UN Deploys Unarmed Weapon in Humanitarian & Peacekeeping Operations

Armed Conflicts, Civil Society, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Humanitarian Emergencies, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, TerraViva United Nations

Credit: IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 28 2022 (IPS) – A sign outside the United Nations reads, perhaps half-seriously, that it is a “No Drone Zone”—and “launching, landing or operating Unmanned or Remote-Controlled aircraft in this area is prohibited”.

The “warning” comes even as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – or drones – are some of the new weapons of war deployed mostly by the US, and more recently, by Iran, Ukraine and Russia in ongoing military conflicts.


But the unarmed versions continue to be deployed by UN peacekeeping forces worldwide and by national and international humanitarian organizations.

In a recently-released report, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA says for women in Botswana, especially those living in remote communities where medical supplies and blood may not be in stock, giving birth can be life-threatening.

In 2019, the country recorded a maternal mortality rate of 166 deaths per 100,000 births, more than double the average for upper-middle-income countries.

Lorato Mokganya, Chief Health Officer in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, is quoted as saying that when a woman has lost a lot of blood during childbirth and may need to be transferred to a bigger medical facility, she first needs to be stabilized where she is before being driven out of that place. Timely delivery of blood can be lifesaving.

“A drone can be sent to deliver the blood so that the patient is stabilized,”

In an effort to curb the country’s preventable maternal deaths and overcome geographical barriers this innovative initiative will revolutionize the delivery of essential medical supplies and services across Botswana, says UNFPA.

Joseph Chamie, a former director of the UN Population Division and a consulting demographer., told IPS the increased use of drones for humanitarian and peacekeeping missions of the United Nations is certainly a good idea and should be encouraged.

“Why? Simply because the numerous benefits from the use of drones greatly outnumber the possible disadvantages”.

As is the case with all new technologies, he pointed out, resistance to the use of drones is to be expected. The public’s distrust in the use of drones is understandable given their use in military operations and surveillance activities.

Also, it should be acknowledged that drones could be misused and efforts are needed to ensure privacy, security and safety, said Chamie.

“In brief, the use of drones should be promoted and facilitated in the work of the UN’s humanitarian and peacekeeping operations as it will greatly enhance the effectiveness of their vital work,” he declared.

Credit: United Nations

Drones have been deployed in several UN peacekeeping missions, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda—going back to 2013.

Although this technology is not a magic solution, “the promise of drones is really tremendous,” says Christopher Fabian, principal advisor on innovation at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

For UNICEF and other humanitarian and development agencies, he said, in an interview with UN News, drone technology can make a big difference in three ways.

First, drones can leapfrog over broken infrastructure in places where developed transportation networks or roads do not exist, carrying low-weight supplies.

Second, UAVs can be used for remote sensing, such as gathering imagery and data, in the wake of natural disasters like mudslides, to locate where the damage is and where the affected peoples are.

Third, drones can extend wi-fi connectivity, from the sky to the ground, providing refugee camps or schools with access to the Internet.

As big as a Boeing 737 passenger jet and as small as a hummingbird, a huge variety of drones exist. According to research firm Gartner, total drone unit sales climbed to 2.2 million worldwide in 2016, and revenue surged 36 per cent to $4.5 billion.

Although UNICEF’s use of drones has been limited, the agency is exploring ways to scale up the use of UAVs in its operations, Fabian said.

“Hardware itself does not violate human rights. It is the people behind the hardware,” said Fabian, stressing the need to “make sure that any technology we bring in or work on falls within the framing of rights-based documents,” such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

UNICEF has a set of guiding principles for innovation, which includes elements like designing with the end-user.

For drone applications to spread further, Fabian said, the UN has a strong role in advocating this technology and ensuring that policy is shared with different governments.

In addition, governments have to clearly define why they need drones and what specifically they will be used for, while also building up national infrastructure to support their use.

The private sector must understand that the market can provide them real business opportunities.

In 10 to 20 years, drones might be “as basic to us as a pen or pencil,” said Fabian.

“I believe this technology will go through a few years of regulatory difficulty but will eventually become so ubiquitous and simple that it’s like which version of the cell phones you have rather than have you ever use the mobile phone at all,” he said.

Meanwhile, armed UAVs are being increasingly used in war zones in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and most recently Ukraine.

The US has launched drone strikes in Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan targeting mostly terrorist groups. But the negative fallout has included the deaths of scores of civilians and non-combatants.

In recent months, the use of drones by both Russia and Ukraine has triggered a raging battle at the United Nations while Iran has launched drone attacks inside Iraq.

The US, France, UK and Germany have urged the UN to investigate whether the Russian drones originated in Iran. But Russia has denied the charge and insisted the drones were homemade.

Russia’s First Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy, urged Secretary-General António Guterres and his staff on October 25 not to engage in any “illegitimate investigation” of drones used in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, going back to 2017, Malawi, in partnership with UNICEF, launched Africa’s first air corridor to test the humanitarian use of drones in Kasungu District.

Also with UNICEF, Vanuatu has been testing the capacity, efficiency and effectiveness of drones to deliver life-saving vaccines to inaccessible, remote communities in the small Pacific- island country, according to the United Nations.

Vanuatu is an archipelago of 83 islands separated over 1,600 kilometres. Many are only accessible by boat, and mobile vaccination teams frequently walk to communities carrying all the equipment required for vaccinations – a difficult task given the climate and topography.

To extend the use of drones, UNICEF and the World Food Programmes (WFP) have formed a working group.

In addition, UNICEF, together with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), chairs the UN Innovation Network, an informal forum that meets quarterly to share lessons learned and advance discussions on innovation across agencies, the UN points out.

“Drones are also used in other parts of the UN system. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its partners have introduced a new quadcopter drone to visually map gamma radiation at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was damaged by the devastating 2011 tsunami”.

ROMEO, or the Remotely Operated Mosquito Emission Operation, met the competition’s aim of improving people’s lives. It was designed to transport and release sterile male mosquitoes as part of an insect pest birth control method that stifles pest population growth.

Some UN peacekeeping missions, such as those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and the Central African Republic, have deployed unarmed surveillance UAVs to improve security for civilians, according to the UN.

The UN, however, warns that drone technology can be a double-edged sword. UN human rights experts have spoken out against the lethal use of drones.

IPS UN Bureau Report

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Loss and Damage Fund Saves COP27 from the Abyss

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Climate Action, Climate Change, Climate Change Finance, Conferences, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Latin America & the Caribbean, Regional Categories

Climate Action

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, chair of COP27, reads the nine-page Sharm El Sheikh Implementation Plan, the document that concluded the climate summit on Sunday Nov. 20, to an exhausted audience after tough and lengthy negotiations that finally reached an agreement to create a fund for loss and damage, a demand of the global South. CREDIT: Kiara Worth/UN

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, chair of COP27, reads the nine-page Sharm El Sheikh Implementation Plan, the document that concluded the climate summit on Sunday Nov. 20, to an exhausted audience after tough and lengthy negotiations that finally reached an agreement to create a fund for loss and damage, a demand of the global South. CREDIT: Kiara Worth/UN

SHARM EL SHEIKh , Nov 20 2022 (IPS) – They were on the brink of shipwreck and did not leave happy, but did feel satisfied that they got the best they could. The countries of the global South achieved something decisive at COP27: the creation of a special fund to address the damage and loss caused by climate change in the most vulnerable nations.


The fund, according to the Sharm El Sheikh Implementation Plan, the official document approved at dawn on Sunday Nov. 20 in this Egyptian city, should enable “rehabilitation, recovery and reconstruction” following extreme weather events in these vulnerable countries.

Decisions on who will provide the money, which countries will benefit and how it will be disbursed were left pending for a special committee to define. But the fund was approved despite the fact that the issue was not even on the official agenda of the summit negotiations, although it was at the center of the public debate before the conference itself.

“We are satisfied that the developed countries have accepted the need to create the Fund. Of course, there is much to discuss for implementation, but it was difficult to ask for more at this COP,” Ulises Lovera, Paraguay’s climate change director, told IPS, weary from a longer-than-expected negotiation, early Sunday morning at the Sharm El Sheikh airport.

“This COP has taken an important step towards justice. I welcome the decision to establish a loss and damage fund and to operationalize it in the coming period,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. He also described as an achievement that a “red line” was not crossed, that would take the rise in global temperature above the 1.5-degree limit.

More than 35,000 people from nearly 200 countries participated in the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) on Climate Change in Sharm El Sheikh, an Egyptian seaside resort on the Red Sea, where the critical dimension of global warming in the different regions of the world was on display, sometimes dramatically.

Practically everything that has to do with the future of the modes of production and life of humanity – starting with energy and food – was discussed at a mega-event that far exceeded the official delegations of the countries and the great leaders present, such as U.S. President Joe Biden and the Brazilian president-elect, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Hundreds of social organizations, international agencies and private sector stakeholders came here to showcase their work, seek funding, forge alliances, try to influence negotiations, defend their interests or simply be on a stage that seemed to provide a space for all kinds of initiatives and businesses.

At the gigantic Sharm El Sheikh International Convention Center there was also a global fair with non-stop activities from morning to night in the various pavilions, in stands with auditoriums of between 20 and 200 seats, where there was a flurried program of presentations, lectures and debates, not to mention the more or less crowded demonstrations of activists outside the venue.

In addition, government delegates negotiated on the crux of the summit: how to move forward with the implementation of the Paris Agreement, which at COP21 in 2015 set global climate change mitigation and adaptation targets.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres walks hurriedly through the Sharm El Sheikh Convention Center during the last intense hours of the COP27 negotiations, when there were moments when it seemed that there would be no agreement and the climate summit would end in failure. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres (3rd-R) walks hurriedly through the Sharm El Sheikh Convention Center during the last intense hours of the COP27 negotiations, when there were moments when it seemed that there would be no agreement and the climate summit would end in failure. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

On the brink of failure

Once again, the nine-page Sharm El Sheikh Implementation Plan did not include in any of its pages a reference to the need to abandon fossil fuels, but only coal.

The document was the result of a negotiation that should have ended on Friday Nov. 18, but dragged on till Sunday, as usually happens at COPs. What was different on this occasion was a very tough discussion and threats of a walkout by some negotiators, including those of the European Union.

But in the end, the goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, established in the Paris Agreement, was maintained, although several countries tried to make it more flexible up to 2.0 degrees, which would have been a setback with dramatic effects for the planet and humanity, according to experts and climate activists.

“Rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions (are) required – lowering global net greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent by 2030 relative to the 2019 level – to limit global warming to 1.5°C target,” reads the text, although no mention is made of oil and gas, the fossil fuels most responsible for those emissions, in one of the usual COP compromises, since agreements are reached by consensus.

The Bolivian delegation in Sharm El Sheikh, which included officials as well as leaders of indigenous communities from the South American country, take part in a meeting with journalists at COP27 to demand more ambitious action. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

The Bolivian delegation in Sharm El Sheikh, which included officials as well as leaders of indigenous communities from the South American country, take part in a meeting with journalists at COP27 to demand more ambitious action. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

The priorities of the South

Developing countries, however, focused throughout the COP on the Loss and Damage Fund and other financing mechanisms to address the impacts of rising temperatures and mitigation actions.

“We need financing because we cannot deal with the environmental crisis alone. That is why we are asking that, in order to solve the problem they have caused, the rich nations take responsibility,” Diego Pacheco, head of the Bolivian delegation to Sharm El Sheikh, told IPS.

Environmental organizations, which showed their power in Egypt with the presence of thousands of activists, also lobbied throughout COP27 for greater commitments, including mitigation actions.

“This conference cannot be considered an implementation conference because there is no implementation without phasing out all fossil fuels,” the main cause of the climate crisis, said Zeina Khalil Hajj of the international environmental organization 350.org.

“Together for implementation” was precisely the slogan of COP27, calling for a shift from commitments to action.

“A text that does not stop fossil fuel expansion, that does not provide progress from the already weak Glasgow Pact (from COP26) makes a mockery of the millions of people living with the impacts of climate change,” said Khalil Hajj, head of global campaigning at 350.org.

One of the demonstrations by climate activists at COP27 held in Egypt Nov. 6-20, demanding more ambitious climate action by governments, as well as greater justice and equity in tackling the climate crisis. CREDIT: Busani Bafana/IPS

One of the demonstrations by climate activists at COP27 held in Egypt Nov. 6-20, demanding more ambitious climate action by governments, as well as greater justice and equity in tackling the climate crisis. CREDIT: Busani Bafana/IPS

The crises that came together

Humanity – as recognized by the States Parties in the final document – is living through a dramatic time.

It faces a number of overlapping crises: food, energy, geopolitical, financial and economic, combined with more frequent natural disasters due to climate change. And developing nations are hit especially hard.

The demand for financing voiced by countries of the global South thus takes on greater relevance.

Cecilia Nicolini, Argentina’s climate change secretary, told IPS that it is the industrialized countries, because of their greater responsibility for climate change, that should finance developing countries, and lamented that “the problem is that the rules are made by the powerful.”

However, 80 percent of the money now being spent worldwide on climate change action is invested in the developed world, according to the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the world’s largest funder of climate action, which has contributed 121 billion dollars to 163 countries over the past 30 years, according to its own figures.

In this context, the issue of Loss and Damage goes one step further than adaptation to climate change, because it involves reparations for the specific impacts of climate change that have already occurred, such as destruction caused by droughts, floods or forest fires.

“Those who are bearing the burden of climate change are the most vulnerable households and communities. That is why the Loss and Damage Fund must be established without delay, with new funds coming from developed countries,” said Javier Canal Albán, Colombia’s vice minister of environmental land planning.

“It is a moral and climate justice imperative,” added Canal Albán, who spoke at a press conference on behalf of AILAC, a negotiating bloc that brings together several Latin American and Caribbean countries.

But the text of the outcome document itself acknowledges that there is a widening gap between what developing countries need and what they actually receive.

The financing needs of these countries for climate action until 2030 were estimated at 5.6 trillion dollars, but developed countries – as the document recognized – have not even fulfilled their commitment to provide 100 billion dollars per year, committed since 2009, at COP15 in Copenhagen, and ratified in 2015, at COP21 which adopted the Paris Agreement.

It was the absence of any reference to the need to accelerate the move away from oil and natural gas that frustrated several of the leaders at the COP. “We believe that if we don’t phase out fossil fuels there will be no Fund that can pay for the loss and damage caused by climate change,” Susana Muhamad, Colombia’s environment minister, who was at the two-week conference in Sharm El Sheikh held Nov. 6-20, told IPS.

“We have to put the victims first in order to make an orderly and just transition,” she said, expressing the sentiments of the governments and societies of the South at COP27.

 

What Does it take to Build a Culture of Equality & Inclusion at the UN? Reflections from Inside a Change Process

Civil Society, Democracy, Featured, Gender, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations, Women in Politics

Opinion

“The Quilt in the Making”. Credit: Claudia Steinau

GENEVA, Oct 28 2022 (IPS) – The organisational is personal. Every day since the two of us were asked back in 2020 to co-lead the process of culture transformation at UNAIDS, the United Nations organisation which drives global efforts to end AIDS, we have both felt at our very core how crucial it has been to get it right.


The mission of UNAIDS is vital to ensuring the health and human rights of every person. Staff and partners need to be confident of a supportive and empowering culture that will enable their work.

A 2018 Report by an Independent Expert Panel had shone a light on what were important organisational shortcomings, leading to a comprehensive set of changes in leadership, systems and crucially, culture.

As the Culture Transformation process has got underway, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented shifts in work, and a resurgence of global protests, including from the Black Lives Matter movement and for women’s rights, have a generated an inspirational momentum for action to tackle intersectional injustice.

Reflecting almost three years of UNAIDS culture transformation work, what stands out in particular for the two of us is how the “outer work” has required so much “inner work”. We have needed to be, and to help others be, our full selves, and to acknowledge what we don’t yet know of each other’s experiences.

The process has deepened our appreciation of how our differences, both personally and professionally, are a key strength, enabling each situation, each process, to be seen from a combination of unique angles, and how equality is crucial in enabling all these to be brought forth.

Creating safe spaces for our colleagues to speak about their lived experiences was transformative. We asked ourselves and those around us tough and tender questions. We had colleagues tell us they felt heard for the first time. Brave conversations helped colleagues to connect and to advance the tangible changes that matter most to them.

We understood the need for a common reference framework for all of us at UNAIDS. This has led to a first set of feminist principles that guide our way forward.

Through the process, it became ever more clear to both of us that culture transformation begins at the personal level. As a Malawian woman of African-Asian heritage, living and working in Latin America at this time, intersecting identities and multiple cultural heritage became for Mumtaz the centre of personal reflections.

In leading conversations on decolonizing the HIV Response, Mumtaz’s own colonization was calling for attention. For Juliane, too, this has been powerful journey: as someone who has experienced sexual assault in the workplace, this work is deeply personal, driven by a determination to build safe workplaces for everyone, including by addressing inequalities and unhealthy power balances. Our intersectional feminist approach has brought our experiences to our work.

But this work has also highlighted that whilst the organisational is personal, so too the personal is often dependent on the organisational. Engaging with intersectional feminist principles at the personal level was not enough.

That is why we were proud to help UNAIDS become the UN entity to put intersectional feminist principles at the core of its being. It is why vital work continues to integrate those principles into policies and practices to advance a workplace culture in which every individual can flourish.

As we have helped build a movement for change across six regions, engaged in conversation with more than 500 colleagues, and supported some 25 diverse teams in their own journey, we have recognised the centrality of the institutional level.

Cultural transformation is a long and challenging process that requires the tenacity and creativity of many. To weave the stories and aspirations of so many of the champions for change together while preserving their uniqueness, we have borrowed the quilt symbol that is iconic in the AIDS response.

As the change process evolves, new tiles will be added, others might fade or need repairing. But the work is not done. It is a ‘quilt in the making’ – individual and collective work, one tile at a time.

Mumtaz Mia and Juliane Drews have led UNAIDS Culture Transformation since May 2020.

Mumtaz is a Public Health expert with two decades of experience working to end AIDS. Juliane is a change management expert with 15 years of experience in developing inclusive and just organizations in which staff in all their diversity thrive.

The link to UNAIDS Culture Transformation here.

IPS UN Bureau

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Uyghur Violations a Litmus Test for Global Governance & Rules-based International Order

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Democracy, Featured, Global Geopolitics, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Protesters in Washington, DC, march against the alleged killing of Uyghur Muslims. June 2022. Credit: Unsplash/Kuzzat Altay

NEW YORK, Oct 3 2022 (IPS) – This week is a momentous one for the world’s premier human rights body. At stake is a resolution to decide whether the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva can hold a debate on a recently released UN report.


The report concludes that rights violations by China’s government in its Xinjiang region ‘may constitute international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity’.

Unsurprisingly, China’s government is doing everything in its power to scotch plans for a debate on the report’s contents. Its tactics include intimidating smaller states, spreading disinformation and politicising genuine human rights concerns – the very thing the Human Rights Council was set up to overcome.

The historic report, which affirms that the rights of Xinjiang’s Uyghur Muslim population are being violated through an industrial-level programme of mass incarceration, systemic torture and sexual violence, attracted huge controversy before it was released on 31 August 2022, minutes before the end of the term of the outgoing High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

The report was supposedly ready in September 2021 but so great was the pressure exerted by the Chinese state that it took almost another year for it to be aired. Absurdly, the 46-page report includes a 122 page annex in the form of a rebuttal issued by China, rejecting the findings and calling into question the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Office of the High Commissioner has asserted that the report is based on a rigorous review of documentary evidence with its credibility assessed in accordance with standard human rights methodology. The report’s recommendations are pretty straightforward: prompt steps should be taken to release all people arbitrarily imprisoned in Xinjiang, a full legal review of national security and counter-terrorism policies should be undertaken, and an official investigation should be carried into allegations of human rights violations in camps and detention facilities.

Nevertheless, a proposed resolution to hold a debate on the report’s contents in early 2023 is facing severe headwinds. A number of states inside and outside the Human Rights Council, united by their shared history of impunity for rampant human rights abuses – such as Cuba, Egypt, Laos, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Venezuela – have already rallied to China’s defence in informal negotiations on the brief resolution.

What is most worrying is that China appears to be leaning on smaller states that make up the 47-member Human Rights Council by inverting arguments about politicisation of global human rights issues and projecting itself as the victim of a Western conspiracy to undermine its sovereignty.

If China were to have its way, it would be a huge setback for the Human Rights Council, which was conceived in 2006 as a representative body of states designed to overcome the flaws of ‘declining credibility and lack of professionalism’ that marred the work of the body it replaced, the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his ground-breaking In Larger Freedom report, lamented that states sought membership ‘not to strengthen human rights but to protect themselves against criticism or to criticize others’.

Human Rights Council members are expected to uphold the highest standards in the protection and promotion of human rights. But our research at CIVICUS shows that eight of the Council’s 47 members have the worst possible civic space conditions for human rights defenders and their organisations to exist. In these countries – Cameroon, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Libya, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan – human rights are routinely abused and anyone with the temerity to speak truth to power is relentlessly persecuted.

Regimes that serially abuse human rights may be motivated to block findings of investigations being aired on the international stage, but the international community has a collective responsibility to the victims. Civil society groups are urging Human Rights Council members to stand firm on the call for a debate on the China report.

Human Rights Council member states that assert the importance of human rights and democracy in their foreign policy are expected to vote in favour. Nevertheless, the influence of regional and geo-political blocs within the Council mean that the issue will essentially be settled by the decisions of states such as Argentina, Armenia, Benin, Brazil, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Malawi, Malaysia, Mexico, Paraguay, Senegal, Ukraine and Qatar.

China will undoubtedly pressure these states to try to get them to oppose or abstain in any vote that seeks to advance justice for the Uyghur people.

The stakes are particularly high for China’s mercurial leader, Xi Jinping, who is seeking to anoint himself as president for a third term – after abolishing term limits in 2018 – at the Chinese Communist Party’s Congress, which begins on 16 October.

Recognition of the systematic abuses to which Xi’s administration has subjected the Uyghur people would be considered an international affront to his growing power.

If China were to prevail at the Human Rights Council, it would be another blow to the legitimacy of the UN, which is already reeling from the UN Security Council’s inability to overcome Russia’s permanent member veto to block action on the invasion of Ukraine. So much – for the UN’s reputation, and for the hope that human rights violators, however powerful, will be held to account – is resting on the vote.

Mandeep S. Tiwana, is chief programmes officer and representative to the United Nations at global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.

IPS UN Bureau

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Reasonable Left, Irresponsible Right: & the Future of Social Democracy

Civil Society, Democracy, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, Human Rights, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Credit: Pexels via

VIENNA, Sep 28 2022 (IPS) – With no shortage of catastrophes in the past 15 years worldwide — the democratic left is stepping up to provide stability amid the storm.

Throughout the history of mankind, there have been catastrophes. In modern times, there have also been media representations of catastrophe, including worked-up or even imagined catastrophes.


More than 60 years ago, the German author Friedrich Sieburg wrote about the ‘lust for doom’, which, strangely enough, has a tremendous appeal especially in eras perceived as stable: ‘The everyday life of democracy with its dreary problems is boring, but the impending catastrophes are highly interesting.’

Now that we have had no shortage of real catastrophes in the past 15 years, we no longer have to conjure them up. First came the global financial crisis, which threatened to topple banks and other financial institutions — even states — as if houses of cards.

Later the pandemic arrived and then the military invasion of the second largest country in Europe by the largest. Its shockwaves are devastating half the world, with energy crisis, broken supply chains, price explosion, food shortages, impoverishment and destitution.

Robert Misik

And all the time comes the onrushing climate catastrophe, whose consequences are already apparent and which intersects with the current geopolitical crisis. The global electricity markets are going crazy because there is a lack of gas from Russia, but also because the rivers are drying up, the hydroelectric power plants are empty and nuclear power plants have to be shut down because the cooling water in the rivers is becoming too scarce — even the coal-fired plants are having problems where coal can no longer be shipped.

In any case, disaster is not now something we frivolously imagine because we are bored. It is there — very real for many and at least felt by most. Not only does it colour political debates but an atmosphere of pessimism, insecurity and fear has settled over most societies.

This is so even, perhaps especially, in the affluent societies of the west, which had become accustomed to stability and relative prosperity. A sentiment is spreading: the whole machinery no longer works, it is broken — and the political elites have no plan.

The left choosing stability

Against this backdrop, while the left is trying to develop programmes and instruments to master the crises, to stem the decline in prosperity and the social costs for ordinary people, those on the hard right are betting on things getting even worse, playing up catastrophe.

They hope this will benefit them, that they can thereby achieve electoral success — as with the right-wing radicals in Sweden recently or the right-wing bloc in Italy over the weekend.

It’s no surprise, then, that the far-right contenders paint the ‘elite’ and its networks in dark colours. They rummage through supposedly suppressed news and hidden secrets. They identify, to their satisfaction, how the powerful secure their dominance and say all this is connected. They imagine themselves as if detectives smugly putting pieces of the political puzzle together, in the manner of a latter-day Hercule Poirot.

It is not a completely new phenomenon to offer such a fundamental critique of ‘the system’. What is astonishing is that the far right has hijacked what used to be a prerogative of Marxist intellectuals — and of those activists who imagined a terminal catastrophe would some day issue in a socialist millennium.

Right-wing propaganda has appropriated elements of left-wing critical thinking — the questioning of the conventional and familiar, of the all-too-obvious, and the healthy suspicion of power. Amazingly, the motifs of the enlightenment have been subverted to serve conspiracy theories and fanaticism, in the cause of authoritarianism and nationalism.

The democratic left, in sharp contrast, sees its task today, grosso modo, as providing stability amid the storm. Of course, this is true where it is in government. But it in most cases it also has this reflex of responsibility where it is in opposition.

This has consequences. The left sometimes finds itself defending the status quo, against its deterioration. It knows it cannot score points with simple answers but has to work out complex plans whose realisation is tough.

This liberal left has always stood for freedom, democracy, the rule of law — for social equality and against hierarchy and fascist temptations. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has however drawn his country back into despotism in recent decades, aligned with an ideology of expansionism.

While the radical right (and some pro-Russian hard leftists) propose to kneel to Putin, the democratic left supports Ukraine’s right to self-defence and an independent path.

Russia’s imperialism has been met with sanctions from liberal Europe and north America, rebutted in turn in an economic quasi-war with the help of the ‘weapon’ of gas and oil. Yet in a multipolar and chaotic world where not all are on their side, progressives find themselves having to balance decisiveness and prudence.

Now their own economies must be stabilised and protected, and their societies, because the supply of energy and the functioning of the critical infrastructure has a much broader social centrality. This includes changes in the design of energy markets, which simply no longer function when panic on the markets leads to price explosions of 600 or even 1,000 per cent.

The colonisation of lifeworlds by market ideology has however meant that even the essential goods of everyday infrastructure have been left to the mercy of the markets. Energy suppliers which get into trouble have thus to be bailed out by governments.

The dangers of ‘politics without a project’

The effects of inflation are also different from what we know from economics textbooks. Classic inflation occurs when there is a boom, an economy reaches the limits of its capacity and there is more or less full employment. Then asset owners lose, while borrowers gain. But above all, workers and employees do not really lose out: prices rise but so do wages.

Classical inflation is characterised by a wage-price spiral in which real wages rise along with them. Historically, wage earners lost out primarily because of anti-inflationary policies, not because of inflation.

Today, however, inflation is not the result of a boom but an economic shock: it is imported, primarily due to higher energy prices and supply problems. Many companies too are groaning under their energy overheads, as they cannot fully pass on the cost increase to consumers. This in turn will mean workers will not be able to make up fully for price increases through wage rises.

The unions will fight but it will be very difficult to avoid real wage losses. Low wage increases lead to impoverishment and a decline in aggregate demand but high wage increases would lead to more bankruptcies and thus more unemployment.

The most likely result will be a combination of misfortune — a marked recession plus high inflation. Government will have to intervene with price controls, by dramatically accelerating the shift to renewable energy, by providing payments to the most vulnerable segments of the population, by accepting further budget deficits.

None of these solutions will be perfect. We must be careful not to enter a new era of depoliticised pragmatism — a ‘politics without a project’, to borrow an old formulation from a famous German book edited by the legendary Suhrkamp publisher Siegfried Unseld 30 years ago. But there will tend to be no grand design to policy, just muddling through.

Public debates will be characterised by a certain confusion, as we are already observing. On the one hand, most citizens want clear and focused plans, but at the same time they know that there are no easy, simplistic answers.

A pandering left-wing populism is therefore not an attractive alternative. It is not only a too-narrow preaching to the converted but also there is a broad swath of potential support among liberal and left citizens for a politics of reason and responsibility.

In times of such uncertainty, we do not need trumpeters and bullshiters. We need people who can be trusted to do the best they can to sort things out.

Robert Misik is a writer and essayist. He publishes in many German-language newspapers and magazines, including Die Zeit and Die Tageszeitung.

Source: International Politics and Society is published by the Global and European Policy Unit of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Hiroshimastrasse 28, D-10785 Berlin.

IPS UN Bureau

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From Indonesia to India: Is There Hope for Anti-Corruption Efforts Within the G20?

Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, G20, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Many of the global crises we face are caused or exacerbated by corruption. Credit: Ashwath Hedge/Wikimedia Commons

Many of the global crises we face are caused or exacerbated by corruption. Credit: Ashwath Hedge/Wikimedia Commons

WASHINGTON DC, Sep 27 2022 (IPS) – As global crises mount, the G20 is proving unable to find solutions. Political disagreements within the bloc- including most prominently with Russia over the ongoing war in Ukraine- have hamstrung collective efforts.


Economic challenges have inevitably led to a focus on domestic priorities. And significant political changes in key G20 countries over the past few months- such as the UK and Italy- have further undermined joint decision-making.

Equally, on corruption issues, the G20 has a long way go, although the body continues to reiterate its commitment fighting graft and leading by example on core issues such as the role of audit institutions, anti-corruption education, money laundering and graft in the renewable energy sector.

The G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group (ACWG) meets for the final time under the Indonesian Presidency this week- and while there remains plenty to do, there are also glimmers of hope for the future, as India takes on leadership of the G20 for 2023.

It is easy to get disheartened about the continued ubiquity of corruption- but beyond the headlines and if we pay attention to the small print, there is some important progress being made

To better understand the progress made, Accountability Lab, as one of the international Co-Chairs of the C20 Anti-Corruption Working Group (ACWG), has partnered with the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) to distill complex and scattered information on anti-corruption within G20 countries (often buried in lengthy reports, as we’ve highlighted previously) into a set of easy-to-understand one-pagers. Each of these (see Australia here or South Africa here for example) outlines for each of the member countries the progress made against key priorities, with the goal of encouraging sharing of ideas and learning within the G20.

Here is what we found:

Enhancing the role of audit in tackling corruption

The G20 ACWG recognizes the important role of audit in preventing corruption in both the public and private sectors, and member countries have institutions and systems in place to deter corruption.

For instance, 17 out of the 19 G20 member countries (the 20th is the EU) score over a global average of 63 on the International Budget Partnership’s metric for oversight by supreme audit institutions. Brazil has received a great deal of scrutiny in recent years because of corruption, but Brazil’s Tribunal de Contas da Uniao (TCU) is cited as an example for its innovative use of data analytics and artificial intelligence including identifying indicators of corruption.

Member countries are also improving existing laws, with Japan proposing to reform its audit law to provide more enforcement power to the Japanese Institute of Certified Public Accountants and improve oversight of listed companies.

Promoting public participation and anti-corruption education

Most G20 member countries have policies guaranteeing the right to participation through specific laws such as the right to information, public information disclosure or public procurement, to name a few.

In India, the Pre-legislative Consultation Policy was passed recently to ensure public participation in policy-making processes, and government as well as civil society platforms are available to promote public education, including on corruption issues.

Similarly, South Korea’s Public-Private Consultative Council for Transparent Society under the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission provides a platform to inform and disseminate anti-corruption messages. South Korea also aims to strengthen civic space and public participation including through a national Participatory Budgeting Citizens’ Committee.

In Australia a public-private partnership (Bribery Prevention Network) launched in October 2020 bringing together the private sector, civil society, government and academia to provide free resources to help corporates implement anti-bribery programmes, and was runner up in the Anti Corruption Collective Action Awards 2022.

Professional enablers of money laundering

The G20 acknowledges gaps in member countries’ anti-money laundering efforts, particularly related to preventive measures targeting professional enablers, including accountants, lawyers, or real estate agents- and is aiming to pull together guidance on these issues through a Compendium for Professional Enablers of Money Laundering.

While most countries do not have a comprehensive definition of Designated Non-Financial Business Professionals (DNFBPs), Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia comply with the 2012 Financial Action Task Force (FATF) standards on the definition. The 2021 follow-up review from FATF noted that the revisions to China’s anti-money laundering law will include general provisions and supervision of DNFPBs.

In the US, if the ENABLERS Act– which was approved by the House of Representatives in July 2022– is passed by the Senate, it could regulate professional enablers; and in the UK, lack of supervision of enablers is being acknowledged by the government as it looks at different models to strengthen the supervision of accountants and lawyers.

Promoting corruption in the renewable energy sector

The G20 is working on a background note on Promoting Anti-Corruption in Renewable Energy in order to raise awareness and increase collaboration to prevent corruption in the energy sector. In 2022, Argentina launched an open information system (SIACAM) which provides public access to data on mining activities in the country, including their environmental and socio-economic impacts.

The Resource Governance Index notes that Argentina is one of only 7 countries that has made this type of data available. Similarly in Mexico, progress has been made with the publication of all oil procurement contracts on the state-owned website oil company, Pemex.

Japan’s cooperation agreement with India and the European Union to share experiences and best practices on liquid natural gas is cited as an example to follow by the International Energy Agency.

It is easy to get disheartened about the continued ubiquity of corruption- but beyond the headlines and if we pay attention to the small print, there is some important progress being made.

With the G20, the key now- as India assumes leadership of group- is for member countries to double down on their commitments and follow-through on implementation of reforms. Many of the global crises we face are caused or exacerbated by corruption- now is the time for our leaders to get this right.

Blair Glencorse is Executive Director of Accountability Lab; Sanjeeta Pant is of Accountability Lab. This piece draws on research carried out with RUSI. Follow the Lab on Twitter @accountlab

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