Tag Archives: Terrorism

Turning the Page:  Recovering the UN’s Relevant Responses, Dr. Robert Zuber

28 Apr

UN Stamp

If we don’t all row, the boat won’t go. Unknown

If everyone helps to hold up the sky, then one person does not become tired. Askhari Johnson Hodari

Laugh as long as you breathe, love as long as you live. Nujeen Mustafa

Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received and am still receiving.  Albert Einstein

In the hot and stormy future we have already made inevitable through our past emissions, an unshakable belief in the equal rights of all people and a capacity for deep compassion will be the only things standing between civilization and barbarism.  Naomi Klein

While contemplating the content for this post, I took a walk in a nearby Manhattan park in what has been a particularly lovely season for flowers and blossoms.   While strolling and admiring I came across a Parks Department worker and thanked her for making all of this wonder possible.

She looked a bit stunned, as though this simple recognition was akin to a message from Mars.  But I remember well a time when my jogs through this very park were exercises in reckless risk taking, when park benches and pathways screamed out for repair, when “security” was largely based on “street smarts,” when flowers bloomed in defiance of neglect rather than as the result of loving care.

Part of the “care” of this park now is a function of a largely-unfortunate gentrification. We didn’t “deserve” a functioning green space, apparently, until the neighborhood became “safe” enough to absorb copious quantities of downtown money.  But even so, the park is now a place where flowers are planted and benches painted, where playgrounds are truly playful for children rather than being the dangers they once were for their parents, where teenagers play ball near a pond with turtles, egrets and feral cats, and folks trying to get in better shape are encouraged to jog around the now-even pavement meandering around the park’s edges.

And I contributed to virtually none of these improvements, as I tend to contribute too-little to so many of the things I use and (too often) take for granted.

This is intended less as a “confession” and more as a punctuation to what was an exhausting and instructive week of UN business.   From indigenous people straining to protect biodiversity and achieve formal UN recognition to some policy-challenging conversations on identifying and addressing what the UN Office of Drugs and Crime called “chilling” threats from nuclear terrorism and the increasingly convergent interests of terrorists and organized crime, it was difficult for us to keep track of (let alone contribute to) these multiple challenges or identify threads of what might constitute an effective response.

Fortunately, there were other UN events this week where the positive potential was easier to spot.

One of these was in the Security Council where Germany (April president) reinforced a discussion on the security and humanitarian issues affecting Syria by scheduling a poignant briefing from Nujeen Mustafa, a remarkable young woman with a disability who, from her wheelchair, schooled Council members on the many persons much too “invisible” in times of peace who become even less visible in times of conflict.  She reminded all in the Chamber that the figures quantifying humanitarian need have human faces, and that some of these faces already experience grave difficulties in this world which armed conflict merely intensifies.

And in the General Assembly, President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés convened the first International Day for Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace.  While some delegations rightly lamented that such a day would even be necessary, and some used the opportunity to settle political scores, most understood that ours is a system that needs to be fixed rather than cast aside.  The president herself understands that a future for the UN lies in its ability to help build “a fairer world in practice, beyond our UN rhetoric,” a world that reaches persons living with poverty, with disabilities, with grave discouragement. And, as noted by the Finnish Foreign Minister, a world pointing to a future that does not belong only to “the rulers and the strong.”

In preparation for this post, I looked through my grandfather’s collection of UN stamps from 1951, the first year that UN stamps were issued.  The themes were revealing:  stamps highlighting the work of UNICEF and the ILO, stamps honoring the commitment of the UN to human rights.   And there were two others from 1951 of direct relevance to this post – one touting the UN’s commitment to capacity support and the other (at the top of this post) implying that the doors of the UN are open to all peoples of the world, and that it is the “common” people – and not only their diplomats and bureaucrats – who must be able to find something akin to an attentive and respectful haven in this place.

Taken together, this combination of hopefulness and tangible support is a legacy that is worth preserving, a legacy that certainly demands more of each of us, more thoughtfulness, more tangible contributions, more honesty, even more compassion.  It requires many more of us to commit to “hold up the sky” and row the boat, but also a willingness to burden-share, to refuse to “hog the oars” or avoid getting near the boat in the first place.

I recognize every day the degree to which our own little project has become a bit of a dinosaur, wedded to obsolete technology and pushing values that are important at one level but haven’t always served the global interest well as they should have. I also recognize that there is significant interest now in many corners of the globe to simply turn the page, to move on from rowing and holding, to dismiss the institutional arrangements of the past that have led to undeniable progress but also to exclusion and broken promises; arrangements that have allowed existential risks to become near-certainties, and that have extended cooperation with one hand while hording power and resources with the other.

Our fervent wish is for people to read the page before they turn it.

Read the page about the many issues – from sexual violence in armed conflict and nuclear terrorism to climate change and pandemics – for which the UN remains an indispensable point of policy reference.  Read the page about the people like Nujeen Mustafa whose “invisibility” is steadily giving way to recognition and respect.   Read the page about the many delegations reminded of their responsibility to both contribute more to the world they want and offer more tangible encouragement for the contributions of others.  Read the page about those who have dedicated their lives to protect human rights for those who labor and those who protest, for those who are mere bystanders to conflict and those whose vulnerabilities have compromised their very agency.   Read the page where coordinated pressure from UN agencies and member states has created conditions for the dramatic reduction of numerous human scourges, from torture and malaria to state corruption and the recruitment of child soldiers.

This page certainly contains its share of hypocrisy and protocol substituting for genuine gratitude and compassion, but it also contains evidence of a willingness to grow and change, to give a good-faith attempt to resolve its lapses of effectiveness and address the legitimate skepticism of some of its global public. We routinely spend 10 hour weekdays inside the UN, and there are days when we shake our heads so often that our necks become strained.  But we know that this place retains some capacity for self-reflection, occasionally even humor. Together we can fix this place, making it more effective but also more human, insisting that its constituent parts contribute more to the global commons and uphold more fully the values that gave rise to its existence 74 years ago.

At the General Assembly this past week, the Irish Ambassador spoke of the “problems without passports” for which the UN is uniquely if not yet fully equipped to address.  Hers is the section of the page we need to be sure to bookmark.

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Women’s Wear:  Sharing the Burdens of Those Who Defend and Inform, Dr. Robert Zuber

17 Mar

Afghan II

 

To stand up for someone was to stitch your fate into the lining of theirs. Tom Rob Smith

Every human is fated to have one moment in their lives in which they can change their own destiny. Takayuki Yamaguchi

If I don’t help the women in Afghanistan, they won’t be around to help me. Cheryl Benard

It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women; that the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human.  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The end of this past work week was dominated by images that pointed human potential in vastly opposite directions.  In New Zealand, a mass killing in two mosques grabbed world headlines and caused many institutions – including the UN Security Council – to pause for a moment of silence, a moment that underscored both concern for victims and viceral unease at our collective inability to address — let alone eradicate — this “other terrorism.”  Indeed, the relative indifference evidenced by the government of the UN’s host nation stood only partially in contrast with the mostly muted levels of shock emanating from other states, shock perhaps due more to the startling location of this violence than to its severity.   We are collectively becoming numb to the incessant carnage, it appears, renouncing violence only when it hits too close to home, and often not even then.

On the same day, many thousands of teen-aged young people prepared to leave their classrooms and fill the world’s streets, taking adults like me to task for our negligence on climate threats.  Despite the warnings of insufficient responses, despite the scientific consensus on a threat more immediate and widespread than previously thought, we have mostly gone about our regular business as though our concerns were primarily grounded in rhetoric rather than in survival.  Moreover, we have inflicted this “business” on succeeding generations mostly stuck in classrooms and consumed with admission to next educational levels while the planet melts, millions are on the move, rights are being violated with impunity, and violent tensions are on the rise.

That said, it is especially good for all of us that young people take to the streets to protest some portion of the absurdity of “preparing for life” on a planet that might not be able to sustain life as we know it for that much longer.  Among their contributons, their presence on our avenues and boulevards is a reminder to the rest of us that the greatest gift to climate deniers is the lifestyle indifference of we who claim to accept the “reality” of climate threats, our unwillingness to reduce our ecological footprint, to care for the displaced and discriminated, to hold erstwhile “leadership” accountable for what is coming and not only what is.

The UN of course takes regular notice of threats from terrorism and violence even if it must often wait for states, especially powerful ones, to take up their own portions of global responsibility.  For this week, however, threats to and opportunities for women dominated the UN during the 63rd convening of ECOSOC’s Commission for the Status of Women (CSW), ably chaired by Ireland.  Thousands of women from around the world made the trek to New York, filling virtually every available UN space in plenary sessions and copious side events to discuss the merits of “social protection” and link “women’s empowerment” to sustainable development goals previously promised to the world through the 2030 Development Agenda.

The CSW is both a major branding opportunity and a bit of a “mixed bag” for the UN, which failed once again to secure guarantees from the host state for access by all the women registered, while also largely failing to provide levels of hospitality that women who have traveled long distances to participate surely deserve.  What these CSW delegates found instead is endless lines for coffee and basic sustenance, standing room only side events, and rest room configurations that had not been adjusted in any way to accommodate the thousands of women now in the building.  The security officers tasked with screening and providing direction for these women have often been no less stressed than the visiting women themselves.

Moreover, there is a sense in which delegates seem to have been led to believe that the CSW is breaking new ground for the UN in terms of ending impunity for sexual violence in conflict, ensuring women’s participation in political and peace processes, and guaranteeing educational opportunity and social protection for women and girls.   These matters already constitute a significant portion of our regular discourse here at the UN.  This is as it should be, with the caveats that our gendered jargon (how do we know when someone is “empowered?”) might actually impede a deeper, connected understanding of the many layers of exclusion that infect our collective interests.  For all the barriers faced by women in diverse cultural contexts, theirs is but one ample portion of a number of often-interlocked exclusions associated with race, religion, ethnicity, poverty, disability and social class. These factors contribute to complex and multi-layered patterns of discrimination that impact women to be sure, but hardly women alone.

It is in the CSW side events where the complexities of human lives – women’s lives – are mostly likely to find their voice.  Two such side events stood out for us this past week.  The first, “Current Challenges and Opportunities for Women Human Rights Defenders,” featured women from Syria, Myanmar, Sudan, Nicaragua and elsewhere who literally put their lives on the line to defend rights and public interests in places where most of us – including many who reside in our UN safe spaces – would not be anxious to tread.  The powerful and largely humble testimony of these women did not downplay either the threats they face in the field (including gender-specific threats) or the limited reach of UN protections against reprisals for their activities (duly acknowledged by the UN officials present).  Women defenders are expected to “navigate layers of power” while insisting that their own “layered” and often-traumatic experiences inform what one defender referred to as women’s rights discourse that has become “too predictable,” a “tool for repressive states,” alienating for many women on the front lines of change.

Another side event this week, “Journalism and the empowerment of women,” featured women journalists whose difficult work is both facilitated and imperiled by their deep connection to and reliance on “social media.” Such platforms have become havens for “anonymous” and mean-spirited trolling of the journalists who tell the public things they would rather not know, trolling sometimes accompanied by gendered threats of overt violence that, in some instances, morph into physical attacks against individuals and families.  One of the free-lance panelists who is dedicated to covering right-wing movements cited “staggering” amounts of anti-Semitic, derogatory responses on social media in response to her body of reporting. Another journalist capably extended the discourse on exclusion and abuse, noting that when you examine issues of race, “you put a target on your back,” a target for which there is scant protection, especially from online assaults. Male journalists, it was noted, are also subject to abuse, but are generally regarded as “hated equals,” a courtesy rarely extended to women in the profession.

I was so grateful for the women on both these panels who were generally able to speak clearly about the extraordinary pressures they face without demonizing others or minimizing the generalized impacts of the recrimination and violence that characterize much of our current social climate.  But I also wondered: What keeps them going when their energy and hope have worn thin?  What allows them to do their work, day after day, knowing that they and their families risk being “hung out to dry” by those of us in much safer spaces who can simply redirect our energy to other matters?   Is it pride and determination? Have they simply “stitched their fate” with those serially oppressed?  Do they feel the hurt that can only be healed through intention?   We need to know more about their motivations and feed off their examples.

With an absence of essentialist jargon and with the recognition that too much global policy is like rain that forms in the clouds but never reaches the parched earth, women defenders and journalists are boldly sharing stories and contexts that some want to kill and too many others ignore.  If we want a world where families are safe to worship and children are confident in the health of a planet that will house their adult aspirations, we must all pledge to do whatever it takes to offer mechanisms of protection and solidarity with the eye-opening and often life-saving work of these people of courage.

 

 

 

Pick Six:  The Security Council Bids Adieu to some Stellar Elected Colleagues, Dr. Robert Zuber

17 Dec

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. Thomas Edison

When we create hope and opportunity in the lives of others, we allow love, decency and promise to triumph over cowardice and hate. Kirsten Gillibrand

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. Milton Berle

I’m sitting in the office on a Sunday with my pulled-from-the-dumpster Christmas tree glistening in the background.   The tree is enticing me to pen a Christmas message today, but given that next Sunday is Christmas Eve, that message can wait just a bit.

There are many other messages emanating from the UN community this week that seem a bit more urgent, including new (and heated) discussions on responses to DPRK missile launches, preparatory discussions in Puerto Vallarta on issues affecting global migration governance, a Security Council warning to South Sudan’s leadership to take the renewed “Revitalisation Forum” convened by the InterGovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) with upmost seriousness, the decision by the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to activate jurisdiction over the”crime of aggresssion,” and an “Arria Formula” UNSC session devoted to the urgent linkages between climate change and global security.   Moreover, in keeping with a bevy of recent discussions and articles chronicling abuses committed against women, including the arbitrary withholding of otherwise well-deserved opportunity, a significant gathering in Lima sought “windows of opportunity” to integrate Latin American women into regional peace and security sectors.

But the end of 2017 also signifies the end-of-service for six elected (non-permanent) Security Council members:  Egypt, Italy (which is “sharing” a 2-year seat with the Netherlands), Japan, Senegal, Ukraine and Uruguay.  This has been an engaged and often thoughtful group in the midst of many difficult obligations and challenges.  Egypt, for its part, took leadership on many aspects related to the UN’s counter-terror response, including sanctions committees and educational events on related UN member responsibilities often undertaken in conjunction with the UN Counterterrorism Executive Directorate (CTED).  In addition, its public role with regard to stubbornly unresolved conflicts in the Middle East, now including unilateral declarations related to Jerusalem’s status, has been appropriately simmering and measured.

Due in part to its international prestige and excellent mission leadership, Italy was able to make its mark on the Council despite having only one year in this current configuration to do so, applying a steady hand to the urgent matters of preserving the Iran nuclear agreement (JCPOA) and maintaining fair and effective sanctions, as well as drawing careful attention to the peace and security implications of climate change, food insecurity and forced migration. Italy also highlighted a problem it previously identified (with Jordan) regarding the discouraging destruction of cultural property and its resale by terrorists groups to fund their recruitment and resulting abuses.

Japan has been a particularly generous (and under-the-radar) contributor so to many dimensions of UN security and humanitarian relief efforts, and those contributions at times spoke with a more convincing voice than its routine Council statements or even its leadership of the sub-committee reviewing Council working methods.  However, steadily escalating tests and tensions in the Korean Peninsula, including DPRK missile launches provocatively sailing over Japanese air space, forced Japan into the spotlight as a major participant in DPRK-related discussions and, as current Security Council president, into a robust organizing and facilitating role for such discussions.

Senegal handled its Council responsibilities with understated dignity and grace.  Indeed, as so much of the Council’s agenda is focused on sub-Saharan states as well as on solidifying trustworthy arrangements with the African Union, IGAD and other regional players, Senegal’s importance to Council deliberations belied its size.  Indeed, on the many issues negatively affecting the peoples of the Sahel region and Lake Chad Basin, Senegal’s enabling logistics and wise counsel was indispensable, underscoring for us and for others the importance of protecting and enhancing active Council involvement by committed African states.

The quality of Ukraine’s Council participation also grew steadily over their two-year term.   At first, it seemed as though Ukraine’s election was largely a political response to Russia-sponsored military activity first in Crimea and then in Donbas and other areas of Eastern Ukraine.   And Ukraine rarely refrained from referencing “Russian aggression” and the human rights violations that have been (slowly) documented in and around Donbas.  But over these two years, Ukraine’s mission and growing appreciation for, investment in and leadership on a wide range of global security concerns far beyond the Crimea has been noted and appreciated by many.

And then there is Uruguay, one of those Council members to entirely eschew the use of twitter, which has made it a bit more difficult for us to tell them how much we have appreciated their efforts.   Uruguay has been a champion both of Council transparency and of the need to link Council actions to the concerns, interests and skills of the wider UN membership.   Ambassador Rosselli and his colleagues have often requested the floor in “public” session to clarify the stake of non-Council members in Council decisions, to rebuke permanent members for their political maneuvering and manipulation of Council working methods, to compliment and expand on presentations by secretariat briefers, even to debunk the alleged value of the more “secret” informal discussions in the “consultations room” to which Council members often retire.

While not all of their statements hit the mark, this small state took on tough positions in a visible way that, for us, helped to clarify the role we believe elected members can and must play in making the Security Council more effective and accountable.   While there are risks associated with this, risks which some delegations would never be authorized from capital to take, it is important that at least some elected members are able and willing to remind their colleagues that the Council is part of a larger system of states and agencies with which it must work more collaboratively; that statements of national position which fail to reference the testimony of briefers or the concerns of colleagues are little more than time-consuming show and tell; that too many conflicts finding their way to the Council’s agenda (not to mention situations like Venezuela or Cameroon that have trouble getting any traction) are the result of a failure-to-prevent that often predicts long and arduous episodes of violence and recovery; that we must address the unwillingness of states (especially permanent members) to thoughtfully assess decisions that large states have largely pushed for, including confessions of regret and lessons learned when situations (as they have certainly done) go horribly wrong.

To paraphrase an old American Express commercial, “membership does indeed have its privileges.”  But being on the Council is highly demanding work, especially for the smaller states, and most of those “privileges” as we know accrue to the larger, permanent members.   Where windows of privilege are opened for the others, allowing them to shed some light on violence that could have been but was not prevented; peacekeeping that could have protected more civilians but was not properly equipped to do so; tensions that could have been lowered if not for careless and inflammatory rhetoric; women who are often “subject matter” for Council meetings but whose voices around the oval are still woefully under-represented; then we must all do what we can to ensure such opportunities are properly utilized.

We honor these six elected members, as we have honored many of their predecessors over the past dozen years, because of the windows of opportunity they have seized, not only to improve the effectiveness of the Security Council, but to bring the UN closer to honoring its peace and security promises in an ever-more complex global landscape.  It may well be, as some commentators have alleged, that large-scale Security Council reform is mostly a pipe dream.  But it is our contention, born of a long and consistent engagement with the Council, that thoughtful, connected, committed, opportunity-minded elected members can still do much to push all Council colleagues to revisit and better honor the confidence that the UN Charter has placed in their work.

Thanks to all six of you for this important reminder.

A Distant Dawn: Sustaining Agency in Disconsolate Times, Dr. Robert Zuber

21 May

Deep Web 2

But there is nothing more beautiful than being desperate.  And there is nothing more risky than pretending not to care.  Rachel C. Lewis

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing. T. S. Eliot

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. Carl Jung

One of the blessings of this small office – indeed perhaps the only real reason to keep it open – is the extraordinary range of people who regularly grace it.  Scholars and diplomats, policymakers and activists, people from all over the world come for a bit of conversation, advice on how to navigate the UN system, or to share ideas for projects or publications that can open more space for productive policy engagement in the global community.

Many of these visitors are young people, young not only by my standards (which more or less includes everyone now in existence) but young in the sense of being on the cusp of challenges and responses that will be “momentous” for their own lives at least and quite possibly also for the planet as a whole.

Thankfully, if tentatively, most of our visitors seek a larger version of momentousness; they have bills to pay and obligations to family to meet, but they also want their lives to matter in a broader sense.   They come to offices like ours (and to the United Nations) in part to test their skills, in part to assess the state of the world, in part to see if and how they can best direct their energies so they can sustain both their livelihoods and the health of the planet on which those livelihoods ultimately depend.

So they walk through UN security, passes in hand, and they sit and they listen.  Some of what they hear is interesting; some is hopeful. Some makes them wonder if the (mostly older) people who manage the global community and dominate policy discourse inside and outside the UN are committed enough – perhaps even desperate enough — to change what needs to be changed, fix what needs to be fixed, such that peoples and cultures worldwide can survive the current gloom and even thrive once a fuller light finally returns.

The verdict on all of this is mixed. This week alone, our current group of young people participated in UN events as hopeful as the redesign of cities and the promise of new technology for sustainable development and as troubling as the acidification of our oceans, sexual violence in conflict zones, the abuse of children in detention facilities, and the implications of diminished funding for Palestinian and other Middle East refugees.

Perhaps most disturbing of all was a Security Council Counter-Terror Directorate (CTED) briefing on ways to prevent terrorists from acquiring deadly weapons.   The event focused in part on the so-called “dark web,” a largely invisible part of the internet devoted to promoting clandestine access to all kinds of illegally trafficking goods, including of course weaponry.   This excellent event (as are virtually all CTED briefings) was almost a metaphor for our times:  helpful strategies to combat access to weapons and funding by terrorists and other “spoilers” while failing to note other hard (and relevant) questions – including those related to the quality and potency of our governance structures and the reckless enormity of our collective weapons production. In the end, there was for our interns a lingering sense that the dark and ominous forces seeking to undermine what remains of our social order seem to be moving more nimbly than those seeking to stop them.

Though this is clearly belaboring the obvious, current global circumstances are more than a little overwhelming.  There are so many needs to be met, so many issues to interrogate, so many tensions to resolve, so many “fires” to manage.   There seems to be darkness of one sort or another lurking in every corner, layers below layers,  making it both difficult to trust the light but also one’s own ability to help shine light on those dark places (in the world and in ourselves) that threaten even the best of our treaties, resolutions and other policy responses to global threats.

One of the challenges of befriending and mentoring younger people in this space is how to modulate the input, pointing out hopeful signs without over-selling them, sharing the occasional dis-ingenuousness of our multi-lateral system without reinforcing cynicism, introducing them to the full “truth” about our current unsettled circumstances without motivating them to “abandon ship,” to retreat into narrower career and personal interests that are more “bite-sized” and then convincing themselves that “bite size” is all they can handle.

Sometimes the UN does the little things to help us make this “sale.”   Other times not so much.

This past Friday, the UN hosted an event on “Investing in African Youth” that offered some promise that the aspirations, skills and frustrations of some of the young people from this largest-ever generation on our youngest global continent would help inform our policy direction.   The event focused on the African Union Roadmap on Harnessing the Demographic Dividend, based on the contention that “a peaceful and secure Africa requires an empowered generation of youth.”

While voices of such “empowered” youth did eventually take the stage – one in particular was particularly “put off” by the proceedings – the opening panel had already drained the room of much of its energy.  One after another, older persons (mostly male dignitaries) had ignored the call for brevity to such a degree that this panel alone set the schedule back by a full 80 minutes!

When it was finally time for younger voices, they were all on yet another tight leash, having now to share their views in an “august” UN setting while also compensating for older people who, quite frankly, had abused both their positions and the protocols of their “pulpits” in ways that are simply too common in UN conference rooms.   As a result, we were honoring youth by stifling their voices; we were collectively admonishing ourselves to listen to younger people while dominating their space, stealing their time, blunting their opportunity to make their case and not simply air their impatience.

Watching with us this past week was Lin Evola, the founder of the Peace Angels Project which (among other things) has mastered the art of reuse – in this case transforming the metal from used weaponry into compelling and hopeful images.   While she was with us, Lin took copious notes which she turned into drawings that represented the vast disturbances of the week, the crises we have yet to resolve.

The central focus of the drawing Lin contributed to Global Action was of people – including young people — standing mostly emotionless behind barbed wire, surrounded by warnings of famine, violence, forced migration and abuse.  For me, and for the current and past interns with whom I have already shared the drawing, the irony was apparent.  People bearing the brunt of crises, but lacking agency; people whose legitimate voices have been isolated, even barricaded; people who can barely adjust to the storms that surround them, let alone contribute to minimizing global shocks.

Such all-too-common constraints on human agency are, for me, more frightening than the dark web, more disturbing than any Security Council briefing.   When we overwhelm instead of support; when we allow others to slip blithely into complacency or cynicism; when we stifle the energies and voices that can help us reach the dawn, we are merely extending the reach of our own collective darkness.  If they are to locate and sustain their own agency in these difficult times, the many talented people — young and not-so-young — who pass through offices like ours need and deserve better from the rest of us.

The Company We Keep: Discerning the Human Faces and Impacts behind the UN Policy Curtain, Dr. Robert Zuber

5 Jun

As I write, this is World Environment Day as well as the beginning (Monday) of the holy season of Ramadan.  The latter is an opportunity for Muslims (especially) to separate for a time from the demands and distractions of the world, to “recover themselves” and their spiritual moorings.  The former is an opportunity for us to reflect and act on the many ways in which we continue, in part via those same demands and distractions, to undermine the capacity of the planet to support the life on which we directly depend.

This was a short work week in New York, but the UN for its part managed to offer up a menu of significant discussions that offered opportunities to bridge gaps between the policies we craft in this place and our levels of concern for the people responsible to implement such policies or who find themselves (for better or worse) on their receiving end.

This past Friday, the Security Council under France’s leadership took up the matter of conflict-related sexual abuse and human trafficking.   In that “open” meeting featuring the Secretary General and his SRSG Zainab Hawa Bangura, more than a few states were able to get beyond the data and threats to reflect on some of the ways that they can add value and draw closer (and genuine) connections to the needs of those affected by conflicts that, as Nigeria noted, we should do more to prevent in the first place.  In this context, it is important to note efforts by the UK, Angola and other states to highlight the responsibility to address local stigmas that tend to heap ridicule and shame, thereby magnifying the abuses that women and girls already endure within conflict settings.   Other states pointed to the deep traumas that conflict related abuse creates, with the Netherlands smartly urging states to consider ways to more effectively “accompany women and girls in their recovery from abuse.”

For its part the General Assembly held a useful all day consultation on conditions for and ways to prevent the “radicalizing” of children and youth, an issue that President of the General Assembly Lykketoft  wished “we did not have to discuss.”  DSG Eliasson commented on this “sad subject,” reminding the audience of mostly diplomats that “youth are subjects, not objects.” Therefore, he urged us to work with youth to resolve threats of extremist recruitment and not plan around them.

At the same time, as USG for Children and Armed Conflict Zerrougui noted during this session, we must do more to “drain the swamps” we have created, swamps full of enticements for youth, but swamps also characterized by “toxicity” emanating both from a loss of hope in a better future, and  from international responses that are too much about the military and too little about restoring family and community connections.  Young people will be responsible for this world soon enough and several delegations noted that we must do what we can now to ensure that their transitions to leadership and responsibility are secure, hopeful and inclusive.

But for us, perhaps the most interesting and personal engagement came during a meeting with NGOs and the Heads of the 10 UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies, committees of independent experts that monitor implementation of the international human rights treaties that define this pillar of the UN system and its core responsibilities to global constituents.  This monitoring is an essential confidence-building measure in a UN system that – excluding the Security Council in its best moments – has few ways to enforce state compliance with previously agreed principles of state conduct.

We were invited to this meeting because of our long and fruitful relationship with Paris-based FIACAT in its work to promote the abolition of torture and capital punishment around the world.   The meeting was chaired by Argentina’s Fabian Salvioli with whom we have had good but sadly infrequent contact over the past few years.

There were some probing questions posed to the Treaty Body heads by the relatively few NGOs in attendance, given the reality that the UN’s human rights system is not yet functioning in the way that encourages full-confidence by global citizens.  At this meeting, Salvioli acted mostly as facilitator, but his and other interventions were important – urging more clarity, specificity and follow-up regarding NGO interventions and recommendations and in languages to which Treaty Body members have ready access.   But he also noted, as did others of his colleagues, that their prior discussions with states were too often acrimonious, with accusations of bias in the interpretation and application of Human Rights treaties topping off what sounded like a lengthy listing of state complaints.

For our part, we wished to reinforce the pragmatic concerns of NGO colleagues – especially regarding the growing problem of government reprisals against human rights defenders – but our primary concern at this meeting was with the “quality of life” of those tasked with upholding state rights commitments.  It is clear to us, surely to others, that the task of managing Treaty Bodies is needlessly difficult.   Budgets and staffing are fragile.  Reporting is politically complex and often draining. States are sometimes resistant, even hostile, in part because they don’t really understand what Treaty Bodies do, why they are deemed essential to maintaining the quality of so many human lives (not to mention the credibility of the UN system).  Nor do states understand the largely voluntary sacrifices that these Treaty Body leaders make (partially in honor of the sacrifices of so many advocates in the field) to keep this essential but highly challenging system working and improving.  In many ways, this is a labor of love — and not nearly enough of that love is returned.

In the aforementioned GA discussion on youth and extremism, the Mayor of Rotterdam (NL) noted that the question we should be asking is not “who is to blame” for situations in the world but who is to take responsibility? Being the responsible party is becoming a bit of a lost art, but there are still many places in our societies, including within the UN, where people are able and willing to look beyond immediate policy tasks and statements to take the temperature of the systems of which they are part, the leaders tasked with maintaining and improving those systems, and the many people worldwide whose lives are needlessly undermined when we fail to make honest and thoughtful improvements in the systems they have come to rely on.

Early last week, the Security Council convened to renew the sanctions and peacekeeping (UNMISS) activities in the still-fragile state of South Sudan.  During that discussion, the South Sudan Ambassador made an appeal to all who seek a better life in his country and all who support the current transition in his country to more fervently seek “reconciliation and forgiveness” in response to many years of a violent and “bitter past.”

This appeal implies intensely personal work, sharing stories of pain and longing that are not to be “used” for partisan political purposes; accompanying the victimized, the betrayed and the simply-weary; and providing more tangible support to those who labor on behalf of a more just world.  Thankfully, behind the “policy curtain” is a wealth of human capacity, even empathy, that we are only now starting to tap and that promises to shorten the distance from bitter to reconciled.

Defining, Protecting, Recruiting Youth: Security Council Members Revisit their 20s, Dr. Robert Zuber

13 Dec

This was quite a week for the UN.  A Climate agreement was reached in Paris.   Several contentious Security Council meetings helped to define its role going forward on Ukraine, Libya, Central African Republic and the DPRK.   The General Assembly took public responsibility for improving mechanisms for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.   And the human rights “pillar” took center stage with high-level events to remember victims of genocide and promote “Human Rights Upfront.”

But perhaps the most intriguing event of the week was not about climate or genocide, but about “youth,” that vague and fluctuating category of human existence to which we often pay too little attention unless we are trying to sell something – a product, generally, but also an idea, a policy, a value or even a lifestyle.

On December 9, with leadership from Jordan, the Security Council passed Resolution 2250 on “Youth, Peace and Security” (www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp symbol=S/RES/2250(2015). Modeled to some degree after SCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, this resolution represents a formal affirmation of the “important role youth can play in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and as a key aspect of the sustainability, inclusiveness and success of peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts.”

Other sections of the resolution pointed to the “unique demographic dividend” represented by today’s large population of young adults that can help build lasting peace and economic prosperity.  The resolution also cites the vulnerability of these persons to recruitment by terrorist organizations and urges more protection for them during conflict and post-conflict situations as well as their greater participation in “peace processes.”

On the surface there is little to argue with here.  Jordan, which has been a most influential non-permanent member over the past two years, has used that influence to sponsor a resolution that recognizes the significant peace and security contributions that can be made – and are now being made – by younger people.  Moreover, this resolution blends two of the major concerns voiced by Jordan during its Security Council tenure – promoting youth and countering terrorism – which we hope it will continue to take leadership on once Jordan “returns” to its place within the general UN membership.

Indeed, one of the important takeaways from the service of non-permanent Council members is defining the security-related issues that will exemplify their work at the UN going forward.   Nigeria, for instance, has taken leadership on Security Sector Reform.  Lithuania has been a compelling voice on gender issues as well as on countering foreign terror fighters and the ongoing security crisis in Ukraine.  Chile has done excellent work on UN-sponsored criminal tribunals and on the requirement of dependable international justice in general.   Chad has been a strong voice for the evolving security partnership that is developing between the Council and the African Union.   As with Jordan, we appeal to all these members to retain their voices on issues on which they have gained considerable expertise and diplomatic visibility during their Council tenure.  Each of them has earned this leadership and, like governments before them, we very much need them to exercise it fully.

Returning to this landmark resolution 2250, there are caveats that we would wish to pose to Jordan and other states and stakeholders regarding the definition, character and policy access of youth.

First, we should probably acknowledge that the term “youth” represents something of a controversial matter.  The resolution – following the lead of the General Assembly – defines “youth” as persons between 18 and 29 years of age.    As someone who was raised in a different time, who was on his own making some semblance of adult decisions (albeit mostly badly) prior to reaching the chronological starting line for this resolution, I have always found this definition a bit jarring.  Rightly or wrongly, I would have been appalled as a 16 or 17 year old to be patronized by a definition that seemed to be more about limiting my options than honoring what seemed at the time to be my best assets and interests.  That such a limitation could have been applied to me at 28 or 29 years of age is almost beyond comprehension.

I suspect it would seem that way to many “youth” now as well.  For instance, just yesterday, thousands of US navy and army cadets sat in a stadium in Philadelphia and cheered on their respective football teams.   These are all “youth” by 2250 definition, persons in their 20s who just happen to be well on their way to becoming officers in a huge military establishment, thus having much to do, for better or worse, with how the international community defines and implements security.   They are not looking for protection by their government, but are ostensibly offering protection to the rest of us.  Adults assuming adult responsibilities.

Clearly, the criteria for the youth “leadership” and “empowerment” we seek to promote are not immediately apparent either to young people or the rest of us.   There are many “youth” in the approved range who are now running NGOs, religious institutions, even political offices. Does “leadership” simply mean being in positions of institutional authority, or is something else involved, something related to character and maturity of judgment?  In a similar vein, does “empowerment” merely mean “having a voice?”  And if it is about this, does it matter what kind of voice that is, what its objectives are?  Clearly the Council doesn’t particularly want “voices” that promote terrorism or advocate its attractions.  What else don’t we want?  Do we want voices that promote sexism, xenophobia, or rampant consumerism?  Do we want voices that advocate the selfish hording of resources or the destruction of ecosystems?   Do we want voices that dismiss sustainable development or human rights as anachronistic artifacts of sentimental liberal states?

The implications of these questions are, at least to my office, very much worth considering.   As young people — especially from more elite environments — spend more and more time in school, the values of school resonate, which at least in much of the West include the commodification of knowledge, competitive careerism, peer obsessiveness, etc.   What school (and western culture at large) is not so good at, apparently, is providing tools for genuine independence of thinking and living beyond the expectations of peers and the wider culture.  Nevertheless, people in their 20s, despite the intense consumerist and institutional programming to which they have been subjected, retain essential elements of distinctiveness. They don’t all go to college, they don’t all leave their birth communities to pursue “opportunity,” they don’t all spend their free time in frivolous socializing, they don’t all embrace religious institutions or political ideologies, they don’t all stare into cell phones for hours a day, they aren’t all suspicious of adults who aren’t directly subsidizing their lifestyles.

In some sense, there is irony in having to encourage governments, as does SCR 2250, to pay more attention to a demographic that is so large in number and so close to assuming cultural and political leadership in their respective societies.  These erstwhile “youth” are adults, plain and simple.   As with persons in every other demographic category, they deserve policy attention from states and international institutions, in their case especially on matters of education (not only school-based) and employment. But they are generally not helpless, not attracted to every “bell and whistle” offered up by advertisers or terror groups, not “special needs” any more than other generation might be.

If our political leaders want to involve these “youth” in efforts to eliminate extremism and prevent conflict, goals about which we heartily agree, this would seem to require (at least) two ingredients beyond formal resolutions. First, a commitment to reopening inter-generational dialogue, dialogue in which older persons listen more and judge less, but wherein they also insist that “youth” in their 20s commit to no long hide behind age-specific, “essentialist” notions that both let them put off their larger responsibilities and keep them inching towards an adult status that they have mostly already earned.

And the key to this, in every one of “youth’s” diverse incarnations, is personal and policy respect, respect which recognizes and encourages multiple thoughts and aspirations, respect that allows young adults to breathe while meeting their responsibilities and finding their places in a world that is unlikely to heal without their full input.   If Resolution 2250 helps to cultivate higher quality, cross-generational relationships and more fully respected, policy initiative and leadership from younger people, it will become a truly lasting testament to Jordan’s tenure on the Security Council.

 

Why Religious Conflict Will Intensify in Africa, By Professor Hussein Solomon

7 Dec

 

Editor’s Note: Professor Hussein Solomon of South Africa is a longtime friend of our office and is widely recognized as one of the very finest commentators in all of Africa on counter-terrorism and the triggers of mass violence.  Here he provides insight on the security, development and even gender implications from increasing religious conflict across the continent. 

Originally published as an RIMA Occasional Paper, Volume 3 (2015), Number 11 (December 2015)

This past week, Pope Francis conducted a six-day tour of the African continent that took him to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic. The latter, in particular, has been experiencing violent clashes between Muslims and Christians. In this context, the visit by the pontiff to a mosque in the Central African Republic was highly symbolic of the need to reach across the religious divide if sustainable peace is to be achieved on this troubled continent.

What happens in Africa could well define the future trajectory of Muslim-Christian relations globally. What accounts for this prognosis is simple demographics. Between 2010 and 2050, Africa’s share of the world’s population will increase from 12 percent to 20 percent. To put it differently, this continent will experience the fastest demographic growth on the planet. At the same time, in a mere two generations, the majority of the world’s Christians is expected to reside in Africa[1]. Over the same period the number of Muslims globally will grow by a staggering 73 percent[2]. The number of Muslims in Africa, meanwhile is expected to grow by nearly 60 percent from 242.5 million in 2010 to 385.9 million in 2030[3]. The interaction – whether peaceful or conflictual – between these two great faiths on the African continent could increasingly define the interaction between Christianity and Islam globally.

The nature of the interaction between these two faiths is however complicated by environmental variables and the politics of identity. Much of the population growth is taking place in societies where there is a scarcity of resources. Think here of the Sahel.  Growing desertification, has intensified conflict over scarce arable land. The city of Jos in Nigeria, for instance has, witnessed ethno-religious conflict since 2001 which has pitted Christian Berom against Muslim Hausas. At the heart of the conflict is access to fertile land at a time when the population is growing whilst the arable land has been under sustained threat due to the ongoing drought[4]. Over and above the twin impact of environmental variables and religion, Jos also highlights situations where ethnic and regional identities reinforce the underlying religious divide. Add to this the politics of exclusion practised by the Nigerian state, and conflict is all but inevitable. Indeed, most African states have failed miserably at inclusive governance.

Another dimension of the demographic problem is highlighted by Eric Kaufmann in his seminal book Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century[5]. He convincingly argued that the fertility rates among non-religious communities is displaying the lowest fertility rates in human history – often less than one child per woman. Conversely, the fertility rates of deeply religious people are several times this. Moreover this holds true across faith communities – Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim, or Jew. This is unsurprising given the fact that religious communities emphasise traditional roles for women and all three Abrahamic faiths encourage their adherents to ‘go forth and multiply’[6]. This growing population increase amongst the religious will, according to Kaufmann see greater conflict between deeply religious communities as they contest who speaks for God as well as between the religious people and secular states. Conflict, once again, becomes the norm.

Compounding these issues is what kind of Islam is on the ascendancy. Is it a moderate Islam embracing plural societies and secular states or is it a Salafist Takfiri Islam violent in its rejection of secularism and the proverbial “other”. The fact that there were 27000 terrorist attacks globally since 9/11 (or more than 5 per day) linked to radical Islam clearly demonstrates that radical Islam is on the ascendancy[7]. On the African continent, the fact that there are more than three terrorist attacks per day attributed to Islamists, reinforces this global trend. Under the circumstances, one can only conclude that religious conflict on the African continent will intensify in the coming years.

[1] Christine Mungai, “The future of world religion is African, so what would an `African’ Christianity of Islam look like?” Mail and Guardian. 30 September 2015. Internet: http://mgafrica.com/article/2015-11-30-the-future-of-religion-in-africa. Date accessed: 3 December 2015.

[2] Manasi Gopalkrishnan, “An interview of Dr. Moshe Terdiman on Deutsche Welle (DW) on the Muslim Population by 2050,” Internet:https://muslimsinafrica.wordpress.com/2015/04/08/an-interview-of-dr-moshe-terdiman-on-deutsche-welle-dw-on-the-muslim-population-by-2050. Date accessed: 21 April 2015.

[3] Mungai, op. cit.

[4] Colin Freeman, “Nigeria’s descent into holy war,” The Daily Telegraph, 8 January 2015. Internet:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/new/worldnews/africaandindianocean/nigeria89999758/N. Date accessed: 9 January 2015.

[5] Eric Kaufmann, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century. Profile Books. London, 2010.

[6] Ibid., p. xvi.

[7] Daniel Pipes, “Why the Paris Massacre will have Limited Impact,” op. cit.