The Very Model of a Modern SRSG: The New World of UN Peacekeeping Missions
The Very Model of a Modern SRSG: The New World of UN Peacekeeping Missions
Toward a Common Set of Signals from the G20 about Russia’s War in Ukraine
Toward a Common Set of Signals from the G20 about Russia’s War in Ukraine
Speech / Global

The Very Model of a Modern SRSG: The New World of UN Peacekeeping Missions

Presentation by Donald Steinberg, Deputy President, International Crisis Group to the UN Senior Mission Leaders Program, 17 July 2009.

It is a great pleasure to speak here today on the impact of global changes on the day-to-day conduct of United Nations peacekeeping operations.  Let me begin by asking you a question: do you remember the days when an SRSG and his UN country team mission stood at the top of a pyramid of international engagement and set out systematically to implement, article by article, the mandate in a well-crafted and coherent Security Council resolution?

Well, to be honest, neither do I.  But to the extent that this world ever existed, it is certainly gone forever.  Today, the SRSG and his/her team must be a combination of diplomat, military commander, humanitarian relief coordinator, development expert, personnel manager, public affairs officer, and even psychologist.

Global Changes; Local Responses

The mandate you are asked to implement is no longer a straight-forward peace implementation or force separation process, but resembles a Christmas tree bedecked with the special interests of the 15 Security Council members and the Secretariat, including civilian protection, gender issues, DDR, security sector reform, transitional justice, genocide prevention and the responsibility to protect, and a host of others.  These interests are vital – and I will discuss the gender dimension in particular in a moment – but they admittedly complicate your mission.

Your negotiations no longer are just between two warring parties, but now include the on-the-ground input of regional organizations, special envoys from literally dozens of countries, civil society actors, and even track two negotiators empowered by who-knows-whom.  Regional actors have become increasingly important.  Consider, for example, the role that ASEAN and China play on Myanmar; the Arab League and African Union on Sudan; SADC and South Africa on Zimbabwe; Brazil throughout Latin America; and India on Sri Lanka and Nepal.  And organizations like International Crisis Group are only too willing to share our wisdom and tell you how to do your job.

In addition, the resources available to you are not as plentiful as before.  The proliferation of peacekeeping missions has constrained the supply of troops and civilians, while the global financial and economic crisis has effectively closed the door to the assistance pantry for peacekeeping missions and post-conflict reconstruction alike, in ways I will discuss later.

The stakes of the game have risen dramatically, as the global implications of failure have become more profound.  Failure to consolidate peace and stability in a country no longer just impacts on the people of that country, but also opens the door to training camps for global terrorists; permits new routes for trafficking of persons, arms and illegal drugs; promotes the flood of refugees across borders and even oceans; facilitates the incubation of pandemic disease like swine flu; and even brings piracy.

Finally, the world itself just will not stand still.  Think of the seismic developments since the start of the year,

  • acceleration and deepening of the global financial and economic crisis.
  • transition to the Obama administration.
  • growing recognition of the threats posed by instability in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
  • transformation of the Middle East, with news tensions in the wake of the Gaza war; leadership changes in Israel; electoral unrest in Iran; and the anticipation of U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
  • diffusion of global power symbolized by the relative shift from G-8 to G-20 and the declining P-5 influence.
  • continuing emergence of China and India as global powers.
  • The indictment of a sitting president in Sudan for war crimes, exposing new fissures between West and such groups as Arab League and African Union.
  • growing questions about the roles of NATO, the OSCE, and the European Union, and the nature of relations between Russia, the United States and Europe.

Peacekeeping in an Era of Austerity

I wanted to highlight the risk that the global financial and economic crisis poses to stability and post-conflict reconstruction globally.  While the transmission mechanisms of instability differ from country-to-country, the World Bank anticipates that growth in developing countries will decline by 2 percent compared with previous projections, driving another 40 million people into poverty and increasing unemployment substantially, especially among young people.   

Requests for new foreign assistance, funds for new or expanded peacekeeping missions, generous post-conflict donors' conferences, and others are increasingly seen from the standpoint of austerity, real or perceived.  Official development assistance may take as much as a 30 percent hit next year, notwithstanding President Obama's pledge to enhance US assistance and the G-8 pledge to major new assistance to Africa.

Remittances from diaspora workers – accounting for more than $300 billion net flows to developing countries and outweighing all aid and foreign investment flows combined – are shrinking substantially, as they have in similar periods of economic upheaval.  Among the countries that depend on such remittances for at least 20 percent of their GDP are Lebanon, Burundi, Eritrea, Liberia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Laos, Bosnia, Albania, and Haiti.  

Among the other factors of concern are:

  • precipitous falls in commodity prices for major developing country exports, including minerals and agricultural products, only partially off-set by declining oil and food prices;
  • impact of much slower growth in industrialized countries on export markets for developing countries;
  • collapse of stock markets in emerging markets;
  • anticipated decline in charitable giving to relief/development NGOs from individuals, corporations, and foundations; and
  • possible decline in international peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction efforts, including through the United Nations and other international organizations.

The result: declining economic conditions, reduced capacity for governments to pay their workers and security forces, and growing youth unemployment.  Foreign investment in unstable environments and emerging markets will also plummet as capital seeks safe havens. While poverty per se does not cause conflict, many post-conflict transitions have failed and countries fallen back into war because governments cannot address popular expectations of an economic "peace dividend."  Again, countries are particularly vulnerable if they fail to create jobs for youths and demobilized soldiers, making for a ready reserve of potential fighters for rebel movements; cannot pay civil servants and security forces, leading to corruption and human rights abuses; or steer scarce resources and government sinecures to favored regional or ethnic groups, thus increasing alienation.

Consider Liberia and Haiti.  In Liberia, despite the global embrace of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her government, the transition from the 14-year nightmare of bloody civil war is far from secure. Threats to stability arise from inadequately funded demobilization programs for former combatants, food shortages, land disputes and the slow standing up of reformed army and police forces. Pledges made at donors conferences have gone wanting. Annual remittances - accounting for $163 million, or 25% of the country's GDP - are at risk, and there is loose talk of a too-rapid withdrawal of UN peacekeepers who have helped put down at least three violent uprisings since peace returned in 2003.

In Haiti, the efforts to create stability under a democratically elected government are being undermined by the failure to provide an immediate, visible peace dividend. The last government's fall in April 2008 following food riots left the country without a functioning government for four critical months. Serious crime persists, especially kidnapping and drug trafficking, as efforts to create a 14,000-strong Haitian National Police and functioning justice and penitentiary systems have been halting. Remittances, accounting for more than $1 billion in foreign exchange, are taking a hit. Some are proposing a premature withdrawal of UN's peacekeepers. These threats come at a time when Haiti is struggling with severe hurricane devastation.  

Well-managed assistance program that have helped keep these fragile states from collapsing back into chaos and war are in danger as Western capitals address immediate domestic concerns. And with the job only partially finished on the ground, all we have spent could end up having been for naught if violence overruns these weak states. The human cost of the failure of peace to take root in places like Liberia and Haiti is severe, but so are the implications for the international community. We have a common stake in creating markets for exports and investments, ensuring access to energy supplies, stemming the flow of illegal migration, promoting stable societies that can resist extremism and terrorism, closing the door to trafficking in people, drugs and arms, and avoiding the huge cost of humanitarian assistance to countries unable to care for their own people.

Those tempted to see quick savings in slashing foreign assistance, building barriers to the flow of imports from developing countries, cutting peacekeeping missions or reducing support for international development and financial institutions should think twice. It is a case of "pay me now, or pay me later."

Protection and Participation for Women

A second issue I wanted to highlight is the need for participation and protection for women in peace processes and post-conflict field operations is an issue I’ve focused on throughout much of my professional life in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  Frequently, gender is addressed in the context of justice and fairness.  The argument goes that women should be in the forefront of these processes because women are the main victims of conflict, because they make up more than half the population, because they have rights under international law, or because they are inherently more peaceful and collaborative than men.  All these are valid arguments, but for me, the real question is effectiveness.  Put simply, the peacekeeping and peacebuilding functions you’re asked to carry out are more likely to work, to enjoy support from civil society, and to address the “make or break” issues if there is full participation of women.

Let me share a cautionary tale from my service in Angola.  In 1994, while serving as President Clinton’s advisor for Africa, I supported negotiations to end two decades of civil war in Angola that had killed a half million people. When the Lusaka Protocol was signed, I boasted that not a single provision in the agreement discriminated against women. “The agreement is gender-neutral,” I said in a speech.

President Clinton then named me as US ambassador to Angola and a member of the Joint Commission implementing the peace accords.  It took me only a few weeks after my arrival in Luanda to realize that a peace agreement that is “gender-neutral” is, by definition, discriminatory against women.   Consider the evidence.

First, the agreement did not require the participation of women in the Joint Commission itself. As a result, at each meeting of this body, forty men and no women sat around the table.  This imbalance silenced women’s voices on the hard issues of war and peace, and meant that issues as internal displacement, sexual violence, human trafficking, abuses by government and rebel security forces, and the rebuilding of maternal health care and girls’ education were generally ignored.

The peace accord was based on 13 separate amnesties that forgave the parties for atrocities committed during the conflict. One amnesty even excused actions that might take place six months in the future. Given the prominence of sexual abuse during the conflict, including rape as a weapon of war, amnesties meant that men with guns forgave other men with guns for crimes committed against women. The amnesties also introduced a cynicism at the heart of our efforts to rebuild the justice and security sectors.

Similarly, as we launched demobilization programs for ex-combatants, we defined a combatant as anyone who turned in a gun. The thousands of women who had been kidnapped or coerced mostly into the rebel forces were largely excluded, since most of them were exploited as cooks, messengers, bearers, and even sex slaves.

Male ex-combatants received some money and demobilization assistance, but were sent back to communities that had learned to live without them during decades of conflict. The frustration of these men exploded into an epidemic of alcoholism, drug abuse, divorce, rape, and domestic violence. This was especially true for young boys, who had never learned how to interact on an equal basis with young girls.  In effect, the end of civil war unleashed a new era of violence against women and girls.

Even such well-intentioned efforts as clearing major roads of landmines to allow four million displaced persons to return to their homes backfired against women. Road clearance generally preceded the demining of fields, wells, and forests. As newly resettled women went out to plant the fields, fetch water, and collect firewood, they faced a new rash of landmine accidents.

We recognized these problems, and we responded by bringing out gender advisers and human rights officers; launching programs in maternal health care, girls’ education, micro-enterprise, and support for women’s NGOs; and insisting that women be planners, implementers and beneficiaries for our humanitarian and reconstruction programs.

But it was too little, too late. The people – and particularly women – came to view the peace process as serving the interests of the warring parties rather than civil society. When the process faltered in 1998, there was little public pressure on the leaders to prevent a return to conflict. The killing only ended four years later with the death of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi.

Similar problems occur writ large throughout the world.  Courageous and talented women peace builders face discrimination in legal, cultural and traditional practices, and hostility from men in power, often translated into threats of violence.  These practices, combined with sexual violence during conflict, impose a stigma of victimization and a physical danger that makes even the most impressive women think twice before stepping forward.

A survey shows that only 3 percent of the signatories of recent peace agreements and 5 percent of the participants in peace negotiations are women.  I recent negotiations on Indonesia, Nepal, Somalia, Cote d’Ivoire, Philippines and Central African Republic, there was not a single woman signatory, mediator, negotiator, or witness to the accord.  Even when official status was granted, as in the 2001 Bonn Agreement on Afghanistan, 2002 Sun City negotiations on the Congo and the 2006 Abuja talks on Darfur, men leading peace conferences shunted the women off to ante-rooms while “real” negotiations took place elsewhere.

Another key gap is in the funding for post-conflict reconstruction. A recent UNIFEM survey shows that only 5 percent of the projects approved at donors conference include specific funding for women; in the case of education – despite the vital role of girls’ education in peacebuilding – the figure drops to only 3 percent.

Regrettably, one further lesson is that various international instruments have proven ineffective in providing the framework for women’s participation and protection.  We all celebrated when UNSC resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security was passed almost nine years ago, insofar as it promised a systematic approach and concentrated energy to address issues of women in armed conflict and peace building.  We also welcomed the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and UNSCR 1820 on Sexual Violence and Conflict.   But in truth, all these documents are generally unknown or unused by governments and local populations, and to some extent even by women activists and UN officials themselves.  Thus far, the promise of these instruments has largely been a dream deferred, in large part because of the absence of monitoring, accountability, enforcement mechanisms and resources.

Further, within the United Nations, gender mainstreaming – ensuring that all members of a UN country team share responsibility for protecting and promoting women in these processes – is a good idea, but too often a inconvenient fiction.  The inconvenient truth is that what often happens is gender sidelining in the under-staffed and under-supported office of the gender adviser.  And the fact that only two of its 38 SRSG positions filled by women sends a strong and negative message.

A few years back, Crisis Group did a survey of the role of women peacebuilders in Africa’s three deadliest conflicts: Sudan, Congo, and Uganda.  Many of our findings were discouraging.  Resolution 1325 is virtually unknown and unused by populations and governments, and to some extent even by women activists and UN officials in these countries. Women are largely excluded from peace processes, governments, and the formal economy.  Peace negotiations often look first at granting amnesties for warring parties.

Courageous women trying to make a difference are confronted with discriminatory legal, cultural, and traditional practices; hostility from men in power, often translated into threats of violence; and widespread sexual violence used as a weapon of war. This situation is so traumatizing that many women are unable or unwilling to play their rightful roles, reinforcing the unfortunate stereotype of women as merely victims

But looking more closely, we saw a somewhat different story.  In Sudan, talented women from Rebecca Garang to Anne Itto are playing important roles in the emerging National Unity Government and the Government of Southern Sudan. Afhad University for Women in Khartoum is training thousands of women to participate fully in political, economic and academic life. Women’s participation in the Abuja negotiations – for just three weeks – improved the Darfur Peace Agreement enormously, even if it remains fundamentally flawed and its provisions for women’s empowerment have been ignored.

In Congo, participation of women in the Inter-Congolese dialogue, development of principles on empowerment in the Nairobi Declaration, and mobilization of women to register and run for office in July’s national elections encouraged the adoption of good provisions in the interim constitution. In particular, Article 14 calls for elimination of discrimination against women; participation of women in all political, economic, and social life; and elimination of violence against women – again, regrettably, without any enforcing legislation.

In Uganda, impressive local organizations are promoting women’s rights, protection and participation in political and economic life, such as the Kitgum Women’s Peace Initiative and the Teso Women’s Peace Association. The Child and Family Protection Unit in the national police is addressing rights and protection issues, although it is under-funded and

under-supported. The government’s endorsement of the CEDAW and the invitation to the ICC to investigate sexual violence in the north lay the groundwork for enhanced rights – even if government practices don’t always match its rhetoric.

From these experiences, some lessons have emerged in promoting women’s protection and participation.  Let me provide a list of ten practical steps.

1.  Every UN mission should help safeguard and empower women peacebuilders.  It should be in the mandate and personal jobs descriptions for every peacekeeping mission.  In defending the actual or potential victims of gender abuses, I was guided by their judgment.  In these situations, it’s also important to defend gender activists without appearing to embrace everything they stand for.  Many activists have a clear political agenda; some may have corrupt backgrounds or dubious past records.  Again, it’s a delicate balancing act, an art not a science, but that is what diplomacy in all about.

2.  UN officials should insist that women’s participation in peace talks, reconstruction conferences, peace operations and governance goes beyond tokenism and reaches a “critical mass” of 20 to 30 percent.  If you do not push this goal, no one else well.  This is true even if takes quotas to do so.  More than half of the world’s nations have laws or regulations that specify quotas for gender fairness.  These provisions are not undemocratic aberrations; they are standard practice.

3.  Post-conflict reconstruction should rebuild social structures of particular importance to women, such as reproductive health care and girls’ education.  Education of women and girls is the single best investment in improving social indicators, promoting productivity in agriculture and small-scale industry, delaying marriage and childbirth, empowering women to defend their rights, and stabilizing local communities.  Further, all reconstruction plans, especially those presented at donors conference, should be subject to gender impact analyses.

4.  While the balance between peace and justice should be carefully weighed in each situation, the UN should seek to ensure that the provision of amnesties, especially as they relate to sexual violence, should be extremely rare and drafted very narrowly.  And when such actions rise to the level of crimes against humanity, genocide or war crimes, no amnesty can ever be justified.

5.  UN projects in security sector reform should insist on training in gender issues and the recruitment of women into the formal security forces.  This enhances gender-sensitive law enforcement, improving relations with local communities and facilitates investigation of crimes of sexual violence.  A separate unit focused on such issues as rape and domestic violence should be created.  This is particularly important to encourage women who have been abused to come forward with accusations.  For the same reasons, the UN’s own peacekeeping ranks, human rights monitors and other units should include substantial numbers of women in their ranks.

6.  The UN should look to identify women’s organizations as local implementing partners for projects.  Contracts for these organizations, including in dispute resolution and election monitoring, can be of even greater support than programs directed specifically at institutional strengthening, especially if accompanied by mentoring programs.

7.  Each UN mission should institute mechanisms to ensure compliance by individuals and offices with these provisions.  There should be rewards for those taking extraordinary action – such as an award given annually by the SRSG or force commander -- to the individual and office contributing most to these objectives.  Similarly, there should be sanctions for those not meeting minimum standards, such as being passed over for promotion

8.  There must be zero tolerance for any form of sexual abuse or sexual harassment by UN personnel.  Compliance standards should be clear, posted prominently, and followed explicitly, and mission members must know that the orders come from the top..   

9.  While a principal partner for the UN has been ministries of women’s affairs, the most effective programs have been where the UN works with other ministries as well.  It is vital, for example, that the health minister is a principal partner in mother-child health programs and the justice minister buys into the fight against trafficking in persons and domestic violence.   

10.  Finally, the UN must show the way by upgrading the status of gender advisers in its missions and expanding the number of women serving as heads of missions and in other positions of leadership.  This should be accomplished not just by recruiting more senior women, but by bringing women into professional tracks at all levels, encouraging their success through training and mentorship, and reviewing criteria for appointment and promotion to eliminate subtle gender bias.  Similarly, if the SRSG schedules regular meetings with the gender adviser at the mission – displayed prominently on a publicly distributed calendar – this sends the message to all staff that this officer is an important part of the mission and facilitates his or her activities.     

These steps are not simply a question of fairness and equity. They are an investment in the success of peace operations. Even today, people within these halls refer to these gender issues as the “soft side” of peace negotiations and peace-building.

There is nothing “soft” about going after traffickers who turn women and girls into commodities.  There is nothing “soft” about preventing armed thugs from abusing women in IDP camps, holding warlords and other human rights violators accountable for their actions against women., forcing demobilized soldiers to refrain from domestic violence or insisting that women have a seat at the table in peace negotiations and a prominence in peace operations.

These are among the hardest responsibilities on our agenda, and they are a key to the success of your missions.  Thank you for giving them the time and attention they merit.

Members of the police stand in front of banners of the G20 summit near a venue for the G20 Finance Ministers Meeting in Nusa Dua on Indonesia's resort island of Bali, on July 14, 2022. Sonny Tumbelaka/Pool via REUTERS
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