Key Global Events to Watch in November

At the start of every month, the Global Observatory posts a list of key upcoming meetings and events that have implications for global affairs.



Peace & Security

  • November 1: Iraqi Prime Minister Visits Washington to Talk Security in the Region
    As the conflict in Syria spills over surrounding borders, the threat from al-Qaeda-linked militias is increasing in western Iraq. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will meet with President Obama on November 1 to discuss the issue. 

    Officials from the Obama administration have said the US will sell military machinery, including Apache helicopters, and share information to assist with the growing threat. The meeting of heads of state prompted a letter to Mr. Obama from a number of US senators that claims Prime Minister Maliki’s “mismanagement” of affairs directly contributed to the increasing violence. 

  • November 1: Demolition of Chemical Weapons in Syria Enters Final Phase 
    The 100-member team charged with monitoring and destroying Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons enters into the third stage of its work this month. Now that the deadline for destroying production facilities has been met, the next charge is to begin retrieval and destruction of the weapons. The Syrian government and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons must agree on a detailed plan of destruction by November 15. The work is scheduled to conclude in June next year. President Assad’s administration has seemingly cooperated thus far, but the next phase is likely to be a lot more challenging. Meanwhile, peace talks slated for November 23-24 look tentative at best (see below).
  • November 6-8: Meeting of the Working Group on Trafficking in Persons, Vienna
    As part of the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, this is the fifth session of the working group on trafficking in persons will cover topics such as how to reduce demand by fostering public-private partnerships and identifying factors that drive trafficking in persons, and forms of exploitation not normally associated with human trafficking. 
  • November 7-8: Meeting on Iran’s Nuclear Program with P5+1 and Iran, Geneva
    Diplomacy between the foreign ministers of P5+1 countries and Iran in the last weeks may foreshadow the end to a decade-long dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. However, recent reports indicate Iran as yet continues its most controversial activity: uranium enrichment to a level close to that needed for bombs. Diplomats in Geneva will try to get Iran to cease its uranium enrichment program in exchange for a slackening of sanctions on Tehran. 
  • November 11-13: Meeting of the Working Group on the Smuggling of Migrants, Vienna
    Supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, the Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air is the basis of this working group’s second session. As recent tragedies underline the need to address this issue, this working group is focused on how to investigate the factors unique to smuggling of migrants while maintaining rights of the migrants themselves. Meeting topics include multilateral, cross-border information sharing, investigative techniques, and the establishment of multi-agency centers.          
  • November 23 (tentative): Geneva II Peace Talks, Geneva
    Conflicts between Washington and Moscow over Syrian opposition representation could delay the start of peace negotiations for up to a month, according to Arab and Western officials. The talks were slated to begin in Geneva on November 23, aiming to resolve two and a half years of civil war that has claimed 100,000 lives and displaced millions. President Assad has said that no political solution would be possible as long as international powers continue to support rebel fighters. In the meantime, Amnesty International reports that hundreds fleeing the violence are being turned back at the borders of surrounding countries.    
  • November 20- 28: Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC, The Hague
    This regular meeting of states parties to the Rome Statute will cover many issues related to the International Criminal Court, not least state cooperation and the court’s relationship with Africa following Kenya’s threat to withdraw in September. (The ICC recently pushed Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s trial back to February, 2014). At the meeting, a by-election will also be held for one of the eighteen regular judges of the court, to replace Anthony Carmona, who was elected president of Trinidad and Tobago last March.
  • Also of Interest:

    • November 25: International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women 

Toward Gender-Sensitive Peacebuilding: Interview with Isabelle Geuskens

When women peacebuilders working in local communities wanted to bring in men to participate in gender-sensitive conflict resolution, no one listened at first, said Isabelle Geuskens, Executive Director of the Women Peacemakers Program. "We were not really listening, because we felt women's empowerment is about women!" But, she said, the women were concerned that "the men are dismissing [UN resolution] 1325 and gender as a women's issue."

"And men are still not understanding the gendered nature of violence and armed conflict," she said. "So, we started thinking about how can we get more men engaged. We started looking more deeply at the gendered nature of violence, and how masculinity plays a role in this. So, it’s really through the call from women that we started designing what could 'engaging men' mean. But also, what does a gender perspective on war and peace from a masculinities perspective look like?" 

Ms. Geuskens said women peacebuilders are often able to avoid thinking in terms of win-or-lose. "They will go more easily into win-win," she said. "[They] don't see compromising as a failure," though she added that not all women bring in a new perspective.  

But those who do, she said, "will not separate [peacebuilding] from everyday life issues. So, they will look at the economic factors. They will look at the political factors, of course. But also, do they have access to healthcare?"

However, Ms. Geuskens said good peacebuilding can cut across gender. "I have to say, people come with their hearts, their minds, their skills. They come with commitment. There are difficult conversations, but usually people are quite constructive, and I've seen empowerment happen on both sides... I think human beings tend to be quite alike, if we give them the chance to be." 

About UN resolution 1325, which requires parties in a conflict to respect women's rights and to support their participation in peace negotiations and in post-conflict reconstruction, she said, "Implementation is very difficult, because I think we tend to look at change in a very instrumental way. We tend to want to make boxes that we can tick to add more women. But changing the cultures—I'm not just talking cultures in countries of conflict, but actually the cultures all over the world and in institutions that make decisions about war and peace. They haven't fundamentally changed."

"In the end, 1325 I feel is about more than adding women. It’s about the practice and working towards ending wars. And that is about asking critical questions about patriarchy and the way we are dealing with violent conflict."

The interview was conducted by Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, Visiting Fellow at the International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):


Andrea Ó Súilleabháin: I'm here today with Isabelle Geuskens, Executive Director of the Women Peacemakers Program in The Hague. Since 2002, the Women Peacemakers Program has provided non-violence training to 1300 people in over 24 countries, from Afghanistan to Cambodia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with a focus on including women and men in their work toward gender-sensitive peacebuilding. 

In addition to this work with peacebuilders around the world, Isabelle is involved in monitoring developments around the Security Council's women, peace and security resolutions and their global implementation.    

Isabelle, you’ve said that women are among the first to cross the lines between divided communities. From your extensive work with women peacemakers, what do women add to peace processes in communities and on the national level?

Isabelle Geuskens: First of all, women bring a different perspective. Not always, because women can be patriarchal as well, but many women peace activists don't think necessarily in "win or lose." They will go more easily into win-win. [They] don't see compromising as a failure. I'm not saying here, now, that women are natural peacemakers, born like that, but I think there is something in women's socialization process that has contributed to these capacities in women. I think that could also be something for men, because it's obviously related to socialization.

What we've seen in our programs is that women have a much broader concept of what peace and security is. They will not separate it from everyday life issues. So, they will look at the economic factors, they will look at the political factors, of course. But also, do they have access to healthcare? They might even not distinguish so much between what's happening in a so-called peaceful country... they make the link between what happens to them in a peaceful country and conflict countries— so-called [peaceful], because women do experience domestic violence in peaceful countries. Women are afraid to walk the streets at night. So, I think women bring a whole different definition of what peace and security is.

With Democracy, One Size Does Not Fit All: Interview with Alfred de Zayas

“There's no one single model of democracy, but we can all agree on the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Alfred de Zayas, the United Nations independent expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, adding that the modalities of applying the universal declaration "can be country to country adjusted according to the cultural diversity, the traditions of those countries.”

According to Mr. de Zayas, it’s not the label of democracy that is important. “What is crucial is this correlation between the will of the people, the needs of the people, and the governmental policies that affect them.” 

He said he has a particular interest in the Switzerland model of direct democracy, “But since democracy is a concept that is new and in certain countries there's no tradition of democracy, you cannot impose it top down…you have to be patient; you cannot force it.” 

“I think that all the African countries are making considerable progress toward democracy. It should not come from the West. I really object to the arrogance of some who think that we can export democracy. It must be homegrown so that you own it, so that you feel ‘this is us.’” 

Mr. de Zayas believes democracy can help people hold governments accountable for how their national resources are spent. "One of the problems in many countries, unfortunately, is that national resources are being squandered, are being wasted in the military. Most African countries really do not need a large military. They certainly do not need state-of-the-art planes or state-of-the-art tanks and more weapons. It is really a crime to spend tax money instead of putting it into education, putting it into healthcare, to put this money into weapons. That fuels not only wars—that's evident—but it also fuels corruption...When government squanders money, and it does not use it for what the people want and what the people need, then these authorities should be made to account, and there should be no impunity."

Mr. de Zayas believes that the direct democracy model could be applied at a global level. “I believe that a world parliamentary assembly, or if you want, a United Nations parliamentary assembly could be established,” which he said could be linked to the UN charter as a consultative party. 

He questioned whether the General Assembly is able to speak for the people. “The General Assembly is made up of a 193 states' members and observer members,” he said. “But who sits in the assembly? It’s governments. It's ambassadors. And to what extent do these 193 ambassadors really represent their constituencies?” 

“You know and I know that there is a huge disconnect between power and the people,” he said. He pointed out that many countries are democracies in name but are essentially lobby democracies, “and they cater to special interests, cater to corporations, cater to the oil industry, etc, and they don't really cater to citizen A or citizen B."

"You have the opportunity once every two years or every four years to put a little cross on the ballot box, but democracy is not just the ballot box,” he said. 

The interview was conducted by Priscilla Nzabanita, research assistant in the Africa program at the International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):


Priscilla Nzabanita: Today on the Global Observatory we are pleased to welcome Mr. Alfred de Zayas, who is independent expert for the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order. Thank you, Mr. de Zayas for agreeing to have this interview with us. 

So, my first question for you is that your mandate calls for a broad analysis of obstacles to a democratic and equitable international order. Can you describe what this mandate specifically entails?

Alfred de Zayas: As you know, it's a new mandate. It was created last year, 2012. I am the first mandate holder, so I'm giving it shape. It is a convergence of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Imagine promoting an international order that is more democratic and more equitable that entails everything. It is the most universal mandate that has ever been created. And I'm supposed to identify obstacles. I have done so in my first two reports to the Human Rights Council, and my separate, different two reports to the General Assembly. 

Obstacles, of course, are multiple, and [at] the core of democracy. As I said in the discussion today, there's no one single model of democracy, but we can all agree on the basis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And the modalities of applying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be country to country adjusted according to the cultural diversity, the traditions of those countries. 

As far as advancing with democratic order domestically, whether it be in Asia or in Latin America or in Africa, it's not the label that is important. What is crucial is this correlation between the will of the people, the needs of the people, and the governmental policies that affect them. That's why I have particular interest in the model of direct democracy, which is the kind of government in Switzerland, for instance, where the population has the right of initiative. With a certain number of signatures, you can initiate legislation. Or you can test legislation that is, or rather a bill, that is before Parliament or even a piece of legislation has been adopted, you can have a referendum to abrogate it. You also have recall and impeachment. These are guarantees that the people are sovereign. 

In Somalia, Political Stability Benefits Pirates

Many hail the efforts of the new Somali government to bring greater political stability to Somalia and hope that this will result in a crackdown on illegal activity in general, and piracy in particular. Yet October 2013 saw the resumption of pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean. So why doesn’t statebuilding help solve the issue of piracy?

In my work with Sarah Percy of the University of Western Australia and Federico Varese at Oxford, we found that political stability is a crucial element in the hijack-and-ransom piracy business model. To squeeze the maximum ransom from ship owners, pirates need to keep the ship safe and the crew in reasonable condition for periods of up to three years in territorial waters–effectively in plain sight of the coast. Ship owners would not pay up if rival gangs contested possession of ships during the negotiation or re-hijacked ships after their release. Based on the vessel tracks reconstructed from the signals sent by the ships’ automated information systems, we can see that the necessary security guarantees often cut across different clans’ territories.

But if anarchy reigns on land, then keeping the ships safe from rival gangs and supplying hostages and guards becomes difficult and expensive. Indeed, we saw that in the upheaval of 2006 when the Islamic Courts Union fought for control of the pirate anchorages in central Somalia, and piracy stopped dead for a number of months. When there is political stability, however, pirates can (and did) pay the incumbent political elites and their militias for safe anchorage and safe passage along the Somali coast. Political stability in the coastal regions is therefore helpful to pirates—as long as those providing governance on land are happy to shelter pirates.  

So, who chooses to harbor pirates?

Women’s Peace Leadership ''Smart Policy,'' and UN Pushes For More

The UN Security Council marked its annual open debate on women, peace and security this month by unanimously adopting a resolution on women’s agency and leadership in conflict prevention and resolution. 

Resolution 2122 is the Council’s sixth women, peace and security resolution in six years, yet it is the first since the adoption of resolution 1325 (2000) to substantively address women’s participation in peacemaking. (The previous five centered on the protection aspects of 1325, focusing on sexual violence in conflict.) 

While this represents continued progress at UN headquarters across the women, peace and security agenda, the real test will be implementation, and whether the roadmap set by resolution 2122 is followed—particularly between now and the 2015 high-level review of progress on resolution 1325 worldwide.


The UN Security Council recognized the importance of increasing women’s participation in resolving conflict and building peace in its landmark resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, passed in October 2000. The Council urged the secretary-general to appoint more women to senior UN peace-related positions and called on all actors to involve women in decisions when it comes to making peace. 

Thirteen years later, in his statement to the Security Council on October 18, 2013, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that he has sought to lead by example in appointing more women to senior positions throughout the UN. Indeed, “for the first time in history, five UN peacekeeping operations are led by women–in South Sudan, Liberia, Cyprus, Haiti, and Côte d’Ivoire.” 

But women’s appointments as peace negotiators and conflict mediators have progressed at a slower pace. A study by UN Women of thirty-one major peace processes between 1992 and 2011 found that just 2.4 percent of chief mediators were women. Only slightly more women participated in peace processes as signatories (4 percent) or as part of negotiating delegations (9 percent). 

Diplomatic Dance Intensifies Over South China Sea’s Spratly Islands

A few weeks ago, Taiwan sent a team of geologists to explore for oil and gas on the Spratly Islands, a group of islands, reefs, and islets in the South China Sea that is one of the most delicate territorial disputes in the region, not least due to the sheer number of claimants. Earlier this year, Manila made a move to take Beijing to a UN tribunal over them; Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei also claim them to various degrees. If the Taiwanese team–part of the state run petrochemical giant CPC Corporation–confirms the existence of large reserves of oil and natural gas, then we may expect the stakes to rise and the dispute over ownership to intensify.

China's Geology and Mineral Resources Ministry puts the oil and natural gas reserves at an estimated 17.7 billion tons. If this is accurate, the Spratly Islands would have the fourth largest reserve bed in the world. The islands also have strategic significance, as they are located along the main shipping lane that links the Pacific and Indian Oceans. According to a study by Jorn Dosch for the Harvard International Review, this crucial sea passage is witness to 50% of all global marine traffic, and 80% of all crude oil transport headed to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. 

The history of this dispute isn't helping unravel the complexity of the situation. When Japan signed the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, it renounced its claim to sovereignty over the Spratly and the Paracel Islands. Given the thorny nature of the issue, they were not reassigned to any other country. Today, these islands remain legally under the collective custody of the treaty’s 48 other parties, which include modern-day claimants to the islands such as the Philippines and Vietnam. China, who does not recognize the San Francisco Peace treaty, is also claiming sovereignty over the islands. All claimants— except for Brunei—occupy some part of the archipelago. 

Tensions have risen recently following the claim made by the Philippines to the International Tribunal of the United Nations Law of the Sea. It was the first time for China to be taken to a UN tribunal, and they were rather unhappy about it. China blasted the Philippines for its legal recourse, and accused Manila of deviating from the agreed upon dispute settlement guidelines. China refused to participate in the case, and, as the Wall Street Journal points out, even if the tribunal does decide it has jurisdiction over the case and finds in the Philippines favor, China would very likely simply ignore the verdict.

“Women Have Been Abandoned” in Central African Republic Violence: Interview with Brigitte Balipou

“In the Central African Republic today, the abdication of responsibility by the police and armed forces has given way to a situation of significant insecurity, in which women have been abandoned,” said Brigitte Balipou, a Central African magistrate, member of the board of Femmes Africa Solidarité, and founder of the Association of Women Lawyers of Central Africa. “They are with their children in the forests; they are fleeing from abuse; they are fleeing the fighting. So, they are in a very vulnerable situation.”

She said in the capital Bangui, there is some security, “but in the more remote regions, where security has not been restored and the rebels are all around, women are victims of violence on a daily basis. They are being raped; they are being assaulted; their husbands are being killed; or they are being raped in front of their children. They don’t have enough food; they are not getting medical attention; they don’t have access to drinking water—they have nothing.”

She said the insecurity in the remote regions makes reaching these women very difficult. “So our message, first of all, is to start gathering the weapons, because there are a lot of arms in the country that make it difficult—even for the humanitarian actors—to reach these women who have been left to their own devices. So, we need to be able to start the disarmament process, start the demobilization, so that women can have a chance at freedom, humanitarian assistance, food to eat, because they can no longer work in order to buy themselves food. Then women can get organized to seek justice and participate in rebuilding the country.”

In her remarks to the Security Council on October 18 during the annual debate on women, peace, and security, Ms. Balipou asked if more preventive action was possible “because conflicts don’t just break out from one day to the next.”

She continued, “And when these events do unfold on the ground, is it possible to try to act preemptively to lessen women’s suffering? Because when conflict breaks out, the first victims are women. It is men who get together to start these conflicts, but it is the women who are the victims. So, our message is to try to make the procedures more flexible, to be a little more proactive when it comes to conflict situations, to diminish women’s suffering.”

The interview was conducted in French by Marie O’Reilly, Associate Editor, International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview in French (or download mp3):


Marie O’Reilly: Brigitte Balipou is a Central African magistrate, a member of the board of Femmes Africa Solidarité and founder of the Association of Women Lawyers of Central Africa. Brigitte, welcome to IPI and the Global Observatory. Thank you for being with us today.

You addressed the UN Security Council last Friday during the annual debate on women, peace, and security, on behalf of the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security. What was your message in the Council for the international community?

Brigitte Balipou: The message that I brought to the Council was the message of full participation of women, and also justice for women, in the context of the conflicts in my country as well as in the region. [It was a message for] peace, security, women’s participation, transitional justice, and most of all consideration of the real needs of women in conflict situations, particularly in my country—the Central African Republic—where for twenty years we have been experiencing what seems to be a forgotten conflict. Today, this conflict is wide open—not only with regard to women’s issues but also in terms of religious issues.

So this, in sum, is the message I brought to the international community at the Security Council, so that urgent steps can be taken to try to put an end to these conflicts. Because if we speak of women, peace, and security, the conflicts are between men, but the main victims are women and children. It is against this backdrop that I came to bring this message.

Countering Violent Extremism Goes Local

In New York this past September, the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum (GCTF)—an informal intergovernmental body made up of 29 like-minded states and the EU, co-chaired by the United States and Turkey and focused on the delivery of capacity-building assistance—announced their intention to create a global fund to support local, grass-roots efforts to counter violent extremism. This is a departure from traditional funding sources, which to date have stemmed mainly from governments that have a natural preference towards larger multi-year projects thus simplifying the initial investment costs and project administration.

The Global Fund on Community Engagement and Resilience will provide support that is better able to reach the community level where countering violent extremism (CVE) projects will have the most buy-in and impact, and have more flexible, smaller disbursements. In addition, the fund is the first ever initiative to allow for public-private partnerships in CVE in its many manifestations, which can vary significantly across different regions.  

All of this sounds very different from traditional counterterrorism which has historically been more associated with law enforcement and military initiatives with a focus on putting “boots on the ground” than development or conflict resolution efforts. While there is value in enhancing operational capacities of governments to pursue terrorist groups and bring them to justice, the evolving nature of contemporary terrorism has prompted greater focus on preventive approaches. The traditional terrorist organization with members requiring specialized knowledge and training has, to a large extent, been replaced by networks of ideologues, supporters, and operatives spanning several political boundaries and using faster travel and communications technologies to move ideas and materiel. In short, they’ve globalized. The Internet has even made it possible for individuals to be inspired, and then plan and carry out an attack without any formalized contact with known terrorist groups or extensive training. 

Consequently, policymakers and practitioners have placed increasing emphasis on countering violent extremist ideas and narratives that underpin support and recruitment.  This preventive approach has focused on addressing what the UN Global Counterterrorism Strategy calls the “conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism,” which include “prolonged unresolved conflicts, dehumanization of victims of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, lack of rule of law and violations of human rights, ethnic, national and religious discrimination, political exclusion, socio-economic marginalization, and lack of good governance.” Following on this, there has increased engagement with practitioners and policymakers focusing on development, conflict prevention and resolution, peacebuilding, education, arts, and culture. 

However, there continues to be reluctance among a number of development and other practitioners about engaging in work designated as “counterterrorism.” This reflects concerns about the safety of field personnel and the securitization of assistance; the political sensitivities about the designation of, and engagement with, terrorist groups; and bureaucratic inertia in many governments—as well as international organizations like the UN—which impede collaboration. 

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