How the New UN Mission in Sudan can succeed

This text first appeared on the Global Observatory of the International Peace Institute on 25 August 2020. It was written by Philipp Jahn, Gerrit Kurtz, and Peter Schumann.

After complex negotiations, the United Nations Security Council established the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) on June 3, 2020, asking Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to start planning the mission so that it can begin operations no later than the beginning of 2021. The special political mission (SPM) has four mandated tasks: supporting the democratic transition, the peace process, peacebuilding, and the mobilization of aid.

The polarized political landscape in Sudan has already affected the planning process. After the Sudanese government (as well as China and Russia) blocked the secretary-general’s initial suggestion for the mission head, and disagreements continued on the future role of the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), the existing peace operation in Darfur, UNITAMS has found itself on thin ice before even starting to work.

A Fragile Transition Process

Sudan’s internal competition for power will be an essential challenge for UNITAMS. As with any UN peace operation, the mission will need to work closely with the incumbent government, but also engage with civil society organizations, security forces, and armed groups—including those opposed to the government. However, the power-sharing coalition is polarized, its constituent parts are fragmented, and its legitimacy is thin. The constitutional declaration, which the Transitional Military Council and the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC) signed in August 2019, is the binding foundation for the transition process, and includes tasks such as a comprehensive peace agreement with Sudan’s armed groups and wide-ranging economic reforms.

In principle, UNITAMS should assist and support the transitional authorities in these tasks. But that is not straightforward. While a fragmented political landscape is nothing unusual for a mission setting, Sudan’s main political forces represent competing political systems, each with their external backing. They range from, first, members of the former Islamist regime, whose adherents have frequently launched protests against the transitional authorities and retain sympathies from Turkey and Qatar. Second, the Sudanese Armed Forces, the Rapid Support Forces, special police, and internal security services, represent a model of military authoritarianism as in Egypt, on which they count as their regional ally together with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Finally, the civilian cabinet led by Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) alliance and other political parties are proponents of a democratic system, with support from the European Union, the AU, and Ethiopia.

Hamdok’s cabinet, UNITAMS’ main interlocutor, is increasingly squeezed between internal fragmentation of the parties nominally supporting it, revisionist protests from the Islamist camp, and domestic expectations to improve the dire economic situation. For example, Sadiq al-Mahdi from the National Umma Party, who led Sudan’s last democratic government in the late 1980s and had supported the civilian government before, reached out to the military and security forces to form a “patriotic alliance” against Hamdok. The planned inclusion of representatives of armed groups in the government’s transitional institutions as part of an impending peace agreement is likely to complicate this picture further.

The UN and Local Ownership

Implementing strong local ownership is a structural challenge for UN peace operations, especially for an integrated mission like UNITAMS, which is meant to carry out relevant functions of the UN Country Team. Peace operations, under the overall guidance of the UN Security Council and the UN secretary-general, have more leeway in implementing their mandate than UN agencies, funds, and programs, which rely on the host government’s consent for every project that they devise and implement. The close role of state authorities in planning and reviewing UN development and peacebuilding projects fosters their ownership though, whereas peace operations often remain tied to a top-down approach with national ownership at a much more abstract level, despite their efforts to consult communities and survey local perceptions. In the past, straying from the narrow line dictated by Sudan’s regime has often resulted in the expulsion of UN officials.

In Sudan, the UN cannot count on the government alone. Dominated by external advisors and (former) international officials, Prime Minister Hamdok’s government is hamstrung by the extremely low capacity of public administration. For example, the transitional government struggles to develop project proposals at the level of detail requested by donors and ensure efficient implementation of transition objectives. In early July, Hamdok appointed  a 15-member-committee to manage negotiations with UNITAMS. While the body is largely civilian (except one member representing military intelligence), it does not involve members of the FFC or other civil society organizations.

From countless examples of international interventionism, we know today that external actors cannot impose a framework on a society to resolve a conflict, if the fundamental causes of polarization and conflict remain. That was the experience of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS) in 2015, which collapsed less than a year after the parties signed it under heavy regional and international pressure. UNAMID, for its part, came into being because of such international pressure, and was hampered to implement its mandate effectively by the intransigent government of President Omar al-Bashir, and ended up serving the political objectives of the past regime.

An Adaptive Approach

If UNITAMS is to avoid the fate of those peace efforts, it needs to adopt an adaptive approach. This peacebuilding approach recognizes that, as Cedric de Coning writes, “social systems are highly dynamic, non-linear and emergent.” It chimes well with Prime Minister Hamdok’s frequent insistence that Sudan’s transition process is “messy and non-linear.” An adaptive peacebuilding strategy takes a highly participatory approach, experiments with different options, and pays close attention to feedback from the local political environment, reviewing and adjusting its programming frequently in response to that feedback. Specifically, UNITAMS should heed four considerations.

First, in planning and implementing the mission, UN officials should account for the rapidly evolving situation and relatively short scheduled lifespan of the mission tracking the (now probably four-year) transition period. Instead of rigid budgets and work plans common in a UN peace operation, as much authority for recruitment, coordination, and project design should be delegated to the country-level as possible. Only with enough flexibility and Sudanese participation will the mission be able to respond to evolving dynamics and local needs. Specifically, the mission should institutionalize a regular advisory and monitoring mechanism, not just with the government’s committee, but with the FFC and civil society organizations as well. In doing so, the UN can build on its engagement with those groups since the start of the revolution in 2019. Knowledge management experts should ensure a smooth transition to the UN Country Team, while the mission should employ political and civil affairs officers with relevant regional and country expertise.

Second, UNITAMS should foster resilience, i.e., the ability to withstand and manage shocks to the transition process. There are likely going to be further delays and setbacks in the transition process, even a complete take-over by the security sector cannot be ruled out. UNITAMS has the mandate to support institution-building through providing technical expertise and advise for the constitutional process and independent commissions. As many actors are already present in this field, UNITAMS must avoid contributing to donor competition for attractive lighthouse projects. It should concentrate on strengthening the ability of the civilian authorities to exert control over the security sector and its economic activities, as the transitional government has planned. This will require the mission to put parliamentarians and political parties at the center of their stakeholder engagement. Only they can ensure functional civilian oversight of the security sector. The Sudanese private sector will be needed to restructure the assets of the security sector.

Third, UNITAMS should contribute to ensuring international coherence, in particular regarding the UN’s activities in Sudan and international financing of the transition. Extending basic services and supplies to the whole population is a key element of the transition’s success. More donor funds are expected to flow into Sudan in the wake of the Sudan Berlin Conference, where attendants pledged around 1.8 billion dollars (plus up to a further 400 million dollars in a pre-arrears clearance grant from the World Bank) on June 25, 2020. Ensuring a consistent follow-up process that will see further partnership conferences and coordination of pledges as well as operational activities in a way that considers the nexus between humanitarian and development activities in addition to peacebuilding will be crucial for UNITAMS.

As an integrated mission, some tasks that UNITAMS undertakes will continue after it is scheduled to leave Sudan with the completion of democratic elections, such as the reform of the civil service and public administration. As these developmental tasks will take many years, UNITAMS should leave the building of these vital state capacities to those organizations that are going to stay in Sudan for the long run, and concentrate on overall strategic coordination and ensure peace and stability of the transition process itself. Structurally, the existing donor coordination mechanisms supported by the UN Country Team can ensure Sudanese ownership more effectively than a peace operation. Given the remaining threats to civilians in Darfur and elsewhere, the Security Council may decide to extend UNAMID beyond December 2020. For UNITAMS, this would mean that it would have to revisit its mission plan and even raison d’être.

Finally, the mission should facilitate the flow of information and promote transparency regarding its own activities and those of development partners and government authorities. Sudan is swirling with rumors and speculation, including about the work of international actors. With offices around the country, logistical capacities, and the protection of a status-of-forces agreement, the mission should empower marginalized voices through dialogue processes, local conflict management, and reconciliation, and encourage communication between Sudan’s federal states and Khartoum.

UNITAMS can provide a platform for sharing information and can facilitate communication beyond its regular reporting to the UN Security Council, including public information efforts in Sudan. This includes managing expectations what a political mission can and cannot deliver, especially when it comes to protection of civilians and accountability. Establishing such processes could also help shine a light on the often-unclear support of Sudan’s non-traditional donors, including from the Gulf.

Becoming a Central Focal Point

The success of UNITAMS hinges on the ability and capacity of mission leadership and staff to provide substantive technical professional inputs to the transition process otherwise not available to Sudanese institutions, and to ensure strong Sudanese ownership of the mission. Adopting a flexible, adaptive approach will be difficult for a UN system full of inertia. Given the right policies, resources, leadership, and political backing, the mission still has the chance to become a focal point for the international support to Sudan’s transition.

Philipp Jahn heads the office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Khartoum. Gerrit Kurtz is research fellow for crisis prevention and diplomacy in Africa at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in Berlin. Peter Schumann is a former UN official, who served as Acting Deputy Joint Special Representative with UNAMID in 2017/18.

Kriegsverbrechen in Sri Lanka: Aufarbeitung nicht in Sicht

26 Jahre lang tobte ein Bürgerkrieg in dem Inselstaat Sri Lanka. Zehntausende Zivilisten starben zwischen den Fronten. Unzählige Menschen verschwanden spurlos. Eine Aufklärung der Kriegsverbrechen mit Hilfe der Vereinten Nationen scheint heute unwahrscheinlicher denn je – und die Situation für Minderheiten im Land verschärft sich.

The beach of Mulivaikal in March 2014.

Dieser Text erschien am 28. Februar 2020 in der Zeitschrift Pogrom der Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker.

Wellen plätschern an einen feinen Sandstrand, der sich in der Ferne biegt. Hinter dem Strand ist die Erde aufgewühlt. Etwas weiter ragen Palmyrapalmen und struppige Büsche auf. Hier, am Strand von Mullivaikal, endete der sri-lankische Bürgerkrieg im Mai 2009. Damals waren zuletzt 130.000 tamilische Zivilisten auf einem winzigen Flecken Land eingepfercht. Von mehreren Seiten regneten Geschosse der sri-lankischen Armee auf sie nieder. Wollten sie fliehen, drohten Kugeln der Rebellen der Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (dt.: Befreiungstiger von Tamil Eelam; kurz: Tamil Tigers), die im Bürgerkrieg von 1983 bis 2009 für die Unabhängigkeit des von Tamilen dominierten Nordens und Ostens Sri Lankas kämpften.

Mehr als ein Jahrzehnt später sind die gesellschaftlichen Wunden noch roh. Zehntausende Menschen, viele von ihnen Tamilen, sind nach dem 26-jährigen Bürgerkrieg nie wieder aufgetaucht. Das Land ist tief gespalten. In den vergangenen Jahren schien eine rechtliche Aufarbeitung des Kriegs und eine Bearbeitung der tieferen Konfliktursachen zwar möglich. Doch mit der Wahl des neuen Präsidenten, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, am 16. November 2019 sind sie wieder in weite Ferne gerückt. Im Januar 2020 erklärte er, die mindestens 24.000 vermissten Personen seien tot, und gab den Tamil Tigers die Schuld, ohne einzelne Beweise vorzulegen. Rajapaksa war ab 2005 Verteidigungsstaatssekretär des Inselstaats. Unter seiner Zuständigkeit fanden schwere Menschenrechtsverletzungen gerade in der Endphase des Krieges statt. Sein älterer Bruder Mahinda war zu jener Zeit Präsident. Die Brüder nehmen den „Sieg gegen den Terrorismus“ für sich in Anspruch.

Sri Lanka 2009: eine hochanspruchsvolle Situation für das UN-System

Die Vereinten Nationen (UN) gaben in den letzten Kriegsmonaten 2008 und 2009 kein gutes Bild ab. Ein Beispiel: Auf eigene Faust sammelte eine Gruppe engagierter Mitarbeiter im UN-Landesteam Daten über zivile Opfer, soweit sie über Kontakte und Satellitendaten an Informationen gelangen konnten. Dem höchsten UN-Mitarbeiter in Sri Lanka, Neil Buhne, fehlte es jedoch an abgestimmten politischen Anweisungen aus New York und an Erfahrung in solchen Situationen. Bei einem Briefing am 9. März 2009 präsentierte er Diplomaten in der sri-lankischen Hauptstadt Colombo die Opferzahlen – erwähnte aber dabei nicht, dass laut UN-Informationen die Regierung für den Großteil der zivilen Opfer zu dem Zeitpunkt verantwortlich gewesen sei.

Das UN-Hochkommissariat für Menschenrechte (OHCHR) machte diese Zahlen dagegen öffentlich, um Druck auf die Regierung auszuüben. Andere Teile des UN-Systems fürchteten wiederum, ihr humanitärer Zugang zu den umkämpften Gebieten Sri Lankas könnte (noch) weiter eingeschränkt werden. Gegenüber dem sri-lankischen Außenminister bezeichnete Buhne die Zahlen als unzuverlässig. Das Ergebnis war ein inkohärentes Auftreten des gesamten UN-Systems gegenüber der sri-lankischen Regierung.

Sri Lanka 2009 war eine hochanspruchsvolle Situation für das UN-System. Vor Ort arbeiteten hauptsächlich humanitäre und Entwicklungsorganisationen. Praktisch keine Vertreter der politischen und menschenrechtlichen Seiten des Systems waren zugegen. Gleichzeitig hatten viele UN-Mitgliedsstaaten die sri-lankische Regierung lange Zeit im Kampf gegen die Tamil Tigers unterstützt, die ihrerseits Anschläge gegen zivile Ziele mit massenhaften Opfern verübt hatten. Erst wenige Monate vor Ende der Kriegshandlungen, unter Druck von großen Demonstrationen der tamilischen Diaspora in Städten wie London und Toronto, übten einige Staaten mehr Druck auf die sri-lankische Regierung aus. Doch Sri Lanka war noch nicht einmal formal auf der Agenda des UN-Sicherheitsrats. Die Mitglieder des Sicherheitsrats zogen nicht an einem Strang.

Lehren aus der Inkohärenz

Unter der Führung von UN-Generalsekretär Ban Ki-moon und seinem Stellvertreter Jan Eliasson bemühten sich die Vereinten Nationen, ihre Lehren aus der Erfahrung der Inkohärenz in Sri Lanka 2009 zu ziehen. Gegenüber der sri-lankischen Regierung setzte sich der Generalsekretär mit Nachdruck bereits wenige Tage nach dem formalen Ende der Feindseligkeiten für eine Aufarbeitung der mutmaßlichen Kriegsverbrechen ein. Ein Jahr später ernannte er eine eigene Expertenkommission, um ihn in dieser Frage zu beraten. Eliasson beaufsichtigte Reformen des Maschinenraums des UN-Systems, um mit der Initiative „Human Rights up Front“ (dt.: Menschenrechte im Vordergrund) mehr Anreize für regelmäßige Zusammenarbeit der verschiedenen Teile des UN-Systems zu setzen.  Mitarbeiterinnen und Mitarbeiter sollten gestärkt werden, auch kritische Fragen mit Mitgliedsstaaten zu besprechen.

Unter der Führung der USA begann der UN-Menschenrechtsrat 2012 sich mit Sri Lanka zu befassen. Eine europäische Initiative hatte die sri-lankische Regierung im Mai 2009 zum eigenen Nutzen zuvor gekapert. 2014 begann OHCHR eine Untersuchung, wurde aber von der Rajapaksa-Regierung nicht ins Land gelassen. Das Blatt wendete sich, als die sri-lankische Bevölkerung 2015 eine reformwillige Regierung unter der Führung von Präsident Maithripala Sirisena und Premierminister Ranil Wickremesinghe ins Amt wählte. Die neue Regierung bekannte sich im Menschenrechtsrat zu einem umfangreichen Programm der Übergangsjustiz (Transitional Justice), allerdings ohne Zeitplan.

Die Umsetzung zog sich hin. Bis Ende 2019 richtete die Regierung lediglich eine Behörde zur Untersuchung der verschwundenen Personen (Office of Missing Persons) und ein Reparationsbüro ein, jedoch keine Wahrheitskommission oder gerichtlichen Mechanismus. Auch eine umfangreiche Verfassungsreform einschließlich mehr Autonomierechte für die Provinzen blieb im Parlament stecken. Stattdessen rieb sich die Regierung im inneren Streit auf, der in einer Verfassungskrise im Herbst 2018 gipfelte.

Gewalt gegen Minderheiten

Die Situation der Minderheiten in Sri Lanka – vor allem Muslime, Tamilen und Christen – bleibt angespannt. Der Nationalismus der numerischen Mehrheit der singhalesischen Buddhisten prägt seit Jahrzehnten die Politik des Landes. Dies macht sich beispielsweise in der Sprachenpolitik in Sicherheitsorganen und Verwaltung bemerkbar: Selbst im Norden des Landes, in dem überwiegend Tamilen leben, sprechen nur wenige Polizisten die Sprache der Menschen, die sie schützen sollen. Gleichzeitig hat es in den vergangenen Jahren immer wieder Übergriffe von organisierten Mobs insbesondere auf Muslime gegeben – sowohl unter Präsident Mahinda Rajapaksa als auch unter Sirisena.

Ostersonntag 2019 verloren bei der größten Terroranschlagsserie seit Kriegsende mehr als 250 Menschen ihr Leben, viele von ihnen Christen im Gottesdienst. Die Sicherheitsorgane ignorierten Warnungen aus der muslimischen Gemeinschaft und vom indischen Geheimdienst über die extreme Radikalisierung einer abgeschotteten Gruppe im Osten, wie ein parlamentarischer Untersuchungsausschuss feststellte. In der Folgezeit schürte Sirisena die aufgeheizte Stimmung gegen Muslime noch. So begnadigte er zum Beispiel einen verurteilten Scharfmacher einer radikalen buddhistischen Gruppe.

Präsident Gotabaja Rajapaksa hat angekündigt, dass er sich nicht an die Bekenntnisse der Vorgängerregierung hinsichtlich der Aufarbeitung der Menschenrechtsverletzungen während des Bürgerkriegs gebunden fühlt. Sofort nach seiner Wahl berichteten zivilgesellschaftliche Aktivistinnen und Aktivisten über Drohungen und Beeinträchtigungen ihrer Arbeit. Sri Lanka steht bei der 43. Sitzung des UN-Menschenrechtsrats im Februar/März 2020 wieder auf der Tagesordnung. Das Fenster für Reformen hat sich jedoch geschlossen.

Mehr als Friedensrufer: Die Rolle der Vereinten Nationen im Irankonflikt

Die Vereinten Nationen haben trotz gescheiterter Vermittlungsversuche über verschiedene Kanäle weiterhin Einfluss in der Konfliktregion. Die Europäer sollten die VN als zentralen Ort für die internationale Konfliktvermittlung stärken.

Diesen Beitrag schrieb ich zusammen mit Carina Böttcher. Er erschien als DGAP Web-Beitrag am 16. Januar 2020.

„Das neue Jahr hat damit begonnen, dass unsere Welt in Aufruhr ist“, kommentierte UN-Generalsekretär António Guterres die Eskalation zwischen dem Iran und den USA. „Und meine Botschaft ist einfach und klar: Stoppen Sie die Eskalation. Üben Sie maximale Zurückhaltung. Nehmen Sie den Dialog wieder auf. Erneuern Sie die internationale Zusammenarbeit“. Eine Absage an die Vereinten Nationen als Mediator kam in diesem Fall von den USA. Die Regierung unter US-Präsident Donald Trump lehnte in der ersten Januarwoche ein Visum für den iranischen Außenminister Javad Zarif ab – auch wenn dies gegen die Pflichten der USA als Gaststaat der Vereinten Nationen verstößt. Die Vereinten Nationen sind jedoch nicht handlungsunfähig.

Überwachen, berichten, vermitteln, Kapazitäten aufbauen

Die Verhandlungen für das 2015 geschlossene Nuklearabkommen zum Iran fanden zwar im E3+3-Format (Großbritannien, Frankreich, Deutschland, EU, China, Russland und USA) ohne direkte Beteiligung der Vereinten Nationen statt. Doch es sind die regelmäßigen Berichte der Internationalen Atomenergiebehörde (IAEO), die Informationen über die Einhaltung liefern, denen alle Seiten vertrauen können. Trotz seiner jüngsten Ankündigung, sich nicht mehr an die Beschränkungen des  Atomprogrammes gebunden zu fühlen, arbeitet der Iran weiterhin mit der IAEO zusammen. Besuche der IAEO-Inspektoren bei iranischen Einrichtungen gehen weiter.

Die Vereinten Nationen erfüllen in der Region unerlässliche Funktionen, teils wenig beachtet von einer breiteren Öffentlichkeit. Die regionalen Konflikte, in denen der Iran über seine Verbündeten involviert ist, werden weiterhin im Sicherheitsrat verhandelt. Im Irak unterhalten die Vereinten Nationen seit 2003 die zivile Friedensmission UNAMI. Mit ihrer Arbeit wirkt die Mission auf eine stabile und pluralistische irakische Staatsorganisation und Gesellschaft hin. Das macht es für den Iran schwerer, seinen Einfluss in der Region weiter zu vergrößern. UNAMI beobachtet unter anderem die Menschenrechtslage und veröffentlicht Untersuchungsberichte zur Gewalt gegen die Zivilbevölkerung, zuletzt im Kontext der breiten Anti-Regierungsdemonstrationen im Herbst 2019.

Im Libanon hat die UN-Friedensmission UNIFIL den Auftrag, die Zone an der Grenze zu Israel zu Land und zu See zu kontrollieren. Die Mission hat Schwierigkeiten, Waffenkontrollen flächendeckend durchzuführen und sie wird routinemäßig am Zugang zu kritischen Orten gehindert. Der Sicherheitsrat sollte sich dafür einsetzen, die Mission zu stärken. Dann könnte UNIFIL einen Beitrag dazu leisten, die militärischen Fähigkeiten von Hisbollah, der vom Iran unterstützten schiitischen Miliz im Libanon, tatsächlich einzudämmen.

Auch im Jemen-Krieg vermitteln die Vereinten Nationen. Seit 2015 kämpfen die mit dem Iran verbündeten Houthis gegen die international anerkannte Regierung und die von Saudi-Arabien angeführte Militärkoalition. Der UN-Sondergesandte Martin Griffiths berichtete im Dezember 2019, die Konfliktparteien kämen allmählich zu der Erkenntnis, dass der Konflikt nicht mit einem militärischen Sieg für eine der Seiten enden könne.

Europäer sollten UN-Fähigkeiten stärken

Keines der genannten Aufgabenfelder der Vereinten Nationen funktioniert problemlos. Dennoch bieten sie Möglichkeiten, Aspekte der regionalen Rolle des Iran zu diskutieren, staatliche und gesellschaftliche Institutionen in ihrer Unabhängigkeit zu stärken, Menschenrechtsverletzungen zu dokumentieren und den Dialog auch mit schwierigen Gesprächspartnern zu führen. Während die USA und Iran seit 1980 keine diplomatischen Beziehungen pflegen, erlaubt die ständige Vertretung Irans bei den Vereinten Nationen in New York einen – seltenen – direkten Gesprächskanal.

Die Europäer geraten zunehmend unter Druck, sich in dem Konflikt eindeutig zugunsten der USA zu positionieren. Dies zeigte sich bereits darin, dass die Außenminister der E3-Staaten sowie die EU-Kommission nur den Iran zur Mäßigung aufriefen. Das hat die Glaubwürdigkeit der EU als neutrale Vermittlerin geschwächt. Die europäischen Regierungen sollten daher die Fähigkeiten der Vereinten Nationen im Umgang mit dem Iran und seinen Verbündeten stärken.

Zwei Szenarien scheinen derzeit im Rahmen der Weltorganisation möglich:

  1. Zunächst könnten in New York informelle Gespräche auf Botschafter-Ebene mit allen relevanten Parteien stattfinden. Solche Gespräche unterhalb der großen politischen Aufmerksamkeitsschwelle sind für die USA relativ unproblematisch, da sie kein Signal der Schwäche an innenpolitische Beobachter senden. Sollten die Gespräche gut verlaufen, könnte später der iranische Außenminister nach New York reisen. Es ist aber fraglich, ob die US-Regierung nach ihrer vorherigen Absage dies im Jahr der Präsidentschaftswahl nachträglich zulassen würden.
  2. Die europäischen Staaten im UN-Sicherheitsrat können eine Sitzung an einem anderen Ort als New York initiieren, beispielsweise in Genf, so dass die Teilnahme von Außenminister Zarif nicht von den USA blockiert werden kann. Im Februar wird Belgien turnusgemäß den Vorsitz im Sicherheitsrat übernehmen. Die existierenden Themen auf der Agenda des Sicherheitsrats bieten Anknüpfungspunkte für strukturierte Diskussionen über geopolitische Interessen des Iran, seiner Verbündeten und der anderen Regionalmächte. Eine Mediation im Rahmen der Vereinten Nationen ermöglicht es, den Gesprächsfaden auch über Gipfeltreffen hinaus zu verfolgen.

Die Europäer müssen die Vereinten Nationen wieder zum zentralen Schauplatz der Vermittlung internationaler Spannungen machen. Mit Unterstützung wichtiger Mitgliedstaaten gibt es dort die Chance, mit ihren Gesprächskanälen und Fähigkeiten zur Konfliktbearbeitung den Friedensrufen von Generalsekretär Guterres Nachdruck zu verleihen.

Prävention braucht politische Führung

Dr. Gerrit Kurtz ist Research Fellow bei der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik e.V. (DGAP). Angesichts eines Untersuchungsberichts zum Verhalten der Vereinten Nationen in Myanmar fordert er größeren Mut auf Seiten des UN-Führungspersonals bei der Prävention von Krieg und Gewalt.

Dieser Standpunkt erschien in der Zeitschrift Vereinte Nationen 6/2019.

Eine Familie der Rohingya im Flüchtlingscamp Kutupalong Rohingya in Bangladesch. UN Photo: KM Asad
Eine Familie der Rohingya im Flüchtlingscamp Kutupalong Rohingya in Bangladesch. UN Photo: KM Asad

Kollektives und systemisches Versagen – das war die Schlussfolgerung eines unabhängigen Berichts, der im Auftrag von Generalsekretär António Guterres das Verhalten der Vereinten Nationen in Bezug auf die staatliche Diskriminierung, Vertreibung und Ermordung tausender Rohingya in Myanmar im Zeitraum von 2010 bis 2018 untersuchte. Der Autor des Berichts, Gert Rosenthal, identifizierte fünf Hauptkritikpunkte: mangelhafte Unterstützung der UN durch die Mitgliedstaaten, keine gemeinsame Strategie des UN-Systems, schwache Koordinationsmechanismen, ein dysfunktionales UN-Landesteam mit einer überforderten Residierenden Koordinatorin sowie widersprüchliche Kommunikationskanäle zwischen Myanmar und New York.

Rosenthals Befund ist umso bemerkenswerter, da das kritisierte Verhalten in die Zeit eines wichtigen Reformvorhabens des damaligen UN-Generalsekretärs Ban Ki-moon fällt. Die ›Human Rights up Front‹-Initiative (HRUF) war Bans Konsequenz aus einem ähnlichen Untersuchungsbericht zum Verhalten des UN-Systems während des Bürgerkriegsendes in Sri Lanka in den Jahren 2008 und 2009. Bestandteile der Initiative waren zum einen organisatorische Maßnahmen für eine besser abgestimmte Analyse und Zusammenarbeit zwischen den UN-Einheiten. Zum anderen sollte die HRUF einen Wandel der UN-Organisationskultur herbeiführen sowie die Mitgliedstaaten in die Pflicht nehmen. Belegt der Rosenthal-Bericht nun ein Scheitern dieser Reformanstrengungen?

Wie sollen Bedienstete der Vereinten Nationen Menschenrechtsverletzungen kritisieren, wenn ihr Chef keine klare Linie vorgibt?

Diese Schlussfolgerung wäre zu kurz gegriffen. Innerhalb des UN-Landesteams in Myanmar gab es widerstreitende Vorstellungen davon, welche Prioritäten die UN-Organisationen verfolgen sollten, um die Situation der Rohingya zu verbessern. Humanitärer Zugang und Unterstützung des demokratischen Übergangsprozesses wurden eine höhere Priorität als die öffentliche Kritik an Menschenrechtsverletzungen beigemessen.

Die gröbste Fehlleistung passierte jedoch nicht in Rangun, sondern in New York. Die Uneinigkeit, wann öffentliche Kritik und wann private Diplomatie angezeigt sei, setzte sich auf der Leitungsebene zwischen dem UN-Entwicklungsprogramm (United Nations Development Programm – UNDP), dem Sonderberater für Myanmar und dem stellvertretenden Generalsekretär fort. In seinem Bericht stellt Rosenthal fest, dass Ban zu keinem Zeitpunkt diesen Konflikt entschied. Doch wie sollen UN-Bedienstete unter strenger Beobachtung der Gastregierung offen Menschenrechtsverletzungen kritisieren, wenn ihr oberster Chef keine klare Linie vorgibt?

Zunehmender Nationalismus, Autokratie und Souveränitätsdenken erschweren es den UN, Menschenrechte im Gleichklang mit Entwicklung und Sicherheit zu verfolgen. Prävention kann jedoch nur ganzheitlich gelingen. Ohne kohärente Unterstützung der Mitgliedstaaten ist es für die UN schwierig, Einfluss auf Regime wie in Myanmar zu nehmen. Umso wichtiger ist es, sich beständig Gedanken über mögliche Hebel zu machen. Dazu braucht es Mut, Gestaltungswillen und Konsistenz.

Indem er die Konfliktprävention zur wichtigsten Aufgabe seiner Amtszeit gemacht hat, hat Guterres Führungsfähigkeit bewiesen. Doch muss er erstens dafür sorgen, dass die Menschenrechtsmechanismen besser mit der Agenda 2030 und der Friedensarbeit vernetzt werden. Zweitens muss er dafür sorgen, dass die Residierenden Koordinatorinnen und Koordinatoren das passende Profil zur Situation im Land haben und im Zweifel ausgetauscht werden. Dank der Reform des UN-Entwicklungssystems hat Guterres einen direkten Draht zu diesen wichtigen Schaltstellen. Schließlich sollten die UN-Mitgliedstaaten die Aufarbeitung seitens des UN-Systems zum Anlass nehmen, ihr eigenes Verhalten in Situationen staatlicher Diskriminierung kritisch zu untersuchen – nicht nur in Myanmar.

Peace in South Sudan: Don’t repeat the same mistakes

Germany should advocate in the UN Security Council for a course correction on the international approach to peace in South Sudan. If high-level mediation, addressing impunity, and grassroots reconciliation are not prioritized, international pressure to form a transitional government by November 12, 2019, is likely to lead to renewed violence.

UN Security Council delegation visiting South Sudan, October 2019. Photo: Isaac Billy, UNMISS.

This text was published as DGAP Standpunkt on 29 October 2019.

In Juba, South Sudan’s capital, it seems to be Groundhog Day, with the same events reoccurring in a never-ending loop. The current run-up to a November 12 deadline to form a transitional government closely resembles the predicament of just half a year ago, when the parties had extended the initial deadline from May.

Under intense regional and international pressure after the collapse of the original peace agreement of August 2015, the government and opposition parties signed the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) in September 2018. It included a ceasefire, which largely still holds across the country, at least among signatories. R-ARCSS also foresaw the creation of a transitional government of national unity, with positions for the various negotiating parties, including five vice-presidential posts.

A delegation of the UN Security Council, led by the United States and South Africa, visited Juba on October 20, 2019. Its mission: impress upon all signatories to the R-ARCSS the need to abide by their commitments, including forming the transitional government by the agreed deadline. The United States has already hinted at additional sanctions if the parties fail. Yet with no adequate security arrangements and political agreements in place, such international pressure risks repeating the same mistakes made at key junctures since the start of South Sudan’s civil war in December 2013.

The issues hindering the peace process and the formation of the transitional government of national unity are well-known. In a statement from early October 2019, the UN Security Council listed them itself: not only is there no agreement between the parties on the internal borders of South Sudan’s federal states and the cantonment and training of government and opposition security forces, but the government is also dragging its feet in releasing funds to support these processes.

Unsatisfied with the lack of progress, the most prominent opposition group – the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) led by Riek Machar – announced in early October that it would not participate in the transition government. Machar maintained his objection during the Security Council’s mid-October visit. Similarly, the South Sudan Opposition Alliance, another signatory of the peace agreement, said that its participation hinged on the resolution of the outstanding issues. President Salva Kiir has maintained that he will form the transitional government even if some opposition groups choose not to participate. Meanwhile, there are already allegations that Kiir is training new forces.

Déjà Vu of the Original Peace Agreement

The current peace deal risks sharing the fate of the original peace agreement of August 2015, which quickly collapsed three years ago amid the escalation of fighting, spread of violence, and fragmentation of the parties involved. Then, international pressure brought Kiir, Machar, and a smaller opposition group together to sign this agreement, which included a ceasefire, a power-sharing arrangement, and a commitment to establish a hybrid court under the aegis of the African Union. As became clear in the following months, the parties never intended to follow through with many of these commitments. Worse, the regional and international guarantors of the agreement let them get away with it.

Barely two months after he signed the peace agreement, President Kiir announced the reorganization of South Sudan’s federal states, increasing their number from 10 to 28. As the power-sharing arrangements were tied to the original number, his move was a clear violation of the peace agreement. Furthermore, the government failed to withdraw the bulk of its security forces from Juba to cantonment sites on its periphery. Machar and Kiir agreed on security arrangements that brought hundreds of opposition forces to Juba to guarantee the safety of Machar and his team, further militarizing the capital.

Under international pressure and in a weak military position, Machar went to Juba in April 2016 to form a unity government. The arrangement proved to be deeply dysfunctional. When Machar’s and Kiir’s forces clashed at an illegal checkpoint in the city in July of that year, heavy fighting broke out, during which hundreds of civilians and fighters were killed. Machar fled Juba accompanied by a contingent of his rebels, with government security forces in close pursuit. The government later revealed that it had paid Paul Malong, then chief of military staff, five million US dollars directly from the central bank to pursue and kill Machar, then the country’s first vice president.

International and regional reactions to these events were underwhelming. Beyond verbal criticism, there were neither repercussions for Kiir’s reorganization of state borders, nor for the July 2016 crisis. In addition, international and regional partners implicitly accepted that Taban Deng Gai, who had represented the opposition during the peace negotiations, had replaced Machar as first vice president while Machar was on the run.

Waking Up from Groundhog Day

Around 380,000 people are estimated to have died because of South Sudan’s civil war. The South Sudanese need a different international engagement. Germany supported the negotiations that led to the revitalized peace agreement last year with expertise and additional staff for the African Union (AU) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the regional organization in the Horn of Africa. As a donor and a current non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Germany – along with its European partners – now has the chance to steer international policymaking on South Sudan in new, more effective directions.

First of all, in partnership with the AU and IGAD, the Security Council needs to push for continuous mediation between the parties. Security arrangements and the internal political order were already at the heart of the failure of the previous transitional government. Therefore, it is baffling that IGAD has not yet managed to appoint a permanent head of the peace agreement’s monitoring body. South Sudan should not just be seen as an issue to shape US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft’s public profile; rather, it deserves sustained political attention from the region, as well as from international decision-makers, including in Europe. There is no shortcut around negotiations between the parties. High-level mediators not only need to bring all the main players to the negotiating table until there is a consensus, but they also need to quickly follow-up with sanctions in the event of serious violations.

Secondly, donor countries like Germany need to spell out their conditions for support of the peace process more explicitly. Right now, the South Sudanese parties shape the narrative by calling for international donors to release further funds for the implementation of the peace agreement, in particular the retraining of government and opposition forces. Instead, donors should insist on the South Sudanese government’s pledge to release 100 million US dollars for this process. While the government currently spends millions on a presidential jet and foreign medical treatment for MPs, it is neither paying security services nor providing sufficient food and water at cantonment sites. Any support of the peace process by external donors should be bound to financial audits and transparency of South Sudan’s oil sector.

Thirdly, peacemaking in South Sudan needs to move away from a purely transactional model of power-sharing, in which government positions are meted out to the parties according to their negotiating strength. As Lotje de Vries and Mareike Schomerus argued in 2017, a peace deal alone will not end the war in South Sudan. Europe needs to follow the US example by going after the cash flows funding the violence more aggressively than in the past. Thanks to investigations by the Sentry, a US civil society organization; the panel of experts appointed by the UN Security Council; and the UN Human Rights Commission on South Sudan, detailed evidence already exists of the patronage networks benefiting from the civil war. The EU should freeze the assets of more corrupt members of the South Sudanese elite. Addressing impunity by getting the proposed hybrid court on South Sudan up and running under the aegis of the African Union also deserves a higher priority.

International pressure on the parties needs to focus on resolving the outstanding issues, not on forming a bloated transitional government with minimal trust. Machar can be forgiven for not trusting the UN’s assurance of his and his team’s safety if they return to Juba. In July 2016, UN troops were bogged down amid the urban fighting in the city and did not even intervene to halt an assault on humanitarian and UN workers at a nearby compound, let alone protect civilians in the vicinity of its camps. While the UN Mission has been bumped up to include additional forces with a robust mandate and improved procedures, it is unclear whether these forces would be able to engage with the thousands of government troops stationed in Juba if the 2016 scenario were to repeat itself.

For the moment, sustaining the ceasefire needs to have priority. It has enabled the conclusion of more than 130 local reconciliation efforts in South Sudan’s myriad inter- and intra-communal conflicts. The UN Mission in South Sudan, as well as the South Sudanese Council of Churches, has supported many of these efforts. Both deserve the Security Council’s full political support. Over time, local peace agreements can help build national peace and development from the ground up – until, one day, South Sudan can break the loop of renewed violence for good.

UN-Finanzen: Zeit für multilaterale Führung

In der Not eine Tugend demonstrieren: Die von Deutschland gegründete Allianz für Multilateralismus kann jetzt ihre Bedeutung zeigen, indem sie eine schnelle Übergangsfinanzierung des Haushalts der Vereinten Nationen organisiert – und mitfinanziert.

Diesen Beitrag schrieb ich zusammen mit Carina Böttcher. Er erschien am 13. Oktober 2019 im Tagesspiegel.

António Guterres, der UN-Generalsekretär, warnte am Dienstag vor der tiefsten Finanzkrise der Organisation in diesem Jahrzehnt. Zu viele Mitgliedstaaten, besonders die USA, sind im Verzug mit ihren Mitgliedsbeiträgen. Damit gefährden sie die Arbeit der UN für Frieden, Entwicklung und Menschenrechte. Deutschland sollte seine Partner zur besseren Zahlungsmoral motivieren und den Druck auf säumige Staaten anführen.

US-Präsident Donald Trump hat seine Abneigung gegenüber den UN oft betont. Im September warnte er, die Souveränität vieler Staaten sei bedroht. Seine Regierung werde sich der UN-Bürokratie nicht unterwerfen. So wundert es nicht, dass die USA als größter Beitragszahler ihre Beiträge von mehr als 670 Millionen US-Dollar bisher nicht überwiesen haben. Traditionell gehören die USA zu den vielen Ländern, die ihre Beiträge erst zum Ende des UN-Haushaltsjahrs in voller Höhe begleichen. Diese Praxis ist für die UN höchst problematisch. In diesem Jahr wird die Krise dadurch verschärft, dass die US-Administration nicht bereits erste Raten gezahlt hat, sondern den kompletten Beitrag schuldig ist – wie auch andere Staaten. Die Finanzkrise der UN ist auch Ausdruck der viel beschworenen Krise des Multilateralismus. Nationalistische Regierungen sind nicht mehr bereit, die UN politisch und mit ausreichend Geld zu unterstützen. Nicht zufällig steht Brasilien mit seinem rechtsextremen Präsidenten Jair Bolsonaro mit einer offenen Rechnung von 82 Millionen US-Dollar an zweiter Stelle der säumigen Zahler. Auch Saudi-Arabien, Venezuela und Iran, alle auf den vorderen Rängen auf der Liste, haben ein angespanntes Verhältnis zur UN.

Wenn jeder nur an sich selbst denkt… 

Dabei nützen die UN allen Ländern. 2019 mobilisierten und koordinierten sie humanitäre Hilfe im Wert von 15 Milliarden US-Dollar, die 133 Millionen Menschen in Not erreichte. In 165 Ländern sind die UN präsent, um die nachhaltigen Entwicklungsziele voranzutreiben. Politische UN-Missionen vermitteln in Friedensprozessen in Afghanistan, Kolumbien oder Libyen. Schließlich bieten die UN das wichtigste Forum, in dem sich verfeindete Staaten und Oppositionelle auf neutralem Boden treffen können. Diese Arbeit steht auf dem Spiel, wenn die Trumps und Bolsonaros dieser Welt – und nicht nur sie – nicht zahlen. Wenn jeder nur an sich selbst denkt, bleibt nichts mehr für die großen gemeinsamen Aufgaben übrig. Die Menschen in Krisenregionen verdienen globale Aufmerksamkeit und Unterstützung. Selbst nationalistische Staatenlenker müssen erkennen, dass mehr als 70 Millionen Geflüchtete weltweit gleichsam Ausdruck und Beschleuniger sicherheitspolitischer Herausforderungen sind.

In der gleichen Woche, in der Trump vor den Gefahren globaler Bürokratien warnte, setzte Deutschland einen vielbeachteten Kontrapunkt. Zusammen mit Frankreich gründete es die Allianz für Multilateralismus. Mehr als 60 Staaten kamen dazu zusammen. Nun muss die Allianz beweisen, dass sie es mit der internationalen Zusammenarbeit ernst meint. Die Partner sollten sich für eine schnelle Übergangsfinanzierung des UN-Haushalts einsetzen. Als Initiator des Netzwerks fällt die Führungsrolle an den deutschen Außenminister Heiko Maas. Anfangen könnte er bei seinen Partnern für den Multilateralismus: Südkorea, ein Mitglied der Allianz, schuldet den UN noch rund 63 Millionen US-Dollar für das laufende Jahr. Das EU-Mitglied Rumänien steht ebenfalls noch in der Kreide. Was sind Bekenntnisse zum multilateralen Engagement der Europäischen Union wert, wenn noch nicht mal alle ihre Mitgliedstaaten pünktlich ihre Beiträge an die UN überweisen?

Deutschland könnte in Vorleistung gehen

Deutschland ist der viertgrößte Beitragszahler für den regulären Haushalt und für die Friedensmissionen, sowie der zweitgrößte Geber für das Entwicklungssystem. Daher hat es wenig Interesse daran, die Berechnung der Beiträge zu verändern, die sich an der Wirtschaftsleistung jedes Landes bemisst. Sofern die Zahlungsmoral einiger finanzstarker Mitgliedstaaten miserabel bleibt, wird sich die Allianz aber fragen müssen, wie man die UN weniger abhängig von wenigen Staaten machen kann. Kurzfristig könnte die Allianz bereits mit einem gemeinsamen Aufruf und politischem Druck für eine bessere Zahlungsmoral aller Mitgliedsstaaten eintreten.

Um die Finanzkrise abzuwenden könnte sich die Bundesregierung für einen Übergangsmechanismus einsetzen. Sie könnte beispielsweise anbieten, zusammen mit anderen Staaten in Vorleistung zu gehen, also einmalig einen Teil ihrer Beiträge für das kommende Jahr vorzuziehen. Damit das Licht in New York nicht ausgeht.

Deutschland sollte jedoch noch weiter gehen. In der Allianz für Multilateralismus könnte es für freiwillige Zusagen werben, Beiträge pünktlich und vollständig zu begleichen. Dazu muss Deutschland sich auch an die eigene Nase fassen und in Zukunft wie Kanada, Indien oder die Niederlande jedes Jahr seinen Beitrag im Januar überweisen. Nur wer auf diese „Ehrenliste“ kommt, darf als Führungsmacht für den Multilateralismus gelten. Deutschland muss zeigen, ob es seine Versprechen ernst meint.

Independent inquiry fails to answer important questions on the UN’s role in Myanmar

An independent inquiry into the UN system’s response to the mass violence against the Rohingya population in Myanmar found “systemic and structural failures”, echoing an earlier finding of a similar investigation on Sri Lanka. At the same time, the inquiry conducted by former Guatemalan diplomat Gert Rosenthal leaves important questions unexplored. Crucially, Rosenthal did not explore allegations that the UN Country Team in Myanmar was complicit in the regime’s discrimination against the Rohingya population. For the UN to learn from the past, it needs to have a more detailed record of the decisions taken.

This text first appeared on medium.com on 15 September 2019.

Learning lessons from past mistakes is important. That is true both on an individual level as well at the level of the United Nations. Rwanda, Srebrenica, Sri Lanka, Haiti, South Sudan: there have been many independent inquiries into the UN’s actions in a situation where serious human rights violations took place. They have spurred influential, albeit imperfect reform processes of the organization’s institutional architecture, processes and policies. Unfortunately, the latest such report, into the UN system’s response to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar between 2010 and 2018, is too shallow and generic to allow for substantial learning to take place how the UN system could have used potential leverage to prevent the atrocities. It also fails to investigate allegations of the UN’s complicity in the systemic discrimination of the Rohingya population that are already part of the public record. 

The Rohingya people have suffered from systemic discrimination by the Myanmar government for decades. In a Buddhist-dominated country, the government and many Buddhist citizens regard the Rohingya as foreign, rejecting even their name and calling them “Bengali”, i.e. belonging to neighboring Bangladesh. The Rohingya have lacked citizenship and associated rights since the 1982 nationality law. Amid the democratic reform process in Myanmar since 2012, discrimination against the Rohingya has increased, including restrictions on their freedom of movement. In reaction to an attack on police stations by a Rohingya armed group in August 2017, the Myanmar security forces engaged in indiscriminate violence against the civilian population, killing thousands and driving around 700,000 people across the border into Bangladesh. Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein described these attacks as “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. A fact-finding mission recommended that senior military commanders should be investigated for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It found six indicators of “genocidal intent”, including in its most recent report evidence of sexual violence by the security forces, with hundreds of women and girls gang-raped.

Existing allegations: timidity or even complicity?

For several years, there have been serious allegations of misconduct by the UN Country Team based in Myanmar and senior UN officials elsewhere, including through leaked internal reports, statements by former employees, and investigative reporting. These allegations are complex, but essentially fall into either of two main points. The first concerns a lack of coherence both within the UN presence in Myanmar and among the UN leadership in New York. Even though the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his deputy Jan Eliasson had spearheaded a reform to improve the UN system’s processes and internal mechanisms in the wake of the Sri Lanka inquiry, these reforms were not effective in Myanmar. Specifically, public reports charged that the Resident Coordinator, the highest UN official in the country, excluded critical voices from meetings and suppressed a report warning of a deterioration of the situation in early 2017. Mirroring differences between public advocacy and quiet dialogue at the country level, senior UN officials disagreed on the organization’s overall approach, with Eliasson and al-Hussein on one side, and the head of the UN Development Programme, Helen Clark, and Vijay Nambiar, special advisor for Myanmar, on the other side. Limited public or private criticism by the UN after an earlier massacre, “proved to the Myanmar government that it could manipulate the U.N.’s self-inflicted paralysis in Rakhine”, a UN official told the journalist Column Lynch. In other words, the activists allege that contradictory messages from different parts of the UN system and relative muteness on major human rights issues signaled to Myanmar’s security forces that it could get away with them.

The second point that those reports make goes even further. They allege that the UN Country Team was complicit in the discriminatory policies of the Myanmar government towards the Rohingya people. The UN and its international partners sustained displaced Rohingyas in internment camps, which the government did not allow them to leave, and collaborated with the government in the so-called Rakhine Action Plan. The plan, supposedly aimed at improving the humanitarian situation, included the registration of Rohingya as “Bengalis”, thus erasing their identity. Liam Mahony, an international consultant, spoke with representatives of the humanitarian community in Myanmar and observed in a critical report in 2015: “The State benefits not only from having the cost of minimally sustaining the population carried by others, it also gets a legitimacy benefit from having all these international organizations present (and better yet, present and quiet.)”

Explaining “systemic failure”

In his report, Gert Rosenthal largely confirms the first allegation, and ignores the second one. He identifies the tension between quiet diplomacy and public advocacy as the core challenge for the UN in dealing with the situation in Rakhine state, and “systemic and structural failures” in resolving them. In a chapter of just six pages, Rosenthal describes five reasons for these failures: lack of support from member states; the absence of a common strategy by the UN leadership; too many points of coordination; a dysfunctional country team led by a Resident Coordinator out of her depth but unable to receive more expert support from headquarters because of government opposition; and competing lines of reporting from the field, muddling information and analysis available in New York. Because the problems were systemic, no single entity or individual should be singled out, he concludes, pointing to the “shared responsibility on the part of all parties involved”.

The report’s observations are pertinent, and in mentioning the lack of executive decision-making by the Secretary-General go beyond the findings of the Sri Lanka inquiry that was published in 2012. As a new generation of UN Country Teams has started to deploy since the start of the year, extracting lessons for their engagement would be important. Rosenthal acknowledges that pushing for change in the government of Myanmar’s behavior towards the Rohingya while simultaneously working with it on humanitarian and development issues as well as supporting the democratic transition process was “a difficult balancing act”.

Diplomacy on human rights issues often involves such balancing acts for the UN. The restrictions present in Myanmar – a repressive government, divided member states, and lack of dedicated UN capacities on political and human rights issues – were not unheard of. The Resident Coordinator was in a very difficult position to engage in advocacy, as Mahony had already concluded in 2015: humanitarian organizations were “expecting UNHCR and the Resident Coordinator to do it all for them.” Yet it is difficult to conclude from Rosenthal’s synoptic account which kind of advocacy and at what points in time could have been successful in dissuading the security forces from their attacks.

Lack of detail, counterfactuals and potential leverage

A detailed narrative investigating incidents where the UN was faced with a concrete incident and needed to make a choice between advocacy and diplomacy would have been helpful. Which information did which UN entity have, how was it handled within the system, and who used it in which form in any engagement with the government? In which ways did the actions of the government, member states and the UN entities interact to inform decision-making in the UN Country Team and at UN headquarters? For example, the journalist and Myanmar expert Francis Wade writes about the way in which an incident in the village of Du Chee Yar Tan had instilled greater caution in the UN’s advocacy. Based on initial reports of a massacre, the UN had raised the issue with the government authorities, only to be rebuked and find out later from further sources that the alleged incident was apparently not as serious as initially assumed.

Closer attention to such incidents would have been important. But Rosenthal had very limited capacity, having to work on its own without support staff or colleagues. He did not travel to Myanmar. Investigating inflection points would have helped to persuade the reader of his conclusions. It would have also allowed to point out more counterfactual decisions, or the consequences of the choices that were made for the calculus of the security forces and for how events unfolded on the ground. The only benchmark that Rosenthal mentions is an observer mission in Rakhine state that could have monitored the actions of armed groups and the military. Such a mission could have investigated incidents such as the attacks on police stations in 2016 and 2017 that provided the excuse for the security services’ “clearance operations”. But, as he himself acknowledges, such a mission was impossible without the agreement of the government.

Lastly, Rosenthal hardly enquires into the potential leverage of the UN system, or any other actor to change the government’s behavior. He briefly mentions China, India, Indonesia and ASEAN as “privileged” partners of the UN, but does not discuss any specific efforts UN officials made to convince them to put pressure on the government, including for the failed upgrade of the UN presence in the country. Nor does he inquire whether the US gave in too quickly to Chinese opposition to dealing with Myanmar in the UN Security Council earlier on. Rosenthal observes that even when Guterres wrote a stern letter to the Security Council in early September 2017 after the start of the ethnic cleansing campaign, it did not lead the council “to respond in either a forceful or a timely manner.”

In contrast, Mahony’s 2015 assessment talks of the “uniquely privileged position” of the UN and member states in relation to a government that desperately sought international legitimacy for its democratic reform process and the “huge financial rewards that this new leadership brings”. It would have been essential to learn if UN actors felt the same and in what ways they used such leverage.

Why accountability matters

The shortcomings of such an internal review matter. Not only does the UN owe greater accountability to the Rohingya victims of the systemic discrimination, forced displacement, and indiscriminate killings, but also to its own staff, and to the wider public. The Secretary General’s Office is currently leading a follow-up process to the Rosenthal report. Its first task will need to be to expand on Rosenthal’s very short recommendations.

Even though Rosenthal does not say so explicitly, some commentators have drawn the conclusion that his report “assigns collective responsibility for the atrocities committed during the 2017 Rohingya crisis to both the UN civil service and UN member states.“ That is misleading – there is nothing in the report to suggest how a more coherent UN system supported by member states could have prevented the atrocities. Maybe more pressure could have emboldened the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi to try and stand up to the military, or earlier and more widespread targeted sanctions could have influenced the military leadership. Without a more thorough analysis of international engagement, we can only guess.

In the meantime, the UN’s reputation further deteriorates, potentially undermining its work elsewhere as well as the reform of the country team system. No official, diplomat, or government representative has been held accountable for a responsibility that is shared collectively. More than one million Rohingya refugees continue to live in horrid conditions in Bangladeshi refugee camps.

A Question of Leadership: Lessons from the UN’s Actions in Myanmar

The UN’s inquiry into its own actions in Myanmar since 2012 draws significant parallels with a similar exercise that focused on the UN’s role during the end of the war in Sri Lanka. Once again, the UN found itself in a situation where a government was committing atrocities, but the UN showed an incoherent, ineffective response. Without clear leadership adjudicating differences among key stakeholders in the UN system, the principled engagement to which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had committed himself remained elusive.

This text first appeared on Strife Blog hosted at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London.

Engaging with severe human rights violations requires courage and coherence, setting clear principles and the readiness to stand by them if they are under pressure. An independent inquiry on the UN’s action during the Rakhine crisis in Myanmar, which came out in June, observed that the international organisation showed a “systemic failure” in dealing with the state’s repression of the Rohingya people between 2010 and 2018. Choosing his words carefully, its author, the former Guatemalan foreign minister Gert Rosenthal, echoed a similar exercise on the UN’s behaviour during the end of the war in Sri Lanka in 2008/09. Importantly, the UN system’s shortcomings were not a simple matter of failing to speak out, but of incoherence across the system, exacerbated by the lack of executive decision-making in Myanmar and at headquarters level. The lack of leadership by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, despite his strong rhetorical commitment to human rights and atrocity prevention, deserves further attention.

From the UN’s perspective, the situation in Sri Lanka and Myanmar showed uncanny parallels, despite all objective differences. In Sri Lanka, the armed forces pursued a relentless final assault on the Tamil Tigers’ last hold-outs in Sri Lanka in 2008-2009. In Myanmar, the security forces attacked Rohingya civilians repeatedly, culminating in full-scale ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population in 2017. In both countries, governments were the major perpetrators of violence, the presence of armed groups notwithstanding. Both governments were opposed to a strong human rights presence by the UN, and frustrated efforts by the UN Secretariat to increase its relevant capacity.

Myanmar and Sri Lanka, though both at the time host to significant armed violence, had successfully objected to any political or peacekeeping presence. The Resident Coordinators (RC), the head of the UN Country Team, in both countries had been chosen at a time of relative peace and with a strong development focus, not a profile in international humanitarian and human rights law. There were even some personal overlaps: Vijay Nambiar, the special advisor on Myanmar between 2012 and 2016, had been one of the most important UN officials during the Sri Lanka crisis, as Ban’s chef de cabinet. Lastly, there were strong geopolitical divisions that manifested themselves in a reluctance of the UN Security Council to discuss the situation as an official agenda item. In short, they were among the most difficult situations for the UN to work in.

The central challenge, as identified by Rosenthal, is a familiar and highly pertinent one: “how the United Nations can maintain some type of constructive engagement with individual member states where human rights abuses are systematically taking place, while at the same time pressing for those states to uphold their international commitments.” In other words, the UN needs to find an adequate mix of “quiet diplomacy” and “outspoken advocacy”, approaches that are associated with different parts of the UN system. For such a mix, the UN needs an inclusive organisational structure to produce a coherent policy, communicated across the system, owned by the leadership, and based on current, on-the-ground information and analysis.

The failure in Myanmar, according to Rosenthal, was that none of those prerequisites were present. Both at country and at HQ level, there were stark differences of opinion regarding the most adequate modus operandi. These manifested themselves in an increasingly polarised  working environment, as a function of the high stakes involved in the crisis in Rakhine state. Both sides of the argument thought that the other approach was not only wrong-headed, but potentially dangerous and counterproductive to de-escalate the violence and reduce discrimination. The emotionally charged atmosphere explains the reports about critical individuals being excluded from key meetings by Renata Lok Dessalien. The UN also had difficulty accessing the most volatile areas of Rakhine state and providing independent monitoring after alleged incidents.

Perhaps most importantly, there was a lack of strategic leadership, not just at the country level, but also at the highest level of the UN system. Differences between Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, who pressed for advocacy, and Special Envoy Vijay Nambiar and UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, who stressed quiet diplomacy and development efforts, respectively, were never resolved by Secretary-General Ban. Rosenthal writes, “even at the highest level of the Organization there was no common strategy.”

These shortcomings are particularly salient because Ban and Eliasson had vowed to turn a page after the damning findings of the Sri Lanka inquiry. They launched the “Human Rights up Front” initiative in late 2013 with the aim to improve coordination, information management, engagement with member states, and the UN’s organisational  culture. One of the new mechanisms established as part of the initiative was the so-called Senior Action Group (SAG). The SAG brought together the system’s most important parts at the top leadership level, including the UNDP Administrator, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, and other high-level officials. It was chaired by Deputy Secretary General Eliasson.

In the SAG’s discussion of the crisis in Rakhine state, Helen Clark, then UNDP administrator, protected UNDP and her RC, insisting that investing in development would also benefit the Rohingya, which should not be jeopardised  by an overly focus on human rights advocacy. Allegations of specific incidents required more investigation, she often insisted. According to a UN official familiar with these discussions that I interviewed, “any time there was a contentious issue, a dilemma between quiet diplomacy, public diplomacy and so on, the differences were simply discussed, and no executive decision was taken.”

While the UNDP administrator is appointed by the Secretary General, he or she also reports to the UNDP Executive Board. At the time, Clark had the final say on appointing or replacing RCs. The UN official that I interviewed described her behaviour as “territorial.” In any case, Ban could have insisted on a common position on the Rakhine crisis, not the least since Helen Clark had officially signed up to Human Rights up Front. Eliasson, who knew the destitute situation of the Rohingya from his time as Emergency Relief Coordinator in the early 1990s, had pressed for the replacement of the RC as early as 2015. Still, Ban did not overrule Clark nor did he “arbitrate a common stance between these two competing perspectives,” as Rosenthal writes.

The lack of leadership was highly problematic: the whole purpose of such high-level meetings as the SAG was to deal with questions that UN officials at the country level had not been able to agree on, and to create a common analysis and joint ownership of decisions. The different perspectives are ingrained in the distinct mandates and ways of working of the parts of the UN system; it falls to the collective leadership of the UN system to resolve tensions arising from the operational work. “Systemic failure” sounds like the reasons for incoherence lie mainly in structural differences. While these are important, ultimately responsibility for ensuring that the whole UN system works falls to its leadership, including the Secretary General and member states.

Clearly, the UN system is subject to the same cleavages and divisions that characterise  the international system as a whole. As Renata Lok Dessalien herself points out in a paper written after her assignment in Myanmar, conceptual differences regarding the meaning and interpretation of basic principles are ingrained in the UN Charter, for example between the promotion of human rights and the respect for national sovereignty. No internal UN reform such as Human Rights up Front can do away with those tensions, or abolish geopolitical differences. What it can do, and it has done with some mixed success, is change the way the organisation works, improving communication, analysis and decision-making procedures.

If the UN can hope to influence events in situations like those in Rakhine state in Myanmar at all, a coherent and coordinated policy across the whole system is a prerequisite. Otherwise both governments and critical member states are always able to play different parts of the system against each other, muting their respective effectiveness.

Luckily and despite significant opposition from key member states, the UN has started to improve its coherence in dealing with the crisis in Myanmar. Shortly after he came into office, Secretary General António Guterres appointed a permanent monitoring group within the UN, and prioritised strategic dialogue with Myanmar’s government, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. He also championed a reform of the RC system. When Myanmar’s armed forces began their military offensive that included ethnic cleansing in Rakhine state in August 2017, Guterres resorted to public diplomacy. In a rare step, he wrote to the UN Security Council, urging its members to take action. Also in 2017, Renata Lok Dessalien finished her position as RC in Myanmar. Her successor, the Norwegian Knut Ostby, emphasized communication and principled engagement, for example threatening to reduce all but essential aid to IDP camps in Rakhine state if the government did not improve the Rohingyas’ freedom of movement. At the same time, renewed fighting between the ethnic Rakhine Arakan armed group and the government as well as continued denial of citizenship have left around a million Rohingya refugees stranded in refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh.

UN diplomacy consists of difficult balancing acts, in particular in dealing with unrepentant governments committing atrocities against their own population. Faced with an increasing emphasis of state sovereignty, including by the United States, Guterres has, at times, appeared to waver on human rights. If his prevention agenda is to succeed, he needs to mobilise all pillars of the UN to support each other, not just in Myanmar.

Peace First at the Horseshoe Table

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.

This text was first published on the PeaceLab Blog. It is also available in German.

764925 German FM Maas after election to UNSC 2018.jpg
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at UN Headquarters after Germany’s election to the UN Security Council for 2019/2020, 8 June 2018 (c) UN Photo.

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.

Focus on atrocity prevention, not R2P

Written evidence to the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee for its Inquiry on “Responsibility to Protect and humanitarian intervention”. The final report cites my evidence.

Executive Summary

  • 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.

 

Introduction

  1. 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/.
  2. 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

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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”

  1. 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.
  2. 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.[1] 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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 the International, 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.
  6. 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.

 

References

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.

Obama, Barack, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy (2011): Libya’s Pathway to Peace. The International Herald Tribune.15.04. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/15/opinion/15iht-edlibya15.html, 07.12.2012

The independent international commission on Kosovo (2000): The Kosovo report. Conflict. International response. Lessons learned. Oxford/ New York: Oxford University Press

UN General Assembly (2005): Resolution 60/1. 2005 World Summit Outcome. New York:  A/RES/60/1. 24 October

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (2017): Darker and more dangerous: High Commissioner updates the Human Rights Council on human rights issues in 40 countries. Human Rights Council 36th session, Opening Statement.Geneva. 11 September. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22041&LangID=E, 6 May 2018

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.

 

[1] 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”.