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The Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict: Greater Awareness Building Needed

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, Women's Rights, World Law on June 19, 2022 at 3:41 PM

By René Wadlow

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly has proclaimed June 19 of each year to be the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict in order to raise awareness of the need to put an end to conflict-related sexual violence and to honor the victims and the survivors of sexual violence around the world. The date was chosen to commemorate the adoption on June 19, 2008 of Security Council Resolution 1820 in which the Council condemned sexual violence as a tactic of war and as an impediment to peacebuilding.

For the UN, “conflict-related sexual violence” refers to rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced abortion, and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against women, men, girls, and boys, linked to a conflict. The term also encompasses trafficking in persons when committed in situations of conflict for purposes of sexual violence or exploitation.

Dr. Nkosazuna Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson, African Union Commission speaking at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, June 12, 2014. (C) Foreign and Commonwealth Office

There has been a slow growth of awareness-building trying to push UN Agencies to provide non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services including sexual and reproductive health services taking into account the special needs of persons with disabilities. A big step forward was the creation of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. The post is currently held since April 2017 by Under-Secretary-General Pramila Patten. She recently said “We see it too often in all corners of the globe from Ukraine to Tigray in northern Ethiopia to Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Every new wave of warfare brings with it a rising tide of human tragedy including new waves of war’s oldest, most silenced and least-condemned crime.”

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) first raised the issue in the UN Commission on Human Rights in March 2001 citing the judgement of the International Court for Former Yugoslavia which maintained that there can be no time limitations on bringing the accused to trial. The tribunal also reinforced the possibility of universal jurisdiction that a person can be tried not only by his national court but by any court claiming universal jurisdiction and where the accused is present.

The AWC again stressed the use of rape as a weapon of war in the Special Session of the Commission on Human Rights on the Democratic Republic of Congo, citing the findings of Meredeth Turslen and Clotilde Twagiramariya in their book What Women Do in Wartime: Gender and Conflict in Africa (London: Zed Press, 1998), “There are numerous types of rape. Rape is committed to boast the soldiers’ morale, to feed soldiers’ hatred of the enemy, their sense of superiority, and to keep them fighting: rape is one kind of war booty; women are raped because war intensifies men’s sense of entitlement, superiority, avidity, and social license to rape: rape is a weapon of war used to spread political terror; rape can destabilize a society and break its resistance; rape is a form of torture; gang rapes in public terrorize and silence women because they keep the civilian population functioning and are essential to its social and physical continuity; rape is used in ethnic cleansing; it is designed to drive women from their homes or destroy their possibility of reproduction within or “for” their community; genocidal rape treats women as “reproductive vessels”; to make them bear babies of the rapists’ nationality, ethnicity, race or religion, and genocidal rape aggravates women’s terror and future stigma, producing a class of outcast mothers and children – this is rape committed with consciousness of how unacceptable a raped woman is to the patriarchal community and to herself. This list combines individual and group motives with obedience to military command; in doing so, it gives a political context to violence against women, and it is this political context that needs to be incorporated in the social response to rape.”

The prohibition of sexual violence in times of conflict is now part of international humanitarian law. However, there are two major weaknesses in the effectiveness of international humanitarian law. The first is that many people do not know that it exists and that they are bound by its norms. Thus, there is a role for greater promotional activities through education and training to create a climate conducive to the observance of internationally recognized norms. The second weakness is enforcement. We are still at the awareness-building stage. Strong awareness-building is needed.

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

Lifting the Odessa Blockade

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Europe, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, NGOs, Solidarity, The former Soviet Union, The Search for Peace, Track II, UKRAINE, United Nations on June 6, 2022 at 3:19 PM

By René Wadlow

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) urges action to lift the blockade on Odessa and other Black Sea ports so that grain and other food resources can resume to flow. Ukraine has a vast agricultural base producing 46 percent of the world’s sunflower exports and 10 percent of the world’s wheat exports. The Middle East and Africa are Ukraine’s food export market. Odessa has a large grain terminal in which vast quantities of food exports are now stuck. It is not physically possible to transport large quantities of grain by rail and road.

Odessa’s port, peaceful and flourishing, before the Russian invasion. (C) Raymond Zoller

In part due to this blockade, food prices for grain have risen some 20 percent, hitting especially the poor. In some parts of Africa, due to climate conditions and armed conflict, there are near famine conditions. New food supplies are urgent.

A Ukrainian family evacuated from Mariupol. (C) Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Russian authorities have said that they were ready to provide a humanitarian corridor for ships carrying food, but only in return for the lifting of U. S. and Western European sanctions. However, the Western sanctions have a multitude of sources. The lifting of the Odessa blockade and renewed grain shipments must be treated as a single issue, although it is obviously colored by the whole armed conflict.

There are diplomatic efforts underway led by the African Union and the United Nations. It is urgent that speedy progress be made. Nongovernmental organizations may be able to play a creative role as many NGOs are already involved in ecologically-sound development projects in areas under agricultural and food stress. The AWC, concerned with the resolution of armed conflicts through negotiations in good faith, appeals for creative diplomatic measures so that the blockade is ended as soon as possible.

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

Horace Alexander: Unofficial Diplomacy and Mediation

In Asia, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, NGOs, Spirituality, The Search for Peace, Track II on June 6, 2022 at 3:12 PM

By René Wadlow

At this time of increased tensions and armed conflicts in different parts of the world, it is useful to recall the positive possibilities of unofficial diplomacy. Unofficial diplomats recognize that the suspicions of government officials are a major hurdle to overcome and that they must emphasize their impartiality and independence from governments. Preparing the way for official policy changes or for improved interstate relations is a slow-building evolutionary process. Personal contacts across borders hold the potential for influencing the knowledge and attitudes of those involved as well as the ability to gain information.

Horace Alexander (1889-1989), the British Quaker and friend of Mahatma Gandhi, is a good example of the unofficial diplomat and mediator. Horace Alexander was born in an English Quaker family. His father was a lawyer deeply involved in peace efforts and in opposing the opium trade active between India and China. Horace Alexander was a Cambridge University graduate who went on to teach international relations at Woodbroke, an adult education center run by Quakers. Alexander was very active in efforts to support the League of Nations.

In 1926 and 1927 there was increased agitation and repression in India as the Indian National Congress became increasingly active. Thus in 1928 Horace Alexander was sent to India by the British Quakers to see if relations between the Vice Roy Lord Irwin and Mahatma Gandhi could be improved. Alexander saw the spiritual dimension of Gandhi but also his political impact and suggested to the British government that Gandhi be invited to the Roundtable on Indian politics which was to be held in London in 1931.

Alexander developed close relations with Gandhi and divided his time between India and England. He was active in relief work during the famine in Bengal in 1943-1944 and was active with the Indian National Congress during the negotiations which led to independence in 1947, but he sensed the birth pangs of the creation of the two states of India and Pakistan and the terrible days of partition when fighting between religious communities took a deadly toll in human life and spirit.

While he was with Gandhi in India, seeing the growing divide between Hindus and Muslims, he created the Fellowship of Friends of Truth. As he wrote “The basis and goal of the Fellowship of Truth will be a common striving toward fuller knowledge of the Truth that is God. Members will commit themselves to learn with and from one another of the things that are eternal, through common acts of quiet worship and meditation and through other forms of communion with God and man.” Horace Alexander lived his later years in the United States and died at the age of 100.

Unofficial diplomacy rarely creates a breakthrough as situations can be completely blocked and even minimal proposals are unacceptable at the time. However, small steps can be useful if taken in the right direction. Unofficial Diplomacy, which is increasingly called Track II diplomacy, is growing in importance and merits support.

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

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