Police, Jury, or Judge? The Security Council’s Mixed Responses to Organized Criminal Activity

The UN Security Council considers reports on Rwanda and Yugoslavia War Crime Tribunals, June 12, 2013. (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

In the sixty years since Franklin D. Roosevelt jotted down his idea for the United Nations at a birthday dinner for Winston Churchill—with his notation “4 Police” becoming the five veto powers now at its center—the Security Council has come to act not only as a body policing global order, but also as a quasi-judicial enforcer of international law. As the great student of the Security Council Thomas M. Franck explained in 2002, the Council’s legal deliberations are not quite like those of a “judge” rigidly and objectively enforcing the law without consideration of her own interests and concerns, but rather more like those of “a global jury”: a group of sovereign countries appointed to assess the conduct of one of their peers, “not without feelings and biases, but whose first concern is to do the right thing by the norms under which we all live.”1

Yet something has changed in the ten years since Tom Franck made that assessment. Over that time, the state members of the Security Council have been drawn into dealing with a wide variety of non-state criminal activities, including drug trafficking, diamond, mineral and wildlife trafficking, and also piracy. And in doing so, they have increasingly resorted to tools that resemble those found in domestic criminal justice systems—criminal investigation, trial, and punitive sanctions. 

In a new United Nations University working paper, I review the Council’s practice in this area, and explore how the Council’s experimentation with criminal justice discourse is shaping its repertoire—and possibly complicating its ongoing pursuit of public legitimacy. 

Despite Realities, Security Council Attention Wanes on Children in Armed Conflict

A young boy in Idibi, Syria, with a shirt pouch of bullet
casings collected after heavy shelling by government
forces, March 24, 2012. (Freedom House)

Children in war zones are subjected to killing, maiming, torture, recruitment into armed forces, sexual violence, and forced displacement: there is no need to emphasize the horrific impact of armed conflict on children in today’s conflict zones. It is worrying, then, that there are certain states, including Azerbaijan, China, Colombia, India, Pakistan, and Russia, that would like to see the issue of children and armed conflict given less attention as a priority thematic issue in the UN Security Council. 

Recent stagnation of this issue within the Security Council after more than a decade of solid progress is partly the result of efforts to curtail the scope of work of the UN special representative to the secretary-general on children and armed conflict (currently Leila Zerrougui), who oversees compliance with and negotiation of international standards on children and armed conflict. It was felt that the work of her office had gone past its mandate, particularly by states such as Columbia, India, and Pakistan, which are listed in the secretary-general’s 2012 report on children and armed conflict as calling for a narrowing of the agenda to “situations of concern” only. 

In 2012, UN Security Council Resolution 2068 became the first Security Council resolution on children and armed conflict to be passed with abstentions (from Azerbaijan, China, Pakistan, and Russia) rather than unanimously. States that have sought to push back the children and armed conflict agenda have argued that the special representative has interpreted the issue too broadly, were concerned about the human rights dimension in the Security Council thematic issues more broadly, and argued that the selectivity of areas of focus and countries represented in thematic issues are the result of discrimination and double standards in the Security Council. 

So Far, Egypt’s New Constitution Fails Test of Equal Citizenship

A woman in Cairo cuts her hair as part of a protest against the lack of women's rights in an early version of the constitution. The action was a reference to the daughter of Pharaoh Akhenaten, who cut her hair in grief. (December 25, 2012-Moud Barthez/Flickr)

March 16th was Egyptian Women’s Day, and while Egypt’s 2012 constitution was labeled by experts as “hostile against women,” the revised constitution—adopted January 18, 2014—raised hopes that it not only had passed the bare minimal constitutional guarantees for women rights, but also opened the door to creating new possibilities. However, two months after its adoption, this assumption is failing to stand the test of practice. The gap between the articles of the constitution and reality persists.

In theory, the constitution—which was ratified by a sweeping 98% majority—is a leap forward in providing a “highest-order system” (to quote political philosopher John Rawls) when it comes to clauses guaranteeing equal citizenship for Egyptian women, in particular Articles 6, 11, 19, 93, and 180. It is worth noting that, while 50% of registered voters headed to polling stations in the 2012 referendum, just over 38% took part in the poll in January. However, in both 2014 and 2012, long queues of women voters were the highlight of the process, with women representing 48% of the voting bloc. 

As Police Roles Grow in UN Peace Operations, Clearer Guidelines Needed

A UN police training officer demonstrates how to subdue a criminal suspect using non-violent methods during a training session with Liberian National Police recruits, Unification Town, Liberia. (UN Photo/Staton Winter)

Sectarian violence in the Central African Republic (CAR) has left at least 2,000 dead and over 700,000 displaced since December last year. The United Nations is now preparing to deploy a major peacekeeping mission to CAR, in which the UN police will play a critical role in deterring further attacks on civilians, restoring order, and rebuilding local police and gendarmerie as part of the effort to re-establish the wider rule of law. How United Nations police will stabilize and help to rebuild CAR and other conflict-torn countries such as Mali and South Sudan will be the subject of a major international meeting in Oslo this week, March 19-21.  

Convened by the Police Division in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, police and government representatives from over 50 UN member states as well as international and regional organizations will discuss how international police can contribute to developing police institutions in the conflict-torn countries where peacekeeping missions are deployed. The meeting will aim to further flesh out specific areas outlined in the first comprehensive Policy on UN Police in Peacekeeping Operations and Special Political Missions, which formally took effect on February 1, 2014, after more than 5 years in development. 

Although peacekeeping operations are still widely perceived as military affairs, the reality is that over time they have become progressively more complex and ambitious. The role of police in peace operations has concurrently undergone a quiet but highly significant shift. Today, international police are essential for stabilization and, along with civilian experts, critical for peacebuilding and statebuilding in conflict-affected states hosting a peacekeeping mission. 

Netherlands Advocates Bigger Role for Women and Girls in Post-2015 Agenda

Schoolgirls in Liberia, December 2007. (USAID)

The role of women and girls was not prominent enough in the UN Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015, said Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands, and any post-2015 development agenda should have both a stand-alone goal for women and girls and specific roles for them in the broader agenda.

“In all other goals, whatever they are, it should be clear that there can be a specific role or a specific issue for women and girls,” Ms. Ploumen said in this interview. These are top priorities for the Netherlands in the post-2015 framework, she added. 

Ms. Ploumen said, “one of the main strategies that we should now look into is to make sure that not only the voices of those women are heard in the meeting rooms of the UN, but they themselves can be represented.” 

As an example, she said, “The most powerful thing to move things forward is to have a girl herself talk about what happened to her when she was forced into an early marriage. So, I think we should work with civil society and the UN to make even more room for the voices of women and girls themselves.” 

Ms. Ploumen also discussed how the Netherlands supports women in peace processes. “In South Sudan, we're working through the FLOW [Funding Leadership and Opportunities for Women] funds—but also through NGOs like Cordaid—to encourage young women to take up leadership positions in their communities, to organize themselves. ” 

“I think women can be a force for good. They are a force for change, but they also need our support to make that happen, and I'm very proud that we are able to do so,” she said.

“I admire the courage of all those women and girls that are there to stand up in their own community, give a voice to their sisters, their neighbors, their nieces, their daughters. We should be there with them.” 

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

Listen to interview (or download mp3):


Andrea Ó Súilleabháin: At the start of the 58th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the UN, I had the pleasure of speaking with Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation of the Netherlands. On March 11th, Minister Ploumen joined me to discuss the Netherlands’ priorities on development, its relation to peace and security, and ensuring sustainable development for women and girls.

The 58th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), happening at the UN this week, focuses on the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls. Looking ahead, what are the Netherlands’ priorities for the post-2015 framework, and ensuring it reaches women, especially those in conflict-affected states? 

Lilianne Ploumen: We have a few priorities that we would like to see on the agenda. To start with, we advocate for a stand-alone goal on women. I think many people would agree that the Millennium Development Goals were a wonderful tool if you wish to bring about lots of political and public support to development. But many of those people would also agree that the role of women and girls has not been too prominent in many of those goals. So a stand-alone goal in what will come after the Millennium Development Goals I think would be a key priority for us. 

The second would be that in all other goals, whatever they are, it should be clear that there can be a specific role or a specific issue for women and girls. We are also advocating for a separate goal on peace and security—or peace and stability, if you wish—because we feel that without development there can't be peace and without peace there cannot be development. 

Absence of Syrian Refugee Camps in Lebanon Heats Up Labor Competition and Local Tensions

Syrian children wait with slips of paper entitling them to collect bread for their families, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, September 4, 2013. (H. Murdock/VOA)

Three years into the Syrian conflict, one million Syrians have officially sought refuge in neighboring Lebanon, a country of 4.2 million people. Lebanon's hospitality is steadily being stretched to the limit. Syrian refugees have self-settled all over Lebanon, but mainly in the north and the Bekaa valley. The Lebanese authorities have so far refused to let the United Nations set up separate camps to house the refugees. They fear that the refugee camps could turn into permanent settlements and increase the likelihood that the Syrians may decide to stay. 

The absence of refugee camps means that Syrian families are settling in local communities ill prepared to accommodate the mass influx. After the presence of Syrians in Lebanon has reached one quarter of Lebanon’s population, the pressure on limited resources is felt in every community. How can Lebanon cope with this challenge? Are refugee camps the solution?

More than two thirds (70%) of Lebanese expressed a wish that the UN establish refugee camps for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The finding derives from a 2013 study of a representative sample of 900 Lebanese respondents by the Fafo Foundation, an independent research organization. A case study I conducted in the northern Lebanese village of Bebnine, part of the same Fafo study, indicates that finding shelter is increasingly challenging for refugees. In the beginning, people believed the crisis would be short-lived, and local residents showed generous hospitality towards the refugees. When the first refugees arrived in Bebnine, apartments were available, and some refugees were even provided for by a benefactor who paid the rent. Later, refugees had to accommodate themselves by staying with relatives and friends or rent available shelters. As a result, the monthly rent for an apartment in Bebnine increased from around $200 in 2011 to $450 in 2013. 

Refugees we met expressed anguish about their inability to pay the rent after their savings had been exhausted. Those who cannot afford the open rental market live in makeshift shelters designed for other uses than accommodations, usually without adequate water, electricity, and sanitation. Refugees in Bebnine have turned shops, garages, store rooms, hallways, and even a slaughterhouse into makeshift shelters. The latest arrivals to the village were often only offered improvised tents constructed with wooden poles wrapped in plastic. These shelters had only rudimentary water and sanitation facilities and are not weather-proof. A local charity organization in Bebnine was in the process of renting some land to accommodate 100 more plastic shelters for refugees. Clusters of such informal living arrangements have popped up several places in Bebnine, and more than 400 informal tent camps are registered around Lebanon to accommodate Syrian refugees. 

South Sudan Crisis Brings Questions for UNMISS

Nepalese peacekeepers arrive in Juba from Haiti to reinforce the military component of UNMISS, February 4, 2013. (UN Photo/Isaac Billy)

Only two and a half years after its independence, South Sudan was plunged into crisis when fighting erupted within the presidential guard on the night of December 15th. The violence spread quickly across the capital, Juba, and to the rest of the country, leaving over a thousand people dead; 870,000 people fled their homes, 145,000 to neighboring countries.

The outbreak of violence has renewed focus on the response capability of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Since its deployment in 2011, the mission has been plagued by questions about its effectiveness in carrying out its mandate to protect the civilians of South Sudan while at the same time supporting the government in statebuilding—questions the crisis brought into stark relief. However, the ongoing crisis presents an opportunity for UNMISS to re-examine its mandate to better align its objectives with the needs of the people of South Sudan.

Over 85,000 civilians sought refuge in UN base camps around the country, leaving UNMISS in a predicament: how could it uphold its mandate to protect civilians against the government troops it was supposed to support? As fighting erupted in the capital Juba, UNMISS was unable to deal with the crisis as it quickly spread across South Sudan and its head, Hilde Johnson, later admitted they were taken by surprise. 

Accounts of precisely what triggered the violence vary, but what is clear is that fighting broke out between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those backing the former Vice President, Riek Machar. The unresolved power struggles and ideological differences within both the SPLM and the Army exacerbated tensions leading up to the crisis that erupted in December. Moreover, within the two and half years since independence, the SPLM failed to transition from a political movement fighting the government in Khartoum into a viable political party seeking to influence policy and represent citizens’ interests. 

Report From Mali: Humanitarian Situation Complicated, and Ripe for Innovative Solutions

In Addrass, 30 kilometers from Ménaka, Gao, Mali, Red Cross personnel distribute food to displaced persons. (ICRC / M. Douma)

Last month, separate incidents where two aid workers were injured and five others went missing in northern Mali caused speculation that humanitarian workers are now more at risk. But according to François Grünewald, head of Groupe URD, a leading French think tank specializing in humanitarian and recovery issues, it is still unclear what happened. 

“Up until recently, the impression was that humanitarians were kind of protected by their status as humanitarian actors. Has this situation changed or not? We don't know,” he said in this interview from Bamako. 

One dynamic that can increase the risk to humanitarian actors is when there is a perception they are in collusion with the military or other political actors, though Mr. Grünewald said in Mali there is a mechanism in place to avert this, “a sort of interface/firewall between humanitarian actors and the military” to protect the neutrality of humanitarian actors.

Mr. Grünewald said some parts of northern Mali are empty since Malians fled the violence to refugee camps in Mauritania, Burkina, and Niger. “Assistance is being delivered in the camps and not yet deep inside northern Mali,” he said.

"However, humanitarian actors do have access to the riverine areas of the Niger river. So they can access these communities and deliver through local NGOs and other local partners," he said, adding, "Difficulties will arise, of course, if local actors and national staff of aid organizations become targets themselves."

“It is clear, however, that if the situation deteriorates in terms of food security indicators and if humanitarian access does not improve, then we have a problem,” he said. 

Mr. Grünewald said that a recent workshop in Mali hosted by Groupe URD and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) tried to better understand who the different stakeholders are on the political, military, and security scene in northern Mali. "By and large, we have some ideas, but we have no clear vision of what the logic is behind those actors," he said.

The workshop also brought discussions of innovative ideas around  military/humanitarian planning and new technologies to increase access and safety. One of the greatest challenges, however, is how to reach out to different violent groups in Mali.

“Unless we find a way to establish dialogue with [the political movements and radical groups in Mali] so that we can explain that humanitarian actors are not the enemy, that we are not political, that we are just there to help suffering people, we will continue facing substantial threats in the country,” he said.

The interview was conducted by Jérémie Labbé, Research Fellow at the International Peace Institute. He tweets at @jeremie_labbe.


Jérémie Labbé: I am here today with François Grünewald, Executive and Scientific Director of Groupe URD, a leading French think tank specializing in humanitarian and recovery issues. François, thanks for being with us on the Global Observatory today. 

You are currently in Bamako, Mali where Groupe URD and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recently organized a workshop on humanitarian space and humanitarian access in Mali. What is the overall assessment that came out of this workshop concerning the security situation in northern Mali, particularly with regards to recent security incidents concerning humanitarian actors, such as the abduction of five humanitarian staff affiliated to the Red Cross in early February and an improvised explosive device that injured two staff of the organization Doctors of the World last week?

François Grünewald: There are a few things. One, of course, is to try to better understand who the different stakeholders are on the political, military, and security scene in northern Mali. By and large, we have some ideas, but we have no clear vision of what the logic is behind those actors. For example, it's far too early to enter into conjecture to try to identify what has happened with the staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Similarly for the Kidal incident against Doctors of the World, it is still not clear what happened.

For a long time, it was said that humanitarian actors were not targeted by the different actors of violence, be they political movements—MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) and others—or be they the new radical Islamic movements, MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa), Ansar Dine, and others. Up until recently, the impression was that humanitarians were kind of protected by their status as humanitarian actors.

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