I was recently asked to speak at Christopher Newport University (CNU) on human rights. CNU was celebrating 70 years since the signing of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Presented by the university’s Model UN program, the purpose of the discussion was to have some seasoned experts provide insight into human rights violations. Accompanying me was a former ambassador to Bosnia Herzegovina and a WWII Holocaust survivor.
Why me? Who am I to talk with you about human rights? The short version is my background is in the military. I retired a few years ago as a two-star general from the United States Air Force and had the privilege of working for a member of the Joint Chiefs of staff. This wonderful opportunity allowed me access and oversight to international programs run by the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF). One particular SECDEF program I administered was the National Guard State Partnership Program or better known as SPP. It was established in the early 90s as democracy model to develop new relationships with former Warsaw Pact countries such as Lithuania, Estonia, Poland and such. At the time, the defense department felt that the NG could provide an example of not only civilian oversight of the military at a State level but also how a State governs itself. As a federal republic, we know that each of our states emulates, and in many cases, possess more oversight of administering functions for our citizens than the federal government. The idea behind the program was to introduce to these budding democracies military exchanges that first demonstrated security and then graduated to civilian exchanges highlighting governing aspects of our states. Today the SPP covers over 75 global partners ranging from Poland to Mongolia to Tunisia to Chile to Vietnam. It is one of the most successful international programs in the defense department and has been instrumental in assisting over 20 nations to gain acceptance in NATO and the European Union (EU).
The reason I wanted to take a moment and explain this program is to highlight my experience in working with many of these new budding democracies as they shed old standards, conditions, traditions and more importantly the cultures of how they govern and treat their citizens. A modern democracy whether it rises out conflict or a referendum of the people has severe growing pains. What people knew yesterday has changed today and for many, to include those who were formerly in power, it can be a human catastrophe of change. Rarely does a country transition from dictatorial, dysfunctional or abusive control to one of individual empowerment without the “pain of change.” The result is a struggling government, an increase in instability, military overreach, perpetual conflict and eventually human rights abuses.
It is from this perspective that I can share with you my observations of some of the issues with why we still battle with human rights.
Terms of Reference
First, I am a big proponent of terms of reference. What I mean is if a group is to properly discuss something we must first agree with what it is we are talking about. How many times have you gone to a meeting or in a briefing and the briefer begins a discussion on a subject that if you ask the audience what it is they are referring to you would get multiple answers…not good for a healthy conversation or problem-solving environment. So, let me first provide you with my term of reference as to what constitutes human rights and some examples of violations.
What are Human rights? Where do they originate? How do individuals possess them? Human rights, in a nutshell, are the personal possession of inalienable freedoms and protections such as a fundamental right to life and free from harm. Many of you who have studied this topic realize that there are global institutions that have provided us detailed definitions of human rights. Several international documents address them such as the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the European Convention on Human Rights (1950). Each promotes individual freedoms and protections guaranteed by those signatories. However, although these documents represent a significant portion of our global community, there are certain nations and/or groups even among the signatories that continue to exploit individuals. With all this effort, how is it that we still deal with human rights violations, especially when it has been almost 70 years since these documents were written and signed…and to further add, we have gone from 15 democracies to over 170 globally…technically, we are all supposed to be on the same sheet of music.
Let’s first start by digging further into what are human rights. What is a right? And what is human about a right? Rights, in general, according to Webster “is that which is due to anyone by just claim, legal protections or moral principles.” In other words, reasonable or fair claim that is morally sound and both protected and enforced by law. Examining further, who determines what the violation is or its severity? The good news is that the global community has figured out most of this. For example, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines universal or natural laws protecting us and condemns their violations. As a matter of fact, the UN declaration alone identifies 32 different human rights with the assumption that they are naturally guaranteed to mean that they are so apparently obvious to one’s existence that they are a provided at birth…and for some countries before birth. Nations who have signed the charter recognize them and adhere to their protections. As an example, according to article 3 of the UN declaration, it states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.” A primary or fundamental claim on your existence, freedom, and safety.
Powerful stuff! Case solved…right?
Not so fast! Let’s go back to a portion of the definition that states, “…protected and enforced by law.” And here is the rub!! For example, if we look at Mexico and the U.S. whose, similarities are many, such as we are both liberal democracies and world economic powers (U.S. #1 & Mexico #15). In addition, we share a common border and are one of the top trading partners worldwide (over $480B)…lots in common!! Yet, as far as human rights, we are as different as snowflakes. Why? There are two key differences. The first difference is “governed space.” Within Mexico, there are large areas of land that are considered ungoverned or in the hands of drug cartels and/or criminal elements. These areas are ruled by lawlessness, corruption, and crime resulting in egregious human rights violations (more on governance and human rights later). The other key difference is the “rule of law,” specifically prosecution rates and unpunished crimes. According to the World Justice Project which measures the adherence to the Rule of Law, Mexico ranks 92nd out of 113 countries while the U.S ranks 19th. Also, prosecution rates in the U.S. range from 80%-85% while in Mexico they are less than 5%.
Why is this important?
Here’s why. Each difference measures the contrast between two functioning world powers and their ability, or not, to control human rights violations. To better explain the distinction, let’s take prosecution rates. In their purest form, they should measure the ability of a country to follow through with its adherence to the rule of law. If criminals are not getting prosecuted, then they remain on the streets as criminals. Weak enforcement mechanisms and little to no deterrence will result in an overall lack of confidence within the system and an order of effect of disorder and governing failure…the result is that people suffer, and human rights are violated. Further to my point, according to the Human Rights Index, Mexico is at “extreme risk” of human rights violations while the U.S. is between medium and low risk.
How can a functioning liberal democracy such as Mexico have such issues with human rights? How can a country that possesses a functioning government and is an established economic power fail in protecting human rights?
To sum it up, if governance is in question and the rule of law is not practiced, a citizen’s protections are only worth the piece of paper the government’s constitution is written on.
Frame of Reference
Before we continue, I want to establish a baseline or frame of reference for human rights violations. The rationale is to narrow the field down to the most basic of human rights. Ones that if solved would make a marked difference in the world. Besides, it would be challenging to cover all 32 human rights violations, as defined by the UN. So, let’s stick to five of the top fundamental human rights contained in the declaration. These five in my mind are central to all human beings and if violated should highlight severe problems within nations or areas that need to be fixed.
To truly solve human rights violations, much like an illness, one must get at the root causes. Otherwise, you treat the symptoms and get some relief, but if you never cure the cause then it becomes nothing but a chronic illness…and will never go away.
My Top five human rights declarations (In accordance with the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
• Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of a person
• Article 4: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms
• Article 5: No one shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
• Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile
• Article 13: Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
Ok, so what do we do with them? What we can do is based on this frame of reference, we can develop some contributing factors that seem to be precursors or root causes that promote or underlie the problem with human rights violations. Root causes that are consistent across violators, environments, and conditions…if we solve the following root causes the world will be a much better place!
So, here’s what we have so far. We have established what constitutes human rights, narrowed down our discussion to some basic inalienable protections and teased you with some examples of stark differences between functioning governments and their ability to defend them. In other words, we have introduced you to the fundamental question, “How is it possible in today’s socially progressive and modern world that we are still plagued with human rights violations?
To get this ball rolling, let’s make a leap of faith. Here is what I consider the top five root causes of human rights violations. I know this is a bold statement but let’s go back to what we said earlier,
“To truly solve human rights violations, much like an illness, one must get at the root causes. Otherwise, you treat the symptoms and get some relief, but if you never cure the cause then it becomes nothing but a chronic illness…and will never go away.”
Here we go…the top five root causes of human rights violations:
- The rule of law
When we talk about governing what do we mean? The World Governance Index measures the countries’ performance in three crucial areas: effective and accountable government, fair elections and political participation, and rule of law. All good ways to assess how well countries govern but there are more fundamental indicators that judge their ability to take care of its people. And more to the point of our discussion, when these indicators are in question or non-existent what plays out is dysfunction and disorder…human rights abuses are not far behind! The following is my version of important indicators needed to properly govern, or better said, some essential functions or services that a country must be able to provide its citizens. They are security, safety, water, food, shelter, and energy. And to highlight, it is not just the fact that they are provided but also in how well they function. In other words, how reliable are a nation’s institutions in supporting these services? If they are run poorly, corrupt or flawed, then you will find these countries struggling to provide basic services. The result is little governance, hopelessness, discontent and eventually conflict…the next step is human rights violations! So, what are these institutions that drive disorder to order or dysfunction to function? Here are a few examples: ministry of interior, labor, treasury, justice, energy, health, social services, and agriculture, to name a few. The strength of each and specifically their functionality is key to a properly working government.
To help emphasize my point, I am going to use a controversial example of how quickly a country can go from functioning to complete chaos, followed shortly after by egregious human rights violations. My case is Iraq! In 2002, Iraq was a functioning government. It may not have been the one we agreed with since Sadaam Hussein’s methods of control were many times heinous, but for the purpose of our discussion, the people had water, energy, social services, health care, food and some semblance of security and safety. Again, to stress in this example, I am not here to judge the quality or equality of these services but the fact they existed. And yes, human rights violations were occurring within Iraq, but not nearly the level they were to become.
After the U.S. invasion, all governmental functions disappeared. The U.S. planned brilliantly for war but not for peace. And it was the peace that was far more important than the war. Institutions quickly fell, and ministries were ransacked. Water, energy, food, safety, and security were all gone within days! People no longer received their social security checks, health care became non-existent, and they went off the energy grid. The government literally did not function since security eroded leaving the people and businesses unprotected. As a result, the U.S. spent over one trillion dollars and thousands of lives trying to recover. And in the aftermath, we witnessed some of the worse human rights violations we have seen in modern time.
Is Iraq the only example of order to chaos? No! Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Guinea Bissau, Eritrea, Egypt…the list goes on and on. What is common to all these countries is that at one point it was functioning and yes, human rights were being violated but not nearly at the levels after their collapse. The culprit was a lack of proper governing or in these cases, non-functioning governance. It is a root cause for human rights violations.
Without a functioning government, chaos, disorder, and violence rule the day…not far behind are human rights violations.
I have purposely separated corruption from poor governance. Even though it can go hand in hand, corruption is such a critical factor in a country operating that it deserves its own discussion. Based on my experience, corruption is the difference between success or failure. Not just in how a nation governs but also in its development, social progress and of course, human rights.
What is corruption? In a nutshell, it is a dishonest practice or a general lack of integrity. Put another way, no principles, morals, compassion, remorse, or character…a real lowlife.
Ok, they are dishonest and lack principles. Why does this lead to human rights violations? Let’s start with trust. The foundation of any practice whether it being governing or oversight of anything or anyone is trust. Trust is an idea. It is a loyal agreement between people or groups. If I promise something, then it is believed by others that it is genuine and followed through…agreeing parties believe in its meaning and future action. Once it’s questioned, then there is doubt and with doubt comes distrust and with distrust comes dysfunction. What is governance other than an agreement of trust between the people and those in charge, commonly spelled out in a document like a constitution? When governing, laws and an agreement come into question and promises are broken, trust is lost, and progress stops. And if not checked, corruption becomes the norm or common practice…the people not only expect it but accept it. This can be a fundamental difference between developing and developed nations. As a point of reference, it is important to realize the within developed nations corruption still occurs, however, much less. But the real distinction is that most developed societies do not accept it. Once it is found it is eradicated and discouraged by law and enforced. For example, in the U.S. we pride ourselves and promote whistleblowing. We have etched in our psyche through traditional moral beliefs that corruption is evil and that those who are corrupt are bad. We don’t tolerate it, encourage it or accept it…and we do what we can to stop it.
In contrast, there are nations that when elections occur the baseline assumption of any candidate running for office is they are corrupt and if not, will be once they take office. It is such a norm the people expect them to steal from the government. It is a given! It is so pervasive that the leaders openly practice it. The result is discontent, bribery, and little human development. In fact, if there is any development it is not for the betterment of the people but the betterment of its leaders. Little is accomplished, progress is halted, and essential services are not nurtured and absent in many cases. The populous becomes doubtful, and opposition develops. And as opposition grows and these leaders feel threatened, they try to control it through harsh treatment and denial of rights…. resulting in human rights violations.
According to the Transparency International corruption index, corruption is the number one problem in developing nations and would argue a precursor to poor governance and future human rights violations…stop corruption, and you can stop the abuse!
First, let’s point out that a lack of security creates conflict and that conflict creates a lack of security…they are almost synonymous. Even though I consider security a root cause that contributes to human right violations I would like to describe its pitfalls around conflict and belligerents.
But before we travel down the pitfalls of conflict lets first examine an intriguing aspect of it. Is there such a thing as a legitimate conflict? Do we sometimes use conflict to gain security? And do we need to understand it to resolve human rights violations? The short answer is yes. I point out this distinction because not all conflict leads to human rights violations. Some forms of conflict are used to mitigate or stop human suffering. Hard to believe but hear me out. I call these sanctioned or legal conflicts involving lawful belligerents. For example, were not the allied powers in WII prosecuting a legal conflict? Was the Korean War not a legal conflict? Were NATO forces in the Balkans during the 90s executing as lawful belligerents? All yes. All of them approved by the world community so that countries could defend themselves against unwarranted attacks by unlawful belligerents.
So, if these are examples of legal conflict and belligerents then what, and who, constitutes illegal participants and what does this have to do with human rights? The easiest way to describe it is to use the two previous examples of WII and the Balkan war. The Germans in WII and the Serbs in the Balkans were unlawfully attacking and taking over foreign territory as well as exercising multiple forms of genocide. As an exercise, let’s review them against the five top human rights we discussed earlier from the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and highlight any violations.
Fig 1. Correlation of Illegal Belligerents vs. Top Five UN Human Rights Articles
|WWII (Germans)||Balkans (Serbs)|
|Article 3: Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of a person||Genocide against Jews and political opponents||Genocide against Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats, Srebrenica, Massacre|
|Article 4: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms||Slave labor||Servitude, forced displacements|
|Article 5: No one shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment||Multiple forms of torture, killings, and inhuman treatment||Torture of prisoners, executions, and mass killings|
|Article 9: No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile||Massive arrests and egregious detentions||Massive exiles, arrests, and detentions|
|Article 13: Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.||Little or no freedom of movement within occupied territory||Little or no freedom of movement within occupied territory|
In each of these cases (Germans and Serbs), all of the human rights articles were severely violated. It is no coincidence that illegal actors in a conflict eventually commit abuses and more to our point, are not only unaccountable for it but make it one of their objectives.
Now, let’s look back at the legal side of a conflict. Are there not possible human rights violations occurring regardless of whether a global community accepts it or not? Yes, but in a legal conflict, there are rules. The Geneva convention and other agreements have strict rules of engagement and understandings among belligerents. Yes, even when they are trying to kill each other, there can be an understanding of how it is accomplished, with the sole purpose to protect the innocent. However, in stark contrast to unlawful belligerents, when human rights abuses occur, they are revealed, and perpetrators are disciplined. Lawful players create new or stricter rules to reduce or rid the battle space of such violations. However, in a conflict where only one side respects the protection of the innocent, human rights violations are pervasive. And when there are unlawful participants, war efforts are unchecked or unmonitored, and belligerents are free to commit atrocities without recourse or accountability. For example, in 1996, Operation Southern Watch was created to enforce UNSC resolution 688 which, demanded that Iraq, “…immediately end this repression and express the hope in the same context that an open dialogue will take place to ensure that the human and political rights of all Iraqi citizens are respected.” Sadaam paid little attention to this resolution, routinely violating the 33rd degree parallel designated to protect the Shi’ites in southern Iraq. And not just bombing Shi’ites in the south but also firing on U.S. aircraft. On one side of the conflict was an unlawful and unrecognized belligerent in Sadaam Hussain and the other was a legal U.S. led coalition force supported by a UNSC resolution. One was committing human atrocities and the other was there to protect them. Therefore, it is important to realize when there is a conflict there are human abuses and in order to protect the innocent, force may be required.
The bottom line here is that there is such a thing as a good and bad actor. One is accountable for its actions, and the other is not.
Iraq Human Rights Violation
At this point, I would like to share with you a human rights atrocity I witnessed during one of my military flights in 1996 over southern Iraq. My example is to show you that even when one side (lawful belligerent) is trying to protect innocent civilians from a brutal dictator (unlawful belligerent) that the outcome does not always play out well. In other words, securing space is complicated and confusing. During one of the missions over southern Iraq, I noticed what appeared to be a controlled burn. You often see these types of fires used by forest service to control areas against forest fires. This was not the case here. I radioed my wingman to make sure I was not the only one to see this and began to circle the burn area. It was a circular burn from the outside in, but there was something in the center of the area. We got close to it but had to stay high enough to be outside surface to air missile and anti-aircraft gunfire. Once over the top, it was apparent that in the center of the circle were people…lots of people. It was evident that this was some form of genocidal action. We quickly radioed to our command the situation. However, we could not engage and to be honest we’re not sure what we could do from 25,000’ with nothing but air to air armament. Besides, the rules of engagement did not support such strikes since our primary role was defending against air attacks. A real puzzle of war, we were helpless to assist. And by the time adequately equipped U.S. coalition forces could reach the area, it was too late. We failed in securing the environment for these people and as a result, the innocent suffered! This incident still affects me today.
The bottom line is that security of a nation and its people are paramount in controlling human rights violations. And to ensure their security perpetrators must be forcefully removed or conditions within the country must be forcibly changed. However, regardless of what methods must be used to regain and/or ensure a secure environment, the fact is that in an unsecured situation you can expect human rights violations.
The Rule of Law
It is one of the pillars of human rights protections. But what does this really mean? Simply put, you are either a nation ruled by laws or not. Yet, the rule of law is a challenge for even the most developed countries and for those lesser developed nations it is almost absent…why? Taking a closer look at the “Rule of Law,” it is broken up into four universal principles, as described by the World Justice Project:
- Accountability – government and people are accountable under the law;
- Just Laws – laws are clear, publicly noted, stable and just. Protect across the entire populous evenly to include fundamental rights, security, and property;
- Open government – a process by which laws are enacted, administered and enforced and are accessible, fair and efficient;
- Accessible & Impartial dispute resolution – Justice is delivered in a timely manner, ethical and representative. People have access to a legal resource and reflect the makeup of the community.
Summing it up, the rule of law is a process of legislating statutes, ensuring they are enforced and a means of innocence or rightful conviction. It is essential for a society to function correctly and if absent, chaos, bribery, corruption and eventually dysfunction reign…again, not far behind are human rights violations. For example, let’s look again look at the difference between the U.S. and our neighbor Mexico. According to the World Bank’s Rule of Law Index, Mexico ranks number 127 out 193 countries reviewed. Prosecution rates in Mexico are 4-5%. 98% of crimes committed went unpunished in 2016. Over 30,000 people have disappeared since 2012, and over 43% of the prison population has not been tried yet for a crime. Mexico just surpassed Iraq and Afghanistan to become the world’s second-most deadly conflict zone after Syria. Whereas, just across the border, the U.S. ranks 15th for the rule of law. Prosecution rates in the U.S. are 80-85%. People disappear but are generally found with the perpetrators being punished. The U.S., in general, is a very safe place to live and most local jurisdictions have adequate law enforcement. If prosecution rates are low, then it is a sign that bad guys go in and come right back out. The result of this lack of accountability is the unchecked crime, and if wrongdoing is unchecked then high crime areas become ungoverned, and function is chaotic. To highlight its effect on human rights, according to the human rights index, Mexico ranks 92 out of 113 countries wrt human rights while the U.S. ranks 20th.
The overall result is that a lack for the rule of law creates an environment that is a breeding ground for human rights violations.
As a teaser and to better exemplify the importance of effective governance, I want to cover an event in our history that provides us an excellent example of how differently one nation handles ungoverned space or the rule of law. In 1992 during the Los Angeles riots, the east end of LA was ungoverned and became controlled by criminal gangs. Police no longer could provide security and neighborhoods were barricaded and enforced by residents with firearms. It was a war zone where unlawful conflict and chaos prevailed…the result was human suffering and rights being violated. People dragged from their vehicles and killed. Businesses looted and destroyed. Sounds bad? It was! Yet, my example is not to point out these abuses but more to show the difference between functioning governments and accountability for lawlessness. In Mexico, there has been ungoverned space for decades. In 1992 in LA, ungoverned space lasted two days. President Bush quickly federalized National Guard troops under the Insurrection Act once it was apparent that the governor nor the mayor could control the riots. The “Insurrection Act” is an act strictly for the president to use if there are insurrections or civil disorder that a state can no longer handle. It is so controversial and against our governing roots that it has been exercised only a few times in our nation’s history. In 1992 10,000 federalized National Guard troops quickly deployed into east LA and re-established law and order. This allowed local authorities to regain control and secure the neighborhoods within days. Order and the rule of law were quickly reestablished.
My point here is that in the U.S. we do not accept ungoverned space, civil disorder or any lawlessness that controls areas of our country or cities. However, not true in other countries where there is little ability or will to govern their space properly. And the rub here is not the fact that these nations do not have laws and rules, it is the fact that they have elected not to follow or enforce them. The result is chaos, disorder, and human rights violations.
Ok, we have covered a lot of ground. At this point, the fundamental question to answer is clear, “How could this happen in a nation with established laws and liberal democracy?” Our answer is poor governance, corruption, a lack for the rule of law and security.
Or is there more to this problem?
The last factor I want to cover is enforcement. I decided to include this last because I find this to be one of the most essential elements in reducing human rights violations. However, enforcement can be a double edge sword. As we discussed earlier, the implementation I am referring to is assuming that the mechanism is legitimate, following the nation’s laws and rules and morally and/or ethically sound. Put another way, good cops should rule the day. And as I go on to explain the immense importance of this root cause, let’s assume that improvement or solutions to enforcement cover not just flawed governments but also functional ones. Only because we live in the U.S. does not free us of enforcement and abuse problems.
To foot stomp, laws and rules are only as good as the mechanism put in place to enforce them. For example, within the rule of law, essential indicators are highlighting the lack of enforcement and its effect on a government and its people. I go back to countries where there are low prosecution rates. This one enforcement factor tells a tale of a criminal justice system within a nation and its adherence to the rule of law…i.e. do criminals come in one door and out the other? Why follow the rule of law if it is not enforced? You can have the most excellent governments known to humankind, but if its laws and regulations are not adhered to, then it is only worth the paper it is written.
A great example of enforcement challenges is the United Nations. For those of you who do not know, the United Nations is an intergovernmental organization tasked to promote international cooperation and to create and maintain international order. After WWII, the organization was established with the aim of preventing another such devastating conflict. Over the years it has successfully assisted in promoting and securing peace around the world. However, it is not a perfect organization nor does every UN endeavor end with success. Yet, in its absence who will the world rely on to oversee world peace? Is it a sovereign country like the U.S., China or Russia? No, nor we should not expect any of them to be put to the task. The UN regardless of whether you think it is worthy of its mission is the only global peace organization in town.
Again, I am not here to judge the UN but to point out some of its challenges.
As a peacekeeping organization, it only enters a conflict if everyone agrees to it. As a matter of fact, the UN is unable to take significant action against abuser nation or group without a UN Security Council resolution (UNSCR), though it does substantial work in investigating and reporting abuses. Even with a UNSCR, the UN enters cautiously into any conflict area trying to determine right from wrong…very hard to do. Further, and to my main point is the fact that it is helpless to try to enforce peace. Why?
In my opinion, it centers around their inability or lack of doctrinal principles in performing offensive military operations. Instead, as a practice, the UN maintains defensive positions and negotiates. And to make matters worse, once, within a nation’s sovereign borders, it has limited authority.
The UN for all its goodness and efforts lacks the political will to secure peace, which to me is the forcible removal of unlawful belligerents. Instead, it maintains peace which many times only results in containing the belligerents, not getting rid of them. However, in its defense, the UN’s hands are tied in that it possesses limited ability to work within a sovereign nation. This can paralyze its ability to cure the problem and secure peace. As such, it is many times helpless in its efforts to protect the innocent from human rights abuses. For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the UN is now on its 16th year of trying to maintain peace and protect innocent civilians. Under the title, United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MUNUSCO), UN peacekeepers and support staff are responsible for “the protection of civilians, humanitarian personnel and human rights defenders under imminent threat of physical violence and to support the Government of the DRC in its stabilization and peace consolidation efforts.” There has been some success in the DRC and many accolades for mitigating human abuses, but little progress in resolving the problem…remember our discussion on root causes. Unlawful belligerents still rule portions of the Congo and many attacks on innocent civilians go unchallenged by UN peacekeepers. To this day, the UN has spent on an average of over $1B annually toward this one mission…approximately 20% of its bi-annual UN budget. And to further put salt in the wound, according to the Global Peace Index, the DRC ranks 8th as one of the deadliest countries in the world.
The bottom line is that enforcement is a crucial factor! Otherwise, the noblest of organizations and efforts come up short in genuinely securing the peace.
Here’s what we have covered. We defined some terms of reference to ensure we understood human rights. We built a frame of reference using five essential articles of human rights based on their severity of abuse and eradication value to human development. We then further examined five root causes, poor governance, corruption, conflict, the rule of law and enforcement and their contributing factors concerning human rights violations. Finally, we looked at a direct correlation between the root causes and overall human rights violations, but more importantly, if we can prove that these causes are directly tied to abuses, then we can better define “lines of effort” to concentrate our resources. Below is a comparison of four of the five root causes since enforcement had too little data to score. Therefore, I’ve added a fifth column culminating the correlation of root causes vs. overall human rights scores.
The chart ranks the five worse human rights violations by nation according to the Human Rights Index against the four human rights root causes, poor governance, corruption, rule of law, and security, and the overall human rights index.
Fig 2. Correlation of Root Causes vs. Worst Human Rights Offenders
|Poor Governance & Failed State
(worst to best)
(out of 180)
|Rule of Law
(out of 193)
|Human Rights Risk Index
|Somalia||1 & 1||180||193||5||2|
|Sudan||6 & 3||175||175||6||5|
|South Sudan||6 & 3||179||175||3||4|
|North Korea||1 & 22||171||187||10||1|
|Syria||1 & 22||171||187||10||1|
It should be no surprise that the root causes we have discussed highlight some of the worst offenders on this planet. Where there is poor governance, unchecked corruption, disregard for the rule of law or chronic security issues you will find severe human rights abuses. And I would add that even though there is little data on enforcement, you can bet that it is also a significant problem for each of these countries.
What to do?
What do we do about this? Well, there is much being done. There are over 100 non-governmental human rights organizations worldwide with over 20 regional groups not counting governmental human rights institutions. The UN Council on human rights, which is arguably the leading worldwide authority, examines and submits annual reports highlighting where and who. There is no loss for data on what the problem is and where it is occurring. Yet, according to an amnesty international human rights index, human rights violations are increasing. If we know so much about it and where it is happening, then why does it continue?
One thing the military taught me was to never walk into the boss’s office presenting him a problem. Walk in with solutions! The military by its nature are problem solvers and because of this are great planners…the president gives us a problem, and we solve it. With this in mind, I will take you down the last part of our problem-solving path or highlight some areas that must be addressed to indeed fix this problem.
But before we go on, let’s review our problem-solving methodology. First, we defined the problem, “the proliferation of human rights violations.” Second, we narrowed the problem down to its root causes; “governance, corruption, security, the rule of law and enforcement.” And finally, we correlated the root causes using empirical data to validate their relationship to the problem. Now, we can examine potential areas that could provide us with some solutions.
Here we go.
The UN bi-annual budget is $5.4 billion where unfortunately human rights only receive 2% of these funds whereas, peacekeeping receives over 20%. Yet, we still have severe human rights violations. As a note of interest, here’s what $5.4B can buy you today: only one half of a new aircraft carrier or five new B-21 stealth bombers or 75 refurbished W-80 nuclear warheads. Additionally, $5.4B is less than 1% of the entire U.S. defense budget. Why the comparison with defense-related expenses? Two reasons. One is to put in contrast how little we spend on peace vs. war and two, to point out that solutions for peace may need to come from wealthier UN nations or coalitions…i.e. spread the burden.
Regardless, $5.4 billion is not enough to secure peace not to mention fixing its effect on human rights. “Money talks, BS walks” is an old saying and so true to this situation. If we are to get serious about taking care of the problem, then we need to put our money where our mouth is.
At a minimum, increase the UN budget putting more funds into treating the root causes of violence and at least get creative through coalitions and spread the burden of costs for securing peace.
As we discussed earlier, what constitutes enforcement? Securing the peace, which to me is intervention or is it maintaining the peace, which is nothing more than observation? If offensive operations, which is a cornerstone for intervention, are not allowed or shunned then peacekeepers are there to only keep the peace, rather than secure the peace. Another way of describing the flaw of peacekeeping is that once the UN creates a peacekeeping mission, it is more about separating belligerents, not eradicating the unlawful belligerent. What ends up happening is peacekeepers are directed to keep the peace rather than secure areas of conflict, which then affords illegal belligerents’ space to operate. If there is anything we learned from the experiences in Afghanistan or Iraq is for the good guys never to allow the bad guy’s maneuvering space.
The UN’s approach must change. One plausible solution is for the UN to approve a coalition task force jointly led to secure the peace by removing unlawful actors and protecting all space within the conflict area. Develop a gradual transition to UN peacekeeping once bad actors are removed and then move to stabilization and development of legitimate government control. By the way, this is not a new idea but is rarely practiced! As a matter of fact, UN and coalition forces have been successful several times in achieving the peace but not solving the problem…the result is continued instability and the violation of human rights…e.g., Korean War, First Gulf War, and Afghanistan. To further emphasize the importance of proper intervention let’s look at some other examples, specifically, the 2003 U.S. Iraq Invasion, the coalition attacks on Libya and the current conflict in Syria. On each side was a UN-sanctioned lawful belligerent and on the other were unlawful belligerents or brutal dictators. I use these examples to point out the critical importance of a successful intervention, planning for peace and effective but realistic end states. End states that completely remove the problem and transition areas back to legitimate government control.
In each of these cases, the initial intervention was considered “mission accomplished.” But, because operations stopped short of removing the bad actors, it allowed unlawful belligerents legitimacy and maneuvering space. The result was continued violence and human rights being violated at a level much higher than before the intervention.
In contrast, are there any successes we can use as possible models for proper intervention? Yes, the Balkans in the 90s. By 2004, and over ten years of conflict, unlawful belligerents were removed, tried for war crimes, and successful peaceful governments were put in place. Ethnic boundaries were recognized, and borders approved as well as security apparatuses put in place to maintain peace. Today, the Balkans are considered a successful UN-sanctioned intervention with most of the countries now members of both the EU and NATO. But what really made the difference in the Balkans was a NATO-led coalition task force, initially an Implementation Force (IFOR) that transitioned to a Stabilization Force (SFOR) and eventually taken over by the European Union Force (EUFOR). Each phase of recovery was well planned, equipped and executed. And to emphasize the critical difference and to the main point of proper intervention was the removal of bad Serbian actors and the ability of security forces to effectively secure peace. In other words, capable offensive rules of engagement to squelch any uprisings or violations and controlling the space within the conflict areas. The overall result was significantly reduced human rights abuses.
Notably, according to the Human Freedom Index, every country in the Balkans is now ranked in the top 35% of the world for human rights…less than 25 years ago it was considered one of the most dangerous places on earth!
Lastly, I feel that those organizations who are trying to fix the problem do not adequately identify the root causes of human rights violations and as such, do not prioritize resources against them. As I discussed earlier, according to the World Governance Index, there are three key indicators to proper governing: effective and accountable government, fair elections and political participation, and rule of law. Each admirable in a nation’s ability to govern but the assumption here is not the possession of these factors but the absence of them. As much as I agree with all of them, only one is what I consider a core problem or factor to govern appropriately. And if one does not rule well and a priority is not put on solving this then human rights violations will continue. An example of how the UN miss identifies or miss labels core issues with human rights is the “Human Rights Up Front Initiative.” An initiative created by the Secretary-General based on UN charter mandates and UNSC resolutions. It introduces three types of change: cultural, operational and political. A good attempt at reform within the UN and how it approaches Human rights violations but once you read the directives, there is little meat on the bone. So, we have two issues, improper labeling or identifying root causes and weak supporting objectives, tasks or actions to solve them.
The UN needs to rework its priorities by first addressing root causes, accurately define them and then apply objectives, tasks, and actions to mitigate them. Create active end states that solve the problem of unlawful belligerents and develop a path to permanent peace.
I witnessed too many U.S. efforts around the globe where a lot of it was building things rather than fixing things. A new hospital or school is an excellent gift to a struggling nation but “give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
So, what do we do? In my opinion, our focus and efforts should be on creating a function out of dysfunction, good government out of bad, strengthen institutions and enforce the rule of law. Encourage an environment of accountability and non-tolerance for corruption and create a culture of respect for the sanctity of human life. And lastly, just to leave you with some controversy, is to build upon a more effective enforcement mechanism. The UN has limited authority or budget to intervene in a countries affair to protect the innocent. If we truly want to rid the world of human rights abuses, then we collectively must be more prone to securing the peace rather than keeping the peace…otherwise, lawlessness and human suffering rule the day!
The priority for any human rights organization should be concentrated among these lines of effort.