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We, Disabled People, the Global Uncontacted Tribe

In Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Conflict Resolution, Democracy, Disabled people, Human Development, Human Rights, Social Rights, Solidarity, United Nations on December 3, 2018 at 8:09 AM

By Bernard J. Henry

What is an “uncontacted tribe”? Come on, you’ve heard of them. These are native communities living in their traditional forest or island habitat, following their millennia-old, nature-based lifestyle and refusing contact with the outside world. Since Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right candidate for the presidency of Brazil, won the election on October 28, the future of Brazilian uncontacted tribes lies in the balance as Bolsonaro pledged during his campaign to have all these tribes wiped out.

One would assume that an uncontacted tribe is logically a people living in one single place, not a group scattered throughout the world, thus being more appropriately called an “uncontacted diaspora”, although the expression wouldn’t make much sense. If that’s what you think, then, think again.

This world of ours is indeed home to a global uncontacted tribe. The tribe has a name – disabled people. And I happen to be one of them. You may be glad that you’re not.

The Real Wretched of the Earth

If you have the firm belief that you could never live with a single one of your rights being violated or not properly implemented, then, indeed, be glad you’re not of our own. Disabled people, currently one billion people making up 15 per cent of the world’s population,are the largest minority in the world and, indignantly enough, the category of human beings whose rights are the most blatantly ignored and violated.

Poverty hits us hard, as, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), eighty per cent of persons with disabilities live in developing countries and studies by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) show that disability rates are significantly higher among groups with lower educational attainment in OECD member states. Among the world’s poorest people, says the World Bank, 20 percent have some form of disability and their communities view them as the most disadvantaged.

Disability doesn’t even spare women and children. A 2004 survey in Orissa, India, found that virtually all the women and girls with disabilities were beaten at home, 25 per cent of women with intellectual disabilities had been raped and 6 per cent of women with disabilities had been forcibly sterilized. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that 30 per cent of street youths are in some way disabled. Mortality for disabled children may be as high as 80 per cent in countries where underage mortality has, overall, decreased below 20 per cent, says the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, adding that, in some cases, it seems as if children are being “weeded out”. Due to malnutrition, diseases, child labor and other causes, disabled children in developing countries are projected to increase over the next thirty years.

When not faced with ignorance, as the OECD says an average 19 per cent of less educated people have disabilities, compared to 11 per cent among the better educated, we must cope with the consequences of armed conflict and violence. The WHO estimates that, for every child killed in warfare, three are injured and left with a permanent form of disability. In some countries, up to a quarter of disabilities result from injuries and violence.

While local uncontacted tribes strive to keep away from “civilization”, we, the global uncontacted tribe, try to fit in but get pushed back by everyone, everywhere. Being a global tribe, the issues we face can rightly be called global issues. But seldom are found global solutions, let alone sought to begin with.

A Global People with No Global Rights

It wasn’t until 2006 that a billion inhabitants of planet Earth saw their rights formally enshrined in a binding treaty – the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, signed on March 30, 2007. The Convention came into force on May 3, 2008 and, to date, 177 countries are States Parties. A specifically-dedicated United Nations (UN) agency, UN Enable, is tasked to ensure that the Convention is respected and enforced throughout the world. And even obtaining that didn’t come easy.

In 2004, the U. S. Administration, then led by President George W. Bush and at odds with much of the world over the Iraq war, opposed the Convention with all its might and argued that national laws within individual countries would always be better than a world treaty. Save that only 45 countries have anti-discrimination and other disability-specific laws, whose background varies heavily from country to country and makes it impossible to have a common global pattern of law emerge from domestic legislation.

In the U. S., disabled people were part of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, which landed them laws granting formal rights binding on federal, state, and local government and courts. By contrast, in France, disabled people started to gain specific rights after World War I, when so many veterans returned from the battlefield with injuries for life, needing either specific welfare pensions or assistance in finding a job. In the latter case, French disabled people had to wait until 1975 for a broader law, which was itself succeeded only in 2005 by a more thorough law, in both instances thanks to the determination of one man – Jacques Chirac, who was Prime Minister in 1975 and President in 2005, and whose daughter Laurence, who died in 2016, was gravely disabled. France is a State Party to the Convention, while the U. S. is only a signatory.

The Convention does not allow UN Enable to recognize and register persons as disabled people in the absence of a national framework, in the style of UNHCR which registers refugees in those countries without a national asylum agency. A shameful instance of national sovereignty without the limitations that would guarantee the greater good for everyone. Making us, disabled people, even more of a global uncontacted tribe.

We Are World Citizens – Sometimes World Leaders, Too

Are we doomed to remain forever global outcasts, a global uncontacted tribe as no one wants to contact us, at least without being judgmental and paternalistic toward us? Can we ever fit into society? To borrow a quote from Mark Twain, some of us “did not know it was impossible, so they did it”. And their names may just astound you.

Stephen Hawking, the British theoretical physicist. John Nash, the American mathematician, whose life inspired the movie A Beautiful Mind. Vincent Van Gogh. Ludwig van Beethoven. Frida Kahlo. Tom Cruise. Robin Williams. Stevie Wonder. Ladyhawke, the New Zealand singer and musician who became world famous in 2008 with her worldwide hit Paris is Burning. To name but a few.

Others still made it to top government posts. Joaquin Balaguer, former President of the Dominican Republic. Wolfgang Schaüble, several times a Federal Minister and now Speaker of Germany’s Federal Assembly (Bundestag). Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. In the United States, Robert Dole, a longtime Senator from Kansas and the Republican presidential candidate in 1996, as well as his recently-deceased fellow Senator and former Republican presidential nominee John McCain of Arizona – and, most importantly, two former Presidents, both Democrats, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, no less.

The latter won four presidential elections, got his country out of a major economic and social crisis, won World War II and created the United Nations – having done all that from a wheelchair. For an uncontacted tribe, we may not be deemed a completely useless portion of the world’s population.

Don’t Look at Our Name – Look at Our Selves

Even the name “disabled people”, coined by the non-disabled to refer to us, seems to have become more than this world can bear. Some are now using the name “differently abled”, at the very risk of stressing how different we are while we need to be recognized for our specificities but also for our similarities to the so-called “able” people. What’s in a name? Too much.

Disabled people need to be considered for what they are – people forced to live with a disability that requires special attention from society, while each of them retains his or her own self, skills and, unlike what our name suggests, abilities.

December 3 was proclaimed International Day of Disabled Persons in 1992, through UN General Assembly Resolution 47/3. Every year, the same question is asked of the people of the world: Why are you so afraid of the global uncontacted tribe? What makes you think they cannot be but a burden to society? Wouldn’t it be better for both you and them if you would only choose a more inclusive lifestyle that creates equal opportunities, regardless of (dis)ability?

And the world continues to wonder. It sees the global uncontacted tribe. It talks to us. But it uses a language we cannot understand, for its words cannot convey our own thoughts. And uncontacted we remain.

If you really want to contact us, just start by realizing that what you call “disability” originates in your own minds. We, the global uncontacted tribe, hold fortunes in knowledge and experience, different from yours. Please let us help you make this world a better place.

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

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Maître Najet Laabidi de nouveau visée par les autorités tunisiennes

In Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Current Events, Disabled people, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Social Rights, Solidarity, United Nations, World Law on March 18, 2018 at 7:29 AM

Par Bernard Henry

Si l’on juge un pays sur la manière dont il traite les personnes handicapées, alors la Tunisie a besoin d’un bon avocat. Et si l’on juge un pays au respect que les pouvoirs publics accordent aux avocats, alors la terre du Jasmin semble en chute libre vers l’indéfendable.

Une fois de plus, l’avocate tunisienne Najet Laabidi, poursuivie depuis 2011 pour avoir voulu représenter ses clients comme il est naturel pour un avocat, est dans le collimateur. Et cette fois, l’injustice est plus criante encore, car les clients que l’on veut l’empêcher de représenter sont, comment le comprendre, des personnes handicapées.

Enfants autistes, elles les maltraitent

Dans un courrier du 8 mars à la Rapporteuse spéciale de l’ONU sur les Droits des Personnes handicapées, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, le Comité de Soutien de l’Affaire des Enfants autistes violentés et de Défense des Droits des Enfants/Personnes Autistes/Handicapé(e)s sonne l’alarme sur les faits dont il tire son nom, des faits remontant à février dernier seulement et qui, dans une Tunisie qui ne cesse de s’éloigner des espoirs de la révolution qui ouvrit en 2011 le « printemps arabe », sonnent comme un implacable constat d’échec – et un déchirant appel au secours.

« Le 17 février 2018, » écrit le Comité, « une vidéo a été mise en ligne sur les réseaux sociaux présentant des actes de violence (de maltraitance) d’enfants autistes dans un centre privé de prise en charge et d’éducation spécialisée à Tunis. » Sur cet enregistrement, réalisé par un employé du centre, l’on voit trois enfants se faire agresser par deux éducatrices du même centre.

La politique prise en défaut …

Les réactions n’ont pas tardé. Le 19 février, le Chef du Gouvernement tunisien affirmait son indignation, ordonnant une prise en charge psychologique immédiate pour les enfants du centre. Les premières consultations débutèrent le 6 mars.

Du côté des autres ministres, les suites furent moins reluisantes. Ministère de la Femme, de la Famille et de l’Enfance, Ministère des Affaires Sociales et Ministère de l’Education se jetèrent la patate chaude, chacun niant que le centre relève de sa juridiction. Et pour cause. En Tunisie, les centres pour enfants ou personnes handicapées sont gérées par des associations, elles-mêmes affiliées au Ministère des Affaires Sociales. Au mieux. Car le centre ne possède qu’un simple statut d’école privée, avec agrément du Ministère de l’Education, et n’abrite aucun professionnel qualifié pour la prise en charge des enfants autistes ou des personnes handicapées.

Côté grand public enfin, ce n’est pas la publicité qui a manqué à la vidéo, pas plus que les débats, à la radio, à la télévision et ailleurs. Débats où les enfants autistes ne trouvent pas que des défenseurs. C’est ainsi qu’un intervenant est allé jusqu’à justifier les violences, qu’il qualifiait d’ «intervention thérapeutique scientifique reconnue dans le cas des enfants autistes» …

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Avec l’affaire relayée y compris dans les médias internationaux, le scandale a de loin dépassé les seules frontières de la Tunisie. (Capture d’écran)

Mais l’essentiel de la population a bel et bien pris parti pour les enfants victimes, les familles d’enfants autistes et personnes handicapées, les Défenseurs des Droits Humains, les juristes et les organisations de personnes handicapées ayant été au premier rang de l’indignation générale.

Créé dans la foulée, le Comité de Soutien de l’Affaire des Enfants autistes violentés et de Défense des Droits des Enfants/Personnes Autistes/Handicapé(e)s appela au rassemblement devant la Présidence du Gouvernement. Le 20 février, à l’issue de la manifestation, des représentants du comité rencontrèrent des officiels gouvernementaux, auxquels ils rappelèrent les annonces du Chef du Gouvernement. Leurs exigences étaient simples et claires – des solutions pour les enfants du centre qui avaient dû, suite au scandale, être ramenés dans leurs familles, et des mesures à moyen et long terme pour que jamais de tels faits ne se reproduisent.

Des politiques mis au pied du mur entendaient enfin une légitime colère.

… Et le droit en déshérence

Dans tout Etat se voulant un Etat de droit, qui dit violences avérées dit procédure pénale. Au moins sur ce point, la Tunisie ne déçoit pas. Enfin, pas tout de suite.

Devant les plaintes déposées contre le centre et sa directrice par les parents des jeunes victimes, pour les besoins de l’instruction, l’une des éducatrices est en détention mais l’autre, ainsi que la directrice, ont été relâchées sous contrôle judiciaire. Malgré la gravité des faits, le centre lui-même n’a pas été fermé.

Plus incompréhensible encore, plusieurs parents des pensionnaires du centre ont pris la défense de la directrice et affirmé son innocence. Incompréhensible, certes – si l’on oublie que ces mêmes parents bénéficient d’une prise en charge de leurs enfants entièrement gratuite, là où le centre facture 700 à 900 dinars tunisiens, soit 230 à 300 euros, chaque mois. Une directrice «chèrement» défendue donc.

Et dont les soutiens ne s’arrêtent pas à des parents-clients, puisque, le 5 mars, la Commission parlementaire de la Santé et des Affaires sociales la recevait en tant que représentante d’une association sur l’autisme et porte-parole … Des centres pour enfants autistes. Rencontre diffusée le soir même au JT. Une conception bien singulière de l’exemplarité.

Elle porte plainte au nom des témoins, les gendarmes portent plainte contre elle

A l’horreur de la situation et au mépris du droit qui l’entoure, il fallait bien que viennent s’ajouter des manœuvres d’intimidation envers une avocate défendant les Droits Humains. Et il fallait que cette avocate soit, une fois encore, Najet Laabidi.

«En France, on laisse au repos ceux qui allument les incendies et on persécute ceux qui sonnent le tocsin», notait Chamfort en son temps. Apparemment une malheureuse exportation française vers la Tunisie, puisque, le 7 mars, l’auteure de la vidéo montrant les deux éducatrices «à l’œuvre» contre les enfants autistes a été retenue sans justification, et en violation de la loi, au poste de Garde nationale, la gendarmerie tunisienne, pour un supplément d’enquête à son endroit. Et à ses côtés, également retenue sans ménagement, se trouvait son avocate, Maître Najet Laabidi.

A ce jour, les deux témoins sont harcelés, sans que la maréchaussée tunisienne s’en inquiète outre mesure. Quant à Najet Laabidi, qui a déposé plainte en leur nom pour ces abus et s’en est ouverte dans la presse, elle aussi fait l’objet d’une plainte, déposée contre elle par la Garde nationale de Ben Arous et qui lui a valu une convocation devant le Procureur général de la Cour d’appel.

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Pour qui en douterait, il en faudra pourtant bien plus pour faire baisser la garde à Najet Laabidi, qui réaffirme sans ambiguïté sa détermination dans ce qui est, pour elle, bien plus qu’un dossier d’avocat. «Pour moi, lutter pour les droits des enfants autistes, lutter pour un Etat de droit, un Etat de bonne gouvernance, c’est une obligation, un rêve, jamais je ne renoncerai. Même si l’on continue à m’intimider, par des poursuites judiciaires ou par d’autres moyens, je continuerai mon combat.»

Personnes handicapées et avocats, deux luttes du droit mondial

Jadis garde-frontière officieuse des Etats européens, en renversant son tyran et en déjouant ainsi tous les pronostics des « orientalistes » occidentaux, la Tunisie a acquis une aura toute nouvelle à travers le monde. Mais en s’inscrivant ainsi en faux contre deux luttes mondiales de Droits Humains, le pays risque de se voir bientôt décrire, une nouvelle fois, moins selon sa victoire contre l’arbitraire que selon son désolant retour vers la répression.

Car, oui, les droits des personnes handicapées sont une lutte mondiale de Droits Humains, l’ONU ne les ayant d’ailleurs jamais considérés autrement, là où le grand public les aurait vus bien plus comme une question relevant de la santé ou des affaires sociales. L’adoption en 2006 de la Convention internationale relative aux Droits des Personnes handicapées en est la meilleure preuve, ainsi que la création d’une agence spécialisée des Nations Unies consacrée au handicap, UN Enable.

Depuis bien plus longtemps encore, l’ONU consacre les droits des avocats, à travers les Principes de Base relatifs au Rôle du Barreau adoptés en 1990 et qui, pour n’être pas contraignants envers les Etats, n’en sont pas moins, à l’instar de tout le droit international, des dispositions dont aucune violation n’est sans conséquence, interne ou externe, sur le plan politique.

L’on voit donc mal comment et pourquoi une Tunisie passée contre toute attente à un despotisme clanique à un Etat bâti sur le souvenir des martyrs Mohamed Bouazizi, Chokri Belaïd et Mohamed Brahmi pourrait vouloir à présent devenir, aux yeux du monde, un Etat handiphobe et qui n’a – décidément – que mépris pour ses avocats.

C’est ce qui se passerait si les enfants du centre n’obtenaient pas justice, et si, plus encore, Najet Laabidi continuait à être harcelée, en lien avec cette affaire ou sur quelque autre sujet. Même en étant capables de s’attendre à tout, y compris à une bonne surprise, c’est en tout cas plus que les Citoyen(ne)s du Monde laisseront jamais passer.

Bernard Henry est Officier des Relations Extérieures de l’Association of World Citizens.

 

Human Rights: Government Failures, NGO Need to Organize!

In Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Democracy, Fighting Racism, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, NGOs, Religious Freedom, Social Rights, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, Women's Rights, World Law on March 4, 2018 at 10:08 PM

By René Wadlow

In his final address to the Human Rights Council on February 26, 2018, United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein decried the “pernicious use of the veto” by permanent members of the UN Security Council – the USA, Russia, and China in particular – to block any unity of action to reduce the extreme suffering of innocent people in “the most prolific slaughterhouse of humans in recent times.”

However, it is not only the veto in the Security Council which prevents governments from acting. There is a widespread failure of governments to act. “Time and again, my office and I have brought to the attention of the international community violations of human rights which should have served as a trigger for preventive action. Time and again, there has been minimal action.”

He continued by mentioning States in which armed conflicts were the framework for constant human rights violations, including the fundamental right to life: Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

United_Nations_High_Commissioner_for_Human_Rights_(21509596784)_(cropped)

He highlighted the growing wave of narrow nationalism promoted by political parties and in some cases by the leaders of government. “Xenophobes and racists in Europe are casting off any sense of embarrassment – like Hungary’s Viktor Orban who earlier this month said ‘We do not want our color…to be mixed in with others’ “

He concluded with a warning and an encouragement to action. “It is accumulating unresolved human rights violations which will spark the conflicts that can break the world…For the worst offenders’ disregard and contempt for human rights will be the eventual undoing of all of us. This we cannot allow to happen.”

In the light of the use of the veto in the UN Security Council and the realpolitik considerations of States in general, it is the task of nongovernmental organizations (NGO) to promote the resolution of armed conflicts through negotiations in good faith and the respect of humanitarian international law while the armed conflicts go on. NGOs must work so that universal human rights are the basis of society at all times.

In order to carry out these crucial tasks, NGOs must become stronger, have greater access to the media, increase their networks to more countries, and develop greater cooperation among themselves. These challenges require a wise use of current resources and efforts to increase them. There is a need to increase cooperation with universities and other academic institutions for background information and analysis. Government representatives always look for factual errors in NGO presentations as a way to discredit the whole presentation. Dialogue with the representatives of governments must be continued and, if possible, made more regular. States will continue to be important agents in the world society, and we must try to be in contact even when government actions are unreasonable, even criminal.

Cooperation among NGOs will facilitate an outreach to more sectors of the world society. Often a specific NGO will reach a particular milieu – religious, geographic, professional, social class. By cooperation a wider audience can be reached, and techniques for positive action set out.

As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed armed violence, systematic repression, waves of hate and xenophobia are strong today, and there is a real danger that they will grow. To meet these negative challenges, we who uphold the unity of the human family must organize ever-more effectively.

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.

ILO_Geneva

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.

Child_labor_in_Africa

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.

Child_labor_in_a_Pakistan_Shop

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.

Saudi Arabia: Still Lost in the Sands of War

In Children's Rights, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on April 5, 2017 at 9:38 PM

SAUDI ARABIA: STILL LOST IN THE SANDS OF WAR

By René Wadlow

The aggression of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition (Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates) against Yemen began on March 24, 2015 so that we can now mark its second anniversary. However, there has been little progress toward a resolution of the armed conflict. Rather, there has been an increase in suffering, displacement of people, and destruction of the society. Saudi Arabia has changed the name from “Operation Decisive Storm” to “Operation Restoring Hope”, probably on the advice of the public relations firm which advises the United States (U. S.) Pentagon on the name of its operations. The first 28 days in 2015 of bombing from the air of cities and camps, killing women and children, created a sand storm, but the results were in no way decisive. Since that start on March 24, at least a 4,600 people have been killed, many more wounded and many displaced within the country. Nevertheless, the aggression has had little impact on the power configuration within the country.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has constantly called attention to the violations of the minimum standards of the laws of war. There are international agreements which set humanitarian law and human rights standards in times of armed conflicts, mainly the Red Cross Geneva Conventions of 1949 written in the light of experience during the Second World War and the two Protocols to the Conventions written in 1977 in the light of experiences of the Vietnam War. Not all States have ratified Protocols I and II, and a number of States have made reservations, especially refusing to forgo reprisals against civilians. Protocol I requires that attacks against military objectives be planned and executed so that “incidental” civilian injuries are not “excessive in relation to the specific military advantages anticipated”. The decision-making is subjective on the part of the military, and military officers rarely see any action as “excessive” (1)

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Another consequence of the bombing in Yemen is the starvation of the civilian population due to lack of food and water. As a result of the widespread use of defoliants in the Vietnam War, there was written as Article 54 (2) of the 1977 Additional Protocol I, a prohibition to destroy foodstuffs, crops, drinking water installations and irrigation works. Yemen is, at the best of times, short of food and drinking water installations. The bombing has deliberately increased the hardship as well as increasing the number of displaced people with resulting lack of access to food and water.

The members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council looked at the situation, and then decided to look away, although the Council appointed a UN mediator to try to find a “political solution”. The UN envoys to Yemen have had little influence on the promotion of a “political solution” or even any meaningful negotiations. The first UN envoy, Jamal Benomar, resigned in frustration. He has been replaced by Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed of Mauritania, who had been earlier the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen and so knows the country and its many factions well.

There is wide agreement in UN circles that Yemen is in a quagmire, with a free-fall of its economy, a collapse of its health services, its food imports blocked, and the country on the eve of division between north and south. The country’s present form dates from 1990 when south Yemen (Aden) was more or less integrated into the north, but the country remains highly fractured on tribal, sectarian, and ideological lines, with tribal structures being the most important. In the best of worlds, one could envisage a federal Yemen with a rule of law. More realistically, we can hope that autonomous tribal areas can be created that do not fight each other actively and allow necessary food imports and medical supplies into their areas.

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King Salman of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia, which should have known better, thought that it could expand its influence in Yemen. The new King Salman with his son Mohammed as Defense Minister hoped for a quick victory, having an endless supply of modern military equipment from the USA, England and cooperation from the Gulf States. The memories of the Egyptian intervention with its heavy use of chemical weapons in the Yemen civil war of the 1960s was overlooked, both by Saudi Arabia and its close partner Egypt, although Egypt had lost some 20,000 soldiers at the time.

One generation rarely learns from the experiences of earlier generations, and both Saudi’s and Egyptians had hoped to advance their interests in Yemen’s political confusion. Instead, Saudi Arabian leaders have been lost, blinded by the sands of war. It is likely that the King and his son will never be trusted again. The aggression in Yemen was the first foreign policy effort of Saudi Arabia which had not been designed and directed by the USA − their first effort to walk alone. The King and his son were lost in the sands of war and will never be heard of again on the international scene, but oil revenues will continue to assure the royal court of a comfortable life style.

The AWC has proposed a four-step approach to the resolution of the armed conflict:

1) an immediate ceasefire ending all foreign military attacks;

2) humanitarian assistance, especially for hard-to-reach zones;

3) a broad national dialogue;

4) through this dialogue, the establishment of a highly decentralized federal government.

In an April 17, 2015 letter to the then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the President of the Association of World Citizens wrote “It is imperative for the United Nations to be more effectively involved in ending the senseless aerial attacks and to establish a ceasefire, ensuring humanitarian and medical assistance to the people of Yemen. The critical situation is escalating and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is approaching catastrophic dimensions”

We can, alas, only repeat ourselves today.

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Note:

D. Schindler and J. Toman, The Laws of Armed Conflicts (Martinus Nihjoff Publishers, 1988)

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

Ending Marginalization and Exclusion

In Asia, Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Human Development, Human Rights, International Justice, Social Rights, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on October 17, 2016 at 9:31 AM

ENDING MARGINALIZATION AND EXCLUSION
By René Wadlow

October 17 was set by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in Resolution 47/196 as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. October 17 was chosen as the anniversary of a October 17, 1987 meeting in front of the Trocadéro in Paris near where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948. The 1987 meeting was called as a reminder that the victims of extreme poverty, hunger and violence do not enjoy the rights that are set out in the Universal Declaration.

In some ways the 1987 meeting is an indication of how long ideas and values take to be institutionalized in the world society. It took nearly 40 years for awareness to grow that there were people who fell outside the development and welfare provisions of governments. It took another four years for that awareness to be enshrined in a General Assembly resolution. Nevertheless, we must be thankful for resolutions which highlight the obvious. We can build upon that awareness and the resolution.

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Somewhere along the line of the growing awareness that poverty exists came the realization that the eradication of poverty was not only the concern of governments but also of the poor and marginalized themselves. To use the most commonly-used image: poverty reduction is not only a “top-down” effort (governments toward citizens) but also a “bottom-up” process (of the poor toward the holders of wealth and the governmental decision-makers.) Thus today, there is an awareness that the marginalized sections of society should be involved in the decision-making process which determines the socio-cultural, economic, and political life of the State. This awareness is often termed “popular participation”, “community organizing” and “grass-roots organizations.”

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As an Asian Committee for People’s Organization states in its manual for organizers Organizing People for Power, “It is the oppressors who, after all, control corporate decision-making, the government apparatus, the media, and the police. Although the people vastly outnumber the oppressors, in their disorganized conditions they lack the power to oppose their enemy. By themselves, the poor farmers, workers or slum dwellers are no match for the oppressors in terms of money or resources … The transfer of power from the hands of the oppressors to those of the oppressed is not easily accomplished at one fell swoop. Part of the difficulty lies in the ‘culture of silence’ that has been inculcated into the people’s consciousness by centuries of domination. By slow degrees, the oppressed have internalized a subservient mentality that is reinforced by their daily experience. They find it difficult to see their liberation in terms of their own strength, and look instead outside themselves to an external force to come and save them. The oppressed cannot imagine that the power they await lies within them, and therefore, they lapse into a state of passivity awaiting liberation from heaven or a messianic leader.”

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However, there are growing efforts by which people are released from their culture of silence and demand a meaningful participation in society through socio-economic projects which enhance their bargaining power. Such approaches involve tensions and conflicts, but conflicts can have a potential for creativity. As a set of notes for workers engaged in rural development and adult education written by the Xavier Institute of Social Service in Ranchi, India states, “Projects should be the result of a process where people have perceived the need for them. This will require a clear-cut vision and manifestation of a just society. Projects can be undertaken as instruments for social transformation, and development programmes must make the conscious effort to translate these projects into useful tools to hasten the establishment of a just society.”

Today, different social conditions, identities, religious beliefs shape our one humanity. We share the responsibility to ensure the dignity of each individual. We need to find creative ways of ending marginalization and exclusion of groups and individuals. October 17 should stand as a time of re-dedication to finding creative paths to this goal.

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

Building on the UN Summit to Address Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants

In Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Europe, Fighting Racism, Human Rights, Social Rights, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, Women's Rights, World Law on September 20, 2016 at 6:58 PM

BUILDING ON THE UN SUMMIT TO ADDRESS LARGE MOVEMENTS OF REFUGEES AND MIGRANTS

By René Wadlow

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On September 19, 2016, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly held a one-day Summit on “Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants”, a complex of issues which have become important and emotional issues in many countries. Restrictive migration policies deny many migrants the possibility of acquiring a regular migrant status, and as a result, the migrants end up being in an irregular or undocumented situation in the receiving country and can be exposed to exploitation and serious violations of human rights.

Citizens of the world have been actively concerned with the issues of migrants, refugees, the “stateless” and those displaced by armed conflicts within their own country. Thus we welcome the spirit of the Summit Declaration with its emphasis on cooperative action, a humane sense of sharing the responsibilities for refugees and migrants and on seeking root causes of migration and refugee flows. There are three issues mentioned in the Summit Declaration which merit follow up action among the UN Secretariat, world citizens and other non-governmental organizations:

1) The migration of youth;

2) The strong link between migration, refugee flows, and improving the structures for the resolution of armed conflicts;

3) Developing further cooperation among non-governmental organizations for the protection and integration of refugees and migrants.

The Migration of Youth

Youth leave their country of birth to seek a better life and also to escape war, poverty, and misfortune. We should add to an analysis of trans-frontier youth migration a very large number of youth who leave their home villages to migrate toward cities within their own country. Without accurate information and analysis of both internal and trans-frontier migration of youth, it is difficult to develop appropriate policies for employment, housing, education and health care of young migrants and refugees. It is estimated that there are some 10 million refugee children, and most are not in school.

Studies have noted an increasing feminization of trans-frontier migration in which the female migrant moves abroad as a wage earner, especially as a domestic worker rather than as an accompanying family member. Migrant domestic workers are often exposed to abuse, exploitation and discrimination based on gender, ethnicity and occupation. Domestic workers are often underpaid, their working conditions poor and sometimes dangerous. Their bargaining power is severely limited. Thus, there is a need to develop legally enforceable contracts of employment, setting out minimum wages, maximum hours of work and responsibilities.

The Association of World Citizens recommends that there be in the follow ups to the Summit, a special focus on youth, their needs as well as possibilities for positive actions by youth.

The strong link between migration, refugee flows, and improving the structures for the resolution of armed conflicts

The UN General Assembly which follows immediately the Migration-Refugee Summit is facing the need for action on a large number of armed conflicts in which Member States are involved. In some of these conflicts the UN has provided mediators; in others, UN peacekeepers are present. In nearly all these armed conflicts, there have been internally-displaced persons as well as trans-frontier refugees. Therefore, there is an urgent need to review the linkages between armed conflict and refugee flows. There needs to be a realistic examination as to why some of these armed conflicts have lasted as long as they have and why negotiations in good faith have not been undertaken or have not led to the resolution of these armed conflicts. Such reflections must aim at improvements of structures and procedures.

Developing further cooperation among nongovernmental organizations for the protection and integration of refugees and migrants

We welcome the emphasis in the Summit Declaration on the important role that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) play in providing direct services to refugees and migrants. NGOs also lobby government authorities on migration legislation and develop public awareness campaigns. The Summit has stressed the need to focus on future policies taking into account climate change and the growing globalization of trade, finance, and economic activities. Thus, there needs to be strong cooperation among the UN and its Agencies, national governments, and NGOs to deal more adequately with current challenges and to plan for the future. Inclusive structures for such cooperation are needed.

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

Yemen Negotiations Move Ahead Slowly – Postwar Planning Needed

In Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Development, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, Women's Rights, World Law on July 19, 2016 at 4:50 PM

YEMEN NEGOTIATIONS MOVE AHEAD SLOWLY – POSTWAR PLANNING NEEDED

As a result of Saudi bombing raids, Yemen’s underdeveloped socio-economic infrastructure has been largely destroyed. Post-war planning will need to be followed by international aid for development, with post-war socio-economic construction developed on a basic needs approach.

By René Wadlow

Guard sits on the rubble of the house of Brigadier Fouad al-Emad, an army commander loyal to the Houthis, after air strikes destroyed it in Sanaa, Yemen

A guard sits on the rubble of the house of Brigadier Fouad al-Emad, an army commander loyal to the Houthis, after air strikes destroyed it in Sanaa, Yemen June 15, 2015. Warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition bombarded Yemen’s Houthi-controlled capital Sanaa overnight as the country’s warring factions prepared for talks expected to start in Geneva on Monday. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

The United Nations (UN)-mediated peace negotiations for Yemen led by Ismail Ould Cheikh in Kuwait move ahead slowly. The 13-month war was at first between Houthis tribal forces loyal to former President Ali Abdallah Saleh and those supporting the current president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who had been Saleh’s vice-president for many years. The war is a struggle for power but is not an ideological-religious-tribal conflict.

Into this conflict has come a Saudi Arabian-led military coalition using bombs and sophisticated weapons. As a result, some 2.5 million people have been displaced within the country. Yemen was already a poor country which needed to import much of its agricultural and food supplies. As a result of the Saudi bombing raids, the underdeveloped socio-economic infrastructure has been largely destroyed.

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A shopping center destroyed by an airstrike in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, on April 20, 2015. (C) Ibrahem Qasim

Thus, there is a serious need first for postwar planning to be followed by international aid for development. “Reconstruction” would be the wrong term since there was little that had been “constructed”. Rather, we need to look to a postwar socio-economic construction developed on a basic needs approach.

The Basic Needs Approach to Development with its emphasis on people as central to the development process is embodied in the June 1976 World Employment Conference Declaration of Principles and Program of Action.[i] The Declaration underlines the importance of the individual and the central role of the family and household as the basic unit around which to work for development.

Although the Basic Needs Approach builds on the development thinking of the UN and national governments of the 1950s and 1960s such as rural development, urban poverty alleviation, employment creation through small-scale industries, the Declaration of Principles is a major shift in development strategies with its focus on the family with the objective of providing the opportunities for the full physical, mental, and social development of the human personality. The Program of Action defines a two-part approach: “First, Basic Needs includes certain minimum requirements of a family for private consumption: adequate food, shelter and clothing, as well as certain household equipment and furniture. Second, Basic Needs includes essential services provided by and for the community at large, such as safe drinking water, sanitation, public transport, health, education and cultural facilities.”

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Widespread destruction in a residential neighborhood near Mount Attan after an airstrike carried out by the Saudi Arabian-led “coalition” in Yemen. (C) Ibrahem Qasim

The Program added a basic element to the actions: “A Basic Needs-oriented policy implies the participation of the people in making the decisions which affect them through organizations of their own choice.”

The Basic Needs Approach concentrates on the nature of what is provided rather than on income − income having often been used as the criteria for drawing a ‘poverty line’. The Basic Needs Approach is concerned not only with the underemployed but also with the unemployable: the aged, the sick, the disabled, orphaned children and others. Such groups have often been neglected by the incomes and productivity approach to poverty alleviation and employment creation.

For Yemen which is largely structured on the basis of clan – extended family institutions, the Basic Needs Approach is most appropriate. In practice, there are few institutions or associations beyond the clan level, although tribal and religious identities are often mentioned. Tribes and religious identity are “shorthand” terms as it is impossible to mention the multitude of clans. However, a family welfare – meeting basic needs is the most appropriate strategy on which to base postwar planning. Although the fighting continues sporadically and agreement on a possible “unity government” seems far away, Basic Needs Planning must start now.

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

[i] See the Director General’s Report and the Declaration in the International Labor Office. Employment, Growth and Basic Needs: A One World Problem (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1977, 224 pp.)

UN-Designated Day for Developing Awareness of Human Trafficking

In Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Current Events, Human Development, Human Rights, International Justice, Social Rights, Solidarity, United Nations, Women's Rights, World Law on January 11, 2016 at 11:23 PM

International Day of Friendship

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

INTERNATIONAL DAY OF FRIENDSHIP

By Rene Wadlow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prof. René Wadlow is President and Chief Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.

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