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Renewed Violence in Darfur: An Unstable Sudan

In Middle East & North Africa, Current Events, Solidarity, Democracy, Conflict Resolution, The Search for Peace, Africa, United Nations, International Justice, World Law, Humanitarian Law, NGOs, Track II on May 16, 2022 at 7:00 AM

By René Wadlow

April 24, 2022 saw renewed violence in the Darfur Province of Sudan between Arab militias and the indigenous tribes of the area, the Masalit and the Fur. The violence began in 2003 and has caused some 300,000 deaths and some three million displaced. While most of the fighting was when General Omar al-Bashir was President, his overthrow by new military leadership has not fundamentally improved the situation.

Darfur is the western edge of Sudan. Its longest foreign frontier is with Chad, but communication with Libya is easy for camel herders and gunrunners. To the south lies the Central African Republic – a state with a very unstable government, which feels the fallout from the Darfur conflict. Darfur served as a buffer area between the French colony of Chad and the English-held Sudan until 1916 when French-English rivalry was overshadowed by the common enemy, Germany, in World War I. Darfur, which had been loosely part of the Ottoman Empire, was integrated into Sudan with no consultation either with the people of Darfur or with those in Sudan.

(C) Albert González Farran – UNAMID

Thus, Darfur was always the neglected child in Sudan – a child no one had asked to be there. Only after 1945 were some development projects undertaken, but basically Darfur remained an area of pastoralists – some tribes specializing in camels and others in cattle – and settled agriculturalists. Camel and cattle-raising tribes from Chad would move into Darfur and vice-versa. There were frontiers between tribes, but they did not correspond to state boundaries.

In May 2000, intellectuals and government civil servants from Darfur, calling themselves the Seekers of Truth and Justice, wrote The Black Book: Imbalance of Power and Wealth in Sudan. The study ended with specific recommendations for governmental and social action. While the book was widely read, it produced no new initiatives in sharing power or wealth. Some leaders in Darfur had the impression that the government was withdrawing services, especially in health and education. Schools were closed, and the number of children in school decreased.

After the failure of the intellectual efforts of The Black Book, the conviction that only violence was taken seriously started to grow among Darfur leaders. They started thinking about a strategy of a sharp and swift show of violent strength that would force the government to negotiate with Darfur. The insurgency in Darfur began in the Spring of 2003. As Julie Flint and Alex de Waal point out in their useful history of the start of the Darfur war “Darfur’s rebels are an awkward coalition of Fur and Masalet villagers, Zaghawa Bedouins out of patience with Khartoum, a handful of professionals who dared to take on leadership. Few of Darfur’s guerrillas had military experience or discipline before they took up arms. The two main rebel groups are united by deep resentment at the marginalization of Darfur, but are not natural bedfellows and could easily be split apart… In the first months of 2003, these half-formed and inexperienced rebel fronts were catapulted out of obscurity to face challenges for which they were totally unprepared.” (1)

(C) Stuart Price/UN Photo

The government in Khartoum was also unprepared for the Darfur insurgency. The government’s attention, as well as the bulk of the army, was turned toward the civil war in the south of Sudan. The government turned the fight against the Darfur movements to its security agencies – a narrow group of men uninterested in internal politics or external relations. They decided to use the air force to bomb villages and to use foreign troops to do the fighting on the ground. The foreign troops came from Libya. Colonel Gaddafi had created in the early 1980s an “Islamic Legion” and recruited militiamen from Mauritania, Chad, Mali in his efforts to create a union of Libya and Chad – or to annex part of northern Chad. When Gaddafi’s Chadian interests faded at the end of the 1980s, the Islamic Legion soldiers were left to look after themselves and so were ready to work for new paymasters.

The Sudanese security people brought the Islamic Legion soldiers to Darfur, gave them weapons but no pay. They were to pay themselves by taking what they could from the villages they attacked. In addition, prisoners from Darfur’s jails were released on condition of joining the militias. Rape of women and young girls was widely practiced both as a means of terror and as a “reward” for the fighters since they were not paid. These militias became known as the Janjaweed (“the evildoers on horseback”).

Although the Darfur conflict has largely faded from the media headlines, it continues producing many refugees, internally displaced persons, unused farmland, and political unrest. The conflicts in Darfur have destroyed many of the older patterns of dispute settlement among groups as well as much of the economic infrastructure. The social texture and trust among groups is likely to be more difficult to rebuild than homes, livestock, and water wells.

The joint African Union – United Nations peacekeeping force has not been able to produce peace. Peacekeeping forces need a peace to keep, and while there have been lulls in fighting, there has been no peace to keep. Banditry, criminal activities, and periodic military action continues. It is impossible to know if the current outbreak of armed violence has local causes or if it is a reflection of instability at the central government level. The situation in Darfur remains critical and needs to be watched closely.

Note:

1) Julie Flint and Alex de Wall, Darfur: A Short History of a Long War (London, Zed Books, 2005)

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

Upholding International Humanitarian Law in Times of Armed Conflict: A World Citizen Appeal

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Europe, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, NGOs, Solidarity, The former Soviet Union, The Search for Peace, UKRAINE, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on March 2, 2022 at 8:24 AM

By René Wadlow

The invasion by Russian troops into Ukraine has raised in a dramatic way the issue of the respect of international humanitarian law. There have been reports of the use of cluster munitions fired into civilian areas. The Association of World Citizens (AWC) was very active on efforts which led to the convention banning cluster weapons.

Regular military personnel of all countries are theoretically informed of the rules of the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, and the Protocol Additional adopted in 1977.

When the 1949 Geneva Conventions were drafted and adopted, it was possible to spell out in considerable detail rules regarding prisoners of war and the protection of civilians, in particular Common Article 3 (so called because it is found in all four Conventions) provides that “each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions: Persons taking no active part in the hostilities…shall in all circumstances be treated humanely without any adverse distinction founded on race, color, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.”

The importance of Common Article 3 should not be underestimated. It sets out in straightforward terms important protections that all parties to a conflict must respect. In order to meet the need for additional protection, international humanitarian law has evolved to cover not only international armed conflict but also internal armed conflict. Today, international human rights standards are also considered part of international humanitarian law, thus providing additional protection for vulnerable population groups such as women, children, and minorities.

As situations of internal violence and strife proliferate, abuses committed by non-State actors, such as armed militias, are increasing concerns. Fundamental standards of international humanitarian law are intended to ensure the effective protection of human beings in all situations. The standards are clear. (1)

There are two major weaknesses in the effectiveness of international humanitarian law. The first is that many people do not know that it exists and that they are bound by its norms. Thus, there is an important role for greater promotional activities, the dissemination of information through general education, specific training of the military, outreach to armed militias, and cooperation with a wide range of nongovernmental organizations.

The second weakness is that violations of international humanitarian law are rarely punished. Governments too often tolerate these violations. Few soldiers are tried, or court-martialed, for the violations of international humanitarian law. This weakness is even more true of non-governmental militias and armed groups.

In fact, most violations of international humanitarian law are not actions of individual soldiers or militia members carried away by a sudden rush of anger, fear, a desire of revenge or a sudden sexual urge to rape a woman. Soldiers and militia members violating the norms of international humanitarian law are acting on orders of their commanders.

Thus, the only sold response is an act of conscience to refuse an order of a military or militia higher up and refuse to torture, to bomb a medical facility, to shoot a prisoner, to harm a child, and to rape a woman. Conscience, that inner voice which discerns what is right from wrong and encourages right action is the value on which we can build the defense of international humanitarian law. The defense of conscience to refuse unjust orders is a large task but a crucial action for moving toward a law-based world society.

Notes

(1) For useful guides to international humanitarian law see:

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

H. McCoubrey and N.D. White, International Law and Armed Conflicts (Dartmouth Publishing Co., 1992)

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

Current Searches for Appropriate Forms of Government

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law, Yemen on October 8, 2021 at 6:52 PM

By René Wadlow

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) strives to respond to situations in this turbulent and frequently violent world by making proposals for the resolution of armed conflicts through negotiations in good faith and by making proposals for developing appropriate forms of government, often based on con-federalism, decentralization, and trans-frontier cooperation. A current focus is on the situations in Yemen (1) and Somalia. (2)

In March 2015, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia attacked Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, held by a rebel force, the Ansar Allah Movement, commonly called the Houthis. Since that date, the armed conflict has continued, destroying the fragile economy, displacing a large number of persons, creating a humanitarian tragedy. So far, all mediation efforts have failed. The situation becomes more complex each day due in part to the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The state of Yemen was the creation of two separate units. One was the southern part originally known as the Aden Colony and the Eastern and Western Aden Protectorates under British rule. The northern part of the country had been under Ottoman rule until the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. From 1918 until 1962, it was ruled by Imams. In 1962, there was a military coup organized by officers who had been trained in Egypt and were influenced by Nasser’s views on Arab nationalism. The coup was followed by an eight-year-long civil war between the military forces called “republicans” and the forces of the Imam Bader. The republicans won, but the government was weak and unstable.

The south of the country after the British left took the name of the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen. In 1990, the two segments of Yemen were united, and the Republic of Yemen was established. However, the euphoria which had existed at the start was short-lived. The people in the south had been promised that their lives would be bettered after unification. Life did not improve, and many in the south felt marginalized. Today, there is a strong sentiment in the south for separation and independence.

When the fighting in Yemen stops, the creation of appropriate forms of government will have to be found. The return to two separate states presents real difficulties as people have moved from their original home areas due to changing economic conditions and to the armed conflict. Yet a single centralized government also seems impossible. As Martin Dent points out, where there is strong identity politics, there must be forms of government that fill the gap between unity and independence. (3) There is a need for Track II efforts to discuss possible structures of government in Yemen.

In Somalia, we have very similar conditions. The two Somali colonial areas, one under the control of Britain and the other under that of Italy were combined into one state in 1961. There had been a period of United Nations (UN) trusteeship after the end of the Second World War when the area of Italian colonial status had ended and before the two colonial territories were united. The political culture of the two territories was different. This impact of the colonial legacy was an element leading to the current situation. In January 1991, the military government of Siyad Barre was overthrown, and now different parts of the country demand independence, in particular Somaliland and Puntland, though their boundary claims overlap.

In addition to regional demands for independence, there is an armed Islamist movement, Al-Shabaab, which poses regional and international security issues which continue. Mediation efforts by the UN have not progressed. Again, Track II efforts may be helpful to find governmental structures able to provide autonomy without dividing the Somalia state into three or more independent states. (4) The Association of World Citizens stresses the need for creative thinking on the structure of a state, on the need for regional cooperation and a willingness to negotiate in good faith.

Notes

(1) Helen Lackner, Yemen in Crisis: Autocracy, Neo-Liberalism and the Disintegration of a State (London: Saqi Books, 2017, 330 pp.)

(2) Sarah G. Phillips, When There Was No Aid: War and Peace in Somaliland (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2020, 227 pp.)

(3) Martin J. Dent, Identity Politics: Filling the Gap Between Federalism and Independence (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2004, 232 pp.)

(4) Hurst Hannum, Autonomy, Sovereignty and Self-Determination: The Accommodation of Conflicting Rights (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990, 503 pp.)

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

The AWC Reiterates its Appeal for Immediate Action to End the Fighting and Bring Relief to Populations at Risk in Ethiopia

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, NGOs, Solidarity, Sudan, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on September 14, 2021 at 8:46 PM

By René Wadlow

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) now reiterates its Appeal to the parties in the armed conflict in Ethiopia for negotiations in good faith to end the fighting and to deal with the deep consequences of the conflict, especially the widespread hunger. Mark Lowcock, the United Nations (UN) Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, has warned that nearly five million of the six million population of the Tigray Province needed food assistance and the number grows as fighting spreads to other regions.

Shortly after fighting began on November 3, 2020, the AWC, knowing the fragile nature of the confederation of provinces which make up the Ethiopian state, had made a first Appeal for negotiations in good faith, although information on the fighting was very limited. Journalists were prevented from going to Tigray as were most humanitarian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). However by February, enough information had been gathered from refugee sources for Amnesty International to present a first report on the extent of human rights violations, with multiple credible and widely corroborated reports of widespread atrocities involving mass killings, rapes and the abduction of civilians.

The fighting in Tigray becomes more complex each day as Ethiopian Defense Forces, Eritrean Defense Forces and ethnic militias face Tigrayan forces. There is a buildup of Sudanese government forces on the Ethiopian-Sudan border and refugees flee into Sudan. The whole Horn of Africa already fragile is in danger of greater destabilization.

For the moment all efforts for mediation proposed by the UN or the African Union have been refused by the Ethiopian central government. The former officials of Tigray Province have fled and it is not clear who is in a position to negotiate for the Tigray factions were negotiations to be undertaken. There may be possibilities for non-governmental initiatives. Hence the reiteration of our AWC Appeal.

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

Appel Urgent à Cesser la Violence dans la Région de Jérusalem et Gaza

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, War Crimes on May 13, 2021 at 2:01 PM

L’Association of World Citizens, qui s’emploie à mettre fin aux conflits armés par des négociations de bonne foi, adresse un Appel Urgent à toutes les parties pour mettre fin à la violence dans la région de Jérusalem et Gaza. Dans cette situation hautement inflammable, tout instant ouvre la voie à une montée du conflit. La violence peut entraîner une violence encore plus importante et s’étendre à d’autres endroits encore, une indication en étant les récentes violences dans la ville de Lod.

L’Association of World Citizens en appelle à toutes les parties afin de s’abstenir de toute action provocatrice. Comme le disait le Citoyen du Monde et psychologue Bruno Bettelheim, «La violence est le comportement de quelqu’un d’incapable d’imaginer d’autres solutions aux problèmes qui se présentent». En conséquence, l’Association of World Citizens en appelle à une pensée créatrice pour trouver de nouvelles approches en vue d’une vie en commun coopérative et harmonieuse entre Israéliens et Palestiniens.

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

Urgent Appeal to Halt Violence in the Jerusalem-Gaza Area

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, War Crimes on May 13, 2021 at 2:01 PM

The Association of World Citizens, devoted to ending armed conflicts through negotiations in good faith, addresses an Urgent Appeal to all parties to halt violence in the Jerusalem-Gaza area. In this highly inflammatory situation, there can be an escalation to the conflict at any point. Violence can lead to ever greater violence and can spread to other areas, an indication of which is the recent violence in the city of Lod.

The Association of World Citizens calls upon all parties to refrain from provocative action. As World Citizen and psychologist Bruno Bettelheim wrote, “Violence is the behavior of someone incapable of imagining other solutions to the problems at hand.” Therefore, the Association of World Citizens calls for creative thinking for new approaches to cooperative and harmonious living together of Israelis and Palestinians.

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

Nagorno-Karabakh: Uneasy Ceasefire, Key Issues Remain

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Europe, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, NGOs, Solidarity, The former Soviet Union, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on December 24, 2020 at 4:56 PM

By René Wadlow

December 9-10, 2020 marked the one-month anniversary of the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, known as Artsakh by the Armenians. The ceasefire was negotiated by Russia between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The agreement was signed by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, the Azerbaijan President, Ilham Aliyev, and the Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pachinian. However, on December 11, the Russian Novosti Press Agency reported the first ceasefire violation, an exchange of fire between Azerbaijan and Armenian soldiers. There are some 2000 Russian peacekeepers on site, but it is always difficult to control a ceasefire. Moreover, a ceasefire is only the first step on what will be a long path of confidence-building measures and ultimately forms of cooperation.

Nicol Pachanian

The ceasefire agreement structures two safe avenues of road communication from the remaining Armenian areas in Nagorno-Karabakh to Armenia. In the same way there will be a safe avenue of road communication from the Azerbaijan areas to Nakhichevan, an Azerbaijan majority area within Armenia. The avenue to Nakhichevan close to the frontier with Turkey will allow Turkish goods to cross to Azerbaijan and from there through Central Asia to the frontier with China.

Turkey considers the outcome of the ceasefire as a victory for Turkey, especially that the Turkish drones and weapons used by the Azerbaijan forces played a large role in giving Azerbaijan a military advantage. In contrast, the outcome of the ceasefire is considered by many in Armenia as a defeat, creating an instability for the current government led by Pachinian. The results of the ceasefire have led to the naming of a new Foreign Minister, Ara Aivazian, on November 18.

The conflict has led to a large number of new refugees, of displaced persons and hopes among those in Azerbaijan who had fled Nagorno-Karabakh as a result of the 1992-1994 armed conflict. The economy of the area, always marginal as Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous, largely rural area is largely destroyed. However, the area had highly symbolic meaning for both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Ilham Aliyev

The Group of Minsk, created by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe after the 1992-1994 conflict has 11 States as members including Azerbaijan and Armenia. The Minsk Group has three co-chairs: Russia, France, the USA. The Group as a whole rarely meets. Rather it is diplomats from Russia and France who have met in bilateral meetings with representatives from Azerbaijan or Armenia. There has been little progress in finding confidence-building measures and virtually none on forms of cooperation.

Today, this armed conflict in an area that is troubled in a number of places may be a warning sign that negotiations in good faith should be a priority. The Association of World Citizens has been concerned with the tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh since the eve of the breakup of the USSR in 1991. We need to remain alert at possible efforts at Track II diplomacy or other forms of nongovernmental mediation.

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

Mali: More Instability in an Unstable Region

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, NGOs, Solidarity, Spirituality, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on September 4, 2020 at 8:35 PM

By René Wadlow

The August 18, 2020 coup by Malian military leaders brought an end to the unstable government of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, widely known by his initials IBK. He had come to power on March 22, 2012 in another military coup which had ended the administration of President Amadou Trouré. This 2012 coup highlighted the weakness of the government structures and the narrow geographic base of the administration’s power. This realization led to a revolt in the north of the country led by two rival Tuareg groups as well as Islamist militias of non-Tuareg fighters coming from other Sahel countries and northern Nigeria. Mali was effectively divided into two roughly equal half, each half about the size of France.

French troops were sent from France in January 2013 to prevent an expansion of the territory held by the Tuareg and the Islamists, but were not able to develop a stable administration.

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita

Mali had been poorly administered since its independence in 1960. Economic development had been guided by political and ethnic considerations. During the French colonial period, from the 1890s to 1960, the French administration was based in Dakar, Senegal, a port on the Atlantic with secondary schools, a university, and an educated middle class. Mali was considered an “outpost” (called French Sudan at the time) and largely governed by the French military more interested in keeping order than in development.

IBK’s administration was widely criticized by much of the population for its incompetence, favoritism, and corruption especially by family members such as his son Karim Keita. Islamist groups remained powerful in parts of the north and central Mali. The whole Sahel area, in particular the frontier area of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso still has powerful and violent Islamist militias. This instability is an increasing menace to the coastal countries of Togo, Benin, and Cote d’Ivoire.

Over the past year, discontent with IBK has led to a loose coalition of opposition groups known by the title M5 – RFP, of which the conservative Islamic imam Mahmoud Dicko is a leading figure.

French soldiers deployed in Mali

For the moment, the Mali military leaders have formed the Comité national pour le salut du peuple (The National Committee for the Salvation of the People). It is led by Col. Assimi Gaita, a special forces leader. The Committee has said that it is forming a military-civil transitional government that will lead to elections in nine months.

The challenges facing Mali and the wider Sahel area are great, in large measure linked to the lack of socio-economic development, economic stagnation, and poor administration. The situation is made worse by the consequences of global warming and persistent drought. The military are not trained to be development workers. A broad cooperative effort of all sectors of the population is needed. Will the military be able to develop such a broadly-based cooperative effort? Mali and the Sahel merit close attention.

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

Enforced Disappearances: NGO Efforts to Continue

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Latin America, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, Syria, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on August 30, 2020 at 10:14 AM

By René Wadlow

August 30 is the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. The Day highlights the United Nations (UN) General Assembly Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, Resolution 47/133 of December 18, 1992.

In a good number of countries, there are State-sponsored “death squads” – persons affiliated to the police or to the intelligence agencies who kill “in the dark of the night” – unofficially. These deaths avoid a trial which might attract attention. A shot in the back of the head is faster. In many cases, the bodies of those killed are destroyed. Death is suspected but not proved. Many family members hope for a return. In addition to governments, nongovernmental armed groups and criminal gangs have the same practices.

Also to be considered among the “disappeared” are the secret imprisonment of persons at places unknown to their relatives or to legal representatives. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has a Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, created in 1980, which has registered some 46,000 cases of people who disappeared under unknown circumstances.

Disappearances was one of the first issues to be raised, largely by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) when the UN Secretariat’s Center for Human Rights with a new director, Theo van Boven, moved from New York to Geneva in 1977. After seizing power in 1976, Argentina’s military rulers set out to kill opposition figures and at the same time to weaken the UN’s human rights machinery in case the UN objected. The Argentinean ambassadors to the UN used delaying tactics in order to give the military time to kill as many suspected “subversives” as possible.

In 1980, a group of Argentinian mothers of the disappeared came to Geneva and some entered the public gallery and silently put on their symbolic white head scarves. (1)

Theo van Boven, March 22, 1983 – (C) Rob C. Croes / Anefo – Nationaal Archief, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl

Today, the issue of the disappeared and of the secretly imprisoned continues, sometimes on a large scale such as in Syria. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is the only non-governmental organization with the recognized mandate to deal with specific prisoners, enabling a minimum level of contact and inspection of their treatment. However, the mandate functions only when the prisoners are known, not kept in “black holes” or killed.

The Association of World Citizens stresses that much more needs to be done in terms of prevention, protection, and search for disappeared persons. On August 30, we will reaffirm our dedication to this effort.

Note:
1) See Iain Guest, Behind the Disappearances: Argentina’s Dirty War Against Human Rights and the United Nations (Philadelphia; University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990) Iain Guest was the Geneva UN correspondent for The Guardian and the International Herald Tribune. He had access to Argentinian confidential documents once the military left power. He interviewed many diplomats and NGO representatives active in Geneva-based human rights work. This book is probably the most detailed look at how human rights efforts are carried out at the UN Geneva-based human rights bodies.

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

World Refugee Day

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Europe, Fighting Racism, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, Middle East & North Africa, Migration, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on June 20, 2020 at 4:01 PM

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 United Nations 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.”

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 departures and re-settlements. 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.

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Hungarian refugees outside a building at Charleston Air Force Base in 1956.

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.

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 five 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.

Women_and_children_among_Syrian_refugees_striking_at_the_platform_of_Budapest_Keleti_railway_station._Refugee_crisis._Budapest,_Hungary,_Cent

Women and children among Syrian refugees striking at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station in 2015.

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.

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