Tag Archives: mass atrocities

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.


After the Spotlight: Following Post-Election Kenya

1 Apr

On 26 March 2013, The World Policy Institute and Fireside Research presented After the Spotlight: Following Post-Election Kenya, a panel discussion featuring, via skype from Kenya, John Githongo, CEO of Inuka Kenya Ltd. and Kwame Owino, CEO of the Institute of Economic Affairs. The panel discussion was moderated by Eddie Mandhry, Associate Director of NYU Africa House, and hosted by Cleary Gottlieb Steen and Hamilton LLP in New York City.

The panel discussion intended to investigate the challenges arising from the most recent elections in Kenya, particularly in the light of the domestic, regional and global complications of the 2007 elections. With over 1000 people dead, 350,000 people displaced, and the mass violence that erupted in the 2007 elections, this discussion was pertinent to the goals and mission of Global Action to Prevent War, which seeks to address broad themes and issues related to human security in diverse global regions.

On 4 March 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were elected as President and Deputy President Elect of Kenya, respectively. Kenyatta, who is the son of the first Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta, has been accused by the International Criminal Court of committing crimes against humanity in the 2007 elections. President Elect Kenyatta has since been summoned to The Hague for such indictment of war crimes. Furthermore, in 2010, Kenya became party to the Rome Statute.

The panel discussion began with outlining the importance of ethnicity and identity in Kenyan politics. According to Githongo, this election has been the most important election in Kenyan history since its independence as it marks a new constitution based on so-called “Western liberal models.” Moreover, a new voting procedure was put in place. This included a high-tech biometric voter registration system, on which $250 million was spent, and the electoral provinces were expanded from 8 to 47 providing for new positions and constituencies to encourage free and fair elections and greater representativeness. In this same vein, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan founded the Election Management Body Policy, which seeks to address arising problems as well as to prevent election-related violence.

Unfortunately, the digital portion of the election failed. The IEBC, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, the so-called contracted election “watchdog,” claimed that the new biometric voter identification system failed. However, opposition parties claim that this was a conspiracy to rig the elections. The two main opposition parties have since contested the results of the election, and, as a result, the official results are still pending.


  • So far, many governments from the international community have already called President Elect Uhuru Kenyatta to congratulate him on the elections. These governments include China and other African Nations. Given this, if the Kenyan Supreme Court upholds Kenyatta’s election, what are the implications for an indictment against Kenyatta by the ICC? What if Kenyatta fails to present himself to the ICC?
  • If the Supreme Court does not uphold Kenyatta’s election, another election will need to be held within 60 days. Does Kenya have enough money to do so?  Even more so, does the country have the capacity to do so?
  • If Kenyatta is confirmed, do we suspect there to be violence?
  • Are the institutions that were responsible for this election facing court charges for their handling of the elections?
  • What kind of media was used during the Kenyan elections? Was this majority negative or positive?
  • What kind of campaign was conducted before the elections?


In the event that the Supreme Court decides on a run-off, the question of who will run the election will be tantamount. Githongo made it very clear that Kenya does not have the capacity to run another election within 60 days following the results of the Supreme Court decision. He stated that perhaps the international community could step in to run a second election, but likewise warned that Kenyans may see this as imperialist sentimentalism, which is already a sensitive issue in Kenya. Therefore, having the international community intervene in this matter may not be a viable option either. He also noted that the Kenyan people have the will and capacity to carry out the elections if necessary, but that they do not have sufficient technological capacity necessary to do so.

Githongo argued that since politics in Kenya have been organized around ethnic lines, this election has consolidated such ethnic-based attitudes even further. Furthermore, there is an ethnic divide among the Kenyan leadership that includes ethnic supremacy and entitlement. The “losers” of the 2007 and 2013 elections continue to feel exclusion from the leadership system and continue to feel as though there has been insufficient justice in the matter. This obviously also increases the likelihood of violence.

Githongo described the silence of the Kenyan people as powerful and that it speaks to the narratives that were cultivated along ethnic lines during the previous election. According to Githongo, there is a “narrative of exclusion” that constitutes an emphasis on numbers such that if an individual is not a part of the right numbers, then one’s vote does not count.

Githongo also explained that the ICC has played a huge role in the external messages of the elections, which has created a dichotomous relationship based on whether or not one supports the ICC. According to Githongo, these messages have been relayed quite simply as: “If you do not support the ICC, then you are not a nationalist and if you support the ICC, then you are an imperialist.” The campaigns were structured in such a way that communicated to citizens that they were not voting against an individual, but rather against the country or against the Western forces.

Githongo stated that it is important to speak about the role the media has played in the coverage of this election. Since the media was accused in 2007 of fueling the violence that ensued post-elections, it is now over-compensating by being ‘overly-cautious’ not to report, on the even “soft violence,” which is happening across the country. It would seem that the media is censoring itself.

Overall, Githongo stated that this election has caused Kenya to revert backwards in terms of its democratization process. Additionally, there is a worry that in the future, depending on the outcome of the ICC trials and the Supreme Court decision, on whether or not to uphold Kenyatta and Ruto’s victory.

It is expected that the incoming government will have to take Kenya out of what Githingo described as a “hole.” Addressing this “hole” is imperative as Kenya is geopolitically important to the international community and global economy. With the discovery of coal, oil and many other mineral elements, it has been argued that the Kenyan private and financial sector is positioned to take off in terms of capital formation, the quality of education and human capital, and skilled labor within the workforce, particularly with regards to financial services.


****Since this panel discussion, the Kenyan Supreme Court has upheld the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto even with the former’s impending summons to The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity. 


–Shari Smith, Intern GAPW