Tag Archives: Service

Service Contract:  Sharing the Burdens of a World At Odds, Dr. Robert Zuber

3 Jun

Service

You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. Martin Luther King Jr.

I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.  Rabindranath Tagore

One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone. Shannon Alder

I’m starting to think this world is just a place for us to learn that we need each other more than we want to admit. Richelle Goodrich

The UN had its moments of schizophrenia this week:  An historic decision to approve by consensus the Secretary-General’s proposal for reform of the UN Development System occurred on the same day that the chairs of the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies held a rare and important discussion on the crucial role of these treaties in fulfilling our sustainable development goals, a discusson that few bothered to attend.   The Security Council, due in part to a US veto, fumbled away an effort by Kuwait to ensure a measure of international protection for Palestinians enduring deprivation and violence –especially in the Gaza strip– on the same day that the UN highly honored peacekeepers who sacrificed their lives attempting to stabilize and offer protection in what have become increasingly volatile and unpredictable conflict zones.

This particular honoring of fallen peacekeepers through the Hammarskjöld Medal Award Ceremony had special significance, both because of this being the 70th anniversary of UN peacekeeping and because the list of casualties to which we all properly call attention seems to be growing longer each and every year.  From Tanzania and Pakistan to Ethiopia and Morocco, troops volunteer to be placed in harm’s way to stabilize and protect only to find themselves on the receiving end of a bullet or explosive device.  As is well known, Mali (MINUSMA) has been a place of particular vulnerability for peacekeepers.  As explained by USG Lacroix during the honoring ceremony, MINUSMA forces directly experience one violent incident on the average of every five days.  These forces, much like their counterparts in places like the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of the Congo, are not “keeping peace” so much as buying time for political agreements to be reached and take full effect, for armed elements to lay down their weapons and for national governments to assume not only control but also responsibility for the well-being of their citizens.

This is not the time or place to review in any detail the current status of peacekeeping operations, including ways in which such operations must be more tightly bound to “good faith” political dialogue, as well as the degree to which “protection” measures run the risk of appearing to be a “partisan” rather than a neutral activity, “taking the side” of the state or a particular party to the conflict.  There are also issues regarding troop reimbursements and equipment procurements that continue to plague at least some of these operations. But what is more important in this space (without assuming motives) is the remarkable sacrifice, the decisions that some make to place themselves in situations where they can remind the desperate and victimized that they are not alone, who choose the service of peace in settings where there is little or no “peace to keep.”

The notion of sacrifice itself now seems “old school” to many, in part because we have allowed ourselves to be overly determined by “preferences,” personal to be sure but also professional.   There is a Subway sandwich commercial now playing over and over on the few television shows I have the time to watch, in which the words “I want” crop up endlessly in the jingle accompanying the imagery.  Far beyond the food industry, “wants” it seems are being reduced at an accelerated pace to the immediate objects of our desire, more about fulfilling a craving than defining a relationship let alone a purpose.

Moreover, it seems, we have become more and more disconnected from the people who have made these often difficult choices to serve and protect. We might take the time to “honor” those who fight our fires, drive our emergency vehicles, report on dangerous conflicts and human rights abuses, or keep erstwhile “enemies” at bay, but we generally have little interest in the practical details of their lives, what it takes for men and women — often inspired by those who love and support them—to choose to place themselves in harm’s way for the sake of others, including “others” choosing to pursue “what they want” with hardly a second thought.

Even in the small sessions this week with the UN Treaty Body chairs, people who have indeed made choices to serve and defend the rights of others, there was evidence of this tendency to petition the skills and authority of others without sharing their sometimes considerable burdens. Indeed, some of the few NGOs who attended the Treaty Body meetings this week got a bit of blowback from the chairs, one of whom remarked a bit tongue-in-cheek that every time NGOs share their thoughts “we end up with more work to do.” The human rights pillar of the UN’s mission continues to buckle, in part because a lot of genuinely good and talented people have yet to fully master our “sharing of service” burdens, the requirement to participate more directly in the challenging and at times even dangerous activities undertaken “in our name.”

Over and over during the Hammarskjöld honoring ceremony, attention was given to the urgent need to increase peacekeeper safety including highlighting all that DPKO is proposing to better ensure that troops and other personnel sent to the field are returned intact to their families and communities.  Appropriate equipment would help.  Flexible command authority in the field would as well.   And certainly the Security Council can do more to ensure that peacekeeping mandates are clear, attainable and tied to both viable political negotiations and timely exit strategies.

But there is more to examine here, the culture behind the logistics.  We have written often (as have others) about the UN’s general propensity for being “slow on the uptake,” in terms of its attentiveness to potential conflict situations.  For instance, we and colleagues have been calling attention for some time to the still-ignored dangers of a wider conflict in Cameroon, but also to the cultural issues that prevent situations like this one from receiving UN attention at a stage when conflict is most likely to be contained.

Some of this problem will hopefully be resolved as the SG’s reform proposals for the UN’s peace and security pillar are rolled out.  But some is related to the institutionalized resistance of the UN system to invest in domestic security concerns until they have clearly reached a boiling point.  In this instance, the creeping tensions within states like Cameroon can be likened to someone with a smoking addiction.  Smokers might be told over and over by doctors, friends and others to quit their habit, but refuse the advice until the first cancer screens come back positive, at which point they frantically seek assistance from the very persons whose advice they originally scorned.

This pattern, one which has permitted so much pain and grief in the wider world, must give way to a system characterized by greater levels of institutional trust, better early warning and conflict prevention skills, and a greater commitment to the service which is indeed at the heart of the joy and meaning of life, helping to ensure that smokers can lay down their cigarettes before they need to consult an oncologist.

One of the most “liked” lines on our twitter feed this week came courtesy of the Department of Field Support which reminded the Hammarskjöld Ceremony audience that “the best way to honor the memories of fallen peacekeepers is to renew the commitment to peace that motivated their sacrifices.”  But beyond that, we should consider expanding our commitment to the service of others, service that the times now calls for and on which our own lives depend, service that can make available the skills and “grace” needed to build the sustainable peace that many millions worldwide now long for.

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Giving Tree:  Growing Spaces for Gratitude and Service, Dr. Robert Zuber

19 Nov

I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. Henry David Thoreau

Pride slays thanksgiving but a humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow. Henry Ward Beecher

What seems insignificant when you have it becomes important when you need it. Franz Grillparzer

My cooking is so bad my kids thought Thanksgiving was to commemorate Pearl Harbor. Phyllis Diller

This is the beginning of Thanksgiving weekend in the US, a time when we are hopefully inspired to – as my grandmother used to say – both “count our blessings” and share more of them with the world around us.

For many years, my Thanksgivings in New York were preoccupied by labors in a Harlem church pantry presided over by two enormously capable women who knew the neighborhood and its diverse “characters,” including the ones who had family plans for the provisions we provided and the ones who were merely hoping for a bit of “resale” cash from those provisions if they could get their hands on them.

I actually don’t miss those Thanksgiving pantries.  Expectations and anxieties were considerably higher than was the case on the other Saturday’s of the year when the pantry was also open.  There was more food to distribute on Thanksgiving but often less grateful hands receiving it and, as the years went on, fewer hands it seems being extended to help us with the distribution chores.  Thanksgiving, it seemed, was characterized by increasingly lower levels of both gratitude and reciprocal service to others.

Yesterday, in another part of Manhattan, Global Action was the beneficiary of a truly lovely event organized for us by our dear friends India Hixon and Olive Osborne.  The event was a fundraiser of sorts, but the “gratitude messaging” was much broader than the financial giving.   Interns and fellows, current and former, described how their UN experiences affected their lives; NGO leaders at the UN talked about how Global Action and others help to develop a narrative on global polity that is more attentive, connected and generous, with minds and hearts focused more on the needs and aspirations of constituents and less on the complex and sometimes myopic politics that characterize UN conference rooms.  We also heard about some of the many amazing initiatives and investments which have germinated just from the people sitting around our Saturday afternoon event space — including Wendy Brawer’s Green Map and Lin Evola’s Peace Angels — projects taking place in many parts of the world and taking many forms that make our own work possible and, more importantly, our world more hopeful.

And we were reminded of something that should be enshrined in every global policymakers work space – that the key element in any policy work is not agreements on language, but practice by human beings.  It is what we as people do with the policy openings made available to us that truly make the difference in our world.   In the absence of “en-action,” what UN-speak refers to as “implementation,” the promises embedded in our often politically-compromised texts will die a slow and largely unheeded death, generating (in ourselves and in others) neither a grateful nor generous spirit, let alone inspiring hope for a healthier and more prosperous future.

Perhaps ironically, the system that we still respect and in which we labor daily behaves at times in a manner that is almost incompatible with any recognizable thanksgiving-themed outcomes.  On Monday, for instance, the Security Council held an Arria-Formula meeting to discuss the situation in Venezuela which, as many know, has been characterized over several long months by mass political turmoil, food insecurity and a growing number of human rights violations, many specifically targeting (and imprisoning) political opponents and the media.

The event was “sponsored” by the US and Italy (current Council president) though it was clear from the outset that the US was the principle organizer of this Arria narrative.  US Ambassador Haley’s assessment of conditions in Venezuela was harsh and unforgiving, not without reason (as was reflected by the other speakers including High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid) but also largely without strategic purpose.

This was clearly not an event to “educate” Council members about a situation that has been evolving (and deteriorating) for some time and that clearly has potential implications for peace and security, including on its neighbor Colombia’s still-fragile peace process. This seemed instead to be more of a politically-charged rally designed less to find solutions with UN frameworks but more to attack the Venezuelan government (low-hanging fruit that this represents at the moment) for the sake of – what exactly?   Was the US advocating for regime change?  For the latest iteration of some external invasion by covert or overt means?   For formal sanction from the Human Rights Council or other UN bodies?

Usually reliable and thoughtful Uruguay reminded delegations that Venezuela does not currently appear on the UN Security Council agenda and thus is not deemed to be a threat to international peace and security. This was, at best, a “besides-the-point” moment given the preventive priorities of SG Guterres and the responsibility of the Council to maintain international peace and security, to get out in front of conflict and not wait to merely (attempt to) pour water on fires that have already done considerable damage.  Moreover, none appeared to be calling for such an agenda expansion; indeed three Council members – China, Russia and Bolivia – spent the time of the Arria holding a separate press briefing with the Venezuela Ambassador, in part to insist that no such addition to the Council agenda was warranted and essentially accusing the US of using the Arria Formula to instigate some variation of a political circus.

France, which has increasingly become the “adult in the room” when it comes to permanent Council member diplomacy, did not minimize Venezuela’s rights violations, but stressed the humanitarian imperative as well as the need for robust mediation efforts from regional and UN sources to help overcome what has become a deepening and abusive political impasse characterized by citizens who, in the words of HC Zeid, have “largely lost confidence in their state.”

At another meeting later in the day, Zeid (who once represented Jordan on the Security Council with thoughtfulness and diplomatic distinction) lamented the current “culture” of the Council, the inability of those entrusted with global peace and security to apply dignity and respect in their dealings with each other as a precondition for assisting global constituencies longing for stability and seeking relief from violence and its many levels of threat.

The acrimonious Venezuela discussion, coupled with another round of painful (and largely failed) discussions on the renewal of the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism for Syria, left our little group of Council watchers wishing that the chamber could find a way to declare some sort of “time out” for itself.  Such would be an occasion to suspend political considerations and reflect on all those persons around the world who are depending on our good decisions, who want to believe that we still have their best interests at heart, who are even willing to offer morale and practical support towards a more peaceful world so long as that support does not fuel more of the political gamesmanship and excessive, pride-filled policy maneuvering that seeks to pin political blame on everyone and everything – except of course on oneself.

There is a precedent for such a time-out.  In the General Assembly hall this week, a group of diplomats and guests spoke of the power of sport to help bring about healthier more peaceful communities.  In that context, the Republic of Korea Ambassador, whose country will soon host the Winter Olympic Games, floated once again the idea of having a moratorium declared for the period of the games – a time when states would pledge to lay down their arms (or at least point them away from their alleged “enemies”) and reflect on their often-misplaced responsibilities to build a more peaceful and sustainable world that might actually be fit for their own children.

This will likely continue be a tough sell in such divided, mistrustful and fragmented times, but all must do what we can, where we can, to create openings where gratitude and giving can grow and flourish, even within institutions like the UN Security Council whose politics and working methods lead members to sometimes forget who it is that we’re actually working for.