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International Law

The office of the UN Deputy Secretary General and reforms of the United Nations system

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On 31 May 2018, UN Secretary General, in his remarks to the UN General Assembly in New York at the adoption of the resolution on repositioning the UN development system stated, “The resolution you adopt today ushers in the most ambitious and comprehensive transformation of the UN development system in decades. It sets the foundation to reposition sustainable development at the heart of the United Nations.” The UNSG went on to add, “I will move immediately to put in place a transition team under the leadership of the Deputy Secretary General to implement your decisions. This team will work in the same open, transparent and inclusive way we have conducted this process thus far and ensure the inclusion of our funds, programmes and specialized agencies.” Why did the UNSG vest the important task of reform of the UN development system in the Deputy Secretary General? More fundamentally, what is this office and what is its background? This article looks into twenty years of the role and impact of the UN Deputy Secretary General in promoting reforms of the organization and also shares some thoughts on the way forward for this institution.

Founding Resolution

The institution of the UN Deputy Secretary General is not mentioned in the UN Charter. Twenty years ago, on 2 March 1998, Canadian national, Louise Fréchette was appointed as the first Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations [DSG] by then UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan and remained at her post until 31 March 2006. The post of DSG was established by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution A/RES/52/21 B dated 9 January 1998.

The responsibilities of the DSG, by terms of the GA resolution, were those “delegated by the Secretary General…” and included the following five broad categories:

To assist the Secretary-General in managing the operations of the Secretariat;

To act for the Secretary-General at United Nations Headquarters in the absence of the Secretary-General and in other cases as may be decided by the Secretary-General;

To support the Secretary-General  in  ensuring  intersectoral  and  inter-institutional  coherence  of activities and programmes and to support the Secretary-General in elevating the profile and leadership of the United Nations in the economic and social spheres, including further efforts to strengthen the United Nations as a leading centre for development policy and development assistance;

To  represent  the  Secretary-General  at  conferences,  official  functions  and  ceremonial  and  other occasions as may be decided by the Secretary-General;

To undertake such assignments as may be determined by the Secretary-General;

The same GA resolution also further noted “…that the Secretary-General will appoint the Deputy Secretary-General following consultations with Member States and in accordance with Article 101 of the Charter of the United Nations and that the term of office of the Deputy Secretary-General will not exceed that of the Secretary-General.

Distinguished diplomats and international civil servants

According to the information sheet about Louise Fréchette, the UN website observes, “As Deputy Secretary-General, Ms. Fréchette assisted the Secretary-General in the full range of his responsibilities and also represented the United Nations at conferences and official functions. She chaired the Steering Committee on Reform and Management Policy and the Advisory Board of the United Nations Fund for International Partnerships (UNFIP), which handles relations with the foundation set up by Ted Turner in support of the United Nations.”. Since 31 March 2006, there have been four DSGs including the serving Ms. Amina J. Mohammed, a Nigerian national who took charge on 28 February 2017. Louise Fréchette was succeeded by British national Mark Malloch Brown on 3 March 2006 (and remained till December 2006). Tanzanian national, Asha-Rose Migiro was the third DSG to be appointed and took office on 1 February 2007. She remained in her post until the end of June 2012. Jan Eliasson of Sweden was the fourth Deputy Secretary-General to be appointed and took office on 1 July 2012 until the end of December 2016. Invariably, all DSGs have come to their jobs after substantial UN and diplomatic experience. Before joining the United Nations, Ms. Louise Fréchette was the Deputy Minister of National Defence of Canada from 1995 to 1998. Prior to that, she was Associate Deputy Minister in her country’s Department of Finance. She served as Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations from 1992 to 1995. The shortest serving DSG, Mark Malloch Brown served as Chef de Cabinet to the Secretary-General since January 2005 and before that served as Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the UN’s global development network, from July 1999 to August 2005. The third DSG, Dr. Migiro served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation from 2006-2007, the first woman in the United Republic of Tanzania to hold that position since its independence in 1961. Before that, she was Minister for Community Development, Gender and Children for five years. Dr. Migiro’s successor as DSG, Mr. Jan Eliasson was from 2007-2008 the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Darfur. He was Sweden’s Ambassador to the US from September 2000 until July 2005. Most recently, Ms. Amina J. Mohammed was Minister of Environment of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from November 2015 to December 2016 and prior to this, she served as Special Adviser to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Post-2015 Development Planning.

Supporting the UN Secretary General in reforms

The first Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette was actively involved in reforms of the United Nations system. Special mention may be made of the Millenium Summit in the year 2000, when world leaders congregated at the UNGA in New York from 6 to 8 September and adopted the Millennium Declaration which, inter alia, identified the MDGs; resolved to reaffirm the central position of the United Nations General Assembly; intensify efforts for a comprehensive reform of the Security Council in all its aspects; further strengthen the Economic and Social Council and the International Court of Justice; encourage regular consultations and coordination among the Organization’s principal organs; ensure greater policy coherence and urge the Secretariat to make the best use of resources, which should be provided on a timely and predictable basis. Ms. Louise Fréchette has subsequently also been involved, after demitting office of DSG, in reforms of UN peacekeeping operations. Though he served as DSG only very briefly (March to December 2006), Mark Malloch Brown, had in his position as Chef de Cabinet to the Secretary-General since January 2005 worked closely with the Secretary-General and the Deputy-Secretary General on all aspects of UN work, including helping to set out an ambitious reform agenda for the United Nations, much of which was endorsed by world leaders at the World Summit in New York in September 2005.

The third DSG, Ms. Asha-Rose Migiro worked on the “Delivering as One” scheme which was launched in 2007 to respond to global challenges and test how the UN can provide more coordinated development assistance in countries that volunteered to become pilot cases – Albania, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Pakistan, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uruguay, and Vietnam. In her remarks at the end of the 4th High-level Conference on Delivering as One in Montevideo, Uruguay on 10 November 2011, Dr. Migiro said that the initiative had empowered UN Resident Coordinators and country teams, noting the that coordinators now had greater role in helping articulate programmes and allocate resources around national priorities. “We must forge ahead with strengthening the Resident Coordinator system. All organizations must give priority to implementing the Management and Accountability System for the UN Development and Resident Coordinator System,” she stressed.

The now, the here and the way forward

Jan Eliasson, who had served as President of the 60th session of the UN General Assembly, had actually been a visiting lecturer on mediation, conflict resolution and UN reform at Uppsala University since 1988. In a detailed interview in 2014, Jan Eliasson identified the ‘internal’ and ‘external’ functions of the DSG. Speaking of the former set of functions, he said, “…it has been to try to bring the different entities together, use the fact that I have a different portfolio from my predecessor, who had management and development. I have political affairs and development and rule of law. So, management is done mainly by the chef de cabinet.” About the latter, he observed, “I will be also looking into the external role. One area where I have profiled myself very strongly, also publicly, where I will probably do more, is on water and sanitation. We launched the Call for Action on sanitation, and that will be followed up. It was met with a tremendously positive reaction.”. Current DSG, Ms. Amina J. Mohammed has conducted ‘robust consultations’ with Member States since the third quarter of 2017 on the UN development system reform process as part of UNSG Guterres’ efforts unveiled in a report of 30 June 2017. In a speech at the UN ECOSOC in October 2017, DSG Amina J. Mohammed stressed, “The 2030 Agenda is the guide and framework for the United Nations development system.”

Yet another area where the UN is engaged in terms of changes is the work culture at the Secretariat and within the organization. The Organization itself has identified three key issues that deserve maximum attention and commitment from the entire leadership of the United Nations: promoting gender parity; combating sexual exploitation and abuse; and addressing sexual harassment within the organizations of the United Nations system. A final area, among many others, that the DSG is focusing attention is in the sphere of privacy, data protection and ethics in the use of big data for the SDGs. The role of Information and Communication Technologies as an enabler for achieving the SDGs is well acknowledged; but regional inequities and the limitations of the existing norms that govern these technologies continue to hinder progress. In a sense it is remarkable that structural innovations like the DSG have been allowed to thrive within a large bureaucracy like the UN system. At the same time, the record of the last twenty years throws up a mixed bag. Perhaps this has more to do with the changing attitudes of the nation states that make up the UN. Nevertheless, the UN would do well to persist with the reforms and transformation process and the DSG can and must continue to play a constructive role in this.

Dr. Sunod Jacob The Peninsula Foundation Former Legal Advisor, ICRC Former Associate Professor of Law, GD Goenka University The author can be reached at sunod.jacob[at]thepeninsula.org.in

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International Law

Carl Schmitt for the XXI Century

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For decades, the scholars of international relations have confused the term “New World order” in the social, political, or economic spheres. Even today, few scholars confuse the term with the information age, internet, universalism, globalization, and  American imperialism. Unlike the complex categorization of the New World Order, the concept of the Old World Order was purely a juridical phenomenon. However, from standpoint of modernity, the term New World order is a purely ideological and political phenomenon, which embodies various displays such as liberal democracy, financial capitalism, and technological imperialism.

In his Magnus Opus “The concept of the Political”, Carl Schmitt lauded a harsh criticism on liberal ideology and favored competitive decisionism over it. This is why according to Schmitt’s critics; the whole text in “The concept of the political” is filled with authoritarian overtones. Nonetheless, the fact cannot be denied that it was the radical political philosophy of Carl Schmitt that paved the way for the conservative revolution in Europe. Even today, his writings are being regarded as one of the major contributions to the field of political philosophy from the 20th century.

Throughout his major works such as “Nomos of the earth”, “the Crisis of Parliamentary democracy”, “The concept of the Political” and “Dictatorship”, Carl Schmitt frequently employs unadorned terms such as ‘actual’, ‘concrete’, ‘real’, and ‘specific’ to apprize his political ideas. However, he advances most of the core political ideas by using the metaphysical framework. For instance, in the broader political domain, Carl Schmitt anticipated the existential dimension of the ‘actual politics’ in the world today.

On the contrary, in his famous work “The Concept of the Political” readers most encounter the interplay between the abstract and ideal and, the concrete and real aspects of politics. Perhaps, understanding of Schmitt’s discursive distinctions is necessary when it comes to the deconstruction of the liberal promoted intellectual discourse. However, the point should be kept in mind that for Schmitt the concept of the political does not necessarily refer to any concrete subject matter such as “state” or “sovereignty”. In this respect, his concept of the political simply refers to the friend-enemy dialectics or distinction. To be more precise, the categorization of the term “Political” defines the degree of intensity of an association and dissociation.

In addition, the famous friend-enemy dialectics is also the central theme of his famous book “The Concept of the Political”. Likewise, the famous friend-enemy distinction in Schmitt’s famous work has both concrete and existential meaning. Here, the word “enemy” refers to the fight against ‘human totality”, which depends upon the circumstances. In this respect, throughout his work, one of the major focuses of Carl Schmitt was on the subject of  “real Politics”. According to Schmitt, friend, enemy, and battle have real meaning. This is why, throughout his several works; Carl Schmitt remained much concerned with the theory of state and sovereignty. As Schmitt writes;

I do not say the general theory of the state; for the category, the general theory of the state…is a typical concern of the liberal nineteenth century. This category arises from the normative effort to dissolve the concrete state and the concrete Volk in generalities (general education, general theory of the law, and finally general theory of the knowledge; and in this way to destroy their political order”.[1]

As a matter of the fact, for Schmitt, the real politics ends up in battle, as he says, “The normal proves nothing, but the exception proves everything”. Here, Schmitt uses the concept of “exceptionality” to overcome the pragmatism of Liberalism. Although, in his later writings, Carl Schmitt attempted to dissociate the concept of “Political” from the controlling and the limiting spheres but he deliberately failed. One of the major reasons behind Schmitt’s isolation of the concept of the political is that he wanted to limit the categorization of friend-enemy distinction. Another major purpose of Schmitt was to purify the concept of the “Political” was by dissociating it from the subject-object duality. According to Schmitt, the concept of the political was not a subject matter and has no limit at all. Perhaps, this is why Schmitt advocated looking beyond the ordinary conception and definition of politics in textbooks.

For Schmitt, it was Liberalism, which introduced the absolutist conception of politics by destroying its actual meaning. In this respect, he developed his very idea of the “Political” against the backdrop of the “human totality” (Gesamtheit Von Menschen). Today’s Europe should remember the bloody revolutionary year of 1848 because the so-called economic prosperity, technological progress, and the self-assured positivism of the last century have come together to produce long and deep amnesia. Nonetheless, the fact cannot be denied that the revolutionary events of1848 had brought deep anxiety and fear for the ordinary Europeans. For instance, the famous sentence from the year 1848 reads;

For this reason, fear grabs hold of the genius at a different time than it does normal people. the latter recognizes the danger at the time of danger; up to that, they are not secure, and if the danger has passed, then they are secure. The genius is the strongest precisely at the time of danger”.

Unfortunately, it was the intellectual predicament at the European stage in the year 1848 that caused revolutionary anxiety and distress among ordinary Europeans. Today, ordinary Europeans face similar situations in the social, political, and ideological spheres. The growing anxieties of the European public consciousness cannot be grasped without taking into account Carl Schmitt’s critique of liberal democracy. A century and a half ago, by embracing liberal democracy under the auspices of free-market capitalism, the Europeans played a pivotal role in the self-destruction of the European spirit.

The vicious technological drive under liberal capitalism led the European civilization towards crony centralism, industrialism, mechanization, and above all singularity. Today, neoliberal capitalism has transformed the world into a consumer-hyped mechanized factory in which humanity appears as the by-product of its own artificial creation. The unstructured mechanization of humanity in the last century has brought human civilization to technological crossroads. Hence, the technological drive under liberal democratic capitalism is presenting a huge threat to human civilizational identity.


[1] Wolin, Richard, Carl Schmitt, Political Existentialism, and the Total State, Theory and Society, volume no. 19, no. 4, 1990 (pp. 389-416). Schmitt deemed the friend-enemy dialectics as the cornerstone of his critique on liberalism and universalism.

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International Law

Democratic Backsliding: A Framework for Understanding and Combatting it

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Democracy is suffering setbacks around the world. Over the past decade, the number of liberal democracies has shrunk from 41 to 32. Today, 34 percent of the global population lives in 25 countries moving in the direction of autocracy. By contrast, only 16 countries are undergoing a process of democratization, representing just 4 percent of the global population. Reflecting these troubling trends, USAID Administrator Samantha Power, during her confirmation hearing, highlighted democratic backsliding – along with climate change, conflict and state collapse, and COVID-19 – as among the “four interconnected and gargantuan challenges” that will guide the Biden Administration’s development priorities.

However, defining “democratic backsliding” is far from straightforward. Practitioners and policymakers too often refer to “democratic backsliding” broadly, but there is a high degree of variation in how backsliding manifests in different contexts. This imprecise approach is problematic because it can lead to an inaccurate analysis of events in a country and thereby inappropriate or ineffective solutions.

To prevent or mitigate democratic backsliding, policymakers need a definition of the concept that captures its multi-dimensional nature. It must include the actors responsible for the democratic erosion, the groups imperiled by it, as well as the allies who can help reverse the worst effects of backsliding. 

To address this gap, the International Republican Institute developed a conceptual framework to help practitioners and policymakers more precisely define and analyze how democratic backsliding (or “closing democratic space”) is transpiring and then devise foreign assistance programs to combat it.  Shifting away from broad generalizations that a country is moving forward or backward vis-à-vis democracy—which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to derive specific solutions—the framework breaks closing democratic space into six distinct, and sometimes interrelated, subsectors or “spaces.”

Political/Electoral: Encompasses the arena for political competition and the ability of citizens to hold their government accountable through elections. Examples of closing political or electoral space range from fraudulent election processes and the arrest or harassment of political leaders to burdensome administrative barriers to political party registration or campaigning.

Economic: Refers to the relationship between a country’s economic market structure, including access and regulation, and political competition. Examples of closing economic space include selective or politically motivated audits or distribution of government licenses, contracts, or tax benefits.

Civic/Associational: Describes the space where citizens meet to discuss and/or advocate for issues, needs, and priorities outside the purview of the government. Examples of closing civic or associational space include harassment or co-optation of civic actors or civil society organizations and administrative barriers designed to hamper civil society organizations’ goals including limiting or making it arduous to access resources.

Informational: Captures the venues that afford citizens the opportunity to learn about government performance or hold elected leaders to account, including the media environment and the digital realm. h. Examples of closing informational space consist of laws criminalizing online speech or activity, restrictions on accessing the internet or applications, censorship (including self-censorship), and editorial pressure or harassment of journalists.  

Individual: Encapsulates the space where individuals, including public intellectuals, academics, artists, and cultural leaders– including those traditionally marginalized based on religious, ethnicity, language, or sexual orientation–can exercise basic freedoms related to speech, property, movement, and equality under the law. Common tactics of closing individual space include formal and informal restrictions on basic rights to assemble, protest, or otherwise exercise free speech; censorship, surveillance, or harassment of cultural figures or those critical of government actions; and scapegoating or harassing identity groups.

Governing: Comprises the role of state institutions, at all levels, within political processes. Typical instances of closing the governing space include partisan control of government entities such as courts, election commissions, security services, regulatory bodies; informal control of such governing bodies through nepotism or patronage networks; and legal changes that weaken the balance of powers in favor of the executive branch.

Examining democratic backsliding through this framework forces practitioners and policymakers to more precisely identify how and where democratic space is closing and who is affected. This enhanced understanding enables officials to craft more targeted interventions.

For example, analysts were quick to note Myanmar’s swift about-face toward autocracy.  This might be true, but how does this high-level generalization help craft an effective policy and foreign aid response, beyond emphasizing a need to target funds on strengthening democracy to reverse the trend? In short, it does not.  If practitioners and policymakers had dissected Myanmar’s backsliding using the six-part framework, it would have highlighted specific opportunities for intervention.  This systematic analysis reveals the regime has closed civic space, via forbidding large gatherings, as well as the information space, by outlawing online exchanges and unsanctioned news, even suspending most television broadcasts.  One could easily populate the other four spaces with recent examples, as well. 

Immediately, we see how this exercise leads to more targeted interventions—support to keep news outlets operating, for example, via software the government cannot hack—that, collectively, can help slow backsliding.  Using the framework also compels practitioners and policymakers to consider where there might be spillover—closing in one space that might bleed into another space—and what should be done to mitigate further closing.

Finally, using this framework to examine the strength of Myanmar’s democratic institutions and norms prior to the February coup d’etat may have revealed shortcomings that, if addressed, could have slowed or lessened the impact of the sudden democratic decline. For example, the high-profile arrest of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in December 2017 was a significant signal that Myanmar’s information space was closing. Laws or actions to increase protections for journalists and media outlets, could have strengthened the media environment prior to the coup, making it more difficult for the military to close the information space.

A more precise diagnosis of the problem of democratic backsliding is the first step in crafting more effective and efficient solutions. This framework provides practitioners and policymakers a practical way to more thoroughly examine closing space situations and design holistic policies and interventions that address both the immediate challenge and longer-term issue of maintaining and growing democratic gains globally.

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International Law

Authentic Justice Thus Everlasting Peace: Because We Are One

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The ceasefire in the Israeli-Palestine conflict is a good thing. We thank God for it. Be it between two individuals or institutions or nations or the internal colonial and colonized, war does not do anything except cause more immediate or future mass misery and human destruction. Our continued memories of our interpersonal and international and internal colonial and civil wars and the memorials we erect to remember them recall and record wounds and pains we never get over. 

So it becomes a bothersome puzzle as to why we human beings still just don’t get that war like oppression leads to nowhere except to more human devastation. And we should have learned by now but have not that peacemaking like ceasefires mean nothing without justice.

 It is the reason why I constantly find myself correcting those who stress Peace and Justice.No Justice No Peace is more than a cliche.It is real politic emotionally, economically, socially, and spiritually.

Our American inner cities like those in every continent where culturally different and similar people live cramped impoverished lives and nations and colonial enclaves with such unequal wealth remind us of their continued explosive potentialities when peace is once again declared but with no justice.Everyone deserves a decent quality of life which not only includes material necessities but more importantly emotional and spiritual freedoms and other liberations.Not just the victors who conquer and rule and not just the rich and otherwise privileged.

 And until such  justices are  assured to everyone peacemaking is merely a bandaid on cancerous societal or International conflictual soars which come to only benefit those who profit from wars which are bound to come around again when there is no justice and thus peace such as  family destroying divorce lawyers, blood hungry media to sell more subscriptions , arms dealers to sell more murderous technologies, politicians needing  votes so start and prolong wars, and military men and women seeking promotion while practicing their killing capacities.

So if those of us who devoutly practice our  faiths or our golden moral principles,  let us say always and pray and advocate justice and peace always  as a vital public good  and  do justice then lasting peace in our personal lives and insist that national leaders, our own and others do the same in their conduct of international affairs and affairs with those who are stateless in this global world. 

All such pleading is essential since we are all brothers and sisters in the eyes of God who created all of us  in God’s image as one humanity  out of  everlasting divine love for all of us so we should love each other as God loves all of us  leading to desiring justice and thus lasting peace for each and every one of us.

This is difficult for those in international affairs to understand who take more conventional secular approaches to historical and contemporary justice and peace challenges as if our universal spiritual connectivennes  ( not to be confused with the vast diversity of organized religions)as human beings which makes us all brothers and sisters has no relevance. But if we are going to find true enduring peace we have no alternative but to turn our backs on increasingly useless secular methods which go either way, stressing peace then justice or justice then peace and understand how much we must begin to explore and implement approaches which we look at each other as spiritually connected brothers and sisters in which it is the expectation that peace only comes and lasts when  through the equal enjoyment of justices for every human being, we restore our universal kindred rooted in the everlasting love of God and thus for each other, no matter the different ways in which we define God or positive moral principles which originate in understandings that we human beings in all our diversities are one and thus brothers and sisters.

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