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The politics of the census in consociational democracies

12 September 2016

IDD teaching fellow Dr Laurence Cooley has recently been awarded ESRC Future Research Leaders funding for a project on the politics of the census in consociational democracies. The project will begin in February 2017. We sat down with Laurence to discuss his research plans.

Can you tell us a bit about what the focus of the project will be?

The main focus of the project will be on the relationship between the politics of the census and the design of political institutions in deeply divided societies. In particular, I will be investigating cases where national, ethnic, religious or linguistic divisions are accommodated through the use of power-sharing institutions – known in the academic literature as consociational democracies. The basic idea of consociational power sharing, which is probably now the most common institutional device employed in peace agreements and post-conflict constitutions worldwide, is to manage potential conflict between groups by guaranteeing each of them representation in parliament, government, the civil service, and sometimes the police and military, often in proportion to their shares in the population. A potential side effect of this means of managing conflict can be that the census, from which population shares are calculated, itself becomes a focus of political mobilisation, contestation and conflict. This contestation takes a variety of forms, but can include debates about whether questions on identity should be asked in the census, what the wording of such questions and tick-box answers should be, civil society campaigns to influence people’s answers to census questions, and debates about the interpretation of census results and what they mean for the design of power-sharing institutions. The aim of the project is to investigate how institutional design affects census politics, and vice versa.

How common are these debates about the census?

That’s hard to say, because they haven’t necessarily been documented in comparative research. One of the things that I’ll be doing early on in the project is to try to map out instances of contentious politics surrounding the census. My plan is to explore four cases in depth, though. These are Bosnia and Herzegovina, where a census originally planned for 2011 was delayed until 2013 and remains the subject of intense debates; Kenya, where the 2009 census followed closely on from the 2008 post-election violence; Lebanon, where no census has been conducted since 1932 due to sensitivities about the implications for the country’s power-sharing formula; and Northern Ireland, where successive censuses have been accompanied by speculation about the implications of shifts in demography for the future of the country. I’m most familiar with the Bosnian and Northern Ireland cases, so will likely start with conducting the fieldwork element of the research in those two countries. I haven’t conducted research in Kenya or Lebanon before, but I’m looking forward to learning more about those places and eventually to incorporating insights from my research there into my teaching. There’s plenty of scope for further research, too, with some other recent census controversies including those experienced by Sudan in 2008 and Myanmar in 2014, and in relation to Nigeria’s forthcoming but delayed census.

northern-ireland-censes

The religion questions from the 2011 Northern Ireland census (source: Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency)

So is this something that has already be written about in academic literature?

Not really, or at least not systematically. There is some literature on the role of the census in the construction of identities – basically, documenting how the census was one of the mechanisms that states have used to build national identities amongst their populations. Benedict Anderson added a chapter entitled ‘Census, map, museum’ to the second edition of his seminal work, Imagined Communities, published in 1991. The anthropologist Bernard Cohn also wrote about the colonial censuses in South Asia – as has sociologist Charles Hirschman. These works have inspired more recent scholarship by sociologists and anthropologists, and in 2001, Cambridge University Press published an edited book called Census and Identity: The Politics of Race, Ethnicity, and Language in National Censuses. Since then, a number of political scientists have conducted comparative research about census politics, including Gëzim Visoka and Elvin Gjevori and Florian Bieber. I am interested in debates about role of the census in identity construction, and one of the things that excites me about this project is the chance to revisit some classic works of anthropology such as those by Anderson and Cohn, but the relationship between institutional design and census politics hasn’t been explored in much depth at all, and this is where I think my project can contribute something new.

Where did the idea for the project come from?

Bosnia was one of the case studies that I explored in my PhD research, and in the latter stages of that work it was difficult to avoid the controversy surrounding the census eventually held there in 2013. Having previously studied at Queen’s University Belfast, I also had a sense of the importance of the issue in Northern Ireland. The idea grew out of those experiences really, and I presented it at an IDD research awayday last summer. Shortly after that, I got an e-mail from our College Research Support Office about the call for applications to the ESRC Future Research Leaders scheme, and I worked up the initial idea into a full funding proposal. I’ve always had an interest in human geography dating back to school (and I’m pleased that as well as working with Stefan Wolff here at Birmingham, I will have as a secondary mentor the geographer Ian Shuttleworth, from Queen’s) and I suppose that explains my fascination with the census! Most citizens probably don’t think about the census that much, other than completing one every ten years, and while many social scientists use census data and are therefore concerned with its accuracy, they don’t tend to engage with questions about the process and politics behind the production of that census data. The census is quite a mundane exercise, but when one scratches the surface, there’s a lot for those of us interested in topics ranging from identity and conflict to state-building and constitutional design to engage with.

Isn’t the census a rather old-fashioned exercise, though? Are some states likely to abandon the census in favour of more regular surveys?

It’s true that there are ongoing debates about the utility of a decennial population count, given the expense of such exercises but also because a lot can change in the intervening periods – especially in contexts of conflict and high levels of migration. One option is to replace the census with a population register or with administrative data that the state already collects from its citizens. While this alternative has been pursued by some European countries, many developing and post-conflict states arguably lack the administrative capacity necessary to do this, and even amongst the advanced economies, many states appear to be committed to the future of the census. There also appears to be strong cultural attachment to the census in some societies, as the recent Canadian experience shows. Canada abolished its long-form census questionnaire in 2011, replacing it with a household survey, only to reintroduce it in 2016. Surveys can certainly provide more timely information based on a sample of the total population, which is clearly important in a post-conflict or development context, but a count of the entire population is necessary in order to construct those samples accurately. The census also provides important data that is required for the holding of elections, which have been prioritised in post-conflict state-building efforts. For this reason, donors are often keen to promote the holding of a census as soon as possible after the ending of a conflict. So, I think that while census techniques and technologies are bound to change, censuses themselves are likely to be with us for some time to come.

Thanks, and good luck with the project!

Taking the ‘Unintended Consequences’ of Peacekeeping Seriously – How Haiti Has the Potential to Revolutionize World Politics, Again

19 August 2016

Rosa FreedmanRosa Freedman is Professor of Law, Conflict and Global Development at the University of Reading. Rosa researches and writes on the United Nations, with a particular interest in the human rights bodies and in peacekeeping. Rosa has a broader interest in the impact of politics, international relations, the media, and civil society both on the work and proceedings of international institutions and on states’ compliance with international human rights norms.

Nicolas Lemay-Hebert is a Senior Lecturer at the International Development Department (IDD) at the University of Birmingham. He is the co-editor of the Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding and the Routledge Series on Intervention and Statebuilding. His research interests include statebuilding and peacebuilding, local narratives of resistance to international interventions, and the political economy of interventions.

The United Nations has, at long last, accepted some responsibility that it played a part in a cholera epidemic that broke out in Haiti in 2010 and has since killed at least 9,200 people and infected nearly a million people.

This is the first time that the UN has acknowledged that it bears a duty towards the victims. It is a significant step forward in the quest for accountability and justice.

Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. It is frequently devastated by disasters – both natural and man-made. Yet cholera was not one of its problems before 2010. Then a group of UN peacekeepers was sent to help after an earthquake.

The UN did not screen its peacekeepers for cholera, nor did it build adequate toilet facilities in its peacekeeping camps. As a result, wastewater carrying cholera flowed directly into a tributary that feeds Haiti’s main river. Given that vast numbers of the population rely on the Artibonite river for washing, cooking, cleaning and drinking, cholera quickly spread around many parts of the country. The disease is now endemic within the country. People continue to die at an alarming rate by this preventable and treatable disease.

The UN has also refused to provide a mechanism through which victims can seek remedies. Peacekeeping missions are legally bound to set up claims boards for victims of civil wrongs, but this has not occurred in Haiti. A class action suit has been brought to New York district and appellate courts, but the UN has refused to appear before those courts and has hidden behind the shield of immunity from the jurisdiction of national courts. Advocacy groups have lobbied the UN and member states to provide political resolution, but none has been forthcoming.

Accepting guilt

Now, with Ban Ki-Moon’s tenure nearly finished, and with the Haiti situation remaining a stain on the UN’s reputation, it seems as though the five-year impasse may be coming to an end.

The New York Times has reported that a spokesperson for the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, whose tenure is nearly finished, wrote in a leaked email: “Over the past year, the UN has become convinced that it needs to do much more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak and the suffering of those affected by cholera.” He added that a “new response” would be made public in the coming months after it had been “agreed with the Haitian authorities”.

There have been many efforts to encourage resolution, including from UN independent experts on human rights, former UN officials and from some member states. Many of the candidates to become the next UN secretary-general have pledged to address the issue if appointed to that job.

There have been public calls for Ban Ki-Moon to move away from his position. There needs to be a concerted effort to ensure that any resolution package, should one be agreed, meets the needs of the cholera victims – given the political instability in Haiti.

Making amends

Experts, academics, ambassadors to the UN and former UN officials have long discussed what a political resolution to this situation might look like. We believe there are three crucial aspects to any resolution package. There must be financial compensation, efforts to prevent the spread of the disease and a public apology.

In situations of mass harm, compensation is usually awarded through a lump sum payment or trust fund and a similar model could be used to compensate cholera victims in this case. Haiti does not have national laws and standards on compensation, but at the very least, financial compensation must be made available for the dependants of those who died from cholera and some form of remedies made available for those infected with the disease.

A strong cholera elimination plan is already in place in Haiti, focusing on water and sanitation, health, and preventing further infections. But it is woefully underfunded, which means that water treatment plants that have been built do not have sufficient electricity to run. Any resolution package must include support for this kind of work.

Finally, the cholera epidemic has significantly undermined the relationship between the UN and locals. An apology would be a starting point to rebuild the UN’s credibility in Haiti. Apologies after Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Sri Lanka played a significant role in the healing process for the people affected by UN mistakes.

The Haiti cholera epidemic remains a blight on the reputation of the UN and its peacekeeping missions. That will only change with a resolution package. Whatever form that package takes, it must be decided transparently. It must be victim-centred and ensure that justice is done and is seen to be done. The leaked UN email demonstrates that there is some momentum brewing. It is crucial that is capitalised upon in a transparent, fair and just manner.


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Governing Coastal and Marine Resources: Learning the Challenges of Multi-level Governance

28 July 2016

Fiona NunanFiona Nunan is a Senior Lecturer in Environment and Development and the Director of the International Development Department.  Her interests and experience focus on natural resource governance and management in developing country settings, particularly within inland fisheries and coastal locations in East and Southern Africa, and on exploring the links between poverty and the environment.

  • The multiple ways people benefit for natural resources mean there are multiple stakeholders involved in natural resource governance
  • ESPA project CESEA is looking to scale up and replicate the success of Mikoko Pamoja, the world’s first community led mangrove conservation programme
  • Interactions between “actors” tends to be occasional and dependent on specific projects. There is little sharing of data, and sucess or otherwise is often dependent on personalities rather than organisations.
  • Overall, the landscape of multi-level governance is not well-coordinated or integrated, meaning that there may be an overlap of activities, missed opportunities and conflicting objectives and activities.
  • Respect between stakeholders and an overarching national framework is needed to ensure coordination, cooperation and information sharing between government, NGOs and other stakeholders.

People benefit in multiple ways from natural resources and these multiple uses mean that there may be many actors involved in governance. A mangrove forest provides a good example of this, with local people benefiting from timber, fuelwood, fish, crabs and coastal protection, meaning that governance involves actors from forestry, fisheries, and coastal zone management, including community-based organisations, NGOs and local and national governments. In addition, carbon sequestration by mangrove forests brings global benefits and actors involved in climate change mitigation enter the mangrove governance mix.

The multiple benefits that can be realised from carbon sequestration is seen in the case of Mikoko Pamoja – the first community-type project of its kind to receive financial compensation for conservation of mangrove forests from carbon offsetting. This PES scheme, based in Gazi Bay, Kenya, has raised awareness of the benefits from mangrove conservation as well as generated income for local communities.

Diani workshop group

Diani workshop group

An ESPA-funded project ‘Coastal Ecosystem Services in East Africa’ (CESEA) is investigating how schemes such as Mikoko Pamoja could be replicated elsewhere and scaled-up to include other coastal ecosystems and ecosystem services. Part of the research involves investigation of the governance system for PES schemes. Two workshops were held in Kenya on the 19th and 21st July, 2016, one with stakeholders at the local and County level and the other with national-level stakeholders, to discuss how governance actors interact with each other within and between administrative levels as part of that investigation.

From these workshops, it was found that interaction tends to be occasional, dependent on specific activities and is more likely to happen through projects rather than on a regular basis. There is little sharing of data and information between departments within an organisation let alone between organisations. Where there is interaction, it tends to depend on the personality of individuals and the personal relationships between people of different organisations. Government officers may fear going beyond their remit when working with other organisations and entrenched norms on working practices may also limit cooperation between organisations. The landscape of multi-level governance is not well-coordinated or integrated, meaning that there may be overlap of activities, missed opportunities and conflicting objectives and activities.

Nairobi workshop group

Nairobi workshop group

What was clear from the workshops is that there are several policies in place encouraging a more coordinated, integrated approach to natural resource management but there isn’t the guidance or mechanisms in place to enable that to happen. What struck me as well was the emphasis on the need for respect between stakeholders which challenges more hierarchical views of multi-level governance. Suggestions from the workshops include the need for an overarching framework at national level requiring coordination, cooperation and information sharing between government sectors and providing guidance on how that could happen. It was hoped at the national workshop that the recently approved National Mangrove Management Plan will encourage greater working between government departments at national, County and local levels.

Gazi book handover

Gazi book handover

I was very fortunate to be in Gazi Bay when Mikoko Pamoja was handing over books purchased from the sale of carbon credits to Gazi Primary School. This is the third time Mikoko Pamoja has shared benefits received from the sale of carbon credits. The handover ceremony was a very well organised occasion, with great entertainment and speeches, including by the Minister of Education for Kwale County and James Kairo of the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, who led the formation of Mikoko Pamoja. There was clearly a lot of awareness and understanding of and commitment to both Mikoko Pamoja and the objectives of mangrove forest conservation. Credit is due to the committee members of Mikoko Pamoja, the coordinator of Mikoko Pamoja, Salim Abdallah Mwarima, Kenya Forest Service, who were out in force to support the occasion, and the teachers of Gazi Primary School.

Five years after independence, violence still stalks South Sudan

22 July 2016

Paul Jackson is a political economist working predominantly on conflict and post-conflict reconstruction. A core area of interest is decentralisation and governance and it was his extensive experience in Sierra Leone immediately following the war that led him into the area of conflict analysis and security sector reform. He was Director of the GFN-SSR and is currently an advisor to the Governance and Social Development Resource Centre which engages him in wide ranging policy discussion with donor agencies engaged in these activities, including various European Governments, the EU, the UN and the World Bank as well as the UK Government.

The recent violence that erupted in Juba, capital of South Sudan, has claimed hundreds of lives. Among them was John Gatluak Manguet Nhial, who was killed in the late afternoon of July 11 2016. He was 32 years old. He was a heroic reporter and served his community through community radio, keeping people informed of events and acting as a watchdog on the politics of South Sudan.

This is dangerous work, but hugely important. Nihal’s expertise meant that he was emerging as a potential new community leader in a place that desperately needs fresh leadership.

The renewed violence in which he was killed has arisen from bitter leadership struggles in a country that has never seen peace in the five years since its independence from Sudan in 2011. All the while, South Sudan’s economy is in crisis; food prices are rising fast, and around 6m people – nearly half the population – are already threatened with famine.

The African Union has now taken the drastic step of approving a regional military force to help pacify the country, something it generally only does with a government’s agreement. The force will be made up of troops from Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda, and will complement a 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping force already in place.

After independence brought an end to 20 years of guerrilla war against the north, South Sudan has lurched from one outbreak of violence to another, falling into a state of open civil war in 2013 that continues to this day. In 2011, Salva Kiir, known for his trademark black cowboy hat, became president, while Riek Machar, a former warlord and politician who has been labelled as both a resistance fighter and as a collaborator of Kiir’s, took the post of vice-president. In 2013, he was sacked along with Kiir’s entire cabinet – one of the sparks that ignited the civil war.

Both Machar and Kiir lead different factions within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). The two sides map closely onto South Sudan’s ethnic divisions: Kiir’s supporters are largely Dinka people, while Machar’s are mostly Nuer. The conflict between them has been intense and brutal, marked by widespread abuses of human rights and brutal attacks on civilians.

Both men emerged from the Sudanese civil war following the peace agreement in 2005 and when John Garang, the much-respected leader of the SPLM/A, died in a helicopter crash just after the agreement, both men started to argue over his legacy. After the 2011 referendum that led to South Sudan’s independence from the north, they all competed for resources within the country, which include sub-Saharan Africa’s third biggest oil reserves.

But this is only part of the story.

On the run

South Sudan has no dominant culture or religion. The Dinka and the Nuer are the largest of more than 60 ethnic groups, each with its own language and with a mixture of traditional beliefs, Christianity and Islam.

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement made peace between the north and the SPLM/A on the premise that the armed groups involved in the long-running conflict could be incorporated in to a new southern state. Instead, the SPLM/A itself split, and the resulting power vacuum has created space for a range of secondary conflicts with smaller armed groups within the country.

The internal conflict has been devastating for South Sudan, killing tens of thousands and displacing one in five of the population. More than 2.3m people have fled their homes; more than 720,000 have fled to neighbouring countries.

Ministers of the Transitional government of National Unity

Ministers of the Transitional government of National Unity (TGONU) are sworn into office on April 29, 2016. Photo: UNMISS

In April 2016, Machar returned to the country to take up his role as vice-president in President Kiir’s Unity Government amidst hopes that finally the division within the SPLM/A could be healed.

However, starting on July 8, a day before the fifth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence, a fresh wave of violence hit Juba, and more than 300 people were killed in just a few days. While the fighting has been dampened to some extent, the pressures behind it are still there. This threatens the very existence of the South Sudanese state.

Mucking in

The fighting itself is superficially between troops loyal to Machar and those loyal to Kiir, but in reality it’s closer to outright chaos. Both men are reported to have ordered an end to the fighting, but it’s not clear whether the troops are following orders or acting independently of a command structure that hasn’t paid them for some time and are engaging in looting and settling scores.

With Kiir and Machar now blamed for failing to secure and distribute sufficient dividends following independence, new leaders may be emerging. One potentially important player in the current violence is Paul Malong, the SPLM/A chief of staff, who’s frequently ignored the authority of Machar and earned a reputation as a hardliner.

But there are many other people and forces involved, both inside and outside the country. These include neighbouring states such as Uganda, Kenya and Sudan, international players such as the UK and the US, multilateral organisations such as the United Nations and the African Union, the vast international aid industry, and of course, oil companies seeking to exploit South Sudan’s reserves.

This morass of interests has protected a kleptocratic, highly personalised government that ignores the needs of its population and rewards support for individual leaders with access to resources.

As ever, personalised rivalry among leaders and their challengers is terrorising citizens – and claiming the lives of the brave people, such as John Nhial, who stand up for them.


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

African trial of Chadian dictator Habré is a landmark against impunity

8 June 2016

Paul Jackson is a political economist working predominantly on conflict and post-conflict reconstruction. A core area of interest is decentralisation and governance and it was his extensive experience in Sierra Leone immediately following the war that led him into the area of conflict analysis and security sector reform. He was Director of the GFN-SSR and is currently an advisor to the Governance and Social Development Resource Centre which engages him in wide ranging policy discussion with donor agencies engaged in these activities, including various European Governments, the EU, the UN and the World Bank as well as the UK Government.

The sentencing in Senegal of the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré, to life in prison, was a landmark judgment in African – and potentially global – justice.

After 26 years of campaigning, Habré’s victims celebrated his guilty verdict by the Extraordinary African Chambers for crimes against humanity, summary execution, torture and rape. He becomes the first former head of state to be convicted of crimes against humanity by the domestic court of another country and the African Union.

It is a victory for African justice, along with campaigners and Human Rights Watch, which was instrumental in bringing him to justice. This type of prosecution has previously been carried out by international tribunals, including the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Habré’s successful prosecution could provide a template for future trials of African dictators. Indeed, the success of this approach could be seen as a victory for African justice over international approaches. Despite the high profile of the ICC and its issuing of warrants such as those against Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir, it has failed to prosecute a single head of state.

Persistence of the victims, defiance of the accused

The judgment also represents a significant milestone for Habré’s victims. Their persistence is one of the defining features of this trial. For 26 years, they have organised and agitated for justice. Their organisations collected several hundred testimonies and, with support from Human Rights Watch, continued their quest for justice.

The victims’ testimony was key to the trial, but there was also a significant cache of documents discovered by Human Rights Watch. Habré created a secret police unit known as the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS), which he used to carry out some of the worst abuses against political opponents.

The tens of thousands of files found in the old police buildings included DDS details, lists of prisoners, deaths in detention and death certificates, all of which had been left untouched for at least a decade.

Habré himself remained defiant, having been dragged literally kicking and screaming into court at the beginning of the three month trial. He never recognised the court’s jurisdiction and once the verdict had been delivered, raised his arms shouting “Down with France-Afrique!”. He was referring to the former colonial power’s influence in West Africa and support for the trial.

Habré, now 73, ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, presiding over an extremely brutal regime. In 1992 a Chadian Commission of Inquiry stated that he had been responsible for the deaths of around 40,000 people. Many more were tortured and imprisoned in appalling conditions.

He also stole more than $11 million from Chad’s treasury which has allowed him to live a comfortable 26 years in exile in Senegal following his overthrow by Idriss Déby in 1990.

Numerous attempts have been made to prosecute Habré during his time in Senegal. Following the Commission of Inquiry in 1992, Chad issued a death sentence in absentia. Belgium has made at least four requests for extradition.

In July 2012, the International Court of Justice ordered Senegal either to prosecute the dictator or to extradite him. This led to Senegal collaborating with the African Union to establish the Extraordinary African Chambers, where the trial finally began in July 2015.

The trial relied on extensive testimonies from around 90 victims of the Habré regime. It included horrific details from inside an extremely brutal regime.

The verdict is significant for victims elsewhere on the continent and also the dictators who remain in power. It also vindicates those Chadian victims who carried on fighting for justice.

Time for international reflection

Driven by victims, supported by international human rights activists, the trial is also cause for the international community to reflect significantly. Ironically, it was the French and then particularly the US –- the very people Habré railed at on hearing the verdict –- who kept him in power in the first place.

The US secretary of state, John Kerry, has acknowledged his country’s complicity in Habré’s crimes in stating: “As a country committed to the respect for human rights and the pursuit of justice, this is also an opportunity for the United States to reflect on, and learn from, our own connection with past events in Chad.”

During the 1980s the Reagan administration identified Libya as a potential threat and was instrumental in bringing Habré to power. Then-CIA director William Casey and Secretary of State Alexander Haig supported working with Habré to take control and this was then backed up with training for the DDS and $182 million in economic and military assistance. This considerable support helped Chad expel Libyan forces and provided a useful ally for the US.

Donald Norland, the American ambassador to Chad from 1979 to 1981, told the Washington Post in 2000: “The CIA was so deeply involved in bringing Habré to power I can’t conceive they didn’t know what was going on.

The trial has enormous implications for human rights advocacy, particularly in terms of the role that survivors can play in holding abusers accountable. It is a landmark in the fight against impunity for atrocities, including crimes against humanity and sends a very powerful message to other perpetrators of mass atrocities, including current and former heads of state.

The victims experienced significant obstacles over the 26 years of fighting but they persevered and agitated in Senegal and Belgium, at the UN Committee Against Torture and the African Union.

Eventually, with support from Belgium and Human Rights Watch, the ICC encouraged Senegal, with the support of the African Union, to hold a trial that came to a successful conclusion for the victims. It shows that Africans have the capacity and the will to enforce international justice and could open the door for Africans to deliver justice to more of their own leaders.


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Will the UN ever accept responsibility for Haiti’s devastating cholera epidemic?

28 April 2016

Rosa Freedman is a Senior Lecturer at Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham. Rosa’s research primarily focuses on international law, human rights, and the United Nations. She adopts a multidisciplinary approach to her research, utilising theories of international relations and international development. Rosa sits on the advisory boards of civil society organisations and regularly contributes to and is interviewed by national and international media.

 is a Senior Lecturer at the International Development Department (IDD) at the University of Birmingham. He is the co-editor of the Journal of Intervention and Statebuilding and the Routledge Series on Intervention and Statebuilding. His research interests include statebuilding and peacebuilding, local narratives of resistance to international interventions, and the political economy of interventions.

What happens when a humanitarian organisation meant to protect people instead causes them grave harm? That has long been the question where it comes to the UN’s peacekeeping operations. From sexual violence to looting, from deaths caused by drink-driving to property damage, a great many individuals have been harmed by peacekeepers, and the structures to provide protection and remedy range from threadbare to non-existent.

But it’s another thing altogether when the harm done is attributable not to individual peacekeepers, but to UN operations in general. Two of the gravest examples of this have occurred in recent years: the Haiti cholera epidemic, and the poisoning of Roma in displaced persons camps in Kosovo.

For years, there have been fights to secure justice for both sets of victims. But while Haiti’s struggle goes on, in the Kosovan case, it looks like a major breakthrough has been made.

It’s now being reported that the UN will apologise and provide remedies for displaced Roma people forced to live in camps built on toxic wasteland in Kosovo. The poison in the earth under those camps caused significant damage to the health of those individuals and to children born within the camps. Although the camps were demolished in 2010, individuals had been forced to live there for a decade despite repeated warnings about lead poisoning from the World Health Organisation and from various human rights groups.

But despite clear evidence of its role in what happened, the UN is only now potentially acknowledging responsibility, and it’s only doing so because of a non-binding opinion handed down by the Human Rights Advisory Panel, a body set up to hear civil claims against the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

That panel, which hears civil cases about harms caused by murders, enforced disappearances, and other serious crimes, has now urged the mission to acknowledge a “failure to comply with the applicable human rights standards in response to the adverse health condition caused by lead contamination” and to make a “public apology to them and their families”.

Whether those words will be heeded remains to be seen. But it is high time that the UN finds a way to take responsibility for harms caused by or attributable to its peacekeeping operations – and that obligation must not be limited to events in Kosovo.

Haiti Cholera outbreak 1
A cholera treatment centre in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  Photo credit: CDC Global Health.

Owning up

There are clear parallels between what happened in Kosovo and the disaster in Haiti. As with the lead poisoning, there is strong evidence that the cholera epidemic in Haiti was attributable to the UN peacekeeping operation (MINUSTAH).

Nepalese peacekeepers arriving in Haiti were not screened for cholera, and the camps they lived in had inadequate sanitation facilities, allowing raw faecal matter containing cholera to flow straight into a tributary that feeds Haiti’s main river, the Artibonite. Cholera quickly spread in October 2010; it has killed thousands of people and sickened hundreds of thousands more.

Ever since the outbreak began, the UN has refused to acknowledge anything other than “moral responsibility”, and failed to apologise or provide remedies to the victims.

Whereas the Roma in Kosovo had recourse to a civil court, albeit only once the panel was created in 2006, the Haitian cholera victims have been denied access to any similar mechanism. As such, a class action suit was filed at the New York District Court, which is now at the Appellate Court level, on behalf of 5,000 victims.

The arguments so far have focused on whether the UN can be brought to a national court, or whether its immunity from such courts’ jurisdiction is absolute. All the while, more than five years since the cholera outbreak began, victims have still been denied justice – and the failure to eradicate cholera means that the disease is now nearly endemic.

Where the buck stops

The peacekeeping missions in Kosovo and Haiti have been tasked with meeting similar needs. Both missions have exercised governmental powers and taken on governmental duties. UNMIK was created in 1999, and it was the sole sovereign power in Kosovo until independence was declared in 2008; MINUSTAH was created in 2004, and at various times has been a hybrid sovereign power within the state, frequently exercising governmental functions alongside the national government of Haiti.

At the time when the affected Roma people were moved to the contaminated camps in Kosovo, and for at least eight of the years that they were forced to continue living there, the UN was the country’s sole authority and power.

And at the time of the cholera outbreak in Haiti, which began shortly after the 2010 earthquake, the UN was fulfilling many governmental functions there, since the national infrastructure had all but collapsed. Authority and control may have nominally belonged to the government, but in practice it rested with the UN and MINUSTAH.

This question of who was actually exercising sovereign powers is crucial. That the UN was in control means it does bear responsibility for the harms that occurred on its watch.

Where the UN, acting externally and fulfilling the role of a government within a state, causes or allows harms to the local population, it must be held to account – in much the same way that we expect national governments to accept responsibility and provide remedies when they harm their people.

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This article was originally published on The Conversation

The Rwanda Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP) public works and women’s empowerment

19 April 2016

Pamela PozarnyPamela joined GSDRC at the University of Birmingham in 2016, on extended leave from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations where she has been working as Rural Sociologist since 2006. Previously, she worked with FAO’s Regional Office for Africa as Regional Officer for Land Tenure and Rural Institutions. She has worked and lived in Africa over 30 years, focusing on social equity and inclusion, poverty reduction, social protection, women’s economic empowerment, rural employment, food and nutrition security and resilience.

In early April I attended the fifth Transfer Project (TP) meeting in Addis Ababa. Launched in 2008, the Transfer Project Workshop is a research and learning initiative, supporting improved knowledge and practice on social transfers in Sub-Sahara Africa. The broad objective of the TP is sharing latest research findings, methodologies, experiences and lessons learned among partners. TP is led by UNICEF, partnering with FAO, Save the Children and University of North Carolina, and includes partners from national governments and research institutes in different countries, as well as a number of agencies (e.g. NGOs) and donors. The main aim of TP is to assess impacts of social transfer programmes on a broad range of sectors (food security, nutrition and health, agricultural production, gender, wellbeing, social inclusion etc.) to provide evidence of how programmes are impacting target beneficiaries and wider communities. The TP works closely with and through governments, at national and decentralised levels, sharing evidence of the diverse impacts of these programmes, and including stakeholder priorities and views. An important aspect of TP is working closely with governments, and policymakers more specifically, in order to channel findings and lessons into future programme design and implementation – so policymakers are key. The Addis meeting incorporated two innovations compared to previous meetings: one was participation from partners from developing countries in other parts of the world (e.g. Philippines, Thailand); and the second was emphasis given to “cash plus” programmes (i.e., social protection programmes linked to other services and interventions).

I have been attending TP meetings regularly as part of the FAO team – as I have been leading FAO’s qualitative research on cash transfer impact evaluations for several years. On the FAO Social Protection/ Protection to Production (PtoP), you can find most of our publications, reports, field guides and briefs for the qualitative studies, for the mixed method impact evaluations and all social protection publications. Our initial 6-country mixed methods qualitative research activity (implemented with OPM and supported mainly by DFID), examined impact areas covering household economy, local economy, social networks and resilience, and operations (synthesis paper). More recently, we have broadened our focus to new areas including cash transfer impacts on decent work and rural employment, and rural women’s economic empowerment (RWEE).

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In Addis, I presented findings from our RWEE qualitative research in Rwanda, joining the qualitative research panel comprised of two other research activities. My presentation centred on Rwanda’s national Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP), focussing on one of the three VUP components, public works. The research was premised on three main hypotheses, examining VUP impacts on: women’s economic advancement; power and agency; and operations – if and how programme design and implementation promote gender equality and RWEE. The presentation covered: (i) background to VUP; (ii) our main theory of change and hypotheses; (iii) sampling and methodology – a systematic in-depth qualitative approach based on a “roadmap” which enables replication and comparability across countries; (iv) findings; and (v) overall conclusions and recommendations for government.

In brief, our research found only marginal confirmation that VUP promotes the economic advancement of women. Although women are the majority of workers at public works sites, male heads of household are registered beneficiaries and payments go into their accounts (rural finance institutions). Women are however making some earnings and mostly able to control these funds, but they are small amounts. A number of women are beginning to open their own separate accounts for the first time, but low financial literacy, information access and weak bargaining power within the household limits women’s greater access to loans. Further, VUP has increased women’s workloads, resulting in increased time allocated to work consequently offloading some of this burden to children. VUP has likewise, only marginally promoted women’s empowerment and agency, evidenced for example through increased self-confidence and self-esteem which has catalysed social capital and inclusion in social and economic networks, including at worksites. Greater engagement in networks however has not translated into increased leadership or decision-making in the public arena. Finally, our findings suggest that VUP design and operations is not promoting women’s economic empowerment or gender equality, largely due to weaknesses in implementation processes but also programme design. These features include for example: insufficient days worked compared to targets; significant payment delays; unattractive pay rates; long distances to worksites; limited skills development, and minimal sensitization and messaging.

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Our recommendations focus on strengthening and streamlining implementation processes including: improving the M&E systems for better tracking; supporting women’s financial capacities and access to financial institutions; exploring synergies to link VUP with other livelihood programmes; reinforcing sensitization; promoting women’s groups and space for their social and economic networking; and including work projects that are closer to communities and that address women’s priorities (e.g. wells, fieldwork for labour-constrained households). Our research findings and recommendations have been presented to stakeholders in Rwanda and were well received. With support from partners, government is already adopting a number of changes to VUP aligned with our recommendations, and there is ongoing discussion of further FAO support to enhance operations.

To conclude, at the TP meeting, the qualitative research panel discussant opened his remarks commending how refreshing the qualitative presentations were – as we finally put faces and people at the centre of our discussions. We finally hear the stories behind the data and the reasons for why these cash transfer findings occur, he said, qualitative findings bring the data to life and put reality on the ground. In fact, participants seemed to agree…during the lively closing session of the TP “Oscar awards”, the qualitative research panel won for the “best/most interesting panel” of the meeting!

PowerPoint presentation slides are available for download.

 

 

 

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