All posts by Iveta Cherneva

Iveta Cherneva is an author and commentator on global governance and international organizations, security, human rights, and sustainability. Her career includes work for the UN, U.S. Congress, Oxford University, and think tanks in several of the world's diplomatic capitals. Iveta is the author of Trafficking for Begging (2011); The UN Security Council, the ICJ, and Judicial Review (2013); editor of The Business Case for Sustainable Finance (2012); and co-author of Regulating the Global Security Industry (2009). Appointed Atlantic Council young leader in 2012 and William H. Donner Human Rights Fellow in 2007, she is a frequent commentator in international news media. Iveta has testified before the UN Working Group on business and human rights.

Human Rights in the Post-2015 Development Agenda Friday begins the three-day summit at which United Nations member states will adopt 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets to replace the Millennium Development Goals which expire at the end of the year. The SDGs will come into force on 1 January 2016 to frame development agendas and policies over the next 15 years.

For a long time, development was the domain of pure economic indicators; however, this year’s SDGs are a significant step towards a more holistic understanding of development as encompassing human development and governance. For example, Paragraphs 18-20 of the SDGs’ draft refer to human rights standards, including that “the Agenda will be implemented in a manner that is consistent with the rights and obligations of states under international law.”

Looking back on the global financial crisis and recent Greek debt crisis, where neoliberal and capitalist policies such as non-intervention, minimal regulation, and free-market reign with disregard for people brought about disastrous results for people as well as the global economy, 2015 is the right time for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to identify a set of priorities to ensure that the implementation of the SDGs and their targets will be in line with international human rights standards that integrate fundamental “people” concerns at the core of development programs and projects.

Why human rights are relevant to the post-2015 development agenda

At first sight, human rights might be seen as a burdensome interference on the invisible hand of the free market and as issues that have little to do with economic performance and more to do with do-good wishful thinking. However, human rights are complementary to economics in many ways, and there is a utilitarian argument to be made for their integration in economic and financial analysis, away from a zero-sum game model.

Universal ownership theory concludes that the workforce’s decreasing standards of living and wellbeing, as a result of economic actors violating human rights by trying to externalize health and social costs, result in decreasing productivity, which slows down economic growth and development as a whole. While the harmful actions of an economic actor with regard to human rights would prove beneficial to that company, for universal owners with a large and varied investment portfolio, the profit from that one company would be lost in the context of overall economic slow-down. Universal ownership theory, therefore, predicts that large institutional investors, whose profit margins are tightly linked to economic growth as a whole, would put pressure on individual economic actors to respect human rights.

From a different perspective, human rights such as freedom of speech, opinion, information, and association are the cornerstones of innovative, vibrant, and entrepreneurial cultures. It is difficult to imagine Silicon Valley blossoming if it were in an authoritarian state that represses basic freedoms, or to imagine the next Facebook or Twitter inventor being educated in a system that discourages free thought, economic independence, and freedom. Big economic and business ideas traditionally come from contexts and societies characterized by respect for human rights. It is this type of business culture of innovation which has the potential to improve lives exponentially and lift the developing world out of poverty, without natural resource or forced labor exploitation.

Increased participation of women in the workforce can also unlock untapped economic potential, as espoused in Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics.” By excluding women, societies exclude roughly half of their ideas, work, and potential. Women’s economic participation is also a human rights issue, which correlates with performance. A study by Credit Suisse revealed that companies with female board members do better in terms of stock market performance. The research compared the share performance of companies with market capitalization of more than $10 billion over the past six years, and established that those with female board members outperformed their counterparts with all-male boards by 26 percent. 

Priorities for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Equality, non-discrimination, and economic and social inclusion—in line with human rights obligations under Articles 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Articles 2 and 3 of the International Covenant on Economic, Cultural, and Social Rights (ICESCR)— should be the cornerstone of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Right’s (OHCHR) engagement in order to ensure that no one is left behind, as per the SDGs’ promise. Special attention should be paid to migrant treatment in engagement with national authorities and international institutions in order to ensure that development financing will have a migrant component to address the mounting migration crisis taking many lives. OHCHR should encourage partners to undertake an economic study on the benefits that migrants bring to economies and create active communication campaigns in this regard.

 As per Goal 5 of the SDGs on improving gender equality, OHCHR should remain committed to advising member states on integrating gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in economic and social programs, and use its experts’ experience in relation to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women to help member states identify the gaps in law and practice.

OHCHR should have a role in the implementation of target 16.9, which calls on states to ensure legal identity for all, including birth registration, and is in line with Articles 16 and 24 of the ICCPR on the right to be registered upon birth and the right to be recognized as a person before the law. OHCHR should advise governments on how to best address these issues, including by training hospital staff and managers to the sensitivities of minority and migrant group children birth registrations.

Importantly, the Office should engage with international financial institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank, and its financing arm, the IFC. Efforts will be geared towards technical advice and capacity building for officers in charge of financing and planning development projects.

OHCHR is in a position to advise governments and the SDGs Secretariat on establishing a mechanism which monitors the implementation of the SDGs. Existing human rights mechanisms such as the Universal Periodic Review and the Human Rights Treaty Bodies may provide a blueprint, as per suggestions included in the draft zero. Similarly, human rights expert committees’ experience in applying human rights standards related to economic and social development may offer useful insights in the domain of monitoring development progress.  The ICESCR calls for progressive realization in accordance with the maximum available resources, and a progress review should take into account duties of international cooperation, as well as countries’ different starting points.

Finally, the SDGs refer for the first time to the role of transnational corporations in development and in sustainable production. This provides an opportunity for the OHCHR to engage a number of private sector actors and governments on these topics in the implementation of the 2011 UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and in the Annual Forum on Business and Human Rights.

The new UN development goals come at a time of an acute migration crisis. Human rights will continue to be tested and there is hardly an area more relevant to basic human survival than economic development. It is up to the UN human rights office to ensure that the human rights concerns are heard at the highest policy-making levels as well as at the granular technical level. At the end of the day, economies function for people and thanks to people.

2015: The Year for Strengthening the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies

UNCHR ForumAll eyes in 2015 are on the United Nations. The new development plan to succeed the Millennium Development Goals will be announced this year, but another UN process—equally important to human well-being—is gaining speed: the strengthening of the UN human rights treaty bodies, or the independent expert committees, nested at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, which monitor the implementation of the core international human rights treaties.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay spearheaded this process back in 2009, when Pillay opened multi-stakeholder consultations, and continued in 2012, when the Office of the High Commissioner presented a report with its recommendations. This gave rise to a two-year inter-governmental process and finally resulted in General Assembly Resolution A/RES/68/268, adopted in April 2014, which will potentially have an impact on the implementation of the treaty bodies’ recommendations.

Individual complaint procedures: the odd animal of the international legal system

The UN human rights treaty bodies have a role to play that goes beyond the bureaucratic. They are the UN bodies that under certain conditions can accept direct legal complaints by individuals against a state—a function unique in the international legal system, and one that is praised by human rights advocates and commentators alike as a notable departure from a system traditionally dominated by states.

The treaty bodies have developed an extensive volume of human rights jurisprudence through this process, although there are limitations in the individual complaint mechanisms, including that complainants must have exhausted domestic remedies, demonstrating that the state has failed to address the human rights issue and that it is time to take the grievance to the international level.

The potential of the individual human rights procedure is great. A final judgment by a treaty body, in theory, can bring about accountability for a human rights violation where the state has failed to do so by bringing the case to the attention of the state and following up on the steps taken to amend the situation. However, this is possible only with the cooperation and will of the state in question.

Among the main concerns that guided the consultative process on reform that began in 2009 was precisely the lack of implementation of treaty body recommendations by states—a realization which undermines the relevance of the treaty bodies in promoting and protecting human rights.

Ways to strengthen the treaty bodies

In order to resolve that systemic challenge, General Assembly Resolution A/RES/68/268 envisions a capacity-building package to assist states in fulfilling their treaty obligations. The Treaty Bodies Secretariat based in Geneva is expected to absorb the additional capacity-building program in 2015.

There is an argument to be made that it is not a higher number of additional recommendations that is needed, but instead that it is necessary to deepen the implementation of the already issued recommendations. In this line of reasoning, the UN human rights field officers’ role has been emphasized, as more direct on-the-ground capacity building and assistance to state parties might contribute to more effective implementation.

However, lack of capacity is not the whole picture, and some challenges to treaty body recommendations remain purely political in nature, such as lack of will and the non-legally binding nature of the recommendations. These, unfortunately, are challenges that cannot be easily dealt with at the present moment.

What can be done is to strengthen the credibility and visibility of treaty bodies’ recommendations. The GA Resolution includes measures to modernize the treaty body system and make it more accessible, including the streaming of public sessions online, as well as word limits imposed on documents to make them shorter and more accessible.

In order to strengthen the treaty bodies’ credibility with state parties, additional reference was made to the 2012 Addis Ababa principles on neutrality and impartiality of the independent experts members of the treaty bodies. If they are to be taken seriously by states, independence—real and perceived—is at the center of the committees’ role as quasi-judges in rendering authoritative legal interpretations of the human rights treaties. Additionally, as stressed by the GA Resolution, the geographical and gender composition of the committees may also play a role in boosting the credibility of treaty body recommendations.

Other UN mechanisms, such as the UN Special Procedures, could also play a role in their visits and direct diplomatic engagement with the highest levels of government by reminding officials of obligations related to paying heed to treaty body decisions. Also, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) run by the UN Human Rights Council can integrate the implementation of treaty body decisions as an indicator to consider when it periodically reviews the human rights record of countries.

Provided that the political will is present, state parties could create a government office (much like an Ombudsman) that monitors the implementation of treaty body recommendations and liaises with legal, law enforcement, and other government officials on the national level in efforts to see recommendations implemented.

Other parties outside of states also have a role to play to boost the credibility of treaty bodies. For example, NGOs can be vocal at the international or national levels in order to put pressure on state parties towards implementation, while the media can also boost the visibility of treaty body recommendations by closely following what states are doing to bring their legislation and practice in compliance with the final decisions.

Political will, however, remains the key to strengthening the UN human rights treaty bodies. The 2015 capacity building program absorbed by the treaty bodies provides the right time and opportunity for states to demonstrate genuine interest and will to implement treaty bodies’ final decisions. Then and only then can 2015 become the year of strengthening the human rights treaty bodies.

What the New NATO Secretary General Appointment Means for the Arctic

NATO arcticLast week, NATO appointed Norway’s former prime minister Jens Stoltenberg to succeed Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the military alliance chief. Even as NATO tries to fashion a response to the crisis on its eastern frontier in Ukraine, the appointment of Stoltenberg should alert global attention to another region: the Arctic. The Arctic is not at the top of most national agendas, and yet for Stoltenberg, it has been a priority issue. In a recent Harvard International Review piece, Stoltenberg debunked the commonly held view that the Arctic is an isolated area of no global importance.

A 2014 report by the WEF’s Global Agenda Council on the Arctic entitled Demystifying the Arctic highlighted the Arctic’s global significance due to climate change and natural resource issues. Governed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the region is increasingly viewed as the next flashpoint of geopolitical one-upmanship. But this is a myth according to the report, as countries generally conform to the law of the sea convention, accept science-based seafloor borders, and use diplomatic channels and the Arctic Council framework to resolve disputes.

This may be true regarding minor disagreements, but Russia’s expansionist foreign policy with the Crimea crisis a case in point, and the appointment of Stoltenberg as NATO chief should draw attention to the Arctic as the next potential conflict fault line. Norway is NATO’s member with the greatest vested economic interest in the Arctic, and it is expected that Stoltenberg will steer NATO’s agenda into a more Arctic-oriented direction.

President Putin recently addressed Russia’s intentions towards the Arctic, vowing to expand Russia’s military presence in the region as a top military priority. Putin made clear that Russia would be “intensifying the development of that promising region” with the need to protect “its security and national interests there.”

In response, NATO carried out a military drill in Norway just 250 miles from the Russian border, as part of the March military Exercise Cold Response 2014, with more than 1,600 troops from sixteen participating NATO countries. This is the sixth time such a NATO military exercise has taken place in the Arctic Circle. The drill came just one week before Stoltenberg’s appointment.

As Russia’s seemingly expansionist drive makes waves on the international scene, it is fair to say that the Big Bear is awake, and NATO’s appointment of Stoltenberg is especially important. It was Stoltenberg himself who in 2010 signed a deal with the Russians to end a forty-year dispute over maritime borders and to allow for new oil and gas exploration in the Arctic. The Barents Sea conflict between Norway and Russia resolved in 2010 started over the delimitation of arctic sea boundaries in a disputed area spanning 175,000 square kilometers and estimated at holding fifteen to thirty percent of the world’s oil and gas reserves.

For both Norway and Russia, access to hydrocarbon reserves is key. The economic stakes for Norway seem to be higher, as Norway’s production peaked in 2001. For Russia, the 2010 agreement also had a military implication—increasing commercial activity in the Barents Sea region makes it easier for Russian submarines to pass unnoticed in and out of the Barents Sea.

Resurgence of claims on both sides and a conflict between Norway and Russia over the Arctic would trigger Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, whereby an armed attack against one or more members of the alliance in Europe or North America allows for the right of collective self-defense, “including the use of armed force.”

Such a conflict is unlikely to arise out of purely technical disputes over fisheries, or the maritime trade routes and passages increasingly affected by global warming. But if Russia assumes a more aggressive role and challenges the status quo in the region—empowered by its Crimea “free pass”—the dynamics will change. NATO led by Stoltenberg will not back down. Then, having Norway’s Stoltenberg at the helm of the most powerful military alliance will make a difference.


The New Deal for Fragile States: How to Measure Progress


On 30 November 2011 at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea, fragile states, donor states, and international organizations endorsed the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States. The New Deal moved development aid in a country-led and country-owned framework for fragile states. It outlined five Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (legitimate politics, security, justice, economic foundations, revenues and services) in seven pilot-project fragile states (Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, and Timor-Leste) through the New Deal’s FOCUS and TRUST approach.

The New Deal is a departure from the traditional donor-centered approach, whereby development policies were crafted in North American and European capitals and headquarters, away from the real issues and people on the ground. It remains to be seen whether the country-led framework pilot with donor missions based in the field will yield better results. The New Deal for Fragile States on development aid effectiveness will be judged a success if the seven pilot-states register progress on both framework-specific and framework-external milestones. To measure success, four New Deal milestones are suggested here.

1. The Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs) and the “fragility continuum” assessment

In 2015, the seven pilot-project states should be assessed for progress on the PSGs and the fragility continuum, which was launched in November 2013 by the g7+ Secretariat. Gains made on the numerical fragility continuum could be credited to the New Deal. Along with the numerical indicators, measuring progress on the five goals could be done through citizen surveys, civil society assessments, international organization-led assessments, independent valuation, or through a hybrid model combining multi-stakeholder assessments. The New Deal presents a “country-led” approach, but fragile states have been generally opposed to introducing citizen evaluations to track progress. However, citizen assessment in a survey carried out by an international independent valuator would allow the international community to check whether people on the ground—the actual aid recipients—have experienced an improvement on the five PSGs as a result of the New Deal approach. While for some PSGs, government-presented numerical indicators would be useful, for others—such as legitimate politics and government services—the opinion of citizens would be crucial for tracking progress. Similarly, to measure justice, a citizen survey may also be appropriate, in addition to an external independent assessment by an international NGO to track country progress or a country assessment by an international organization (i.e. assessment on the right to fair trial by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights).

2. “At least one MDG” acceleration effect in 2015

The impact of the New Deal for aid effectiveness in fragile states should also be looked at in the larger UN development framework of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). To date, no fragile state has achieved a single MDG. Some of the seven pilot states of the New Deal (Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste) are “on track to achieving” some of the MDGs, according to the MDG Monitor of UNDP. For these countries, New Deal success measured in 2015 would mean accelerating progress towards actually reaching at least one of the MDGs. The rest of the pilot-project states (the Central African Republic, DRC, Liberia and South Sudan) are generally not on track to reaching a single MDG, while on some MDGs there is a “possibility to achieve the goal if some changes are made,” according to the MDG Monitor. Worse still, the Central African Republic (CAR) and South Sudan are plunging into a state of conflict, which is going to reverse development progress. For this latter group of countries, excluding CAR and South Sudan, New Deal success would mean that MDGs previously defined as “possible to achieve if some changes are made” become “on track” in 2015.

3. The “LDC graduation” triennial review in 2015 and 2018

All seven New Deal pilot-project states are also UN Least Developed Countries (LDCs), marked by the most extreme poverty. The Committee for Development Policy (CDP), a subsidiary organ of the UN Economic and Social Council, is mandated to review LDCs every three years, based on a mix of economic and social indicators. The next triennial review in 2015 will coincide with the New Deal pilot end-period and the expiration of the MDGs. A link between the LDC graduation and the New Deal pilot could and should be made. At the 2012 triennial review, none of the seven pilot New Deal states were discussed or prepared for graduation by CDP. It would mark important progress if in 2015 or 2018, the CDP discussion moves to consider for graduation some of the seven pilot countries. Only three countries have ever left the LDC category. Some of that potential success could be attributed to the New Deal if any of the pilot countries register a jump in 2015 or 2018. If such an event occurs, there would be an argument to make that the New Deal approach had an effect on lifting some of the seven fragile LDCs out of the most extreme poverty group.

4. Integrating the New Deal in the post-2015 development framework

With the expiration of the MDGs in 2015, the time to set the new development agenda is nearing. It is important to include thinking specifically tailored to fragile states in the new development goals. Often, not considering the specific contexts and specificities of post-conflict or fragile states leads to misguided financing that could do more harm than good by enabling actors and processes harmful to good development practices. It is important to put the five PSGs at the forefront of development aid in fragile states. While non-fragile countries face different problems and might be able to absorb development aid, pouring financial resources into fragile states simply does not lead to the desired results, particularly if the approach is not tailored to prioritize building institutions that can absorb and channel the resources. The New Deal pilot progress could show whether efforts channeled in that direction have put the countries on the right track in terms of governance and institution building, and also provide necessary guidance and lessons learned from the pilots that could be scaled-up. Fragile states have special needs in the development community, and the large development framework should acknowledge that by making the New Deal for Fragile States and the PSGs a part of the large UN project that will supersede the MDGs.

In the end, the New Deal for Fragile States will be judged according to its framework’s Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals and the fragility continuum on improving governance and institutions, but its impact should stretch further in influencing and improving the overall standing of its seven pilot fragile states. Undoubtedly, the Central African Republic and South Sudan will register delays in development progress contingent upon their security and human rights situations, which are currently causing great concern to the international community. For the rest of the pilot countries, New Deal impact would imply progress registered on the MDGs in 2015, and to some extent, in the LDC graduation discussions in 2015. Finally, making the New Deal and the PSGs a part of the post-2015 development goals would also mean recognition for the tailored thinking underpinning the Busan commitments.