From May 19-27, 2013, the African Union (AU) will hold its 21st summit in Addis Ababa. It will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) under the theme of “Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance.” It will also be almost ten years since the creation of the AU.
When the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the assembled heads of states and governments and representatives of the AU Commission, he will likely praise the remarkable strides made by the African continent and the dynamic partnership between the UN and the AU to address peace and security challenges in Africa.
Yet, just as UN-AU collaboration seemed to have reached an all-time high, a recent AU Peace and Security Council communiqué revealed new tensions in the relationship. The communiqué expressed concerns about UN Security Council resolution 2100 which authorized the creation of the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA), stressing that it “…is not in consonance with the spirit of partnership that the AU and the United Nations have been striving to promote for many years.” This came just one month after another AU statement expressed support for the transformation of the African-led support mission in Mali, AFISMA, into a UN operation. What happened to change the AU’s position?
The crisis in Mali has exposed important differences between the AU and the UN, stemming from divergent philosophies of peace operations and the Security Council’s decision not to follow the AU’s request for a UN-funded support package for AFISMA.
Further sources of tension emerged as the UN operation was authorized by the Security Council. This meant that the AU’s requests concerning key personnel and a central political role may have been ignored, and the deployment of MINUSMA was made contingent on certain criteria.
This situation once again revealed considerable mistrust between the two organizations, which must recognize that no amount of coordination mechanisms will completely prevent the political frictions that are bound to occur.
Nevertheless, as our recent report makes clear, the two organizations should continue to improve their bureaucratic interactions, and the AU should strengthen its capacity to articulate a timely, coherent, and effective voice in New York.
The crisis in Mali has exposed important differences between the African Union and United Nations. In December 2012, UN Security Council resolution 2085 authorized an African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA). However, in light of the slow African response, and at the request of the Malian authorities, on January 11, 2013, France launched Opération Serval, a military intervention to stop the rebel advance and recapture major urban settlements in the north of Mali. Opération Serval created new facts on the ground, and AFISMA’s deployment timetable was accelerated from the originally planned date of September 2013. The subsequent deployment of African troops was supported by voluntary contributions made at an emergency donor conference on January 29, 2013, in Addis Ababa.
Shortly afterwards, in February, a joint UN-AU-ECOWAS planning conference in Bamako finalized the revised and harmonized AFISMA Concept of Operations (CONOPS), which was adopted in March 2013 with the mission strength set at nearly 9,450 uniformed personnel. The door was also opened for thecreation of a UN peacekeeping operation in Mali, which would take over from AFISMA.
Human Rights Watch’s latest report “Death From the Skies” on atrocities in Syria covers the aerial attacks perpetrated by the Syrian security forces. Since these started in July 2012, they have only intensified to a disastrous effect on the Syrian people, killing at least 4,300 civilians, according to a source it quotes. In the report, 59 specific aggressions are documented, among them repeated—and therefore deliberate—attacks on hospitals and bakeries, which, under the current circumstances in the country, are two key institutions keeping war-torn areas from a complete societal breakdown. They also record the indiscriminate use of force, including cluster munitions and incendiary bombs in densely populated areas, providing the hard data behind the widely circulated images of streets lined by rows of buildings turned to rubble.
What makes this situation more desperate, however, are the obstacles that international parties concerned with the conflict in Syria, such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), face in acting, if not to solve, to at least alleviate the conflict. Since protests and their repression—the latter unstoppably fuelling the former—started in earnest in early 2011, HRW has gone to great lengths to cover the terrible bloodshed in Syria: the New York-based organization has produced seven reports and dozens of press releases denouncing the atrocities. Perhaps reflecting a sense of helplessness and pessimism shared by all parties involved, the pace of production seems to have slowed down somewhat; nine months have passed since their previous report, “Torture Archipelago.” This is possibly the result of the fact that they cannot say things more clearly or loudly than they have already; the horror hasn’t stopped—if anything it has intensified—and there is little that is new about it.
There are serious and mounting challenges to covering Syria. Other than the high levels of violence, HRW is actually banned from the country by the regime. HRW is quite open about this specific—and quite fundamental—constraint, which limits its fieldwork to the rebel-controlled areas. In the press release presenting “Death from the Skies,” they state clearly that “Human Rights Watch was able to visit only sites in opposition-controlled areas in northern Syria because the government has denied Human Rights Watch access to the rest of the country.” One consequence of this ban is that HRW’s capacity to document the atrocities carried out by the rebels is severely curtailed.
Another important omission—central to the current debate over Syria at the UN, and again a reflection of the paralysis afflicting external actors in this conflict—is that the report mentions nothing about the use of chemical weapons. Their use by the Syrian regime is the red line drawn by President Obama that would be a game changer, potentially provoking the US to intervene, and so recent allegations have caused a great deal of tension among members of the Security Council, with Russia being particularly sensitive to any discussion of the issue. After the Western participation in the war in Libya, which it interpreted as an abuse of the Security Council resolution that sanctioned it, Russia has consistently and staunchly opposed any military intervention in Syria.
Indeed, some at the UN argue that the sequence of events in Libya, hailed as the most palpable example of the “responsibility-to-protect” doctrine—otherwise known as R2P—is actually the nail in the coffin of this concept, given that Russia will never again allow a similar resolution to pass at the Security Council. The “Libya model” is nevertheless still being pushed by those trying to precipitate a more forceful intervention in Syria, which in turn provokes a heated debate as to the differences and similarities between the two.
With sad, drooping eyes framing a concerned and gloomy expression, the ambassador of Syria to the United Nations is often summoned to the headquarters of the international organization in midtown Manhattan, where he arrives in a small, understated van–a low-end vehicle in a leaden shade of silver.
Having to defend daily a regime responsible for the death of tens of thousands provides many obvious reasons why he should look anxious. However, the recent appointment by the Syrian opposition of a prime minister is not just another small addition to his pile of anxieties; it brings him one step closer to being replaced as the Syrian representative to the UN.
Control of the UN seat is certainly in the sights of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the most widely recognized Syrian opposition group. The appointment of Ghassan Hitto as prime minister in waiting took place this month in time for them to occupy for the first time the Syrian chair at the League of Arab States summit March 26, in Doha (Syria’s membership had been suspended since November 2011). Hitto was not even required to form of a full-fledged government prior to attending the meeting in Doha, which is a reflection of the amount of interest there is in pushing this initiative forward, and an indicator of the influence that Qatar, a major backer of the coalition, has assumed during these last two years over the League of Arab States.
The meeting was also a platform to lobby for UN acceptance of the coalition as representative of Syria. In theory, UN recognition should follow an objective procedure, the reality is that the process is open to the relative influence of states. It is not just the result of a government meeting a set of criteria, but also about the preferences of individual member states and their capacity to mobilize others.1
In this environment, a number of factors indicate that the group could make a convincing argument for also taking over the Syrian delegation at the UN. The wide support of the Syrian opposition among member states is probably its greatest asset. Diplomatic sources and media reports claim that it would easily gain a majority of votes in the General Assembly—one source quoted by Al-Hayat cited 137 countries. This estimate is probably based on the level of support for UN General Assembly resolution 66/253, passed on February 2012, which condemned the human rights violations in Syria and endorsed the Arab League plan for the crisis, including a political transition negotiated between Syrian government and “the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition.” And if further proof of support is needed, the SNC received the backing of more than a hundred governments at the Friends of the Syrian People conference held in Marrakesh last December. Thus, despite the fact that Russia and China are expected to use their influence against such a move in the Security Council and the Credentials Committee, where both are present and powerful, the coalition could obtain a majority of votes in the General Assembly with relative ease, and therefore gain real room for maneuvering.
“All the energy, virtually, in South Sudan, has been sucked into the South Sudan-Sudan relationship, and very limited energy resources have been focused on core statebuilding and nation-building priorities,” said Hilde Johnson, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS).
Though Ms. Johnson said, “We have seen progress, despite all the tensions, all the troubles, and all the energy going elsewhere.”
Ms. Johnson had just spoken at the International Peace Institute about the work of UNMISS in South Sudan, and she explained why she focused her talk on protection of civilians. “The assumption of many South Sudanese was that the mission was here to protect the territories or the sovereignty of South Sudan; we're supposed to protect them against any aggression across the border,” she said. “However, that is not the mandate of the mission.”
She said the challenge has been overcoming that perception and the disappointment people feel when they learn that UNMISS is not a border-monitoring mission or buffer-zone mission between Sudan and South Sudan. “We’re actually here to protect civilians within the country's borders,” she said.
Ms. Johnson said that despite conflict in some hotspot areas, some engagements have led to the prevention of conflict.
“The challenge, of course, is that these successes are invisible, because when nothing happens, people don’t know that the engagement has succeeded. And so, that’s maybe the paradox in peacekeeping—that if your political work succeeds, then you are not really being recognized for the efforts that had been made.”
The interview was conducted by Warren Hoge, Senior Adviser at the International Peace Institute.
Warren Hoge: Our guest today in the Global Observatory is Hilde F. Johnson, Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) and Head of the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan, known as UNMISS. South Sudan is the newest of the 193 Member States of the UN, having been created only 18 months ago. Hilde Johnson is uniquely qualified to take on this job, since she was deeply involved in the negotiations behind the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 that ended a 22-year-old war that had cost 2 million lives, and ultimately led six years later to the founding of South Sudan. Hilde, you had described the many problems South Sudan has encountered in its early months, as South Sudan getting a divorce from Sudan before the divorce papers were ready. What has happened to make this birth of a nation so difficult and why has it happened?
Hilde Johnson: Well clearly, South Sudan is a little above one and a half years old, so still a toddler by every measure, and even more challenging, when we are in a situation where a number of the issues that should've been sorted out before independence, were delayed. And hence, we've seen to some extent an escalation of tension between Sudan and South Sudan in the absence resolving those issues. We saw the disputes on the oil with the shut down, we've seen hostilities on the border in March-April last year. And all the energy, virtually, in South Sudan has been sucked into the South Sudan-Sudan relationship, and very limited energy and resources have been focused on core state-building and nation-building priorities. And that of course has a significant impact on the country and on its ability to move forward, so in a way, it’s been hostage to this situation.
The connection between small arms/light weapons and aggravated violence against women and girls was powerfully acknowledged in last week’s agreed conclusions of the UN Commission of the Status of Women (CSW); this week, however, that connection is about to be weakened in the proposed Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which begins negotiations on the text this week. The draft text of the ATT has provided a loophole for some member states to consider acts of sexual and gender-violence as not legitimate grounds for prohibiting a weapons transfer. Given Australia’s role as chair of upcoming ATT conference, there are ways the Australian government could help reverse this.
Article 4 in the draft text of the proposed Arms Trade Treaty has significantly watered down language around sexual- and gender-based violence as a condition for preventing arms trades.
Though only 75 member states have declared support for the inclusion of gender in the ATT, there is strong political and legal precedent for its inclusion.
As chair of the ATT, the Australian government is well-positioned to advocate in favor of SGBV’s inclusion in Article 4.
From March 18-28, 2013, member states will convene at the UN Conference of an Arms Trade Treaty in an attempt to pass what they failed to do in July 2012: establish common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.
Analysts following the ATT process have noted a number of the problems with the draft text. One of these concerns relates to Article 4, where states are to establish a “national risk assessment criteria’” that will reduce arms sales and transfers if they could pose a threat to international peace and security. Presently within Article 4, the only time gender-based violence appears is in Article 4 (6) which calls for exporting states to take “feasible measures” to ensure that weapons transfers and sales are not used for, among other things, gender-based violence. These measures are not mandatory and in contrast to earlier Article 4(2) and 4(5), both of which refer to any violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law as grounds for the transfer to not occur.
As Reaching Critical Will has outlined, this is unacceptable for two reasons. First, gender-based violence —particularly acts of widespread and systematic sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV)—can violate international law under the 1998 Rome Statute. As such, demarcating gender-based violence from 4(2) to be listed in 4(6) either gives way to a view held by some states that acts of sexual and gender-violence do not always violate international law or that these acts are not legitimate grounds for prohibiting a weapons transfer.
There is strong political and legal precedent for this to be reversed and for the term SGBV to be included in any national risk assessment criteria that would lead to denial of a weapons transfer on the grounds that these acts are both a violation of international law and a threat on international peace and security. For example, in 2000, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1325 that stated in its preamble, “Recognizing that an understanding of the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, effective institutional arrangements to guarantee their protection and full participation in the peace process can significantly contribute to the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security.”
Well into the fourth and final week of its annual session, the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations–better known as C-34–has hardly started negotiations on the text of the report it is expected to adopt by Friday, March 15. However, there is reason to argue that this slow start is not necessarily bad news for the Committee and, more broadly, for those who believe that the UN General Assembly is capable and willing to provide political guidance to the some 100,000 peacekeepers currently at work around the world.
Missing the deadline has recently become a habit for the C-34, whose yearly report, due for March, has been adopted in May in 2011 and in September last year, so no one would be shocked if this year’s agreement would be reached in the extra time. More important, the apparent reason for the current delay lies not in major disagreements within the membership on substantive issues, but rather on the modalities to implement much needed reform in the Committee working methods, including the final format of the annual report.
There is agreement on reforming C-34 working methods, and encouraging steps have been already agreed upon. Finding a compromise on outstanding issues is perfectly feasible, since there are only small differences between the positions.
Should procedural issues prove harder to be solved than expected, committee members should consider moving forward on the substance of the report, where consensus exists on the majority of the text and divergences are limited, in order not to waste time and political momentum.
At the end of the day, the C-34 is the only UN body charged with comprehensive review and guidance of UN peacekeeping operations, one of the most prominent and challenging of the many functions carried on by the universal body. Repeated delays in the C-34’s work, and failure to implement gradual but vital changes, might undermine its role and legitimacy, while successful reform can send a powerful signal on the organization’s capability to reform itself.
The C-34 was established in 1965 with a mandate to conduct a comprehensive review of all aspects of peacekeeping operations, but in fact it was devised to tackle the financial crisis generated by the refusal by some member states to pay their share for the recently completed operation in the Congo. In 1989, its annual report was less than one page long; in 2012, it reached a record size of 64 pages, divided in 274 paragraphs.
No doubt peacekeeping has grown in size and complexity over the last twenty-five years; however, the length of the report reflects also a current pathology in multilateral periodic deliberations; a type of inertia where new issues are quickly taken on board, while topics which are no longer relevant survive indefinitely. Considering also the delicate balance of a text where each of its 26,000 words is tied to the rest (according to the well-known UN formula “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”), it is easy to understand why each year the text grows longer, to the point of losing the sense of priority and effectiveness.
Rebel groups are having a decisive impact on international peace and security, and many contemporary conflicts are characterized by the disintegration of states and the emergence of armed rebel groups. As Mark Drumbl writes in his excellent new book Reimagining Child Soldiers in International Law and Policy: “New wars involve splintering of warring parties, deployment of violence by non-state actors, the emergence of militias and other paramilitary syndicates, mutual and frequent infliction of international humanitarian law violations, and the proliferation of small arms among the general population.”
Multilateral sanctions have become one of the key responses to these groups by the international system. Rather than act against the states in which they operate, the Security Council has sanctioned many groups and their leaders under Article 41 of the UN Charter, including al-Shabaab (Somalia), LURD (Liberia), M23 (Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)), COJEP (Côte d’Ivoire), SLA (Sudan), UNITA (Angola), RUF (Sierra Leone), and the RCD (DRC).
In general, targeted sanctions include an asset freeze, travel ban, and arms embargo. In countries with porous borders and informal financial systems, however, these measures are difficult to implement and enforce. Indeed, rebels live in remote areas and keep their money outside of official banking institutions, are unlikely to be affected.
Targeted sanctions against rebels and armed groups, therefore, generally contain three additional features: (i) commodity sanctions on minerals or natural resources (such as timber) to starve rebels of their financing, (ii) incorporation of international humanitarian and human rights norms, and (iii) references to internal conditions in the country, by, for example, condemning widespread violence against women and children, or calling for free and fair elections.
Security Council Resolution 2078 (2012) on the DRC is illustrative of these trends in that it reaffirms the travel, asset, and arms sanctions established in Resolution 1857 (2008), but then applies them specifically to foreign military groups and Congolese militias, individuals, and other entities. Moreover, the resolution highlights the linkage between the illegal exploitation of natural resources and the exacerbation of conflicts.
In this interview, Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq and the Head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), said that decades of UN Security Council sanctions imposed on Iraq created a negative impression of the institution among Iraqis, but that is changing. He said the deaths of 24 UN staff members, including the then-SRSG, in Baghdad in 2003 was a turning point. “I think this paved the way to an image of a new UN,” he said.
One problem for the UN in Iraq is making itself known. “Whenever I am at checkpoints, and we are asked where we are from, we say, ‘We are from the UN,’ and then people at the checkpoints tend to answer, ‘Oh yes, from the US.’”
Mr. Kobler discussed what UNAMI is doing in Iraq to assist the Iraqi government and help the Iraqi people, particularly in the areas of youth and environment.
“Fifty percent of the country is below the age of 18,” he said. However, most Iraqi youth are seeking to go abroad, causing “brain drain.”
Part of why they choose to leave is because they fear the existing terrorist threats. “Every day, 10 to 15 people still die on the streets of Baghdad,” he said.
Another reason is a lack of job opportunities. “There is not a good investment climate in the country. There is no private enterprise there which could bring the country ahead,” he said. A bad education system, with universities teaching curricula that date back to the 1980s, and rampant corruption in the public sector’s job market also discourage youth, he added.
“My appeal is to the government: give private companies more space, reduce red tape, reduce bureaucracy, have a one-stop shop for investors… These are framework conditions the government has to create in order to stop the brain drain,” he explained.
Mr. Kobler, who had just come from a sand-storm conference arranged by UNEP and the Kuwaiti Ministry of Environment, also hoped to bring environmental issues onto UNAMI’s political agenda.
In Iraq, the number of sand and dust storms has doubled in the past five years, partly due to climate change, and party due to environmental degradation.
“The practical idea is, together with UNEP in Nairobi, to create, with real money, huge green belts from Anbar province at the border of Jordan, down to Karbala, and down to the Kuwaiti border,” he said.
“I think it’s very important for the future generation, and one has to tackle it now,” he added.
The interview was conducted by Warren Hoge, IPI Senior Adviser for External Relations.
Warren Hoge: Our guest today in the Global Observatory is Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq and Head of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, known as UNAMI. He has been in this job since August of last year.
Roger Nash’s academic work has focused on human rights and the UN field presence in conflict, and he is the co-author of a new report based on a two-year global research study for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
In this interview, Mr. Nash said that, for effectiveness, being in the field is “a whole other ball game," saying it allows for meetings with different key actors such as human rights activists and police who may be committing abuses. "You don’t just get to talk to the high-level people; it’s not just broadcast on the international stage," he said. "You have a hundred more opportunities to influence people."
Mr. Nash said that the UN has “normally been a big asset” and that UN field presences “should very much keep in mind their particular added value as the UN, and that means that they have a particular profile, and ability to say things safely that maybe others don’t have.” Though he also said that some member states see the UN as associated with certain political interests, especially when the mission is integrated with a military component.
One of the recommendations that came out of the report was for the UN human rights presence to grow. “We think that the work is very effective—particularly cost effective—and we recommend more of them, that it happens in more countries, that there’s greater number of people, more human rights officers working in more countries, because that’s the way they’re going to have more impact,” he said.
The interview was conducted by Warren Hoge, IPI Senior Adviser for External Relations. Listen to interview (or download mp3):
Warren Hoge: Roger Nash of Fieldview Solutions is the co-author of a new report from a two-year global research study for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The report is entitled “Influence on the Ground: Understanding and Strengthening the Protection Impact of United Nations Human Rights Field Presences,” and Roger is here in the Global Observatory today to walk us through it.
The precarious state of security across the Middle East and North Africa are making some development experts nervous. Is security a precondition for sustained social and economic improvements? Or is development essential for security to take hold? This is precisely the question facing the international community as it plans the next generation of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they expire in a few years’ time.
While very few observers doubt the value of adding a security goal to the post-2015 development framework, disagreements persist about how such an objective might be framed and measured. Some United Nations member states are concerned about just how far the “security” agenda should go. While part of the challenge is semantic, others are political.
Personal security is a permanent aspect of life everywhere in the world, whether one lives in in a city, town, or village, and is not the preserve of just a small handful. Just one in 10 violent deaths (55,000) occurs in countries experiencing outright warfare.
There is ample evidence that personal insecurity has negative implications for development.
There are a number of ways to frame a personal security goal, and there is every reason to believe that a bold goal would provide decision makers with a powerful incentive to invest in violence prevention and reduction.
Personal security is, by definition, a highly political issue touching on essential functions of the state, the nature of the social contract, and the effectiveness of service delivery, particularly security organs.
The International Peace Institute is an independent, international not-for-profit think tank dedicated to promoting the prevention and settlement of conflicts between and within states by strengthening international peace and security institutions. To achieve its purpose, IPI employs a mix of policy research, convening, publishing and outreach.
More regional cohesion is being sought by some Southeast Asian nations, while violence and tensions within and between states continue to hamper economic and social progress. Read GO articles about Southeast Asia >>