Global Compact: Principles or Practices?

  • Mr. Gibril Faal speaking at the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants last 19 September 2016.

At the UN Summit on 19 September 2016, I had the privilege to speak on ‘International Action and Cooperation: The Way Ahead’. Given the comprehensive Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development Goals, the New York Declaration itself, I thought it was an obvious point that the Global Compact should predominantly be about practice, performance and positive impacts.

This simple and seemingly unsophisticated view is held by many of the organisations and entities – large and small – that work directly with migrants and operate on the frontline of policy implementation. There is significant impatience and weariness amongst migrant and diaspora organisations, civil society, and the private sector. There seem to be endless discussions of global or normative principles which are elegant and highbrow in their attestations of commitment to rights, values and human development, yet we feel mugged and mocked by flagrant inaction and lack of implementation.

From ‘Coalition of the Willing’ to ‘Hyperactivity of the Devoted’

Many of the people who are involved in international negotiations on migration struggle to find any new principles or proposals which singularly furthers knowledge and understanding of what we should do to address the known problems.

Extraordinarily, we seem to know what should be done to protect rights of refugees and migrants, and facilitate and optimise their contribution to the development of countries of origin, transit and destination. The challenge we face is that not all states are keen to implement the known best practices.

A few member states are in fact inclined to adopt counterproductive actions. Indeed, the principle of equitable responsibility sharing gives us an example of why the Global Compact should concentrate on practice, not reiteration of principles.

Within the EU, spectacular disputes have erupted and enormous resources and time are spent trying to convince member states to implement the principle by taking in a few thousand refugees. The countries that are willing, end up taking more than their quota, with little fuss. Other countries raise disingenuous legal arguments or dubious referenda to avoid taking their modest quota.

We face a moral hazard: Do we persist in negotiations for the lowest common denominator, subject to being dragged down by the unwilling and the obstructionists? Do we spend much of our inadequate resources and time declaring and reaffirming the basic things we already agree on? Do we indulge in negotiations and gamesmanship whilst existing conventions, agreements and best practices remain inert for want of implementation?

I argue that for the Global Compacts, we need to provide a practical framework to move from the ‘Coalition of the Willing’ to the ‘Hyperactivity of the Devoted’. Positive impact will come from action and practice, not repetition of agreed commitments or re-wording of diluted principles.

Over-principled and Under-performing

As a community of nations, we witness failure – in too many places and for too many incidents – regarding facilitation of safe, orderly and regular migration. Are we reckless, incompetent or indifferent? I ask, because in the 21st century, humanity is at the zenith of her innovative capacity, her technological capability, and her operational prowess.

As member states and non-state actors, I propose that in this SDG era, we make a major practical, emotional and principled shift, such that operational implementation and tactical means of implementation are given the highest priority. This is the practical game-changer we need to enhance and optimise the achievement of our cherished aspirations, strategic goals and global commitments.

In many ways, we are over-aspirational, over-principled and under-performing. The Global Compacts should focus on, and facilitate and enhance performance.

The New York Declaration requires that the Global Compact “set out a range of principles, commitments and understandings”. I propose that the Compact should take the form of a short and simple reaffirmation of the existing principles and commitments; and the substance of the document be devoted to “understandings” through provisions of ‘Commissions and Omissions’ or ‘Acts and Omissions’ in all aspects of international migration. This will produce a working document and Compact on what to do and what not to do, to facilitate and enhance the practice of safe, orderly and regular migration.

I would remind member states and all stakeholders that in our current situation of awful under-performance, effective practice and implementation is beyond just a managerial imperative, it is the moral obligation.

Gibril Faal is Interim Director of ADEPT & Director of GK Partners

Find out more about ADEPT here; GK Partners here and AFFORD-UK here.