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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
U.N. official David Marshall spoke Friday at the IPFW international conference on human rights.

Focus on rights, UN official says

Western-like justice not best for all

– The United Nations should stop pushing the rule of law on fragile nations and stress humans rights instead, according to a U.N. official.

The Western-style justice system might be considered “the elixir to all ills” in English-speaking countries, David Marshall said Friday, but it is an alien concept to tribal cultures in Afghanistan, the Mideast, Africa and elsewhere.

“Our knowledge seems to be so profoundly lacking about these places,” Marshall told 45 people at the IPFW International Conference on the Grounding and Implementation of Human Rights.

He repeatedly used South Sudan as a case in point during his hour-long talk at IPFW’s alumni center.

Marshall, the chief of global issues for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, has tried to help leaders of the fledgling African nation reform its courts and prisons. Yet he has seen children and a mentally ill man – naked, filthy and chained, but charged with no crime – on death row in a state prison.

And despite years of training and advice from the U.N., South Sudanese forces slaughtered hundreds of civilians in December. The U.N.’s response was to send peacekeeping troops, 200 of them from Arkansas.

“What do they know about South Sudan?” wondered Marshall, a Canadian.

In a similar vein, American taxpayers have largely wasted billions of dollars on institutional and physical reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan over the past dozen years, he said.

“There is no accountability for these failures, it seems to me,” Marshall said.

Because imposing and enforcing the rule of law has been futile in so many parts of the world, Marshall said, “the way forward is radical change.”

He said the U.N. must merge theory and practice, ditch comprehensive approaches and rapid deployments to conflicts and “have a greater immeshment to the human rights machinery.”

Marshall recommended that the U.N. take “a convening role. … Stop being state institution-centric and be more about really truly understanding the issue and who we can help and who we can bring to the table.”

They should include “all these marginalized organizations and marginalized groups of people.”

IPFW’s human rights conference continues today. Many of the participants are from IPFW, Manchester University and other area colleges, said Clark Butler, director of the IPFW Human Rights Institute.

The list of speakers featured professors from various universities, including the University of Notre Dame and Yeditepe University in Istanbul, Turkey.