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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.

A letter to the President to the Turkish Republic

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Democracy, Europe, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, United Nations, World Law on July 19, 2017 at 8:58 AM

-- AWC-UN Geneva Logo --

TRANSMITTED BY FAX AND EMAIL

July 18, 2017

Hon. Recep Tayyip Erdogan
President of the Turkish Republic
Ankara
Turkey

Honorable President Erdogan:

As a Nongovernmental Organization in Consultative Status with the United Nations (UN) and accredited with the UN Human Rights Council, the Association of World Citizens (AWC) wrote on June 12 expressing concern over the arrest by police of Mr. Taner Kiliç, Attorney at Law, Chair of Amnesty International Turkey.

A month has passed and Attorney Kiliç remains in detention. More preoccupying still, we hear a court in Turkey has just sent six Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) to prison, including Amnesty International’s Turkey Director, Ms. Idil Eser, less than a month after jailing Attorney Kiliç.

It appears that other HRDs have also been arrested, namely Günal Kursun and Veli Acu (Human Rights Agenda Association), Özlem Dalkiran (Citizens’ Assembly), Ali Gharavi, an IT strategy consultant, and Peter Steudtner, a nonviolence and well-being trainer. They are being held pending trial on the suspicion of “assisting an armed terrorist organization”.

Four HRDs were charged but released on bail – Nalan Erkem (Citizens Assembly), Ilknur Üstün (Women’s Coalition), Nejat Tastan (Equal Rights Watch Association) and Seyhmus Özbekli (Rights Initiative).

The AWC is sorry to hear that the Turkish authorities have arrested and jailed these HRDs just when they are needed most. As your country is still trying to make sense of the major constitutional crisis that took place with the failed coup d’état against the democratically-elected government of Turkey last year, there is a need for all positive, useful energies to get involved in the search for a more inclusive, participatory form of governance in Turkey.

We understand that the charges brought against the abovementioned people are related to the Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization. While the AWC certainly understands Turkey has been under pressure from terrorist groups for a number of years, especially in connection with the ongoing conflict in Syria where your country supports the people’s democratic revolution, like we do, we believe that charges related to terrorism must not be brought too lightly or quickly against an individual or an association – also bearing in mind the many existing cases throughout the world of HRDs who were branded “supporters of terrorism” only because they had denounced human rights violations by state agents, while they were also being targeted by those very terrorist groups they were being accused of supporting.

A year and a day ago, our President, Prof. René Wadlow, highlighted precisely this phenomenon and the risks induced thereby in an article published in Foreign Policy News. We are attaching a copy thereof for your reference and you can access it online here:
http://foreignpolicynews.org/2016/07/17/prepare-defend-human-rights-turkey/

The AWC believes that Turkey has reached a turning point in its history and a country with as great a culture and past as yours cannot afford to put its future in jeopardy by shutting out – or locking up – people who are so precious to its present and future.

Therefore, we are sure that your Government will make all efforts to immediately and unconditionally release Attorney Taner Kiliç, Ms. Idil Eser, as well as HRDs Günal Kursun, Veli Acu, Özlem Dalkiran, Ali Gharavi and Peter Steudtner.

The AWC further urges you to have all existing restrictions imposed on HRDs Nalan Erkem, Ilknur Üstün, Nejat Tastan and Seyhmus Özbekli lifted.

We thank you very much in advance for bringing Turkey back in line with UN standards.

Please accept, Honorable President Erdogan, the assurances of our highest consideration.

Prof. René Wadlow
President

Bernard Henry
External Relations Officer

Cherifa Maaoui
Liaison Officer,
Middle East & North Africa

Noura Addad, Attorney at Law
Legal Officer

The Empty Chair, but Democratic Vistas Radiate

In Asia, Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, World Law on July 16, 2017 at 10:22 AM

THE EMPTY CHAIR, BUT DEMOCRATIC VISTAS RADIATE

By René Wadlow

Lu Xiaobo

“Ever the undiscouraged, resolute, struggling soul of man,

Have former armies fail’d, then we send fresh armies – and fresh again.”

Walt Whitman, ‘Life’

Liu Xiaobo, Nobel Peace Prize laureate died on July 13, 2017 at age 61 after having been jailed for 11 years for being a chief writer of an appeal for democratic and human rights reforms in China. Concern has been expressed for his wife Liu Xia, who has been under heavy surveillance since the arrest of her husband. To honor his memory, we reprint an essay written at the time of the Nobel ceremony.

The chair for Liu Xiaobo was empty at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on December 10, 2010, and there were a few other empty chairs of ambassadors from countries that had been constantly warned by Chinese emissaries that attendance at the ceremony would be considered an unfriendly act. However, the spirits of the armies holding to Democratic Vistas were there. Walt Whitman in Democratic Vistas had denounced the depravity of the business classes and the widespread corruption, bribery, falsehood, and mal-administration in municipal, state, and national government. He was worried about the mal-distribution of wealth and the treatment of the working people by employers. Yet Whitman kept alive his ideal of social and political progress and the possibility of higher consciousness. Likewise, Liu Xiaobo and the other authors of Charter 08 are critical of the current trends of Chinese society but are firm in the hope that “all Chinese citizens who share this sense of crisis, responsibility and mission will put aside our differences to seek common ground to promote the great transformation of Chinese society.

On Christmas Day 2009 a court convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced him to 11 years in prison and two additional years of deprivation of political rights. The verdict cited as evidence passages from six essays Liu published online between 2005 and 2007 and his role in drafting Charter 08, an online petition for democratic reform issued on December 9, 2008 which has since been co-signed by some 10,000 persons, mostly Chinese in China. This December 2010, Liu Xiaobo received the Nobel Prize for Peace, though his presence at the ceremony in Oslo was represented by an empty chair.

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In 2010, U. S. Representative Nancy Pelosi, then Speaker of the House, standing before a portrait of Liu Xiaobo.

Liu Xiaobo’s case highlights one of the most crucial challenges facing the emerging Chinese civil society: the limits of freedom of expression. Liu Xiaobo not only offers his criticism of the regime but puts forth proposals to deal with crucial questions facing both the government and society, such as his essays on the future of Tibet.

Liu Xiaobo also reflects on the history of the relationship between the ruler and the ruled and urges the Chinese people to awaken from a supplicant mentality shaped by a historical system continued to the present that has infantilized them. As he wrote, “After the collapse of the Qing dynasty and especially after the CPC came to power, even though our countrymen no longer kowtow physically like the people of old, they kneel in their souls even more than the ancients … Can it be that Chinese people will never really grow up, that their character is forever deformed and week, and that they are only fit to, as if predestined by the stars, pray for and accept imperial mercy on themselves?”

His essays, since he returned to China from a visiting professorship at Columbia University in New York City in May 1989 to participate in the 1989 Democracy Movement, have infuriated the Chinese authorities with his hard, polemical style — “Driven by profit-making above all else, almost no officials are uncorrupted, not a single penny is clean, not a single word is honest … Degenerate imperial autocratic tradition, decadent money-worship, and the moribund communist dictatorship have combined to evolve into the worst sort of predatory capitalism.”

Liu Xiaobo stresses that China’s course toward a new, free society depends on bottom up reform based on self-consciousness among the people, and self-initiated, persistent and continuously expanding non-violent resistance based on moral values. He underlines the importance of New Age values that “Humans exist not only physically, but also spiritually, possessing a moral sense, the core of which is the dignity of being human. Our high regard for dignity is the natural source of our sense of justice.”

He sets out clearly the spirit and methods of non-violent resistance in the current Chinese context. “The greatness of non-violent resistance is that even as man is faced with forceful tyranny and the resulting suffering, the victim responds to hate with love, to prejudice with tolerance, to arrogance with humility, to humiliation with dignity, and to violence with reason. The victim, with a love that is humble and dignified takes the initiative to invite the victimizer to return to the rules of reason, peace, and compassion, thereby transcending the vicious cycle of ‘replacing one tyranny with another’. Regardless of how great the freedom-denying power of a regime and its institutions is, every individual should still fight to the best of his/her ability to live as a free person and make every effort to live an honest life with dignity …”

“The non-violent rights-defense movement does not aim to seize political power, but is committed to building a humane society where one can live with dignity…The non-violent rights-defense movement need not pursue a grand goal of complete transformation. Instead it is committed to putting freedom into practice in everyday life through initiation of ideas, expression of opinions and rights-defense actions, and particularly through the continuous accumulation of each and every rights-defense case, to accrue moral and justice resources, organizational resources, and maneuvering experience in the civic sector. When the civic forces are not yet strong enough to change the macro-political environment at large, they can at least rely on personal conscience and small-group cooperation to change the small micro-political environment within their reach.”

Liu Xiaobo thus joins those champions of nonviolent action such as Martin Luther King and the Dalai Lama who have been recognized by the Nobel Peace Prize. The spirit of the New Age is rising in the East and is manifesting itself in non-violent action to accelerate human dignity— a trend to watch closely and to encourage.

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Note:

The text of the six essays cited in the trial for “inciting subversion of state power” and a translation into English is in the N°1, 2010 issue of China Rights Forum published by Human Rights in China: www.hrichina.org.

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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.

May 3: World Press Freedom Day

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Human Rights, NGOs, United Nations, World Law on May 2, 2017 at 9:50 PM

MAY 3: WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY

By René Wadlow

 

World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly as an encouragement to the independence of journalists and the media, to be celebrated each May 3.  The overall theme proposed for this year is “Critical Minds for Critical Times: The Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies.”

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has always stressed the need for an independent media as an important avenue for the creation of a cosmopolitan, humanist world society. Many of the great changes in the world society have been promoted by publications of books and newspapers – the Protestant Reformation, and the American and French Revolutions. Today, we see the great ideological wave of world citizenship as the core of a new world philosophy.  Thus, world citizens have a strong commitment to freedom of expression through both public assemblies and through a free press.

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Today, after decades of conflict when the emphasis of State leaders and the media they controlled was upon competition, conflict, and individual enrichment, world citizens place an emphasis on harmony, cooperation, mutual respect, and working for the welfare of the community.  We know that there are an increasing number of people who realize that harmony is the key to our ascent to the next higher level of evolution: Harmony between intellect and heart, mind and body, male and female, being and doing.  We are fortunate to be able to participate in this crucial moment in world history when there is a passage of consciousness focused on the individual State to a consciousness focused on the unity of humanity and a new relationship of respect for Nature.

What is needed is a vision which inspires us to come together across over different points of view to create a process of healing and social transformation.

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Press freedom in 2016: Freedom is in blue, repression in red.

We are well aware that the media and the new digital technology and social media can be used for negative currents of hatred, racism, and narrow nationalism.  Media can also be used to spread rumors or false information. Moreover, in a large number of countries, the media is under the control of the government or a small number of financial interests.

However, there is also a strong tradition of investigative journalism which has highlighted political and economic corruption.

Only a well-informed population can take its destiny in hand.  We know that the problems confronting humanity are daunting in their depth and complexity.  Yet we also know that the human spirit is endowed with the ability to transform even the most difficult challenges through cooperation for positive change.  Today, we move into the New Age of cooperation and spiritual growth.

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

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