For More Effective Sanctions, Time to Examine Question of Termination

The Security Council  adopts a resolution related to sanctions against the Democratic Republic of the Congo, November 30, 2009. (UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz)

Over the last two decades, the key policy question surrounding multilateral sanctions has been effectiveness. Because of studies that suggest that sanctions are effective only about one-third of the time, there has been a concerted effort to develop so-called “smart sanctions,” which increase the effectiveness of Security Council sanctions at the front end by targeting specific groups, individuals, and entities. See, for example, reports here and here that detail the shift away from comprehensive sanctions towards targeted sanctions on the basis of effectiveness.

The emphasis on targeting at the front end, however, has overshadowed an important back-end question that is equally important to effectiveness: termination. This policy lacuna is significant because, once imposed, sanctions tend to stick. Indeed, my research shows that Security Council sanctions tend to last considerably longer than sanctions imposed by regional organizations, and that shorter sanctions episodes are often more effective. In other words, sanctions of long duration may detract from their effectiveness.

Since the end of the Cold War, sanctions have emerged as one of the Security Council’s primary tools for conflict management. Over this period, the objectives of Security Council sanctions have become increasingly ambitious. Although the measures of targeted sanctions are today quite standard, and usually include an arms embargo, asset freeze, and commodity sanctions, the objectives to which those measures are applied can be wide ranging. For example, the objectives of ongoing sanctions today include ending recruitment and targeting of women and children in conflict situations; the protection of civilians; the observance of human rights and international humanitarian law; and longer-term reform of national institutions such as the police, the security sector, and the justice system.

As Russia and the West Joust, Ukraine Risks Deeper Divisions and More Violence

An elderly woman walks past barricades in the town of Slavyansk, Donetsk Region, eastern Ukraine, April 23, 2014. (ITAR-TASS / Mikhail Pochuyev)

With the Geneva deal—signed on April 17 by the acting government of Ukraine, the US, Russia, and the EU—already unraveling, the ongoing crisis in Ukraine shows no signs of resolution in the short-term. Although parts of the Maidan camp in Kiev have started to be cleared, there has been no significant disarmament of the groups involved. Likewise, in the east, although “Republic of Donetsk” flags have replaced Russian flags at the various buildings seized by "pro-Russian" forces, there have been no steps to disarm or end the occupations. Neither side wants to be seen as blinking first. The longer this stand-off continues, the greater the risk that the divisions of recent months will harden into permanent fault-lines and doom Ukraine to a bitter and potentially violent disintegration. Already there have been killings on both sides around the flashpoint town of Slavyansk.

Regardless of the provenance of the “little green men”—the sardonic term used to describe the well-trained and well-armed militants at the heart of the unrest—the reality is that Ukraine is increasingly a country divided. Crimea is already lost, and speaking to people at a defense and security cooperation conference in Kiev last week, none saw the return of the peninsula as a realistic prospect. However, those with relatives in the east and in Russia described a hardening of views against the new government in Kiev. The image of fascists and anarchists roaming the streets in western Ukraine is taken for granted by many. The ill-thought-out attempt to repeal a language law allowing Russian speakers to deal with officials in their native language coupled with the failure of the new government to reach out to the eastern regions has only served to harden this image. Even in a country where bilingualism has been the norm rather than the exception, an ethnic dimension to the conflict cannot be ruled out. One of the lessons of the break-up of Yugoslavia is that long dormant and even non-existent ethnic divisions can become a virulent force in times of conflict.

Is the Flood of Violent Images Further Dividing the West and the Middle East?

Two photos from Syria, 2012. (Flickr)

Since 9/11, the Middle East has been the main focus of international media. The image most commonly conjured by outsiders of the region is that of violence and Islamic extremism, not least due to the series of wars that have for years plagued the countries stretching from Afghanistan to Morocco, and which only have intensified since 2001. It is hard to recall a single day since that year when violence in the region has not made front-page news. 

In today’s world, images have an enormous influence. In conflict settings and during times of upheaval, powerful images can bring people closer together or drive them apart; they can help countries reconcile or put strain on relations between them. Consider the compassion provoked by the image of a lone man in a white shirt halting a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989, or the damaging impact of the photos of US soldiers abusing Iraqis in Abu Ghraib prison in 2003. 

By highlighting the existing conflicts in the Middle East, the media raises public awareness of the suffering; by concentrating overwhelmingly on the violence, however, it narrows the public’s focus and obscures all else related to the region, including, most importantly, the humanity of its people.

Humanitarian Action, Bucking the System, Trends Toward New Approach

Using mobile-phone-based cash transfers is becoming more common as a way to aid populations during a humanitarian crisis.  (World Food Programme/Philippines).

Does the fundamental construct of humanitarian action need to change from providing aid to facilitating people's access to help? The responses to the Syrian crisis and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines point to three humanitarian trends heading in that direction: the changing role of governments beyond requesting international assistance; the increasing use of cash and technology, giving rise to the phenomenon of "enabled self-help"; and the increasing significance of parties whose core mandate, or interest, is not aid. These trends indicate that real improvement to humanitarian effectiveness cannot be achieved by relying on one dominant international system, or one that is organized primarily for aid distribution. 

From the battlefields of Solferino in 1859 onward, international humanitarian action has been about organized outside intervention. Over the years, the notion of "the humanitarian imperative", i.e., the obligation to provide humanitarian assistance, even overriding all other considerations, was developed as justification for this intervention. The post-Cold War era gave room to create a more organized "international humanitarian system." It envisioned a model of rich countries funding multilateral and international humanitarian organizations, coordinated by and with the UN, to distribute aid in poor and fragile states (to put it crudely). This can be referred to, for the sake of simplicity, as the “IASC system,” in reference to the centrality of the Inter-agency Standing Committee (IASC) in it.

In examining the crises in Syria and the Philippines, one can find key illustrations of how much the humanitarian landscape—and its relationship to this system—has evolved. 

Can Russia Reshape Ukraine Without Firing a Shot?

Unidentified gunmen on patrol at Simferopol Airport in Crimea, February 28, 2014. (Elizabeth Arrott/VOA)

A few months ago, no one seemed to predict Russia’s grab of Crimea and the fast-moving events that are now threatening to further destabilize the political, social, and economic situation in Ukraine. As events unfold, it seems clear that Russia is intent on changing Ukraine’s governance system by forcing it to implement a new constitution that would devolve power to the eastern parts of the country. 

The Kremlin’s ideal outcome is a loose federation, which, unlike American federalism, would allow for far greater independence of Ukraine’s provinces. This independence would allow Russia to cooperate with the eastern provinces without having to go through Kyiv, which could be beneficial to various sectors of the Russian and local eastern Ukrainian economies—especially their arms industries.

This is why, in my opinion, Russia is trying to inspire a revolutionary mindset in eastern Ukraine and use pro-Russian inhabitants and forces as a way to destabilize the situation in the whole country and provoke the Ukrainian government into using force against the separatists instead of concentrating on societal reforms. The unrest is certainly proving to be a test for the Ukrainian government, and could allow Russia to determine if Kyiv is really able to control all of the country’s territory, while also providing a possible pretext for Russian armed intervention, ostensibly to protect the separatists, especially if some kind of civil war starts. Nevertheless, the cost of an intervention would be very high, which is probably why Russia is pressing for the federalization of Ukraine by using other tools of influence, most of them economic. 

The first such tool is the price of Russian natural gas on which most of Ukraine is dependent. After the new government came to power in Kyiv, the giant Russian monopoly Gazprom terminated an existing gas contract with Ukraine and imposed an increase in gas prices from about $268 to $485 per thousand cubic meters. This dramatic increase not only will hurt the Ukrainian economy but also the pocketbooks of ordinary people who will suffer large increases in heat bills; food and household costs will also increase to reflect associated fuel costs. Moreover, Gazprom is pressuring Ukraine to pay back its outstanding gas debt of $2.2 billion, accrued over recent years, knowing full well that Ukraine doesn’t have the money to repay it. These two issues are being used by Gazprom to conjure a threat that it will turn off the tap. With summer coming, this threat does not hold as much power, but come autumn, it could find traction, translating (the Kremlin may be hoping) into people protesting against the government in Kyiv. 

As Nature of Conflict Changes, Is International Humanitarian Law Still Relevant?

After a deadly airstrike in Douma, Syria, men carry a casuality out of the rubble, April 13, 2014. (REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh)

Against the backdrop of appalling violence against civilians in Syria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic, along with the persistent obstruction of humanitarian aid around the world, international humanitarian law may appear redundant in the twenty-first century. Initially designed with interstate wars in mind, one of the main objectives of this body of law is to limit the effects of conflict on people who are not, or no longer, participating in hostilities, especially civilians. Nowadays, the lines between combatants and civilians are often blurred, and improving compliance with the law remains a significant challenge.  

However, Françoise Bouchet-Saulnier, legal director of Doctors Without Borders and author of the book The Practical Guide to Humanitarian Law, has a different take. “If humanitarian law is not respected today, this does not show that it is ill-adapted to conflict,” Ms. Bouchet-Saulnier said in an interview with the Global Observatory. Acknowledging that the law is more often violated than not, Ms. Bouchet Saulnier stressed that “what is important is that [the] law frames what must be respected.”

The issue of protecting civilians is at the center of the humanitarian challenge today because armed groups and armies try to avoid direct confrontation and find soft targets, according to Ms. Bouchet-Saulnier, but the fact that “civilians are the soft target of war” is “not new at all.” As such, “the protection of civilians and humanitarian relief to the civilian population and victims of conflict remains an essential battle, and it has to be fought,” said Ms. Bouchet-Saulnier. “This is as old as the history of conflict,” she said, “Things have never been better before.”

While Ms. Bouchet-Saulnier agreed that there is “a real legal asymmetry” between state and nonstate armed groups in today’s mostly internal conflicts, which creates “practical problems,” international humanitarian law is not only applicable and relevant to international conflicts—for which it was initially developed—but also to those that happen within states.

In Syria, “the fact that you cannot clearly identify the hierarchical chain of command of the opposition and the fact that it’s not one single nonstate armed group fighting with the governmental forces—this is just the reality,” Ms. Bouchet-Saulnier said. “But still, the distinction between civilian and combatant is possible.” 

In addition, the protocols added to the body of international humanitarian law in 1977 “get rid of this distinction between civilian and combatant,” she said.  “What is really of interest is the situation of the victim of the conflict,” and even a combatant can become a victim: “a civilian or a combatant is of interest to international humanitarian law when he has become a victim—meaning he has lost power, because he’s wounded, because he’s sick, because he is detained.” 

Ms. Bouchet-Saulnier also addressed the tension between the growing body of international criminal law, which abides by strict rules of interpretation, and the interpretation of humanitarian law, which should remain “very broad, to make sure it encompasses every situation that has not been envisaged before.” The strict rules of interpretation of international criminal law have nurtured the position promoted by some states, especially in the war on terror, that some of today’s wars—such as in Yemen or the Central African Republic—would fall into a third category of conflict not regulated by international humanitarian law. Such an approach is contrary to the spirit of humanitarian law where “every situation and individual must be covered with a system of mutually exclusive categories.” 

In addition, to be effective, the International Criminal Court needs to be wary of building its cases on “the weakest elements of the system, which are the victims and the humanitarian organizations,” Ms. Bouchet-Saulnier said. In general, she suggested that pressuring humanitarian agencies to hand over evidence as part of a criminal case can negatively impact humanitarian access.

In Lebanon, Clerics Support Efforts to Bring Men on Side of Equality

A woman distributes information about gender sensitivity and gender equality to a man in Beirut, Lebanon, 2012. (ABAAD)

 "In Lebanon, many of the religious leaders seem to have a very negative stigma as being opposed to gender equality or gender issues, things that they do not see themselves as opposed to,” said Anthony Keedi, a program manager at ABAAD, a resource center for gender equality in Lebanon.

ABAAD produced a video last year that features top Muslim and Christian clerics from Lebanon denouncing gender violence and citing religious texts to support these views. Mr. Keedi said the clerics “don't want to be seen as haters of women or people who are against gender equality.”

“Sadly, in our [Lebanese] culture, there's very little awareness of what gender entails, and a lot of the ways that gender has been explained has been misconstrued by a lot of men in our country and our culture,” he said. “They don't even understand how positive feminism is for women, for men, and for society as a whole.” 

Mr. Keedi noted that working with men on gender and equality "will inherently make their lives better, as it will the lives of women in our country, and we're really focusing on that." 

He said his organization has a psychological center called the Men's Center “where we see men—anonymous, confidential, and free of cost—and we work on issues of masculinity.” His organization is also raising awareness of gender with young people. “Rather than having these discussions of what gender is and moving from there with men aged forty, we'll begin those discussions at age eight through eleven or twelve years old.” 

“We will never be a truly developed society that is fundamentally peaceful without the integration of women into politics, into economy, into decision-making in everyday life—without the integration of men into domestic life and being child caretakers, and being loving partners," he said, adding that this approach includes, "letting each individual live according to what they see fit, [and] especially not infringing upon other people." 

He said this holistic approach might be more difficult, but moving forward is "just not going to happen unless we incorporate these [gender] issues.”

The interview was conducted by Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, Policy Analyst at the International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):

Religious leaders do not always come to mind as key advocates for women's rights, though they have a very important role to play. In Lebanon and across the MENA region, what brings religious leaders in to work for gender equality?

I think religious leaders do care for the people, and I think one thing that really brings us to work together is that we both want to do things that are beneficial for the people. That has been a very difficult sea to navigate, for lack of a better way of putting it. In Lebanon, many of the religious leaders seem to have a very negative stigma as being opposed to gender equality or gender issues, things that they do not see themselves as opposed to. It's evident that more dialogue is needed to let them understand exactly where we're coming from on a gender perspective and the issues we have with how organized religion is sometimes interpreted to be something that is opposed to gender equality or can be gender discriminate. 

So I believe that a lot of religious leaders are motivated to change that stigma,  which is a very positive thing. They don't want to be seen as haters of women or people who are against gender equality. 

With UN Withdrawal, Sierra Leone Takes Lead of Own Peacebuilding Process

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) marked the completion of UNIPSIL with ceremonies in Sierra Leone. He met with President Ernest Bai Koroma, right. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

The closing of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) on March 31, 2014 was a celebrated milestone in the UN’s work in the small West African country. The UN took over from the Economic Community of West African States in 1999 as a result of the Lome Peace Agreement, and helped end a long civil war; 15 years later, the UN reports that Sierra Leone has shown remarkable achievements in the strengthening of institutions and in safeguarding stability and promoting democracy. 

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon used Sierra Leone as an example of one of the most successful post-conflict recovery, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding processes in recent years. UNIPSIL showed that steady engagement, assistance in the development of capacities, and engagement with local and national leadership can effectively support peacebuilding in a country. Thus, the withdrawal of the mission is an important indicator that the process is increasingly less in the hands of external actors and more in the hands of Sierra Leone nationals. And for that, there is still a lot of work to be done, as Sierra Leonean actors themselves recognize.

In a previous paper, Cedric de Coning, Leslie Connolly, and I presented some ideas on how external actors can support and contribute to resilience in peacebuilding processes. In that paper, we argued that the peacebuilding environment can be supported by stimulating the development of institutions that are sufficiently resilient, in a process that should be inherently led by national actors. And in this context, we stated that it is important to recognize that peacebuilding is often an irregular process; thus, external actors should identify ways in which to deal with the complexities of its non-linear nature.

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