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Kuan Yin: Goddess of Compassion and Harmony

In Solidarity, Conflict Resolution, The Search for Peace, Asia, Cultural Bridges, Being a World Citizen on February 19, 2017 at 9:15 AM

KUAN YIN: GODDESS OF COMPASSION AND HARMONY
By René Wadlow

Wise in using skillful means, in every corner of the world, she manifests her countless forms

February 19, in countries influenced by Chinese culture, is a day devoted to honoring Kuan Yin, goddess of compassion, “She who hears the cries of the world and restores harmony.” She is a goddess for the Taoists and a bodhisattva for the Buddhists but she represents the same values of compassion for both faiths. There has been mutual borrowing of symbols and myths between the two groups, as well as an identification with Mary in countries with a Roman Catholic minority such as Vietnam and with Tara among the Tibetans.

From the Taoist tradition, she is associated with running water and lotus pools. Many of her virtues come from Buddhist teachings:
“Wrathful, banish thought of self
Sad, let fall the causes of woe,
Lustful, shed lust’s mental object,
Win all, by simply letting go.”

As in this Chinese verse reflecting her advice, many Buddhist values are phrased negatively: abobha (non-greed), adosa (non-hatred), amoka (non-delusion), less frequently in positive values metta (loving kindness), karuma (compassion), mudita (happiness in the good fortune of others).

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Yet Kuan Yin is associated with active compassion as a driving force of action, where all, including the least of living things are treated with fairness and consideration and where the broader currents of life move toward harmony and equilibrium.

While most of the myths and ex voto paintings found in temples show Kuan Yin helping individuals in times of stress or danger, there is also a broader, more political-social aspect to her efforts to restore harmony and balance. Today, at a time when humanity is increasingly working together to meet ecological challenges and to overcome ideologically-led strife, the spirit of Kuan Yin presents to us an important call for a cultural renaissance based on the concept of harmony. Rather than concentrating primarily on conflicts, struggles and suffering, the spirit of Kuan Yin suggests that the focus should be on cooperation, and visions of a better future. Harmony includes tolerance, acceptance, equality, and forgiveness of past pains and conflicts. The spirit of Kuan Yin leads to gentleness, patience, kindness, and to inner peace.

We are fortunate to be able to participate in a crucial moment in world history when the law of harmony, that is the law of equilibrium, is being increasingly recognized and understood. Harmony is the key to our ascent to the next higher level of human consciousness: harmony between the intellect and the heart, the mind and the body, male and female, being and doing.

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For the conscious restoration of equilibrium, we must understand the lack of harmony particular to each society and to each segment of the society. It may be a lack of balance in the goals to be reached and the means to reach these goals. It may be a lack of balance between thought and action, or it may be a lack of balance between the role of women and men.

The efforts to restore harmony can often be long for there are structures and institutions which, though lifeless, take a long time to crumble. One needs patience. Yet, there are, at times, unexpected breakthrough and shifts. Thus, one must always be sensitive to the flow of energy currents.

Thus, as we mark February 19 to honor Kuan Yin, we also develop a new spirit of cooperation for the creation of a cosmopolitan, humanist world society. Social harmony is inseparable from the values of respect and understanding, of goodwill, and of gratitude toward one another.

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

President Trump’s UN and a Good Time Had by All

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Development, Human Rights, International Justice, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, United States, World Law on January 23, 2017 at 11:02 PM

PRESIDENT TRUMP’S UN AND A GOOD TIME HAD BY ALL

By René Wadlow

President Donald Trump has tweeted that “The UN has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk, and have a good time.”

It takes less to have good time for some people than for others. Having sat through many long sessions in human rights bodies at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva, I could hardly wait to get out and have a good time elsewhere. I recall one year in particular when the UN Commission on Human Rights went on repeatedly till three in the morning. The “coffee bar” which was just outside the meeting room would close around 8 PM, but they would leave a couple of buckets of ice cubes on the bar so we could serve ourselves.

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Donald J. Trump, the new President of the United States, sounded in his campaign speeches less than enthusiastic about the United Nations.

I had a woman friend from New York, a leading human rights lawyer, who would come each year. She was blind so I would take care of her “seeing eye” dog in the Palais des Nations and take the dog out for a run in the UN park. In compensation, she would bring a couple of bottles of “duty-free” whisky which I would put in a flask and around 10PM we would have a couple of drinks in the coffee bar to keep us going to the end.

There was only one year that the meetings went till 3AM. The other years the sessions would stop at midnight because UN staff – interpreters etc. – had to be paid for a full day even if they had worked only from midnight until 3AM. But the 3AM year, I had with me the “Man Friday” of the Dalai Lama, a monk who is usually with him to get things, meet people etc. The monk had not had a vacation in a long time, and the Dalai Lama thought that he might have a good time by staying in Geneva for a week. It was a week of the Commission on Human Rights so I always had him with me and would try to explain what was going on, the meaning behind the speeches.

At 10PM he would come with me for our nightly whisky, but as a monk he did not drink alcohol, though I always offered him the possibility. He must have said some mantras for strength because he always held out till 3AM as well.

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A session on disarmament in the Council Chamber at the United Nations in Geneva. (C) U. S. Mission/Eric Bridiers

When not listening to talks and having a good time, what is the role of nongovernmental representatives at the UN – people probably not at the front of President Trump’s vision of the UN? However, there is growing interest in the role of Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) within the United Nations system in the making and the implementation of policies at the international level. NGOs are more involved than ever before in global policy making and project implementation in such areas as conflict resolution, human rights, humanitarian relief, and environmental protection.

NGOs at the UN have a variety of roles — they bring citizens’ concerns to governments, advocate particular policies, present alternative avenues for political participation, provide analysis, serve as an early warning mechanism of potential violence and help implement peace agreements.

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A session in the ECOSOC Council Chamber, New York. (C) Swedish Mission/Jenny Zhao

The role of consultative-status NGOs was written into the UN Charter at its founding in San Francisco in June, 1945. As one of the failings of the League of Nations had been the lack of public support and understanding of the functioning of the League, some of the UN Charter drafters felt that a role should be given to NGOs. At the start, both governments and UN Secretariat saw NGOs as an information avenue — telling NGO members what the governments and the UN was doing and building support for their actions. However, once NGOs had a foot in the door, the NGOs worked to have a two-way avenue — also telling governments and the Secretariat what NGO members thought and what policies should be carried out at the UN. Governments were none too happy with this two-way avenue idea and tried to limit the UN bodies with which NGOs could ‘consult’. There was no direct relationship with the General Assembly or the Security Council. The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in Article 71 of the Charter was the body to which “consultative-status NGOs” were related.

What in practice gives NGOs their influence is not what an individual NGO can do alone but what they can do collectively. ‘Networking’ and especially trans-national networking is the key method of progress. NGOs make networks which facilitate the trans-national movement of norms, resources, political responsibility, and information. NGO networks tend to be informal, non-binding, temporary, and highly personalized. NGOs are diverse, heterogeneous and independent. They are diverse in mission, level of resources, methods of operating and effectiveness. However, at the UN they are bound together in a common desire to protect the planet and advance the welfare of humanity.

Samantha Power (left), the Irish-born writer and journalist whom Barack Obama had appointed U. S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Like all other sitting U. S. Ambassadors worldwide, she had to leave her post by January 20 as ordered by then President-elect Donald Trump. If confirmed by the U. S. Senate, what is her chosen successor, South Carolina Governor Nimrata “Nikki” Haley (right), going to do? How UN-friendly or “NGO-friendly” is she going to be?

The role of NGO representatives is to influence policies through participation in the entire policy-making process. What distinguishes the NGO representative’s role at the UN from lobbying at the national level is that the representative may appeal to and discuss with the diplomats of many different governments. While some diplomats may be unwilling to consider ideas from anyone other than the mandate they receive from their Foreign Ministry, others are more open to ideas coming from NGO representatives. Out of the 193 Member States, the NGO representative will always find some diplomats who are ‘on the same wave length’ or who are looking for additional information on which to take a decision, especially on issues on which a government position is not yet set. Therefore, an NGO representative must be trusted by government diplomats and the UN Secretariat.

As with all diplomacy in multilateral forums such as the UN, much depends upon the skill and knowledge of the NGO representative and on the close working relations which they are able to develop with some government representatives and some members of the UN Secretariat. Many Secretariat members share the values of the NGO representatives but cannot try to influence government delegates directly. The Secretariat members can, however, give to the NGO representatives some information, indicate countries that may be open to acting on an issue and help with the style of presentation of a document.

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Among the people representing the Association of World Citizens in international forums or, as featured here, public demonstrations are Legal Officer Noura Addad (left) and External Relations Officer Bernard Henry (right). (C) Nadia Leïla Aïssaoui

It is probably in the environmental field — sustainable development — that there has been the most impact. Each environmental convention or treaty such as those on biological diversity or drought was negotiated separately, but with many of the same NGO representatives present. It is more difficult to measure the NGO role in disarmament and security questions. It is certain that NGO mobilization for an end to nuclear testing and for a ban on land mines and cluster weapons played a role in the conventions which were steps forward for humanity. However, on other arms issues, NGO input is more difficult to analyze.

‘Transnational advocacy networks’ which work across frontiers are of increasing importance as seen in the efforts against land mines, for the International Criminal Court and for increased protection from violence toward women and children. The groups working on these issues are found in many different countries but have learned to work trans-nationally both through face-to-face meetings and through the internet web. The groups in any particular campaign share certain values and ideas in common but may differ on other issues. Thus, they come together on an ad hoc basis around a project or a small number of related issues. Yet their effectiveness is based on their being able to function over a relatively long period of time in rather complex networks even when direct success is limited.

These campaigns are based on networks which combine different actors at various levels of government: local, regional, national, and UN (or European Parliament, OSCE etc.). The campaigns are waged by alliances among different types of organizations — membership groups, academic institutions, religious bodies, and ad hoc local groupings. Some groups may be well known, though most are not.

There is a need to work at the local, the national, and the UN levels at the same time. Advocacy movements need to be able to contact key decision-makers in national parliaments, government administrations and intergovernmental secretariats. Such mobilization is difficult, and for each ‘success story’ there are many failed efforts. The rise of UN consultative-status NGOs has been continual since the early 1970s. NGOs and government diplomats at the UN are working ever more closely together to deal with the world challenges which face us all.

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NOTES:

(1) This interest is reflected in a number of path-making studies such as P. Willets (Ed.) The Consciences of the World: The Influence of Non-Governmental Organizations in the UN System (London: Hurst, 1996), T. Princen and M. Finger (Eds), Environmental NGOs in World Politics: Linking the Global and the Local (London: Routledge, 1994), M. Rech and K. Sikkink, Activists Without Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998), Bas Arts, Math Noortmann and Rob Reinalda (Eds), Non-State Actors in International Relations (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001) and William De Mars, NGOs and Transnational Networks (London: Pluto Press, 2005).
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Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Jammeh: Here’s Your Hat, The Plane is Waiting

In Africa, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, The Search for Peace, World Law on January 23, 2017 at 10:59 AM

JAMMEH: HERE’S YOUR HAT, THE PLANE IS WAITING

By René Wadlow

An update to the article “Gambia: The Cry of the Imburi” by René Wadlow, published on January 21, 2017.

Yahya Jammeh, the former President of Gambia, chose the wiser course of action and left Gambia on Saturday, on January 20, 2017 at 9.15 PM local time with his wife Zineb and the President of Guinea, Alpha Condé, who had been negotiating the departure on behalf of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). He was wearing his trademark white cap and said that only God would judge him.

Senegal troops, mandated by ECOWAS, had already crossed the frontier of Gambia, although they said that their aim was to protect the people and not to bring about political change. There was, nevertheless, a potential for violence either in opposition to the Senegalese troops or among supporters and opponents to Jammeh.

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Alpha Condé, President of Guinea, who helped broker a peaceful solution to the political crisis in Gambia.

It is likely that the situation will remain relatively calm as people await the return to Gambia of Adama Barrow, who had taken the oath of office of President in the Gambian Embassy in Dakar on Friday, January 19, 2017. Barrow had left Gambia fearing for his life as Jammeh has a reputation of “disappearing” his opponents during his 22 years of rule. With Barrow’s return, the real work of socio-economic development can start.

As noted in my earlier article, Gambia is a creation of colonial history, the English came up the Gambia River first for the slave trade. After 1807 when the slave trade was banned north of the equator, there was a shift to other forms of trade. In the late 1860s the English started to set up an administration while the French were doing the same thing in what is now Senegal. Thus Gambia is bounded on both sides by Senegal and the Gambian population of about one and a half million have ethnic links with groups in Senegal.

Gambia is heavily dependent on the Senegal, and a good number of Gambians work in Senegal. As Gambia has few resources beyond a subsistence agriculture and some export of peanuts, the country has become a transit area for drugs coming from Latin America destined for Europe. Gangs involved in the drug trade have also been involved in the arms trade. Since nothing in the small country escaped the eyes of Jammeh, it is most likely that he took his cut of the drug profits and placed his money outside of Gambia.

Press reports indicate that Jammeh and his wife quickly left Guinea for Equatorial Guinea, set between Cameroon and Gabon, also ruled by long-time and brutal dictator Obiang Nguema. Jammeh is in no danger of a trial.

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In looking at the statistical tables of the UN Conference on Trade and Development’s Least Developed Countries Reports, the Gambian economy has been flat since Jammeh took power – the drug and arms trade are not part of the figures. In addition, the education and health sectors have been “weak” at best.

There have been since the independence of Senegal in 1960 proposals for the integration perhaps in the form of a confederation. For lack of a political will, such a con-federation has never been created. Rather we have a week integration of the Gambian economy into that of Senegal with no corresponding government structures.

It is too early to know what the future will hold. Armed violence is most probably avoided. But we must still keep an eye open to see if the new government is able to meet the new economic challenges.

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

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