Tag Archives: OpenDebate

Renewing Vows: The Security Council’s Marriage of Convenience, Dr. Robert Zuber

28 Feb

Last Monday, under China’s presidency, the UN Security Council held a most welcome general debate inviting states to “reflect on history and reaffirm the strong commitment to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.” Representation in the room was quite robust with a number of Foreign Ministers having made the trip to New York to reflect on their national responsibilities to the UN’s multi-lateral framework.

The debate itself was a mixed bag as one might expect.  Some states used the occasion to recommit to what they understood to be the core principles of the UN Charter.  Others took advantage of the opportunity to remind the Council that, in the eyes of some states, the current system of maintaining peace and security is still uneven, unrepresentative, even politically biased. Still others used the occasion to point fingers at states (mostly at Russia on Ukraine) that they believed were gravely undermining the most important of Charter principles.

A few states were even in the mood to talk a bit of reform. One of the ideas raised by several delegations, including some Council members, was in support of the French proposal for ‘voluntary restraint’ on the use of the veto in cases where mass atrocities have been determined. This idea has been growing in popularity, especially among certain NGOs focusing on atrocity crime response.

We have written about this idea previously and mostly cautiously.   In our view, there are conditions for such voluntary restraint that should be honored if the proposed change is to solve more problems than it creates.   The primary conditions for restraint are a more horizontal Council power structure that is less inclined to ‘politicize’ findings from UN officials tasked with monitoring the potential for mass violence. There is also need for greater Council willingness to “work and play” better with other UN agencies responsible for diverse aspects of violence prevention.

While listening to the Charter debate, another wrinkle on “conditionalities” came to mind.  This ‘condition’ was courtesy of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand, a delegation that we greatly respect but where, in this instance, there seemed to be an attempt to ‘pair off’ two principles that probably need a bit more time to sort out their individual business.

For New Zealand (as for Spain and others) priorities were joined that really don’t seem ready to ‘marry’ each other, despite pressure from the relatives.  The most welcome priority is to get the Council more involved in supporting other UN efforts focused on the preventive side of conflict – heeding early warning and working more closely with other UN capacities devoted to mediation and other preventive tools.  The other is related to veto restraint, which is touted as a solution to difficult, “gridlock” situations like Syria and comes from an urgent desire both to save lives and to protect the reputation of the UN and its partner institutions.

Unfortunately, the discussion on restraint comes attached neither to carefully verbalized conditions nor to a helpful overview of the Council’s coercive measures now underway despite the presence of the veto in a manner, perhaps unfortunately if not inconveniently, consistent with the Charter.

For instance, the current “lack” of veto restraint has not impeded what a number of states see as the Council’s over-reliance on coercive peacekeeping operations to solve international problems. It did not prevent the ongoing carnage in Libya traceable in part to implementation of SCR 1973.  It has not prevented the (mostly ineffective to date) bombing raids against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq, nor the imposition of US/EU sanctions against Russia.  It has not impeded French military exercises in support of threatened governments in Mali or CAR.  It has not prevented Council endorsement of the still-somewhat-dubious Force Intervention Brigade in the DRC.

Indeed, if there are lessons to be learned here, it is that the veto is used relatively sparingly (though it is threatened more often), and that it is generally used (or threatened) in the most coercive contexts – sanctions and militarized responses.   Spain’s important messaging on mediation capacity might be insufficiently heeded, but it is not vetoed.  Early warnings from the Joint Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect might be tossed into a metaphorical drawer until a full-blown crisis erupts, but neither are these findings candidates for veto.

And it is not at all clear to us, in a situation characterized by voluntary veto restraint, how the Council’s actions on Syria (the poster child for such restraint) would be so very different.   What would the Council be advocating now on Syria that is distinguishable from its current practice?  How much of that ‘difference’ would be military in nature?  And why do we think that military activity directed at Syria would produce peace and security outcomes less like Libya and more like Sierra Leone?  If these questions have answers, they would help make the case for veto restraint.  If they cannot be answered then we should be careful advocating a step that might well satisfy our need to ‘do something’ more than it clarifies what needs to be done, when action is needed, and how we should respond.

During Monday’s Charter debate, the US made what might have been a ‘slip’ during its statement, though it was a telling one – citing the Council’s ‘restoration’ responsibility alongside its maintenance function.   ‘Restoration’ of course is not specifically a Charter-mandated activity of the Council, though the term accurately describes much of current Council practice – fighting raging fires while accusing other states of ‘arson,’ rather than responding in a timely manner to smoke warnings.   We recognize that much about any Council assessment is related to our own expectations; how we judge is in large measure a function of our assessment of capability and culpability.   But we feel that the amount of institutional energy put into ‘restoration’ of conflict settings that the UN system could surely have done more to prevent in the first instance is a most sobering thought, one that, in our view, does not yet recommend veto restraint.

Our fear is that, without addressing the larger concerns related to Council working methods, veto restraint represents permission for downstream “business as usual” to continue or even grow.   Indeed, there is reason to believe that the preventive architecture that the New Zealand Foreign Minister rightly advocated would become even less likely in situations where the international community, and specifically its permanent members, didn’t have to make their full (and hopefully even non-political) case for recourse to coercive measures.

Despite some welcome changes in transparency, in large part motivated through more vigorous involvement by non-permanent members, an ‘unrestrained’ Council still acts too often (and too coercively) without sufficient discernment regarding longer-term security implications or the need for engaged consultations with its many UN partners.  We aren’t anxious to have those temptations magnified.

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

Blame and Its Consequences, Dr. Robert Zuber

27 Oct

Over many years, I have been literally captivated by hundreds of Security Council meetings.   Even as more and more are available via webcast, the chamber itself remains endlessly interesting.   The body language of presenters; the degree to which diplomats are (or are not) actually paying attention to each other; the odd protocols such as inviting diplomats of states on the Council agenda to sit through votes or statements without allowing them to utter a word in support (or protest) of Council decisions; the ‘personalities’ of Council members, from the stoic pragmatism of the Chinese and mandate-fundamentalism of the Russian Federation to the thoughtfulness of current members such as Argentina and Rwanda, and the ‘moral’ stances so often enumerated by the P-3.

No one who sits in these meetings, day after day, can be confused about at least one facet of their underlying purpose.    Though the audience may be meager, these meetings represent opportunities for states to lobby their peers and the court of public opinion.  Given the branding opportunity for states (as in much of the UN as a whole), there are things you almost never hear: regrets over failed actions and/or policies; apologies to those victimized by bad decisions or for not living up to obligations to the International Criminal Court, Troop Contributing Countries, or other sectors of the organization; acknowledgment of valid points raised by political adversaries; and clear and humble explanations of why policies that seemed to some to be so right at the time (ie. Libya bombings, the re-hatting of CAR peacekeepers) have fallen far short of expectations and may have even triggered more of the violence they were designed to prevent.

The point of this post is not to bash the Council which already gets plenty of criticism from many quarters; none of which, so far as I can tell, has much potential to meaningfully divert Council energies or make members take on tasks they are reluctant to accept.

The point is rather that, in some ironic sense, the branding efforts by these powerful Council members also does not seem to have much power to persuade.  People and states that follow Council meetings on a regular basis remain skeptical of motives and strategies as much as convinced.   With all due respect to the multiple challenges on the Council’s agenda, it is apparent that there is precious little ‘maintaining of peace and security’ at present.  Instead, the Council bounces from one crisis to the next, usually too late in the game to maintain much of anything, and certainly to prevent the crises that are both ruining millions of lives and cluttering up its agenda.  I know this is frustrating to at least some of the Council members.  It is frustrating to watch as well.

It seems as though Council members’ often clumsy efforts to garner public support, whether for Russia’s Crimean adventure, the US’s ISIS bombing campaign, or other policy decisions of Council members are falling more and more on deaf ears.   One primary reason for this seems obvious.  What the global public longs to see (and is frankly losing hope in seeing) is Council members displaying less national branding and more introspection; less political posturing and more sober reflection on how we got to the point of so many insurgencies and refugees worldwide; more about the ways in which the UN is still relevant to the resolution of these crises; and much more regarding changes that need to be (and hopefully will be) made to ensure that the Council can live up to its Charter mandate and not simply reaffirm its privilege to cope with security challenges at its own discretion.

One of the ironies of the recent Council discussions on Ukraine and especially on the Middle East was the number of states urging an end to ‘finger pointing’ and then immediately setting out to point fingers.  At no point in these ‘analyses’ of current situations did any state admit to any responsibility for any part of the dangerous tensions on the Council’s agenda.   The crisis in Syria is solely about ISIS and Assad.   The crisis in Gaza is all about the actions of terrorists (with perhaps a bit of Israeli overstretch). The crisis in Ukraine is all about Russians pouring across still—insufficiently monitored borders.  And on it goes.  Localizing the blame more than sharing the responsibility.

Are these causal factors at all relevant?  Of course they are.  Is the list comprehensive?  Of course it isn’t.   Why is this deliberate limitation of causality not, at least once in a while, part of the conversation? It should not be such a rare and remarkable occurrence for a Council member to acknowledge that they, individually and collectively, had misread the policy ‘tea leaves,’ and thus had compromised one or more member states, either through politicized policymaking or through an unwillingness to engage a crisis at an earlier, more manageable stage.

It dismays many onlookers that a Council which jealously guards its prerogatives in the peace and security area is so very reluctant to accept public responsibility for the many situations in which their actions fail to deliver peace.   The unwillingness to publicly acknowledge these shortcomings actually constitutes a disservice to the most responsible Council members, threatens the credibility of the UN system, and insults both analysts and victims who know that things rarely are as they are described in these meetings.

The Council still rightly maintains the respect of UN members and much of the global public.   But this cannot be taken for granted.  The finger pointing and political blaming that seem by default to fill in gaps in what are often well-crafted and even well-meaning policy statements must give way to a more thoughtful engagement with both the origins and consequences of crisis.

We fully acknowledge the immense degrees of difficulty that accompany the pursuit of consensus policy to address a myriad of ugly challenges around the world.   We also understand that many of these challenges – Libya, Mali, Syria, Central African Republic — are barely, if at all, under any effective control at present.  What we need to see from Council members (what we should also require of ourselves in our own policy contexts) is more thoughtfulness about strengths and limitations, less pointing of fingers at others,  more candid admissions of the ways in which Council members (and the rest of us as well) have contributed to the states and structures burning around us.

The great US theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once remarked that ‘the evils against which we contend are the fruits of illusions similar to our own.’  At a moment of agony for millions, illusions are indulgences we just cannot afford.  A more publicly thoughtful Council, a Council defined by pragmatic, cooperative problem solving, a Council willing to “hold the mirror” inwardly as well as outwardly, would do much to maintain public confidence along the now-epic, arduous path towards a sustainable peace.

Regions of Hope

2 Aug

On the last Monday in July, under Rwanda’s leadership, the Security Council held an open debate on peacekeeping operations, specifically on an examination of the evolution of relationships binding the UN with regional operations such as those developed and maintained by ECOWAS and the African Union.

This issue of ‘regionalization’ had come up earlier in the year when the Council was set to authorize a peacekeeping operation for the Central African Republic, now scheduled for deployment in mid-September.   This authorization, which would involve substantial ‘rehatting’ of troops already committed to the African-led International Support Mission (MISCA), bred some discontent.  At the time of authorization in April, AU officials expressed concern that the Council was undermining the authority of MISCA, authority that would be crucial over the coming months of perilous duty required to protect as many civilians in CAR as possible while patiently awaiting deployment of the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission (MINUSCA).

While AU representatives were less challenging of the Council during the July debate, it is clear that fault lines persist.  Among those lines, the following should receive more policy consideration:

First, there is general agreement that authorization of regional peacekeeping activity by the Security Council increases its legitimacy.  And, as Russia, China and others noted, it is critically important for regional security organizations to stay connected to the Council.  But at what point does ‘connection’ look too much like ‘permission?’   The Council must find the right balance between fulfilling its Charter obligations and supporting, in the words of the US, the actions of ‘neighbors’ taking responsibility for protecting each other.

Second, the Council must continue to refresh its list of core peacekeeping partners including, as urged by Pakistan, the League of Arab States.   In this context, the apparent willingness of the European Union to consider a return to a more robust engagement with UN peacekeeping is a suggestion that should be readily seized.  Moreover, the increasing capability of regional security organizations, including UNASUR in Latin America, gives comfort that, under the right circumstances and with sufficient confidence building, we can sustain the capacity needed to prevent and protect.

Third, there has been much discussion about the need for ‘rapid response’ capacity, which seems to have evolved steadily from a focus on standing UN capacity to regional iterations. Given the slow speeds at which an over-burdened Council often makes decisions, at what point does the need for authorization undermine the benefits of rapid response?  In other words, at what point in a protracted negotiation with a regional organization seeking to respond to the threat of conflict is ‘rapid’ no longer rapid?

With fires raging on so many regional fronts, it is clear that the Council needs to integrate and support as many partners as possible, not only in Africa but wherever competent, accountable, rapid-response capacity can be found.   It is equally clear that more attention to fire prevention and less to fire extinguishing remain in order, both for the UN and its growing roster of regional partners.

However, the Council has generally and, as noted recently by Jordan, Luxembourg and other members, given short order to early warning, mediation and other prevention measures.   Later this month, the UK as Council president for August will convene a general debate on prevention.   In this effort, partnership development is important, both with existing UN capacities such as the Joint Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect as well as with regional entities organized and committed to diverse and robust forms of violence prevention.

At this upcoming debate and elsewhere, the Council must find ways to give places of honor to both sets of partners.   The pattern of addressing conflict past its formative phases and with capacity that is both late arriving and insufficient to some of the massive conflicts that peacekeepers and other agents of UN response are expected to address is one that simply must evolve.    In this context, we especially welcomed Argentina’s recent call for more ‘strategic thinking’ with the entire UN membership that could lead to fewer ‘emergency Council meetings,’ thinking that can help us find the ways and means to fight fires before they actually ignite.  Such thinking could also increase the participation and confidence of member states with their own strategic ties to the regional organizations that have become so critical to the success of UN peacekeeping efforts.

For so many victims or those fearing to become victims, timing is everything; getting the right capacity into the right positions as quickly as possible.   The Council has a moral imperative to ensure diverse and timely capacity to regions in conflict, but an equally critical imperative to ‘maintain’ the peace and not only react once the peace has been shattered.   There is hope that more regional engagement and more preventative measures, together with a Council increasingly seized of its own burdens and limitations, can result in a more effective spectrum of response in these dangerous times.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Practice Makes Perfect: Another Step towards Effective Prevention of Mass Violence

13 Feb

Yesterday’s Security Council debate on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict under the presidency of Lithuania was the latest in a series of efforts by Council members and other states to outline the road ahead regarding what has become a welcome, urgent preoccupation of diplomats and policymakers – strategies to effectively protect civilians from violence perpetrated by state and non-state actors.

Valerie Amos and Navi Pillay, among others, gave their typically comprehensive and passionate overviews of what, for them and for many of their colleagues, are surely quite painful markers on the long road ahead until responsibilities under international humanitarian and human rights law are fulfilled by all relevant actors as a matter of course. Ms. Amos in particular noted unresolved ‘stresses’ between humanitarian workers and PKOs implementing coercive mandates, and also reflected on the fact that, despite increased social media scrutiny, ‘siege’ strategies to terrorize and humiliate civilians are still prevalent.

States, too, were thoughtful about the policy directions that should be pursued and the infrastructure gaps and working methods that need to be addressed. Uruguay underscored the need for accurate information to assess POC operations and reassurances that coercive measures such as the DRC Brigades – which tend to blur the lines between traditional peacekeeping and atrocity crime response — adhere to core PKO values.  Indonesia highlighted the need for POC mandates to do more to understand local contexts and work with local conflict prevention capacities.  Both Slovakia and Cuba linked POC to larger efforts to abolish war, while Brazil underscored the ‘mirage’ of military solutions and urged more attention to conflict prevention strategies. As they have done previously, the UK rightly urged that ‘politics and protection’ not be mixed, though without what would surely be a helpful confession of the numerous, diverse incarnations of that ‘mixture’ to date.

In the end, while many delegations conveyed helpful insights, it was New Zealand which most forcefully reminded Council members and others in the room that we already have many Council statements on POC that are not yet fully integrated into country-specific resolutions.   Nor, we might add, are they fully reflected in Council working methods which continue to encourage ‘deliberations’ without the necessary feed-back loops to help identify any concrete impacts from such discussions.  While resolve was in evidence throughout this debate, it still seemed more rhetorical than practical.   For those who make a living around the UN, this hardly constitutes a surprise.

Thankfully, though, this debate was more than a ‘talk shop,’ more than yet another effort to build support for additional coercive mandates. The resolve in the room was mostly directed towards helping the UN system to ‘get on the same page’ regarding protection responsibilities, available (and required) implementation tools, the need for more robust and transparent regional partnerships, etc.   It was also (between the lines) about getting capacities such as the C-34 to take more leadership on POC; about states cooperating more through the PoA process to stop illicit arms flows; about the Council paying closer attention to the Special Advisers on genocide prevention and RtoP — and to others with expertise on development and climate — providing early warnings of potential humanitarian disasters; about listening more closely to working journalists doing important and dangerous reporting in volatile country contexts.   There are many more steps to be taken and, if yesterday’s debate was any indication, sufficient skill and capacity to take them.

The small part of the wider world that tuned in for this debate surely came away with the sense that, despite the desperate headlines from CAR and Syria, the international community really is trying to address their POC responsibilities with proper seriousness.   One next step is to ensure full-system accountability for those in danger of being victimized.   As Italy noted during the debate, we must say ‘loud and clear’ that there is no excuse for abusing civilians. The UN must ‘grab the reins’ if states will allow it.   Despite misgivings about the working methods of the Council, the clarity and ‘selectivity’ of POC mandates, or the ‘inconsistency’ of much of the UN’s general response to conflict, many states seemed ready to support Italy’s call.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Cross-Cutting Discussion in UNSC on Protection of Civilians

16 Feb

On Tuesday, 12 February, the Security Council held an open debate on the issue of “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.” Currently holding the presidency of the Council, the Republic of Korea’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade hosted the debate, while both Council members and non-members weighed in on the international community’s responsibility to protect unarmed populations victimized by parties to a conflict either intentionally or as an unintended consequences of fighting. The Secretary-General addressed the Council highlighting Afghanistan, Mali, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and South Sudan as examples of instances where civilians in large numbers continue to suffer. He also called out the conflict in Syria as a stark case of the “searing reminder of the human cost of war.” The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay, also briefed the Council and took the opportunity to highlight the dire situation for civilians in Syria calling on the Security Council to act immediately and refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. The Director of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also addressed the Council and chose to focus on three priorities in the context of protection of civilians (PoC)—threats to access to healthcare; the availability and use of arms; and the lack of compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL) by state and non-state actors.

Many delegates underscored the importance of the role of the Security Council in protecting civilians in conflict, in particular ensuring that peacekeeping operations, “where appropriate,” were mandated to play a part in prioritizing PoC and allocating resources commensurate with the circumstances. The discourse among the more than 70 speakers revealed that there remains a myriad of obstacles in conflict-affected communities as the international community seeks to address the difficult challenge of the responsibility to protect civilians when governments and parties cannot meet those obligations. The primary responsibility for the protection of civilians, it was reasserted, does lie with states, although, as the Secretary-General noted in his remarks, the obligation to protect civilians in conflict “does not rest solely with warring parties: we all have a responsibility to protect.” There was, as expected, some concern expressed over the potential manipulation of PoC mandates for purposes of ‘regime’ change or military intervention. The Iranian delegate, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), pointed out this danger, while the Nicaraguan delegation called PoC a “lofty” concept that has been manipulated in Libya and now in Syria. Moreover, the delegate of Pakistan noted that any conflation of the concepts of PoC and the Responsibility to Protect norm (RtoP) was likewise dangerous especially from the standpoint of preserving the integrity of peacekeeping operations The discomfort with, and even opposition to, application of PoC by stakeholders external to national authorities continues to be an ongoing challenge as politicization of the concept must find balance with the humanitarian concerns on the ground.

The importance of addressing the issue of PoC in conflict is, in and of itself, a significant part of the work  of the Security Council given its mandate to maintain international peace and security as well as its responsibility in formulating the mandate and renewals for robust peacekeeping operations. Nevertheless, the cross-cutting nature of PoC also grants the issue particular importance within the often siloed landscape of the UN system and its varied stakeholders. As noted by the delegate of Costa Rica, options for response to complex obligations with protection mandates must also become more diverse, including establishing early alert mechanisms, providing support for national authorities in protecting civilians, and providing assistance for the functioning of security-related and rule of law bodies. Related issues, including but not limited to the illicit trade and movement of small arms, violence against women and other gender-based violence, were also highlighted as key components of a comprehensive and effective PoC strategy. In light of the upcoming 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), some delegations chose to highlight the importance of this session’s thematic priority in this PoC context—violence against women and girls. Other security-related priorities such as the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), application of the RtoP norm, as well as the use of explosive weapons in populated areas all were made manifest during the discussion underscoring that any robust and effective human security agenda requires recognition of the linkages among different priorities.

As already noted, the forthcoming “Final Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty” set for 18-28 March received some attention during the debate beginning with the Secretary-General who referenced the poorly regulated trade in arms calling the free flow of weapons a significant contributor to violence against civilians. Likewise, the delegations of the ICRC, Australia, Egypt, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Uruguay, Sweden, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Lithuania, Mexico, Guatemala, and Montenegro were among those delegations that referenced the upcoming ATT negotiations in the context of PoC. Most of these delegations chose to highlight the importance of incorporating the concept of protecting civilians in the future ATT codifying circumstances where arms transfers should be denied should there be a risk that such weapons would be used to violate human rights, IHL, or otherwise harm civilians. The ICRC rightly called for an instrument that incorporates strict transfer criteria covering all categories of conventional weapons.

The use of explosive weapons in populated areas was also an issue raised by several delegations in the context of PoC as the indiscriminate humanitarian consequences of such weapons cause extensive harm to civilians. As noted by a study from UNIDIR’s Maya Brehm, explosive weapons have been shown to be a key threat to health care access, contributor to destruction of houses and assets as well as have long-term impacts on socio-economic and human development. In 2009, the Secretary-General identified the use of explosive weapons in populated areas as a core challenge to the protection of civilians in armed conflict and also called for more systematic data collection and estimation of associated human costs. At this debate, the delegations of Australia, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Germany, Chile, Qatar, and Spain were among those delegations that identified the use of explosive weapons in populated areas as a threat to PoC. In particular, the delegate of Germany noted that the indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Syria “…often caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide impact in densely populated areas, remains the most appalling aspect of the Syrian conflict.”

In addition to verbal debate, the Council adopted a Presidential Statement (S/PRST/2013/2) that recognizes the importance of strict compliance with IHL, human rights law, and refugee law, supports strengthened work of the International Criminal Court and related mechanisms for fighting impunity and increasing accountability, promotes systematic monitoring of PoC in conflict situations, and protects the unhindered access of humanitarian workers in situations of armed conflict. It is clear that such a discussion is useful not only for a better understanding of the concept of PoC and its practical application in situations of conflict, but also in allowing the international community to reflect on the multi-faceted nature of security and the need to effectively tackle multiple agenda items in an integrated and mutually-reinforcing manner. It is essential that issues such as violence against women and the use and availability of illicit arms are thought of as related aspects of the same security agenda, rather than concepts to always be taken up in isolated diplomatic fora.


–Katherine Prizeman

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.


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.