The forgotten lessons of Nuremberg?

I was struck by this interview on BBC Radio last Sunday (8 May) with Benjamin Ferenz, who was an investigator of Nazi war crimes and the US Army Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg ‘Einsatzgruppen Trial’. A strong advocate of the International Criminal Court and the principle of ‘law, not war’, he was sharing his thoughts on the killing of Osama Bin Laden a few days earlier. (I’ve edited out the questions for length.)

Nuremberg  sought to create a more peaceful and humane world. They condemned aggression as the supreme international crime. They said that law must apply equally to everyone. And unfortunately, to many people in the world, it seems America has forgotten the lessons it tried to teach to the rest of the world at Nuremberg.

I was a war crimes investigator during the war and my assignment as part of General Patton’s army was to enter the camps as they were being liberated and collect evidence for potential war crimes prosecutions against the guilty parties.

The horrors of the concentration camps are well known, but no one who has not been there can really comprehend it. Total chaos. People running in all directions. Dead bodies lying all around the ground – you don’t know if they’re dead or alive. Occasionally you’d step over a dead body and it would move.

SS men were fleeing, guards trying to kill them. Guards trying to kill the inmates, marching them out into the woods. Diseases of all kinds. Dysentery. Vomit. Faeces all over the place. The stench of burning bodies. The crematoria still going, the bodies piled up like cord-wood in front of the crematoria, waiting to be burned.

It’s something which words alone do not describe. I said somewhere that I had peered into hell – and that doesn’t really begin to describe it.

[But] no, I did not experience any feeling of vengeance – strangely, perhaps – because the primary concern was the victims, to take care of the victims, bring in the medics as quickly as possible.

[I did witness summary justice] – if you can call it summary justice. I don’t want to call it justice. I don’t think that’s the correct term because it implies some sort of judicial process. When the inmates caught a guard they killed him. I’ve seen them beat a guard to death, burn them alive, put them in a crematorium, turn them over on a plate…

Vengeance on the part of those survivors who were still capable – and there were some…You know, it’s unreal, surreal. The whole thing is incredible and surreal – but it was true.

[But] I did not think it was wrong, as a matter of fact, because I wasn’t in the position to begin making judgements. I could have tried to stop them but it would have been useless. It would have been very dangerous. They would have paid no attention to me whatsoever if I had tried to intervene. I’d have to start shooting all the inmates! It was not the place where I felt I had to do instant justice.

There were circumstances occasionally – not many; I can think of one precisely – where the SS was defiant. They said no, they wouldn’t talk to me. I was only a sergeant of infantry and he was a colonel – he was entitled to be interrogated by a man of equal rank. And I’d just seen the bodies – all over the place! He was the commanding officer and he has the gall to tell me he’s not going to talk to me. And he’s right – under the rules of war.

The temptation to squeeze that trigger under his nose – that was a real temptation. I was shaking and he was shaking. And I didn’t pull the trigger. I had [the gun] pointed at his nose. It was a very difficult situation.

So I know what the Seals must have felt bursting into a room where Bin Laden – a known killer, responsible for the deaths of thousands of people – is lying in bed. The temptation to bring instant justice is a great one but it’s a temptation which has to be resisted – for the sake of our own humanity.

I think [the Americans] should have done with Bin Laden what the Israelis did with Eichmann. You grab him, wrap him up and ship him back for trial. And you have an open and fair trial in which he’s given every opportunity to state what motivates him, and let the judges and the world conclude – is that the kind of a world we want? Where, if someone disagrees with you and you fear him, you’re entitled to pre-empt that and go out and kill him in advance, and kill all of his children, because they may become enemies of you in the future? Is that the kind of a world we want?

At Nuremberg we said we don’t.

[Bringing international terrorists to an American court has been difficult, it’s true. But ] even in Nuremberg I had 3,000 men who, every day, had gone out and murdered Jews – every day for two years. We tried twenty-two of them, thirteen were sentenced to death and in the long run only four were executed; the rest had relatively short prison terms. So it was only a sampling. What we hoped to do was deter the crime, and you deter crime by letting the criminals know in advance that they will be brought to justice, that they will have to answer for it. 

Our only hope is to change the way the young generation thinks. If we glorify war and are prepared to murder those who challenge our basic beliefs of religion or nationalism or whatever it is... This is the world we have.

[At the news of Bin Laden’s death] I did not jump with joy. I agreed with the conclusion and I was pleased that we reached that conclusion. I did not agree and was not pleased with the process. I want to know more about the facts first, before I reach judgement.

If it was so that the soldiers were in threat of being killed  themselves and they acted in self-defence and immediately shot those who posed a threat, I would accept that. But if, in fact, he was a prisoner-of-war lying helpless in bed – to kill him in the sight of his wife and his children is a bit too much for my humanitarian feelings. I would rather have put him on trial and then, if necessary, hang him. But I was not jumping with joy.

I was saddened by the assault on the Twin Towers in New York. I was glad that he no longer posed a threat. But I hope we don’t kill the rule of law with him.

So here's a big question - is the rule of law under threat worldwide?  And what role does CSR and Responsible Business have in that challenge?



Conflict by numbers

Just thought I'd share with you some key elements of a briefing paper I'm putting together for the members of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Conflict Issues, ahead of the second-ever House of Commons debate on conflict prevention.  

Increasingly, the hard economic costs of violent conflict - which includes criminal violence - are being measured and collated. The results are startling. 

For example, the recently published World Development Report 2011 notes that 'A civil conflict costs the average developing country roughly 30 years of GDP growth, and countries in protracted crisis can fall over 20 percentage points behind in overcoming poverty.' 

Violence 'next door' also has negative economic effects: 'A country making development advances, such as Tanzania, loses an estimated 0.7 percent of GDP every year for each neighbor [country] in conflict.'

Significantly, the WDR observes that 'No low-income fragile or conflict-affected country has yet achieved a single Millennium Development Goal.'

The 2010 Global Peace Index also highlighted some eye-watering figures on the financial cost of conflict. Its analysis is based on numbers crunched by the Economist Intelligence Unit, so is pretty robust.

'Gross world product in 2009 reached just over $57.5 trillion,' says the GPI. 'On the baseline scenario, had the world been at peace, world economic output might have reached $62.4 trillion, an increase of 8.5% and easily exceeding the output losses due to the economic crisis of 2008/9 of about minus 0.6%. Even a reduction in levels of violence of just 15% would equal the output loss due to the economic crisis.' 

It notes that for every rise of ten places in the GPI, a country sees its income per capita increase by $3,100 and comments, 'If policy makers had in the past spent as much time focusing on reductions in violence as they have spent on the global financial crisis the economic payoff could have been huge.'

The 2011 GPI is published on 25 May - and keenly anticipated.

A highly effective way to reduce violence is to reduce corruption. A 2009 article from The Journal of Business Ethics - ‘Business and Peace: Sketching the Terrain’ - makes the link: 'Studies show that those countries that are the most corrupt are also the countries that are most prone to resolve disputes occurring within the country by violence (Fort and Schipani, 2003). Similar studies show benefits to peace of protection of contract rights, property rights, and promotion of dispute-resolution mechanisms.'

So there are solutions - and this is the main message of my briefing paper for UK Parliamentarians. In fact, the WDR 2011 draws together the top five lessons of what works in designing programmes to reduce violence and stimulate economic growth.

  1. Programmes that support bottom-up state-society relations in insecure areas. These include community-based programs for violence prevention, employment and associated service delivery, and access to local justice and dispute resolution
  2. Complementary programmes for institutional transformation in the priority areas of security and justice
  3. 'Back to basics' job creation programmes
  4. The involvement of women in security, justice, and economic empowerment program
  5. Focused anti-corruption initiatives that demonstrate that new initiatives can be well governed

Food for thought here for CSR managers in deciding where to invest their hard-pressed budgets?


The 'secret' life of the UNDP

Just had a sneak preview of an excellent paper by the UNDP's Chetan Kumar - 'UN Assistance for Internally Negotiated Solutions to Violent Conflict'. Don't let the dry-as-dust title put you off - this is really good stuff, a testimony to some quiet but amazingly effective work by the UNDP and DPA in helping to prevent violent conflict in recent years.

Kumar lists fifteen countries where non-violent intervention by the UNDP, acting alongside other national and international agencies, has produced clear and positive results. For example:

Guyana: In 2006, after a period of rising political tension, Guyana conducted its first-ever violence-free elections. An independent external evaluation conclusively attributed this result to a UNDP-supported national initiative known as the Social Cohesion Programme. 

Ghana: Ghana is West Africa’s most stable democracy, yet the national elections of December 2008 saw rising tensions and the real prospect of violence. When the elections were held, the National Peace Council, an autonomous national statutory body established with UNDP assistance, helped mediate a peaceful political transition. 

Kyrgyzstan: In Kyrgyzstan, potentially violent tensions (after the April 2010 political regime change and subsequent violence) were de-escalated before and during the constitutional referendum and parliamentary polls later that year, allowing these exercises to be conducted without violence. UNDP facilitated dialogue and confidence-building measures between key stakeholders.

Solomon Islands: The 2005 national elections in Solomon Islands had seen the burning down of half of the capital city of Honiara. In 2010, no violence occurred during or after the national elections. UNDP had supported a nationally-led truth and reconciliation process that helped heal wounds from previous rounds of violence and therefore helped reduce tensions.

Other interventions are described in Nigeria, Timor Leste, Kenya, Ecuador-Colombia, Lesotho, Togo, Cyprus, Nigeria, Guinea, Georgia and Sierra Leone. It makes convincing - if not especially dramatic - reading. 

And there's the rub. As is so often case, the stuff that doesn't happen - the war that doesn't break out, the violence that's skilfully averted, the tension that's defused by painstaking dialogue - never makes the headlines. And so the compelling case for this work never gets the attention - or funding - it deserves. 

No - it's the squeaky hinge that gets the oil, so the Libyan crisis will warrant cruise missiles at roughly half-a-million dollars a pop (112 alone were fired in the first assault on Gadaffi's forces), plus all the other resources expended on the conflict, while the work that Kumar describes barely scrapes by on $3m a year. The result, he says, is that 

key initiatives are often not continued after the first year or two, despite concrete results, and the partner organizations (primarily UNDP and DPA) scrounge for funds to continue the deployment of peace and development advisors and similar specialists.

How long will such a ludicrous state of affairs continue? My guess is for as long as the work of the UNDP and other organisations getting similar results remains a well-kept secret. So the sooner we can bring these successes into the light of day the better.

I'll alert you when the piece is published. It's essential reading.


Can the private sector save the world?

The late Anita Roddick made a bold statement at the time of the Millennium:

In terms of influence, you can forget the church, you can forget government, you can forget politics. There is no more powerful institution in our society, at this present moment, than business. And that is why I believe [business] now has to have a moral agenda. And it has to have a moral leadership.

And increasingly it is coming to pass. As a passionate environmentalist Roddick was thinking primarily of the green agenda, which the private sector is driving more and more.  There may still be naysayers to climate change but the corporate world seems to have taken it all on board – certainly if their CSR and sustainability statements are to be believed.

In fact, the explosive growth in the past decade of the ideas of CSR and Responsible Business is testimony to Roddick’s observation. Recently, business guru Michael Porter has taken a step further by suggesting the notion of ‘Shared Value’ – that the private sector needs to deeply reconnect and add in non-financial ways to the societies in which it is embedded, rather than simply looking only to the bottom-line. CRS should not be used as corporate window-dressing or seen as philanthropy but actually become the dominant ethos of capitalism in the 21st century.

It should come as little surprise, then, that the power of business is increasingly being applied to the world of peace (or should the simply be World Peace?).

The UN Global Compact is now more than a decade old and last June produced Guidance on Responsible Business in Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas.  This advised not only on how businesses can ‘do no harm’ in these areas but how they can also help produce stable, peaceful and productive societies. The highly-respected NGO International Alert has been pushing this agenda for the past decade, too.

There are now signs that government has woken up to the link, at least in the UK. Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham recently spoke in support of the Guidance at a conference Engi organised on it, in partnership with the UK branch of the Global Compact. Economic development and peace are intimately linked, he argued.

And the Department for International Development has just set up a new Private Sector Department, reflecting the belief of DFID’s Secretary of State, Andrew Mitchell, that 'working with and harnessing the private sector in developing countries is crucial to creating the jobs and income opportunities that bring prosperity [and] wealth to people living in poverty.’ He speaks as a former investment banker.

But it’s not quite as simple as that, as the World Bank’s recently published (and excellent) World Development Report 2011 makes clear. 'A key lesson of successful violence prevention and recovery,' it says, 'is that security, justice and economic stresses are linked: approaches that try to solve them through military-only, justice-only or development-only solutions will falter.'

So private sector-driven development is not the magic bullet to peace, fashionable though the idea is becoming. The WDR argues that the way forward lies in multi-sector, multi-stakeholder engagement and cooperation.

And one of the sectors that needs to be routinely included is conflict prevention and peacebuilding.  As the UNDP’s Chetan Kumar notes in a soon-to-be-published article:

While many situations of conflict and fragility do correlate with issues such as unemployed youth and abundant mineral wealth [the so-called ‘resource curse’], so do situations that are exactly the opposite. What makes for the difference? The UN’s experience ... shows that the answer may lie in a country’s collaborative capacity, its ‘infrastructure for peace’, or the internal ability to negotiate mutually acceptable outcomes across political and sectarian lines of division. The ‘causes’ of conflict may not therefore be specific issues or challenges, but the manner in which they are addressed, and the degree to which relevant decisions are made in an inclusive and consensual manner.

In other words, the dynamics of conflict need to be addressed in their own right, alongside economic and other considerations. That's why at Engi we seek to build links between peacebuilding, the private sector, government and civil society - for example, through offering courses in advanced mediation and conflict prevention.

I wonder how much money businesses around the world would save - or make - if they mastered these skills?

Page 1 ... 1 2 3 4