Tag Archives: humiliation

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

10 Feb

Desert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Humiliation Nations: Rehabbing our Common Humanity, Dr. Robert Zuber

26 Nov

Humiliation

Humiliation is poisonous. It’s one of the deepest pains of being human. Pierce Brosnan

There is no humiliation more abusive than hunger. Pranab Mukherjee

I have not seen deeper suffering than seeing humans humiliated.  Behrouz Boochani‏

It was the day after the US Thanksgiving and I (what else?) was reading over a brochure that was picked up for me during a visit several years ago to the Nazi transit camp at Westerbork in the Netherlands.    There one can still seek remnants of the railway that carried away many tens of thousands of Jews (and some others) directly to the ovens of Auschwitz, a number that included Anne Frank and, on its last “run” in 1944, 77 children unluckily caught by the Nazis while in hiding from their madness.

For me, a most interesting aspect in the brochure is what the authors referred to as Westerbork’s “system of false hope.”  Conditions in the camp were apparently “tolerable” enough, and the Nazis had instituted a system where select persons could be issued an “exemption” from deportation to the east.  Some actually got these exemptions, though most who got them eventually had them revoked, thus falsifying the “hope” that minimized the humiliation and despair of being in that place, that blunted the grave anxiety from watching trains pull out of the transit station filled with neighbors and comrades, until the veil of deception covering their own eyes was finally lifted.

Eventually the trains stopped running, the raids ceased to pull any more children out of hiding, the scars from years of anxiety and humiliation would grow no longer.  But what did we ultimately learn from this?  What has changed for us?  Why does it take us so long to see the doomsday transit and humiliating confinement – in historical and contemporary terms — for what they really are?

As we in the US prepared for feasts and football, there were a few events in the world that led us to believe that we might be slowly learning our lessons. For instance, many welcomed the conviction in The Hague of former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladić, a result that brought tears to the eyes of persons who had waited many years for this long-overdue justice.  Given the scale of the atrocities that had previously been presented in court, evidence of thousands upon thousands humiliated, even butchered on Mladić’s watch, one can only hope that this verdict – late and tepid though it might well seem — will somehow promote, rather than impede a still-fragile regional reconciliation.

This verdict will effectively shut down the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia which will now be folded into the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals.  But this will not end the UN community’s (often untimely) commitment to international justice, nor to the search for strategies to relieve those suffering soul-threatening humiliation and abuse at the hands of predatory forces inside and (mostly) outside government.

Two events in the pre-Thanksgiving period spanned a spectrum of this abiding UN justice concern.   On Tuesday, the UN Security Council under Italy’s presidency held a general debate on the issue of “trafficking in persons.”  The unintended backdrop for this meeting was the CNN footage of an open-air “slave market” operating in Libya and “feeding” off of the thousands of forced migrants gathering on Libya’ shores hoping only to be granted access to a life-threatening passage across the Mediterranean Sea.

As documented by the International Organization for Migration and other agencies, the volume of persons forced to flee conflict, drought, discrimination and other “push” factors continues to stagger the imagination.  To flee from your home dragging children behind you who can’t possibly understand what is happening to them or why their families can’t “fix things”; to face grave hunger and other uncertainties as strangers urge you across unfamiliar and at times unforgiving lands; and then at the end of the line facing a bevy of human predators ready and willing to exploit every migrant’s distinct vulnerability.  It is a story of multiple tragedies that seem to “pile on” those who are already at a breaking point.

A day earlier in a smaller UN conference room, delegations led by Singapore examined another issue critical to human wellness– water and sanitation.  In conjunction with “world toilet day,” Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed noted during this event that, “We all produce waste, but many do so without dignity and in a manner that ultimately jeopardizes their own health and well-being.”   She lauded the work of what she called “sanitation heroes” that clean latrines and other facilities thus ensuring higher levels of community health.   But she also noted the millions of people – especially women – for whom both health and physical safety are compromised daily due to a lack of private sanitation facilities.  She highlighted those persons needing only a “few cement blocks” in order to make still-open sanitation more secure, less risky, less humiliating. With urging from Singapore, Australia, Slovakia and other states, there was some hope by session’s end for more security and less humiliation relative to the most private and intimate of human functions.

It might seem like a long road from the haughty butchery of Mladić to the emotional safety of cement blocks. But the policies that lead to murder and misery, that hold families and communities hostage to sinister and predatory ideologies, do their damage in often very personal ways.   The “demonizing servitude” referred to in the Security Council by UN SG Guterres encompasses a wide range of what Sweden referred to as “grotesque” humiliations, from hunger and intimate exposure to the horror of having to sell off your children to servitude in order to protect other children; or even to watch those who systematically abused your family walk freely around the towns where those very abuses once occurred.

Tuesday’s Security Council debate did result in unanimous support for Resolution 2388 which, among other things, called for greater national efforts to break up trafficking networks and address the severe trauma often left in their wake; as well as additional training to help police and UN peacekeepers identify and disrupt traffickers and the many threats they pose. And one of the persons primarily responsible for coordinating UN efforts on trafficking in persons, USG Yuri Fedotov, did note during the debate a hopeful, “forward momentum” against crimes of slavery, especially those committed against children, responses which he tied closely to other efforts aimed at ending money laundering and corruption.

But the mood in Council chambers this day was generally more “appalled” and less “hopeful.”  As Ambassador Chergui from the African Union warned, where trafficking is concerned, “our common humanity is at stake” and “time is not on our side.” Such wide-ranging damage to human confidence and capacity diminishes both individual lives and the collective resolve we need to address what are in some instances “existential” threats and challenges.   While some are able to rise above pervasive abuse and hopelessness, it generally takes so much to restore even the most basic confidence in persons who have been beaten down and humiliated in ways that, to quote US Ambassador Haley, “most of us are blessed not to be able to imagine.”

This pattern cannot continue; neither the “unimaginable” abuse, nor the out-of-control predation, nor our own “system of false hope” that inadvertently substitutes policy resolution language for the urgent and quite practical tasks associated with the reclaimation of our common humanity.

The next time the US Thanksgiving rolls around, my hope is that (citing Colombia’s Ambassador) the practice of “selling people as merchandise” will have come to an end, that legal gaps currently exploited for trafficking purposes will have been closed, that the needless conflicts driving forced migrants into the clutches of predators will have ceased, and that the “poison” of humiliation will be seen for what it truly is – a threat to the common humanity on which our common future ultimately hinges.

That would indeed be a Thanksgiving to remember.