Tag Archives: SecurityCouncil

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

13 Mar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Voice Lessons:  A “Fabulous Five” sets the bar for their Security Council Successors, Dr. Robert Zuber

20 Dec

Last year at this time, we published a piece that sought to honor and assess the contributions of the five non-permanent members who vacated the Council at the end of 2014.  As we noted just last week, this group has gone on to continue the pattern of distinguished leadership they refined while on the Council, with a special nod to the Republic of Korea’s current stewardship of the Economic and Social Council.   The current departing five members – Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania and Nigeria – are all poised to do nothing less.

We have long been of the view that a limitation of the UN, even in this year of extraordinary movement on development, climate and now, perhaps, on Syria as well, is its apparent resistance to institutional memory.  There is so much turn over, so many people passing in and out of UN service, so many diplomats and policymakers coming to New York to make their own mark rather than build upon and honor the marks of their predecessors.  In the Council, the irony is that just as non-permanent members are finding their way through a maze of often-arbitrary P-5 power dynamics, so-called “provisional” rules of procedure, and evolving working methods still better suited to a bygone era, they are obligated to vacate their seats around the oval.   Just as they are coming into their own, their voices communicating strength and wisdom as well as urgency, these non-permanent members must now forfeit a portion of their security policy relevance.

And over the past two years, it is more than states that must shed their voices; it is the competent women leading several of these delegations who have also left the oval.   Last year it was Argentina and Luxembourg that left a void.  This year the losses are excessive, even painful:  Lithuania, Jordan and Nigeria will all rotate off, as will Chile, a delegation led by (quite thoughtful) men who have regularly invoked Chile’s President Bachelet, well known to the UN community for her tenure at UN Women.

Specifically, Ambassadors Murmokaitė, Kawar and Ogwu leave a distinguished Council legacy.  They have each in their own way evolved as policy leaders.  Their voices have become progressively strong, challenging, even elegant.   Those like GAPW who are mostly “twitter onlookers,” rise in attention when the Chair calls for their delegations’ statements.  Even the (many) other women in chambers – from US Ambassador Power and deputy representatives from Malaysia and New Zealand to junior mission staff – seem to listen more intently when these three Ambassadors are sharing their remarks.

This is no “add women and stir” moment.   And these senior diplomats are certainly not the only voices in Council chambers worth heeding.  But there has been high competence in evidence here, supplemented by a pattern of mutually-supportive engagement, that has been a pleasure to behold.   Indeed, such support seems in varying degrees to have been appreciated by a range of high-level, female Council presenters this year including the ICC’s Bensouda, UNDP’s Clark, CAAC’s  Zerrougui, SRSG Bangura, the EU’s Mogherini and many others.  It surely helps to make difficult cases within such an august setting when these extraordinary UN actors can appeal to a policy audience diverse by gender as well as by geography and culture.

Clearly, the three female Permanent Representatives now leaving the Security Council are no more or less representative of what has become a cacophony of voices from talented women leaders at the UN that has recently featured Special Adviser Mohammed, UNFCCC’s Figueres and UNESCO’s Bokova.   Ambassadors Ogwu, Kawar and Murmokaitė have themselves spoken with passion and conviction; they have taken policy risks as well as exercised policy leadership; they have massaged the sometimes inscrutable structures governing Council practices to convene discussions seldom held; they have not shied away from calling the Council to end its self-shielding impunity for policy malfunctions and neglect while it seeks to address and remediate the abuses perpetrated by rogue states and terror groups.

As we noted last year, the task for non-permanent members is to find ways to use this temporary platform to revitalize Council methods, build stronger and more trust-worthy bonds with the rest of the UN system, and create platforms that can give voice to otherwise muted policy concerns and neglected policy stakeholders.  Given the stubborn power disparities within the Council itself and the often unruly political machinations that sometimes proceed from this imbalance, we can only honor the many and diverse efforts by all these departing members.  As a group and as individuals, they have helped to level the “playing field” for security policy while undermining whatever latent resistance there could still possibly be to the leadership of women at the highest levels.

There are lessons here to help encourage the next group of non-permanent members — Egypt, Japan, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay – perhaps the greatest of which is the potentially transformational power of diverse policy voices coupled with the benefits of having wise and competent women seated behind more and more of those Council microphones.

An Ode to Advent’s Personal Blessings and Policy Challenges, Dr. Robert Zuber

29 Nov

Based on a sermon preached in Ann Arbor, Michigan in early November

Each year I write an Advent message to my friends and colleagues highlighting some part of our neglected spiritual heritage.  This is a tradition that some have begged me to abandon, but the original impulse came out of the my experiences in a Roman Catholic church in particularly challenging area of Harlem where I found a spiritual home and to which I attempted to provide some pastoral support in the late 80s and 90s. Much of the “neglect” I tried to expose through those Advent messages related to our lack of collective thoughtfulness about ourselves, our actions and their consequences, our creeping inability to sit still in a quiet place, staring at the stars and heeding the lessons of the void: beholding the irony that in the vastness of creation, on this little spec of a planet that we neither properly care for nor can easily replace, we have our niche, our role, our responsibility.   Somehow, some way, despite the testimony of deep space and the annual descending of Advent’s unsettling darkness, we continue to matter, sometimes even deeply.

I was going to use the opportunity of preaching in an Ann Arbor church to test out some ideas for this year’s message, to speak again about our reflection deficits, our aversion to the occasional bout of healthy melancholy, our predisposition to indulge in too much reaction and too little reflection, firmly invested in appearances rather than intimate disclosures, turning too much of life into one big selfie.

And then Paris happened, with echoes of Beirut before it and Bamako to come.  And the world quickly pressed into service all of the patriotic rhetoric, the grim determination and the increased military fire power needed to ostensibly “eradicate” this contemporary menace.

Ironically perhaps, the lessons in the Christian bible for pre-Advent Sundays were largely about wrongdoing and retribution, the evil that we experience and the God who will, or so some of us believe, both eliminate evil doers and vindicate our own choices.   This is a faith narrative that is rooted in divine power to restore the moral order as well as an affirmation of confidence in our own place in that cosmic drama.  It is a narrative eerily well suited to these threatening times, this need that some of us have for a deeper sanction for the pursuit of our own “righteous” responses to the evil we experience.

This deep instinct to right the wrongs of the world is hardly unique to our religious institutions. Where I work now, in a small independent policy office at the UN in New York, the single most pervasive aspiration of diplomats and officials is to bring about an end to impunity for the most severe violations of international law, such as we see in Syria, Yemen, Central African Republic and also Paris and Mali. Perhaps no issue undermines the credibility of the UN quite like the perception that wrongdoers get away with wrongdoing to a degree that most of us can barely imagine and certainly cannot sanction.  “Oh Lord how long must evildoers triumph” is a lament that could just as easily be heard in Security Council chambers as in churches. And yet, despite these reputational challenges, or perhaps because of them, there are few aspects of the UN’s work that are as intensely engaged as this one.  We mean business on impunity, even if our business model remains slightly flawed.

As well we should mean business.   With all due regard for the mild hypocrisy embedded in the ways that we at the UN formulate the law and single out perpetrators to address by those same standards, there is no more essential element to a healthy multi-lateral system than a clear articulation of and commitment to international principles — the norms by which we choose to live together and conduct our affairs. Indeed, in the absence of such lived principles, it is unclear how we will ever find our way to a place of trust and confidence in the ability of our evolving global system to solve pending development, climate and security threats. Or even find reason to hope that the cycles of bombings and terror attacks can once and for all be made to grow silent.

And let’s be clear — ending impunity is no abstract matter confined to states and situations like Paris. From children “telling” on each other and barking at parents who they believe have meted out punishment unfairly to the complex matters of jurisdiction and jurisprudence characterized by our international legal mechanisms, fairness in the moral order is part of our cultural expectation. And regardless of where we fall on psychological standards of moral sophistication, or whether we privately posit some deity at the beginning or end of those standards, it is both inconceivable and even emotionally paralyzing that so much abusive and humiliating behavior remains unpunished in this world.  Many of us in New York (what I often refer to as the “global capital of self-importance”) bristle when we are “cut” in line or delayed by insensitive subway behavior.   What should then be our response to unaddressed crimes against humanity?   Surely we can find ways to apprehend and mete out appropriate justice to mass murderers at a higher rate than the street level drug users or “Black Friday” shoplifters who are routinely being squeezed into our prisons.

Surely we can.  But we don’t seem to always know how, and we certainly don’t seem to have many strategies to suggest that don’t involve lots of bombs and missiles and drones.   In other words, we don’t seem to know how to respond to threats of terror without recourse to acts of dubious moral value which simply fuel the next cycles of retribution, the next incarnations of evil which we will then be compelled to address.

We can do better than this.  Indeed, our survival as a species depends on it.

But where is our inspiration for this different way to come from? As the days grow shorter and our fattening squirrels get the message that the feasts of fall are nearing an end, our liturgical lessons of my faith tradition shift their tone – from hard retribution and divine justice to softer, more reflective tones.   Less about what a God is going to do and more about what we have yet to do; less about divine vindication and more about our own thoughtful engagement with the ethical dimensions of local and global governance; less about evil doers and more about our common humanity, humans who seem so clever and powerful at times, until those moments when we catch our breath at the true majesty of the created order, the creation outside our smart phones, even beyond the reach of our deep spacecraft, scoffing at our social conventions and confounding all our policy certainties.  In our anxiety and impatience to deal with all the problems staring us in the face, we lose sight of this bigger picture and its lessons of humble discernment –all of us – more often than we acknowledge.

We have much to fix in this world, much to account for, much to overcome.  We have terror to subdue, development promises to keep, a planet to heal. It may be that the God of one or more faith traditions will somehow, sometime, rush to our side to vanquish and vindicate.  But my suspicion is that this one is mostly on us, our moment to gain some compassionate control – of ourselves and our world – to bring justice which is thorough but not partisan, and to recognize the cycles of violence and abuse that stain all of our political and religious banners.

As I have noted elsewhere, the great Reinhold Niebuhr once said that “the evils against which we contend are the fruits of illusions similar to our own.”  This can be a crushing insight to those who feel that “the good” is found only in the values and practices of their own households, only within their own social rituals and political policies, only at the tips of their own weapons of retribution.   It isn’t so.  It never was so.   Our response to grave threats requires much of us, surely including discernment and some lump-in-your-throat courage. The time for righteous crusades is long past.

During this period when vindication seems to be the understandable order of the day, I beseech us all to keep some energy in reserve for the distinctive blessings of Advent – its vast and awesome uncertainties, but also its deep emotional longings for a peace that is more than patchwork.  Behold the wonder of sitting at the edge of a hillside in the chilly starlight and calling out to anyone who will listen — oh come, oh come Emmanuel.   We have a lot to sort out here.  We have a lot of hard decisions to make.  We need insight and clarity now more than tools of vindication. And we could certainly use a hand.   Emmanuel’s hand.  May it come to us.

 

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.

The Inclusion of Inclusion:  The UN’s Dramatic 70th Convening Seeks Ways to Level Policy and Diplomacy, Dr. Robert Zuber

4 Oct

In the early afternoon of October 3, while police outside dismantled the last barricades and lookouts, the president of the 70th UN General Assembly, H.E. Mogens Lykketoft summarized a frenetic 9 days of activity at the UN before finally banging the session (and indeed this high-level diplomatic season) to a close.

In some significant ways, “frenetic” fails to capture the scene.  It started with an historic papal visit and the adoption of historic Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and ended with a myriad of high level discussions on South Sudan, Yemen, Libya, Syria and other trouble spots which often mirrored the same political divisions that characterize the UN in quieter times.

There were three themes that seemed to encapsulate this cacophony of activities and presentations, and that in many ways generated complementary commitments to more inclusive policy and practice:

The first of these was the eradication of poverty, a major consensus priority for the SDGs.  Indeed, PGA Lykketoft “read the room” correctly when he expressed the hope “that the international community can do more to alleviate human misery.”  Much of the focus of this “misery” was on the plight of refugees and internally displaced in and around Syria.  The PGA announced that his office would focus more on refugee issues as a corollary to existing commitments on poverty reduction.  And just prior to final adjournment, Iceland joined with Spain and many other governments speaking earlier in urging the full inclusion of women as necessary if we are going to end hunger and fulfill other sustainable development commitments to the poor and marginalized.

The second of these areas of ‘inclusion’ was in the realm of climate health.  A specific focus here was the widespread concern over the health of our oceans and the small island states threatened both by pollution and rising sea levels. Grave concerns was also raised over the prospects of refugees fleeing drought, flooding and other environmental uncertainties that threaten local crop yields and access to fresh water.  While some stakeholders have expressed skepticism that the December climate meetings in Paris will result in anything other than a delay in facing up to our new climate destiny, none would dare say so publicly.  Indeed, the urgency of climate disaster seems to slowly, steadily, be taking over diplomatic consciousness in ways hitherto unseen, and this higher “leveling” of government concern is most hopeful. We will soon see if we still have sufficient time to change our personal lifestyles, corporate priorities and diplomatic energies as the basis for altering our current, dangerous climate trajectory.

The third of these areas was institutional inclusiveness, not only within and between states, but inside the United Nations itself.   Some of this, of course, made reference to the SDGs, specifically regarding their funding and data requirements.  But other concerns could be lumped under the banner of UN reform, specifically the process by which the next Secretary General is to be elected as well as a voluntary “Code of Conduct” by virtue of which the Security Council can allegedly reach consensus in a timely manner and “act decisively” on threats with a singular voice.

Though the unresolved horrors in Syria provide the backdrop for much of the “reform” discussion, the impetus for reform stems from a more positive place, what the PGA himself noted is the need for a Council that better “reflects new political realities.”  Specifically, these realities relate to levels of regional representation reflecting the growing economic and diplomatic dominance of large states such as India and Brazil.  Of course, there are other “realities” as well, such as the need for closer coherence on policy and practice between the Security Council and other UN entities, a point made often last week at a High Level General Assembly forum on peace and security. It could also indicate the need for “voluntary veto restraint,” though a Council that fails to fully vest the authority of its non-permanent members, remains highly political in its public and private workings, and fails to address potential conflict before it becomes raging conflict – this and more should keep us mindful of the genuine risks associated with turning grave Council decisions into state-driven popularity contests.

All of these inclusion themes were summarized by the PGA Lykketoft on a dreary, unseasonably cold Saturday afternoon.   Too few diplomats remained in their assigned seats to hear the summary though, we presume, more are on board with the potentially species-saving commitments made during this past week.

But an extra bit of caution might be wise here. Most all of us in this ‘business’ have been to conferences and meetings where the rhetoric is inspired, commitments flow like table wine, promises of regular communication with new friends and connections are made, ideas and plans are “hatched” that seem almost too good to be true.

And then we return home to our responsibilities and our stresses, the ones that preoccupied us before we left.  We are speaking with different people at home, children and partners who need our attention, colleagues waiting for manuscripts or resolutions of logistical challenges, friends to whom we have already made promises that might not neatly accommodate the ones we made on our journey.

This phenomenon is not new, but it merits reflection as we think about the responsibilities of states going forward.  Despite high levels of authority and capacity available to most presidents and their ministers, they also have to navigate numerous domestic burdens, including political responsibilities, which can sap energy and distract focus.  Given this, I cannot escape the sense that if the goals of this past week are to achieve their proper incarnation, it is the diplomats here in New York who will most likely keep objectives in focus. These diplomats, who needed secondary passes last week to get into the sorts of meetings that they preside over during the remainder of the year, understand first- hand the opportunities going forward but also the obstacles to inclusion:  the waning attention on climate health, the rhetoric on poverty reduction not mirrored in proper funding and data commitments, the reformist energy that gets hijacked by national interests, at times in tandem with the interests of NGOs.

The general energy around inclusiveness, the acknowledgement of how uneven our economic, social and institutional “playing fields” have remained, the realization that business-as-usual must end even if we haven’t yet worked out all the implications of our “new normal” — all of this is hopeful.   The question, as it so often is for the UN, is one that interrogates the expectations we raise and the commitments we make.   We have dramatically “raised our own bar” in these critical instances of inclusion.   We will now see how well those of us left behind in New York — diplomats and others — can ensure that this bar can be cleared.

Life after 70:  The Security Council Labors to Articulate Accomplishments and Limitations, Dr. Robert Zuber

7 Sep

Last Monday, the Security Council under the leadership of Amb. Ogwu of Nigeria took time to assess a few of its accomplishments and functional liabilities as the opening of the 70th UN General Assembly approaches and Russia assumes the Council presidency.

While the Council has increasingly made time to such vetting in front of other members states, there was no such meeting in July under New Zealand’s presidency.  Thus this session served as a combination of two months’ worth of summer assessment with much justifiable praise tossed about towards both New Zealand’s and Nigeria’s leadership.

As with many of the Council’s formal sessions, this event also had its moments of political scripting.  With a few exceptions, permanent members spoke primarily of what they understood to be Council achievements (often related to their own national interest) with some subtle and occasionally not-so-subtle finger pointing at states (mostly aimed at Russia) that blunted progress on key Council matters such as creating an international tribunal to prosecute persons responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. For its part Russia reminded its Council colleagues that despite much discussion there was “no light at the end of the tunnel” regarding Libya and Yemen, while mostly ignoring the Syrian misery for which Russia has endured ample criticism from other Council members.

There were two notable statements specifically by permanent members regarding Security Council conduct.  The US reflected on the peacekeeping scandal that has plagued the UN for much of the summer and urged members to “examine their own levels of tolerance” when it comes to peacekeeper abuse.  The UK picked up on the theme of ending impunity, placing it in the context of maintaining the UN’s institutional credibility.  Amb. Rycroft also urged more opportunities for the Council “to air its limitations in public,” wise advice from a trust-building standpoint, especially if accompanied by visible, active resolve to actually fix those limitations.

That said, most of the interesting commentary from this meeting came from then-president Nigeria and the other non-permanent Council members.   Indeed, it is the non-permanent members that have been more likely to initiate what the UK encouraged, airing Council limitations in public and seeking ways forward to make the Council more fair, functional and even far-reaching in its engagement with global security crises.

Suggestions at this review session from non-permanent members came fast and furious and often mirrored suggestions that we and other observers have made. Jordan sought more Council engagement on Security Sector Reform and more tangible measures to aid Palestinians.  Spain urged commitments to more effective working relationships linking the Council and other UN organs, especially the General Assembly.  Chile recommended more urgent efforts to address sexual violence in all its forms, including by peacekeepers. Chad and Nigeria urged more attention to the quality of Council engagement with regional organizations, especially the African Union. Venezuela noted the devastating crumbling of public institutions and infrastructure resulting from what it called “reckless military interventions” authorized by the Council. Angola joined with other members in pleading for more Council “unity” to address major security crises on its agenda. New Zealand, as it did during its own presidency, urged more frequent discussions, including with all UN membership, on Council working methods.

In addition to these comments, there were other methods-related concerns. Chile urged “pen holders” on Council resolutions to make documents available sooner for consideration by the full Council membership.  This was in support of Malaysia’s contention that information on the important Council resolution (2235) establishing a Joint Investigative Mechanism for Syria was not able to be fully vetted by non-permanent members before the vote.   This incident seemed to give some credence to Venezuela’s claim of “anti-democratic” SC practices that marginalize the views of non-permanent members.

Beyond this, there were efforts by some Council members, especially Lithuania and Chile, to urge consideration of Council reform measures focused on “veto restraint” and a “code of conduct” for Council members as proposed by the states of ACT – Accountability, Coherence and Transparency.  These ACT recommendations compliment, but are on a somewhat separate track from reforms that seek to increase and/or reorganize Council membership largely along geographic lines.

We – our office and partners — have written previously about issues regarding the reform of the Council and its use of the veto.  Here we would like to share a couple of additional thoughts.

While we certainly understand the desire of Angola and others for more Council unity in decision making, it is important that such unity not be achieved at the expense of Council thoughtfulness. We have seen too much in the recent history of the UN of what we refer to as the cult of like-mindedness, seeking out “allies” and then branding proposed solutions rather than helping constituents to fully understand their value – and especially their limitations.  There is no magic bullet for the violence in Syria or for the health of our oceans.  There is no one-stop policy that will reverse climate change or bring Libya back from the brink.   There is no norm or treaty which, by itself, will eliminate mass atrocities or the migrations of millions of second-hand weapons. These are complex matters to address, we generally address them too late in the game, and trust is compromised when we claim more for any of our individual policy preferences than they can possibly bear.

On veto restraint, the assumption is that the use of vetoes prevents action that could lead to the successful resolution of disputes. Perhaps. But in a highly politically charged environment such as the UN Security Council, vetoes also prevent dubious responses from becoming normative, such as a preference for bombing or other coercive measures rather than recourse to diplomatic prevention or mediation. The need to “do something” must be tempered by a sober view of what is to be done, when it should be done and, especially, the consequences of “doing,” the genies that we so cleverly release without the slightest clue of how we will get them back in their bottles once our erstwhile “mission” has concluded.

We have written previously about the two criteria that should accompany any veto restraint if it is to become anything more than a “get out of jail” card for the P3 – a more horizontal power dynamic within the Council, and depoliticized findings that can mandate Council deliberations at much earlier stages. The fact that Council members supporting restraint are now complaining about their limited access to key documents is a sign that power balancing has a significant way left to travel. Moreover, until the Council demonstrates that it can heed genuinely depoliticized warnings of pending mass atrocity violence — at a stage when those warnings can reasonably be addressed without coercive impositions — calls for military intervention are likely to remain numerous, if almost always misguided.

Our position is that the most effective reform of the Security Council is best facilitated through the active, robust engagements of non-permanent Council members. For the past several years, and especially during these last two cycles of non-permanent membership, we have witnessed a welcome leveling of the Council playing field – members “crying foul,” demanding Council accountability and assuming their own full responsibility rather than accepting as inevitable the massive power imbalances that have traditionally reinforced the UN version of a security “caste system.”

Despite these welcome changes, more reform is needed and the various proposals floating about the UN to make the SC more democratic and accountable deserve a wider hearing. The Council can help the cause of legitimacy by “working and playing” more effectively with the General Assembly, ECOSOC and other UN agencies at a time when the security implications of human rights, sustainable development, climate change, etc. are becoming more widely acknowledged.  It can also help the cause by making a sincere and sober commitment to truly “maintain” peace and security rather than attempting mostly to restore peace once societies have already “surrendered” to violence.  As Nigeria rightly noted during the recent monthly assessment, “we pay too much attention to symptoms and not enough to causes.” We need to row harder upstream and arrive as quickly as we can on a more prevention-oriented shore.

Paying attention to causes is less about restraining the veto and more about restraining a Council culture that too-often copes with crises mostly at the stage that they can safely be addressed without fear of meaningful “intervention” from the rest of the UN membership. To counter this culture, to broaden member state involvement in the current, complex, multi-dimensional security challenges, leadership from the non-permanent members is critical.   Amplifying and fortifying those member’s voices, and especially their thoughtful engagement with global crises – those on the Council’s active agenda and those knocking at the window — should command the highest priority for both UN member states and Council reformers.

Opening the Closet:  The Security Council addresses violence affecting LGBT persons, Dr. Robert Zuber

30 Aug

This past week, with peacekeeper abuse in Central African Republic and the first meeting of states parties to the Arms Trade Treaty commanding much attention, it was the Security Council that took pride of place in the UN.

A particularly hopeful development took place on Monday as the US and Chile hosted an Arria Formula event to highlight discrimination and abuse suffered by LGBT persons in diverse cultural contexts, with a particular focus on abuses concocted and perpetrated in Syria and Iraq by ISIL.

As one would anticipate given the speakers, which included persons who had been directly affected by violence and threats of violence merely for their sexual expressions, some of the testimony was gruesome.  Reports were numerous of alleged violators of ISIL’s interpretation of Islamic moral codes being tossed from the roofs of buildings and then stoned to death by onlookers if the fall failed to kill them first.

And while efforts were made (perhaps excessively) to keep the spotlight on ISIL’s abuses, there was also acknowledgement of a deeper problem.  As one speaker put it, if ISIL didn’t get me, my own family would.  LGBT persons continue to experience discrimination in many forms, in many cultures, and with many unwelcome consequences.   DSG Eliasson noted during the event that “there are no exceptions to human rights protections,” regardless of circumstance or, in this instance, preferences.   But some states and communities clearly failed to get this memo as people worldwide continue, as reinforced by a Syrian refugee speaker, to be “terrorized by intolerance.”

Indeed, our capacity for discriminating against others, and for enforcing discriminatory patters through violent means, seems to have no bounds. Too many of us have still not evolved from needing to create hierarchies, to feel superior, to adopt normative frameworks for our own lives and then seek to impose them on others.   The US is often cited (and chided) for its claims of national exceptionalism, but many societies and social movements have tendencies to claim superiority and enforce “in group – out group” discrimination. And as we have seen from Syria to Myanmar and in several African states, these collective (as Lithuania called them) “excuses for gross violence” have grave implications for international peace and security, certainly for our ability to build and maintain stable and peaceful societies.

In listening to the challenging narratives of this Arria Formula, it was good to have those “excuses” called out by Council members, to be reminded by Chile and others that silence on LGBT violence simply emboldens those seeking to perpetrate it.  And while France may have over-reached a bit in using this particular session to invoke International Criminal Court jurisdiction with respect to ISIL, it was reassuring that states seemed to interpret this session as something more than what the US referred to as “an historic step” of bringing the Council together to condemn crimes against LGBT persons.  As France, the US and the other Council members know full well, condemnation has little effect without effective follow up measures.

A few other things occurred to us while listening to the statements:

First, as is too often the case, the Council diminished what was a largely successful incursion by failing to acknowledge other efforts within the UN to call attention to abuses perpetrated against LGBT persons.  While the ISIL abuses are certainly grotesque, they should properly be seen as aberrations of already aberrant behavior by some states and communities, aberrations that should largely remain the province of General Assembly and Human Rights Council, especially once states demonstrate their inability or unwillingness to provide domestic remedies for abuse.   For those wondering if, indeed, there would have been just cause for Council members to cite the LGBT-related efforts of other stakeholders in the UN system, please visit http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Discrimination/Pages/LGBTUNResolutions.aspx .

Secondly, and we hesitate to make this point again, while it is important to take stock of abuses committed against persons and communities, and there are so many to choose from in this discouraging time, stories of abuse do not in and of themselves suggest a remedial framework.   That such stories can (or at least should) create urgency is beyond doubt, but urgency in what form?   What is the most effective response strategy going forward?  How do we address such abuse within the limitations of the UN Charter, the will of key member states, certainly the requirements of international human rights law?  It is most important, as noted by New Zealand, to put a “human face” on violations, by ISIL or any other abuser.  But faces of pain are the motivation for thoughtful, effective policy, not a stand-in for it.

Finally, we wonder about the use of Council time and energy on these particular ISIL violations, aside from the important matter of highlighting an issue of discrimination that is massive in some states and present in almost all, albeit one that is most likely to be resolved through other UN forums.  If an objective of this Arria Formula was to highlight the breadth and venom of ISIL abuses in Syria and Iraq, we alredy have more than sufficient evidence in hand.  Jordan aptly highlighted the degree to which “ISIL trades in fear,” as Colombia noted that ISIL violence denies core UN Charter provisions.  But for Council members all of this is old news that may have actually diverted a bit of the focus from the specifics (and pervasiveness) of LGBT-related discrimination itself.

For those who think it callous to question any aspect of Council efforts to call attention to this serious pattern of discrimination and abuse affecting LGBT persons, I would refer you to a series of briefings this week in Security Council chambers focused on events in Syria, Central African Republic and South Sudan.   In each instance, the escalating levels of violence, discrimination and displacement reported simply stagger the imagination.   All of these crises are already on the Security Council agenda and all have resisted some or all of its efforts to address the violence and the humanitarian crises in its wake.   Seemingly with each briefing, the vast numbers of reported abused, neglected and forsaken continue to grow.  Frustration with Council responses – rightly or wrongly – increases as well.

Argentina was perhaps the most “vocal” of the states to speak at this Arria Formula, using the opportunity to link LGBT violence to “femicide” and many other discrimination-related abuses that now occur frequently even in times of “peace.” Argentina also, to the amusement of some in the room, urged the Council itself to “come out of the closet.”  Amb. Percival was referring specially to the fact that the Arria meeting was closed to the press – which was actually a concession to the fact that testimony was offered by a gay Iraqi activist who himself faced grave threats of violence at home.

But there is meaning here that might add value going forward.  “Closets,” after all, keep in as well as keep out.  They are useful, even metaphorically, in protecting conversations and behavior from outside scrutiny.  They help preserve the private sphere, important for those “terrorized by intolerance,” but much less so for the governments and multi-lateral agencies seeking to build passion and capacity for addressing broader discrimination-related violence that causes so much misery in our contemporary world.

If this Arria Formula is indeed to become that “historic step,” it needs to be taken in full connection with those addressing intolerance across the UN system and beyond.  The “closet” door must be swung open to provide better access for all capable and relevant stakeholders – not only on LGBT matters but on the many other forms of discrimination and related abuse that seriously impede peace and security progress worldwide.