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Increased Korean Tensions: Time for Concerted Nongovernmental Efforts

In Asia, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Korean Peninsula, NGOs, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on October 1, 2017 at 9:35 AM

By René Wadlow

An escalation of verbal exchanges between the Presidents of the USA and North Korea, missile flights over Japan, United States (U. S.) war planes close to the sea frontier of North Korea – one can hardly think of additional ways that governments can increase tensions short of an armed attack which probably all governments want to avoid. But there are always dangers of events slipping out of control. The Security Council of the United Nations (UN) has voted to tighten economic sanctions on North Korea. However, to date, sanctions have diminished the socio-economic conditions of the majority without modifying government policy.

For the moment, we look in vain for enlightened governmental leadership. The appeals for calm by the Chinese authorities have not been followed by specific proposals for actions to decrease tensions.

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The one positive sign which may help to change the political atmosphere both for governmental negotiations and for Track II (nongovernmental) discussions is the large number of States which have signed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on 20 September, the first day that the Treaty was open for signature. Signature is the first step in the process of ratification. As a light in the darkness, the Holy See (the Vatican) both signed and ratified the Treaty at the same time. Guyana and Thailand also signed and ratified the Treaty, the three first ratifications of the 50 needed for the Treaty to come into force.

The Vatican leads by moral example; its Swiss Guard army is only lightly armed. The Holy See, although a State, is a bridge to the world of nongovernmental organizations (NGO). The torch of action must now be taken up by a wider range of organizations than those, which had been in the lead for the abolition of nuclear weapons. The strength of “one-issue” NGOs is that its message is clear. This was seen in the earlier efforts to ban a single category of weapons: land mines, chemical weapons, cluster munitions and the long-running efforts on nuclear weapons.

Some of us have long worked on the abolition of nuclear weapons. I recall as a university student in the early 1950s, I would cross Albert Einstein who liked to walk from his office to his home. I would say “Good evening, Professor Einstein”, and he would reply “Good evening, young man”. I knew that he had developed some theories, which I did not understand but that were somehow related to atomic energy. I was happy that we were both against atomic bombs under the slogan “One World or None!”.

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The current Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons did not grow from the usual arms control negotiations, such as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons or the chemical weapons ban, both of which were negotiated in Geneva, both over a 10-year period. The Nuclear Weapons ban was largely negotiated elsewhere, Vienna and New York, in the humanitarian law tradition of banning weapons that cause unnecessary suffering, such as the ban on napalm after its wide use in the Vietnam War. The contribution of both “ban-the-bomb” groups and the humanitarian organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross was great in reaching the successful outcome.

Thus, today, there is a need for a coming together of nongovernmental organizations who are primarily focused on the resolution of armed conflicts such as the International Crisis Group, International Alert, and the Association of World Citizens (AWC) with those groups concerned with the abolition of nuclear weapons. The current Korean tensions are based on the development of nuclear weapons and missile systems and the pressures and threats to prevent their development.

One proposal which seems to me to be a common ground on which many could cooperate has been called a “double-freeze” – a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear-weapon and missile programs with a reciprocal freeze on the yearly U. S.-South Korea war exercises and a progressive reduction of U. S. troops stationed in South Korea and elsewhere in Asia, especially Japan.

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There are also proposals for economic cooperation, greater meetings among separated family members, and cultural exchanges. However, given the heat of the current saber rattling, the “double-freeze” proposal seems to be the one that addresses most directly the security situation. We need to build on this common ground.

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

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The Hidden Stakes of the Independence Vote in Iraqi Kurdistan

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Middle East & North Africa, The Search for Peace on September 19, 2017 at 10:06 PM

By Bernard J. Henry

A new nation may soon emerge in the Middle East. A nation that has been in the hearts and minds of its people for centuries, but nowhere to be found in geography textbooks or diplomatic directories. A nation named Kurdistan, carved out of what is currently the autonomous northernmost part of Iraq.

On September 25, all native Kurdistanis – people born in Iraqi Kurdistan, whether they are Kurds or from the area’s solid ethnic minorities – will have to answer a question asked by the President of the Kurdish Regional Government, Massoud Barzani: “Do you want the Kurdistan region and the Kurdistani areas outside the region’s administration to become an independent state?”.

Yet behind the possibility of a “Kurdexit” driving the region away from the federal government in Baghdad, there may be more to the vote than meets the eye.

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In green on this map, Iraqi Kurdistan

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The Kurdish flag

Seeking independence – from dissent at home?

Since 2014, the ruling Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) of President Massoud Barzani and its archrival, the leftist Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) once led by former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, have been at odds with a third contender for leadership – Gorran, “Change” in Kurdish, a center-left movement that spawned from rejection of the two main parties’ policies.

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Massoud Barzani

Barzani, who had reneged on leaving his post and reluctantly agreed in the end, cited the rise of Da’esh, the “Islamic State”, to maintain himself in power. Created in 2009, Gorran quickly secured a blocking majority in parliament, forcing the election of one of its members as speaker as well as many concessions from Barzani, who appeared too eager to push back the PUK and along with it any attempt to remove him from power.

When the referendum was announced, Gorran immediately voiced opposition, not out of heartfelt rejection of independence and die-hard loyalty to Iraq but because Barzani was felt as using the issue to stifle any debate on domestic issues, whether with Gorran or the PUK.

“Most of those voters who will say no will not be rejecting independence, but really telling Barzani they want a fair presidential election first,” comments Emran Mensour, a Kurdish lawyer from Syria living in exile in Paris. “The political feud between Barzani and Talabani stops where independence is at stake. But domestically, rivalry never stops.” Even though breaches have since appeared within Gorran and some members have started voicing support for the referendum, the party apparatus continues to stand up to Barzani.

With an estimated 80% of likely voters supporting independence, Gorran appears unlikely to block Barzani’s plans. But the party has made its point and the President of a future independent Kurdistan will know that (s)he must reckon with the third force.

Minding the “big brothers”

Already struggling with dissent at home, alienating others beyond borders is the last thing Barzani needs. In a September 10 official message, the Kurdistani leader called on referendum campaigners to observe the “spirit of brotherhood that binds the people of Kurdistan with the Iraqi people”. He had no choice as the debate on independence is spilling over to neighboring countries, especially Iran and Turkey, the “big brothers” the Shi’a majority in Iraq and the Turkmen minority in Kurdistan look to, respectively.

The Iraqi government and most Iraqi political parties have spoken out against the referendum, as have the governments of Iran, Syria, and Turkey, Ankara’s opposition being echoed in Kurdistan proper by a Turkmen party, the Iraqi Turkmen Front. Understandably, the three countries besides Iraq on whose national territory historic Kurdistan spreads cannot live with the thought that “their” own Kurds may choose independence someday, if only by joining a former Iraqi Kurdistan turned independent. Even then, the main issue will not be with either of the “big brothers”.

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Emran Mensour

“Kurds in all four countries are not bound together with the same strength,” Emran Mensour comments. “There is a strong bond between the Kurds of Iraq and Syria”, the former being now organized in a self-declared autonomous entity, Rojava – the Kurdish for “west” –, led by the Syrian branch of Turkey’s Marxist-Leninist Kurdish Workers Party (PKK).

Like its Iraqi counterpart, Rojava has been at the forefront of the military struggle against Da’esh, while also antagonizing the Syrian opposition forces and thus becoming an objective ally of the Damascus regime. Yet Barzani’s paternalistic style of leadership hardly matches the democratic confederal structure of Rojava, at least on paper, and an alliance or a merger between the two looks the least probable outcome of a successful independence vote.

Short-circuiting a “Shi’a crescent”

If not the creation of a greater, mightier Kurdistan, another stake of the referendum is the influence of Shi’a Muslims in an area whose politics have been dictated predominantly by Sunni leaders. “If Assad should remain in power in Syria,” Mensour adds, “he and his counterparts in Iran and Iraq would be able to form a ‘Shi’a crescent’ in the Middle East, obviously a scary thought for every Sunni country in the region”.

No wonder both King Abdullah of Jordan and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu – none the keener about an independence referendum in Palestine – have expressed support for the vote.

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King Abdullah of Jordan

As for Turkey, the main Sunni power west of Iraq, though its President turned autocrat, Reçep Tayyip Erdogan, recently tried to sway King Abdullah, the monarch held firm. Now it is uncertain that Ankara, in business with Iraqi Kurdistan through an oil deal struck outside of Baghdad’s authority, will have the leverage, let alone the will, to resist an independent Kurdistan on the long run. Especially if Erdogan should decide to durably play (the former) Iraqi Kurdistan against the PKK at the helm in Rojava.

More than independence

If any region in the world knows that independence does not guarantee freedom, let alone stability, the Middle East does.

On September 25, Kurdistanis will have to decide on a lot more than independence or not. Should the vote be positive, the ball will be in the court of a world that has shunned peace and human dignity in the Middle East for much too long.

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

As South Sudan Disintegrates, People Move

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, Migration, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on August 28, 2017 at 8:09 PM

By René Wadlow

In an August 17, 2017 call for urgent support, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stated “Over the past 12 months, an average of 1,800 South Sudanese have been arriving in Uganda every day. In addition to the million in Uganda, a million or more South Sudanese are being hosted by Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic. More than 85 per cent of the refugees who have arrived in Uganda are women and children, below age 18 years… Recent arrivals continue to speak of barbaric violence with armed groups reportedly burning down houses with civilians inside, people being killed in front of family members, sexual assaults of women and girls, and kidnapping of boys for forced conscription…Since December 2013, when South Sudan’s crisis erupted in Juba, more than two million South Sudanese have fled to neighboring countries while another two million people are estimated to be internally displaced.”

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With the disappearance of any form of government administration in South Sudan, the country finds itself in what can be called ‘anarchy without anarchists’. There are some school buildings without teachers or students, some medical buildings without personnel or medicine; there are some soldiers but who are not paid and so ‘live off the land’. There are armed bands more or less organized on a tribal basis, but tribal organization has long been weakened beyond repair. All that is left is hatred of other tribal groups. Different United Nations (UN) bodies are active in the country, including a large and costly ‘peacekeeping mission’ (MINUSS), but the UN has so far refused to create a ‘trusteeship’ to try to administer the country. Thus, there are basically only services of the High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Program distributing food but very inadequate to meet the food needs, and UNICEF providing some services to woman and children. There is no UN administration of the country as a whole as there is a fiction that a government continues to exist. The same holds true for any form of ‘trusteeship’ by the African Union.

South Sudan has always been more anarchy than administration. During the British colonial period, the areas of South Sudan were administered from Uganda rather than from Khartoum as transportation from the North was always difficult. (1) The independence of Sudan and the start of the civil war came at the same time in 1956. There was a ten-year break in the civil, North-South, war 1972-1983, at which time the war took up again from 1983 to 2005. After 2005, a southern regional government was set up with, in theory, an administration which remained very thin or non-existent outside of the capital Juba and a few larger towns. The churches, mostly Protestant but also some Catholic, provided education and medical services.

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The bitterness of the civil war period was so great that it was felt by many that a unified Sudan was not possible. In 2011, a referendum was held in South Sudan on its future, and there was a massive vote for independence. The Association of World Citizens was one of the nongovernmental organizations invited by the Government of Sudan to monitor the referendum, and we had sent a five-person team. I thought that full independence rather than a form of con-federation was a mistake and that the future would be difficult. However, I did not foresee how difficult it would be.

Now it is difficult to see what can be done. There is only the fiction of a government and no over-all leadership of the armed bands. There are no recognized leaders to carry out negotiations. The churches are the only trans-tribal institutions, though the membership of local churches are usually drawn from a single tribal/ethnic group. There may be times, if one follows Aristotle’s cycle of types of government, when anarchy will give rise to demands for strong leadership, but there are no signs of it yet. For the moment, moving to another country seems like the best hope.

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Note:

(1) See the two-volume history of the administration of Sudan:

M. W. Daly, Empire on the Nile: The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan 1898-1934 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986)

M. W. Daly, Imperial Sudan: The Anglo-Egyptian Condominium 1934-1956 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991)

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

Korean Tensions: Confidence-building Measures Needed

In Asia, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Humanitarian Law, NGOs, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations on August 15, 2017 at 9:00 AM

By René Wadlow

In a May 12, 2017 article “Korea: Back from the Brink, Small Steps Forward” I hoped that the May 9 election of Moon Jae-in as President of the Republic of Korea may have applied the brakes to a dangerous increase in tensions between the two Korean States, the USA, China, Japan and Russia. I thought that “there may be a possibility of small steps that build confidence between the two Koreas and that do not overly worry the USA and China who watch events closely and who may do more than watch … It is unlikely that any progress will be made in the foreseeable future concerning denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula or unification. Small steps are probably the ‘order of the day’. However, Track II – informal discussions which are not negotiations but a clarification of possible common interests and areas of joint action – can be helpful.”

Track II efforts have not been on a scale to quell tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile advances, and the saber rattling of governments has done nothing to reduce tensions. “Fire and fury like the world has never seen” is probably not the vocabulary that leads to negotiations. Nor is an editorial in the Chinese government English-language newspaper Global Times which quotes a spokesperson saying, “If the US and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korea Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so”.

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It is hard to know how seriously to take the saber rattling, but the sound is loud enough and the sabers are sharp enough that calmer spirits need to propose confidence-building measures. The Association of World Citizens had proposed to the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon to have a U.N.-led conference to transform the Korean War Armistice of 1953 into a Korean Peace Treaty. Such a Peace Treaty would confirm the international legitimacy of the two Korean States while not preventing at a later date a con-federation or other form of re-unification. Such a conference and Peace Treaty could play an important role in reducing regional tensions. However, such a conference would require a good deal of negotiations as all conditions would have to be agreed upon in advance. Diplomatic conferences “bless” efforts made before in private. A successful diplomatic conference rarely starts from zero.

Another avenue of confidence-building measures is what the University of Illinois psychology professor Charles Osgood called GRIT – Graduated Reciprocation in Tension Reduction. He recommended an incremental series of conciliatory unilateral initiatives. They should be varied in nature, announced ahead of time without bargaining and continued only in response to comparable actions from the other party – a sort of “arms race in reverse”. Unilateral initiatives should, whenever possible, take advantage of mutual self-interest, mutual self-restraints and opportunities for cooperative enterprise.

As Osgood wrote, “The real problem is not the unavailability of actions that meet the criterion of mutual self-interest, but rather the psychological block against seeing them that way. The operation of psycho-logic on both sides makes it difficult for us to see anything that is good for them as being anything other than bad for ourselves. This is the familiar ‘if they are for it, we must be against it’ mechanism”. (1)

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Osgood directed his proposals for dealing with tension reduction so as to ease fear, foster more circumspect decisions in which many alternatives are considered, and modify the perceptual biases that fan the flames of distrust and suspicion. The most favorable feature of the GRIT approaches that it offers a means whereby one party can take the initiative in international relations rather than constantly reacting to the acts of others.

Such GRIT efforts were carried out concerning Korea in the early 1990s between Presidents George H. W. Bush and Kim Il-sung but rarely since. Currently, the governments of Russia and China have proposed a GRIT-type proposal of a “double freeze” – a temporary freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests in return for a sharp reduction of US military presence in South Korea.

A “double freeze” may be too large a shift at this stage. In my article, I had proposed such steps as increased family contacts, cultural exchanges, increased food aid to the Democratic People’s Republic, a lessening of economic sanctions and an increase in trade.

There is a need to halt the automatic reaction to every provocation, and to “test the waters” for a reduction of tensions. Real negotiations may take some time to put into place, but GRIT-type unilateral measures are a possibility worth trying.

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Note

(1) Charles E. Osgood, An Alternative to War or Surrender (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1962).

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

Rapid Ratification Needed of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

In Asia, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Environmental protection, Human Development, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on July 19, 2017 at 10:53 AM

RAPID RATIFICATION NEEDED OF THE TREATY ON THE PROHIBITION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS
By René Wadlow

On July 7, 2017, at the United Nations in New York, a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was voted by 122 Member States, one Member State, the Netherlands, voted against, and one Member State, Singapore, abstained. The People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) was the only nuclear-weapon State to take part in the Treaty Conference and to vote in favor of its adoption. The other nuclear-weapon States did not participate in the drafting of the Treaty.

Immediately after the positive vote, the delegations of the USA, the United Kingdom, and France issued a joint press statement saying that “This initiative clearly disregards the realities of the international security environment… This treaty offers no solution to the grave threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program, nor does it address other security challenges that made nuclear deterrence necessary.”

Article I of the Treaty sets out its basic intention: to prohibit all activities involving nuclear weapons including to develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons and to use, threaten to use, transfer, station, install or deploy these weapons.

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The Treaty will be open for signature and thus the start of the process of ratification at the start of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on September 20, 2017. 50 ratifications are necessary for the Treaty to come into force. September 21 is the World Day for Peace, set by the UN General Assembly in 1981. The theme this year is “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All”.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) believes that signing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons would be a most appropriate way to mark the Day of Peace and its theme “Together for Peace”. The AWC warmly welcomes the Treaty and expresses its deep appreciation to the UN Secretariat, the delegates of the Member States, and fellow non-governmental organization representatives who have worked to achieve this common goal, an important step toward a world free of the threats posed by nuclear weapons.

World Citizens were among those who called for the abolition of nuclear weapons shortly after their first use on Japan, and many Japanese world citizens have constantly participated in efforts toward their abolition.

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On August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. That was the first ever nuclear attack in U. S., Japanese, and world history. Around 250,000 people were killed in that bomb attack alone. (C) U. S. Navy Public Affairs Resources Website

World Citizens have also stressed that the abolition of nuclear weapons is part of a larger effort of disarmament and the peaceful settlement of disputes. At each 5-year review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), World Citizens have stressed that Article VI of the NPT has not been fulfilled by the nuclear-weapon States. Article VI says that “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” Unfortunately, the issue of general and complete disarmament and forms of verification and control are no longer topics on the world agenda.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons follows what has been called The Hague Law tradition of the banning of weapons because of their humanitarian consequences, a tradition first stressed in Saint-Petersburg in 1868 and which was at the heart of the two peace conferences of The Hague in 1899 and 1907. This tradition has led to the ban on poison gas by the 1925 Geneva Protocol as well as the more recent bans on chemical weapons, biological weapons, anti-personnel land mines, and cluster munitions. A conference of UN Member States was held in Vienna, Austria on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons which brought up-to-date the many reports and studies on the impact of the use of nuclear weapons on humans and Nature. Thus the emphasis of the negotiations on the Treaty concerned more humanitarian consequences rather than arms control issues.

World Citizens have always stressed that the abolition of nuclear weapons and other disarmament measures must be accompanied by efforts to strengthen world institutions that can skillfully address conflicts as early as possible. Acting together, all States and peoples can help to define a dynamic vision and program for achieving global security that is realistic and achievable. Progress toward a cosmopolitan, humanist world society requires the development of effective norms, procedures and institutions.

Thus, the start of a speedy ratification procedure of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on September 21, Day of Peace, would be a sign to the peoples of the world that there is at the world level a vision of this crucial step toward a world of peace and justice.

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

June 20: World Refugee Day

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

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JUNE 20: WORLD REFUGEE DAY
By René Wadlow

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

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

Refugee Rights Protest at Broadmeadows, Melbourne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle for Raqqa: Protests needed on violations of humanitarian law

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

BATTLE FOR RAQQA: PROTESTS NEEDED ON VIOLATIONS OF HUMANITARIAN LAW

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Korea: Back From the Brink, Small Steps Forward

In Asia, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Humanitarian Law, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on May 13, 2017 at 9:12 AM

KOREA: BACK FROM THE BRINK, SMALL STEPS FORWARD

By René Wadlow

The election on May 9, 2017 of Moon Jae-in as president of the Republic of Korea may have applied the brakes to a dangerous increase in tensions between the two Koreas, the USA, China, Japan, and Russia. Moon Jae-in, 64 years old, formerly a human rights lawyer, has long been a political figure, having come in second in the 2012 presidential elections just behind Ms. Park Geun-hye, recently ousted on corruption changes, thus provoking early elections. There are 10 or so candidates in the elections for president, the person receiving the highest percentage of votes is elected. Thus the 41% of the votes for Moon Jae-in is a strong victory, due in part to his popularity among young voters and also a reaction to the levels of corruption in the administration of his two predecessors, Park and Lee Myung-Bak.

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Moon Jae-in

Moon follows in the tradition of Presidents Kim Dae-Jung and Roh Mu-hyun. Kim was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “Sunshine Policy” of tension reduction with North Korea. Moon had served as a chief administrator for Roh. During the decade of the Kim and Roh administrations from 1998 to 2007, inter-Korean conciliation and cooperation made unprecedented progress. The high point was the 15 June 2000 North-South Joint Declaration signed in Pyongyang by Kim Jong-Il for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Kim Dae-Jung for the Republic of Korea.

The Declaration set out reunification as a chief goal along with economic cooperation and building “mutual confidence by activating cooperation and exchanges in all fields, social, cultural, sports, public health, environmental and so on.” Furthermore “The North and South agreed to hold dialogues between the authorities as soon as possible to implement the above-mentioned agreed points in the near future.”

While there was a second inter-Korean summit between Kim Jong-Il and Roh Moo-hyun again in Pyongyang in October 2007 reaffirming the spirit of the joint declaration of 2000, the road has been downhill since 2000 to the point that the image of a car stopping just at the brink of a cliff is more than a poetic image.

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Now, there may be a possibility of small steps that build confidence between the two Koreas and that do not overly worry the USA and China who watch events closely and who may do more than watch. The one program that did follow the 2000 Declaration was a greater possibility for short meetings among family members from North and South, many of whom have been divided since the 1950-1953 War. Such meetings do not undermine either system and have a humanitarian character. Cultural cooperation could also be undertaken since cultural events are of short duration. Cooperation for work in industrial zones has had a very up-and-down history and needs to be restarted almost from nothing today.

The one security issue on which some progress might be made concerns the Law of the Sea and the maritime boundaries of the two States, the sea limits having created tense confrontations between North and South Korean war ships in the past.

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It is unlikely that any progress will be made in the foreseeable future concerning de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula or unification. Small steps are probably the “order of the day”. However, Track II – informal discussions which are not negotiations but a clarification of possible common interests and areas of joint action- can be helpful.

Relations with the external nuclear powers, USA, China, and Russia, will remain difficult, but the “rules of the game” which have held since 1954 may continue if care is taken to strengthen the modalities of crisis management.

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

Yemen: Effective Humanitarian Aid Depends on a Peace Accord

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Refugees, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on April 26, 2017 at 10:42 PM

YEMEN: EFFECTIVE HUMANITARIAN AID DEPENDS ON A PEACE ACCORD

By René Wadlow

The United Nations (UN) together with the governments of Sweden and Switzerland which have often led humanitarian issues in the UN system held a high-level pledging conference in Geneva on April 25, 2017 to again draw attention to the deepening humanitarian crisis in war-torn Yemen, currently the largest food security emergency in the world. Some 60% of the population are in a food-insecure situation.

More than 3.5 million people have been displaced in the cycle of escalating violence. “We are witnessing the starving and the crippling of an entire generation. We must act now, to save lives” said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who presided over the conference. Realistically, he stressed that funding and humanitarian aid alone will not reverse the fortunes of the millions of people impacted. Diplomatically, he called for a cessation of hostilities and a political settlement with talks facilitated by the Special Envoy of the Secretary General, the Mauritanian diplomat Ismail Ould Chekh Ahmed.

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

UN officials and most diplomats are reluctant to call the armed conflict by its real name: “a war of aggression”. 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.

The Saudi-led coalition is helped with arms and “intelligence” by the USA and the UK which appreciate Saudi money for arms and do not want to antagonize a large segment of the Arab world when the conflicts of Syria-Iraq-Kurds-Turkey is still “on the table.”

However, the aggression of the Saudi coalition is what has turned an internal Yemen struggle for power between the current and the former President of Yemen into a war with regional implications, now drawing Iran into the picture.

Intellectually, the “political solution” is clear. There needs to be an end to the Saudi bombing and a withdrawal of its coalition troops. Then, the different factions in Yemen can try to develop some sort of inclusive government. The Swiss Foreign Minister, a co-host of the conference, hinted to the issue in suggesting very briefly that, if asked, Switzerland could provide expertise on forms of decentralization and con-federal government.

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A destroyed house in the south of Sana’a, Yemen.

The effort to create a centralized Yemen government has failed. The future lies in a very decentralized government with great autonomy for the regions, taking into consideration the diverse tribal configuration of the country. With intelligence and patience – always in short supply – a single, highly decentralized State might be developed.

The most difficult first-step is ending Saudi-led aggression, after which an effective humanitarian aid and development program can be put into effect.

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

Syria: Chemical Weapon Use, Destruction of Children, The Ethical Vacuum

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Refugees, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on April 12, 2017 at 12:22 PM

SYRIA: CHEMICAL WEAPON USE, DESTRUCTION OF CHILDREN, THE ETHICAL VACUUM

By René Wadlow

The defense of those using their conscience to uphold humanitarian international law.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) calls for the re-affirmation of humanitarian international law. It is a call to the soldiers and militia members in armed conflicts to refuse orders to violate humanitarian international law by refusing to use weapons outlawed by international treaties such as chemical weapons, landmines, cluster munitions or any weapon to attack civilians, especially children and women. We must defend all who use their individual conscience to refuse to follow orders to violate humanitarian international law.

“At the heart of this growing phenomenon of mass violence and social disintegration is a crisis of values. Perhaps the most fundamental loss a society can suffer is the collapse of its own value system. Many societies exposed to protracted conflicts have seen their community values radically undermined if not shattered altogether. This has given rise to an ethical vacuum, a setting in which international standards are ignored with impunity and where local value systems have lost their sway.”

-Olara Otunnu, then Special Representative of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Report to UN General Assembly, 1998.

The attack on Khan Sheikhoon in Idlib Province of Syria on April 4, 2017 raises at least two essential issues concerning humanitarian international law and the protection of children in times of armed conflict.

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A major issue is the use of chemical weapons, probably sarin or a sarin-like substance in violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare of which Syria was a party, among the 135 governments which have signed. The attack was also a violation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction which came into force in 1997. The Convention created The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Syria signed the Convention in 2013 as part of a compromise decision to have its chemical-weapon stock destroyed.

The use of poison gas strikes deep, partly subconscious, reactions not provoked in the same way as seeing someone shot by a machine gun. The classic Greeks and Romans had a prohibition against the use of poison in war, especially poisoning water well because everyone needs to drink. Likewise poison gas is abhorred because everyone needs to breath to live.

There is a real danger that the Geneva Protocol of 1925, one of the oldest norms of humanitarian international law will be undermined and the use of chemical weapons “normalized”. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is already investigating the use of chemical weapons in seven other locations in Syria.

Chemical weapons have been used in armed conflicts in the Middle East before. Although Egypt had signed the 1925 Geneva Protocol, Egyptian forces used chemical weapons widely in their support of the republican forces in the Yemen Civil War (1962-1967) with very few international outcries. As a result of the lack of any sanctions against Egypt, Syria requested Egyptian technical assistance in developing its own chemical weapons capabilities shortly after 1967 – well before the al-Assad dynasty came to power.

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Humanitarian international law is largely based on self-imposed restraints. Although the International Criminal Court has a mandate to try crimes of war and crimes against humanity, its impact on the way armed conflicts are currently carried out is small. Thus, restraints need to rest on the refusal of soldiers and militia members to carry out actions that they know to be against both humanitarian international law and the local value system. This is especially true of the non-harming of children in times of armed conflict.

Humanitarian international law creates an obligation to maintain the protection of all non-combatants caught in the midst of violent conflicts as set out in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977. Moreover, there is an urgent need to focus special attention on the plight of children. They are the least responsible for the conflict and yet are most vulnerable. They need special protection. The norms to protect children in armed conflicts are set out clearly in the Additional Protocols which has 25 articles specifically pertaining to children. The norms are also clearly stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most universally ratified international treaty. The Convention calls for the protection of the child’s right to life, education, health, and other fundamental needs. These provisions apply equally in times of armed conflict and in times of peace.

As with the use of weapons prohibited by international treaty: chemical weapons, land mines, cluster munitions, the protection of children must be embodied in local values and practice. The classic Chinese philosopher Mencius, in maintaining that human were basically good, used the example of a child about to fall into a well who would be saved by anyone regardless of status or education.

The AWC has called for a UN-led conference on the re-affirmation of humanitarian, international law. There needs to be a world-wide effort on the part of governments and non-governmental organizations to re-affirm humanitarian values and the international treaties which make them governmental obligations. Such a conference would bring together into a coherent synthesis the four avenues of humanitarian international law:

1) The Geneva Conventions – Red Cross-mandated treaties;

2) The Hague Convention tradition dealing with prohibited weapons, highlighting recent treaties such as those on land mines and cluster munitions;

3) Human rights conventions and standards, valid at all time but especially violated in times of armed conflicts;

4) The protection of sites and monuments which have been designated by UNESCO as part of the cultural heritage of humanity, highlighting the August 2016 decision of the International Criminal Court on the destruction of Sufi shrines in northern Mali.

There is also a need to use whatever avenues of communication we have to stress to those living in Syria-Iraq-ISIS-Kurd-majority areas-and Turkey that they have a moral duty to disobey orders that violate humanitarian international law. We on the outside must do all we can to protect those who so act humanely in accord with their conscience.

-- AWC-UN Geneva Logo --

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

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