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June 21: A Day of Balance and Harmony

In Being a World Citizen, The Search for Peace on June 21, 2017 at 8:43 AM

JUNE 21: A DAY OF BALANCE AND HARMONY

By René Wadlow

 

Our earth is a small star in the great universe

Yet of it we can make, if we choose, a planet

Unvexed by war, untroubled by hunger or fear,

Undivided by senseless distinctions of race, color, or theory.

-Stephen Vincent Bennet.

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The twenty-first day of June, the Summer Solstice, is in many cultures the cosmic symbol of balance and harmony: balance between light and dark, between the universal and the local, between giving and receiving, between women and men, and between our inner and outer worlds. History records humanity’s preoccupation with the sun’s annual cycle. Sites such as Stonehenge in England are thought to have been erected specifically to trace the path of the sun through the heavens.

The sun has always had symbolic meaning. As that most ancient Sanskrit prayer, the Gayatri tells us, the sun is a disc of golden light giving sustenance to the universe, and Plato used the image of the sun to represent the idea of the One, the Good. In the age of the Old Kingdom in ancient Egypt, the concept of harmony, order, and balance were personified by the goddess Ma’at, the winged woman who replicated on earth, the celestial balance of order and beauty.

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There is an old tradition attributed to Hermes Trismegistus and the Emerald Tablet which says, “That which is below is like that which is above, and that which is above is like that which is below.” Thus, the cosmic growth of light should be reflected in our lives in greater light, greater awareness, greater understanding.

June 21 is a day of recognition of the world-wide increase of light which destroys ignorance. It is a day in which we celebrate illumination as it dispels darkness. It is a day during which we can all recognize the growth of greater consciousness and concern for the common good. Therefore, the Association of World Citizens stresses cooperation and visions of a better future. Harmony and balance include tolerance, acceptance, equality and forgiveness of past pains and conflicts.

Due to the efforts of those with a world vision, people throughout the world are recognizing their responsibility to each other and are attempting to revolve ancient and entrenched global problems. Today, we see a new spirit of cooperation as we move toward a cosmopolitan, humanist world society. We see a growing spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation, and dialogue. We are one human race, and we inhabit one world. Therefore, we must see the world with global eyes, understand the world with a global mind, and love the world with a global heart.

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

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June 20: World Refugee Day

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Europe, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Migration, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on June 20, 2017 at 8:19 AM

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JUNE 20: WORLD REFUGEE DAY
By René Wadlow

June 20 is the United Nations (UN)-designated World Refugee Day marking the signing in 1951 of the Convention on Refugees. The condition of refugees and migrants has become a “hot” political issue in many countries, and the policies of many governments have been very inadequate to meet the challenges. The UN-led World Humanitarian Summit held in Istanbul, Turkey on May 23-24, 2016 called for efforts to prevent and resolve conflicts by “courageous leadership, acting early, investing in stability, and ensuring broad participation by affected people and other stakeholders.”

If there were more courageous political leadership, we might not have the scope and intensity of the problems that we now face. Care for refugees is the area in which there is the closest cooperation between nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the UN system. As one historian of the work of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has written “No element has been more vital to the successful conduct of the programs of the UNHCR than the close partnership between UNHCR and the non-governmental organizations.”

Refugee Rights Protest at Broadmeadows, Melbourne

The 1956 flow of refugees from Hungary was the first emergency operation of the UNHCR. The UNHCR turned to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the League of Red Cross Societies which had experience and the finances to deal with such a large and unexpected refugee departure and resettlement. Since 1956, the UNHCR has increased the number of NGOs, both international and national, with which it works given the growing needs of refugees and the increasing work with internally displaced persons who were not originally part of the UNHCR mandate.

Along with emergency responses − tents, water, medical facilities − there are longer-range refugee needs, especially facilitating integration into host societies. It is the integration of refugees and migrants which has become a contentious political issue. Less attention has been given to the concept of “investing in stability”. One example:

The European Union (EU), despite having pursued in words the design of a Euro-Mediterranean Community, in fact did not create the conditions to approach its achievement. The Euro-Mediterranean partnership, launched in 1995 in order to create a free trade zone and promote cooperation in various fields, has failed in its purpose. The EU did not promote a plan for the development of the countries of North Africa and the Middle East and did nothing to support the democratic currents of the Arab Spring. Today, the immigration crisis from the Middle East and North Africa has been dealt with almost exclusively as a security problem.

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Za’atari, Jordan. The biggest refugee camp in the world.

The difficulties encountered in the reception of refugees do not lie primarily in the number of refugees but in the speed with which they have arrived in Western Europe. These difficulties are the result of the lack of serious reception planning and weak migration policies. The war in Syria has gone on for six years. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, not countries known for their planning skills, have given shelter to nearly four million persons, mostly from the Syrian armed conflicts. That refugees would want to move further is hardly a surprise. That the refugees from war would be joined by “economic” and “climate” refugees is also not a surprise. The lack of adequate planning has led to short-term “conflict management” approaches. Fortunately, NGOs and often spontaneous help have facilitated integration, but the number of refugees and the lack of planning also impacts NGOs.

Thus, there is a need on the part of both governments and NGOs to look at short-term emergency humanitarian measures and at longer-range migration patterns, especially at potential climate modification impact. World Refugee Day can be a time to consider how best to create a humanist, cosmopolitan society.

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

Alexander Solzhenitsyn: To the very essence of everything

In Uncategorized on June 19, 2017 at 9:41 PM

ALEXANDER SOLZHENITSYN: TO THE VERY ESSENCE OF EVERYTHING

By René Wadlow

 

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I want to push through

To the very essence of everything:

Straight to the core of days gone by,

To what made them,

To the foundations, to the roots,

The heart of the matter.

 

Boris Pasternak

 

In Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s most autobiographical novel The First Circle, a diplomat says “A great writer is, so to speak, a second government. That is why no regime anywhere has ever loved its great writers, only its minor ones.” The writer as the conscience of the people has a long tradition in Russia both in Czarist and Soviet times. Turgenev was compelled to live much of his life abroad, and many of his works were suppressed. Chekhov felt this duty of public conscience so strongly that, even though suffering from tuberculosis, he insisted on making a long journey to the Sakhalin Islands to report on the conditions of exiles there. Leo Tolstoy was regularly censored and finally excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church which banned any prayers at his funeral.

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In 1974, Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Soviet Union and found shelter in the house of German writer Heinrich Böll in Cologne, (then West) Germany. (C) Dutch National Archives

Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s father Isai was a follower of Tolstoy. As David Burg and George Feifer point out “Tolstoyism was a kind of nonchurch religion propounding that the kingdom of God resides within each human soul, and that the way to a true knowledge of Christ and to salvation was through individual conscience and love rather than the strictures of an organized church. Tolstoy preached moral betterment by means of restricting human appetites and simplifying life; his ultimate goal was to transform the whole of Russia, including the intelligentsia into a community of peasants satisfying their own basic needs through manual work on their own land. Tolstoyism was one of the country’s most popular ideological movements at the turn of the century and reached its crest with Tolstoy’s death in 1910.” (1)

Alexander Solzhenitsyn whose birth anniversary we note on June 18 never knew his father who died of a hunting accident six months before his birth. However, Solzhenitsyn’s mother shared her husband’s Tolstoyian views and passed on the values to her son. She never remarried so as to be able to care for her son. Although Leo Tolstoy is not mentioned by name, his ideas are strongly evident in Solzhenitsyn’s Letter to Soviet Leaders of September 1973, his last effort to speak truth to power before being deported from the Soviet Union in February 1974. The letter was published in Paris in Russian and then in English from London in 1974. (2) Solzhenitsyn calls upon the Soviet leaders “So let us come to our senses in time, let us change our course!” Recalling Tolstoy indirectly he wrote “They hounded the men who said that it was perfectly feasible for a colossus like Russia, with all its spiritual particularities and folk traditions, to find its own particular path.”

Much of the letter is devoted to warning against unrestrained industrial growth. “Economic growth is not only unnecessary but ruinous. We must set ourselves the aim not of increasing national resources, but merely of conserving them. We must renounce, as a matter of urgency, the gigantic scale of modern technology in industry, agriculture and urban development (the cities of today are cancerous tumors). The chief aim of technology will now be to eradicate the lamentable results of previous technologies.” He went on to stress “We need to heal our wounds, cure our national body and national spirit. Let us find the strength, sense and courage to put our own house in order before we busy ourselves with the cares of the whole planet. And once, again, by a happy coincidence, the whole world can only gain by it…The village, for centuries the mainstay of Russia, has become its chief weakness. For too many decades we have sapped the collectivized village of all its strength, driven it to utter despair.”

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Solzehnitsyn addressing the media as he left his longtime home in Cavendish, Vermont in 1994, finally returning home to his native Russia.

It was Solzhenitsyn’s novels and his documentation of the lives of people in the Soviet prison system which brought him to world attention and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. His first short novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was published in the Soviet Union, but his other novels and the monumental Gulag Archipelago were published from Western Europe. It was his own years spent in prison camps and forced exile in Central Asia which focused his sense of mission and his drive to awaken the Russian people to the inhumanity which the Soviet regime had wrought.

As Leopold Labedz wrote “like other major novelists, Solzhenitsyn makes his own experience the center of his literary work and the point of departure for its symbolic significance. The concentration camp and the cancer ward are for him places in which to reflect not just on the problems presented by extreme situations, but on the wider questions of Soviet reality and of our epoch, of good and evil, in short of la condition humaine. Like other great novelists he is uncompromising in his attitude to truth and he restores to Russian literature the moral universalism which had been lost during the Stalin era. His writing is philosophical in the traditional sense; with its complexity and sense of tragedy; it is the antithesis of the shallow optimism and vulgar sociologism which under the sign of ‘socialist realism’ has for so many years dominated Soviet prose writing.” (3)

Solzhenitsyn spent 18 years in forced exile in rural Cavendish, Vermont. When he returned to post-Soviet Russia in 1994, he often wrote and spoke in a tone considered pessimistic, deploring crime, corruption and a decline of spiritual values. Some saw these remarks as nationalistic. They are better seen in the spirit of Leo Tolstoy, highly critical of the current situation but calling for reforms through a strong inner light and a confidence in the strength of the rural population.

Notes

David Burg and George Feifer, Solzhenitsyn (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1972, 371pp.)

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Letter to Soviet Leaders (London: Index on Censorship, 1974, 59pp.)

Leopold Labedz (Ed.)., Solzhenitsyn: A Documentary Record (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1972, 264pp.)

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

Battle for Raqqa: Protests needed on violations of humanitarian law

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on June 16, 2017 at 9:06 AM

BATTLE FOR RAQQA: PROTESTS NEEDED ON VIOLATIONS OF HUMANITARIAN LAW

By René Wadlow

The battle for Raqqa, a symbolic city for the Islamic State or, under its Arabic acronym, “Daesh” (ISIS/DAESH) in Syria is underway with ever-increasing dangers to civilian populations caught in the cross-fire of ISIS/DAESH and the advancing Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by air strikes of the United States (U. S.)-led coalition.

The United Nations (UN) Secretariat has raised an alarm concerning the fate of families held by the ISIS/DAESH forces for possible use as “human shields” in the battle for the city of Raqqa held by ISIS/DAESH since 2014. The use of civilians as “human shields” is a violation of the laws of war set out in the Geneva Conventions. ISIS/DAESH leaders have been repeatedly warned by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which, by treaty, is responsible for the respect and application of the Geneva Conventions.

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Infantry soldiers with the Syrian Democratic Forces patrolling the Raqqa countryside in December 2016. (C) VOA

In addition to the families which have been rounded up or are prevented from leaving, there are a large number of children trapped in the city and who may be used in military ways, either to fight or as suicide bombers.

The danger from the disintegrating ISIS/DAESH is that there are no longer the few restraints that existed among some of the ISIS/DAESH leadership for the laws of war. As troops have drawn closer to Raqqa, they have found mass graves with both soldiers and civilians killed. One of the fundamental aspects of the laws of war is the protection of prisoners of war. Once a person is no longer able to combat, he must be treated as a prisoner and no longer a combatant. Not killing a prisoner is a core value of humanitarian law, and ISIS/DAESH has deliberately violated this norm.

There is a real danger that, as the “caliphate” disintegrates and no longer controls territory, ISIS/DAESH will increase terrorist actions and deliberate violations of the laws of war. The Association of World Citizens has stressed that the laws of war have become part of world law and are binding upon States and non-State actors even if they have not signed the Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Additional Protocols. Therefore, the Association of World Citizens (AWC) calls for the re-affirmation of humanitarian international law. The AWC calls to the soldiers and militia members in armed conflicts to refuse orders to violate international law by refusing to use weapons outlawed by international treaties such as chemical weapons, land mines, cluster munitions and white phosphorus munitions. We must defend all who use their individual conscience to refuse to follow orders to violate humanitarian international law

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Fighters with the YPG Kurdish units and the SDF near the Euphrates east of Raqqa. (C) VOA

World law does not destroy violence unless it is bound up with an organized, stable and relatively just society. No society can be stable unless it is broadly based in which all sectors of the population are involved. Such stability does not exist in either Syria or Iraq. However repeated violations of the laws of war will increase the divide among groups and communities.

Only by a wide public outcry in defense of humanitarian law can this danger be reduced. These grave violations by ISIS/DAESH and others must be protested by as wide a coalition of concerned voices as possible. The time for action is now.

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

Let My Children Go: World Efforts to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor

In Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Human Development, Human Rights, International Justice, NGOs, Social Rights, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, Women's Rights on June 11, 2017 at 12:10 AM

LET MY CHILDREN GO: WORLD EFFORTS TO ELIMINATE THE WORST FORMS OF CHILD LABOR

By René Wadlow

June 12 is a red-letter day on the United Nations (UN) agenda of events as the World Day Against Child Labor. It marks the June 12 arrival in 1998 of hundreds of children in Geneva, part of the Global March against Child Labor that had crossed a hundred countries to present their plight to the International Labor Organization (ILO).

“We are hurting, and you can help us” was their message to the assembled International Labor Conference which meets each year in Geneva in June. One year later, in June, the ILO had drafted ILO Convention N° 182 on Child Labor which 165 States have now ratified — the fastest ratification rate in the ILO’s history.

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ILO Convention N°182 sets out in article 3 the worst forms of child Labor to be banned:

  1. All forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory Labor, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;
  2. The use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;
  3. The use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties;
  4. Work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

The Convention is supplemented by a Recommendation: the Worst Forms of Child Labor Recommendation N° 1999, which provisions should be applied in conjunction with the Convention: “Program of Action (article 6): Among other issues, the situation of the girl child and the problem of hidden work situations in which girls are at special risk are explicitly mentioned; Hazardous work (article 3(d)): In determining the types of hazardous work, consideration should be given, inter alia, to work which exposes children to physical, psychological or sexual abuse.

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The ILO building in Geneva, Switzerland

The ILO is the only UN organization with a tripartite structure, governments, trade unions and employer associations are all full and equal members. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) within the UN system as a whole played an important role in highlighting children working in circumstances that put their physical, mental and social development at risk, children working in situations where they are exploited, mistreated and denied the basic rights of a human being. Today, millions of children, especially those living in extreme poverty, have no choice but to accept exploitative employment to ensure their own and their family’s survival. However, the ILO is the UN agency most directly related to conditions of work. Thus, the ILO has often been an avenue for ‘unheard voices’ to be heard, usually through the trade union representatives; more rarely the employer representatives have played a progressive role.

Child Labor and the increasing cross-frontier flow of child Labor did not have a high profile on the long agenda of pressing Labor issues until the end of the 1990s. At the start of the 1990s, there was only one full-time ILO staff member assigned to child Labor issues; now there are 450, 90 percent in the field.

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Child Labor was often hidden behind the real and non-exploitative help that children bring to family farms. However, such help often keeps children out of school and thus outside the possibility of joining the modern sector of the economy. The ILO estimates that of some 200 million Child Laborers in the world, some 70 percent are in agriculture, 10 percent in industry/mines and the others in trade and services — often as domestics or street vendors in urban areas. Globally, Asia accounts for the largest number of child workers — 122 million, Sub-Saharan Africa, 50 million, and Latin America and the Caribbean, 6 million. Young people under 18 make up almost half of humanity, a half which is virtually powerless in relation to the other half. To ensure the well-being of children and adolescents in light of this imbalance of power, we must identify attitudes and practices which cause invisibility.

Statistics are only one aspect of the story. It is important to look at what type of work is done and for whom. The image of the child helping his parents on the farm can hide wide-spread bonded Labor in Asia. Children are ‘farmed out’ to others for repayment of a debt with interest. As the interest rates are too high, the debt is never paid off and ‘bonded Labor’ is another term for a form of slavery.

In Africa, children can live at great distances from their home, working for others with no family ties and thus no restraints on the demands for work. Girls are particularly disadvantaged as they often undertake household chores following work in the fields. Schooling for such children can be non-existent or uneven at best. There is often a lack of rural schools and teachers. Rural school attendance is variable even where children are not forced to work. Thus, there is a need for better coordination between resources and initiatives for rural education and the elimination of exploitative child Labor.

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There is still a long way to go to eliminate exploitative child Labor. Much child Labor is in what is commonly called the non-formal sector of the economy where there are no trade unions. Child Labor is often related to conditions of extreme poverty and to sectors of the society where both adults and children are marginalized such as many tribal societies in Asia, or the Roma in Europe or migrant workers in general.

In addition to the worst forms of exploitative child Labor, there is the broad issue of youth training and employment. The challenges ahead are very much a youth challenge. The world will need to create millions of new jobs over the next decade in order to provide employment for the millions of new entrants into the Labor market in addition to creating jobs for the millions of currently unemployed or underemployed youth.

There needs to be worldwide Labor market policies that provide social protection measures, better training for an ever-changing work scene. World Citizens support the demands of decent work for all. We need to cooperate to build economies and societies where young persons participate fully in the present and the future.

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

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