Tag Archives: peacekeeping

Cooking School:  The UN Primes for Community-Driven Peacebuilding, Dr. Robert Zuber

26 May

Clean Cooking

It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan. Eleanor Roosevelt

The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.  Calvin Trillin

For a moment, or a second, the pinched expressions of the cynical, world-weary, throat-cutting, miserable bastards we’ve all had to become disappears, when we’re confronted with something as simple as a plate of food.  Anthony Bourdain

Cooking is a kind of everyday magic.  Juliet Blackwell

When the leg does not walk, the stomach does not eat.  African Proverb

This was another diverse and busy week at the UN, literally overflowing with potential policy significance as well as more than the usual number of government and UN Secretariat interventions reminding us that this state-centric institution is rightly judged less by what we have to say about global policy and more by how we impact the lives of people on the ground.

One key to this impact for the UN is its peacekeeping operations, an increasingly complex and multi-faceted undertaking that seeks to blend nationally-seconded contingents (often with “caveats”) and then engage them in what are often a staggering array of tasks – from the physical protection of civilians and UN personnel to community outreach, support for elections and peace processes, and even the projection of force in areas where insurgencies threaten.

This week, UN corridors were filled with women and men in uniform, in part to participate in moving ceremonies to honor the fallen and in part to help address what the Republic of Korea referred to as our “reality gap” that places insufficient attention on what it called “holistic” and “prevention-oriented” responses to conflict.  The USG for peacekeeping LaCroix made a complementary point during the peacekeeper honoring ceremony when he noted that the safety and effectiveness of peacekeepers requires, among other things, that peace operations be tied closely to a political process that “can advance lasting solutions” to conflict.

To the UN’s credit, despite the limitations inherent in our collective policy bubble, there has been in recent years much more of an effort to ascertain the multiple dynamics and expectations of peacekeeping missions beyond ceremonies honoring the service and sacrifices of peacekeepers. To our mind, this is more important than it might appear.  In the US but surely elsewhere, people across the board seem to know less – and in many instances care less than they profess – about what military personnel do “in our name” than at any point in my lifetime.   We have written about this before and won’t repeat it here, but the substitution of what a recent Washington Post article calls our “sanitized way of remembering our troops” for a deeper attentiveness to the complexities of security threat and response, is both demeaning to the troops and dangerous for the rest of us.  We need to know more and care more about military matters regardless of our stances on the use of armed violence; this in part to guarantee that troops are not needlessly sent into harm’s way, but also to help ensure that those so sent (and the weapons that accompany them) are not doing significantly more harm than good.

Thankfully, the UN continues to wrestle sincerely with the many challenges of peacekeeper safety and effectiveness.  Moreover, led by several current UN Security Council members, notably Peru, Poland, Belgium and Indonesia (May’s Council president), we have witnessed a more robust, if still subtle shift in peacekeeping discussions; combining concerns for force generation and legal accountability mechanisms for abuses committed with an interest in communities – not only their concerns and impediments, but also their capacities to build and keep the peace.

Just this week alone, the aforementioned states and other stakeholders reinforced the importance of enabling greater community resourcefulness in the service of peace.  In Friday’s helpful Arria  Formula discussion on the relationship between peacekeeping and peacebuilding, Peru reminded colleagues that guaranteeing access to services and resources people need to improve their family and community circumstances is critical to peacebuilding success, especially to what the Ambassador referred to as the “recovery of the social fabric” after conflict.  Belgium was even more pointed, noting that at the end of the day, “states don’t make lasting peace so much as people do.”  This echoed Belgium’s excellent intervention during this week’s Security Council debate on protection of civilians in which it urged peacekeepers to “master the skills of community engagement” and remain attentive to the ways that “communities remain essential to peace.”

As Thailand rightly noted during that same debate, a durable peace is much less possible “when civilians and communities feel themselves under threat.” And as I was reminded this week by one of our remarkable former interns, not all of that threat is attributable to matters such as terrorism and corrupt governance.  Indeed, much is related to circumstances affecting families and communities, circumstances that the UN has pledged to address in other conference rooms, in part by exploring how best to help people access public services and ratchet up the contributions they are capable of making to the building of more peaceful societies.

One of those human security-related “circumstances” raised this week was on our collective progress on Goal 7 of the 2030 Development agenda related to “affordable and clean energy.”   One speaker after another conveyed the news that while some strides have been made on issues such as “greening” our energy sources and the electrification of rural areas, we are now (as a recent set of policy briefs makes clear) “playing catch-up on almost all of our energy goals and targets. For instance, we are still widely subsidizing fossil fuels and using available energy resources in inefficient and uneven ways.  And despite growing public interest in sustainable energy options, we remain reluctant to finance the full (if socially complex) shift to renewable energy resources despite the many climate and employment benefits that would thus accrue.

But perhaps more germane to this post, as explained by UN Energy co-chair Rachel Kyte, we also remain reluctant to “think about the people behind the numbers,” the children without power in their schools, the persons displaced by conflict who lack even the most basic access to energy for lighting and communications, the mothers (and fathers) for whom “clean cooking” is still a pipe-dream.

This issue of clean cooking touched me deeply.   My own cooking skills are barely sufficient to keep me upright, but I have many friends and acquaintances –including married folks living in a St. Louis (US) suburb — for whom cooking is a major form of self-expression, a joyful bonding exercise that contributes to their general well-being well beyond mere nourishment, providing a respite from our “world weary” selves.

Thus it is sobering to consider the many millions of people worldwide who must cook but who cannot cook cleanly, those who may well face gendered food insecurity and related struggles to provide family sustenance, and yet whose cooking may inadvertently become a death sentence for themselves and others.  Indeed, well over 3 million people each year die as a consequence of cooking without access to the (often simple) equipment and ingredients that could make it safer. Even during a week filled with testimonies to fallen peacekeepers and conflict victims, this narrative saddened me.

It may seem like a long distance from peacekeeping missions to the “everyday magic” of clean cooking, but it isn’t really.   If Brazil was right this week – if effective and robust community skills and resources provide the formula best able to fill our “protection and accountability gaps”– then we have a responsibility to ensure as best we can the general well-being of those community members, to listen more and impose less, to recommit to access to the health, food, energy and other basic needs that will allow citizens, peacekeepers and diplomats to build (and sustain) a durable peace together.

In the Security Council this week, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister insisted that, above all, “We must not let the people down.”  To get there, we have much still to learn about both the abundant skills and often-simple needs that remain resident in our communities. Much like with military matters, our attentiveness to the complex expectations, needs and assets of diverse populations will help us monitor, plan and collaborate for building peace with greater effectiveness.

Mother Load: Easing the Burdens of Clinging and Mourning, Dr. Robert Zuber

12 May

Tapestry

It’s the one job where, the better you are the more surely you won’t be needed in the long run. Barbara Kingsolver

Children are knives, my mother once said. They don’t mean to, but they cut. And yet we cling to them, don’t we, we clasp them until the blood flows.  Joanne Harris

No one is ever quite ready; everyone is always caught off guard. Parenthood chooses you. And you open your eyes, look at what you’ve got, say “Oh my gosh,” and recognize that of all the balls there ever were, this is the one you should not drop.  Marisa de los Santos

I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, Mother, what was war?  Eve Merriam

There is a part of her mind that is a part of mine. But when she was born she sprang from me like a slippery fish, and has been swimming away ever since. All her life, I have watched her as though from another shore. Amy Tan

As virtually everyone recognizes here in the US and in much of the rest of the world, today is the “designated day” to honor mothers in ways both concrete and, at times, overly sentimental.

It’s been a while since I had a mother around to fuss over, but I am mindful this week of those in my life for whom the pain of mother-loss is still fresh, persons now immersed in a bit of holiday-inspired wondering if they did enough, said enough, honored enough while mother was still with us to ease and enrich her transition from this life to whatever might come next.

And then there are those new to mothering, including persons close to me, mothers who understand the challenges of the moment, who wince at the ubiquitous news stories about some of the issues on the UN agenda this week:  weapons of mass destruction and mass deforestation, climate-related displacements and the violence and lawlessness that seems to be engulfing places like Libya.  And yet, despite the possibility of bringing into the world a life filled more with challenges than satisfactions, these mothers have decided to bet on a human future in the most tangible manner possible – a life to which a mother will surely and steadfastly cling, even when it cuts.

Amidst the flowers and Hallmark cards, the birth notices and family brunches, there is yet another dimension of truth to Mother’s Day – the times when mothers must say a final and mournful good-bye to those “slippery fish” of children later felled by disease or armed violence, by circumstance or service.  This past Monday, the UN held its annual event honoring some of those “children,” those serving under the UN flag who perished while pursuing with often great courage what we all fervently strive to ensure even if we’re not always sure how:  a world at peace.

As one might expect, many of those honored fallen were serving as UN peacekeepers, including in some of the most dangerous conflict zones on earth – in Mali and South Sudan, in Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.   The list of the fallen was painfully long again this year, a point also taken up in earnest the following day in the Security Council under Indonesia’s leadership, during which delegations explored the means – especially through better training and equipment – to more effectively ensure the safety of the women and men mandated within peace operations to protect others under circumstances that are uncomfortable at best. Delegations on Tuesday clearly reaffirmed their full support and respect for those who serve in peacekeeping operations or in related assignments such as in Hodeidah port (Yemen). Such support was aptly summarized by Ireland whose Ambassador proclaimed that “we are as proud of the blue helmet as we are of the Shamrock.”

Not only peacekeepers were honored at this solemn Monday event but also fallen humanitarian workers and food security experts; people providing shelter and provisions for refugees and other victims of violence and natural disaster; people facing “unfriendly fire” during the course of their service or simply reserving a seat on a malfunctioning airplane. Indeed, people who for various reasons were now being saluted and mourned at the UN by mothers and other family members, not because they were perfect but because they were loved; and because they willingly put themselves in harm’s way, at least we believe, not so much for the sake of the UN or other institution, but so that a world could be birthed in which armed conflict and its consequences are more a childhood curiosity than the pervasive threat we now experience in far too many places on this planet.

During this annual honoring, I often find myself wondering what it would be like to sit in a UN conference room and mourn the loss of a child, even a child who long-since “swam away” and might only have acknowledged episodically the place from which their life first arose. I can wonder but simply can’t imagine what it must be like to have the ball “you should not drop,” being dropped instead by a too-often violent and indifferent world.   What do you say in response to that?  Indeed what can anyone else say to narrow this chasm of “missing?”

The UN surely does not honor enough and often not appropriately.   As a community, we are too focused on protocol and position to recognize in the way we should the many who actually uphold the large and small promises that still take up residence in this place. But this Monday ceremony conveyed genuine dignity as well as the insistence that we will collectively, somehow or other, continue to “answer the call” until our yearning for peace, our dream of a war-free world, have finally been realized.

In this age of digital scheduling, I carry around (and actually use) a small paper calendar courtesy of a modest donation I made recently to the remarkable St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Inside that now-scribbled calendar are pictures of children in some cases stricken by cancer even before experiencing the diseases we more commonly associate with childhood. In some of those pictures are the parents, mostly mothers who, like so many others, must find within themselves the means to bear this deep wound, to remain strong and resolute amidst this existential threat to children who, much too often, have not yet learned how to ride a bicycle or tie their shoes.

The reason that we do what we do, despite the ever-apparent absurdity associated with limited resources and even-more-limited wisdom, is because we know that for every mother whose child is given a ray of hope by places like St. Jude’s, millions of others must watch – often helplessly –as violence and disease, hunger and displacement exact their horrible toll.  At the Monday ceremony, several speakers expressed “pride” that so many are still willing to take risks for the sake of global peace. Indeed, more risks will be required of all of us if we are to emerge only semi-scathed from this difficult period in our collective history. But for many of the mothers in the room, I suspect, pride was less in play than wishing for that day when no mother would ever again be required to sit and mourn the loss of her own flesh, the loss of one to whom she once clung tight.

For us and for many others around the world, the possibility of that day makes what we do every day worth our best effort. Blessings to all whom we honor and all who mourn on this Mother’s Day.

Passion Play: The UN’s Drowsy Acknowledgement of Racist Violence, Dr. Robert Zuber

31 Mar

Old Man

It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.  Audre Lourde

No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them. Elie Wiesel

Racism is not merely a simplistic hatred. It is, more often, broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others.  Ta-Nehisi Coates

We first crush people to the earth, and then claim the right of trampling on them forever, because they are prostrate.  Lydia Maria Child

White privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism: an absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost.  Reni Eddo-Lodge

Three hundred years of humiliation, abuse and deprivation cannot be expected to find voice in a whisper.  Martin Luther King Jr.

This past week at the UN was reminiscent of some of the energy surrounding the opening of the General Assembly in September.  Many heads of state and foreign ministers were in the building weighing in on climate change and sustainable development, on peace prospects for Mali and its Sahel neighbors, on pledges to enhance the UN Secretary-General’s Action for Peacekeeping (A4P) initiative, on collaborative actions to stem the financing of terrorism, on ways that the General Assembly and the Peacebuilding Commission can collaborate on conflict prevention and building “national ownership for sustaining peace,” and on the largely-US-initiated controversy around sovereign jurisdiction over the Golan Heights.  Beyond the rooms where the political dignitaries could be found, the UN also hosted some excellent side events on the preservation of biodiversity in the ocean waters beyond national jurisdiction, one piece of a larger treaty-based effort to promote global ocean governance in the vast, threatened, open ocean.

It was all breathtaking and challenging for us to process while running from one conference room to another to catch and share (@globalactionpw) the most important moments of too-often parallel events .  Much of the energy of the week, especially on peacekeeping and peacebuilding, was positive, though in some instances not always sufficiently urgent.  As was duly noted in several conference rooms, both our climate and our oceans are deteriorating more rapidly than our collective responses are ratcheting up, threatening small island states and regions such as the African Sahel, the latter of which is already groaning under burdens of drought, weak institutions of governance, and unwelcome external interference including in the form of pervasive violence from armed groups operating across multiple borders.

With all that was taking place in the worlds inside and outside the UN, there were three distinct images from this past week that touched a not-particularly-happy chord.  One of these, courtesy of CNN, was of the town hosting the so-called “doomsday vault” (Svalbard Global Seed Vault) that is apparently now warming faster than anywhere else on earth, threatening the integrity of the vault’s precious storage.  Back at the UN, the Security Council discussion on the validity of what Israel called the “just proclamation” by the US on the Golan deteriorated at the end into a bit of a shouting match with the Syrian and Israeli Ambassadors attempting to “shame” one another, as though there isn’t already plenty of unacknowledged and unconfessed shame at the UN to go around, certainly by these two states but also by myself and others who need to do more than the modest part we are playing now to help keep this UN ship steered in the right direction.

The third disturbing image for me was not about melting and shaming, but about absence.  After two weeks of crowded hallways, overflow conference rooms and passionate speeches from UN officials courtesy of the Commission on the Status of Women, the General Assembly held two events on Monday, essentially back to back, ostensibly to reflect with the international community on the scourges of racial discrimination and the slave trade, including its grave contemporary manifestations.

For both events, the GA Hall was largely empty at all seating levels, including the section where we were stationed. Only a half-dozen or so non-diplomats were witness to the first morning conversation in a level of the Hall that can seat hundreds.  One of those was an elderly African-American woman seated in one corner of what was otherwise a vast sea of empty seats. We wondered if all the open space disturbed her.  It disturbed us.

Some salient insights were communicated during this day though the speeches were often uttered without much passion, “whispers” easily swallowed up by vast, empty spaces.   There were exceptions: participating states including Cuba, Kenya, San Marino and Guyana exposed “doctrines of racial superiority” and the “hatred that could lead to genocide” while insisting that the UN take the lead in educating people about what Guatemala called “pernicious” and all-too common racism and discrimination.

The president of the General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés added some important dimensions to this discussion in what, for her, became quite a remarkable week of events and interventions. She underscored that the UN has not kept its “never again” promise; that “stereotypes and micro-aggressions” persist and inflame conditions that lead to racial intolerance.  And she restated the commitment of the General Assembly to the 2030 Development Agenda and its promise to eliminate the gaps that leave space in our world for race-based discrimination and abuse, for the hate crimes, abuses of authority and family-separated children that stain our very souls.

But it was two other insights from the president that particularly piqued our interest:  her lament that “inhumane subjection” continues to take so many ugly forms in our modern world, and her call to honor the (trans-Atlantic) slave women who endured “physical exploitation” but who nevertheless reached beyond their own suffered indignities to “uphold the dignity of others.”

In the aftermath of the CSW (whose side events we regularly attended), the implications of these two comments seemed clear.   First that “inhumane subjection” now casts a broad and nefarious shadow over the entire human condition, affecting too many women to be sure; but a shadow that engulfs and shrouds persons of many racial and religious backgrounds, including indigenous people of course but also persons with disabilities and disabling diseases, the chronically poor and politically marginalized. And second, that if “physically exploited” women can find it within themselves to uphold the dignity of others, then surely the rest of us privileged folks have far fewer excuses for neglecting this fundamental duty towards the building of a world of genuine reconciliation and sustainable peace.

For all the chatter about “intersectionalities” around the UN, we seem to have misplaced a good portion of that (probably now overused) term’s implications.  It is not just about multiple forms of discrimination experienced by such as indigenous women, as pervasive as those forms are. It is also about extending meaningful solidarity to other “sections,” identifying with their diverse humiliating and abusive contexts, supporting their calls for justice and reconciliation and, as with this past Monday, showing up at events where the abuse and discrimination of focus are not focused specifically on “us.”

At the end of a week of so many UN discussions both exhilarating and frustrating, the most hopeful image for me was the one at the top of this post, a 95 year old man who traveled on four buses to make an appearance at a rally to show support for New Zealand’s mourning Muslim community, thereby adding his voice to what must become our common call to take racial, ethnic and religious discrimination – and the multi-layered “crushing” and “trampling” which it now spawns in all parts of our world – with greater seriousness.

We could have used his presence and inspiration in the General Assembly Hall this past Monday.

A Credible Path Forward for ASEAN on Climate Risks, Dr. Robert Zuber

29 Jul

Legitimacy is based on fairness, voice and predictability.  Malcolm Gladwell

A superior person is modest in speech, but exceeds in action. Confucius

Every action or perceived inaction shapes credibility. Mindy Hall

Claiming that you are what you are not will obscure the strengths you do have while destroying your credibility.  Tom Hayes

Thanks to the excellent organizing work of Dr. Catherine Jones of St. Andrews University, Scotland and colleagues from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta, Indonesia, Global Action was pleased to participate in a two-day seminar, “Peacekeeping, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief.”  The seminar specifically looked at the relationship between peacekeeping assets and the growing humanitarian burdens facing Indonesia and its regional neighbors from a variety of natural disasters increasingly attributable to climate change.

The seminar group included Indonesian government officials tasked with national peacekeeping policy and scholars skilled in dissecting regional peacekeeping assets and policy concerns.  Assumptions were made – rightly I think though barely interrogated– that the already great burdens of humanitarian response to either emergency or “slow onset” disasters is only likely to increase across the region.  The questions then become:  How do we better prepare communities to face this growing threat? What role might peacekeeping play in emergency response and resiliency building? What other skills, capacities and “partnerships” (a term that came up often at these meetings) might we need to develop in order to ensure timely, comprehensive, competent and (dare we say) rights-based responses?  And in that light, how do we (to quote one of the participants) “capture” more of the stories of how local communities are responding to these evolving climate threats?

The backdrop for this discussion was ably articulated by several participants in this “Chatham House” format.  As readers of these postings are already familiar, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member Indonesia is set to join the UN Security Council in January to begin its 4th stint as an elected member.  Much has changed in the 10 years since Indonesia was last on the Council, including prickly conflict dynamics regarding Iran nuclear and Syria chemical weapons; peacekeeping mandates which are now generally more coercive, more protection-oriented and (thankfully) tied more closely to political processes; and formal consideration of a wider range of security-related global problems (including those related to climate), thematic obligations which demand attention from the entire international community.

As Indonesia is well aware from its leadership roles in the non-aligned movement, disarmament affairs and the Peacebuilding Commission, the UN system faces daunting challenges both in the world and within its own conference rooms.  Recent pleas for overdue assessed funding from the UN Secretary-General along with public threats to muiltilateralism from heads of some member states underscore the precarious nature of some of the UN’s most important commitments – to ocean and climate health, to the fulfillment of the sustainable development goals, to the maintenance of an effective human rights system, to timely and effective peacekeeping and peacebuilding, and to the resolution of conflicts from Yemen to Central African Republic that continue to drain funds and political will from the international community and compromise (at least for some states) the credibility of the very Security Council that Indonesia is set to join.

Amidst this uncertain policy climate, there appear to be growing calls for collaboration between the states of ASEAN and the UN along the lines of peace and security partnerships already well established with the African Union and European Union.  This is not the space to assess the pitfalls that a too-hastily-engaged alliance might ultimately expose, but seminar participants were right to point out the “long shadows” currently cast by China and the US over virtually all aspects of regional security, UN partnership or no.  What we would wish to see going forward is more analysis of the inter-sectional, climate- security risks facing small regional states as well as some of the current impediments to creating genuinely horizontal, inclusive, credible partnerships between the UN and regional bodies such as ASEAN. As a cautionary tale on partnerships, exhibit A might be the recent Council decision to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan over the objections of African Union and IGAD officials who have been at the center of efforts to broker a sustainable peace in that country.

Indeed, a case could be made that any ASEAN or other regional partnership with the UN should look beyond the alleged prestige from such arrangements to some of the functional limitations that would need to be overcome if such partnerships are to become context appropriate – sensitive both to the threats to be addressed and the most culturally-appropriate tools and methods for addressing them.  Rather than replicating the ambitions of regions that seem to have garnered “insider status” at the UN within and beyond the Security Council, ASEAN states and scholars such as those at this seminar would do us all well to help guide discussions that seek to preserve strategic autonomy, explore benefits and limitations in a more systemic manner, clarify inter-relationships among core regional threats –including climate events, nuclear  perils and super-power posturing and “ad hoc” policymaking– and examine the fitness of existing resources (sometimes presenting in “friendly” military garb) to create stability and integrate more fully than at present the skills and energies of community-based stakeholders.

Comprehensive peace arrangements sufficient to this vast region must account for many factors. The way forward to credible regional agreements and partnerships with the UN and other international organizations characterized by reliability, transparency, trust-building and attentiveness to political and cultural context lies still beyond the horizon.  Indeed, one valuable next step to bring the horizon closer might be a thorough examination of the “Plan of Action” to implement the Joint Declaration on Comprehensive Partnership between ASEAN and the United Nations (2016-2020).  This “plan” is under-developed and under-utilized to be sure, but it also contains elements that intentionally link peacekeeping, civil-military coordination and disaster management/response. Properly handled, this document could help ASEAN states “practice” forms of cooperation that both effectively address climate impacts and lay the groundwork for developing or deepening other forms of bilateral and multilateral security cooperation. Such “practice” is, from our standpoint at least, time well spent.

Our consistent view has been and remains that we have reached a dangerous tipping point on climate that is sure to result in an increased number of “events” – more and more of them catastrophic — that will test virtually all current response capacities and security arrangements.  From this point, we must do more to ensure that the right tools and capacities are available to stave off slow-onset crises and stabilize communities in the face of those less predictable, rapid-onset emergencies.   If the collective security will of ASEAN states affirms the need for deeper UN security and climate partnerships, these states should at least ensure that such partnerships focus on (as one participant noted) their credibility and effectiveness in addressing threats such as those from climate more than on establishing their “legitimacy” in the eyes of the international community.  ASEAN, to our eyes at least, already seems quite legitimate enough.

Indonesia is sure to deal with its share of Security Council headaches over the next two years. But along with its new Council colleagues, especially Germany and South Africa, Indonesia has the capacity to provide strong and (when needed) contrary policy guidance for a Council that is too often bogged down in its own security duties and disconnected from the duties of its UN colleagues. Helping to develop, test and implement a robust regional capacity for disaster response and stabilization – a capacity that fully utilizes all relevant peacekeeping assets but is not constrained by them — would pave the way for more reliable and trust-worthy security-related collaborations within and across the region.

During our seminar, Indonesia affirmed its commitment to the full integration of gender, conflict prevention and civilian peacekeeping capacities, all towards what one official referred to as a “global ecosystem for peace.”  For all who yearn for an end to armed conflict, and perhaps especially for those within the ASEAN region, it should be clear that sustained attention to the implications of our damaged eco-system must accompany, if not precede, any successful and sustainable peace.

 

Service Contract:  Sharing the Burdens of a World At Odds, Dr. Robert Zuber

3 Jun

Service

You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. Martin Luther King Jr.

I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.  Rabindranath Tagore

One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone. Shannon Alder

I’m starting to think this world is just a place for us to learn that we need each other more than we want to admit. Richelle Goodrich

The UN had its moments of schizophrenia this week:  An historic decision to approve by consensus the Secretary-General’s proposal for reform of the UN Development System occurred on the same day that the chairs of the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies held a rare and important discussion on the crucial role of these treaties in fulfilling our sustainable development goals, a discusson that few bothered to attend.   The Security Council, due in part to a US veto, fumbled away an effort by Kuwait to ensure a measure of international protection for Palestinians enduring deprivation and violence –especially in the Gaza strip– on the same day that the UN highly honored peacekeepers who sacrificed their lives attempting to stabilize and offer protection in what have become increasingly volatile and unpredictable conflict zones.

This particular honoring of fallen peacekeepers through the Hammarskjöld Medal Award Ceremony had special significance, both because of this being the 70th anniversary of UN peacekeeping and because the list of casualties to which we all properly call attention seems to be growing longer each and every year.  From Tanzania and Pakistan to Ethiopia and Morocco, troops volunteer to be placed in harm’s way to stabilize and protect only to find themselves on the receiving end of a bullet or explosive device.  As is well known, Mali (MINUSMA) has been a place of particular vulnerability for peacekeepers.  As explained by USG Lacroix during the honoring ceremony, MINUSMA forces directly experience one violent incident on the average of every five days.  These forces, much like their counterparts in places like the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of the Congo, are not “keeping peace” so much as buying time for political agreements to be reached and take full effect, for armed elements to lay down their weapons and for national governments to assume not only control but also responsibility for the well-being of their citizens.

This is not the time or place to review in any detail the current status of peacekeeping operations, including ways in which such operations must be more tightly bound to “good faith” political dialogue, as well as the degree to which “protection” measures run the risk of appearing to be a “partisan” rather than a neutral activity, “taking the side” of the state or a particular party to the conflict.  There are also issues regarding troop reimbursements and equipment procurements that continue to plague at least some of these operations. But what is more important in this space (without assuming motives) is the remarkable sacrifice, the decisions that some make to place themselves in situations where they can remind the desperate and victimized that they are not alone, who choose the service of peace in settings where there is little or no “peace to keep.”

The notion of sacrifice itself now seems “old school” to many, in part because we have allowed ourselves to be overly determined by “preferences,” personal to be sure but also professional.   There is a Subway sandwich commercial now playing over and over on the few television shows I have the time to watch, in which the words “I want” crop up endlessly in the jingle accompanying the imagery.  Far beyond the food industry, “wants” it seems are being reduced at an accelerated pace to the immediate objects of our desire, more about fulfilling a craving than defining a relationship let alone a purpose.

Moreover, it seems, we have become more and more disconnected from the people who have made these often difficult choices to serve and protect. We might take the time to “honor” those who fight our fires, drive our emergency vehicles, report on dangerous conflicts and human rights abuses, or keep erstwhile “enemies” at bay, but we generally have little interest in the practical details of their lives, what it takes for men and women — often inspired by those who love and support them—to choose to place themselves in harm’s way for the sake of others, including “others” choosing to pursue “what they want” with hardly a second thought.

Even in the small sessions this week with the UN Treaty Body chairs, people who have indeed made choices to serve and defend the rights of others, there was evidence of this tendency to petition the skills and authority of others without sharing their sometimes considerable burdens. Indeed, some of the few NGOs who attended the Treaty Body meetings this week got a bit of blowback from the chairs, one of whom remarked a bit tongue-in-cheek that every time NGOs share their thoughts “we end up with more work to do.” The human rights pillar of the UN’s mission continues to buckle, in part because a lot of genuinely good and talented people have yet to fully master our “sharing of service” burdens, the requirement to participate more directly in the challenging and at times even dangerous activities undertaken “in our name.”

Over and over during the Hammarskjöld honoring ceremony, attention was given to the urgent need to increase peacekeeper safety including highlighting all that DPKO is proposing to better ensure that troops and other personnel sent to the field are returned intact to their families and communities.  Appropriate equipment would help.  Flexible command authority in the field would as well.   And certainly the Security Council can do more to ensure that peacekeeping mandates are clear, attainable and tied to both viable political negotiations and timely exit strategies.

But there is more to examine here, the culture behind the logistics.  We have written often (as have others) about the UN’s general propensity for being “slow on the uptake,” in terms of its attentiveness to potential conflict situations.  For instance, we and colleagues have been calling attention for some time to the still-ignored dangers of a wider conflict in Cameroon, but also to the cultural issues that prevent situations like this one from receiving UN attention at a stage when conflict is most likely to be contained.

Some of this problem will hopefully be resolved as the SG’s reform proposals for the UN’s peace and security pillar are rolled out.  But some is related to the institutionalized resistance of the UN system to invest in domestic security concerns until they have clearly reached a boiling point.  In this instance, the creeping tensions within states like Cameroon can be likened to someone with a smoking addiction.  Smokers might be told over and over by doctors, friends and others to quit their habit, but refuse the advice until the first cancer screens come back positive, at which point they frantically seek assistance from the very persons whose advice they originally scorned.

This pattern, one which has permitted so much pain and grief in the wider world, must give way to a system characterized by greater levels of institutional trust, better early warning and conflict prevention skills, and a greater commitment to the service which is indeed at the heart of the joy and meaning of life, helping to ensure that smokers can lay down their cigarettes before they need to consult an oncologist.

One of the most “liked” lines on our twitter feed this week came courtesy of the Department of Field Support which reminded the Hammarskjöld Ceremony audience that “the best way to honor the memories of fallen peacekeepers is to renew the commitment to peace that motivated their sacrifices.”  But beyond that, we should consider expanding our commitment to the service of others, service that the times now calls for and on which our own lives depend, service that can make available the skills and “grace” needed to build the sustainable peace that many millions worldwide now long for.

Storm Surge:  The UN Avoids Turning Obstacles into Impediments, Dr. Robert Zuber

9 Apr

daffodils_glowing_199026

Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.  Epictetus

Storms make the oak grow deeper roots.  George Herbert

Last month, an early spring storm and unusually cold stretch created a major challenge for March flowers.  The UN’s own daffodil patch suffered significant damage, made clear only as the snows finally receded.  But as some flowers lay dormant, victims of an unpredictable climate, other daffodils sprang to life.  For them, the snow and sub-freezing temperatures seemed more an obstacle to navigate and less an impediment to blooming.

Indoors, the UN faced storms of another sort, rocked by recent terrorist violence in Sweden, Somalia, Russia and (now) Egypt, and even more egregious violence in the form of sarin attacks orchestrated by the government of Syria’s Assad that left dozens dead and filled our media with images of children taking what might well have been a final breath.

Among its other sordid consequences, the attack laid bare (as France duly noted) the failure of that government to honor its commitments to eliminate its chemical weapons stockpiles;  indeed its apparent ability to deceive UN inspectors whose job it was to certify weapons removal has many sobering implications for other weapons inspections and removal efforts.

The Assad chemical attack was followed, as we all know, by another unilateral military response – cruise missiles fired from a US ship at the air base from which the sarin attack was believed to be originally launched.  That attack seems now to have been as much about “sending a message” as it was destroying a base, especially given that the air strip was reported “open for business” the following day.

Nevertheless, the US attack was the backdrop for an emergency Security Council meeting on Friday that brought more than a bit of simmering hostility into the open.  Such hostility threatened to undermine what was otherwise a period of relative Council consensus on matter related to Mali, South Sudan and the Central African Republic. It also threatened to obscure the impact of events elsewhere in the UN – including the honoring of 20 years of service by the UN Mine Action Service and preparations for major international conferences to promote Ocean health and the rights of migrants – which should have provided fresh evidence to the international community of the UN’s enduring value.

The attack on the Syria base — while relatively benign in comparison to the consequences of Assad’s chemical attack (a point made strongly by the UK and others) not to mention the massive air raids conducted by Assad and Russia on civilian infrastructure for much of the past six years — represented for some members another significant blow to the UN’s Charter and its seemingly ever-perilous reputation.  Bolivia perhaps was the most articulate in denouncing this latest unilateral measure by the US, citing concerns regarding the degree to which human rights are sacrificed at the altar of national interest; also that chemical weapons use might become the pretext for another, Iraq-style armed intervention. From our own standpoint, this attack is one with the potential to widen the already significant divide between permanent and elected Council members, one which the US has publicly threatened to repeat with or without UN support, and one which comes on the heels of other statements by the US implying that any future support for the UN – provided by this administration at least – is contingent on allowing the US to “fix” some things.

Certainly there are things that need fixing around the UN including as the US rightly suggested and which SG Guterres affirmed in the Council on Thursday as part of his “9 Point” areas of reform, the need to ensure that the UN’s peacekeeping operations are relevant and flexible such that mandates remain “faithful” to shifting security contexts.   Guterres also called for a new “surge in diplomacy for peace,” while ensuring gender balance in peace operations undertaken with the full participation of relevant regional and sub-regional stakeholders.

At this same session other Council members made their own reform suggestions on force generation (Kazakhstan), access to helicopters and other military equipment (Senegal), the slippery slope of peacekeepers taking on one or more aspects of counter-terror operations (SG and others), and the need for clear political objectives to which peace operations are then expected to contribute (Uruguay).

The concept note provided by the US for this particular meeting was helpful at several levels, though it does seem as though there is too much emphasis on the cost of peacekeeping and not enough on preserving and affirming what the UK’s Ambassador Rycroft called the “human face” of the UN.

And peacekeeping is not the only area where the US now appears to be “pulling up” some of the UN’s carpet.  From initiating a cutoff of aid to the UN Population Fund to insisting on its own (under-qualified) candidate to run the UN’s World Food Programme, this US administration has significantly upped the ante on costs, seeking new concessions from the UN to “fix” itself largely in accord with US wishes.  The US is certainly not the only country that throws its weight around the UN, nor is it by any stretch the only country that flaunts the values it has otherwise pledged to uphold; but it also tends to do more than its share of arm twisting albeit rarely in the form of such a “public dare.”

And so the UN now faces obstacles analogous to a major, early spring storm – Charter values under siege, disenchantment with our security-related performance, threats of funding withdrawal, stubborn power imbalances, inflexible and often unfeasible peacekeeping mandates, endless requests for humanitarian funding in response to conflicts we should have been better able to prevent (or at least contain) in the first place.

Beyond these, people continue to face discrimination, deprivation and despair in many global regions.  And the policy community has not yet demonstrated that we have listened long enough – certainly deeply enough – to grasp just how unequal our global systems of security, economy, education and health truly can be.

But even in the midst of unfulfilled global expectations and highly contentious discussions about chemical attacks and armed reprisals, there remain signs of recognition that we might just have the temperament to manage these stormy times. The UK’s Rycroft affirmed that, despite appearances, the UN remains “the place to negotiate when peace seems out of reach.”  Uruguay’s Ambassador Rosselli urged Council members to “keep calm, carry on, and continue to do our work.” And Italy’s Ambassador Cardi asked colleagues to “look ahead” and find more effective ways to hold offending states accountable to their obligations under the UN Charter and existing Security Council resolutions.

These suggestions by respected Council members are helpful.  When storms threaten the UN it isn’t necessary for us to choose between urgency and thoughtfulness, nor need we permit obstacles to become impediments to the changes our constituencies expect and need.   Instead, storm-related obstacles can become occasions for us to “test our mettle,” to build our stable of skills —- including in mediation and conflict prevention — and to nurture deeper, more reliable and more enduring institutional roots.

Justice League:  The UN Hesitantly Manages its Peacekeeping Expectations, Dr. Robert Zuber

26 Feb

justice-league

That was the thing about the world: it wasn’t that things were harder than you thought they were going to be, it was that they were hard in ways that you didn’t expect.  Lev Grossman

Expectations are dangerous when they are both too high and unformed.  Lionel Shriver

When I was a child, far back in the last century, I was enraptured by the exploits of a group of superheroes known as the Justice League.   This formidable group – from Wonder Woman and Green Lantern to Batman and the Flash – kept us on the edge of our chairs as they battled the forces of evil, sometimes alone, sometimes together, but almost always successfully.

In retrospect, what made these imaginary heroes so compelling is their complement of imaginary attributes.   They were mighty.  They essentially answered to no one.  They were kind to all but the evil doers.  They responded to crises without hesitation.  They possessed extraordinary skills allowing them to simultaneously fight the “bad guys,” repair damaged infrastructure and reassure nervous populations wondering if the values their make-believe parents taught them any longer had relevance in their make-believe world.

Our real world of “evil doers” is considerably more complex.  The lines that separate the “good guys” and “bad guys” are less obvious than our governments and media make it seem.   We tend to replicate the behaviors of our adversaries more than renounce them, fighting bombs with bombs, offering threatening rhetoric in response to threatening rhetoric,  demonizing those who demonize us.  And when we do renounce this pattern, our collective responses (such as through the UN) are often far slower than is optimal, based on preparations that are political as much as technical, that are often more about “what we can do with what we have at hand” rather than what is actually needed.

In real life, there is no Justice League available to resolve our conflicts, no heroes in costume with power on permanent standby, determination in their hearts and kind smiles on their faces.

We have written often in this space about the need for the UN to better manage the full complement of its expectations, which far too often run apace of any relevant strategies or capacities to end conflict and/or sustain peace.  Our public relations pitches, our Security Council mandates, our Commissions and Committees, all seem designed to convince the public (and perhaps ourselves as well) that we actually have what it takes – on hand right now – to discharge fully and successfully the weighty responsibilities to which we have been entrusted.

Within the UN, this burden of expectation falls heavily on peacekeeping operations, the most expensive of UN operations but also the operations that bear grave field responsibilities that are essential both to the UN’s peace and security reputation and to the successful implementation of other UN country team activities – from development to mediation.

Others more focused and knowledgeable on peacekeeping matters have written extensively about the extraordinary and widening responsibilities now laid at the feet of peace operations – seeking out “spoilers,”  interfacing with terror threats, rebuilding entire sectors of states under siege,  enabling access points for humanitarian assistance,  offering protective services to threatened civilians.

And defending human rights, a complex matter under the best of circumstances, but certainly for peace operations facing threats from insurgents in “ungoverned spaces,” staffed by recruits from Troop Contributing Countries” with limited knowledge of (or at times interest in) the intricate political and social circumstances of the places they are mandated to “defend,” seeking to fulfill expectations both robust and multifaceted,  expectations that more than a few commentators would call “unfeasible.”

An example of this “heaping” of responsibilities on peace operations is the last Security Council renewal (2323/2016) of the UNSMIL mandate, the peacekeeping and special political mission in Libya.  Despite a security situation that is so dangerous and unpredictable that many key UN functions (ICC, UNMAS) must operate largely from outside the country, UNSMIL peacekeepers are somehow expected to

  • help consolidate governance, security and economic arrangements of the Government of National Accord;
  • provide support to key Libyan institutions;
  • provide support, on request, for the provision of essential services, and delivery of humanitarian assistance and in accordance with humanitarian principles;
  • monitor and report on human rights;
  • secure uncontrolled arms and related materiel , and counter their proliferation;
  • coordinate the provision of advice and assistance to state-led efforts to stabilize post-conflict zones, including those liberated from Da’esh.

Faced with such daunting difficulties — and this mission’s mandate is not unique — it is miraculous that peacekeepers can be assembled with even a reasonable chance of successful outcomes.   I wonder if even the mythical Justice League would have signed on to such obstacle-laden responsibilities.

This week, in the margins of the (C-34) Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, some of the inconsistencies of Peace Operations associated with our sometimes grandiose mandates came to the fore.   During an excellent briefing on “human rights at work in peace operations,” Sweden’s Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs noted the many places worldwide in which “dignity is now under pressure,” urging a higher level of rights consciousness in peace operations. A peacekeeper from Somalia cited the damage to the UN when peace operations commit (or fail to respond) to rights abuses, including (as noted by a peacekeeper in the DRC) those committed by host governments.   And, echoing a theme highlighted later in the week at another superb peacekeeping side event, this time hosted by Indonesia, several speakers urged higher levels of women’s involvement in peacekeeping in part to help open new pathways to community communication that could meet Sweden’s request for clear and “early warnings” of impending violence and the rights abuses which so often follow.

The promotion and protection of human rights is an indispensable pillar of UN activity.  And yet, we find that peacekeepers lack sufficient training in these responsibilities, nor are they equipped to manage the sometimes tragic dilemmas for which peacekeeping operations must find a way forward.   Perhaps the most challenging of these dilemmas was mentioned this week by both ASG (DPKO) Wane and ASG (DPA) Zerihoun who cited difficult ethical dilemmas faced by mission command – having to temper actions to defend human rights in order to preserve access granted by the host state; and having to engage in reconstruction activities – including security sector reform and civilian demobilization and disarmament – alongside persons who have themselves committed severe rights abuses.   Coupled with the ongoing tragedy of civilians in the field abused by the very persons (peacekeepers) tasked with protecting them, it is clear that peace operations continue to face human rights challenges that, one after the other, threaten to compromise expectations and undermine our collective credibility.

Our peacekeepers are not superheroes; nor are the government officials that create their mandates, fund their operations and raise (often excessively) expectations.   Given this, we would advocate for more attention to the front end of expectation management rather than the back end — when the unpredictability of politics and conflict intervenes to complicate and restrict performance in ways that, once acknowledged as they were in the C-34 this week, sound a bit too much like excuses for failure.

This past Thursday, a female Indonesian peacekeeper made reference to the “power of smiles” in peacekeeping operations, a power that can in its own way help expand community “access and acceptance” beyond what is granted through formal “status of forces” agreements and other political arrangements.   Perhaps this is one mostly-missing ingredient towards a more realistic merger of expectations and performance within the realm of our peace and security responsibilities?   At the very least, it’s a start.

“Sue Me”:   The Council Seeks Belated Traction on Peacekeeper Abuse, Dr. Robert Zuber

13 Mar

One of the things we do in our office with interns and fellows is insist that they pay as close attention as possible to as many parts of the UN system as they are able.   The UN offers remarkable learning opportunities beyond international peace and security: from global health to fair employment access, the UN’s conceptual and policy scope is virtually unparalleled.

Despite this robust scope, what our young colleagues learn quickly is that, for all of its conceptual clout, the UN is primarily political space: political in the sense of having to negotiate agreements within diverse and often contested settings, and political in the sense of trying to convince others of positions which might well be misleading.  Thus the job of fellows and interns involves both openness to learning and wariness about the “truth” limitations within any government position or presentation. They come to recognize the “salesmanship” even within the most thoughtful statements; they become sensitive to the fact that what is “left out” of statements is often more important than what is included.

This discernment takes time, but once it happens, lights go on in some creative ways.   For instance, this week in a General Assembly informal on the rights of indigenous peoples, my youngest intern listened intently to statements focused on getting “higher” representation in indigenous forums – by which was meant more duly elected tribal leaders and fewer activists who speak and act “more like NGOs.”  Many statements also noted the need to include indigenous peoples in all issues “relevant to them.”

Shortly after, the intern noted, If delegates are looking to integrate duly elected representatives of indigenous groups, he noted, what is NOT relevant to them?  Health? Security? Human Rights?  Employment?  Water Access?  And if “relevance” has issue limitations, doesn’t that make indigenous representatives a bit like NGOs?  If the GA wants a more formal level of representation at forums, doesn’t this mean extending participation to all aspects of the UN’s work?

The politics impeding such broad participation aside, this is what we want from our people – attentive and supportive, but also discerning and evaluative.  Discerning to improve the UN, not to embarrass it.  Attentive to the hopeful evolutions in government positions, but also to efforts to politicize solutions to the world’s horrors, ignoring or covering up inconvenient elements to a full and complete picture.

Some of those “elements” have been on display this past week as the Security Council succeeded at responding to what has become a persistent blight on the UN system – the abuse by peacekeepers of civilians entrusted to their protective care.  Such abuses may represent a small fraction of the violence taking place in sites of UN operations from Central African Republic to Yemen, but the despair left in the wake of peacekeeper abuse is a strong and pervasive multiplier impacting both civilian populations and UN operations far beyond peacekeeping.  This effect called to mind the impact of techniques used by torturers whereby they surround the victim with persons posing as police and religious clergy who appear to be condoning what they should otherwise be preventing.  Abuse at the hands of erstwhile “protectors” and “caregivers” is doubly traumatic.

During the debate and the subsequent discussion on what became resolution 2272 – which included a rare separate (no) vote on an amendment proposed by Egypt – the Council went on the record, in the words of Japan, to preserve this “last hope” to civilians represented by peacekeepers through measures that include robust state reporting of response to abuses and threats of repatriation for offending units. The Council also, as highlighted by Spain, Uruguay and others, urged greater effort to honor our collective responsibility to victims abused by forces originally generated and then mandated for purposes of their protection.

The passion in the Council chamber on this day was palpable and seemed sincere.  As many members noted, the impacts on the abused and on the reputation of the institution tasked with protecting them is staggering.   Most military people –including my own family members around the dinner table – understand full well that abuse destroys confidence in all aspects of operations, making the task of honorable military (and other) protectors that much more difficult.  As the US, France and others rightly noted, it is appalling when citizens fear the sight of blue helmets rather than see in them a sign that their ordeal might finally have some positive resolution.  Such fear does not easily dispel.

The US – one of several states on the Council that is not a Troop Contributing Country but which served as penholder on resolution 2272 — clearly articulated the manner in which abuse by those trained to protect represents a higher order of offense. Indeed, the US Ambassador used the opportunity provided by the Egypt amendment controversy to address Council members in a lengthy statement that in some ways was among the best of her Council tenure. She was passionate, powerful and mostly off-script.  Unfortunately, she was also dismissive of any who challenged the scope, working methods or motives behind the resolution, as well as of other efforts inside the UN system to confront and address this scourge. “My motive,” she proclaimed at one point, is to address this cancer. “Sue me.”

Indeed.  As the dominant power within the Council, even more so in back rooms than in official settings, the US knows perfectly well that no lawsuits are forthcoming.   No state would dare.  None would be permitted.   States seemed to be biting their metaphorical tongue as they so often do when the US or some other permanent member takes off on an accusatory rant.

And not all the stated cautions regarding this resolution were in bad faith.  As Malaysia noted during the Council discussion, due to an “insufficient” consultative process with Troop Contributing Countries we might have lost the chance for forging genuine consensus on peacekeeper abuse. Senegal was reasonable in urging that notions of “collective punishment” for abuse be avoided at all costs. Venezuela’s formula of seeking “justice not stigma” was wise, if a bit unclear on the implementation.   Russia made veiled references to the (also) unresolved abuse by French forces, not a factor to be taken lightly within these discussions.

Clearly, not all the relevant factors are served by emotive and dismissive bursts.  Why, as the US itself noted, have these abuse investigations taken so long?   Why has no senior official in the Secretariat to date been held directly accountable for what are now longstanding and mostly neglected patterns of abuse?   Why have abuses (and uneven investigations) by French forces in the context of larger peacekeeping operations not been more public?  And what does it mean for the Council (and for future support by Troop Contributors) when a key non-contributing member dismisses the concerns of Council colleagues (not to mention General Assembly “C-34” efforts to deal with this problem) with what seemed to border on contempt?

One of the grave problems of our time, from which the UN is hardly immune, is the confusion of branding and truth-telling – words used as instruments to convince more than as a means to discern and disclose.  The political tensions within the Council, coupled with the need to brand national policies beyond their potential effectiveness, have created conditions in which all positions – including the most forceful, passionate ones – require a closer scrutiny.  All contain elements of truth, but all neglect elements that can turn partial remedies into effective, sustainable international commitments.

For my young colleagues, this is all becoming a sober but challenging occasion for discernment — a positive and badly needed step on peacekeeper abuse undertaken within a scenario characterized by damaging delays, mixed national motives and rhetoric that alternates between passion for victims and the patronizing of UN colleagues.  We are, all of us – victims and diplomats, caregivers and civil society – desperate for that just and lasting solution to the horrific pain which these abuses have inflicted. At this point, we can only hope that resolution 2272 is the starting point for honest, sustained engagement.

A Delicate Balance:  The Sixth Committee Considers the UN’s Rules and Reputation, Dr. Robert Zuber

18 Oct

As most of our readers are aware, this blog is an extension of our Twitter feed (@globalactionpw) – our attempt to provide a sense of how much activity takes place within UN headquarters, and to explore changes in structure and methods of work that can improve overall performance of the UN system.  And, indeed, this was yet another week where those seeking to cover a range of UN processes were running from one end of the campus to the other.   The Security Council under Spain’s leadership held a debate on Women, Peace and Security that lingered on through a second afternoon and also hastily called a meeting on Middle East violence, while the General Assembly (GA) voted 5 new, non-permanent members to join their 10 Council colleagues at the start of 2016.

Meanwhile, the GA’s Third Committee took up the rights of women and children and the Fourth committee wrestled with issues as diverse as non-self-governing territories (i.e. Western Sahara) and efforts to rid conflict countries of landmines.   The Second Committee took up the need for South-South cooperation as a component of Sustainable Development priorities to end poverty and address inequalities both within and between states.  UN “side events” ranged from ensuring access to legal services for girls to commemorations of World Food Day and the International Days of Rural Women and of Older Persons.

All of this (and much more) required every ounce of available diplomatic and NGO energy, with plenty of content to incorporate in the pursuit of international peace and security, and the fulfillment of core obligations to the poor and vulnerable. If some of these many forums and presentations can lead to hopeful and relevant activities in the world, we have a decent chance of dodging climate, resource and weapons scenarios that are unsettling at best and frightening at virtually every other level.

And then there was the Sixth Committee of the GA, dealing with grave matters that are indispensable to the functioning and credibility of the UN, including Rule of Law, responses to international terrorism, and International Justice.   These are matters both heady and consequential if the UN is to maintain the confidence of member states and the publics they serve.  Sixth Committee efforts to establish a more level playing field for states, to eliminate impunity for grave crimes against civilians committed by some of those same states, to ensure that our responses to terrorist threats are proportionate and human rights-based, and to insist that the behavior of UN staff and consultants in the field – including and especially peacekeepers – conforms to the values that lie at the core of the UN’s charter mandate,  these and related topics  are truly fundamental  to the lifeblood of the UN system.

And yet, in the vastness of the Trusteeship Council, you had to strain to hear even the echoes of policy relevance.   There were many empty seats in the rows of delegations.   There was virtually no one seated in the section reserved for UN agencies, apparently designations based on protocol more than on interest.   As for the NGOs, most of the rows (let alone seats) in the back were completely empty.  Indeed, the most movement in the room much of the time was the line of tourists filing through the back aisle, much to the (understandable) chagrin of conference services.

The point of this is not to be snarky, but to wonder what it is about this committee, and indeed this community, that fails to produce an attentive audience for such core considerations.   Friday was a case in point as the Sixth Committee took up issues related to the conduct of peacekeepers in the field;  how to promote “zero tolerance” — not a particularly high bar according to our peacekeeping fellow – and ensure that states are vigilant in their investigation and prosecution of abuses committed by their nationals (which may be a higher one).   Given the many layered implications of this discussion, including for Women, Peace and Security, it was odd that so few appeared to support committee efforts to rescue this dimension of the UN’s sometimes shaky reputation.

And there certainly was much of system-wide value to digest, including Malaysia’s call for more preventive measures emanating from the UN, not only directed at sexual violence but also the trafficking in persons and armaments that increase civilian threats and complicate response options.  Kenya underscored the degree to which abuse allegations within a few peacekeeping operations (PKOs) undermine confidence that future deployments will, as urged by Liberia, duly exercise their fundamental duty to care for persons in crisis.  And Ecuador, speaking on behalf of CELAC, cited “excessive use of force” by PKOs as a potential abuse also worthy of the UN’s full policy attention.

There was more to this discussion that invited a wider interest.  Both Algeria and the European Union urged much more rapid investigations and prosecutions after abuse allegations are made.  India suggested more state oversight of contributed troops and swift justice to those who abuse their positions.  The US called for more community based capacities that could help expose abuses of all kinds at earlier stages.  Guatemala urged special consideration for abuse allegations that involved minors, and South Africa noted that as the size of UN field staff and the complexity of their responsibilities grow, the need for more regular conduct reviews grows as well.

Two other suggestions with system-wide implications stood out from this conversation, both involving Norway speaking on behalf of the Nordic states.    First, with the European Union, Norway urged that sanctions and other measures be considered for use against states that fail to provide credible reports to the UN regarding state investigations and prosecutions of allegations of abuse by their citizens.  In the second instance, Norway joined with El Salvador and others to urge protection for “whistleblowers” seeking to highlight instances of abuse that some in the UN system would much prefer to ignore or dismiss.

As El Salvador made clear, the culture of “defending the UN at all costs” must come to an end.  We cannot improve, let alone heal, what we are unable or unwilling to face.   And there is no indication of this unwillingness as harmful to the integrity of any institution as the urge to “kill the messenger.”

As global challenges and their stakes both rise, tendencies to “kill” rather than consider will generally follow suit.  In such an environment, it will be harder to achieve what the Swiss suggested in 6th Committee – to take every possible action necessary to eliminate cycles of abuse in all UN operations.

In this, all of us have a role. The pleasure of our company is requested, in the Trusteeship Council chamber and elsewhere, in part because we know how elusive lasting change will be if we aren’t all bearing (and sharing) witness.  The doors to our policy participation and scrutiny are open.   We need to walk through more of them on a more regular basis and do whatever we can to help get abuse response and other key “rule of law” issues right.  It will be that much more difficult to achieve our security and development goals if we as a community fail fundamental tests of law and justice.

Police Academy:  The UN Security Council Considers the Needs of the Security Sector, Dr. Robert Zuber

23 Aug

This past Friday, Nigeria led the UN Security Council in a discussion on Security Sector Reform (SSR) that hit almost all the right notes and helped push forward an important agenda that Nigeria itself had initiated during its last tenure (2014) as Security Council president.

The concept note prepared by Nigeria for this meeting was comprehensive in scope and generous in its observations about the need for an “SSR Compact” that cuts across sectors and involves (or should involve) a wide range of national and international actors, including the UN General Assembly and other UN capacities associated with peace operations and sustainable development.  Indeed, Nigeria’s intent was evident from the briefers asked to participate in this debate – from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the UN Development Program, and the office of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.  Over and over, the point was made that national security institutions must be able to “provide security to the population in an effective and accountable manner,” and that such “peace sustainment” (ASG Titov, DPKO) requires wisdom and political commitment well beyond that which might emanate from the Security Council.

With the exception of a few botched attempts to pronounce the names of the presenters, and given references to the stalled peace process in South Sudan by both Russia and the US, Council member statements were helpful and relevant to both the concept note and the issues of peace and security which can more readily be resolved through reliable, accountable security sector engagements. Presenters and diplomats alike understood well the implications of SSR for the general health of societies, especially those emerging from conflict.   They also recognized the indispensability of a vibrant security sector to the fulfillment of cross-cutting, comprehensive, sustainable development goals (SDGs), including the ability of that sector to control borders (Chad), interdict illicit weapons (Malaysia), help rebuild trust in state legitimacy (Spain and Venezuela), promote “community policing” and other place-based initiatives (US), encourage “parallel adjustments” in prison and judicial systems (Chile), eliminate economic inequalities (China) and support more mediation efforts to resolve violence in its early stages (Jordan).

There was even a most welcome acknowledgment by ASG Titov (echoed by the UK) that SSR should be understood as part of our conflict prevention responsibilities rather than an obligation assumed only after state institutions are under siege from terrorists or altogether lying in ruins.  And SRSG Bangura’s idea that “vigilance” regarding commitments to end sexual violence has value in terms of the “professionalization” of SSR is certainly worth a second (and third) look.

Still, despite all of the welcome reflection, the constant referencing to successes in SSR being “as much political as technical” requires a bit of interrogation.

I understand what Council members and briefers intend by this.   They understand that a well-armed, well-trained security sector must remain under effective state control, especially during times of high tension; and that such states must be committed to non-discriminatory application of security sector capacities with full regard for the rights of both the accused and incarcerated.   Council members also understood that a fair and functional security sector can promote state confidence and legitimacy in the same way that an unfair and dysfunctional sector can undermine them.  At the same time, ASG Nakamitsu (UNDP) seemed to warn the Council against being too impatient with SSR, urging members instead to do more to build “political will” for sustained SSR beyond what can reasonably be expected to be accomplished by peace operations or other UN country team components.

But beyond this, I also know that when many global constituents hear the word “political” coming from key UN agencies, especially given all of the security-related controversies currently filling our airwaves, what they are more likely to hear is “politicized.” And “politicized” is anathema to the sustainable trust-building to which Security Council members and their briefers aspire.

As well it should be. We want our security sector to be as professional as possible in the best sense – responsive of course, but respectful also.   Well-equipped of course, but also restrained in the uses to which that equipment is put, even under the most threatening of circumstances. Able to manage security-related crises of course, but also to manage them in a manner that does not violate the fundamental rights of either victims or perpetrators.

Security provision in this best and perhaps more technical sense, is difficult business; even more in societies emerging from conflict where much of a security sector may lie in shambles with spoilers seeking to take advantage amidst the ruins.    But when that “business” becomes unconstrained, when training on the use of force and the rights of citizens has been insufficient or – shall we say – “politicized,” then prospects for abuse and suspicion abound.  Then we are more likely to have the specter of a security sector that defends some interests and not others; that enforces laws in some public sectors and neighborhoods and not in others; that defends the interests of the powerful against the legitimate interests of the weak or marginal; that takes liberties with the very same laws that it is otherwise sworn to uphold.

When it comes to the matter of SSR — urgent for so many aspects of peace transitions, public safety and even social participation – we should remain wary of any implications that might place the political and technical at cross purposes. Rather, we must do all we can to ensure that “political” dimensions do not degenerate into “politicized” applications that only increase the “fear” by women and other citizens that, as noted by Lithuania and other states, a properly engaged, justice-committed security sector should aim to remove.   Simply put, a politicized security sector only makes it more likely that the technical competencies assembled by state security forces will serve discriminatory, unjust ends rather than inspire public confidence.

The Nigerian “Compact” is well-conceived, clearly needed and consistent with ASG Titov and Council members’ admonitions for “balanced,” state-driven, mutually reinforcing SSR.   We urge Nigeria to continue to organize these important discussions throughout the UN system beyond the end of its Security Council service later this year.