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Celebrating Social Justice: The People’s Revolution is On the March

In Being a World Citizen, Democracy, Human Development, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Social Rights, Solidarity on February 22, 2015 at 4:45 PM


By René Wadlow

Social Justice

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly, on the initiative of Nurbch Jeenbrev, the Ambassador of Kyrgyzstan to the UN in New York, has proclaimed February as the “World Day of Social Justice”.

The World Day of Social Justice gives us an opportunity to take stock of how we can work together – the whole year round – at the local, national and global level on policy and action to achieve the goals set out in the resolution of “solidarity, harmony and equality within and among states.”

As the resolution states, “Social development and social justice are indispensable for the achievement and maintenance of peace and security within and among nations, and that in turn, social development and social justice cannot be attained in the absence of peace and security or in the absence of respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

The Preamble to the UN Charter makes social justice one of the chief aims of the organization using the more common expression of that time “social progress”. The Preamble calls for efforts to “promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”

The United States (U. S.) representatives who worked on the draft of the UN Charter were strongly influenced in their views of social progress by the “New Deal” legislation of President Roosevelt and its philosophy as it had been set out by his Vice-President Henry A. Wallace in 1942 when he set out the U. S. war aims. Wallace’s speech was the first time that the war aims of a country were not stated in terms of “national interest” and limited to the demands that had produced the start of the war.

Wallace, who had first been the Secretary of Agriculture and who had to deal with the severe depression facing U. S. agriculture, was proposing a world-wide New Deal based on the cooperative action of all of humanity. Wallace said “The people’s revolution is on the march. When the freedom-loving people march — when the farmers have an opportunity to buy land at reasonable prices and to see the produce of their land through their own organizations, when workers have the opportunity to form unions and bargain through them collectively, and when the children of all the people have an opportunity to attend schools which teach them truths of the real world in which they live — when these opportunities are open to everyone, then the world moves straight ahead…The people are on the march toward ever fuller freedom, toward manifesting here on earth the dignity that is in every human soul.”

Henry A. Wallace (left), Vice-President of the United States from 1941 to 1945. After the third and final reelection of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (right) to the presidency in 1944, Wallace was succeeded by Harry S. Truman, who himself succeeded Roosevelt as President of the United States after Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945.

Henry A. Wallace (left), Vice-President of the United States from 1941 to 1945. After the third and final reelection of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (right) to the presidency in 1944, Wallace was succeeded by Harry S. Truman, who himself succeeded Roosevelt as President of the United States after Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945.

The People’s Revolution found its expression in the cry of the Tunisian uprising — Work-Liberty-Dignity. Today in the demands of “Work-Liberty-Dignity” we hear the demands of farmers to own land under sure conditions, to receive a fair price for their crops as well as the right to organize to protect their interests. We hear the crises of industrial and urban workers to be able to organize and to have their work appreciated for its full value. We hear the demands of students and the young for an education that opens minds and prepares for meaningful work.

A Tunisian demonstrator in Paris, France, as the Tunisian community there celebrated the first anniversary of the revolution on January 14, 2012. (C) Bernard J. Henry/AWC

A Tunisian demonstrator in Paris, France as Tunisians living there were celebrating the first anniversary of their revolution on January 14, 2012. (C) Bernard J. Henry/AWC

The people’s revolution is on the march. While the forces of the status quo are still strong and often heavily armed, the energy has shifted from the rulers to the people. The concept of Social Justice has articulated and focused deep demands for liberty, jobs, and dignity. The people’s revolution is not that of an elite willing to replace the existing ruling elite. The people’s revolution is a wave of all moving together, with deep currents below the surface. The tide moves with only a few visible waves but the collective demands for social justice and dignity is what makes the difference between the people’s revolution and a military coup. This is the true meaning of the World Day of Social Justice.

“For the wretched of the earth,
There is a flame that never dies,
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.”

Les Miserables, “Do You Hear the People Sing – Epilogue”.

In 2011, as the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions were underway, the AWC adopted this song as its unofficial anthem.

* * *

Prof. René Wadlow is President and Chief Representative to the United Nations in Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.

Boko Haram: The Long Shadow of Usman dan Fodio

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom on February 13, 2015 at 9:58 PM


By René Wadlow

There has been growing concern with the activities of Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria and its spillover into northern Cameroon, Niger, and in the Lake Chad area. There has been a recent conference of the African Union on the issue, and military units from Chad, Cameroon and Niger are linking up with the Nigerian army to counter the growing power of the organization and its possible links with the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq-Syria. The practice of forced marriage, the slavery of women and girls, and arbitrary killing – including beheading – has led many to flee the area. This has resulted in a large number of displaced people, often living in difficult situations.

Boko Haram is not the first militant, anti-establishment Islamic movement in northern Nigeria and northern Cameroon. In the early 1980s, an Islamic sect, the Yan Tatsine unleashed an armed insurrection against the Nigerian security forces, especially in the Kano area. The revolts were led (or at least influenced by) a wandering preacher, Mohammed Marwa Maitatsine. Maitatsine was a nickname added to the family name of Marwa. The nickname originated from the Hausa word “tsini” meaning “to damn”. While preaching, he would name his enemies and their lifestyle and end with the phrase ‘Allah ta tsini” (May God damn you), thus the name “the one who damns”. Maitatsine, like Boko Haram, damned all those who enjoyed Western consumer goods, automobiles, radio, watches, and especially Western education, which was an avenue to these goods.

As with Boko Haram, there were ideological, economic and social aspects to the movement as well as reactions to the brutality of the Nigerian army’s efforts to weaken or destroy the movement. In the case of Mohammed Marwa, his control of territory was largely limited to the city of Kano, and he was killed by Nigerian security forces relatively quickly after the start of the armed attacks of his movement. However, the socio-economic conditions which led to the rise of his movement have continued and have produced smaller and less violent currents until the creation around 2002 of Boko Haram, first as a sect closed in on itself in an isolated area of Borno State in northeast Nigeria, and then for the last four years as an armed insurgency holding an ever-larger territory − or at least creating insecurity in ever larger areas.

For the current leader of Boko Haram, Abubaka Shekau, as well as for others in the movement, Usman dan Fodio (also written as Usuman) and his 1804-1808 jihad is the model to be followed. Although radically different in many ways, Boko Haram is part of the long shadow of Usman dan Fodio and the creation of the Sokoto Caliphate, the largest state in West Africa in the nineteenth century. Toyin Falola describes the background to the jihad:

“The background to the jihad was a crisis in the Hausa states and Islamic leaders’ resort to Islam to reform society. During the eighteenth century, Hausa society witnessed conflicts between one state and another, between Muslims and non-Muslims, between rich and poor. The states were heterogeneous and highly developed with established kingships, talented Islamic scholars and jurists. Succession disputes were endemic while ambition for political domination was common. Gofir state in the northwest emerged as a dominant power, but not without costly and ruthless wars. Merchants and kings grew wealthy, and their ostentatious living displeased the poor and devout Muslims. Methods of wealth accumulation involved corruption and unjust treatment of the poor. Taxes and levies could be excessive, demand for free labor ruinous, enslavement was common and conscription for military service was indiscriminate. The practice of Islam was not always strict: many were Muslims only in name, traditional religion was synthesized with Islam in a way that displeased devout preachers and only a small minority committed itself to spreading the religion”. (1)

Dan Fodio (1754-1817) was a Peul (plu. Fulani) and thus a member of a minority within the largely Hausa area. However, the Fulani are found throughout West Africa. Prior to 1800, there had been a gradual influx of Fulani into northern Nigeria, a migration which had spread over several centuries and which involved people who were ethnically and linguistically distinct from the Hausa. During the earlier migratory phases, they were largely pastoral herdsmen but increasingly they settled in Hausa towns.

As an educated Peul, dan Fodio felt excluded from political power as did other Fulani. The jihad and the distribution of power that followed led to the Sokoto Caliphate − a sort of unified theocracy. Old Hausa dynasties were replaced by new local leaders, mainly Fulani emirs. The caliphate was headed by a sultan, based in Sokoto, while local emirates were governed by an emir. The appointment of each emir had to be ratified by the sultan. Thus was created a Fulani-Hausa political area with elements still in place today.

Dan Fodio, often referred to as Shehu, was an educated preacher who gathered around him students who became the core of his jihad army. Dan Fodio knew the history of Islam and wanted to recreate the Muslim community of the time of the first four Caliphs, thought of as the ‘Golden Age of Islam’. He thus broke down the existing Hausa state system of some 15 separate states into a loosely organized Fulani-Hausa confederation of some 30 emirates with loyalty beyond the clan and the traditional ruler within the embrace of a common religion.

The Sokoto Caliphate, which spanned much of the northern halves of today's nations of Nigeria and Cameroon.

The Sokoto Caliphate, which spanned much of the northern halves of today’s nations of Nigeria and Cameroon.

Two features tended to characterize the emirate system. First, there was virtually no distinction between religious and political authority. The emir possessed both. Second, politics was conducted in an essentially despotic fashion. The common man was subservient to the emir and was dependent on his benevolence. The Fulani jihad fell short of establishing the just Islamic theocracy it had purported to create. Many saw the jihad as a road to power rather than to the purity of religious practice.

Boko Haram has kept the use of flags and flag bearers from Dan Fodio’s jihad as well as the arbitrary killing and indiscriminate marauding. In Boko Haram, there seem to be few Islamic scholars in their ranks, but there do seem to be some who have been to Islamic schools. The future from today is very uncertain. It is unlikely that there is a “military answer.”

Neither Boko Haram nor ISIS/Daesh should be confused with the Islamic faith. These two militant groups give Islam a bad name and do not speak for the world's Muslims.

Neither Boko Haram nor ISIS/Daesh should be confused with the Islamic faith in any way. These two militant groups do not speak for the world’s Muslims and only give Islam a bad name.

Changes in socio-economic conditions are likely to take a long time. From a distance, it is difficult to see how good faith negotiations can be carried out between governments and Boko Haram. Long shadows can last for centuries, but we must keep trying to see how negotiations can be carried out and if non-governmental organizations can play an intermediary role.

Prof. René Wadlow is President and Chief Representative to the United Nations, Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.

(1) Toyin Falola.The History of Nigeria (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1999, p. 35)


In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom, United Nations, War Crimes, Women's Rights on February 10, 2015 at 12:10 AM

-- AWC-UN Geneva Logo --

L’Association of World Citizens




  1. L’esclavage est IMMORAL,
  2. L’esclavage est CONTRAIRE AU DROIT MONDIAL,
  3. L’esclavage doit être VAINCU SANS RECOURIR A LA GUERRE.

L’asservissement, la vente tel du bétail, et le mariage forcé de femmes et de jeunes filles par l’ « Etat islamique » (Daesh) dans les zones de l’Irak et de la Syrie qu’il a soumises par la barbarie, ainsi que par Boko Haram dans le nord-est du Nigéria, appellent une réaction concertée, notamment dans la mesure où cette pratique risque de s’étendre à d’autres zones telles que le nord du Cameroun et du Niger si l’influence de Boko Haram continue de croître.

C’est pourquoi l’Association of World Citizens appelle à un effort aussi vaste que possible en direction d’un Nouveau Mouvement Anti-Esclavagiste, rappelant à cette fin la devise du Libérateur (1831-1865) de William Lloyd Garrison, «Notre pays, c’est le Monde, et tous les êtres humains sont nos compatriotes».

Aux Etats-Unis, l’abolition de l’esclavage ne fut qu’un aspect de la sanglante Guerre de Sécession qui n’a produit que de l’amertume et n’a eu d’influence sur les relations interraciales que négative. En France, une première abolition de l’esclavage dans la fureur guerrière de la Révolution n’a abouti qu’à son rétablissement sous un Premier Empire qui s’est montré tout aussi guerrier, l’abolition définitive n’étant venue, avec Victor Schoelcher, que lorsque les canons se furent enfin tus. C’est pourquoi nous croyons fermement que l’esclavage tel que le pratiquent Daesh et Boko Haram doit être vaincu sans qu’il y ait pour cela recours à une guerre.

A travers les frappes aériennes en cours contre Daesh et l’action militaire kurde pour enrayer les atrocités de ce dernier, les tambours de la guerre se font pourtant d’ores et déjà entendre. Les troupes tchadiennes et camerounaises se sont jointes aux forces armées nigérianes pour empêcher Boko Haram de nuire plus avant, ce qui ne fera toutefois qu’ajouter encore au conflit armé déjà violent dans la région. Des armées peuvent vaincre d’autres armées, mais comme le rappelle l’Acte constitutif de l’UNESCO, «Les guerres prenant naissance dans l’esprit des hommes, c’est dans l’esprit des hommes que doivent être élevées les défenses de la paix».

Nous croyons donc que la réponse au problème doit venir d’un mouvement social et populaire issu des sociétés irakienne, syrienne et nigériane, qui reconnaissent toutes que l’esclavage est immoral et constitue une violation du droit mondial. La prohibition de l’esclavage est un élément crucial du droit mondial, au sein duquel elle s’est manifestée historiquement tant par les interdictions du trafic d’esclaves au dix-neuvième siècle, obtenues grâce au combat du Mouvement Anti-Esclavagiste de l’époque, que par celles édictées plus tard par la Société des Nations et enfin par l’action des Nations Unies depuis leur création en 1945.

Aujourd’hui, c’est d’un Nouveau Mouvement Anti-Esclavagiste que nous avons besoin, afin d’en appeler à toutes celles et tous ceux qui, au Moyen-Orient et en Afrique, peuvent et veulent nous rejoindre pour réaffirmer et renforcer le respect de la dignité humaine, en particulier des femmes et des jeunes filles, ainsi que le respect des droits des minorités religieuses quelles qu’elles soient.



In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom, United Nations, War Crimes, Women's Rights, World Law on February 9, 2015 at 11:19 PM

-- AWC-UN Geneva Logo --

The Association of World Citizens



  1. Slavery is IMMORAL,
  2. Slavery is BANNED BY WORLD LAW,

The enslavement, sale, and forced marriage of women and girls by the Islamic State (ISIS) in parts of Iraq-Syria and by Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria calls for concerted action, especially as the practice may spread to other areas such as northern Cameroon and Niger if the influence of Boko Haram grows.

Therefore, the Association of World Citizens calls for a broad effort of a New Abolitionist Movement, recalling the motto of The Liberator (1831-1865) of William Lloyd Garrison “Our country is the world; our countrymen are all mankind.”

As slavery was abolished in the United States only as an aspect of a bloody civil war which left long bitterness and influenced race relations negatively, we believe that slavery in ISIS and Boko Haram-held areas must be overcome without recourse to a war. The signs of war are already present in air strikes on ISIS positions and Kurdish military action. The joining of troops from Chad and Cameroon to Nigerian forces to combat Boko Haram can also lead to increased armed conflict.

Rather, we believe that reform must come from within Iraqi, Syrian and Nigerian society which recognizes that slavery is immoral and a violation of world law. The banning of slavery is a core element of world law: the unilateral bans on the slave trade of the nineteenth century in response to the efforts of the Abolitionist Movements, the League of Nations bans, and the continuing efforts of the United Nations.

Today, a New Abolitionist Movement is needed to reach out to those in the wider Middle East and Africa to join in strengthening respect for human dignity, respect of women and girls and respect of religious minorities.


Religious Liberty: Challenges and Tasks Ahead for Nongovernmental Organization Action

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations on February 2, 2015 at 4:21 PM



By René Wadlow

Every year, January 30 is a most appropriate day on which to reflect on issues of religious liberty and to the challenges facing us as members of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as the Association of World Citizens (AWC). January 30 is the anniversary of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, an agent of the semi-military militant Hindu organization RSS (Rashtriya Swayam-sevah Sangh). In the eyes of Godse, Gandhi was too tolerant of Muslims in the riots then going on at the time of independence and partition between India and Pakistan. Currently, the RSS is still very active trying to force with its militias Indian Christians to become Hindus. The RSS is backed by some factions within the Indian government. The RSS is a good example of the fact that efforts to destroy or limit strongly freedom of thought and religious liberty come from both governments and from religious organizations.

As the AWC has been very active on religious liberty issues within the United Nations (UN) human rights committees in Geneva, I will list briefly the types of challenges which we face and then mention UN standards which we can use in our efforts to promote religious liberty.

  • The first situation is when a State has a State Religion and persecutes minority religions within the country. An example is the Islamic Republic of Iran which has banned the Baha’i religion (which began in Iran) and persecutes its members.
  • The second situation is when a State has a State Religion and persecutes branches of that religion with which it disagrees: the Pakistan government persecution of the Ahmadi branch of Islam (which began in what is now Pakistan) is an example.
  • The third situation is when a State has a State Religion and persecutes those who wish to bring about reforms within that religion. A recent example is in Saudi Arabia where a young man posted on his Internet blog a plea to limit the powers of the “moral police” who try to enforce what the government considers “moral behavior” such as women not driving an auto. For his blog statement, Ralf Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes of a whip (50 lashes in public each week during 20 weeks). The AWC’s External Relations Officer, Bernard Henry, was among those protesting this decision in front of the Saudi Embassy in Paris a few days ago in a demonstration led by Amnesty International.
  • The fourth situation is when a State has not State Religion and is against all religious movements and institutions in general. The Soviet Union from 1922 to 1942. In 1942, Stalin changed his policy to encourage religious people to fight the German invaders. Mainland China during the Cultural Revolution years and the Pol Pot government of Cambodia are examples of governments hostile to all religious movements.
  • The fifth situation: Armed movements which control some territory and who wish to create a State with a State Religion and who are hostile to religious minorities. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is a dramatic example of an armed movement which controls an area as large as France, partly in Iraq, partly in Syria. There are forced conversions to Islam and girls and women from minority religions are sold as slaves. The Boko Haram movement, active in nearly as large an area as France in northeast Nigeria, northern Cameroon, and part of Niger acts in the same way. Boko Haram and ISIS follow the same policy and ideology and cooperate when possible. We have very similar patterns, but on a smaller scale, in the Central African Republic where Christian militias have attacked Muslim communities so that the majority of Muslims have fled to neighboring countries. However, the Christian militias have not said that they wish to set up a State with Christianity as a State religion.
  • The sixth situation are States which have no State Religion but where there are popular, nongovernmental currents or movements against specific religions. France, Germany and Myanmar can be good examples. France, most recently after attacks against journalists of a satiric journal by two brothers of Muslim religion, has seen a relatively large number of people attacking Islamic institutions largely at night. In Germany, there is a movement which is holding large demonstrations against Muslims. The German government has been against these demonstrations but is limited in what sort of police actions it can take to prevent them. In Myanmar (Burma) although Buddhism was never officially proclaimed a State Religion, the military-led government favored Buddhist groups to such an extent that Buddhism could nearly be considered a State Religion. Currently there are Buddhist monk-led attacks against the Rohingyas − a Muslim minority − and the government has done nothing to prevent such attacks.
On January 23 Amnesty International France and Reporters Without Borders held a protest before the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Paris in support of blogger Raif Badawi. (C) Bernard J. Henry/AWC

On January 23 Amnesty International France and Reporters Without Borders held a protest before the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Paris in support of blogger Raif Badawi. (C) Bernard J. Henry/AWC

These six situations highlight violent situations in which religions are banned, followers killed, imprisoned, sold into slavery and living in fear of being attacked.

There are, of course, many examples of more subtle forms of discrimination, the use of tax policies, the non-recognition of a group as a religion, the banning of healing practices, images making fun of a religion etc. It is important to be aware of these more subtle forms. They need to be prevented, but they are less visible than the imprisonment of a person so they lead to fewer protests.

The front door of a mosque in France in 2009, covered by racist and neo-Nazi graffiti. Over the last five years anti-Islam acts have soared in the country, hitting an all-time high in the wake of the terror attack against the weekly satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo of January 7, 2015. (C) Thierry Antoine/AFP

The front door of a mosque in France in 2009, covered by racist and neo-Nazi graffiti. Over the last five years anti-Islam acts have soared in the country, hitting an all-time high in the wake of the terror attack against the weekly satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo of January 7, 2015. (C) Thierry Antoine/AFP

Universal Standards for Religious Liberty

The universal standard is set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18) “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Article 18 of the Universal Declaration is reaffirmed in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights but made stronger by adding “no one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.” The Covenant was followed, after many years of discussion and debate in which the Association of World Citizens played an important role, with a UN General Assembly “Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief” of November 25, 1981. This is a strong Declaration. I believe that such a strong and comprehensive statement would not be possible today given the coordinated strength of the Islamic States in opposition to the idea in the Declaration of being able to change one’s religion. Unlike the Covenant, the Declaration is not a treaty and so there is no institution to study the action of governments in the light of the Declaration. Nevertheless, the Declaration, relatively little known, should be widely quoted by NGOs working on religious liberty issues.

What Can Be Done Today?

Governments are relatively inactive − or not active at all − when it comes to States restricting religious liberty. We have seen these recent days government leaders going to Saudi Arabia to wish the new king well, as Saudi Arabia sells oil and buys arms from Western governments. Saudi Arabia is one of the most violent oppressors of religious liberty. Thus I would expect no action on the part of governments toward other governments.

However, we do see governmental action against nongovernmental militias who violate religious liberty. There is a coalition of States, led by the United States, England and France to bomb from the air positions of the ISIS in Iraq-Syria. That such bombing will transform the ISIS into liberal advocates of human rights seems to me unlikely.

Likewise the army of Chad has joined the army of Nigeria to fight Boko Haram. As the Nigerian and Chadian armies are best known for their practice of burning villages and raping women, their contribution to a society of respect and tolerance is to be doubted.

Thus, to sum up: the possibilities for the defense of religious liberty are few. There are norms and standards set by the United Nations: Article 18 of the Universal Declaration and the Covenant, and especially the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. Governments are basically unwilling to do anything in the UN even against the worst offenders. On the one hand governments need resources from the country − oil from Saudi Arabia − or they are more concerned with security issues of the country than with religious liberty issues − the case with Iran and North Korea.

If, as I believe, governmental action is useless and will make situations worse, what can NGOs do? One must not be discouraged. The challenges are great; the resources of NGOs are few. A worldwide erosion of religious freedom is causing large-scale human suffering, grave injustice and serious threats to world peace and security. Yet I believe that NGOs have through UN standards a clear set of international principles and standards to maintain. We must find ways for common action today.

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

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