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June 20: World Refugee Day

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

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JUNE 20: WORLD REFUGEE DAY
By René Wadlow

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

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

Refugee Rights Protest at Broadmeadows, Melbourne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle for Raqqa: Protests needed on violations of humanitarian law

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

BATTLE FOR RAQQA: PROTESTS NEEDED ON VIOLATIONS OF HUMANITARIAN LAW

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let My Children Go: World Efforts to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor

In Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Human Development, Human Rights, International Justice, NGOs, Social Rights, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, Women's Rights on June 11, 2017 at 12:10 AM

LET MY CHILDREN GO: WORLD EFFORTS TO ELIMINATE THE WORST FORMS OF CHILD LABOR

By René Wadlow

June 12 is a red-letter day on the United Nations (UN) agenda of events as the World Day Against Child Labor. It marks the June 12 arrival in 1998 of hundreds of children in Geneva, part of the Global March against Child Labor that had crossed a hundred countries to present their plight to the International Labor Organization (ILO).

“We are hurting, and you can help us” was their message to the assembled International Labor Conference which meets each year in Geneva in June. One year later, in June, the ILO had drafted ILO Convention N° 182 on Child Labor which 165 States have now ratified — the fastest ratification rate in the ILO’s history.

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ILO Convention N°182 sets out in article 3 the worst forms of child Labor to be banned:

  1. All forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory Labor, including forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict;
  2. The use, procuring or offering of a child for prostitution, for the production of pornography or for pornographic performances;
  3. The use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities, in particular for the production and trafficking of drugs as defined in the relevant international treaties;
  4. Work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children.

The Convention is supplemented by a Recommendation: the Worst Forms of Child Labor Recommendation N° 1999, which provisions should be applied in conjunction with the Convention: “Program of Action (article 6): Among other issues, the situation of the girl child and the problem of hidden work situations in which girls are at special risk are explicitly mentioned; Hazardous work (article 3(d)): In determining the types of hazardous work, consideration should be given, inter alia, to work which exposes children to physical, psychological or sexual abuse.

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The ILO building in Geneva, Switzerland

The ILO is the only UN organization with a tripartite structure, governments, trade unions and employer associations are all full and equal members. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) within the UN system as a whole played an important role in highlighting children working in circumstances that put their physical, mental and social development at risk, children working in situations where they are exploited, mistreated and denied the basic rights of a human being. Today, millions of children, especially those living in extreme poverty, have no choice but to accept exploitative employment to ensure their own and their family’s survival. However, the ILO is the UN agency most directly related to conditions of work. Thus, the ILO has often been an avenue for ‘unheard voices’ to be heard, usually through the trade union representatives; more rarely the employer representatives have played a progressive role.

Child Labor and the increasing cross-frontier flow of child Labor did not have a high profile on the long agenda of pressing Labor issues until the end of the 1990s. At the start of the 1990s, there was only one full-time ILO staff member assigned to child Labor issues; now there are 450, 90 percent in the field.

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Child Labor was often hidden behind the real and non-exploitative help that children bring to family farms. However, such help often keeps children out of school and thus outside the possibility of joining the modern sector of the economy. The ILO estimates that of some 200 million Child Laborers in the world, some 70 percent are in agriculture, 10 percent in industry/mines and the others in trade and services — often as domestics or street vendors in urban areas. Globally, Asia accounts for the largest number of child workers — 122 million, Sub-Saharan Africa, 50 million, and Latin America and the Caribbean, 6 million. Young people under 18 make up almost half of humanity, a half which is virtually powerless in relation to the other half. To ensure the well-being of children and adolescents in light of this imbalance of power, we must identify attitudes and practices which cause invisibility.

Statistics are only one aspect of the story. It is important to look at what type of work is done and for whom. The image of the child helping his parents on the farm can hide wide-spread bonded Labor in Asia. Children are ‘farmed out’ to others for repayment of a debt with interest. As the interest rates are too high, the debt is never paid off and ‘bonded Labor’ is another term for a form of slavery.

In Africa, children can live at great distances from their home, working for others with no family ties and thus no restraints on the demands for work. Girls are particularly disadvantaged as they often undertake household chores following work in the fields. Schooling for such children can be non-existent or uneven at best. There is often a lack of rural schools and teachers. Rural school attendance is variable even where children are not forced to work. Thus, there is a need for better coordination between resources and initiatives for rural education and the elimination of exploitative child Labor.

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There is still a long way to go to eliminate exploitative child Labor. Much child Labor is in what is commonly called the non-formal sector of the economy where there are no trade unions. Child Labor is often related to conditions of extreme poverty and to sectors of the society where both adults and children are marginalized such as many tribal societies in Asia, or the Roma in Europe or migrant workers in general.

In addition to the worst forms of exploitative child Labor, there is the broad issue of youth training and employment. The challenges ahead are very much a youth challenge. The world will need to create millions of new jobs over the next decade in order to provide employment for the millions of new entrants into the Labor market in addition to creating jobs for the millions of currently unemployed or underemployed youth.

There needs to be worldwide Labor market policies that provide social protection measures, better training for an ever-changing work scene. World Citizens support the demands of decent work for all. We need to cooperate to build economies and societies where young persons participate fully in the present and the future.

Prof. René Wadlow is President and a Representative to the United Nations –Geneva 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.

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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.

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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.

May 3: World Press Freedom Day

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

MAY 3: WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY

By René Wadlow

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yemen: Effective Humanitarian Aid Depends on a Peace Accord

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

YEMEN: EFFECTIVE HUMANITARIAN AID DEPENDS ON A PEACE ACCORD

By René Wadlow

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

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

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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

UN officials and most diplomats are reluctant to call the armed conflict by its real name: “a war of aggression”. The aggression of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition (Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates) against Yemen began on March 24, 2015.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day of Mother Earth – April 22

In Being a World Citizen, Environmental protection, Human Development, Human Rights, Poetry, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on April 22, 2017 at 9:25 AM

DAY OF MOTHER EARTH – APRIL 22

By René Wadlow

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 2009 through resolution A/RES/63/278, under the leadership of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, designated April 22 as the International Mother Earth Day. The Day recognizes a collective responsibility, set out in the 1992 Rio Declaration, to promote harmony with Nature so as to achieve a just balance among economic, social and ecological needs of the present and future generations.

In traditional Indian culture, according to texts as early as the Vedas, the Earth is home to all living species that inhabit it and must not be excluded as they all contribute to the planet’s welfare and preservation. Therefore, human beings must contribute to the web of life of which they are a part and find ways of using the elements to produce food without damaging other life forms as far as possible.

World Citizens stress that Earth is our common home and that we must protect it together. Loss of biodiversity, desertification, and soil loss – all are signs that there must be renewed efforts to develop socio-economic patterns that are in harmony with Nature.

World Citizens highlight that the protection of Mother Earth is a task in which each of us must participate. However, there have always been traditions that stressed that a more enlightened group of humans would come to show the way. One tradition was among the Natives of North America. The more enlightened were thought of as “The Rainbow Warriors” – the warrior being one who protects rather than one who goes abroad to attack others. Nicola Beechsquirrel recalls this tradition in her poem, a tribute to Mother Earth.

 

The Rainbow Warriors

Nicola Beechsquirrel

Come, all who ever loved our Earth

Who lived in peace amongst her creatures

Gentle, loving, caring folk

With healing hands, and wisdom in your souls.

Come, incarnate once more

Come to Earth in her greatest need.

Help us rid her of her burdens

Cleanse her of all poisons

Close up the deep sores on her sacred body

And cover it once more in soft green.

Walk amongst us again

That we may relearn ancient skills

And long-forgotten wisdom

And tread lightly upon our Mother Earth

Taking from her only what we need

Living her ways in love and joy

Treating her creatures as equals.

Teach us how to reach those who exploit her

How to open their souls to the beauty of Life

That they may destroy no longer.

Come to us, Rainbow Warriors

Share with us your wisdom

For we have great need of it.

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

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

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

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- AWC-UN Geneva Logo --

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

Saudi Arabia: Still Lost in the Sands of War

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

SAUDI ARABIA: STILL LOST IN THE SANDS OF WAR

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

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

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

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King Salman of Saudi Arabia

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

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

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

1) an immediate ceasefire ending all foreign military attacks;

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

3) a broad national dialogue;

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

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

We can, alas, only repeat ourselves today.

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Note:

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

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

Syrie : Résoudre le Conflit Armé et Reconstruire une Société Qui Soit Inclusive et Juste

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on April 3, 2017 at 10:56 PM

SYRIE : RÉSOUDRE LE CONFLIT ARME ET RECONSTRUIRE UNE SOCIÉTÉ QUI SOIT INCLUSIVE ET JUSTE

Par René Wadlow et Bernard J. Henry

Le 5 avril 2017, l’Union européenne (UE) et l’ONU tiendront une conférence commune sur l’avenir de la Syrie et de sa région. La « société civile » est invitée à y participer, mais il est impossible de savoir par avance si la rencontre de Bruxelles sera un événement de « récolte de fonds », auquel cas les Organisations Non-Gouvernementales (ONG) dotées du statut consultatif auprès de l’ONU ne pourront apporter qu’une contribution limitée, ou si les buts fixés seront plus ambitieux.

La rencontre organisée par l’UE et l’ONU est la troisième sur la Syrie en un laps de temps très court, démontrant l’ampleur des inquiétudes quant au flot des réfugiés ainsi que devant la violence et la souffrance qui ne semblent pas connaître de fin en Syrie et en Irak. Le texte suivant a été écrit au nom de l’Association of World Citizens (AWC) qui le transmet en amont aux gouvernements concernés par la conférence du 5 avril.

A la suite des pourparlers qui se sont tenus du 23 au 25 janvier 2017 à Astana (Kazakhstan) sous le parrainage de la Fédération de Russie, de la Turquie et de la République islamique d’Iran, un nouveau tour de pourparlers parrainé par l’ONU a eu lieu du 23 au 31 mars à Genève, sous l’appellation non-officielle de « Genève IV ». L’Émissaire spécial de l’ONU pour la Syrie, M. Staffan de Mistura, a dirigé ces pourparlers conviés par l’ONU à Genève et Lausanne.

Toutes les parties en présence au conflit en Syrie et en Irak n’y ont pas participé. Ni Daesh ni les Kurdes n’y étaient présents et toutes les composantes de l’opposition au Gouvernement du Président syrien Bachar al-Assad n’y ont pas été représentées. S’il existe des pourparlers non-officiels dans des hôtels ou des restaurants de Genève parallèlement aux négociations, en tout cas, personne n’en parle. Il existe une vaste et active communauté kurde à Genève et dans sa région, où certains agissent peut-être comme porte-paroles des efforts actuels de création du Rojava, zone autonome kurde au nord de la Syrie dont il est envisageable qu’elle s’associe un jour avec la région autonome kurde d’Irak.

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Les pourparlers de Genève ont porté sur des questions à court terme, parmi lesquelles un cessez-le-feu, la sécurité des civils syriens et l’accès aux humanitaires des zones en besoin d’aide. D’autres questions ont été abordées sur un plus long terme, s’agissant de processus politiques tels une administration transitoire, des changements constitutionnels, et des élections en vue d’un nouveau gouvernement dont les fondements soient plus larges.

En parallèle aux pourparlers intra-syriens lors desquels M. de Mistura a officié en tant que médiateur, l’ONU s’est saisie des préoccupations liées aux Droits Humains en Syrie, ayant créé une Commission d’enquête internationale indépendante sur la République arabe syrienne ainsi qu’un mécanisme commun d’enquête ONU-Organisation pour l’Interdiction des Armes Chimiques.

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L’Association of World Citizens (AWC), Organisation Non-Gouvernementale (ONG) dotée du statut consultatif auprès de l’ONU, active dans la résolution des conflits armés et la promotion des Droits Humains, avait salué l’appel lancé le 20 juillet 2011 par le Secrétaire Général de l’ONU de l’époque, Ban Ki-moon, pour un dialogue inclusif sur les griefs du peuple syrien et ses préoccupations pour l’avenir. A travers un message au Secrétaire Général, l’AWC avait encouragé une participation aussi large que possible de la société civile syrienne à un tel dialogue, ajoutant que l’AWC, consciente de l’utilité qui peut être celle des ONG internationales dans la résolution des conflits, aiderait à faciliter de telles discussions de toute manière jugée appropriée.

En décembre 2011 commença une Mission d’Observation de la Ligue des Etats Arabes qui allait s’avérer de courte durée. Dans un message du 9 février 2012 au Secrétaire Général de la Ligue des Etats Arabes, l’Ambassadeur Nabil el-Araby, l’AWC a proposé un renouvellement de la Mission d’Observation de la Ligue Arabe, avec l’inclusion d’un nombre plus important d’observateurs issus d’ONG et un mandat élargi dépassant la simple mission d’exploration, et ainsi jouer un rôle actif de résolution des conflits au niveau local dans l’espoir d’arrêter la spirale qui engloutit le peuple syrien dans la violence et le carnage.

A bien des reprises depuis lors, l’AWC a rappelé à l’ONU, au Gouvernement syrien et aux mouvements d’opposition le rôle important que peuvent remplir les ONG, tant syriennes qu’internationales, pour faciliter la résolution des conflits.

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Les combats en Syrie, en Irak et dans certaines régions de la Turquie ont généré un grand nombre de personnes déplacées et de réfugiés. La réaction des gouvernements au flot de réfugiés s’est montrée pour le moins inégale, quelques-uns s’étant montrés accueillants et d’autres ayant ouvertement fermé leur porte. Très tôt, l’AWC avait appelé de ses vœux une conférence de l’ONU sur les réfugiés et personnes déplacées. L’AWC a salué la convocation par l’ONU de conférences sur les réfugiés et l’aide humanitaire, au sein desquelles elle a pris toute sa part.

Les conflits armés en Syrie, en Irak, au Yémen et en Afghanistan ont causé des violations graves du droit humanitaire international : attaques contre des installations médicales et du personnel de santé, exécutions de prisonniers de guerre, tortures, destructions délibérées du patrimoine culturel, attaques délibérées contre des populations civiles, usage d’armes que les traités internationaux interdisent. En conséquence, l’AWC a souligné la nécessité d’une conférence de l’ONU pour la réaffirmation du droit humanitaire international. S’il ne se manifeste pas maintenant un soutien fort au droit humanitaire international, il existera un danger réel de voir les violations désormais considérées comme « normales », ce qui les rendra hors de contrôle. Des mesures fortes de soutien au droit humanitaire international doivent être prises sans délai.

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Les structures de gouvernement, l’autorité, les limites géographiques des régions administratives et les droits des minorités de prendre part à la vie de la nation posent problème en Irak, en Syrie au Liban depuis l’époque de la désintégration de l’Empire ottoman après la fin de la Première Guerre Mondiale. Il est essentiel de développer des formes de gouvernement adaptées rendant possibles à la fois l’autonomie locale et la coopération régionale.

La recherche d’une structure adaptée à ceux qui s’identifient comme Kurdes s’est avérée être une question particulièrement difficile qui a donné lieu à des violences. L’AWC, fidèle à la tradition de décentralisation et de fédéralisme d’Alexandre Marc et de Denis de Rougemont, tient que le fédéralisme et la décentralisation ne sont pas des chemins vers la désintégration d’un Etat, mais tendent au contraire à créer des structures plus justes d’organisation de l’Etat et de coopération régionale.

L’AWC salue la conférence organisée le 5 avril par l’UE et l’ONU sur la Syrie et la région du monde à laquelle elle appartient.

L’AWC affirme une nouvelle fois son souhait de coopérer pleinement à la vaste et indispensable tâche de mettre fin au conflit armé et de développer une société qui soit inclusive et juste.

Le Professeur René Wadlow est Président de l’Association of World Citizens.

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

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