Tag Archives: genocide prevention

Life after 70:  The Security Council Labors to Articulate Accomplishments and Limitations, Dr. Robert Zuber

7 Sep

Last Monday, the Security Council under the leadership of Amb. Ogwu of Nigeria took time to assess a few of its accomplishments and functional liabilities as the opening of the 70th UN General Assembly approaches and Russia assumes the Council presidency.

While the Council has increasingly made time to such vetting in front of other members states, there was no such meeting in July under New Zealand’s presidency.  Thus this session served as a combination of two months’ worth of summer assessment with much justifiable praise tossed about towards both New Zealand’s and Nigeria’s leadership.

As with many of the Council’s formal sessions, this event also had its moments of political scripting.  With a few exceptions, permanent members spoke primarily of what they understood to be Council achievements (often related to their own national interest) with some subtle and occasionally not-so-subtle finger pointing at states (mostly aimed at Russia) that blunted progress on key Council matters such as creating an international tribunal to prosecute persons responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. For its part Russia reminded its Council colleagues that despite much discussion there was “no light at the end of the tunnel” regarding Libya and Yemen, while mostly ignoring the Syrian misery for which Russia has endured ample criticism from other Council members.

There were two notable statements specifically by permanent members regarding Security Council conduct.  The US reflected on the peacekeeping scandal that has plagued the UN for much of the summer and urged members to “examine their own levels of tolerance” when it comes to peacekeeper abuse.  The UK picked up on the theme of ending impunity, placing it in the context of maintaining the UN’s institutional credibility.  Amb. Rycroft also urged more opportunities for the Council “to air its limitations in public,” wise advice from a trust-building standpoint, especially if accompanied by visible, active resolve to actually fix those limitations.

That said, most of the interesting commentary from this meeting came from then-president Nigeria and the other non-permanent Council members.   Indeed, it is the non-permanent members that have been more likely to initiate what the UK encouraged, airing Council limitations in public and seeking ways forward to make the Council more fair, functional and even far-reaching in its engagement with global security crises.

Suggestions at this review session from non-permanent members came fast and furious and often mirrored suggestions that we and other observers have made. Jordan sought more Council engagement on Security Sector Reform and more tangible measures to aid Palestinians.  Spain urged commitments to more effective working relationships linking the Council and other UN organs, especially the General Assembly.  Chile recommended more urgent efforts to address sexual violence in all its forms, including by peacekeepers. Chad and Nigeria urged more attention to the quality of Council engagement with regional organizations, especially the African Union. Venezuela noted the devastating crumbling of public institutions and infrastructure resulting from what it called “reckless military interventions” authorized by the Council. Angola joined with other members in pleading for more Council “unity” to address major security crises on its agenda. New Zealand, as it did during its own presidency, urged more frequent discussions, including with all UN membership, on Council working methods.

In addition to these comments, there were other methods-related concerns. Chile urged “pen holders” on Council resolutions to make documents available sooner for consideration by the full Council membership.  This was in support of Malaysia’s contention that information on the important Council resolution (2235) establishing a Joint Investigative Mechanism for Syria was not able to be fully vetted by non-permanent members before the vote.   This incident seemed to give some credence to Venezuela’s claim of “anti-democratic” SC practices that marginalize the views of non-permanent members.

Beyond this, there were efforts by some Council members, especially Lithuania and Chile, to urge consideration of Council reform measures focused on “veto restraint” and a “code of conduct” for Council members as proposed by the states of ACT – Accountability, Coherence and Transparency.  These ACT recommendations compliment, but are on a somewhat separate track from reforms that seek to increase and/or reorganize Council membership largely along geographic lines.

We – our office and partners — have written previously about issues regarding the reform of the Council and its use of the veto.  Here we would like to share a couple of additional thoughts.

While we certainly understand the desire of Angola and others for more Council unity in decision making, it is important that such unity not be achieved at the expense of Council thoughtfulness. We have seen too much in the recent history of the UN of what we refer to as the cult of like-mindedness, seeking out “allies” and then branding proposed solutions rather than helping constituents to fully understand their value – and especially their limitations.  There is no magic bullet for the violence in Syria or for the health of our oceans.  There is no one-stop policy that will reverse climate change or bring Libya back from the brink.   There is no norm or treaty which, by itself, will eliminate mass atrocities or the migrations of millions of second-hand weapons. These are complex matters to address, we generally address them too late in the game, and trust is compromised when we claim more for any of our individual policy preferences than they can possibly bear.

On veto restraint, the assumption is that the use of vetoes prevents action that could lead to the successful resolution of disputes. Perhaps. But in a highly politically charged environment such as the UN Security Council, vetoes also prevent dubious responses from becoming normative, such as a preference for bombing or other coercive measures rather than recourse to diplomatic prevention or mediation. The need to “do something” must be tempered by a sober view of what is to be done, when it should be done and, especially, the consequences of “doing,” the genies that we so cleverly release without the slightest clue of how we will get them back in their bottles once our erstwhile “mission” has concluded.

We have written previously about the two criteria that should accompany any veto restraint if it is to become anything more than a “get out of jail” card for the P3 – a more horizontal power dynamic within the Council, and depoliticized findings that can mandate Council deliberations at much earlier stages. The fact that Council members supporting restraint are now complaining about their limited access to key documents is a sign that power balancing has a significant way left to travel. Moreover, until the Council demonstrates that it can heed genuinely depoliticized warnings of pending mass atrocity violence — at a stage when those warnings can reasonably be addressed without coercive impositions — calls for military intervention are likely to remain numerous, if almost always misguided.

Our position is that the most effective reform of the Security Council is best facilitated through the active, robust engagements of non-permanent Council members. For the past several years, and especially during these last two cycles of non-permanent membership, we have witnessed a welcome leveling of the Council playing field – members “crying foul,” demanding Council accountability and assuming their own full responsibility rather than accepting as inevitable the massive power imbalances that have traditionally reinforced the UN version of a security “caste system.”

Despite these welcome changes, more reform is needed and the various proposals floating about the UN to make the SC more democratic and accountable deserve a wider hearing. The Council can help the cause of legitimacy by “working and playing” more effectively with the General Assembly, ECOSOC and other UN agencies at a time when the security implications of human rights, sustainable development, climate change, etc. are becoming more widely acknowledged.  It can also help the cause by making a sincere and sober commitment to truly “maintain” peace and security rather than attempting mostly to restore peace once societies have already “surrendered” to violence.  As Nigeria rightly noted during the recent monthly assessment, “we pay too much attention to symptoms and not enough to causes.” We need to row harder upstream and arrive as quickly as we can on a more prevention-oriented shore.

Paying attention to causes is less about restraining the veto and more about restraining a Council culture that too-often copes with crises mostly at the stage that they can safely be addressed without fear of meaningful “intervention” from the rest of the UN membership. To counter this culture, to broaden member state involvement in the current, complex, multi-dimensional security challenges, leadership from the non-permanent members is critical.   Amplifying and fortifying those member’s voices, and especially their thoughtful engagement with global crises – those on the Council’s active agenda and those knocking at the window — should command the highest priority for both UN member states and Council reformers.

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Bringing Home the Groceries:  The UN Seeks Practical Ways to Honor Mass Atrocity’s Victims, Dr. Robert Zuber

11 Jul

Srebrenica

Waking up early on this Saturday morning in New York, twitter was overwhelmed with images such as this one from the BBC – a woman overcome with grief for relatives and neighbors likely killed without much of anyone knowing the specifics of who or how. Perhaps she is also uttering an urgent prayer that conditions that led to the last round of genocidal violence will not recur, such that a woman as herself will not have to sit amidst the dead and wonder about the stories never told, the impunities never ended.

It’s uncertain whether or not such a prayer will be answered.   From news reports, the Srebrenica anniversary has generated ugliness as well as grief, including the ugliness of Serbia’s restrictions on citizens seeking to call attention to the genocide and the still-unfilled promise of reconciliation that the end of the Balkans war once suggested.   Untreated wounds are always the ones that fester.

Of the many positive events at this UN this week on Ebola response and sustainable development commitments, the Security Council’s efforts to agree on a resolution honoring the victims of the Srebrenica massacre was especially discouraging.  As is widely known, the resolution was vetoed by Russia and abstained by four other states.   Russia’s rationale was tied to its belief that the resolution implied unilateral Serbian culpability for the massacre and diminished the suffering that Serbs also experienced during that protracted conflict.

US Ambassador Samantha Power also made one of the more powerful statements of the session, noting that Bosnians had expected to be protected by the UN flag, but were failed by all of us.  In that same vein, DSG Eliasson rightly reflected that atrocity crime prevention and response represents an indispensable,core mandate of the UN which we have “with humility and regret” largely failed to deliver.

Indeed, the Bosnians are not the only victims of contemporary mass violence, not the only ones failed by neighboring states and the international community alike.   Not by a large measure.   One of the twitter commentators from my morning search implored us to please spare her the “never again” mantra.  Indeed, we all need to be spared the endless hand-wringing emanating from policies that have largely failed victims and have not been sufficiently adjusted in order to ensure that hopeful outcomes are that much more likely.

At times, it seem as though we humans are hell-bent on destroying ourselves at the tips of so many guns before our damaged climate threatens our extinction and our environment can no longer support our rapacious lifestyles.  We have proven to be a clever species, the cleverest we know of to date, but wisdom remains painfully elusive.

I do wish that the Russians had not vetoed this resolution, especially after it appears that the UK had at least made an attempt to author a balanced resolution. But the Russians were not the only resolution skeptics, nor did any of that skepticism prevent members from standing together in solidarity in chambers with the victims.  And let us also be clear:  the woman in the graveyard above and countless more like her are unlikely to be healed, let alone placated, by ceremonies and moments of silence and resolutions emanating from the UN.  Anyone who thinks otherwise has never been close enough to genuine, gut-wrenching personal tragedy, the kind that eats away at your soul and drags you back to the dark places you haven’t the energy to escape.

A Lesbian friend (once badly abused and now successfully married) lives by the following wisdom: don’t tell me you love me, just bring home the groceries.  In this instance, the ‘groceries’ represent a system-wide commitment to prevent the violence that we clearly don’t have the tools to address after the fact, at least not without ourselves becoming complicit in patterns of abuse that both diminish our institutional stature and violate key provisions of the UN charter. As the Deputy Secretary-General noted in his Security Council remarks, we need accountability measures in UN system that can honor Srebrenica victims and prevent new crimes.  More likely, until we can demonstrate our consistent ability to prevent such crimes from occurring in the first instance, all our honoring is as straw in the wind.

Mass atrocity violence demonstrates clear potential to undermine other core UN activities designed to promote human rights and good governance, ensure sustainable development, even to reverse the climate crisis that threatens our very existence.   Thus, preventing such violence should be as important to all facets of the UN system as our rhetoric (and our moments of silence) suggest.

Simply put, we need to stop playing politics with prevention.   We need to end once and for all what DSG Eliasson referred to as the “polarizing divisions” in peacekeeping operations and other core UN functions.  We need to move beyond policy gimmicks to dependable preventive architecture. Once the graveyards are filled and the children have lost hope, we have all failed no matter how clever or seemingly robust our too-late-in-the-game protective measures turn out to be.

For governments, delegations and NGOs, this is our watershed moment.  There are so many threats now, all inter-related and many still gathering momentum.   If there ever was a moment to share less rhetoric and bring home more groceries, this is it.

Solidarity Across Religious Lines: World Interfaith Harmony Week at the United Nations

15 Feb

Editors note:   This essay by Lia Petridis Maiello first appeared in the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lia-petridis/solidarity-across-religio_b_4774894.html

There are few places other than the United Nations where the fruitful seeds for complex global paradigm shifts of ethical and political concern can be planted so effectively. As a result, cultures, traditions and with them, international policy, can be affected in the longer-term, and often fundamentally reformed for the advancement of societies.

The World Interfaith Harmony Week provided UN audiences with varying views on faith, religion and social responsibility. One of these opportunities was a well composed panel on “Engaging Religions to Prevent Atrocity Crimes,” co-organized by the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, The United Religions Initiative, The Partnership for Global Justice and the Department for Public Information (DPI) Outreach Program on the Rwanda Genocide.

The acknowledgement that religion in the past has indeed played a significant role in the promotion and execution of atrocity crimes, including genocide, thereby reinforcing the fact that any religion can be modified and abused by political leaders for the promotion of hatred, levels the playing field for those that are of the conviction that “true belief” is represented by only a few.

However, if religion can work this way, it can certainly work in a conciliatory manner as well. The UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, stated how most religions indeed teach the equality of all individuals and the unity within the diversity that considers differences within race, gender or nationality as a gain and fundamental to healthy, contemporary societies. He also described how religious leaders in the ongoing unrest in the Ukraine have physically positioned themselves between angry residents in order to prevent violent clashes.

Carol Rittner, Distinguished Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies, confirmed how historically some religious institutions and leaders became “part of the engine of genocide,” and how others used their influence to protect those minorities who faced grave danger of being persecuted or killed. “Unfortunately,” she noted, “religions have failed to teach and create solidarity across religious lines and between people, so that they can stand together against any form of degradation.” Rittner further explained the complex role that religion played in the Rwandan genocide.

Author Timothy Longman described in his book, Christianity and Genocide in Rwanda (2010) how some members of both the Catholic and Protestant churches helped to promote the genocide by giving moral legitimacy to the killing:

Churches had long impacted ethnic politics in Rwanda, first by favoring the Tutsi during the colonial period, then switching allegiance to the Hutu after 1959, inadvertently sending a message that ethnic discrimination and favoritism could actually be considered as consistent with church teaching.

Both author Longman and Professor Rittner refer in their remarks to the helpful role that certain Muslim leaders played during the Rwandan genocide as protectors of Tutsis, preaching a message of tolerance rather than hate. As a result, many Rwandans converted to Islam when the humanitarian catastrophe was over.

Understanding how religion can function as a tool for peace, rather than an ideology for marginalization and division, is a message that needs to be relearned in numerous places, worldwide, including in international institutions and many houses of worship.

Lia Petridis Maiello, Media Consultant

The ILC takes up Crimes against Humanity

1 Nov

The International Law Commission (ILC) briefed the Sixth Committee at its 68th session about the ILC’s work over the course of the past year. Among the advancements made, the ILC presented its work on crimes against humanity (“CAH”) which it has added to its long-term programme of work. Essentially, the discussion in the plenary revolved around ensuring that any draft convention on CAH address existing gaps in the international legal system and that it complements, not replaces, existing legal instruments.

The consideration of this issue was met by general support and some concerns by member states. The Nordic countries noted that while the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) regulates prosecution of international crimes, it does not address the duties of states parties to prevent these crimes from occurring in the first place, nor does it provide a framework to enhance inter-state cooperation. Furthermore, the group cautioned against revisiting the definition of CAH, and emphasized that states’ obligations to extradite and prosecute offenders should be highlighted. Finally, the Nordic countries called on the ILC to consider responsibilities for member states to prevent such crimes as well as to present innovative measures and mechanisms to enhance the prevention framework.  Moreover, Austria, in reiterating the state’s responsibility to prosecute, highlighted that many states have not adopted national legislation to criminalize CAH at the national level, as per the Rome Statute provisions.

In addition, the Netherlands noted that the tools to prosecute, including strengthening prosecutions at the national level, promoting judicial systems etc, need to be stronger and more robust, not necessarily the definition of the CAH. Moreover, South Africa, reflecting on the need to have an international treaty that would obligate states to criminalize CAH, the significance of the Rome Statute is that states parties must adopt national legislation criminalizing statute obligations. The issue in question is not so much what the law says, but rather on having the appropriate political will or national capacity to implement the appropriate legislation. It is uncertain that a draft convention would fill these gaps. Likewise, South Africa called for more attention to inter-state cooperation for national-level prosecutions and expressed reservations with moving this agenda forward in this format because the issues under consideration are not relevant to all member states, including to all ICC states parties.  Along those lines, many states (including Russia, China and India) questioned the value of having another document of this kind, wondered about its potential complementarity with other instruments, and questioned the ILC’s continued focus on this matter.[i]

These issues of definition, inter-state cooperation, and rationale for the draft convention are all elements contained in the proposal annexed to the ILC’s report written by Prof. Sean D. Murphy. Apparently, the reasoning for the draft convention is that it would create a set of treaty-bound obligations to prosecute and prevent CAH, similar to those established by the Geneva Conventions for war crimes and the Genocide Convention for genocide.[ii] The ILC’s task would be to create the draft articles that would eventually become the “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes against Humanity.”[iii]

Among the elements that must be decided in preparation for the draft convention include a consensus definition of CAH; national criminalization of acts of nationals, non-nationals, and acts within state territory; inter-state cooperation by parties to investigate and prosecute; and establish an aut dedere aut judicare obligation for states.[iv] In regards to the relationship with the ICC, the draft convention would complement the Rome Statute because it would fill the existing gap of encouraging the enactment of national laws that would prevent and protect against CAH.[v]

To echo the comment made by the United States, while the draft convention is welcomed, it nevertheless is tethered to challenging issues that must be discussed before moving forward. While conceptually the draft convention would fix the gaps of the ICC in promoting the tools for prevention and prosecution of CAH, it is not clear how it would bypass some of the jurisdictional challenges that the ICC faces. Arguably one of the biggest challenges in ending impunity and prosecuting perpetrators of abuse is obtaining jurisdiction. The ICC acquires jurisdiction if either the state party in question accepts its jurisdiction or the Security Council refers the situation to the court. But what happens in instances when neither occurs or when the state party is not cooperating with the ICC? If the objective of a draft convention would be to build on existing work, fill the gaps in the international legal system and strengthen operational tools, then can’t an argument be made that the jurisdictional issue needs to be resolved first, especially since such a convention would surely face challenges related to national sovereignty?

Finally, there is clearly legal and political merit to creating an international instrument that would emphasize and build on existing legal obligations for prosecuting and preventing CAH. But at the same time, the political will and capacity must be there to ensure that the instrument is ratified, implemented at national level, and duly enforced. At this time, it is not clear that the political will exists to push this process forward.

–          Melina Lito, Legal Adviser on UN Affairs


[i] GA/L/3467

[ii] A/68/10, Annex B, para. 1-3.

[iii] A/68/10, Annex B, para. 3.

[iv] A/68/10, Annex B, para. 8.

[v] A/68/10, Annex B, para. 9-13.