Nour on the balcony at the International Peace Institute, with the UN Secretariat building in the background. (Don Pollard)
Nour is a 15-year-old board member of the Children's Council in Lebanon, a council that, among other accomplishments, contributed a child-led report on children in conflict to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Nour recently spoke at the launch of the Guiding Principles on Young People’s Participation in Peacebuilding at the International Peace Institute in New York. Nour was interviewed afterwards by Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, Policy Analyst at the International Peace Institute, and the following are some of Nour’s remarks on these topics. Nour’s last name has been redacted to protect her privacy.
Peacebuilding and political processes in Lebanon
My country suffered a long and tough war, and we can still feel its consequences, even though the civil war ended some time ago. Young people are the new generation; they’re creative, enthusiastic, and they want change.
Without peace, we can’t achieve other goals. My generation wants peace. I think that youth always have bright ideas and new things to say. It’s important that children and youth are listened to, and that young people and adults talk and listen to each other. Two years ago, I was elected as a board member of the Lebanese Children’s Council, and now it’s my responsibility to represent the views of other children.
I want to tell you about something I was a part of this year. In Lebanon, there are child-friendly spaces for Syrian refugee children. These children came together to write a child-led report where they discussed the problems they face in the host communities in Lebanon and Jordan, at different levels—in the home, at school, in the community, and in the countries they moved to. We, the members of the Lebanese Children’s Council, met with the Syrian children—despite all the conflicts that arose between Lebanese and Syrian people due to the crisis. We wanted to break the ice created by the political situation, and to share with each other what we hope for. To show the Syrian refugee children that we can make peace together and build on it for a better future.
Map shows areas controlled by state and nonstate actors. (Chris Perry/IPI)
On April 29, thirty-five prominent legal experts stated in an open letter to the United Nations that delivering humanitarian aid across borders in rebel-controlled areas in Syria without the government’s consent is legal under international law, urging the world body to step up aid delivery to hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need.
This statement is significant as it lends authoritative credence to a progressive interpretation of international humanitarian law—an interpretation developed in this very publication exactly one year ago—and supports the argument of those who, since early 2013, have called for scaled-up crossborder humanitarian assistance from neighboring countries such as Turkey and Jordan. The argument goes that delivering aid across borders directly in rebel-held areas—as opposed to negotiating access across frontlines from government-controlled territory—would partly address the needs of 3.5 million people in the hard-to-reach areas that are mostly under opposition control, a figure reiterated in the latest report of the UN Secretary-General on the humanitarian situation in Syria.
However, on the very same day, a UN spokesman summarily dismissed this call by stating that “the organization [in accordance with its charter] can engage in activities within a territory of a member state only with the consent of the government of that state.” Rather than rejecting this significant call on purely legalistic reasons, one would have expected the United Nations to seize this opportunity to clearly explain the practical reasons why delivering aid across borders despite Damascus’ objection is no silver bullet to address skyrocketing needs, and could very well backfire.
As the crisis in Ukraine deepens, the question often asked is, “where will Russia strike next?” Nowhere, hopefully, but Moldova looks vulnerable. Like Estonia, Kazakhstan, and Latvia, the small Eastern European nation has a significant Russian-speaking population. Like Ukraine, it has tried to move closer to the West. And like Georgia, it contains a break-away region—Transdniestria–controlled by Russian proxies. What are the prospects for Moldova’s future?
The current Moldovan government has made closer European integration a priority. Indeed, the ruling coalition of three liberal democratic partners formed an Alliance of European Integration during the parliamentary elections of 2010 to keep the Communists out of power, despite the latter winning the largest share of the vote (39 percent). Major steps towards European integration have been taken in the past few years, as signified by the initialing of the Association Agreement between Moldova and the European Union (EU), including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), at the European Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania on November 29, 2013. At the same time, the government has been careful to maintain good relations with Moscow, and to intensify dialogue with the break-away region of Transdniestria.
But with elections pending, and growing instability in its neighborhood, will Moldova be able to continue the process of European integration? And will it be able to “reintegrate” Transdniestria, or will internal and external forces break it apart? Five scenarios are worth considering.
A Zambian peacekeeper walks in front of an armored patrol in the disputed region of Abyei, on the the border between Sudan and South Sudan, May 30, 2011. (UN Photo/Stuart Price)
On May 5, a critical round of negotiations will begin at the United Nations (UN), and the outcome will have profound implications for UN peacekeeping. Since the early 2000s, peacekeeping has grown in both size and complexity. The current mandated surge in South Sudan and the recently authorized operation in the Central African Republic are due to bring UN deployment to unprecedented levels, and both missions exemplify the increased focus on the protection of civilians in UN mandates. Yet both missions are struggling to secure the necessary personnel and equipment contributions from UN member states.
One reason for this is that the UN’s system for financing state contributions to peacekeeping operations has not kept pace with its growing peacekeeping ambitions and commitments. Countries contributing military and/or police personnel to UN operations are eligible for two main kinds of reimbursement payments: one for the costs of deploying their personnel, and the other for the costs of deploying their equipment. One acute problem with this system is that the standardized basic rate for personnel cost reimbursements has stagnated since 2002, causing deep resentment among troop contributing countries and raising fears that current levels of personnel contributions may become unsustainable. A second, fundamental problem is that the current reimbursement structure provides virtually no financial incentives for states to contribute specialized or highly capable military units, or to assume the risks associated with implementing ambitious peacekeeping mandates.
To sustain and enhance its peacekeeping capacity, the UN needs to create a better financial incentive structure for troop and/or police contributing countries. Its ability to do so depends critically on the outcome of negotiations during the 2014 Second Resumed Session of the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee, which begins on May 5.
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
May 2: US-Germany Meeting, Washington, DC Angela Merkel visits Barack Obama for the first meeting between the heads of state since documents released by Edward Snowden revealed the National Security Agency (NSA) had tapped the German chancellor’s cellphone for over a decade. The US has so far refused to share the NSA’s file on Merkel or offer any concrete details of its intelligence gathering activities in Europe. Many Europeans have pressured Merkel to demand more cooperation on the issue, fearing that, without a US gesture to repair transatlantic relations, the West’s ability to address the Ukraine crisis will be compromised, reports The Guardian.
May 5: G7 Energy Ministers Summit, Rome With the crisis in Ukraine escalating, the leading industrialized economies that make up the G7 meet in Rome to discuss energy resilience and alternatives to Russian natural gas. Britain wants to use the G7 Energy Ministers Summit to find ways to reduce global energy dependence on Russia in order to lessen Moscow’s ability to use its energy dominance as a geopolitical tool, reports Reuters.
May 5-6: UN Hears Vatican Officials in Sex Abuse Case, Geneva The United Nations committee responsible for implementation of the Convention Against Torture hears Vatican officials on May 5-6. At issue is whether the Catholic Church’s response to clerical sex abuse violates international norms against subjecting minors to torture. Earlier this year, the UN released a report condemning the Vatican’s handling of the sex abuse scandal.
May 5: P5+1-Iran Talks Resume, New York The next round of talks over Iran’s contested nuclear program takes place in New York on the sidelines of the Nonproliferation Treaty Review at the UN. In this meeting, coming two months before the target end of negotiations, the world powers and Iran are set to begin drafting a final agreement. The issue of the capacity of the heavy water reactor in Arak, a problem many worried would inhibit a final accord, was reportedly resolved mid-April.
The UN base in Bor, South Sudan, was the site of an attack against the Nuer ethnic group where at least 30 people were reported killed on April 17, 2014. (Sudan Tribune/Flickr)
After the conflict in South Sudan took a particularly violent turn in mid-April, peace talks between the warring sides resume in Addis Ababa this week. David De Dau, executive director of the Agency for Independent Media in South Sudan, spoke to me about the recent use of radio to incite violence, the UN’s role in protecting civilians, and ways to advance the precarious peace negotiations.
This conflict started out with a primary political dispute within the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, but two weeks ago we saw brutal ethnically targeted killings of more than 200 people in the oil town of Bentiu. What has changed in the past four months?
The genesis of the current crisis goes back to the dispute of transforming SPLM into a democratic political party that will chart a way forward for the development of South Sudan. However, that particular ideal of transformation has taken a different turn that has resulted in a number of killings, which has further deteriorated the relationship between various communities, and particularly the majority communities of the Dinka and Nuer.
As you saw earlier this month, there was an attack on the civilian forces in Bor, where 58 people were killed. And that was actually an act of revenge on the side of the opposition parties against the non–South Sudanese and also targeting other communities in Unity state by killing a number of them based on their tribal lines.
Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, July 10, 2003. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)
The death of former Sierra Leone President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah on March 13, 2014 provides an opportunity to reflect on the remarkable transition from a decade of civil war to peace in this small West African nation. In recent years, the focus of conflict resolution analysts has been on the role of the international community, including the deployment of the United Nations peacekeeping force from 1998-2005, the establishment of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and the establishment of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) which completed its mandate on March 31, 2014.
While there is no doubt that the UN, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the African Union all played important roles in this transition, the leadership role of President Tejan Kabbah has been overlooked. Yet he played a central role in keeping his countrymen committed to peace and a democratic transition, avoiding the pitfalls of other African countries that have emerged from conflict under authoritarian rule.
Tejan Kabbah had been a lawyer and district commissioner before becoming an international civil servant for almost two decades, working at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in New York and in Tanzania before returning to Sierra Leone in the early 1990s. Originally intending to stay away from politics, he was quickly drawn into running for the presidency in the midst of the ongoing civil war. When the junior officers of the National Provisional Ruling Council convened the Bintumani Conference in August 1995, they were persuaded to stand down and allow elections to take place in February 1996. The Revolutionary United Front (RUF), led by Foday Sankoh, was engaged in a campaign of brutal violence, using amputations of innocent rural villagers in the east to dissuade people from participating in the election.
Kabbah won the election and came to office in these difficult circumstances. There was little international attention on Sierra Leone; the UN was slow to engage still seeking to recover from its failures in Somalia and Rwanda. Kabbah’s top priority became the search for peace and national reconciliation. The country’s economy had been in free fall for more than a decade, and many professionals had left. With a limited cabinet and few resources, Kabbah entered into the Abidjan Peace Agreement with the RUF in November 1996, only to find a few months later that Sankoh had used the agreement to re-arm.
In May 1997, barely a year in office, a junior officers coup forced Kabbah and his wife and inner circle to flee to Conakry, Guinea. The junior officers and the RUF (in absentia) seized power in Freetown as the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). The OAU at the Harare Summit, however, denied them recognition, and in February 1998 ECOWAS forces ejected the AFRC from Freetown enabling Kabbah to return to office. The next January, RUF forces again re-entered Freetown in a campaign of murder and pillage (supported by Charles Taylor’s forces in Liberia). Sankoh had been turned over by the Nigerians and was held in Pademba Road prison. Despite repeated betrayals, Kabbah again entered into negotiations with the RUF, concluding the Lomé Peace Agreement in June 1999. Sankoh was given the title of vice president only to again renege on his commitments by continuing to accumulate diamonds and smuggle weapons to his followers in the field.
In Bor, South Sudan, people fleeing ongoing clashes board boats headed for Minkammen, February 27, 2014. (Mohammed Elshamy/Flickr)
The mass atrocities in Rwanda and Srebrenica provided “a shock to the international community,” said Adama Dieng, the United Nations Secretary-General's special adviser on the prevention of genocide. The UN has been widely criticized for its failures in both, but in the intervening years, Mr. Dieng said the United Nations has made a lot of progress. “It takes time to change [UN] culture,” he said.
He said, “too often, strategic interests of the member states are placed above human lives,” and the failure of the UN to act is often rooted in Security Council members letting their own interests impact their decisions.
“And I keep repeating it: we have to make sure that the Security Council acts timely and decisively whenever we are witnessing situations of potential genocide or atrocity crimes,” he said.
In Central African Republic (CAR), where, since 2012, sectarian violence has escalated and caused internal migration and hundreds of deaths, Mr. Dieng said a genocide is not happening, though there is a risk. “We do not use, of course, the term lightly,” he said. “We talk about this risk of genocide because we have seen elements of the crime in place. We have seen very clear statement of intent to destroy, to wipe a population from the country, and I'm referring here to the Muslim population.” He said CAR is at risk for all atrocity crimes, particularly crimes against humanity.
Mr. Dieng said the UN needs to invest more in prevention. “We must get involved earlier if we are to save lives, and if we are to stop tensions from escalating,” he said. “We cannot say that we are not aware of what is happening in the world. We have enough early warning information.”
Mr. Dieng used CAR as an example of the potential cost difference between early interventions and peacekeeping interventions. “With certainly less than $100 million dollars, one could've prevented the crisis in Central African Republic leading to the establishment of a peacekeeping operation.” In contrast, he said the CAR’s peacekeeping operation could cost “at least $1 billion dollars.”
Mr. Dieng listed many improvements the UN has made in its approach, including its ability to act as “one UN,” which he said means deciding on policy at headquarters and implementing coherent strategies on the ground. As an example, he cited the decision in February 2014 to “open the gates” of the peacekeeping mission in South Sudan and provide refuge to South Sudanese fleeing bloody political violence. “Thanks to that decision, thousands of lives were saved,” he said. He contrasted this with 20 years ago “when the gates were opened, but only to release the soldiers to go back home.”
Mr. Dieng said one situation his office is monitoring but does not receive enough attention is the sectarian violence in in Myanmar. He said concern over the upcoming election, which is seen as a crucial step in Myanmar’s democratization, is clouding the issue. “We have to make sure that political appointees/opportunists will not allow that the people of Myanmar, particularly the Rohingya, who are at risk, be left abandoned… Because if we allow the situation to continue, you are facing the risk after the election of a situation which will be worse than what we are witnessing today.”
The interview was conducted by Adam Lupel, Director of Publications and Senior Fellow at the International Peace Institute.
As you know, this month marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. So, I'd first like ask you what have we learned since then, what is United Nations doing better, and where are we most in need of improvement?
Well, I would first of all like to say that the genocide not only Rwanda but also in Srebrenica provided a shock to the international community, which was forced to take a hard look at the unacceptable human cost of failing to take action or not be adequately prepared. And speaking about the United Nations in particular—an investigation into why we've fail to prevent these genocides—and most recently the death of civilians in the last months of the conflict in Sri Lanka—have resulted in several processes of reform within the UN. And, of course, it takes time to change culture. But, I believe that we have made a lot of progress in 20 years.
The International Peace Institute is an independent, international not-for-profit think tank dedicated to promoting the prevention and settlement of conflicts between and within states by strengthening international peace and security institutions. To achieve its purpose, IPI employs a mix of policy research, convening, publishing and outreach.