Tag Archives: United Nations

Drones for the Congo

5 Dec

The United Nations has recently launched the first surveillance drones ever deployed by a UN peacekeeping force. And where else but the Democratic Republic of Congo, home of the first UN peacekeeping force ever authorized to use lethal force in an effort to weaken – and ultimately help defeat – the recently surrendered M23 rebel movement in DRC’s North Kivu province. Following justifiable concerns that a lethal peacekeeping force could have a detrimental impact on the humanitarian presence on the ground in DRC and the ability of civil society to effectively deliver aid to those in need, the UN has been further criticized for providing too little help, a little too late.

Two Falco drones, manufactured by the Italian Selex ES, were launched this Tuesday after the UN Security Council approved their trial use in January. Another drone will be on the way later this month and two additional drones are expected to be launched in March 2014. The drones will be used to monitor population movements in areas affected by recent violence, as well as monitor the alleged transfer of arms and munitions from neighboring Rwanda and Uganda.

If the UN has managed to approve a mandate to launch drones to monitor military presence, what could this mean for the future work of UN agencies like OCHCR, UNHCR and other coordinating bodies for monitoring forced displacement, attacks on schools, and the myriad widespread human rights violations that plague DRC and surrounding regions? Ideally, this increase could signal an imminent expansion of the United Nations’ global reach into the safety and well-being of populations usually too remote and removed from urban centres to adequately monitor.

Like here in the United States, many may argue that the increased use of surveillance drones by the UN could constitute an invasion of privacy. Or, as in the case of recent allegations aimed the International Criminal Court, African nations could interpret this move as yet another “toy of declining imperial powers,” being used to remotely monitor and ultimately influence the affairs of African populations.

Here in the U.S., I for one do not generally lose too much sleep over Orwellian prophecies (despite my love of sci-fi). Perhaps that is because there is nothing that the government could pick up in my phone calls or find in my mail that could ever get me into any trouble, but I do believe that such ‘Snowden-era’ surveillance (despite the geopolitical and moral implications) is ultimately conducted in an effort to keep us safe, not to control our thoughts or actions. With a new mandate to launch surveillance drones now in the UN’s hands, could this indicate new options for the future of global security? Could this mean that rural populations in the developing world may one day be afforded the same protection and security that is arguably offered in the United States? Will the people of Syria, Mali, Central African Republic and Sudan be able to benefit from this effort to monitor the interactions of armed groups and civilians? Or will this program simply run out of support and funding next year and be remembered only as a waste of time and money?

Hindsight being 20/20…

3 May

After reading a great piece in The Guardian a few weeks back, I felt inspired to cut back a bit on my consumption of news media (yes, I recognize the irony of reading an article that inspired me to read fewer articles). This week I am trying to get back into the world, and the first piece of news I came across was on the massive failure of the international community in responding to one of the worst crises of this century, the Somalia famine.  The 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa left 4.6% of Somalia’s population (and one out of 10 children under the age of five) dead. For two years, drastic food shortages wreaked havoc on the population and affected some 13 million people throughout the region as a whole. Much of this damage, however, could have been avoided.

As Aljazeera reports, “The famine was manmade…there was donor fatigue, there was a lack of political will, and the people of Somalia suffered because of the political failure to help the people of Somalia.” While the crisis was exacerbated by militia groups in control of famine-affected areas refusing to let most foreign agencies operate within their territories, the international response was incredibly slow, and for a full year leading up to the crisis, research and forecasts were ultimately ignored worldwide. Peter Greste begs the question, “why for example did it take those dyer images of dying children before significant amounts of aid started flowing in…and what will it take to make donors respond to warnings ahead of the next crisis?”

Well, the next crises are here: from a looming humanitarian disaster in South Sudan already ushering in ‘near famine conditions’, to extreme humanitarian needs compounded by the recent coup in Central African Republic, to the staggering humanitarian disaster in Syria spilling over into surrounding regions. These crises are here, and they are real, and they are not showing any signs of improvement. Thinking about this international neglect conjures images of the international community and the Clinton administration’s failure to act on warning signs, eye-witness testimony and video documentation of the genocide of Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994, for which Bill Clinton later apologized.

Is it acceptable practice in modern times to simply turn away while a crisis unfolds in some remote region of the world, and then apologize for our negligence after it has taken its toll on hundreds of thousands of lives? Are these crises really that easy to ignore? Without sufficient geopolitical interest in a given region, will the international community continue to turn a blind eye to these events, only to rise to a podium down the road and say “Ooops, our bad. We should have acted on the plethora of facts and evidence we had a little earlier. Sorry!”

What’s further disheartening about this pattern is the fact that as emerging researchers and practitioners, we at HREC like to believe that the information we reveal to the world will be used to abate violations of human rights and alleviate human suffering. How does research and the collection of data transcend obscurity and make its way into the international psyche to the extent that concerted action is taken to prevent these stains on our collective human experience? How do we learn from our mistakes and transform hindsight into foresight?

Education Cannot Wait – A Call to Action

5 Oct

Last week in New York City, the field of education in emergencies took a critical step forward. International leaders across governments, international organizations and civil society discussed and endorsed an urgent Call to Action to secure the provision of quality education to 28 million youth living in countries affected by conflict, plus several millions more victim to humanitarian emergencies due to natural hazards worldwide. The youth in the former category account for 40% of all primary school-age children currently not enrolled in school. The Call to Action entitled “Education Cannot Wait: Protecting Children and Youth’s Right to a Quality Education in Humanitarian Emergencies and Conflict Situations” is a part of the UN Secretary-General’s “Education First” initiative, which seeks to improve access and quality of education and foster global citizenship.

The Call to Action stresses efforts to be made in three key areas:
1)      Increase levels of humanitarian aid to education in emergencies
2)      Keep schools and education safe from attack
3)      Integrate emergency prevention, preparedness, response and recovery with sector plans and budgets

The realm of education as a provision of humanitarian assistance has long been relegated to an afterthought among aid providers. I am thrilled that the United Nations has since taken steps to close this critical gap. I think Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser of Qatar says it best:

“The mind of a child has only one opportunity to develop. If the education of a girl or boy is lost through conflict we have not only deprived them of their birthright, we have denied their generation the chance of development or recovery – and we have robbed an entire society of its chance for a better future. That should not be acceptable to any one of us.”

A more substantial inclusion of education into the humanitarian imperative is long overdue. The current expenditures on education in emergencies stand at roughly 2% of humanitarian aid spending. This initiative aims to double levels of humanitarian aid to education in emergencies to 4% of aid budgets, which, while still a modest figure, could guarantee education for entire generations of youth who would otherwise lose the opportunity to conflict. I feel that this push indicates a growing recognition of the vital role that education plays in breaking cycles of violence in many regions of the world. Plain and simple, education provides hope. Hope for opportunity, hope for a future. Without this hope, children may likely seek other opportunities, or will be more easily forced into exploitative situations. Education provides a safe and structured environment in which youth can focus their energy and attention towards improving not only their own lives, but their communities and national economies as a whole.

To this, I attribute much credit to the work of the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), whose seminal document, the INEE Minimum Standards for Education: Preparedness, Response, Recovery guides the planning and implementation of education in emergencies programs around the globe. My former colleagues at INEE were in attendance at the launch of Ban Ki-Moon’s Education First campaign, and contributed to this Call to Action.

Yesterday I was able to attend the INEE Global Meet-up hosted by the International Rescue Committee here in New York. The meet-up surrounded the Education Cannot Wait and Education First initiatives. There was much curiosity regarding concrete plans for action moving forward, and an interesting discussion arose pertaining to the timing of this particular initiative. Perhaps it has received a greater push at this point with the close proximity of 2015 and how close the UN is to reaching the Millennium Development Goal on Education For All. Perhaps this will create a surge in the interim period towards greater funding and advocacy behind education in emergencies.

But in this blogger’s humble opinion, perhaps this will yield rushed results. Education in emergencies is a vast and complex sub-field within education, with marked differences between crises caused by natural hazards and those that arise out of conflict, and even further differences between education in acute conflict and protracted conflicts leading to long-term displacement and instability. Here the lines between humanitarian action and international development become blurred.

One would hope, in this case, that increased focus on the complexities of education in emergencies will yield the necessary increase in cooperation between actors in the humanitarian camp and actors in the development camp. Education programs cannot simply be set up during a crisis and abandoned for development education programming as soon as the crisis subsides. Actors across the board need to work together to truly provide education to the staggering number of youth trapped in conflict around the world, with a concerted focus on quality and content.

I am very excited about the implications of this Call to Action, and the plain and simple truth is that education NEEDS to be made a priority. It NEEDS to be at the center of the discussion. At the end of INEE’s Meet-up, we were asked to consider what our organization was doing to help in the push for advocacy and action for education in emergencies, or for us students, what our university was doing to raise awareness. The easy answer that came to mind: nothing. I will be keeping a close eye to see if this call to action lives up to its name and acts on the fact that education truly cannot wait, and will be doing my part to ensure that awareness at my institution increases in what little time I have left. I implore you all to do the same. This is a groundbreaking initiative…the world is listening…let’s see what we can all accomplish.