Tag Archives: GeneralAssembly

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

8 Nov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A System Wide Awake: Promoting an Ethical Culture for UN Policy and Development Practice, Dr. Robert Zuber

11 Oct

Those who follow diplomacy in New York might have expected a bit of a lull inside the UN after two stressful weeks of presidents and other dignitaries.   But everyone involved with the UN from diplomats to cafeteria worker, had a very short turn around.  The General Assembly committees began their work and immediately became embroiled in issues from narcotics interdiction and space weapons to the status of Western Sahara.   In addition, some most helpful side events – on the dangers of current global finance and hopes for more sustainable cities and better criminal justice — helped to fill in gaps in what needs to become a comprehensive grasp of our post-adoption responsibilities to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

One of the most intriguing events for us was one on October 5 entitled the “Ethics for Development.”  In this event, chaired by the Kazakhstan Ambassador Abdrakhmanov and co-sponsored by Panama, Argentina and Palau, the UN took a closer look at how it does its development business beyond how it sets goals and targets and locates the broad data and stable funding to make implementation possible.  In the opening panel, Argentina’s Minister Tomada urged more attention to what he called the ethics of “decent work” noting wisely the multiple, SDG-related, beneficial consequences that accrue from increased employment opportunities: ending poverty, increasing social cohesion, strengthening democracy. Chef de Cabinet Susana Malcorra, specifically citing the recent UN visit of Pope Francis, noted “ethical shortfalls” leading to an unhealthy planet and persistent economic inequalities.  Several speakers noted that, given our heavy reliance on science and technology to solve development challenges, some consideration of the ethics of those domains – including unintended consequences — was clearly in order.

And the Kazakhstan Ambassador himself provided some helpful and ethical commentary, lamenting the cultures that choose to “throw away” or cast aside persons. Given the persistence of our tendency to “discard” much of what we should treasure, the Ambassador noted that we would do well to have a “watchdog” for all who seek to implement the SDGs, to do what we can to ensure that we do not repeat grievous errors of diminishing the needs and expectations of communities and their residents, in part by carelessly or intentionally promoting development for the few to the neglect of the many.

Despite the fact that the UN is primarily a norm driven institution – setting frameworks for action more than taking action itself – “ethics” is a category that gets little air time at UN headquarters, in part perhaps because of a misunderstanding of what “doing ethics” entails.   Ethics is less about the “values” we publicly espouse and promote, and more about our thoughtful engagement with our responsibilities, as well as with the structures and practical behaviors that support or contradict responsible conduct.

More than anything else, ethics is about mindfulness, in part about the mindfulness of our limitations — of the potentially negative consequences of our own best ideas; of the ways we “misplay” our power and influence; of our capacity to deliver on our sometimes excessive promises to others.   But ethics is also about ensuring that our words, deeds, structures and finances are, to the best we are able, “speaking” with a singular voice.  It is about resisting the urge to “offload” responsibility on to others that rightly resides within us. And it is about the sometimes arduous task of incarnating goals and objectives in a way that accommodates cultural contexts and expectations, building on them more than imposing on them.

Ethics is about having the courage to “mind the gaps” that exist in our norms and practices, to be willing to ask the next question rather than getting bogged down in the last one, to anticipate changes and challenges rather than waiting for them to frustrate or even overwhelm us, to confess both our privileges and our sometimes excessive needs for reassurance and “credit.”  We do all of this as ethical beings not to “beat ourselves up” but as an invitation to the many people outside our loops of influence who actually have much to contribute to the policy work left undone, the healing that remains.

Ethics for us at the UN means living and working as though our objective truly is what we are actually privileged to pursue every day – building human potential, eliminating economic and social inequalities, caring for the planet as though our grandchildren depended on it.

Ethics in our policy contexts also means explaining ourselves so that others can discern our intentions (not necessarily agree with them).  It means using language as the basis for connection, not salesmanship.  And it implies the willingness to “de-center,” to give more than token attention to the aspirations and values of others, especially persons in so many parts of the world where aspirations have been trampled over and over by flawed governance, excessive weapons, multiple discriminations, and soul numbing poverty.

Around the UN as in other policy environments, we can discern many instances of structures and practices that contradict our responsibilities.   We have instances of unresolved allegations of rape by peacekeepers; Security Council members that violate the laws they expect other states to uphold;  states bullying other states to get their way on policy; NGOs claiming to represent what they mostly try to control.  Even the recent indictment of a former President of the General Assembly this past week gave clear evidence of another ethical contradiction: the power of money to corrupt our best intentions and literally overwhelm our worst.  We don’t often speak with a clear voice on these and related matters.  We are not sufficiently forthright about what lies behind the curtain, which we know full well is often more important than what lies in front of it.

What the events above (and others that could have been added) have in common is that they threaten the reputation of the UN as an institution, something which the UN cannot afford if it is to secure global public confidence for the long struggles ahead to heal the planet, eliminate nuclear arsenals, fulfill development commitments, achieve gender balance and address the attractions and abuses of terrorism.   Every resolution or treaty drenched in political considerations; every failure to prevent mass violence in its earliest stages; every committee deliberation doomed to repetition or irrelevance; every voice stifled by another seeking funding and status more than equity – these are no mere annoyances to a cranky, ageing philosopher (who should probably start thinking about staying home and watching Wheel of Fortune), but represent genuine threats to the long-term viability of this system.   When our system’s credibility is challenged, so too are the policies emanating from it, no matter how hopeful the garb in which they appear.

Compared to naming and promoting “moral values,” the practice of ethics is indeed a challenging craft, a special responsibility and high calling for those of us fortunate enough to labor at the center of global governance.  Thankfully, my long experience at the UN has convinced me that this is not a craft beyond our capacity. Indeed, the discussion on Ethics for Development, the diplomatic reaction to the Papal visit and other recent events demonstrate clearly that we still have more than enough to amend our course when needed, communicate forthrightly as required, deepen our policy resolve to address problems before they become crises, and see all that we need to see and not only what we are willing to see. In other words, we have all that it takes to be a more engaged focal point for ethical discernment at the center of both multi-lateral policy and global expectation.

The Inclusion of Inclusion:  The UN’s Dramatic 70th Convening Seeks Ways to Level Policy and Diplomacy, Dr. Robert Zuber

4 Oct

In the early afternoon of October 3, while police outside dismantled the last barricades and lookouts, the president of the 70th UN General Assembly, H.E. Mogens Lykketoft summarized a frenetic 9 days of activity at the UN before finally banging the session (and indeed this high-level diplomatic season) to a close.

In some significant ways, “frenetic” fails to capture the scene.  It started with an historic papal visit and the adoption of historic Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and ended with a myriad of high level discussions on South Sudan, Yemen, Libya, Syria and other trouble spots which often mirrored the same political divisions that characterize the UN in quieter times.

There were three themes that seemed to encapsulate this cacophony of activities and presentations, and that in many ways generated complementary commitments to more inclusive policy and practice:

The first of these was the eradication of poverty, a major consensus priority for the SDGs.  Indeed, PGA Lykketoft “read the room” correctly when he expressed the hope “that the international community can do more to alleviate human misery.”  Much of the focus of this “misery” was on the plight of refugees and internally displaced in and around Syria.  The PGA announced that his office would focus more on refugee issues as a corollary to existing commitments on poverty reduction.  And just prior to final adjournment, Iceland joined with Spain and many other governments speaking earlier in urging the full inclusion of women as necessary if we are going to end hunger and fulfill other sustainable development commitments to the poor and marginalized.

The second of these areas of ‘inclusion’ was in the realm of climate health.  A specific focus here was the widespread concern over the health of our oceans and the small island states threatened both by pollution and rising sea levels. Grave concerns was also raised over the prospects of refugees fleeing drought, flooding and other environmental uncertainties that threaten local crop yields and access to fresh water.  While some stakeholders have expressed skepticism that the December climate meetings in Paris will result in anything other than a delay in facing up to our new climate destiny, none would dare say so publicly.  Indeed, the urgency of climate disaster seems to slowly, steadily, be taking over diplomatic consciousness in ways hitherto unseen, and this higher “leveling” of government concern is most hopeful. We will soon see if we still have sufficient time to change our personal lifestyles, corporate priorities and diplomatic energies as the basis for altering our current, dangerous climate trajectory.

The third of these areas was institutional inclusiveness, not only within and between states, but inside the United Nations itself.   Some of this, of course, made reference to the SDGs, specifically regarding their funding and data requirements.  But other concerns could be lumped under the banner of UN reform, specifically the process by which the next Secretary General is to be elected as well as a voluntary “Code of Conduct” by virtue of which the Security Council can allegedly reach consensus in a timely manner and “act decisively” on threats with a singular voice.

Though the unresolved horrors in Syria provide the backdrop for much of the “reform” discussion, the impetus for reform stems from a more positive place, what the PGA himself noted is the need for a Council that better “reflects new political realities.”  Specifically, these realities relate to levels of regional representation reflecting the growing economic and diplomatic dominance of large states such as India and Brazil.  Of course, there are other “realities” as well, such as the need for closer coherence on policy and practice between the Security Council and other UN entities, a point made often last week at a High Level General Assembly forum on peace and security. It could also indicate the need for “voluntary veto restraint,” though a Council that fails to fully vest the authority of its non-permanent members, remains highly political in its public and private workings, and fails to address potential conflict before it becomes raging conflict – this and more should keep us mindful of the genuine risks associated with turning grave Council decisions into state-driven popularity contests.

All of these inclusion themes were summarized by the PGA Lykketoft on a dreary, unseasonably cold Saturday afternoon.   Too few diplomats remained in their assigned seats to hear the summary though, we presume, more are on board with the potentially species-saving commitments made during this past week.

But an extra bit of caution might be wise here. Most all of us in this ‘business’ have been to conferences and meetings where the rhetoric is inspired, commitments flow like table wine, promises of regular communication with new friends and connections are made, ideas and plans are “hatched” that seem almost too good to be true.

And then we return home to our responsibilities and our stresses, the ones that preoccupied us before we left.  We are speaking with different people at home, children and partners who need our attention, colleagues waiting for manuscripts or resolutions of logistical challenges, friends to whom we have already made promises that might not neatly accommodate the ones we made on our journey.

This phenomenon is not new, but it merits reflection as we think about the responsibilities of states going forward.  Despite high levels of authority and capacity available to most presidents and their ministers, they also have to navigate numerous domestic burdens, including political responsibilities, which can sap energy and distract focus.  Given this, I cannot escape the sense that if the goals of this past week are to achieve their proper incarnation, it is the diplomats here in New York who will most likely keep objectives in focus. These diplomats, who needed secondary passes last week to get into the sorts of meetings that they preside over during the remainder of the year, understand first- hand the opportunities going forward but also the obstacles to inclusion:  the waning attention on climate health, the rhetoric on poverty reduction not mirrored in proper funding and data commitments, the reformist energy that gets hijacked by national interests, at times in tandem with the interests of NGOs.

The general energy around inclusiveness, the acknowledgement of how uneven our economic, social and institutional “playing fields” have remained, the realization that business-as-usual must end even if we haven’t yet worked out all the implications of our “new normal” — all of this is hopeful.   The question, as it so often is for the UN, is one that interrogates the expectations we raise and the commitments we make.   We have dramatically “raised our own bar” in these critical instances of inclusion.   We will now see how well those of us left behind in New York — diplomats and others — can ensure that this bar can be cleared.

The Fabulous Five:  Non-Permanent Council Members Leave a Permanent Mark

15 Dec

As 2014 draws to a close, the Security Council bids farewell to five states which, as a group, significantly elevated the role of non-permanent members at a time when the Council has seemed by many to be simply overwhelmed by a torrent of global crises.

Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, the Republic of Korea and Rwanda all performed with various levels of distinction, taking on important and complex committee assignments but more importantly calling the Council as a whole to higher standards of performance.  Only occasionally over the past two years did any of these members seem to forget where they came from – the General Assembly – or where they are soon destined to return.  The Council can be a ‘heady’ place, especially for smaller states infrequently selected to take a seat around the oval.   But the Council also has problems of focus, follow-through and other working methods-related issues that impact the rest of the UN system, producing tensions with member states that this group helped take steps to resolve.

One failing of the current, uneasy consensus on working methods, as we have noted previously, is that the so-called ‘public’ events seem a bit too scripted, attempts to ‘brand’ policy rather than allow glimpses into the rationales for and limitations of Council efficacy. In our own global travels, it quickly becomes clear that what people would prefer to ‘see’ from Council members is a measured and thoughtful assessment of the many global crises on their agenda, the implications of these crises for international peace and security, and any changes Council members are willing to contemplate in order to more effectively fulfill the ‘primary’ Charter responsibility to which some of the members constantly call attention.

Having sat through hundreds of hours of these Council events over the past two years, there are things we wish we could have seen more often from these five skillful members.   We would have liked to see the ROK take more risks in their policy statements. We would have liked to see more independence by Australia from the influence of some permanent members.  We would have liked to see Luxembourg and Argentina get up to speed more quickly (no small task) so that other Council members could have taken greater advantage of their often-wise counsel.   We would have liked to see stronger guidance from Rwanda in support of still-fledgling AU efforts to maintain peace and security, especially given that Rwanda understands better than almost anyone the degree to which many Council responses to African conflict are late to evolve, capacity challenged, and lacking in cultural nuance.

Of the non-permanent members that are now vacating the Council, our ‘hat’ tips especially towards Argentina.  While the other ‘fabulous five’ states were certainly thoughtful in their policy statements – Luxembourg and Australia especially come to mind from this group – it was Argentina that attempted to take seriously the role of Council sage.  It was Argentina whose statements most often raised the question of why the Council bothers to convene to then share views that have no collective policy impact.  It was Argentina that insisted most strongly that the Council honor its obligations to peacekeepers, to the ICC, to other parts of the UN system that have (legitimate if unfulfilled) expectations of Council performance.  It was also Argentina that, more than the others, seemed to understand the mood of the audience behind the web cast, an audience uneasy about the state of the world and increasingly concerned that the Council might not have what it takes to bring wide-ranging chaos and abuse under effective international control.

As we have already alluded to in past statements, what policymakers and the global public need to glimpse from the Council is a body whose statements meaningfully reflect the full- spectrum burdens that it faces, the policy compromises that its working methods sometimes impose, the inability (or unwillingness) to seize on potential crises at their earliest moments, the commitment to play by the rules that it expects other states to play by, even the willingness to acknowledgement of policy blunders (Libya comes immediately to mind) that have wrecked many lives in states seemingly ‘permitted’; to fail.

In our view, this general vetting is the primary (albeit difficult) job of non-permanent members: using this temporary platform to revitalize Council methods, build stronger and more trust-worthy bonds with the rest of the UN system, and give voice to otherwise muted policy concerns.  Given the vast power disparities within the Council itself and the often unruly political machinations that sometimes proceed from this imbalance, we can only honor the contributions of this fabulous five.  They have set a high and inviting bar for their successors.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Measuring Stick: Keeping Track of Disarmament Progress

12 Oct

At the opening of the General Assembly First Committee last Tuesday morning, and reinforced at a side event later in the day hosted by New Zealand and with the participation of Mexico, Indonesia and the First Committee Chair, High Commissioner for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane made several upbeat, and even hopeful statements regarding the possibility of progress in both the machinery and objectives of disarmament affairs.

Two statements struck us as particularly pertinent, the first of which is her quite correct contention that there is an important relationship between progress on disarmament and the successful pursuit of other core UN goals.  This of course requires more dialogue between and amongst the goal setters. During this month, other General Assembly committees as well as the Security Council, UNODC and other agencies are addressing policy on terrorism and foreign fighters, stable and peaceful societies, strengthening the rule of law, rapid response peacekeeping, the trafficking in arms and drugs, and other issues that have important perspectives to contribute to First Committee deliberations.  As we have noted over and over in this blog, relegating disarmament discussions to one GA committee creates temptation to needless reiteration and even robs discussions of some of their urgency.  Aside perhaps from discussions on humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons, the compelling responsibilities to reduce weapons transfers, eliminate needless weapons spending and stop illicit weapons flows are often more keenly felt in these other security-related discussions.

The other intriguing statement by Ms. Kane focused on progress in developing “metrics” to guide and measure progress on the implementation of various disarmament resolutions and treaties. We need, she noted, significantly more in the way of results-based implementation.

Indeed we do. Her emphasis on metrics adds significant value.  We have long argued that, especially in the context of the Programme of Action (PoA) on Small Arms and Light Weapons, more disclosure of successful initiatives and less normative posturing would contribute much to confidence building in conventional weapons – confidence in the quality of interventions generated by the PoA and confidence in the ability of the entire UN system – including its often beleaguered disarmament machinery — to leverage meaningful progress on weapons spending and weapons systems.

But there are issues here as well that require some attention moving forward.  First, we need to maintain clear distinctions between outcomes and impact.   For many years, I ran a food pantry in an East Harlem neighborhood, the objective of which was not to pass out groceries – which we did in large amounts — but to use food security as a lever to enhance the health and participation of the community. That we did not always succeed at this was a failure of skill and stamina, probably mine specifically.   But we never confused full grocery bags with any outcome that was related to the achievement of full and meaningful lives.

Donors in many sectors are increasingly driven by ‘numbers’ which sometimes indicate and sometimes belie impact.  In its recent statement announcing cuts in its contributions to the UN budget, Norway underscored that its preferred development strategy must become driven by metrics that are more about impact than piling up statistics.  While we hope that Norway reconsiders levels of its general contribution to the UN, its point is well taken. The point of diplomatic and capacity support is not activity to generate numbers but meaningful, sustainable progress towards a more peaceful, stable existence for more of the world’s people.

Second, there are dimensions of metrics in this instance that go beyond ticking the boxes of disarmament progress, one of which has to do with a full accounting of stakeholders and responsible parties.   It is important not to horde credit for disarmament progress any more than we should horde information regarding ‘best practices’ on reducing or eliminating the impacts of specific weapons.  With all of the crises we face related to weapons, we must steadfastly resist any temptation to marginalize state and non-state actors willing to help address these challenges.

A potential example of misplaced metrics in this sense is a large and quite attractive display that can now be seen near the Vienna Café in the newly renovated General Assembly building.   The display marks the successful entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty and is essentially a series of multi-lingual aspirations by government officials and select members of the NGO Control Arms about how the ATT is poised to become a ‘game changer’ when it comes to saving lives at risk from illicit transfers.

Putting aside the excessive claims of treaty impact that so often accompany the ATT sales force, the otherwise welcome display misrepresents – miscounts if you will – the footprint of a single NGO coalition and a handful of “supportive’ states in bringing the ATT into force.   As someone who watched and weighed in for many years as the ATT process took shape, who contributed daily to an ATT Monitor whose impact on the negotiations was considerable at least for some states, and who was in regular contact with NGOs in Geneva and in diverse global regions trying to knock down the ‘gates’ of policy access, I have some sense of how much more this display left out than it included.

In addition, I distinctly recall discussion and negotiating rooms over many years filled with diplomats from states far beyond the handful of (mostly benevolent, enthusiastic, well-meaning) co-sponsors.  Simply put, this treaty could not exist without these states as well and their many hours of deliberative investment. Indeed, from our reading it was the states who raised (what we felt were) often valid concerns, rejecting the easiest and most immediate consensus, that helped make this a better treaty in some significant aspects that it would have been otherwise. As we move beyond entry into force, some of these states (and civil society groups) still need convincing on one or more key points, and these concerns should remain tethered to the Treaty implementation process.

Let me be clear.  GAPW would never agree to be the focal point of any display on any of the issues with which it is concerned.  However, we do recognize that, states have the right to fund NGOs and even to brand them in UN spaces if they so choose.   But in the case of disarmament or any other field of UN activity, such branding comes with a reminder that metrics is more than counting the equivalent of grocery bags – it is also about assisting as best we can in all its aspects related to the building self-sufficient and resilient lives.  And it is about acknowledging to the best of our ability diverse and even essential contributions to complex processes beyond the most obvious and best funded suspects.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Test Pattern: The UN Gets a Helpful Reminder on Nuclear Testing

5 Sep

Once again this year, the government of Kazakhstan has capably organized events (www.un.org/en/events/againstnucleartestsday/2013/events.shtml) to highlight the international obligation to abolish nuclear testing as a precondition for abolishing nuclear weapons once and for all.

The highlight for many was an evening reception on the first floor of the renovated UN conference building hosted by Ambassador Byrganym Aitimova and featuring the art work of Mr. Karipbek Kuyukov, a young man who was born without arms and who shared his artwork with diplomats and other UN stakeholders.  The art, it should be noted, was painted with his feet and was in its own way a remarkable testament to the damage that nuclear tests can do to local populations long past the point at which the ‘test results’ have been tabulated by nuclear weapons states.

It should be noted that, despite the lack of universal ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, nuclear testing is being functionally rendered inert.  Tests are few and far between and subject to almost universal condemnation by states.  At the same time, nuclear weapons states continue to modernize their arsenals, a veritable slap in the fact to those who states that have been pursuing a nuclear free world in a variety of settings – through nuclear free zones, in largely deadlocked fora such as the Conference on Disarmament, through ‘like-minded’ processes such as such as was convened last spring in Oslo, through the Open Ended Working Group in Geneva, or through the high level meeting on nuclear disarmament being organized by the GA president’s office during its opening session in late September.

In addition to diverse policy venues, there are also diverse security responsibilities.   As we have noted with respect to nuclear free zones, there is an important difference between honoring a treaty and supporting the security arrangements of a zone.   Lowering violence thresholds and enhancing human security involves multiple complementary activities that can reduce incentives for (and excuses by) the nuclear weapons states to preserve their nuclear monopoly.

There are many pathways to disarmament and all of them have rough patches, some rougher than others. Despite the fact that nuclear testing sits on few of the top priority lists of member state security concerns, it is critically important that there be no backsliding on testing.  As challenging as progress towards disarmament can be, we cannot afford to burden that agenda further, not to mention place new generations at risk of dangerous fallout from the reckless pursuit of such tests.

The ‘path to zero’ articulated during the panel presentations on September 5 has been winding and full of potholes, but still points us towards a nuclear free world.   There are detours required at times, but no dead end.  While it is not always clear how individual events at the UN contribute to preferred outcomes, it is important that we ritualize even more of these powerful reminders of our nuclear weapons responsibilities.  Just as birthdays, religious and national holidays, anniversaries and more are the signposts through which we reaffirm the deep value to our families, friends and other loved ones, such events as those organized by Kazakhstan can help keep us from turning our attention away from our disarmament obligations before our work is done.

Dr. Robert Zuber


Highlighting a Human Security Approach

9 May

Co-sponsored by the Human Security Network (Austria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Greece, Ireland, Jordan, Mali, Norway, Slovenia, Switzerland and Thailand, with South Africa participating as an observer) and the Human Security Unit (HSU) of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), a high-level event was held yesterday at UN headquarters both underscoring the importance of a human security approach to multi-faceted challenges and celebrating the recent adoption of General Assembly resolution 66/290. This resolution adopted last September marks the first time the General Assembly (GA) was able to agree on a common understanding of the concept. The high-level event featured remarks from the Secretary-General as well as his Special Adviser on Human Security, Mr. Yukio Takasu, who was appointed in 2011.

Global Action is deeply invested in supporting a cross-cutting, broad-based approach to a robust human security agenda. As noted by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his remarks to the event, it is imperative to identify comprehensive solutions to an inter-linked program of human security as it is impossible to end poverty without empowering women and girls, to ensure respect for human rights without addressing climate change, or to tackle security sector reform without guaranteeing equitable prosperity in communities. Global Action fully embraces this comprehensive approach and welcomes the inclusion of human security as a central factor, particularly with a view towards developing a robust post-2015 development agenda, which can help address a plethora of interlinked security challenges. The GA resolution provides a solid, basic framework for moving the concept forward and mainstreaming its characteristics across the range of UN activities to better address shifting peace and security concerns.

The human security concept provides a useful entry point for dealing with prevailing security issues. First introduced in 1994 through the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in the “UN Development Report: New Dimensions of Human Security,” the term has evolved over the last decade. The 1994 UNDP report highlighted four characteristics of human security—universal, people-centered, interdependent, and early prevention – as well as seven interconnected elements, namely economic, health, environmental, personal, community, and political. Subsequently, in 2001, an independent Commission on Human Security was established to elaborate on the understanding of the term and to develop it further as an operational concept. In 2004, the HSU was established under the auspices of UNOCHA to mainstream the human security concept in UN activities, which also manages the UN Trust for Human Security (UNTFHS) that finances activities carried by the UN and/or UN-mandated organizations to translate the human security approach into practical actions.

The importance of the consensus adoption of UNGA resolution 66/290, “Follow-up to paragraph 143 on human security of the 2005 World Summit Outcome,” rests in its inclusion of a common understanding of the notion of human security. The resolution also welcomes the “Secretary-General’s Report on Human Security” (A/66/273) from 2012 upon which a GA plenary meeting was held in June 2012 and around which consultations were held. The resolution outlines the following characteristics of human security—(a) freedom to live in dignity and free from poverty and despair; (b) a people-centered, contextual, comprehensive, and prevention-focused approach; (c) recognition of the inter-linkages between peace, development, and human rights; (d) clear distancing from the responsibility to protect norm and its implementation; (e) non-inclusion  of the use or threat of use of force and ; (f) national ownership and governmental responsibility. The resolution also calls on the Secretary-General to submit a report to the sixty-eighth session of the GA on the implementation of the resolution seeking first the views of member states.

A strong commitment to mainstreaming human security and a common understanding of the concept, while allowing some flexibility in its implementation, are welcome developments that will serve the international community well in addressing diverse, root causes of insecurity. The translation of a somewhat abstract concept, human security, into concrete action is also an important exercise that is often not seen in many others aspects of UN work. The UNTFHS has carried out over 200 activities in 80 countries increasingly applying this concept in field operations across all global regions under the primary ownership of local individuals. This conversion of the abstract into the concrete is a challenge for many working simultaneously on security and development issues.

Ultimately, a robust human security agenda cannot be pursued in silos, but rather must take into account cross-cutting contributors to insecurity. As the international community continues to embrace a more well-defined human security concept, the world will be better equipped to humanize the concept of security and help it evolve into one that is much more reflective of today’s transnational challenges.


–Katherine Prizeman