Making the United Nations System More Effective on Conflict Prevention

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.

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Secretary General Antonio Guterres meeting with Greek Community leader H. E. Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Community leader H.E. Mustafa Akinci, (c) UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe.

This post appeared on GPPi’s website.

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.

Protecting civilians as a common endeavour: DGVN expert workshop in Braunschweig

https://www.flickr.com/photos/monusco/20867077294/in/album-72157656405149364/
(c) MONUSCO/ UN Photo

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.

Discussing the results of the breakout session
Discussing the results of the breakout session

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).

Antonio Guterres klarer Sieger bei #SGDebate in London

(c) UN Photo/ Jean-Marc Ferré
(c) UN Photo/ Jean-Marc Ferré

This blog post was posted on the DGVN blog #YourNextSG and the blog “Junge UN-Forschung.”

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.

Protecting Civilians Through UN Peace Operations

Co-authored with Philipp Rotmann at GPPi. It appeared in German in Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte on 7 March. This is the English translation.

Joint operation against ADF in Beni

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 US is a telling example in this regard. As long as it came to Rwanda’s defense, despite its support for rebel groups in Eastern Congo, it impeded MONUSCO’s activities. Therefore, an important signal was sent to the FIB’s offensive when the US eventually froze its military aid to Rwanda in response to Rwanda’s support for M23.

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.

 

How to sell a UN reform to member states

Five lessons from the Human Rights Up Front initiative

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This post appeared on the Blog Junge UN-Forschung.

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.

The UN at 70: Diplomacy as the art of the possible

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Photo (c) UN Photo.

This post first appeared on the Blog Junge UN-Forschung.

These days, people all over the world commemorate the founding of the United Nations 70 years ago. On 24 October 1945, the UN Charter entered into force and a new international organization was born out of the ashes of the Second World War and the Holocaust. Today, commemorating the UN is often an occasion to question its continuing relevance, and stress the need for its wholesale reform. Even UN enthusiasts are resigned; the best argument put forward is usually along the lines: there is no alternative to this universal international organization that provides a forum for world leaders, an authority on international norms, and a lifeline for millions affected by conflict, poverty, and disease.

The atmosphere was decidedly more upbeat at the recent commemorative event organized by the United Nations Association UK (UNA-UK), the civil society organization in the United Kingdom devoted to the United Nations. Bringing together around 1,000 guests in the medieval Guildhall in central London, the discussions and keynote speech underlined the nature of multilateral diplomacy. It is the art of the possible and often up to individuals, exploring the opportunities that lie in “the space between where your instructions end and you as a thinking negotiator invest your own thought”, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said once to The New York Times. His remarks at the event reflected this insight, just as much as the thorough recommendations from Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway, and Hina Jilani, Pakistani Supreme Court Advocate in the panel discussion preceding the High Commissioner’s keynote. Both are members of The Elders, an advocacy organization on peace and human rights founded by Nelson Mandela.

Holding such an event in London had a particular historic significance: Just a few miles from Guildhall, the UN General Assembly met for the first time on 10 January 1946 in Westminster Methodist Central Hall. The UN Security Council followed a week later, with a meeting in Church House in Westminster, London.

More transparency for the Secretary General’s election and the use of the veto

Seventy years later, everyone agrees that the UN needs reform, but opinions diverge how that can be achieved. Three examples highlight areas where consistent advocacy and careful negotiations can advance the overall effectiveness and legitimacy of the United Nations and its work: electing the new Secretary General, the use of the veto in the Security Council, and transitional justice in Sri Lanka.

At the end of next year, the UN will choose a new Secretary-General, as Ban Ki-moon’s second term comes to an end. Traditionally, the five permanent members of the Security Council have decided on the final candidate just by themselves, without public debate, campaigns, or any meaningful inclusion of the General Assembly which could only confirm the lowest common denominator candidate the five powers could agree on. Improving this process is important, as Gro Harlem Brundtland outlined, as the Secretary General can prove an influential normative leader. To be able to work for the world community, he (or she!) needs to be independent and impartial, and all countries need to have the feeling that the Secretary General represents their common interest.

For this purpose, UNA-UK started the 1for7billion campaign. Its objective is to make the selection process of the Secretary General more transparent, including encouraging member states to suggest candidates that would run on an open platform, spelling out official criteria for the selection, informal meetings with the candidates by the General Assembly, and encouraging a female candidate.

Unrealistic? Requires a charter change? Actually, on 11 September 2015, the General Assembly adopted a resolution outlining all of the above principles. Activists, including The Elder member Brundtland, would like to see further changes such as limiting the term of the SG to one, non-renewable seven-year term, and the actual submission of more than once candidate by the Security Council to the General Assembly. Still, the 1for7billion campaign is a primary example how a civil society-led campaign can push the boundaries of multilateral diplomacy further.

The issue of restraining permanent members from using their veto in the Security Council is a tougher nut to crack. The French government, as well as a group of member states called the “Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group” (ACT) have assembled 73 member states behind their pledge not to use the veto in case of mass atrocities. Recently, the UK joined the French in signing up to the code of conduct for the permanent members, leaving the US, Russia, and China, which have all declared their opposition to the proposal. Here, The Elders member Jilani advocated that permanent members should at least be required to explain their position publicly, if they do decide to resort to the veto. This explanation could then provide the basis for further deliberation – and further pressure to find an agreeable solution.

Transitional justice in Sri Lanka

Lastly, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid delivered a passionate plea for the value of human rights in our time: refugees crossing a border illegally should not be regarded as criminals, he said. More than any other high-level official in the UN system, his office confronts him with evidence of the worst offences against ordinary human beings on a daily basis. Recounting a recent visit to Mexico, where he met with families of some of the 26,000 persons that have disappeared in recent years, he vented his frustration and despair: “It leaves you feeling empty”, he said. Still, “if we did nothing, the situation would have no chance of getting better”, he added defiantly.

Transitional justice in Sri Lanka is a recent example what a careful diplomatic approach can accomplish. On 1 October, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution, in congruence with the Sri Lankan government, recommending a host of measures designed to advance the process of reconciliation, accountability and non-recurrence more than six years after the end of the brutal civil war in the island nation. One particularly hard-fought issue was the inclusion of international judges in the judicial mechanism to investigate crimes and try perpetrators for international crimes.

Despite its general openness to work with international partners on reconciliation and accountability, the new Sri Lankan government had promised its electorate at home that alleged perpetrators would only be tried by domestic judges. For the high commissioner, as well as the UK and the US as main sponsors of the resolution, the decades-long history of delayed and flawed trials for human rights abuses in Sri Lanka meant that some international element was going to be crucial to make the mechanism meaningful. After hurried last-minute negotiations, the Sri Lankan diplomats finally agreed to the “participation of… Commonwealth and other foreign judges” in the Sri Lankan mechanism.

As Sir Jeremy Greenstock, chairman of UNA-UK, asked the High Commissioner whether he believed that this was actually enough, the latter pointed out that the Human Rights Council adopted his recommendations “almost in total” and that there was “immense legal expertise” in Sri Lanka. He is due to travel to the country until the end of the year to further clarify the implementation of the resolution.

Public consultations for the election of the new Secretary General, a code of conduct for Security Council action in situations of mass atrocities, and redress for massive human rights violations during Sri Lanka’s civil war: three recent examples how diplomacy, pushed by strong civil society advocacy, can make a difference at the United Nations. In a time where public debate is dominated by the failures of UN member states in Syria and Ukraine, as well as of UN staff in the Central African Republic or Darfur, it is important to highlight the role of individuals and their actions in international crises. Given a window of opportunity, individual diplomats, senior UN officials and civil society activists can meaningfully contribute to make the vision of the UN Charter a living reality, bit by bit.

Fragiler Schutz

Bei der UN-Friedensmission im Südsudan

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Dieser Beitrag erschien zuerst auf dem Blog Junge UN-Forschung.

Gedrungene, dunkelgrüne Bäume sprenkeln die weite Ebene unter uns, die sich kaum zu einer Ansammlung verdichten, welche die Bezeichnung Wald verdiente. Nur selten tauchen strohbedeckte Hüttenrunden in dem Muster auf, begleitet von weißen Punkten: Kühe sind das Ein und Alles hier: Lebensunterhalt, Statussymbol, Konfliktanlass.

Ich bin im Südsudan, dem jüngsten Staat der Erde. Den weißen Nil immer im Blick befinden wir uns im Anflug auf Bor, die Landeshauptstadt von Jonglei, dem bevölkerungsreichsten Bundesstaat des Landes. Im weißen UN-Helikopter sitzen sich Offiziere und Zivilisten aus Indien, Australien, der Schweiz und anderen Ländern gegenüber. Meine beiden Kollegen und ich wollen in den kommenden Tagen herausfinden, wie die UN Mission im Südsudan (kurz UNMISS) zur Bearbeitung lokaler Konflikte beiträgt. Dafür besuchen wir zivile Teams an drei Standorten; Bor ist unser erster Stopp.

Sanft setzt der Hubschrauber auf dem planierten, nicht geteerten Rollfeld auf. Kaum ausgestiegen begrüßt uns Erik, ein gut gelaunter Endfünfziger aus Schweden, der uns in den kommenden Tagen auf vielen Treffen begleiten wird. Die Vereinten Nationen haben ihr Camp direkt gegenüber vom Flughafen errichtet. In immer-gleichen weißen Containern arbeiten und schlafen die Mitarbeiter der Mission. Um die Büros und Wohneinheiten herum haben die militärischen Kontingente ihre Lager aufgeschlagen. Neben Offizieren und kleineren Einheiten aus vielen verschiedenen Ländern sind das vor allem vier Länder: ein indisches und ein äthiopisches Bataillon, eine koreanische Ingenieurseinheit und ein sri lankisches Militärkrankenhaus. Insgesamt sind im dem Land, das ungefähr so groß wie Frankreich ist, über 11.200 Soldaten für die Vereinten Nationen stationiert, dazu etwa 2.300 zivile Mitarbeiter und 1.100 Polizeikräfte.

Seit der Unabhängigkeit im Juli 2011 hatte der Südsudan kaum Zeit, zur Ruhe zu kommen. Insbesondere in Jonglei fanden wiederholt Kämpfe zwischen bewaffneten Gruppen und Regierungseinheiten statt. Bewegungen von Militäreinheiten sind dabei weitgehend auf die vielleicht viermonatige Trockenzeit begrenzt. Wenn es anfängt, dauerhaft zu regnen in dieser sumpfigen, flachen Gegend, werden weite Gebiete überschwemmt. Der Boden wird derart zäh, dass kein landgetriebenes Fahrzeug durchkommen kann. Selbst mit Gummistiefeln bleibe man häufig stecken: im Grunde könne man in solchen Situationen nur barfuß laufen, hatte uns ein ehemaliger UN-Mitarbeiter in Berlin erzählt.

Das gesamte Land stürzte in eine tiefe Krise, als am 15. Dezember 2013 ein Machtkampf zwischen dem Präsidenten Salva Kiir und seinem langjährigen Weggefährten und ehemaligen Vizepräsidenten Riek Machar außer Kontrolle geriet. Binnen kürzester Zeit nahm der politische Streit eine ethnische Dimension an, da Kiir und Machar unterschiedlichen Volksgruppen angehören und diese innerhalb der Regierungsarmee mobilisierten. Im Zuge dessen töteten Einheiten, welche der Gruppe des Präsidenten angehören (Dinka), Zivilisten der Nuer in Juba, welche sie der Sympathie mit dem als Putschisten geschassten Machar beschuldigten. Innerhalb weniger Tage weitete sich der Konflikt auf andere Teile des Landes aus; Gegenden, in denen viele Nuer leben, wurden zur Basis der bewaffneten Opposition unter Machar. Auch in Bor fanden heftige Kämpfe statt. Die Stadt wechselte die Kontrolle zwischen Regierung und Opposition viermal innerhalb weniger Wochen.

In den umkämpften Gebieten fürchteten viele Menschen um ihr Leben. Ihre eigene Regierung wandte sich gegen sie. Wo würden sie noch sicher sein? Die blaue Fahne der Vereinten Nationen versprach Rettung. Zu tausenden strömten Menschen im Dezember 2013 zu den Lagern der UN-Mission. Vor die Wahl gestellt, verantwortlich für die Versorgung von tausenden von Menschen zu sein oder zuzusehen, wie diese vor ihren Augen abgeschlachtet würden, ordnete die damalige Leiterin von UNMISS, die Norwegerin Hilde Johnson, an, die Tore zu öffnen. Auch das Lager in Bor öffnete seine Tore. „Am ersten Tag kamen 2.000, am zweiten waren es bereits 16.000 Menschen auf unserem Gelände“, erzählt uns ein UN-Mitarbeiter an unserem ersten Abend. „Wir waren nicht dafür ausgerüstet. Wir hatten kein Essen, keine Unterkünfte für diese Menschen.“ Wegen der Kämpfe wurden gleichzeitig viele Mitarbeiter von Hilfsorganisationen evakuiert: „Wir waren auf uns selbst gestellt in den ersten Tagen“, sagt er.

Anderthalb Jahre später sind viele Flüchtlinge immer noch da. Mittlerweile versorgen die Vereinten Nationen etwa 130.000 Menschen auf dem Gelände ihrer Stützpunkte im Südsudan (in Bor sind es noch etwa 2.400). Nie zuvor in ihrer Geschichte hat die Organisation so viele Personen über so einen langen Zeitraum direkt geschützt.

Straße zwischen Bor Town und den UNMISS Lager. Hier kam der gewaltsame Mob am 17. April 2014 entlang.

Am nächsten Morgen fahren wir mit Erik die breite Straße runter in die Stadt. Kühe säumen den Weg, Büros von internationalen Hilfsorganisationen und verlassene Villen lokaler Größen. Die meisten Einwohner von Bor wohnen in traditionellen Lehmhütten, die über ein weites Gebiet um die Hauptstraßen verteilt sind. Im Zentrum brummen Marktstände mit Leben, deren Auswahl allerdings auf wenige Güter wie Reis, Bohnen, Mehl, Tomaten, Zwiebeln, Okraschoten und weitere weitgehend importierte Güter beschränkt ist. Dazu kommt die hohe Inflation – ein kleines Bündel Zwiebel kostet schon mal 25 südsudanesische Pfund, über zwei Euro.

Wir treffen einen Minister der Landesregierung, der zum Einstieg betont, es gäbe keine Konflikte mehr in Jonglei, nur noch ab und an kriminelle Aktivitäten. Ja, die Rebellen kontrollieren einen erheblichen Teil im Norden von Jonglei, aber im Grunde ginge es dabei nur um politische Macht in der Zentralregierung in Juba. „Wir wollen Botschaften des Friedens im gesamten Land verbreiten“, sagt er. Wie ernst er es damit meint, bleibt unklar.

Die Wunden sitzen tief, gerade hier in Bor. Die Regierungsarmee vertrieb die Opposition aus der Stadt, was Flüchtlingen anderer Ethnien und nationaler Herkunft erlaubte, das UN-Lager zu verlassen. Nur die Nuer, welche der gleichen Volksgruppe wie die Rebellen angehören, blieben, weil sie Übergriffe von Regierungskräften gegen sie fürchteten. Die Beziehung zwischen der überwiegend von Dinka bewohnten Stadt und den Flüchtlingen blieb angespannt: Nuer wurden regelmäßig belästigt und angegriffen, wenn sie das Lager verließen. Als Berichte in Bor eintrafen, dass Nuer-Flüchtlinge in einer nördlichen Stadt des Landes dessen Eroberung durch die Opposition gefeiert hätten, griff die Stimmung über.

Ein UN-Bericht detailliert, was am 17. April 2014 geschah: Morgens sammelte sich eine aufgebrachte Menge von hundert bis dreihundert jungen Männern, die sich mit Gewehren und Stöckern ausgestattet in einem Zug von der Stadt auf das UN-Lager zu bewegten. Sie umrundeten das Lager und gelangten zur der Seite, wo sich das Flüchtlingslager befand. Etwa zwanzig Männer überwanden den Zaun, Graben und Stacheldraht-bewehrten Wall, übermächtigen die Wache schiebenden UN-Soldaten und ließen mehre Dutzend weitere Männer herein. Die Angreifer gingen von Zelt zu Zelt, raubten die Insassen aus, schlugen sie und raubten Frauen. Sofern sie ihre Opfer nicht an den für Nuer typischen Gesichtsnarben erkannten, fragten sie ihre Opfer, welcher Volksgruppe sie angehörten und droschen auf sie ein, wenn diese nicht in Dinka antworten konnten. Der Angriff ebbte erst ab, als etwa eine halbe Stunde später eine schnelle Eingreiftruppe der UN einrückte.

47 Menschen starben in Folge dieses Angriffs innerhalb des UN-Lagers, und dass, obwohl sie „umgeben von Panzern“ waren, wie uns der hagere Vorsitzende des Flüchtlingsrats innerhalb des Lages später erzählt. Wieder einmal waren die Erwartungen auf Schutz und Sicherheit durch die blaue Flagge der Vereinten Nationen aufs Bitterste enttäuscht worden. Bis zum heutigen Tag ist keiner der Täter zur Rechenschaft gezogen worden.

Gut ein Jahr später gibt es jedoch auch Zeichen der Hoffnung. Ein lange schwelender Konflikt zwischen einer bewaffneten Gruppe einer dritten Volksgruppe, den Murle, konnte letztes Jahr beigelegt werden. Erst vor kurzem gab es eine weitere politische Annäherung auf Landesebene mit einem hochrangigen Treffen von Vertretern der ehemaligen Murle-Rebellen und der Landesregierung. Während in anderen Bundesstaaten des Südsudan sich die Opposition um Machar und die Regierungsarmee gerade Gefechte liefern, ist es in Jonglei relativ ruhiger. In einigen Gebieten mit traditionell gemischter Dinka-Nuer Bevölkerung scheint es vorsichtige Annäherungen zu geben. Die Vereinten Nationen unterstützen diese Prozesse nach Kräften. Ihr Zugang zu den Rebellengebieten ist allerdings sehr begrenzt.

Die Vereinten Nationen haben eine große Verantwortung übernommen für die Flüchtlinge, die direkt in ihren Lagen leben. Sie versprechen ihren Schutz, aber greifen teilweise nicht entschieden genug ein, wenn es darauf ankommt. Mittlerweile bindet der Schutz der eignen Lager und der angeschlossenen Flüchtlingslager über drei Viertel der militärischen Ressourcen und einen Großteil der humanitären Hilfe – dabei leben die allermeisten Flüchtlinge und Hilfsbedürftigen außerhalb der Lager, häufig in schwer zugänglichen Gegenden. Schwierige Entscheidungen stehen bevor.

Leise schlägt der Regen auf die Fensterscheiben. Wir fliegen zurück nach Juba, unsere Zeit in Bor ist zu Ende. Die Soldaten, Offiziere, humanitären Helfer und zivilen Mitarbeiter der UN Mission werden jedoch noch lange bleiben müssen.

Dieser Text gibt ausschließlich die Meinung des Verfassers wieder und entspricht weder notwendigerweise der Einschätzung der Vereinten Nationen noch von GPPi.