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جمعية المواطنين العالمية تدعو للسلام في ليبيا

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, Libya, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations on May 8, 2019 at 4:25 PM

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Libya: Will the UN Appeal for a Halt to the March on Tripoli Be Heard?

In Africa, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Libya, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on April 10, 2019 at 9:51 PM

By René Wadlow

With the administrative-political situation in Libya badly stalemated and a meeting for negotiations to be held April 14-16 unlikely to make progress, on Thursday, April 4, 2019, General Khalifa Haftar, one of the key players in the drama decided to start a “March on Tripoli” and to take overall power by force.

Most of the significant buildings in Libyan cities were built by Italians during the Fascist period, when Libya was an Italian colony. Thus, General Haftar has patterned himself on Mussolini’s 1922 “March on Rome”. In 1922, the diplomats of most States looked away when Mussolini marched or the diplomats took it as a domestic affair.

In 2019, the “March on Tripoli” has drawn more international attention and concern. The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, met with Haftar a few hours before the March began. Guterres was in Libya to facilitate the April 14-16 meeting on which his Special Representative, Ghassan Salamé, has been working for some time in the hope of drawing a road map for long-delayed elections. On Friday, April 5, the UN Security Council held a closed-door emergency meeting. The Security Council called for a halt to the March on Tripoli and the de-escalation of the growing armed conflict.

The Security Council recognized the real possibilities of broader armed conflict and its consequences on the civilian population. In the recent past, the Libyan armed factions have violated the laws of war and have a sad record of abuses against civilians.

We will now have to see if Khalifa Haftar is more open to international appeals than was Benito Mussolini. My impression is that the goal of holding overall power is stronger than the respect of international law. However, even a successful “March on Tripoli” will not create the conditions for an administration of a culturally and geographically-diverse country. New and appropriate constitutional structures must be developed.

There cannot be a return to the earlier Italian colonial structures, nor to the forms of government at independence developed by King Idris al Sanussi which depended largely on his role as a religious leader using religious orders, nor the complicated pattern of “direct democracy” developed by Muammar al-Qadhafi. The Association of World Citizens has proposed the possibility of con-federal structures.

The post 2011 Libyan society faces large and complex issues. Resolving the institutional, economic and political issues is urgent and cannot be settled by elections alone. There are three distinct regions which must have some degree of autonomy: Tripolitania and Cyrenaica both bordering the Mediterranean and Fezzan in the southern Sahara. Within each of the three regions there are differing and often rival tribal societies which are in practice more kinship lines than organized tribes. (1) There are differing economic interests and there are differing ideologies ranging from “Arab Socialism” to the Islamist ideology of the Islamic State which has spread from its Syrian-Iraqi base.

The situation is critical, and the next few days may be crucial for the future of the country.

Note

1) See J. Davis. Libyan Politics, Tribes and Revolution (London: I. B. Tauris, 1987)

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

Syria: Concerns Raised and Possible Next Steps

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Migration, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, Syria, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on March 16, 2019 at 8:52 AM

By René Wadlow

March 15 is widely used as the date on which the conflict in Syria began. March 15, 2011 was the first “Day of Rage” held in a good number of localities to mark opposition to the repression of youth in the southern city of Daraa, where a month earlier young people had painted anti-government graffiti on some of the walls, followed by massive arrests.

I think that it is important for us to look at why organizations that promote nonviolent action and conflict resolution in the US and Western Europe were not able to do more to aid those in Syria who tried to use nonviolence during the first months of 2011. By June 2011, the conflict had largely become one of armed groups against the government forces, but there were at least four months when there were nonviolent efforts before many started to think that a military “solution” was the only way forward. There were some parts of the country where nonviolent actions continued for a longer period.

There had been early on an effort on the part of some Syrians to develop support among nonviolent and conflict resolution groups. As one Syrian activist wrote concerning the ‘Left’ in the US and Europe but would also be true for nonviolent activists “I am afraid that it is too late for the leftists in the West to express any solidarity with the Syrians in their extremely hard struggle. What I always found astonishing in this regard is that mainstream Western leftists know almost nothing about Syria, its society, its regime, its people, its political economy, its contemporary history. Rarely have I found a useful piece of information or a genuinely creative idea in their analyses “(1)

A Syrian opposition rally in Paris
(C) Bernard J. Henry/AWC

In December 2011, there was the start of a short-lived Observer Mission of the League of Arab States. In a February 9, 2012 message to the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, Ambassador Nabil el-Araby, the Association of World Citizens (AWC) proposed a renewal of the Arab League Observer Mission with the inclusion of a greater number of non-governmental organization observers and a broadened mandate to go beyond fact-finding and thus to play an active conflict resolution role at the local level in the hope to halt the downward spiral of violence and killing. In response, members from two Arab human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGO) were added for the first time. However, opposition to the conditions of the Arab League Observers from Saudi Arabia let to the end of the Observer Mission.

On many occasions since, the AWC has indicated to the United Nations (UN), the Government of Syria and opposition movements the potentially important role of NGOs, both Syrian and international, in facilitating armed conflict resolution measures.

In these years of war, the AWC, along with others, has highlighted six concerns:

1) The widespread violation of humanitarian law (international law in time of war) and thus the need for a UN-led conference for the re-affirmation of humanitarian law.

2) The widespread violations of human rights standards.

3) The deliberate destruction of monuments and sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

4) The use of chemical weapons in violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol signed by Syria at the time, as well as in violation of the more recent treaty banning chemical weapons.

5) The situation of the large number of persons displaced within the country as well as the large number of refugees and their conditions in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. In addition, there is the dramatic fate of those trying to reach Europe.

6) The specific conditions of the Kurds and the possibility of the creation of a trans-frontier Kurdistan without dividing the current States of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran.

These issues have been raised with diplomats and others participating in negotiations in Geneva as well as with the UN-appointed mediators. In addition, there have been articles published and then distributed to NGOs and others of potential influence.

The Syrian situation has grown increasingly complex since 2011 with more death and destruction as well as more actors involved and with a larger number of refugees and displaced persons. Efforts have been made to create an atmosphere in which negotiations in good faith could be carried out. Good faith is, alas, in short supply. Efforts must continue. An anniversary is a reminder of the long road still ahead.

Notes:

(1) Yassin al-Haj Saleh in Robin Yassin-Kassal and Leila Al-Shami, Burning Country, Syrians in Revolution and War (London: Pluto Press, 2015, p. 210)

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

We, Disabled People, the Global Uncontacted Tribe

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

By Bernard J. Henry

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

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

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

The Real Wretched of the Earth

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

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

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

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

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

A Global People with No Global Rights

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

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

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

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

We Are World Citizens – Sometimes World Leaders, Too

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom From Fear: Still an Unmet Goal

In Being a World Citizen, Democracy, Human Development, Human Rights, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on July 27, 2018 at 6:13 PM

By René Wadlow

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States (1933-1945) in his January 6, 1941 State of the Union address to Congress presented the “Four Freedoms”, much of the world was at war: German troops were advancing in Europe as were the Japanese armies in China. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) said then, “I suppose that every realist knows that the democratic way of life is at this moment being directly assailed in every part of the world – assailed either by arms or by secret spreading of poisonous propaganda by those who seek to destroy unity and promote discords in nations that are still at peace … And the assailants are still on the march, threatening other nations, great and small.” Territorial conquest and resistance against occupation was the focus of attention of much of the world’s population.

The United States was not yet at war and defined its position as neutral. Many Americans hoped to be able to stay out of the war, having been disillusioned by the continuation of “power politics” in Europe and Asia after the end of the First World War despite the creation of the League of Nations.

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In 1941, FDR was in the process of changing his own focus of attention from a “New Deal” President primarily concerned with the domestic consequences of the world-wide economic depression to becoming a world leader articulating liberal values for all the world’s population, and playing a major role in the founding of the United Nations (UN). Thus, in his presentation to Congress, he stressed world themes and called upon people to lift their eyes above the current aggression and control of land to focus upon the broader themes of a positive way of life.

The “Four Freedoms” presented to Congress were the essential need and right of every citizen of the world. As FDR put it “In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

  • The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.
  • The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world.
  • The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understanding which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants –everywhere in the world.
  • The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor – anywhere in the world.
    That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation”

Earlier in the address, FDR had outlined some of the steps needed to build the socio-economic framework for freedom from want:

  • Equality of opportunity;
  • Jobs;
  • Security;
  • The ending of special privilege for the few;
  • The employment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

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Many of those who would lead the struggle against colonialism in Asia and Africa heard in the Four Freedoms “everywhere in the world” the moral basis of their fight for equality and freedom. The address also inspired those in Latin America who felt the domination of United States economic power and who knew that political independence was only part of the story.

FDR held forth the possibility that the Four Freedoms would be attainable “in our own time and generation”. Thus, FDR calls us – especially those of us who were alive if not always politically active in 1941 – to analyze where we are today.

Freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion were relatively easy to incorporate into articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a Declaration which owes much to Eleanor Roosevelt, the first Chairperson of the UN Commission on Human Rights during its drafting stage (1946-1948).

THE_FOUR_FREEDOMS_-_MESSAGE_TO_THE_77TH_CONGRESS_-_NARA_-_515601

Today, the UN Human Rights Council has Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression and freedom of conscience which, each year, studies accusations of violations. They enter into discussions with governments so that government practice meets international standards. There are effective nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) which monitor the situation and who provide detailed information to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Likewise, there are problems concerning government limitations on freedom of expression and concern with the degree of concentration of power in a few private world communication empires, but no government today openly questions the right to freedom of expression.

Freedom from want has been difficult to translate into reality, although in the speeches of government, NGO and business representatives, there is wide agreement that poverty is a bad thing. Nevertheless, a haunting fear for many in the world – probably about one third of the world’s population – is daily survival: finding food, clean water, reasonable shelter, adequate protection against illness. Much of the work of the UN and its Specialized Agencies as well as numerous NGOs is devoted to the effort to provide “freedom from want”. Yet more needs to be done if we are to shoulder the responsibility of ridding the world of the constant fear of want.

Freedom from fear has been even more difficult to translate into daily reality, in part because fear has an individual character linked to self-alienation and its accompanying anxiety.

In FDR’s original presentation freedom from fear was directly linked to disarmament and measures against aggression. Unfortunately, there has been little “disarmament dividend” since the end of the Cold War in 1990 symbolized by the signing in November 1990 of the “Charter of Paris on the New Europe”. While there is no longer a reason to fear a war between the USA and Russia which could have led to a nuclear exchange, world politics is still largely determined by the nuclear-weapon States: the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel. Military budgets remain high – that of the USA reaches amounts that are difficult to justify even if one believes that arms provide “security”.

There are many armed conflicts within a State. Trans-frontier arms trade remains high and increasingly involves private as well as government buyers and sellers. The tasks which FDR set out for us in 1941 are still with us. The UN, national governments and NGOs all have a role to play in establishing the Four Freedoms at the heart of daily life. Thus, we must direct our thoughts along the lines of cooperation and creativeness.

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

Airstrikes Alone Won’t Stop Assad – Instead, Let’s Stop Failing Syria’s Civil Society

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, Syria, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations on April 21, 2018 at 7:32 PM

By Bernard J. Henry

In April 2017 and once again earlier this month, United States (U. S.) President Donald J. Trump brought into the Syrian conflict something that had never been in it before, upsetting even his own supporters who had bought a very different speech from him as a presidential candidate back home in America. Having campaigned for “dialogue” with the Russian Federation and urged support for the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, against the terrorist threat as posed by the Islamic State (IS), Trump ended up striking the very Assad regime he had called on the world to stand by.

Until the first U. S. strike took place on April 6, 2017, the only strikes that had taken place in the region had been against the IS, albeit with little success in bringing down the terrorist organization – a job that the Iraqi army and Syria’s own Kurds from the northern entity of Rojava ended up doing instead. But now, a seemingly invulnerable Assad was in danger too.

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Throughout the world, those who had remained silent as the Syrian President was slaughtering his own people started blasting Trump as a global thug, just for the non-lethal strikes the U. S. had conducted on chemical weapons research sites in Syria. However questionable Trump’s foreign policy may be in other respects, what in the world was it that made him less defensible than a Bashar al-Assad who has spent the last seven years inflicting unspeakable suffering to his own people?

Some were led by primary anti-imperialist thoughts, leading them to view Assad as a hero for standing up to the USA; others were simply acting on knee-jerk islamophobia, confusing Islam with fundamentalism and unduly hailing Assad as a secular progressive. The same kind of confusion that turned haters of fascism into Hitler supporters against communism.

Yet misguided pacifism should never make us forget that a handful of airstrikes, largely symbolical and non-impact in mere military terms, will never provide the basis for a long-term policy to resolve an armed conflict that has claimed so many lives and driven scores of people away from their homes.

What’s New in Syria? Civil Society

Punishing the regime with an airstrike for committing a chemical attack was hardly a departure from what had taken place so far. For seven years, a brutal, obsessively repressive Syrian government has locked the Middle East and, beyond that, the entire world in a paradigm of realism – the theory of international relations that dictates that military power is the one thing guiding the walk of life between nations.

A major shift has been made from the liberal theory of international relations, a theory under which international rules and institutions are paramount to the functioning of the international community – such as the United Nations (UN) and its Security Council, recklessly hijacked by Russia and China through the two nations’ systematic use of the veto to block any action against the Syrian tyranny.

Much more than being a solution, the airstrikes are thus a problem – just as much as Assad’s conduct, never really opposed by the international community, only “deplored” in international forums, is the original problem. Both, though, are but symptoms of the real disease.

Protesters carry opposition flags and chant slogans during an anti-government protest in the rebel-held town of Dael

As a great many commentators have observed, including Syrian dissident Yassin Al Haj Saleh in his 2016 book La Question Syrienne (1), throughout the reign of the Assad dynasty, the people of Syria have been set aside. Geopolitics alone has been behind the wheel, not least through the long-running occupation of the Syrian plateau of Golan by Israel and Syria’s hold on Lebanon which lasted from the Lebanese civil war in the 1970s to 2005 and the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

Unlike Tunisia and Egypt which were first to rise against their tyrants during the Arab Spring of 2011, and more like Libya under Colonel Gaddafi, until then, Syria did not have a full-fledged civil society. Nongovernmental organizations there would be neutral charities operating under the auspices of the First Lady, Asma al-Assad. Any other private sector organizations, such as trade unions, are basically spawns of, or directly controlled by, the ruling Ba’ath Party. Founding an organization without seeking state sanction meant assured prosecution and, most of the time, imprisonment. The very first instance was the Declaration of Damascus in 2004, a broad-tent platform which brought together most components of the Syrian opposition, from the Communists to the Islamists. Most of its founders and members were jailed by the authorities, and then forced to flee the country after their release.

Along with literature, as more books by Syrians have been published since 2011 than under the whole Assad dictatorship “undisturbed”, the revolution unleashed a new power among the Syrian people – civil society. Since the early days of the revolution, independent Syrian groups have appeared at a steady pace throughout the world, ranging from think tanks to relief organizations, signaling that the Syrian people would no longer keep their thoughts and hopes to themselves, no matter how harsh repression back home may be.

Repression, both by the Assad regime and, from 2014 to 2017, the then “Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham”, a formerly minor jihadi group which had grown to outpower even the Iraqi army and prey on, much more than the Syrian military, the Free Syrian Army of the Syrian revolution. Reared under the Assad dictatorship’s infamous prison regime, IS leaders and members would not hear one word too many in that “caliphate” they had created along the Sykes-Picot border between Iraq and Syria.

A Syrian civil society that grew like a mushroom town has taken the entire world, and the factions to the Syrian conflict itself, by surprise. But has it been able to really play a role in shaping Syria’s future?

The UN Civil Society Support Room – Failure at the Highest Level?

Arguably, Syrian civil society groups have been no major players in the battle of wills between those nations defending the Assad regime and those confronting it – albeit in a lukewarm, versatile manner, like France since Emmanuel Macron became President.

One man who, for all his political failures, cannot be blamed for not trying is Staffan de Mistura, the Italian-Swedish diplomat who has been since 2014 the United Nations (UN) and Arab League Envoy for Syria. In January 2016, de Mistura created a Civil Society Support Room (CSSR) meant as a tool for the participation of civil society groups in the Geneva rounds of peace talks over Syria, composed of groups invited to take part on a rotating basis. Funded by the foreign ministries of Switzerland, Norway, and Sweden, as well as the European Union, the CSSR is managed jointly by Swisspeace and the Norwegian Center for Conflict Resolution (NOREF).

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Staffan de Mistura

Located near de Mistura’s own office at the Palais des Nations, the CSSR mainly reflects his inventor’s belief that there is no military solution to the armed conflict, only a negotiated, diplomatic outcome. Accordingly, the Special Envoy has cared to bring together groups from both the new Syrian civil society, most of them based abroad, and the regime’s own supporters within Syria proper.

While having proved an outstanding achievement in terms of Track II diplomacy, possibly offering a framework to be followed in other instances of civil unrest, the CSSR also has its shortcomings, some of which have even turned out to call into question the credibility and viability of the mechanism itself. As researchers Sara Hellmüller and Marie-Joëlle Zahar note in a report published by the International Peace Institute (2) – Hellmüller also being on the CSSR management team – a seemingly unsolvable lack of “tangible outcomes”, as they put it, means three life-threatening challenges for the CSSR.

First, as time goes by and nothing changes, participating groups are led to doubt the usefulness of their presence, when not questioned by their own constituents about it. Second, although de Mistura has constantly undertaken to maintain a “balance” within the CSSR, inviting groups from both the revolutionary and pro-regime civil societies, those revolutionary organizations based outside Syria often have issues with visas from the host governments or “personal security concerns” (3). Third, besides the successful diplomatic exercise and symbolical achievement of bringing civil society together, participating groups seldom agree on what issues should be dealt with, whether everyday concerns or longer-term prospects for Syria, and even when they do, opportunities to interact with de Mistura’s own office often turn out to offer little interest, if any at all.

Similarly, a Women’s Advisory Board created simultaneously with the CSSR has drawn suspicion from revolutionary groups for including ranking female supporters of the Assad regime, viewed as mere mouthpieces for the very government whose harsh repression of dissent has sparked the war.

In both committees, one problem makes it a lot harder for revolutionary groups based within Syria: Some group representatives who managed to travel to Geneva learned upon arrival, or while taking part in meetings, that their home area had been bombed or otherwise attacked by regime forces, killing or injuring some of their loved ones there.

Faced with as many difficulties, some groups invited to join the CSSR ended up throwing in the towel. On November 28, 2017, ten Syrian organizations led by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SN4HR), all invited on November 21 to join the CSSR on November 28-30, plainly rejected de Mistura’s invitation. The ten groups, among them the Violations Documentation Center founded by lawyer Razan Zaitouneh who was abducted in 2013 and has been unheard of since, blamed de Mistura for not bringing their concerns to the UN Security Council as they expected him to, criticized an overly loose and vague meeting agenda, blasted the overly short time between the invitation’s issuance and the actual meeting which left no time for prior preparation, and basically sent off the inviting staff for being unable to answer specific questions due to lack of knowledge on the issue. (4)

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and at the end stands the CSSR as a good idea turned into an honorable failure.

The Key to a Viable Future in Syria

There lies the danger – depriving Syria of a viable, free civil society is the biggest threat that one might impose on the already devastated country, with little prospects of rebuilding as long as the Assad regime will be in place, ruling over a vanquished people but itself reduced to a mere pawn of its Iranian and Russian allies.

Isolated series of airstrikes cannot bring an end to the war, let alone provide a political agenda for a free, peaceful Syria. Even the Syrian revolution does not want outside intervention; what it wants is the means and ability to fight it out with the Assad dictatorship. Only two kinds of armed forces in Syria have resorted to specially-recruited foreign fighters thus far: groups with religious claims, not only jihadi groups but also Christian armed groups, and the Marxist-inspired northwestern Kurdish entity of Rojava. Free Syrians do not want a Third Gulf War between the West and a Mideast country, but a chance to oust Assad on their own, as nearly happened in 2012 and 2015, and build a better future for themselves in their own land. If anybody can enable them to do so, civil society can.

Then what can and should be done? In their protest to Staffan de Mistura, SN4HR and the nine other organizations listed five recommendations, logically inspired by the shortcomings they had cited to turn down de Mistura’s invitation:

“1. Prior involvement of civil society organizations in identifying the topics for the meeting in consultation with the office of the special envoy.

2. The contribution of the organizations in developing frameworks and discussion points for the meeting.

3. The assignment of people who are specialized in the topic of meeting in the process of sending invitations and communication with the Syrian organizations.

4. The full inclusion of the results of the Civil Society Support Room meetings in the periodic briefings of the Special Envoy to the Security Council.

5. Concluding the work of the Civil Society Support Room with a press conference that communicates to the Syrians and the world the results of the Civil Society Support Room meeting.”

These principles could be wisely extended to any forum, whether national, regional or international, where Syrian civil society groups ever get a chance to speak or otherwise express their views. But, since “Charity begins at home”, strengthening Syrian civil society must happen first and foremost in Syria proper, however unrealistic that might seem in view of the Assad regime’s increasingly merciless repression of resistance.

Ahmad Moutie Darkazanli, a longtime activist against the Assad dynasty who has lived in, and campaigned from, France for a number of years, does not say otherwise. “In Syria, civil society was totally controlled by the Mukhabarat, the state intelligence agency. All associations, trade unions, and other civil society groups came under constant scrutiny. There was never a real public debate. True free expression from civil society within Syria came started only in mid-2012, and as more and more areas were liberated from state control in 2013, it grew even stronger. Security was the main concern for these groups.”

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Ahmad Moutie Darkazanli

Thus, says Darkazanli, first things first. “What Syrian civil society needs is better funding, which makes it possible to develop more viable and reliable agendas and to better train activists within the various groups. Ultimately, an efficient mechanism of control and financial traceability are needed, too.”

But, as Darkazanli himself points out and the CSSR’s saddest records show, no civil society can hope to properly function when heavy shelling ruins all its efforts and realizations. So, concludes Darkazanli, “As a prerequisite, there must be a secured territory, where people can feel safe and accordingly build and serve the community free from fear!”

Airstrikes may bring some deterrent, but they can never replace a body of civil society created by a people who were, after almost fifty years of dynastic tyranny, finally learning to be free. Looking closer at the way that Donald J. Trump and Emmanuel Macron treat their own civil societies at home, neither of them is truly qualified to teach any lessons to a foreign country, however tyrannical its government might be. Then, “exporting democracy” through armed intervention does not have an impressive record in neighboring Iraq, or in Libya where chaos prevails with no end in sight.

As a people erased from existence by their government for nearly half a century, Syrians have a willingness to act for a different, better future. Despite strategic differences, sometimes more than that, between two or more of these groups, they have created a civil society that may be in exile but is up and running. All they need is true support and empowerment to provide opportunities for a better future, a prospect that truly scares the Assad dynasty a lot more than all the airstrikes that the armed forces of the three Western Permanent Members of the UN Security Council can carry out will ever do.

(1) Yassin al Haj Saleh, La Question syrienneActes Sud, 2016.

(2) Sara Hellmüller and Marie-Joëlle Zahar, Against the Odds: Civil Society in the Intra-Syrian Talks, International Peace Institute, March 2018.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Statement by Syrian human rights organizations on the invitation to the Civil Society Support Room in Geneva, November 28, 2017, Syrian Network for Human Rights.

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

Human Rights: Government Failures, NGO Need to Organize!

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Con-federation, Constitutional Reforms, Renewal and Trans-frontier Cooperation

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations on January 5, 2018 at 8:58 PM

By René Wadlow

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has a longstanding interest in developing appropriate constitutional structures for States facing the possibilities of prolonged or intensified armed conflicts. An emphasis is placed on the possibilities of con-federation, autonomy, renewal, and trans-frontier cooperation. The AWC continues the con-federal, de-centralist, trans-frontier cooperation tradition of World Citizens Denis de Rougemont (1906-1985) and Alexandre Marc (1904-2000). (1)

In the recent past, this association has proposed con-federal structures to deal with conflict situations in Mali, Ukraine, Myanmar, Libya and Cyprus as well as Kurdistan, which involves both the structure of Iraq as well as positive cooperation among Kurds living in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran. While the AWC does not sponsor the Kurdish demands as such, we believe that the Kurdish issues in Syria, Iraq and Turkey merit attention.

The current AWC emphasis is on the wider Middle East as this is an area where current armed conflicts may slip out of the control of conflict management techniques and institutions. The wider Middle East is an area of unrest, often without avenues for dialogue and compromise among the parties. Even in those States where there is no armed fighting such as Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel-Palestine, there are strong tensions which can get worse and also spread. For the parties in these conflicts to seek a compromise, there needs to be a certain “atmosphere” – an informed public opinion that will accept the compromise and build better future relations based on an agreement. It is in the creation of such an atmosphere that citizens of the world have an important role to play. We see the dangers of calling into question of the nuclear agreement with Iran, especially by the United States (U. S.) administration.

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In today’s world, only one nation-state claims to be a con-federation – Switzerland, officially the Swiss Confederation, a country of high political stability, harmonious ethnic and linguistic diversity, and a long-running tradition of informal diplomacy toward conflict resolution too.

As a nongovernmental organization (NGO), we can have little influence on who will be the “leaders” of these States, but we can play a role in proposing new con-federal constitutional structures linked to new attitudes, what I call ‘renewal’ within the existing social-ethnic-religious groups involved. New constitutional forms by themselves will not reduce the current antagonisms. However, if people now caught up in the ‘fog of conflict’ see that there may be possibilities for changes in the structures of government that will recognize their identity and views, doors may open for compromise.

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Canada, the world’s second largest country, is organized as a confederation. The northernmost nation in the Americas stands out as a model of democracy, decentralized government, and coexistence between various ethnic and linguistic groups.

Con-federation and autonomy are broad concepts, capable of covering a multitude of visions extending from very limited local initiatives to complete control over everything other than foreign policy. Autonomy can therefore incorporate all situations between nearly total subordination to the center to nearly total independence. The ways in which the elements and patterns of autonomy are put together require political imagination, far-sighted political leadership, a willingness to compromise, and constant dialogue.

In none of the wider Middle East situations: Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, on which we have made proposals have we found much of a climate for meaningful negotiations . Our “track record” outside the Middle East has not been much better: Sri Lanka, Burma, Mali, Sudan, and Ukraine. I think that from our contacts with diplomats at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva and New York, our proposals for new constitutional structures are not brushed off lightly, but they are not acted upon either. National political leaders often have a short attention span for issues unless there are strong domestic reasons for remaining involved. Diplomats often share this short-term point of view. “We are concerned with a ceasefire, with stopping the flow of Middle East refugees to Europe. After that, it is up to the people in each State to work out their constitutional structures. We thank you for sharing your ideas on the future of the Middle East. When the smoke clears, please come back to see us, but, of course, I may have retired by then.”

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Rojava, a state-like entity formed by the Kurds of Syria, claims in its Constitution to be based on “democratic confederalism” and vows to be a part of a future “federal Syria”. Can that claim ever be realized, or is it bound to remain only wishful thinking?

Negotiations means a joint undertaking by disputants with the aim of settling their disputes on the basis of mutual compromise. Negotiation is a basic political decision-making process, a way of finding common interests, to facilitate compromise without loss of what each considers to be essential objectives.

The challenges posed by the conflicts in Mali, Ukraine, Myanmar, Libya, and Kurdistan need to be measured against the broad concept of security. Barry Buzan of the University of Copenhagen sets out four types of security:
1. Political security concerns the organizational stability of states, systems of government, and the ideologies that give them legitimacy.
2. Economic security concerns access to the resources, finances and markets necessary to sustain acceptable levels of welfare.
3. Societal security concerns the sustainability within acceptable conditions of the evolution of traditional patterns of language, culture, religions and customs.
4. Environmental security concerns the maintenance of the local and the planetary biosphere as the essential support system on which all other human enterprises depend.

One of the difficulties in each situation is what I would call “the frozen image of the other”. In each case, the group or groups demanding new State structures are seen in the minds of the current government authorities as being the same people with the same aspirations as when the demands were first made: the Karen of Myanmar today are the same as the Karen of the Union of Burma in 1947; the Tuareg of north Mali today are the same as those calling for the creation of an independent State in 1940 when the withdrawal of French troops to Dakar had left a political vacuum.

However, there have been evolutions in policy proposals and in the level of education and experience of new leadership of those demanding autonomy. Yet “frozen images” exist and need to be overcome within all decision-makers involved. The modification of “frozen images” is one of the tasks of non-governmental organizations and Track II diplomatic efforts. This is what I call “renewal”, the ability to think in new terms, so see things in a different way, to see the “Other” as part of the same humanity.

Notes

(1) See: Christian Roy, Alexandre Marc et la Jeune Europe : L’Ordre nouveau aux origines du personnalisme (Presse de l’Europe, 1998)
Jean-Louis Loubet del Bayle, Les non-conformistes des années 30 : Une tentative de renouvellement de la pensée politique francaise (Seuil, 1969)
Michel Winock, Esprit: Des intellectuels dans la cité, 1930-1950 (Seuil, 1996)
Denis de Rougemont, The Future Is Within Us (Pegamon Press, 1983)

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

Strangled by Saudi-led War, Famine and Internal Divisions, Yemen Faces a Possible Turning Point

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law, Yemen on December 6, 2017 at 11:13 PM

By René Wadlow

The assassination on December 4, 2017 of former Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh has potentially opened a new chapter in the ongoing struggle for power in Yemen. There might be a possibility that with a major actor pushed off the stage, the lesser actors might accept the good offices of the United Nations (UN) mediator Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed and form an inclusive central government. There is also a real possibility that the armed conflict becomes even more protracted as factions see increased opportunities to advance their interests.

The Saudi Arabian leadership had expected a quick victory when in March 2015 they launched their operation at the time called “Decisive Storm”. Despite limitless weapons from the USA and Great Britain, including the use of U. S.-made cluster weapons now banned by world law, the Saudi-led coalition made relatively few territorial gains beyond those tribal areas within Yemen that were already favorable to the Saudis, tribes that often existed on both sides of the frontier.

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Ali Abdullah Saleh

Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have been backing separate and opposing factions. The lack of progress as well as the costs of the military operations may create a climate favorable to stopping the fighting. However, Saudi Arabia and its coalition are directly involved in the fighting while Iran only supplies some weapons and political support to its allies. Thus, of the outside actors, most responsibility for a change lies with the Saudi decision-makers.

There are two major issues that shape the future. The first is the possibility or not of forming a decentralized but relatively inclusive central government. Yemen remains largely a tribal society with political decisions made by the tribal head. Tribes usually have a specific geographic base. Thus, a central government requires participation by members from the major tribal groups. However, through economic development, people from different tribes now live in the cities and larger towns. These more urbanized populations do not depend as much on the decisions or views of tribal chiefs.

The relative strength of the central government has been based on patronage strategies, offering major tribal leaders some economic advantages. Until March 2011, most people had little say as to government policy. In March 2011, in the spirit of the “Arab Spring”, there were popular demonstrations throughout the country demanding jobs, the end of corruption and some respect for all citizens. By the end of 2011 Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been in power for 33 years, was pushed out and replaced by his Vice-president Abdu Rabbu Mansur Hadi who has the same governing style but who was considered as a change without upsetting too much the governing pattern.

Saleh, however, never really accepted the idea of giving up power and its material benefits. He formed an alliance with a religious movement that drew its members from the same geographic region. Saleh had combated this Huthi movement, including by force of arms, when he was president. But for a time, the alliance seemed to be mutually beneficial. The alliance broke sharply this November. Fighting among the Huthi forces and those loyal to Saleh broke out in the capital Sana’a in November and on December 4, Huthi troops shot Saleh in his auto as he was trying to leave the city.

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The second major issue concerns the ability of Yemen to remain as one State or again to split into two with Sana’a as the capital of one State in the north and Aden as the capital of another State in the south. The two States were the political structure until 1990 when the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, with its center in Aden, combined with the Yemen Arab Republic in the north to become the Republic of Yemen. Leading up to 1990, there was wide hope that the union of the two States would lead to increased economic well-being. In practice, there has been little improvement. If there has been an improvement, it is because of external economic factors and not directly linked to the union. The lack of improvement in the south has led to resentment in the south and on the part of some persons, a desire for southern separation. Now, some in the south have formed militias. It is difficult to know how far they will push for separation and the creation of an independent State. Already in 1994, there had been armed attacks to push for a return to an Aden-based State.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has been concerned with three issues in the Yemen conflict:

         1) The violation of international humanitarian law, involving attacks on medical facilities, medical personnel and the use of weapons banned by international treaties, especially cluster munitions. The AWC had been particularly active in promoting a treaty on the prohibition of cluster munitions.

         2) Humanitarian relief, especially food aid. With the Saudi-led blockage of ports and air fields, it has been difficult for the UN or relief organizations to bring in food supplies. It is estimated that some eight million people suffer from famine-like conditions and that some 17 million others are in conditions of food insecurity. The fighting makes certain roads unsafe, preventing the delivery of food and other relief supplies.

         3) The creation of a Yemen confederation. While the form of State structures depends on the will of the people of Yemen (if they were able to express themselves freely), the AWC proposes con-federal forms of government which maintain cooperation within a decentralized framework as an alternative to the creation of new independent States. In 2014, a committee appointed by then president Abu Hadi proposed a six-region federation as the political structure for Yemen. The AWC believes that this proposal merits close attention and could serve as a base of a renewal for an inclusive Yemen government.

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A Yemeni rally in Paris on October 28 (C) Bernard J. Henry/AWC

Today, the choice between an end to the armed conflict with negotiations for a renewal of a Yemeni State on the basis of the con-federal system proposed and continued fighting in the hope that one faction become a “winner-take-all” is relatively clear. The AWC is resolutely for an end to the armed conflict with serious negotiations on the structure of a future State. We encourage others to support such a policy.

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

Recent UN Reports Point To Anti-Rohingya Genocide in Myanmar

In Asia, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, International Justice, NGOs, Refugees, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, Uncategorized, United Nations, World Law on November 27, 2017 at 8:23 AM

By René Wadlow

Recent reports of October 25, 2017 from the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights based on extensive interviews with Rohingya refugees from Myanmar (Burma) now in Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh as well as reports from the World Food Program and UNICEF point to anti-Rohingya genocide in Myanmar without using the “G” word. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, said that the Rohingya flight was a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. The brutal attacks against the Rohingya in Rakhine state have been well organized, coordinated and systematic, with the intent of not only driving the Rohingya population out of Myanmar but preventing them from returning to their home.

The Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948 requires action on the part of governments once genocide has been determined. Although any State party to the Convention can bring the situation to appropriate UN bodies, no State has ever evoked the 1948 Genocide Convention. However, the Convention is clear that a group need not have been totally destroyed for acts to be considered genocide. Intent is the key concept. Article VIII of the Convention states “Any Contracting Party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide, or any of the other acts enumerated in Article III.”

The Genocide Convention in its Article III states that the following acts shall be punishable:

a) Genocide

b) Conspiracy to commit genocide

c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide

d) Attempt to commit genocide

e) Complicity in genocide.

Article IV states that “Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article III shall be punished whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.”

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The Burmese military have since shortly after the independence of the country in 1947 carried on a policy of repression against national minorities advocating independence of their area, later modified to demanding greater autonomy within a federal Union of Burma. The first and second (1974) constitutions of Burma took over the nationalities policy designed by Joseph Stalin when he was Commissioner of Nationalities in the then newly created USSR. A state within the Union would be named after a dominant ethnic group with a larger homeland of provinces for the majority population. Thus, there were seven ethnic minority states: the Chin, Kachin, Karen, Kayah (formerly called Karenni), Mon, Shan, and Rakhine (or Arakan) and seven divisions which are largely inhabited by the majority, sometimes called Burman or Bamar. As in the USSR, states had people other than the dominant nationality which gave its name to the state. Some were ethnic minorities which had always lived there; others were people living there who had moved from elsewhere for work, marriage or other life events. Some were Chinese or Indians who had moved to Burma for economic reasons.

In these conflicts, war crimes have been committed by the military and reported to UN human rights bodies:

a) arbitrary arrest and torture

b) enforced disappearances

c) systematic rape

d) confiscation of property

e) internal displacement of populations.

However, only in the case of the Rohingya can one speak of an intent of genocide – with calls by some nationalists and military to make Myanmar “Rohingya free”. Among the ‘nationalists’, there are ‘Buddhist extremists’. A form of Buddhist influence has grown since 2012 when speech and media restrictions fell away, opening a vacuum that extremists have helped to fill.

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The chief difference between the Rohingya case and those of the national minorities along the Thai and China frontiers is economic. The Burmese military are brutal but also corrupt, especially among the officer corps. The minorities along the Burma-Thai-China frontiers are deeply involved in the trade of drugs, arms, gem stones, timber and the trafficking of women to Thailand and China. There are close economic links between the Thai and Burmese military as well as between the military and the armed insurgencies.

As long as the military get their cut of the income from trade, they are willing to put up with periodic cease-fire agreements, are selective in their scorched earth policy and close their eyes to certain cross-frontier economic measures. Unfortunately for the Rohingya, they live in a poor, subsistence agriculture area next to a poor, subsistence agricultural part of Bangladesh. There might be oil resources off the coast of Rakhine state, but they have not been exploited, and it is not sure that they are really there. Thus, there is no money among the Rohingya with which to bribe the military. The idea of getting rid of the Rohingya is not so wild a dream as most had already been declared as “stateless” in a 1982 citizenship law.

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A September rally in Paris to support Myanmar’s Rohingya community

As government representatives are reluctant to raise the issue of genocide, in part for fear that they might have to do something, it has been the representatives of nongovernmental organizations who have publicly highlighted the issue, although no government has followed.

On behalf of the Association of World Citizens, I had raised the issue of genocide concerning the Fur and related groups in the Darfur, Sudan violence. Darfur means “House of the Fur” but there are also other small tribal groups in the area whose way of life may be destroyed by the systematic killing of old persons, those’ who hold tribal history and tribal law in memory – there being no written records.

In 2004, in the UN Sub-commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, in “Darfur, Sudan: Non-impunity and Prosecutions for Genocide (E/CN.4/Sub/2004/NGO24), I stressed the systematic nature of the violence against the Fur, Massaleit, Zayhawa and Birgit. After citing the evidence from public UN staff reports, I wrote, “The evidence of systematic actions – to quote from Article II of the Genocide Convention – committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such – is clear. What is less clear is the determination of UN Member States to act to end this violence. Until now, the efforts of governments in Darfur have been inadequate as reliable reports indicate that human rights violations have grown worse. The Genocide Convention provides an adequate framework for urgent action. Only one State needs to call on the UN to act under Article VIII. We need political will for rapid UN action to stop genocide in Darfur now – and not after it is all over, when the cry will go up, as in the past ‘Never Again!'”

A month after our appeal, the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Dr. Bertrand Ramcharan, firmly stressed the Darfur situation in its harshest light.” First, there is a reign of terror in this area, second, there is a scorched-earth policy, third, there is repeated war crimes and crimes against humanity, and fourth, this is taking place under our eyes.” (Associated Press Report, May 8, 2004).

However, governments were able to avert their eyes, and no government invoked the Genocide Convention. Governments have often been unwilling to use the international legal structures which they themselves have created.

We continue to face the same issue with the massive flight of the Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh and India. The welcome of the Rohingya by these governments has been “cool” if not hostile. It is very likely that a “Rohingya-free” Myanmar has been created as few persons are likely to return to Myanmar. The current challenge is how the Rohingya will be resettled in Bangladesh and India without creating new socio-economic tensions. The wider issue is to what extent are representatives of governments willing to act creatively on the few structures of world law which they have created.

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

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