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Aleppo: Short-term action followed by reaffirmation of humanitarian law

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on December 20, 2016 at 10:34 PM

ALEPPO: SHORT-TERM ACTION FOLLOWED BY REAFFIRMATION OF HUMANITARIAN LAW

By René Wadlow

 

Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations (UN) Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs describing the ever-more destructive situation in and around Aleppo, Syria, said, “The parties to the conflict have shown time and again they are willing to take any action to secure military advantage even if it means killing, maiming or starving children into submission in the process.”

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A large number of persons are trapped within the city, victims of blind bombardments, shelling, landmines and gunfire. Some persons are used as “human shields” and are unable to protect themselves. Medical facilities have been destroyed, and medical supplies are lacking. Food is unable to reach much of the population, and relief efforts are unable to reach persons in real need.

For the moment, there seems to be no willingness to negotiate a broad ceasefire. The UN Security Council is blocked. Thus, the only short-term action possible is to create “safe routes” so that those who wish to leave the besieged areas can do so. Mr. Brita Hagi Hasan, an elected official of a committee administering parts of Aleppo, has made a moving appeal for such humanitarian corridors. Some persons, an estimated 16,000 as of the first of December, have already been able to leave the city, but many more would do so if true safe routes were put into place.

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Brita Hagi Hasan (left), Chairman of the Local Council of the City of Aleppo, the (now defunct) local administration committee created by the leaders of the Syrian revolution there, addressing supporters in Paris, France on December 1, 2016. (C) Bernard J. Henry/AWC

However, there are two immediate obstacles. Many persons feel that such “safe routes” would, in fact, not be safe. There is a fear that they would be trapped, and once outside of their houses in the open, they would be shot at or bombed. The second fear is that they would not be safe when they reach government-held areas but could become victims of government-led repression.

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Thus, there is a double, short-term need: the first is accompaniment of citizens leaving the area either by UN or other international troops or by unarmed nongovernmental observers. With such accompaniment, there would be some reluctance to attack persons on foot or in buses. The second need is for credible guarantees by the government that there would be no reprisals against civilians, most of whom have been living in opposition-administered parts of the city, often for several years. There needs to be some sort of international follow-up to make sure that such government guarantees are honored.

Beyond these short-term but vital efforts, there is a longer-term need for the reaffirmation of the validity of humanitarian law and especially a reaffirmation of respect for humanitarian law.

The current armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, and the Syria-Iraq-ISIS-Kurds-Turkey conflict have seen a dangerous erosion of respect for the laws of war concerning medical facilities and personnel, concerning prisoners of war, of hostages, and of civilians, in particular women and children. There have been repeated cries of alarm from leaders of the International Committee of the Red Cross, of the UN, and nongovernmental organizations such as the Association of World Citizens (AWC). However, violations of these fundamental prohibitions of the laws of war continue. There have been relatively few calls for creative responses in the face of these continuing violations.

Thus, the AWC stresses the need to create immediately internationally-guaranteed safe routes for the evacuation of civilians from the besieged areas of Aleppo. Such guaranteed safe routes can also serve as a model for civilians in other besieged cities.

The AWC also calls for a serious investigation of the reasons for the erosion of the respect for humanitarian law to be followed by a UN-led conference on the reaffirmation of humanitarian law.

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

Immigration, Detention, Control

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Europe, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Migration, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on December 18, 2016 at 9:56 AM

IMMIGRATION, DETENTION, CONTROL

By René Wadlow

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If I were another on the road, I wouldn’t have looked back. I’d have said what one traveler says to another: Hello stranger, wake up your guitar! Let’s postpone our tomorrow to lengthen our road and widen our space, so that we may be rescued from our story together.

 

– Mahmoud Darwish, Palestinian poet.

 

By creating special observance days, the United Nations (UN) tries to promote international awareness and action on specific issues. Thus February 6 is International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation and March 20 is International Day of Happiness. May 2 highlights an issue we do not think about often: World Tuna Day. December 18 has been designated as the International Migrants Day, but even without a special day, migrants and refugees have become worldwide issues leading to political debate, especially in Europe and the USA.

Asylum seekers and immigrants with low level of education are often seen as a “burden”, not only for “Fortress Europe” but also for first reception countries. Thus, today’s borders function as a filter, separating the “wanted” – that is, migrants who can be used – from the “unwanted”. The filter serves to separate those that get in from those who are pushed back.

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The filter serves to distort refugee flows. Because unaccompanied minors are more protected by law or policy and are often not deported, there are an increasing number of unaccompanied minors separated from the rest of the family and facing very uncertain futures, especially as concerns education.

There have been some efforts to provide for educational facilities, but most often for students already at the university level. In September 2014, the German Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, announced the establishment of a special scholarship program for refugees from Syria saying “We cannot allow the Syrian conflict to engender a lost generation. It is particularly young Syrians who will play a crucial role in rebuilding their country and deciding the future as soon as this terrible conflict is over. We want to help give this young generation a future perspective.” Since then there are many signs of a lost Syrian generation, especially for those in the neighboring countries of Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon.

The filter also increases the trafficking of people by organized bands who quickly learn the ways of going around a filter. The trafficking of women and children for the sexual industries occurs in all parts of the world, but increases in areas with armed conflicts. Women in war zones are forced into sex slavery by combatant forces or sold to international gangs. Even without commercial trafficking, there has been a sharp increase in early marriage among Syrian refugee girls in Jordan, marriage being one of the few ways to cope economically and socially.

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The systemic failures and bureaucratic delays that characterize government reception systems have left many migrants and refugees in a legal “limbo” in which migrants remain trapped, contributing to processes of alienation. There is obviously a need for cooperation and some coordination among States of origin, transit and destination – more easily said than done.

Fortunately, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have tried to meet the challenges of migrant and refugee flows, often being able to draw upon the spontaneous goodwill of people. However, there are real limits to what NGOs can do, especially on longer-term issues. There is an obvious need to resolve the different armed conflicts through negotiations in good faith. There is also an obvious need to increase development efforts in those countries from which economic migration is a strong motivation. There is also a need to reverse environmental damage with ecologically-sound development programs.

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December 18 should serve as a time when we look with compassion at the fate of migrants, refugees and the internally displaced. It is especially a time when we must plan and increase resources for creative action.

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

Yazidi Freedom of Thought Honored

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on December 3, 2016 at 11:07 PM

YAZIDI FREEDOM OF THOUGHT HONORED

By René Wadlow

The Yearly Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought awarded by the European Parliament was given on October 27, 2016 to Nadia Mourad Bassi Taka and Lamiya Aji Bachar, both Iraqi Yazidis. Both had been taken captive by Islamic State (IS) forces in August 2014 and then sold into sexual slavery and forced marriage. Both were recently able to escape from bondage and went to Germany as refugees. Both have become spokespersons for the Yazidis, especially those Yazidi women who are still being held in sexual slavery. The United Nations (UN) has appointed Nadia Taka as Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.

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There were probably some 500,000 Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking religious community living in northern Iraq, many in the Mosul area. Iraqi demographic statistics are not very reliable, and Yazidi leaders may give larger estimates by counting Kurds who had been Yazidis but who had converted to Islam. There were also some 200,000 Yazidis among the Kurds of Turkey but now nearly all have migrated to Western Europe, primarily Germany, to Australia, Canada, and the USA. There are also some Yazidis among Kurds living in Syria, Iran and Armenia. The Yazidi do not convert people, and so the religion continues only through birth into the community.

The structure of the Yazidi world view is Zoroastrian, a faith born in Persia proclaiming that two great cosmic forces, that of light and good, and that of darkness and evil are in constant battle. Man is called upon to help light overcome evil.

However, the strict dualistic thinking of Zoroastrianism was modified by another Persian prophet, Mani of Ctesiphon in the third century CE who had to deal with a situation very close to that of ours today. Mani tried to create a synthesis of religious teachings that were increasingly coming into contact through travel and trade: Buddhism and Hinduism from India, Jewish and Christian thought, Hellenistic Gnostic philosophy from Egypt and Greece as well as many smaller, traditional and “animist” beliefs. Mani kept the Zoroastrian dualism as the most easily understood intellectual framework, though giving it a somewhat more Taoist (yin/yang) flexibility, Mani having traveled to China, he developed the idea of the progression of the soul by individual effort through reincarnation – a main feature of Indian thought combined with the ethical insights of Gnostic and Christian thought. Unfortunately, only the dualistic Zoroastrian framework is still attached to Mani’s name – Manichaeism. This is somewhat ironic as it was the Zoroastrian Magi who had him put to death as a dangerous rival.

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Within the Mani-Zoroastrian framework, the Yazidis added the presence of angels who are to help man in his constant battle for light and good, in particular Melek Tawis, the peacock angel. Although there are angels in Islam, angels that one does not know could well be demons, and so the Yazidis are regularly accused of being “demon worshipers” (1).

If one is to take seriously the statements of the IS leadership, genocide – the destruction in whole or in part of a group – is a stated aim concerning the Yazidis. The killing of the Yazidis is a policy and not “collateral damage” from fighting. The 1948 Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide allows any State party to the Convention to “call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide.” Thus far, no State has done so by making a formal proposal to deal with the Convention.

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The Yazidis have always been looked down upon by both their Muslim and Christian neighbors as “pagans”. The government of Saddam Hussein was opposed to them not so much for their religious beliefs but rather because some Yazidi played important roles in the Kurdish community, seen as largely opposed to the government. The Yazidis also had some old ownership claims on land on which oil reserves are found in northern Iraq which makes them suspect in the eyes of the current leadership of the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq. The government of the Kurdish Region has accepted the Yazidi refugees but has done little to help their socio-economic development perhaps fearing competition with the Kurdish families now in control of the government. In all fairness, the government and the civil society of the Kurdish Region are stretched well beyond their means to deal with the refugees and displaced.

The current fighting in both Iraq and Syria overshadows concerns for the freedom of thought as the ability to live is in question. However, the Sakharov Prize may serve as a reminder that the quality of life is also measured by the ability to think and to hold on to one’s convictions.

(1) A Yazidi website has been set up by Iraqis living in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA. The website is uneven but of interest as a self-presentation: yeziditruth.org.

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

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