Tag Archives: peacekeeping

“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.

Promise Keepers:  The Septuagenarian UN Sharpens its Policy Resolve, Dr. Robert Zuber

28 Jun

There are times at UN Headquarters when the winds (head and tail) of policy development and assessment are blowing so hard that you literally have to “hold on to your hat.”  This period in late June, as we have been trying desperately to capture on twitter (@globalactionpw), has been one such time.

Needless to say, not all of the events of relevance to UN policies this past week happened in New York. Terror attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France (not to mention the fallout from Charleston) along with the welcome news that marriage in the US is no longer subject to state prohibition provided the backdrop for a season of promises we have kept and have yet to keep. In these instances, the messaging seemed clear — that we still have much more to do to understand and address terror threats, and that social inclusion can be every bit as important to the quality of our lives as its political and economic counterparts.

And then there were the ceremonies held in New York and San Francisco to honor the 70th anniversary of the signing of the UN charter.  The San Francisco ceremony was much more dramatic, but comments in New York by Amb. Samantha Power and DSG Eliasson also set a “promising” tone. Power took note of the US Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage and affirmed the UN’s ongoing, challenging search for common ground based on what she cited as respect for international law and adherence to various versions of the “golden rule.”

The Deputy Secretary General was equally reflective. Echoing the current negotiations on sustainable development goals (and as someone who claims to carry a copy of the Charter in his pocket), DSG Eliasson affirmed the Charter as a “grand attempt to bring the world we have closer to the world we want.” It should be noted that Eliasson has highlighted in many UN conference rooms the need for diplomats to be more attentive to the many gaps separating our common aspirations and the “road” to implementation along which the UN sometimes wanders without clear direction; aspirations representing promises that we enthusiastically “table” but which are then too often allowed to sit more or less right where we left them.

In the days preceding and following the Charter signing anniversary, the UN has taken up peacebuilding funding and the last, difficult vestiges of colonization; peacekeeping mandate renewals and counter-terrorism strategies; a high-level assessment of climate health; and what promises to be a challenging discussion between the Security Council and ICC Chief Prosecutor Bensouda regarding the discouraging situation in Darfur. In ECOSOC, its High-level political forum is seeking to build broad, robust and reliable stakeholder engagement on sustainable development goals and priorities.  Last Friday in another conference room, the UN Security Council received a scolding of sorts from Syrian activists and rescue workers regarding the Council’s inability to achieve actionable consensus on policies to end barrel bombing, humanitarian blockades and displacement affecting millions.

In these and other contexts, the “table” at the UN is remarkably full now with many occasions and options for policy development representing a mixture of promises made, promises pending and promises deferred – thankfully with mostly high levels of sincere, energetic engagement.  Apparently, for the UN at least, “70” really is the new “50.”

As the UN considers its fidelity and flexibility with respect to all core Charter obligations in this anniversary year, three major programmatic assessments authorized by the Secretary General seek to revise and reaffirm some of the most important of UN promises. Two of these, on peacebuilding architecture and Women, Peace and Security, are forthcoming.  The third report from the peace operations review was recently submitted to the Secretary General by co-facilitators Mr. Jose Ramos-Horta and Ms. Ameerah Haq. We have seen the report as have a wide array of other interested persons, and we commend many of its insights and recommended actions.

We were fortunate to be able to contribute in some small way to the peace operations review via policy that we wrote for discussion and eventual submission by some African partners.   We also were pleased to help lead a project on the future of peace operations resulting in an edited volume from Springer publishers. The volume includes diverse cultural lenses on peacekeeping’s many challenges and offers recommendations that we hope will influence future agendas for both the policy and academic communities.

Attempting to sum up such recommendations in light of the SG’s report is (too) risky business.  GAPW would however seek to reinforce the following as integral to keeping the lofty and essential promises of peace operations:

  • First, we appreciate the report’s emphasis on prevention and mediation capabilities, recognizing that peace operations that arrive too late or are mis-utilized as a substitute for robust diplomatic engagement are more likely to endanger peacekeepers, risk mandate failures, and gravely disappoint civilians in need of protection. The best way to honor UN Charter promises to constituents in conflict zones is to prevent conflict from flaring/expanding in the first instance. This requires more than the Security Council, more than DPKO; it requires full-spectrum response from a wide variety of UN and regional stakeholders who understand that conflict prevention is a system-wide responsibility requiring high-end, system-wide expertise.
  • We also appreciate the report’s willingness to highlight the “widening gap” between what is expected of peacekeepers and their capacity and skill to deliver. We would however note the tendency in both SC mandates and in contributions such as those by the C-34 Special Committee, to overload peacekeepers with tasks that only seem to grow in number and complexity. Narrowing this gap “from the middle” will require both additional training and mandate restraint.  Peace operations cannot be expected to do difficult work often under the most challenging physical and logistical conditions while asked to undertake tasks – from training local law enforcement to restoring good governance – that would challenge the competency of the most accomplished professionals in those fields. This expanding menu of responsibilities also threatens energy and ability for civilian protection, a non-negotiable mandate for many of us.
  • We appreciate the report’s endorsement of a rapid response mechanism for peace operations based in part on the recognition that the “United Nations is often too slow to engage with emerging crises.” Such a mechanism, such as the UNEPS proposal with which we have worked for years, could be a cost effective means of getting needed capacity in the field at the earliest stages of a conflict to both help stabilize dangerous situations and buy time for diplomacy and other complementary measures– much like the outcomes expected of an emergency vehicle attached to a competent hospital.  The value of such a capacity, in our view, is less about “reinforcement and new mission start-up” and more about skillfully obviating the need for expensive, large-scale peace operations in the first instance.  The more attention and protection are available from the start of a potential conflict, the better any country’s longer-term prognosis is likely to be.
  • Finally, as we have written previously, the shocks to the reputation of the UN’s peace and security architecture from unaddressed violations of abuse by UN personnel must not be allowed to fester.  The failure to address abuses forthrightly invites further abuses, but also undermines faith in the UN system and places peacekeepers and other members of UN country teams in danger.  As was clear during an emotional honoring ceremony for fallen peacekeepers at UN Headquarters in May, threats to the physical safety of peacekeepers are numerous. The addition of scandal to vast operational challenges and (founded or unfounded) accusations of abandoned impartiality is simply more than peace operations should have to bear.

In peace operations as in other areas of UN practice, this 70th anniversary is indeed a time to bring the world we have closer to the world we want: a world that has achieved climate health and full social inclusion; a world that practices fairness and ensures equality of participation; a world with fewer countries to rebuild thanks to a more robust diplomatic, preventive and protective architecture; a world where rogue plastics no longer choke ocean species now threatened with extinction; a world in which the entitlements of elites give way to a more nuanced, compassion-based social responsibility; a world where children can be children without having to assume excessive burdens of responsibility that should still be ours for a world far too often in “shock” from one crisis or another.

Peace operations are an essential part of that larger promise, key to the UN’s core mission that people still want to believe in and that we still need to improve as part of honoring that confidence. We recall important recommendations from the Year 2000 “Brahimi Report” that have yet to be implemented fifteen years later.  We urge that the best of this new crop of recommendations can find operational pathways much sooner.

Fatherhood, Care-giving and its Caveats, Dr. Robert Zuber

20 Jun

For those of you who have endured years of my Father’s Day commentary, this might seem like an outlier message.  Bear with me, if you can stand to do so, as I attempt to blend a tribute to fathers with a bit of what I hope at least will seem like relevant policy analysis.  You can let me know if you approve of the results – with caveats of course.

Like many of words we use, misuse and overuse, “caveat” has a range of meanings, but mostly related to declarations or even warnings of stipulations or conditions that might impact our commitments; or alternatively it refers to “limitations,” as in ways in which what is presented to us as sufficient ‘truth’ is more accurately a restrictive (sometimes dramatically so) viewpoint on a situation or incident that begs for a more comprehensive and thoughtful lens.

“Caveats” in both senses have long been a part of the UN’s nomenclature, used by states to contextualize their investments of funding and personnel, and by NGOs and policy experts to assess the “missing elements” in what might otherwise be helpful analysis of security, development or social issues.

The conditions/stipulations aspect of “caveats” was on display Wednesday in the UN Security Council where members were given candid and thoughtful briefings by Force Commanders on the state-of-play in peacekeeping operations.   In our view, these briefings are not held frequently enough to accomplish what Nigeria noted were more flexible adjustments to what at times could be seen as peacekeeping mandates with eroding relevance.  Briefings are also not held often enough to allow some of the women who were in uniform in Council chambers to share assessments and experiences through their own, still-too-often-ignored perspectives.

One notable feature of this briefing was the practice by some troop contributing countries to issue “caveats” to full and unconditional participation in peacekeeping operations. These contributors, in essence, maintain the right to identify “conditions” based on judgments of operations that needlessly jeopardize the well-being of seconded troops; conditions which would therefore exempt such troops from obeying to the letter relevant orders of Force Commanders.

The need for such caveats, as noted by New Zealand (which has recently revoked its own), relates in part to the perception of some states that UN peacekeeping operations are burdened by mandates the complexity of which overwhelms training and capacity in the field, thus exacerbating relevant security threats.   But as other states and commanders noted, if caveats are warranted, there is a proper time and place for them.  Such stipulations should be stated as early in the process as possible.  Moreover, caveats must remain flexible enough to accommodate shifting circumstances, including successful UN efforts to address field concerns.  In other words, reasonable caveats should not be posed as last-minute, categorical demands but as timely and flexible responses to conditions that are not yet sufficient to warrant unconditional assent.

The UN will continue to grapple with the challenges of caveats in peacekeeping operations. Like that or not, we can all at least acknowledge that, in some form or other, we have our own caveats; we all have “conditions” for things, even important things like marriage and family.  Some of those conditions even apply to our erstwhile caregivers, specifically regarding the ways in which we want to be cared for — and ways we don’t — that are independent of others’ need to “care” for us.   Many of us have overwhelmed others, and been overwhelmed ourselves, in caregiving scenarios that were much more about the one setting the terms of care than about the one receiving the caring attention.  Not all “caring” feels like caring and such feelings are not always unwarranted: a bit like the security assessments of UN member states, the conditions for and benefits of caregiving are to a significant extent in the eyes (and hearts) of its recipients.

Beyond conditions, there is the scenario of “caveats” as limitations. Last Tuesday at the UN, Chelsea Clinton headlined an event co-sponsored by MenCare Advocacy and @UNFPA at which a report was released entitled “State of the World’s Fathers.”  The full report can be accessed at www.sowf.men-care.org.

This latest iteration of our “state of the world,” which I must say I was a bit reluctant at first to pick up, painted a generally positive (if limited) assessment of the status (and potential benefits) of fathers as caregivers, a role important for childless men (such as myself) to assume as well.  My reluctance was related in part to the increasing tendency within UN (and other) circles to assume generic caregiving deficits on the part of men (based on restrictive definitions as much as on male sloth) along with the notion that the value of fathers lies primarily in their willingness to be engaged, as the report puts it, “in ways that women want.”  Given that the report fails to highlight let alone enumerate the manifold outcomes and contexts of “caregiving,” the report seems to “patronize” male caring capacity more than explore, encourage and even celebrate its diverse manifestations.

The report utilizes as its one, relevant lens for caregiving, father interactions with young children and domestic chores, citing (quite rightly) that worldwide such men spend less time at these responsibilities than women do.  This is a gap that most fathers I know (across many cultures) both fully acknowledge and have done something to address, in some limited instances a lot to address.

It is useful for this report to identify caring gaps and to suggest remedial options in the (still too many) situations where remediation is warranted. But it is surely a bit disingenuous to create some essentialist equivalence between “caregiving” and time spent with young children and ironing boards.  Caregiving is of course very much about those things, including for fathers; but it is also about vocational and life mentoring, about getting up at 2AM during a thunderstorm to patch an elderly neighbor’s leaky roof, about inspiring people through classrooms and religious institutions, about offering assistance to a lonely traveler, about making personal sacrifices to enhance the educational prospects of family members, about holding the hands of people suffering from grief or tragedy, about being reliable to others and faithful to our word, about adjusting ourselves to the new conditions (caveats, if you will) of evolving young lives rather than forcing youth to become imperfect replicas of our imperfect selves.

There is so much more that could be listed here.   Caregiving by fathers and others is incredibly multi-faceted.   It requires a flexibility and fairness of spirit.  It involves an ability to process kindly and attentively the (sometimes maddening) demands and limitations of others, including of course, partners and children.

Many of the fathers I know do these and any number of related things.   They might wish to have more time with their children – or to assist the children of others – but they are often doing things that bring value and benefit to the home, and also to the world, our world, the world that any children they have sired are soon destined to inherit.  If preparing and guiding people, young and old, to face and cope with challenges in these messy times cannot be fully acknowledged as “caregiving,” I’m at a loss to understand its meaning. If providing materially (and hopefully emotionally) secure contexts for growth and challenge is not “caregiving,” regardless of whether it corresponds neatly to what some others might “want,” then we need urgently to find new terms to honor this service.

As most of us can attest from our own life experiences, father doesn’t always know best.   But just as clearly, many fathers and their male surrogates do much to help children and others prepare for hopeful, thoughtful, independent participation in a complex, rapidly shifting and too-often unsettling world.  The specifics of this caring might at times seem out of context and rather “old-school,” and those specifics might well include too many baseball practices and too few dirty diapers. Still the reliability of this caregiving and the willingness to work through the many stages and caveats of others’ lives are essential to positive growth and development.  I am personally and extraordinarily grateful to the many fathers in my own contexts and around the world who, through their actions and values, stay this challenging course.

Dancing with the Stars:   The UN Engages Healers, Chroniclers and Keepers of the Peace, Dr. Robert Zuber

31 May

There is an apocryphal story that I have seen variations of in several places wherein children are asked to define a “hero.”  One child apparently responds something to the effect that a “hero is a celebrity who does something real.”

The fact that such a distinction rings as true for many of us as it does says a lot about our modern culture – one defined more by seductive branding than sacrificial substance.

We all need “heroes” in the sense of people willing to respond to crises and inspire our better selves.  What “celebrity” offers instead is distraction from the requirements of personal growth, giving us permission to evade the responsibility and willingness to become what this fractured world needs us all to be, skills and commitments that the UN recognizes it could use in greater measure as well.

Indeed, towards the middle and end of this past week, the UN lifted up three sets of ‘stars,’ people whose names few would recognize but without whose service what DSG Eliasson recently referred to as a “somber global landscape” would be that much more difficult to navigate.

Eliasson’s remarks were part of a Thursday ECOSOC event on “partnerships,” specifically health-related collaborations.  The focus of course was on the still-potent Ebola scare that ravaged three West African countries and produced extraordinary stories of courageous care.  Former US president Clinton also spoke and helped convey the need for a new health care model that incorporates sustained planning for both prevention and recovery.  As had been the case previously during various UN events from the Peacebuilding Commission to the Security Council, the ECOSOC panels looked to both the future and the past, forward to a world with fewer pandemic risks, and back to reflect on those inspiring medical workers who helped us survive the current crisis.

A day earlier, the Security Council under Lithuania’s presidency convened a debate on the protection of journalists in conflict zones.   Here again, the carnage in these zones is often debilitating but the willingness of professional journalists to risk personal safety to bring us images and narratives that can help us prevent further tragedy and ensure sound policy is quite a remarkable human achievement.  There were many welcome suggestions made in the Council as to how to better protect journalists in the field, and even concerns voiced by the Netherlands, South Africa and others that unchecked levels of violence might begin to sap the willingness of journalists to get the stories we so badly need to hear.  But all of this was within an honoring framework recognizing, as Pakistan put it, that media freedom is an “enabling right” on which our other freedoms are based.

And on Friday, the UN organized another annual ceremony to honor fallen peacekeepers, this one even more moving and respectful than the last.   Men and women in full military dress representing all of the UN’s current peacekeeping operations joined with the Secretary General and many senior diplomats to lay a wreath and verbally honor the service of peacekeepers who have risked much and largely performed admirably amidst increasingly complex mandates and unpredictable security environments.

Despite the different contexts, these health workers, journalists and peacekeepers have all chosen paths of greater resistance.  For those of us for whom subway delays and cranky co-workers are among our worst daily setbacks, what do we owe people who willingly take risks that we desperately need them to take but that most of the rest of us would choose to sit out?

The answer varies.  For the health care professionals who risked (and in some cases sacrificed) their own lives to answer the Ebola challenge, the answer seems clear – what former President Clinton referred to as a more serious investment in robust and reliable health infrastructure, but also in ‘rapid response’ mechanisms for pandemic outbreaks and in more reliable resiliency capacity to vulnerable states fearing health-related shocks – in essence honoring the courage by preventing the reoccurrence.

For journalists, while ending impunity for violence against media professionals was rightly encouraged by virtually all Council speakers, it is clear that many journalists will continue to take professional risks so long as their findings are taken seriously by the policy community.   While both are essential, the journalists I have met who work in conflict zones would rather be heeded than protected. They are willing to take risks if the stories they uncover can help save communities from further abuse – asking the “next question” in the hope that policymakers responsible for violence prevention will do likewise.

As for the peacekeepers, there seemed to be an undercurrent suggesting that receiving honor is less important than maintaining integrity and effectiveness.   As the UN wrestles with what seems to be a widening sex abuse scandal in the CAR, I recall earlier conversations with my own military veteran family members who took completely seriously violations of the military code that created disrespect for the uniform and endangered lives.  As peacekeeping operations evolve in logistical complexity in situations where peacekeeper neutrality is giving way to more robust projections of protective force, the last thing UN peacekeepers in the field need – and the last thing the rest of us should tolerate — is festering scandal.

There are times when all of us need to step back and remember the many people whose sometimes life-threatening labors are indispensable to our own futures.   But more than remembrance, there are things we can do, roles we can play, even sacrifices we can make, to respect their service and dignify their craft.  Being in the presence of heroism should inspire more from each of us. Indeed, our admiring ‘dance’ around such heroism is rather suspect if we fail to accept a commensurate responsibility for the heroic – or at least the bold – as we move through the world. To rhetorically admire acts of bravery while ignoring their specific challenges is at best unwise. So too is any avoidance of a commensurate responsibility to balance personal courage in areas such as health, journalism and peacekeeping with bold and effective global policy – something real inspired by something real.

And of course we must all do more to avoid the many pitfalls of celebrity substitutes that always linger in our overly-branded world, substitutes which even our children recognize can reduce specific acts of genuine heroism to mere caricatures of themselves.

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.