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Negative Utilitarian Priorities

 

B.Contestabile      First version 2005   Last version 2022

 

 

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Abstract 

 

1.  Introduction 

2.  UN Priorities

3.  International Peace and Security  

4.  Sustainable Development and Climate Action 

5.  Humanitarian Aid  

6.  Human Rights  

7.  International Law  

8.  Conclusion

 

References

Appendix: Quality Control of NGOs

 

 

 

 

 

Abstract

 

 

Starting point

Effective altruism traditionally ranked the most effective charities in terms of lives saved or lives improved per dollar. It was by its nature biased towards charities whose outcomes are easily measurable, like health-based interventions. But recently it is broadening its scope. It sometimes considers the avoidance or reduction of suffering as the prime goal and applies complex assessments to set priorities.

 

This paper is intended as a contribution to the discussion about ethical priorities. The term “negative utilitarian” refers to a moderate version of negative utilitarianism. It takes into account both happiness and suffering, but weights suffering more than happiness. The ethical priority increases with the level of suffering as in prioritarianism.

 

 

Type of problem

Which actions have the highest negative utilitarian priority?

Where should a negative utilitarian invest?

 

 

Method

1. The permanent UN work areas are taken as a basis for defining ethical priorities, because they represent the result of intense discussions among a considerable number of experts. The UNO experts are supposed to represent the majority of the world population

2. The UN activities and like-minded NGO activities are briefly described. Then the negative utilitarian priorities are pointed out for each area.

 

The ranking of investments cannot be based on a calculus. The system is too complex and the activities depend on each other. Since there is no way to quantify variables, the priorities are presented in the form of theses.

 

 

Result

Following a collection of theses, ordered by the permanent work areas of the UNO:

 

1. Peace and security: The most urgent action is a reform of the UN Security Council, so that the Responsibility to Protect cannot be undermined by veto rights. The NGO Working Group on the Security Council could play an important role in this reform.

 

2. Sustainable development: The UN activities in this area promote economic growth. For that reason, a stabilization of the world population is only indirectly addressed by emphasizing sustainability. For negative utilitarians, however, a reduction of the world population is no taboo, as long as the shrinking process does not durably worsen the (weighted) average life satisfaction. With regard to reducing suffering, family planning has the best cost-/benefit ratio in the long term.

 

3. Humanitarian aid: The humanitarian aid in natural catastrophes, wars, famines, epidemics, and other emergencies has the best cost-/benefit ratio in the short term.

 

4. Human rights: The highest priority should be assigned to the eradication of torture, the right to palliative care and the legalization of voluntary euthanasia. From a different perspective one could also prioritize the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press, because without these rights, ethical priorities cannot even be discussed.

 

5. International law: The fight against corruption and the enforcement of a global rule of law are more efficient than additional investments in development. If the numerous critics can be believed, then a considerable part of the huge UN development aid disappeared in the pockets of corrupt governments.

 

 

 

 

 

1. Introduction

 

 

Starting point

Effective altruism traditionally ranked the most effective charities in terms of lives saved or lives improved per dollar. It was by its nature biased towards charities whose outcomes are easily measurable, like health-based interventions. But recently it is broadening its scope. It sometimes considers the avoidance or reduction of suffering as the prime goal and applies complex assessments to set priorities.

 

This paper is intended as a contribution to the discussion about ethical priorities. The term “negative utilitarian” refers to a moderate version of negative utilitarianism. It takes into account both happiness and suffering, but weights suffering more than happiness. The ethical priority increases with the level of suffering as in prioritarianism.

 

 

Type of problem

Which actions have the highest negative utilitarian priority?

Where should a negative utilitarian invest?

 

 

Method

1.     The permanent UN work areas are taken as a basis for defining ethical priorities, because they represent the result of intense discussions among a considerable number of experts. The UNO experts are supposed to represent the majority of the world population.

2.     The UN activities and like-minded NGO activities are briefly described. Then the negative utilitarian priorities are pointed out for each area.

 

The ranking of investments cannot be based on a calculus. The system is too complex and the activities depend on each other. Since there is no way to quantify variables, the priorities are presented in the form of theses.

 

 

 

2. UN Priorities

 

The main bodies of the United Nations are the following:

-       General Assembly

-       Security Council

-       Economic and Social Council

-       International Court of Justice

-       Secretariat

For details see [DGC].

 

The UN charter describes four areas that are the pillars of the UN:

-      Peace and Security

-      Development

-      Human Rights

-      The Rule of Law

 

The fifth area, Humanitarian Aid assists the pillar areas. Forms of aid that have both humanitarian and development components are called humanitarian assistance. The following table shows the relation between the work areas and the responsible UN bodies:

 

 

Work area

 

Responsible UN body

Peace and Security

 

1. Security Council

2. General Assembly, Disarmament Commission

 

Development

 

Economic and Social Council. Functional Commissions are:

- Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice

- Population and Development

- Science and Technology

- Social Development

etc.

Humanitarian Aid

 

Secretariat, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

Human Rights

 

 

1. General Assembly, Human Rights Council

2. Secretariat, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Rule of Law

 

1. General Assembly, International Law Commission

2. International Court of Justice

 

 

 

The table below depicts 4 (out of 5) UN work areas and connects them to the chapters in this paper.

The fifth work area is International Law (The Rule of Law). It binds the other four together (chapter 7).

 

 

 

International peace

and security

(chapter 3)

 

Sustainable Development and Climate Action

(chapter 4)

 

Human rights

(chapter 6)

.

 

Humanitarian aid

(chapter 5)

.

 

 

Which of the UN work areas has the highest priority? The priority of an activity can be measured by the resources assigned to it. For that reason we have a quick look at the UN budgets:

 

 

The regular UN budget

A major part of the regular budget is assigned to peace and security. In addition there is a separate peacekeeping budget, about two times the regular budget:

-      For 2022, the regular budget totals $3.1 billion.

-      The UN peacekeeping budget totals $6.4 billion, which seems to be a lot of money, but comprises just over 0.3 percent of annual global military spending.

See [Better World Campaign]

 

The UN regular budget should finance all activities mandated by the General Assembly and its subsidiary organs. Human rights are charter responsibilities, recognized as one of the pillars of the UN system. Yet, the UN regular budget allocates to human rights only a tiny percentage of the resources:

-      About 51.7% of the UN regular budget is directed to the three pillars peace and security, development and human rights.

-      Human rights get just over 3% (US$116.4 million in 2020)

The UN Human Rights relies heavily on voluntary contributions (https://www.ohchr.org/en/about-us/funding-and-budget)

The budget for international law, which is considered to be a pillar as well, is smaller than the one for human rights [General Assembly].

 

 

System-wide activities

The UN’s regular and peacekeeping budgets are approved by the UN General Assembly. For other activities there are multilateral mechanisms of financing, as depicted below:

 

 

 

 

If we consider the resources which are assigned system-wide, then development has a clear first priority. Peace operations have second priority, whereas human rights and international law disappear within the global agenda [ECOSOC, 7]. The 19% for peace operations seem to be a lot, but we must consider that the original goal of the UN was to avoid wars. The work areas human rights and international law are clearly underfunded compared to development.

 

 

Activity 2018

B$

%

Peace operations

9.8

19

Development

36.4

71

Global agenda

5.1

10

Total

51.3

100

 

 

The influence of NGOs

In negative utilitarianism the ethical priority increases with the level of suffering. For that reason, the above agenda is assessed in particular according to whether it reduces the worst cases of suffering. Since negative utilitarianism is a movement and not a government, it must try to influence decision-makers by means of NGOs and lobbying. Information on the cooperation of NGOs with the United Nations can be found in the internet, using the following keywords:

-      United Nations Research Guide: NGOs & UN Reform, Northwestern University

-      NGOs are Guardians of the Reform of the International System, United Nations

-      Non-Governmental Organizations, Berkeley Library

-      NGOs Working with the United Nations Everywhere, United Nations

-      UN System and Civil Society, UNECE

Also see [Alger] [Paul]

 

In the following the UN activities and like-minded NGO activities are briefly described. Then the negative utilitarian priorities are pointed out for each area. The quality of NGOs can be controlled by means of charity navigators, see Appendix.

 

 

 

3. International Peace and Security

 

 

Assessments

1.     The Global Peace Index measures the relative position of nations' and regions' peacefulness.

2.     The Global Militarization Index depicts the relative weight and importance of the military apparatus of one state in relation to its society as a whole.

3.     The Fragile States Index assesses states' vulnerability to conflict or collapse.

4.     The List of ongoing armed conflicts identifies the death toll associated with each conflict.

 

 

UN activities

The United Nations was created in 1945, following the devastation of the Second World War, with one central mission: the maintenance of international peace and security. The UN accomplishes this by working to prevent conflict, helping parties in conflict make peace, deploying peacekeepers, and creating the conditions to allow peace to hold.

1.     The United Nations Security Council has the primary responsibility for international peace and security. It takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or an act of aggression. It calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of settlement. Under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Security Council can take enforcement measures to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such measures range from economic sanctions to international military action. The Council also establishes UN Peacekeeping Operations and Special Political Missions.

2.     The General Assembly and the Secretary-General play major, important, and complementary roles, along with other UN offices and bodies The General Assembly is the main deliberative, policymaking and representative organ of the UN. Through regular meetings, the General Assembly provides a forum for Member States to express their views to the entire membership and find consensus on difficult issues. It makes recommendations in the form of General Assembly resolutions. Decisions on important questions, such as those on peace and security, admission of new members and budgetary matters, require a two-thirds majority, but other questions are decided by simple majority.

(www.un.org, Maintain International Peace and Security)

For an overview of weapons that are regulated by International Humanitarian Law (IHL) see ICRC Weapons and ICRC Treaties and Customary Law. For all other treaties see Arms reduction treaties.

 

 

Criticism

Concerning the United Nations Security Council:

-      Scholar Sudhir Chella Rajan argued in 2006 that the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, who are all nuclear powers, have created an exclusive nuclear club that predominantly addresses the strategic interests and political motives of the permanent members, for example, protecting the oil-rich Kuwaitis in 1991 but poorly protecting resource-poor Rwandans in 1994 [Rajan].

-      The Security Council's effectiveness and relevance is questioned by some because, in most high-profile cases, there are essentially no consequences for violating a Security Council resolution. During the Darfur crisis, Janjaweed militias, allowed by elements of the Sudanese government, committed violence against an indigenous population, killing thousands of civilians. In the Srebrenica massacre, Serbian troops committed genocide against Bosniaks, although Srebrenica had been declared a UN safe area, protected by 400 armed Dutch peacekeepers [Deni, 71].

-      In his 2009 speech, Muammar Gaddafi criticized the Security Council's veto powers and the wars, where the permanent members of the Security Council are engaged in.

-      The UN Charter gives all three powers of the legislative, executive and judiciary branches to the Security Council [Creery].

-      The Security Council has been criticized for failure in resolving many conflicts, including Cyprus, Sri Lanka, Syria, Kosovo, and the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, reflecting the wider short-comings of the UN. For example; at the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key heavily criticized the UN's inaction on Syria, more than two years after the Syrian civil war began [Gower].

 

Proposals to reform the Security Council began with the conference that wrote the UN Charter and have continued to the present day. As British historian Paul Kennedy writes, "Everyone agrees that the present structure is flawed. But consensus on how to fix it remains out of reach."

(United Nations Security Council, Wikipedia)

 

Some permanent members want exclusive control over peace and security issues, even though the Security Council is the most failing principle organ of the United Nations (NGO Press Conference on UN Reform).

Currently the Responsibility to Protect is nothing but a declaration of intent.

On Tuesday, 26 April 2022, the UN General Assembly decided to automatically meet within 10 days, if the veto is used in the Security Council by one of its five permanent members. The resolution came in the wake of Russia’s use of the veto in the Council, the day after it invaded Ukraine (news.un.org/en/story/2022/04/1116982).

 

 

NGO activities

The Munich Security Conference, sponsored by the MSC Foundation, is the most important independent forum for the exchange of views by international security policy decision-makers. At this conference, senior politicians, diplomats, military and security experts from the member countries of NATO and the European Union, but also from other countries such as China, India, Iran, Japan and Russia are invited to discuss the current issues in security and defense policies.

-      Lists of peacebuilding NGOs: Peacebuilding and Peace Organizations.

Examples of peacebuilding NGOs: Fund for Peace, SIPRI, International Peace Bureau, Swisspeace, Peacebrigades, and ICAN. ICAN’s campaign helped to bring about the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (2017).

-      List of organizations that promote a global reduction in arms: Arms Control Organizations.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a coalition of NGOs, managed to implement the anti-personnel mine ban treaty (1997), also known as Ottawa Treaty.

A coalition of NGOs and the United Nations succeeded to implement a convention on cluster munitions (2008).

-      A means to reduce the incidence of holy wars is the separation of church and state. The concept stems from Enlightenment philosopher John Locke. Today it is promoted, among others, by secular humanist organizations like the British Humanist Association.

 

 

 

 

Beliefs are what divide people. Doubt unites them.

 

Peter Ustinov

 

 

 

 

Negative utilitarian priorities

Arms control is relatively inefficient, as long as the UN Security Council is blocked by veto rights. Not only because the key states ignore the bans [ICAN] [Ottawa Treaty] [Bosold 2008] but also because new weapons are created at a faster rate than old ones are banned. Currently there are immense investments in fully autonomous weapons and AI-supported warfare. The UN regular budget and the UN peacekeeping budget together comprise less than one percent of annual global military spending, see [Better World Campaign].

 

The priority to be enforced is therefore clearly a reform of the UN Charter, in particular a Security Council reform and a democratic reform, including the separation of powers. For information about the Security Council reform see [Fassbender] [Gordon] [Winther] [Jetschke].

 

What is the role of NGOs in such a reform?

The NGO Working Group on the Security Council is an influential forum at the United Nations. When it was founded in 1995, no one imagined that an NGO body could have regular interaction with Council members at the highest level. But the Working Group proved that the unexpected can happen, even in the high-stakes world of international policy. The Working Group today organizes dialogue meetings between a group of about thirty major NGOs and individual Council ambassadors, as well as top-level UN official and other key players in the international security world [Paul].

 

The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) has a Consultative Status with several UN organizations and agencies. It advocates, among others, for the abolition of the Security Council veto.(WILPF, Wikipedia)

 

 

 

4. Sustainable Development and Climate Action

 

 

Assessments

-      The most important traditional indicator is the GDP; see List of countries by GDP (PPP) per capita.

-      Economic growth is assessed in the List of countries by real GDP growth rate.

-      The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is a tool that measures and tracks hunger globally as well as by region and by country.

-      The Social Progress Index was developed based on extensive discussions with stakeholders around the world about what has been missed when policymakers focus on GDP to the exclusion of social performance.

-      The Human Development Index (HDI) published by the United Nations Development Program combines the standard of living with life expectancy, adult literacy rate and the gross enrollment ratio.

-      Traditional economic indicators (like GDP) don’t account for the exploitation of natural resources and therefore allow consumption at the cost of future generations. A recently proposed alternative for GDP is the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI).

 

 

UN activities

The most urgent global problem – besides the prevention of (nuclear) war – is probably sustainability. The shortage of resources caused by global warming could trigger extreme poverty, social conflicts, mass migration etc. The UNO launched its sustainable development agenda in 2015:

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a proposed set of 17 goals relating to future international development. They are to replace the Millennium Development Goals once they expire at the end of 2015.

Responsible for the implementation is the United Nations Development Group, a collection of UN agencies and programs, including the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The progress being made towards the 17 goals can be controlled on the website https://sdg-tracker.org

 

 

Picture from https://ourworldindata.org

 

A major obstacle in achieving above goals is the continuing growth of the world population and its increasing life expectancy.

-      Some studies and commentary link population growth with climate change (…). A July 2017 study published in Environmental Research Letters argued that the most significant way individuals could mitigate their own carbon footprint is to have fewer children, followed by living without a vehicle, forgoing air travel, and adopting a plant-based diet (Wikipedia, Overpopulation).

-      If scientists do manage to lengthen the duration of the human life, some new issues will occur. We will need to reduce the human population [Gaucher].

Continued population growth is also considered by some to be an animal rights issue, as more human activity means the destruction of animal habitats and more killing of animals (Wikipedia, Overpopulation).

-      The UNO addressed the importance of population policy already in 1994, at the UN International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo, i.e. considerably earlier than the sustainable development agenda.

-      At the Nairobi Summit on ICPD25 in 2019 some 1300 clear, concrete commitments were made to advance the goals of the ICPD. These commitments are decisive to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

 

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is a UN agency aimed at improving reproductive and maternal health worldwide. Its work includes developing national healthcare strategies, access to birth control, campaigns against child marriage, campaigns for woman’s empowerment etc. (United Nations Population Fund, Wikipedia)

In 2020, UNFPA's expenses totaled $1.28 billion [Congressional Research Service, 3], which seems to be a lot of money, but comprises just over 3.5% of the expenses for development activities (chapter 2).

 

 

Criticism and reply

The Copenhagen Consensus, a think tank initialized by Bjorn Lomborg, criticizes the UN development strategy on the following grounds:

-      The forces of the market should be used to improve economic, technological, and social development.

-      The UNO does not focus on a manageable number of targets and indicators

-      The UNO targets do not consider the relation between cost and benefit.

Defenders of the Sustainable Development Goals argue that their greatest virtue lies in getting countries involved in any development scheme underpinned by proper reporting and peer review. Economic purity must sometimes be sacrificed to secure broad agreement on a set of global goals. Mr Lomborg’s work is “very naive”, says Jeffrey Sachs, another economist with strong views about what works in international development (The Economics of Optimism, The Economist, Jan 24th 2015).

The Copenhagen Consensus judges activities in terms of their contribution to the GDP. The advantage of the GDP consists in being a measurable criterion. Most of the proposed activities can easily be linked to an increase of the GDP, whereas the effect of political interventions is hard to calculate. The Copenhagen Consensus discards political in favor of economic priorities. The method dictates the result.

 

 

NGO activities

-      There are numerous NGOs which work in the area of development aid, partly in cooperation with the UNO activities; see List of development aid agencies. Example: Innovations for Poverty Action [Howgego, 46].

-      Environmental organizations focus on sustainability; see List of environmental organizations. Example: Greenpeace, an organization that started with a campaign against nuclear weapons testing. Environmental issues include pollution, plastic pollution, waste, resource depletion, climate and human overpopulation.

 

Concerning human overpopulation there are numerous NGOs which engage for family planning, partly in cooperation with the UNFPA; see List of organizations campaigning for population stabilization and List of population concern organizations.

Examples: American Birth Control League, Population Matters, IPPF, DSW, Aktion Regen.

Family planning can also be promoted indirectly, through better access to education for women [Hooper, 40].

 

 

Negative utilitarian priorities

Development aid that prevents or reduces suffering is a negative utilitarian priority. Should development aid be reinforced relative to other priorities? Within the United Nation’s system-wide activities, development gets more than 70% of the resources (see chapter 2). Why do these resources not solve the problem of extreme poverty? The reason is that development aid often goes with increased corruption, and adverse political effects such as postponements of necessary economic and democratic reforms. It makes therefore more sense to reinforce the fight against corruption and bad governance (chapter 7). Within development aid the best investment is probably family planning, in particular because in April 2017 the Trump administration cut off all UNFPA funding.

 

Why is family planning more important in negative utilitarianism than in the UN? First of all, the UN is confronted with opposition from religious circles, as demonstrated by Trump’s funding cut. Furthermore, the UN approach and the Copenhagen Consensus both promote economic growth. The Copenhagen Consensus applies the utility maximization of welfare economics, and the system-wide UN activities promote growth through development aid. For that reason, a stabilization of the world population is only indirectly addressed by emphasizing sustainability. It is assumed that (in a sustainable environment) global welfare is positive. Negative utilitarianism, in contrast, questions the sign of global welfare (see Is there a Prevalence of Suffering?). A reduction of the world population is no taboo, as long as the shrinking process does not durably worsen the (weighted) average welfare:

-      An organization which aims at smaller populations is Negative Population Growth.

-      The Birthstrike Movement (https://birthstrikemovement.org) refuses to procreate until humanity has resolved its social, environmental and economic issues.

It takes courage, however, to have fewer children or remain childless, if one must withstand societal pressure [Thornley]. For organizations which facilitate remaining childless see www.vhemt.org/nonparents.htm.

 

In the future, family planning will change its character. It will be confronted with Nietzschean actors who advocate genetic engineering, transhumanism and (sentient) artificial intelligence.

 

 

 

5. Humanitarian Aid

 

 

Definition

Humanitarian aid is designed to save lives and alleviate suffering during and in the immediate aftermath of emergencies, whereas development aid responds to ongoing structural issues, particularly systemic poverty, that may hinder economic, institutional and social development in any given society (…). Both humanitarian and development aid are related, and different forms of aid often have both humanitarian and development components (Humanitarian Coalition).

Forms of aid that have both humanitarian and development components are called humanitarian assistance.

 

 

UN activities

1.     The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) of the UN Secretariat is responsible for coordinating responses to emergencies. It does this through the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, whose members include the UN system entities most responsible for providing emergency relief. A coordinated, system-wide approach to humanitarian relief is essential in providing assistance quickly and efficiently to those in need. OCHA’s mandate stems from General Assembly resolution 46/182 of December 1991, which states: "The leadership role of the Secretary-General is critical and must be strengthened to ensure better preparation for, as well as rapid and coherent response to, natural disasters and other emergencies. This should be achieved through coordinated support for prevention and preparedness measures and the optimal utilization of, inter alia, an inter-agency standing committee, consolidated appeals, a central emergency revolving fund and a register of stand-by capacities."

2.     The UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), managed by OCHA, is one of the fastest and most effective ways to support rapid humanitarian response for people affected by natural disasters and armed conflict. CERF receives voluntary contributions year-round to provide immediate funding for life-saving humanitarian action anywhere in the world.

(UN Deliver Humanitarian Aid)

 

 

Criticism

It has been criticized that the ICRC’s humanitarian aid depends too much on the financing states [Rieff 2002] and that it sometimes inadvertently prolongs a civil war [Narang 2014, 3]. However, most of the criticism relates to cases, where humanitarian aid is transformed into long-term development aid; see Corruption in development aid and Short History of Welfare Economics, chapter 4.3.

 

 

NGO activities

There are numerous NGOs working in the area of humanitarian aid, partly in cooperation with the UN activities; see Humanitarian aid organizations. Many of these activities overlap with development aid. Examples: Care International, Fairmed

 

 

Negative utilitarian priorities

The humanitarian aid in natural catastrophes, wars, famines, epidemics and other emergencies is a negative utilitarian priority by definition. There are currently (2022) about 80 armed conflicts, and about half of them have to be classified as wars, see List of ongoing armed conflicts. Many of these wars get little attention in the media; they are a kind of “forgotten” wars. Due to the circumstances, it is often difficult to get access to the victims. Two organizations that have proven effective in such cases are

-      International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

-      Médecins sans frontières (MSF).

 

Political neutrality is the best strategy to reach the victims of armed conflicts [Jean]. In order to demonstrate independence to the parties at war, MSF strives to obtain its funding from private individuals and not from governments. The ICRC obtains funding from governments, but it has a long tradition of neutrality. For a long time, ICRC neutrality was identified with Swiss neutrality. Both organizations are also active in transforming humanitarian aid into development aid and realizing the human right to basic medical care.

 

A politically engaged humanitarian organization is Médecins du Monde. Its founding principle is témoignage ("witnessing"), which refers to aid workers making the atrocities they observe known to the public.

 

 

 

6. Human Rights

 

 

Assessments

-      The Democracy index measures pluralism, civil liberties and political culture. In addition to a numeric score and a ranking, the index categorizes each country into one of four regime types: full democracies, flawed democracies, hybrid regimes, and authoritarian regimes.

-      Freedom indices rank countries as being free, partly free, or unfree, using various measures of freedom.

-      Human rights and rule of law index uses index points from the Fund for Peace.

-      The Democracy Ranking combines the indicators political liberty, legal security, and social justice.

-      Human Freedom Index measures human freedom in terms of personal, civil, and economic freedom, freedom understood as the absence of coercive constraint.

 

 

UN activities

In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights lay down the principles that brought human rights into the realm of international law. Since then, the Organization has diligently protected human rights through legal instruments and on-the-ground activities (UN Protect Human Rights)

 

How does the UN promote and protect human rights? Mainly responsible are

-      The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

-      The Human Rights Council, which was established in 2006 and meets in Geneva,

(UN Protect Human Rights).

 

What legal instruments help the UN protect human rights?

-      The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and two Covenants

-      A series of international human rights treaties and other instruments adopted since 1945 have expanded the body of international human rights law.

-      Democracy, based on the rule of law, is ultimately a means to achieve international peace and security, economic and social progress and development, and respect for human rights – the three pillars of the United Nations mission as set forth in the UN Charter. At the 2005 World Summit, all the world’s governments reaffirmed “that democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives”.

(UN Protect Human Rights)

 

 

Criticism

The precise meaning of the term right is controversial and is the subject of continued philosophical debate. While there is consensus that human rights encompasses a wide variety of rights (…) there is disagreement about which of these particular rights should be included within the general framework of human rights; some thinkers suggest that human rights should be a minimum requirement to avoid the worst-case abuses, while others see it as a higher standard (Human Rights, Wikipedia).

There are many attempts to define priorities within human rights. John Rawls, for example, focused on civil and political rights, i.e. on the promotion of democracy and the protection of minorities [Rawls].

The unprincipled proliferation of human right claims in international documents (e.g. the right to periodic holidays with pay, stated in article 24 of the Universal Declaration) explains why Rawls began to pursue more austere approaches (Human Rights and Duties of Assistance, Aachen University).

Concerning the legitimation and criticism of

-      democracy see democracy and [Brennan]

-      free speech see freespeechdebate.com and [Ash].

 

 

NGO activities

Prerequisites for the implementation of human rights are a free press and an efficient political opposition. Only a pluralistic political system guarantees the uncensored access to information and the protection of minorities in the long run. There are numerous NGOs that work in the area of human rights, partly in cooperation with the OHCHR and the ECOSOC. For a comprehensive list see Human rights organizations. Following some examples:

General: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch

Specific:

-      Slavery: Free the Slaves, Anti-Slavery

-      Women’s rights: AHA Foundation, FJS Foundation, IAMANEH

-      Children’s rights: Save the Children, Terre des Hommes, UNICEF

-      Persons with a disability: CBM, ASRA Foundation

-      Civil and political rights: International IDEA, Democracy International, Alliance of Democracies, World Movement for Democracy. A special concern is the separation of powers.

-      The right to basic medical care: Health Charities

-      etc.

Human rights overlap with development aid (chapter 4) and humanitarian aid (chapter 5). For an example of cooperation with the ECOSOC see List of NGOs Accredited to the Conference of States Parties.

 

 

Negative utilitarian priorities

Negative utilitarianism (NU) supports all of the above-mentioned rights, only the way of deriving priorities could be cause for discussion. In NU the ethical priority increases with the level of suffering. For that reason, the following rights get a special attention:

-      The right not to be tortured: Examples: World Organization against Torture, Association for the Prevention of Torture [Stover](UN Convention)

-      The right to palliative care, which ought to be part of basic medical care: Examples: HRW Palliative Care, OPIS

-      The right to die: The corresponding societies are locally organized, see World Federation Right to Die Societies (https://wfrtds.org)

 

The freedom of speech and the freedom of the press are NU priorities because without these rights, ethical priorities cannot even be discussed. Following some NGO’s which specialize in this area: Committee to Protect Journalists, PEN International, Giordano Bruno Foundation, Reporters without Borders.

 

On a side note: This paper extensively refers to Wikipedia articles. As of April 2019, however, all versions of Wikipedia are blocked in Mainland China under the Great Firewall.

 

 

 

7. International Law

 

 

Definition

International law defines the legal responsibilities of States in their conduct with each other, and their treatment of individuals within State boundaries. International law's domain encompasses a wide range of issues of international concern, such as

-      disarmament, international crime, the use of force, and the conduct of war (chapter 3)

-      environment and sustainable development, international waters, outer space, global communications and world trade (chapter 4)

-      refugees, migration, problems of nationality (chapter 5)

-      human rights, the treatment of prisoners (chapter 6)

(www.un.org Uphold International Law)

 

 

Assessments

-      The Government effectiveness index is an index elaborated by the World Bank Group which measures the quality of public services, civil service, policy formulation, policy implementation and credibility of a government's commitment to raise these qualities or keeping them high.

-      The Corruption perceptions index is an index which ranks countries "by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, as determined by expert assessments and opinion surveys.

-      The AML index assesses money laundering risks around the world.

 

 

UN activities

The most important activities in the work area International Law are the following:

 

1.     Settling disputes between states

The principal judicial organ of the United Nations is the International Court of Justice (ICJ). This main body of the UN settles legal disputes submitted to it by States in accordance with international law. It also gives advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it from authorized UN organs and specialized agencies. The Court is composed of 15 judges, who are elected for terms of nine years by the General Assembly and the Security Council.

 

2.     Preventing genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. Responsible are

-      a variety of international courts and tribunals for the former Yugoslavia, for Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Lebanon etc.

-      the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT), a Subsidiary Organ of the Security Council.

-      the International Criminal Court (ICC)

-      the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS)

 

In 2005 a global consensus on the prevention of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing has been reached, defined in the United Nations Responsibility to Protect (R2P). The authority to use force rests solely with the United Nations Security Council and is considered a measure of last resort.

The R2P is not a law, nor a legally binding framework. The crimes that it seeks to prevent are defined in international law, such as the Genocide Convention, the Geneva Conventions and additional protocols and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, but R2P itself is not a legal framework (una.org.uk, Understanding the R2P). The transformation of the R2P into a law is probably not possible without a reform of the UN Charter (see chapter 3).

 

3.     The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law plays a key role in developing a robust cross-border legal framework for the facilitation of international trade and investment. It does this by preparing and promoting the use and adoption of legislative and non-legislative instruments in several key areas of commercial law.

 

4.     The International Law Commission promotes the progressive development of international law and its codification. The long-term goal is to establish a minimal legal standard for activities between and within states. One of these standards concerns corruption. The primary anti-corruption instrument of the UN is the Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). The UNCAC works closely together with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime [UNODC] and promotes standards to the International Law Commission, e.g. concerning the immunity of State officials from foreign criminal jurisdiction [CAC, 4].

 

5.     The Online database provides the most detailed information on the status of over 560 major multilateral instruments deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations and covers i.a. Human Rights, Disarmament, Commodities, Refugees, the Environment, and the Law of the Sea. 

 

 

Criticism

-      Criticism of International Law

-      Criticism of the United Nations

-      Criticism of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

 

 

NGO activities

1.     Providing information to the International Court of Justice is a concern of numerous peace promoting NGOs (see chapter 3).

 

2.     Regarding the UN Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and a possible reform of the UN Charter, the NGO Working Group on the Security Council has become an influential forum at the United Nations (see end of chapter 3).

 

3.     An obvious example of injustice – apart from cases where R2P applies – is extreme poverty [Pogge]. A possible strategy to overcome poverty is development aid (chapter 4). Its efficiency, however, is disputed, because it often goes with increased corruption, and adverse political effects such as postponements of necessary economic and democratic reforms.

The slogan "Trade not Aid" gained international recognition in 1968 when it was adopted by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to put the emphasis on the establishment of fair trade relations with the developing world (Fair Trade, Wikipedia)

An NGO that investigates and criticizes unfair trade practices is Public Eye.

 

4.     With regard to corruption, it is clear that work in the non-governmental sector has been seminal in bringing the issue onto the global agenda. It was pioneering work by the Soros Foundations and Transparency International that forced larger institutions such as the World Bank to follow in their footsteps [CASIN]. Following some NGOs which develop and propagate knowledge about corruption and bad governance:

-      Global Integrity, Quality of Government Institute, Basel Institute on Governance fight corruption and criticize the quality of governance, not only in oligarchic, authoritarian and totalitarian regimes, but also in defective democracies.

-      Global Witness investigates the links between natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption, and human rights abuses.

The NGO Corruption Fighters’ Resource Book contains detailed instructions for anti-corruption activists.

 

Directories:

-      The World Justice Project maintains a Directory of leading organizations advancing the rule of law worldwide.

-      The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential provides a comprehensive overview of the problem of corruption and the organizations that fight it.

 

Finally, there is also an abuse of power by humans towards other sentient beings. Empathy leads to complex discussions how to weigh and balance human and non-human interests and how to extend the notion of justice to all sentient beings [VanDeVeer] [Garner].

-      Animal Charity Evaluators follows anti-speciesist principles and measures success by the amount of animal suffering that is prevented or reduced.

-      The Sentience Institute envisions a society in which the interests of all sentient beings are considered, regardless of their species or substrate. Two particularly important topics are the suffering of farmed animals and artificial sentience.

A common concern of these NGOs is the continued growth of the world population, because humans destruct animal habitats and kill animals for food (chapter 4). For a comparison of human and animal suffering see [Hobbhan].

 

 

Negative utilitarian priorities

The precise meaning of the term global justice is controversial and is the subject of continued philosophical debate. For a comparison of NU with Rawls’ theory of justice see Negative Utilitarianism and Justice. Since NU is a form of consequentialism, it is concerned with just war theory and the application of this theory in the Responsibility to Protect. According to NU a war is justified, if the suffering prevented exceeds (by a large safety margin) the suffering created by the war. In practice just war theory is confronted with immense problems; see the criticism of the R2P above.

 

From a NU point of view the development and propagation of ethical knowledge is a major priority, in particular the knowledge about corruption and bad governance. The fight against corruption and the enforcement of a global rule of law are probably more efficient than additional investments in development. Arguments for this presumption can be found in Corruption in development aid.

 

 

 

8. Conclusion

 

Following a collection of theses, ordered by the permanent work areas of the UNO:

 

1. Peace and security: The most urgent action is a reform of the UN Security Council, so that the Responsibility to Protect cannot be undermined by veto rights. The NGO Working Group on the Security Council could play an important role in this reform.

 

2. Sustainable development: The UN activities in this area promote economic growth. For that reason, a stabilization of the world population is only indirectly addressed by emphasizing sustainability. For negative utilitarians, however, a reduction of the world population is no taboo, as long as the shrinking process does not durably worsen the (weighted) average life satisfaction. With regard to reducing suffering, family planning has the best cost-/benefit ratio in the long term.

 

3. Humanitarian aid: The humanitarian aid in natural catastrophes, wars, famines, epidemics, and other emergencies has the best cost-/benefit ratio in the short term.

 

4. Human rights: The highest priority should be assigned to the eradication of torture, the right to palliative care and the legalization of voluntary euthanasia. From a different perspective one could also prioritize the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press, because without these rights, ethical priorities cannot even be discussed.

 

5. International law: The fight against corruption and the enforcement of a global rule of law are more efficient than additional investments in development. If the numerous critics can be believed, then a considerable part of the huge UN development aid disappeared in the pockets of corrupt governments.

 

 

 

References

 

1. Alger Chadwick (2002), The Emerging Role of NGOs in the UN System, Global Governance 8, 93-117

2. Ash Timothy Garton (2016), Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World, Yale University Press

3. Better World Campaign (2022), The UN Budget, available from https://betterworldcampaign.org

4. Bosold David (2008), Heiße Luft: Warum das Streubombenverbot von Dublin kein Erfolg ist, DGAP Standpunkt

5. Bostrom, Nick (2005), A history of transhumanist thought, Journal of Evolution and Technology, Vol.14, Issue 1

6. Brennan Jason (2016), Against Democracy, Princeton University Press

7. CAC (2015), Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, Vienna, 1-5 June

8. CASIN, Center for Applied Studies in International Negotiations (2007), Global Anti-Corruption Efforts: The Role of Non-Governmental Organizations

9. Congressional Research Service (2021), The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA): Background and U.S. Funding

10.  Copenhagen Consensus (2015), Post 2015 Consensus

11.  Creery, Janet (2004). Read the fine print first, Peace Magazine, Jan–Feb 1994: 20

12.  Deni, John R. (2007). Alliance Management and Maintenance: Restructuring NATO for the 21st Century. Aldershot, England: Ashgate Publishing

13.  DGC (2021), The United Nations System, available from www.un.org/en/pdfs/un_system-chart.pdf

14.  ECOSOC (2020), Economic and Social Council of the General Assembly, Report of the Secretary General

15.  Fassbender Bardo (2003), All Illusions Shattered? Looking Back on a Decade of Failed Attempts to Reform the UN Security Council, Max Plank UNYB7

16.  Garner Robert (2013), A Theory of Justice for Animals, Oxford University Press, New York

17.  Gaucher, Renaud (2021), How to Optimize the Relationship Between Public Spending and Happiness, International Journal of Community Well-Being, Springer

18.  General Assembly of the UN (2022), Proposed Program Plan and Budget, Administrative and Budgetary Committee (Fifth Committee)

19.  Gordon Nora (2014), Pathways to Security Council Reform, New York University

20.  Gower Patrick (2013), Key compromises on UN Syria deal, 3 News NZ 

21.  Hobbhan Marius (2020), How much animal suffering is there?

22.  Hooper Rowan (2021), A trillion dollars to fix the world, New Scientist, 27 February, 38-43

23.  Howgego Joshua (2019), How to do Good, New Scientist, 7 December, 42-46

24.  Jean Francois (1993), Helfer im Kreuzfeuer, Verlag Dietz, Bonn, Germany

25.  Jetschke Anja (2019), The Devil is in the Detail, The Positions of the BRICS Countries towards UN Security Council Reform and the Responsibility to Protect, Oxford Scholarship Online

26.  Myths and Misconceptions About Charity (2022), Giving What We Can, available from www.givingwhatwecan.org/get-involved/myths-about-charity/

27.  Narang Neil (2014), Assisting Uncertainty: How Humanitarian Aid can Inadvertently Prolong Civil War, International Studies Quarterly, 1–12

28.  Paul James A. (2010), A Short History of the NGO Working Group, available from www.ngowgsc.org

29.  Pimenta Mariana, Oliveira Baccarini (2018), Informal Reform of the United Nations Security Council, Contexto Internacional, Vol.40 (1)

30.  Pogge Thomas (2007), Weltarmut: Erklärung und Verantwortung, Lecture and workshop on May 23, Philosophy at the University of Munich

31.  Rajan, Sudhir Chella (2006), Global Politics and Institutions, GTI Paper Series: Frontiers of a Great Transition

32.  Rawls, John (1971), A Theory of Justice, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA

33.  Rieff David, Joanne J. Myers (2002), A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis, Carnegie Council

34.  Stover Eric and Elena Nightingale (1985), The Breaking of Bodies and Minds, Freeman, New York

35.  Thornley Davidia (ed.) (2022), Childfree across the disciplines, Rutgers University Press, New Jersey

36.  UNODC (2009), Technical Guide to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, Protection and Ethics Unit of UNICRI

37.  VanDeVeer Donald (1994), Interspecific Justice, in The Environmental Ethics and Policy Book, edited by Donald VanDeVeer and Christine Pierce, Belmont, Wadsworth, 179-193

38.  Weiss Thomas (2005), Overcoming the Security Council Reform Impasse, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung

39.  Winther B.Z.(2020), A Review of the Academic Debate about United Nations Security Council Reform, The Chinese Journal of Global Governance

 

 

 

Appendix

Quality Control of Non-Governmental Organizations

 

 

Percentage spent on overhead

The traditional metrics for ranking charities is the percentage of the organization's budget that is spent on overhead, i.e. charity evaluators focus on the question how much of the contributed funds are used for the purpose claimed by the charity (Charity Assessment, Wikipedia).

Examples:

-      Austria: Österreichisches Spendengütesiegel

-      Germany: DZI

-      Switzerland: ZEWO

-      USA: BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, Great Nonprofits, GuideStar, ImpactMatters [Howgego, 45]

 

 

Cost effectiveness

More recently some evaluators have placed an emphasis on the cost effectiveness (or impact) of charities.

Examples:

-      GiveWell is an American non-profit charity assessment and effective altruism-focused organization. It focuses primarily on the cost-effectiveness of the organizations that it evaluates, rather than traditional metrics such as the percentage of the organization's budget that is spent on overhead (GiveWell, Wikipedia).

-      Giving What We Can conducts research to determine which charities it recommends for members and other people to support. It differs from other charity evaluators in terms of the importance given to metrics of charity performance. While evaluators such as Charity Navigator use the fraction of donations spent on program expenses versus administrative overhead as an important indicator, Giving What We Can solely focuses on the cost-effectiveness of the charity's work. It believes that the variance in cost-effectiveness of charities arises largely due to the variance in the nature of the causes that the charities operate in, and therefore makes evaluations across broad areas of work such as health, education, and emergency aid before comparing specific organizations. In practice, it recommends a selected few charities in the area of global health. Its work is therefore similar to that of GiveWell (Giving What We Can, Wikipedia)

The assumption that charitable activities are effective is not self-evident, see [Myths and Misconceptions About Charity].

 

 

Complex assessments

GiveWell has by its nature been biased towards charities whose outcomes are easily measurable, like health-based interventions. But it recently said it is aiming to begin investigating philanthropy where the outcomes are less easy to measure [Howgego, 44-45].

Also the following organizations are less biased towards charities whose outcomes are easily measurable:

-      Giving Evidence (https://giving-evidence.com) [Howgego, 44]

-      The Life You Can Save (https://www.thelifeyoucansave.org) [Howgego, 44]

-      NGO Advisor (https://www.ngoadvisor.net) uses a journalistic approach to research and reporting

-      Philanthropedia, a division of GuideStar. Rankings are based on a combination of in-depth surveys and conversations with experts, including academics, funders, grant makers, policy makers and consultants.

-      The EA Center on Long-term Risk (https://longtermrisk.org) informs policy-makers about the risks of emerging technologies.

-      The Open Philanthropy Project funds research on global catastrophic risks [Howgego, 45].

An organization for discussing ethical priorities is Algosphere Alliance (https://algosphere.org) a global network dedicated to the alleviation of suffering through collaboration and political mobilization. The decision process in Algosphere is democratic and decentralized.