Interview with Louise Arbour and Jim Della-Giacoma
Interview with Louise Arbour and Jim Della-Giacoma
Interview / Global 9 minutes

Interview with Louise Arbour and Jim Della-Giacoma

Louise Arbour and Jim Della-Giacoma from the International Crisis Group (ICG) tell ODE Talks (Office of Development Effectiveness, Australian Governement) what donors need to know about their latest analysis from Libya, Burma and East Timor. The former UN High Commissioner, Louise Arbour also talks about the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, building institutions in post-conflict environments and the role of women in peacebuilding.

John Davidson from the Office of Development Effectiveness: The International Crisis Group has field officers in dozens of countries throughout the Middle East, Asia and Africa. We thought we would take this opportunity to ask you about some of the big issues that donors like Australia should be aware of in the countries where we work. Louise, can we start with North Africa and perhaps Libya in particular? Australia remains deeply concerned about the plight of the citizens of Libya and as a result we are currently the third largest provider of humanitarian assistance there. What does ICG analysis tell us about the interactions between crisis, aid and recovery?

Louise Arbour: I think what we do and the work that we have started to do already in Libya is a good example of that is that we provide I think a sophisticated understanding of context - you spoke about that earlier. They are mechanisms of intervention including deployment of humanitarian assistance that in fact are seen as quite mechanical and devoid of political consequences. If there was any doubt about that you just have to look at the President Al-Bashir in Sudan's reaction to his own indictment, where his first reaction was to throw out all the humanitarians. So I think there is a very, very clear connection between sort of political processes and humanitarian assistance.

I think what Crisis Group provides is an understanding, if I could put it bluntly, that Libya is not Tunisia. That what's going to happen to this country if and when the all necessary measures have produced their intended results, will have to be very well anchored in the particular reality of that country, in its history, in its I think extremely impoverished institutional framework, virtually has no sort of traditional institutions of governance as we know them elsewhere. So I think the humanitarian actors have to be able to sustain what's going to be I think a pretty lengthy transition before you see a country going in a full sort of self standing recovery mode.

Louise while we're talking about Libya, earlier this year ICG expressed reservations about the NATO no-fly zone and advocated for a negotiated cease fire and peace process. What are the implications of the Security Council invoking the responsibility to protect in this case?

Louise Arbour: Well I think we may need to come back to the origin of the doctrine of responsibility to protect which in my view is probably one of the most imaginative, promising emerging doctrines on the international scene, transforming what originally had been called the kind of right to intervene into a concept of responsibility. The promoters of the doctrine I think made a very smart, strategically smart decision early on, to promote first what I would call the soft aspect of the doctrine which is each state's own responsibility to protect its own citizens. And in a sense that I think has now become very widely accepted that state sovereignty is not a shield against external scrutiny it is a series of responsibilities, vis-a-vis civilian protection in particular.

I think it's going to be difficult to assess what are the short term, medium term and long term consequences of that particular political initiative. If I could make some predictions I think in the shorter term there will be a backlash. We hear already I think Russia and China who abstained rather than veto this initiative claimed that they may have been misled about what the true intention of the intervention was. It's expressed in terms of protection of civilians but the political objectives are certainly regime change and the toppling of Gaddafi. So I think in the short term you may see a backlash against the doctrine. If I had to predict in the longer term any precedent tends to be positive. The ice is broken, there is more possibility of these kinds of initiatives been taken again but I don't see that as a likely outcome in the very short term.

Turning to our own region, Jim, in a recent briefing on Burma ICG called on the international community to lift restrictions on development assistance and increased levels of aid. Why does the ICG think it's time to change the approach to Burma?

Jim Della-Giacoma: Crisis Group has held the position since 2004 that sanctions and restrictions that have been posed by a number of western countries should be lifted. We believe they don't work as a tool to bring about political change. They isolate the country's leadership from international norms and standards and the benefits of those standards, and they help poor people because there are many programs that the citizens of Burma could benefit from that they are locked out of, for example through the cooperation of the World Bank.

With the new government now in power they are setting an agenda in place for economic change. It might not be the political change that everybody wants or many activists around the world who have been supporting democratic change would wish for. But there's an opportunity there to engage for donors and to bring about the changes to the life and the benefits to many people through more programs in areas such as health and education, but also to bring those programs out to regional governments that are now in place for the first time particularly in the ethnic areas.

ODE Talks recently spoke with Nigel Roberts, co-director of this year's World Development Report on Conflict, Security and Development. And Louise I know you are on the advisory board for that report. Nigel argued that institutional legitimacy is the key to stability in post conflict states. But in your opinion, can outsiders in the international community ever really get a handle on who has legitimacy?

Louise Arbour: Well I think what the report highlights is that donors have to adjust I think their efforts in institution building beyond simply trying to put in place structures which I think has been the case in the past, such as supporting the creation of a human rights commission or an anti-corruption commission. And actually looking at developing a capacity to deliver results not just to create structures and bureaucracies, and that this is actually a very long term exercise. It's particularly critical I think in the justice and rule of law sector but it's true I think across the board.

The World Development Report emphasises the need to deliver early results in post conflict situations, especially related to citizen security and justice. In your long experience is there such a thing as a quick result when it comes to re-establishing the rule of law and justice?

Louise Arbour: I am actually somewhat concerned that this kind of rule of law framework will be quickly reduced to some of its tangible but very narrow features such as law enforcement. There is a lot more to rule of law than even policing, courts and corrections. And in a sense I think we've made the same mistake and efforts to in a sense export democracy by reducing it to electoral processes. There is a lot more to democracy than a series of reasonably free and fair elections every four years. There is that and god knows that doesn't always produce a trustworthy democratic process. It very often is reduced to validating very strong executives or kind of strong man culture.

I think in the rule of law there is exactly the same danger that in fact will pour a lot of money into supporting what I would call the repressive arm of the law, that is law enforcement, when in fact properly understood the rule of law is a fundamental guiding principle that asserts that all are equal under and before the law and all are entitled to equal protection and equal benefit of the law. Now that is a lot more difficult - one to produce quick results and two to unpack in terms of a donor strategy for assistance to governments. And it seems to me it's critical that this kind of doctrinal work be done first and then be elaborated into a series of initiatives, rather than do the simple thing which is train more police officers and possibly train more judges. Training judges who are not rooted in a culture of professional independent non-corrupt adjudication I think is very problematic.

So again long term initiatives but that it seems to me should not be limited to emphasising repressive initiatives but should look at the rule of law as an entire framework for the promotion of equality.

ODE is currently conducting an evaluation of Australia's support in the law and justice sector, and one of the issues that we're really interested to examine are the gender dimensions of that support. What are some of the best ways you've seen to work with women in post conflict recovery?

Louise Arbour: Well I can't help but express some concern I think of the existing sort of framework within which the questions of gender and conflicts have been approach. You may be familiar with the now ten year old Security Council Resolution 1325 which became the blueprint for approaching gender issues in conflict, and it essentially has two pillars. One is the identification of the particular victimisation of women in conflict, and we know that this has paid some dividends. I think the prominence of international concern over for instance sexual violence, rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo I think is in a sense a by-product of that pillar of the doctrine.

The second one is the empowerment of women as peacemakers so bringing more women around the table to peace deals and so on. Ten years after this framework has been put in place I don't think frankly there is a huge amount to show for in terms of a genuine empowerment of women in relation to conflict resolution environments. It may be that this concept of empowerment through peacemaking does not actually reflect the reality of peacemaking which is that the parties around the table have to have something to deliver. They have to deliver, surrender their weapons or deliver their political constituencies. And I'm not sure that the actual empowerment of women has... giving them a seat at the table they don't have either weapons or constituencies to deliver may be a very artificial exercise.

How do you see donors using the kind of analysis that ICG prepares?

Jim Della-Giacoma: I think in our work we often highlight or see it as parts of our role to highlight areas that are neglected or forgotten particularly in relation to conflicts that have been going on for some years. And I think too areas come to mind where we can be useful to donors in identifying problematic areas that need some more attention or perhaps a country specific example.

In Indonesia there has been a lot of focus on dealing with the issue of terrorism and radicalism by providing assistance to the police and the courts but not the prisons. And all these radicals, hundreds of terrorists who were convicted and captured and investigated and prosecuted do end up in prisons, and I think this is one area where Crisis Group work spotlighted that there is a problem with the management of these population of criminals, and a country like Australia was able to help in that.

The other example that I would use from South East Asia is the issue of the Timorese in West Timor or Nusa Tenggara Timur province. Twelve years ago hundreds of thousands of people fled into this province and there is still somewhere in the vicinity of thirty thousand Timorese who are there. In 2004 they were magically declared to be no longer refugees and they all became new citizens of Indonesia, but the problem didn't go away. There is a displaced population there and we have been able to highlight that, and the fact that many of them do want to go home and that donors can play a role in facilitating that through the lowering the barriers such as the political barriers, but also providing the funds necessary to get these people back to where they want to belong.


Former President & CEO
Former Project Director, South East Asia

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