Tag Archives: R2P

Rights and Wrongs:  The UN Seeks Discernment for Itself and Lasting Relief for Others Dr. Robert Zuber

25 Jan

This past week at UNHQ witnessed a flurry of interest in the human rights dimensions of the other UN pillars, from post-2015 development to the practice of peace operations and the protection of civilians from armed violence. Much of this activity was informed by the SG’s “Rights up Front” initiative.

On Tuesday The Netherlands sponsored a special Women, Peace and Security event, entitled “Seeking Synergy with the Reviews on Peace Operations and Peacebuilding.”  While there wasn’t much discussion of the review processes themselves, the skilled panel reinforced the need for greater vigilance both in terms of the full participation of women and in terms of how UN operations in the field treat women within their protection and care zones.

On Wednesday at Poland’s “Why have we failed in preventing genocides” event, DSG Eliasson noted the need to transform lessons “we already should have learned” into concerted action, a call that was echoed by others including the US and UK Ambassadors.  For his part, USG Dieng wisely highlighted the current, “scarce institutional investments” in preventive capacity while urging us all to do more to counter prejudice and other ‘triggers’ of mass violence.

On Thursday Switzerland organized a discussion on “human rights at work in peace operations, featuring among others ASG Šimonović and UNSMIL’s Cardone. Panel recommendations were based in part on ample documentary evidence of high level, ‘joint’ discussions that have taken place (and continue) between UNOHCHR and the human rights leadership of diverse peace operations from the DRC to Haiti.

That same day the General Assembly’s Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C-34) met for briefings on the important matters of conduct and discipline, as well as ‘protection of civilians’ doctrine.

And on Friday, Lithuania convened an informal Security Council meeting to help solidify the human rights dimensions of Council-authorized peace operations.  It is presumed that this discussion helped to set the bar for the upcoming Security Council debate on the Protection of Civilians scheduled for next Tuesday, January 27.

These discussions and others taking place around the UN are most welcome.  Anyone who believes that the UN system is largely insincere in its attempts to chart a humane and rights-based course for peace operations and peacebuilding is simply not paying sufficient attention.

That said there are, of course, caveats here that need to be explored.  As peace operations become more complex in their mission objectives and robust in their protection mandates, the human rights implications of peace operations grow in complexity as well.  So too, we would argue, does the level of vigilance required to maintain a human rights focus under the most challenging of field circumstances.

One example of this vigilance relates to the ‘intervention brigade’ authorized for the Eastern DRC ostensibly without ‘setting a precedent,’ a capacity which has recently seen an expansion in its focus but with little in the way of a sustained vetting of its limitations and implications for other UN country teams and humanitarian operations. Having witnessed some (welcome) security progress in the Eastern DRC, the government of Mali at a recent Security Council meeting had little apparent compulsion in asking the Council for a ‘brigade’ of its own, a call which is likely to be mimicked further as states wrestle with diverse security, human rights and governance challenges, and as vigilance regarding unintended consequences of such capacities remains elusive.

We have long cautioned against an overly militarized and de-contextualized response to the challenges of insurgency.  Not all insurgent movements are the same; some like the pastoralists roaming the ‘ungoverned’ spaces in northern Mali and border states, are arguably not ‘insurgents’ at all.   There are times when military response might well be appropriate; but for the most part, such responses are too –often a result of a clumsy (at best) process of ‘upstream’ political discernment on the part of the Security Council, as well as of the unwillingness of states facing security challenges to make the changes needed to eliminate discrimination and corruption towards regaining the broadest possible public trust.

In a UN system with its carefully worded Charter mandate for peace and security maintenance, the burden of proof regarding the effectiveness of any military response must reside with its Council authorizers as well as with those states seeking such authorizations.  Such ‘proof’ to our mind is too-often unconvincing or even lacking altogether.

Thankfully, awakenings of political, ‘upstream’ discernment were clearly on display in all of the week’s events where we were present, including the UK’s forceful declaration of need for more ‘early warning’ capacity at the “preventing genocides” event.  More pointedly, it was outgoing USG Haq at the event on peace operations and peacebuilding who reminded the audience that the pursuit of human rights pertains not only to those whom we defend, but to how we behave while defending.

Indeed, if we are not scrupulous about ensuring that our resolutions, response capacities and field conduct uphold our prevention and protection principles, we risk undermining both our own credibility and the dignity of those whom we presume to protect. The admonition by Haq for the UN “to look at itself” and curb its own abuses implies that the UN and its member states can do more to restrict the implementation of response doctrines that inadvertently perpetuate human rights abuse under the guise of eliminating it. We can only urge the full and careful incarnation of such discernment.

Raising the Stakes on Conflict Prevention Stakeholders

25 May

On Thursday, an unusually large crowd of diplomats, invited guests and NGOs gathered in the Security Council to observe the veto of a resolution on Syria (S/2014/348) that had been drafted by France and endorsed by an array of other states inside and outside the Council.

The gist of the resolution was a referral to the International Criminal Court as one measure of ending impunity or at least, in the words of the Australians, to remind abusers that there is no ‘statute of limitation’ on crimes being committed in Syria.

Such reminders are important, to be sure, though it is unclear that the ICC is well suited to conduct investigations and render judgments in the midst of a protracted civil war.   The Chief Prosecutor of the ICC speaking at a briefing on Libya earlier in the month pointed out to the Council that conducting investigations with little funding while confronting massive security threats is difficult at best.  That Syria (like Libya) features massive abuses by multiple parties only complicates jurisprudence, perhaps placing the attainment of justice in this instance well beyond the reasonable capacity of the court.

The failed resolution on Syria seemed somehow consistent with a recent pattern in the Council of trying to ‘do something’ by punting the political football to DPKO (in the form of more complex and coercive mandates) or the ICC (in the form of hastily conceived, unfunded, imprecise referrals) rather than examining the limitations of its own power and process.   The Council remains among the most politicized spaces in the UN.  It is also among the most uneven spaces from the standpoint of power and influence.   The non-permanent members (with the exception of their time as president) largely populate sub-committees and make public statements.  The Russians and Chinese would have little say on many resolutions if they could not force Council members to pay attention to them through threat of the veto.   And the rest of the UN system too often sits on its proverbial hands waiting to see if the Council will take on yet more ‘thematic concerns’ for which it then presumes to act as global legislator.

The present preoccupation with veto restraint within some parts of our policy community is a diversion that belies full recognition of the limitations of the Security Council and the under-tapped resources of the broader UN system (including the Joint Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect) which the Council seems largely to ignore.    As we have written previously, effective veto restraint implies the existence of depoliticized findings of impending mass atrocity violence, a sincere and robust commitment to solve violence primarily through diplomatic means, and Council members whose motives are transparent and attached to the kinds of assessments and accountabilities that have eluded that body for most of its history.  In a system where findings are politicized, where preventive measures are under financed and too often disregarded, and where there is no way to hold the Council accountable for its own mistakes, veto restraint would simply be a gift to the P-3, one which they have not necessarily merited.  Whether or not such restraint would also be a ‘gift’ to victims has to do in part with organizational assessments of the relative efficacy of diplomatic vs. militarized solutions to complex patterns of violence.

Capacity support is the lifeblood of the UN system, and this is true for atrocity crime prevention as in other areas.   But the success of such support is only enhanced when the full complement of stakeholders is acknowledged and engaged.  Regarding RtoP, for instance, it has never been clear who the relevant stakeholders are.  Is it permanent Council members?  Other member states?   The small group of NGOs that gather around the issue here in NY?  Regional or national governmental/military alliances?   What is the role for a small office like GAPW aside from routine (and often ineffective) ‘squawking’ about systemic limitations?   What is the role of media?  Business?   Education?  Development agencies?   Local civil society organizations? Is atrocity crime prevention a responsibility of the entire, extended UN ‘family’ or is it a responsibility of a few powerful states and some random national focal points?   It has often seemed as though the RtoP/atrocity crime prevention community has been more effective in shutting off hard questions than in welcoming them, of closing the gates on offers of energy and commitment rather than finding ways to put such to work.   But our own limitations notwithstanding, the stakes remain critical for the prevention of mass atrocities. We need to get this right, by which we mean to establish reliable and fair structures that are largely prevention oriented and that encourage the broadest possible stakeholder involvement.   We remain far from that goal.

The UN Charter does, indeed, confer upon the Council the primary responsibility for maintaining peace and security.    However, this does not indicate ‘sole’ responsibility nor does it imply that ‘maintenance’ is primarily a reactive matter rather than a preventive one.  Whatever the results of the parallel reform movements afoot within the UN regarding the membership and working methods of the Council, it is imperative that the current Council takes stock of itself and does more to address violence than fling accusations across the desks of political adversaries. Perhaps it could start with an examination of its own ‘franchise.’ After all, the more the Council is understood (or understands itself) as the only relevant player on atrocity violence the more unlikely it is to endorse and encourage other stakeholders.  However, such endorsements and encouragements are the key to an effective system of protection from mass violence that can both energize diverse conflict prevention capacities and help spare the international community the spectacle on Syria that we recently witnessed and which frankly was hard to watch.

Dr. Robert Zuber


Shock and Awe: The C34 Finishes Its Report

9 Apr

After 30 days of negotiation, re-negotiation, and a little bit more negotiation, the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations — also known by its shorter title of ‘the C34’ — produced a report for 2014. The report, which examines the ‘whole question’ of peacekeeping – from DDR to policies on procurement – is meant to offer guidance on UN peacekeeping policy. (We will have more to say about the report shortly.) Thus we trust that some of the key recommendations will now be ‘operationalised’ primarily through the UN’s Department of Field Support, and Department of Peacekeeping Operations. As far as intergovernmental processes go, completing a report does not register much surprise. However, it is quite an achievement for the assorted members of the committee to produce this report after they failed to do so during the previous year’s session.

With the success of the process this year (delegates even managed to wrap things up by 17.30 on the final day), one could easily be deceived into believing that all is fine in the land of peacekeeping governance.  However, the development of peacekeeping over the last 6-12 months has demonstrated the degree to which the C34 process is in need of stringent examination, a process which continually reminds the actors involved in peacekeeping policy of the precarious situation that such policy now often finds itself in.

The state of peacekeeping policymaking at the UN can be visualized as three concentric rings, or cogs:

1)    First, Longer term policy developments – this is the slowest of the cogs in the UN system, as it involves the widest array of actors and policy issues. This is where the C34 comes in, supplementing the development of structural changes in the DPKO/DFS and doctrinal developments (‘principles and guidelines’) such as in the new Horizons Process. The fruits of this process often have to find agreement of a wider range of member states, as well as operationalization by the Secretariat.

2)    Second are Operational demands –These refer to responses to threats taking the form of mandates for peacekeeping operations through the Security Council and Secretariat, from the surge in operations at the beginning and end of the 1990s to current developments in Mali, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some of those operations have considerable ramifications for what we have traditionally come to know as ‘peacekeeping.’

3)    The final cog is comprised of ‘Shocks’ – these come in the form of often-avoidable events which shake up peacekeeping practice. For instance: The killing of US servicemen in Somalia in 1992, the Rwandan Genocide, the massacre in Srebrenica, the sexual exploitation and abuse scandals in the early 2000s, and the possible political and legal ramifications from the Cholera outbreak in Haiti. At times these shocks happen due to significant failures at a tactical level. However, sometimes they come about as a result of urgent operational demands working on a different timeline than longer term policy developments.

It can be observed that peacekeeping in the UN is currently stretched in such a policy dynamic: in particular the shorter-term operational and the longer-term policy seem to be working at dramatically different speeds. This is to be expected to a certain extent as, from time to time, urgent operational demands must overtake careful policy development. Moreover, longer-term policy cannot always spin on a dime, with the most coherent and effective policy sometimes taking a considerable time and patience to develop.

However, the past six months have seen operational demands which have significantly challenged the core principles of peacekeeping – the impartiality of a deployed peacekeeping force, the need for strategic consent from the host state, and changes regarding the minimum use of force (apart from self defence and the defence of the mandate). There is a clear and even stark contrast between operational developments – most clearly seen in the Security Council – and deliberations related to longer-term planning — seen through statements from the C34 in which member states consistently refer back to the prominence of core principles.

For instance, in his briefing to the Security Council about the UNMISS operation in South Sudan, USG for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Herve Ladsous, failed to acknowledge the role of consent as a pillar of the UNMISS operation, while outlining his plan to withdraw capacity building for the government and opposition and focus purely on the impartial protection of civilians. As laudable as the protection of civilians is in South Sudan, the deafening silence concerning host nation consent sets the operation on a precarious path, particularly when the UN’s own reports cite the host government as a primary coordinator of attacks against UNMISS. In the larger picture of peacekeeping policy development, this is even more problematic – if a peacekeeping mission can continue to be deployed without host nation support, what does this mean for peacekeeping’s claim of impartial response?

Additionally, the assessment of UNMISS, and planning for deployment in the Central African Republic are both taking place at the same time as the UN is undertaking tricky negotiations over reimbursement rates for peacekeepers. Levels of financial reimbursement are being closely linked by some states to levels of preparedness of peacekeepers and the equipment that accompanies them in the field. Moreover, Troop Contributors wish to see an even higher rate of reimbursement in situations where they send soldiers into particularly hazardous environments. Linking this to debates in the Security Council where peacekeepers are being mandated to deploy in areas with high levels of insecurity, with little formalized peace processes in place, and (as in the case of MONUSCO) with part of the mission recalibrated to launch offensive combat operations against belligerents, gaps in the timing of policy formulation – including policy on reimbursement — are more pronounced.

In addition to these gaps, a trend exists which considers the Security Council as the primary anchor point in peacekeeping policy, particularly visible among advocacy groups. For instance, advocacy around the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has seen a considerable level of activity at the UN Security Council (most pertinently around operations), but nothing comparable at the C34. No statement from the joint office on R2P/genocide prevention has been made at the C34; the concept is not referred to at all in this year’s C34 report, nor does it appear in other iterations of the UN’s peacekeeping policy machinery (for instance the Principles and Guidelines). The level of ‘impact’ from advocacy at Security Council level may potentially be greater, but there is a danger in neglecting other capacities established to develop peacekeeping policy, thereby reinforcing the belief by Security Council membership (in particular Permanent Members), that they are the only drivers of such policy.

From our perspective, strengthening the role and functionality of the C34 is essential – that this year’s report was approved is no small feat. However, work towards the strengthening of the report, the level to which the report’s policy recommendations can be operationalized, is a task for the coming year. Secondly, there needs to be a bit more humility from those member states in the Security Council who too often feel that their idea of peacekeeping is the only viable way forward. Statements made regarding the CAR as being a ‘new type of operation’ seemed to ride roughshod over years of (admittedly imperfect) peacekeeping development which began at the end of the 1990s. Thirdly, contributors to the C34 need to develop and utilize their own strengths to facilitate peacekeeping research. The growth of peacekeeping training centers within a growing number of states brings with it opportunities of spreading “lessons learned” and cultivating more nuanced levels of understanding. Finally, those advocacy groups seeking policy relevance solely through tracking Security Council resolutions and debates may have to revisit their strategies, or at least examine the extent to which they can also support the longer term policy approaches represented by the C34.

The fear is that if longer term policy and shorter-term operational demands continue to move at such radically different speeds, then the UN could find itself in a similar position as the beginning of the 1990’s. As those who follow the history of peacekeeping knows, the 1990’s contained plenty of shocks.  Another generation of preventable ‘shocks’ is in the best interests of no one.

Dr. David Curran, GAPW Peacekeeping Fellow

Peacekeeping in South Sudan: Offering full-spectrum protection for civilians

13 Jan

The UN Security Council’s decision of the 24th December 2013 to reinforce the UNMISS[1] Peacekeeping operation in South Sudan represents a serious attempt to assist in the prevention of attacks on the civilian population within the country. On a wider level, the reinforcement of UNMISS indicates the role that peacekeeping is now expected to play in civilian protection, but it may also provide a warning to how much a peacekeeping operation can achieve without a comprehensive political process to back this up.

Resolution 2132, which reinforced UNMISS, is also representative of the UN’s stronger stance on what to do when violence breaks out in an area where an operation is already being deployed – a journey which began with the calamitous decision in 1994 not to reinforce the UNAMIR operation in Rwanda when it became clear that a systematic campaign of genocide was being planned, and ultimately undertaken. Therefore in many ways, the UN’s reinforcement of UNMISS is the ‘right thing’ to do, a product of a 20 year reflection and development on how to respond in situations where a mission is deployed and civilians are threatened. Moreover, the UN’s decision to reinforce has saved lives in South Sudan, in part as a result of the simple fact that there are now more peacekeepers deployed in the conflict zone to protect the civilian population. This is to be valued.

However, civilian protection at this tactical level could pose future difficulties for UNMISS.

The very presence of UN peacekeepers can sometimes offer enough of a deterrence to would be ‘spoilers’ to a peace process, including those considering attacking civilians. However, deterrence alone will not last forever, and this presents considerable difficulties where civilian protection mandates are concerned. If violence continues after reinforcements have been deployed, with peacekeepers being unable to effectively deter further attacks, then the UN will have difficulties, both logistical and in terms of legitimacy. Richard Gowan’s article for World Politics Review speaks to these challenges, where he outlines three possible scenarios for the UMISS peacekeeping mission in the near future[2]:

In the first and best scenario, the mission will manage to hold together militarily long enough for more-or-less sincere political talks to end the violence. In the second, it might muddle through in the face of half-hearted negotiations and spasmodic but serious violence, trying to save as many lives as possible. The third, worst-case scenario would involve the fragmentation and rout of UNMISS after repeated attacks on its bases, personnel and convoys.

This challenge in cases such as South Sudan, is partly the result of the undefined relationship between the original design of peacekeeping – deploying missions where there is actually peace to keep – and what operations are now being asked to do regarding protection of civilians. Ever since the first armed peacekeeping operation (UNEF I) was closed on the eve of the 1967 war in the Middle East, there has been an implicit admission that peacekeeping is only effective if the parties to the conflict actually wish for peace. Peacekeeping where there is no peace to keep is dangerous territory for the United Nations, and peacekeeping failures have often gone hand in hand with deployments into areas where UN peacekeepers are no more than bystanders in conflicts where combatants have no real interest in pursuing peace. In the case of South Sudan, it could well be that additional peacekeepers are to be deployed into an area where there is little peace to keep. This dynamic has not gone un-noticed by troop contributors[3].

There seems to be no getting around it:  a comprehensive approach to the protection of civilians requires considerable political activity above and beyond the creation of short-term ceasefires and consolidation of battle-lines.

The necessity of a holistic political process is critical for full civilian protection. Importantly, this will require reflection on the evolution of structures and power dynamics wherein ethnic tensions are allowed to fester, civil society groups had little access to power-making structures, and allegations of corruption have been pointed at political elites[4]. It would be hugely beneficial if such reflection were to also examine the planning and execution of international statebuilding practices which no doubt influenced the actions at a national level. No conflict is contained purely within the borders of the state, safe from external influence. South Sudan is no different.

A more sustained, pre-deployment, process of reflection could lead to more attuned strategies for peace. The New York Times warns of the difficulties of devising a peace process without a significant understanding of the conflict, arguing that

Any push toward a tribally defined solution to the conflict — like a Bosnia-style ethnic power sharing deal — would be disastrous, for it would entrench and validate ethnic fissures, rather than give political power sharing a chance to smooth them over.[5]

An editorial in the Washington Post shares this sentiment, noting that power-sharing ‘could become just another division of the spoils, and elections could become another exercise in ethnic division’[6]. Thus in understanding international peacebuilding, a much broader constituency of stakeholders must be engaged at earlier phases. This – in the words of civil society actors from the region – will require political sacrifices from the conflicting parties[7].  Elsewhere, the role of religious leaders, civic leaders and former combatants in creating a durable peace have been highlighted as being critical in establishing a durable peace[8]. A United States Institute of Peace report from 8 January further elucidates this[9]

Strategies for protecting civilians in South Sudan are ultimately being undertaken too late in the political process and in a bit of a policy vacuum. International peacekeeping operations have limitations, particularly when their deterrent effect falters. In looking towards establishing a political solution to the conflict, a suitable testament to the civilians who have been killed, injured, or forcibly removed (and to those peacekeepers who have been killed and injured trying to protecting them) would be to do more (and earlier) to encourage a political system which has the ‘peaceful coexistence, progress, development and happiness[10]’ of the South Sudanese population at its heart. It is in these processes where effective, sustainable civilian protection lies.

 Dr. David Curran, Peacekeeping Fellow

[1] UN Department of Public Information, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2132 (2013), Security Council Increases United Nations Mission’s Military Presence In South Sudan, http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2013/sc11230.doc.htm

[2] Gowan, Richard, Diplomatic Fallout: Can the U.N. Rebuild its Force in South Sudan? http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/13460/diplomatic-fallout-can-the-u-n-rebuild-its-force-in-south-sudan

[3] Republica, Your war, our soldiers!, 07 January 2014, http://www.myrepublica.com/portal/index.php?action=news_details&news_id=67502

[5] New York Times, South Sudan’s Tangled Crisis, 05 January 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/06/opinion/south-sudans-tangled-crisis.html?_r=0

[7] Alliance for Peacebuilding, Statement of Sudanese and South Sudanese Civil Society on the Conflict in South Sudan, 30 December 2013, http://www.allianceforpeacebuilding.org/2013/12/statement-of-sudanese-and-south-sudanese-civil-society-on-the-conflict-in-south-sudan/

[9] Princeton N. Lyman, Jon Temin, Susan Stigant, Crisis and Opportunity in South Sudan, US Institute of Peace, 08 January 2014, http://www.usip.org/publications/crisis-and-opportunity-in-south-sudan?utm_content=buffer2b45c&utm_

[10] Alliance for Peacebuilding, Statement of Sudanese and South Sudanese Civil Society on the Conflict in South Sudan, 30 December 2013, http://www.allianceforpeacebuilding.org/2013/12/statement-of-sudanese-and-south-sudanese-civil-society-on-the-conflict-in-south-sudan/

Declining Dignity for Journalists: The Dual Challenges of Violence and Access

15 Dec

On Friday, the Security Council held an ‘Arria Formula’ event, hosted by Guatemala and France, focused on the growing problem of violence against working journalists.

The event was largely ‘off the record’ and attendance was somewhat restricted.   The opening panel featured an extraordinary array of UN officials — including UNESCO’s Irina Bokova and ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. These and other officials are tasked in part with ensuring that journalists are protected (and crimes against them are prosecuted) both by member states and by the international community, in part based on ‘protection of civilians’ mandates issued by the Council,  application of Article 8 of the Rome Statute, etc.   There was also important testimony provided by David Rhode of Reuters, who himself had been held captive by the Taliban, as well as by other professionals working to protect journalists from abuse.

Much of the discussion was premised on the language of SC Resolution 1738, which was the first Security Council text devoted to the protection of journalists in armed conflicts, expresses the Council’s concern regarding the lack of adherence to existing rules, and recalls the relevant body of legislation applicable.  Indeed, one of the best insights from a robust engagement with this issue was the call for a ‘consolidated document’ that summarizes all of the disparate UN efforts under way to better protect journalists.  This is clearly an issue for the UN system as a whole and not just for Council deliberations.

Beyond resolutions, the event made several things clear.   First and foremost, there was recognition that violence against journalists has reached epidemic proportions.   Speaker after speaker noted the frequent occurrence of murder and abduction of journalists, as well as the recognition that 90% or more of this violence goes unpunished.

It was also noted that violence against journalists occurs mostly away from conflict zones with most victims being local journalists.   Attempts to intimidate the community of journalists are widespread and corrosive of efforts to provide legitimate, impartial information that, among other things, can document and spread the word about massive violations of human rights.   As was noted on more than one occasion, murder remains the most effective form of censorship.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, there was recognition of the vital role that journalists – local and international – play in helping policymakers stay abreast of conditions in some of the most challenging and dangerous parts of our world.   There were welcome calls for new ‘journalist safety standards’ as well as more training of national security forces on the need to preserve freedom of expression.  These and other measures bring some hope for relief.

But violence is not the only challenge facing professional journalists.  There is also a problem with access to UN agencies, government officials and policymakers.  In addition, as more and more media becomes subsumed under corporate interests, the very same journalists who risk their lives to provide sometimes horrific images and stories of abuse from very challenging environments find that they must struggle harder than ever to ensure that at least some of what they investigate finds its way on to television screens and under newspaper bylines.

For its part, GAPW has been engaged with media professionals for over two years through our “Matching:Points” project directed by Lia Petridis Maiello.   Based on numerous interviews with working journalists and officials at the UN, Lia produced a report “Assessing UN Media Relations and Revitalizing Dialogue among Diverse Stakeholders (available at www.globalactionpw.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/media_diplo_brief.pdf ).  Her report makes clear the many ways in which journalists face barriers of access, in some cases regarding the very same officials and policymakers whom journalists are risking their lives and careers to keep informed.   Certainly there are few dangers covering the UN, but even in this environment there is much remaining to be done to respect and energize stakeholders so that we can all do our part to, as Lia notes, “help the global public understand the structure and activities of the United Nations, including its programmatic successes and political compromises.”

It is important that resolutions and related activities to protect journalists are accompanied by efforts to dignify their efforts in the field, to honor their courage with access to officials, straight talk, and more space for their work in existing media outlets.   Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, offered an intriguing linkage at the Arria Formula event between the status of journalists and that of human rights defenders.   In our view, journalists who face challenging conditions in the field while bringing to our attention stories and images that the world simply must address are indeed upholding our collective commitment to preserve human rights for all.  Beyond social media, corporate media and disinterested media, these often courageous journalists deserve every bit of assistance from the international community to preserve their personal safety and professional dignity.   As the Council members themselves no doubt recognized, resolutions alone are an insufficient response to the growing global problems of freedom of the press, including freedom from violent abuse.

Dr. Robert Zuber

The Central African Republic: The politics of protecting

12 Dec

After considerable advocacy from a range of actors[1], the UN Council passed Resolution 2127[2], authorizing a joint French/AU operation in the Central African Republic. This has brought new attention to the country, the conflict, and ways to resolve it. As someone who deals in the broad field of peacekeeping, and not a subject specialist on the CAR, I felt a breakdown of the conflict dynamics in the CAR was beyond me, and best left to many others[3].  Moreover, in terms of the peacekeeping aspects, it will be difficult to note the effects of any operation for some time. Yes questions do exist – such as what will happen when the French wish to leave? Is a mandate predominantly under the headline of civilian protection been matched with necessary resources? What will a UN force look like if it is to deploy? Is this peacekeeping or peace enforcement? These questions though, may need a bit of time to answer.

To start, it is worth pointing out that the decision of the French Government, and contributing states to the AU mission is a welcome development. Conflicts of the most violent sort often require intervention from third parties, more so if the main target of such violence is the civilian population. Calls for rapid deployment of a UN Peacekeeping operation were unrealistic, given the UN’s slow timeframe of deployment (particularly into a landlocked country). Thus through their actions, French and AU forces are providing a critical contribution to the security of the civilian population of the CAR, thus heightening the chances of a cessation of violence.

Nevertheless, there are still areas where questions appear. These may not be so much related to the tough decisions peacekeepers make in a conflict zone, but more about the wider issues in deploying operations. The intention of this post is therefore to interrogate the use of narratives to explain intervention or justify past inaction. By doing so, the post (hopefully) will demonstrate where linkages appear between some of the wider critical assessment of peacekeeping, and the real-time actions of ‘policy world’.

Academic approaches to peacekeeping have, in the past 10 years, looked to apply a far more critical approach to understanding how peacekeeping works in global politics, questioning motivations of the actors in peacekeeping operations[4]. If one only focuses on the technical aspects of operations without questioning overall assumptions of the role that peacekeeping plays in global politics, then, in effect we are all missing the big questions concerning the ways in which ‘peace’ is implemented, and who ‘wins’ and ‘looses’ through such interventions. This line of inquiry is often criticized as moving away from ‘policy relevance’. It may also be open to the accusation of of criticizing an actor who is ‘doing the right thing’. In the case of responding to mass atrocity and civilian protection demands, this may be pervasive. France and the AU are saving lives – who are we to criticize that?

However, no intervention is apolitical – actors in peacekeeping and peace enforcement act for a reason – funders, contributors, those who give equipment, all have complex intentions. Actors also look to control the narrative and explain their actions in the most positive light.  Examples of this can be found in numerous studies (see for example critical reactions to the Tony Blair’s humanitarian rationale for intervention into Iraq[5]).

A more recent example of this can be noted from the Security Council meeting where UNSCR 2127 was adopted, in particular the opening statement by the French Permanent Representative, and Chair of the Council, Mr. Gérard Araud. In it, he stated that:

Hitherto, the Central African Republic had been a forgotten crisis of the sort in which the media were not interested. Given the crisis itself, however, indifference and inaction were not options. France felt it was our collective duty to support action by the African Union and the Economic Community of Central African States to prevent mass atrocities[6].

He went on to say ‘In his statement at the general debate in September, the President of the French Republic was the first to sound the alarm and call for resolute action by the Security Council’.

Here the narrative of the UN action is that France, standing alone against global ambivalence, perpetuated by an indifferent ‘media’ took the initiative and prevented mass atrocities. To an extent, this can be taken at face value – as said, France is indeed deploying forces alongside the AU and ECCAS in a fundamentally dangerous conflict zone to protect civilians. However this is also problematic. In creating a causal link between media ambivalence and global apathy, the statement is excusing the myriad of international actors who have had a presence in the CAR for a considerable time, and had capacities to call attention to (and even do something about) the deteriorating situation. The New York Times report from November outlines the external intervention in the CAR over the past few years:

France has had an almost continuous military presence since the country gained independence in 1960, including the 400 soldiers deployed at the start of the current crisis. The European Union has a delegation in Bangui and has been the main donor for 10 years. United States Army personnel arrived in 2011 as part of efforts to capture Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, who has been indicted on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court and is believed to be hiding somewhere in Central Africa[7].

Simply explaining that CAR was off the radar until September, until France raised it with the world misses the point at least slightly. A range of actors have been involved in the CAR, and many of those actors had capacities to (and in some cases did) at least monitor the deterioration of the state into the situation it is in now. An argument thus exists that in using this form of narrative, the Security Council has neatly negotiated the ‘history’ of external actors in this conflict. By doing so, any accountability for the failure of external actors has been avoided, and the media has been highlighted as a possible scapegoat if turns out that the deployment is deemed inadequate in one way or another. This highlighting of the media also ignores the myriad of reporting and monitoring from a range of NGO’s, advocacy groups[8], and yes… reports from media outlets[9].

Importantly, this ‘recitation’ of recent history could have serious implications for future actions. Christoph Vogel (who has written extensively about conflict in Africa) highlights this:

Well, now we could argue that at least it made the UN Security Council debate on it and send the French (who have been there anyways, before) in to restore order. However, whose order? The French order? The UN order? The order of a smouldering conflict in which genocide needs to be prevented? The public authority of the Central African State? The City administration of Bangui? The ousted government of a longtime embezzling Bozizé? The remainders of a disintegrated rebel movement running the country? Hard to tell, as a myriad of interests are at stake[10]

Vogel’s words (and article) are pertinent, and link back to the critical assessments outlined above – thus demonstrating that what at first looks like an abstract theoretical critique is in fact a valuable lens through which to see how interveners seek to justify their actions in conflict situations. Narratives of conflict, intervention and protection cannot be left unquestioned. To do so is not healthy for those who intervene, and possibly less healthy in the long term for the ‘end users’ – the most vulnerable members of a population under siege.

[1] Amnesty International, Central African Republic: UN peacekeeping mission needed to avoid mass slaughter, http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/central-african-republic-un-peacekeeping-mission-needed-avoid-mass-slaughter-2013-12-02;

[3] For instance: Human Rights Watch, “I Can Still Smell the Dead” The Forgotten Human Rights Crisis in the Central African Republic, http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/car0913_insert_LOWRES_WITH_COVER.pdf , Sept 2013; Global Centre for the R2P, Central African Republic,

http://www.globalr2p.org/regions/central_african_republic; Good Governance Afria, From Terror to tyranny, http://gga.org/stories/editions/aif-18-fault-lines-africas-separation-anxiety/from-terror-to-tyranny/?utm_source=OpenNetworksCRM&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=OpenNetworksCRM

[4] Bellamy, A. J., & Williams, P. (2004). Introduction: Thinking Anew About Peace Operations. International Peacekeeping, 11(1); Pugh, M. (2012). Reflections on Aggressive Peace. International Peacekeeping, 19(4), 37–41; Cunliffe, P. (2009). The Politics of Global Governance in UN Peacekeeping. International Peacekeeping, 16(3), 323–336.

[5] Cooper, N, Review Article: On the crisis of the Liberal Peace, Conflict Security and Development, 7(4), 605-616; Pugh, M. (2004). Peacekeeping and Critical Theory. International Peacekeeping, 11(1).

[6] 5 December 2013 – CAR / Adoption of resolution 2127 – Explanation of vote by Mr. Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations, http://www.franceonu.org/france-at-the-united-nations/press-room/statements-at-open-meetings/security-council/article/5-december-2013-car-adoption-of-7657

[8] For Instance, International Crisis Group, Central African Republic: Priorities of the Transition, June 2013, http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/africa/central-africa/central-african-republic/203-central-african-republic-priorities-of-the-transition.aspx

[9] Reuters, Central African Republic’s ex-rebels went on rampage: rights group, 10 May 2010 http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/15/us-centralafrica-crisis-un-idUSBRE94E1CK20130515

Reuters, U.N. calls for sanctions on Central African Republic rights abusers, 15 May 2010, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/10/us-centralafrica-rebels-idUSBRE9490RQ20130510

[10] Gencocide? Religious War? The inflationary use of Buzzwords in CAR’s violent imbroglio, http://christophvogel.net/2013/12/09/genocide-religious-war-the-inflationary-use-of-buzzwords-in-cars-violent-imbroglio/

Dr. David Curran, Peacekeeping Fellow

Deconstructing Prevention: The Theory, Policy and Practice of Mass Atrocity Prevention

12 Mar

On Tuesday, February 26, 2013, the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, in conjunction with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law Program in Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Studies, presented a conference entitled Deconstructing Prevention: The Theory, Policy, and Practice of Mass Atrocity Prevention.

The agenda of the conference was situated around atrocity, conflict, and genocide prevention, protection of civilians, the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), transitional justice and the application of crisis mapping and technology to the field and agenda of prevention. In addition, another objective of the conference was to theorize and examine the assumptions and aims of the field of prevention, while also defining and rationalizing the parameters and the relationship that prevention has with other disciplines and agendas.

The topics discussed in this conference remain relevant in finding a means to prevent genocide and mass atrocity around the world. Specifically, the thematics and ideology behind Deconstructing Prevention: The Theory, Policy, and Practice of Mass Atrocity Prevention runs parallel to the mission of Global Action to Prevent War.

This conference has reinforced the need for furthering the discussion on genocide prevention, as it is clear that while the technology is evolving within the field, there is still need for structural and cultural changes, among the major and most powerful players. While it seems that the academic and civil society actors are most active in the push towards improving the use of technology in early warning indicators and the development of groundbreaking mechanisms, it would be in the best interest of the entire global community to work towards strengthening this evolving and pertinent leg of the prevention field.

The event began with an address from the keynote speaker, retired Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire, followed by the first panel discussion entitled, “The United Nations Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect: An Evolving Institution.” The panelists included Ambassador Francis Deng, Edward Luck and Juan Mendez.

In keeping with the agenda of the conference, the session started with exploring the link between R2P and state sovereignty, the three-pillar approach, developing mechanisms and early warning indicators both regionally and sub-regionally, and the role of institutions in indicating to governments when it is time to act.

Ambassador Deng, former Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide, defined genocide as an extreme form of identity conflict, where some are marginalized and others are given the sense of belonging. This may be characterized through regional identities or religious differences. Ambassador Deng also made reference to the Armenian genocide as the first genocide of the 20th century.

It was noted that sub-regional actors are very important in preventing mass atrocities and genocide, as they are usually able to assist in identifying early warning signs. It was noted that with an emphasis on regional engagement, the involvement of civil society actors, and other institutions, the prevention of mass atrocities is possible. However, this regional engagement would need to involve structural and cultural change across the international community, civil society, member states, the private sector, media outlets and academia.  It was also stated that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has expressed that prevention is an ongoing responsibility, before, during and after a mass atrocity.

The crisis-mapping portion of the conference served as the most modern and applicable tool of genocide prevention. The three speakers outlined the different means by which GIS technology, mapping and other applications may be used in the field both as a means of prevention as well as a system for tracking progress. Professor Colette Mazzucelli, Adjunct Professor from New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, demonstrated the use of the Ushahidi application in monitoring the election in Kenya. Zach Romanow of Palantir Technologies demonstrated the use of time series mapping in some of the most remote regions in the world, while Professor Jennifer Leaning from Harvard University presented some of her own findings from the application of technology to crisis mapping and early warning in humanitarian settings.

Professor Colette Mazzucelli had the following to say about crisis mapping as it pertains to the prevention of mass atrocities, specific to the application of Ushahidi technology:

“Those among us engaged in crisis mapping must be consistently vigilant as we assess how to translate innovations in technology to prevent mass atrocities while accepting the ethical responsibility to protect those mapping for peace. The focus of our communitarian efforts in the early 21st century is on the urgency to reject the experience of the complicit bystander. The evolution is one of a transnational commitment to map for human security on platforms such as Ushahidi to monitor recent historic elections in Kenya, for example, http://blog.ushahidi.com/ Our community is an emerging “transnational advocacy network,” in the usage defined by Keck and Sikkink. The experiences in network over time with each mapping deployment underscore that our shared humanity is at risk in those areas where “predisposing factors,” in Hamburg’s words, leading to genocide exist. Crisis mapping is a technique as well as a methodology to develop in the prevention toolbox, which places the accent on sovereignty as responsibility. Its contributions over time may highlight the view expressed by the Canadian Senator, General  Roméo Dallaire, that early prevention is preferable to late intervention. Mapping is a way to enhance the awareness of those outside areas in need where local community leaders are taking destiny in hand. These leaders are the linchpin of a pioneering crisis mapping system in which locals are responsible to rewrite grassroots narratives from the ground up. Their story is one of a break with history, a staccato narrative, to cite Zerubavel’s term, after decades of top down impunity in the face of injustices committed by states against their own peoples. Our vocation in crisis mapping is one in which we look beyond the killing fields to the social reality we construct on behalf of a prevention culture, which serves to recall Lemkin’s more expansive definition of genocide.”

Additional resources:






–Shari Smith

Shari is an intern with Global Action this semester.