This week’s hot links include humanitarian action, terrorism strategy, innovation and the war on drugs.

26 Apr

This week, the Overseas Development Institute Humanitarian Policy Group released the Time To Let Go: Remaking humanitarian action for the modern era report. A three-point proposal to change the humanitarian system as new research reveals the humanitarian sector’s failure to adapt to a rapidly changing world. Written by Christina Bennett and co authored by Matthew Foley, the authors state that ‘despite a decade of system-wide reforms, the sector still falls short in the world’s most enduring crises.’ The authors believe that the ‘humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence are universally applicable, regardless of context or culture. But like the organisations that claim adherence to them, they were established at a particular historical juncture: they are not necessarily innate or intrinsic to humanitarianism.’ The writers acknowledge ‘that there is no single response model’ that would be a ‘significant step towards engaging a wider and more diverse set of actors in crisis response.’ The report states that ‘today’s conflicts are as much driven by identity politics as by geopolitics, and are played out as much within communities as on the frontlines.’ The writers cite continued civilian suffering in ‘conflicts in Syria, CAR, Libya, South Sudan and Yemen’ are a sobering reminder of the international community’s continued ‘failure to translate legal obligations and norms around the conduct of war into tangible benefits for civilians.’ Bennett states that ‘effectively addressing people’s needs – not ideology – should dictate operational approaches and tools.’ This idea is expanded ‘reconstituting humanitarian action involves acknowledging that humanitarian response in protracted crises and in emergencies that combine conflict, disaster and endemic poverty requires a departure from ideal types in favour of a more honest and ethical response to people’s needs.’ Follow the conversation around this topic by searching #RemakeAid on Twitter.


Maina Kiai, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Freedom of Assembly, recently had a three-day visit to the UK in which he warned Britain must live up to its human rights commitments. Kiai described the UK government’s strategy to counter Islamist extremism is affecting the discussion of terrorism. He believes that attempts to identify and counter Islamist extremism through the Prevent programme had “created unease and uncertainty around what can be legitimately discussed in public.” The Kenyan lawyer has served in his role with the UN since 2011. Three years ago he published a report criticising UK police for their intelligence gathering on domestic extremists, the use of secret police to infiltrate peaceful protest groups, and excessive use of force in dealing with demonstrations. Kiai warned that Prevent was having the opposite of its intended effect. “By dividing, stigmatising and alienating segments of the population, Prevent could end up promoting extremism, rather than countering it,” he said. “We’ve gone through terrorism eras, Europe especially has seen massive terrorism in the 60s, 70s and 80s that was going on, managed to handle that by retaining an open society. I think the challenge is how we address the threat of terrorism without restricting people.” The Home Office response have responded stating that “This is challenging but absolutely necessary work. Currently the greatest threat comes from terrorist recruiters inspired by Daesh. Our Prevent programme will necessarily reflect this by prioritising support for vulnerable individuals, and working in partnership with British Muslim communities and civil society groups.”

Iva Dobichina, Associate Director for Participation with the Open Society Human Rights Initiative, writing for Open Democracy discusses when silencing active citizens in the name of security creates even greater problems. She believes that this can stifle ‘actors most likely to challenge extremist ideologies, making insecurity worse.’ The global governance frameworks around counterterrorism and international development have framed the role, value and impact of civil society ‘as a critical ally but also, more recently, as a threat.’ She believes that ‘at best, donor governments have acknowledged civil society as a key partner in fostering development, peace and security. At worst, some aid recipient governments have sought to limit the role of development and human rights groups only to delivering public services, or they view civil society as an enabler for funding terrorist groups.’ However she is optimistic that there are still ‘opportunities for civil society actors to use counterterrorism and development policies and processes to their advantage.’ Dobichina analyses global counterterrorism standards and development frameworks, concluding that ‘If experiences around the role of civic engagement in finding innovative solutions to complex development problems and preventing extremism can be used to open the space for participation, then our partners might be able to tell a different story—not about closing space but about the importance of civil society in keeping the public sphere open for everyone.’

Benjamin Kumpf, writing for Devex, begins by posing several questions examining the need for innovation in relation to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The need to innovate is inherent in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Kumpf describes innovation in the development agenda as including ‘new processes, new technologies, or new ways of using existing technology.’ He states ‘No matter what the innovation, it must add value for the end user. A new technology or process that does not create a positive change in the lives of the people we work for does not qualify as innovation.’ He publicises the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Year in Review 2015 ‘which offers examples and lessons.’ Kumpf offers six ways to innovate to achieve the new global development agenda and address growing humanitarian needs worldwide. Invite external expertise, ‘Open Innovation Challenges have enjoyed a renaissance in the development and humanitarian sector because they harvest new ideas and talent.’ Focus on the change, not the solution, ‘evaluate their impact. Without evidence of impact, support for innovation will dramatically decrease.’ Forget creativity: Formulate and test hypotheses. ‘Reframing innovation from a process of creativity and idea-generation to a method of formulating and testing assumptions helps partners design better innovation trials.’ Fewer pilots, more scale. ‘Scaling up an initiative aims to reach more people, and scaling out an initiative aims to transfer a successful model to another context. Both cases require the capacity to adapt and thinking about scale in the initial design.’ Embrace politics. “Despite innovation efforts and optimism across the development sector, few innovations lead to actual sustainable, systemic change,” as the Overseas Development Institute noted in a recent research paper, “Innovating for pro-poor services: why politics matter.” ‘Barriers for bringing innovations to scale are often political in nature, and navigating politics in innovation and public-sector reform must be done out in the open.’ Make systems-thinking practical. ‘The Agenda 2030 is based on systems-thinking and emphasizes that the development goals are indivisible. A major challenge for governments today is to ensure that goals are not addressed in isolation and effects are not measured against single indicators.’ Kumpf summarises by emphasising the UNDP commitment to tackle ‘tough development challenges and learn along the way.’

The United Nations General Assembly gathered in New York last week for a special session to discuss how the world’s nations can together combat the global drug problem. Mona Chalabi, data editor at The Guardian US, believes that the ‘war on drugs’ in numbers shows a systematic failure of policy, commenting that the ‘decision on an appropriate strategy will probably be a matter of fierce debate – but even the terminology to be used remains contentious.’ In 2009, the Obama administration said that the term “war on drugs” was counterproductive because it made some people feel as though they were being targeted. However, where long-term data is available, it does point to systematic failures in drug policies. A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2013 found that despite efforts to limit the supply of these drugs, since 1990 prices have fallen while the purity of the drugs has increased. Chalabi states that ‘the trends were similar in the US and in Europe. The authors’ conclusion was clear: “These findings suggest that expanding efforts at controlling the global illegal drug market through law enforcement are failing.”’ For further commentary on global drug policy, Natasha Horsefield, for the New Internationalist, writes that the ‘prioritization of a drug free world has been at the expense of sustainable development, health and peace for some of the most marginalized communities worldwide. These consequences of the so called ‘war on drugs’ will heavily impact the achievement of many of the SDGs if they continue unreformed.’

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