The Official Blog of the

Archive for the ‘Democracy’ Category

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.

Airstrikes_in_Syria_140923-F-UL677-654

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).

UN_Special_Envoy_for_Syria_Staffan_de_Mistura_-_2017_(26170932839)_(cropped)

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.”

17761088_10211040216056324_6157621412440719189_o

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.

Advertisements

Human Rights: Government Failures, NGO Need to Organize!

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

United_Nations_High_Commissioner_for_Human_Rights_(21509596784)_(cropped)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Kantone_der_Schweiz.svg

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.

Proclamation_Canadian_Confederation

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.”

1024px-Claimed_and_de_facto_territory_of_Rojava

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.

President_Ali_Abdullah_Saleh.jpg

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.

Capture d'écran 2017-12-07 00.04.38

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.

22792442_10212777529168066_8045826512212193364_o

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.”

Rohingya_displaced_Muslims_021

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.

rodih01_400.jpg

 

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.

21458141_10212466027940730_8269643013544204944_o

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.

The Hidden Stakes of the Independence Vote in Iraqi Kurdistan

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

By Bernard J. Henry

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

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

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

Capture d'écran 2017-09-19 23.15.13

In green on this map, Iraqi Kurdistan

1280px-Flag_of_Kurdistan.svg

The Kurdish flag

Seeking independence – from dissent at home?

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

Barzani

Massoud Barzani

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

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

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

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

Minding the “big brothers”

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

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

Emran_Mensour

Emran Mensour

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

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

Short-circuiting a “Shi’a crescent”

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

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

King_Abdullah_portrait

King Abdullah of Jordan

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

More than independence

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

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

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

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.

Pelosi.jpg

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.

*************************************

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.

 **************************************

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

Refugees_are_human_beings.jpg

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.

An_Aerial_View_of_the_Za'atri_Refugee_Camp

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.

Najet Laabidi, avocate engagée pour l’Etat de droit en Tunisie

In Democracy, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, World Law on May 27, 2017 at 8:35 AM

NAJET LAABIDI, AVOCATE ENGAGÉE POUR L’ÉTAT DE DROIT EN TUNISIE

Par Bernard Henry

«L’Etat de droit, ce n’est certainement pas le droit de l’Etat». Le 5 mai dernier, Frédéric Sicard, Bâtonnier de l’Ordre des Avocats de Paris, accueillait dans la bibliothèque du Palais de Justice les élèves-avocats qui venaient de prêter serment en audience solennelle. A deux jours du second tour d’une élection présidentielle de tous les dangers où, comme quinze ans auparavant, le choix allait être entre les valeurs républicaines et l’extrême droite, le premier des avocats parisiens avait pour les nouveaux entrants des paroles très politiques – sans bien sûr l’être tout-à-fait, réserve de l’avocat oblige.

Maître Sicard n’aurait aucune raison de se réjouir, encore moins sa Vice-bâtonnière Dominique Attias, native de Tunis, s’il savait quel est, par-delà la Méditerranée, le sort de sa consœur Najet Laabidi dans cette Tunisie présentée comme le seul et unique succès des révolutions arabes, là où l’Egypte est revenue au point de départ et où Libye et Syrie ont sombré dans le chaos et la guerre.

Une militante acharnée des Droits de l’Homme

Originaire de Siliana, dans le nord-ouest voisin de l’Algérie, Najet Laabidi s’inscrit à la Faculté des Sciences juridiques, politiques et sociales de Tunis, la plus réputée du pays. Elle prête serment en 2008 à Tunis et ouvre son cabinet dans le quartier universitaire d’El Manar.

FrontLine Defenders

Immédiatement, la jeune avocate s’implique dans la défense des Droits de l’Homme. Dans ce qui est encore la Tunisie des Ben Ali-Trabelsi, où les opposants vivent dans la clandestinité ou se retrouvent derrière les barreaux au moindre mot de trop, elle s’engage dans des procès touchant à la liberté d’expression. Ses plaidoiries attirent l’attention d’autres avocats engagés, tels que Khaled Krichi, Mohamed Nouri et Samir Dilou – qui deviendra quelques années plus tard ministre au nom du parti islamiste Ennahda.

Désormais reconnue par ses pairs et camarades de combat, Najet Laabidi rejoint l’association Liberté Equité, dont elle entre bientôt au Conseil d’administration. Puis vient la révolution en 2011, et pour l’avocate, ce n’est que le début du combat.

A l’épreuve de la justice «révolutionnaire»

Le 8 novembre 2011, choisie et contactée pour représenter des victimes de mauvais traitements dans l’affaire Barakat Essahel, l’avocate subit un déluge d’insultes et de menaces de la part de proches d’anciens officiels de l’Etat poursuivis en justice pour avoir torturé des prisonniers politiques sous Ben Ali. D’abord par téléphone avant le procès, puis le jour venu, en pleine salle d’audience.

La police militaire évacue les auteurs des injures et menaces, mais ne lève pas le petit doigt pour protéger l’avocate. Il lui est ordonné de ne pas quitter le prétoire jusqu’à ce que tout le monde soit sorti. Elle décline une proposition de la raccompagner en voiture. Le ton est donné de ce que seront les années qui suivent pour Najet Laabidi.

Quatre ans plus tard, deuxième round. Le 26 novembre 2015, elle plaide lors d’une audience d’opposition contre Ezzedine Jenayeh, ancien Directeur de la Sûreté nationale sous Ben Ali, condamné par contumace pour délit de violences dans l’affaire Baraket Essahel et qui conteste le jugement. D’entrée, la procédure consacre l’arbitraire.

«Quand il a fait opposition, contrairement à la loi et au Code de procédure pénale, il s’est présenté en prévenu libre et la Chambre correctionnelle a refusé la présence des avocats des parties civiles, dans l’ignorance totale du principe du droit à la défense et du procès équitable». La Présidente du Tribunal militaire permanent, Leila Hammami, rejette en bloc les constitutions des parties civiles, niant aux avocats jusqu’au droit de représenter leurs clients. Najet Laabidi et son confrère Abderraouf Ayadi dénoncent des vices de procédure, et aussitôt, Leila Hammami porte plainte contre les deux avocats pour «outrage à un fonctionnaire de l’ordre judiciaire». Rien que ça.

Dans le viseur d’une justice (toujours) politique

Entretemps, aux côtés d’Abderraouf Ayadi, Najet Laabidi est devenue membre de la direction d’un parti politique, Attayar, ou en français, le Courant Démocrate, fondé par l’ancien ministre Mohamed Abbou qui fut lui-même avocat et détenu politique puis gréviste de la faim sous Ben Ali. Et comme par hasard, eux deux et eux seuls sont visés par la plainte.

Ils se retrouvent convoqués le 17 décembre 2015 devant le juge d’instruction du Tribunal militaire permanent de première instance de Tunis. Ils ne vont pas à sa rencontre, demeurant à l’extérieur, entourés de confrères et de sympathisants. Ce sont le Président de la Section des Avocats de Tunis, en quelque sorte le Bâtonnier local de l’Ordre tunisien qui est unitaire et national, et une délégation d’avocats qui se rendent chez le magistrat à leur place par solidarité.

Devant le Tribunal militaire, les deux avocats avaient accusé Leila Hammami de partialité, les propos de Najet Laabidi ayant été filmés puis diffusés sur les réseaux sociaux. «Dans ma vidéo,» rappelle l’avocate, «j’ai évoqué les circonstances de l’impunité, j’ai souligné que le Tribunal militaire ne pouvait pas consacrer les principes d’un procès équitable car, dans ce corps d’Etat, il y a toujours la corruption». Nouvelle plainte de Leila Hammami le 21 décembre 2015, la magistrate versant au dossier un CD de l’enregistrement de Najet Laabidi lui disant ses quatre vérités.

Il n’en faut pas plus au Procureur général près la Cour d’appel de Tunis pour lancer des poursuites sur le fondement de l’Article 128 du Code pénal pour «outrage à un fonctionnaire public». Convoquée le 1er février 2016 devant le juge d’instruction du Tribunal de première instance de Tunis, Najet Laabidi refuse de comparaître. Le 12 octobre 2016, elle est condamnée par contumace à un an d’emprisonnement.

FIDH.png

Informée de sa condamnation seulement le 24 avril dernier, l’avocate y fait opposition. A l’issue de son audience le 10 mai dernier, Najet Laabidi est condamnée à six mois de prison, décision dont elle interjette immédiatement appel. Mais qui n’aurait jamais dû intervenir en premier lieu, puisque ce qu’on lui reproche, outre peut-être son appartenance à un parti politique d’opposition, c’est d’avoir agi comme ce qu’elle est – une avocate.

Symbole d’un Etat de droit introuvable

Poursuivie pour l’exemple, Najet Laabidi l’est sans nul doute. Mais au-delà de l’exemple, de par l’acharnement judiciaire dont elle fait l’objet depuis les premiers mois de la Tunisie du 14 janvier, elle est devenue un symbole. Le symbole d’un Etat de droit que tous appellent de leurs vœux, dont chacun(e) se dit le meilleur espoir pour peu qu’on lui confie le pouvoir, mais qui, dans les faits, plus de six ans après la fuite de Ben Ali et sa famille, demeure introuvable en Tunisie.

Lors des premières poursuites contre Najet Laabidi en 2011, l’Association of World Citizens (AWC) était intervenue auprès des autorités tunisiennes pour la soutenir. Nous l’avons fait cette fois encore, conscients de ce que représentent des poursuites contre un avocat dans un pays qui, six ans et demi après avoir renversé la dictature dans une révolution inattendue du monde, en particulier des «orientalistes», peine encore à asseoir l’Etat de droit. Quel que soit le système juridique que l’on se choisit, jamais un tel résultat ne peut être atteint si l’on ne respecte pas la liberté d’exercice professionnel des avocats.

Capture d'écran 2017-05-27 00.21.12

Najet Laabidi a elle aussi bien conscience de la portée, bien au-delà du simple cadre judiciaire, du procès en conscience professionnelle dont elle fait l’objet. «Ce dossier démontre que l’impunité persiste, que le système de corruption existe encore, avec l’absence d’une volonté politique d’assurer l’indépendance de la justice ainsi que le respect des avocats et de leur immunité.»

L’avocate ne cache pas son dépit devant les fruits amers d’une révolution saluée de par le monde et qui, selon elle, n’a rien réglé des maux anciens de la Tunisie. «L’Etat de droit réside dans le respect des lois, et surtout, de l’égalité pour tous devant la règle de droit, chose qui n’existe malheureusement toujours pas en Tunisie,» n’hésite-t-elle pas à conclure. «Aujourd’hui, les victimes de la torture, mais aussi celles de la corruption, n’ont pas réussi ni à avoir leurs droits, ni à poursuivre les tortionnaires et les corrompus».

Sous Ben Ali, un silence aussi pesant que feutré entourait les dissidents et défenseurs des Droits de l’Homme pourchassés par le régime. Couronné «rempart contre l’islamisme», l’ancien Premier Ministre de Habib Bourguiba, dont il avait été le «tombeur» en 1987, n’avait rien à craindre des grands de la Méditerranée. Jacques Chirac lui-même avait déclaré à Tunis en 2003 : «Le premier des Droits de l’Homme, c’est de manger», autrement dit, Tunisiens taisez-vous et finissez vos assiettes.

Depuis la révolution, la Tunisie où, jadis, le simple fait d’être membre d’Ennahda faisait de vous un terroriste a connu successivement le retour de bâton islamiste, puis le retour en grâce des anciens du Rassemblement constitutionnel démocratique de Ben Ali à travers le nouveau parti Nidaa Tounes. Les anciens refuzniks non-islamistes, qu’ils se nomment Taoufik Ben Brik, Sihem Ben Sedrine, Radhia Nasraoui ou Hamma Hammami, ont connu, libres et au grand jour, des destins et des fortunes diverses. La Tunisie n’est plus telle que Ben Ali la tenait, mais elle n’est pas pour autant telle que les opposants au dictateur la rêvaient. On y mange moins qu’avant, les prix des denrées alimentaires ayant flambé, et l’on y est à peine plus libre.

Mais l’Etat de droit voulu par la révolution, crié dans les «Dégage !» des Tunisiens à Ben Ali en janvier 2011, vit toujours. Il vit dans l’esprit et le cœur d’une avocate comme Najet Laabidi, dont le prénom signifie «délivrance» et qui, un jour, sera peut-être celle de son peuple en laquelle elle croit tant.

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

%d bloggers like this: