The United Nations’ work is organized around peace and security, development and human rights. Peace and Development Advisers (PDAs) balance on those three pillars in roles that are relatively new but increasingly popular in responding to political tensions in countries around the world.
Jared Kotler arrived in Bogotá, Colombia, about nine months ago amid a historic effort between the Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to end one of the longest-running armed conflicts in recent history.
Some of Kotler’s work is the kind of classic political reporting that a UN political officer anywhere might do to analyze a specific situation. However, there is an equal if not greater expectation that the PDA make contributions to processes happening on the ground that have a tangible impact in building peace and development in the country.
“While it is true that I am spending part of my time networking with people in political and diplomatic circles, trying to keep a pulse on what’s happening politically in Colombia and feeding that analysis into and the reporting that goes to different audiences, more of my time is spent on operational matters considered high priority by the UN leadership here,” Kotler said.
These operational matters have included providing oversight to a major UN communications campaign to promote a culture of peace, and a role in efforts by the UN to facilitate dialogue and prevent conflict between the Colombian government and social organizations.
“PDAs can play a critical role in ensuring that the UN system approaches prevention, peace-making and peace building endeavors in a more sophisticated, better integrated, better joined up manner, therefore ensuring greater impact in the cause of peace and development,” said Fabrizio Hochschild, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Colombia (RC/HC).
Kotler works directly under the Resident Coordinator, providing political advice and support and helping to carry out his priorities. The RC/HC speaks on behalf of the UN system in Colombia and shapes the direction of UN work in the country.
“It’s the role of the RC, particularly in this moment in Colombia when there’s a peace process that has a real possibility of succeeding, to try to move the UNCT together towards a shift in its focus from working in the context of conflict to working in the context of peace,” Kotler explained.
Kotler also interacts frequently with the UN agencies, funds and programmes in the country to share analysis of the peace process and contribute to the UN’s long-term preparations to support the country post-conflict. Colombia has one of the largest UN country teams in the world with some 2,000 UN staff, of whom about 95 per cent are Colombian.
The joint DPA-UNDP program of Political and Development Advisers was created about a decade ago with the aim of providing political analysis and support to UN entities in countries where there are political tensions, but where there is no official UN political presence.
It was created also with the idea of “breaking silos” in work on the UN’s three pillars: peace and security, development and human rights.
“In dealing with the enormous and complex challenges of each, we sometimes pay little attention to their interdependence,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council in an open debate about inclusive development on 19 January. “The founders of the United Nations well understood that if we ignore one pillar, we imperil the other two.”
Colombia is a stable democracy, but nearly 50 years of armed conflict involving the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN); the existence of drug-trafficking networks; the emergence of other criminal groups after the 2005 demobilization of paramilitaries, and high levels of inequity and impunity continue to have a significant impact on human rights and the humanitarian situation.
In recent years, the Government has made considerable efforts to address some of the consequences of the conflict, most noticeably through the passage of the Victims’ Rights and Land Restitution Law.
The Government and social groups are involved in dialogues to address grievances about economic development policies, for instance the demand for consultations with indigenous groups and communities before starting mining or resource extraction in the countryside, Kotler said.
“There is a lot of ferment which is not the armed conflict between the guerillas and the Government, but it is conflict at the social level,” noted Kotler.
The UN is often called on to facilitate those dialogues, mediating discussions at various levels, keeping track of commitments made by the different sides, and offering technical support to help develop or carry out agreed upon projects. The RC and the the head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights server as guarantors of these dialogues. The PDA and senior staff of UNDP and OHCHR are delegated to take on the day to day responsibilities of moderating meetings and tracking the outcomes.
In July 2014, the UN country team in Colombia launched an “out of the box” communication campaign aimed at promoting a culture of peace in the country. Respira Paz, or Breathe Peace, encourages Colombians to deal with the tensions they have on a personal level in ways that do not lead to violence.
“It’s an invitation to use breathing as an instrument to pause to think before acting in daily situations, before getting into confrontations and violence,” said Kotler, who provides oversight and leadership to the campaign on behalf of the Office of the Resident Coordinator.
As part of the campaign, the Secretary-General recorded a message urging Colombians to stop and take a deep breath.
In addition to Kotler’s role, as of November 2014, there were 33 other PDAs across the world. Later this week, Politically Speaking travels from the Americas to Asia and the Pacific, to look at how PDAs contribute to political early warning and de-escalation of tensions in the region.