Tag Archives: UNSC

Child’s Play:  The Security Council Seeks to Shelter Youngsters from Abusive Elders, Dr. Robert Zuber

29 Mar

In an earlier life when I was arrogant enough to fancy myself a philosopher, I was involved with a transnational group of scholars analyzing what it means to live in a world with children in it, the unique combination of gifts offered and responsibilities mandated that bring value and meaning to our otherwise emotion-starved lives. The ‘poster’ for this work came in the form of an old New Yorker cartoon in which a young girl – perhaps 6 or 7 – is pulling a wagon inside the chambers of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.  One of the generals seated on a dais looks down at the girl and asks a question that many of us might be inclined to ask but which also has enormous irony attached to it.

And what can the Joint Chiefs do for you today little one?

What indeed?  The ironies of this cartoon are at least two-fold:  First the assumption that children only ‘need’ us for things, that they are merely bundles of vulnerability that somehow find strength in the often-silly ‘uniforms,’ structures and speeches that we adults use to impress them.   And second, the assumption that ‘we’ have the wherewithal to deliver the goods for children, that we can somehow find the means to make the world ‘fit’ to sustain their normative and creative ambitions rather than leaving behind legacies of scarcity and violence that make the obsessive refuge of social media seem like a perfectly sane response to global circumstances.

On Wednesday, amidst a bevy of UN activity on sustainable development goals and targets, peacekeeping recommendations, ocean health and much more – all with ramifications for the safety and well-being of children —  the Security Council held an ‘open’ discussion on Children and Armed Conflict, with a specific focus on child recruitment perpetrated by ISIL and other terror groups.  As Council president for March, France organized the discussion and, it should be noted, was also instrumental in the early development of the thematic office of Children and Armed Conflict then run by Olara Otunnu and now by the Algerian Leila Zerrougui.

As with so many other crisis-laden conversations in Council chambers, this one combined frustration, sadness, righteous indignation, thoughtfulness and even some hopeful energy supplied by a former child soldier in DRC who has managed to thrive despite the horrors he endured, and perhaps even inflicted.  Needless to say, his story was heartwarming, though not necessarily representative.  Behind this ‘theme du jour’ lies the sober reality that so many children in this world may have already lost any meaningful chance to transition from violence-related trauma to creative engagement.  Urgings by Angola, Slovenia and other states for more psychological services for trauma-infected youth is wise policy, but with the caveat that, from a professional standpoint, the only certain way to address trauma successfully is to prevent its occurrence in the first place.

What there was little of during this Council discussion, thankfully, were facile recitations of the intrinsic value of education in countering planetary threats beyond what Lithuania and Save the Children referred to as the restoration of “normalcy” for victims.  Though this community often (and rightly) posits universal educational opportunity (especially at elementary and secondary levels) as one key to social stability and economic success, “getting ahead” in a world that seems to be slowly collapsing under its own hubris might not always be the most attractive option for children and youth, no matter how many school degrees (and school debts) they ultimately accumulate.

After all, what could children need from the adult world beyond the shaky promises of a sustainable future while conferring a bevy of expensive school diplomas representing a misleading assessment of their precious talents?  Isn’t that enough?

It’s not nearly enough.   Nor will solving ISIL’s forced recruiting and conversion madness, as important as that is, be enough.   As evil and civilization- threatening as ISIL and its ilk seems to be, it is not the only crisis for which we have deployed – and will deploy again – robust UN capacity. Nor are terrorists the only forces in the world inflicting suffering and future-deflating trauma on children.   Indeed, as SRSG Zerrougui noted, children are also victims of those of us responsible to protect them, agencies which at times have also demonstrably ‘fumbled the ball.’  Clearly, we have much work to do to ensure that our legacy for children is more hopeful and comprehensive than promoting school skills to help them navigate the coming wreckage.   We can and must do better than this.  As Malaysia and the Secretary General both reminded us, there are simply too many children in the world struggling to recover from the impact of “adult wars.” Too many of these children will simply not be able to handle the transition. The brutality of terrorists confers no plenary indulgences for our own transitional negligence.

As New Zealand sensibly noted this week, there is an irony to Council debates held in a windowless room far removed from any of the scenes of horror our resolutions seek to address.   For its part, Argentina asserted that ‘wisdom’ for dealing with our responsibilities to children is not something we’re born with, but rather something that we must practice with a prevention-oriented eye.   The world simply looks more manageable from the vantage point of a closed room full of overly-crafted policy positions no matter how many somber outside voices are invited to brief. As the human world gets younger, more restless, with values defined more by advertisers than by teachers, with youth more anxious about their collective future, and where stability in childhood is more and more elusive, we can’t jump to assumptions that our current protective preferences are in step with the long-term needs of future generations.  If we are to get in step, we’ll probably need to first ‘turn the heat down’ a bit, finding more time for consultation and prevention and earmarking fewer resources on reaction. We will also need to cultivate more measured wisdom to guide the urgent way forward, with less anger and moral righteousness. Adding a few more windows to the world – real and metaphorical – probably wouldn’t hurt either.

What can the Joint Chiefs, or the Security Council or the IMF do for you today little one?  Perhaps we can start by reminding ourselves of just how intolerable our adult lives would be without the presence of children in them. And once we accept the sublime gift that children represent, perhaps we can then accept the responsibility that the fields we so blithely cultivate now must have enough good soil left so that today’s children will have a realistic opportunity one day to plant and harvest for themselves.

Across programs and sectors, within and beyond the Security Council, the UN has many capable hands in this soil.   It’s incumbent on us to cultivate cooperatively, wisely and with greater earnestness. The children we neglect, abuse or even politicize today are much less likely to manage handling the sometimes grave challenges of their own adult lives.

Cross-Cutting Discussion in UNSC on Protection of Civilians

16 Feb

On Tuesday, 12 February, the Security Council held an open debate on the issue of “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.” Currently holding the presidency of the Council, the Republic of Korea’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade hosted the debate, while both Council members and non-members weighed in on the international community’s responsibility to protect unarmed populations victimized by parties to a conflict either intentionally or as an unintended consequences of fighting. The Secretary-General addressed the Council highlighting Afghanistan, Mali, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and South Sudan as examples of instances where civilians in large numbers continue to suffer. He also called out the conflict in Syria as a stark case of the “searing reminder of the human cost of war.” The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay, also briefed the Council and took the opportunity to highlight the dire situation for civilians in Syria calling on the Security Council to act immediately and refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. The Director of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also addressed the Council and chose to focus on three priorities in the context of protection of civilians (PoC)—threats to access to healthcare; the availability and use of arms; and the lack of compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL) by state and non-state actors.

Many delegates underscored the importance of the role of the Security Council in protecting civilians in conflict, in particular ensuring that peacekeeping operations, “where appropriate,” were mandated to play a part in prioritizing PoC and allocating resources commensurate with the circumstances. The discourse among the more than 70 speakers revealed that there remains a myriad of obstacles in conflict-affected communities as the international community seeks to address the difficult challenge of the responsibility to protect civilians when governments and parties cannot meet those obligations. The primary responsibility for the protection of civilians, it was reasserted, does lie with states, although, as the Secretary-General noted in his remarks, the obligation to protect civilians in conflict “does not rest solely with warring parties: we all have a responsibility to protect.” There was, as expected, some concern expressed over the potential manipulation of PoC mandates for purposes of ‘regime’ change or military intervention. The Iranian delegate, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), pointed out this danger, while the Nicaraguan delegation called PoC a “lofty” concept that has been manipulated in Libya and now in Syria. Moreover, the delegate of Pakistan noted that any conflation of the concepts of PoC and the Responsibility to Protect norm (RtoP) was likewise dangerous especially from the standpoint of preserving the integrity of peacekeeping operations The discomfort with, and even opposition to, application of PoC by stakeholders external to national authorities continues to be an ongoing challenge as politicization of the concept must find balance with the humanitarian concerns on the ground.

The importance of addressing the issue of PoC in conflict is, in and of itself, a significant part of the work  of the Security Council given its mandate to maintain international peace and security as well as its responsibility in formulating the mandate and renewals for robust peacekeeping operations. Nevertheless, the cross-cutting nature of PoC also grants the issue particular importance within the often siloed landscape of the UN system and its varied stakeholders. As noted by the delegate of Costa Rica, options for response to complex obligations with protection mandates must also become more diverse, including establishing early alert mechanisms, providing support for national authorities in protecting civilians, and providing assistance for the functioning of security-related and rule of law bodies. Related issues, including but not limited to the illicit trade and movement of small arms, violence against women and other gender-based violence, were also highlighted as key components of a comprehensive and effective PoC strategy. In light of the upcoming 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), some delegations chose to highlight the importance of this session’s thematic priority in this PoC context—violence against women and girls. Other security-related priorities such as the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), application of the RtoP norm, as well as the use of explosive weapons in populated areas all were made manifest during the discussion underscoring that any robust and effective human security agenda requires recognition of the linkages among different priorities.

As already noted, the forthcoming “Final Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty” set for 18-28 March received some attention during the debate beginning with the Secretary-General who referenced the poorly regulated trade in arms calling the free flow of weapons a significant contributor to violence against civilians. Likewise, the delegations of the ICRC, Australia, Egypt, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Uruguay, Sweden, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Lithuania, Mexico, Guatemala, and Montenegro were among those delegations that referenced the upcoming ATT negotiations in the context of PoC. Most of these delegations chose to highlight the importance of incorporating the concept of protecting civilians in the future ATT codifying circumstances where arms transfers should be denied should there be a risk that such weapons would be used to violate human rights, IHL, or otherwise harm civilians. The ICRC rightly called for an instrument that incorporates strict transfer criteria covering all categories of conventional weapons.

The use of explosive weapons in populated areas was also an issue raised by several delegations in the context of PoC as the indiscriminate humanitarian consequences of such weapons cause extensive harm to civilians. As noted by a study from UNIDIR’s Maya Brehm, explosive weapons have been shown to be a key threat to health care access, contributor to destruction of houses and assets as well as have long-term impacts on socio-economic and human development. In 2009, the Secretary-General identified the use of explosive weapons in populated areas as a core challenge to the protection of civilians in armed conflict and also called for more systematic data collection and estimation of associated human costs. At this debate, the delegations of Australia, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Germany, Chile, Qatar, and Spain were among those delegations that identified the use of explosive weapons in populated areas as a threat to PoC. In particular, the delegate of Germany noted that the indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Syria “…often caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide impact in densely populated areas, remains the most appalling aspect of the Syrian conflict.”

In addition to verbal debate, the Council adopted a Presidential Statement (S/PRST/2013/2) that recognizes the importance of strict compliance with IHL, human rights law, and refugee law, supports strengthened work of the International Criminal Court and related mechanisms for fighting impunity and increasing accountability, promotes systematic monitoring of PoC in conflict situations, and protects the unhindered access of humanitarian workers in situations of armed conflict. It is clear that such a discussion is useful not only for a better understanding of the concept of PoC and its practical application in situations of conflict, but also in allowing the international community to reflect on the multi-faceted nature of security and the need to effectively tackle multiple agenda items in an integrated and mutually-reinforcing manner. It is essential that issues such as violence against women and the use and availability of illicit arms are thought of as related aspects of the same security agenda, rather than concepts to always be taken up in isolated diplomatic fora.


–Katherine Prizeman

Security Council Open Debate on the Rule of Law: Challenges and Solutions

5 Feb

On Wednesday, 30 January, a brief “Open Debate on the Rule of Law” was held in the Security Council. There was not an extensive conversation by Council members or non-members of the Security Council. The meeting was called to order by the Pakistani Ambassador who currently holds the presidency this month, while UN Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, was invited to present a statement on the rule of law.

Rule of law is essentially meant to decrease conflict as well as decrease the probability of relapse into further conflict thereby directly contributing to both conflict resolution and recidivism prevention.

As a general theme, Mr. Eliasson reinforced the importance of promoting rule of law in international peace and security, as well as in conflict and post-conflict situations. By promoting and implementing international norms and standards, exemplary in 18 of the 23 current peacekeeping missions adopting provisions for the rule of law in their mandates, Mr. Eliasson reiterated the UN’s commitment to the advancing of the rule of law as formal international law.

The statement from the Deputy Secretary-General highlighted the Security Council’s approach, which compliments the mandates of the UNDP, UNHCR, and individual governments, in increasing the legitimacy of the rule of law.


The Security Council recognizes the challenges of broad acceptance and implementation of the rule of law within peacekeeping operations, as well as the difficulties in measuring, collecting and analyzing data in areas of intervention. Better collection of baseline data also proves to be a challenge, especially in an environment where impact and change is difficult to measure, and where impact tends to be uneven. It can also be difficult to identify which factors can be credited in situations of success.

The UN Security Council believes that enhancing field leadership can be used to carry out, and measure programs in respective areas, through continued systematic collection and analyzing of data.

Solutions Identified by the Security Council

• Coordinate support to the field through UNDP and UNHCR area programs.
• Evaluate the impact of work already done and create baseline data to measure progress.
• Recognize and place more importance on national ownership.
• Increase data collection in conflict and post-conflict states to strengthen the rule of law.
• Increase planning and prioritize in order to mitigate future risks.

Examples of Progress Made Using Data Collected

• Thus far, UNDP has been working in Haiti, Liberia and South Sudan to incorporate rule of law indicators such as, law enforcement and transformation measures.
• In Malawi, UNDP supported a baseline study, which has been used to shape the Government’s Democratic Governance Reform Strategy.
• In Bosnia and Herzegovina, data collected through public surveys have been used to develop National Transitional Justice Strategies.
• UNDP is expected to publish a “Users Guide to Measuring Rule of Law, Justice and Security Programs,” next year.
• The Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the UNHCR has developed the UN Rule of Law Indicators Project, which allows governments to gather information on law enforcement, the prison system and to measure and track changes over time.

Examples of Progress Made Through the United Nations, Individual Country and NGO Collaboration

• In Côte d’Ivoire, the Ministry of Justice, in conjunction with the UN peacekeeping mission, has reopened 17 courts and 22 prisons.
• The UN stabilization mission in Haiti has opened 18 legal aid offices.
• The Serbian government, in conjunction with local NGOs, has provided 20, 000 Roma with official documents to prevent them from becoming stateless. Furthermore, 250 individuals have been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, and more than 120 individuals have been convicted.

Overall, the United Nations Security Council has taken a holistic approach to development, justice and security by including rule of law in conflict and post-conflict situations, and by developing tools and systems to help states advance in this area. Continued collection of data will support national policymaking efforts as well as increase country responsibility, ownership and accountability. Current field initiatives are helping to deliver justice, and keep countries on track to building and achieving stability.

—Shari Smith

Shari is a new intern with Global Action for the spring semester.