WHO Is Going to Be In Charge? The World Health Organization’s Lack of Guidance In The 21st Century – Blessing Ikpa

When the first cases of Ebola was first documented in Yambuku, Zaire (present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1976, the lack of technology and knowledge led the World Health Organization (WHO) to not take necessary actions as needed. As information was made readily available as to how to combat Ebola, the fight to end the epidemic became more strategic. 300 people died due to Ebola in this time, but with the help of  the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Ebola had been eradicated for the time being.

With the second outbreak of Ebola to hit present-day DRC, many people became frustrated as to the lack of resources being readily available. Knowing what the disease entails, why wouldn’t a vaccine be prepared for when the next outbreak was surely going to hit the area? Many other outbreaks were noted by Laurie Garrett, Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council of Foreign Relations, and others couldn’t understand why WHO still has not taken the initiative to step in and find preventable ways to treat this disease. When Ebola was first discovered in the United States, many people were quick to find a solution and prevent the disease from causing an outbreak. This has left people to wonder whether consideration is only given to developed countries who have the economic and sustainable means to combat such a disease.

The World Health Organization centers itself around being the globally known institution in which people can lean on in terms of national disasters, epidemics and other prominent health crises. Time and energy has been spent into reconfiguring WHO, but not as much resources have been poured into building up local and national health systems, primarily in developing countries. In Garrett’s article, “How the WHO Mishandled the Crisis,” detailed examples are given as to how the WHO failed with other grave outbreaks such as HIV and Swine Flu. WHO has portrayed themselves in an unfortunate light, with being too fixated on governance and politics and not giving much consideration to actual situations that need to be addressed.

With WHO having the governing power and authority that they possess, more efforts should be placed in elevating local and national health systems. When outbreaks are first beginning in an area, it is imperative that local physicians have the knowledge of what is going on and how to combat the outbreak before it becomes an epidemic. There is a level of frustration when consultation with WHO goes nowhere. By the time WHO effectively steps in (concerning developing countries), hundreds of people have died and there is still no solution to the actual disease itself. Coming from a place of understanding, WHO has been gridlocked into deciding between action or inaction. There has been a discussion surrounding when WHO should intervene and if it is too early to intervene within a country. Yet, WHO would not have to spend so much time deciding whether or not to intervene medically if local and national health systems were able to decipher for themselves what needs to be done.

When the WHO confirmed an Ebola outbreak in March 2014, it was not until five months later that WHO declared the outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). This goes back to the inefficiency in the WHO being able to detect outbreaks and effectively work alongside local health systems in order to contain the outbreak. It’s not possible to keep every person alive who comes into contact with the disease, but the high numbers of people dying because of ineffectiveness on the ends of local health systems and WHO is unacceptable.

The World Health Organization, along with other prominent institutions in the United Nations, are focused on their status among powerful countries. Especially with powerful countries who are often high-dollar donors to international institutions, keeping the donors happy is something many organizations face on a daily basis. Yet, as powerful as WHO and the UN are, there needs to be effective pushback towards these countries.

Yes, WHO was able to respond in a more timely manner to the outbreak of Zika (even though the outbreak was not nearly as large as Ebola), but this does not deter from their inefficiency as an international organization. This does not correlate to the WHO learning their lesson from the Ebola epidemic. Rather, they have overcompensated in terms of trying to stay ahead of outbreaks, which is admirable. But can we confidently believe that WHO has learned from the past? Does WHO only learn when outbreaks reach the Western world and/or donor countries? Hopefully, WHO will learn to work alongside local and national health systems in order to advance the health and protection of all people.


Can UN Peace Operations Evolve With the World Around Them? – Blessing Ikpa

The United Nations Peace Operations is comprised of individuals who are experienced in the areas of conflict resolution, peacekeeping and peacebuilding with attempts to highlight places in need of change. With its creation in 1948, the conversation around military force being deployed in peace operations has been evolving. Yet, has it evolved to the standards of the 21st century?  There needs to be a strict boundary in which the usage of UN Peace Operations is properly enforced when need be, with regard being given to the autonomy of sovereignty of its member-states.

The concept of sovereignty is important to any member-state of the United Nations, which makes using military force in peace operations more difficult to navigate. Thomas Weiss et al. (2014) arguably note how the Security Council was largely missing in humanitarian matters during the Cold War. Now, the Security Council has found them in the complicated relationship of employing military force too soon. It is important that UN Peacekeepers fulfill mandates to protect citizens of member-states but the use of force has become more robust with “war-fighting mandates” that could be alleviated.

The United Nations has always stood behind the notion that no member-state will be forced to follow or participate in a specified mandate. Even though the peace operations have been deployed into Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Syria, there is nothing holding countries to uphold peace mandates. With the situation in the Balkans, all eyes were on the great powers for the political environment in the background. China and Russia were debating on even labeling the situation as a “humanitarian bombing”, which leads to how powerful countries can have a stronger say over the UN. Even if the answer to war crimes is through the international courts, this does not mean that a proper answer to positive peace can happen.

In another internal report on the UN Peace Operations, a few bullet points were laid out such as:

  • Engaging with host countries and local communities to ensure mission success
  • Improving speed, capability, and performance of unified personnel
  • The full spectrum of peace operations must be used more flexibly to respond to changing needs on the ground
  • The UN Secretariat must become more field-focused and UN peace operations must be more people-centered.

Though many of these points are valid and should be fully implemented, the possibility of coming to fruition is daunting. Though the UN Peace Operations have evolved since the 1990s in terms of strategy and challenges to the growth of operations, but has not reached the level of being “people-centered” and “field-focused”. Cases of sexual violence from peacekeepers and confusion around the responsibility to protect does not gain traction of being able to keep up with the changing world around us.

The guiding principles of UN Peace Operations are Impartiality, Consent, and Limited Use of Force. None of these principles have been adequately met since the idea of peacekeeping is still relatively new to the United Nations. The lines between peace mandates and the responsibility to protect have been blurred significantly. When fulfilling a peace mandate, the idea of state sovereignty is only “contingent on responsible governmental behavior” as stated from Weiss. How can peace be positively accomplished if sovereignty can only be respected when a country is acting according to vague terms? Nothing can be executed sufficiently if there is not a clear, consistent value in achieving positive peace?

With an internal review conducted of UN Peace Operations, a recommendation was given on creating effective strategies for conflict prevention but does not accurately touch on the topic of military intervention and the use of force. When the United Nations is found with the challenge of intervening, military force should not always be at use. The Secretariat is given the power to apply “best-case planning assumptions” when needed, but if this continues to only use the voices of great powers, peace cannot be achieved. The United Nations as an international organization must work to gain credibility over countries such as Russia, China, and the United States.

The efficiency and credibility of the United Nations, along with various other international institutions, is beginning to reach a turning point. Even if NATO was to become more involved, what would this mean for the fulfillment of peace mandates? Powerful countries and their political adversaries have cluttered the usefulness of the UN Peace Operations. If peace is going to be achieved, the use of military force and the decline of state sovereignty must be fully addressed. Even though the UN Peace Operations have made strides, this could all become futile if credibility and sustainability is lost.


The need of coordination with regional organizations to end sexual violence in peace operations – María Camila Alarcón

Allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) within the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations affect not only its credibility but also its ability to carry out its mandate. Numerous reports and recommendations have been issued and implemented in the past decade to address the problem. Despite this, the allegations continue to increase, which means that more needs to be done. Efforts to prevent new cases from occurring must be supported by a strong framework to ensure and increase criminal accountability of perpetrators. The gap between international law and domestic legislations of troop-contributing countries (TCC) needs to be addressed so the UN can play a more determinant role in investigating and prosecuting SEA allegations. Naming and shaming of TCCs that refuse to investigate and prosecute should be part of the UN strategy. The Security Council Resolution 2272, with its limitations, is an important step to review the relationship between the UN and the TCCs, and a key tool to put pressure on states that refuse to investigate. However, in order to be effective, the UN needs to coordinate its measures and mechanisms with other regional organizations that provide peacekeeping missions such as the African Union (AU) or NATO.  Continue reading

State Security vs. Human Security: Is Reciprocity Possible in the Refugee Crisis?

The refugee crises today are some of the worst since WWII. Despite the strong legal frameworks, proliferation of non-state actors, and enhanced communication capabilities available to deal with these sorts of challenges, why is cooperation so difficult to achieve? After the end of World War II, several international organizations were created that introduced the concept of ‘human security’ to a world that had previously understood ‘security’ as something that was the sole reserve of the state. In lessons taken from the world wars, this new concept of human security was claimed to be complementary to state security and even necessary for international peace and security. Yet, today this concept of human security has run up against state security, underlining the lack of political community and reciprocity between the global North and South. Western countries with the resources to resettle refugees refuse to do so and Amnesty International now claims that 86% of the world’s refugees are now in developing countries. In the end, state security continues to be given primacy over the norms of responsibility, reciprocity, and burden-sharing enshrined in conventions to protect refugees. Continue reading

Blurred Lines in Humanitarian Assistance

As conflict changes to become more protracted and less compliant with international humanitarian law (IHL), relief organizations are often forced to balance security needs and uphold the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence. This balancing act should theoretically not occur since IHL stresses that delivery of humanitarian assistance is dependent on the consent of involved combatants and access granted on impartial grounds. In reality, relief organizations have experienced an increase in attacks targeting aid workers, largely due to the politicization and militarization of humanitarian assistance. Continue reading

“Para sa Atin” – “For Our Own”: Philippine Self Interest at ASEAN and the UN

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been on the radar of the international community by being a trailblazer of controversy. Having only been in office since June 30, Duterte has been recognized around the world for his verbal tirades against the US and his alarming crackdown on crime and drugs. Duterte’s entrance into mainstream Philippine politics, however, has been welcomed by Filipinos who see his administration as a break in the elitist Manileñan grip of power. Perceived as brash, outspoken, and nationalistic, Duterte comes off to the rest of the world as a leader who does not understand the consequences of his actions. Yet, Duterte’s track record as a public servant working for the interests of the Philippine people is significant. Duterte was a former prosecutor, served as a local mayor, and is now in the highest office. “Embarking on this crusade for a better and brighter tomorrow” for Filipinos, Duterte seems to be on the quest for a strong Philippines in South East Asia. How has he been doing this? In his first several months in office, Duterte has been exploiting the presence of regional and international organizations for Philippine self-interest.

Attempting to resolve the best possible outcome for the Filipino people in the South China Sea dispute, Duterte has been playing “a skillful realist…[knowing] how to appropriately balance between China and the United States.” Duterte needed to deal with various facts coming into play. First, China rejected the ruling made by the Permanent Court of Arbitration that gave the Philippines exclusive rights over its designated territory in the South China Sea. Second, the US has been increasingly involving itself in the South China Sea to protect its own national interests. Third, with Duterte coming from Mindanao (the Southern most part of the Philippines), his orientation towards the US has not been forthcoming. Alongside other Mindanaoans, Duterte detests the historical intervention of the US in this particular region of the Philippines which has led to atrocities like the Jolo Massacre.

Needing to assert Philippine sovereignty from both China and the US, Duterte employed a strategic naming and shaming campaign against the US at the ASEAN conference this year. The effects of this campaign would be two fold. First, it would serve as a power play of words to China. By showing that the Philippines has the audacity to stick it to the US, Duterte would show that the Philippines stands for its own interests in South East Asia. Second, it would serve as power warning to the US that the Philippines will assert its sovereignty when encroached upon. Duterte’s fiery invective against President Obama leading up to ASEAN and his closing speech at ASEAN which publicly admonished the US’ involvement in Mindanaoan affairs exploited the very norms that characterized the ASEAN Way. Duterte’s reproach at ASEAN not only broke face, but also disrupted the norms of mutual respect and quiet diplomacy that distinguishes ASEAN as a regional organization. As a result however, Duterte’s brazen attitude has led the way for China to consider reopening talks regarding the South China Sea, which could hopefully lead to the US to back off from the maritime region.

Duterte’s objective in attaining a crime and drug free Philippines is what he believes is the best way to secure law and order and fight corruption for the interests of the Filipino people. Yet, the coverage of extrajudicial killings for Duterte’s War on Drugs has been referred to as a crime against humanity. UN Special Experts on Human Rights have even criticized and urged for a halt to these unlawful killings in the country. In response, Duterte has denounced upon the failures of the UN to solve issues in other regions of the world, and has even alluded to the Philippines leaving the UN to pursue its national interests. Duterte even proclaimed in the hypocrisy and toothlessness of the UN for accusing the Philippines of such an atrocity, while disregarding the historic violations of the US (like police brutality). In turn, Duterte exploited the presence of the UN by citing its inability to effectively enforce anything as his justification for his War on Drugs.

Overall, Duterte’s first several months in office shows a realist Philippines looking for ways to exert its sovereignty in South East Asia. By looking at how Duterte maneuvered through ASEAN and UN Rapporteurs for Filipino national interests, weaknesses of both regional and international organizations have come to light. Shared practices in regional organizations can be easily broken for the pursuit of national interests. The collective action problems, special treatment of developed states, and failures of international organizations can detract from their legitimacy when put up against national interests.