Tag Archives: justice

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.

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The Last Word:  The Security Council Mishandles its Audiences, Dr. Robert Zuber

11 Jun

There is never enough time to say our last word-the last word of our love, of our desire, faith, remorse, submission, revolt.   Joseph Conrad

It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you to the heart: the one to slander you and the other to get the news to you.  Mark Twain

That most dangerous of opponents is the one who took pains to comprehend the position of his adversary.  Piers Anthony

One of the many lessons of life that I (and many others) with privilege and access struggle to learn is that, for all of the impediments in the world – the competition for attention or resources and the wildly divergent lenses on reality that give rise to so many of our struggles – the greatest impediments often lie within ourselves.   “The enemy within,” the stuff of literature and legend, is an adversary about which we often seem to know the least. And in a world currently preoccupied with externalizing responsibility rather than accepting it, these knowledge gaps are only likely to grow.

As many of you know, we are regular (and largely grateful) participants in what the Council refers to as its “public” sessions.  As we have noted on other occasions, these meetings are for us a bit like sitting in front of a large picture window through which we can clearly behold a meal we are never invited to join. Indeed, aside from “re-tweets” from select delegations seeking to brand themselves and their ideas – a matter which diplomatic missions have now largely taken into their own hands – we have little interaction with Council members.  They almost never acknowledge our presence in the room, even when we are the only non-diplomatic persons in it.

So why do we sit there, hour after unacknowledged hour, listening as we do to statements that require great attention on our collective part just to find a kernel or two of value or interest that we can transmit to (and beyond) our twitter following? Why do we track conflicts and controversies that routinely appear on the Council’s agenda and that, with some notable exceptions (such as Liberia and Colombia) are often locked within political struggles that prevent successful conflict resolutions or even hopeful transitions?

Some of it, especially for our interns and fellows, is related to the desire to be present at those moments when history is being made – an agreement on Iran’s nuclear capability, a comprehensive plan to degrade ISIL, a first ceasefire in Aleppo, a response to weapons threats by the DPRK.

But more of it is grounded in our organization’s contribution of “attentiveness” based in part on our recognition that the Council’s sometimes arcane working methods and intractable political disagreements can weigh heavily on the rest of the UN’s agenda. When the Council indulges a meaner spirit; when its power imbalances denigrate the prerogatives of its elected members, when Council members allow a few special representatives and other briefers to be “beaten up” by offended states, the discouragement – in my office but also in many parts of the UN system — is more than palpable.   Why, my interns ask, does anyone think this body, behaving in a manner at times invited by its own working methods, is sufficient to solve crises that in some key ways already impact their future?

Some of this discouragement was on display Thursday afternoon during a report on Darfur by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda.   Her presentation to the Council – and the 25th report on Darfur on which it was based – was a direct challenge to uphold Council resolutions based in part on the “trust” for justice that victims have placed in this body. The report was also recognition that there has been some progress on social, economic and human rights conditions in Darfur.  There has recently been reported, as the prosecutor noted, fewer clashes between the government and insurgents, fewer rapes of women in the displacement camps, fewer denials of access for humanitarian assistance or impediments to the movements of UNAMID peacekeepers.

The prosecutor in so many words reminded the Council of its failure to act in cases of non-cooperation with the Court, such as when states acceding to the Rome Statute allow indicted war criminals such as Sudan’s al-Bashir to travel beyond his own national borders, contravening obligations under the statute to have him arrested and turned over to prosecutors in the Hague.  But in the same session, the prosecutor reminded the Sudanese that while their recent positive overtures are noted, “better” does not imply “sufficient.” Moreover, such positive signs do not in and of themselves constitute pathways to immunity for crimes already committed and for which formal indictments have long since been issued.

Council members are decidedly mixed regarding their reaction to the International Criminal Court with firm supporters such as Italy, Uruguay, France and current Council president Bolivia making appeals for cooperation and resources to skeptical states such as China, Ethiopia, Russia and Egypt.  Some of this skepticism is grounded in a concern, not completely without merit, that ill-timed indictments lacking broad (in this case African) regional support undermine a peace process that is beginning to show progress, a peace that is ultimately in the best interests of Darfur.

But in our hearing, some of this skepticism took on more of the character of permission to “take on” the prosecutor; and the Sudanese Ambassador willingly obliged.  He followed up his own assertion that Madame Bensouda was using “abusive language” directed at both the Council and Sudan by ratcheting up the abusive rhetoric himself – calling for the complete shutdown of this “kangaroo court,” implying that the ICC is incapable of doing its job without “inventing evidence or bribing witnesses,” congratulating the UN secretariat for allegedly “distancing itself” from ICC interpretations, even suggesting that the ICC had met its match and was now “tasting the consequences” from having taken Sudan too lightly.

It was a show of contempt that, sadly, is not without precedent in this Council.  Moreover, in this instance as with too many others, the Ambassador’s remarks went unchallenged.  No one attempted to restore the context of the meeting, let alone defend the reputation of the prosecutor.   The session was quickly brought to a close.   The last word belonged to the Sudanese.

Psychologists have done some good and interesting work on the phenomenon of “the last word,” much of it in the context of arguments across gender lines.   Without diving into this too deeply here, there is broad consensus that the need for the “last word,” is a function of an over-exercised or (ironically) damaged ego: needing to be “right” all the time, or needing reassurance, over and over, that a passionate point of view is “being heard.”  But there is more to it:  the manner in which we humans tend to interpret the silence that too often follows a bold, even reckless accusation.  In that silence there is an assumption of acceptance, an assumption that maybe this last point of view had more going for it than we might have otherwise imagined. And in many instances, it is this last viewpoint – abusive or not, factual or not – that becomes the” take-away” for the audience.

In this Thursday meeting, the Council continued a pattern of institutionalized practice that ensures maximum impact for the opinions and accusations of some of the states that, by their own conduct and even their own admission, have demonstrated more than a bit of contempt for Council resolutions and often for international law itself. Such states certainly deserve to have their say.  They should not, however, be entitled to have the last word.

Justice Matters:  The UN Explores Multiple Pathways to Human Dignity, Dr. Robert Zuber

17 Jul

Roman

On July 14, Judge Silvia Fernandez de Gurmendi, president of the International Criminal Court (ICC), spoke to a packed conference room at UN Headquarters.  The event was chaired by Italy’s Ambassador Cardi and was intended as part of the UN’s acknowledgment of the International Day of Criminal Justice which falls each year on July 17.

The president hit many important notes during her address, including reminding the audience that the ICC is a court of “last resort” for the “crimes against humanity” under its jurisdiction, including the use of child soldiers, sexual violence as a tactic of war, the wanton destruction of cultural property, and soon the crime of aggression.  It is up to member states, she rightly noted, to help the ICC establish a “consistent pattern of accountability” for international crimes, in part by taking greater national responsibility for the investigation and prosecution of such crimes and in part through efforts to deter and punish those who seek to undermine the administration of justice through the ICC, including the interference with/harassment of witnesses.

The president did not take up several questions that some of us might otherwise have expected.  The ICC’s relationship to the Security Council, for instance, has been a contentious one that has included untimely referrals, massive security restrictions on investigations, significant budgetary limitations, and the Council’s refusal to sanction states that fail in their responsibilities to arrest indicted criminals.  Moreover, the president chose not to ‘call out’ states parties which have hosted – rather than captured – those very same criminals.

But what she did suggest was important: that credible international justice is essential to the restoration of rule of law, to human development, indeed to the dignity of victims.   She recognized that a “global system of justice” has many facets that are tied to the activities of courts, certainly to the vigorous promotion of internationally recognized human rights but also to a development and conflict prevention system that can uphold dignity and help ensure that the worst of crimes can be addressed in their potential before they unfold in grotesque practice.

As the president also recognized, other UN events during this past week touched on key elements of a global system of justice.   In the General Assembly, PGA Lykketoft convened a high level event to assess the human rights performance of the UN as it concludes its 70th year.   Fittingly, states used the occasion to promote the need to, as New Zealand and others noted, examine the implications of human rights across the three UN “pillars.” States from Panama and Chile to France and Estonia noted the many rights dimensions that affect people in overt conflict situations, but also highlighted those suffering from torture, discrimination, incarceration-related abuses and many other violations.   And while Liechtenstein rightly lamented that disregard of the ‘rules of war’ seems now to be reaching epidemic proportions, there was broad agreement with the Netherlands and others that we can do more  — and must do more — to ensure that people can finally live in a world “free from armed conflict.”

Last Wednesday in another small conference room, an “A” list of UN officials was brought together by Uruguay and Portugal to discuss the economic and social rights implications of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  ASG Šimonović set a collaborative tone, urging all of us “to bring human rights to the core of our development work.”  ASG Gass went ever farther, noting that the SDGs represent a “new social contract,” while lamenting a “shortage of tools” with which we can hold states (and others) accountable to their SDG promises.   Happily, Gass rightly suggested that the integration of human rights into the SDGs would help make accessible the more fully developed capacities within the human rights community which are already doing much to hold states accountable to rights-based obligations.  As it turns out, tools for SDG accountability need not be created.  They can be borrowed.

As for the convening states, there was enthusiasm for SDG-rights linkages but also cautious tones.  Uruguay’s Ambassador responded to those who see economic and social rights as “vague,” noting that genuinely sustainable development requires ‘dignity work’ in the form of ending gross social and economic inequalities.  Portugal’s Ambassador urged member states to show more leadership on core Charter values while simultaneously urging NGOs to help ensure that values espoused are values enacted.  But he also painfully referenced the many millions of persons in our world for whom rights and dignity remain only “a mirage.”

During his report on Friday in the UN Security Council, Special Representative Jan Kubiš made reference to the upcoming efforts by Iraq and its military partners to liberate the city of Mosul from ISIL control.   While clearly supportive of reducing all manner of ISIL’s influence, Kubiš also predicted that such liberation would likely trigger a humanitarian crisis that could dwarf the already horrific stories of deprivation and rights abuses (including by Iraqi forces) now emanating from Fallujah.  In many instances, it seems, “liberation” bears the potential to create and magnify trauma and deprivation in the name of eliminating them.  The Council, the government of Iraq and the entire UN community must leverage additional capacity to address the psychological and physical dimensions of victim’s assistance in all their aspects.

And of course to do more to ensure that the “pipelines” of trauma are effectively sealed, that relief is more than a fleeting mirage.

As the week’s events underscored, the struggle for sustainable human dignity is a long road, easier to claim than to protect.  As the ICC president noted, we live in a world in which “many perpetrators continue to be untouched.”  Sadly, there are millions more victims in our conflict zones who also remain “untouched.”   Our commitment – on sustainable development and international justice, on poverty reduction and trauma response – is to find the means and the will to touch them all.

Security Council Open Debate on the Rule of Law: Challenges and Solutions

5 Feb

On Wednesday, 30 January, a brief “Open Debate on the Rule of Law” was held in the Security Council. There was not an extensive conversation by Council members or non-members of the Security Council. The meeting was called to order by the Pakistani Ambassador who currently holds the presidency this month, while UN Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, was invited to present a statement on the rule of law.

Rule of law is essentially meant to decrease conflict as well as decrease the probability of relapse into further conflict thereby directly contributing to both conflict resolution and recidivism prevention.

As a general theme, Mr. Eliasson reinforced the importance of promoting rule of law in international peace and security, as well as in conflict and post-conflict situations. By promoting and implementing international norms and standards, exemplary in 18 of the 23 current peacekeeping missions adopting provisions for the rule of law in their mandates, Mr. Eliasson reiterated the UN’s commitment to the advancing of the rule of law as formal international law.

The statement from the Deputy Secretary-General highlighted the Security Council’s approach, which compliments the mandates of the UNDP, UNHCR, and individual governments, in increasing the legitimacy of the rule of law.

Challenges

The Security Council recognizes the challenges of broad acceptance and implementation of the rule of law within peacekeeping operations, as well as the difficulties in measuring, collecting and analyzing data in areas of intervention. Better collection of baseline data also proves to be a challenge, especially in an environment where impact and change is difficult to measure, and where impact tends to be uneven. It can also be difficult to identify which factors can be credited in situations of success.

The UN Security Council believes that enhancing field leadership can be used to carry out, and measure programs in respective areas, through continued systematic collection and analyzing of data.

Solutions Identified by the Security Council

• Coordinate support to the field through UNDP and UNHCR area programs.
• Evaluate the impact of work already done and create baseline data to measure progress.
• Recognize and place more importance on national ownership.
• Increase data collection in conflict and post-conflict states to strengthen the rule of law.
• Increase planning and prioritize in order to mitigate future risks.

Examples of Progress Made Using Data Collected

• Thus far, UNDP has been working in Haiti, Liberia and South Sudan to incorporate rule of law indicators such as, law enforcement and transformation measures.
• In Malawi, UNDP supported a baseline study, which has been used to shape the Government’s Democratic Governance Reform Strategy.
• In Bosnia and Herzegovina, data collected through public surveys have been used to develop National Transitional Justice Strategies.
• UNDP is expected to publish a “Users Guide to Measuring Rule of Law, Justice and Security Programs,” next year.
• The Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the UNHCR has developed the UN Rule of Law Indicators Project, which allows governments to gather information on law enforcement, the prison system and to measure and track changes over time.

Examples of Progress Made Through the United Nations, Individual Country and NGO Collaboration

• In Côte d’Ivoire, the Ministry of Justice, in conjunction with the UN peacekeeping mission, has reopened 17 courts and 22 prisons.
• The UN stabilization mission in Haiti has opened 18 legal aid offices.
• The Serbian government, in conjunction with local NGOs, has provided 20, 000 Roma with official documents to prevent them from becoming stateless. Furthermore, 250 individuals have been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and more than 120 individuals have been convicted.

Overall, the United Nations Security Council has taken a holistic approach to development, justice and security by including rule of law in conflict and post-conflict situations, and by developing tools and systems to help states advance in this area. Continued collection of data will support national policymaking efforts as well as increase country responsibility, ownership and accountability. Current field initiatives are helping to deliver justice, and keep countries on track to building and achieving stability.

—Shari Smith

Shari is a new intern with Global Action for the spring semester.