Tag Archives: trafficking

Fort Worth:  The UN Presents Diverse Lenses on Human Potential, Dr. Robert Zuber

3 Feb

Mother Earth

Most of us must learn to love people and use things rather than loving things and using people. Roy Bennett

We know that we are the ones who are divided; and we are the ones who must come back together, to walk in the Sacred Way.  Ojibway Prayer

Isn’t it sad that you can tell people that the ozone layer is being depleted, the forests are being cut down, the deserts are advancing steadily, that the greenhouse effect will raise the sea level 200 feet, that overpopulation is choking us, that pollution is killing us, that nuclear war may destroy us – and they yawn and settle back for a comfortable nap. But tell them that the Martians are landing, and they scream and run.  Isaac Asimov

Cover my Earth Mother four times with many flowers.  Zuni Prayer

And certainly, the mistakes that we male and female mortals make when we have our own way might fairly raise some wonder that we are so fond of it.  George Eliot

Teach us to walk the soft earth as relatives to all that live.   Sioux Prayer

We think we know what we are doing. We have always thought so. Michael Crichton

In beauty it is finished.    Navajo Chant

As many of you have gathered from even occasional readings of these Sunday missives, the UN offers what at time represent an equally dazzling and frustrating lens on global policy but also on the people who, among other things, establish its norms and responses.  This week alone, saw government experts convene to establish the basis for a framework to address the growing threat posed by the militarization of outer space, a well-organized briefing on Yemen to “hold the fort” on humanitarian response until a viable political process to end the conflict can be established, and a joint presentation by the presidents of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council respectively in an attempt to ratchet up both funding pathways and diplomatic urgency to keep our collective commitments to the 2030 Development Agenda at least somewhat on track.

We do lots of “holding the fort” at the UN, trying to maintain global attention on the difficult (non-Martian) issues that cause many constituents to turn their gaze away or “settle back for a comfortable nap,” but also to gather resources within the UN and in member states to support “good faith” responses to what are at times ugly manifestations of the human condition. The UN does what it can, in many instances keeping the focus on often-ignored matters of planetary urgency while organizing competent and strategic responses in the hope that various forms of “reinforcements” — of funding, capacity support and political will — do not lag too far behind.

Of all the “ugly manifestations” of human conduct that the UN highlighted this week, perhaps the most discouraging was an event on human trafficking organized by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime.  The event itself was very well done, focusing on the launch of two related reports, UNODC’s full assessment of global trafficking and a second report covering much of the same ground but focused specifically on trafficking in the context of armed conflict.

The latter report was directly requested by the UN Security Council and is perhaps more germane to Global Action’s organizational priorities; but both “booklets” paint a sordid picture of the willingness of human beings in diverse circumstances to contribute to brutality, abuse and “exploitation” that contexts of armed violence merely magnify.  Highlighted within booklet 2 is the recruitment of children into armed groups to serve as everything from porters to suicide bombers, and victims trafficked for purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation.  In addition to copious statistics on trafficking demographics, law enforcement responses and conviction rates, mention was made often of the particular vulnerabilities of displaced persons — including those many thousands displaced by armed violence — and the often-desperate people, mostly women and children, who sign on to what are certain to become exploitative arrangements in the complete absence of viable options, arrangements perpetrated by those who, at the very least, “love things and use persons.”

One can (and we often do) laud the efforts of law enforcement, peacekeepers and UN officials to provide urgent perspectives and high-quality data on this soul-crushing issue. At the same time we also lament the “blows” inflicted by traffickers to any sense of optimism about the ability of human beings to do any better than to “hold down the fort” as our norms of international order prove themselves “thinner” than we imagined and predation in many forms continues to flourish; traffickers, yes, but also an economic system that allows some to build massive wealth casting dismissive shadows on the many millions resigned to running (if they can) from people and institutions content to treat them mostly as “things” to be used, rather than beings to be cherished.

For many younger people, even those around Global Action’s orbit contemplating careers in international affairs, one can perceive a pervasive sense of cynicism about the human condition, a sense that self-interest is fully entrenched as our collective guide-star, that narcissism has become a social expectation and, moreover, that there is really not much that people can do – UN resolve notwithstanding — to “turn this tide” characterized by too much ugliness, too many people content to sleep through crises or turn a blind eye to the inequities that are actually within their power to change.

This assessment of “human nature” – less a science-based lens for exploration of both our warts and potential, and more an excuse for not changing what we are able to change – must also be countered.   After all, the forts we “hold” will not stay held forever.  We see evidence throughout that the walls are cracking, that provisions are scarce and unequally distributed, that communications are increasingly vexing, that promises of reinforced capacity are too-often unreliable. We simply cannot go on the way we are, cannot reverse our current slide while simultaneously enabling (often unintentionally) the forces committed to an unequal and rapacious exploitation of what little is left to exploit.

As the gorgeous group of quotations above makes plain, there is another path that integrates honor and gratitude, that upholds the dignity of human beings while rejecting indignities directed towards our natural home. The UN also knows this other path.  On Friday in the General Assembly Hall, the UN launched the International Year of Indigenous Languages, an event that included powerful statements from President Morales of Bolivia and the President of the General Assembly Maria Fernandez. The event also highlighted indigenous representatives who spoke directly to the multiple benefits of indigenous language preservation – not only the safeguarding of indigenous culture itself but the life given to forms and depths of expression to which indigenous languages are particularly well suited – expression that links people to each other and to the many blessings of creation, that reminds us of the power of beauty to inspire our better selves, that urges us to cover our “mother” with flowers of her own making rather than with bulldozers and space weapons of our own.  As Ecuador’s minister affirmed, the words of indigenous languages “have a soul, a memory, a heart.” They tie together those who live where their sounds are uttered, binding the human and non-human, ties of gratitude and what the PGA called “symbols of belonging,” all held together with pledges to walk more “softly” on a planet that too many of us have conspired to treat much too roughly for much too long.

This event was not designed to romanticize indigenous culture, to promote the soul-energy embedded in indigenous languages as the singular antidote to modernism’s excesses. Indigenous leaders are all-too-aware of the “divisions” that need to be reunited in their own communities, the many sources of pain (including the self-inflicted variety) that require a more robust healing response.  And yet there is so much richness embedded in these language forms, so much beauty, connection and “will to cherish” that culturally-homogenous modern societies — too comfortable in what they “know” and too resolved to “have their own way” — need much more of.

An aboriginal woman from Australia told the diplomats in the GA Hall of the joy it brings her to “whisper into the ears of her grandchildren words from my ancestral language.”  We owe our children and grandchildren more than smart phones and foolish owners, more than forts buckling under the strain of assaults coming from predatory humans in many forms.  We owe them, as one indigenous speaker on Friday noted, the chance “to sing the songs of the earth,” songs that in too many corners of this planet “have simply grown silent.”

Humiliation Nations: Rehabbing our Common Humanity, Dr. Robert Zuber

26 Nov

Humiliation

Humiliation is poisonous. It’s one of the deepest pains of being human. Pierce Brosnan

There is no humiliation more abusive than hunger. Pranab Mukherjee

I have not seen deeper suffering than seeing humans humiliated.  Behrouz Boochani‏

It was the day after the US Thanksgiving and I (what else?) was reading over a brochure that was picked up for me during a visit several years ago to the Nazi transit camp at Westerbork in the Netherlands.    There one can still seek remnants of the railway that carried away many tens of thousands of Jews (and some others) directly to the ovens of Auschwitz, a number that included Anne Frank and, on its last “run” in 1944, 77 children unluckily caught by the Nazis while in hiding from their madness.

For me, a most interesting aspect in the brochure is what the authors referred to as Westerbork’s “system of false hope.”  Conditions in the camp were apparently “tolerable” enough, and the Nazis had instituted a system where select persons could be issued an “exemption” from deportation to the east.  Some actually got these exemptions, though most who got them eventually had them revoked, thus falsifying the “hope” that minimized the humiliation and despair of being in that place, that blunted the grave anxiety from watching trains pull out of the transit station filled with neighbors and comrades, until the veil of deception covering their own eyes was finally lifted.

Eventually the trains stopped running, the raids ceased to pull any more children out of hiding, the scars from years of anxiety and humiliation would grow no longer.  But what did we ultimately learn from this?  What has changed for us?  Why does it take us so long to see the doomsday transit and humiliating confinement – in historical and contemporary terms — for what they really are?

As we in the US prepared for feasts and football, there were a few events in the world that led us to believe that we might be slowly learning our lessons. For instance, many welcomed the conviction in The Hague of former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladić, a result that brought tears to the eyes of persons who had waited many years for this long-overdue justice.  Given the scale of the atrocities that had previously been presented in court, evidence of thousands upon thousands humiliated, even butchered on Mladić’s watch, one can only hope that this verdict – late and tepid though it might well seem — will somehow promote, rather than impede a still-fragile regional reconciliation.

This verdict will effectively shut down the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia which will now be folded into the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals.  But this will not end the UN community’s (often untimely) commitment to international justice, nor to the search for strategies to relieve those suffering soul-threatening humiliation and abuse at the hands of predatory forces inside and (mostly) outside government.

Two events in the pre-Thanksgiving period spanned a spectrum of this abiding UN justice concern.   On Tuesday, the UN Security Council under Italy’s presidency held a general debate on the issue of “trafficking in persons.”  The unintended backdrop for this meeting was the CNN footage of an open-air “slave market” operating in Libya and “feeding” off of the thousands of forced migrants gathering on Libya’ shores hoping only to be granted access to a life-threatening passage across the Mediterranean Sea.

As documented by the International Organization for Migration and other agencies, the volume of persons forced to flee conflict, drought, discrimination and other “push” factors continues to stagger the imagination.  To flee from your home dragging children behind you who can’t possibly understand what is happening to them or why their families can’t “fix things”; to face grave hunger and other uncertainties as strangers urge you across unfamiliar and at times unforgiving lands; and then at the end of the line facing a bevy of human predators ready and willing to exploit every migrant’s distinct vulnerability.  It is a story of multiple tragedies that seem to “pile on” those who are already at a breaking point.

A day earlier in a smaller UN conference room, delegations led by Singapore examined another issue critical to human wellness– water and sanitation.  In conjunction with “world toilet day,” Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed noted during this event that, “We all produce waste, but many do so without dignity and in a manner that ultimately jeopardizes their own health and well-being.”   She lauded the work of what she called “sanitation heroes” that clean latrines and other facilities thus ensuring higher levels of community health.   But she also noted the millions of people – especially women – for whom both health and physical safety are compromised daily due to a lack of private sanitation facilities.  She highlighted those persons needing only a “few cement blocks” in order to make still-open sanitation more secure, less risky, less humiliating. With urging from Singapore, Australia, Slovakia and other states, there was some hope by session’s end for more security and less humiliation relative to the most private and intimate of human functions.

It might seem like a long road from the haughty butchery of Mladić to the emotional safety of cement blocks. But the policies that lead to murder and misery, that hold families and communities hostage to sinister and predatory ideologies, do their damage in often very personal ways.   The “demonizing servitude” referred to in the Security Council by UN SG Guterres encompasses a wide range of what Sweden referred to as “grotesque” humiliations, from hunger and intimate exposure to the horror of having to sell off your children to servitude in order to protect other children; or even to watch those who systematically abused your family walk freely around the towns where those very abuses once occurred.

Tuesday’s Security Council debate did result in unanimous support for Resolution 2388 which, among other things, called for greater national efforts to break up trafficking networks and address the severe trauma often left in their wake; as well as additional training to help police and UN peacekeepers identify and disrupt traffickers and the many threats they pose. And one of the persons primarily responsible for coordinating UN efforts on trafficking in persons, USG Yuri Fedotov, did note during the debate a hopeful, “forward momentum” against crimes of slavery, especially those committed against children, responses which he tied closely to other efforts aimed at ending money laundering and corruption.

But the mood in Council chambers this day was generally more “appalled” and less “hopeful.”  As Ambassador Chergui from the African Union warned, where trafficking is concerned, “our common humanity is at stake” and “time is not on our side.” Such wide-ranging damage to human confidence and capacity diminishes both individual lives and the collective resolve we need to address what are in some instances “existential” threats and challenges.   While some are able to rise above pervasive abuse and hopelessness, it generally takes so much to restore even the most basic confidence in persons who have been beaten down and humiliated in ways that, to quote US Ambassador Haley, “most of us are blessed not to be able to imagine.”

This pattern cannot continue; neither the “unimaginable” abuse, nor the out-of-control predation, nor our own “system of false hope” that inadvertently substitutes policy resolution language for the urgent and quite practical tasks associated with the reclaimation of our common humanity.

The next time the US Thanksgiving rolls around, my hope is that (citing Colombia’s Ambassador) the practice of “selling people as merchandise” will have come to an end, that legal gaps currently exploited for trafficking purposes will have been closed, that the needless conflicts driving forced migrants into the clutches of predators will have ceased, and that the “poison” of humiliation will be seen for what it truly is – a threat to the common humanity on which our common future ultimately hinges.

That would indeed be a Thanksgiving to remember.

Peace Day:  Turning Aspiration into Inspiration at UN Headquarters, Dr. Robert Zuber

17 Sep

Evola

Without peace, all other dreams vanish and are reduced to ashes. Jawaharlal Nehru

It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. Martin Luther King, Jr.

You cannot find peace by avoiding life. Virginia Woolf

September 21 is designated each year by the UN as the International Day of Peace.  Given the centrality to the UN’s mission of eliminating war and armed violence,  mediating and protecting peace agreements, and otherwise “maintaining” international peace and security, one might imagine that the entire UN building would be given over to inspirational discussions and hopeful commitments under this rubric.

Well, sort of.  For this is also the week that heads of state make their way to New York to represent their countries in a range of high level discussions on issues related to the tools, stakeholders, funding sources, and aspirations that we are ostensibly (and hopefully) to address as a global community.   While the primary purpose of many heads of state is to address the General Assembly, there will also be opportunity for an array of bilateral meetings and more general program gatherings on topics relevant to peace and security ranging from peacekeeping reform and human trafficking to ocean health and “south-south” cooperation for sustainable development.  And to show more tangible support for the millions of migrants forced from their homes and communities by violence, discrimination, drought and other threats to peace, dignity and social inclusion.

As is the case every year, this week serves as a reminder that while UN diplomats are skilled at developing global norms, the decisions needed to turn norms into peace-promoting actions, aspirations into inspirational practices, are mostly made in national capitals.  So too are the decisions to adopt arms treaties and security-related resolutions without teeth, to turn the power of state security-sector capacities against civilians, to jeopardize in a myriad of ways the global interest in the name of national interest.  In that light, one can only hope and pray that global leaders will see fit to lobby each other – and by extension instruct their UN ambassadors – to do more to resolve ongoing crises in South Sudan, Myanmar, the DPRK and Yemen; to reduce arms production and not simply control its flows; to turn away from weapons technology that abstracts the processes and consequences of killing; to endorse reformed UN peace and security architecture that replaces downstream coercion with upstream mediation, conflict prevention and early warning; to double down on international justice and reconciliation as viable means to end impunity for high crimes and restore citizen faith in governance.

It is noteworthy that the UN decided to honor this international peace day –with both a youth summit and the annual observance held at the Peace Bell — on September 15, prior to when global leaders were set to gather in our neighborhood.   With all due regard for the youth representatives who chimed in from New York and Bogota, it seemed like an opportunity missed not to have presidents and prime ministers get to join hands in solidarity with the UN officials who now labor for peace under difficult political and bureaucratic circumstances.  A photo op to be sure; but perhaps one with more influence and staying power than some of the interminable images this week as heads of state climb to the GA podium in an attempt (sometimes futile) to convince us that they are already doing everything needed to solve global problems, and that circumstances in their countries (or in the world) really aren’t as dismal as they seem…

Global Action, like many NGOs around UN headquarters, has a strong vested interest in how these global leaders assess and support their country’s UN presence.   In such a political and (now) overly branded environment as this one, it is nevertheless relatively easy to spot disconnects between the policy priorities emanating from missions and those from foreign offices.   One of the reasons that we value multi-lateral policy spaces is that it does bring out progressive impulses in delegations that might not play so well at home.  Those same impulses, however, can at times mask domestic concerns that would do well to receive more concerted international attention:  the delegations for instance that champion “peace” in UN conference rooms while their capital counterparts are laying plans to bomb civilians, arrest journalists, suspend constitutional freedoms or otherwise undermine the rule of law.

We also have a vested interest in promoting full spectrum policy engagements that can contribute to the resolution of concrete threats inflaming larger existential worries such as climate warming, another world war, or the death of the oceans on which we all rely. To the extent we (collectively) are able to do so, we need to make peacekeeping and atrocity prevention more reliable and less political.  We need to make better use of the UN’s growing peacebuilding expertise including moving it from its current, post-conflict ghetto into a broader, prevention-oriented, consultative role with states.    We need to invest more stakeholders in the “worldly tasks” of violence prevention, conflict mediation and environmental care – inclusive stakeholders operating well beyond the remit of states, corporate interests and erstwhile “experts.” We need to endorse in practical terms the peace and security implications of all obligations under the 2030 Development Agenda – from education and gender equity to healthy forests and sustainable cities – not only the targets listed within Sustainable Development Goal 16.

And we need to insist in every conceivable forum that resolutions and treaties to manage weapons flows must overtly support the goal of reductions in weapons production.   Despite our normative efforts, the world remains awash in weapons that enrich traffickers and arms merchants while emboldening criminality and insurgency.  States that encourage weapons production while simultenously endorsing efforts to end weapons diversion need to rethink the implications of those commitments without delay. The more weapons we produce, the more will escape even our best efforts at management and control.

As the International Day of Peace approaches, we are keenly aware of intractable conflicts in places like Central African Republic and Libya, but also of hopeful transitions to peaceful futures in places such as in Liberia and Colombia.  We are aware of the many unheeded resolutions emanating from the UN Security Council, but also of capacities within and outside the UN system based on the premise that “maintaining” international peace and security implies more skillful proactivity and less coercive reactivity – more attentiveness to the smoke rather than waiting for the fire.

Whether we like it or not, the global public tends to judge us here on our peace and security effectiveness – not how many victims of violence we assist so much as how successful we are in stopping violence in the first place. This is the standard which the current UN leadership has overtly endorsed.  We will be anxiously listening for openings from global leaders that will help all of us plot the next preventive path.  We will be anxiously listening as well for commitments from these leaders that we can use to help inspire more inclusive, global peace participation – integrating inspiration from diverse issue advocates and from peace-oriented artists such as Lin Evola — and renew at least a bit of global confidence in the UN’s commitment and effectiveness regarding its (more urgent than ever) core peace and security responsibilities.

 

 

 

 

Traffic Circles:  Addressing the Loops that Fuel Conflict and Undermine Dignity, Dr. Robert Zuber

19 Mar

Enslave the liberty of but one human being and the liberties of the world are put in peril. William Lloyd Garrison

Do something wonderful; people may imitate it.  Albert Schweitzer

This week at the UN was a bit of an “odd coupling” with legions of blue Smurfs showing up to promote the Sustainable Development Goals while Washington added to the UN’s funding anxieties and Pyongyang created new nuclear proliferation headaches.

It was also the first week of the annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), a massive (and in our view too often un-strategic) gathering that, in its best iterations, reminds us of the still-unfinished work of gender justice as well as of the many areas of policy and practice which are yet to become “women’s business.”

One area that has long been “women’s business” – as both advocates for change and tragically more often as victims of abuse — is that of trafficking.   This week, both in the context of a CSW side-event and in the Security Council under the UK’s leadership, the UN attempted to steer a more hopeful path that promises genuine forward momentum on this stubborn scourge beyond our conventional cycles of response.

The “complexities” of trafficking – so described by one inspiring Somali activist — were very much on display this week.   Diplomats and NGOs called attention to the multiple (and as Egypt and others noted) mutually-reinforcing networks that traffic in weapons, narcotics, cultural heritage and, worst of all, in persons themselves.   For his part, UN Secretary-General Guterres made additional reference to the “shine of some skyscrapers” in our cities that were dependent on “forced labor.”

What all these violations have in common of course is their assault on human dignity, putting persons in what many of us would deem impossible situations and then offering options going forward that are likely to accomplish little other than snuff out the last vestiges of self-respect.   This creates a pattern all too familiar and all too insidious – people risking (and too often finding) unacceptable vulnerability in an attempt to escape conditions of unacceptable vulnerability.

At CSW, it was noted again and again the degree to which trafficking and the “modern slavery” that so often follows in its wake constitute “money making machines” for transnational criminal networks, terrorist groups, unscrupulous government officials, and others simultaneously skilled in exploitation and dismissive of human value (and especially the value of women and girls) beyond their own limited circles of malfeasance.

The complexities of modern trafficking have contributed to responses that seem more like endless circles of frustration than pathways to progress.   This week at the UN, diplomats and NGOs alike commented on the degree to which armed violence creates breeding grounds s for trafficking in all its dimensions.   In the Security Council, Panama made linkages between armed violence and child marriage.  Nigeria noted the conflict-related misuse of captured girls as “baby making machines.”  In more general terms, the European Union cited the “spillovers of insecurity” that are caused by armed conflict and which very much include the enabling of hard-to-address trafficking networks.

At the same time, others in the Council made clear that the inequalities and vulnerabilities of societies create conditions ripe for human slavery and trafficking, but also for the perpetuation of armed conflict itself.  As Greece explained, trafficking in all its aspects remains a major factor in sustaining the “economy of war.”  And Bolivia was (as they have been since they joined the Council in January) insistent that the pervasiveness of inequalities is symptomatic of a larger systemic problem — that our economics and politics privilege competition over dignity, acquisition over equity.  We humans have spent too much of our collective history “taking what we want” even if it means (as it often has) lowering the threshold of our common humanity in the process.

Around and around we go – conflict fueling trafficking networks which exacerbates existing inequalities and discriminations which creates (as Morocco noted this week) new breeding grounds for conflict.  It is a cycle that frustrates, a loop we cannot easily escape, a ride from which we cannot seem to dismount.

But there are strategies afoot to help us fortify what Pakistan this week referred to as our “spasmodic” responses to the violence and criminality of trafficking. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime is doing its part to help strengthen domestic law enforcement and border controls.  Ireland and other states are actively exploring ways to improve legal accountability at national and international levels as one means to prevent future abuses.   UN Women and many of the participants of CSW are holding up the gender dimensions of abuse and insisting that policy accommodates each and every one of them. The Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee is helping to disrupt the financial incentives for trafficking networks and undermine their internet-based recruiting.  At the same time, at least some of those Council members understand that trafficking response must involve all relevant UN stakeholders; that one UN organ cannot presume responsibility for an issue that takes so many forms, impacts so many development and security processes, traumatizes so many global citizens.  All are initiatives and insights worthy of “imitation.”

But the Council (together with the Peacebuilding Commission and other stakeholders) can take welcome leadership in one additional area. This week, UK Ambassador and current SC president Rycroft cited our collective duty to end the “instability” in which trafficking thrives.  Much of this instability, we would argue again, is a function of the armed violence that flares up and drags on in so many global regions.  With threats to UN funding looming, with assaults on human dignity seemingly as pervasive as ever, with so many illicit arms fueling so much unaccountable criminal violence, the Council must become smarter and especially more proactive in its security responses.   As Indonesia noted well this week during the debate, fresh efforts directed towards a more upstream “de-escalation” of conflict threats would be the ideal next step.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place:  UN Legal Obligations and their Operational Inconsistencies, Dr. Robert Zuber

2 Oct

elsalvadorphoto

There are many weeks when global affairs seem to be operating on parallel (and largely un-complementary) tracks.   For instance, the Security Council this week took up the horrific matter of hospital bombings in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.   Despite the existence of settled “hard” humanitarian law and relevant Security Council resolutions, hospitals continue to be targets of heavy bombing, medical supplies are in ever-shorter supply, and medical staff from Médecins Sans Frontières and other organizations now speak openly of dying at their posts, resigned to the reality that “hard” law in the international arena is insufficient to motivate the “hard” choices that are now needed to stop the bombing and open reliable pathways to healing and relief.

In South Africa this week, states and experts met under the aegis of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  Endorsed by virtually all UN member states, this meeting of CITES was devoted to discussions on “how best to integrate law enforcement, development, environmental and social approaches to combating illegal wildlife trade,” trafficking that rivals narcotics, weapons and persons as major sources of illicit revenue.  There are aspects of this general pursuit that make us uneasy – specifically the overused notion that we are “saving” species that our lifestyle choices and pervasive economic inequalities have endangered in the first place.  Still, CITES underscoring of the criminal aspects of wildlife trafficking –reinforced by the presence in South Africa of officials from INTERPOL and the UN Office of Drugs and Crime – may lead to some (but perhaps only temporary) relief for highly stressed species teetering on the brink of extinction.

In the climate arena, India has declared its imminent intent to ratify the Paris Climate Agreement, bringing another major carbon producer into the fold, and thereby bringing us that much closer to entry-into-force.  But prior to entry of this “harder” obligation, Costa Rica joined Iceland in demonstrating the technical capability and political will to power their countries with 100% renewable energy.  Small states, yes, and boasting an abundance of geo-thermal and other energy advantages to tap; but states also demonstrating that it is possible to take “softer” obligations and turn them into hopeful options for a planet melting faster than our “hard” agreements have to date contemplated.

But here there are also “parallel track” events that came to our attention this week and that make us wonder if the “memos” on climate that send out from the UN are finding their way to the appropriate state and corporate desks:  including the pursuit of licenses to mine the floors of oceans already shedding biodiversity and harboring vast islands of plastic ; the rapid destruction of habitat and mass poaching of wildlife in African states; mining interests from El Salvador to the Philippines that needlessly threaten precious local water supplies and undermine local economies;  a decision by state ministers to spend vast sums on the UK’s Hinkley Point Nuclear Power plant rather than increase investment in renewable energy options;  the exposing of California’s mass refining of oil purchased from sources in the Amazon.   And these are only a sample of this week’s (for us) “head-scratching” acts of climate defiance.

We wonder:  What are we not seeing?   Is such behavior a deliberate flaunting of existing regulations?  Is it a matter of making all the profit available before more “serious” regulations take effect?   Is it just a matter of economic addictions that lie beyond the reach of governments and their treaties?

Our colleagues at Global Policy Forum (GPF) have recently published a study in which they call for a “hard law” treaty to enforce human rights obligations on transnational corporations.  Such a treaty would replace the voluntary UN Guiding Principles adopted in 2011, principles that have proven a bit too easy to redefine and circumnavigate.  At the same time, and despite the many recognized limitations in our collective application of so-called “hard law” obligations, objections to a ‘treaty process” have been considerable, especially noteworthy from the US and European Union.

The authors of this report appear to have more faith than we do in the innate compliance effectiveness of “hard” treaty law.  Nevertheless, they are right to note that many corporations are now seeking guidance on human rights obligations — and not because they aim to avoid them.  But most want to comply on a level playing field, and “hard law” obligations — especially if that law provides for investigative and oversight mechanisms –are the “levelers” that many corporate entities are thankfully now desiring.

Moreover, a treaty of the sort envisioned by GPF could have benefits to states struggling to reign in the behavior of corporate entities dismissive of “host” domestic law and largely lacking oversight from the countries where they are legally registered.  It is easier to hold entities accountable, or to seek assistance on enforcing compliance, when the obligations in question are both clear and (to the extent possible) uniformly binding.  In a state such as El Salvador, purely “voluntary” obligations are rarely subject to binding international legal review.  Moreover, the state itself might well lack the power or will to enforce domestic laws governing corporate conduct.  Reinforcement in the form of “hard” international law might spell the difference between corporate attentiveness to local rights interests and the total disregard of such interests.

But the success of “hard law” requires more than specified, non-voluntary obligations.  Success requires enforcement and, more than that, the will to enforce.  More often than not, it is “will” that is lacking.   Even in the Security Council, ostensibly the seat of the UN’s most robust binding obligations, enforcement is at a premium.  Indeed many Council meetings are punctuated by states imploring – sometimes bitterly – for the Council to honor its own binding resolutions – “honor” in the sense of ensuring its own internal compliance but also “honor” in the sense of enforcing previously negotiated obligations.

As we have seen in many areas of international law, treaties can have considerable value in affirming core international norms and raising levels of compliance, especially treaties which are accompanied by compliance-enriching mechanisms in the form of treaty bodies.   But in a world characterized by diverse existential threats and numerous instances of willful discounting of such threats, we must be careful not to put all our eggs in the treaty basket.  There is other key work to accomplish– as relevant to “soft” law as “hard” – including continued vigilance regarding the impacts of reckless corporate choices (and government enabling of those choices) on options for rights-based, peaceful, inclusive, sustainable living.

We at the UN rightly talk a lot about the need for more “prevention,” especially in the areas of armed conflict and severe human rights crimes.   But “prevention” related to our diverse international obligations – as in what “prevents” us from achieving full respect for human rights and other life- affirming goals — is prevention that we must do more to counteract.  Given the crises that dominate our media and clog our in-boxes, our collective responsibilities seem clear – more vigilance, more thoughtfulness, more collaborative activity, more active and persuasive engagement with diverse corporate and state authorities. For civil society, these responsibilities persevere regardless of how “hard” or “soft” the regulations might be that we now find at our disposal.

Assessing the 2030 Development-Security Linkage in Latin American Contexts, Dr. Robert Zuber

1 Nov

The following represent slight revisions (improvements) of remarks given in Mexico City on October 29.

I want to pay tribute to Dr. Simone Lucatello and his colleagues at Instituto Mora for holding this launch event and for their excellent guidance on this publication.

This is one of several books that we worked on thoughtfully over the past year or so.  We have very little funding and the UN in New York is a very large institution to cover and analyze.  Why do we invest our time and resources in this way?

  1. First, it helps to build credibility for our project as we seek to weigh in on a range of complementary initiatives that make up the UN system.  If we have a demonstrable “expertise” at all, it is this sense of how issues fit or should fit — the complementarity of concerns and interests that serves as a sound intellectual and political basis for effective policy.
  2. Second, it represents a contribution to leveling the policy playing field that can help dismantle some of the hegemonies of scholarship and policy that persist in our current world. There are so many voices across Latin America, including perhaps within this institution, which have yet to find their proper level.   Given all the security and development challenges we have to face today in the international community, there is seemingly little rational about keeping other talent on the sidelines. As I have said often to others, I have had my turn.  In our office, we have our turn every day.  It’s someone else’s turn and we want to do what we can to make space for that policy balancing.
  3. We have a special regard for young people who have much to learn but also to teach. They are inheriting this world and its challenges as we gather here.   My generation has made some real messes and they will be responsible for the clean-up.  The least we can do is give them the broadest and most hopeful access to multi-lateral institutions, channels to respected publications (like this one), and experiences in making sound policy that we are capable of providing for them.

As you in this institute know, many strategies are now being suggested for the 2030 goals implementation, but three seem to be rising most quickly to the surface:  robust, flexible data; reliable funding sources, and a stable social fabric.  We must stay connected to all three areas of concern, but the last one is of special interest.

Keeping the social fabric safe without engendering feelings of intimidation or fear remains an area of considerable challenge.  As we were writing and organizing this book, it became clear that some states are still quite reluctant to establish a strong security-development linkage and there are several reasons for this. From my standpoint, this reluctance his has something to do with what I would prefer to call a security-culture linkage.   Many indigenous and rural persons, many politically active and outspoken persons, many marginalized persons such as live around me in Harlem, New York — they often fear the “culture” of the security sector, and often for sound empirical reasons. At the same time, it is very difficult to hold that same security sector itself accountable for abuses, or even to acknowledge that they are CAPABLE of abuses.  In the US, it is a struggle to hold police accountable for their mis-behavior.  It is a struggle to hold military officials responsible for bombing civilian targets in the name of fighting terror; indeed many persons in the security sector take refuge in a system and its culture that only rarely acknowledges failure of any kind.

To promote a viable security-development linkage in the 2030 goals is to actively engage this possibility of cultural failure, a predisposition in more than scattered instances to discriminatory and excessive and even unprovoked use of force that can and must be reformed to serve the cause of social development rather than impede it.  Few still have the stomach to engage the security sector on its conduct – reminding the sector that it has the skill to enhance 2030 implementation in many ways, including addressing various forms of trafficking that overwhelm many Latin American communities, but that it also possesses more than sufficient power to frighten, intimidate and discriminate.

Similar levels of scrutiny are needed regarding agreements to regulate or prohibit weapons. The Arms Trade Treaty is one of the agreements that found some criticism in the book.  Some people will evaluate this Treaty and decide that something is better than nothing. The question we should be asking is if the remedy is sufficient to the cure that we have already held out as a promise to global constituencies? It is not enough to give a child suffering from pneumonia some hot tea and a Vitamin pill.  Such acts may be helpful at some level, but they certainly don’t rise to a level of effectiveness that is even in “radar range” of the cure from armaments that we so badly need.

If the global arms trade (its volume not only its shipping) is as serious a problem as many of us maintained it was – and still is – we continue to need a more robust set of instruments than we now have. Since its negotiation and adoption, the ATT has been politicized; it has attracted more than its share of mercenary NGOs more comfortable with branding than discernment; it has been permitted a secretariat function that is almost completely emasculated; it has invited the diversion of much time and energy from the UN Programme of Action, which engages the practical, multi-lateral work of stockpile management, marking and tracing of weapons, trafficking in weapons, and better security at borders and ports. And of course the ATT, through no intrinsic failure of its own, has no actionable outcome with regard to weapons that have long since left the factory, the weapons that do so much damage every day in Libya, Mali, Yemen, Nigeria and elsewhere.

When we step back from this type and level of scrutiny and aim higher, we recognize that security and development represent more than bookend obligations by states; they point to inter-related existential threats to a planet that has quite enough to cope with at present.  A failed 2030 development project –data that is politicized, funding that is unreliable and applied in a discriminatory fashion, policy that reaches in the direction of the most vulnerable but never quite makes physical contact – these and related limitations are as likely to exacerbate excessive militarism than address its defects.   And conversely, a security policy that inhibits the education of children, the political participation of women, the promotion of a free press and the fair administration of justice will not develop people so much as keep them in subordinate social and political contexts.  Trust in the state and in each other is an under-analyzed dimension in community development, and heavy handed security has a much smaller role in trust’s promotion than security advocates would want us to believe.

So now we have our 2030 development goals and we have what will hopefully become reformed security arrangements.  Moving forward, we must understand their mutual influences and minimize the more toxic aspects of their respective practices.  As though we needed reminding, human beings are imperfect creatures.  The 2030 promises we have broadcast to a world full of anxious, long-suffering constituents will require us, as the Pope reminded the UN earlier this fall, to become less imperfect still.   These are “development” promises of course, but their implications are virtually existential. If we fail to make our “best faith” effort to meet these promises, including on security, it will do more than bring discredit to the UN; it will signal that we have likely crossed a threshold of trust, health and peace from which our species might never find its way back.