Humanitarian Aid vs Resilience Debate Should Put Priorities in Context

Humanitarian workers from the Dominican Republic prepare to distribute food  after the earthquake in Haiti, January 19, 2010. (UN Photo/Marco Dormino)

A heated debate over whether humanitarian aid should also include building  longer-term resilience in communities was triggered in the blogosphere in February by Jonathan Whittall, Mit Philips, and Michiel Hofman from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). They argued that the resilience concept, as a bridge between humanitarian response and development aid, distracts humanitarian actors from short-term life-saving activities by focusing on supporting local and national systems to better face and recover from shocks over the longer term. 

Paul Harvey from Humanitarian Outcomes then rebuffed the argument, stating that, by being de facto involved in decades-long protracted emergencies, humanitarian actors have the responsibility to plan long term by building resilient systems and therefore avoid recurrent relapses into crises. This elicited reactions from Simon Levine from the Overseas Development Institute and Alyoscia D’Onofrio of the International Rescue Committee, as well as further arguments and counter-arguments by Paul Harvey and Jonathan Whittall.

Beyond the rhetoric, what is really at stake in this debate from MSF’s perspective is a worrying “decrease in the emergency capacity of so-called humanitarian organizations” in conflicts such as the Central African Republic or the Democratic Republic of the Congo—especially in areas under the control of nonstate armed groups— and that they correlate with the growing focus on resilience building. As Levine emphasized, “development is about choices a society makes on how to create and share out resources—so it’s always inherently political.” This makes development a “deliberate contradiction”—in MSF’s words—to humanitarian aid that should stay at arm's length from political controversies (thus preserving neutrality) in order to deliver aid wherever it is needed (in keeping with impartiality), including in al-Shabaab or Taliban areas. With its focus on building systems, the argument goes, the resilience concept facilitates the co-opting of humanitarian aid by political stakeholders—including Western donors’ statebuilding and stabilization agendas. 



Are We Sleepwalking Towards War? Interview with Chris Clark

Chris Clark, author of The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914

“Looking at the current crisis in Crimea, there is only one sleepwalker—Vladimir Putin,” said Chris Clark, referring to his bestselling book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, which describes how leaders during the First World War made decisions without thinking of the larger consequences. In 1914, he said, all five major powers were sleepwalking towards war.

Mr. Clark, Professor in Modern European History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of St. Catharine's College, was interviewed while in Vienna to receive the 2014 Bruno Kreisky Prize for Political Literature.  

The interview was conducted by Walter Kemp, Senior Director for Europe and Central Asia, and Maximilian M. Meduna, Policy Analyst, both based at the International Peace Institute's Vienna office. 

In your book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, you meticulously examine the complex developments that led the leaders of 1914 to a calamity, the First World War. One hundred years later, are the leaders of today sleepwalking into something unpredictable?

First, we have to clarify what we mean by “sleepwalking.” In my book, I argue that the leaders of 1914 were not acting in an unconscious way as the analogy might suggest. It would be a mistake to attribute no responsibility or guilt to these leaders and the decisions they made. I don’t think that in 1914 the “nations slithered over the brink into the boiling cauldron of war without any trace of apprehension or dismay,” as Lloyd George put it. World War I was not an accident; we must understand the complex web of effects of agency that pushed Europe into the catastrophe. “Sleepwalking” in this context means that despite the rational and—within their subjective logic—intelligent decisions they made, the leaders of 1914 had a limited awareness of the larger consequences of their decisions—the systemic outcome of individual, rational decisions was irrational and not induced by any single one of them.

Today, the world is different—modern democracies tend to have transparent and well-considered decision-making mechanisms. Looking at the current crisis in Crimea, there is only one sleepwalker—Vladimir Putin. Yes, the European Union could have integrated Russia more into its policy making in early phases of its bilateral relations with Ukraine, as the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier reflected. But at this moment in time, it is important to exercise caution in the short term and not to escalate the situation. What is needed is the rhetoric of restraint. One can penalize Russia in the long run, but now leaders must uphold efforts to keep available channels of exchange open. In any case, a system-wide escalation like a hundred years ago is highly improbable with only one “sleepwalker” on the stage. As the saying goes, “it takes two to tango,” and there were five powers in 1914 eager to hit the dance floor.



As CAR Peacekeeping Prepares to Expand, National Commitment Could Prevent Past Mistakes

Soldiers from the Rwandan Defense Force arrive in Bangui to join the African-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA), January 17, 2014. (US Army Africa/Tom Byrd)

Yesterday, the head of African peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR) declared the anti-balaka, a violent militia that is party to the current conflict, “enemies” of the peacekeeping force, adding another layer to the complex and multifaceted crisis that has killed thousands and displaced a quarter of the country’s population.  

The crisis, which first caught international attention in March 2013 when Seleka rebels ousted CAR President François Bozizé, led the United Nations Secretary-General to announce in February a six-point initiative for CAR, followed in March by a proposal to transform the African-led International Support Mission in the Central African Republic (MISCA) into a UN peacekeeping operation. While the African Union has acknowledged the need for a comprehensive UN peace operation, it has also recommended several elements to be considered ahead of the deployment of the new mission, some of which can prove useful in overcoming the recurring crises in CAR. 

However, beyond the necessary coordination of the UN Security Council’s partnership with an increasingly assertive regional organization, sustainable peace and stability in CAR will remain as elusive as in the past unless national actors demonstrate the necessary political commitment that will ensure the sustainability of all regional and international efforts poured into the country to address the current crisis.



Elections Not Enough to Bring Stability to Troubled Guinea-Bissau

A voter education poster displayed in Biombo, Guinea-Bissau, during the parliamentary election, November 2008. 

It is widely accepted that elections do not make a democracy, but they are generally viewed as a key first step in that direction. As the campaign for legislative and presidential elections kicked off in Guinea-Bissau last Saturday, it was clear that hopes for this first step may be overstated.

Guinea-Bissau is one of the world’s poorest nations, and the West African country of 1.7 million people has been plagued with political problems over the last several years. No president has ever fully completed his term. And though the late 2000s were marked by a modest yet cautious increase in international confidence in the country, the most recent period of unrest was triggered by the March 2009 assassination of the head of the armed forces and the apparent revenge killing of the president shortly afterwards. Three years later, the military carried out a coup in April 2012 as a new government was being formed, removing the front-runner for the presidency, Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Júnior. 

Ever since, the military has continued to hold a tight rein on power. Several times after the coup occurred, plans to hold elections have failed; they are now slated for April 2014, though there is a strong possibility that these will be delayed. 

However, even if these elections are held—providing some increased legitimacy to the new government and putting the international community more at ease—it is unlikely that stability will follow. The elite level power struggles perpetuated through certain individuals and groups will remain intact and undealt with. 



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. 

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