How Should the Global Community Deal with Extremism?

Extremism, in all its forms – political, religious, ethnic, gender, generational – is, in short, an extreme version of a belief system. It can be promoted peacefully, and within the normal bounds of freedom of speech.  And it can, of course, spill over into hate speech and physical violence.

What to do about the second version?  The digital revolution that is upon us has made this issue inordinately more challenging.[1]

There are two lenses for perceiving the threat of violent extremism and developing a viable counter-strategy – global and national.  The relationship between these two levels is critical to success.

So, how are we doing?

Violent extremism and UN collective security

The United Nations has been wrestling with extremism for decades now, in fact since the ‘60s.  Recent milestones along the way include the following:

  • The UN Global Counter-terrorism Strategy, adopted by the General Assembly in 2006 (A/Res/60/288), reviewed in 2008 (A/Res/62/272) and 2010 (A/Res/64/297), and most recently in 2016 (A/Res/70/291);
  • Some twelve treaties on terrorism that identify about fifty offences, for Member States to translate into domestic criminal law;[2]
  • Security Council resolutions 1624 (2005), 2178 of (2014), 2242 (2015) and 2050 (2015), and 2354 (2017).

Essentially, the UN work, in the name of a collective (global) security, aims to promote both a peaceful strategy towards the non-violent version (based on inclusiveness, mutual understanding and a counter-narrative), and the authorized use of force against the violent versions (especially focusing on Daesh (ISIL) and the new concept of ‘foreign terrorist fighters’).[3]

The success of the UN strategy, however, rests on the ability of the major powers to unify, or integrate, or at least collaborate on, their separate political goals and strategic interests into the one ‘collective security interest.[4]  Not an easy thing to achieve.

Take the UN member state with the single biggest influence on counter-terrorism strategy – the US, where I happen to be currently studying these issues.

Violent extremism and US national strategy

The most important weakness in the American effort against extremists, the experience shows, is a lack of cohesive strategy and executive decision-making at all levels of the US Government.

The dynamic interplay between the political cycle, societal changes and military strategy creates a conflicting and disjointed approach in the fight against extremists, providing them with oxygen, while draining popular support and mounting a significant financial and human toll.

If one thing has emerged from the ‘war on terror’, it is that a consistent American strategy against the extremists is non-existent.

This is due to the interrelated and often conflicting elements of the US political cycle, wavering public support, and a military strategy that requires consistency of effort and endless financial support. These dueling elements mean that no administration is afforded the time, nor the space, to clearly plan and execute a strategy that is long-lasting and would lead to success (if success is even defined in any measurable way).

The lengthy election cycle requires administrations to demonstrate to the public that they are working to defeat the enemy and bring troops home. But this undermines the military effort, which is naturally lengthier and requires significant financial and human investment.

Meanwhile, public pressure grows against the mounting financial cost of any campaign, human rights abuses and the risk to American troops. Eventually, a midpoint is reached, where the administration is neither fully committed to the strategy (if it has been defined in any way), nor willing to withdraw conclusively.

This develops into a self-fulfilling downward spiral; where decision-making becomes reactive rather than proactive, and the extremists gain an upper hand simply by biding their time.

The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that domestic concerns outweigh foreign policy issues during elections, and leaders either delay or make a halfhearted decision in order to not let the war take up further oxygen from the ‘winnable’ issues. If we require a graphic demonstration of the points made here, they are perfectly outlined in the Rolling Stones article on General Stanley McChrystal and in the Afghanistan papers which show the clear lack of strategy and plain deception in the Afghan war.

To further illustrate this lack of strategy, let us observe the American effort against Al-Qaeda (AQ). Successive administrations dating back to George H W Bush did not have a solid understanding of Islamic extremism following the 1992 Yemen hotel bombings.

When the operation in Afghanistan (2002) was launched, the strategy seemed to be defined clearly; capture those responsible for the attack and destroy a base of operations. But this morphed into regime change and nation-building. This was further complicated by the invasion of Iraq (2003), which had all the hallmarks of the Afghan conflict, with the added elements of sectarianism and counterinsurgency. The irony is that the Afghan conflict was authorized by the UN, whereas the Iraq operation was not (being described, in fact, by the Secretary-General at the time as ‘illegal’).

With both conflicts stretching far beyond their expected and announced timelines, the American strategy (again, still not defined in any way) was to look to a political solution to enable a peaceful withdrawal. This was achieved to an elementary level in Iraq, but no sooner had American troops left than a more fearsome enemy in the form of Daesh sprouted.

In Afghanistan, the conflict seems to be neutralized with the recent signing of the peace deal with the Taliban, but almost two decades and trillions of dollars later, this is a tentative and shaky deal at best. Sadly, in both cases, the decision to pursue the diplomatic solution over the military option came after the loss of countless lives.

By committing or de-committing to a strategy that was just incoherent and lacked clarity, it is clear that the biggest weakness in the Americans strategy against the extremists is the lack of cohesive strategy and executive decision-making at all levels of the US Government, which undermines cohesion in the UN collective effort.

All UN member states, not least the Security Council’s ‘permanent five’, should heed the lessons, as they no doubt have been, for some time now.

 

[1] Beyond anything we have seen”: beheading videos and the visibility of violence in the war against ISIS, Simone M. Friis in International Affairs 91: 4, July 2015, pp. 725–46.

[2] International treaties against terrorism and the use of terrorism during armed conflict and by armed forces, D. O’Donnell, in Red Cross International Review, Vol. 88, No. 864 (Dec. 2006)

[3] Preventing violent extremism through the UN: The rise and fall of a good idea; David H. Ucko, in International Affairs 94: 2 (2018) 251–270

[4] The Security Council and Counter-terrorism: Global & regional approaches, Kennedy Graham, in Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 17 (Routledge; 2005), pp. 37–65

 

Understanding Nuclear Disarmament

Renee Moorjani

Following the drafting of the Civil Society Youth Pledge at the Hui in September, and while contemplating what is to follow, Jayden van Leeuwen (YGSG) and I locked in on two key elements of the pledge.

The first was the Treaty’s Article 12 obligation to take the pledge to a state that has not yet ratified the Nuclear Ban Treaty (TPNW 2017). This became a reality when our Australia trip was finalized.

The second- uncovering the inherent ties between the need for nuclear disarmament and mitigating climate change.

This would not only be on our agenda, but we would realize it is a key method to reduce the noise and pique interest in a campaign that some youth feel quite disconnected from in the 21st century.

 

From 1944-73, Australia played ping pong with its nuclear regime before foregoing the nuclear route by signing the NPT owing to a geo-political change in Asia in the 70s. The myth of US deterrence and nuclear protection were and are still integral to Australian security and the trickle-down effect can be felt from the older generations who protested the revival of the nuclear arms race in the 80s to some of the younger generation, who tend to either be unaware of the disproportionate and indiscriminatory nature of nuclear weapons, and believe that nuclear energy is the best supplement to renewable energy sources, or willing to discuss the movement but fall victim to an education gap on the matter.

We will be able to mobilise groups including youth for nuclear disarmament once there is a realisation of the existential threat of nuclear weapons, in a way that has been realised for climate change recently. We report that the way forward for the movement can be summarised according for 4 key aspects coupled with the realisation of an existential threat, I term them E2P2: Existential threat and Experience, Education, Political ideology and Perspective.

Existential threat and Experience 

PND Australia started their Nuclear campaign in 1960. Their objective is to inspire and mobilize public opinion in support of nuclear disarmament through campaigning against the American hegemony and Australia’s involvement in American nuclear efforts. The group is of the opinion that no real distinction can be made between the nuclear weapons, nuclear power and nuclear research industries. One of their values in particular, that there will be no lasting peace without justice for all- including inter-generational justice, ties in with the Centre’s values for international peace and security.

The key revelation from this discussion was that an existential threat can be realized through experience or education. The main point of discussion here was the experience element. Young people today living in regions largely unaffected by nuclear catastrophe feel distant from the issue owing to either a lack of experience or because they feel they do not have the ability to make a difference. Several surveys on millennials suggest that as the 2010s have progressed, awareness of the use of atomic bombs in World War II has declined. Coupled with this is the notion that nuclear disarmament is not a main security challenge facing their nations. There is some realization that recent nuclear testing and unravelling of international cooperation make nuclear weapons a major security threat; and some worry that nuclear arsenal stored in umbrella states makes the issue critical in today’s political environment.

Existential threat and Political ideology 

The current security landscape in Australia propagates the idea that nuclear weapons are necessary to protect its borders. They remain deeply embedded in strategic political thinking in ways that assign powerful socio-political values to the weapon. A recent call for Australia to acquire nuclear weapons from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) is one of many fearmongering incidents that raise
suspicion that nuclear disarmament is conducive to international peace. In making these calls, there is no regard to the fact that Australia has an NPT and South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty obligation to not obtain nuclear weapons. There is also an ignorance that a nuclear weapons program would be visible for years before there are any viable nuclear weapons, heightening the threat of insecurity resulting in usage before Australia is capable of retaliation. The cost of a weapons program would also push their military budget far beyond their 2% GDP goal and this does not include the social cost of raising tensions with other international players. Despite these facts, the existing political ideology places a major constraint on the progression of disarmament efforts.

Existential threat and Perspective 

Meeting with AIIE served as a valuable tool to educate ourselves on how to approach those dependent on nuclear weapons including Nuclear-Weapon states (NWS) and non-NPT states to start a meaningful dialogue and not debate on the potential for disarmament. The Secretary-General called for total elimination in October 2019 while he acknowledged a reversal in achieved disarmament owing to a growing mistrust between NWS. The expiration of the INF Treaty could mean a spiral into old habits of holding the world hostage to the threat of nuclear annihilation. Among several calls were ones for dialogue on unity, finances for nuclear weapons being invested in climate change mitigation and strengthening multilateralism for disarmament decision-making. Challenges to the NPT regime are aplenty with the modernization of nuclear arsenals and with the JCPOA hanging by a thread, calls for a Nuclear Free Europe and Middle East are becoming louder. Calls from the Global South for NWS to fulfill their explicit obligations under the NPT are also gaining traction. The Director of AIIE equipped us with methods to open conversation with these states on nuclear proliferation, agenda and disarmament.

Existential threat and Education 
This trip solidified the importance of education and the trickle-down effects of politics on a movement. In Australia, there is a tangible gap in knowledge on the implications of nuclear weapons and where there is no gap, politicians seem willing to accept the logic and need to disarm privately but feel pressured to stay
pro-nuclear umbrella publicly. We found that owing to the noise and hopelessness that engulfs 21st century issues, some youth tend to steer them away from being mobilized on issues they do not feel close to, or feel incapable of making a difference to. The ability of the Climate Crisis to mobilize youth drew our attention to the idea that existential threat is realized from experience or education. Youth that had experienced the effects of climate change (NSW Bushfires) felt responsible to question their government and capable of making a difference. There are spikes in youth engagement in regions where their environment has been affected by, or they are descendants of those affected by nuclear warfare. The question of education becomes vital when there is a realization that we cannot afford to have tomorrow’s policy-makers, voters and leaders who think nuclear weapons or the climate crisis do not deserve urgent action.

Summary

The political landscape and resulting disarmament ideology are tinted by Australia’s US alliance and the consequence is found in the trickle-down inertia in disarmament matters. For our movement to gain traction, the next steps must
engage youth in the realization of the existential threat of nuclear weapons through E2P2- Experience, Education, Political ideology and Perspective. Phase II of this project will commence in 2020.

Renee Moorjani has just completed a law degree at University of Auckland.  She is Secretary of the Centre.

Big Data & Privacy:

Elise Antoine

 In 2018 Cambridge Analytica harvested millions of Facebook profiles, including 64,000 New Zealanders for political campaign purposes, using the information without consent.

The scandal illustrated how big data can put the right to privacy at risk.   This may have focused on national elections at the time, but now it reflects a global problem.  The ethical implications include the potential for privacy breach.

So, what is the global community doing about this? What about New Zealand?

Aggregated data conveys insights into the lives of individuals and groups, better informing policy-makers.  Analysis of data collected by governments for policy-making is a common practice. The notion of privacy is complex – essentially being free from intrusion into personal life. It involves many elements but in the digital context it comprises the capacity to control personal information and weaken anonymity.

Global – The UN

The UN has adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals to achieve a more sustainable global future. As big data help to inform policy-makers, it can contribute to each of these Goals.

Yet human rights, another major UN goal, must be protected to realize the opportunities that big data presents.  The right to privacy has been upheld as a fundamental human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks”.

The problem human society faces is that digital technology is integrated into every sphere of life, and so the space for being free from ‘interference’ is shrinking.  Big data enables the collection and analysis of massive personal information, often without individual consent. Research and policy-making purposes ‘legitimises’ the collection and storage of personal information on the supposition of individual identity-protection. But because so much information is now available, it’s harder to remain anonymous.

These issues are global: they can affect anyone, in any country. Global issues require global responses, i.e. solutions that go beyond national boundaries. The General Assembly adopted its first resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age in 2013, affirming that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online”. (UNGA; 2013)

Yet there’s currently no framework regulating digital technology and protecting privacy on a global scale.  So let’s consider how privacy is safeguarded at the regional and national levels.

Regional – EU

In the last few years, privacy laws all around the world have been reformed. The most influential of those reforms has been the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (May ’18). This regulates the processing of EU residents personal data, which apply both to private and public sectors. Although the GDPR has affected many countries outside Europe, it is not sufficient to impose worldwide rules on privacy.

National – New Zealand

In New Zealand, personal information is protected through the Privacy Act 1993, with principles designed to prevent data (privacy) breach. A data breach is a loss or unauthorised use of personal data. Disclosure of personal information also constitutes a data breach. Breaches can result in financial loss or emotional distress, for example, for patients whose diagnosis has been publicly exposed. A privacy breach jeopardises human dignity.

The Act seeks to protect individual privacy and, as such, is based on the capacity of the individual to manage data (e.g. right to access information and correct it). Yet there’s no specific framework when it comes to data from and about Māori. The Act recognises individual privacy but not the collective one.  And the number of privacy breaches has recently increased – the Privacy Commissioner reports that MSD was collecting data of beneficiaries including text messages, police and banking records.

So in 2018 a new Bill was introduced to replace the Privacy Act. When a privacy breach has occurred, the individual affected is currently responsible for making a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner.  The Bill shifts responsibility – the agency collecting data must notify both the individual and the Commissioner when a breach that caused harm (or risk of harm) has happened. This is essential to increase transparency and accountability.

This reform will bring New Zealand close to European regulation, as it acknowledges data subjects’ rights, and requires the reporting of privacy breaches. But the Act falls behind the EU on significant issues.

  • The GDPR defines personal data in a broader sense: it addresses data that can be linked to a person, even if only in combination with other data (g. location data from mobile phones). Additionally it recognises a ‘right to be forgotten’ that extends the capacity to control data. Individuals can ask for the erasing of their data, which at the same time strengthens the capacity to withdraw consent. And the NZ Bill (Art. 89) allows use of personal data for research when safeguards preventing re-identification of individuals are implemented.

Big data is massive; so are the ethical questions

These national and international frameworks delineate the privacy issues brought about by big data, underpinned in New Zealand’s IDI.  The IDI operates under a clear purpose: improving the quality of public services by enabling research based on linked data. Researchers (from government departments or universities) must demonstrate how their project contributes to the purpose. But there is no independent ethics committee for reviewing the projects, and only Statistics NZ is responsible for accepting or refusing proposals.

Privacy, moreover, is considered at different stages. Potential risks to individual privacy are considered before adding data in the infrastructure. Also, researchers can only access data in a secure environment without internet or USB access after attending privacy and confidentiality training. Finally, data is de-identified, so individuals cannot be recognised. The IDI is an example of how researchers and policy-makers can use aggregated data ethically.  New Zealanders could be further involved in deciding how data should be used, particularly Māori who recognise collective privacy.

Above all, anonymity is potentially at risk. The IDI is based on big data and, researchers may recognize an individual due to the fact that they know a large number of different features about the person. The more data is aggregated, the more individuals can be identified. New Zealand has under 5 m. residents, which facilitates re-identification. There’s currently a gap in the legislation, as in most privacy laws, since re-identification is not taken into account.

Because individuals are not identifiable does not mean that harm cannot occur.

Groups of people (social, ethnic, religious) can be identified and flagged, which may lead to discriminatory practices. Further research could, therefore, focus on the challenges of an ‘IDI-based policy’ – how data is interpreted and used in policy-making. What are the implications?

The IDI operates under secure principles but there remains room for improvement, both in data-governance and anonymity. Although the new Bill doesn’t address the re-identification issue, it significantly improves transparency and accountability in data use. New Zealand, like the EU, is seeking to counter data breaches and protect the right to privacy ‘offline’.

Privacy is essential for people to be themselves, i.e. to develop unique individuality. As a fundamental human right, it requires constant debate, and effort to keep it safe.  The problem gets harder, from the national to regional to global level.

The digital revolution, both the internet and social media, are shaping, for better or worse, the nature of global citizenship in the 21st century. We need to ensure it’s for the better.

Perhaps there is scope for NZCGS to explore the implications of internet governance for the global community.  As a member of the Centre’s Young Global Scholars Group, I think this would be ‘added value’, for New Zealand and beyond.

Elise Antoine is a member of the NZ Centre’s Young Global Scholar’s Group.  She graduated in Political Science from Panthéon Sorbonne University (Paris), and in 2019 was an intern at UNANZ (Wellington).  She is currently at Kings College (London) where her doctorate focus is on the politicisation of internet governance and its implications for the global community.

How to Prevent Genocide?

Abbas Nazari

The best conflict is one that doesn’t happen. This blog argues that the best global approach (short of a full-fledged military intervention) to prevent a potential conflict from developing into all-out conflict is early interventionThe blog analyses a counterfactual approach to the Rwandan genocide, and how early intervention, had it been utilized, could have prevented the genocide of the Tutsi.

The memo demonstrates how heeding early ‘warning signs’ and  a concerted diplomatic effort could have prevented the genocide. Interspersed throughout are policy recommendations for the prevention of future conflicts.  

Firstly, early intervention means listening and heeding early warning signs. By taking note of these early warning signs, it is possible to extrapolatetake preventative measures and develop contingency plans. In the case of Rwanda, the Belgian ambassador to Rwanda had sounded the alarm about Hutu death squads as early as the spring of 1992. Samantha Power, in her searing article in The Atlantic Monthly, articulates the many missed warning signs. Foremost among these was the UN cable sent in early 1994 by General Romeo Dallaire, commander of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), that Hutu extremists were planning a campaign to exterminate Tutsis. General Dallaire’s early warning of genocide was corroborated by the news of assassinations, massacres and egregious human rights abuses reported by non-governmental organizations.  

In hindsight, it is clear that the US Clinton administration was performing under a ‘knowledge gap’ whereby the flow of information to the White House was not clear, in some cases conflicting with the reality on the ground, and in all cases sourced from media and third parties. By the time credible information on the scale of the atrocity did reach the White House, it was too late.

Contrast the Clinton administration’s response with the Obama response to the potential genocide of the Yazidis by ISIL. Acting on official intelligence and security advice, the administration allowed the use of targeted airstrikes against ISIL fighters, armed Kurdish YPG forces, and provided humanitarian assistance to strategic locations. Although many Yazidis did perish in the early days of the ISIL advance, these actions prevented the potential for a large-scale genocide to take place. By tuning to warning signs, timely and effective action can largely avoid a crisisHad Western decision makers acted with foresight on the warning signs, the Rwandan genocide may have been averted.  

SecondlyWestern states must remain committed to working with all relevant parties to reach a peaceful diplomatic resolution. This may involve the use of small contingent of military operatives to aid the diplomatic effort, but it must not be confused with a “boots on the ground” military intervention. Ethnic groups with a voice in the decision-making process have a much higher possibility of resolving differences peacefully than resorting to war. Rwanda had been experiencing political instability ever since achieving independence in 1962.

However, as noted above, had the West acted as early as 1992, when the alarm bells were first raised, then perhaps the conflict could have been steered toward a political settlement. A diplomatic effort in Rwanda, as early as 1992 could have included an acknowledgement of the fragile relationships between Hutu and Tutsi, while being sensitive to questions of culture, history and symbolism. 

Diplomatic efforts need to be specific, going beyond stereotypes and vague generalizations. In the case of Rwanda, this could have included, but not limited to, geographic partitions, and the inclusion of neighboring states in the dialogue, particularly Uganda. Open dialogue is critical as it will help to dispel misperceptions and maintain confidence between parties. In Rwanda, had Western states committed to a diplomatic effort in the early 1990s, then communication between the two belligerents could have built the foundations of a representative government. 

This blog purposefully chooses to overlook military intervention as an option in preventing the outbreak of ethnic conflict. Although it is one option to be used, political debate often means there is little domestic support for such an option to be exercised. We have seen this recently in Syria, with minimal US troop presence on the frontline against ISIL. A US-led military intervention in Rwanda may have prevented the worst of the massacre, but the logistics, politics, and overall timeliness of such an option meant this was never used. 

This is why this blog focuses on early intervention (heeding the early warning signs, and pursuing a diplomatic path) as the best way to fully prevent, or at the very least, mitigate the significant loss of life. Although Rwanda was a missed opportunity, subsequent conflicts, demonstrate some lessons learnedFor example, the US has changed tack with regards to the Taliban, pursuing peace talks rather than continuing its longest running war.

One wonders how different the course of Rwanda, Afghanistan, or any other country that experienced conflict could have been, had those with the ability to act on behalf of the global community, had done so.  

Abbas Nazari, a graduate of the University of Canterbury, is currently studying for a masters degree at Georgetown University on a Fulbright grant. He is a member of the Centre’s young Global Scholars Group.

UN Peace Keeping and the Global Community:

Jayden van Leeuwen

The United Nations (UN) is a key actor in the international sphere, and plays an integral role in the maintenance of peace and security across the world. One of the key mechanisms for doing so are its peacekeeping operations, which see peacekeepers inserted into some of the direst situations on the planet. The work of peacekeepers is absolutely crucial, but the UN has been marred by decades of scandal, as its peacekeepers have carried out instances of sexual exploitation and abuse while on mission. Not only does this significantly affect the credibility of the UN and its peacekeeping missions, but it also has truly horrific impacts on the victims, their families, and their communities. Successive Secretaries-General have strived to tackle this issue, with mixed success – at its heart, there is a startling lack of accountability, with the perpetrating peacekeepers often being subjected to little sanction.

One of the biggest barriers to the accountability of peacekeepers accused of sexual exploitation and abuse is the legal status quo created by the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The SOFA outlines the rights and responsibilities of the host state, troop contributing country and UN management in respect of individual peacekeeping missions, and as such, is an integral part of any operation. Problematically, the Model SOFA of 1990, which is used by all peacekeeping missions, states that “military members of the military component of the UN peacekeeping operation shall be subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of their respective participating States in respect of any criminal offences which may be committed by them in the host country.” This provides absolute immunity from host state jurisdiction for peacekeepers accused of sexual exploitation or abuse while on mission, and notably differs from the more standard functional immunity granted to most other UN employees. Accordingly, this leaves primary responsibility for accountability with the troop contributing countries themselves, while the UN is restricted to internal investigations and at most, mandatory repatriation of the offending peacekeeper. Unfortunately, troop contributing countries are notorious for failing to take meaningful action to hold these peacekeepers to account – it is not uncommon for the only response to be disciplinary, as opposed to legal.

Given this problematic status quo, the UN has had to resort to a variety of alternative mechanisms in order to attempt to provide some level of accountability, and to repair the damage caused by sexual exploitation and abuse. With the SOFA creating a significant barrier to the achievement of legal accountability, the UN has begun to develop non-legal accountability mechanisms that provide support to victims, and seek to force action by troop contributing countries – 2007 saw the introduction of minimum standards of assistance, and the Trust Fund on Victim Assistance was established in 2016.The Secretary-General’s 2017 Report on Ending Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in particular can be noted for its efforts to provide direct non-legal accountability to victims, through its introduction of a number of new initiatives.

Firstly, the Report called for the appointment of a Victims’ Rights Advocate, who is a system-wide official who leads the UN’s response to sexual exploitation and abuse, and provides not only guidance to UN bodies, but also assistance and support to victims. Secondly, the Report recommended that payments due to peacekeepers accused of sexual exploitation and abuse should be withheld, and transferred to the Trust Fund on Victim Assistance should the troop contributing country fail to carry out or complete a proper investigation. While the first Victims’ Rights Advocate was appointed in 2017 and has been active ever since, the General Assembly has thus far failed to adopt the recommended changes to the Trust Fund.

While mechanisms such as these have been criticised for not providing legal accountability, or for failing to bring about the end of sexual exploitation and abuse, it is crucial to note that the UN is significantly hamstrung in respect of what it can do to tackle this truly abhorrent issue. The foundation of the UN system is state consent, meaning the Model SOFA is likely to remain as it is. Although other organisations, such as NATO, only provide their peacekeeping personnel with functional immunity (immunity in respect of actions that are part of their official duties), proponents for change have been unsuccessful in seeing any redrafting of the UN’s Model SOFA. Given this practical reality, the UN has little option other than to pursue these kinds of non-legal accountability, in the hopes that they can provide some form of closure and support to the victims, and to force action by troop contributing countries. Until such a time as troop contributing countries see fit to either grant only functional immunity, or to commit to fully exercising their retained jurisdiction, the UN will have to continue inventing alternative mechanisms. Ultimately, this may well be the best that can be hoped for – it is, after all, better than nothing.

This unfortunate reality should not be one that completely dissuades agitation for change. Peacekeepers operate in vulnerable communities, and should not be able to exploit their positions of power. In an increasingly dynamic world, where the UN is under pressure to fulfil its mandate, the work of peacekeeping cannot be allowed to be undermined by the actions of a depraved few. In the meantime, innovative alternatives should be sought and enacted, to make as much of a difference as possible – civil society should be prepared to provide leadership if required.

[For further information and analysis, see Jayden van Leeuwen Addressing the Gap: Accountability Mechanisms for Peacekeepers Accused of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (2019) 50 VUWLR 135.]

The Multilateral Crisis in Trade:

Renee Moorjani

The 2018 G20 Buenos Aires summit saw the Director-General of the WTO lament the multilateral crisis, stating that it is the worst crisis “not only for the WTO but for the whole multilateral trading system since the GATT in 1947”.

No doubt, the foundations of trade in the WTO were laid in an economy that no longer exists- the exponential growth of the service industry, e-commerce and the rise of emerging economies pose a fatal threat to the operating modalities of the WTO. Trade tensions are amplified by a lack of periodic performance evaluations, failure of the Doha Round in 2001, pursuit of strategic interests by China and others, aggressive unilateralism by USA and the consequent engagement in trade negotiations outside the auspices of WTO.

Why are these trade tensions of such pertinence to us as the youth of New Zealand?

Large and small countries have stakes in the WTO and benefit from the multilateral trading regime.

This is because most global trade concerns require cooperation between a wide range of trading partners in a globalized economy. Bilateral agreements are less likely to endure pressures from the market; and plurilateral agreements risk fragmenting the global value chain and offer only partial solutions to companies seeking disciplines on trade-distorting policies.

The failure of cooperation between WTO members coupled with the uncertainties that accompany our generation (the biggest one being the Climate Crisis and others including the digitization of production) exacerbate the issues brought about by protectionist measures being adopted by many WTO members. Trade distorting actions such as non-tariff policies, agricultural support policies, tariff escalation that constrain developing countries from moving up the value chain, tax incentives to attract foreign investment and the use of subsidies to support local production are increasingly used to bypass WTO obligations. Digitization of the economy has negative trade spillovers that have implications for all countries. All these, together with the extent of Chinese regional engagement and USA unilateralism call for reform of the trading system at the very least, if not for a completely new course of action.

The way forward in today’s climate is anyone’s guess. Reform of the system would require certain urgent actions. These include cooperation between members first and foremost, fleshing out new methods to address trade that are relevant to this ever-evolving economy and resolving the deadlock in the WTO dispute settlement mechanism, the Appellate Body (AB). For any of this to occur, it is essential that the key players (US, China, Japan and the EU) open a discussion on the future of the WTO, negotiate with the aim to come to an agreement and apply whatever is agreed to on a most-favoured nation (MFN) basis. Members must deliberate whether certain interpretations of WTO provisions carry the intent of WTO membership I.e; is consensus being used the way it was originally intended? Additionally, if there are no re-appointments or agreement with the USA, the AB will cease to function at the end of this year (2019!!). If this dispute resolution mechanism is not saved, or a new one not implemented, trade tensions with the USA can only get more severe.

Unfortunately, there is a sense of fear associated with reform. Many fear that while several discussions have and will continue to take place, for as long as powerful nations hold the stage, they will have strong influence of the agenda during the talks and broader criticisms of the system, and the plight of the developing world will be ignored. Academics state that the talks often result in “old wine in new wineskins”.  Calls for a new trading system, however, are also plagued with questions. Trade liberalization is hailed as a promise for welfare while poverty-stricken nations suffer in the economy. While Critical Mass Agreements (CMA) are proposed as a viable way forward for negotiating important agreements, current international projects focus on the stability of operating environments and meeting legitimate expectations in a system that needs rethinking.

This is understood by the WTO, evident from their first ever youth-centered Public Forum on 8 October in New York which saw Millennials and GenZers provide their perspective on the way forward for the trading system to the Director-General of the WTO. The forum highlighted the failure of traditional trading practices in the current environment where businesses are geared towards inclusivity, highly varying employment patterns, new skillsets not covered by previous agreements and goals that couple profit with purpose. Panelists discussed the need for a trading system that considers the diverse needs of developing and least developing countries, environmental concerns and the continuing imperative of poverty reduction. Millennials expressed that traditional trade favours those with financial muscle and political power which they lack. They challenged the traditional nation-state model and asserted that they thrive in an unregulated economy- unfettered by taxes and capital restrictions.

So, it is upon us to press on and ask the important questions:

– What is the way forward for the WTO? How can the WTO facilitate cross-border service, trade and finance while protecting privacy and preventing reckless, unlawful behaviour?

– Should the WTO create rules for cross-border data flow or should a new system be conceived for a digitized economy?

– What can WTO members do to create a level playing field in a world with developed, developing and emerging economies?

– And most importantly, how can the WTO foster a positive trading environment for Millennials and the generations to come?

Over to you.

Renee Moorjani is a law student at University of Auckland, and Secretary of the NZ Centre for Global Studies.