Monday, October 27, 2008

The Role of Governments

As it was the case in other aspects of the agenda setting process, identifying the states who acted as norm leaders in the issue of SEA is difficult. Nonetheless, two states can be highlighted as potentially important contributors of the issue. Although I was not able to locate specific information about the role that the USA played in UN documents, I nonetheless came across with articles that highlight the active role that the US has played in urging the UN to take significant steps towards dealing with SEA. Another state who arguably has played a significant role was Jordan whose Permanent Representative to the UN, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, was assigned by Kofi Annan as his “Adviser on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN Peacekeeping Personnel”. States where UN Missions were deployed understandably played an active role in for instance, conferences and workshops such as in the case of Sudan. However, it is difficult to interpret their involvement as attempts to become a norm leader.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Role of UN

The UN has been playing a central role in the issue of SEA in conflict zones. Given its central role as the main violator of the norm, on the one hand and its role as the main provider of global norms, on the other, UN was put into a very difficult position, which triggered immediate response from the organization at multiple levels.

Reinicke and Deng (p.103) argues that “the United Nations must approach networking soberly. It must consider in every instance whether there is sufficient interest and whether it has sufficient capacity and comparative advantage to play a productive and worthwhile role in the network”. The very nature of the issue not only enabled the UN involvement to be productive but also made its involvement a “necessity”.

The central role that the UN has been playing dates back to the initial concerns that are raised about SEA. The first step that brought SEA in conflict zones into attention was based on a report prepared by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Save the Children-UK. Therefore, UNHCR is one of the important UN agencies that took a prominent role in the very beginning of the issue.

Following the initial attention that the issue attracted, the UN took another step and established “The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Humanitarian Crises” (IASC) which was composed of number of UN agencies and NGOs in 2002. In 2005, “The Task Force on Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of the Executive Committees on Humanitarian Affairs and on Peace and Security (ECHA/ECPS) and NGOs took up the work of the IASC Task Force”. (OCHA) Many UN agencies take active part in these committees such as FAO, OCHA, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNHCR, WFP.

However, the issue does not get UN’s attention only at agency level. At the highest level, – given the severity of the claims and its potential damage to the UN – in 2004 Secretary General Kofi Annan took a special interest in the issue invited H.R.H. Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, the Permanent Representative of Jordan to the UN, to act as his Adviser on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN Peacekeeping Personnel. (OCHA)

The case of SEA in conflict zones exemplifies Reinicke and Deng’s argument which suggests that “UN agencies and staff may play various roles at the same time in a network, or the same agency may play various roles in various phases of the policy cycle” (p.99) For instance, in this case, the UN agencies were not only played the role of a provider of a platform and safe space (Reinicke and Deng, p.98) but also played the role of a norm entrepreneur (p.99) and a capacity builder (p.100). The UN involvement in this issue area also exemplifies the need for UN agencies to be specialized and coordinated for reaching better results, as it was argued by Reinicke and Deng (p.104).

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Role of Media: A Driving Force or a Mere Follower?

The issue of sexual exploitation and abuse in conflict zones has found media coverage from the beginning of the issue. As the UN itself cites, “it [the issue of sexual exploitation] was brought to the forefront of public attention in 2002 following allegations of widespread sexual exploitation and abuse of refugee and internally displaced women and children by UN workers and peacekeepers in West Africa.” (OCHA) The issue was “brought to the public attention” through international news sources after the release of a supposedly classified report prepared by UNHCR and Save the Children UK (which was also the first major step taken in this issue area).

The very nature of the issue and especially the actor who is the ‘violator’, the UN in this case, had an effect on how this issue was elaborated in media. The initial coverage of the issue had a more neutral tone and was limited to repeating what has been said in the report prepared by the Save the Children-UK.

Since the UN was actively involved from the beginning of the issue, it is difficult to identify whether the media was deliberately urged by the activists to put emphasis on the issue. However, it could be argued that the existence of the UN as the central actor in the issue may have been sufficient enough reason for the media to pick up on the issue.

As the time goes on, the media became more vocal about the newly revealed cases of exploitation and critical about the steps taken by the UN to deal with the issue. Most of the news were still based on the classified and public reports prepared by the UN (revealed either by the UN itself or the news sources) or statements made by UN officials. Although independent information collection was almost nonexistent, the media coverage put significant emphasis on the shortcomings of the UN actions and urged it to take more proper actions.

Again, the very central role that the UN has been playing in the agenda setting process makes it difficult to assess the contribution that media coverage made to this issue. However, I believe it is safe to argue that, their continued attention did not harm the cause but instead contributed to the issue by keeping people’s attention on the issue. Nonetheless, it is important to remind that most of the news relied on the information gathered from the UN and therefore, it is almost impossible to identify the net contribution that they made to the issue or whether media coverage was essential to the cause (or whether the media coverage was a mere reflection of what has been already done).