Month: July 2016

There Is Life After Brexit

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Dr Ion Jinga HeadshotThoughts by Dr. Ion Jinga, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Romania to the United Nations, New York, published in Huffington Post on 05/07/2016.

The result of the UK referendum on the European Union membership came as a shock to Europe and the World. As someone who lived for twelve years in Brussels and for eight years in the United Kingdom, I am familiar with the perceptions from both sides of the English Channel.

During my stay in Britain, I discussed the EU-UK relationship with many people who were having different professions and political preferences, and the conclusion was that after referendum the UK will remain in the EU. I started to doubt about this outcome two months ago, when I noticed that the pro-European campaign was marked by fear messages which emphasized the negative consequences of Brexit, rather than by positive messages about the mutual advantages of continuing as a part of the European Union.

Fear messages sometimes generate the opposite reaction than the expected one. Canadian friends in New York told me that a similar phenomenon was visible during the 1995 referendum for the independence of the province of Quebec: the more the adverse consequences for Quebec in the case of leaving Canada were emphasized, the more the support for the pro-independence party was increasing, and this factor contributed to the very close result (50.58% of votes were in favor of remaining in Canada).

The European Union was created in 1993 by the Treaty of Maastricht, but the legal procedure to withdraw from the Union was formally introduced only in 2009, by the Treaty of Lisbon (article 50 of the EU Treaty). Being mentioned in the Treaty, such an option is accepted as possible for Member States.

Brexit has no precedent in the EU history, still there were two withdrawals from its precursor, the European Economic Community (EEC), which was created in 1957. The first case refers to Algeria, which in 1957 was, legally speaking, part of the French Republic and therefore the Treaty of Rome applied to it (see article 227 paragraph 2 of the Treaty). Algeria lost this statute once it declared its independence in 1962. The second example is Greenland, which acceded to the EEC in 1973, as part of the Danish Realm. In 1979, Greenland was granted independence from Denmark and in 1982 they held a referendum regarding continuing membership in the EEC. The result was negative and, after two years of negotiations, Greenland left the EEC in 1985.

The differences between these examples and Brexit are huge, because the scale of integration of the EU Member States is in 2016 much more complex and profound than it was in 1962 or 1985, and the United Kingdom is an economic and financial superpower.

The British referendum generated a new situation both for the EU and the UK, whose consequences could not to be fully determined at this moment. Through its history, culture, traditions and shared values, the United Kingdom belongs to Europe, and it needs Europe as much as Europe needs the UK. There are thousands of common interests which link continental Europe to Great Britain. Therefore, this challenge needs to be approached « sine ira et studio » (without anger or bias).

This was also the message sent by the US Secretary of State John Kerry, during his recent visit to London and Brussels: “It is critical as we go forward in these next days to understand the importance of a strong EU. The United States cares about a strong EU”. At the same time, he affirmed unequivocally that the United States will maintain its strong relationship with Great Britain: “Great Britain is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Great Britain has a long and a special relationship with the United States”. And he added: “It is now incumbent on leaders to implement the will of the people, and do so in a way that is responsible, sensitive, thoughtful, and, I hope, strategic. Ever since World War Two we have been working all together on the development of a structure to make our countries stronger and to be able to deliver a good life and benefits to our people”.

The UK will probably no longer be part of the EU club (at least for a while). But there is life after Brexit. Changes are expected to take place in the functioning of the EU, and its Member States will probably redefine their strategies. The UK will always be the country of Magna Carta, but its relations with the EU will be reshaped to the new reality.

In 1624, the English poet John Donne wrote: “No man is an island. / Entire of itself, / Every man is a piece of the continent, / A part of the main. / If a clod be washed away by the sea, / Europe is the less”. (Devotions upon Emergent Occasions). Paraphrasing these verses, in the era of globalization no island is anymore an island, and the UK has to find a common space with the EU, on the continent and worldwide.

For instance, there is no doubt that they will continue to work closely together within the United Nations framework, on global issues such as conflict prevention, peace keeping, peace building, fight against terrorism, human rights, climate change, mass migrations, refugees, humanitarian assistance, or the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development.

The history of the last sixty years has proved that, after each crisis, the European project became stronger. As Jean Monnet wrote in his memoirs: “Europe will be forged in crisis, and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises”.

The European enterprise was conceived as a “unity in diversity”. The peoples of the EU are proud to be Europeans, and they are equally proud of their national identity. Therefore, the foundations of “an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe” imagined by Jean Monnet need to be consolidated with the peoples of Europe. We have to rediscover the European spirit and make people understand that unity is the key to generating prosperity and security.

An excellent example of unity and solidarity among EU Member States came during the recent elections for non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, on 28 June, in New York. Italy and the Netherlands went shoulder to shoulder in the race, and after five ballots they received an equal number of votes. Then, they symbolically decided to split the two years term mandate, so each of the two countries can serve for one year in the Security Council. It was a proof that if there is a will, there is a way, and ingenious solutions can be found to overcome difficult moments.



Protection of Civilians in Conflict: A Test for the International Community

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Dr Ion Jinga HeadshotThoughts by Dr. Ion Jinga, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Romania to the United Nations, New York, published in Huffington Post on 13/06/2016.

On 10 June 2016, the French Presidency of the Security Council organized a high level open debate on “Protection of Civilians in the Context of Peacekeeping Operations”. It followed to other recent open debates in the Security Council on related matters: the protection of civilians in armed conflicts in January, the peacebuilding architecture in February, countering terrorism in April, and the cooperation between the UN and the African Union on peace and security in May, thus confirming the acute actuality of the topic. Civilians remain the target of unacceptable violence in situations of armed conflicts, with statistics showing that they represent 93% of victims. It is a figure deeply disturbing, placing the protection of civilian population at the core of the international efforts for peace and security, and as a moral responsibility for the UN.

The Report of the UN Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts, published in June 2015, revealed that prevailing disrespect for the international humanitarian law by some States and non-State actors, and the impunity of perpetrators, became a critical challenge for the international community. Deliberate targeting of civilians, of schools and hospitals are on the rise in many armed conflicts, bringing the number of refugees and internally displaced persons to alarming levels.

The primary responsibility to protect the civilian population during wars and conflicts belongs to States, but when national authorities are unable or unwilling to fulfill their responsibility, then the international community must intervene. In cases where atrocity crimes are committed, accountability is crucial. This is why Romania endorsed the French-Mexican initiative that permanent members of the UN Security Council should voluntarily agree to refrain from using their veto in situations involving mass atrocities crimes, and we joined the Code of Conduct proposed by Liechtenstein on the Security Council action against genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.

Protection of civilians is also a task for peacekeeping operations. It is even decisive for the success and legitimacy of the UN presence in the field. In many cases in the recent past, peacekeepers did not use force to protect population coming under attack, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians. Therefore, UN missions need to be equipped with appropriate tools in order to address both the causes of crises and their consequences, including the protection of civilians, with a special attention to women, children and vulnerable persons.

Quite often, the complex reality on the ground makes difficult for peacekeepers to fully understand the action they have to perform for protecting the civilian population. In this respect, pre-deployment training is essential, as well as a zero tolerance policy to any kind of abuse. Training must be anchored in the respect for human rights and in the standards of integrity required by the United Nations. It has to include how to interact with local people and civil society organizations, especially those focused on the protection of women’s and children’s rights, because nothing is more damaging to the reputation and credibility of peacekeeping missions, and to the efforts to regain the trust of local populations, than Blue Helmets abusing those they have mandate to protect. Here, it is the Security Council’s responsibility to ensure that the protection mandate is clearly defined, achievable and backed with adequate resources. Out of the 16 UN peacekeeping operations in place today, ten have a mandate for protection of civilians. Romania is present in six of them.

Romanian experience proves the benefits of mixed teams, where female members of peacekeeping operations interact with women and vulnerable individuals from local communities. Complementary between training courses provided both at national and international level, in a way that they can offer to peacekeepers the skills to identify early warning indicators of potential risk for atrocity crimes, is also important.

For instance, prior to their deployment in peacekeeping operations, Romanian troops attend a three months period of strict training which includes protection of civilians and respect for human rights. As a result, in 25 years of continuous presence in UN peacekeeping missions and with a total of more than ten thousands Blue Helmets all over the world, Romanians have never been involved in incidents of disrespect of the civilian population. Currently, we are present with military, police and close protection officers in ten peacekeeping operations and in two special political missions.

At the same time, we must not neglect the serious danger peacekeepers continue to face to fulfill their mandates in some of the most dangerous parts of the world. They risk so much to advance peace in profoundly hostile environments, and we pay tribute to the men and women who so admirably dedicate their lives to protect the lives of others. Unknown by the public opinion, criticized sometimes for not doing more, many of them made their ultimate sacrifice. In 2015 only, 129 Blue Helmets died in mission and, unfortunately, others followed this year.

To limit the number of victims both among civilians and peacekeepers, a renewed focus has to be on conflict prevention and mediation. From this perspective, negotiated political solutions, early warning mechanisms to anticipate risks of atrocities, accepting the norms of Responsibility to Protect, and respect of the Kigali Principles on the protection of civilians in conflicts, are part of the solution. At present, 29 countries, including Romania, have endorsed the Kigali Principles, accounting for more than 40,000 troops serving under the UN flag.

Last but not the least, effective protection of civilians in armed conflicts needs an enhanced cooperation with regional and sub-regional organizations, because of their knowledge of the cultural, social and historical regional realities. The African Union and the European Union are two good examples, both organizations being strategic partners of the UN in the peacekeeping efforts.

Finally, proper implementation of the Agenda 2030 will further contribute to tackling the root causes of conflicts, because many conflicts and crises they generate have roots in poverty, in the lack of basic resources such as water and food, denied access to education, inequality, migration due to climate change, and the absence of any hope for a better future. Therefore, the Agenda 2030 marks a paradigm shift in approaching emerging challenges and requires us to commit to eradicating extreme poverty, fighting inequality, empowering women and girls, protecting the vulnerable ones, improving governance, encouraging sustainable and inclusive economic growth, and leaving no one behind.