Tag Archives: Responsibility to Protect

A Discouraging Word:Violence and its Multiple Impacts, Dr. Robert Zuber

11 Sep

The only shameful thing about mental illness is the stigma attached to it. — Lindsay Holmes

Last evening, on my way to a birthday party, I stopped by the World Trade Center site.  The powerful “9/11” spotlights were turned on, helicopters circled the area, and many loud banging noises could be heard in the neighborhood. While watching the spectacle, I had striking flashbacks of people jumping out of windows of the old Twin Towers because staying put on melting upper floors had ceased to be an option; also of responders urgently rushing up stairways that ultimately became their graveyards.

But I also thought about the thousands upon thousands of bombs that have fallen since “9/11,” the uncounted masses whose homes and shops will never be rebuilt, whose losses will never be formally commemorated; countless families who have barely known a moment of stability or peace for the past 15 years.

We in the US have been victims; we have created many as well. Violence in too many forms preceded 9/11 and violence in too many forms has defined its wake.

Such diverse forms and manifestations of violence always find a place on the agenda of the UN community: even when we fail to guarantee refugees safe passage; even when efforts to eliminate nuclear tests go up in flames; even when conflicts rage like wildfires that have long-since jumped the control line; even when abuses are committed against civilians by their erstwhile protectors; even when hospitals are bombed with weapons sold by countries that had previously pledged seller’s restraint.

There were many UN events this past week with implications for peace and security, for societies that no longer have to calibrate the staggering costs of violence (including their deep emotional wounds) that threaten every hopeful impulse.  Two for us stood out.

On Tuesday, the General Assembly help what is now an annual debate on the Responsibility to Protect norm for addressing genocide and other atrocity violence, placed on the UN’s agenda at the 2005 World Summit. “R2P” as it is known has attracted significant interest from many UN member states as well as from a handful of “loyalist” NGOs who were well represented at the debate, what one person described (with a hint of irony) as something akin to a “family reunion.”

Despite high regard for the norm and for addressing what Bolivia referred to as the “repugnant” crimes to which the norm points, this discussion brought many fault lines to the fore, based in part on the recognition (as described by Slovenia and others) that 11 years on from the World Summit the world is still facing widespread misery and displacement instigated by state and non-state actors.  The questions (and frustrations) were evident throughout. Brazil wondered about our habitual response to coercive responses that endanger the very persons we are trying to help.   Vanuatu wondered why states sit idly by waiting for the Security Council to act when there is much conflict prevention that even small states can promote.  Spain wondered why the UN’s promises of a “culture of prevention” remain essentially unfulfilled.

And yet amidst the frustrations, there were signs of positive life. Several states (and USG Dieng) called (as we have also been doing for years) for RtoP to find life through a regular, formal General Assembly process that allows states to (as noted by Panama) engage a wider range of stakeholders, but also to examine the political and capacity gaps that impede effective implementation. We also need (as noted by the Netherlands on behalf of the “Group of Friends”) more regular briefings to the Security Council by USG Dieng and (soon) ASG Simonovic, requiring both a more active, determined secretariat and a less “tone deaf” Security Council when it comes to its response to early warnings.

DSG Eliasson confessed during this meeting that when we look around the world, it is hard not to be discouraged. We just can’t go on like this, he implored. Indeed, we cannot.  The longer the violence festers, the longer people are denied relief and justice, the longer we fail to develop (as noted by Rwanda and others) strong institutions to help us face our conflict prevention and protection responsibilities, the longer we attempt to mask the truth about protection promises unkept, the deeper discouragement is likely to become.

Such deep and painful emotions were also the backdrop of a special event sponsored by Palau (with Canada, Belgium and UNDESA) on “Mental Health and Wellbeing at the Heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”  Palau’s Ambassador Otto, a trained physician himself, has taken a special interest in SDG 3 which links “mental health and wellbeing” to what some might consider as the “self-inflicted wounds” associated with non-communicable diseases, including narcotics and alcohol addictions.

Amidst the “earth balloons” and children chanting “happy people, happy planet,” there were sober matters to consider. ASG Daniella Bas underscored the particular mental health concerns of disabled persons.  Canada addressed the social isolation characteristic of so much mental illness, but also called attention to the pervasive mental health challenges affecting migrants and refugees.  Micronesia’s newly-installed, Ambassador Chigiyal, called attention to the stigmas that impact care for the mentally ill, citing examples from her own “family focused” country. And many diplomats and practitioners raised the specter of the trauma, including from indiscriminate use of weapons, that we should do more to prevent and for which our capacities for remediation and restoration are still largely deficient.

But more than this, we should think harder about what is needed at the level of policy to help stave off the effects of trauma and related illness that impede human and community development.  Beyond addiction, we are moving towards full recognition of mental health impacts from being unable to protect our children from harm or abuse, from having our livelihood disappear, from being betrayed by people in our “inner circle,” from being unable to stop violence that threatens everything in our community of concern. These and other examples point towards two features of a mentally healthful life – trustworthy human connections and the ability to impact events in the world, large and small.  Without meaningful connection and viable agency, life is simply too isolated and unpredictable to sustain mental health.  Too many of us in this world struggle mightily to find protection from harsh winds that we simply cannot control, and too often we struggle alone.

Ambassador Otto’s introductory remarks summed up perhaps the most important insight from this event, reminding us that “the heart is a great enabler.” Indeeed, implementation of all our development commitments and all our preventive and protective responsibilities must be animated by something deeper than the need for clever and well-crafted policy.  We must learn to empathize more actively with lives incapacitated by armed violence; we must do better at preventing and protecting against its devastations.  While doing this, we would do well to place greater emphasis on encouraging more personal connection and social participation as antidotes to the isolation and impotence from which so much discouragement in this world currently proceeds.

The UN’s Anniversary Season:   September Barricades and Ritual Benefits, Dr. Robert Zuber

14 Sep

This past week, the UN hosted three events – on the 10th anniversary of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), on promoting a Culture of Peace, and on ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) – all of which are now annual events on the UN’s September calendar.   On Monday the 14th (today) there is another commemoration, 10 years of addressing threats posed by incitement to commit terrorist acts based on Security Council Resolution (SCR) 1624.  Later this fall, Spain will preside over a 15 year celebration and review of SCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.   Other commemorative events will quickly fill the UN calendar in its 70th year.

Anniversaries can be the stuff of Hallmark Cards, full of sentimentality and, at times, optimism bordering on escapism.  We’ve all “celebrated” anniversaries in one form or other – marriages, birthdays, work tenure, institutional longevity.   Some of these milestones represent true celebrations of high achievement – productivity, loyalty, innovation – while others chronicle sorrows, disappointments and unfulfilled expectations.  Probably most fall somewhere else, in that uneasy space between knowing we’ve done well with what we’ve been given, and knowing that we haven’t yet done enough.

Such is the case as well for our small office, now honoring and assessing 10 years of Global Action’s (GAPW) current leadership.   We’ve done some good things, made some stable connections, helped launch new initiatives, written books and blogs, tweeted across the social universe, mentored many extraordinary young people, etc.   And still the ice caps melt, refugees gather desperately at sometimes hostile borders, human rights take a beating from Yemen to Ukraine, species are pushed towards extinction,  pandemics are one unsuspecting host away from emerging, weapons continue to flow in many deadly directions.

Have we “done our jobs,” or have we not?   Some days it is hard to tell.  Clearly the problems that persist on our watch and that have defied resolution over many years should make us pause – and keep our advocacy strategies humble.  But pausing is not the same as giving in, and humility is the proper accompaniment of hopefulness, not its adversary.

Yesterday, friends of GAPW hosted a Garden Party to honor our past 10 years of mostly modest achievements.  Among its other benefits, the Party was a reminder of how important it is for persons, communities and institutions to invest in ritual celebrations of many kinds.  Such rituals serve as ‘place markers’ for people in the midst of so much change, so much turmoil.   In a world of such a pace as ours, with so many demands and accompanying distractions, it is important for all of us to double back on the memories and symbols that help to define our life paths.   It is important for us in this work to smile a bit more and also to renew pledges not to lose touch with the values and aspirations that motivated participation in our loftiest projects in the first instance.

But as intimated by CTBTO’s Lassina Zerbo during last week’s session, there is always more to be done than honoring and remembering.  There is also assessing and changing to address new circumstances.  In practical terms during this “anniversary season,” there is also the need to ask how we can best expand efforts towards full CTBT ratification, how we can push the Responsibility to Protect norm into a broader diplomatic engagement within the UN General Assembly (as several states in last week’s interactive debate suggested), how we can advocate for cultures of peace when there is sometimes so little peace within us or around us.

Soon to come at the UN is another “anniversary” of sort – that time each September when we are all reminded of our true place in the global hierarchy.  The conference rooms that we visit many hours each day will become largely off limits to us.   For this short period, we apparently become more of annoyance to the UN system than a valued accompaniment, a security threat more than a welcome advocate for a fair and inclusive global system.

There are currently no rituals to give meaning to these annual restrictions, and probably no taste for developing any.  But for us and perhaps for others on the non-state side of the UN system, this has now become our time for seasonal assessment of the ways in which we are – or are not – fulfilling the responsibilities entrusted to us. This is our time to ensure we are doing all we can with whatever means we have at our disposal such that the “high level” doors to access for the needs and aspirations of diverse civil society are not closed to all, even if some are temporarily closed to us.

For this office in its 10th year, the “promised land” still largely exists in the form of a promise. During the UN’s anniversary period, as so many temporary access barriers are being erected, we will lay plans for engagement – both policy and ritual – to offer our best guidance, attentiveness and hospitality to the diplomatic community once our freedom has been restored to resume walking the long road that now lies in front of us.

Regions of Hope

2 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Robert Zuber

The Sahel Crisis: Politics, Prevention and Lessons Learned

10 Jul

Editor’s Note:  The following is the first blog post from Vanessa Mosoti, a talented junior associate from Kenya who has joined us for the summer from Princeton University, where she will finish her undergraduate studies beginning in September. In this post, Vanessa reflects on several UN events, including Security Council briefings, where issues involving states of the Sahel have been addressed.  Vanessa’s recommendations for moving beyond the current impasses and embracing a prevention-oriented framework are wise and worthy of adoption by UN officials with responsibility for Sahel response. 

The eruption of the crisis in Mali, a foreseeable denouement of a decades-long protracted conflict in Northern Mali coupled with a series of internal governance problems, should not have come as a surprise. Despite early warning signs, there is a marked lack of preventive diplomacy in the narrative of the Malian crisis. The international community had specific and identifiable opportunities in which to limit the eruption of conflict, but the statecraft was flawed, inadequate, or absent. Perhaps there is no amount of preventive measures that could have completely preempted the eruption of the crisis in Mali, but there certainly exists a litany of missed opportunities in which timely interventions at several key junctures might have significantly reduced, defused, and contained the violence.

UN dialogue surrounding the Malian crisis focuses understandably on the symbiotic relationship between security and development. And while the recovery of security and the realization of developmental goals must remain a top priority, issues relating to government legitimacy and accountability alongside the creation of a viable economy must also be addressed with similar vigor. As stressed in U.N. event “Countering Violent Extremism and Promoting Community Engagement in West Africa and the Sahel: Strengthening Multilateral Engagement” co-hosted by the governments of Burkina Faso and Denmark on the margins of the June 2014 review of the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, state fragility remains one of the biggest challenges to sustainable peace in the region. Any coherent response to the crisis must prioritize the building of a coordinated state from the bottom up—with national checks and balances, as well as participation from all citizens. Indeed, seeking a comprehensive response by all relevant actors underscores the challenge that the crisis in Mali is inherently political in nature. Of course, divergent views on the political roadmap to be adopted have had an impact on the crisis response, but continued Tuareg exclusion, as well as the exclusion of other marginalized groups (particularly in the North, where people remain bereft of critical security and social services), in the Malian political system virtually guarantees the continuation of the conflict and/or outbreak of future conflict.

A thorough solution requires that the Malian state address the fragmentation of Malian national identity. They are not alone, however. Issues relating to national identity pose challenges with which no African state is unfamiliar. The global spread of the nation-state is arguably the most significant institutional transformation of the modern era. The world today is a conglomeration of diverse nation-state driven societies. The rise of the modern nation-state, one can argue, precipitated the current world order and, subsequently and perhaps more importantly, modern formulations and understandings of concepts relating to identity—national, or otherwise.

A nation-state can be defined as a form of political organization under which a relatively homogenous people inhabit a sovereign state. Societies create national identities that separate people, suggesting fundamental differences between members of different nations. The formation of states and the ability of states to deploy their powers in a variety of social, economic and security contexts create these concepts of national identity. It is from the construction of a state that a nation is created, and not the other way around.  However, this requires important economic and political processes as a condition for the establishment of this combined nation-state—as it is, imaginably, difficult to create a homogenous community to replace the multiple communities of various faiths, peoples, and languages characteristic of preceding empires/kingdoms/colonies/chieftaincies. The nation-state attempts to form a singular identity from these multiple identities; therefore, national integration, the purpose of state power, requires a strong state—defined especially by military power—and the formulation of an image of a shared past based on some common experience and/or of a projected common destiny. African nation-states, however, are the legacy of Europe’s cavalier partition of Africa and their disregard for the complexities of African social, political, and geographic autonomous orchestration. National integration and the perception of this image of a shared past, reflective of the ability of a state to construct a singular identity and project power and legitimacy to all regions of said state, are especially difficult in the African setting—and the Republic of Mali is no exception. Thus, the eruption of conflict, when viewed in context, is utterly unsurprising.

At the Counter-Terrorism event, speakers also emphasized the need for a national infrastructure for peace—citing Ghana’s National Peace Council as one example. Multilateral engagement is key to sustainable regional peace. The purported goals of various interventions in Mali include at least some aspects of humanitarian aid, peacekeeping, and nation building. The intervening bodies seek to mitigate the conflict, alleviate some of the pressures of desertification, and create some semblance of a functional and peaceful governmental structure with high prospects of longevity. The establishment of security, obviously, also remains a priority. As I attended various U.N. meetings dealing with violent extremism, counter-terrorism, and specifically the Sahel crisis, it occurred to me that there are a series of lessons the international community can gather from these endeavors (implemented with varying degrees of success) that can inform future policies concerning intervention in conflict situations similar to that of Mali (i.e.: in the Wider Sahel):

1. Malians must possess ownership of their own peace processes. Ownership refers to Malians determining objectives, scheduling, and negotiation procedures. International actors, while critical, should play peripheral roles (as facilitators) to local and regional actors during negotiations.

2. There needs to be a thorough understanding of political and cultural norms by all parties involved. There is also a need to understand the range of local and regional actors involved in the crisis. There was, in negotiations and interventions in Mali, a lack of understanding of the nature of the conflict, the diversity of the actors, and the nature of the cultural processes behind individual and collective actions and decision-making.

3. Complete representation in mediation—of the wider Malian community and all parties involved in the conflict, civil society, military, etc.—matters in the success of negotiations. There needs to be a general, nation-wide consensus if there is to exist any hope of easy facilitation and long-term implementation of any denouements.

4. Mediators should develop strategies to better deal with spoilers—intrinsic spoilers (those who don’t want peace as it is not in their self-interest) as well as situational spoilers (those who don’t agree with specific provisions/arrangements but are generally seeking peace).

5. There should be provisions for political space for opposition in which groups can express their unhappiness without being shut out, termed rejectionist, or otherwise excluded from the entire process.

6. Regional bodies should provide adequate support to state institutions in crisis. Long-term commitment to provide resources and support after an agreement has been reached and a framework is implemented may be key to stabilization. This help should come in the form of new/repaired infrastructure as well as civic and civil society building measures, but not necessarily in the form of arms transfers or other incentives to state violence. It is nearly impossible to impose a victor’s peace in Mali, and providing the means for a monopoly on the use of violence to a fragile state increases the probability of the rise of rejectionists and spoilers.  Good societal structures and institutions can uphold the peace, legitimize the government, and establish an effective system of governance that serves as a model for the rest of the region.

7. Responsibility for carrying out any agreed upon terms of negotiations should fall onto local institutions as well as the government. The international community should assist these local actors especially (in ways delineated above) for as long as possible/necessary.

8. All potential solutions to the conflict should be derived from public opinion or they will not hold in the long-term. Negotiators/mediators/facilitators should make sure that the opinions of the public are well represented and prioritized in all peace discussions

As the Malian crisis is but one in a wider regional crisis, the biggest ‘lesson-learned’ is that preventive diplomacy is key. “Actions and inactions of international actors have a major impact on whether domestic actors make a conflict or cooperation calculus”[X]. Early action can lead to early cooperation. Trying to contain a conflict after it has already erupted is much more expensive (in terms of time, money, resources, and lives lost) than trying to prevent the conflict from erupting in the first place. Signals of impending conflict, as was the case in Mali, can be very clear. Policy should be geared towards the execution of preventive diplomacy at this time, before the situation is too difficult to contain. However, it is imperative that efforts of preventive diplomacy do not actually create additional incentives for violence, or exacerbate tensions in already fragile periods. The U.N. tends to act as a response agency instead of a prevention or containment agency—that is, the U.N. reacts to spills, instead of working to prevent the spills from happening in the first place. The world expects more than a glorified cleanup agency. More could have been done early on, so more should have been done.

[X] Hamilton, L. H., George, A. L., Goodby, J. E., Holl, J. E., Hurlburt, H. F., Jones, B., … & Zartman, I. W. (1999). Opportunities Missed, Opportunities Seized: Preventive Diplomacy in the PostDCold War World. B. W. Jentleson (Ed.). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Vanessa Mosoti, GAPW Junior Associate


Rule of Law in Disarmament Discourse

30 Jan

The UN Secretary-General (SG) maintains that rule of law is a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.”[i]

Generally, strong rule of law mechanisms can promote robust national constitutions which grant equality to all, dependable security and judicial institutions, transitional justice and strong civil society.[ii] “These are the norms, policies, institutions and processes that form the core of a society in which individuals feel safe and secure, where legal protection is provided for rights and entitlements, and disputes are settled peacefully and effective redress is available for harm suffered, and where all who violate the law, including the State itself, are held to account.”[iii]

The important role that the UN plays in the promotion of rule of law has been highlighted in the Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation Among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations. The principles highlighted in the UN Charter of maintaining international peace and security and peaceful settlement of disputes go to the heart of robust rule of law policies and mechanisms.[iv] The role of peaceful settlement of disputes within rule of law discussions was highlighted at the Sixth Committee of the General Assembly, as Global Action has previously reflected.[v] If robust institutions and policies exist that protect the security and rights of individuals, and if alternative dispute resolutions exist to peacefully resolve conflict, then modern day uprisings that rise to the level of threats to international peace and security may be limited and even eliminated.

In addition, the so-called “International Bill of Human Rights” accords to individuals a set of rights that must be respected at the international and national levels. The work of treaty bodies to implement these commitments and rights is key to strengthening strong rule of law by promoting robust national-level legislation and mechanisms that protect basic human rights obligations.

More recently, the concept of rule of law was further developed in the High Level Declaration on Rule of Law. The Declaration reinforced the rule of law as a cross-cutting issue linking peace and security, human rights and development, and likewise acknowledged “strengthening justice and security institutions that are accessible and responsive to the needs and rights of all individuals and which build trust and promote social cohesion and economic prosperity.”[vi] Additionally, the Declaration “emphasize[d] the importance of the rule of law as one of the key elements of conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peacebuilding.”[vii]

With all this in mind, it is not surprising that the Secretary-General’s 2013 report on Responsibility to protect: State responsibility and prevention focused on strengthening mechanisms to prevent mass atrocity crimes. Amidst the many risk factors that can contribute to the commission of mass atrocity crimes, the SG highlighted that “the risk of genocide and other atrocity crimes can be increased by a Government’s lack of capacity to prevent these crimes and the absence of structures or institutions designed to protect the population. Risk factors include…. weak legislative protection of human rights; and weaknesses in the judiciary, national human rights institutions and the security sector.”[viii] Among the options highlighted to prevent atrocity crimes include strengthening national institutions that promote rule of law through human rights protections, as well as effective security forces.[ix]

Building on this focus, the relationship between the security sector and the rule of law is timely and important given a series of disarmament processes in the spring 2014. As Former High Representative Sergio Duarte noted in his 2008 address to the American Bar Association Section on International Law, the rule of law has contributed to disarmament by essentially providing the framework and the tools to shape, interpret and implement commitments.[x] More specifically, it provides a set of legal instruments that shape the elimination of weapons of mass destruction and constrain the flow of conventional arms.[xi]

The forthcoming Disarmament Commission (DC) has been mandated to propose recommendations to the GA on diverse issues within the disarmament agenda and is set to discuss during its April session recommendations for achieving the objective of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and Practical confidence-building measures in the field of conventional weapons.

While it is generally known that the DC has not been able to reach consensus in proposing recommendations since 2000, nevertheless as the opening of the Commission is fast approaching, it is timely to underline that any outcome reached could also prove imperative for strengthening rule of law, in addition to advancing the broader disarmament agenda.

Specifically in the context conventional arms, one need not think long to realize the pervasive, negative effect of weapons, especially the illegal flow of small arms and light weapons, on local communities, including disrupting feelings of safety and security; getting in the way of peaceful settlement of disputes; and interfering with the maintenance of strong and reliable security sectors.

A recent Chair’s Paper on confidence-building measures (CBMs) outlines obligations to instruments ranging from the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons to the Arms Trade Treaty etc.[xii] Ideally, the objective of CBMs around conventional weapons would be to promote transparency, implementation of the obligations therein, principles of good faith, and “eliminating the causes of mistrust, fear, misunderstanding, and miscalculation with regard to conventional weapons.”[xiii]

Transparency within and between States and compliance with disarmament commitments can contribute to strengthening security institutions, responding to the needs and rights of individuals to feel safe and fully participate in society, and promoting the rule of law at the national level.

– Melina Lito


Droning On: Inviting Straight Talk on Peacekeeping Operations

23 Dec

On the afternoon of December 19, the Permanent Mission of Pakistan and the United Nations Foundation presented an important, far-reaching seminar on United Nations Peacekeeping entitled “Blue Helmets: New Frontiers.”

The seminar featured a wide array of senior officials (including Susana Malcorra representing the Secretary-General), diplomats (including the Ambassadors of France, Guatemala, Croatia and Canada) and experts from academia (such as Richard Gowan of NYU and Jean Marie Guéhenno of Columbia University) tasked with planning and implementing what are increasingly complex peacekeeping operations.  The sobering backdrop for the conversation was fresh violence in South Sudan where three Indian peacekeepers were killed as local youths stormed the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) base in Akobo.

The complexity of peacekeeping operations alluded to over and over by speakers has been fueled in part by the demands of global citizens and governments for the UN to take a more active role in resolving the many conflicts that flare up on our television screens and twitter feeds.  We’ve written previously (and likely will again) about some of the negative impacts of the politics of ‘doing something.’  But as more and more graphic images fill our homes and as people feel themselves further and further removed from any agency regarding responses to those horrors, the pressure on those who have understanding, skills and agency to ‘take care of’  effective responses to violence and the need for civilian protection continues to grow.

So, too, do the controversies.

Some of those controversies are specific to the architecture of robust peacekeeping response (peacekeeping in situations where there is really no ‘peace to keep’), such as the use of drones or the development of allegedly non-precedent-setting capacities such as the Intervention Brigade used in Eastern DRC.  Some governments, notably at this event the French, seem to be strongly convinced that, in the new world of peacekeeping, we must not be skittish about using force when force is called for.   ‘Living in the past’ where peacekeeping is concerned is tantamount to conceding relevance.   Using the technology at hand to increase the effectiveness and safety of operations is, at least for some governments and policymakers, a strategic imperative.

The French have a good point of course.   Changing times call for changing strategies.  Peacekeepers face different threats now as they respond to more complex and coercive mandates.  We all understand our responsibilities to protect civilians differently now. As a system, the UN now lives under the burdens of increasing expectations and (as Gowan noted) deployments that are likely to become more and more dangerous. But as other delegations and observers have noted, changes in how we conduct operations have implications for human lives that must also be taken into account.  The fact that we can ‘do something’ of a more coercive nature doesn’t automatically mean that we should, especially if we have not first considered alternatives that can both competently protect civilians and other stakeholders while bringing violence under effective control.

The issue here is not merely Brigades vs. Binoculars, coercion vs. passive observing.  The issue here, as it is in so many other parts of the UN system, is the degree to which we can both respond rapidly and effectively and at the same time reassure the skeptical – governments of member states, of course, but also persons victimized by a lack of timely and preventive response – that we are all committed to getting our protection strategies in the best possible order. More than the champions of coercive response (and perhaps even more than the champions of coercive restraint) recognize, this is a matter of trust as much as technical competence.

In a highly politicized environment (and more than one speaker noted the ‘political objectives’ attached to all PKOs) trust is an elusive agent.  Getting peacekeeping ‘right’ means applying the right tools to the missions to which we commit, and to apply those tools in the most timely, humane and effective manner, ensuring the safety not only of civilians but of humanitarian workers and peacekeepers themselves. But it also means doing all that is possible to head off threats before assembling the troops. (The best deployments, after all, are the ones that never have to be authorized.)  And it means giving credence to the skeptical, especially skeptical end users, some of whom are desperate for assistance but who also have long and vivid memories of unwelcome intrusions of all kinds in their not so distant past.   Skepticism isn’t always warranted of course.  And it should never become an excuse for inaction.   But ‘action’ comes attached to a long string of options, only some of which require offensively minded, coercive measures.

As Ambassador Rosenthal of Guatemala rightly noted, “just sending in the troops” to calm down any situation is simply not enough.  Indeed, at times it might be too much.    With due regard for the restraints imposed by sovereignty, the lack of definition of preventive capacity, and the absence of reliable, rapid-response deployments, the ‘situations’ alluded to by Ambassador Rosenthal are becoming more complex and more resistant to calm.   We need earlier, more attentive engagements by broader sectors of the UN system, along with more transparent assessments of the many areas where there is more work to be done to address our still evolving challenges.

Dr. Robert Zuber

Restraining Order: Dampening Enthusiasm for the Use of the Veto on Atrocity Crimes

30 Oct

One of the trendy ideas floating around the UN system as we continue to wrestle with the implications of Syria refers to veto restraint – that is, pushing hard for permanent Council members (P-5) to voluntarily refrain from the use of the veto in situations where there has been a clear finding of existing or immanent atrocity crimes.

The idea seems simple enough on its face and, in most instances, reflects a sincere desire to make the UN more responsive and accountable to the horrifying violence that state and non-state actors have inflicted and are inflicting on civilian populations.  Once P-5 members commit to even the possibility of veto restraint, it then becomes possible to put pressure on these states in situations like Syria where atrocities threaten and where there are equally obvious geo-political impediments to Council achievement of consensus on coercive remedies.

The ability to exert such pressure would be welcome news for civil society and many non-Council states. As we and others have noted to senior UN officials, whether we like it or not and whether it is entirely fair or not, many in the world judge the UN by how quickly and effectively it can respond to the violence in Syria and elsewhere that fills our computer screens and televisions with often horrific images. It is possible that restraint of veto could lead to timely, life-saving interventions in certain instances.

Indeed, the need for the UN to ‘do something’ in such instances comes from a place that is politically and psychologically complex but largely based on a canon of responsibility.  Diplomats and UN officials have some sense of how deep the public longing is for that time when the threat of mass atrocity crimes can finally be laid to rest. And we know that the closer such violence comes to families and communities with which we have a living connection, the more that frustration and impatience is likely to grow.   As well it should.

That said, we have questions about how well the idea of veto restraint would play in a highly politicized environment such as the UN, an environment filled with good and dedicated people running a gauntlet of states interests largely generated from outside New York and playing on a field which, if anything, is heavily tilted in favor of certain states and their own political interests.

There are two essential conditions for a successful policy to restrain the use of the veto – sufficient de-politicized, evidence-based concern (political will) to protect lives, and the right (and fairly engaged) blend of institutional capacities and contexts.   While veto restraint may indeed increase functionality of those politically inclined to ‘do something’ of either a coercive or protective nature, it does not help to address more fundamental issues that continue to bog down the UN system.   Indeed, it may well be, for instance, that the UN turns out not always the place to manage atrocity crime response.   If the UN is going to maintain a central role in such response, the next phase in atrocity crime prevention might well see the Council authorizing regional actors rather than managing responses itself.   It may also be, indeed it should be, that in this next phase the Council will forge closer relationships with UN agencies, including and especially the Joint Office on the Prevention of Genocide and the Responsibility to Protect.  Such relationships could help the Council to be seized of difficult circumstances at earlier (preventive) stages, but would also commit the Council to do more to encourage the development of less coercive options for response that can head off atrocities long before the missiles begin to fly.

The idea of veto restraint comes from a good place, but it is also largely a concession to a system that in fact has not yet found a reliable formula for effective prevention and which has exercised little ‘restraint’ when it comes to maintaining political and power divisions that are largely opaque to all but those who spend lots of time sitting and watching in UN conference rooms.

Many of those seeking ‘veto restraint’ are inclined to support the policies of the so-called P-3, all of which are NATO members and all of which sought coercive response in Syria if not for the concerns of China and especially Russia.  And indeed, If Russia and China had exercised veto restraint given what was, in the beginning at least, a clear example of a state inflicting grave violence on its own citizens, it might have eased the path towards more coercive engagements with such violence.  But would this lead to a less politicized Council regarding its attention to mass atrocity warnings, let alone the implementation of the full complement of its security responsibilities?  Would it lead to greater levels of commitment to develop and fund viable, robust preventive capacities that can simultaneously resolve tensions that trigger violence while preserving vestiges of sovereignty? Would it guarantee a less politicized engagement with findings by UN offices and UN member states of conditions ripe for the evolution of mass atrocities?   Would it help build durable, complementary relationships with regional authorities and capacities?  Would it help create viable, coercive implementation options to NATO, an organization which remains as a primary security competitor for two of the permanent Council members? Would it help states clinging to relevance in a Council overwhelmingly dominated by the “P3” find ways to ‘check’ that influence without offering up civilians to sacrifice in the process?   These are just some of the difficult institutional questions which veto restraint raises and which must be addressed soberly if the drive for such restraint is to avoid being the latest in a series of fads, albeit born of legitimate frustration, to make the UN a more relevant actor on the challenging path towards ‘never again.’

In our view, if proposals for veto restraint are to maintain both momentum and merit, they need to be grounded in a more sophisticated package of reforms such as those proposed by the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency (ACT) group chaired by Switzerland.   Veto restraint must not be seen as a stand-alone measure, but one that is tied directly to the functionality of the UN’s preventive mechanisms, levels of fairness and equity within the Council, and other considerations.    It is, like all other operations and activities, tied to a particular institution and its own contexts.  The more that the veto restraint advocates understand the system in which vetoes occur and the implications of such reform for member state conduct, including that of permanent Council members, the more likely they are to find success.

On Syria, it is perhaps too simple a matter to lay blame for the ongoing violence solely on Russian vetoes.   There were unheeded warnings, foot dragging over definitions, and geopolitical alliances that were resistant to amendment.  It will take scholars some time to sort out all of the angles and implications of this tragedy, including its relationship to earlier situations in Libya and elsewhere. Though we all wished for a decisive remedy for Syria with full justice for victims, the many complications of a conflict that evolved before our eyes — from an atrocity crime to an amoral and equally messy civil war– have long been evident.

We have all taken a ‘hit’ to our credibility and our humanity on this one.   It might be many years before we make even token gestures of justice to the millions who have been victimized by this conflict.   It seems clear to us that if the UN is to remain at the forefront of atrocity crime response, we need more than veto restraint just as we need more than impassioned speeches from Council members ready to roll out the fighter jets but not fight as hard themselves to resolve conflicts earlier and with less coercion.  Those who support restraint, and we are among them, are urged to invest energy as well in examination of other security policies and participation in ongoing reform efforts regarding the institutional structures responsible for enacting those policies.

Dr. Robert Zuber