Tuesday, March 28, 2017

UN Rapporteur on Freedom of Association Visits Washington DC and Finds International Human Rights in Crisis

by A. Edward Elmendorf

Delivering a Global Justice lecture at Georgetown University’s Alumni House on March 15, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association Miana Kiai found human rights in crisis around the world. 

Introduced by UNA-NCA Leo B. Sohn Award Recipient and Georgetown University Professor Mark Lagon, Kiai called for people to show persistence in organizing. He observed that many NGOs in developing countries have an accountant and a lawyer, at donor request, and often a planner, but rarely an organizer. Yet he considered that the only profound changes in respect for human rights have come from persistent, organized effort from below, rather than above, in response to the demands of masses of people.

He was greatly worried by incursions on freedom of association under populist threats in many countries, mentioning Philippines, Zimbabwe, the United States and others. He spoke freely of China and Russia as being unresponsive to the requests of UN rapporteurs. Kiai lamented that only three percent of the UN budget is devoted to human rights, and asked rhetorically whether with such a small budget share human rights could be considered the third key pillar of UN activity. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Miracle of Holland

By Jocelyn Cordell, UNA-NCA Fellow

On a moderately temperate Friday two weeks prior to this post, the UNA-USA Graduate Fellows met together for our habitual weekly session. While an opportunity to connect as a community, these meetings are the foundation of our development as students, as fellows, and ultimately as global citizens, as cliché as that sounds! Over the course of a two-hour class, the fellows had the opportunity to discuss the assigned reading for the week, followed by an integrated simulation on Climate Change, mediated in part by UNA-NCA Fellows Program Director Laurence Peters. The following section refers to the readings in Module Five for the class as depicted in the online course, with due reference given to the source materials as provided.

A child prodigy hailing from the Dutch Republic in the 16th century, Grotius was a lawyer and leading politician whose work served as a precedent for a number of United Nations conventions, norms, and the legitimacy surrounding the “rule of law”.

In 1603, Grotius defended a legal case for a relative. Lacking any official authorization, his three ships sailing under the banner of the Dutch East India Company attacked a Portuguese ship off the coast of Singapore; the resulting stolen cargo landed on Dutch soil. In contrast to international law at the time, Grotius argued:

“individuals could not own the sea, states which derived their power from individuals could not own that stretch of water or lay claim to the cargo either and therefore the state could not file suit against a seizure of such cargo…”

While he did not win, Grotius introduced a principle leading to the contemporary notion of the “Freedom of the Seas” as enshrined in the UNCLOS:

Other important themes solidified under Grotius discussed throughout the course included: the introduction of “universally declared human values in the shape of international laws”, legal accountability and the restitution of and by states for unjust war, criminal responsibility of individual leaders for what we today consider “crimes against humanity”, a “common law among nations” based on moral values, the precursor to the modern Responsibility to Protect, and the notion of a “civil society” outside of the realm of government.

While Kant dismissed Grotius as a “sorry comforter of mankind”, and his views were far from a modern moderate ideal; his contributions were extremely important to the modern representation of the United Nations. From the Code of Military Laws to Be Observed in War written by King Gustav of Sweden to the Nuremberg trials to the introduction of “We the Peoples” in the United Nations Charter, the hand of Grotius can be traced through history to many of the norms and values we hold dear today. In short, I believe the following quote sums up the first half of our session quite nicely:

"The idea of international society which Grotius propounded was given concrete expression in the Peace of Westphalia… Grotius may be considered the intellectual father of this first general peace settlement of modern times"

The Realpolitick of Climate Change Policymaking: Parts I &II

For the second half of the course, the participants separated into their distinct pre-assigned presentation groups to participate in a lively, if unconventional simulation. Yours truly, as a part of the Conflict Resolution presentation group, had the respective honor of representing first the interests of Greenpeace with respect to the future of the Paris Agreement, and subsequently the position of China in the Security Council to debate the proposed available options.

In summary, the results of the simulation demonstrated a few key themes:
I.             It is extraordinarily difficult to rise above the lowest-common denominator, even with a threat as pervasive and essential as Climate Change, when politics overtake the discussion
II.           Climate Change has a direct impact on not only the environment, but the political, economic, and social future of society as we understand it today
III.          To overcome the political and formulate adequate solutions, it is essential that civil society at all levels, and the citizens of every country in the world, hold their respective governments accountable for the part they play in the resulting discourse

I commend the Climate Change presentation group, who was the first among us to present their findings in an articulate PowerPoint presentation. They truly opened my eyes to the severity of where we are today, and subsequently they inspired me to go out and do something about it!

On April 22nd, 2017, an interconnected global community will join together to celebrate Earth Day. I invite each and every person who took valuable time out of their day to read my post to join me in learning more about this issue. The theme this year revolves around climate literacy, and the focus of educating people about the threat climate change poses to inspire collective action.

Do you have the courage to take a step in the right direction? To learn more, please visit the Earth Day website at http://www.earthday.org/earthday/ and stay tuned for more blog posts from the UNA-USA Graduate Fellow community!

Today’s Challenges Facing UN Peace Operations

By Ashley Brekke, UNA-NCA Fellow

Peacekeeping is one of the United Nations’ primary functions, taking three main forms: peacemaking missions, peacebuilding operations, and peace enforcement. Currently, there are 126 countries contributing personnel, a $7.87 billion budget for peacekeeping, and 117,024 personnel. Traditional peacekeeping typically includes observing, monitoring, and reporting; supervising a cease-fire; and serving as a physical buffer. More recently, multidimensional peacekeeping comprises of security and stability, dialogue promotion, reconciliation, governance and assistance with coordination of all participating actors. Throughout the years, the UN has dealt, and continues to deal, with questions regarding the role of consent, sovereignty, and the role of UN personnel in peace operations. Recently, the increased role of non-state actors in conflicts complicates the above concerns.

During this Graduate Fellows’ session, the Conflict Resolution group presented peacekeeping failures: UNAMIR, UNPROFOR and UNOSOM II; and successes: UNAMSIL, ONUB and UNMIK; and a question regarding the status of UNFICYP. A detailed analysis of MONUSCO, MINUSCA and MINUSMA provided insight to the use of robust postures, stabilization missions and the large support these three missions receive in terms of finances, materials and personnel. Specifically, these three missions comprise 41% of deployed UN personnel, 40% of the peacekeeping budget, and 57% of total peacekeeping fatalities in 2016. Additionally, the MINUSMA mission is working with UNESCO in order to maintain cultural preservation of ancient artifacts. Finally, the presenting group offered critiques and methods for improvement for the UN leadership regarding future peacekeeping missions. Critiques include selective involvement; not enough, and poor, mission planning; appointment of unqualified military officers and diplomats; accountability and legitimacy; inadequate and incomplete reporting mechanisms; and failure to protect women and girls from sexual- and gender-based violence. Suggestions for improvement consist of providing a long-term solution in mandates; deployment and resupply of troops in a timely manner; efficiency; implementation of the Kigali Principles; engagement of local female leaders; and required dialogues led by gender-sensitive facilitators.

The UNA-NCA Fellows had the pleasure to hear from Paul Williams, an Associate Professor of International Affairs at George Washington University, and the Associate Director of the Security Policy Studies M.A. program at George Washington University, as he presented on a recent article he wrote entitled, “The Peace Operations Challenge for the Next Secretary General.” Williams described five challenges for the UN’s ongoing and future peace operations: ensuring the use of peace operations as political instruments, deciding if the principles of UN peacekeeping are appropriate, improving the UN’s force generation process, identifying and assessing performance standards for UN peacekeepers, and ensuring peacekeepers are held accountable for their misconduct. Following his detailed presentation, Williams answered questions from the Fellows, including questions regarding the criteria for monitoring and evaluating peace operations, rebuilding during long-term operations, women in the UN, conduct and disciplinary issues of UN peacekeepers, the role of donor countries, the pros and cons of surveillance drones, and the principles of peacekeeping.

Reality necessitates changes for the future of peace operations as the United Nations faces new challenges and unprecedented situations. The controversies over UN peace operations’ requirement for consent, use of force and lack of accountability ought to be resolved in order to improve the effectiveness and stability of such operations. As the world and its threats change, it is critical that missions aiming to resolve conflicts and maintain peace have the proper tools and adequate resources, such as accountability for misconduct, involvement of women and reliable protection for civilians.

The Paris Agreement: One step forward to the future, but still many steps to go

By Seulbee Jung, UNA-NCA Fellow

This week, UNA-NCA Fellows discussed Climate Change & its impact on Climate Refugees.


Even though climate change has become a major topic in international negotiations, most international negotiations on climate change have failed because climate change is not only an environmental problem but also a political and economic problem. Since various actors’ interests are involved in climate change problems, the international community has ignored the seriousness of the problems and it has been hard to agree on solutions and implement them.

Against its historical background, the Paris Agreement shows substantial progress in dealing with global environmental problems. Compared to past agreements, the most noticeable change is the increased political will of great powers. The U.S. and China agreed not only on committing to reducing CO2 emissions but also cooperating to achieve the common goals of the agreement. COP-21 also succeeded in establishing transparency and monitoring mechanisms, such as the Capacity-Building Initiative for Transparency, extending time-scale for actions, providing financing support with a $100 billion climate fund for climate change adaptation and mitigation, and strengthening multilateralism.

However, there are still to in the Paris Agreement. Compared to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Paris Agreement is weak in terms of accountability. The agreement is dependent on voluntary commitments without a common metric to evaluate a state’s performance and an objective standard. This makes it difficult to monitor self-assessed reports of 193 countries and shows that without the will of great powers to follow the agreement, the goals of the agreement will not be achieved. Furthermore, there are few legal binding mechanisms to achieve the targets. Since climate change actions are highly influenced by a state’s stakes and will, states are reluctant to add strong words that have legal binding power.  For example, even though countries have to submit new emission reduction targets every five years to check whether they achieve their goals and technical expert review, there is no requirement for them to achieve the numerical targets they have set.

Another key element for the success in the Paris Agreement is fundraising. Despite the fact that developed countries reaffirmed a $100 billion pledge and promised to increase financial support by 2025, this promise is not legally binding. Lastly, there is a concern about global environmental governance. Due to increased concerns about climate change, the role of the UN is becoming more significant in environmental governance. However, the UN system is highly fragmented and there are numerous international actors whose mandate includes reducing climate change. For example, the United Nation Environmental Program (UNEP), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the World Bank work on climate change with their own specific lens. The Word Bank also provides their own plan, the Climate Change Action Plan, to help countries meet the agreement. Since there are various policies and programs about climate change, overlapping mandates among the actors may undermine the effectiveness of the Paris Agreement.

Despite these several shortcomings, the Paris Agreement is a stepping stone in developing a collaborative behavior. Through the Paris Agreement, the world can share a single perspective on climate change and can get one step closer to resolving climate change. The agreement provided global actors with a place where they can debate the global problem as well as a forum to discuss international cooperation as a crucial element to resolving climate change problems. Now it is time for the world to walk into the future and make the Paris deal real.