Tag Archives: Rule of law

Animal Planet:  The Rule of Law and the Recovery of What Makes us Human, Dr. Robert Zuber

20 May

Orangutang

People often claim to hunger for truth, but seldom like the taste when it’s served up. George Martin

The technical revolution has turned us into a virus consuming all living organisms. Edward Burtynsky.

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We have a problem when the same people who make the law get to decide whether or not they themselves have broken it. Michelle Templet

When you are writing laws you are testing words to find their utmost power. Like spells, they have to make things happen in the real world, and like spells, they only work if people believe in them. Hilary Mantel

There were so many highlights (and lowlights) in our policy centers this week, actions that fed the soul competing with others that reminded us (or should have anyway) that we are not quite as clever or virtuous as we might otherwise be tempted to believe.

One lowlight for me was a statement by the US president (doubled down by his press secretary) referring to some illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes as “animals.”

This is a toxic formulation that was common in the blue collar households of my childhood.  “Animals” constituted a label that could be placed on anyone who behaved in a manner inconsistent with what “we” believed was right and appropriate.  “We” after all were the guardians of the good, the ones on whom had been bestowed special divine favor, the ones whose “civility” was under assault from hordes of uncouth, ill-mannered, lazy “others.”  “We” generally lacked the wherewithal to remove such people from our midst; so we regularly, it seemed at the time, removed ourselves from theirs.

We are living in a time when such demons that had been allegedly bottled up for years have now made a stark reappearance; indeed many have been shocked to discover that the tops on those bottles had not been screwed nearly as tight as we had imagined.   Some of us have openly scrutinized the limitations of the “polite culture” of which we have long been suspicious, only to discover that our recovering “honesty” is too-often leading, not to opportunities for intimacy, innovation and personal growth, but to occasions for brutality, selfishness and distrust.   What we have released from these bottles is more venom than virtue, more condemnation than compromise.

The irony of this otherwise cruel and debased “animal” characterization is that, to some degree or other, it applies to all of us.   We all seem to participate, one way or another, in predispositions to predation and self-interest.  We often crave predictability, comfort and attention. We tend to feel threats even when no threats are imminent, and ignore most of the challenges threatening to blow our metaphorical houses to the ground.  We often cave in to yearnings and addictions.  We see what we want to see or, more and more, what we have been externally manipulated to see.

And yet there are times when being an “animal” would probably elevate our collective practice.  Animals after all don’t kill for pleasure.   Animals don’t systematically destroy the habitats on which they depend.   Animals don’t enable the extinction of other species that form the food chain that ensures their own survival.  Animals don’t diminish the savvy or “intelligence” of the life forms with which they share an ecosystem.

As we know, much of the history of philosophy and religion in both “west” and “east” has struggled with the “human” dimensions of human nature.  Are we merely animals with larger brains and the appetites to match, or is there something different about us, something that we should cherish and practice more, something that gives us hope that we can stifly our violent proclivities and avoid the extinction that we have so callously set in motion elsewhere on our fragile planet?

This is no time to rehearse this struggle (though I would be happy to do so with any of you off-Blog), but it is worth noting here the degree to which, in my own faith tradition at least, “sanctification” has impeded thoughtful practice.   My tradition has too often adjudicated our disjointed “nature” by alleging and emphasizing our divine entitlements.  Much like our claims for moms and dads, “God” apparently really does like us best, even when we bury the memory, reason and skill under a cloud of suspicion and acrimony.  Under this rubric, “God” apparently forgives of our behavior a priori, even when such behavior leads to gross injustices and abuses for which forgiveness is rarely sought.  “God” apparently exempts some from scrutiny by virtue of some cache of unearned blessing, a form of plenary indulgence that allows we so endowed to believe that the laws and norms that seek to regulate and even inspire the human community simply don’t apply to us, that our “exceptionalism” (a term not confined to the US) allows us to indulge ourselves what we vigorously refuse to others, to demand apologies from others as we too-often dodge the responsibility to acknowledge our own transgressions.

This “do as I say, not as I do” reflection of our erstwhile “providential” exemptions holds many consequences for UN practice.   After all, the UN functions most effectively when it provides consensus norms to guide and rationalize state conduct and when it upholds what many diplomats referred to this week in a Security Council debate on rule-of-law as our “rules-based order.”  Such an order, at and beyond face value, posits many positive implications for peace and security, even when that order is being willfully abrogated. Such implications include the following:

  • Helping to inspire collaborative and supportive activity among state and non-state actors in areas such as migration governance, ocean health, pandemics and counter-terror;
  • Helping to identify and address threats to the peace towards which the international community has a fully legitimate and compelling interest, such as the use of chemical weapons, the commission of mass atrocities or the destruction of a healthy climate;
  • Helping reassure states that all are playing by the same rules, addressing trust deficits caused by power imbalances, economic inequalities and discriminations of many varieties, while also ensuring (as Ireland did this week) that the rule-of-law is not subtly (or visibly) replaced with the considerably less attractive “rule-by-law”;
  • Helping restore confidence in all but the most cynical that we retain the human capacity to rise above narrow, partisan interests and predatory practices and affirm a world where respect, cooperation, thoughtfulness and generosity proliferate.

This is quite a “haul,” and all much needed.  But as this week’s discussions in various UN conference rooms made plain, we still have work to do to create a policy framework that can reinforce and utilize the best of our “human nature.”

There was much in the recent Council debate on rule of law –convened perhaps a bit ironically by Poland’s president Duda — that provided good insight, including Italy’s assertion that disregarding international norms is particularly dangerous in a world awash in weapons, South Africa’s reminder that the rule of law itself does not protect people but only its implementation, Mexico’s insistence that we reject the creeping notion of an “acceptable level” of civilian casualties, Greece’s assertion that “good neighborly relations” is a “common duty” of states, and Brazil’s concern to address the lack of conceptual clarity in international law that leads some states to conclude that armed violence and gross rights abuses can somehow be justified in practice.

Bu there were also reminders of how far we still must travel to create a reliable and robust system that is both trusted by and adhered to by many.  In this, at least two things come to mind, the first of which builds on the strong claim by Ethiopia and others that the Security Council has often “failed miserably” in its responsibility to uphold international law. This failure is due in part to the Council’s imbalanced and sometimes “politicized” application of its own responsibilities, especially in its levels of commitment to the implementation of its own resolutions.  But more than this is the failure of the permanent members to ascribe in practice to the principles of international law that they proscribe for others.  The “exceptionalism” that drives some national policy has its peculiar iteration within this Council in a manner which at times jeopardizes both its own credibility and respect for the Charter of which it is guarantor.

But there is another dimension to note in this context: This week I and others received an important post from the ever-thoughtful Paul Okumu of Kenya, who chided NGOs and others for obsessing on the low hanging fruit of how we use technology to do our organizational bidding while failing to see the mass consolidation of power now well underway within the realm of big data, what Kevin Plank has described as “the new oil.” Indeed, big data seems poised to replace capital as the latest essential medium of global power, a power that can, in the words of Toomas Hedrik Ilves, “deduce more about you than Big Brother ever could.”

For all of the benefits of the current data revolution, even given all the people who now register more faith in “code” than in their neighbors, it is sobering to think of the vast concentration of power that can accrue from turning people into digitalized caricatures of human beings, persons willfully accepting manipulation at the hands of those who know more about our material predispositions than we know ourselves.  In this realm as with others, we must insist that the rule of law be proactive as well as protective, helping us anticipate and then address threats such as this one which might otherwise simply overwhelm the remaining vestiges of our common humanity.

For me and our interns, one of the most moving moments of the week was when Bolivia took the floor in the context of the Security Council discussion on the shootings by Israeli forces at the Gaza fence, the meeting at which the now-infamous photo was taken of US Ambassador Haley walking out of the Council chamber as the Palestinian Ambassador began his remarks. Bolivia’s Ambassador didn’t walk out nor did he deem to lecture the Israelis or his Council colleagues.  Instead he sought forgiveness from the Palestinian people for the “humiliations and deprivations” they have experienced over so many years, noting that Monday’s “moment of silence” was for these victims, but equally in mourning for the “ineffectiveness” of the Council’s application of internatonal law.

We who have accepted the responsibilities of policy have much forgiveness to ask. We have failed to always adhere to the laws we promote.  We have failed to point clearly and forcefully to emerging challenges that directly compromise our children’s destiny. And we have largely failed to inspire a higher and more difficult calling in each other, one in keeping with a genuinely human striving to be better protectors, better stewards, better predictors of a common future that we simply must not let slip through our grasp.

We can do better.

Sue Me, Part II:   The Marshall Islands Pushes the Nuclear Weapons States on Their “Good Faith” Deficits, Dr. Robert Zuber

20 Mar

ICJ (2)

There is a line not far off the United Nation’s home page that indicates what UN officials imagine the role of journalists to be: Journalists who cover the United Nations play an important part in its work, because they help explain to the public what the Organization does and why. 

There are several ways to interpret this, but the most obvious is to assume that the job of journalists is to act as conduits for the promotion of UN activities, largely employing the words with which the UN seeks to have those activities conveyed.  The assumed role of journalists, it would appear, involves some measure of capitulation to the dominant narrative, pushing the soundbites that elevate the stature and impact of the UN in ways that are likely misleading – explaining away mistakes and even missing some important ways in which the UN adds value beyond the fringes of policy centers.  After all, in a highly competitive, branded environment, we are as likely to lose sight of the places where we add value as the places where we have failed to add it.

What we need from journalists, with all due respect to the UN’s web content, the pressures of the media market and the unpredictability of editors is to be attentive, thoughtful and, to the extent any of us can be, balanced.  We need journalists who strive to see the whole picture, who eschew easy abstractions focused on political power or celebrity scandal, who resist the pages handed out for them to read in favor of pages they investigate for themselves.

And most of all, we need journalists who flock to the places where matters of genuine importance are taking place, matters where lives are potentially being saved, where threats are being vanquished, where longstanding prejudices are being overcome, where awareness can swiftly lead to action on some of the critical issues facing our planet.   Those of us who supplement journalism with active social media know how to get to the scenes of impact, but professional journalists most often bring a more disciplined eye.

From March 7 to March 16 before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, one longstanding threat to the human race came a bit closer to being vanquished. A superb team of legal experts – with leadership from Dutch lawyer Phon van den Biesen and HE Tony deBrum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands (and including John Burroughs of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy) — argued persuasively that the nuclear weapons states have manifestly failed in their obligations under customary international law and the provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to pursue “in good faith” negotiations towards a nuclear-disarmed world.

The cases entitled, Obligations concerning Negotiations relating to Cessation of the Nuclear Arms Race and to Nuclear Disarmament (www.icj-cij.org/docket/index.php?p1=3&p2=3&code=miuk&case=160&k=ef) also brought to the court legal teams of the three nuclear weapons states – United Kingdom, Pakistan and India – which had previously accepted compulsory jurisdiction of the Court regarding adjudication of these claims of obligation. (For more on these cases, see https://www.wagingpeace.org/international-court-of-justice-concludes-hearings-in-preliminary-phase-of-historic-nuclear-disarmament-cases/).

While a comprehensive review of this process is beyond our competence, the arguments of the nuclear armed states seemed to us simultaneously vigorous and fatuous, attempting as they were to make the case that the jurisdiction which they had already accepted did not now apply, while also seeking to re-write history such that the weapons each state has unilaterally pursued and now seeks to modernize are somehow “consistent” with legal obligations to negotiate towards nuclear disarmament.   Perhaps even more remarkable, states seem to have been largely oblivious to what is quite a “high character” gesture by Foreign Minister deBrum of the Marshall Islands.   The Minister was consistent throughout that his country was not seeking punitive damages, financial compensation or reparations in any form, but was rather seeking legal remedy that would help to drive meaningful (and irreversible) policy change regarding any alleged “right” to ignore disarmament obligations.

Despite the damage inflicted on the islands and its peoples from years of above-ground nuclear testing, the Marshall Islands early on in this process took the prospect of financial compensation off the table.  The “compensation” of preference was a judgment that nuclear weapons states have simply not fulfilled their obligations under customary international law, and that the tangible commitment to “good faith” negotiations was necessary to satisfy both the judgments of the court and the people of the Marshall Islands that their longstanding and radiation-soaked sacrifices could serve a higher calling – a world once and for all free of nuclear weapons.

There were other matters about this case that were intriguing from the vantage points of policy and media. First, we have to admit that we don’t quite understand what appears to be incessant squabbling over relevant lenses – legal, humanitarian, moral – through which the question of nuclear weapons possession can finally be put to rest.   The skillfulness of the plaintiffs’ arguments in this case was matched by the compelling, kind and far-reaching nature of the relief being sought, not treasure in the conventional sense but the treasure of the greater good.  In these three legal cases, what is at stake is nothing short of our ability to have confidence in international law as applied to the dangers posed by the possession of these potentially “ecosystem destroying” weapons.

Second, while all arguments stayed fairly close to issues of admissibility and jurisdiction that dominated so much of the three state “defenses,” there was an under-current in the room that these three cases might create “jurisdiction” of another sort in the form of “good faith” negotiating pressure on the (majority) nuclear weapons states that chose to stay away from this case.   It surely occurred to the ICJ judges – as it must have for the Marshall Islands legal team – that it is a short distance from precedents established in these cases to accusations of “good faith” negotiating failures on the part of the other weapons possessors, including and especially the two largest possessing states.   The UK’s “one hand clapping” reference notwithstanding, there is reason to believe that such precedents coupled with political pressure from the “humanitarian” sector and moral pressure from the faith communities might finally be sufficient to get us on a path characterized by something other than pious statements advocating disarmament followed closely by negotiating intransigence.

By any relevant standard, this process before the ICJ would seem to rise to a level of importance –politically, symbolically and legally – for it to have received wider attention from both professional journalists and social media advocates for disarmament.  While grateful to the outlets and organizations that covered the cases (and even in the latter instance funded the participation of the Marshall Islands legal team), we simply cannot fathom how so much of this important work remained in the media shadows.   There is so much about peace and security advocacy that is bogged down by duplicitous state interests, distracted NGOs, even a lazy press.  This is one instance when our collective eyes and ears should have taken better notice.

Stating the Obvious:  Good Governance as a Justice and Health Priority, Dr. Robert Zuber

28 Feb

This week at the UN provided more fodder for policy writing than most weeks, and more than can possibly be summarized in a small space.   From Monday’s extraordinary Operational Activities for Development segment of the Economic and Social Council to late Friday in the Security Council as Special Envoy de Mistura counted down the final moments before the start of the Syria “cessation of hostilities” agreement, the week was diverse, notable and hopeful.

Steady movement towards diplomatic consensus could be seen at high level events this week focused on issues as diverse as the development implications of migration, increasing gender-balanced mediation resources, and motivating more engagement by the full General Assembly membership on peace and security issues, including on our civilian protection responsibilities.  But sometimes it is the smaller events that highlight important linkages we need to pursue further.

Two such events occurred this week, one “off campus” involving medical personnel discussing the spread of the Zika virus and the other at UN Headquarters highlighting the need for additional resources for Legal Aid as one component of state commitments to justice and criminal accountability. The Zika discussion was sponsored in part by Women in International Security whose programming we broadly endorse.  The Legal Aid discussion at the UN was sponsored by Norway, the US, South Africa and the International Legal Foundation (ILF).

While it might not seem so at face value, these two events had some important dimensions in common.  For one thing, the events highlighted the many “pro bono” services both medical and legal professionals offer, often under extremely challenging circumstances, in an attempt to help redress access and resource imbalances and the injustices that often flow from them.  Indeed, generations of lawyers have put their lives on the line to uphold the work of human rights advocates and other, perhaps more ordinary people, in danger of having wrongful abuses swallowed up by inattentive or corrupt states. At the same time, many of us have watched in awe and mainly at a distance as doctors with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and other groups keep societies on life support through bombing raids and grisly pandemics. While Zika impacts are not to be equated with those of Ebola nor HIV in its earlier iterations, there are risks to take account of here as well, including to expectant mothers in areas of limited medical care and female doctors who might themselves wish to conceive at some later time.

Those of us with relatively “easy duty” here in New York surely do not give sufficient honor to those with high professional credentials who choose a much more challenging path, bringing some measure of justice and healing to places most of the rest of us hesitate to go.

The other major commonality of these events is an implication for good governance.  At the Zika event, the medial professionals competently explored the epidemiological implications of the disease and drew connections to other (often more severe) pandemics.  But it soon became apparent that descriptions of disease response needed to be placed in their larger political and social contexts.   What are the security, development and governance dimensions of a viable health response framework?   What does the medical profession need from states, all states, such that doctors can contribute more than helping patients recover from disease or injury only to face economic deprivation, insecurity in many forms, even abuses at the hands of their own leaders? The doctors in this discussion were not entirely comfortable responding to this inquiry, but all have served in challenging settings and all understood the “enabling” criteria for effective medical response which many states are unable or unwilling to provide.

The event on Legal Aid offered another lens on this problem.   As with response to pandemics, no one in the UN conference room would have suggested that Legal Aid was not a useful commitment.   All of the designated presenters and diplomats who followed voiced concern about chronic imbalances our justice outcomes.  US  Amb. Power gave full support to ILF’s work while noting the degree to which the US continues to fall short on legal fairness.  Argentina’s Amb. Garcia Moritan made clear that legal access – a core provision of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – should privilege free legal assistance if such access was ever to become universal.  South Africa’s Mlambo highlighted Legal Aid as a key element in any successful effort to eradicate poverty, itself perhaps the single key objective of the SDGs.

Ever-thoughtful Brazil reminded the audience that access to justice and access to the courts are simply not the same thing, and urged more dispute resolution resources outside formal courts.  What was not discussed at great length, to the chagrin of some listeners, is the ability of Legal Aid, court-appointed legal assistance, or any other form of pro-bono aid to overcome the enormous legal advantages accruing from the growing economic inequality within many states. As access to legal aid is not the same as access to courts, neither is it the same as legal clout sufficient to take on the corporate and political hegemonies that can pay for (or in some instances pay off) the highest caliber of legal services.

The sad reality is that, while Legal Aid should command higher policy attention, many of those who could benefit most from that assistance already feel “burned” by their justice system.  This was certainly the case in my Harlem parish, and I have heard similar stories in poverty stricken areas worldwide.  Many people know (or think they know) that the legal system is “rigged” against them, not just because they have irresolvable difficulties locating some form of legal assistance, but because economic and social inequalities have clear, compelling and largely detrimental legal dimensions. Rightly or not, these people have developed significant trust issues with the state and its legal institutions.

When I was a child, it was common to see summertime trucks passing through the neighborhood spraying chemicals designed to suppress mosquito populations.  And while the fumes seemed toxic enough (and in fact turned out to be of some medical consequence to more than just the bugs) folks in the neighborhood had sufficient residue of trust in the government to allow the sprayers to pass without protest.  But in too many parts of the world, such spraying might be interpreted as an attack of the state.  In too many parts of the world, the urgent instructions of medical personnel seeking to control a pandemic might be interpreted as a state-endorsed violation of their personal and cultural integrity.  In too many parts of the world, people have had painful, interactive lessons with the legal systems in their countries of residence and, as a result (as quoted recently in a NY tabloid), simply “don’t do courts” any longer.

Building trust in the principles and practices of states is not an optional measure, but is essential to any medical healing or legal leveling in the social order.  At the same time, recognizing the myriad of consequences for medical healing, legal assistance and more from both an unequal social order and the resulting deficit of public trust is just as important.  Those of us seeking to expand medical, legal and other assistance must commit more to ensure a proper “enabling environment” for needed services; which in large measure is tantamount to better ensuring more effective and trustworthy patterns of governance.

Bible Study:  The UN Security Council Revisits its Sacred Origins, Dr. Robert Zuber

21 Feb

On Monday January 15, under the presidency of Venezuela, the UN Security Council held a full debate on the UN Charter, the fundamental document guiding this institution’s objectives, values, relationships and working methods. The debate, “Respect for the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations as a key element for the maintenance of international peace and security,” attracted a chamber filled with ministers, mission diplomats and others.

It should be noted here that the General Assembly has also been involved in its own efforts to revitalize itself in accordance with the Charter.   The GA’s version, of course, is a more inclusive process.  Indeed, much of its membership is also suspicious of efforts by the Security Council to “filter” such important conversations through its much more narrow accountability frameworks.   Thus, much of the conversation on this Monday was less about the Charter per se and more about the working methods of the Council itself – how to improve Council effectiveness in responding to security threats but even more its accessibility of and accountability to the wider membership.

To the extent that the debate kept its focus on Charter values and obligations, it followed along lines similar to those of religious communities debating the contemporary relevance of ancient scriptures.  Some UN members stressed the need to hold fast to the fundamentals of the Charter as the basis for all UN action. Others stressed the need for flexible Charter applications to respond effectively to security and other threats – including asymmetric threats from ISIL and other groups – which those giving birth to the Charter could not possibly have foreseen.   Still others acknowledged a shifting security environment while insisting with the Secretary General that we “must get out in front of conflict,” as the Charter suggests we should do, and without recourse, as Pakistan warned, to “power politics”

The world that welcomed the UN Charter has certainly changed on a massive scale since 1945.   At the same time, states joining the UN entered an organization defined by Charter obligations and limitations.  Indeed, many smaller states have seen in their UN membership both an opportunity to participation meaningfully in global policy and a means for resisting big power incursions into their internal affairs – a window on the one hand, a wall on the other.

At this particular debate there were frequent references to Charter values that seek to protect territorial integrity and sovereign equality.   Sovereignty itself was the subject (as it always is whenever the UN membership addresses the Security Council) of much discussion, especially among some states that see sovereignty as a protective principle, including too often protection from accountability for abuse of its own citizens (a point made strongly –but not only– by Spain and the UK).  Sovereignty is too often invoked as one obligation abstracted from others, and is unfortunately also invoked as the ultimate principle within the household of UN Charter values.

Such debates in the Security Council often dredge up regional tensions owing to the fact that states do not always act in accordance with Charter responsibilities and those that don’t (when they don’t) are not held to the same levels of accountability under international law.   In the Monday debate, along with a few side-skirmishes (such as with Cyprus and Turkey), the focus of several delegations, most notably Ukraine, was on Russia’s aggressive behavior in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.

We think that this aspect of the debate, while a bit of a diversion, was largely “fair game.” Indeed, it is part of a larger discussion that needs to continue and that focuses on the degree to which Security Council members – most notably the permanent five – seen by many as the guarantors of important Charter-based responsibilities, routinely abrogate those responsibilities.  This rightly includes, but is by no means limited to the Russians.   One doesn’t have to accept at face value Venezuela’s concern about violations of rights by large powers in the name of “democracy” to agree that accusations of rights abuses are too often externalized, too often used as a tool for political ends, too often used to deflect attention away from other abuses committed closer to home.  As a body, and certainly in the case of the permanent members, we are still prone to accusing too readily and apologizing too seldom.

Indeed, there is probably no institution on earth that is subject to less accountability for its excesses and errors than the UN Security Council.   70 years removed from its founding, as the world recovered from a shattering conflict, it is hard to imagine that Founders Intent could have included such a lack of accountability both to those impacted by its decisions (or lack thereof) and to the general UN membership.  Armenia and India were only two of several states during the debate noting that trust in the UN system is currently under strain due in part to the Council’s working methods.  Fixing those methods, as many states seem now prepared to do, would go far to enhancing the UN’s trust reserves.

But any discussion about Charter intent is to some degree speculative and subject to review by the historians who have a better sense of what those Charter framers were thinking, the new world that they were helping to set in motion.  It is for us to take that analysis and apply it to our own multi-lateral framework for addressing contemporary problems – problems both outside and inside the UN.  Member states breathe life into the Charter, as noted by Malaysia, implying that fair and inclusive working methods can be as important a Charter value as respect for the rule of law. Like so many other states at this debate, Malaysia clearly seeks strategies that enhance the Charter, not bypass it.

As we examine appropriate ways to modify and enrich our understanding of the UN’s founding “scriptures” to accommodate new security and development realities, it is imperative that we abandon, as Japan duly noted, any predisposition to apply “rules” to some and not to others.  We must also ensure, as Sweden, Italy, the African Union and others urged, that we always make the full and best use of UN and regional capacities to address conflict, and to apply preventive tools wherever and whenever possible.   We need a more level field of play as well as a full complement of partners to play with.

Latvia got it quite right, I think, when it referred to the UN membership – inside and outside the Council – as the “guardians” of Charter promises.   Panama also got it right when it encouraged Charter applications that place people at the center of our policy deliberations.  These and related recommendations from the membership imply a reverence for the values and principles that underpin our collective responsibilities that is all-too-rarely seen inside UN headquarters.   The specifics of those promises may at times have to adjust to new and even unforeseen circumstances, but the promises themselves and the values they embody continue to uphold the foundations of the UN’s sacred trust.

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

18 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Field Worth Playing On:   The UN recalibrates its laws and its leadership, Dr. Robert Zuber

7 Jun

Last Friday at the UN, as the Security Council held another unsettling briefing on Ukraine and as a Meeting of Government Experts sought common ground on technical aspects related to the elimination of illicit flows of small arms and light weapons, a rule-of-law lecture took place that highlighted the increasing value and robustness of leadership emanating from smaller states.

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the UN membership of the Principality of Liechtenstein, HSH Hereditary Prince Alois made a presentation at UN headquarters that did what we would urge many states to do under similar circumstances – share why the decision to commit to multi-lateral engagement through the UN was a sound one.  The Prince cited difficulties in getting traction in the UN as a small state but also highlighted their national interest in the strong, accountable rule-of-law which the Prince rightly noted “is a prerequisite for a level playing field and the sovereign equality of all states.”

While the Prince did note some distinct national interests in matters such as the International Criminal Court and in reform of the UN Security Council, he avoided mention of other policy interests including in Women, Peace and Security activities at UN headquarters, areas where his government has displayed visible and welcome leadership.

Indeed, the key to any successful meeting or process at the UN is quality leadership – the kind that both takes risk and builds consensus, that highlights needs in the international community for which it is then willing to take some significant responsibility – convening and prodding rather than pointing figures and expecting solutions to come from elsewhere.

This kind of leadership has recently been in evidence in many UN forums – especially in the post-2015 sustainable development (SDG) negotiations where Kenya’s Kamau and Ireland’s Donoghue (and Hungary’s Kőrösi previously) navigated a challenging process that has produced an historic ‘zero draft.’  That draft has elicited some criticism but also represents a significant improvement over the prior MDGs and has a good chance of passing muster with Heads of State at the UN in September.  The draft also incorporates noteworthy interventions from many small states, including the Small Island Developing States, which will ensure among other things that climate health has a prominent place in SDG implementation.

Beyond the SDGs, this past couple of days alone has seen an important initiative by Lithuania and Malaysia pushing for Security Council responses to challenging cease fire violations in Ukraine, a site of dismay and sadness for the entire UN system.  At the same time, we note Moldova’s successful stewardship of the Meeting of Government Experts, a technical process related to ending the trafficking in small arms which took place amidst significant leadership changes in UN Disarmament Affairs and followed two frustrating and time consuming events related to armaments: the UN Disarmament Commission and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review.

What all of this leadership has in common is that it emanated from what at another time in the UN’s history might be considered ‘unlikely sources.’  Smaller states have always attempted to champion issues of global importance, but for most of the UN’s history these states have operated in the background as big power interests dominated the stage. Now these smaller states not only sit often in the chair’s seat, but do much inside and outside the Security Council to establish a fully functional global agenda in each of the UN’s core policy pillars.

Some of this agenda is related less to issues and more to structures and working methods.   Currently there are serious (and not so serious) proposals cascading through the halls and conference rooms of the UN to change the way the Security Council does its business, the UN system chooses its leadership, and more.  Part of what underlies these concerns is the quite sensible need to find ways to get permanent Council members to play by the same rules that they insist on for other states.  In these efforts, small and medium sized states are playing a growing, welcome role.

We believe completely that one path to UN reform is lies in the vigorous leadership of major UN processes by officials from smaller states.   This includes non-permanent Security Council members who are slowly eroding the assumptions and prerogatives of the veto-wielding states, not through their military or economic power but through their wise, vocal and even courage engagement with the opportunities provided by Council working methods and the UN charter.  The more good sense the non-permanent members communicate, the more resolve they show on policy, indeed even the more enthusiasm they show for the value and future expansion of multi-lateral contexts, the better our planet will be.  As we are seeing, commitment, wisdom and tenacity from smaller states can begin to wear down power imbalances in the UN system perhaps even more successfully in the long run than attempted charter revisions or the formation of new blocks of states at times as intransigent in their interests as the ‘privileged’ states they seek to counter.

This leveling is critical to the health of the UN system.  But it must be attained less by attempting to drag down the larger powers and more by smaller states stepping up and allowing their leadership and (to the extent they are available) commitment of resources to serve as their “balancing card. “  It also means promoting rule-of-law as the essential leveler, rules and standards that can coax more transparency and accountability from large states –including permanent Council members – than any single option currently available to us.

The “inequalities” that formed the basis for much discussion of post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals have their echo in other parts of the system as well.  Not only inequalities within states but also between states.   But it is never enough to lament the imbalances.   We all must — NGOs as well — be willing to pay our “dues” by increasing our practical interest in a UN system that is still desperately needed and still not fulfilling expectations.

Liechtenstein is one of the small states that have, individually and collectively, made positive contributions to multilateralism in large measure through its interest in rule-of-law.   If this system is ever going to truly balance — and it may not survive unless that happens – more states need to join efforts at rule-of-law based institutional reform.  Such states must also be willing to take leadership in areas of their greatest interests while affirming publicly the benefits to governments and peoples of UN-based multilateral arrangements.

Boko Haram: What is to be Done? – Professor Hussein Solomon

18 Jan

Editor’s Note:  Hussein Solomon, a longtime friend of GAPW, is a sensitive, nuanced, highly-respected commentator regarding many of the current mis-steps in African counter-terrorism policy, including an over-reliance on decontextualized military ‘solutions.’  This piece on the grave situation currently unfolding in Nigeria, Cameroon and neighboring states originally appeared as a policy paper of Research on Islam and Muslims in Africa

Even by Boko Haram’s own depraved standards, this month’s attacks by the Islamist group have gone beyond the pale. In one case, a woman in labour was shot dead. In another, a ten year-old girl was strapped with explosives and used as a human detonator in a crowded market[1]. Beyond the brutality of the terrorist atrocities committed is the sheer scale of the attack. In the case of the most recent attack on Baga, where 2,000 civilians were killed according to Amnesty International, heavily armed Boko Haram fighters arrived in trucks and motorcycles[2]. Following an initial attack with grenade launchers on the hapless citizens, survivors of the initial assault fled into the forest only to be gunned down by other Boko Haram fighters on motorcycles. The savagery of the assaults has even motivated the moribund African Union (AU) to act – calling for an AU force to intervene and defeat the insurgents[3].

I am convinced that Abubaker Shekau and his Boko Haram terrorists can be defeated. But what would a strategy of victory look like? First, is the issue of regional and international co-operation. Boko Haram is not only a Nigerian problem but a transnational one – consisting of fighters from as far away as Libya and Somalia[4]as well as having ties with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Somalia’s Al Shabaab (The Youth), the Movement for Unity and Oneness in West Africa and Mali’s Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith). Moreover, there is a discernible Boko Haram presence in Chad, Cameroon, Mali, and Niger. Currently each of these countries is trying to unilaterally take on Boko Haram. Whilst some successes have been achieved, for example, when Cameroon’s military killed 143 Boko Haram fighters after they attacked the Cameroonian military camp in Kolofata[5]; it is clear that neighbouring states need to think along the lines of joint military operations, sharing intelligence, coordinating border crossings, as well as starving Boko Haram of its financial resources emanating locally and abroad to conducts its terror campaign. The latter would necessarily entail greater help rendered to these states by the West as well as the UN’s Counter-Terrorism Committee.

Second, three caveats are important when discussing the employment of military force. In the first instance, the employment of force should not be at the expense of the political and developmental responses to counterterrorism. Rather the military should complement these other legs of a holistic counterterrorism strategy. In the second instance, where force is deployed it should take on board the African context. The focal point of African armies should be highly mobile 600 troop battalions as opposed to bigger brigades of 3,000 troops or a corps of 10,000 troops. This would allow for a more flexible force more in keeping with the counter-insurgency battle they have to wage. Finally, such a military force should take cognisance of the plethora of local militia groups which have sprung up amongst local communities in an effort to protect themselves from the ravages of Boko Haram. These could be useful force multipliers and working relationship could be established between the intervention force and these militia groups. Moreover, the intervention force could also provide training to these groups in the face of a common enemy.

Third, as any medical practitioner knows, prevention is better than cure. Whilst a military solution is needed in the short term, the underlying extremist ideology driving Boko Haram must also be addressed. Radicalisation among Nigeria’s Muslims is also growing[6] apace as a result of the internet and jihadi chat forums.[7] Boko Haram’s founder – Mohammed Yusuf – himself was a trained Salafist (a school of thought associated with jihad and the austere Saudi tradition of Islam known as Wahhabism).[8] Yusuf was also a great admirer of fourteenth century jihad ideologue, Ibn Taymiyyah.[9] Yet the government has done little to curb the spread of radical Islamism. This is surprising considering that the group seeks to convert Nigeria into a Muslim Wahhabist state[10] and the fact that it recruits from the Ibn Taymiyyah network of schools that Yusuf had set up.[11] This, in turn, also contributed to the difficulty that the state’s intelligence apparatus had in penetrating Boko Haram: recruitment seems to be taking place among disciples of a particular religious leader in a particular area.[12] These bonds of loyalty between disciple and religious leader are notoriously difficult to break.

Fourth, counterterrorism efforts are hobbled by the incapacity of the Nigerian Police Force (NPF) to gather intelligence and undertake scientific investigations. According to Amnesty International, most police stations do not document their work. There is no database for fingerprints, no systematic forensic investigation methodology, only two forensic laboratory facilities, few trained forensic staff and insufficient budgets for investigations.[13] Under the circumstances police tend to rely on confessions, which form 60 per cent of all prosecutions.[14] However, it often appears that such confessions are extracted under torture. In the process the guilty often escape punishment while the innocent suffer. In terrorism cases, it means that despite the multitude of arrests of alleged Boko Haram members and sympathisers, it hardly impacts on the sect’s endurance and capacity to carry out fresh atrocities. In addition, corruption within the NPF is rampant,[15] further undermining counterterrorism initiatives.

Such corruption has also become endemic within the Nigerian armed forces, resulting in widespread demoralisation and at least two mutinies in 2014 by soldiers against their commanding officers. While Nigeria’s armed forces are allocated US$6 billion of the annual budget, this hardly benefits the ordinary Nigerian soldier whose monthly pay was suddenly halved to 20,000 Nigerian naira (approximately US$130) in July 2014.[16] Ordinary soldiers have to go into battle against Boko Haram rockets and mortar rounds, in ‘soft’ Hilux trucks, since the money for armoured personnel carriers inexplicably dried up. In addition, each soldier engaging in frontline duty is supposed to receive a 1,500 Nigerian naira daily allowance and food is to be provided. However, this allowance does not get to them and often, neither does the food. Under the circumstances, desertions are increasing.[17] Worse still, soldiers accuse their superiors of leaking their plans and movements to Boko Haram in exchange for payment. In May 2014, 12 soldiers were killed in an ambush in Borno state. Angered by what they perceived as plans leaked to Boko Haram, the remaining soldiers returned to base and turned their guns against their commanding officer.[18] This situation cannot be allowed to continue if one wants to seriously end Boko Haram terrorism.

Fifth, counterterrorism efforts are also proving counterproductive because of the brutality unleashed by the security forces – in the process, losing hearts and minds. The Joint Military Task Force (JTF) in Borno State, for instance, has resorted to unlawful killings, dragnet arrests and extortion and intimidation of the hapless residents of Borno. Far from intelligence-driven operations, the JTF simply cordoned off areas and carried out house to house searches, at times shooting young men in these homes.[19] Similar tactics were pursued by the JTF at homes searched in the Kaleri Ngomari Custain area in Maiduguri on 9 July 2011. Twenty-five people were shot dead by security services, women and children were beaten, homes were burnt and many more boys and men were reported missing.[20] Such excesses on the part of the security services can only contribute to the further alienation of citizens from the state and its security forces – something that Abuja can ill afford. This situation is compounded by the fact that the Nigerian soldiers and police patrolling in northern states are national, not local, and therefore are unlikely to share either ethnic or cultural backgrounds with the local population[21] who view themselves as being under siege in an occupation by `foreign forces’.

Sixth, counterterrorism efforts fail as they do not recognise the wider context – the potential assets that extremists groups have at their disposal. A case in point is the existence of armed gangs throughout northern Nigeria. These number in their thousands and include such gangs as the Almajirai, Yan Tauri, Yan Daba, Yan Banga, and Yan Dauka Amariya. These gangs provide a ready pool of recruits for extremists.[22] The authorities therefore need to neutralise these armed groups as part of the broader fight against Boko Haram.

Finally, counterterrorism efforts suffer as a result of the credibility gap between promise and performance, rhetoric and reality. While promising to curb or eradicate the scourge of terrorism, government actions do not seem to reflect this urgency. As Abimbola Adesoji has reflected, ‘… the government response to Islamic fundamentalism seems neither adequate nor enduring. The prompt trial of arrested culprits, bold and firm implementation of previous commission reports, and a more devoted handling of security reports and armed gangs, as well as better handling of known flash points and hot spots, would, in addition to serving as a deterrent, portray the government as a responsible and a responsive body.[23] Unfortunately none of this has occurred.

This is a failure both at the political level and at the level of the security forces. Political mandarins have failed to adequately arm their security services or provide sufficient funds to engage in long-term intelligence operations to penetrate Islamist organisations in the country. Nigeria’s federal structure has unfortunately contributed to the poor coordination among the different security organisations. This is further exacerbated by, ‘…the inability of state governors as the chief security officers of their states to control the security forces, which are under the control of the federal government.[24]

There are however, failures on the part of the security services as well. The skill sets of those in the Nigerian intelligence community do not provide an adequate ‘fit’ to the challenges posed by sects like Boko Haram. Indeed most of those in the intelligence community seem to have a background in VIP protection – the protection of senior political officeholders – as opposed to intelligence proper.[25] A consequence of the lack of skill sets was evident in December 2011in the northern city of Kano, when security police were keeping the home of a suspected militant, Mohammed Aliyu, under surveillance. Arriving at his home, Aliyu immediately realised that his home was under surveillance and called members of his sect. Within minutes they drove up in three vehicles and fatally shot three undercover police officers.[26]

In addition, there is the on-going problem of nepotism within the security services – people being appointed on the basis of who they know as opposed to what they know. Agekameh[27] captured the sorry state of Nigerian security services by noting that, ‘Standards have fallen due to political partisanship. People now occupy sensitive positions in the security agencies not because of their ability to perform, but because they are either from one geographical location, simply wield some influence or know some people at the top who will nurture their career. The twin evil of godfatherism and favouritism has eaten deep into the entire gamut of the security agencies. Sycophancy rather than professionalism has been elevated as the most important criterion for career advancement.’

These failures help to explain why Nigerian security services were caught unprepared when Boko Haram made its vicious appearance on the scene. The fight against Boko Haram will therefore be a long one but it can be won with the requisite political will garnered to fix these problems and in the process protecting the innocent from the scourge of terrorism.

[1] Barbie Latza Nadeau, “Nigeria is Letting Boko Haram Get Away with Murder,” The Daily Beast, 13 January 2015. Internet:http://www.thedailybeat.com/articles/2015/01/13/nigeria-is-letting-boko-haram-get-away-with-murder.html. Date accessed: 15 January 2015.

[2] “Boko Haram may have killed up to 2,000 people in Nigeria: Amnesty International,” IBN Live. 15 January 2015. Internet: http://ibnlive.in.com/news/boko-haram-may-have-killed-up-to-2000-people-in-nigeria-amnesty-international/522297-2.html. Date accessed: 15 January 2015.

[3] “South Africa warned against fighting Boko Haram in Nigeria,” News 24, 15 January 2015. Internet: http://www.news24.com/Africa/News/SA-warned-against-fighting-Boko-Haram-in-Nigeria-20150114-2. Date accessed: 15 January 2015.

[4] Will McBain, “Nigeria plays down Baga bloodbath,” Mail and Guardian, 16-22 January 2015, p. 11.

[5] Krishnadev Calamur, “143 Boko Haram fighters Killed in Clashes with Cameroon’s Military,” NPR, 13 January 2015. Internet: http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2015/01/13/376963249/143-boko-haram-fighters-killed-in-clashes-cameroons-military. Date accessed: 15 January 2015.

[6] Zalan Kira, ‘Assessing Terror Threats’ US News Digital Weekly, 3, 49, 9 December 2011, p. 10.

[7] Abimbola O Adesoji, ‘Between Maitatsane and Boko Haram: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Response of the Nigerian State’, Africa Today, 57, 4, 2010b, pp. 99-100.

[8] Toni Johnson, ‘Boko Haram,’ Council on Foreign Relations. 27 December 2011, <http://www.cfr.org/africa/boko-haram/p25739.&gt; (Accessed 21 January 2012), pp. 1-2.

[9] Ibid., p. 2.

[10] Ioannis Mantzikos, ‘The Absence of the State in Northern Nigeria: The Case of Boko Haram’, African Renaissance, 7, 1, 2010, p. 61.

[11] Ibid., p. 58.

[12]Abimbola O Adesoji, ‘Between Maitatsane and Boko Haram: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Response of the Nigerian State’, Africa Today, 57, 4, 2010b, p. 101.

[13] Amnesty International, Nigeria: Human Rights Agenda 2011-2015. London: Amnesty International, 2011, p. 8.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., p. 9.

[16] Monica Mark, ‘Uphill battle for Nigeria’s ailing army’, Mail and Guardian, 30, 31, 1-7 August 2014, p. 19.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Amnesty International, Nigeria: Human Rights Agenda 2011-2015. London: Amnesty International, 2011, p. 30.

[20] Ibid.

[21] ‘Boko Haram: Nigeria’s growing new headache’, Strategic Comments, 17. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), November 2011, <http://www.iiss.org/publication/strategic-comments/past-issues/volume-17-2011/nov.&gt;, (Accessed 9 January 2012).

[22] Abimbola O Adesoji, ‘Between Maitatsane and Boko Haram: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Response of the Nigerian State’, Africa Today, 57, 4, 2010b, pp. 112-113.

[23]Abimbola O Adesoji, ‘Between Maitatsane and Boko Haram: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Response of the Nigerian State’, Africa Today, 57, 4, 2010b, p. 100.

[24] Ibid., p. 114.

[25] Ibid., p. 114.

[26]David Smith, ‘Boko Haram suspects held after Nigerian shootout’, The Guardian, 19 December 2011, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/19/boko-haram-suspects-nigeria-shootout?newsfeed=true&gt; (Accessed 28 January 2012), p. 1.

[27] Omede  J Apeh, ‘Nigeria: Analysing the Security Challenges of the Goodluck Jonathan Administration’ Canadian Social Science, 7, 5, 2011, p. 94.