Tag Archives: social media

Twitter Diplomacy, by Alison Vicrobeck

28 Jun

Editor’s Note:  Alison came to Global Action through her friendship with a former Fellow and from the Columbia Journalism School.   She has been a remarkable addition, quickly picking up the nuances of UN security, development and human rights policy and gently reminding all of us how to “communicate the UN” with sensitivity and fairness. Here she reflects on the rapid evolution of her Twitter “brand” at UN headquarters (@alisonvicrobeck) and notes some of the strengths and potential pitfalls of Twitter engagement.  

Six months ago, I was a complete UN outsider. From where I stood, the UN was an impenetrable fortress, protecting the world’s most important diplomats who were tackling the biggest issues facing the globe. I thought, if you were lucky enough to visit the building, you were still just scratching the surface. You could see ambassadors, presidents and other world leaders running into secret meetings behind closed doors, but you would never ever be privy to any of what they were discussing. Especially not in the most intimidating room of all: the Security Council.

On my first day as a fellow for Global Action, that’s exactly where I went. I sat in on a meeting about the situation in Libya. I felt as though I had gotten the golden ticket to the world’s most exclusive club. And I still feel that way. But I also found out that you don’t have to physically be in the room to know what’s happening. You don’t even need a UN badge. All you need is an internet connection and a Twitter account. In fact, you may find out more by lurking on Twitter than by sitting in the conference room.

Twitter — for those of you less familiar with it —  is a social media platform that specializes in what they call “micro-blogging”. Every day, Twitter’s 300 million active users send out “tweets” or short messages that can be read by anyone. It was long believed to be targeted at youth, but it has become a new and important tool in diplomacy. Almost every major UN body or delegation has at least one twitter account – with the Security Council being a notable exception. Every event has a hashtag that diplomats, press secretaries and reporters use to tell the world what is being said at the UN and what they think of it. People call it “Twitter diplomacy,” “digital diplomacy,” “twiplomacy” or “eDiplomacy”.

What I’ve observed is that at any given UN event there are three types of conversations happening at once: the one on-the-record, the one off-the-record, and the one on Twitter. They’re all complementary, but sometimes, the one online is the most interesting one. On many occasions while live-tweeting, I’ve had people from a panel or meeting retweet me in the middle of the event. In other words, while they were supposed to be taking part in this “official conversation” they were also following the one happening online.

Recently there has been a push for more transparency at the UN. I’ve heard many diplomats – and people from civil society – say they want to get the media and the public more engaged in UN affairs. Without a doubt, Twitter seems to be the way diplomats are choosing to do that, as demonstrated by the very public election of the next Secretary General (#NextSG) or the next non-permanent Security Council members (#UNSCElections).  Some candidates even created Twitter accounts exclusively for these elections.

Twitter has become the space where everyday people can play a role in diplomacy. During the Q&A session for candidates in the upcoming elections – both for Secretary General and Security Council – some questions came directly from Twitter. And people also become more influential when delegations retweet them as has happened to me on several occasions. When a delegation or an ambassador retweets me, my interpretation of what they said appears on their official Twitter page. This is huge because their followers are accepting (or at least considering) the value of my summary interpretation of the “official statement” from that delegation or diplomat.

What diplomats share on Twitter can be as politically impacting as what they say during speeches or public appearances. Diplomats use Twitter to interact with each other and their followers. Sometimes who and what diplomats chose to retweet or tweet says more about their relationship with other delegations than anything they might say in a Security Council or ECOSOC meeting, because Twitter is the perfect medium to help straddle the line between official statements and comments shared in secret behind-closed-doors.

Twitter compels diplomats (and those like me who follow their activities) to reduce their ideas and policies to 140 characters. They are then bite-sized and accessible to the public in real time. Often a play-by-play of major meetings can be found online even before the media is briefed. And because a lot of social media is about being shareable and interesting, tweets are entertaining or sometimes even humorous, making diplomacy something even the average person can learn to appreciate.

But tweeting makes diplomats vulnerable to something average people do all the time: making mistakes. For this reason, some states have decided not to have official accounts. The repercussions of an angry or awkward tweet can have serious real-life implications. We live in a time when virtually everything can be screenshot and made to go viral, even if the “offending” tweet is deleted at a later time.

Twitter, by its very nature, encourages rapid or even instant outreach. This means that every individual tweet that is sent out doesn’t get approved by the MFA or by the state’s government, even though Twitter followers will view the tweets as representing, at least in summary form, “official” statements. This raises the prospect of diplomatic representatives (or their interns) tweeting – deliberately or inadvertently – opinions that divert from their state’s official positions. In diplomacy, every word counts. So, an “impolitic” tweet has the potential to compromise deals that are happening behind closed doors and possibly even “sour” existing relationships.

Regardless of whether or not states choose to start tweeting, Twitter and social media in general will undoubtedly continue to play a major role in public diplomacy. Such media makes the UN a much less intimidating place to the general public, and certainly to people like me. I now know that even when I am not physically present at UN headquarters, I can go on Twitter and feel like I’m in the room with the diplomats and other observers.


The UN Engages (and Learns From) a New Generation of Youth Leaders

7 Mar

Editor’s Note:  This piece from our Human Rights Fellow, Karin Perro, continues a GAPW commitment to the engagement of youth from diverse social and cultural contexts on matters of global policy. Participation is a core concern towards the full promotion of human rights and good governance, and Karin does well to lay out of the case for more serious engagement with an ambitious, energetic, technologically savvy, and growing segment of our global population. 

Both the first and last weeks of February found the UN inundated with exuberant youth representatives, here to engage (and be engaged) with the UN system and lend voice to the upcoming SDGs and their implementation. Braving the arctic blast of February, Youth Forum and NGO Youth Event attendees convened to share their vision of the future and demand a participatory seat at the post-2015 table. And rightly so – if any group has proprietary rights to shaping the future it is global youth who will be directly impacted by and even be tasked with meeting projected SDG targets by 2030.

Engaging youth in development policy becomes all the more imperative if we consider that more then half the current global population is under the age of 25.  In a post-2015 world, a burgeoning youth population might well be confronted by unprecedented climatic and environmental crises, human security risks, rights violations and rampant unemployment. They will also have to contend with a rise in ‘greying’ populations that will create additional burdens on national ‘safety net’ programs, with estimates indicating a tripling of the over 65 demographic in the next 50 years. Africa will be especially hard hit by rapidly shifting demographics at another edge of the age spectrum, due mostly to anticipate spikes in adolescent pregnancies and generally growing fertility rates, causing worries of unwelcome declines in educational participation by women and girls.

Two inextricably linked, youth-centric development cornerstones were recurrently addressed at the UN Youth Forum: a lack of educational resources and a paucity of employment opportunities. Young attendees expressed frustration at what seem to be their ‘empty’ school diplomas given the lack of available job opportunities, noting that their presumably marketable skill sets did not appear to be in sync with the rapidly changing and expanding needs of current labor market. Perhaps even more than generations past, youth face the conundrum of how to obtain practical experience as a precondition for employment when on-the-job training opportunities are often predicated on prior work experience. But unlike past generations, almost all youth attendees cited a dearth of available internship, apprenticeship and mentorship opportunities at all educational levels.  This cycle of inopportunity requires a systemic revamping of attitudes and best practices, not only within the private sector, but as addressed through national and regional government initiatives.

For its part, GAPW (with Women in International Security) has long advocated policy mentoring of young people to help prepare the UN system to handle a new generation of global issues in a thoughtful and responsible manner. The young scholars and advocates who have taken temporary residence in our office often return to national capitols and regional NGOs where their acquired skill sets enhance development of local capacity for meaningful change.  As we have perceived often and as several youth delegates at the UN also noted, girls in particular are likely to benefit from mentoring as their active engagement with trustworthy older persons builds confidence and strengthens decision-making and leadership skills.

Beyond mentoring, UN youth delegates clamored for greater, “full-partner” policy participation, not only in setting the post-2015 development agenda, but in tracking and accelerating progress, and holding governments accountable. Youth expressed interest in politics but also shared disillusionment with political processes that ignore younger stakeholders. As a corrective, Kenya’s Ambassador Kamau implored the Youth Forum to ‘embrace your transformative power as youth’ in determining whether ‘you will be part of the problem or part of the solution’ over the next fifteen years. Youth delegates were captivated, appearing galvanized by Ambassador Kamau’s inspirational ‘call to arms’.

When youth representatives at the Feb 26 UNDPINGO event were asked what they could do to help promote the post-2015 development agenda, they responded without hesitation: Youth can provide counter narratives to extremist recruitment strategies through social media campaigns and digital diplomacy, becoming ‘boots’ deployed in the battle for cyberspace. They can employ their entrepreneurial spirit and innovation skills to emerging development initiatives benefiting triangular and south-south cooperation. They can offer a new generational ‘plurality of thought’ and a ready adaptability to shifting scenarios in the rapidly changing world in which they’ve been raised. Youth indeed appear ready to accept responsibility for what appears to be a stubborn legacy of global insecurity. But ‘ownership’ will not come without a significant relinquishment of the policy reins wielded by the current, older incumbents of the current global governance structure.  Young people need more ‘space’ to operate as well as guidance while operating.

The February gatherings of youth delegates were undeniably impressive: as a group they demonstrated a confident resolve to tackle a deluge of post-2015 global development obstacles.  And no doubt they represent ‘the best and brightest’ talent of their host countries, already being groomed for leadership roles as the next generation of diplomats and policy makers. But if we are to truly ‘leave no one behind’ we will need to insure that a wide range of young people irrespective of class, gender, culture, religion or ethnicity are included at the table of engagement.  We will need to do more to cull and cultivate the untapped potential of youth residing on the margins of urban developments, on rural farms and remote villages, in refugee camps and tented settlements. Elitism and other barriers to inclusion can only be eradicated through universally accessible and needs-specific education as a pathway to full employment, economic empowerment and social leadership.

As March brings new Commissions and crises into focus, we should avoid allowing the welcome upsurge in youth participation to be obscured.  Maintaining youth momentum is indispensable to successful post-2015 sustainable development. As UN Youth Envoy Ahmad Alhendawi exhorted, it’s time to reach cross the generational divide to ‘unleash the power of 1.8 billion young people ready to lift the heavy agenda of the SDGs’.

Working Assets: Development Infrastructure Worthy of Development Aspirations, Karin Perro and Robert Zuber

1 Feb

The UN’s final working day of January featured an odd mix of events, including a seminar dedicated to teaching about the UN, a full-day event promoting social media, and the Security Council’s debate on the Protection of Civilians with a special focus on women and girls.

The last of these is particularly germane to GAPW’s work and, as noted by the UK, represents perhaps the singular lens through which outsiders view the value of the United Nations. And there was much of value in the discussion which we attempted to capture through @globalactionpw. Not surprisingly, some of the presentations represented a mixture of now-familiar POC assumptions and a few needlessly repetitive political grievances.  And despite some passionate and convincing articulations on the common theme of Women, Peace and Security and its implications for protection, a number of delegations noted that 15 years after the WPS norm was consummated, it still ‘feels’ more ornate than embedded.

This lament is relevant to what could well have been the most far-reaching event of the day, held in Conference Room 2, a surprisingly small venue for a discussion as potentially significant as this one could turn out to be.  ECOSOC’s “Dialogue on the longer-term positioning of the United Nations development system” attracted a roster of high-level presenters including UNDP’s Helen Clark, Timor-Leste’s Amb. Sofia Mesquita Borges, and Colombia’s Amb. María Emma Mejía Vélez, vice president of ECOSOC.

GAPW’s Karin Perro spent the morning listening to UN officials and others discuss ways to make the full UN system more accountable to and engaged in the fulfillment of development goals, another one of those ‘core lenses’ for public assessment of UN effectiveness. Among the insights she gleaned were Helen Clark’s ‘delivering as one’ approach.’  Such an approach includes what Clark referred to as a ‘relevant and nimble’ institutional structure for SDG implementation. This warrants more sustained attention with caveats to ensure room for innovation (as the US suggested) and also to guarantee (as Albania noted) that UN development priorities avoid policy silos and fully embrace national contexts.

Perro also reported some echoes of skepticism in the room that went beyond caveats.  Amb. Borges wondered aloud about the ability of states with fiscal, security and governance limitations to successfully coordinate implementation of what will likely be wide ranging development goals.  And several African states bluntly questioned the UN system’s ability and effectiveness in coordinating with other development partners, including states.  Ghana was perhaps the boldest of these states, intimating that development ‘competition’ indulged by UN agencies can result in disrupted development flows, duplicated efforts, disempowered (or frustrated) non-UN development partners, and neglect of legitimate, country-specific needs.

As it turns out, space for this important and even innovative discussion was a non-factor as perhaps 2/3 of the seats in CR 2 were filled.  Apparently ensuring a robust and responsive development infrastructure isn’t as sexy for some in the UN system as formulating text outlining largely normative goals and objectives. Or perhaps state and NGO representatives were busy sharpening their twitter messaging in another conference room.

Regardless, the implications of this event for fulfilling the new goals of the UN’s development pillar were clear to all who participated.  All seemed to recognize that there is limited value to establishing development goals in the absence of viable development infrastructure. On this point, GAPW noted a general, if guarded optimism from delegations, including from those seeking more attention to national context, but also from those wondering if structures of governance in some states are sufficiently fair and robust to handle our new and expanded set of development commitments.

It was also clear that unless all relevant institutional and national assets can find complementary service in our development workplaces, our SDG efforts are likely to create the equivalent of lovely sprinkles on an ice cream cone that itself is not fit to be eaten. We are all the ‘responsible parties’ here, responsible to guide implementation of fair and transparent development priorities, but also responsible to prevent possible damage to the UN’s reputation from development goals and objectives that could regrettably turn out, once again, to be as ornate as substantive.

Practicing the Art of Youth Involvement

1 Jul

Editor’s Note:  This is the second blog post by Danielle Peck and takes up a primary focus of her interest — youth development and participation.   As noted many times, this is a critical theme for GAPW.  We must make space for new voices, new lenses, new communications technologies, new priorities.  The issue as noted elsewhere on this blog is not that younger voices are innately superior to older ones, but simply that it is their turn now.  We must do as much as we can to ensure that this ‘turn’ is as hopeful and productive as possible. 

Within the last month during my time spent at the United Nations covering events for Global Action to Prevent War and Armed Conflict, I have seen two themes portrayed on several occasions that have struck my interest. These two themes are easily relatable to every individual in an audience. The areas that I am talking about are based around the promotion of art and the involvement of youth. While these areas have been mentioned frequently in recent UN events, they have not necessarily been incorporated together. I would like to show why the incorporation of art and youth is a sensible one towards more peaceful futures.

I have heard time and time again that youth need to be included in current events because we are building the future of this planet and often hold new answers to solving global issues. Furthermore, the arts can combine with youth, media, government and more to help bring awareness and address demanding issues like reaching sustainable development goals. While I agree with both of those statements, I also believe that these two ideas should go hand in hand. The arts should be used to pique youth interest and engage them in the issues that the UN and the rest of the world now face, but also the youth should use art as a tool to relay culture and teach societies the “how’s and why’s” of taking action.

I was first introduced to art promotion and youth involvement while attending the event on “Engaging the Public in Sustainable Development,” co-organized by the Permanent Mission of France and the World Council for the United Nations (WCPUN). This event highlighted the degree to which youth are key to reaching sustainable development, and that they need to have access to the creative tools necessary to ensure that these goals can be achieved.

The event opened with a presentation from Gabriel Gozlan and Hugo Peyron, the winners of a contest between fifth-year marketing students of the Parisian business school ESGCI. The contest was organized by the dean of ESGCI, Dr. Marcel Saucet, who is manager of the street marketing company LCA conseil, and Sahmina de Gonzaga, the board chair of WCPUN. The objective of the team was to raise awareness around sustainable development through a street marketing campaign inspired by the work of Andrea Juan and Maurice Benhayoun, two artists from the WCPUN network. They partnered with Cristian Truca, a Romanian artist and one of the best 3D painters in the world, to create an amazing 3D street piece in Paris. The 3D art consisted of floating ice caps that would interactively put people in the position of a polar bear stuck on a dwindling piece of ice in the middle of the Arctic. The hashtag “climate change” was written on the side for people to spread the word online. Altogether this event attracted 1,500 people and more than one hundred interacted directly with the art. Find the event video here.

This is one example of how youth can use art to influence society in meaningful ways that add to and supports policy decisions made at the UN and within the governments of the world. Artists like Andrea Juan are using their talent and art to bring awareness to global issues such as climate change. Juan has dedicated her life since 2004 to working with photography, digital video, graphic art and installations creating beautiful art on Antarctica based on scientific research related to climate change.

Youth are also starting to reach out to be involved in the policies that will affect their future. They are given a chance through events like The Global Partnership for Youth in the Post-2015 Agenda at the UN, which included open events allowing students to interact and discuss key components to be included in the Post-2015 agenda. With the forces of art and youth combined the possibilities seem unlimited.

Why is art such an important component of helping people address world issues? “It lights a fire in people’s souls.” It is motivational, stimulating and inspiring. It brings out people’s imaginations to help find solutions and it can stimulate the audience on a subconscious level. Art in one form or another is attractive to everyone. It is always bound to catch a large percentage of peoples’ attention. It is a strong tool to create awareness for global issues. Youth are especially attracted to art whether through performance, music, fashion or paintings. Art humanizes people. Artists are not only able to bring fresh approaches to policy issues, but they are able to connect these issues with a broader public. The World Policy Institute is one initiative that provides support for interaction between artists and policy makers. “Their goal is to empower artists to navigate funding and policy structures, while policymakers gain access to creative approaches for reframing policy issues and designing campaigns to effectively disseminate new ideas and outcomes to a broader public.”

After my first few weeks working within the UN, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. I felt as though I was drowning in a whirlpool of meetings, people and unresolved issues. While attending the event “Furthering Youth Involvement in the Post 2015 Development Agenda” put on by El Salvador, I was shocked as a dance performance with spoken word from a group called The Healing Movement broke out of the audience. The performance stimulated my emotions and reminded me how amazing and unique every individual is. Every human being is capable of strongly influencing the world. I was able to engage the discussion on development priorities with a new sense of refreshment.

Many groups are already combining art and youth to address world issues. A program called Worldskills has created art out of workplace skills from many industries by creating an international competition among youth promoting education and training, international cooperation and development leading to economic stability. Youth prepare to creatively compete internationally by showing off their work skills whether in welding or floristry. Also, the UN Alliance of Civilizations and the International Organization for Migration invited the world’s youth to submit original and creative videos on migrations, diversity and social inclusion through a partner called Plural+. The videos are created by youth from all over the world telling their own stories, and bringing forward important generational issues. To view the videos, click here.

One in four people worldwide are considered youth, and 40 percent of the world’s unemployed are also youth. What does that mean for our future? Artists and youth are ready to unite, brainstorm and resolve to change the destructive path this world is on. States, organizations, and policy makers should think more about how powerful their message could be if they relayed it through youth and art. Youth and art working hand and hand could become a critical component for the global action to prevent war and the fight against climate change in order to reach sustainable development goals.

Danielle Peck, GAPW

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

15 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Robert Zuber

Youth-SWAP Meet: Walking from the Margins to the Center of Policy

28 Sep

Editor’s Note:   For the past few weeks, Kritika Seth has been examining opportunities and resources for developing a sustainable youth initiative through GAPW.   She will share perspectives from her search in this space throughout the fall. 

Youths are best understood as those undergoing a transition from the dependence of childhood to the independence of adulthood with an increasing awareness of the high level of responsibilities as members of a community.

Youth is often indicated as a person between the age where he/she may leave compulsory education, and the age at which he/she finds his/her first employment.  Today almost half of the world’s population (48%) is under the age of 24; of this 18% are youth. Moreover, while youth is growing in numbers, more and more of them are raised in environments that hinder their educational opportunities, increase the likelihood of unemployment, and force them to confront other burdens such as HIV/AIDS, war and other forms of violence.

In the wake of the recent and ongoing issues faced by young people all over the world, the Inter-Agency on Youth Development (IANYD) along with United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) organized a unique meeting last week from September 18th to September 20th. . The structure of this meeting was different from the typical annual meeting that the two agencies conduct. In this instance, the decision was made to invite youth led organizations and networks to participate in open dialogue regarding the newly released System-Wide Action Plan on Youth (SWAP).  The SWAP is a document that teases out four thematic areas that call for our attention immediately – Employment and Entrepreneurship; Protection of rights, political inclusion and civic engagement; Education, including comprehensive sexuality education; and Health. Nonetheless, it should be noted that the SWAP is a framework document to support the World Program and Action on Youth and not replace it. Despite the urgent attention and development needed in youth affairs, the SWAP marks the first steps taken towards fulfilling a viable youth agenda.

During the three-day meeting, participants were given several opportunities to discuss and identify opportunities for engaging young people in the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the Youth-SWAP. There was also discussion of specific tasks that need attention, such as communication strategies, methods of partnering with other organizations and effective ways of participating in the process of youth development. In order to support all these concerns and provide a ‘reality check’, the UNFPA and INAYD team made sure to have a representative from related UN agencies: for example, the presence of the UN Volunteering Program during the discussion on participation; or the presence of the International Labor Organization (ILO) during the discussion on youth employment and entrepreneurship opportunities.

Despite the constant thinking and brainstorming that we were required to do, the room was constantly buzzing with good and positive energy. A horizontal flow of interaction amongst those seeking advice and those who were full of advice was an ongoing sight along with conversations that began with “you are?” and ended with “we should get coffee sometime soon.” Overall the meeting was of great value resulting in concrete recommendations such as the need to personalize the communication of SWAP for better implementation strategies and outcomes, for instance through the creation of a SWAP-specific website in order to more effectively spread the word.

It will be interesting and valuable to follow – and hopefully impact — the next steps on implementing the Youth-SWAP document and other pressing issues. As the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth concluded at the MTV reception, “if you want to walk fast you walk alone, but if you want to walk far we will walk together.”  GAPW is prepared to walk beside this process and we will regularly engage our audience in this space regarding issues affecting youth participation in global policy.

 Kritika Seth

International Media and the Arms Trade Treaty

22 Mar

The final round of the arms trade treaty negotiations (18-28 March 2013) has been attracting global attention, expressed by numerous press outlets worldwide, mainstream as well as alternative, signaling a growing and strengthening awareness process throughout the world and revealing a justified sense of urgency. An awareness of the illicit arms trade’s mortal consequences has manifested itself as a comprehensive matter of conscience, a situation that is as a result calling for global provisions now. It also shows the willingness to publicly negotiate and back a legal framework that has the strength and capability to regulate a global, $70 billion business. An idea that was initiated by a group of Nobel peace prize laureates in the mid-1990’s seems to have come to fruition.

The level of awareness demonstrates political will that affects the everyday citizen, who might not be part of a politicized environment via an organization or institution, but has the option to vote, donate, and maybe down the line, organize in a political fashion. Just as diverse in national interest and approach as are member states and civil society, so are media outlets that position themselves as voices in the process.

The Financial Times granted a forum to the foreign ministers of Denmark, Germany, Mexico, The Netherlands, UK, Costa Rica, Argentina, and Finland to call for an effective arms trade treaty, defining the negotiations an “historic opportunity” and appealing to the aspect of “common responsibility.” One paragraph explicitly addresses the fact that the treaty has no intention to “obstruct the legitimate trade in arms.” Furthermore it points out that the treaty is meant to “fully recognize every state’s right to legitimate self-defense.” Additionally, “Neither does the treaty set rules for domestic arms regulation nor laws on the possession of arms; this is categorically a matter for national authorities to determine.”

Despite national sovereignty on domestic arms regulation, the US based National Rifle Association (NRA), which promotes the rights of citizens to bear arms, made it a tradition to claim that the UN is trying to end private gun ownership in the US. This strategy is primarily geared towards fundraising from NRA constituents. Not only has fear proven to be a hot seller, the US Constitution’s second amendment is an extremely sensitive and emotionally charged topic.

UK journalist Karen McVeigh focuses on NRA rhetoric in her story “NRA accused of stirring ‘anti-UN panic’ in campaign against Arms Trade Treaty,” from 17 March 2013in The Guardian. “For years, the NRA has painted the UN as a bogeyman figure, claiming in its literature and fundraising drives that there is an international conspiracy to ‘grab your guns’. Last July, when negotiations on the Arms Trade Treaty broke down – in part because of US resistance to global regulations on gun sales – the gun lobby group claimed victory for ‘killing the UN ATT’.” Rick Gladstone from the New York Times states in the context of an ATT and the NRA, that in February of this year, the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights published a report describing that the ATT, as currently drafted, “did not exceed the scope of American trade statutes that already regulate the import and export of weapons.” Gladstone points out that the study clearly outlines, “U.S. ratification of the treaty would not infringe upon rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment.” In the Huffington Post, UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane pointed out, “This absurd but often-repeated claim requires a strong rebuttal.”

The German media outlets Deutsche Welle and die tageszeitung focus on the fact that the current ATT text from July last year would undercut not only European, and particularly existing German regulations, as they relate to the arms trade and therefore describe the need of stronger language.

This year’s ATT host country, Australia’s media outlets have been vocally promoting the process back home, at times lending media platforms to civil society. National Director of Amnesty Australia, Claire Mallinson,took the stage with an op-ed piece for The Australian on 18 March. Here she describes the ongoing illegal arms transfers from Russia to the Assad regime in Syria and the failure of the UNSC to impose an arms embargo. Mallinson continues, “This strong evidence and the indiscriminate nature of conflict shows that even with the best of intentions, as it currently stands, Australian organizations and individuals that sell weapons and defense technology have no way of controlling where these devices end up.” Meanwhile Dr. Helen Szoke of Oxfam Australia is urging her government on ABC TV to “help close off any loopholes” in the existing draft.

The African news network AllAfrica named, in the article “Africa: Curbing the Arms Trade?” from 19 March, a few grave obstacles to a “strong treaty without major loopholes.” Firstly there is, “The fact that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are among the largest exporters of conventional arms,” which impacts decision making and ultimately the strength of a treaty framework. Secondly, the concern that, “In the United States, the powerful National Rifle Association is campaigning against the treaty.” It is a legitimate concern, since the author is referring to a non-profit that, according to the Washington Post, was able to spend $32 million in 2012, lobbying their one and only objective.

Obviously, press coverage often reflects or opposes national interests of individual member states, and therefore might individually pursue/back different levels of regulation or at times lack diversified, technical policy details at all. However, the nearly unanimous, international media echo in favor of a treaty does not only once more put the UN on the map as a global hub for political decision making, but reflects a strong, global concern that reaches far beyond a plea for arms business as usual.


—Lia Petridis Maiello


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

12 Mar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional resources:






–Shari Smith

Shari is an intern with Global Action this semester.


International Media and the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms

10 Sep

“Sparse” would describe the level of attention international media has been paying to the Review Conference for the UN Programme of Action on small arms and lights weapons (UNPoA). The reasons are manifold and can obviously not be reduced to a general rule of thumb. The personal dedication of the individual journalist willing to push a story or topic that might not be as newsworthy as others in the eyes of the editor or outlet would be one reason. Needless to say, every media representative today, in particular those who are publishing with corporate media outlets, has to deal with an entirely new framework of restrictions and guidelines.

Newsworthiness has been redefined, often but not always to the detriment of quality of information. On the other hand, tangible results are still more likely to make it into the paper than theoretical discourses, which often exclude the every-day-reader. The counterargument for that statement would be the journalist’s ability to break down, analyze and communicate complex, specialized contexts. Not all journalists can, not all of them want to, not all of them have the time to, and not every outlet is suitable for such analyses.

These various arguments can be directly applied to the UNPoA Review Conference.

For many, the failure of the arms trade treaty (ATT) negotiations in July, although different in nature and objectives, has been paralyzing whereby UN stereotypes surrounding effectiveness and pace of implementation have certainly resurfaced. Additionally, discussions on language or meeting details, as has been the case for some of the first week of the Review Conference, are simply of no interest to the every-day-reader, while they are very important in a UN context when multiple cultures with particular political boundaries are trying to come to an agreement on complex political matters, such as national military build-up or the eradication of the illicit arms trade.

Nevertheless, as in most situations in life, there is a way to cover solid middle ground. Numerous side events at the UNPoA Conference have offered a high level of practicality and result-driven implementation that is well -worth communicating to the outside world of political ordinaries. For example, the launch of the publication A decade of Implementing the UNPoA on SALW: Analysis of National Reports by Sarah Parker and Katherine Green from the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) provided a summary of the degree of national implementation of the UNPoA, and although the provision of national reports is voluntary and therefor incomplete, the study could be a basis from which effectiveness or ineffectiveness could be much better quantified.

Another event worth covering was hosted by the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), which focused on physical security and stockpile management and demonstrated a very tangible and reportable result of UNPoA implementation by coordinating UN actors for emergency response as well as creating national focal points in areas of crisis for humanitarian organizations. As Global Action’s Katherine Prizeman writes, “To date, UNMAS has destroyed over 180,000 landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXO) in Libya through 23 deployed clearance teams.”

What creates international headlines a day after the UNPoA had started is the fact that “The legal international trade in small arms, light weapons, their parts and ammunition is worth at least $8.5 billion annually”— more than double the previous estimate in 2006, according to a survey by independent researchers released at UN headquarters last week. The Small Arms Survey 2012 said the increase from the last estimate of $4 billion is due to several factors — large-scale government spending especially during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, increased purchases of small arms and ammunition from foreign countries by American civilians, and better information and improved methods of calculating the value of transfers”, as UN-Correspondent Edith Lederer writes in Bloomberg’s Businessweek.

What will it take to make peace that profitable and hence newsworthy? According to the Small Arms Survey, there are an estimated 875 million small arms in circulation worldwide, produced by more than 1,000 companies from nearly 100 countries. A concerning situation this PoA conference is dedicated to and would indeed deserve extensive, global media attention.

–Lia Petridis Maiello

“Caravan for Peace and Justice”- Profile of Activist Javier Sicilia

16 Aug

Global Action’s Media Consultant, Lia Petridis Maiello, has been busy undertaking a series of interviews for a forthcoming publication on the UN media structure and its functioning in the wider UN system. Lia recently interviewed Mexican political activist Javier Sicilia and his work on raising awareness around the drug war in Mexico. Javier is leading a “Caravan for Peace and Justice” across the continental US this summer and championing the “shared responsibility” of all in combating this dangerous trade.

For the full profile of Javier, please click here.

For more information on matching:points, our media project, please see our website.