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International Day of Friendship

In Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Foundations for the New Humanism, Human Development, Human Rights, United Nations on July 30, 2015 at 7:23 PM

INTERNATIONAL DAY OF FRIENDSHIP

By Rene Wadlow

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly established in 2011 July 30 as the International Day of Friendship. The Day was to be a continuation of the themes of dialogue and mutual understanding proposed in the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World (2001-2010). I had been active in getting the General Assembly resolution voted, building on the earlier Year of the Culture of Peace. My effort, backed by UNESCO which had been at the start of the concept of a “culture of peace”, was to add the word “nonviolence” to make the concept still clearer. Then, some of us wanted a focus on children because who can be against doing things for the benefit of children. It turned out during the negotiations prior to the introduction of the resolution that the UK and the USA were against the whole concept but were pushing the idea that “we are already doing enough for children by supporting UNICEF”.

Finally, in light of wide support for having such a Decade, the UK and the USA backed off although they had made a strong try to get “nonviolence” out of the title. There was still some debate as to the wording of the Decade. A colleague in New York called me in Geneva about the debate over the title. I replied that “the title was too long for public relations reasons, but it was not up to NGO representatives to suggest cuts. Let the governments do as they want for the title as long as they vote the resolution by consensus.” The governments kept all the words, voted the resolution by consensus and then did very little else. Both peace and nonviolence did not standout strongly during the 2001-2010 decade.

At the end of the Decade, there was a need to continue the spirit, and “friendship” could be seen to combine peace and nonviolence. Thus we now have a yearly International Day of Friendship.

The idea of an International Day of Friendship had been first developed in the 1930s in the USA by the president of a well-known company which made Christmas cards, Birthday cards, and cards to send on Mother’s Day. He suggested that everyone send cards to their friends and even people they did not know indicating the joys of friendship and the need to keep ties active and strong.

For a few years, there was a certain active interest, but then it looked too much like a commercial venture for his company to sell cards. In the middle of the summer, there were no other Days to celebrate, so a Day of Friendship could be a form of sales promotion. By the end of the 1930s and the start of the Second World War, the idea of an International Day of Friendship celebrated by sending cards had disappeared.

Now, however, we live in a different period of time than in the 1930s. Although there are still many world tensions and local wars as in the Middle East, the idea of friendship among all the peoples of the world could become a real force for cooperation.

Emails and the Internet can spread the idea that friendship is the basis of freedom in the world as it elevates the spirit. Friendship is as a ray of light coming from the burning core of the soul. Friendship can be a kind of love, a happy feeling when sharing a secret.

Paper still has its uses, and one can write a short text on the importance of friendship within the family, the school, neighborhood, nation and the world and send it to friends known and not yet known. 30 July, a day to renew and deepen friendships.

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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The Trial of Hissène Habré: An Advance for World Law

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on July 21, 2015 at 10:18 PM

THE TRIAL OF HISSENE HABRE: AN ADVANCE FOR WORLD LAW

By René Wadlow

The trial of Hissène Habré, former President of Chad, which opened in Dakar, Senegal, on July 20 marks a new step in transnational law. Habré will be tried in a specially constituted court created by a treaty between the African Union and the State of Senegal. The court is modeled on the statutes of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, but is to deal only with cases concerning Africans. It will be important to see if this new African court will be a one-time-only institution for the Habré trial or if it becomes a permanent institution of world law.

The ICC has been criticized by some African leaders as being overly focused on Africans. Arrests and arrest warrants have been issued nearly exclusively against Africans. What is not mentioned in polite company is that Africa is the only continent where state institutions have totally disappeared − Somalia, Central African Republic, Libya − or where vast areas of a State are not under the control of the central government: the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the northeast areas of Nigeria. In addition, there are a good number of African States where the court system is so under the control of the executive that “fair trials” are out of question.

Thus, if African leaders were reluctant to see the ICC take on new African cases, an “all-African” alternative had to be created, even if it is nearly identical in the types of crimes to be judged and the way that evidence is to be collected. The judges in Dakar have already interviewed some 2,500 persons even before the trial started.

Not even the fact that the current Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, is an African from the nation of Guinea could silence critics who claim the ICC has been exerting racial bias against suspects from Africa, a most unfounded charge in our view. (C) EPA/Evert-Jan Daniels dpa  +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Not even the fact that the current Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, is an African from the nation of Guinea could silence critics who claim the ICC has been exerting racial bias against suspects from Africa, a most unfounded charge in our view. (C) EPA/Evert-Jan Daniels – Bildfunk

Hissène Habré is a sad case of an intelligent man blinded by his quest for power and then for holding on to power. In this process he destroyed large segments of ethnic groups who he suspected of wanting power. He also had killed any potential rivals, even those who had shown no opposition. It is estimated that in his eight years of power, some 40,000 persons were killed, some in the military campaigns against ethnic groups, but also some 4,000 political figures killed individually in jails and specially-designed torture centers. In his very last days in power in December 1990 as the forces of his general Idriss Deby were moving to overthrow him, he had 300 persons in jail killed as a last gesture. His very last gesture, however, was to take all the money available in the Treasury with him into exile in Senegal − money which has allowed him to live well and to contribute to the well-being of Senegal political figures.

Hissène Habré is a member of the Toubou ethnic group in northwest Chad. His intelligence was spotted by his teachers, and at the independence of Chad in 1960, he was given an important post in the provincial government at age 18. After two years of administration, he was selected to go to France for university studies in law and development economics. He even has a diploma in federalist-decentralization studies so he had heard that there were ways of dealing with ethnic minorities other than by killing them. Habré spent 9 years in France, mostly in Paris, and has the equivalent of two Master’s degrees in law and development economics.

In 1972, he returned to Chad but rather than becoming a government administrator, he joined a militia band that was trying to overthrow the government, and then formed his own militia group. Habré had been deeply influenced by the example and writings of Che Guevara and saw power as coming from “the people in arms.” He first attracted international, especially French, attention by taking hostages. The most famous − if unclear case − is taking the woman anthropologist Francoise Claustre hostage from 1974 to 1977. What makes the case unclear is the Habré and Claustre knew each other as students in Paris, and there was some talk that the hostage-taking was a common plot to get money out of the French government. The French military officer sent to negotiate her release was murdered by Chadian government officials, but Claustre was later released.

By 1978, Habré and his troops had become powerful enough that he was named Prime Minister. He learned his way around the administration, and in June 1982 he overthrew the then President Goukouni Oueddei and became President. Habré abolished the post of Prime Minister. He wanted no rivals in sight and until December 1990 ruled ruthlessly, helped by his security organization: Direction de la Documentation et de la Sécurité (DDS). His repressive administrative practices were hardly secret. However his administration was heavily supported by the governments of France and the USA as a barrier to the expansion of Colonel Qaddafi’s Libya.

Hissène Habré, then President of Chad, and his French counterpart François Mitterrand on the doorsteps of the Elysée Palace in Paris, France on October 21, 1989. Habré was then an African head of state to be reckoned with; now he is a suspect in the dock of an African court and can no longer run away from his deeds. (C) Reuters/Christine Grunnet

Hissène Habré, then President of Chad, and his French counterpart François Mitterrand on the doorsteps of the Elysée Palace in Paris, France on October 21, 1989. Habré was then an African head of state to be reckoned with; now he is a suspect in the dock of an African court and can no longer run away from his crimes. (C) Reuters/Christine Grunnet

In 1973, Libya had claimed and then occupied a strip of land − the Aouzou Strip − on the frontier between the two countries. Modern State frontiers have little meaning to the nomadic tribes of that area and so the frontier had never been well delimited. However, there were fears that Qaddafi wanted to annex all of Chad and had expansionist aims toward other countries of the Sahel. Hissène Habré was willing to give a free hand to the CIA which tried to create an anti-Qaddafi military force from captured Libyan soldiers. Since the CIA was willing to pay large amounts of money to set up its training bases, Habré had no objection, especially as the area occupied by Libya was of no particular interest or support to him.

French aid was more obvious. French soldiers were sent as a mark of support to the Habré government. Each time that French troops were sent as security for the capital, Habré could use his own troops to attack minority areas. Thus in 1983 French troops, code named “Manta” landed, and in 1984 Habré’s troops attacked the Sara population of south Chad. In 1986, French troops, code named “Epervier” (“Sharp-shinned Hawk”) landed and in 1987 Habré’s troops attacked the Hadjarai tribes: this pattern went on through 1989 and the attacks against the Zaghawa tribes.

By 1990, one of Habré’s generals, Idriss Deby said “Why not me?” and with some troops loyal to him overthrew Hissène Habré. Deby is still President of Chad and his troops are the most battle-tested of African armies, now busy helping the Nigerian army against Boko Haram on the Nigeria-Chad frontier.

In 1987 Ronald Reagan, the then President of the United States, welcomed Hissène Habré to the White House during his official visit to America. (C) Jean-Louis Atlan/Sygma/Corbis

In 1987 Ronald Reagan, the then President of the United States, welcomed Hissène Habré to the White House during his official visit to America. As President of Chad, Habré was never short of powerful allies in the West; today, as he faces punishment for his deeds, he stands alone. (C) Jean-Louis Atlan/Sygma/Corbis

Since 1990, Habré has lived a comfortable but low profile life in Dakar. However victims and their families from his years of rule have cried for revenge (or at least justice). Different avenues to bring Habré to trial have been used, especially a universal jurisdiction law of Belgium which held that persons accused of certain crimes such as crimes against humanity, war crimes, systematic torture, no matter where committed, could be tried in a Belgium court. This Belgium law has since been revoked but not before evidence on the Chadian case could be presented to the Belgium judges.

Evidence concerning torture and the killing of potential opponents by Habré’s security forces was carefully collected under the driving energy of Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch. Habré had friends among the governing elite of then President of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, who protected him so that no trial could take place. However, with the new President of Senegal, Macky Sall, in power and the accumulation of evidence, the African Union and Senegal felt that something had to be done. Thus, the creation of the special court and the start of the trial. It is unlikely that new facts will be uncovered. Habré’s government was fairly open in its repression. The degree of active support of France and the USA will probably be pushed under the rug. Yet the trial merits watching closely. There are still other African dictators, some retired, others still in power. What impact will the trial and the court have on the rule of world law?

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

UN Human Rights Council Reaffirms the Safeguards for Civilians in Times of War

In 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 July 5, 2015 at 7:33 PM

UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL REAFFIRMS THE SAFEGUARDS FOR CIVILIANS IN TIMES OF WAR

By René Wadlow

“Accountability for breaches of international humanitarian law and for human rights violations, as well as respect for human rights, are not obstacles to peace, but rather the preconditions on which trust and, ultimately, a durable peace can be built.”

– Navanethem Pillay, then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2009.

On July 3, 2015, the concluding day of its summer session, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council welcomed the report of the “Gaza Conflict Commission of Inquiry” which indicated that the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups may have committed war crimes during the Israeli “Operation Protective Edge” campaign. 47 member States of the Human Rights Council voted in favor of the resolution, 5 States abstained: Kenya, Ethiopia, Macedonia, India and Paraguay; the USA was the only Member State to vote against the resolution.

The Gaza Conflict Commission of Inquiry was led by the New York Judge Mary McGowan Davis with Doudou Diène of Senegal, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism (2002-2008), as the other ranking member. The Commission was to study the legal implications of an earlier UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict. The Commission was not established to evaluate the results of the Fact-Finding Mission which had largely confirmed the death tolls provided by the Gaza Hamas administration, some 2,250 Palestinians killed of which 1,462 civilians. Rather the Commission had the task of setting out the world law applications of the facts collected earlier.

Judge Mary McGowan Davis (left) and Doudou Diène (right).

Judge Mary McGowan Davis (left) and Doudou Diène (right).

Thus the focus of the Commission was the “Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War” of August 12, 1949. The Geneva Conventions, for which the International Committee of the Red Cross is responsible, grew out of deliberations started in 1947 in the shadow of the abuses of the Second World War. By 1949, the negotiations among governments led to the 1949 Red Cross Conventions. The emphasis was on the principles of protection and not on the punishment of wrong doers. The International Committee of the Red Cross is not an international court. It bases its protection efforts on the belief that all sides in a conflict have an interest to follow the laws of war as its soldiers or civilians could meet the same fate. If there is to be any action on trials and punishment, such trials should be done in national courts.

From 1974 to 1977, as a result of the war in Vietnam, there were subsequent laws of war negotiated to cover “civil wars” − wars within a State where the parties involved may not be States. (1)

Today, however, there is the International Criminal Court which can investigate as well as having the mandate to hold court trials and pass judgment. Investigations and trials can also be carried out at the national level. The Israeli argument has always been that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) can and does carry out investigations and that there is a functioning national court system. The Hamas-led administration of Gaza makes the same argument.

Unfortunately, both Israel and Hamas have dismal records of investigating their own forces. I am unaware of any case where a Hamas fighter was punished for deliberately shooting a rocket into a civilian area of Israel − on the contrary, some Hamas leaders repeatedly praise such acts. While Israel has carried out investigations into alleged violations by its forces, the emphasis has been on the unauthorized actions of individual soldiers, not on policy makers. Yet the Gaza Conflict Commission stressed that “military tactics are reflective of a broader policy approved at least tacitly by decision-makers at the highest levels of the Israeli government.”

A demonstrator raises the Palestinian flag during a July 2014 rally in Paris against the Israeli attack on Gaza. (C) AWC/Bernard J. Henry

A demonstrator raises the Palestinian flag during a July 2014 rally in Paris against the Israeli attack on Gaza. (C) AWC/Bernard J. Henry

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) active in UN human rights bodies, including the Association of World Citizens, have long stressed the importance of fact-finding carried out by the UN, intergovernmental bodies such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and NGOs themselves. (2)

There are now two follow-up steps set out by the Human Rights Council resolution:

1) A request is made that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (and thus the Secretariat) prepare a report on implementation measures;

2) A recommendation that the UN General Assembly take up the matter “until it is satisfied that appropriate action is taken to implement its recommendations.”

The Israeli government has replied angrily to the resolution, the Israeli Ambassador to the UN in Geneva calling it an “anti-Israeli manifesto” and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying “the UN Human Rights Council cares little about the facts and less still about human rights.”

Rather, I would say that the resolution is an important procedural advancement in the respect of world law in times of conflict. In the past, there have been UN-authorized fact-finding missions with the reports going directly to discussion in the UN Commission on Human Rights (as it was then) and then to the UN General Assembly. With the Gaza Conflict Commission of Inquiry we have a useful intermediary step. First there is a fact-finding effort as close in time to the events as possible to interview victims, to see the physical damage and to interview the military and other combatants. Such fact-finding is done, as it were “in the heat of the action”.

In late July 2014 Gazan doctors saved the life of little Shaima, an unborn child, by extracting her from the womb of her mother who was killed in an Israeli airstrike. Two days later, the Israeli Air Force destroyed the sole existing power plant in Gaza, thus stopping Shaima’s life support system and eventually killing the baby too.

In late July 2014 Gazan doctors saved the life of little Shaima, an unborn child, by extracting her from the womb of her mother who was killed in an Israeli airstrike. Two days later, the Israeli Air Force destroyed the sole existing power plant in Gaza, thus stopping Shaima’s life support system and eventually killing the baby too.

Then there is a calm, legal review of the fact-finding reports. In the past when I have been present at debates on fact-finding reports in the Commission on Human Rights, the debates were anything except calm and legal. They were political exchanges which reflected the evaluations of the original conflict. In this case of the Gaza Commission, we have an orderly presentation of facts, avenues to strengthen protection, and suggestions on the role of the International Criminal Court. There is no guarantee that the discussions in the next UN General Assembly will be calm and focused on legal procedures, but at least there will have been this useful intermediary step.

As things now stand, world law is not created by the decisions of a world parliament. World law is basically the “common law of mankind”’ based on small advances. Usually the first step is to set out the basic values in widely agreed-upon texts such as the Red Cross Geneva Conventions. This is followed by a recognition that there are repeated violations of these values in the practice of war, the torture of individuals, massive aggression against minorities. After repeated violations, there is the very slow realization that such violations are not acceptable and if nothing is done, the values themselves will be permanently undermined.

We are now at this last stage as concerns Gaza. The repeated bombings of the Gaza Strip do not bring peace, security or socioeconomic development. In fact, each bombing campaign creates a more difficult situation. It is not a function of world law to say what socioeconomic-political measures should be taken, though as NGO representatives we can and have made suggestions. The function of world law is to set out clearly the value basis of the law, to set out fair procedures to deal with possible violations and ultimately to see if there can be sanctions or punishment for wrong doers.

I believe that we still have many miles to go on the path for the respect of world law, but I believe that the direction is now set.

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

Notes

1)      See Hilaire McCoubrey and Nigel White, International Law and Armed Conflict (1992)

2)      See B. G. Ramcharan (ed), International Law and Fact-Finding in the Field of Human Rights (1983)

For NGO Fact-finding, see Hans Tholen and B. Verstappen, Fact-Finding Practice of Non-Governmental Organizations (1986)

July 4, 2015: World Citizen Declaration of Inter-Dependence

In Being a World Citizen, Foundations for the New Humanism, Human Development, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, World Law on July 4, 2015 at 8:20 PM

JULY 4, 2015: WORLD CITIZEN DECLARATION OF INTER-DEPENDENCE

By René Wadlow

In 1776, progress for humanity required the first act of decolonization as leaders in the English colonies of North America consciously broke the bonds with the colonial English government. In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was a positive act to affirm human dignity in opposition to an English government dominated by a small aristocratic class and a King who represented these narrow economic and class interests.

In 2015, as Citizens of the World, we affirm the unity of humanity, the impossibility of cutting bonds with others.  Thus we re-affirm the inter-dependence of humanity.

Today, world progress moves from affirming U. S. citizenship as separate from England in 1776 to affirming world citizenship in 2015.

Next stop: Inter-dependence!

A milestone in world history. Next stop: Inter-dependence!

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

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