Can Human Security Drive Global Governance?


Next week, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) is expected to establish a two-year process to formulate a new post-2015 development agenda which will succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). There are four main questions on the table: what should the new goals look like, who will implement them, how can they be financed, and how will progress be measured?  In seeking an answer, we’ve found that making the concept of human security the centerpiece of this new global governance agenda could be the most powerful way to approach these questions.

Over the past six months, a number of substantive inputs have been released that will inform the UNGA deliberations on the post-2015 agenda. Of these, the report of the High-Level Panel (HLP) of Eminent Persons has attracted the most attention. The report calls for a fundamental shift in current development thinking that recognizes peace and good governance as core elements of sustainable development and wellbeing, “not optional extras,” thereby making-up for the lack of a goal on peace and security in the MDGs, and their silence on the devastating impact of conflict and violence on development.

From an analytical point of view, it is now widely accepted that violent conflict in the public domain is a major cause of underdevelopment, as demonstrated by the striking under-performance of low-income fragile or conflict-affected countries in meeting the MDGs. However, political obstacles to including language on peace and security in a new set of global governance goals can be anticipated as long as security continues to be approached solely from the point of view of state security. The reflex of governments at the UN will be to equate peace and security with sovereignty, which means that it will be treated as important but not something to be submitted to an international framework and the possibility of opening Pandora’s Box of additional accountabilities, monitoring by third parties, conditionalities, and other forms of interference in domestic affairs. 

If peace and good governance are accepted as core elements of well-being, the way to include them in a new global governance framework is by perceiving security more broadly. This is where human security comes in.  Human security focuses on freedom from violence and personal security, rather than state security. Just as we know that violent conflict is a cause of underdevelopment, we know that violent conflicts are increasingly no longer caused by threats to territorial integrity. Security nowadays is defined rather by the questions of what is being threatened, the state or society, and by whom, state or non-state actors? With a few exceptions, and from a point of public interest, there is little security that can be left to the “domestic” sphere alone, if we take the drivers and the regulation of conflict into consideration, particularly those efforts to constrain conflict that do not resort to violence and are in line with universal goals. Human security embraces the central role of governments in this regard, as governments implement regulations and have the ability to apply a variety of context-specific approaches to violence, but it also accommodates a greater involvement of local communities, civil society, and other non-state actors as part of a sustainable solution.   

The post-2015 development agenda is an invitation to think about a theory of change for the world that is more comprehensive and long-sighted. It will be one thing to agree upon a common set of goals, but what are our assumptions regarding who is expected to bring about these goals? The HLP report is calling for a “global partnership,” described as a “new spirit of solidarity, cooperation, and mutual accountability” that includes a broad range of actors and stakeholders such as governments, international organizations, civil society, the business community, academia, and private philanthropy.

Counterterrorism Efforts Bring Unintended Suffering: Interview with Jan Egeland


The unintended consequence of limiting humanitarian work because of counterterrrorism efforts in hot spots such as Somalia and Gaza is that it brings more suffering to civilians, said Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the humanitarian NGO Norwegian Refugee Council.

“There was one case of a group who thought they could not give school feedings to kindergartens anymore because the headmaster was seen as being part of Hamas. Of course, a baby is a baby. A baby is neither left or right, or Islamist or Christian. A baby has needs, and those need to be covered.”

Mr. Egeland said that, while donors want to do away with any and all contact with or assistance to terrorist groups, there are no laws prohibiting negotiating access to armed actors, “as we have to do, even [with] those who are terrorists.” 

“But, they [donors] have very often said, we cannot do humanitarian work that is in any way assisting these groups,” he said.

Somalia was another example. “In Somalia, we saw that starving people in areas controlled by al-Shabaab were suddenly having fewer organizations and agencies working for them, and some of these groups then felt that they had to go through cumbersome procedures to be sure that aid was given according to criteria, which made it more difficult to do relief. And starving people, again, should be given food aid and other aid flexibly and easily according to needs, whether or not they're under a bad de facto ruler.”

Mr. Egeland said he was torn when the humanitarian system became more integrated with political, military, and developmental missions. He said, as humanitarian actors, “we need to make very sure of our independence, our neutrality, our impartiality from political and military actors.” 

“That is also why we launched now this study on the negative effects of counterterrorism legislation in donor monies,” he said. “We need to maintain our independence and neutrality. And I think we can and should do that at the same time as we among ourselves coordinate better, become more robust in helping defend the rights of vulnerable people.”

Jérémie Labbé is a Senior Policy Analyst at the International Peace Institute. He tweets at @jeremie_labbe.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):


Jérémie Labbé: I'm here with Jan Egeland, newly appointed Secretary-General of the humanitarian NGO Norwegian Refugee Council since August 2013, and former head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs from 2003 to 2006. Jan, thank you very much for being with us on the Global Observatory

You participated on a study commissioned by your own organization and OCHA on the impact of counterterrorism measures on humanitarian action. Can you tell us more on the impact these measures?

Jan Egeland: This study is a study of experts, independent experts, that was commissioned by the United Nations and OCHA, on the one hand, and the Norwegian Refugee Council representing NGOs on the other side, to find out what has been the real impact of counterterrorism laws on humanitarian work for the most vulnerable groups in places where there may be groups that have been designated as terrorists. 

And the conclusion is very clear that there has been, unfortunately, unintended consequences, whereby nongovernmental organizations, even UN agencies and other humanitarian organizations, have had to limit their work for needy people or have censored, themselves, their work, limited their work, for some of the most vulnerable groups because we have been afraid of the consequences of being active in Gaza or Somalia or other places studied here. And the unintended consequence is, as I say, civilians are suffering. I don't think the legislators wanted that. What we now ask for is a real dialogue with the good donors that want us to help the poor and the vulnerable. And this dialogue should lead to more flexible legislations and rules for organizations like my own.

JL: Can you be a little bit more specific on the kind of impacts that those counterterrorism measures have on humanitarian action? Is it like a risk of being criminally prosecuted for contact with terrorists, for instance?

JE: Well, indeed the governments want to do away with any and all contact with or assistance to terrorist groups. They have not prohibited, specifically—and that's very good—us negotiating access to any and all armed actors, as we have to do, even [with] those who are terrorists. But, they have very often said we cannot do humanitarian work that is in any way assisting these groups. So, for example, in Hamas-governed Gaza, many groups have limited their assistance to children in schools; they have limited their work for the most vulnerable civilians. There was one case of a group who thought they could not give school feedings to kindergartens anymore because the headmaster was seen as being part of Hamas. Of course, a baby is a baby. A baby is neither left or right or Islamist or Christian. A baby has needs, and those need to be covered.

Democratizing Peace Processes: Women at the Table


In the traditionally male-dominated environment of peace talks, can women bring something special to the negotiating table? In a way, the question is beside the point, according to the UN’s mediator-in-residence, Margaret Vogt. “It is critical for women to be at the negotiating table whether or not that has an effect, because they constitute more than 50 percent of the population,” Ms. Vogt said in an interview with the Global Observatory. “And if we are promoting democratic efforts, we should make sure that all the constituencies are at the table.” 

Nonetheless, women can bring something special—if you choose the right women, Ms. Vogt said, “then they will bring to the table issues that are fundamental.” Drawing from her own experiences at peace talks, Ms. Vogt said that women involved in the peace process can raise the voices of women who are still experiencing violence on the ground, for example, even as the conflict parties deny that their attacks continue. 

Women also raise issues that may not otherwise be on the agenda. The last Libreville peace agreement for the Central African Republic, in which Ms. Vogt and her team played a facilitation role, “has a provision which is the first of its kind, that [states that] the parties committed to end gender-based violence and to pay reparations to victims of gender-based violence,” Ms. Vogt said. This is because the women in the delegation and Vogt’s team pushed to get the language included, she said. “Unfortunately, that hasn't stopped [the conflict parties] from committing offenses,” she added, “But at least they committed to an agreement that holds them to the fire.”

Ms. Vogt suggested that it’s difficult to get women to the negotiating table in practice because warring parties do not want to share power: “It’s a power game. And in most of these games, women are not there. So, when it comes to discussing peace on the table, the participants—the negotiators—see it as an opportunity to renegotiate power, and they want to restrict the domain as much as possible.” 

But if women are not part of the talks, it can have a long-term effect on their political participation, “they are excluded in what follows—in any political arrangement that follows,” Ms. Vogt said.

There are a number of tools and tactics that can help international mediators to include women’s voices in peace negotiations, according to Ms. Vogt. For example, she described having a gender advisor while serving a special representative of the secretary-general in the Central African Republic as “extremely useful.” The advisor “became a conduit of the views of women within the communities to the negotiating table,” said Ms. Vogt, and was able to “coach the women in the delegation to help them couch their issues and to present them.”

The interview was conducted by Marie O’Reilly, associate editor at the International Peace Institute.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):


Marie O’Reilly: My guest in the Global Observatory today is Margaret Vogt, mediator-in-residence at United Nations headquarters and formerly special representative and head of the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic. Thank you so much for being with us today, Margaret.

Margaret Vogt: Thank you, and it’s a pleasure to be here. 

MOR: Ms. Vogt, your current post at headquarters allows you to reflect on your experiences and draw lessons for future UN mediation endeavors. Today, I'd like to talk in particular about women in mediation and in peace processes. What effect can it have on peace processes when women are at the negotiating table, whether as mediators, members of negotiating delegations, or in some other form?

MV: It is critical for women to be at the negotiating table whether or not that has an effect, because they constitute more than 50 percent of the population. And if we are promoting democratic efforts, we should make sure that all the constituencies are at the table. I'm saying this because we often argue that “Oh, they should be there because they bring something special.” We do not say that men should be at the peace table because they bring something special. Women of course do bring something special—but when you choose the right women. If you choose the right women to come to the table, as well as if you choose the right men, then they will bring to the table issues that are fundamental. 

For example, in the processes that I have handled, I have tried to go to the grassroots to really identify women who know what is happening within their communities, who have the courage to speak up and to speak out, to the issues affecting their community, who can tell truth to power and say, “No, it is not true that the rebels have stopped attacking, because they are still attacking us. It is not true that the government has stopped arresting people indiscriminately, because it is still happening.” So, it is important to have the right women at the table, just as it is important to have the right men. 

MOR: If it is so critical—and I think it's widely recognized on paper that it is—why is it so difficult to get them to the table in practice?

How to Reclaim Egypt’s Lost Revolution

info-human-righThe crackdown on supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi on August 14 was a watershed moment in Egypt’s transition, yet the passing of its one-month anniversary might mark the passing of the window of opportunity for reviving Egypt’s fragile march towards democracy. The clamoring over the new Egyptian constitution is taking place amid a sustained crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters, near-daily security incidents targeting police and military officers, continued civil unrest, and increased aggression towards human rights and democracy activists—one cannot help but wonder if the promises of the January 25 uprising can ever be resuscitated. Unless the military-led government in Cairo changes its course in the very near term, Egyptians may find themselves waiting another generation before they get a second try at revolution.

In the euphoria of Hosni Mubarak’s ouster almost three years ago, revolutionaries would have never imagined the state of affairs in which they find themselves today. In early 2011, with Mubarak's interior ministry goon squad reeling from an unprecedented defeat, they saw infinite possibilities for reshaping the new Egypt in their own image, unable to realize the difference between their vision and that of the state bureaucracy, the Islamists, and other vested interests. As those differences played out in a cliff-hanging political drama, a new dynamic emerged, reaching a crescendo on July 3, 2013 when thousands of protesters called for Morsi’s removal: that of polarization.

The roots of this drama lie in the governing strategy that Morsi—and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau, by extension—employed during his truncated term. In the lead up to presidential elections in 2012, most Egyptians were willing to suspend their distrust of the shadowy group and put their faith in the power and momentum of the people’s uprising to constrain its ambitions and employ it to the demands of the January 25 aspirations. It did not take long to realize, however, that political considerations trumped any revolutionary demands for transformative change. Some could accept the way the Muslim Brotherhood played a deft game of deceit, shifting its alliances as it saw fit to position itself to rule, as part and parcel of politics in Egypt—or anywhere, for that matter. But as the economy continued to nosedive, and voices of dissent in critical media outlets were silenced, and it became apparent that Morsi was interested in co-opting rather than reforming state institutions, that momentum shifted against him and those he represented.

Morsi’s November 2012 constitutional decree introduced the poison that corrupted the spirit of the revolution. With the stroke of a pen, he declared himself the supreme ruler in Egypt. Despite his restraint, he reignited the fear of authoritarianism in Islamist form and sparked the war against him. The dominoes fell predictably enough: as the secular opposition went on the offensive, he relied on Islamists who maintained harder lines than the Muslim Brotherhood and rammed through a constitution that marginalized secular input. To maintain Islamist support, Morsi’s language against detractors grew harsher, and the conflation of faith and politics renewed sectarian tensions. As the distance between ideologies grew wider, his control over policy implementation grew weaker, increasing popular animosity that resulted in the Tamarod campaign—his eventual downfall.

Balancing Sovereignty and Democracy at the UN


Six years ago, the United Nations General Assembly declared September 15th the International Day of Democracy, an annual event to assess the progress of democracy around the world.

It may seem strange to some that a body that counts representatives from Nicaragua, Qatar, and the Kingdom of Bahrain among its presidents in the last decade should present itself as a promoter of democracy. After all, the UN is a member-state organization with clear nondemocratic elements. Its membership includes many authoritarian states, and its internal structure and procedures often diverge greatly from the ideals of liberal democracy. Notably, the UN’s most powerful body, the Security Council, is unrepresentative, dominated by five permanent veto-wielding members, without a single African or Latin American country among them.

The UN is not a democracy of the world, nor does it claim to be. Rather, it is an international organization with 193 members founded on a commitment to state sovereignty, whether the state is democratic or not.

However, the UN is also a values-based institution that carries at its core a commitment to democratic principles. Although the UN Charter does not mention the word “democracy,” Article 1(3) cites “promoting and encouraging respect for human rights” as a primary purpose of the organization, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly in 1948, declares that regular elections and “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.”

In fact, each year the United Nations system conducts a host of activities supporting democracy worldwide. Through a variety of agencies and departments, including the UN Development Program, the UN Department of Political Affairs, the UN Democracy Fund, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the system provides direct technical assistance to countries organizing elections and promotes the growth of institutions vital to the rule of law.

Thus, the UN as a whole works to support democratic norms, but it is also structurally committed to the sovereign equality of states, no matter what their form of government. And at times, this dual commitment to both independent states and free individuals creates a tension at the center of the international system.

Notes from a New Egypt: Witness to the Creation of Narratives, Myths, and Symbols



The curfew is a good indicator of the delicate situation that Egypt is going through at the moment. The most remarkable thing about it is the extent to which the population is respecting it, particularly when compared to the one that the Mubarak regime failed to impose during the uprising in Egypt in early 2011. And it is extraordinary for a city that was characterized by its nocturnal activity, whether it was families strolling by the side of the Nile, young men playing football, or people simply chatting away at a street side café until the small hours.

Though certain regions of the country devoted to tourism are less affected—such as the northwestern coast on the Mediterranean and the southern coast of the Sinai Peninsula—and it is impossible to impose it in the more popular neighborhoods of the capital, much of this vast country comes to a standstill everyday like clockwork. In central Cairo, where most official buildings are situated, movement stops completely everyday from eleven in the evening until six in the morning. This is in fact a significant relief from what was in place prior to August 31, when the curfew started at seven in the evening.

Hani, a taxi driver in his early thirties who for years preferred to work at night, has had his habitual timetable turned upside-down, but despite his frustration, he nevertheless appears to be happy to comply. This is because the curfew is a sort of informal referendum on the support for the measures imposed by the Egyptian Army, as well as a sense of incapacity to resist them by those that oppose it. In Hani’s mind, for example, there is no doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood has shown its true colors—in particular, its chauvinism—during the one year that its leader Mohammed Morsi held power, and he is more than happy to see him go.

For Hani, as well as many other Egyptians, the car bomb attack against the Minister of the Interior’s caravan in Cairo earlier this month is further validation that the army is fighting terrorism, violence which, according to him, the Muslim Brotherhood is evidently behind. This is indeed one of the main narratives that General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi—who led the ousting of Morsi from power in early July and now holds the reins of power in the country—is propagating as a justification for the military intervention in the governance of Egypt and the steps taken thereafter.

Key to this narrative is the military operations taking place in the north of the Sinai Peninsula and next to the border with the Gaza Strip. In Sinai, where the army is said to be conducting major operations, movement is forbidden between towns after six in the afternoon, and within towns after eleven in the evening, just like in Cairo. Apache helicopter attacks in this area were front-page news in the official Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, and its headline on September 8 read, “The biggest military operation to purify Sinai from the sources of terrorism.” Solid information is hard to come by, but the consensus appears to be that, this time, the Egyptian Army is planning to get rid of the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt once and for all.

Central African Republic: Back to War Again?


Over the last week, armed skirmishes around the small city of Bossangoa in the northwest of the Central African Republic (CAR) led to the death of up to 100 people and the destruction of a number of properties. While incidents like this have been recurrent since a loose coalition of armed groups called Séléka (“alliance” in Sango, the national language) seized the capital Bangui in March 2013, this episode should convince external observers and the international community that the slow normalization, once considered the most likely scenario, is not happening. Instead, a further deterioration in the country’s security is occurring, with a surge of highway banditry and predatory armed groups claiming different allegiances, and a narrative of an ongoing Christian-Muslim war that may have deleterious effects beyond the areas directly affected by fighting.

On September 25, a meeting of “CAR friends” is scheduled to take place alongside the UN General Assembly. Participants should announce stronger political and financial support to the new African Union force (MISCA) that is due to take over from the current Economic Community of Central African States mission, called MICOPAX, and police the whole country. Challenges demand more than a “business as usual” diplomatic initiative; they require a deeper assessment of the situation on the ground and of the regional stakeholders’ interests. The international response should focus on framing a more comprehensive strategy to deal with insecurity in CAR, a looming “religious” war, and the political vacuum created by the last years of François Bozizé’s rule, and the current, extremely weak government.


On September 6, more than 50 people, some of them armed, took over Benzambé, the home village of CAR’s former ruler François Bozizé and near the city of Bossangoa, and killed or made prisoner 20 Séléka fighters. Muslim households, essentially from the Peulh ethnic group, were targeted, and some were killed as revenge for the many abuses against the local Christian population by Séléka elements; robbery also seems to have been a motive for that brutal action. Over the next few days, armed skirmishes happened in other places near Bossangoa and gave some credibility to the emergence of an armed group made up of Bozizé’s supporters and former military. 

At the time of this writing, there is no independent confirmation that those people who fought against the Séléka are organized in a genuine politico-military movement, though Bozizé’s entourage in Paris claims that they are. The weapons and tactics used for the ambushes do prove the presence of former soldiers among them. But there are other possible scenarios, such as self-defense youth groups convinced that Bozizé would soon go back to power and endorse their fighting (and plundering) against local Muslim communities. 

There are at least three aspects of concern that can be pinpointed in this bloody episode. The first is the ongoing polarization between Christian and Muslim communities that could be devastating for the whole country and have consequences for the region, notably in Chad and Cameroon. Séléka fighters were recruited from Muslim communities settled in CAR or in the “three border areas” (Chad, Sudan, and CAR). Others also joined—mostly Sudanese elements settled in CAR or connected with the northern CAR shadow economy, Chadians, and others.

While Séléka fighters have notional inclinations for political Islam, they share a strong sense of communal identity and a will to avenge previous CAR regimes and their beneficiaries identified as Christians (not much of a discriminating factor, as the CAR population is more than 75% Christian). Lay Muslims in CAR today are less likely to be harassed by the Séléka, and most often, there is cooperation. The whole Muslim community is therefore perceived as supporting the Séléka and hostile to the core Christian population. CAR elites play a big role in articulating this narrative based on some limited truth and wide approximations to build a constituency against CAR’s current president, Michel Djotodia, and his armed supporters. The Muslim community also played a strategic role in the economy, and any attempt to disrupt it would negatively affect the urban economy at the risk of a violent reaction by the Chadian contingent of MICOPAX.

Data Map Shows Protests Around the World Increase, With Caveat

Looking at this time-lapse visualization of protests around the world since 1979, one can easily surmise that the spirit of protest exploded during the 1990s, steadily increasing until it seemed to overtake entire continents post-2010. But is the world really overrun with dissent and revolution?

Only sort of. The data driving the visualization is taken from the Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT), which has drawn on media reporting to georeference nearly a quarter-million events over the past 34 years. And while there has been an increase in media coverage of every type of event since 1979, the number of protests as a percentage of the total number of “events” reported has not increased.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t spikes in the data, as one of the project’s lead researchers, John Beieler, wrote in an email. “There are times when the amount of protests behavior goes up and is higher than average. The past few years is actually one of those times.”

A write-up about this map in Foreign Policy discussed some of these spikes: the protests in South Africa against apartheid, the Arab Spring, the fall of the Berlin Wall, Poland in the 1980s. If you know where to look in the visualization, you can watch them unfold.

But, with data comes problems. Commenters on the Foreign Policy post quickly pointed out what they saw were the map’s limitations. “Maybe I'm being nit-picky, but I'm just looking at Latin America and I can tell you this is severely underestimating the number of protests, both now and prior to the third wave of democratization,” wrote one user. “Clearly, wrong!! In México we have an permanente[sic] wave of protetest [sic] since 1950 and in the map only appears since 1994,” wrote another.

All the underlying data for this map are derived from text-mining a cross-section of all major international, national, regional, local, and hyper-local news sources; no human hand is involved."The GDELT dataset is generated completely by fully automatic software algorithms operating with no human oversight or intervention and is based on global news media reporting," reads GDELT's Web site.

In general, all data can contain bias, which can lead to a flawed representation of events. And while visualizations can make complex information look simple, they must be coupled with a deeper understanding of the political and social complexities, as well as an awareness of the shortcomings in the data itself. Without this expertise and analysis, the possibility of misinterpretation is high.

Sign Up

Subscribe to the GO's weekly roundup email:

What to Watch in 2014

Key Global Events in February
A list of key upcoming meetings and events with implications for global affairs.

2013-multilateral-602014 Top 10 Issues to Watch in Peace & Security: The Global Arena
A list of ten key issues to watch that are likely to impact international peace and security in 2014, compiled by IPI's Francesco Mancini.