Germany to Send Troops to Bolster UN Force in Mali

Jan. 28, 2016 – Germany’s parliament on Thursday voted to approve the deployment of a contingent of up to 650 troops to join the 12,000-strong UN stabilization mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

The first deployment will begin January 30 and full deployment is expected to be achieved by June and will make Berlin the third biggest European troop contributor to UN peacekeeping, behind Italy and Spain.

Germany was one of 50 countries that pledged some 30,000 additional troops to United Nations peacekeeping operations at a summit chaired by US President Barack Obama in September on the sidelines of the annual General Debate.

The United States is the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping, followed by Japan, China, and Germany.

The deployment of the German troops will be the first time in 23 years that a UN peacekeeping mission has had a full German army contingent. The last time was in Somalia in the early 1990s, when a German contingent served with UNOSOM II.

Germany currently contributes small numbers to seven UN peacekeeping missions and one political mission, in Afghanistan, deploying about 250 personnel in total.

The UN force in Mali was established in April 2013 and subsumed an African-led peacekeeping mission.

The Mali mission has become one of the deadliest for UN peacekeepers with 73 troops losing their lives in service there, including 44 through malicious acts up to Dec. 31, 2015, according to information from the UN’s dept. of peacekeeping operations.

On Thursday, four Malian troops were killed in two separate incidents.

Al Qaeda-linked fighters took over the country’s north in 2012, including the historical city of Timbuktu.

A peace agreement was signed in June last year between Tuareg separatists, armed militias and the government.

European countries are keen to stabilize Mali because of the impact it has on the Sahel region in general and Libya in particular, which is a major transit route to EU countries for migrants and asylum-seekers fleeing violence and poverty.

The German troops will be deployed to Gao and will serve in various capacities including intelligence, logistics and force protection, according to information from Germany’s UN mission in New York.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Experts Weigh in on Challenges Facing UNHCR and New Chief Filippo Grandi

Filippo Grandi with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (UN Photo).

Filippo Grandi with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (UN Photo).

Jan. 13, 2016 – Filippo Grandi was sworn in Monday as the eleventh high commissioner for refugees. Previously head of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Grandi takes the helm during the worst refugee crisis in UNHCR’s 65-year history.

UN Tribune asked three experts to answer five questions on the challenges facing Grandi and the UN refugee agency in protecting the ever increasing numbers forced to flee their homes.

Phil Orchard is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations and Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Queensland. His research focuses on international efforts to provide legal and institutional protection to forced migrants and civilians. He is the author of A Right to Flee: Refugees, States, and the Construction of International Cooperation (CUP, 2014) and, with Alexander Betts, the co-editor of Implementation in World Politics: How Norms Change Practice (OUP, 2014). @p_orchard

Dr. Kristin Bergtora Sandvik is a senior researcher at The Peace Research Institute Oslo. She holds an S.J.D. from Harvard Law School. Her current projects are on internally displaced women in Colombia and the humanitarian aspects of emergent military technologies. She is also co-editor of the forthcoming volume UNHCR and the Struggle for Accountability (Routledge, 2016). @PRIOUpdates

Lucy Hovil is the Senior Researcher at the International Refugee Rights Initiative and is also Managing Editor for the International Journal of Transitional JusticeFor the past six years she has been leading a research project studying the linkages between citizenship and displacement in Africa’s Great Lakes region. @LucyHovil

1) What is the biggest challenge facing the new high commissioner for refugees?

Phil Orchard: The High Commissioner really faces two linked challenges. The first is the continued growth of forced migrants globally, which UNHCR is predicting passed 60 million people in 2015. The High Commissioner needs to continue to work with countries of first asylum to ensure that refugee rights are protected, but also donors to ensure that there are enough funds to support these refugees, even while the international humanitarian system is increasingly stretched. UNHCR also needs to continue to gain access and protect the internally displaced persons who remain within their own countries.

The second is related movement to the developed world, and principally refugees crossing the Mediterranean to reach the European Union. UNHCR estimates that over a million migrants made that crossing in 2015, and 84 percent of those came from the top 10 refugee producing countries. Here the High Commissioner needs to work to ensure that resettlement of refugees from the developing to the developed world continues. Critical here is ensuring that refugees can be resettled without having to risk their lives. This includes making sure that states follow up on their pledges to resettle some 162,151 Syrian refugees. But it also means making sure the EU as a whole continues its internal relocation schemes, but also looks at creating better and less risky paths for onward movement.

Kristin B. Sandvik: For the new high commissioner, ensuring that the international refugee law regime remains intact will be the key challenge throughout his term. In the short term, the Syria refugee crisis is the largest challenge.

Lucy Hovil: Clearly, the scale and scope of the current refugee crisis is of paramount concern. The increasing number of refugees is calling some to question core refugee protection principles, and the new commissioner will need to work hard to ensure that states hold true to these principles. Not only are new crises emerging and evolving, but old ones are lingering. While the immediate demands of new crises are likely to take up much attention, one of the greatest challenges is going to be to ensure that sufficient attention is paid to ongoing protection demands, and to finding genuinely durable solutions to protracted situations of displacement. In addition, financing this response will be a challenge. UNHCR’’s 2016 budget is its largest ever and the resources remain inadequate to the need.

2) The 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as someone “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” Is it time for a new convention to account for other types of refugees, i.e. conflict, disaster, economic?

PO: The Refugee Convention continues to provide important protections for refugees fleeing individualized persecution, but does not provide as clear protections for those fleeing generalized violence or persecution by non-state actors. It also does not take into account other forms of flight, such as those driven by climate change or natural disasters. Unfortunately, there is little appetite among states for a new Convention. But here less binding soft law instruments could make a real difference. This is the pattern that was followed by the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which while initially soft law have been brought into regional hard law through the African Union’s Kampala Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa. This is something I’ve detailed in my own work. Here, the Nansen Initiative for Disaster-Induced Cross-Border Displacement is doing excellent work creating new guidelines for the protection of those victims.

KS: No, I really believe we need to spend our resources defending existing regimes from further loss of support and credibility.

LH: International law has been evolving in the direction of expanding the refugee definition for some time. The 1969 OAU Refugee Convention recognises refugees fleeing generalised conflict in Africa, as does the 1984 Cartagena Declaration in South America. Further expansion of these principles would be useful, but should benefit from a detailed analysis of the experience of regions that have already adopted these standards.

3) Does UNHCR need to become more independent, from donors and the UN system? 

PO: UNHCR under Antonio Guterres’ leadership was able to navigate the treacherous waters between the desires of donors and ensuring the protection of refugees and IDPs, something that it had not managed as effectively in the past. It will be important for UNHCR to continue to follow such a path and not become overly responsive to donors at the expense of protection.

KS: UNHCR needs to do its job better, including ensuring professional and accountable conduct by its staff. This also includes actually firing people found guilty of misconduct and not only keep moving them to other posts. Of course, UNHCR must also concentrate on providing due duty of care for its staff.

LH: Independence of UNHCR is critical. However, it is compromised in a number of ways other than donor control. UNHCR’s dual role as a protection and humanitarian agency creates tensions between the need to be critical and the need to maintain presence.

4) As the number of internally displaced people is double that of refugees, is there more UNHCR could be doing to assist IDPs?

PO: With the renewed global focus on refugees, IDPs are being forgotten. Elizabeth Ferris, in a study last year, argued that even with their growth in numbers –38 million people were internally displaced by conflict in 2014, and 19.3 million by natural disasters – IDPs today are “less visible that they were a decade ago.” There have been important steps forward in terms of legal protection, including the Kampala Convention. But the cluster based approach for humanitarian assistance, originally designed to respond specifically to IDP problems, is applied to almost every humanitarian emergency. UNHCR is now one of a number of organizations with specific responsibilities under the cluster approach, and can use upcoming events including the World Humanitarian Summit in May to refocus global attention on the problem of internal displacement.

KS: UNHCR should do less to assist IDPs and make it clear that they are the responsibility of sovereign states. UNHCR should generally try to do less and stick more closely to its original mandate of protecting refugees, instead of getting involved in an ever increasing amount of humanitarian aid and development activities. UNHCR should pull back from certain activities and from specific areas.

LH: The need for sufficient political engagement seems to be one of the greatest challenges facing all humanitarian actors in IDP situations. The general lack of visibility of IDP populations – which makes them particularly prone to becoming invisible emergencies – is key in this regard. UNHCR can do far more to ensure that IDP crises are given sufficient visibility regardless of the political cost in doing so.

5) What can be done to ensure states comply with their obligations to refugees?

PO: UNHCR’s mandate includes a supervisory responsibility over both the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. This means it can issue interpretive guidelines as well as comment on states’ own legislative and policy proposals. The agency can and does use these powers. Just a few days ago, the agency critiqued the Danish government’s proposed amendments to its Aliens legislation. Among other points, UNHCR noted that a provision to allow the seizure of documents and assets from asylum seekers is “an affront to their dignity and an arbitrary interference with their right to privacy.”  However, it cannot compel a state to change its policies. And often UNHCR may find itself balancing the need for state consent to continue its operations with rights violations, such as policies that restrict refugees’ freedom of movement in contravention of the Convention.

KS: Humanitarian diplomacy and professional but brave conduct by UNHCR.

LH: Again, a far more robust political engagement with governments is crucial. Currently, fear of upsetting national governments is preventing sufficient engagement. Is it better to stay in a country and effectively support the status quo, or challenge it and be thrown out? This question needs to be revisited. In addition, there needs to be more public engagement. Unfortunately xenophobic attitudes in the public at large are making anti refugee policies attractive to many governments. Reducing xenophobia would reduce the incentive for restrictive policies.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Related: Three Women, One Man in Race for Top UN Refugee Post

Number of Migrants Globally Reaches 244 Million

Screenshot 2016-01-12 at 3.47.19 PM
Jan. 12, 2016 – The number of people living outside their home countries increased by more than 40 percent since 2000, according to new figures from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Europe hosts 76 million of the world’s 244 million migrants, closely followed by Asia, 75 million, and North America, 54 million.

At the country level, there are 46 million migrants living in the United States, almost a fifth of the global total; followed by Germany and Russia, 12 million each; Saudi Arabia, 10 million; the UK, 10 million; and the UAE, 8 million.

The biggest source country for migrants is India, 16 million; followed by Mexico, 12 million. Other countries with large numbers of citizens living outside their borders are Russia, 11 million; China, 10 million; Bangladesh, 7 million; Pakistan and Ukraine, 6 million.

As a percentage of the total population in Europe and North America, migrants make up 23 percent of Australia’s population; 21 percent in Canada, 17.5 percent in Austria; 17 percent in Sweden; 16 percent in Ireland; 15 percent in Germany; 14.5 percent in the US; and 14 percent in the UK.

The figures are much higher for Gulf countries with migrants making up 88 percent of the UAE’s population; 75 percent in Qatar; 73 percent in Kuwait; 50 percent in Bahrain; 41 percent in Bahrain; and 32 percent in Saudi Arabia. Men make up the majority of migrants in these countries, recruited mostly to work in the energy and construction sectors.

Overall in Asia, there are 44 million male migrants and 32 million female migrants.

Sixty-seven percent of international migrants reside in just 20 countries with nine located in Asia, seven in Europe and two in North America.

Women account for 49 percent of international migrants and the average age for all migrants is 39 with 72 percent of migrants aged between 20 and 64. Just 12 percent of migrants are aged 65 or over with the authors of the report noting that many migrants return to their home country for retirement.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Related: Moving Migration into the Post-2015 Development Agenda

The United Nations and the Death Penalty

Screenshot 2016-01-05 at 3.03.46 PM
Jan. 5, 2016 – Ban Ki-moon’s statement on Saturday expressing dismay at the mass execution carried out in Saudi Arabia and his concerns over the nature of the charges and due process for those condemned elicited a terse response from Riyadh’s mission to the United Nations.

Ban, as well as the high commissioner and assistant high-commissioner for human rights, Zeid Hussein and Ivan Simonovic, have repeatedly called for states to abolish the death penalty. If they are to use it then they say the death penalty must only be used for crimes of murder or other forms of intentional killing following a fair and transparent process.

At this stage, there is nothing UN officials can do other than urge abolition because under international law there is no treaty or any other instrument that prohibits the use of the death penalty. The closest is an annual General Assembly resolution calling for states to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to abolishing it.

That resolution, which was first put to a vote in 2007, and is spearheaded by EU countries – particularly Italy and France – has been approved each year by some 100 of the UN’s 193 member states while around 40 countries consistently vote against it.

While General Assembly resolutions are not binding under international law, they are intended to express the will of the international community and can act as a persuasive force in creating international norms.

The text of the General Assembly resolution on establishing a moratorium also calls on states that retain the use of executions to limit the number of offenses for which the death penalty can be applied.

The call to limit the number of offenses is well-founded as at least seven states, including Saudi Arabia as well as Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, China and Iran impose the death penalty for drug trafficking.

But it’s not just drug crimes that are punishable by death in some countries. Apostasy is considered a capital crime in both Saudi Arabia and Iran. In Yemen, there are some 360 crimes punishable by death including adultery and prostitution. In Morocco, there are more than 325 while in Egypt there are more than 40, and death sentences have increased there since the 2011 protests that led to the fall of former dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Indeed, it is Egypt, newly elected to the Security Council, that has led the fight back against the UNGA resolution, sending a letter to Ban Ki-moon on behalf of 47 countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, stating that “the Charter of the United Nations, in particular, Article 2, paragraph 7, clearly stipulates that nothing in the Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State. Accordingly, the question of whether to retain or abolish the death penalty and the types of crimes for which the death penalty is applied should be determined by each State.”

Despite the recalcitrance of some states, there is confidence that over time the death penalty will be abolished universally with the UN’s Simonovic noting recently that when the UN was founded only eight countries had taken the death penalty out of their laws while the figure is now 99, and only five states now execute more than 25 people per year – China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the United States.

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

Related Story: UN Official Cites Progress, Setbacks in Death Penalty Abolition