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A l’ombre du Pays des Cèdres, pas de refuge pour les Syriens

In Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, War Crimes, World Law on September 29, 2014 at 11:51 AM

A L’OMBRE DU PAYS DES CEDRES, PAS DE REFUGE POUR LES SYRIENS

Par Bernard Henry

 

Lorsque l’on pense au Liban et à la Syrie, l’on ne peut oublier la longue guerre civile libanaise, l’ingérence permanente de Damas et la fin du conflit en 1990 qui laissa Hafez el-Assad, le Président syrien, seul maître du Liban. L’on se souvient de l’assassinat, le 14 février 2005 à Beyrouth, de l’ancien Premier Ministre libanais Rafic Hariri, élément déclencheur du retrait précipité du Liban de cette Syrie qui s’y croyait pour toujours en terrain conquis.

Rares sont ceux qui pensent, aujourd’hui, aux 1 200 000 Syriens réfugiés au Liban voisin, fuyant le conflit qui ravage leur pays depuis trois ans et la répression sanglante de toute résistance à la dictature de Bachar el-Assad, le fils d’Hafez. Ayant succédé en 2000 à son père décédé, le jeune Bachar avait tôt fait de décevoir les espoirs de réforme placés en lui, ayant tout au contraire accru l’écrasement de la dissidence à partir de 2004 et n’ayant laissé d’autre choix à son peuple, au printemps 2011, que de prendre les armes.

Ce n’est pas une actualité dominée par les conquêtes militaires de Daesh, le fameux « Etat islamique en Irak et au Levant », qui se veut même « Etat islamique » tout court maintenant qu’il a soumis une portion conséquente de l’Irak, qui va y changer quelque chose. Persécutant les minorités dans les zones tombées sous sa coupe, Chrétiens et Yazidis notamment, Daesh a réalisé l’exploit de concentrer sur ses méfaits l’attention d’une Session spéciale du Conseil des Droits de l’Homme de l’ONU le 1er septembre dernier.

Il n’en fallait guère plus à de bonnes consciences occidentales déjà enclines à soutenir Bachar al-Assad, certes jugé désagréable parce que dictateur, contre une révolution syrienne condamnée par contumace parce que contenant des éléments islamistes, pour parler aujourd’hui, en dépit même de faits accablant le régime de Damas, de blanchir Assad en tant qu’allié de circonstance contre l’islamisme barbare de Daesh, quitte à lui faire ainsi crédit de la création du groupe islamiste dont son régime est pourtant le premier fautif, à la manière d’un Frankenstein.

Mais que diraient ceux-là du sort des réfugiés syriens d’Ersal, ce village de trente mille âmes de la Beqaa à quelques cent vingt kilomètres au nord-est de Beyrouth ?

Un village libanais au cœur de la guerre en Syrie

Depuis le début de la guerre, bien que protégé en théorie par la frontière libanaise, Ersal est littéralement partie prenante au conflit syrien. La population locale ayant pris fait et cause depuis le départ pour l’Armée syrienne libre, Ersal accueille aujourd’hui non moins de cent dix mille réfugiés syriens, répartis dans plusieurs camps de la ville, dont par exemple celui d’Alsanabel.

L’été dernier, c’est la guerre proprement dite qui a fini par s’inviter à Ersal, avec l’incursion dans le village de combattants du groupe armé syrien Jahbat al-Nosra, avatar syrien d’Al-Qaïda, après l’arrestation de l’un de ses dirigeants, Imad Ahmad Joumaa.

D’interminables et violents combats ont ensuite opposé Jahbat al-Nosra et l’armée libanaise, avec, sous leurs feux croisés, des réfugiés syriens pris dans des affrontements par trop semblables à ceux auxquels, chez eux, ils avaient échappé. Même le retrait d’Ersal de Jahbat al-Nosra le 6 août dernier ne ramena pas la paix, l’armée libanaise se livrant depuis lors à une répression féroce à travers la ville et dans les camps de réfugiés – les réfugiés, dont treize mille sur les cent vingt-trois mille que comptait Ersal ont regagné la Syrie, leur lieu d’asile espéré étant devenu pire encore que l’enfer qu’ils avaient fui.

L’armée libanaise n’est pas celle d’Assad. Mais dans un Liban se cherchant désespérément un Président depuis mai dernier, elle est ce qui s’approche le plus d’une colonne vertébrale de l’Etat. Et bien sûr, sa mission première demeure la défense du territoire, mission dans laquelle un passé d’humiliation, non dans une moindre mesure pendant la guerre civile, lui interdit la moindre faiblesse.

Septembre porte le noir souvenir d’un épisode de cette guerre des plus humiliants pour l’armée libanaise – Sabra et Chatila, en 1982, lorsque plus de mille civils palestiniens et sud-libanais furent exécutés dans les deux camps de réfugiés beyrouthins par les Kataeb, les Phalanges chrétiennes d’extrême droite du Président Bechir Gemayel, sous le regard complice de l’armée d’invasion israélienne.

Cet été, Tsahal s’est à nouveau distinguée de manière macabre en se livrant à Gaza à son opération la plus meurtrière depuis la création de l’Etat d’Israël, rendant plus vivace et brûlante encore la mémoire de Sabra et Chatila.

Tant le présent que le passé privent l’armée libanaise de tout droit à l’indulgence face à une force armée étrangère sur son sol. Il n’en faut pas plus pour céder aux traumatismes du passé, quitte à voir Jahbat al-Nosra là où il n’est plus, à la manière des Kataeb obsédées par la présence de fedayin de l’OLP tapis dans l’ombre de Sabra et Chatila. Et Alsanabel en a fait les frais.

Des réfugiés bombardés délibérément, l’un d’entre eux torturé à mort

Le 25 septembre, sous le commandement du Général Chamel Roukoz, des blindés font feu sans sommation sur le camp de réfugiés, dont s’emparent aussitôt les flammes. Tout se consume, et bientôt, le camp entier n’est plus que ruines. Les militaires pénètrent dans un Alsanabel livré à la panique et arrêtent quatre cent cinquante réfugiés, les plaquant face contre terre aux pieds des soldats.

Le 25 septembre dernier, les blindés libanais attaquent le camp d’Alsanabel.

Le 25 septembre dernier, les blindés libanais attaquent le camp d’Alsanabel.

Les flammes ravagent le camp, réduisant les maigres biens des réfugiés syriens en cendres.

Les flammes ravagent le camp, réduisant les maigres biens des réfugiés syriens en cendres.

Les forces armées libanaises forcent les réfugiés d’Alsanabel à se coucher à leurs pieds, les dépouillant de la moindre dignité humaine.

Les forces armées libanaises forcent les réfugiés d’Alsanabel à se coucher à leurs pieds, les dépouillant de la moindre dignité humaine.

Non, ce ne sont pas des sacs poubelle que l’on voit aux pieds des soldats libanais ; ce sont des réfugiés syriens, dont la vie et la dignité ne semble pourtant pas, aux yeux des militaires, valoir plus que cela.

Non, ce ne sont pas des sacs poubelle que l’on voit aux pieds des soldats libanais ; ce sont des réfugiés syriens, dont la vie et la dignité ne semble pourtant pas, aux yeux des militaires, valoir plus que cela.

Ce même jour à Alsanabel, les parents d’un jeune Syrien, Ahmad Mohammad Abdalla Aldorra, originaire de Qara, voient les soldats libanais leur apporter la dépouille mutilée de leur fils, arrêté le 20 septembre et qui a succombé à la torture.

Ahmad Mohammad Abdalla Aldorra, arrêté le 20 septembre par des soldats libanais.

Ahmad Mohammad Abdalla Aldorra, arrêté le 20 septembre par des soldats libanais.

Ses parents devaient ne le revoir que mort, son corps couvert de blessures reçues sous la torture.

Ses parents devaient ne le revoir que mort, son corps couvert de blessures reçues sous la torture.

Le sort des quatre cent cinquante personnes arrêtées demeure indéterminé.

D’aucuns peuvent bien s’obstiner à dire que, face au danger islamiste de Daesh, la dictature réputée « laïque » de Bachar el-Assad, même récusée par les capitales occidentales comme moindre mal face à une révolution syrienne jugée dévoyée par le djihadisme, peut constituer un rempart, pas idéal certes, mais un rempart.

Ce n’en est pas moins faire la scandaleuse économie, d’une part, de l’amnistie générale de cette année qui a ouvert grand les portes des prisons du régime pour en faire sortir, on ne peut plus sciemment venant de Damas, ceux qui sont allés aussitôt grossir les rangs de Daesh, et d’autre part, du verrouillage total de la société syrienne par le régime Assad depuis 2004, notamment au détriment des Kurdes qui, au sein de leur propre pays, sont devenus, plus encore que des étrangers, des invisibles.

Quant à la persécution de réfugiés syriens par une armée étrangère, en l’occurrence l’armée libanaise, contre quoi celle-ci peut-elle bien constituer un « rempart » ?

Une armée libanaise aux atours plus « laïcs » que Daesh est-elle plus fondée à harceler des civils, qui plus est des réfugiés ? Est-ce différent, a fortiori meilleur, que les attaques d’installations civiles et de lieux protégés, tels que des hôpitaux ou des écoles de l’ONU, reprochées à l’Etat d’Israël lors de sa campagne à Gaza l’été dernier ?

Un crime de guerre

Sabra et Chatila était un crime de guerre, Gaza cet été était un crime de guerre, et de la même façon, Alsanabel est un crime de guerre. Soit les autorités libanaises, cette fois seules en cause puisque c’est leur armée qui est intervenue et non une quelconque armée étrangère ou milice partisane, s’expliquent et/ou enquêtent de manière réelle et sérieuse, soit l’on saura quel parti elles ont désormais choisi – celui d’Assad et de Daesh, « les deux têtes du serpent » comme l’écrivaient le 18 septembre dernier dans Libération les Syriens Bassma Kodmani et Bicher Haj Ibrahim[i].

Ce serait dommage, et pour tout dire inexplicable, de la part d’un pays qui a tant souffert, dans son histoire récente, du fanatisme religieux et de la volonté de conquête militaire au mépris de l’intégrité territoriale d’un Etat et de l’unité de son peuple.

Ce que l’on reproche à Damas et Daesh tout à la fois, l’on ne peut l’admettre des soldats d’un pays qui accueille en connaissance de cause des réfugiés de Syrie. Le Liban a beau n’avoir pas ratifié la Convention des Nations Unies relative au Statut des Réfugiés de 1951, s’il accepte la présence de réfugiés étrangers sur son sol, il sait ce qu’il fait et, précisément, il le fait sous les auspices du Haut Commissariat des Nations Unies pour les Réfugiés, qui œuvre pour faire respecter cette convention.

Si en 1982, les Libanais, des Kataeb jusqu’aux communistes, avaient su mettre de côté leurs divisions partisanes après Sabra et Chatila au profit de l’intérêt national, alors l’on s’attendrait à ce qu’ils en tirent aujourd’hui l’enseignement au profit des réfugiés syriens présents sur leur sol, en commençant par ceux d’Alsanabel. A moins qu’ils ne le fassent, jamais le Liban, le « Pays des Cèdres », ne pourra offrir le moindre refuge digne de ce nom à ceux qui sont venus, dans un dernier espoir, l’y chercher de Syrie.

 

Bernard Henry est Officier des Relations Extérieures de l’Association of World Citizens.

 

[i] « L’Etat islamique et Assad, les deux têtes du serpent », Libération, 18 septembre 2013, www.liberation.fr/monde/2014/09/15/l-etat-islamique-et-assad-les-deux-tetes-du-serpent_1100773.

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UN Progress on Sexual Orientation Issues: A Long Road Still Ahead

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, International Justice, Solidarity, World Law on September 28, 2014 at 12:35 AM

UN PROGRESS ON SEXUAL ORIENTATION ISSUES: A LONG ROAD STILL AHEAD

By René Wadlow

 

On the last day of the current session of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council in Geneva, September 26, 2014, the Council approved a resolution condemning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity stating:

Expressing grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Welcoming positive developments at the international, regional and national levels in the fight against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender equality.”

This is, for the Human Rights Council, a strong resolution on which to build a wave of support for respect of gender equality and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) in the current UN terminology. There had been an earlier resolution of the Council in June 2011, but it was weaker and with fewer countries voting in favor.

The resolution was hotly discussed by the government representatives in private − the reason why the vote came up only on the last day. The opponents made great efforts, offering complicated procedural moves and proposing seven meaningless amendments each of which required a vote, in the hope that time would run out and the session would close on time so the members could have a last drink together in the restaurant on the top floor of the Palais des Nations. However, the resolution moved forward.

In a most welcome move to amend its penal code, the African nation of Chad announced but it was abolishing the death penalty. Unfortunately, the same move to amend the penal code also includes a disappointing penalization of homosexuality. (C) Stop Homophobie

In a most welcome move to amend its penal code, the African nation of Chad recently announced that it was abolishing the death penalty.
Unfortunately, the same move to amend the penal code also includes a disappointing penalization of homosexuality.
(C) Stop Homophobie

There are 47 Member States in the Council elected within regional groups. Many more States attend the session as Observer States, with the right to speak but not vote. Some Observer States are there because they are interested in human rights; most are there to reply, if they are attacked, especially by representatives of nongovernmental organizations in consultative status, such as the Association of World Citizens.

The vote was 25 in favor, 14 against, 7 abstentions, and the representative of the African State of Benin left the room so he would not have to vote at all. It is important to analyze the composition of the vote to see allies to strengthen, opponents to change, and abstentions to act.

Interestingly, the lead on the resolution was taken by South American countries which have a large Roman Catholic population. In the past Latin American countries were hostile or uninterested, a reflection of Catholic sexual policy. Now with a new Pope from Latin America and his less condemning attitude, Latin American countries could play an active, positive role. Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay took the lead, and the other Latin American members voted for: Argentina, Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela. Western Europe voted for, and more surprisingly, four Asian States: Japan, Philippines, South Korea, and Vietnam.

Opposition came from African States: Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, joined by North African and Middle East States: Algeria, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Asian States with a large Muslim population: Indonesia, Maldives, and Pakistan. The Russian Federation also voted no, a reflection of the current policy there, especially voiced by its President.

Among the States which abstained are two key Asian States where efforts must be made systematically for change: China and India. Four African States also abstained, not giving into strong pressure to have a unified African bloc: Burkina Faso, Congo, Namibia, and Sierra Leone, and as mentioned, Benin left the room so as not to vote at all. Since individual African States have little influence, they try to vote together as a bloc which gives them some power. That four African States were willing to leave the negative bloc is an important sign of progress, but they are hardly in the “yes” group as yet.

The resolution also calls for an update on a 2012 study on discrimination based on sexual orientation. The updated study means that the issue will be automatically on the 2015 Human Rights Council agenda.

On April 7, 2013 Wilfred de Bruijn and Olivier Couderc, a young homosexual couple living in Paris, were savagely attacked on the street on homophobic grounds as they were going home late at night. Since the newly-elected Socialist Party parliamentary majority had begun examining a bill on same-sex marriage in late 2012, French President François Hollande and his government had faced demonstrations, sometimes violent, by opponents to gay rights who wanted them to drop the bill. The attack on Wilfred and Olivier resulted in national outrage and the opponents to the government-proposed bill were widely blamed for it.  Eventually, on May 17, 2013 the French Parliament went ahead and did pass the law extending the right to marriage to same-sex couples.

On April 7, 2013 Wilfred de Bruijn and Olivier Couderc, a young homosexual couple living in Paris, were savagely attacked on the street on homophobic grounds as they were going home late at night.
Since the newly-elected Socialist Party parliamentary majority had begun examining a bill on same-sex marriage in late 2012, French President François Hollande and his government had faced demonstrations, sometimes violent, by opponents to gay rights who wanted them to drop the bill.
The attack on Wilfred and Olivier resulted in national outrage and the opponents to the government-proposed bill were widely blamed for it.
Eventually, on May 17, 2013 the French Parliament went ahead and did pass the law extending the right to marriage to same-sex couples.

Nongovernmental work must start now to influence governments for the 2015 sessions. To the extent possible, articles in the press in India and China would be useful. China, India and Russia have influence in the Human Rights Council, both because of the size of the States but also the good quality of their representatives who are often very skillful in tactical techniques to delay action. The African States have prejudices but no real ideological position, and so some progress may be made there. The Islamic States will be the most difficult to swing given the power of conservative religious leaders in many Muslim countries. Latin American governments should be thanked or their efforts, especially as there could be a conservative Catholic backlash in some countries once people learn of their governments’ initiatives. It must be said that the media in most countries do not focus on the resolutions of the UN Human Rights Council. Thus when a conservative, activist minority learns about the resolution, they may mobilize to change the policy of the Latin American States.

There is still a long road ahead for real respect for sexual orientation efforts. As most UN human rights resolutions, the emphasis is put on non-discrimination and anti-violence. I think that the policy of the Association of World Citizens must stress a positive approach of respect for each individual and creating a society in which each person can fulfill potentials.

 

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

The Open Conspiracy for Peace

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Human Development, Introductory, The Search for Peace on September 21, 2014 at 2:26 AM

THE OPEN CONSPIRACY FOR PEACE

By René Wadlow

Behind the short-sighted governments that divide and mismanage human affairs, a real force for world unity and order exists and grows.”

H. G. Wells, A Short History of the World, 1943.

September 21 is the United Nations (UN)-designated World Day of Peace. It is also the anniversary of the birth of Herbert George Wells, usually known as just H. G. Wells.[i]

From the publication of The Time Machine in 1895 to his death in 1946, Wells ‘bestrode his world like a colossus’. He was a creator of modern science fiction, a pioneer of women’s rights (though he treated some badly in his many love affairs), a journalist, historian and novelist. Above all, he was a social thinker devoted to peace and a stable world order. It is this last aspect of his writing that makes his birth anniversary and the World Day of Peace appropriate.[ii]

Wells first studied biology under Thomas H. Huxley, the leading Darwinian of Victorian times, and came to see the ethical principles underlying humanity’s social systems as being rooted in the evolutionary process and therefore having the potential for onward development. Just as there was one major factor in biological progress − natural selection − so in social progress, there was one major factor − the quality of enlightened thought.

As he wrote, “However urgent things may seem, a great mental renascence must precede any effectual reorganization of the world. A systematic development and a systematic application of the sciences of human relationship, of personal and group psychology, of financial and economic sciences, and of education − sciences still in their infancy − is required. Narrow and obsolete, dead and dying moral and political ideas have to be replaced by a clearer and simpler conception of the common origins and destinies of our kind.”

"If we don't end war, war will end us." H. G. Wells.

“If we don’t end war, war will end us.”
H. G. Wells.

Wells was critical of democracy as being too slow and always tending toward the middle of the road on important issues. In 1928, he tried to alert to new dangers and possibilities by proposing an “open conspiracy” − an elite group of pioneer world citizens who would organize to move humanity forward[iii]The Open Conspiracy was his organizing manual for the diverse constituencies of globally-minded citizens to bring sanity to the organizing of human affairs.

Wells clearly foresaw the need for a re-organization of the economic affairs of humanity. “Certain things, the ocean, the air, rare wild animals must be the collective property of all humankind and cannot be altogether safe until they are so regarded and until some concrete body exists to exercise these proprietary rights … the raw material of the earth should be for all.”

Some progress has been made in the identification of endangered species, and a variety of international conventions have at least slowed the despoliation of an amount of our natural heritage. Yet the ongoing destruction of forests, over-exploitation of the oceans as well as other signs of the environmental crisis are constant reminders of how much distance is left to travel.

Wells was harshly critical of Marxist theory and of the Communist rule of Stalin in the USSR. Thus he contrasts his “open conspiracy” with the closed conspiracies and vanguard approach of Lenin whom he had met in 1920. He was also highly opposed to Fascism and its closed conspiracies. The “open conspiracy” is a project for every manner of person once an individual has developed a ‘world consciousness’, though Wells was himself very Eurocentric in his world outlook.

He summed up his views as a race between education for world citizenship and catastrophe − a task or bold and creative minds.

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

[i] For a detailed biography see: David Lodge, A Man of Parts (New York, Viking, 436pp.)

[ii] For an overview of his political thinking see: John S. Partington. Building Cosmopolis: The Political thought of H.G. Wells Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003)

[iii] The Open Conspiracy was first published in 1928 and slightly revised published in 1933. The 1933 edition is republished much more recently with a strong introduction and notes in W. Warren Wagar. The Open Conspiracy/H.G. Wells on World Revolution (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 151pp.).

UN Human Rights Protection: Small Steps, But No Turning Back

In Anticolonialism, Asia, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on September 7, 2014 at 10:11 PM

UN HUMAN RIGHTS PROTECTION: SMALL STEPS, BUT NO TURNING BACK

By René Wadlow

 

The effectiveness of United Nations (UN) action to promote human rights and prevent massive violations grows by small steps. However, the steps, once taken, serve as precedents and can be cited in future cases. Once the steps taken, it is difficult to refuse such action later.

Such small steps can be seen in the contrasting response to two situations:

1) The current situation in Iraq and Syria, in particular the areas held by the Islamic State (IS) and

2) The massacres and refugee flow from East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in 1971.

I will contrast briefly the Special Session on Iraq held on September 1, 2014 in Geneva of the Human Rights Council with efforts at the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities in August 1971 when I was among the representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) which had signed a joint appeal to the Sub-Commission for action in East Pakistan.

The September 1 Special Session stands out for two precedents which can be important:

1) The affirmation that non-State actors are bound to respect UN human rights standards;

2) The speedy creation of a UN Committee of Inquiry by using members of the UN human rights secretariat.

The massive violations of human rights in those parts of Iraq and Syria held by the IS is the first time that a major UN human rights body, the Human Rights Council or the earlier Commission on Human Rights, deals with an area not under the control of a State.

The diplomats working on a Special Session decided to focus only on Iraq. If Syria had been included, the actions of the Syrian government would have had to be considered as well.

Holding non-State actors responsible for violations of UN human rights norms is an important precedent and can have wide implications. The Declaration of the Eliminations of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, adopted by the UN General Assembly on November 25, 1981 sets the standard − a standard repeatedly being violated by the forces of the IS.

Likewise, the speedy creation of a Committee of Inquiry is a major advance. The Human Rights Council in the past, following a practice of the earlier Commission on Human Rights, has created “Commissions of Inquiry” also called “Fact-finding Missions.” Currently there are four such Commissions at work:

1) Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,

2) The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic,

3) The OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka,

4) The Commission of Inquiry on Gaza.

It was under Navanethem Pillay, who was the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008 to September 2014, that all of the existing four UN Commissions of Inquiry were created. The world has the former High Commissioner to thank for such valuable efforts in defense of human rights.

It was under Navanethem Pillay, who was the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008 to September 2014, that all of the existing four UN Commissions of Inquiry were created. The world has the former High Commissioner to thank for such valuable efforts in defense of human rights.

Each commission has three, sometimes four, members each from a different geographic zone. The members have usually had experience in UN activities, and the chair is usually someone who has a reputation beyond his UN efforts.

Since the commissions are usually not welcomed by the government of the country to be studies, the fact-finding is done by interviewing exiles and refugees. NGOs, scholars as well as governments can also provide information in writing. The commission reports rarely contain information that is not already available from specialized NGOs, journalists, and increasingly the Internet. However, the commission reports give an official coloring to the information, and some UN follow up action can be based on the reports.

It takes a good deal of time to put these commissions together as there must be regional balance, increasingly gender balance, as well as a balance of expertise. Moreover, the people approached to be a commission member are often busy and have other professional duties. It can sometimes take a month or more to put together a commission. In light of the pressing need presented by the situation in Iraq, it was decided that the members of the fact-finding group for Iraq would be members of the Secretariat of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights so that they can get to work immediately.

For the UN, this is a major step forward and must have led to a good deal of discussion before the proposal was presented in the resolution. As it is, India and China objected publicly in official statements just before the final resolution was accepted. Both States maintained that using Secretariat members went beyond the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner. They were worried by the increasing investigative role of the Office which should be limited only to helping develop national capacity building. Iraq today, Kashmir and Tibet tomorrow. The Indians and the Chinese are probably not the only governments worried, but they were the only States which spoke on the issue, Objecting strongly but saying they would not block consensus on the resolution.

In contrast to these steps: I had followed as closely as possible, from Geneva, the events in East Pakistan, having at one stage helped a representative of the Bangladesh opposition to speak to relevant diplomats in Geneva. Later, he became the Ambassador of Bangladesh to the UN in Geneva, and for a year was president of the Commission on Human Rights.

In December 1970, the Awami League led by Sheik Mujib Rahman won a majority of seats in the national assembly. The government of Pakistan refused to convene the national assembly, since it would result in shifting political power from West to East Pakistan. For three months, the government and the Awami League tried to negotiate a political settlement. On March 25, 1971, the government discontinued negotiations and unleashed the Pakistan army against the civilian population of East Pakistan. Hindus, members and sympathizers of the Awami League, students and faculty of the universities and women were especially singled out.

These atrocities continued until the Indian army which had been drawn into the conflict, in part by the large number of refugees that had fled to India, took control of Dacca on December 1, 1971.

When India gained independence from Britain in 1947, the predominantly Muslim-inhabited parts of the former colony became a separate country called Pakistan. Originally a Dominion within the British Empire, Pakistan eventually established a republic of its own in 1956. In March 1971 the province of East Pakistan launched a war of independence, waged by an armed force called the Mukti Bahini, also called the Bengali Liberation Army, and the Indian military which came to the aid of the rebels. Eventually, in December 1971 Pakistani troops were defeated and East Pakistan became a sovereign nation with the name of Bangladesh.

When India gained independence from Britain in 1947, the predominantly Muslim-inhabited parts of the former colony became a separate country called Pakistan. Originally a Dominion within the British Empire, Pakistan eventually established a republic of its own in 1956.
In March 1971 the province of East Pakistan launched a war of independence, waged by an armed force called the Mukti Bahini, also called the Bengali Liberation Army, and the Indian military which came to the aid of the rebels. Eventually, in December 1971 Pakistani troops were defeated and East Pakistan became a sovereign nation with the name of Bangladesh.

The UN Security Council was unwilling or unable to deal with the human rights situations in East Pakistan. The U. S. government strongly supported the Pakistan army while the Soviet Union supported India. For NGO representatives our hopes rested on the Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities which was to meet in Geneva from August 2 to 20, 1971. At the time, the Commission on Human Rights and the bulk of the human rights secretariat was still in New York. However, the Sub-Commission would meet in Geneva once a year, usually in July or August.

The Sub-Commission members were not diplomatic representatives of governments as was the Commission on Human Rights. Rather they were “independent experts”. The saying among NGOs was that some were more independent than others, and some were more expert than others. Most were professors of law in their countries − thus the August dates when universities were on vacation. It was easier to have informal relations with Sub-Commission members than with diplomats, and NGO representatives could get advice on the best avenues of action.

NGOs had two formal avenues of action. We could present written statements that were distributed as official documents, and we could make oral statements, usually 10 minutes in which to develop ideas and to call attention to additional elements in the written statement. Written statements could be that of a single NGO or, often to give more weight, there could be a “joint statement”. On the East Pakistan situation, with the violence being covered by the world media, it was decided to have a joint statement. The statement called upon the Sub-Commission “to examine all available information regarding allegations of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in East Pakistan and to recommend measures which might be taken to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of East Pakistan”. Twenty-two NGOs with representatives in Geneva signed the joint statement, and John Salzberg, a representative of the International Commission of Jurists, made an oral statement presenting the written joint statement.

Government representatives were always present in the room and had the right to make statements (and also to try to influence the independent experts behind the scene). Najmul Saguib Khan, the independent expert from Pakistan contended that the Sub-Commission could not consider East Pakistan since the UN role in human rights “did not extend to questions arising out of situations affecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Member States and that attention to such situations would encourage those seeking the dismemberment of Member States.” The Indian diplomat, N.P. Jain, replied highlighting the influx of eight million refugees into India.

"On 13 June 1971, an article in the UK's Sunday Times exposed the brutality of Pakistan's suppression of the Bangladeshi uprising. It forced the reporter's family into hiding and changed history. (...) Written by Anthony Mascarenhas, a Pakistani reporter, and printed in the UK's Sunday Times, it exposed for the first time the scale of the Pakistan army's brutal campaign to suppress its breakaway eastern province in 1971. (...) There is little doubt that Mascarenhas' reportage played its part in ending the war. It helped turn world opinion against Pakistan and encouraged India to play a decisive role." (C) BBC News

“On 13 June 1971, an article in the UK’s Sunday Times exposed the brutality of Pakistan’s suppression of the Bangladeshi uprising. It forced the reporter’s family into hiding and changed history. (…)
Written by Anthony Mascarenhas, a Pakistani reporter, and printed in the UK’s Sunday Times, it exposed for the first time the scale of the Pakistan army’s brutal campaign to suppress its breakaway eastern province in 1971. (…)
There is little doubt that Mascarenhas’ reportage played its part in ending the war. It helped turn world opinion against Pakistan and encouraged India to play a decisive role.”
(C) BBC News

The Sub-Commission members took the “diplomatic way out” and said nothing. In drafting the report of the session, one member, Adamu Mohammed from Nigeria proposed deleting any reference to the discussion on East Pakistan. He held that the Sub-Commission had listened to, but had not considered the statements made by the representative of the International Commission of Jurists, the Sub-Commission member from Pakistan and the observer of India.

The NGO representatives were saddened by the lack of action but not totally surprised. No other UN human rights body took action, and the massacres stopped only after the ‘lightning war’ of India defeated the Pakistan army and occupied the country until a Bangladesh government could be set up.

There remains real danger that the situation in Iraq and Syria will continue through military means, but at least progress has been made within the UN in calling attention to conflicts within a State and holding all parties responsible for maintaining the standards of human rights.

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

World Law Advanced by the UN Special Session of the Human Rights Council on Human Rights Violations in Iraq

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on September 3, 2014 at 12:21 AM

WORLD LAW ADVANCED BY THE UN SPECIAL SESSION OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL ON HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN IRAQ

By René Wadlow

 

Two major advancements in the universal application of world law were made by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council Special Session in Geneva on September 1, 2014. The Council met in response to widespread and converging accusations of human rights violations in territory in Iraq and Syria under the control of the Islamic State (IS) also called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). I will use the term “Islamic State” which is the title that the movement most often uses now for itself.

For the past several years, the IS was one of a good number of shifting insurgency groups active in Syria in opposition to the government, and it did not receive more attention than any of the other insurgencies. It had no clear political program, and its ideology was not particularly different from that of other Islamist groups. Then suddenly in June 2014, under the leadership of the young Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group shifted its focus from Syria to Iraq. It was able to build on the growing resentment and sentiment of marginalization of the Iraqi Sunnis and the disorganization of the Iraq army to sweep through large parts of western Iraq and eastern Syria. IS’s ideology does not recognize existing nation-states but rather a potentially unified Islamic world. One of its first symbolic moves was to destroy frontier wall and frontier posts on the Iraq-Syria frontier. Thus the name of Islamic State and the title of Caliphate for the area under its control.

In the areas under IS control, IS armed groups have killed prisoners of the Iraqi army and members of religious and ethnic minorities leading to larger scale displacement of people, often to the Kurdish Autonomous Area − some 800,000 during August. The Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees has stated that this is a “humanitarian crisis” and appealed for support from governments and civil society to meet the urgent needs of the displaced. On August 12, 2014, Heiner Beilefeldt, the Special Rapporteur of the Council on Discrimination due to Religion or Belief, warned of the destruction of religious minorities and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination activated its early warning and urgent action procedures.

During August, IS forces took areas close to the Kurdish Autonomous Area, areas in which there is a large Kurdish-speaking population but is outside the Kurdish Autonomous Area’s boundaries. The Kurdish forces fought back, helped by US bombing missions aimed at IS military equipment and posts. The danger of a military escalation and a spreading of the conflict was (and still is) a real possibility.

Kurdish women fighters in Suleymaniyeh, Iraq. Many people in Kurdistan believe the region owes much of its safety to the efforts of the Peshmerga. (C) BBC News

Kurdish women fighters in Suleymaniyeh, Iraq.
Many people in Kurdistan believe the region owes much of its safety to the efforts of the Peshmerga.
(C) BBC News

Many looked toward the UN Human Rights Council to speak out. Both some governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) urged a Special Session of the Council, the highest profile action which the Council can take. It seems that France took the lead in the effort to get a Special Session. Although a minority of 16 States among the 47 Members of the Council is needed to call a Special Session, diplomatic sense requires that as many States as possible participate in the call and that they would vote positively on the resolution at the end of the Special Session.

In the case of this session, it was agreed by government negotiators to limit the discussion to IS actions in Iraq and not bring up violations in Syria on which governments hold differing views. The negotiators organizing the effort had to have the agreement of Iraq, the concerned State, of Iran which holds the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement and its 120 members. Iran is also heavily involved in the conflicts of Syria and Iraq. Pakistan needed to agree as Pakistan is the usual spokesperson for the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation. Italy, as current president of the EU had to play a key role.

The President of the Council, Ambassador Baudelaire Ndong Ella, had to be kept informed as the Special Session would be under his leadership.

It is difficult for someone not party to the government private negotiations to know how they are carried out and how the resolution is written, well in advance of the Session itself. In this case, the Ambassador of South Africa felt that he had been left out of the discussions and complained bitterly that the resolution had not been negotiated inclusively and transparently and had appealed to the President of the Council to defer until more time was given to delegates to negotiate the text. His request was turned down, and so South Africa was the only State to say after the resolution was passed by consensus without a vote that had there been a vote, he would have abstained.

As the final resolution is written and agreed upon prior to the start of the Session, all the statements of the Member States of the Council, the Observer States and NGOs are “for the record”. Each State wishes to have been seen as saying something in the very short time that each State is allocated. The factual information was presented at the start of the Session by Ms. Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Ms. Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict. There is therefore a good deal of repetition in what government representatives have to say. There is a story in the United States (U. S.) about a mythical conference of comedians who have heard all the jokes before, so rather than tell a joke, they would just say a number, “Number 10” and everyone would laugh. Along these lines, I have suggested that at the UN a good deal of time could be saved by having all ideas given a number, so the Ambassador could just say, “We believe, 7 9 15, Thank you” and a skilled technician would flash a red light if ever a new idea was mentioned. My suggestion has not yet been acted upon, and so one must listen carefully to “hear between the lines” and see who is saying something different or occasionally saying it very well.

Thus, it was impossible for the Ambassador of Syria not to mention that the IS was also in Syria, which the Canadian Ambassador did as well. Germany mentioned that there were Syrian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan but did not go into more detail. Cuba and Venezuela mentioned that the problems of Iraq were due to the U. S. invasion of 2003 “responsible or sowing the seeds of death and the social breakdown among the Iraqi people”. Ireland was the one State to mention “open and possibly genocidal attacks on minority communities” but did not mention the 1948 Genocide Convention. Austria spoke of the “total annihilation of minorities” but did not use the term “genocide”. Morocco called or Iraq to become a “cohesive State in which all citizens were equal and enjoyed their human rights.” Malaysia called upon “the voices of moderation to drown out the destructive and divisive voices of extremism and terrorism”. Lebanon called for action by the International Criminal Court (ICC), especially against those bearing passports of States which were party to the Rome Statute setting up the ICC. The Holy See (the Vatican) made a moving call or tolerance and understanding among all religions.

After the speeches “for the record”, what was the action proposal which was an advancement for world law? The action proposal followed a Council pattern but with a significant difference. The Council in the past, following a practice of the earlier Commission on Human Rights, has created “Commissions of Inquiry” also called “Fact-finding Missions”. Currently there are four such Commissions at work: Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka, and the Commission of Inquiry on Gaza. Each commission has three, sometimes four people, each from a different geographic zone. The members have usually had experience in UN activities, and the chair is usually someone who has a reputation beyond his UN efforts, such as Mr. Marti Ahtisaari, the former President of Finland who heads the Sri Lanka study.

This sign, here painted in red on a wall with a circle around it, is the letter N in Arabic. When the IS started seizing predominantly Christian-inhabited areas of Iraq by force, its militiamen immediately painted this on houses they knew or thought were owned by Christians, N being for “Nasrani” which is itself the Arabic for “Christian”. A long echo of the Nazis’ practices in pre-World War II Germany, when Hitler’s own militiamen would paint a Star of David on the front door of each Jewish-owned business. That was just before the “Final Solution” which claimed over 6 million lives.

This sign, here painted in red on a wall with a circle around it, is the letter N in Arabic.
When the IS started seizing predominantly Christian-inhabited areas of Iraq by force, its militiamen immediately painted this on houses they knew or thought were owned by Christians, N being for “Nasrani” which is itself the Arabic for “Christian”.
A long echo of the Nazis’ practices in pre-World War II Germany, when Hitler’s own militiamen would paint a Star of David on the front door of each Jewish-owned business. That was just before the “Final Solution” which claimed over 6 million lives.

Since the commissions are usually not welcomed by the government of the country to be studied, the fact-finding is done by interviewing exiles and refugees. NGOs, scholars as well as governments can also provide information in writing. The Commission reports rarely contain information that is not already available from specialized NGOs, journalists and increasingly the Internet. However, the commission reports give an official coloring to the information, and some UN follow up action can be based on the reports.

It takes a good deal of time to put these commissions together as there must be regional balance, increasingly gender balance, and a balance of expertise. Moreover, the people approached to be commission members are often busy and have other professional duties. It can sometimes take a month or more to put together a commission. In light of the pressing need presented by the situation in Iraq, it was decided that the members of the fact-finding group would be members of the Secretariat of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights so that they can get to work immediately.

Inside the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room of the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Inaugurated in 2008, the room accommodates different United Nations bodies, including ECOSOC and the Human Rights Council. (C) United Nations

Inside the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room of the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
Inaugurated in 2008, the room accommodates different United Nations bodies, including ECOSOC and the Human Rights Council.
(C) United Nations

For the UN, this is a major step forward and must have led to a good deal of discussion before being presented in the resolution. As it is, India and China objected publicly in official statements just before the final resolution was accepted. Both States maintained that using Secretariat members went beyond the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner. They were worried by the increasing investigative role of the Office which should be limited only to helping develop national capacity building: Iraq today, Kashmir and Tibet tomorrow. The Indians and the Chinese are probably not the only governments worried, but they were the only States which spoke up on the issue, objecting strongly but saying they would not block consensus on the resolution.

The other advance or world law arising from the Special Session is the principle of the universality of concern and thus of investigation. In no previous case, has the UN looked at the violations within an area not under the control of a Member State. In this case, the investigation concerns actions of a non-state actor who nevertheless controls territory and to some extent administers the territory trying to impose its vision of strict Islamic law. This is a major step forward and has implications or other state entities but which are not members of the UN or recognized by the majority of UN Member States such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistra, Nagorno-Karabakh, and if a state were set up in eastern Ukraine.

This principle was stated in a widely distributed text for the Special Session and which will come out as a written NGO statement at the regular session of the Council starting 8 September. With due modesty, I quote from myself:

“The Association of World Citizens believes that world law as developed by the United Nations applies not only to the governments of Member States but also to individuals and non-governmental organizations. The ISIS has not been recognized as a State and is not a member of the UN. Nevertheless the Association of World Citizens is convinced that the terms of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief applies to the ISIS and that the actions of the ISIS are, in the terms of the Declaration adopted by the General Assembly on November 25, 1981 ‘inadmissible’.

Citizens of the World stress the need for world law and certain common values among all the States and peoples of the world. We are one humanity with a shared destiny. The challenge before us requires inclusive ethical values. Such values must be based on a sense of common responsibility for both present and future generations.”

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

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