Mandela’s Legacy? Will be what we make it…

UNAMID Observes Nelson Mandela International Day

The passing of Nelson Mandela is a sombre time, not just for South Africa but for the whole world. The coming together of numerous Presidents, Prime Ministers and Religious Leaders, of friends, allies, and even enemies to celebrate the life of Mandela is a sign of his impact on the international community. However, this blog does not seek to do what others can and have done better. As Obama stated, ‘It is hard to eulogise any man… how much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation towards justice’. Instead, it looks at what legacy should we attempt to give to Mandela, and one fitting for a man who fought for justice and human rights for all. As Mandela himself said, ‘To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity’. The full enjoyment of Human Rights by all and the alleviation of poverty and disease are a challenge that Nelson Mandela fought for, and one that can and must be achieved. This is the only fitting legacy we can offer.

The international community has come so far since the signing, on the 10th December 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, yet its first Article, that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights […]’ is still far from realised. Ban Ki-moon, in his address at Mandela’s commemoration stated that ‘our struggle continues – against inequality and intolerance and for prosperity and peace’. We must remember that there are innumerable people in the world that are vulnerable and in need of our help. Many are still fighting the battle that Mandela fought in South Africa. The example that Mandela provides is of a value that is hard to quantify. Mandela campaigned against Racism and Bigotry, focused on HIV/Aids, his dream for our children was one in which ‘every child’ has a first-class primary education, and the elimination of ‘all preventable diseases in society’ so that we can say ‘in theory and in practice’ that we regard our ‘children as the jewels in our society’.

There are many good news stories that are signs of what we can achieve. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS welcomed today a $12 billion commitment by international partners to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The number of people killed by malaria has been cut by nearly half in Africa, an amazing step forward. An independent United Nations human rights expert recently ‘welcomed the release of 44 prisoners of conscience in Myanmar’, a small victory but each one of these 44 is part of a family and a community, and their release will be greeted with joy. President of the Human Rights Council, Remigiusz A. Henczel, stated that ‘The United Nations Human Rights Council has achieved significant progress in the past year, implementing an increasing number of mandates’. Successes were far-reaching and would have a dramatic impact on those it sought to protect. These included resolutions on ‘the elimination of early and forced marriages, the question of the death penalty, as well as the role of freedom of opinion and women’s empowerment’.

All these instances show that progress is possible and is happening right now. Of course there are countless stories of terrifying poverty, disease and human rights violations, but these should spur us on to do more. Obama said ‘Nelson Mandela had taught the world the power of action and the power of ideas’. Aung San Suu Kyi Burma’s pro-democracy leader paid her tribute, Mandela ‘stood for human rights and for equality in this world. He also made us understand that we can change the world’. It is up to all who want to be part of a fitting legacy to take these words, and Mandela’s example to heart.

We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference’. (Nelson Mandela).

Michael Stagg


Photo: UN photo – Oliver Chassot


What is International Law Anyway?

Russian Leader Welcomes US President at G-20 Summit, St. Petersburg

Thousands dead, millions displaced and not much ground gained for either side. You could be forgiven for thinking I am describing the battle of the Somme, but this is in fact the reality of Syria. Like a tragic saga unfolding, the Americans and the Russians have been thrust into the starring roles, but seem to have two separate scripts to the play.

On August 21st the chemical attack launched in Syrian towns, killed at least 1,000 people and was almost immediately blamed on the Assad government by the US and the UK. However after the attack, the Syrian Army strenuously denied responsibility, blaming it on the opposition rebel forces, with the backing of western powers. Parliament was recalled and we seemed to be hurtling headlong into a weekend of bombing without any regard for Security Council sanctions or International law.

The United Nations is often accused of being inept and useless at preventing or solving conflict in present times. And Syria is the latest glowing example of just why this is. I don’t sit on the fence, my mentality tells me to question how military strikes against Assad could do anything other than adding more chaos to an already anarchic situation.  Breathing a sigh of relief when Parliament voted against military intervention alongside the US, I couldn’t help but also feel frustrated by military action being the ‘politics by other means’ of our generation.

The world is war weary just as they were in the post WWI climate, and the vast majority of people have clearly indicated that they do not want, nor see how strikes can help the already reeling country of Syria.  Barack Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner who stated that the US could strike Syria even before the UN weapons report came in. Then following the defeat in parliament of David Cameron, Obama agreed to take it to Congress but admitted again that, strikes would still not be ruled out even if Congress said no! Luckily John Kerry suggested a solution  involving Syria’s chemical weapons being handed over to the International community, and although he dismissed it as an option that ‘would not happen’ – the Russians saw a potential beacon of light in this dark situation. When Obama addressed the nation on Syria, he spoke of American exceptionalism as a good thing, it’s “what makes Americans different, it’s what makes us exceptional”, he declared. With this thought in mind, it can be mentioned that when polls were taken in Egypt, in 2010, a staggering 80 percent of the population believed the US and Israel to be the biggest threats they face. Is the US actually becoming increasingly aggressive rather than exceptional?

Did a sleeping giant wake with the Iraq and Afghanistan interventions, does America now see itself as self-designated policeman of the international community? Take Iraq and the mythical weapons of Mass Destruction that were never found. Or Afghanistan, presumed likely to slide into civil war when international forces leave. At the time of writing, the Taliban has just claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on the US consulate in the country. Is it the mess which is Libya that shows the failing of the UN so well? The Russians believe they were sold out and are determined to not make the same mistake with Syria, with the main objective of the offensive becoming regime change. And who can blame them, it’s happened before. I share in Vladimir Putin’s worry that, “military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States”.

The League of Nations failed because national interests were stronger than a desire for true world peace and equality. It lacked any real credibility especially when the US did not become a signatory. The UN is in real danger of falling down the same wayside. One thing that does seem apparent is the need to modify and strengthen it as a tool of international law. If it can be bypassed and sidestepped at will, to suit the powerful, we have indeed, already lost it. The words peace and equality seem as moribund as ever, diplomacy is another relative limping sadly behind the big guns of our modern times. That there was a chemical attack is not in dispute, but what happens next, is in my view just as important as the choices of whether to bomb or not to bomb Iraq ten years ago…

Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue and diplomacy to be the only way forward on Syria. Speaking with the echo of many countries, citizens and even the Pope behind their statement, they categorically state that they ‘do not protect the Syrian government, but international law’. Anything other than self-defence or a decision taken by the Security Council is not in accordance with international law, and is seen as an ‘act of aggression’. We could break the mould; renew the lack of trust in Western policy towards the Middle East. I guess we have to ask ourselves, what kind of world do we want to live in, and how do we want to achieve peace in these turbulent times?

America and China now on board! Climate change and a new hope for action.

kivalina coast

It has taken some time for the United States to make a move on CO2 emissions and climate change. Recently Barack Obama has made a significant move towards aiding a comprehensive international action plan. Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Christiana Figueres has “applauded” the move by Obama to implement a climate change plan within America and believes this marks a change in the international landscape. The Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC admits that there is a “worrying shortfall in action” at the present time. However, it is hoped this move by Obama will help to improve political trust and business momentum while driving forward new low and non-carbon technologies.  As Christiana Figueres asserts the US plan may well galvanise the international community and comes in the midst of UN-led negotiations on a new universal climate change treaty. As Ban Ki-moon has stated “no country, no community is immune” to the effects of climate change. It is this international dimension that makes the United Nations the only organisation capable of coordinating the agreements needed to deal with this global threat.

The plan presented by Obama talks of cutting carbon emissions (17% cut of 2005 levels by the end of the decade) engaging with the international community (music to the ears of many) and preparing for the impacts of climate change. This last assertion is a vital piece of the puzzle. There will be consequences that cannot be prevented by any future agreements over CO2 cuts. Such consequences are already being felt within the United States itself. The Inuit community of Kivalina (Alaska) recently failed in their final attempt to seek compensation for the impact of global warming from the company they saw as responsible. However, Obama’s move to prepare for the impacts should and must mean that those affected by climate change will not have to personally fight against powerful companies. Instead they must be supported and protected by their governments and the international community. Indeed the court ruling stated that “the solution to Kivalina’s dire circumstances must rest in the hands of the legislative and executive branches of our [United States] government, not the federal common law”. This is not to say that those companies that are adding to the CO2 problem are off the hook. Obama states that it is not right that “Power plants can still dump limitless carbon pollution into the air for free”. Let us hope, for the sake of the Kivalina community and many more communities throughout the world that the United States new plan is more than rhetoric. With such acts of Presidential power as this bypassing of a deadlocked Congress over new rules for greenhouse gas emissions, there are signs that this is no PR stunt.

This move by the US is a vital one. However the US is no longer the number one CO2 emitter in the world. China has taken this unwelcome honour and has recently acknowledged this responsibility by announcing plans to set a CO2 emissions cap by 2016. This is a start and if followed through is a significant moment for the fight against climate change championed by the UN and NGO’s and a great boost to the on-going negotiations. As the US and China make up 37% of global CO2 emissions the statements by both these countries must be cause for hope and encouragement for us all.

Attempts to protect communities such as Kivalina from the now inevitable impacts of climate change are an important part of the necessary response to climate change. However, potential climate change refugees can only be handled on the small scale that Kivalina and other such communities represent. 20 million were displaced in 2010 in Pakistan’s “mega floods”, a frightening number. However, it has been estimated by Refugees International that by 2050 there could be 200 million people displaced by natural disasters and climate change, with the poorest and most vulnerable countries hit hardest. This may be unavoidable, however we must persevere. Therefore, the statements by the US and China, the continued dedication of the United Nations officials and countless committed NGO devotees must give increasing hope that the plight of the Kivalina inhabitants and those in Pakistan shall not befall increasing and possible overwhelming numbers in the future.


Michael Stagg



Thomas, A. & Rendon, R. (2010). Confronting Climate Displacement: Learning from Pakistan’s Floods. Refugee International