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Korean Tensions: Confidence-building Measures Needed

In Current Events, Conflict Resolution, The Search for Peace, Asia, United Nations, Humanitarian Law, NGOs, Track II 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.

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.

Saudi Arabia: Still Lost in the Sands of War

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

SAUDI ARABIA: STILL LOST IN THE SANDS OF WAR

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

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

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

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King Salman of Saudi Arabia

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

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

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

1) an immediate ceasefire ending all foreign military attacks;

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

3) a broad national dialogue;

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

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

We can, alas, only repeat ourselves today.

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Note:

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

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

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