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Letting the Soul of Europe Drown on the Shores of Libya

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Europe, Human Rights, Libya, Middle East & North Africa, Migration, NGOs, Refugees, Spirituality, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on July 26, 2021 at 6:15 PM

By Bernard J. Henry

Was Libya ever a part of the 2011 Arab Spring? If the term defines solely the ouster of a dictator who had been there for decades, yes, it was. After 41 years of autocratic rule, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was irreversibly overthrown. If the Arab Spring also means the transformation of nonviolent protests into all-out armed conflict, then again, Libya qualifies as a people’s revolution, following the path successfully taken by Tunisia, that ended up as a civil war between the Jamahiriya, ruled from Tripoli by Gaddafi, and the Qatar-backed National Transitional Council based in Benghazi. Ultimately, if it means frustration at the outcome of the fight, then Libya was indeed a part of the 2011 Arab Spring, remembering how unbearably long it took the rival factions there to create a Government of National Unity, after years of competition between two, sometimes three, would-be national leaders.

Another way that Libya – tragically – qualifies as part of the 2011 Arab Spring is the ever-growing phenomenon of harraga. In Algerian Arabic, harrag means “the one who burns something”, and in Algeria where French is an unofficial second language, overlooking a red light while driving a car is “brûler un feu rouge”, literally “burning a red light”. When harrag thus refers to anyone breaching a legal restriction, its plural harraga has come to mean “those who burn the border” – migrants who leave the country without permission, either from their home government or the authorities of the country they are traveling to, in both cases risking their very lives.

One reason the West reacted sometimes coolly to the end of decades-long dictatorships in North Africa was that, while in power, Ben Ali, Gaddafi, and Mubarak enforced strict regulations on migration to the northern bank of the Mediterranean, keeping their respective peoples away from both personal freedom and European border posts altogether. The fall of each of the three regimes meant the end of a controlled emigration that used to suit European needs nicely, and ten years later, one of the three countries stands out as the most graphic and tragic embodiment of the harraga phenomenon – Libya.

Yet Libyans do not make up the bulk of those vowing to reach Europe at any cost. Those vowing to reach Europe from Libya are migrants and refugees from other countries in Africa, with some foreign residents who had lived in Libya for many years but are now feeling insecure and want to move on abroad. Others still, coming from Niger, Chad, Sudan, Egypt, and Tunisia, do want to settle down in Libya. But for those whose destination is Europe, when failure does not come by drowning into the Mediterranean, it means a fate some would deem even worse.

Inhumanity in the name of the European Union

According to a report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), North Africa is now offering three routes for migration to Europe – the Western Route from Morocco into Spain, the Eastern Route from Turkey into Greece, and the Central Route from Libya into Italy. Unsurprisingly, the Central Route is the most active, preferred by many refugees and migrants. They come from West, East, and Central Africa, some of them fleeing extreme poverty back home and the others running from war and persecution. Although Europe has the oldest and best-functioning human rights court in the world, nostalgic as it is of its unenviable dictator friends in North Africa, it will not lift a finger to help these people yearning for the freedom and dignity that Europeans enjoy them every day.

In a newly released report entitled ‘No One Will Look for You’: Forcibly Returned from Sea to Abusive Detention in Libya, Amnesty International explains how “men, women and children intercepted while crossing the Mediterranean Sea and forcibly returned to detention centers in Libya” get subjected to an array of human rights violations in detention centers, such as “torture and other ill-treatment, cruel and inhuman detention conditions, extortion and forced labor” as well as “invasive, humiliating and violent strip-searches”, when not rape.

The organization sheds light on the role played since 2020 by the Libyan Government’s Directorate for Combating Illegal Migration (DCIM) in sexual abuses against women.

But, in the words of Amnesty’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Diana Eltahawy, “The report also highlights the ongoing complicity of European states that have shamefully continued to enable and assist Libyan coastguards in capturing people at sea and forcibly returning them to the hellscape of detention in Libya, despite knowing full well the horrors they will endure.” Consequently, Amnesty urges “European states to suspend cooperation on migration and border control with Libya”.

Blocking unauthorized migration from North Africa to Europe was one thing, when many in Western countries deemed Arab peoples unable to sustain democracy, thus supporting dictators who both reined in their constituents at home and deterred them from seeking a better life, let alone freedom, abroad. Ten years later, as a stifled democracy proves unable to protect Tunisia from a deadly wave of Covid-19 and Egypt appears locked in an absolute monarchy in all but name, Libya has set a course on the abandonment of all standards of human decency, not just in the treatment of prisoners but in knowingly punishing people just for seeking a new life on the other side of the Mediterranean.

The European ideal betrayed

It is no secret that European leaders, however progressive and opposed to extreme right populists they claim to be, have long renounced any form of firmness toward these. No more dismissing the far right by comparing it to pre-World War II fascist movements; its trademark xenophobic rhetoric has now become trendy. Leaders who once blasted the extreme right can now be heard calling for tighter border controls, making life harder for those immigrants who do get admitted, and demoting asylum from an internationally recognized right to a temporary commodity granted at the pleasure of the state.

Denmark, once hailed as a model Scandinavian social democracy with a liberal line of thought, is now considering sending Syrian refugees back to their war-torn homeland and “outsourcing” other asylum-seekers to Rwanda, a distant central African country with no geographical, historical, or other ties to Denmark whatsoever. In Britain, Home Secretary Priti Patel has proposed a host of nonsensical, dangerous measures to keep undocumented migrants and asylum seekers from reaching the country, such as the creation of an offshore processing center in … Rwanda. Not the finest tributes to the scores of Rwandans trying to flee the ongoing genocide back in 1994 one might think of.

Once conservative, moderate, liberal, or progressive democrats, the leaders of Europe have now joined the extreme right if only in its crusade to spread an insane fear of millions of Arab and African Muslim migrants taking over Europe, replacing the European Convention on Human Rights with the Sharia, imposing the Islamic veil on all women, and flogging to death anyone who swallows a drop of alcohol. So much for the European dream of Konrad Adenauer and Winston Churchill, Frenchmen Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, and Italians Alcide de Gasperi and Altiero Spinelli – the latter’s name being part also of the history of the World Citizen and World Federalist movements.

As the motto of the European Union (EU) shifts from “United in Diversity” to “Freedom within, Fortress without”, Libya stands out as the most graphic, horrendous illustration of EU duplicity in championing human values at home, especially when opposing a Donald Trump in the USA or brutal leaders in China and Nicaragua, while condoning the total loss of humanity in North Africa where Libyan government agents keep its borders safe from – imagined – hordes of invaders poised to feast on Europe’s riches and force an Al-Qaida- or ISIS-like reactionary vision of Islam on all Europeans. That too is a sign, possibly the most important one, that when it comes to migration, European leaders are now being guided by the extreme right’s ideology, pretending to use facts but being really based on fantasy.

Europe must continue to stand for hope

It is no fantasy that people are dying at sea while trying to reach Europe. It is no fantasy that others, also trying to reach Europe through the Mediterranean, are getting caught by the Libyan authorities and forcibly brought back to the country. It is no fantasy that, held in detention centers even though they have no crime to answer for, people are ill-treated, beaten, raped, all but killed, just because they tried to get to Europe. It is no fantasy that as many blatant violations of the European Convention on Human Rights are being committed while the EU, at best, turns a blind eye and, at worst, lends its support.

Regional integration as Europe has known it since World War II, including EU expansion after the end of the Warsaw Pact, cannot be allowed to result in such barbarity. Setting such a bad example will only be detrimental to the ongoing experiments toward regional integration in other parts of the world, obviously starting with Africa. Ultimately, the very idea of World Citizenship will be endangered too, should some raise the possibility of supranational integration, and accordingly global governance of any kind, leading to such brutal, inhuman conducts of that nature with literally nowhere to run.

Europe as we know it was born among the ruins of World War II. Neither its regional institutions nor its national governments, let alone its governmental partners overseas, can possibly let it drown on the shores of Libya, where its leaders from Rome up to Copenhagen are making the EU lose all honor, letting down both those in Libya hoping for a better future and their own citizens at home by nurturing them in fear when they should be taught pride, courage, and solidarity, both toward one another and with others in distress at the doorsteps of the Union.

Bernard J. Henry is the External Relations Officer of the Association of World Citizens.

Il faut sauver Le Kef, la ville au cœur de la Tunisie qu’on oublie

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, Track II, United Nations on July 18, 2021 at 8:21 AM

Depuis un an et demi, la pandémie de Covid-19 ravage la terre entière. Le coronavirus ne connaît aucune frontière, il se moque des limites entre États-nations tracées par l’être humain, il frappe partout où il le peut, comme il veut, quand il veut. Dans nombre de pays, les mesures-barrières préconisées par l’Organisation mondiale de la Santé sont appliquées de manière stricte : port du masque, distanciation physique, lorsque ce ne sont pas confinement et couvre-feu. Dans d’autres pays, hélas, les dirigeants ont choisi, pour de pures raisons politiques, d’ignorer le danger, et dans de tels pays, le peuple l’a payé cher mais aussi, bien souvent, les chefs d’État eux-mêmes.

En Tunisie, la première vague du début d’année 2020, causée par la souche originelle de Wuhan, avait été gérée de manière raisonnable. Aujourd’hui, le variant Delta submerge le système de santé, dépourvu d’équipement et de personnel, jusqu’aux vaccins de tous types, créant ainsi une véritable catastrophe sanitaire nationale et offrant à la Tunisie le triste record du taux de mortalité lié à la Covid-19 sur tout le continent africain.

A travers le monde, Tunis a fait appel à sa diaspora. Celles du Canada, de Belgique et de France ont répondu présentes. Mais pour tout le soulagement que leur aide apporte au pays, leur seule intervention sera loin de suffire pour sauver la Tunisie de ce péril imminent.

Et quand bien même. Pour l’heure, l’aide apportée se concentre sur les grandes villes de la Tunisie, que ce soit Tunis la capitale ou Kairouan, Sousse, Hammamet, les grandes villes mais aussi celles que l’étranger connaît le mieux, celles que les touristes aimaient visiter avant la pandémie.

Le monde sait qu’il faut soigner la Tunisie qu’il connaît. C’est bien. A présent, il lui faut soigner aussi la Tunisie qu’on oublie.

Au premier rang des villes oubliées du secours, il y a Le Kef, cette ville de montagne adossée à l’Algérie. Déjà oubliée de Tunis depuis même l’ère Bourguiba, aujourd’hui, Le Kef se débat avec une situation sanitaire devenue intenable. Le seul hôpital de la ville est submergé de patients qu’il ne peut traiter, et face au variant Delta, les mesures de restriction devenues habituelles que sont confinement et couvre-feu ne suffiront pas.

Tant de la diaspora que des autorités sur place, une mobilisation en oxygène et en vaccins au moins égale à celle en faveur des grandes villes est indispensable au Kef. Recueillir de l’aide en masse est bien sûr essentiel, mais sans une répartition équitable, jamais cette aide ne sera suffisante. Ecarter une partie du pays de la solidarité internationale ne pourra qu’avoir des conséquences incalculables. Les blessures ainsi causées s’avéreront sans nul doute encore plus longues et difficiles à soigner que la pandémie. Déjà aux prises avec un héritage introuvable de la révolution de 2011, la Tunisie prend peut-être la direction d’un chaos qui aura raison y compris de la raison.

«Et quiconque sauve un seul homme, c’est comme s’il avait sauvé tous les hommes», dit le Coran. Les autorités politiques actuelles de la Tunisie sont venues au pouvoir en mettant l’Islam au cœur de leurs aspirations politiques. Pourquoi alors n’appliqueraient-elles pas ce principe ? Sauver tous les Tunisiens, n’est-ce pas d’abord sauver un seul Tunisien, quelle que soit la région du pays d’où il vient ?

Depuis le début de ce nouvel épisode de crise, les ambassades tunisiennes à travers le monde reçoivent et centralisent l’aide médicale et humanitaire. A présent, il appartient à leurs supérieurs à Tunis, à l’Etat dont ces diplomates tirent leurs ordres, de veiller à la bonne et due utilisation du soutien mondial à la Tunisie. Et ce soutien n’aura de valeur et d’efficacité que s’il n’oublie personne, notamment pas Le Kef, l’oubliée par excellence au cœur de sa montagne. S’il le chante avec ironie dans Noé, c’est au sens littéral que Tunis doit désormais entendre ces paroles de Julien Clerc :

«Il ne sauve rien,
Celui qui ne sauve pas tout»
.

* * *

Prof. René Wadlow
Président

Bernard J. Henry
Officier des Relations Extérieures

Cherifa Maaoui
Officier de Liaison,
Afrique du Nord & Moyen-Orient

A New Start for Stability in Libya

In Africa, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Libya, Middle East & North Africa, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations on February 17, 2021 at 10:21 PM

By René Wadlow

The 74 members of the Libya Political Dialogue Forum meeting in Geneva, Switzerland with the mediation of the United Nations, on February 5, 2021, announced the creation of a new executive authority for all of Libya. This interim unity government would lead the administration until national elections which are to be held on December 24, 2021. This interim executive authority has the mandate to fulfill the October 23, 2020 Ceasefire Agreement which calls for a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of all foreign fighters.

This new interim executive authority by its membership, tries to build a balance among the three geographic divisions of the country. It also tries to build on new faces which have been relatively not directly involved in the troubled situation since the 2011 end of the government of Muammar Qaddafi.

The new interim executive will have a three-person Presidency led by Mohammad Younes Memfi. He was born in 1958. He is an engineer and businessman from Misrata. He was educated in Canada and has not been directly involved in politics before. The other two members of the Presidency are Abdullah Hussein Al-Lafi, more involved in politics but not in the first ranks, and Mossa Al-Koni, an ethnic Tuareg from the south near the frontier with Mali. Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah will serve as Prime Minister under this new Presidency.

Mohammed Younes Memfi

There is still a long road ahead to create meaningful reconciliation among the divisions based on geography, tribal networks, and religious brotherhoods. At Independence in 1951, authority rested with King Sayyid Idris (1890-1983), the leader of an important Islamic Brotherhood who remained more concerned with religious reforms than with the structure of the government. (1)

When the military officers led by Colonel Muammar Qaddafi took power in a coup in September 1969, there was for a short time some discussion as to the forms that the government should take. Colonel Qaddafi wanted to do away with parliamentary government and representative elections in favor or people’s committees, a people’s congress and revolutionary committees – all held together by the ideological assumptions of his Third Universal Theory – a concept that embodied anti-imperialism, Arab unity, Islamic socialism and direct popular democracy. (2)

General Khalifa Haftar

Disagreements on the nature of the State had led to important divisions among the ruling circle, especially in 1975. However, all open discussions on the nature of the State, of the relations between State and society, of the place of tribes and of religious brotherhoods were considered subversive, in fact treason. In practice, but not in theory, decision-making was in the hands of Colonel Qaddafi, his family, friends, and tribal allies. (3)

Since the end of the Qaddafi government, the country has been largely divided into three unstable zones: The West with Tripoli as the main city, with a “Government of National Accord” led by Faiez Sarraj, an East around Benghazi, with the “National Libyan Army” under General Khalifa Haftar, and the south divided among many political, tribal factions.

However, both the West and the East contain different armed tribal groups, Islamic militias and armed groups linked to the exploitation of migrants, trafficking in arms and drugs. As the disorder dragged on, more and more outside States became involved to different degrees and in different ways: Russia, Turkey, Egypt, France, the USA and to some extent the African Union.

To what extent the new interim authority will be able to create public services, limit outside influences and create appropriate forms of government will have to be seen. Libya merits close attention.

Notes
1) For a useful analysis of Libyan governmental structures see J. Davis, Libyan Politics, Tribes and Revolution (London: I. B. Tauris, 1987)
2) See M. M. Ayoub, Islam and the Third Universal Theory: The religious thought of Muammar al Qadhdhafi (London: Kegan Pail, 1987)
3) See René Lemarchand (Ed), The Green and the Black, Qadhafi’s Politics in Africa (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988)

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

Ethiopia: Storm Clouds Getting Darker

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, Sudan, The Search for Peace on January 24, 2021 at 8:20 PM

By René Wadlow

In an earlier article on the armed conflict in Ethiopia “Storm Clouds Gather Over Ethiopia” I agreed with other observers of the situation that one knows when an armed conflict starts but not when it ends. There is always a real danger that violence spreads to other parts of the country and that neighboring States get involved. Now both dangers have taken form in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is a federal republic structured on the basis of 10 states or provinces. The provinces have the name of the major ethnic group within that province. However, no province is populated exclusively by one ethnic group. Through history and economic development people have moved to areas beyond their original “homeland”. However, people from a “foreign” ethnic group can be made to feel as “second class citizens”, and there may be violence used against them in times of tensions.

A neighborhood in Tigray

Thus, in the far west of Ethiopia, there is a small province called Benishangul-Gumuz, named after two ethnic groups, the Berta and the Gamuz. However, there are three other ethnic groups which also consider the area as their “homeland”. The area has good farmland and is a major producer of vegetables. Thus, Amhara farmers from the larger neighboring Amhara province have progressively settled in Benishangul-Gumuz. Tensions over land use has grown between the Amhara farmers and the dominant Gumuz. At the same time that the federal government forces were moving into the Tigray province, Gumuz militias attacked the Amhara settlers. The federal government sent in troops to restore order, but troops can not deal with the basic issues of ethnic-based tensions and disputes over land ownership which is often collective rather than individual. Thus, the tensions and violence in Tigray and Benishangul-Gumuz provinces may spread to other provinces as well.

In addition to the dangers of violence spreading to other provinces, there is a real danger that neighboring Sudan will get involved. The Ethiopian federal government’s military action within Tigray province has caused an exodus of some 50,000 persons across the frontier into Sudan. A smaller number have crossed the frontier into South Sudan.

Abdallah Hamdok

The Sudanese government in far-away Khartoum has been preoccupied with restructuring itself after the 30 years of governance by Omar al-Bashir came to an end in April 2019. However, the entry of a large number of refugees from Tigray must have pushed some in the Sudanese government to look at maps to see where all this trouble was going on. They saw that part of the trouble was near the Al-Fashaga triangle, a small area but of rich farmland largely farmed by Ethiopian farmers. However, Al-Fashaga is within the territory of Sudan, set by the British-Egyptian condominium in 1902 and 1907.

The Ethiopian settlers in Al-Fashaga had created self-protection militias without a relation to the Ethiopian central army. However, with the the current Ethiopian army near Al-Fashaga, the Sudanese government is rushing tanks and troops to the area. The acting Prime Minister of Sudan, Abdallah Hamdok, has publicly reaffirmed Sudanese ownership of the area. While it is difficult to have accurate reporting from Al-Fashaga, some nongovernmental organizations working with refugees in Sudan near the frontier have warned of possible fighting and increased tensions. There are real possibilities of the storm clouds getting darker.

Note:

An earlier article on the same subject from Prof. René Wadlow: Storm Clouds Gather Over Ethiopia.

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

For a World Citizen Approach to Protecting Human Rights Defenders

In Africa, Asia, Being a World Citizen, Democracy, Europe, Human Rights, International Justice, Latin America, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on January 19, 2021 at 6:28 PM

By Bernard J. Henry

What are, if any, the lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 crisis? As far as we, World Citizens, are concerned, the most important one is undoubtedly this: As we have been saying since the early days of our movement, global problems require global solutions.

Beyond the appearance of a mere self-serving statement, this traditional World Citizen slogan finds a new meaning today. Never has it been so visible and proven that national sovereignty can be not only a hurdle to solving global problems, but a full-scale peril to the whole world when abused. While many European nations were quick to react to the virus as a major health crisis right from early 2020, others led by nationalists, namely the USA, the UK and Brazil, adamantly refused to take any action, dismissing the virus as harmless if not non-existent. Just like an individual who is not aware of being sick can pass the disease on others while behaving without precaution, a country that does not act wisely can contribute dramatically to spreading the disease throughout the world. And that is what happened.

No use beating about the bush – that kind of behavior is a violation of human rights, starting with the right to life and the right to health. Even though COVID-19 is first and foremost a medical issue, it also has implications in terms of human rights. There comes a question which has been with us since the beginning of the century: In the absence of a global institution, such as a global police service, in charge of overseeing respect for human rights worldwide, what about the people devoting their lives to performing this duty of public service, these private citizens whom we call Human Rights Defenders (HRDs)? Before COVID-19 ever appeared, many of them were already in danger. While vaccines and medicines are being developed to counter COVID-19, there does not seem to be a cure in sight for the perils HRDs face every day.

Legal, legitimate, but unrecognized

HRDs, people defending human rights, have existed from the early days of human civilization in one form or another. Since 1948 and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), followed by a number of treaties and similar declarations, it has obviously been viewed as more legitimate and legal to promote and protect rights which were now internationally recognized. The UDHR itself has made history by evolving from a non-binding resolution of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly to an instrument of customary international law, toward which states feel obligated through, as international law puts it, opinio juris. But in a postwar Westphalian world where only states had international legal personality, the people defending the rights enshrined in the UDHR, in other words HRDs, long remained deprived of formal recognition.

It all changed in 1998, when the UN General Assembly celebrated the half-century of existence of the UDHR by presenting it with a companion text, officially called Resolution 53/144 of December 9, 1998 but better known as the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms – in short, the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (DHRD).

Like the UDHR, the DHRD was born “soft law”. But the resemblance stops there. In twenty-two years of existence, the DHRD has been nowhere near accepted by states under opinio juris. Accepting international human rights is one thing, but endorsing the creation, if only morally speaking, of an international category of people authorized to go against the state to promote the same rights, well, that continues to be more than the nation-state can live with. Everywhere in the world, HRDs feel the pain of that denial of recognition.

Human rights under attack means defenders in danger

Traditionally, human rights in the Western sense of the word mean freedom of opinion and expression. These rights continue to be curtailed in too many countries, beyond geographical, cultural, religious, or even political differences. Inevitably, that goes for HRDs defending these rights too. The two “least democratic” countries sitting as Permanent Members on the UN Security Council, Russia and China, also stand out as world leaders in political repression.

During the Cold War, the Eastern bloc would put forward economic and social rights as a counterpoint to the said Western notion. Even though human rights were “reunified” over thirty years ago, economic and social rights remain taboo in various parts of the world. In Thailand and Nicaragua, health workers have been punished for demanding better equipment to treat COVID-19 patients. In the Philippines, city residents who pushed for more adequate shelter in times of lockdown were similarly repressed by their government.

Cultural rights, often alongside indigenous rights, can truly be described as disturbing all forms of governments in countries which used to be colonies of Western powers, from Latin America, most recently in Honduras and Paraguay, to Asia with such examples as Malaysia and Indonesia. In such countries, being an HRD trying to advance the rights of indigenous groups all but equates trying to tear the whole nation apart.

Everywhere in the world, such typical 21st-century pressing issues as LGBT rights and, more than ever since the #MeToo scandal, women’s rights may be popular causes, but taking them up almost systematically means trouble, be it in North African countries like Egypt and Tunisia or in the European nations of Poland and Andorra.

Last but not least, even though one might think the wide consensus on the issue opens doors for action, defending environmental rights is proving no easy task. From Madagascar to Belarus, trying to get your government to live up to its responsibilities is bound to create a most unsafe environment for you.

For those who need and manage to flee, being abroad does not even mean being safe anymore. China has been found to be heavily spying on activists from the Uyghur minority living in foreign countries, and last month the AWC had to send an appeal to the authorities of Canada regarding a Pakistani HRD from the Baloch minority group who was found dead in Toronto, after the local police service said the death was not a criminal act but a fellow Baloch HRD and refugee there expressed serious doubts.

When the DHRD should be providing greater relief and comfort for the performance of human rights work, HRDs continue to be denied any character of public service, leading to acute stigmatization, intimidation, and ultimately repression. As many signs that the nation-state is losing its nerves in trying to defend a Westphalian national sovereignty that COVID-19 has now largely proved is out of date.

Shattering national borders – and human rights, too

One form of human rights abuse that has become particularly salient since the late 2000s, further fueled by Brexit in 2016 and the now-ending Trump presidency since 2017, is the systematic persecution of refugees and migrants – and, more preoccupying still, of those nationals in the countries of arrival trying to lend a hand to the newcomers. In France, President Emmanuel Macron was thought to have been spared from the influence of populist parties backed by Vladimir Putin’s Russia; yet several activists have been prosecuted on these sole grounds, such as Martine Landry of Amnesty International France and Cédric Herrou, both from the Nice area near the Italian border. Eventually, both were cleared by the judiciary. In the USA, migrants’ rights activist Scott Warren was similarly prosecuted – and similarly acquitted. But in both countries and others still, the problem remains unsolved.

No wonder this is happening at all. Even those governments least favorable to the brand of xenophobia “exported” by Moscow since the last decade have become unfathomably sensitive to the issue of migration and asylum, as they too feel threatened by the outside world and flaunt their borders as ramparts, shielding them from some barbaric conduct with which they confuse different customs and religions, thus adopting the very same attitude as those populists they claim to be fighting. That leaves citizens trying to help refugees and migrants singled out as traitors and criminals.

The mass arrival of migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East in the summer of 2015 proved that Europe and, for this purpose, the rest of the world were wrong to assume that crises in other, distant parts of the world could never hit home too violently. In this case, the crisis bore a name – ISIS, the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Sham (the Levant)”. The Iraqi-born terrorist group had conquered a wide swath of land the previous year, seizing territory from both Iraq and Syria along the border, and established on it a “caliphate” that drew scores of individuals from many parts of the world, especially Europe and North Africa. The previous summer had seen its militias persecute the millennia-old Christian minority of Iraq and other religious groups such as the Yezidis. A year before the UN dared called it genocide, the AWC did.

When the Taliban’s “Islamic Emirate” of the late 1990s in Afghanistan had been recognized by three countries, no one recognized the “Islamic State”, let alone the caliphate. Obviously, recognizing the “caliphate” would have been both a violation of international law and an insult to all of ISIS’s victims back home and abroad. Nonetheless, as the French-American scholar Scott Atran and the specialist Website e-ir.info noted, the “ISIS crisis” proved that the traditional notion of the nation-state was now being violently rejected – violently, and ISIS leaders knew full well how to make good use of it, cleverly rendering their barbaric ways appealing to Westerners and North Africans frustrated at the lack of social and political change back in their home countries.

Questioning the nation-state in such an insane, murderous manner can only be diametrically opposed to the mindset of a World Citizen. Stopping borders from serving as ramparts against foreigners irrationally viewed as enemies, bringing the people of the world together regardless of political nationality, none of this can ever be compatible with the creation of yet another nation-state, albeit de facto, to terrorist ends at home and abroad. Even though the massive afflux of migrants and refugees was certainly no phenomenon the best-prepared state in the world could have successfully dealt with overnight, European nations failed at it miserably. In suspecting and rejecting foreigners for fear of terrorism, they only made it easier to commit terrorist attacks on their soil and endanger their own population, including the Muslim population which automatically becomes a scapegoat every time a jihadi terrorist attack is carried out. Nobody’s human rights were well-served and everybody’s human rights ended up as losers.

Globalizing solidarity with HRDs

There you have it. The harder states, European and others, strive to defend their borders as sacred, God-given privileges, the harder human rights and their defenders get hit and everybody loses.

Consequently, returning to the comparison with COVID-19, a true World Citizen perspective toward protecting HRDs must put forward what has been absent throughout the pandemic, in terms of both public health and patient care – globalization. Not the unfair, inhumane economic globalization we have known since the 1990s, for that one too is responsible for what has happened over the past twelve months. A World Citizen can only seek a globalization of solidarity, bearing in mind that, as French President Emmanuel Macron once put it, “the virus does not have a passport” and travels freely through all human beings who accept, or get forced, to become its living vehicles.

The very same principle should apply to human rights and their defenders. The UDHR is by name universal, as are all human rights. Therefore, why wouldn’t the defense of the same rights be universal by nature? If terrorism can be let to shun national borders in its war on the whole world, then why can’t brave, devoted HRDs enjoy the recognition they deserve, in every country, on every continent, and from every type of government? Why in the world would a terrorist get greater attention than a citizen dedicating their life to championing the dignity of all fellow human beings? If this divided world of ours could possibly find some sort of unity in support of health workers fighting COVID-19, then why not around HRDs, too?

World leaders can no longer look away from the issue. Uniting around one global problem means endorsing the principle of global solutions for everything else. If there is to be a different future for the world, a better future, then trusting and respecting HRDs, supporting and helping them, and ultimately joining their ranks are as many keys that will unlock a brand new era of shared true dignity.

Bernard J. Henry is the External Relations Officer of the Association of World Citizens.

Albert Schweitzer (January 14, 1875 – September 4, 1965): Reverence for Life

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Fighting Racism, Human Rights, Social Rights, Solidarity, Spirituality, The Search for Peace on January 14, 2021 at 10:51 PM

By René Wadlow

The human race must be converted to a fresh mental attitude, if it is not to suffer extinction… A new renaissance, much greater than that in which we emerged from the Middle Ages, is absolutely essential. Are we going to draw from the spirit enough strength to create new conditions and turn our faces once again to civilization, or are we going to draw our inspiration from our surroundings and go down with them to ruin? — Albert Schweitzer

January 14 was the anniversary of the birth of Albert Schweitzer and a special day at the hospital that he founded at Lambaréné. Alsatian wine would be served at lunch, and conversations over lunch would last longer than usual before everyone had to return to his tasks. In 1963, when I was working for the Ministry of Education of Gabon and spending time at the Protestant secondary school some 500 yards down river from the hospital, I was invited to lunch for the birthday celebration. As the only non-hospital person there, I was placed next to Dr. Schweitzer, and we continued our discussions both on the events that had taken place along the Ogowe River and his more philosophical concerns.

I was interviewing Gabonese staying at the hospital on what they thought of schools, of schoolteachers, of their hopes for their children. When Schweitzer was not busy writing, I would go sit with him and discuss. Since many of the people who came from Europe or the USA to visit him would always say “Yes, Doctor, I agree”, he had relatively little time for them. But since I would say, “But no, you also have to take this into account…” he was stimulated and we had long talks. On his basic position of reverence for life, I was in agreement, and I have always appreciated the time spent on the river’s edge.

As Norman Cousins has noted,

“the main point about Schweitzer is that he helped make it possible for twentieth-century man to unblock his moral vision. There is a tendency in a relativistic age for man to pursue all sides of a question as an end in itself, finding relief and even refuge in the difficulty of defining good and evil. The result is a clogging of the moral sense, a certain feeling of self-consciousness or even discomfort when questions with ethical content are raised. Schweitzer furnished the nourishing evidence that nothing is more natural in life than a moral response, which exists independently of precise definition, its use leading not to exhaustion but to new energy.”

The moral response for Schweitzer was “reverence for life”. Schweitzer had come to Lambaréné in April 1913, already well known for his theological reflections on the eschatological background of Jesus’ thought as well as his study of Bach. As an Alsatian he was concerned with the lack of mutual understanding, the endless succession of hatred and fear, between France and Germany that led to war a year later.

Since Alsace was part of Germany at the time, Schweitzer was considered an enemy alien in the French colony of Gabon. When war broke out he was first restricted to the missionary station where he had started his hospital and later was deported and interned in France. He returned to Gabon after the First World War, even more convinced of the need to infuse thought with a strong ethical impulse. His reflections in The Decay and Restoration of Civilization trace in a fundamental way the decay. He saw clearly that

“the future of civilization depends on our overcoming the meaningless and hopelessness which characterizes the thoughts and convictions of men today, and reaching a state of fresh hope and fresh determination.”

He was looking for a basic principle that would provide the basis of the needed renewal. That principle arose from a mystical experience. He recounts how he was going down river to Ngomo, a missionary station with a small clinic. In those days, there were steamboats on the Ogowé, and seated on the deck, he had been trying to write all day. After a while, he stopped writing and only watched the equatorial forest as the boat moved slowly on. Then the words “reverence for life” came into his mind, and his reflections had found their core: life must be both affirmed and revered. Ethics, by its very nature, is linked to the affirmation of the good. Schweitzer saw that he was

“life which wants to live, surrounded by life which wants to live. Being will-to-life, I feel the obligation to respect all will-to-life about me as equal to my own. The fundamental idea of good is thus that it consists in preserving life, in favoring it, in wanting to bring it to its highest value, and evil consists in destroying life, doing it injury, hindering its development.”

Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben, — reverence for life — was the key concept for Schweitzer — all life longs for fullness and development as a person does for himself. However, the will to live is not static; there is a inner energy which pushes on to a higher state — a will to self-realization. Basically, this energy can be called spiritual. As Dr. Schweitzer wrote

“One truth stands firm. All that happens in world history rests on something spiritual. If the spiritual is strong, it creates world history. If it is weak, it suffers world history.” The use of Schweitzer’s principle of Reverence for Life can have a profound impact on how humans treat the environment. Reverence for Life rejects the notion that humans can use the environment for its own purposes without any consideration of its consequences for other living things. It accepts the view that there is a reciprocal relationship among living things. Each species is linked to many others.”

Aldo Leopold in his early statement of a deep ecology ethic, A Sand County Almanac, makes the same point:

“All ethics so far evolved rest on a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts…The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soil, water, plants, and animals, or collectively, the land.”

War and the potential of the use of nuclear weapons is the obvious opposite of reverence for life. Thus, in the mid-1950s, when the political focus was on the testing in the atmosphere of nuclear weapons, Schweitzer came out strongly for an abolition of nuclear tests. Some had warned him that such a position could decrease his support among those who admired his medical work in Africa but who wanted to support continued nuclear tests. However, for Schweitzer, an ethic which is not presented publicly is no ethic at all. His statements on the nuclear weapons issue are collected in his Peace or atomic war? (1958). The statements had an impact with many, touched by the ethical appeal when they had not been moved to action by political reasoning. These protests led to the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which bans tests in the atmosphere — an important first step.

Schweitzer was confident that an ethic impulse was in all people and would manifest itself if given the proper opportunity.

“Just as the rivers are much less numerous than underground streams, so the idealism that is visible is minor compared to what men and women carry in their hearts, unreleased or scarcely released. Mankind is waiting and longing for those who can accomplish the task of untying what is knotted and bringing the underground waters to the surface.”

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

Maurice Béjart: Starting Off the Year with a Dance

In Africa, Arts, Asia, Being a World Citizen, Cultural Bridges, Europe, Spirituality, The Search for Peace on January 1, 2021 at 3:09 PM

By René Wadlow

January 1 is the birth anniversary of Maurice Béjart, an innovative master of modern dance. In a world where there is both appreciation and fear of the mixing of cultural traditions, Maurice Béjart was always a champion of blending cultural influences. He was a World Citizen of culture and an inspiration to all who work for a universal culture. His death on November 22, 2007 was a loss, but he serves as a forerunner of what needs to be done so that beauty will overcome the walls of separation. One of the Béjart’s most impressive dance sequences was Jérusalem, cité de la Paix in which he stressed the need for reconciliation and mutual cultural enrichment.

Béjart followed in the spirit of his father, Gaston Berger (1896-1960), philosopher, administrator of university education, and one of the first to start multi-disciplinary studies of the future. Gaston Berger was born in Saint-Louis du Sénégal, with a French mother and a Senegalese father. Senegal, and especially Leopold Sedar Senghor, pointed with pride to Gaston Berger as a “native son” — and the second university after Dakar was built in Saint-Louis and carries the name of Gaston Berger. Berger became a professor of philosophy at the University of Aix-Marseille and was interested in seeking the basic structures of mystical thought, with study on the thought of Henri Bergson and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, both of whom were concerned with the basic energies which drive humanity forward. Berger was also interested in the role of memory as that which holds the group together writing that it is memory which allows us “to be able to hope together, to fear together, to love together, and to work together.”

Gaston Berger

In 1953, Gaston Berger was named director general of higher education in France with the task of renewal of the university system after the Second World War years. Thus, when Maurice-Jean Berger, born in 1927, was to start his own path, the name Berger was already well known in intellectual and administrative circle. Maurice changed his name to Béjart which sounds somewhat similar but is the name of the wife of Molière. Molière remains the symbol of the combination of theater-dance-music.

Maurice Béjart was trained at the Opera de Paris and then with the well-known choreographer Roland Petit. Béjart’s talent was primarily as a choreographer, a creator of new forms blending dance-music-action. He was willing to take well-known music such as the Bolero of Maurice Ravel or The Rite of Spring and The Firebird of Stravinsky and develop new dance forms for them. However, he was also interested in working with composers of experimental music such as Pierre Schaeffer.

Béjart also continued his father’s interest in mystical thought, less to find the basic structures of mystic thought like his father but rather as an inspiration. He developed a particular interest in the Sufi traditions of Persia and Central Asia. The Sufis have often combined thought-music-motion as a way to higher enlightenment. The teaching and movements of G. I. Gurdjieff are largely based on Central Asian Sufi techniques even if Gurdjieff did not stress their Islamic character. Although Gurdjieff died in October 1948, he was known as an inspiration for combining mystical thought, music and motion in the artistic milieu of Béjart. The French composer of modern experimental music, Pierre Schaeffer with whom Béjart worked closely was a follower of Gurdjieff. Schaeffer also worked closely with Pierre Henry for Symphonie pour un homme seul and La Messe pour le Temps Présent for which Béjart programmed the dance. Pierre Henry was interested in the Tibetan school of Buddhism, so much of Béjart’s milieu had spiritual interests turned toward Asia.

Maurice Béjart

It was Béjart’s experience in Persia where he was called by the Shah of Iran to create dances for the Persepolis celebration in 1971 that really opened the door to Sufi thought — a path he continued to follow.

Béjart also followed his father’s interest in education and created dance schools both in Bruxelles and later Lausanne. While there is not a “Béjart style” that others follow closely, he stressed an openness to the cultures of the world and felt that dance could be an enrichment for all social classes. He often attracted large audiences to his dance performances, and people from different milieu were moved by his dances.

Béjart represents a conscious effort to break down walls between artistic forms by combining music, dance, and emotion and the walls between cultures. An inspiration for World Citizens to follow.

Maurice Béjart’s dancers performing Pierre Henry’s Messe pour le Temps présent at the Avignon festival in 1967. © Jean-Louis Boissier

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

PRESS RELEASE – 20200914/Migrants and Refugees/Human Rights

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Europe, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Migration, NGOs, Press release, Refugees, Solidarity, Syria, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on September 14, 2020 at 7:49 AM

Press Release

September 14, 2020

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THE ASSOCIATION OF WORLD CITIZENS PROPOSES

INCREASED GOVERNMENTAL AND NONGOVERNMENTAL ACTION

FOR AN ENLIGHTENED POLICY

TOWARD MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES

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Recent events have highlighted the need for a dynamic and enlightened policy toward migrants and refugees. The refugee camp in Moria, on Lesbos Island, Greece, which burned to the ground on September 9, 2020, hosted over 13,000 refugees and migrants, most from Afghanistan with others from Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and an increasing number from West Africa. Among them were thousands of defenseless women and children, victims of war, violence and later from xenophobia, islamophobia and racism. Prior to the fire, the refugees were already living in poor conditions, in small tents on wet ground without clean drinking water or medical care.

Since the fire, most of the refugees in Moria, including newborn babies, have been sleeping in the streets while xenophobic locals harass them and armed policemen, known for their far-right sympathies, threaten them.

A second drama of refugees and migrants is being acted out in the French Department of Pas-de-Calais, as refugees try to reach England before December 31, 2020, when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, thus ending the existing accords on refugees and migrants. Many have paid large sums of money for the possibility to reach England, often in unsafe makeshift boats.

The Association of World Citizens, along with other humanitarian organizations, has worked actively for world law concerning migrants and refugees – policies which need to be strengthened and, above all, applied respecting the dignity of each person: https://awcungeneva.com/2020/06/20/world-refugee-day/

PRESS RELEASE – 20200909/Sudan/Human Rights

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Press release, Solidarity, Sudan, World Law on September 8, 2020 at 11:06 AM

PRESS RELEASE

Paris, September 9, 2020

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HALA KHALID ABUGROUN, A LAWYER

AND WOMAN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER UNDER THREAT:

TIME FOR SUDAN TO MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICES AT LAST

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In an Appeal to the authorities of the transitional government of Sudan, the Association of World Citizens (AWC) highlighted the present situation of Ms Hala Khalid Abugroun, Attorney at Law, a Woman Human Rights Defender. Attorney Abugroun is a member of the “No to Women’s Oppression” initiative which wishes to set out strong guidelines for the society in transition. Attorney Abugroun and colleagues have been harassed and threatened by members of the still powerful National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).

The AWC stresses that the United Nations (UN) is the main instrument for the community of States to guide life in common, according to standards which all have accepted in agreeing to the UN Charter and according also to the provisions of world law. Among these provisions are the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly in Resolution 53/144 and the Resolution on Protecting Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN Human Rights Council on March 15, 2013.

The AWC understands that the Sudan is in a transition process toward a more law-based society. A historic decision has already been made to separate religion and state, ending an improper political use of private belief to repressive ends which spanned some three decades. This is the right time to make the right choices in terms of international human rights commitments too.

Therefore, the AWC urges the Sudanese Government to ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Such a move would help Sudan to develop measures to guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of all persons.

There also has to be an immediate, thorough, and impartial investigation into the threats against and harassment of Attorney Hala Khalid Abugroun with a view to bringing those responsible to justice consistently with international standards.

Mali: More Instability in an Unstable Region

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, NGOs, Solidarity, Spirituality, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on September 4, 2020 at 8:35 PM

By René Wadlow

The August 18, 2020 coup by Malian military leaders brought an end to the unstable government of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, widely known by his initials IBK. He had come to power on March 22, 2012 in another military coup which had ended the administration of President Amadou Trouré. This 2012 coup highlighted the weakness of the government structures and the narrow geographic base of the administration’s power. This realization led to a revolt in the north of the country led by two rival Tuareg groups as well as Islamist militias of non-Tuareg fighters coming from other Sahel countries and northern Nigeria. Mali was effectively divided into two roughly equal half, each half about the size of France.

French troops were sent from France in January 2013 to prevent an expansion of the territory held by the Tuareg and the Islamists, but were not able to develop a stable administration.

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita

Mali had been poorly administered since its independence in 1960. Economic development had been guided by political and ethnic considerations. During the French colonial period, from the 1890s to 1960, the French administration was based in Dakar, Senegal, a port on the Atlantic with secondary schools, a university, and an educated middle class. Mali was considered an “outpost” (called French Sudan at the time) and largely governed by the French military more interested in keeping order than in development.

IBK’s administration was widely criticized by much of the population for its incompetence, favoritism, and corruption especially by family members such as his son Karim Keita. Islamist groups remained powerful in parts of the north and central Mali. The whole Sahel area, in particular the frontier area of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso still has powerful and violent Islamist militias. This instability is an increasing menace to the coastal countries of Togo, Benin, and Cote d’Ivoire.

Over the past year, discontent with IBK has led to a loose coalition of opposition groups known by the title M5 – RFP, of which the conservative Islamic imam Mahmoud Dicko is a leading figure.

French soldiers deployed in Mali

For the moment, the Mali military leaders have formed the Comité national pour le salut du peuple (The National Committee for the Salvation of the People). It is led by Col. Assimi Gaita, a special forces leader. The Committee has said that it is forming a military-civil transitional government that will lead to elections in nine months.

The challenges facing Mali and the wider Sahel area are great, in large measure linked to the lack of socio-economic development, economic stagnation, and poor administration. The situation is made worse by the consequences of global warming and persistent drought. The military are not trained to be development workers. A broad cooperative effort of all sectors of the population is needed. Will the military be able to develop such a broadly-based cooperative effort? Mali and the Sahel merit close attention.

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

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