#73 The G|O Briefing, October 14, 2021

Outrage over accusations of "dark funding" for human rights experts | IOs and "partisan technocrats" | Who will reshape the global order?

This is an onsite, slightly edited republication of the complete G|O Briefing newsletter

Today in The Geneva Observer, we begin with a long read about a report on the funding of the UN human rights experts that is creating some significant waves in the community. Written by the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), a conservative NGO which denounces what it calls the “dark funding” of the Human Rights Council’s (HRC) Special Procedures (the body of independent human rights experts who report to and advise the HRC), the document is of broader importance for International Geneva, where private foundations play an important role—as this interactive map shows. In the final analysis, transparency and accountability are the two central elements that allow us to measure independence—be it for an international organisation or for the media­­. Ironically, the report lacks both, say its critics.

A new global institutional order is being shaped. No news here; the old one is in dire need of profound reforms. The last United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 76) offered a few clues on a possible future international order, former Spanish Foreign Minister Ana Palacio tells us in an enlightening analysis. For Palacio, "Those visions fall into five categories: Standard Bearers, Ambivalent Actors, Smooth Operators, Disruptive Strategists, and Renewers."

Who will prevail? Read on, it's all below.

Elsewhere in the Ecosystem

As expected, the United States is back at the Human Rights Council. Washington received 168 out of 193 votes at the UN General Assembly. “Having fulfilled President Biden’s campaign pledge to rejoin the Human Rights Council, we can work to ensure this body lives up to these principles,” said US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield minutes after Thursday’s vote, adding "we will press against the election of countries with egregious human rights records and encourage those committed to promoting and protecting human rights both in their own countries and abroad to seek membership.”

October 1 was the deadline for candidates to apply for the top job at the International Labour Organization (ILO), bidding to replace current D-G Guy Ryder, whose term expires in September of next year. Five candidates, three men and two women (all, except for the South African candidate, supported by their respective governments), have each put forward their vision statement and CV, which are all accessible on the organisation’s website or by clicking on their names. In chronological order of their submission, they are:

  • Greg Vines, current Deputy Director-General of the ILO, submitted by the Australian Government
  • Gilbert F. Houngbo, current President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), submitted by the Government of Togo
  • Mthunzi Mdwaba, Vice-Chairperson and Officer of the Governing Body of the ILO, submitted by members of the ILO Governing Body
  • Muriel Pénicaud, former French Minister of Labour, submitted by the French Government
  • Kang Kyung-wha, former South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs, submitted by the Government of the Republic of Korea

The interview process will start in January, with a first meeting with the Chairperson of the organisation’s governing body. We will be following the story closely as it progresses.

The candidates may find a recent  book of interest. We tend to think of automation as a process that eliminates work. In Work without the Worker, Phil Jones argues that instead it makes it invisible as so much of our digital economy runs on the unseen efforts of poorly paid gig workers, many of them in the Global South.

Staying with international organizations, does the political bent of a Director-General impact an organisation’s policy? Absolutely, answer Mark Copelovitch and Stéphanie Rickard, the authors of ‘Partisan Technocrats’.  Here is an excerpt from the abstract of their research paper, which focuses exclusively on the IMF — very much in the news these days:

“International organizations make policy decisions that affect the lives of people around the world. We argue that these decisions depend, in part, on the political ideology of the organization's chief executive. In this study, we investigate the influence of the leader of one of the most powerful international organizations: the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). We find that when the Managing Director is politically left of center, the IMF requires less labor market liberalization from borrowing countries in exchange for a loan.”

And lastly, more in the microcosm than in the ecosystem to be honest, you may want to read the parting thoughts of seasoned humanitarian reporter Ben Parker  who is leaving The New Humanitarian. His finely crafted and insightful piece goes a long way in explaining why reporting on International Geneva, where secrecy often prevails, is such a challenge and a pleasure.

As for us, we are excited to welcome Ciara O’Donoghue to The G|O team! A Smith College (USA) undergraduate, Ciara is in the city this academic year to study at the University of Geneva. Her already-impressive experience working with government agencies, campaigns, and advocacy, notably includes interning with US Senator Amy Klobuchar’s Congressional Office. She has a passion for understanding the relationship between state and citizen—which is what makes her such a great fit for us! Ciara will work with us as an Editorial Assistant, assisting in the overall production and publishing of content across all our platforms. We expect great things from her and are looking forward to the collaboration.



The Financing of UN Experts in the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council: How UN experts are funded and influenced is a 52-page long report by the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) on the funding of the Human Rights Council Special Procedures. The document has created a firestorm at the Office of the UN High-Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and more broadly among the human rights community in Geneva.

The debate around the financial woes of the UN’s human rights mechanisms was, until today, largely confined to a specialist circle. It is now moving to a broader audience. It is also becoming increasingly political. New coalitions are being formed between authoritarian regimes and more traditional opponents of a strong multilateral system. All this comes at a time of heightened geopolitical tensions, and as the West and its allies push for more investigations into violations of international law and human rights.

Initially published in French, in September, by the ECLJ, an NGO which bases its actions on “the spiritual and moral values which are the common heritage of European peoples and the true source of individual freedom, political liberty and the rule of law”, the report argues in substance that the UN Special Rapporteurs are influenced by a limited group of private foundations that have “captured” the Special Procedures to systematically promote a liberal view of the world. The report also denounces a complete lack of financial transparency and accountability within the Special Procedures and at the OHCHR.

The palpable unease created by the report has two main causes. Firstly, while no one disputes that the funding of international organizations is a subject of legitimate debate and investigation, the methodology used by the authors of the report is being attacked by several Special Rapporteurs interviewed by the authors. “I do not consider that my responses were accurately and fairly reflected in the final document,” one of them wrote in an email to The Geneva Observer.

The other source of concern is political in nature: There are fears in the human rights community that beyond contributing to its stated claim of making the funding mechanisms more efficient, the report has a hidden agenda. The ECLJ adopts an openly critical view of international institutions and of global governance—a position aligned with those of senior members of the previous US administration such as Steve Bannon, Mike Pompeo (and his Commission on Unalienable Rights), or John Bolton (who regularly blasted the UN, suggesting that “it wouldn’t make a bit of a difference if the UN building in New York lost ten stories”).

According to the ECLJ, between 2015 and 2019, 40% of the Special Procedures budget came from additional, extra-budgetary funding from a few states, NGOs, and private foundations.

The reference to the previous US administration is not out of context here, as the ECLJ’s global partner is the American Centre for Law and Justice (ACLJ), an outlet led by Jay Sekulow, Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer.

The foreword to the ECLJ study opens with these words: “In the age of globalization, international institutions are assuming increasing responsibility and wielding considerable power. Decision-making centers are moving away from the people and their historical capital cities to a few new capitals of global governance [italics ours], be they financial or political, notably in New York and Geneva. By moving, power changes its nature: it wants to be rational and global, and therefore detaches itself from the expression of the (supposedly irrational) will of the people [italics ours], as well as from the old distinction between public and private actors, in favor of a new distinction between local and global actors. […] Private global actors have an explicit political purpose. They are large foundations and NGOs that have not only considerable resources but high-level expertise and, more importantly, a general liberal and global worldview.”

Beyond its introduction, the report itself proceeds to offer a detailed mapping of the current funding of the UN mandate-holders—who receive no financial compensation for their work, except per diems to cover their expenses.

According to the ECLJ, between 2015 and 2019, 40% of the Special Procedures budget came from additional, extra-budgetary funding from a few states, NGOs, and private foundations.

Most of this private funding, the report states, “comes from a small number of foundations and NGOs, in particular the Gates, Ford, Open Society, McArthur, and Oak foundations, but also from a few companies such as Microsoft. […] International organizations can become dependent on private foundations and NGOs. This confusion is an essential aspect of global governance. […] This phenomenon, whereby a private actor exerts influence on, or within, a public institution, has been called ‘capture’ and ‘privatization’ in social sciences."

“[…]Indeed, while the regular budget of the Special Procedures amounts to nearly $68 million between 2015 and 2019, almost $20 million more was voluntarily paid to the Special Procedures as a whole, mainly by the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States”, the report reveals.

During the same period, a few states also paid an additional $14.6 million to cover the expenses (including hiring assistants and researchers) of 51 of the 121 experts in the Office, and 37 of those experts also reported having received 134 direct financial payments, amounting to almost $11 million, for the same purpose.

The ECLJ discloses that experts received more than $5.5 million from private foundations and NGOs, of which more than $2 million went directly from the Ford Foundation to nine mandate-holders, and $1.5 was donated by George Soros’ Open Society Foundations to six mandate-holders. Four mandate holders received funds from both foundations.

Higher education institutions also pitched in. $1,142,757 was contributed by 49 universities, including the University of British Columbia, the University of Pretoria, the University of Minnesota Law School, and Toronto’s York University.

Finally, quoting from the Special Procedures annual reports, the ECLJ highlights that 36 out of 121 experts received 125 in-kind donations between 2015 and 2019.

Former Special Rapporteurs denounced “spurious attacks” on the Special Procedures and questioned the true purpose of the report.

The ECLJ writers went beyond the public record and interviewed close to thirty former and current UN Special Rapporteurs in the writing of their study. They take pains to explain that the report “does not purport to reflect the opinion of all the experts interviewed.” But that didn’t prevent them from reaching a conclusion that “as the result of this study, it appears that the propositions to fund and directly support mandate-holders is often aimed at guiding their action. […] It, therefore, significantly undermines their independence. Almost all the experts interviewed share this observation; some of them used the word ‘corruption’ to describe this phenomenon.”

The main recommendation made by the ECLJ that “any extra-budgetary funding for the Special Procedures must be paid directly to the OHCHR, and any direct funding going directly to mandate-holders must be banned,” led to an extremely heated debate when the report was presented by the ECLJ at a meeting of the Coordination Committee of the UN Experts with NGOs.

Former Special Rapporteurs denounced “spurious attacks” on the Special Procedures and questioned the true purpose of the report. Meanwhile, C-Fam (Center for Family and Human Rights), a pro-life organization, offered support to the ECLJ, accusing the critics of “a Soviet-style reprisal on the report.”

"This report is a sad example of the post-truth world we live in, where the presentation of ‘alternative facts’ is fine, even when one gets caught, because falsehoods serve a political purpose that may prove successful.” - Martin Scheinin

The first charge against the document and its main writer, Grégor Puppink, a conservative human rights expert, was publicly leveled in August of this year by Martin Scheinin, a former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism. Calling the study “a dishonest attack on UN human rights mechanisms,” in the blog of the European Journal of International Law, Scheinin offered a blistering critique of the ECLJ conclusions:

“The references to ‘almost all’ or ‘some’ or ‘one’ remain vague and not identifiable. There are errors in the report in little things and in fundamental matters. The answers received are not accounted for, but the reader is offered a set of unfounded generalizations that only represent the views of the author of the report but that in ambiguous language are, from a reader’s perspective, attributed to the special rapporteurs, or ‘almost all’ of them,” he wrote. “The report claims, for instance, that special rapporteurs would personally and ‘directly’ receive ‘cash’ from donors, that universities would create ‘special bank accounts’ for them, and that there would be no accounting. This is all false.”

For Martin Scheinin, “The trust special rapporteurs may have extended in engaging with the authors were [sic] abused to serve a very different mission than now ex post facto is clearly expressed in the report. This report is a sad example of the post-truth world we live in, where the presentation of ‘alternative facts’ is fine, even when one gets caught, because falsehoods serve a political purpose that may prove successful.”

The Geneva Observer reached out to several current or former mandate-holders to find out if they felt their answers to the ECLJ had been misrepresented in the report.

“I do not consider that my responses were accurately and fairly reflected in the final document,” Ariel Dulitzky, former Chair of the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, told us in an email, adding “however, I share some of the recommendations of the report, particularly those related to the need for more transparency and fairness in the distribution of resources to the different mandate holders.”

Asked about their reaction to the report, two former UN mandate-holders (who had not been contacted by the ECLJ) told The G|O under condition of anonymity that they agreed with some of the criticism about the funding mechanism and with the need to deal urgently with the issue, as not addressing it leaves the Special Procedures vulnerable to precisely the kind of criticism contained in the ECLJ report.

However,  they also expressed fear that the true purpose of the study was to create a pretext for reining in the Special Rapporteurs, and they share the conclusion drawn by Martin Scheinin when he wrote: “I am sure authoritarian regimes will not miss the opportunity to discredit the system of special procedures of the Human Rights Council or to impose new constraints upon the ability of the special rapporteurs to perform their function, and to do so by invoking this report. Human rights will suffer, but someone will win.”

The impact and eventual effect of the ECLJ report remain difficult to assess, particularly in regard to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.

“At this stage, the question is not whether the report is good or bad, but what are the threats and opportunities that it creates and for whom,” one well-informed HRC watcher told The G|O. “Anything that makes it more difficult for the SPs to function will not be welcome by the Office, and if a discussion about SP financial arrangements is opened up, other discussions about the SPs will also be opened. On the other hand, like any bureaucracy, the Office likes to control, and allegations about parallel financial arrangements in the report create an opening for Michelle Bachelet to seek to exert greater control over arrangements to support individual SPs.”

For its part, in a written statement to The G|O issued through its spokesperson Jeremy Laurence, the UN Human Rights Office brushed off the report’s criticism: “There is full transparency with respect to funding for all of the experts working under Special Procedures.

“All of the mandates have a duty to report back to the Human Rights Council on their activities, and the UN Human Rights Office also publishes an annual report detailing their funding from the regular budget and voluntary contributions. Regular budget resources cover mandated activities of mandate holders and are distributed evenly across mandates. Voluntary contributions from states and other stakeholders are also received by the Office to support Special Procedures."

“In addition, the Special Procedures themselves decided in 2015 to report annually on additional resources they receive directly from external sources.”

The one point of agreement seems to be that the issue of funding must now be urgently addressed. However, if the report creates an opening for the Office to again assert the need for greater regular UN budgetary financing of the human rights programs, the discussion will have to be conducted (like everything else in the UN system) against the backdrop of competing financial demands to solve the many pressing challenges at hand, from COVID-19 to climate change and the SDGs.

-PHM, with additional reporting from Jamil Chade

-Editorial assistance: Ciara O'Donoghue

Five Visions for a New International Order

By Ana Palacio*

The post-World War II global institutional order is obsolete. This is not a recent development: the need for reform has been apparent for a long time. And yet, the necessary transformation is more comprehensive than many realize and more urgent than ever.

The reasons are not difficult to discern. Power is being transferred to new (and more) actors. Non-state actors have gained more influence. And international cooperation has shifted from a hard-law approach, based on clear rules and treaties, to one based on soft law and self-regulation, exemplified by the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which relies on Nationally Determined Contributions.

To maintain stability amid such changes, while upholding cooperation in crucial areas (such as non-proliferation and climate change), we must fundamentally rethink existing approaches and structures. Last month’s start of the United Nations General Assembly’s 76th session (UNGA 76) offered useful insights into where this process – and the international order itself – stands.

Beyond the grand declarations and predictable to-do lists, UNGA 76 has included visions of the “international order” and its future. Those visions fall into five categories: Standard Bearers, Ambivalent Actors, Smooth Operators, Disruptive Strategists, and Renewers.

Not surprisingly, the Standard Bearers were represented by the European Union. Insofar as it exists only in law and by law, the EU is the leading champion of the post-1945 rules-based order. It also seeks to become a values-based, regulatory superpower – a kind of “world referee”-cum-player.

This was apparent in European Council President Charles Michel’s UNGA speech, which highlighted the EU’s leadership in global, rules-based initiatives, and called for the UN system to “get back to basics,” by which he meant “an international order based on rules.” And yet, the EU’s stance is not without contradictions. The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, bringing Russian supplies directly to Germany, is difficult to square with EU rhetoric, as is the recent French-Greek defense pact.

The Ambivalent Actors are represented now, as always, by the United States. Yes, the US led the creation of the current international order, and has remained its defining actor for decades. But America has also often been loath to ratify the agreements it was so quick to sign. Recall that the US voted against official membership in the UN’s precursor, the League of Nations, even though it was the brainchild of President Woodrow Wilson.

Today, US President Joe Biden is eager to convince the world that “America is back” at the center of the international order, following four years of Donald Trump’s “America First” approach. “To deliver for our own people,” he declared in his UNGA speech, “we must also engage deeply with the rest of the world. To ensure our own future, we must work together with other partners – our partners – toward a shared future.”

And yet, the US is at least as polarized as it has ever been, and the Biden administration continues to advance a policy of great-power competition with China. In fact, much of Biden’s speech was implicitly addressed to his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. “Make no mistake,” he declared, “the United States will continue to defend ourselves, our allies, and our interests against attack” and “to defend our vital US national interests, including against ongoing and imminent threats.”

Xi, the ultimate Smooth Operator, took a different tack. In his video message to the UNGA – he hasn’t set foot outside of China since the pandemic began – Xi distanced himself from his recent “wolf warrior speeches” and said what the world would want to hear. Advancing a vision of China as a “builder of world peace” and a “defender of the international order,” he spoke of “solidarity,” “win-win cooperation,” and “true multilateralism.” Xi clearly knows how to use the language of international law to his advantage, though Westphalian sovereignty is the one principle he truly embraces.

Westphalian sovereignty is also a favorite principle of Russia – the most prominent of the Disruptive Strategists. But, for Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, sovereignty is fundamentally incompatible with the “Western” concept of a “rules-based order.” Lavrov’s speech highlights an oft-overlooked truth: Russia is not merely a “spoiler.” Putin’s populism and demagoguery are part of a carefully crafted effort to erode the liberal world order.

Last but not least are the Renewers, with India leading the charge. In his speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi characterized India as the “mother of democracy,” with “a great tradition of democracy” lasting “thousands of years.” Modi’s dissociation of Indian democracy from the legacy of British colonialism hinted at a growing effort – evident, in different forms, in a number of speeches by leaders of mid-level powers – to breathe new life into old institutions.

Many observers have been quick to view new alliances, pacts, and approaches to cooperation as a signal that a new global non-order is emerging from the remnants of the postwar liberal order. For them, the destructive or unconvincing visions put forward by some world leaders at the UNGA might seem to reinforce this view.

The Standard Bearers need to foster an honest, unbiased dialogue with the Renewers (and, obviously, with the US) to chart a course that does not imply merely sticking to the fraying strands of the fragmented liberal order, but rather envisions meaningful and thoughtful reform, adapted to the world of today. The EU should be at the forefront of this effort.

*Ana Palacio, a former minister of foreign affairs of Spain and former senior vice president and general counsel of the World Bank Group, is a visiting lecturer at Georgetown University.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2022.

Today's Briefing: Philippe Mottaz - Jamil Chade

Editorial Assistance: Ciara O'Donoghue

Edited by: Dan Wheeler