Posts Tagged ‘multilateralism’

Geneva and the future of multilateralism

November 16, 2019

Cedric Amon in Digital Watch of 17 September 2019 reported on the event “Geneva and the future of multilateralism“. Although it did not deal directly with human rights, I refer to it anyway as Geneva plays such an important role as the world’s hub for human rights, featuring regularly in this blog. The event was organised by the University of Geneva in partnership with the Swiss Federation, the Republic and State of Geneva, the City of Geneva, the United Nations Office at Geneva, and the Fondation pour Genève. The event celebrated 100 years of multilateralism in Geneva in remembrance of the creation of the League of Nations in 1919, which marked the beginning of modern multilateralism and the rise of International Geneva:

Mr Yves Flückiger (Director of the University of Geneva) spoke about the three principles which have contributed to Geneva’s central role on the international level: universality, unanimity, and consensus. He also underlined the importance of scientific institutions for the cohesion of the international system.

Flückiger further called for a more inclusive form of multilateralism to face today’s challenges. Moreover, he said that despite the current focus on new technologies, the human aspect in multilateralism and international co-operation should not be underestimated.

Mr Ignazio Cassis (Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland) noted that the first general assembly of the League of Nations on 15 November 1919 put Geneva and Switzerland on the map of the international scene. This assembly also meant that Switzerland had to take on the responsibilities of a host state. He retraced Switzerland’s historical evolution and the official recognition of Switzerland’s neutrality at the end of the First World War (WWI). Cassis further explained that although the League of Nations had failed as an institution, it laid the groundwork for today’s multilateralism and served as the basis for a number of international organisations and scientific collaborations such as CERN.

Moreover, Cassis mentioned that the Swiss government had signed a joint declaration reaffirming their commitment to International Geneva and the multilateral system, introducing Switzerland as a host state during the 2020–2023 period. He also mentioned that projects such as the Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator had already been created in line with the strategy.

Ms Tatiana Valovaya (Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva) underlined the importance of the League of Nations for today’s multilateral system and said that the League of Nations had created the foundation for the work of the UN, ranging from justice and minority production, to the improvement of work and the respect of international public law.

As Geneva is the birthplace of the League of Nations, Valovaya mentioned the importance of the Palais des Nations’ archives in Geneva.

Valoyava further noted that in a fragmented and polarised world, multilateralism is needed more than ever in order to address today’s challenges and to find global solutions to them. According to her, the multilateral system is not in crisis but transitioning. Therefore, it is important to shape this new system to make it more inclusive.

Mr Sacha Zala (Director of the Research Centre Dodis and Co-Editor of the publication ‘Switzerland and the Construction of Multilateralism’ (unreleased diplomatic documents)) explained that Switzerland has been very active in world politics over the past 100 years. Zala mentioned that the right to self-determination which was recognised at the dawn of WWI, created challenges for the unity of Switzerland and threatened to break apart the country. However, Switzerland has established itself as a vibrant centre for world politics, thanks to the many international institutions in Geneva and Bern. Multilateralism has since then become a cornerstone for Switzerland, the same way that Switzerland’s neutrality was essential to it becoming the host country of the League of Nations. Zala also mentioned the importance of hosting the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), in maintaining Geneva’s status as a diplomatic capital.

Ms Heba Aly (Director of The New Humanitarian) moderated the debate. She mentioned that the most common symptom of the crisis of multilateralism is the incapacity of addressing the crises around the world, given that institutions seem blocked and the respect of International Humanitarian Law is fading.

Ms Laurence Boisson de Chazournes (Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Geneva) observed that there is a disenchantment regarding international co-operation which stems from inside the countries. She explained that this sentiment stems from the problem of sharing the benefits of global co-operation, which means that certain populations feel abandoned and left out. She urged for a fundamental rethinking of the collaboration, and is hopeful that certain forms of private-public partnerships on specific areas will help strengthen multilateralism.

Boisson de Chazournes also mentioned the impetus given by the sustainable development goals (SDGs) which are also contributing to reshaping the current state of international co-operation. Moreover, she spoke about attributing responsibilities to the private sector by adopting global, rather than national, regulations in order to help support multilateralism. Regarding Geneva in particular, Boisson de Chazournes recognised the efforts being undertaken, but noted that the next challenge will be to digitise diplomatic practices to create a more inclusive system, and reduce travelling costs for face-to-face meetings with different actors.

Mr Francis Gurry (Director-General of The World Intellectual Property Organization) pointed out that the architecture of global institutions to address the current challenges is outdated. He identified this as being the greatest challenge of the UN system along with the attacks on the idea of multilateralism. Gurry emphasised that this is a political problem, given that he does not see a political will to reform international institutions. However, according to Gurry, there has been a transfer of power and capabilities, from the public to the private and non-governmental sectors, which must be reflected in the architecture of the international system.

Furthermore, he went on to recognise the mostly positive track record of UN institutions and indicated that abandoning multilateralism is not a choice, given that today’s problems are global and need global solutions. Moreover, short-term projections are a difficulty for the success of diplomacy. He explained that diplomacy means building relationships over time, to build trust. In an interconnected world this is more difficult, given the ease at which information travels and how used we have become to finding immediate solutions.

According to Gurry, technical co-operation, such as is practised at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is a good way to ensure the sustainability of co-operation in an increasingly complex world.

Mr Jean-Yves Art (Senior Director, Strategic Partnerships at Microsoft) pointed out that we are witnessing an increase in human relations in all aspects of our lives, which relies on private infrastructure. Art indicated that because of this, private actors operating these infrastructures also have a responsibility to find solutions to problems generated by this increase in human connections.

Another important problem which he recognised was that 50% of the world’s population is not connected. Given the importance of new technologies, not being connected will prove to be a major handicap and important obstacle to development.

According to Art, multilateralism is often associated narrowly with the UN system. However, he believes that multilateralism goes well beyond UN institutions, as was proven by the numerous calls involving all relevant stakeholders (for example: the Paris Call for Peace, and the Christchurch Call). These dynamics from outside the UN system are now also finding their way into its institutions. He also mentioned the approach of the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation which is spreading its recommendations through ‘champions’.

Ms Yusra Suedi (PhD student at The Global Studies Institute, University of Geneva) noted that one of the most pressing challenges of multilateralism is to find solutions on how to integrate different actors, such as youth, into the global system. In order to successfully do so, Suedi also stressed the importance of setting clear goals about the aim and extent of involving these new actors.

According to Suedi, the model of the Human Rights Council is a very important, and one of the most successful ones at the UN given that it managed to integrate the voices of civil society. However, she still sees room for improvement to include a more representative role for non-governmental organisations. For example, they could be allowed to introduce draft resolutions rather than simply expressing their point of views regarding the state of human rights in the various contexts.

2017 (7): Trump’s first orders to cut global funding and treaties

January 26, 2017

The ‘ink’ of my previous post [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/26/2017-6-predictions-on-trump-and-the-un-prophets-or-cassandras/] has hardly dried and I see the piece written by Max Fisher in the New York Times of 25 January 2017 that states that the latest draft orders suggest that President Trump intends to pursue his campaign promises of withdrawing the United States from international organizations: Read the rest of this entry »

2017 (6): predictions on Trump and the UN – prophets or Cassandras?

January 26, 2017

The U.N. Human Rights Chief Fixes for a Fight with Trump

Photo credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

Already on 22 November 2016 Colum Lynch posted in “Foreign Policy” an insightful piece entitled: “The U.N. Human Rights Chief Fixes for a Fight with Trump”.  It records the thinking of senior UN staff and NGO leaders who are going to confront a Donald Trump with a hard-line national security team. They fear that a Trump presidency could spur a global retreat from international human rights principles, marking the dawn of American leadership (see long extracts from the piece below) on green. Now – on 26 January 2017 – Daniel Warner in his weekly blog in the Tribune de Geneve wrote a post entitled: “The U.N., Trump and Cassandra” in which he reports that a bill was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives on January 3 calling for the total disengagement of the United States from the United Nations. The bill, H.R. 193 – known as American Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2017 – has been referred for deliberations to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The bill – tried before in 2015 – may not pass, but the writer fears it reflects the tenor of the current Trump administration. See his words below marked in blue.

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The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, informed his staff in the weeks following the U.S. election that they will have to serve as the front line in an international effort to check any excesses on the human rights front. A chief concern, officials say, is that if the U.N. doesn’t call out its most powerful member for straying from universally accepted human rights norms, the rest of the world will be emboldened to ditch them. “We are going to speak up,” one U.N. official told Foreign Policy. “It’ll be rough, but if [Trump] puts any of those ghastly campaign pledges into action we will condemn.”

…..Still, Trump’s campaign pledged to restore waterboarding, deport millions of undocumented migrants, and ban Muslims from traveling to the United States. …

The U.N.’s approach to human rights is particularly tricky for the incoming U.N. secretary-general, António Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister who headed the U.N. refugee agency for nearly 10 years. Guterres has been an outspoken champion of refugees, pressing European governments, as well as the United States, to resettle far larger numbers of refugees. Two weeks after Trump called for his ban on Muslims last December, Guterres admonished the Security Council, saying, “Those that reject Syrian refugees because they are Muslims are the best allies in the recruitment propaganda of extremist groups.” But Guterres may be constrained as the leader of the United Nations, a job that requires a close relationship with the United States and other big powers. ……

That makes it likely that Zeid will take the lead on human rights. Throughout the U.S. presidential campaign, Zeid, a Muslim prince from the Jordanian royal family, has repeatedly excoriated Trump, telling reporters in December that his threat to ban Muslim travel to the United States is “grossly irresponsible.” In September, Zeid included Trump, along with France’s Marine Le Pen and Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders, on a list of “populists, demagogues, and political fantasists” who promoted their arguments grounded in “half truths and oversimplification.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/09/14/un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-states-may-shut-my-office-out-but-they-will-not-shut-us-up/]

Some U.N. officials say Zeid’s criticism of the U.N.’s most powerful country could strengthen his hand in disputes with other U.N. members, particularly those from the developing world who have long accused the United Nations of applying greater pressure on small powers for breaching human rights norms, while letting the United States and other big powers off the hook. Other U.N. officials fear that Zeid may be exposing the organization to a battle with the U.N.’s most powerful players that he can’t win. In September, Russia’s U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin formally protested Zeid’s public denunciations of Trump and other European nationalists. “Prince Zeid is overstepping his limits from time to time, and we’re unhappy about it,” Churkin told The Associated Press.

More recently, Zeid tangled with China over his attendance at a ceremony for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, which honored a Uighur economist, Ilham Tohti, who is serving a life sentence on charges of fomenting separatism and violence. A senior Chinese official appealed to Zeid not to attend the event, according to a U.N. official. But Zeid refused, insisting that he had an independent mandate to shed light on human rights violations wherever they occur, including China.

Even before Trump’s election, U.N. officials believed that human rights were under threat from authoritarian governments, including China, Egypt, Russia, and Turkey, which have been engaged in major crackdowns on civil liberties at home. “They are backsliding on human rights, but from a position of weakness,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York City-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch. “Both [Vladimir] Putin and Xi Jinping are engaging in the worst crackdowns in their countries in two decades, each driven by the terror as to how their countries will react to a weakening economy; they’re trying to snuff out in advance opposition they anticipate.”

Roth said there is a real danger that Trump and other populist leaders will accelerate the curtailment of human rights. “The entire human rights movement is weary about Trump,” he said. “It’s not clear what his values are. That is why his initial appointees are so important.” Dimitris Christopoulos, president of the International Federation for Human Rights, fears Trump’s controversial positions, including torture and deportation, would embolden smaller countries. When big powers, particularly the United States, tread on human rights the world tends to follow. If smaller countries, such as Burundi and Kenya, hear Trump threatening to cast out foreign refugees they may choose to act in kind, Christopoulos said. Saudi Arabia threatened this year to cut funding to U.N. relief programs and to lead a walkout by Muslim states from the United Nations if the U.N. didn’t lift its name from a list of countries that killed or maimed children in armed conflict, according to a senior U.N. official. In its defense, Saudi officials noted that the United States had shielded its closest Middle East ally, Israel, from being included on the same list in 2015. It was only fair, therefore, that Riyadh be spared the shame of being included on the list...

Rights advocates say the rising tide of nationalism and populism in Europe and the United States represents a potentially existential threat to the human rights movement, as governments that once championed the cause on the international stage head into retreat. Britain’s new prime minister, Theresa May, has railed against “left-wing human rights lawyers” who are seeking the prosecution of British soldiers alleged to have committed war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. She has proposed that London withdraw from key provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights that potentially expose British troops to prosecution. A generation of European nationalist leaders, including Le Pen and Wilders, who had been on the fringe of the European political spectrum, have seen their electoral prospects grow in the face of spreading anti-immigrant sentiment. That has left German Chancellor Angela Merkel as one of the “only outspoken leaders on human rights,” Roth said. In her first statement following Trump’s election, Merkel said she would work closely with Trump, but only on the basis of “democracy, freedom, respect for the rule of law, and the dignity of men regardless of origin, skin color, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.”

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Daniel Warner further wrote: Fervent supporter of H.R. 193 and prominent Republican Rand Paul (Rep-KY) said in 2015: “I dislike paying for something that two-bit Third World countries with no freedom attack us and complain about the United States… There’s a lot of reasons why I don’t like the U.N., and I think I’d be happy to dissolve it,” added the Kentucky senator. Or, as John Bolton, once U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and now being considered for the number two spot in the State Department famously said: “There’s no such thing as the United Nations. The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost ten stories it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”
This time, following the election of Donald Trump and the U.S. abstention on a Security Council resolution to condemn the continued construction of illegal Israeli settlements, the bill has a better chance. The mood in Washington of “America First” will try to repeal all multilateral agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the North American Free Trade Agreement as well as weakening multilateral organizations like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Does the introduction of the bill matter? For International Geneva, it certainly does. While the United States might not withdraw from the U.N., the negative attitude of the current administration towards multilateralism and multilateral organizations will have obvious negative consequences for Geneva, sometimes called “The Rome of Multilateralism.” Even with U.S. participation, the international system will lack United States leadership during the Trump presidency. The visit of the Chinese President to the U.N. Office in Geneva and his speech at Davos were clear signs of shifting multilateral leadership.
I heard a comment from someone within the Washington bureaucracy that gives some hope.  Her feeling was that career civil servants will slow down if not block radical changes in U.S. foreign policy. The slow wheels of government will crush any unilateral attempts by the Trump leadership. The ship of state will carry on with deep divisions between the political appointments and career civil servants. This would be an indirect check on the incoming politicians.
On January 21, one day after Trump’s inauguration, millions marched against the Trump presidency throughout the United States. Millions more marched around the world for women’s dignity and many against Donald Trump as well. Will anyone march to save multilateralism and the U.N?

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Sources:

The U.N. Human Rights Chief Fixes for a Fight with Trump | Foreign Policy

The U.N., Trump and Cassandra : Le blog de Daniel Warner

see also:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/23/2017-4-canadas-year-of-real-human-rights-action/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/01/24/2017-5-with-trump-us-president-sweden-must-stand-up-for-human-rights/