With global tension on the rise, four New Zealanders are at the forefront of those helping tackle humanity’s biggest challenges. Yet their work is almost hidden away from view.
Having completed security formalities, Harland, who was at the time working for the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), was escorted to a cell, where he took the proffered hand of the occupant – a man called Radovan Karadžić.
That name has chilling echoes for anyone who remembers the bloody civil war that racked the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. Karadžić once held many leadership positions in the nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was, from 1992 to 1996, the first president of Republika Srpska, the Serb-dominated entity of Bosnia, a position that constitutionally vested in him the supreme command of the Bosnian Serb armed forces. In these capacities, Karadžić presided over the deaths of countless non-Serbs.
But the man whose hand Harland shook now bore no titles; he was an accused war criminal facing trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague on numerous counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Harland, who had served in Bosnia as a senior UN officer for most of the war, was the prosecution’s expert witness at the ICTY, and Karadžić was exercising his pre-trial right to question him in order to prepare his defence.
Introductions were unnecessary – the pair had had several wartime meetings in the town of Pale, in the mountains near Sarajevo and apparently even went to the same Sarajevo barber – so they got down to business. With the aid of a large-scale map of Bosnia spread before him, the defendant pressed the prosecution witness for details about Muslim ceasefire violations during the war.
For all its grave context, the meeting was free of obvious tension, though Harland remembers it as a little odd. “There is something of the Mad Hatter about Karadžić,” he tells the Listener, “a genocidal Mad Hatter.”
As the meeting ended, Karadžić, who had trained as a psychiatrist in Sarajevo, Denmark and New York, apologised to Harland for not being able to receive him properly and offered by way of amends a free clinical assessment of his guest. Harland says Karadžić concluded that his “patient” suffered from being anti-Serb, though he adds, “I’m not sure that’s a recognised disorder.”
In the end, Harland’s testimony was instrumental in securing guilty verdicts for Karadžić. In March 2016, he was found guilty on almost a dozen charges and sentenced to 40 years in prison. His appeal was rejected in March last year and his sentence increased to life.
Torn from the headlines
As work stories go, this is a pretty good one. But unlike many tales from the front lines, Harland’s never embellish the truth.
He is one of a substantial group of New Zealanders working on global issues from overseas bases and, sometimes, from home. Their careers are loaded with accounts that fire the imagination and seem torn from the headlines, or at least the pages of recent history.
Harland and his peers are a particular breed of diplomat: they are not government appointees to our foreign service, but rather work for non-government organisations with international outlooks. Like New Zealand’s official diplomats, they are loyal to their respective institutions, devoted to their respective causes and advocate for the same values and ideals that sustain this country’s foreign-policy traditions: advancing human rights, promoting peace and security and protecting the global environment for future generations.
They differ from diplomats, however, in that they are not hostage to the enthusiasms and inclinations of governments. They enjoy greater latitude to advance ideas and mobilise people, and have more freedom of thought and expression.
Working at the coalface of social and global change, these people tackle challenges that are among the most critical facing humanity. Yet their deeds are often unheralded and their work is almost always hidden from view.
High-profile New Zealanders have made a global impact in recent decades: Helen Clark as head of the UN Development Programme; Mike Moore as Director-General of the World Trade Organisation; Sir Don McKinnon as the Commonwealth Secretary-General. Former Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright was one of two international judges recognised for their work on a tribunal that investigated the Khmer Rouge’s war crimes in Cambodia. Their accomplishments were widely known because they were familiar to us before they went abroad.
But the work of our other internationalists is no less important and no less worthy of attention.
Jaw-jaw, not war-war
For most of his career, Harland has been searching for alternatives to conflict. Since he left the UN in 2011, he has run the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) from its base in Geneva, Switzerland. The private diplomacy organisation employs more than 200 people on its mission: to discreetly mediate the end to armed civil conflicts around the world.
As executive director, Harland works to persuade warring parties – governments, rebel movements and terrorist organisations – to down arms and find solutions through peaceful dialogue. His motto might be, as Sir Winston Churchill reportedly said at a White House lunch in 1954, “Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war.”
Peace mediation is not easy work. It is hugely time-consuming and requires navigating an unusually complicated set of political, legal, ethical and security hazards, says Harland.
“But someone has to do it,” he says. “If a conflict can’t be settled by force, you have to get the belligerents to talk, but they need to do it confidentially and they need to do it informally, so they can walk away if it doesn’t work.”
But it can work, and HD has a good track record of making it work. It brokered the first agreement for the cessation of hostilities during the war in the Indonesian province of Aceh; its involvement helped to get the IRA to commit to the so-called Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland; it helped settle the conflict between the Colombian Government and guerrilla revolutionary forces of Farc; and in 2018, HD announced that the Basque separatist group ETA had surrendered almost four tonnes of weapons and dissolved itself.
Harland says 2019 was a productive year for his organisation. It successfully mediated the release of detainees in Syria and helped broker a preliminary accord between the Thai Government and Muslim rebels. Such is the changing face of warfare, HD was also active in preventing and ending conflicts in cyberspace.
Civil insurrection and armed violence are not evenly distributed throughout the world, so Harland and his team travel widely to try to resolve situations or at least lower the temperature as intra-state tensions threaten to overheat.
Harland’s early life helped to inform his future actions as a peace mediator. His father, Bryce Harland, was New Zealand’s first ambassador to China, posted to Beijing in 1973, when the brutal Cultural Revolution was still in spate. There, the schoolboy David developed a sense of how political violence can be played out among populations.
But it was his extensive UN peacekeeping work that led to his present involvement in peace mediation. After study in Boston – at Harvard and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University – Harland started work with the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), working in such diverse places as Haiti, Cyprus, Kosovo, Timor-Leste and Bosnia and Herzegovina before being appointed the director of its Europe and Latin America division in 2006.
His first assignment for DPKO was in Bosnia. He arrived in Sarajevo in 1993, one year into the deadly Siege of Sarajevo, a Serb-led campaign that would grip the battered city for another three years – making it the longest siege of a capital in modern history. Harland remained in Bosnia until 1998, rising to the position of UN head of civil affairs.
On that mission, he watched as a bloodied country transitioned to an uncomfortable peace. He also saw the worst of humanity up close, which left an indelible mark. “You learn how low people can go, and it’s very low,” Harland says. The low points included personal encounters with Karadžić, and with Serb general Ratko Mladić. Notorious for his operational responsibility for the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 (in which more than 8000 Bosnians, mainly men and boys, were killed), Mladić would also end up before the ICTY, with Harland again acting as expert witness for the prosecution. Throughout his Bosnian assignment, Harland inspected many sites where war crimes were committed and where human remains were routinely visible.
Following those Bosnian experiences, Harland became the lead author of the report on Srebrenica released under the name of then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the only UN document ever reviewed by the New York Times, such was its significance.
When Harland arrived in Timor-Leste in late 1999, the Indonesians had pulled out and there was no working government. He was charged with administering the essentials of governance of the small South-east Asian territory, newly freed from Indonesian control but still without the status of a sovereign nation. For a time, he was effectively its prime minister.
For Harland and his HD team, the struggle to bring peace can seem without end. There’s always a fight to settle. At any one time, HD is involved in between 20 and 30 conflicts in various parts of the world. And even when the fighting stops, without a reckoning with the past and some accountability for crimes committed, there is always unfinished business that could lead to a renewal of hostilities, says Harland. “Almost every war carries within it the seeds of the next war.”
An axiom of peace mediation is that the goal of the mediator is to be out of a job. Harland agrees with the sentiment, but questions how realistic it is. “I’m not holding my breath,” he says.
For all that, he believes the world has been getting less violent for almost three generations, “but the weapons are certainly getting worse and more available, based on the numbers of wars and the number of people getting killed.”
Fighting for a world without weapons
Mary Wareham of Human Rights Watch has been instrumental in efforts to ban landmines.
Based in Washington, DC, the Wellingtonian is the advocacy director of the arms division for Human Rights Watch (HRW). She joined the US-based humanitarian organisation in 1998 and, apart from a two-year stint with Oxfam NZ from 2006-08, has been there since, directing her attention in particular at weapons that do not discriminate between civilians and combatants.
It is a calling that gave her early and extraordinary success.
She tells the story of the time she was approached by a journalist in a public square in central Oslo in 1997. She had just been inside a nearby conference hall, applauding foreign diplomats from various governments after they had finally agreed to adopt the text of the landmark Mine Ban Treaty, which aims to eliminate anti-personnel mines worldwide. Wareham was working on the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), whose considerable efforts were instrumental in getting that agreement adopted.
The journalist told her that those efforts meant the ICBL was looking good for nomination for that year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Weeks later, the Nobel Committee announced that the ICBL and its then co-ordinator, Jody Williams, had indeed been awarded the prize.
For the then-27-year-old Wareham, it was a heady time. Later, at the Mine Ban Treaty signing in Ottawa, and as the Nobel Prize ceremony drew near, Wareham says she was finally able to take stock of the situation in which she found herself.
Turning to Williams, she quipped, “Isn’t the Nobel Prize supposed to happen at the end of your career? I’m just beginning, so it’s all downhill from here.”
But Wareham’s career was only getting started. “I was thrilled to be able to spend the next decade ensuring the Mine Ban Treaty was implemented and adhered to by all,” she says.
Through a mechanism called the Landmine Monitor, which she later helped set up and co-ordinate while at HRW, Wareham and her colleagues were able to track the treaty’s success.
“The upshot is that since the treaty was enacted, about 55 million stockpiled anti-personnel mines have been destroyed. Minefields worldwide have been surveyed and cleared. There were 6800 new mine victims in 2018. That’s down from more than 26,000 a year in 1996-1997, when the treaty was negotiated,” says Wareham.
The international landmine ban agenda was not universally embraced. Some greeted it with doubt and cynicism. Former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans dismissed it as “utopian”.
Facing headwinds from sceptics, however, comes with the territory and Wareham is skilled at getting the job done. Her efforts to remove landmines from stock and her work for Oxfam NZ to secure an international agreement to prohibit the use, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions – anti-vehicle and anti-personnel air-dropped explosive weapons that disperse bomblets over a wide area – have had a deep and wide influence on global security.
In effect, Wareham has helped to change military doctrine around the world. “These are lifesaving treaties,” she says. “But there’s a lot of unfinished business.”
At the head of that to-do list is the protracted civil conflict in Syria, where landmines, cluster munitions, incendiary devices and chemical weapons are deployed with reckless and murderous abandon. It is a battlefield that understandably captures much of the attention of Wareham and her four-person arms division.
“It’s a conflict that can be all-consuming,” she says. “Half my time is focused on weapons that kill us today, and the rest on weapons that can kill us in the future.”
The future she speaks about is one where autonomous weapons, or killer robots, are employed in battle. To keep this future at bay, Wareham works on the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Conceived in 2012 and launched a year later, the campaign is a coalition of non-governmental organisations with the common goal of banning self-directed, self-aware weapons before they are made and deployed.
This technology is a step or two beyond the military drones now in use. Many advanced militaries are actively developing weaponry that can operate without human input. Wareham aims to ensure humans maintain control over critical functions of weapons systems and decision-making.
The anti-killer robot movement is gaining momentum: the number of countries supporting the ban has climbed to 30; in 2019, campaign membership doubled to 139 non-government organisations in 61 nations; a number of political parties around the world have now included a commitment to ban autonomous weapons in policy planks and election manifestos. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has also stepped up his advocacy of the cause.
Marching in the streets
In her HRW work, Wareham is typically engaged with senior government officials who can directly affect policy and political decisions; she calls it “the grass tops rather than the grass roots”.
Wareham is a witty and animated personality, a woman who seems always to have been in motion. Even at primary school, in the Wellington suburb of Roseneath overlooking the harbour, she was protesting against visits by US naval vessels. At high school, she marched against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and French nuclear testing in the Pacific.
Her academic pursuit of disarmament issues started at Victoria University of Wellington, under the tutelage of Rod Alley, New Zealand’s leading disarmament scholar. Her particular interest in landmines was stirred by an article in a magazine published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists – the group that, in 1947, established the Doomsday Clock to measure humanity’s proximity to imminent destruction. The article inspired her master’s thesis and her later career.
After a short stint in the 1996 National-led Government’s research unit – “I wanted to see the MMP experiment up close,” she says – she conceived the idea of going overseas. So she knocked on every door she could, including Williams’, and gave copies of her thesis on landmines to everyone and every organisation she wanted to work for.
Struck by the quality of the thesis and the pluck of its author, Williams invited her to work on the ICBL in the US. The following year, Wareham was headed to Oslo for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.
Bringing about a sea change
Bronwen Golder spreads the gospel of intergenerational thinking as she works to protect the world’s oceans.
Based in Madrid, Golder is a fellow with the Stanford University Center for Ocean Solutions, leading its global illegal, unreported and unregulated fisheries initiative with the international collaboration Friends of Ocean Action.
That work involves hastening both the proper regulation of ocean harvesting and the end of destructive fishing practices to restore sustainable fish stocks.
Towards that goal, she works with a range of international organisations and experts, including the World Economic Forum, World Resources Institute, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, Global Fishing Watch and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean.
Like the ocean itself, the nature of her work and its implications continue to change. The lines between ocean guardianship and climate-change mitigation are becoming increasingly blurred. That led to Golder’s involvement in the UN Climate Change Summit, COP25, held in her adopted Madrid in December.
“The message is clear – ocean action is climate action,” she says.
Before arriving in Spain – where her husband, Nigel Fyfe, is New Zealand’s ambassador – Golder was based in Wellington. There, she worked for the Pew Charitable Trusts, a deep-pocketed independent non-profit organisation based in Philadelphia. From her Wellington base, she led the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project’s initiative in New Zealand, which aimed to establish the vast Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary. Located about 1000km north-east of New Zealand, the sanctuary’s expanse was set to cover about 620,000sq km – almost the size of France.
But after then-prime minister John Key announced at the UN General Assembly in 2015 the deal to convert part of New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone into the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, it remains unrealised by the current coalition Government, with political consensus on the idea elusive.
Golder thinks confidently about the future, and her language is punctuated with positives, but she is no blind optimist. She recognises the political realities that can stymie understanding and stall progress.
“My work is of a very political nature, and one frustration in New Zealand is that the environment and conservation agenda is often considered the agenda of the left, when it should be the agenda of all New Zealand.”
She says the right mix is found in Europe, where she has seen environmental and conservation issues treated with equal respect across the political spectrum.
“The conversation, therefore, must be a national one, and I’ve tried to bring what I have learnt internationally to the discussion,” she says.
Golder has deep admiration for New Zealand’s international leadership on oceans protection and cites our influence in shaping the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as an example of our commitment to the idea of “guardianship”. She has represented Pew in a number of New Zealand discussions about oceans guardianship, including putting in place measures to safeguard the extensive southern Ross Sea marine protection area.
Her central duties for Pew were not dissimilar to those of David Harland, Mary Wareham and Angela Woodward, whose story follows. They included influencing the thinking of governments of all political persuasions and building a broad coalition of support among a range of diverse partners. In Golder’s case, this meant working closely with Māori leaders.
To do so effectively, she applied rules common among many non-governmental organisations. They include leaving personal politics behind, using facts and a narrative in your argument and fixing your sights on values and outcomes.
The journey to her Pew role took her to many places, including New York, Geneva, Santiago, Wellington and Rotorua. Along the way, she experienced many telling professional moments and picked up methods, ideas and attitudes that served her well as an internationalist.
At Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, where she did a master’s degree in international relations, she was exposed to a larger picture of the world. A spell in the sharp-elbowed world of New York corporate banking taught her skills that she would later use as an environmental advocate, including resilience, strategic thinking and creativity.
Instinct and perspective
On her return to New Zealand, after nearly a decade overseas, she had the same concerns as many returning professionals: that she was detached from the country and her experience would not necessarily translate to a New Zealand setting.
“But what I learnt coming back was that I wasn’t disconnected, and that I was engaged with my country and I did have instincts and perspectives that were valued and valuable,” she says.
That value was recognised by the Department of Labour’s Community Employment Group and soon she started working there under director and later Māori Affairs Minister Parekura Horomia. She remembers attending a Rotorua hui with Horomia and, in a public bar, meeting gang members on post-prison work schemes.
“I suspect Parekura took me to that meeting to see if I was up to the task of engaging with different stakeholders across the employment sector,” says Golder. “I must have passed muster.”
Her next significant move was in 1990, when she was seconded to the Beehive as senior adviser to then-Employment Minister Maurice McTigue.
Golder left government work and soon had her first taste of advocacy in a global setting. Fyfe, her then partner and now her husband, had been given a new posting in Brussels, so she headed to Geneva to start work as the global director of capacity building with the World Wide Fund for Nature International (WWF). Her somewhat Herculean job was to strengthen skills and effectiveness across an organisational network that spanned 91 countries.
She visited Fyfe frequently until she eventually moved to the Brussels-based WWF European policy office. From there, she worked to secure European Commission funding for WWF environmental and conservation initiatives in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
Returning to New Zealand in late 1999, she kept working for WWF International and WWF US from Wellington. Following Fyfe to Chile in 2004, she continued her WWF work in the Asia-Pacific and Latin American regions.
By the time she returned to Wellington five years later, Pew was already looking for someone to lead the Kermadec Oceans Sanctuary effort in New Zealand. Even though the world still awaits the sanctuary, Golder is upbeat.
“When the Kermadec Sanctuary happens, and I think it will, it will be a positive precedent, a fine example of what New Zealand can do,” she says.
“It will be a symbol of what we represent: we’re a small country at the bottom of the world that has a sense of international responsibility and we genuinely care about what the guardianship of our natural habitat looks like for future generations.”
Spreading the gospel of intergenerational thinking is central to Golder’s oceans-protection role and to her career philosophy.
“It’s about being accountable and having a positive influence in intergenerational outcomes – that’s part of public service and work for an NGO.”
Taking on the big guns
Angela Woodward has spent her career watching over the world of disarmanent and arms control.
It was 2008, and on a desperately cold Norwegian winter’s day, Woodward watched as a nuclear warhead was loaded into a truck. The weapon was then transported to a university in Oslo, with Woodward in pursuit. On arrival, she saw technicians measure the device’s radiation-transmission signature before dismantling it. The fissile material was removed and taken to an underground nuclear-waste bunker for storage.
The armament wasn’t real. It was a replica, made as part of a UK-Norway initiative on nuclear-warhead dismantlement. The aim of the exercise was to explore how nuclear dismantlement could be verified by a third party, in this case Woodward, acting on behalf of an independent, not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation called Vertic
Little known but highly important, Vertic, established in 1986, works to ensure that nations abide by the international arms control or disarmament agreements to which they sign up. It also works with these nations to make the agreements stronger and more effective. This can include improving disarmament verification.
Vertic’s work is not limited to nuclear weapons. It also focuses on other global threats such as chemical and biological weapons, as well as climate change and environmental degradation.
The 2008 events in Norway were only an exercise, but nonetheless proved as invigorating as the Norwegian weather for Woodward, who has built a career watching over the world of disarmament and arms control.
She is Vertic’s acting executive director. She is also its programme director for special projects. Woodward has worked for the organisation for 21 years, much of that time at its London headquarters. She now operates from her hometown of Christchurch, where she is raising a young family. That means she visits the traditional disarmament hubs in Geneva, Vienna and The Hague less frequently, but this is balanced by her proximity to the increasingly important security spheres in the Pacific and East Asia.
The nuclear friction on the Korean Peninsula looms large in her thinking. In her experience, most regional nuclear disarmament meetings at which North Korean personnel are present tend to get heated.
Woodward also visits states that operate open ship registries for foreign-owned vessels – better known as “flags of convenience” – to provide training on their legal obligations under the UN’s maritime sanctions on North Korea.
Despite the tense and often grim context of her work, Woodward is an optimist with a sunny disposition, which helps her maintain an effective mix of idealism and realism. She believes that much progress has been made to limit or rid the world of destructive weaponry, but concedes that “there are times when it’s just a smokescreen and the threat is not nearly reduced enough”.
The road ahead is full of dangerous curves, particularly as some weaponised nations openly consider a retreat from long-established arms-control agreements in pursuit of other agendas.
An early start
Like David Harland and Wareham, Woodward started early on her professional path. In her case, the stimulus was the bombing of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in Auckland in 1985. Then just 12, Woodward was so alarmed that a nuclear state had ordered an attack on a peace group that she was driven into action. In a strongly worded letter to Prime Minister David Lange, she conveyed her indignation at nuclear weapons and the need for the world to disarm. She received a gracious reply, although she suspects it was probably not from Lange’s own hand. Even so, her course was set.
Encouraged by her University of Canterbury lecturer, renowned peace campaigner Kate Dewes, Woodward delved deeper into nuclear non-proliferation research at the University of Southampton in the UK, which led her to Vertic.
She has also worked with the European Union and the UN to develop legal frameworks for biological weapons and to improve disarmament verification. She believes the scale of the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction is such that the best way to address it is on a broad front of global collaborative action.
A generation ago, nuclear weapons were the main concern in international security and the source of worldwide anxiety, but they’ve now faded from the public mind because of other threats to humanity, especially climate change. Naturally, this concerns Woodward, who believes there is “a desperate need to keep the cause of nuclear disarmament alive”.
Advancing the idea that arms control and disarmament remain critical to global peace and security is central to her role with Vertic and her past work for the New Zealand Public Advisory Committee on Disarmament and Arms Control (Pacdac). This group of experts, which provides arms control and disarmament advice to the Government, also dispenses grants to young people to pursue studies in the field to keep the cause on the agenda.
In a neat piece of symmetry, Woodward’s involvement in Pacdac is funded by capital from French reparations paid for the state-sponsored attack on the Rainbow Warrior.
To help New Zealand’s legacy of disarmament to survive, in 2012 Woodward teamed with Wareham, a fellow Pacdac member at the time, to write an op-ed article in the Dominion Post. The pair urged the then National-led Government to devote more diplomatic resources to disarmament and to reinstate the ministerial portfolio for arms control and disarmament.
Progress in Woodward’s professional world is measured in small steps. Big leaps forward in arms control and disarmament are the exception.
“My work is fulfilling when a state signs up to a treaty following sustained engagement over a few years. Seeing a new law of treaty obligations finally passed after ongoing consultation is also immensely satisfying. If just one law is passed, or if just one more country signs up to a treaty, that’s a success.”
The challenge ahead
If the spirit of the times is one of turbulence and discord, then it is possible to believe the internationalists’ work may suffer as a consequence.
“The increasing embrace of right-wing nationalism around the world has certainly created a lot of unknowns and much uncertainty in international security,” says Woodward. This scenario is far from ideal for a number of reasons, including the reality that predictability of state behaviour – knowing how a state would typically react under pressure, for example – is a hallmark of a stable international order.
Furthermore, Woodward says some weaponised states are “being enabled by the current geopolitical upheaval to act in bad faith”.
Her fellow internationalist Bronwen Golder says the global environmental and oceans conservation agenda has been made harder to pursue because political champions – such as former US Secretary of State John Kerry – have been replaced by less-supportive figures. However, non-governmental organisations have always existed in uncertain times, and sometimes these situations can serve to fortify their efforts.
“The instability of today is being matched by growing strength of will and new motivation to convene and advance the discussion,” says Golder.
Such is the regular din of geopolitical noise that people can become inured to endless crises that boil up and quickly fade away, to be replaced by new ones.
Some crises, however, cannot easily be contained, and it is up to the likes of Harland, Wareham, Woodward, Golder and scores of other New Zealand internationalists not to lose sight of them.
This article was first published in the January 18, 2020 issue of the New Zealand Listener.