Germany brings diplomatic weight to the UN Security Council, to which it was elected on 8th June. The German government should use this advantage to support mediation and peace processes as priorities of its two-year membership. It should focus on three central instruments in this regard: refining sanctions, accountability of troop contributing countries, as well as the organization of more flexible visiting missions by Security Council diplomats.
Every eight years, Germany joins the playing field of major powers at the United Nations. Newly elected members to the UN Security Council like Germany have to prove themselves vis-à-vis the five permanent members every time anew. In the midst of political quarrels about the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the daily management of peace operations, the attention on the core purpose of the Council, to maintain international peace and security, gets lost all too easily. Germany should thus strive to strengthen peace processes and mediation efforts through the Security Council.
Germany is an unusually resourceful non-permanent member
Non-permanent members of the Security Council only have limited influence. The veto power of China, France, Russia, the UK, and the USA is not the only reason for that. Those countries also possess continuous experience in the negotiations, issues, and countries that shape the Council’s agenda. In this game of major powers, smaller members might at most be able to build bridges, improve working methods, or make small substantial suggestions.
As fourth largest financial contributor to the UN’s regular budget and, despite deficits, an important actor on the diplomatic floor, Germany needs to aim higher. In a number of countries on the Security Council’s agenda, German diplomats already play a substantial role. In those cases, the German government should use its membership in the Council as an additional diplomatic forum, whose approaches and instruments have their own benefits. Together with its European partners Germany can, for example, promote the maintenance of the nuclear agreement with Iran, demand humanitarian access and accountability for war crimes in Syria, prepare a peace operation in Ukraine, support the negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and shape the reconstruction of liberated areas in Iraq. Germany already has a leading position in all these contexts due to its existing channels and contacts – this should be reflected in the Security Council.
Peace operations need to be guided by a political strategy
Reaching consensus among its members on the overarching political objectives that should guide its crisis management is probably the biggest challenge for the Security Council. The High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO) already demanded in its seminal 2015 report that peace operations should always follow a political strategy. Otherwise they run the risk of being driven by military considerations, and of falling prey to the diverging interests of the conflict parties. In fragile contexts such as Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo or South Sudan, there are incessant threats to the civilian population that can justify international protection measures, as the former UN staff member Ralph Mamiya observes. Yet without a political process, there can be no structuring priorities that could guide the strategic deployment of scarce resources and a foreseeable withdrawal of international troops.
Naturally, there are manifest reasons for the lack of political strategies in the UN Security Council. For one thing, these are genuinely difficult questions without obvious and easy solutions. Moreover, the work of the Council relies on hard-fought compromises, which result in frequently vague or complicated language. Furthermore, in some situations, such as in South Sudan, there is no functioning peace agreement that could guide the actions of a peace operation.
Germany should encourage strategic thinking in the Security Council
Germany cannot remove these structural deficits in two years. Neither does it have the diplomatic capacities to work out a strategy for each situation on the Security Council’s agenda . The German government thus needs to set clear priorities. German diplomats can encourage the Security Council to think more strategically. The more interactive and informal the discussions before the proper negotiations are, the more fruitful the latter are in many cases.
The German government could take its cue from Sweden, which, together with Peru, organized a retreat for all ambassadors in the Security Council this year. The Permanent Mission in New York can also organize events at the sidelines of official meetings and informal briefings in line with the Arria formula. This would bring the perspectives of civil society organizations of affected countries as well as experts on current mediation and negotiation processes to Manhattan. Lastly, Germany could organize a thematic debate on the contribution of the whole UN system to peace processes during one of its two monthly presidencies of the Security Council. This debate should address the limitations of the Security Council head on and tackle its cooperation with other UN entities such as special envoys, special rapporteurs, and the UN Development Program.
Using clear listing criteria for targeted sanctions
The improvement of the Council’s working atmosphere and quality of discussion aside, Germany should focus its “peace first” attention on three core instruments of the Security Council: refining targeted sanctions, the accountability of troop contributing countries, as well as the organization of more flexible visiting missions by Security Council diplomats.
The Security Council maintains 14 sanctions regimes, some of which explicitly aim to support peace and transition processes, for example in South Sudan, Mali, or Libya. Theoretically, such sanctions should not primarily punish individuals, but incentivize them to participate in peace processes in a constructive manner through travel bans and asset freezes. In reality, the restraints of those sanctions are often too slow and too backwards-oriented to actually influence mediation efforts substantially. Germany has contributed to the reform of UN sanctions since the late 1990s. As a member of the sanctions committees (and chair of some of them), it should promote the implementation of clear listing and delisting criteria in every single case.
Vetting troop contributing countries
Hardly anything is as damaging to the reputation of UN peace operations as incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA), as well as a lack of readiness to act decisively to protect civilians at risk in their vicinity. Secretary-General António Guterres has already introduced important reforms in this area. Yet, German Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, when asked about his plans to tackle the issue in the Security Council at a recent event in New York , could only think of the inclusion of more women in troop contingents. However, a more stringent and systematic vetting of all troop contingents regarding their previous human rights records in domestic settings, would be more important in this context. The deployment of 49 non-vetted Sri Lankan soldiers in Lebanon this year demonstrated that the current UN procedures are not sufficient.
Using its increased credibility as troop contributor in Mali, Germany should promote stronger accountability of all troop contributing countries. Based on an existing Security Council resolution, the UN secretary-general should ban states that do not sufficiently investigate allegations of sexual exploitations and abuse against their soldiers from future missions until they improve their procedures. Similarly, performance assessments of troop contingents, such as the ones requested by the Security Council for the UN Mission in South Sudan after a special review, should also be conducted for all other missions.
Make visiting missions more flexible and geared towards crisis management
German diplomats like to point out that they would prioritize conflict prevention in the Security Council. Rarely do they go into the details of the Council’s added value in political crises – and where it might be counterproductive. One important instrument for early crisis management are visiting missions of Security Council diplomats. Under the leadership of up to three members, representatives of all 15 member states fly to a region to talk to the relevant actors on the ground.
Germany should prepare and lead such a mission if the opportunity presents itself. Potential destinations could be Sudan or South Sudan, where Germany has supported dialogue and mediation processes. At the same time, Germany should strive for more flexible mission formats, which could deploy a small delegation of the Security Council and key UN officials more quickly.
Stand up for peace and prevention
A stronger focus on the promotion of peace and transition processes in the Security Council will meet resistance. China, Russia, and a number of member states from the Global South are quick to refer to state sovereignty in the context of international mediation efforts in authoritarian states. The Trump administration in the United States undermines diplomatic processes on Iran and Syria and moves to cut the budget of UN peace operations even in places where violence and conflict are on the rise as in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As former colonial powers, the UK and France hold back on Cameroon, while the conflict about the Anglophone areas is escalating.
With its ambition to promote peace and conflict prevention, Germany must not shy away from conflicts in the Security Council. At the same time, it should rely on stable partnerships and frequent exchange with its European partners as well as countries like South Africa. The latter will also be a member of the Security Council from 2019 and started pursueing more multilateral solutions under President Cyril Ramophosa.
At the end of its membership in the Council, the German government should order an independent evaluation of its diplomacy around the horseshoe table. The objective: learning lessons for its next candidacy to join the playing field of major powers.
Written evidence to the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee for its Inquiry on “Responsibility to Protect and humanitarian intervention”
The main value of R2P was as an impetus to conceptual and political debates as well as a tool for policy entrepreneurs to galvanize public attention, mainly in domestic contexts.
R2P has not substantially changed the existence of global power inequalities, domestic incentives for foreign policy making, or the proclivity of violent actors to use force indiscriminately if it suits their objectives.
There are no generalized exemptions from the prohibition on the use of force outside the UN Charter. Any General Assembly resolution could only provide an, albeit strong, political signal of legitimacy, not a legal one.
In UN debates and diplomacy, the concept of R2P should be retired and replaced by a more operational focus on atrocity prevention.
The UK can make use of the notion of “universal jurisdiction” to prepare cases against foreign individuals responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. With the central position of the UK in the global financial system, it could also engage more forcefully in combating money laundering by elites that are responsible for such crimes.
The UK should include explicit assessments of atrocity risks, including identity-based violence, in its country strategies.
I am a PhD candidate at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London as well as a non-resident fellow at the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi), an independent Berlin-based think tank. Between 2012 and 2015, I was involved in a major international research project entitled “Global Norm Evolution and the Responsibility to Protect”, which brought together seven international partner institutions from Europe as well as Brazil, China, and India and was coordinated at GPPi. The main objective of the research project was to investigate how the idea of a Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was faring in the context of a changing global order. All our academic and policy publications are accessible on the following website: http://www.globalnorms.net/.
This submission builds on that research, as well as my research on the diplomacy of conflict prevention and peacemaking in the context of my PhD project since then. While it builds on collaborative research, it only represents the views of the author and not necessarily any of the institutions that I am affiliated with. Taking the questions posed by the Committee as a starting point, the submission starts with a discussion of the concept of R2P and what (not) to expect from it. It then highlights a few issues with the implementation of the political commitment to R2P globally. Subsequently, the submission discusses the idea of a “humanitarian intervention”, before it concludes with ideas and recommendations for reform of the discourse and practice of R2P.
The concept of the Responsibility to Protect
The adoption of the three paragraphs on R2P in the World Summit outcome document of 2005 needs to be seen in its proper historical context (UN General Assembly 2005, para. 138-140). It was a response to the heated discussions of the preceding one and a half decades. These are well known and include the acknowledgement of catastrophic failures faced with genocide in Rwanda and ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s as well as the divisions in the Security Council regarding the situation in the Kosovo in 1999. The creation of R2P included an important conceptual shift from earlier debates about “humanitarian intervention”: instead of focussing on the rights of intervening powers, R2P highlighted the responsibilities of all UN member states to prevent atrocity crimes (International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty 2001). Instead of explicitly qualifying state sovereignty, it emphasized the sovereign responsibility of governments for the protection of their populations from atrocity crimes (Evans 2008).
R2P is a political commitment by UN member states, not a legal one. Endorsed by a then record number of heads of state and government, the World Summit outcome document has a high legitimacy, but does not constitute international legal obligations comparable to an international treaty. Notably, it does not change the existing legal context for the use of force under the UN Charter. The use of “timely and decisive action” remains firmly tied to the UN Security Council.
The main value of R2P was as an impetus to conceptual and political debates as well as a tool for policy entrepreneurs to galvanize public attention. After its adoption, UN officials sought to operationalize its meaning and implications for the UN system (Murthy and Kurtz 2016). The work by subsequent UN Special Advisors on the Responsibility to Protect as well as UN Special Advisors on the Prevention of Genocide is particularly pertinent in this regard. As a result of detailed interpretation and wide-ranging consultations, Edward Luck, the first UN Special Advisor on the Responsibility to Protect, developed the three-pillar framework of R2P: government responsibility, international assistance, and timely and decisive action (UN Secretary-General 2009). This framework has since structured conceptual debates among member states about R2P.
The three-pillar framework has allowed a comprehensive focus: by including the essentially uncontested responsibilities under pillars one and two, it made it easier to also discuss much more controversial policy options if governments are “manifestly failing” to protect their populations. Exactly because coercive measures are contested among UN member states, however, relatively few official debates and reports capitalized on that opportunity.
At the same time, controversies on the utility – and abuse – of the use of force could taint the overall concept. Nowhere has this been clearer than in the aftermath of the decision of the Security Council to mandate UN member states to use “all necessary means” to protect civilians in Libya in March 2011 (UN Security Council 2011). As the oral testimony to the committee also acknowledged, the interveners’ shift from a narrow focus on protecting civilians in Benghazi to a much wider demand for regime change in Libya (Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy 2011) seriously undermined the credibility of R2P in the eyes of a global audience (Brockmeier, Stuenkel and Tourinho 2016).
As a tool for policy entrepreneurs, R2P has allowed civil society organisations and members of parliament to refer to their respective government’s responsibility to engage in political debates about adequate action to respond to atrocity crimes – the current inquiry is a case in point. It has provided civil society organisations with a way to frame their demands for diplomatic, humanitarian, human rights, and judicial engagement by pointing to a political commitment that all governments have signed up to on a global level. The Global Center on R2P, for example, is a New York-based NGO dedicated to the implementation and promotion of R2P. The International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect brings together civil society organizations from around the world with a shared objective. The efforts of these organisations increase awareness among policymakers, officials, and the general public for atrocity crimes, they provide analysis and regular country monitoring, and organize training and capacity building events.
On the global level, our research found that R2P has not been an effective tool to mobilize action between 2004 and 2014. Where there was international agreement, visible through UN Security Council actions, the frame of “genocide” and historical analogies to Rwanda and Srebrenica were much more powerful than references to R2P – including in the decision by Western powers to intervene in Libya in 2011 (Kurtz and Rotmann 2016: 6). No draft Security Council resolution is more likely to be adopted by consensus just because it contains a reference to R2P.
R2P has not resolved geopolitical divisions in the UN Security Council, nor has it made international responses in the most protracted cases of atrocities more likely. The expectation, where it exists, that a political concept like R2P could in and of itself solve some of the most contested questions in international relations and drive political action, is too high. Any idea about an international legal obligation for member states to intervene in situations where atrocities are committed creates unreasonable expectations of international law and global politics. No government can be expected to commit troops on behalf of another country’s population without domestic considerations on a case-by-case basis. Furthermore, it is rarely clear which specific international actions would be effective and proportional to prevent atrocities in a given situation.
The implementation of R2P
Where the salience of a situation has been very high for the permanent members of the UN Security Council, consensus has remained difficult to achieve. The situation in Syria illustrates this dynamic well. Again, R2P has not substantially changed the existence of global power inequalities, domestic incentives for foreign policy making, or the proclivity of violent actors to use force indiscriminately if it suits their objectives.
The inclusion of R2P in the World Summit outcome document was a manifestation of a larger underlying normative change. This normative evolution has also been visible in related fields of the universality of human rights, the development of international criminal law, and in the debate about “protection” in humanitarian action and peacekeeping. R2P should be seen as an instrument in the promotion and contestation of these “norms of protection” (Kurtz and Rotmann 2016: 18). The carriers of this normative evolution have come from all corners of the earth, including from Africa, where most of today’s conflicts take place. As our research project on global debates about the meaning and interpretation of R2P has shown, there is a very wide acceptance of the fundamental normative tenet of R2P: atrocity crimes require international action. How such action may look like in practice, has remained less clear unfortunately (Benner et al. 2015).
The evolution of those norms does not follow a linear path, but they do shape the social context in which international politics takes place. Research has shown, for example, that the ratification of the Rome Statute and investigative actions by the International Criminal Court exerts a deterrent effect on the commission of atrocity crimes (Jo and Simmons 2016).
Inconsistency, hypocrisy, and contradictions undermine the evolution of norms of protection as well as the credibility of R2P. Policymakers should devote greater attention to the permissive effects of their statements and policies in this area. The focus on “red lines” on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, for example, by President Obama and, more recently, by President Macron, not only set their users up to follow through on their threats. They also gave the impression that atrocities committed by conventional means are somewhat more acceptable. Even if governments denounce the killing of civilians rhetorically, such ultimatums and threats send a contradicting message.
A similar permissive effect could be observed regarding narrowing action in Syria against ISIS/Da’esh, thus sparing the Syrian regime. In 2014, when the US government, in conjunction with its allies, took the decision to militarily intervene against ISIS/Da’esh, it may have been too late to broaden the intervention to include anti-regime actions (Yacoubian 2017: 27). A more detailed investigation of the permissive effects of this decision on the dynamics of the Syrian civil war notwithstanding, the focus on counterterrorism risked sending a signal that massive violence against civilians by the Syrian government did not attract the same kind of coercive punishment as the violence committed by ISIS/Da’esh.
Similarly, continuing support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, including by arms exports, undermines the UK’s credibility on atrocity prevention in Yemen. British military support to the Saudi-led coalition also undermines UK aid and diplomacy for a political solution in Yemen, as such support empowers a military approach to the crisis. As the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2017) said in September 2017, “[c]oalition airstrikes continue to be the leading cause of civilian casualties, including of children.” The UK should immediately halt all arms exports to Saudi Arabia and all other members of the coalition involved in the war in Yemen.
The idea of a “humanitarian intervention”
The committee asked for evidence on the question whether the concept of a “humanitarian intervention” was recognized as an exemption to the general prohibition of the use of force under the UN Charter. I am not an international lawyer, but it seems to be very clear to me that there is no international consensus that the doctrine of “humanitarian intervention” could provide an exemption to Art. 2 (4) of the UN Charter. Indeed, the general prohibition of the threat and use of force remains an important achievement in international law. It cannot be incumbent on UN member states to create an exemption from this fundamental norm by themselves. The bar to any use of force outside the UN Charter is therefore very high, as it should be. Without the resort to any court of law that could interpret unilateral justifications for the use of force, the concept of “humanitarian intervention” opens the door to abuse. Furthermore, the concept is tainted with a very problematic history, including the French operation Turquoise during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Framed as humanitarian intervention, it ended up helping perpetrators to escape into neighbouring Zaire.
If “humanitarian intervention” does not provide the legal justification for military action without UN Security Council mandate or in self-defence, what can? In any given situation, potential interveners should contemplate whether military force is really the last resort, urgently needed, and an effective and proportional instrument. If they conclude that military action fulfils these criteria, they should at least seek a wider international agreement in the UN General Assembly. Any resolution adopted by the General Assembly under such circumstances would not have the force of law, in my understanding. There are no generalized exemptions from the prohibition on the use of force outside the UN Charter – they would undermine the whole system. A political statement in the form of a resolution of the General Assembly would, however, provide a strong signal of legitimacy. It cannot undo the fundamental power inequalities inherent in the international order, which are manifested by the authority of the UN Security Council and the power of its permanent members.
The need for reform
The concept of the responsibility to protect was developed to spur international action on atrocity crimes. On that score, its success is very limited. It has contributed to the specification of conceptual debates within the United Nations, and provided a helpful tool for policy entrepreneurs, mainly in domestic settings. On a global level, its utility has run its course. In UN debates and diplomacy, R2P should be retired and replaced by a more operational focus on atrocity prevention. Indeed, recent reports by the UN Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide already point in that direction.
Instead of focusing on issues of global order and intervention, as R2P inevitably does, atrocity prevention focuses on the role of victims, in particular civilians. Indeed, actors such as the UK that say they want to promote the global rule of law and prevent atrocities should embrace this civilian-centred perspective. They should ask themselves in diplomatic, development, humanitarian, and military engagements in political crises how their actions are going to affect the situation of civilian populations. Are there ways to empower the capacity of civilians to protect themselves by unarmed means? In contrast to R2P, atrocity prevention cannot be mistaken as legalistic justification for military interventions.
In cases where governments are directly responsible for atrocities, it is important to find ways to coerce them to stop these violations of fundamental human rights, including by targeted financial and judicial means. The UK can make use of the notion of “universal jurisdiction”, for example, to prepare cases against foreign individuals responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. With the central position of the UK in the global financial system, it could also engage more forcefully in combating money laundering by elites that are responsible for such crimes.
Building on the Brazilian proposal of a “responsibility while protecting” in 2011, UN Security Council members, including the UK, should consider more rigorous monitoring arrangements for UN-mandated operations. These could include requirements for regular reporting by lead nations of such mandated operations to the Council via the Secretary-General. The Security Council could also create independent monitoring teams that report on the implementation of mandates by third-party forces, similar to panels of experts in the context of UN sanctions regimes. Such mechanisms would facilitate a higher quality of information and decision-making in the Security Council (Benner et al. 2015: 25-26).
In the specific case of chemical weapons use in Syria, it is questionable how one-off airstrikes such as those conducted by the US in April 2017 and by the US, France, and the UK in April 2018, would credibly deter the Syrian government. The UK government should focus on re-establishing an investigative mechanism that investigates culpability for chemical weapons incidents. If the Security Council remains blocked on this question, then the General Assembly should provide a new mandate for this mechanism, whose original mandate ran out in November 2017. Furthermore, the UK should hand over any evidence that is has collected through its own sources on chemical weapons use in Syria to theInternational, Impartial and Independent Mechanism on international crimes committed in the Syrian Arab Republic (IIIM). The UK should help the European Union to prepare targeted sanctions on individuals and companies involved in the chemical weapons programme in Syria, whether they are from Syria or not. Lastly, the UK should contribute to fund humanitarian appeals on Syria and accept a much larger share as part of the resettlement programme that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees operates.
Finally, the UK government should invest in consistent political engagement through diplomatic tools, including in its own diplomatic capacities and in multilateral capacities. As the United States is withdrawing diplomatic capacities on a large scale, Europeans need to step up to at least provide detailed analysis, monitoring and engagement in crisis areas around the world. The UK should include explicit assessments of atrocity risks, including identity-based violence, in its country strategies. It should exchange these risk analyses on a regular basis with like-minded states and create joint response strategies.
Benner, Thorsten, Sarah Brockmeier, Erna Burai, C.S.R. Murthy, Christopher Daase, Madhan Mohan Jaganathan, Julian Junk, Xymena Kurowska, Gerrit Kurtz, Liu Tiewa, Wolfgang Reinicke, Philipp Rotmann, Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, Matias Spektor, Oliver Stuenkel, Marcos Tourinho, Harry Verhoeven and Zhang Haibin (2015): Effective and Responsible Protection from Atrocity Crimes: Toward Global Action. Policy Paper. Berlin. Global Public Policy Institute.
Brockmeier, Sarah, Oliver Stuenkel and Marcos Tourinho (2016): The impact of the Libya intervention debates on norms of protection. Global Society 30:1, 113-133.
Evans, Gareth (2008): The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and For All. Washington, D.C.: Brookings
International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (2001): The Responsibilty to Protect. Ottawa. International Development Research Centre.
Jo, Hyeran and Beth A. Simmons (2016): Can the International Criminal Court Deter Atrocity? International Organization 70:3, 443-475.
Kurtz, Gerrit and Philipp Rotmann (2016): The Evolution of Norms of Protection: Major Powers Debate the Responsibility to Protect. Global Society 30:1, 3-20.
Murthy, C. S. R. and Gerrit Kurtz (2016): International Responsibility as Solidarity: The Impact of the World Summit Negotiations on the R2P Trajectory. Global Society 30:1, 38-53.
UN Secretary-General (2009): Implementing the responsibility to protect – Report of the Secretary-General. UN Doc. A/63/677. 12 January
UN Security Council (2011): Resolution 1973 (2011). New York: S/RES/1973 (2011). 17 March
Yacoubian, Mona (2017): Critical Junctures in United States Policy toward Syria. An Assessment of the Counterfactuals. Series of Occastional Papers. Washington, DC. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. August.
 As such, it would contribute to an assessment that the Independent International Commission on Kosovo (2000: 186) made with regard to the NATO-led intervention in 1999 when the commission qualified it as “illegal, yet legitimate”.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ prevention agenda builds upon the achievements of the ›Human Rights up Front‹ initiative launched by his predecessor. The initiative has created a more integrated early-warning system, strengthened the preventive work of UN Country Teams, and initiated a cultural change within the UN system. However, creating confidence between the different pillars of the UN system remains a challenge. Step by step, the new early-warning mechanisms at headquarter and country level will contribute to a more holistic understanding of the risks of grave human rights abuses, allowing a more coherent UN response.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres has identified one overarching priority for his work: the prevention of human suffering. Specifically, Guterres envisions that the concept of prevention, and the mechanisms it entails, will be able to cut across and strengthen the UN’s three pillars: peace and security, human rights, and sustainable development. In more concrete terms, Guterres builds on the Human Rights up Front (HRuF) initiative, a key reform project introduced by his predecessor, Ban Ki-moon, to strengthen the UN’s preventive capabilities.
The HRuF initiative targets the work of UN staff as well as cooperation among UN agencies. It emerged as a reaction to the perceived failure of the UN system as a whole during the last months of the war in Sri Lanka. Following this failure, the UN created new coordination mechanisms in the UN Secretariat; it sought to re-emphasize the human rights work of UN development agencies on the ground, and it bolstered existing instruments in order to support individual UN Country Teams with expert staff.
In his first appearance as secretary-general at the UN Security Council, Guterres said that neither war nor peace were inevitable. Peace, he insisted, is “the result of difficult decisions, hard work, and compromise”; to this end, prevention is “not merely a priority, but the priority” in order to “save lives, reduce suffering, and give hope to millions.” The HRuF initiative provides a cornerstone of this vision.
The Origins of Human Rights up Front
In November 2012, a UN internal review panel identified a “systemic failure” in the work of both the UN Country Team and the UN Secretariat during the last months of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2008 and 2009. The UN Country Team consists of all the agencies, funds, and programs working in a respective country, for example the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and the World Bank. These organizations seek to fulfill their respective mandate as part of a comprehensive development framework that the UN has agreed on with the host country. A Resident Coordinator (RC) coordinates the overall work of these agencies; usually, the RC is also the head of the local UNDP office. In humanitarian emergencies, he or she takes on the additional function of Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) to manage the members of the Humanitarian Country Team.
Each of these organizations employs program- and analysis-staff related to their respective line of work, but the resources of the RC’s office for political analysis and diplomacy are typically very limited. While the UN Department of Political Affairs (DPA) in New York has analysts dealing with conflicts around the world, DPA is typically reluctant to share its information, and in the past, communication between DPA and UN Country Teams has been irregular. This fragmented structure has had difficulty producing coherent and effective human rights analysis for the UN Country Team on the ground.
This became especially clear in the case of Sri Lanka, where criticism of UN behavior during the last phase of the civil war was less directed towards individual people or organizations, but rather towards the UN’s institutional set-up as a whole. Each UN entity involved examined the situation primarily from its own perspective; there was no joint analysis of the risks and threats to civilian populations coming from the perspective of the entire UN system. While DPA performed an “excellent analysis of the risks,” the analysis and conclusions were seen as exclusively the conclusions of DPA. “No one else felt they should act on them,” a UN official briefed on the matter said in an interview. UN pressure to act on the DPA analysis would have been key, argued another UN official, to commit the parties in the conflict to abide by international humanitarian law.
Yet the conditions on the ground and within the institution made this kind of approach impossible. Coordination between UN agencies in New York and Geneva was lacking. There were too few people in the country versed in dealing with violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The Sri Lankan government had repeatedly withheld work permits for UN staff members.
In January 2009, several members of the UN Country Team in Sri Lanka began counting civilian casualties on their own initiative, without an explicit institutional mandate. The Resident Coordinator presented the data to diplomatic missions in March 2009; but when the High Commissioner for Human Rights and diplomatic missions published them shortly thereafter, the RC played down their importance to the government. As a result, the UN as a whole sent mixed messages to the government, who was responsible for the majority of civilian casualties, according to the UN Country Team’s own information at the time.
At the same time, in New York, Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes concentrated on maintaining humanitarian access to the conflict zone. He was the only one allowed to brief the members of the Security Council in informal sessions about the situation on the ground. Focusing on humanitarian access was part of his job description, yet this also meant that the Security Council members lacked an explicit human rights perspective from the Secretariat.
When the Executive Office of the Secretary-General studied the internal review panel’s report, it recognized that “a systemic failure needs a systemic solution,” explained Andrew Gilmour, who was overseeing the work in the office at the time, in an interview. The Sri Lankan crisis and the resultant analysis were thus the starting point for the Human Rights up Front initiative. In September 2013, Ban Ki-moon approved a detailed action plan, and in December of the same year, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson briefed the General Assembly on the initiative.
A Comprehensive Reform Package
The HRuF initiative has three overarching objectives: (1) enacting a cultural change in the UN system so that all UN staff see human rights as part of their work, (2) establishing better early warning and coordination mechanisms both in conflict countries as well as in New York, and (3) promoting more open engagement with UN member states on human rights.
The Human Rights up Front initiative is not simply concerned with individual action points. Rather, UN staff members are being encouraged to see themselves as part of a whole, instead of thinking only in terms of the narrow competences of their respective department, fund, programme, or agency. They should feel empowered to act on the basis of the normative principles of the United Nations – in particular on the pivotal issue of human rights. Summarizing the core message, former Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Kyung-wha Kang noted that the UN’s work is “about the human beings,” whose challenges “are not subdivided into different mandates as the UN system is.”
The cultural change on systemic human rights engagement should come about through three main forms of action: public commitments by the UN leadership, training for all UN staff members, and a revised selection and appraisal system for Resident Coordinators. Thirteen thousand UN staff members have already undergone new human rights training through an online course. In addition, the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) now has an active role in the selection and regular appraisal of RCs. Furthermore, the UN Development Group has updated the generic job description for Resident Coordinators to include an emphasis on human rights and created new guidance on human rights work for RCs and UN Country Teams.
At the same time, everyone involved is aware that an organization of the size and complexity of the United Nations cannot change its culture overnight. Reforms need time to work in practice, and UN leadership needs to show that it stands behind the engagement of its staff members in crisis situations. In addition, the UN needs to make clear that leadership failure has consequences. Too often, senior UN officials are promoted rather than dismissed. Ban Ki-moon’s decision to ask the head of the UN mission in Central African Republic, Babacar Gaye, for his resignation when reports about sexual abuse and exploitations by French and UN peacekeeping troops in the country emerged in 2015 is a significant step in the right direction.
Early Warning and Coordination Mechanisms
Skeptical member states have typically been a major obstacle to the implementation of effective early warning mechanisms in the UN system. Many do not want to be faced with the prospect of risk ratings or of landing on the agenda of the UN Security Council, which might impose coercive measures in line with chapter seven of the UN Charter. Similarly, UN development agencies may be cautious or hesitant when it comes to monitoring the situation of human rights and other risk factors on the ground, as they work closely with host governments and seek to avoid drawing their ire.
The HRuF response to this challenge is to take a universal approach. The early warning mechanisms pertain to all member states, in particular those that are not on the agenda of the UN Security Council. For this purpose, the UN introduced regional quarterly review mechanisms, which are jointly chaired by DPA and UNDP and bring together all relevant UN agencies in New York to discuss pertinent issues and the response of the UN system as a whole. These reviews, which are divided into six different regional formats, consider information from all relevant entities in the UN system and also consult with the respective Resident Coordinators. If the participants of these mechanisms think it necessary, they can bring challenges up to the political leadership level and trigger a decision that is formally carried by the whole UN system.
According to participants in these reviews, their value goes far beyond tangible results. The open discussion format at the meetings allows the creation of a comprehensive picture of a given situation, as insights are drawn from the network of UN entities working in sustainable development, humanitarian aid, human rights, and political analysis. UNDP staff members, for example, reported that they would now consider human rights topics more seriously as a result of these reviews; legislation in certain countries that aims to restrict civil society organizations was mentioned as one particular point of future attention. One interviewee remarked that they were now looking into the levers available to UNDP to urge governments to withdraw such legislation.
Similar coordination mechanisms on the country level took longer to be set up, but are currently in their pilot phase. In one country, where the UN Country Team started these preventive coordination meetings in May 2016, the joint brainstorming in these sessions led to heightened confidence among the representatives of UN agencies involved, one UN official noted. Because of the directness and intimacy of these meetings, participants felt comfortable sharing sensitive observations that they otherwise would not include in formal reports. These positive responses underscore the value of the formats introduced by the HRuF initiative.
Engagement with UN Member States
The early warning mechanisms that the United Nations has established as part of HRuF are restricted to the UN system; member states and civil society organizations do not take part in the discussions. To the degree that these coordination mechanisms lead to a more coherent UN position vis-à-vis host governments, they can still increase the effectiveness of the UN conflict prevention efforts as a whole. UN staff members said, for example, that the UN acted more coherently in the run-up to the 2015 Nigerian presidential election than on previous occasions. This included appointing a designated senior UN official as point person on Nigeria in the Secretariat. The specific impact of the greater UN coherence on the relatively peaceful outcome of the election and change in government remains to be researched.
The increase in informal DPA briefings for the Security Council also demonstrates the new dynamics that the HRuF initiative has brought to how the UN Secretariat deals with member states. There were twice as many such briefings in 2015 compared to the year before. DPA uses the agenda item “any other business” for this purpose, to present member states with background information on countries that may not be on the council’s existing agenda.
Meanwhile, a new format, in which the Secretariat informally briefs the members of the Security Council about the political and human rights dimension of a particular situation, has emerged. These situational awareness briefings were introduced during the monthly presidency of New Zealand in September 2016 and have taken place on a monthly basis since then. The early warning function of these briefings is limited, however, since, at least until January 2017, these briefings only dealt with countries that were already on the council’s agenda.
Problems and Challenges
In light of the high ambition of the initiative, it is not surprising that the cultural change has not taken hold completely. There are structural constraints inherent in UN institutions. The entities in the UN system all take very different approaches to addressing human rights violations. Consider the question of whether, and under which conditions, public advocacy is more effective than quiet diplomacy. The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, which has a mandate to monitor and report all human rights violations, will take a different approach to this question than, for example, the World Food Programme, which depends on humanitarian access. The situation is similar regarding the role of the UN towards host governments. Development agencies like UNDP depend on cooperation, even with authoritarian governments, whose conduct towards civil society OHCHR might publicly criticize. This poses an enduring structural challenge that the UN will have to address over time.
In addition, multiple scandals have plagued the UN even after the introduction of the HRuF initiative, which underline the enduring challenges that the initiative faces. One example is the manner in which different agencies handled information about sexual exploitation and abuse by French soldiers that were part of the UN mandated operation “Sengaris” in the Central African Republic. Instead of taking the information seriously, the UN suspended Anders Kompass, the OHCHR staff member who had passed on evidence to French authorities, after UN channels had failed to respond to his warnings. In language reminiscent of the internal review panel on Sri Lanka, another independent inquiry published in December 2015 spoke of “gross institutional failure” in this case.
Moreover, the decisions of coordination mechanisms are not always easily translated into actionable results. For example, demand for additional peace and development advisors, which UNDP and DPA provide to UN Country Teams upon their request, has grown faster than the quantity of available funds. Currently, there are 39 such advisors deployed worldwide. According to UN officials, an additional $4 million will be required from 2018 in order to cover current demand for eleven more advisors. Such constraints thus remain a significant issue limiting the potential success of the HRuF initiative.
On a similar note, the deployment of UN human rights advisors has proven to be challenging. These are tasked with supporting Resident Coordinators and UN Country Teams with a human rights-based approach to development, and in advising them and the host government on the human rights treaty system. Unfortunately, their deployment can take up to 24 months. According to one evaluation, by the time the advisors are ready, the RC that originally requested the additional personnel may have already left the host country, and his or her successor might not see the same demand for a human rights advisor. If UN Country Teams are supposed to put human rights up front, the deployment of human rights advisors needs to be sped up and their management improved.
New Enthusiasm for Prevention
Since taking office, Secretary-General Guterres has started to translate his rhetorical commitment to prevention into a number of specific actions. He restructured the early warning and coordination mechanisms in the UN Secretariat. As a result, the prevention mechanisms have become more integrated since March 2017. Regional reviews now take place on a monthly basis; in addition, the new Deputies Committee that brings together the heads of relevant agencies at the level of assistant secretary-general now also meets on a monthly basis, and has a new standing item on prevention. Decisions can be forwarded to the Deputies Committee and, if necessary, to the Executive Committee, where Guterres and his most senior advisors meet weekly.
Secretary-General Guterres has also announced that he wants to increase the mediation and conflict resolution capacity of the UN. He has commissioned a number of reviews of the peace and security architecture, including on prevention. According to some observers, this reform process might lead to a greater focus on preventive diplomacy, away from expensive and complex peace operations.
Conclusion and the Role of Germany
Have any of these mechanisms and actions contributed to a reduction in human rights violations? In light of the complex nature of international relations, the long causal chains involved, and the high number of actors at play, it is not possible to answer this question unequivocally. International organizations always have a limited influence on intra-state conflicts, and the UN can only mitigate, rather than eliminate, regional rivalries and geopolitical interests. This uncertainty lies in the nature of prevention. A lot depends on a comprehensive and flexible analysis of the situation, the qualifications and courage of leaders on the ground, and the readiness of conflicting parties to resolve their dispute peacefully. At the same time, the UN has definitely improved its capacity to respond to grave human rights abuses, as exemplified by the new mechanisms of the Human Rights up Front initiative.
Member states such as Germany that want to strengthen the role of the UN in the area of prevention need to do their best to ensure that the HRuF initiative and Guterres’s prevention agenda become a success. For that purpose, they can further contribute to the funding of peace and development advisors (Germany is already a donor to the program), promote human rights and prevention in executive boards of UN development agencies, funds and programs, and coordinate closely with Resident Coordinators on the ground on human rights and other political issues.
Germany, which is currently campaigning for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in the 2019–2020 period, should take a leading role in this regard. In the Security Council, it should promote more visiting missions in a preventive function, similar to the mission to the Lake Chad region organized by the United Kingdom in March 2017. It should push the United Nations to hold its senior leaders on the ground to account when they fail to adopt a preventive posture and to empower those UN leaders and staff members that show courage. In doing so, the German government could start to operationalize the high ambitions it set for itself in its recently adopted white paper on crisis prevention, conflict management, and peace promotion.
This is an edited and slightly revised translation of a German article that first appeared in the journal Vereinte Nationen.
I wrote this piece as a summary of our expert workshop and network meeting on “Protection of individuals from harm as a system-wide challenge for the United Nations” that took place in Braunschweig in July 2016. It first appeared on the Junge UN-Forschung Blog.
Securing access to besieged areas of Aleppo, increasing patrols around UN House in Juba, or ending refugee maltreatment in Australian detention centres in Nauru: the protection of civilians from immediate harm is one of the core tasks of the United Nations system. There are few issues for which UN actors are so frequently in the news. Senior UN officials routinely criticize state authorities and non-state actors responsible for violence against civilians. Too often, the UN are in the spotlight themselves because they failed to live up to the expectations and responsibilities related to the protection of civilians, for example at the protection of civilians site in Malakal, South Sudan in February this year.
Research on how to better protect civilians from harm is essential in order to enable the UN to fulfil their charter-based mandate: creating a safer, fairer and more prosperous world for all. In this vein, we organized an expert workshop and network meeting on the common theme „Protecting civilians as system-wide challenge for the United Nations“, which took place from 15 to 17 July at the Technische Universitaet Braunschweig, Germany. It brought together around 20 junior scholars from Germany, Europe, the United States, and Brazil in order to facilitate academic exchange and build a network of scholars around the topic. The workshop was designed to take into account perspectives from three major policy fields: humanitarian action, peacekeeping, and human rights. It took place in the context of the German Association of the United Nations and its working group on young UN research.
At a public panel discussion, a dedicated break-out session and the presentation of our own preliminary research, we discussed the distinction between the three policy fields of humanitarian action, peacekeeping, and human rights, as well as open questions and debates within those fields. As the workshop itself took place under Chatham House rules, we only quote from the public panel discussion, and provide a general sense of the discussion during the rest of the event.
Humanitarian action, peacekeeping, and human rights perspectives
The official definition of protection approved by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) for humanitarian action is much too broad for practical purposes. A tiered, increasingly ambitious understanding of protection is more helpful in that regard: ensuring access to humanitarian aid is the most basic definition of humanitarian protection, followed by ensuring access to protection services. More contentious are the roles humanitarian agencies can play in putting a stop to on-going rights violations, or even in furthering international criminal justice through witness statements and the collection of evidence. For Médecins Sans Frontières, protection frequently equates to really taking the principle of doing no harm seriously, said the director of the agency’s German chapter, Florian Westphal, at the panel discussion. Providing aid to displaced persons must not help armed groups locate them. The public and private advocacy that humanitarian organisations like MSF engage in always needs to make sure that people are actually better protected, even when the agencies want to ensure that they are not being seen as complicit with violations because of their (public) silence, Westphal argued.
UN peacekeeping is a highly political undertaking, even if senior UN officials and member states don’t always recognize it as such, claimed Peter Schumann, former chief of staff of the UN Mission in Sudan and long-term UNDP staff member. As the UN peace operation in South Sudan showed, too often member states create over-ambitious mandates without sufficient resources and political backing to meet the high expectations that the mission will actually protect the population from immediate threats of violence. UN peacekeeping operates largely according to a short-term logic: creating physical security for civilians, responding to their immediate needs. This may sit uncomfortably with the long-term requirement to develop a political strategy, for which the military can create space and which helps the warring parties move to a peaceful way to settle their disputes. Moreover, rhetorical commitments to the effective protection of civilians and national policies of member states in the Security Council as well as of individual troop contributing countries may differ significantly. Germany’s recent evacuation of its police personnel that was supposed to protect women and children as part of the UN Mission in South Sudan was one example mentioned at the workshop.
Human rights agencies have the most long-term perspective of the three policy fields. The Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), for example stresses not only that states have a primary responsibility to protect their populations from harm (as do humanitarian and peacekeeping actors). The methods OHCHR lists in its most recent management plan aim to enable rights-holders exercise their rights and to build the capacities of duty-bearers to guarantee fundamental human rights. Someone is always bound by human rights, and someone else is always entitled, as the break out group on human rights protection put it. However, some actors put themselves deliberately outside the international legal system, such as the so-called Islamic State or North Korea. Protecting those who defend human rights on the ground is an important, concrete task for international actors such as peace brigades international, said Christiane Schultz, who founded the organisation’s German section. The Committee on enforced disappearances can issue urgent measures, for example, and conduct country visits to raise individual cases and instigate structural change.
Over the three-day workshop, it became clear that protecting populations from harm is a hugely ambitious and complex undertaking. In all policy fields, there are gaps between rhetorical commitments and implementing promises on the ground. There can be differences between individual mandate-holders, national peacekeeping contingents, missions, institutions, and policy fields.
The main impediment to better protection are not the differences about the meaning, methods and objectives of protection per se – they are the natural and inevitable consequence of varying mandates and contexts. Rather, it is the lack of mutual understanding that leads to gaps in the protection architecture. It also misses out on opportunities to jointly tackle common challenges and recognise each other’s complementarity, in full recognition of their distinct mandates. Thus, there is much to learn from each other. Academic and policy exchange on the theme of protecting civilians from harm needs to intensify (for example here).
Dank der erfolgreichen zivilgesellschaftlichen Kampagne 1for7billionfindet die Wahl des nächsten UN-Generalsekretärs vor dem Hintergrund einer breiten öffentlichen Debatte statt. Im Gegensatz zur Geheimniskrämerei vergangener Jahre kennen wir jetzt nicht nur alle Kandidat*innen, sondern können deren Wahlkampf offen verfolgen. Die öffentliche Veranstaltung im Barbican Centre am 3. Juni 2016 in London bot dazu eine willkommene Gelegenheit (hier zum Nachhören).
Auf Einladung der United Nations Association-UK (UNA-UK), einer der Mitbegründer der 1for7billion-Kampagne, und des Guardian kamen drei der mittlerweile elf Kandidat*innen zu einer neunzigminütigen Diskussionsveranstaltung vor einem über tausendköpfigen Publikum zusammen. Trotz intensiver Bemühungen der UNA-UK hatte leider keine der weiblichen Kandidatinnen zugesagt. Von den drei Anwesenden konnte der ehemalige UN-Hochkommissar für Flüchtlinge und Premierminister Portugals von 1995 bis 2002, António Guterres, am meisten überzeugen, wie die Reaktionen des Publikums vor Ort und auf Twitter bestätigten.
Charisma und öffentliches Auftreten
Die Veranstaltung im Barbican Centre war kein gewöhnliches politisches Duell. Zwar haben die meisten Anwesenden keine Stimme in der Wahl des nächsten UN-Generalsekretärs (abgesehen von anwesenden Diplomaten). Dennoch bemühten sich insbesondere die beiden anderen Kandidaten, der ehemalige Präsident der UN-Generalversammlung Vuk Jeremić und Igor Lukšić, der Außenminister Montenegros, Igor Lukšić, auf das Publikum einzugehen.
Jeremić fragte in seinem Eröffnungsstatement nach Handzeichen, wer glaube die UN liefere so wie sie sollte – wenig überraschend blieben die meisten Hände unten. Er verwies darauf, dass es wichtig sei „echten Menschen“ zuzuhören, forderte das Publikum jedoch wiederholt auf, seinen detaillierten 53-Punkte-Plan zu lesen.
Auf die Publikumsfrage, ob er Feminist sei, antwortete Lukšić, der auch stellvertretender Premierminister seines Landes ist, mit einer Gegenfrage: „Meine Regierung war die erste in der Region, die eine weibliche Verteidigungsministerin ernannte – macht mich das zu einem Feministen?“ Lautes Gegrummel verriet, dass viele im Publikum dies nicht als ausreichend ansahen.
Demgegenüber strahlte der deutlich ältere Guterres Gelassenheit und Erfahrung aus. Auf die Frage des Moderators: „António, are you jealous of Vuk’s 53-point platform?“ entgegnete Guterres, dass er Respekt für alle Kandidaten und deren Ideen habe. Anstatt wie die anderen beiden vage über Herausforderungen wie Klimawandel und Entwicklung zu reden, identifizierte Guterres auf eine entsprechende Publikumsfrage hin tatsächlich eine zentrale globale Herausforderung für die nächsten zehn Jahre: eine effektivere Prävention bewaffneter Konflikte und der Aufbau entsprechender Kapazitäten bei den Vereinten Nationen und den Mitgliedstaaten.
Gute Ideen allein reichen nicht, sie müssen auch umsetzbar sein
Wie kann man bei einer solchen Veranstaltung überhaupt die Beiträge der Kandidaten fair bewerten? Charisma und wirksames öffentliches Auftreten gegenüber einem großen Publikum schaden einem UN-Generalsekretär sicher nicht, können für sich genommen aber nicht überzeugen. Für die in Frage stehende Position sollten meiner Ansicht nach mindestens zwei weitere Aspekte hinzukommen: Politischer Ideenreichtum für das System der Vereinten Nationen sowie Beispiele aus eigener Arbeit, die zeigen, dass sich die Kandidaten auch gegen Widerstände für normative Prinzipien eingesetzt haben.
Wie zu erwarten, ist die inhaltliche Debatte zunächst breit und vage – alle Kandidaten setzen sich für eine „bessere Welt“ und „notwendige Reformen“ im UN-System ein. Gleichzeitig sind einige Vorschläge der Kandidaten durchaus spezifisch und können das UN-System voranbringen, wie die Anhörungen der UN-Generalversammlung zeigen. Hier war es aufschlussreich, wie umsetzbar die Vorschläge der drei Kandidaten schienen – gut klingende Versprechen kann schließlich jeder liefern.
So sprach Jeremić davon, dass er „vom ersten Tag an“ die Hälfte der Sondergesandten des UN-Generalsekretärs mit Frauen besetzen und sich für eine neue Generation von robusten „UN-Stabilisierungsoperationen“ einsetzen würde. Angesichts der bürokratischen Maschine des UN-Sekretariats und der tiefen politischen Gräben zwischen truppenstellenden Staaten und dem UN-Sicherheitsrat klang das, sagen wir, sehr ambitioniert. Lukšić sprach sich derweil für die Einrichtung eines Sondertribunals für UN-Friedenssoldaten aus, denen die sexuelle Ausbeutung der Zivilbevölkerung vorgeworfen werde. Guterres warnte: „I am not sure it will be easy to get that“. Während Jeremić sich für eine – notwendige, aber schwierige – 50-Prozent-Erhöhung des Budgets des Hochkommissars für Menschenrechte aussprach, listete Guterres drei relativ konkrete Maßnahmen auf, wie die Human Rights up Front Initiative des UN-Generalsekretärs vorangebracht werden könnte.
Die Kraft, sich für die richtigen Überzeugungen einzusetzen
Der politische Spielraum jedes UN-Generalsekretärs wird auch in Zukunft eng begrenzt bleiben von den Wünschen und Interessen der Mitgliedstaaten sowie der Behäbigkeit des Apparats, so wichtig neue Ideen und Reformbereitschaft auch sein mögen. Daher sind die grundlegenden Überzeugungen des Amtsinhabers oder der zukünftigen Amtsinhaberin entscheidend. Das wichtigste Argument der Debatte konnte dabei nicht die universalistische, liberale Rhetorik sein, der sich alle drei Kandidaten verschrieben, sondern nachvollziehbare Beispiele aus der eigenen politischen Arbeit. Auch hier hatte Guterres die Nase vorn.
Keiner der drei Kandidaten konnte im Abstrakten erklären, wie er gegenüber den mächtigen Staaten im UN-Sicherheitsrat die Einhaltung globaler Spielregeln anmahnen und gleichzeitig mit ihnen arbeiten würde. Konkrete Beispiele ließen eher einen Schluss auf die Überzeugungskraft der Kandidaten zu: Während Jeremić und Lukšić vor allem auf ihre Reformversprechen verwiesen, führte Guterres wiederholt Beispiele aus einer eigenen politischen Arbeit an. Er erzählte, wie er bereits 1992 Geschlechterquoten in seiner Partei in Portugal eingeführt habe und wie das UNHCR Geschlechtergleichheit in den Führungsgremien erreicht habe. Er betonte jedoch, letztlich käme es auf die Ermächtigung (und nicht nur den Schutz) von Frauen und auf das Mainstreaming von Geschlechtergerechtigkeit an. Das UNHCR habe in den letzten 10 Jahren unter seiner Führung die Verwaltungskosten in der Zentrale von 14 Prozent auf 6.5 Prozent gesenkt und seine Aktivitäten verdreifacht.
Lukšić erzählte von seinem Plan, eine Expertenkommission zur Überprüfung des in den letzten Jahren stark gewachsenen Haushalts, einzusetzen. Dazu meinte Jeremić in einer abwertenden Geste: „I think I am the only person here who has actually chaired the 5th Committee [zuständig für den Haushalt] […]. I think Igor would find it very hard as Secretary-General to pull this particular idea through“.
Nach dem trockenen Ban Ki-moon brauchen die Vereinten Nationen einen Generalsekretär, der Menschen inspirieren kann. António Guterres ist ein ernsthafter Kandidat in diesem Rennen. In der Abschlussrunde erzählte er, was ihm Hoffnung mache:
„In this last ten years working with refugees, and seeing what it is to be a Syrian family that has seen their house destroyed, friends being killed, moving in dramatic circumstances into Turkey, and then moving into a boat, where they might perish, because they have hope in their future and in the future of their children. When I see their resilience, their courage because they have hope, I think it is our duty not only to be hopeful but to make sure that their hope becomes the true thing”.
Die kommenden Monate werden zeigen, ob Guterres auch bei den ständigen Mitgliedern des Sicherheitsrats punkten kann.
Under the flag of the United Nations, more than 125,000 civilian experts, police officers and soldiers are currently deployed in 16 missions worldwide to give peacebuilding efforts a better chance of success. In most cases, these efforts take years. Even as politicians and military leaders negotiate, fighting and assaults against civilians continue. Given this context, the UN Security Council as well as the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic expect UN peacekeeping operations to do their best to reduce the suffering of civilians and to protect as many of them as possible. According to the mandates of the Security Council, these are in fact the most important objectives of the vast majority of UN peacekeeping missions. Prioritizing civilian protection until it sits at the core of peacekeeping operations is a painful learning process that remains far from complete.
Difficult Learning Process
Since the early 1990s, the tasks of UN peacekeeping missions have significantly expanded alongside the increasing international awareness of intrastate conflicts. These missions formerly comprised just hundreds of UN military observers wearing their iconic blue helmets – a familiar sight during the Cold War. Now they are complex, sprawling organizations with thousands of political experts, police officers and soldiers who cover a wide range of tasks: political analysis, institution building, the monitoring of ceasefires, the protection of human rights and the use of military force to protect civilians.
The double failure of the UN and national governments to adequately respond to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the 1995 genocide in Srebrenica plunged the peacekeeping system into a crisis of credibility. The UN overcame this crisis only at the end of the decade by, among other strategies, committing itself to the improvement of civilian protection in armed conflicts. From the outset, this constituted a balancing act between inactivity and excessive demands. Blue helmets are not supposed to be a global SWAT team that uses superior force to suppress violence against civilians; this is neither feasible nor politically desirable. At the same time, however, peacekeepers learned from the UN failures of the 1990s that they must not simply stand by as massacres that they could have prevented, even by military force, unfold before their eyes. In 1999 the UN Security Council authorized, for the first time, peacekeeping forces in Sierra Leone “to afford protection to civilians under imminent threat of physical violence” within their “capabilities and areas of deployment.”
The following year, an expert commission led by Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi urged UN missions to hold fast to the goal of protecting civilians, despite the failures of past attempts. In fact, missions must be equipped adequately and the rules of engagement adapted accordingly to “allow ripostes sufficient to silence a source of deadly fire that is directed at United Nations troops or at the people they are charged to protect.”
The peacekeeping missions in Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan in the 2000s barely lived up to the demands of the Brahimi report. While the Security Council and member states set high normative standards for themselves (including “the responsibility to protect”), the actual means deployed and the risk tolerance of troop-contributing countries fell substantially short of these self-imposed expectations. As a result of deficiencies in planning and management, commanders on the ground often lacked clear guidance about when the use of military force for protection purposes was justified. In the absence of guidance, most commanders ended up hiding behind maximum caution. For instance, the former UN mission commander in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indian general Bipin Rawat, stated in 2008, “We have very strict rules against collateral damage. If I kill one civilian, there is no one to hold my hand.”
Instead of dealing with these critical but politically sensitive issues, the UN secretariat’s further conceptual specification in subsequent years has confined itself to emphasizing a mission’s diverse civilian resources dedicated to civilian protection. According to this work, a mission’s responsibilities involve not only military patrols and the use of force against “imminent threats,” but also the demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants, the training of capable security forces, demining and destruction of weapon stockpiles, the protection of children and the prevention of sexual violence. But the main questions concerning the benefits and limitations of military force remain unanswered.
Protection by Military Force
Peacekeeping missions like those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or in Sudan’s Darfur region are deployed amidst armed groups that operate in shifting alliances and terrorize the civilian population, frequently with support from government forces or neighboring states. In this context, the effective protection of civilians in conflict areas is often impossible without the use of force. Nevertheless, military force has achieved only limited success thus far.
The controversy over the use of force touches upon traditional, core principles of UN peacekeeping that remain valid to this day: consent of the parties, impartiality and non-use of force except in self-defense or in defense of the mandate. The military fight against any “party” (regardless of its diplomatic classification as a conflict party or not) limits a mission’s impartiality and may harm its freedom of action and movement in the contexts of political mediation, human rights monitoring and institution building. Meanwhile, the local population is often ambivalent: while most victims of armed conflicts appreciate the fight against violent rebel groups, others hold the UN responsible for civilian fatalities that are incurred as a result of UN military operations.
The balance ultimately struck by a peacekeeping mission depends critically on the contingent commanders, the senior mission leaders and the rules of engagement of troop-contributing governments. For example, the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) conducted offensive operations as early as 2005. The mission, armed with combat helicopters, destroyed weapon caches and supported the Congolese forces in their fight against rebel groups. Such operations often lead, at the very least, to a short-term decline in attacks on civilians.
Despite those operations, incidents in which peacekeeping troops have failed to intervene in nearby massacres have cropped up time and again. In November 2008 approximately 150 people died in Kiwanja, most of them by the hands of the Congrès national pour la défense du peuple (CNDP) rebels, one of the largest armed groups in the Congo at the time. A UN base with 120 soldiers was less than one kilometer away from the scene of the massacre. But they did not intervene because they had only a few armored vehicles and were concentrating their capacities on the protection of humanitarian aid workers and internally displaced persons who had fled to the UN base.
In 2012 MONUSCO was strongly criticized yet again, having failed to prevent a rebel invasion of Goma, a provincial capital in the Democratic Republic of Congo, by the armed group M23. Six months later, the Security Council took action, not least to avoid a unilateral military intervention by the Southern African Development Community. South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi contributed 3,000 men to the establishment of a Force Intervention Brigade (FIB), equipped with artillery, combat helicopters and surveillance drones. The Security Council explicitly authorized the brigade to “neutralize” armed groups that threaten civilians. Under the leadership of Martin Kobler and Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz – the German head of mission and the Brazilian commander of MONUSCO, respectively – the brigade successfully evicted M23 from the mountains of Goma.
The FIB has since been regarded as a new model of offensive peacekeeping. But the Congolese case also reveals the risks and challenges of this approach. As the FIB only takes action in conjunction with official Congolese government forces, the UN mission has de facto given up its principle of impartiality by supporting the Congolese government in its fight against other conflict parties. Congolese forces, moreover, have also been responsible for serious violations of human rights, despite long-lasting international training and support. As a result, the UN mission introduced a policy on “human rights due diligence.” Subsequently, all other UN peacekeeping missions adopted the policy as well.
Another concern raised by the FIB is that large military offensives with artillery and combat helicopters, as used by the brigade in its 2013 fight against M23, may be effective only if rebel groups engage in conventional warfare. The M23, a group of Congolese soldiers who had deserted from the Congolese armed forces, was one such case. However, many other rebel groups in the Congo and other areas of UN peacekeeping missions operate underground, carry out single attacks on military units and local populations, and then withdraw once more.
Despite the UN’s recent willingness to authorize robust missions that carry out offensive operations against armed groups, a UN investigation in 2014 showed that military force is rarely used to protect civilians even in cases of severe threats. The reasons are many: troop-contributing countries differ in their views of what constitutes being “under imminent threat of physical violence”; troop-contributing governments want to minimize risks for their soldiers; and, for reasons of impartiality, mission leaders are often reluctant to prevent atrocious human rights violations by taking action against not only rebels, but also national armed forces, even if the mission’s mandate would allow them to do so.
Political Analysis, Conflict Management and Human Rights Work
The dispute over the role of military force should not obscure the fact that civilian instruments such as early warning, civilian conflict management and human rights work are also crucial factors in the effective protection of civilians. Neither preventive, deescalating political interventions nor military operations can be effective if missions lack necessary information on local conflict dynamics. Where are armed groups primarily active? Who supports them, and for what reasons? How do they obtain weapons and other supplies? Countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Mali are huge and have only very limited infrastructure, making it impossible even for large missions to protect all threatened communities effectively. Moreover, the military units of peacekeeping missions often lack the knowledge of regional languages and geography needed to properly communicate with the local population.
MONUSCO was a pioneering mission in this regard. The mission boasts more than 200 Community Liaison Assistants (CLAs), Congolese citizens who are posted with military units or in nearby villages. By maintaining constant communication with the local population through telephone calls or personal visits, they receive crucial information on current risks and conflict dynamics. MONUSCO was also the first peacekeeping mission to deploy drones for tactical reconnaissance in remote areas.
UN missions can use the information obtained to support local efforts in civilian conflict management. They can organize roundtable events with members of local communities, offer logistical support to convene key figures in dialogues and organize workshops with local elites to familiarize them with conflict management methods.
Furthermore, all larger and multi-dimensional peacekeeping operations have their own human rights divisions. They monitor and report on human rights violations, help victims understand their rights and urge the appropriate authorities to punish violations and implement legal reforms. However, the UN’s efforts to ensure fair trials for criminals and murderers in accordance with the rule of law sometimes encounter local resistance. For example, Cuibet in South Sudan lacks judges of sufficient qualifications who can deal with capital crimes. As a result, trials are sometimes delayed for months, increasing tensions in the local community. “Justice delayed may cause acts of revenge,” a representative of a women’s association warned at a roundtable event on the implementation of a peace agreement in June 2015. “The relatives of a murder victim may take the law in their own hands.”
Protection From the Protectors
The credibility of UN missions has suffered not only from doing too little in response to violence. Too often, blue helmets are the ones sexually exploiting or abusing civilians. For more than 10 years, the fight against sexual exploitation and abuse has been a core element of reform efforts by two UN secretary-generals.
Much progress remains to be made. The core problems persist: troop-contributing countries retain disciplinary responsibility for their military units flying the UN flag; troops enjoy immunity in their host country; and troop-contributing countries rarely initiate investigations. Even when perpetrators are convicted, victims are not informed of the outcome. Many troop-contributing countries, according to an independent study, are “reluctant to admit the misconduct of their peacekeepers, especially where such misconduct can be traced back to inadequate training, and would rather sweep allegations under the rug.” Reported allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse have declined since 2007 while the number of UN troops increased, but plateaued at a constant level of about 60 accused per year since 2012. These numbers should be viewed with caution, for many victims do not dare to report such incidents and certainly would not approach the UN mission.
The allegations of sexual abuse that emerged in April 2015 demonstrated that the need for essential changes within the UN secretariat persisted even after Kofi Annan’s reforms of 10 years prior. French soldiers of the UN-mandated Operation Sangaris, which is not a blue helmet mission under orders of the secretary-general, allegedly lured children in the Central African Republic into sexual acts in exchange for food. The reaction of the UN mission and secretariat was highly problematic, as confirmed by an independent investigation set up by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. Information about the allegations was “passed from desk to desk, inbox to inbox, across multiple UN offices, with no one willing to take responsibility to address the serious human rights violations.” The UN officials who dealt with the allegations were primarily concerned with technical and procedural questions. In the meantime, French authorities initiated investigations, but they have yet to make any convictions. While Ban took the unprecedented step of dismissing the head of the UN mission in the Central African Republic, the highly symbolic move did not put a stop to the problem. Since then, more and more similar accusations against soldiers of the UN mission in the same country became public.
Comprehensive Political Strategies
Alan Doss, head of MONUSCO from 2007 to 2010, claims that “the use of force must be anchored in a political strategy to end armed violence.” Too often, UN missions fight only the symptoms of violence, not their root causes. In its 2015 report, the High-Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations also emphasized the importance of political action. But what may seem like an intuitive recommendation faces serious resistance in practice: “It’s far easier for the Security Council to send peacekeepers to a trouble spot than to agree to apply pressure on political leaders whom some members of the council invariably view as allies,” argues James Traub, a long-time UN expert.
To protect civilians from massacres and persecution in war and conflict regions, all actors involved must come together – that is, the political leadership of missions on the ground, the UN Security Council and its permanent members (United States, France, Great Britain, Russia, China), the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations in New York, the UN secretary-general, various UN agencies, funds and programs, and the relevant member states, whose bilateral relations with conflict parties are particularly important.
The UN system has increased its efforts to incorporate the issue of human rights protection into its operating procedures. The “Human Rights up Front” initiative established by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in 2013 has contributed to a gradual change in the organizational culture, which has so far been marked by bureaucratic silos and turf wars between its humanitarian, security and development arms. The UN has begun to attach greater importance to coordination in the areas of early warning and crisis response, and it frequently convenes relevant UN actors on the ground and in its New York headquarters to better understand the different risks and benefits perceived by their colleagues. But there is still a long way to go before a consistent policy on the protection of civilians is established at all levels of the UN.
Notwithstanding these reform efforts, the experiences of UN peacekeeping missions to protect civilians underscore the need for transparent management of expectations, clear communication with all stakeholders and an appropriate degree of humility about what the international community can do. Even in the most fragile states, large peacekeeping missions are no panacea. The presence of thousands of soldiers and well-paid civilian employees from different cultures is bound to disturb the local economy; in the worst case, it may even lead to further crimes committed against the local population. Host country institutions remain the most important actors in the prevention of violence against civilians. They cannot be released from this fundamental responsibility, no matter how well equipped or politically backed a peacekeeping mission might be.
They had expected it anxiously. When I spoke with the UN officials working on the Secretary General’s Human Rights Up Front initiative last year, they were concerned the internal initiative could become intertwined in the polarized debates between UN member states on the role of human rights in the organization. The UN Secretary-General launched the initiative in 2013, with the aim to raise the profile of human rights in the work of the whole UN system. As a reaction to a devastating internal review panel report on the UN’s actions in Sri Lanka, the initiative includes a detailed action plan to improve the mechanisms for raising serious human rights violations with member states, for internal crisis coordination, and information management regarding such violations. The UN officials – rightly – felt that the new engagement of the UN system with member states that the initiative entailed had to build on its two other elements: cultural and operational change within the UN system, i.e. coherence between the development, peace and security and human rights arms of the UN.
As I argued in my policy paper published last July, Human Rights Up Front could not remain a pure UN matter; to be successful in the mid- to long-term, member states need to endorse it wholeheartedly. This includes an increased funding for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and an intergovernmental mandate for a more political role of UN Country Teams. In a letter on Christmas Eve 2015, the Secretary-General officially recognized the crucial role of member states: “While the Initiative is internal, its objectives speak to the purposes of the whole United Nations and will be greatly enhanced by support from Member States.”
On 27 January 2016, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson briefed the General Assembly on the initiative’s implementation since its inception more than two years ago. The broad support he received from the member states present holds five important lessons for selling UN human rights diplomacy more generally.
First, open consultations facilitate trust and transparancy. Many of the 22 member states and one regional organization (EU) that spoke during the informal briefing session, expressively welcomed the opportunity for open dialogue itself. While Eliasson had briefed member states twice before (in New York and Geneva) on Human Rights Up Front, and both he and Ban Ki-Moon referred to it in their speeches, the interactive session provided an opportunity to take stock with member states.
Second, take on board your critics. In reaction to previous comments from member states, Eliasson explicitly referred to the relevance of social, economic and cultural rights violations as precursors to physical violence and instability. China’s and Nigeria’s inputs duly acknowledged the importance of development for prevention.
Third, universality. The delegate from Iran asked how the UN could adequately respond to human rights violations in the Global North such as increasing xenophobia when most of its offices were in developing countries – a longstanding criticism in UN human rights forums. Eliasson emphasized the comprehensive reach of the early warning and coordination mechanisms, and compared it to the successful example of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in the Human Rights Council, which commits every UN member state to a thorough peer-review of its human rights record. Indeed, the regional quarterly reviews, a new early warning and coordination mechanism introduced as part of Human Rights Up Front, look at all world regions. These coordination meetings bring together officials from divergent UN agencies to review adequacy of the UN’s response to potential risks for serious human rights violations.
Forth, association with existing mandates and agendas. Whenever the UN secretariat comes up with its own initiatives, it creates certain anxieties among member states eager to control the international bureaucracy. It was a sign of the Deputy Secretary-General’s successful outreach that no member state questioned the initiative and the role of the secretariat in coming up with it per se. In addition, Eliasson had his staff compile a list of the Charter provisions, treaties and resolutions by the General Assembly and the Security Council relevant to conflict prevention and human rights diplomacy. Responding to calls to do so for example by China, he also welcomed the role of conflict prevention as part of agenda 2030, in particular its goal 16.
Fifth, personal experience and credibility. Human Rights Up Front’s outreach benefits tremendously from having DSG Eliasson as champion in the secretariat. Not only did he conduct several mediation efforts himself, he was part of key normative and operative developments in the United Nations in the past twenty years that pertain to the Human Rights Up Front agenda. As first Emergency Relief Coordinator of the United Nations, he saw at first hand the resulting coordination challenges for the newly created position of humanitarian coordinators, a task usually taken up by the existing resident coordinator and resident representative of UNDP. In 2005, he presided over the record-breaking World Summit as president of the General Assembly, which endorsed the notion of a responsibility to protect populations from mass atrocity crimes, and agreed on the establishment of the Human Rights Council and Peacebuilding Commission. Under his leadership, the General Assembly later agreed on the details of the Human Rights Council, including the UPR. All of this provides Eliasson with unrivaled credibility among member states; his diplomatic skills enable him to put this status into practice.
The overwhelmingly positive welcome in the General Assembly session should not disregard the fair and important questions that even constructive member states still have. Several representatives such as Australia and Argentina asked for concrete examples of the initiative’s implementation, and China wanted to know which experiences the Secretariat had made in the first two years of the action plan’s implementation. While much of the high diplomacy of the UN may be sensitive and should remain confidential for the time being, there is no reason why the UN could not report on efforts taken after the fact, in consultation with the country concerned. After all, OHCHR reports annually about its activities including on a country basis, as do other UN entities. Indeed, three UN officials wrote a blog entry for UNDG how Human Rights up Front had helped them in following up on Argentina’s pledges under the UPR mechanism.
Finally, the UN leadership should not shy away from calling remaining challenges within the UN system by their name. It is understandable that Eliasson and others prefer to stress how “enthusiastic” staff members have greeted the initiative. Yet the action plan has also included new tasks for OCHR, without generating new funding. The creation of a common information system on serious human rights violations was hampered by different understandings of the objectives of protection and varying standards for the protection of victims and witnesses of violations. The new universal human rights training for all UN staff was seen as ineffective and beside the point by a number of observers within the UN system. Most troublingly, an independent expert panel on sexual abuse and exploitation in UN peace operations pointed to „gross institutional failure“ in the UN system, exposing a serious deficit in the organization’s internal culture (Eliasson has, in fact, made the link with Human Rights Up Front at a press conference). If Human Rights Up Front is to gain more traction with member states, Eliasson and his team should confront these challenges head-on.