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August 19 – World Humanitarian Day: A Need for Common Actions

In Uncategorized, Middle East & North Africa, Human Rights, Current Events, Solidarity, Conflict Resolution, The Search for Peace, United Nations, International Justice, World Law, Being a World Citizen on August 18, 2016 at 11:32 PM

AUGUST 19 – WORLD HUMANITARIAN DAY:
A NEED FOR COMMON ACTIONS
By René Wadlow

In memory of Sergio Vieira de Mello (1948-2003)

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly has designated August 19 as “World Humanitarian Day” to pay tribute to aid workers in humanitarian service in difficult and often dangerous conditions. August 19 was designated in memory of the bombing on August 19, 2003 of the UN office building in Baghdad, Iraq in which Sergio Vieira de Mello, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and at the time Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, was killed along with 21 UN staff members. Over 200 UN employees were injured. The exact circumstances of the attack are not known, and why United States (U. S.) and UN security around the building was not tighter is still not clear. A truck with explosives was able to dive next to the building and then blew itself up.

Sergio Vieira de Mello had spent his UN career in humanitarian efforts, often with the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees and at other times as Special Representative of the UN Secretary General. As a Nongovernmental Organization (NGO) representative to the UN in Geneva and active on human rights issues, I knew him during his short 2002-2003 tenure as High Commissioner for Human Rights. Many of us had high hopes that his dynamism, relative youth (he was 54) and wide experience in conflict resolution efforts would provide new possibilities for human rights efforts. His death along with the death of others who had been Geneva-based was a stark reminder of the risks that exist for all engaged in humanitarian and conflict resolution work.

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Sergio Vieira de Mello (1948-2003) (C) Wilson Dias

This year the risks and dangers are not just memories but are daily news. On May 3, 2016, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2286 calling for greater protection for health care institutions and personnel in light of recent attacks against hospitals and clinics in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Afghanistan. These attacks on medical facilities are too frequent to be considered “collateral damage.” The attacks indicate a dangerous trend of non-compliance with world law by both State and non-State agents. The protection of medical personnel and the treatment of all the wounded − both allies and enemies − goes back to the start of humanitarian law.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has stressed the need for accountability, including by investigation of alleged violations of the laws of war. The grave violations by the Islamic State (ISIS) must be protested by as wide a coalition of concerned voices as possible. There is a real danger that as ISIS disintegrates and no longer controls as much territory, it will increase terrorist actions.

The laws of war, now more often called humanitarian law, have two wings, one dealing with the treatment of medical personnel in armed conflict situations, the military wounded, prisoners of war, and the protection of civilians. This wing is represented by the Geneva (Red Cross) Conventions. The second wing, often called The Hague Conventions limit or ban outright the use of certain categories of weapons. These efforts began at The Hague with the 1900 peace conferences and have continued even if the more recent limitations on land mines, cluster weapons and chemical weapons have been negotiated elsewhere.

The ban on the use of weapons are binding only on States which have ratified the convention. Thus the current use of USA-made cluster weapons in Yemen by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition is, in a narrow sense, legal as the USA, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have not signed the cluster weapon ban. The AWC was one of the NGOs leading the campaign against cluster weapons. My position is that when a large number of States ratify a convention (which is the case for the cluster-weapons ban) then the convention becomes world law and so must be followed by all States and non-State actors even if they have not signed or ratified the convention. The same holds true for the use of land mines currently being widely used by ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

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A B-1B Lancer unleashes cluster munitions. (C) U. S. Air Force

The current situation concerning refugees and internally-displaced persons can also be considered as part of humanitarian law. Thus those working with refugees and the displaced within their country are also to be honored by the World Humanitarian Day. To prevent and alleviate human suffering, to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human person − these are the core values of humanitarian law.

There needs to be a wide public outcry in the defense of humanitarian law so that violations can be reduced. The time for action is now.

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Syrian and Iraqi immigrants getting off a boat from Turkey on the Greek island of Lesbos. (C) Ggia

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Yemen Negotiations Move Ahead Slowly – Postwar Planning Needed

In Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Development, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, Women's Rights, World Law on July 19, 2016 at 4:50 PM

YEMEN NEGOTIATIONS MOVE AHEAD SLOWLY – POSTWAR PLANNING NEEDED

As a result of Saudi bombing raids, Yemen’s underdeveloped socio-economic infrastructure has been largely destroyed. Post-war planning will need to be followed by international aid for development, with post-war socio-economic construction developed on a basic needs approach.

By René Wadlow

Guard sits on the rubble of the house of Brigadier Fouad al-Emad, an army commander loyal to the Houthis, after air strikes destroyed it in Sanaa, Yemen

A guard sits on the rubble of the house of Brigadier Fouad al-Emad, an army commander loyal to the Houthis, after air strikes destroyed it in Sanaa, Yemen June 15, 2015. Warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition bombarded Yemen’s Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa overnight as the country’s warring factions prepared for talks expected to start in Geneva on Monday. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

The United Nations (UN)-mediated peace negotiations for Yemen led by Ismail Ould Cheikh in Kuwait move ahead slowly. The 13-month war was at first between Houthis tribal forces loyal to former President Ali Abdallah Saleh and those supporting the current president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who had been Saleh’s vice-president for many years. The war is a struggle for power but is not an ideological-religious-tribal conflict.

Into this conflict has come a Saudi Arabian-led military coalition using bombs and sophisticated weapons. As a result, some 2.5 million people have been displaced within the country. Yemen was already a poor country which needed to import much of its agricultural and food supplies. As a result of the Saudi bombing raids, the underdeveloped socio-economic infrastructure has been largely destroyed.

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A shopping center destroyed by an airstrike in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, on April 20, 2015. (C) Ibrahem Qasim

Thus, there is a serious need first for postwar planning to be followed by international aid for development. “Reconstruction” would be the wrong term since there was little that had been “constructed”. Rather, we need to look to a postwar socio-economic construction developed on a basic needs approach.

The Basic Needs Approach to Development with its emphasis on people as central to the development process is embodied in the June 1976 World Employment Conference Declaration of Principles and Program of Action.[i] The Declaration underlines the importance of the individual and the central role of the family and household as the basic unit around which to work for development.

Although the Basic Needs Approach builds on the development thinking of the UN and national governments of the 1950s and 1960s such as rural development, urban poverty alleviation, employment creation through small-scale industries, the Declaration of Principles is a major shift in development strategies with its focus on the family with the objective of providing the opportunities for the full physical, mental, and social development of the human personality. The Program of Action defines a two-part approach: “First, Basic Needs includes certain minimum requirements of a family for private consumption: adequate food, shelter and clothing, as well as certain household equipment and furniture. Second, Basic Needs includes essential services provided by and for the community at large, such as safe drinking water, sanitation, public transport, health, education and cultural facilities.”

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Widespread destruction in a residential neighborhood near Mount Attan after an airstrike carried out by the Saudi Arabian-led “coalition” in Yemen. (C) Ibrahem Qasim

The Program added a basic element to the actions: “A Basic Needs-oriented policy implies the participation of the people in making the decisions which affect them through organizations of their own choice.”

The Basic Needs Approach concentrates on the nature of what is provided rather than on income − income having often been used as the criteria for drawing a ‘poverty line’. The Basic Needs Approach is concerned not only with the underemployed but also with the unemployable: the aged, the sick, the disabled, orphaned children and others. Such groups have often been neglected by the incomes and productivity approach to poverty alleviation and employment creation.

For Yemen which is largely structured on the basis of clan – extended family institutions, the Basic Needs Approach is most appropriate. In practice, there are few institutions or associations beyond the clan level, although tribal and religious identities are often mentioned. Tribes and religious identity are “shorthand” terms as it is impossible to mention the multitude of clans. However, a family welfare – meeting basic needs is the most appropriate strategy on which to base postwar planning. Although the fighting continues sporadically and agreement on a possible “unity government” seems far away, Basic Needs Planning must start now.

Prof. René Wadlow is President and a Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.

[i] See the Director General’s Report and the Declaration in the International Labor Office. Employment, Growth and Basic Needs: A One World Problem (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1977, 224 pp.)

Turkey, the Death Penalty, and Human Dignity

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Democracy, Europe, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Solidarity, United Nations, World Law on July 19, 2016 at 4:07 PM

TURKEY, THE DEATH PENALTY, AND HUMAN DIGNITY

By René Wadlow

In the aftermath of the failed military coup of July 15-16, 2016 in Turkey, there have been calls at the highest levels of political authority to restore the death penalty.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has a consistent policy of opposition to the death penalty, in statements to the United Nations (UN) human rights bodies as well as in direct appeals to governments.

Turkey

Since the end of World War II, there has been a gradual abolition of the death penalty due to the rather obvious recognition that putting a person to death is not justice. Moreover, on practical grounds, the death penalty has little impact on the rate of crime in a country. A number of States have a death penalty for those involved in the drug trade. To the extent that the drug trade can be estimated statistically, the death penalty has no measurable impact on the trade − a trade usually linked to economic or geopolitical factors.

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The AWC is opposed to all organized killings by State agents. In addition to State-sponsored official executions, usually carried out publicly or at least with official observers, a good number of countries have State-sponsored “death squads” − persons affiliated to the police or to intelligence agencies who kill “in the dark of the night” − unofficially. These deaths avoid a trial which might attract attention or even a “not guilty” decision. A shot in the back of the head is faster. The number of “targeted killings” has grown. In many cases, the bodies of those killed are destroyed and so death is supposed but not proved, as has been the case of students protesting in Mexico. USA assassinations with drones has also been highlighted both in the UN human rights bodies and domestically. However, the drone “strikes” continue, and there is very little legislative opposition.

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A good deal of recent concern had been expressed on the death sentence in Saudi Arabia pronounced against Ali al−Nimr found guilty “of going out to a number of marches, demonstrations, and gatherings against the state and repeating some chants against the state” when he was 15 years old. He was to die by crucifixion. There is perhaps some chance of a change of penalty due to more historically-minded Saudis. The most widely known person crucified is Jesus. As the Roman count records have been lost, we have only the account written by his friends who stressed that he was innocent of the crimes for which he was condemned. His crucifixion has taken on cosmic dimensions. “Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?” The Saudis try to avoid some of the Jesus parallel by beheading the person before putting the rest of the body on the cross, but the image of the crucified as innocent is wide spread.

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Thus, the AWC stresses the importance of human dignity. Our efforts against executions need to be addressed both to governments and to those state-like non-governmental armed groups such as ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The abolition of executions and the corresponding valuation of human life are necessary steps in developing a just world society.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

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