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June 26: Anniversary of the Signing of the UN Charter

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on June 26, 2015 at 6:24 PM


By René Wadlow

June 26 is the anniversary date of the signing of the Charter of the United Nations (UN) in San Francisco in 1945. While “UN Day” is usually celebrated on October 24, when the UN Charter came into force after the ratification by States and especially the needed ratification by the five permanent members of the proposed Security Council, it was June 26 that the UN Charter was presented to the world.

As a friend noted, “I prefer to celebrate the birth and not the baptism”. Thus for this June 26, we will look at two reports which outline challenges facing the emerging world society, and the role that the UN should play.

Dumbarton Oaks: A New Beginning – With Old Recipes

The UN Charter was largely written by a small number of persons − largely Americans and Englishmen − meeting during September 1944 at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC. For readers not living in Washington, Dumbarton Oaks is a large house and estate in a then calm part of Washington where those drafting the Charter could meet quietly, leading to the little poem written at the time:

“A plan for peace, in war, evokes

Few Yeas, and perfect floods of Buts

Yet the original Dumbarton Oaks

Were also, at the start, just nuts.”

The Dumbarton Oaks proposals were largely based on the structure of the League of Nations but with a larger role of the “Great Powers” such as the “veto” power in the Security Council to guarantee USA participation and that of the USSR which had been expelled from the League. Since the presentation of the Charter in 1945, there have been criticisms and proposals for reforms and revisions. In August 1945, Milton Mayer, an active member of the Campaign for World Government and a journalist working closely with the University of Chicago-based Committee to Frame a World Constitution wrote “If San Francisco, embodying, as it does, all that is wrong with the world, not only embodying it, but sanctifying it, if San Francisco is the best we can get, are we so old, and sad and hopeless, that we have to accept it as the best we can get?”

In response to criticisms, the UN Charter provided that a Review conference on the Charter would be put on the Agenda 10 years after the Charter’s coming into force − that is in 1955. With the end of the Korean War in 1953, there began an intense discussion of UN Charter revision during 1954 and the first half of 1955. In practice, neither the US nor the Soviet Union wanted a discussion of the Charter so the issue was “swept under the rug” in exchange for a USA-USSR agreement to allow a number of States whose entry to UN membership had been blocked by Cold War rivalries to gain membership. However, the issue of Charter revision was still a hot topic in 1955-1956.

Let the Voice of NGOs Be Heard At Last

My first efforts as a Nongovernmental Organization (NGO) representative at the UN were in 1955, when there was a tenth anniversary session in San Francisco. Many of the 1945 “founding fathers” returned, some like the Soviet Foreign Minister V. Molotov still in power. We NGOs had a rich documentation of possible reforms for the UN system, thought possible as the end of the Korean War had produced a short-lived “Cold War calm”. The Fall of 1956 with the revolts in Hungary and the English-French-Israeli attack on Egypt and the Suez canal put an end to the brief “era of good feelings”, and academic research shifted from UN reform to the nature of “limited war.”

However, for the 70th anniversary this June, two useful reports have been issued: the Commission on Global Security, Justice and Governance led by Madeleine Albright, former United States (U. S.) Secretary of State and Ibrahim Gambari, former Foreign Minister of Nigeria and former UN Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, issued their report Confronting the Crisis of Global Governance (1) At the same time, the UN-created High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, led by Jose Ramos Horta, former President of Timor-Leste, issued its recommendations stressing that “Primacy of politics means that lasting peace is achieved through political solutions and not through military and technical engagements alone. Political solutions must guide all UN peace operations.”

Left to right: Madeleine Albright, Ibrahim Gambari, and Jose Ramos Horta.

Both reports are worth reading as a reflection of current thinking. Personally, I was glad to find no new ideas. If there had been ideas and proposals that I had not heard before, I would have had the impression of getting old and being “out of things”. Rather, what is striking in both reports is the emphasis given to the crucial role of NGOs, now usually called by the larger but less clear term of “civil society”.

Both reports highlight the trend toward greater openness to the participation of NGOs in world policy processes and in the implementation of programs. Both governments and the UN increasingly recognize the importance of having more diverse voices at the table and especially “on the ground”. The Commission on Global Security report is structured around what it sees as the three crucial challenges facing the emerging world society: State fragility, climate governance and the stewardship of the world economy. As the report states “Global governance is a mix of bilateral informal multilateral, and treaty-based relations among states increasingly influenced by non-state actors’ interests and activities.”

The report recognizes that any reforms of UN structures is difficult − basically impossible − because the system works “well enough” to suit most governments and that most governments are not willing to risk major changes in the world society because of unknown consequences. Therefore change and improvements will come only through forceful and coordinated efforts from the non-state sector. In the “non-state sector” the report places NGOs in consultative status with the UN, currently some 4,000 NGOs, the 2,000 largest business firms, most of which are active in more than one State, and the 750 largest cities which increasingly have trans-frontier impacts.

Both the Commission and the High-Level Independent Panel consulted NGOs, but the NGO views are not presented as such. For the moment, it is difficult to speak of a common NGO view, especially if we need to integrate the views of transnational corporations and city administrations. NGOs come in all shapes and sizes, and some seek UN accreditation for domestic reasons and do not really participate in UN activities. The reports set out the challenges well. The next step is to develop a broad understanding among NGOs of these challenges and of the steps which they can undertake collectively − an appropriate birthday present.

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

Le 20 juin, Journée Mondiale des Réfugiés

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Solidarity on June 19, 2015 at 10:07 PM


Par René Wadlow

Dans un rapport en date du 18 juin 2015 du Haut Commissariat des Nations Unies pour les Réfugiés (HCNUR), il est écrit qu’il existe aujourd’hui dans le monde quelques soixante millions de personnes déplacées par la guerre, la violence et la persécution. Un réfugié est forcé de le devenir, il ne l’est pas à la naissance. Ce sont les régimes politiques répressifs et les conflits qui fabriquent des réfugiés.

Le rapport de l’HCNUR cite la Syrie, l’Afghanistan et la Somalie comme des situations de première importance, ainsi que les réfugiés du Myanmar. Cependant que les événements qui déclenchent des fuites massives de réfugiés sont spécifiques à chaque contexte particulier où ils se produisent, certaines caractéristiques communes à tous n’en demeurent pas moins apparentes. La cause la plus immédiate de la fuite des réfugiés est dans la majorité des cas une menace imminente sur leur vie, leur liberté et leur sécurité. L’expulsion délibérée d’un groupe ethnique peut également être en soi l’objet du conflit qui les amène à fuir.

Des déplacés syriens marchent dans le camp d'Atme, le long de la frontière turque dans la province d'Idib, au nord-ouest de la Syrie, le 19 mars 2013. (C) BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

Des déplacés syriens marchant dans le camp d’Atme, le long de la frontière turque dans la province d’Idib, au nord-ouest de la Syrie, le 19 mars 2013. (C) BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

Le nombre ahurissant des personnes déplacées de chez elles représente un défi majeur pour la société mondiale émergente. Les Nations Unies et leurs Etats membres ne sont pas en mesure de faire face de manière appropriée à ce flux sans cesse croissant et se tournent donc de plus en plus vers les organisations non-gouvernementales en demandant leur implication pleine et entière.

En tant que Citoyens du Monde, nous savons que nous devons travailler sur les causes premières des déplacements forcés, ainsi que sur l’intégration des réfugiés dans les sociétés qui les accueillent. Personne ne peut faire comme s’il s’agissait là d’une tâche facile. Celle-ci appelle la bonne volonté et l’engagement sur tous les plans de toutes et tous.

Le Professeur René Wadlow est Président et Représentant en Chef auprès de l’Office des Nations Unies à Genève de l’Association of World Citizens.

June 20: World Refugee Day

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Solidarity on June 19, 2015 at 9:51 PM


By René Wadlow

In a June 18, 2015 report of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), it is stated that there are some 60 million people who have been displaced by war, violence, and persecution.  Refugees are made, not born. They are made by repressive political regimes and conflicts.

The UNHCR report cites Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia as crucial situations as well as the refugees from Myanmar.  While the events that trigger refugee outflows are specific to each particular setting, certain common characteristics are apparent.  The immediate cause of flight is in most cases an imminent threat to life, liberty and security.  The deliberate expulsion of an ethnic group may be the object of the conflict itself.

Syrian internally displaced people walk in the Atme camp, along the Turkish border in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, on March 19, 2013. The conflict in Syria between rebel forces and pro-government troops has killed at least 70,000 people, and forced more than one million Syrians to seek refuge abroad. (C) BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

Syrian internally displaced people walk in the Atme camp, along the Turkish border in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, on March 19, 2013. (C) BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

The staggering number of people displaced from their homes represents a major challenge to the emerging world society. The United Nations and its member governments are not able to deal adequately with this ever-increasing flow and so are turning more and more to non-governmental organizations to participate fully.

As citizens of the world, we know that we must work on the root causes of displacement as well as the integration of refugees into their new society.  No-one can pretend that these efforts are easy.  They require the good will and the comprehensive engagement of us all.

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

Omar al-Bashir: As a Thief in the Night

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on June 19, 2015 at 9:39 PM


By René Wadlow

In what was almost a “Pinochet moment” in South Africa, a South African nongovernmental organization (NGO), Southern African Litigation Centre, requested a South African court to serve two International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants against President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan. The South African Supreme Court issued an order that al-Bashir not leave South Africa until the Supreme Court had been able to decide on the validity of the request. Al-Bashir had been in Johannesburg, South Africa, to participate in the yearly Summit of the African Union (AU). Al-Bashir left by his governmental jet on June 13 before the Supreme Court was able to meet.

The ICC arrest warrants of 2009 issued by a panel of three judges contains seven charges including crimes against humanity, murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture, rape, attacks against civilian populations and pillaging. The through examinations of the evidence presented by the then Chief Prosecutor of the ICC confirmed the statements which NGOs, including the Association of World Citizens (AWC), had been making to the United Nations (UN) human rights bodies in Geneva since early 2004.

The charges against al-Bashir concern the conflict in Darfur which began in 2003 and not the 1982-2005 civil war between north and south Sudan which led to the creation of a separate State of South Sudan in 2011. The 1982-2005 civil war was the second half of a civil war which had started in 1954 on the eve of the independence of Sudan which was granted in 1956. The 1954-1972 war was stopped when a ceasefire largely organized by the World Council of Churches came into force. Unfortunately, the ten years of “non-war” were not used to deal with the basic issues of the structure of the State and the need for regional autonomy in light of the cultural-ethnic differences within the State. Thus in 1982 the civil war started again during which there were many violations of the laws of war (now usually called humanitarian law). The north-south civil war violations are not part of the ICC charges which concern only the Darfur conflict.

It was Baltasar Garzon, a Spanish judge, who in 1998 urged the United Kingdom to arrest Chile’s former military ruler Augusto Pinochet while he was on British soil, hoping to make him accountable for his deeds as leader of the country’s brutal military dictatorship from 1973 to 1989. Although the British government eventually allowed Pinochet to return to Chile without being prosecuted, the case did set a precedent in international law against enduring impunity for human rights violators. (C) AFP

Darfur (the home of the Fur) was always marginal to the politics of modern Sudan. In the 19th century, Darfur, about the size of France, was an independent Sultanate loosely related to the Ottoman Empire. Darfur was on a major trade route from West Africa to Egypt and so populations from what is now northern Nigeria, Niger, Mali and Chad joined the older ethnic groups of the area: the Fur, Massalits, Zaghawa, and the Birgit.

France and England left Darfur as a buffer zone between the French colonial holdings − what is now Chad − and the Anglo-Egyptian controlled Sudan. French-English rivalry in West Africa had nearly led earlier in the 1880s to a war. Thus a desert buffer area was of more use than the low agricultural and livestock production would provide to either colonial power. It was only in 1916 during the First World War when French-English colonial rivalry in Africa paled in front of the common German enemy that the English annexed Darfur to the Sudan without asking anyone in Darfur or in the Sudan if such a ‘marriage’ was desirable.

Darfur continued its existence as an environmentally fragile area of Sudan. It was marginal in economics but largely self-sufficient. Once Sudan was granted its independence in 1956, Darfur became politically as well as economically marginal. Darfur’s people have received less education, less health care, less development assistance and fewer government posts than any other region.

In 2000, Darfur’s political leadership and intellectuals met to draw up a ‘Black Book’ which detailed the region’s systematic under-representation in the national government since independence. The ‘Black Book’ marked the start of a rapprochement between the Islamists and the secular radicals of Darfur which took form three years later with the rise of the more secular Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Islamist-leaning Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). However, at the level of the central government, the ‘Black Book’ led to no steps to increase the political and economic position of Darfur. This lack of reaction convinced some in Darfur that only violent action would bring about recognition and compromise as the war with the South had done.

Members of the Sudanese Liberation Army in Susuwa, north Darfur. (C) Candace Feit/Reuters

Members of the Sudanese Liberation Army in Susuwa, north Darfur. (C) Candace Feit/Reuters

The two Darfur groups, SLA and JEM, in 2002 started to structure themselves and to gather weapons and men. Their idea was to strike in a spectacular way which they hoped would lead the government to take notice and to start wealth-sharing negotiations. Not having read the ‘Little Red Book’ of Mao, they did not envisage a long drawn-out conflict of the countryside against the towns of Darfur. By February 2003, the two groups were prepared to act, and in one night attacked and destroyed many of Sudan’s military planes based at El Fasher. The Sudan military lost in one night more planes than it has lost in 20 years of war against the South.

However, the central government’s ‘security elite’ − battle hardened from the fight against the South but knowing that the regular army was over-extended and tired of fighting − decided to use against Darfur techniques that had been used with some success against the South: to arm and to give free reign to militias and other irregular forces.

Thus the government armed and directed existing popular defense forces and tribal militias. Especially the government also started pulling together a fluid and shadowy group, now called the Janjaweed (“the evildoers on horseback”). To the extent that the make-up of the Janjaweed is known, it seems to be a collection of bandits, of Chadians who had used Darfur as a safe haven for the long-lasting insurgencies in Chad and the remains of Libya’s Islamic Forces which had once been under the control of the Libyan government but left wandering when Libyan policy changed.

A member of the murderous, death-sowing Janjaweed militia of Sudan. (C) Sudan Tribune

A member of the murderous, death-sowing Janjaweed militia of Sudan. (C) Sudan Tribune

The Sudanese central government gave these groups guns, uniforms, equipment and indications where to attack by first bombing villages but no regular pay. Thus the Janjaweed militias had to pay themselves by looting houses, crops, livestock, by taking slaves and raping women and girls. Village after village was destroyed on the pretext that some of the villagers supported either the SLA or the JEM; crops were burned, water wells filled with sand. As many people as possible fled to Chad or to areas thought safer in Darfur. The current situation in 2015 in Darfur remains complex and will be described in a later article.

The crimes which the ICC investigated and issued the arrest warrants concern the earlier 2004-2005 period. Although the SLA and the JEM have now divided into numerous armed groups, the type of violations of the laws of war continue and are about the same. There is a certain irony that the crimes cited by the ICC were less the work of the Sudanese Army which is more or less under the command of al-Bashir than of the Janjaweed. However, al-Bashir as President is responsible for all activities in Sudan.

President al-Bashir of Sudan may have escaped arrest and prosecution in South Africa, but now he is warned: Whatever country he may visit in the near future, he is no longer guaranteed to freely fly back to Sudan afterward and avoid answering for his crimes back home.

President al-Bashir of Sudan may have escaped arrest and prosecution in South Africa, but now he is warned: Whatever country he may visit in the near future, he is no longer guaranteed to freely fly back to Sudan and avoid answering for his crimes back home.

For the moment, the ICC has dropped active involvement in the al-Bashir case due to the impossibility of an arrest and a trial. Al-Bashir proclaimed that the recent dropping of the case was the same as being declared “innocent” but it is not. He had no doubt checked with the South African government what its policy would be in practice if he went there for the AU Summit. He must have been told that all the police in South Africa have a blind eye and would not see him coming or going. The government did not expect an NGO action or the Supreme Court order. But the South African police all do have a blind eye, and as a thief in the night, al-Bashir returned to Sudan.

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

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