On Accountability

— "Thought provoking." — is what I noted late December 2014, having read Charles P. Pierce's piece "The CIA & NYPD: Perilous Insubordination In Our Democracy" in Esquire's online edition. Especially noteworthy I found the following statement: "The men who signed the Declaration had long experience with what happens when the legal and political institutions of a state, and the people charged with their operation, suddenly consider themselves above the civil power they are supposed to serve — which, or so said Mr. Jefferson of Virginia, derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. That, they saw, was the true danger to their liberties posed by the government of the colonies at that time."

United Nations peacekeeping operations face criticism, confronted with broad accusations of being unaccountable. Is that criticism justified? Is it not? How to gauge, to assess validity of the argument? How "much" unaccountability in order to agree, or what "minimum" standard in order to disagree? Attempting to respond is difficult: The defendant finds herself in a catch-22-situation, disputing the claim opens the rhetorical path to “See, guilty as charged". And do fact-based answers reach the same target audience that is been told we are broadly having an accountability problem? Does this matter to those who raise this concern? Casting this doubt has been combined with the argument that peacekeeping is too expensive. For starters: The roughly 7 billion USD that are left after a cut of nearly 9 % this year, they represent less than 0.05% of the annual worldwide expenditure into military.

However, the attack vector is political, responses that do not recognize this do fail. But does this mean that critics can be politically incorrect, loud, aggressive, lamenting, or pushy, and that factual answers fail to reach the emotional realm of an angry audience that is already geared up against anything alien? Repetition does not increase validity, or does it?

There is no alternative to fact-checking. So here I go:

Accountability is a core principle of the United Nations and I hold myself to account for the area that UN Police represent: Accountability is a key concept for international policing of the UN. We do assist policing systems which are troubled by emerging conflict, have been disrupted by conflict, or have been part of conflict. We strive for leading them onto a path towards a policing model based on humanitarian and democratic values, accountable to the people they serve.

The General Assembly (composed of all member States of the UN) defined accountability in its Resolution 64/259 as “the obligation of the Secretariat and its staff members to be answerable for all decisions made and actions taken by them, and to be responsible for honouring their commitments, without qualification or exception.” Further, the General Assembly enumerates core elements of accountability, including “achieving objectives and high-quality results in a timely and cost-effective manner, in fully implementing and delivering on all mandates to the Secretariat approved by the United Nations intergovernmental bodies and other subsidiary organs established by them in compliance with all resolutions, regulations, rules and ethical standards; truthful, objective, accurate and timely reporting on performance results; responsible stewardship of funds and resources; all aspects of performance, including a clearly defined system of rewards and sanctions; and with due recognition to the important role of the oversight bodies and in full compliance with accepted recommendations.” At a minimum, an accountability framework within the United Nations context has to consist of i) a political covenant with Member States which provide to the organization the institutional mandates, priorities/guidance and the resources to implement those priorities; ii) internal controls (pro-active elements); and iii) complaints and response mechanisms (reactive elements).

Using the term "accountability" requires a context, as otherwise it can mean anything. Examining accountability therefore always needs to include answers to (1) "Who is accountable to whom?"; (2) "What is the liability one is being held accountable for?"; and (3) "What are the underpinning values?".

The United Nations defines “policing” as a function of governance responsible for the prevention, detection and investigation of crime; the protection of persons and property; and the maintenance of public order and safety. Policing must be entrusted to civil servants who are members of police or other law enforcement agencies of national, regional or local governments, within a legal framework that is based on the rule of law.

In elaborating on the institutions that should be entrusted with the function of policing, the Strategic Guidance Framework for UN policing says: In accordance with United Nations standards, every police or other law enforcement agency should be representative of and responsive and accountable to the community it serves.

The above paragraphs reflect the work of many years. Much of this work has been invested into a dialogue with experts and the political constituency of the United Nations: The member States. There are those who question the length of coming to terms with a common reference. In any multinational organization consent requires time, and patience. With 193 member States, the UN belongs to the largest multinational organizations, so the duration of a process soliciting agreement on fundamental principles that affect people all over the World comes as no surprise. The alternative would be that either (1) UN police continue to have no common reference at all, or (2) unilateral or multilateral understandings would continue to prevail: Some of us would be more equal than others, self-righteously defining how we see the world of policing. It would result in repelling such an imposition, thus it would result in fragmentation. Of this, we have already too much.
One core value of the United Nations is it’s capacity and legitimacy representing all of us, rather than particular interests. To have a common understanding of what policing is, how it should be performed, and how the police should be held accountable, is huge.

It includes accountability, explicitly and as a core element of what we call the Strategic Guidance Framework for UN international policing, meticulously described in every aspect of our work. We currently work on a robust framework how we, United Nations police, want to be held accountable ourselves. That is especially relevant because we have a fourfold liability:

  1. To the civilians that we protect;
  2. To the legitimate institutions that we assist in their development;
  3. To those who mandate us with doing that: The Security Council;
  4. To the Police Contributing Countries who give us their best women and men.

We have put into a modern and worldwide understanding what founding fathers of modern societies serving their people have had on their minds: …what happens when the legal and political institutions of a State, and the people charged with their operation, suddenly consider themselves above the civil power they are supposed to serve, which … derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. But why did I begin with this quote? Because in societies that do not suffer from contemporary conflicts, but who are affected by it in their security, we easily take for granted values which are the achievements of centuries, if not millennia. Who would believe that war could break out in, say, Canada, or that injustice and disruption of democratic principles could happen in, say, France? We have taken the principles of our founding fathers for granted.

By contrast, UN police witnesses what happens where fundamental values are absent. Who believes that it is enough to have them enshrined in some constitutional and legal documents, and that it will take a long way to erode them: History, including the most recent past, provides an uncomfortably high number of country situations where such naive assessment is proven painfully wrong. That is why our common striving for a better World as One is more important than perhaps ever before, and why each and everyone needs to critically reflect on whether enough accountability ensures the checks and balances of a system where the rule of law prevails. The opposite of the rule of law is the rule of the powerful.

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