the UN. They certainly don’t help build capacity across issue interests.  They do tend to consolidate domains rather than create linkages across domains.  They do not, as advocated by Ireland’s Ambassador Donoghue on Thursday, effectively promote “whole government” and whole systems commitment to full and effective constituent participation.

In response to this trend, we have long advocated events characterized by persons deliberately advocating for “space” for other groupings, not only for their own issues.    With full respect for the incredible talent that the UN routinely seconds into its meeting rooms, we see relatively little value in organizing events wherein the same voices advocate for the same things in the same way.   Such events tend mostly to ritualize policy concern rather than explore its next frontiers.  People come to these events in the hope of new insights or creative policy formulations, only to leave – more often than not – disappointed rather than reassured.

For us, it is always more inspirational to hear about the “stakes” people acknowledge in the unresolved concerns of others.  Why should advocates for genocide prevention care about efforts to eliminate arms trafficking?   Why should youth advocates care about elder rights?   Why should women’s rights advocates, as highlighted by GPF’s Barbara Adams at Thursday’s event, care about illegal financial flows?  Why should Security Council reform advocates care about the accelerated pace of melting ice caps?

And why should those tasked with implementation of the 2030 development agenda care about the full integration of gender perspectives?  On Thursday, we got a hopeful glimpse of what those answers might look like, as well as some insight into all the many other “cross cutting,” (or as Nayar proposed) “co-constructed” discussions that need to take place in and around our multilateral policy centers.  The clarity of our priorities, the quality of our resolutions, the depth of our commitments, can all be enhanced through our willingness to walk a pace in each other’s policy shoes.

At the UN, who speaks at events is largely (and too often) a function of who has been authorized to have a voice.  However, we have sufficient band-width as a policy community such that we can enable voices beyond the usual, and at the same time demonstrate broader policy discernment beyond our organizational mandates and diplomatic portfolios.  The participation space that we increasingly seek to open in the world must be opened wider at the UN as well; on gender yes, but also with respect to other, too-often “marginal” stakeholders seeking their policy moment.

Briefing Note: The Rule of Law and Complementary Mandates

19 Oct

The peaceful settlement of disputes was the theme of this year’s plenary on the Rule of Law (RoL) in the Sixth Committee. As per Article 33 of Chapter 6 of the UN Charter, when there is a dispute likely to affect international peace and security, the parties involved shall try to resolve the dispute by pursuing “negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.”[i]

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliason highlighted that RoL is essential in the peaceful settlement of disputes and noted that Article 33 could help with the implementation of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP). Reference was made throughout the plenary to the 2012 High Level Declaration on Rule of Law, which reaffirmed previous commitments on RoL and its importance in advancing peace and security, human rights and development issues.[ii]

Member states are placing emphasis on RoL within the post-2015 development agenda as well as within the current Millennium Development Goals, and highlighted links between RoL and gender equality, focusing especially on women’s participation in peace processes.

Argentina promoted the right to truth and reparations as essential elements to combat impunity, Kenya questioned the relationship between the International Criminal Court (ICC) and supporting states’ parties, the Nordic countries noted the significance of RoL in preventing mass atrocity crimes, and Liechtenstein called the recent political bias against the ICC unfair given the limitations imposed on the Court by the contemporary international legal order.

Attention was given to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which is significant in resolving disputes among states, but only if states accept its jurisdiction. Switzerland, with the Netherlands, Uruguay, and the UK is working on a draft document to facilitate some of these jurisdiction issues. Liechtenstein reassured delegations that the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction is not meant to be a violation of sovereignty, but a step toward sovereign equality.

Moreover, the African Group called for equality in the application of international law to avoid double standards and called for reform of the Security Council (SC) and other international instruments. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) voiced its concern about SC mandates that encroach on prerogatives of the GA, as well as the SC’s willingness to take on issues already within the purview of the GA. The NAM called for more collaboration among relevant UN organs to ensure that the entire Organization is responding to emerging challenges.

In conclusion, references between RoL and issues such as gender and development are more than welcomed especially since women’s active participation in peace processes is promoted by the SC in Resolution 1325 and women’s political participation is to be discussed during the 68th session of the Third Committee.

Moreover, Article 33 is particularly relevant to the third pillar of RtoP, which places emphasis on Ch.6 of the UN Charter, before resorting to collective coercive action under Ch.7. While support for Ch.6 is welcomed and promoted by GAPW and others, one cannot help but wonder how these measures can be strengthened to ensure disputes are resolved effectively and in time-sensitive manner? Shouldn’t it be a matter of ensuring that the existing tools are effective and efficient to minimize the civilian casualties targeted as violence unfolds?

Furthermore, the separation of the SC and GA mandates is a complex issue that affects RoL, disarmament and women peace and security debates, housed in the Sixth, First and Third Committees and can also be found on the SC agenda. It is disputable where these issues are better served. Arguably, it can be significant for the SC to throw its weight behind these thematics because it reinforces their importance for international peace and security. In contrast, it is generally known that the SC’s work on thematics is not always consistent and they might be better taken up under country-specific considerations in the SC’s agenda. It has always been GAPW’s mandate to highlight complementarity between different processes and thematics because issues do not exist in a vacuum. But when it comes to process and scope of mandates, a question rises to what extent is complementarity useful to the issues and to what extent it raises the political stakes for implementation?

Finally, calls were made for follow-up meetings to the High Level meeting on RoL. We will stay involved to see how this develops, if and how these calls for separation of mandates will be reconciled and the extent to which they should be separate.

– Melina Lito, Legal Adviser on UN Affairs


The UN’s Annual Presidential Party

1 Oct

Sitting across the street from the North Lawn Building at UN Headquarters on a Sunday morning, the neighborhood looks a bit like what I imagine to be a night club at 5AM.   While there are still speeches to be heard and events on migration and other matters to be attended, the limousines have mostly left the streets.  The barricades have largely been dismantled.  The tent through which passed many heads of state and foreign ministers is being carted off.   Tourists are milling around as though anticipating access to spaces that had been shut off from them.

All in all, despite some exhausted security guards and some frayed tempers (including my own) it was a pretty good week.   Iranian president Rouhani’s speech at the High Level event on nuclear disarmament energized discussions with the US that may result in a more cautious and transparent approach to any nuclear ambitions that Iran might have been harboring.  On Syria, Security Council resolution 2118 offers hope for the timely elimination of one of the world’s largest stockpiles of chemical weapons. It also gives the now splintering opposition some reasonable expectation of a resolution to the conflict that does more than preserve a deadly and destabilizing status quo.

Also, there was abundant energy around the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and, more specifically, a new round of post-2015 goals that are currently being developed.   These events gave opportunity for many segments of the UN leadership and other stakeholders to affirm their commitment to both fulfilling existing development obligations and broadening those obligations after 2015 to benefit more of the world’s population.

Invitations to the many events taking place this week were generously bestowed and our office was fortunate to be able to take advantage of many of those.   The following comments are mostly my own, though they do reflect colleagues’ assessment of some of the other events that we were privileged to attend.

Aside from the infectious enthusiasm in evidence around post-2015 development goals, the human rights-oriented events were perhaps the most satisfying in part because of the willingness of high level speakers to move the discussion beyond narrow disciplinary confines and towards a more complementary human security framework.   Of special note was UN special representative Mary Robinson’s efforts to highlight climate change as a major concern for the human rights community, and USG Adama Dieng’s efforts (with the governments of Belgium and Ghana) to highlight the integrity of elections – beyond ‘free and fair’ – as an important step to keep states from lapsing into conditions ripe for mass atrocity violence.  There were also important discussions held on issues germane to gender justice including an acknowledgment of the broad range of agencies and governments now taking up a gender lens on human security.

By comparison, disarmament remains a bit of a ‘dismal science,’ and there were several events that captured high level attention but might not result in high level attainment.   The High Level event on nuclear disarmament, ably organized by Roman Hunger and the office of the president of the General Assembly, resulted in many sincere speeches by heads of delegations, but covered little new ground.   One of the problems with nuclear disarmament discourse is the degree to which it still remains locked in conceptual silos that keep the issue isolated from a host of development, human rights, small arms and gender considerations to which it is linked and from which it should be drawing (and to which it should be contributing) more support.   We do, indeed, want a world ‘free of nuclear weapons.’   We also want a world free of poverty, discrimination, environmental degradation, gender-based violence, species extinction and much more.   The small numbers of NGOs who gathered in the Trusteeship Council to listen to the nuclear weapons speeches gave evidence that most advocates with access to the Conference Building were content to invest their energy elsewhere.

On small arms and arms trade, the news was a bit better.   The ATT high level event was also conducted in a considerably less than full room with ample celebratory language (especially given that the US earlier in the day signed the treaty) but fewer reminders of the long slog that lies ahead, not only before the treaty enters into force, but in making this particular treaty relevant to efforts to end diverted transfers and, in a larger context, eliminate violence from illicit weapons.   We were also surprised that there were so few references to the UN Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation (UNSCAR), a most welcome program underwritten by Australia and Germany to help build capacity support for ATT implementation.

Additionally, in the Security Council, Australia’s leadership was essential to passing resolution 2177, the first time in five years that the Council has taken up the issue of illicit small arms.   Generally speaking, we are skeptical of Council efforts to remain seized of yet another issue as we don’t believe that the degree of the Council’s legislative effectiveness on such issues (not to mention its willingness to ‘play’ collaboratively with other relevant UN stakeholders) has been sufficiently established.  Moreover, the resolution seems to place considerable burden on already overstretched peacekeeping operations to enforce arms embargoes, a move that we can’t imagine was taken based on wild enthusiasm emanating from DPKO.  We hope that the Council will also remain seized of these serious limitations as the resolution moves forward towards implementation.

But the biggest ‘take away’ for me in all these meetings was less about policy and more about psychology. This is the time of year when most of us here at headquarters are reminded of how little we matter in the grand scheme of things.   Governments from capitals run this show, none nearly at the level of the US, but all of them more than the diplomats who populate the missions and certainly more than the NGOs who gather around the gates clamoring for admission to events over which we have virtually no say.  This ought to be a humbling business each and every day, but it is especially hard to escape this feeling during this ‘presidential party’ season at the UN.

Of course, being humble doesn’t mean being silent about what we wish to see beyond what we have seen. Back when I used to attend parties, I took some advantage of the context to let sides of my personality, even my ideas, escape the confines of my emotional habits and need for control.    While the events we attended at the UN last week are probably too ‘public’ for leaders to speak with full frankness and take policy risks that might not play well back home, it would be helpful if at least we could hear more about where government leaders think we’re headed as a global community as well as the priorities of states going forward. Perhaps most importantly, we would all do well to hear more about the concrete and specific contributions that states — all states —  are willing to make to help the ‘world we want’ become the ‘world we have.’

 Dr. Robert Zuber