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World Humanitarian Summit: On the Front Lines for Action

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on May 21, 2016 at 10:22 PM


By René Wadlow

The World Humanitarian Summit organized by the United Nations (UN) will open on May 23, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. The aim of the conference in the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is to see what should be done “to end conflict, alleviate suffering and reduce risk and vulnerability.” Turkey is on the front lines of the consequences of armed conflict with nearly three million refugees from Syria and Iraq as well as its own attacks against Kurds. Turkey has entered into agreements with the States of the European Union concerning the flow of refugees through Turkey to Europe − agreements that have raised controversy and concern from human rights organizations.

Given the policies of the Turkish Government, some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have refused to participate in protest. Doctors Without Borders − one of the best-known of the relief organizations − has pulled out. However, the Association of World Citizens will participate while working for a settlement of Kurdish issues at the same time.


On June 28, 2015, rescued migrants being brought to southern Italian ports (C) Irish Defense Forces

As with all UN conferences, there has been a good deal of earlier discussion. These discussions within UN agencies, national governments, and NGOs have led to a synthesis document which sets out the agenda and the main lines for discussion in Istanbul. It is the Secretary-General’s report for the World Humanitarian Summit One humanity: shared responsibility. (A70/709). There is a useful overview of the current world situation of refugees, internally-displaced people and of people on the move to escape persistent poverty. There are also warnings about future displacement of people due to the consequences of climate change.

As the report highlights “The effort necessary to prevent and resolve conflict will be massive but can be broken down into sets of core actions. They include demonstrating courageous leadership, acting early, investing in stability and ensuring broad participation by affected people and other stakeholders.”

As with so many UN reports, there is a call for courageous political leadership and a mobilization of political will. If there were more courageous political leadership, we might not have the scope and intensity of the problems we now face. There is a limited amount that we can do to provide courageous political leadership at the national level. Rather we have to ask what can we do within NGOs in which we are active to resolve conflicts and deal with some of the consequences of the conflicts such as refugee flows.

I see three areas, outlined in the UN report as agenda items, that we can develop on a nongovernmental level. The UN report sets out the values that also guide our NGO actions. “To prevent and alleviate human suffering, to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human person − these are the most important humanitarian principles”.


Doctors Without Borders staff distribute take-home kits for Ebola survivors in Liberia (C) Morgana Wingard

The first issue for NGO action is to strengthen respect for the laws of war − now more commonly called Humanitarian Law. The recent and wide-spread attacks against medical facilities and medical personnel indicate an erosion of the laws of war. There is an urgent need to strengthen respect for the laws of war. This is an issue on which NGOs and the media can focus. Much humanitarian law has already been codified into the Geneva Conventions and other treaties. States which have not ratified should be encouraged to do so, but States must also be encouraged to live up to their word.

The second area is risk analysis and the publication of findings. All governments do a certain amount of risk analysis and contingency planning, especially the military. However, they make their findings public only when it serves their interests and States give little information as to how the analysis was made. NGOs along with academic institutions can provide analysis from open sources and indicate growing tension areas − what I have called “storm warnings”. For storm warnings to be effective, they need to reach as many people as possible and especially those in the path of the storm. International support for conflict resolution efforts must be made early and in a continuing way. If a storm does not break out quickly, it does not mean that the “storm-creating factors” have gone away and that attention can be put on other possible conflict areas. There need to be constant awareness of the way that tensions may form.

The third issue is training and preparation. There are a relatively large number of people working for (or having worked for) relief operations. They are able to set up tents, field kitchens, field clinics and water supplies. There may be need for more but there is not much room for innovation. However, teaching in refugee camps, dealing with longer-range psychological damage are areas where there is less experience and also less agreement as to what is to be done.

We can wish creative energies for the participants in the World Humanitarian Summit. Hopefully, the broad outline of actions necessary will be set, but the real work of all international conferences comes in the follow-up.

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

Frank Baum: The Father of the Wizard of Oz

In Being a World Citizen, Human Development, Women's Rights on May 15, 2016 at 3:38 PM


By René Wadlow


“Toto, we are not in Kansas any more …”

Frank Baum (1856-1916) whose birth anniversary we mark on May 15 is largely forgotten as a writer while his 1899 book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz lives on through the 1939 film with Judy Garland as Dorothy and references in essays to the Tin Woodman without a heart or Toto, Dorothy’s faithful dog.

The story begins as Dorothy and Toto are picked up from their farm in Kansas by a cyclone and carried into another world − the land of Oz. Dorothy wants to return to Kansas and is advised to consult the Wizard who lives in the Emerald City at the center of the Land of Oz. Dorothy and Toto set out on the Yellow Brick Road for the Emerald City. On the way they meet three companions, each of whom joins her in the hope that the Wizard of Oz will be able to give him what he lacks. The first is the Scarecrow whose head is of straw and wants some brains so he can think. The second is the Tin Woodman who wants a heart so he can love. The third is the Cowardly Lion, who should be the king of the forest, but this lion is afraid of everything. He wants courage so that he can act.

When they finally meet the Wizard of Oz, he turns out to be a human like Dorothy. He was a balloonist in Nebraska who worked in a circus, going up in the balloon to attract a crowd. One day a strong wind blew him all the way to Oz where the inhabitants took him to be a great wizard.

Frank Baum

Frank Baum

The Wizard of Oz has all the essentials of a myth. It is set in a perilous, enchanted land where the human protagonist is engaged in a quest. She faces great difficulties but is helped by extraordinary friends who are also on a quest. The three friendly helpers represent what they think they lack: intelligence, love, courage.

At the end, each finds within himself the qualities they are seeking. We each have within ourselves the qualities we seek. The myth is a metaphor for balancing energies at all levels. Just as the spiritual transformation of a person must be initiated from within, so too collective bodies such as the Emerald City must discover the inner power to balance their energies and transform themselves into more humane systems.

Both individuals and organizations can become whole only if they can balance intellect, emotions, and courage. Through this balance, individuals and organizations develop a sense of purpose, a direction for their quest. Many spiritual traditions emphasize the importance of balancing one’s energies as a means for spiritual growth, such as the Taoist Yin and Yang, thought of as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ energies. The balance must occur within each person who has both masculine and feminine qualities within. The balance must be initiated from within the person, but this inner response comes from contact with external forces − thus the adventures and crises of the Oz myth.

The Wizard of Oz.jpg

Frank Baum as a newspaper editor was a strong advocate of the rights of women, and his wife was very active in efforts for the right of women to vote. Thus, it is not surprising to find Dorothy as the central character of the story. She symbolizes all the various energies and forces of the story. She finds her personal balance resulting in her spiritual transformation and her ability to achieve her quest − to return ‘home’.

As with all myths, the story can be read at different levels. However, Frank Baum had a strong interest in Asian thought, and a spiritual reading of the myth is not adding something that was not consciously there.

The MGM film with its songs sung by Judy Garland is out as a CD and merits seeing or re-seeing.

“Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high …”

For a biography see: Katharine M. Rogers, L. Frank Baum. Creator of Oz. A Biography (New York: St Martin’s Press, 2002)
To place Oz in the broader context of U. S. myth-making, see Brian Attebery, The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1980)

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

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