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Sacco and Vanzetti: That Agony is Our Triumph

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Human Rights, NGOs, United Nations, World Law on August 23, 2019 at 9:02 PM

By René Wadlow

“If it had not been for these things, I might have lived out my life talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have died, unmarked, unknown, a failure. Now we are not a failure. This our career and our triumph. Never in our full life could we hope to do such work for tolerance, for justice, for man’s understanding of man as now we do by accident. Our words – our lives – our pain – nothing! The taking of our lives – lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler – all! That last moment belongs to us – that agony is our triumph.”

Letter of Bartolome Vanzetti (1888-1927) to Judge Webster Thayer who had condemned Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco (1891-1927) to death for the murder of a guard and the paymaster of the Slater and Morill Shoe Company in Braintree, Massachusetts on April 15, 1920.

Sacco and Vanzetti, along with a third member of the Italian anarchist group involved in the robbery were electrocuted at midnight on August 23, 1927, after seven years of legal proceedings and an organized social campaign to prevent the execution led by some of the leading intellectuals of the time, especially the novelist John Dos Passos. Some 200,000 persons attended the funeral, and there were demonstrations in front of United States (U. S.) embassies in many parts of Europe. Since then, Sacco and Vanzetti have been symbolic figures in efforts to abolish the death penalty.

Two aspects of the trials and legal procedures have stood out in the anti-death penalty debates. The first is that it is often difficult to have a trial that is not influenced by emotions and the political currents of the times.

Both Sacco and Vanzetti had been members of an anarchist network led by the Italian anarchist writer Luigi Galleani who was living for some years in the New York area. He edited a journal calling for violent revolution. He was deported to Italy in June 1919, but his journal continued for several years after that. In the minds of many in the U.S.A. there was a link between anarchy and Bolshevism which had just come to power in Russia in 1917. There were fears that Bolshevism would spread. Moreover, both Sacco and Vanzetti had left for Mexico in 1917 and changed their names to evade draft registration which had been introduced in 1917 when the U. S. jointed the First World War. The prosecutor in the murder trial used the Mexico flight to demonstrate their lack of patriotism. In Massachusetts, there was a general anti-Italian feeling, even if individuals were not anarchist but family-loving Roman Catholics.

The second element of the case used in anti-death penalty efforts is that people are executed who are later found to be not guilty of the crimes for which they were executed. Research on the case continued long after the executions. It is highly possible that Sacco was in fact involved in the robbery and may have used the weapon he had with him. Vanzetti was not involved but rounded up as a member of the same Italian anarchist group which had robbed the pay of other shoe companies as well.

Thus the possibility of a person from a minority group, of the lower class, at a time of fear and international violence being convicted and executed is higher than if a person is part of the majority, has money to get a good lawyer, and the world situation is calm.

Studies in a good number of countries indicate that the death penalty has little impact on the rate of violent crimes. Thus, the Association of World Citizens has worked with others, especially in the United Nations bodies for the abolition of the death penalty.

Since the end of World War II, there has been a gradual abolition of the death penalty. In some countries, executions have been suspended in practice but laws allowing executions remain. In other countries, there has been a legal abolition. The abolition of executions and the corresponding valuation of human life are necessary steps in the development of a just world society.

Here’s to you, Nicola and Bart …

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

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International Humanitarian Law, Constant Challenges, NGO Responses

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Human Development, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on August 12, 2019 at 8:38 AM

By René Wadlow

August 12 is the anniversary of the signing of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Protocols Additional are central instruments of International Humanitarian Law. The Geneva Conventions, are also often called the Red Cross Conventions as the International Committee of the Red Cross is the institution which is to promote and protect the articles of the Conventions, although the Convention opens the door to other organizations “which offers all guarantees of impartiality and efficacy.”

The 1949 Geneva Conventions were drawn up in light of the violations of earlier international humanitarian law during the Second World War. The first Geneva Convention was drawn up in 1864, the time of the birth of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The aims of the ICRC were set out at the time: the development and universalization of humanitarian law and as a neutral go-between in armed conflicts, enabling contact to be maintained between combatants. There could also be a role to serve as an intermediary between victims and States, reminding States of their obligations towards those victims.

The Geneva Conventions have evolved as the nature of armed conflicts has evolved. The 1977 Protocols Additional were drawn up by a diplomatic conference held in Geneva in light of the experiences of the war in Vietnam, the greater number of conflicts that could be called “civil wars” and the greater use of armed militias which were not regular military forces. In the 1977 discussions, there was greater awareness of the conditions of refugees, already protected by the international refugee agreements but also a growing awareness of persons displaced within the country, a pattern which has grown.

Closely related to the Geneva Conventions is a second tradition of international humanitarian law, what may be called “the Hague Tradition” growing out of the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907. This tradition places its emphasis on banning the use of certain types of weapons. The 1925 Geneva Convention prohibiting the use of poison gas was a direct result of poison gas use in World War I. Since then, there has been a treaty banning the use of land mines, of cluster munitions, and a wider ban on chemical weapons.

There are two other sources or traditions in the development of international humanitarian law. One is respect for human rights provisions as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the conventions which followed focused on different aspects of the Universal Declaration. While the provisions of the Universal Declaration are to be upheld at all times, there are highly visible and wide-spread violations during armed conflicts. Thus the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights (become the Human Rights Council) became concerned with situations of armed conflicts.

Palmyra, the ancient city in Syria, much of which has been destroyed by both the ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS) and the Syrian Arab Army of the Assad regime.

The fourth tradition is the development of the 1936 Roerich Peace Pact to protect cultural heritage during armed conflicts. The 1936 Pact, signed at the White House in Washington, D.C. was a Pan-American Union Treaty. Its provisions served as the basis of the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Goods with UNESCO as the official body for its safeguard. The 1954 Treaty has been progressively enriched by the development of UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage sites. The International Criminal Court has recently condemned a person for his role in the destruction of UNESCO Cultural Heritage sites in northern Mali, West Africa.

These traditions of international humanitarian law have been highlighted in a number of United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolutions such as that on Basic Principles of Protection for Civilian Populations in Time of Armed Conflict, Resolution 2625 (1971).

Thus, the provisions of international humanitarian law are well developed and cover many issues that are likely to arise in armed conflicts. There are two major challenges for their respect. One is that the provisions of international humanitarian law are not well known, neither by the military nor by possible victims. Thus, education concerning international humanitarian law is necessary. During the 1969-1971 Nigeria-Biafra War, I had been a member of an ICRC working group as the Nigeria-Biafra war was the first war among Africans without a colonial power being involved. There were many violations during the war, including the use of starvation as a military policy. After the end of the war, the need for teaching international humanitarian law was obvious. I helped in the preparation of a textbook using African examples that the Red Cross used fairly widely in Africa. The teaching of international humanitarian law in the context of local cultures and values is still a vital challenge.

The second and more important challenge is that international humanitarian law is not respected even when its provisions are known. The current conscious violation of international humanitarian law including some of the oldest provisions – not attacking medical facilities or not shooting prisoners – has been widespread in armed conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and elsewhere. More than preparing handbooks for the military and the militias is needed.

The Association of World Citizens has been stressing the need for a UN-led world conference on the reaffirmation of international humanitarian law in which governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and armed factions could participate. The degree of respect for humanitarian standards is far from satisfactory, as has been repeatedly pointed out. However, for the moment, there has not been the needed momentum. Such a momentum is likely to arise only from NGOs. The August 12 anniversary is a reminder that we need to work creatively before major wars not afterwards.

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

Hiroshima Anniversary Day: Developing a Nuclear-weapon Abolition Strategy

In Asia, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Human Rights, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, United States, World Law on August 6, 2019 at 8:16 PM

By René Wadlow

“Just prior to the May 2010 Review Conference on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), Ban Ki-moon, then Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) said, “Everyone recognizes the catastrophic danger of nuclear weapons. Just as clearly, we know the threat will last as long as these weapons exist. The Earth’s very future leaves us no alternative but to pursue disarmament. And there is little prospect of that without global cooperation … Momentum is building around the world. Governments and civil society groups, often at odds, have begun working in the common cause. All this work reflects the priorities of our member states, shaped in turn by public opinion. Those who stand with us share the vision of a nuclear-free world. If ever there were a time for the world’s people to demand change, to demand action beyond the cautious half measures of the past, it is now.”

Thus, governments and civil society groups, often at odds on other questions, might be able to set out a strategy for progress toward a nuclear-weapon-free world. There has always been an ebb and flow of popular interest in eliminating nuclear weapons from the world, and currently, there seems to be a rising tide of activity. Men who did little to curb nuclear weapons when they were in power are now saying that something should be done: ‘The only sure way to prevent nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism and nuclear war is to rid the world of nuclear weapons.’ Since peace-making depends on coalition building, we cannot belittle these new-found friends.

There have always been at least two major aspects of nuclear issues — the one is to prevent the proliferation to new states, the other is to reduce the number of warheads among the existing nuclear-weapon states.

A strategy which has influenced popular action on nuclear weapons has been whether to place an emphasis on the goal of total abolition or on partial steps such as the ratification of the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. Those working for partial measures have always said that abolition was the ultimate aim, but in practice, the partial measures always became the focus of action. I recall that when I was in college, I used to walk to relax and would meet from time to time Albert Einstein walking from his office to his nearby home. I would say ‘Good Evening, Prof Einstein, and he would reply ‘Good Evening, Young Man’. Although I had no idea then or now what his theories were about, I knew that they had something to do with atoms, and he had come out early for nuclear control. ‘One World or None’ was the slogan of the late 1940s. Einstein’s final appeal shortly before his death was the Russell-Einstein Manifesto (1955) with its call to think “not as members of this or that nation, continent or creed, but as human beings”.

When I used to see Einstein, I was already active on the partial measures of the time — an end to testing nuclear weapons in the atmosphere. I had followed the lead of Senator Estes Kefauver who was the first United States (U. S.) political leader to attack actively nuclear testing. As Kefauver had taken on the link between politics and organized crime, he could take on also the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission which was deaf to all calls to prevent nuclear fallout from entering the food chain. It took till 1963 to get the tests to move below ground, but the mid-1950s nuclear testing campaign was the entry point of my generation into nuclear issues.

Senator Estes Kefauver

I tend still to stress limited steps within the framework of regional settlements of disputes. There seems to me to be three opportunities to press ahead:

1.

The first and easiest because it involves only two states without major conflict issues is a reduction in the number of nuclear warheads of the USA and Russia — the number of 1,000 each seems to be on the table. It is still too many and strategic thinking in the two countries is not very clear what they are for, but this is a case where ‘fewer is better’, so let us push for this sharp reduction while we try to see what role the USA and Russia can usefully play in the world society, as well as reducing tensions between them.

2.

The second opportunity is for a nuclear-weapon free zone in the Middle East. The elimination of Israeli nuclear weapons and no nuclear-weapon development in Iran would help reduce Middle East tensions. Mohammed El Baradei, former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been calling for this Middle East nuclear weapon free zone for some time. However, there will have to be strong popular pressure for such a zone as neither the Israeli nor the Iranian government seems to be moving fast in the direction.

3.

The third opportunity for non-governmental suggestions is to participate in the preparations for the 2020 Review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The Review conferences held every five years have been the most favorable to Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) of the arms control negotiations. I had chaired the NGOs attending the 1975 and 1980 reviews and with the help of Ambassador Garcia Robles of Mexico, the NGOs had the ability to distribute proposals and to interact fully, though not to address the conference. Our proposals were widely discussed and even presented by one government as its own. At the 1980 review when no government text could be agreed upon, the NGO draft, largely written by Homer Jack, an active world citizen, was seriously discussed at a midnight meeting of the Conference Bureau, but wording was not the real issue. After the 1985 Review, which nearly went down in flames thanks to charges and outer-charges between Iraq and Iran, at that time in war, I gave up, having repeated too often the Preamble and Article VI. which hold out the promise of a disarmed world under effective international control and stresses that “in accordance with the Charter, States must refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force.”

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

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