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International Humanitarian Law, Constant Challenges, NGO Responses

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Human Development, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on August 12, 2019 at 8:38 AM

By René Wadlow

August 12 is the anniversary of the signing of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Protocols Additional are central instruments of International Humanitarian Law. The Geneva Conventions, are also often called the Red Cross Conventions as the International Committee of the Red Cross is the institution which is to promote and protect the articles of the Conventions, although the Convention opens the door to other organizations “which offers all guarantees of impartiality and efficacy.”

The 1949 Geneva Conventions were drawn up in light of the violations of earlier international humanitarian law during the Second World War. The first Geneva Convention was drawn up in 1864, the time of the birth of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The aims of the ICRC were set out at the time: the development and universalization of humanitarian law and as a neutral go-between in armed conflicts, enabling contact to be maintained between combatants. There could also be a role to serve as an intermediary between victims and States, reminding States of their obligations towards those victims.

The Geneva Conventions have evolved as the nature of armed conflicts has evolved. The 1977 Protocols Additional were drawn up by a diplomatic conference held in Geneva in light of the experiences of the war in Vietnam, the greater number of conflicts that could be called “civil wars” and the greater use of armed militias which were not regular military forces. In the 1977 discussions, there was greater awareness of the conditions of refugees, already protected by the international refugee agreements but also a growing awareness of persons displaced within the country, a pattern which has grown.

Closely related to the Geneva Conventions is a second tradition of international humanitarian law, what may be called “the Hague Tradition” growing out of the Hague Peace Conferences of 1899 and 1907. This tradition places its emphasis on banning the use of certain types of weapons. The 1925 Geneva Convention prohibiting the use of poison gas was a direct result of poison gas use in World War I. Since then, there has been a treaty banning the use of land mines, of cluster munitions, and a wider ban on chemical weapons.

There are two other sources or traditions in the development of international humanitarian law. One is respect for human rights provisions as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the conventions which followed focused on different aspects of the Universal Declaration. While the provisions of the Universal Declaration are to be upheld at all times, there are highly visible and wide-spread violations during armed conflicts. Thus the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights (become the Human Rights Council) became concerned with situations of armed conflicts.

Palmyra, the ancient city in Syria, much of which has been destroyed by both the ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS) and the Syrian Arab Army of the Assad regime.

The fourth tradition is the development of the 1936 Roerich Peace Pact to protect cultural heritage during armed conflicts. The 1936 Pact, signed at the White House in Washington, D.C. was a Pan-American Union Treaty. Its provisions served as the basis of the 1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Goods with UNESCO as the official body for its safeguard. The 1954 Treaty has been progressively enriched by the development of UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage sites. The International Criminal Court has recently condemned a person for his role in the destruction of UNESCO Cultural Heritage sites in northern Mali, West Africa.

These traditions of international humanitarian law have been highlighted in a number of United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolutions such as that on Basic Principles of Protection for Civilian Populations in Time of Armed Conflict, Resolution 2625 (1971).

Thus, the provisions of international humanitarian law are well developed and cover many issues that are likely to arise in armed conflicts. There are two major challenges for their respect. One is that the provisions of international humanitarian law are not well known, neither by the military nor by possible victims. Thus, education concerning international humanitarian law is necessary. During the 1969-1971 Nigeria-Biafra War, I had been a member of an ICRC working group as the Nigeria-Biafra war was the first war among Africans without a colonial power being involved. There were many violations during the war, including the use of starvation as a military policy. After the end of the war, the need for teaching international humanitarian law was obvious. I helped in the preparation of a textbook using African examples that the Red Cross used fairly widely in Africa. The teaching of international humanitarian law in the context of local cultures and values is still a vital challenge.

The second and more important challenge is that international humanitarian law is not respected even when its provisions are known. The current conscious violation of international humanitarian law including some of the oldest provisions – not attacking medical facilities or not shooting prisoners – has been widespread in armed conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and elsewhere. More than preparing handbooks for the military and the militias is needed.

The Association of World Citizens has been stressing the need for a UN-led world conference on the reaffirmation of international humanitarian law in which governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and armed factions could participate. The degree of respect for humanitarian standards is far from satisfactory, as has been repeatedly pointed out. However, for the moment, there has not been the needed momentum. Such a momentum is likely to arise only from NGOs. The August 12 anniversary is a reminder that we need to work creatively before major wars not afterwards.

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

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A Step Forward in the UN’s Efforts Against Rape as a Weapon of War

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Modern slavery, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, Women's Rights, World Law on April 26, 2019 at 10:50 PM

By René Wadlow

On Tuesday, April 23, 2019, the United Nations (UN) Security Council voted Resolution 2467 concerning the use of rape as a weapon in times of armed conflict. This resolution builds on an earlier resolution of June 24, 2013 which called for the complete and immediate cessation of all acts of sexual violation by all parties in armed conflicts. The new resolution introduced by Germany contained two new elements, both of which were eliminated in the intense negotiations in the four days prior to the vote of 13 in favor and two abstentions, those of Russia and China.

The first new element in the German proposed text concerned help to the victims of rape. The proposed paragraph was “urges United Nations entities and donors to provide non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services including sexual and reproductive health, psychosocial, legal and livelihood support and other multi-sectoral services for survivors of sexual violence, taking into account the special needs of persons with disabilities.”

French Ambassador François Delattre

The United States (U. S). delegation objected to this paragraph claiming that “sexual and reproductive health” were code words that opened a door to abortion. Since a U. S. veto would prevent the resolution as a whole, the paragraph was eliminated. There had been four days of intense discussions among the Security Council members concerning this paragraph, with only the U. S. opposed to any form of planned parenthood action. After the resolution was passed with the health paragraph eliminated, the Permanent Representative of France, Ambassador François Delattre, spoke for many of the members saying “It is intolerable and incomprehensible that the Security Council is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict and who obviously didn’t choose to become pregnant should have the right to terminate their pregnancy.”

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzya

The second concept of the German draft that was eliminated was the proposal to create a working group to monitor and to review progress on ending sexual violence in armed conflict. Such a working group was opposed by the diplomats of Russia and China, both of which have the veto power. Thus, for the same reason as with the U. S. opposition, the idea of a monitoring working group was dropped. Both China and Russia are opposed to any form of UN monitoring, fearing that their actions on one topic or another would be noted by a monitoring group. The Russian diplomat had to add that he was against the added administrative burden that a monitoring group would present but that Russia was against sexual violence in conflict situations.

Thus, the new UN Security Council Resolution 2467 is weaker than it should have been but is nevertheless a step forward in building awareness. The Association of World Citizens (AWC) first raised the issue in the UN Commission on Human Rights in March 2001, citing the judgment of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia which maintained that there can be no time limitations on bringing an accused to trial. The Tribunal also reinforced the possibility of universal jurisdiction that a person can be tried not only by his national court but by any court claiming universal jurisdiction and where the accused is present.

Nadia Murad, the Iraqi women’s rights activist who was raped as an ISIS/Daesh slave

The AWC again stressed the use of rape as a weapon of war in the Special Session of the Commission on Human Rights Violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo citing the findings of Meredeth Turshen and Clotilde Twagiramariya in their book What Women Do in Wartime: Gender and Conflict in Africa (London: Zed Press, 1998). They write “There are numerous types of rape. Rape is committed to boast the soldiers’ morale, to feed soldiers’ hatred of the enemy, their sense of superiority, and to keep them fighting: rape is one kind of war booty; women are raped because war intensifies men’s sense of entitlement, superiority, avidity, and social license to rape: rape is a weapon of war used to spread political terror; rape can destabilize a society and break its resistance; rape is a form of torture; gang rapes in public terrorize and silence women because they keep the civilian population functioning and are essential to its social and physical continuity; rape is used in ethnic cleansing; it is designed to drive women from their homes or destroy their possibility of reproduction within or “for” their community; genocidal rape treats women as “reproductive vessels”; to make them bear babies of the rapists’ nationality, ethnicity, race or religion, and genocidal rape aggravates women’s terror and future stigma, producing a class of outcast mothers and children – this is rape committed with consciousness of how unacceptable a raped woman is to the patriarchal community and to herself. This list combines individual and group motives with obedience to military command; in doing so, it gives a political context to violence against women, and it is this political context that needs to be incorporated in the social response to rape.”

The Security Council resolution opens the door to civil society organizations to build on the concepts eliminated from the governmental resolution itself. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must play an ever-more active role in providing services to rape victims with medical, psychological and socio-cultural services. In addition, if the UN is unable to create a monitoring and review of information working group, then such a monitoring group will have to be the task of cooperative efforts among NGOs. It is always to be hoped that government acting together would provide the institutions necessary to promote human dignity. But with the failure of governments to act, our task as nongovernmental representatives is set out for us.

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

Rocky Road to World Law: Need for a UN-led Conference on the Reaffirmation of Humanitarian Law

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on March 22, 2019 at 10:52 PM

By René Wadlow

World law, as World Citizens use the term, is more than current international law. World law has, as its base, universally-recognized international law but also the human rights declarations and standards, the oft-repeated declarations of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly as well as the international legal bodies such as the World Court and the International Criminal Court (ICC). The International Criminal Court is the most recent of the world courts, and its Rome Status has not been ratified by all UN Member States, the United States (U. S.) being a significant holdout.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

Some States have withdrawn from the ICC and other States do not cooperate with it, such as the Sudan. The ICC can act only after the relevant national courts have acted or when national courts are unable to act (the case of some ‘failed States’) or when there is an unjustified unwillingness of national courts to act when crimes against humanity have been committed.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has repeatedly stressed that humanitarian law (international law in times of war, primarily the Geneva Conventions) are being systematically violated and that there should be a UN-led World Conference for the Re-affirmation of Humanitarian Law.

In the armed conflicts in Afghanistan, there have been repeated violations of humanitarian law by all sides: violations in the treatment of prisoners of war, violation of the prohibition of torture, prohibition of attacking medical facilities and medical personnel. The ICC has undertaken preliminary investigations to collect evidence. Among those who have violated humanitarian law are U. S. troops, and thus evidence should be collected.

Although most evidence could be collected within Afghanistan itself, it would be useful to interview persons who had served in Afghanistan but now have returned to the U. S. and to see written reports no longer stored in Afghanistan. Thus, the ICC plans to send investigators to the U. S. to interview and collect documentation.

However, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on March 15, 2019 that the U. S. will revoke or deny visas to ICC personnel investigating allegations of torture or other war crimes committed in the conflicts in Afghanistan. Pompeo also announced that the U. S. will consider imposing financial sanctions and restrictions on “persons who take or have taken action to request or further such ICC investigation”. He could have added imprisonment if we recall those who provided evidence of war crimes in Iraq.

Unfortunately, Pompeo sends the wrong message to all other parties that torture, rape, attacks on medical facilities will not be tried. Pompeo helps to undermine further international humanitarian law.

We have to think back to 1947-1948 and the leadership of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt as chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights to recall any U.S. leadership on world law. Unfortunately, law has never been part of U. S. culture. The lone cowboy taking the law into his own hands by shooting it out on a dusty street seen in many films remains the U. S. ideal.

As mentioned, most of the necessary evidence can be found in Afghanistan itself. Bringing anyone from any party to trial for crimes in Afghanistan seems to me unlikely. Nevertheless, as world citizens, we need to keep the standards of world law in mind. These standards should be clear. Thus, our repeated call for a UN-led conference on the re-affirmation of international humanitarian law.

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

Syria: Concerns Raised and Possible Next Steps

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) The widespread violations of human rights standards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes:

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

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

Highlighting the Need to Combat the Use of Rape as a Weapon of War

In Africa, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, Women's Rights, World Law on October 27, 2018 at 2:49 PM

By René Wadlow

The co-laureate of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, Denis Mukwege, has become an eloquent spokesperson for the effort to outlaw the use of rape as a weapon of war. Rape has often been considered as a nearly normal part of war. When an army took a city or town, the rape of women followed, a reward to brave soldiers. Military commanders turned a blind eye.

However, whatever may have been past practice, rape has now become a weapon of war, often an effort at genocide. Women’s reproductive organs are deliberately destroyed with the aim of preventing the reproduction of a group – one of the elements of genocide set out in the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Denis Mukwege has created a clinic near Bukavu in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo – a country that is democratic only in name. He and a number of younger doctors whom he was trained try to care for women who have undergone rape by multiple men, one after the other, often in public in front of family members and others who know the woman. Known rape, even by a single person, can be a cause of family breakup, lasting shame, and an inability to continue living in the same village. There are also negative attitudes toward children born of a rape. Multiple rape is often followed by deliberate destruction of the reproductive organs.

Denis_Mukwege_VOA_cropped

The eastern area of Congo is the scene of fighting at least since 1998 – in part as a result of the genocide in neighboring Rwanda in 1994. In mid-1994, more than one million Rwandan Hutu refugees poured into the two Kivu states, fleeing the advance of the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front now become the government of Rwanda. Many of these Hutu were still armed, among them the “genocidaire” who a couple of months before had led the killings of some 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda. They continued to kill Tutsi living in the Congo, many of whom had migrated there in the 18th century.

The influx of a large number of Hutu led to a desire to control the wealth of the area – rich in gold, tropical timber and rare minerals such as those used in mobile telephones. In the Kivu, many problems arise from land tenure issues. With a large number of new people, others displaced, and villages destroyed, land tenure and land use patterns need to be reviewed and modified.

However, violence in the eastern Congo is not limited to fighting between Hutus and Tutsis. There are armed bands from neighboring countries – Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda – who have come on the scene attracted by possible wealth from timber and mines of rare minerals. In addition, local commanders of the Congolese Army, far from the control of the Central Government, have created their own armed groups, looting, raping, and burning village homes.

There is a United Nations (U. N.) peacekeeping force in the Congo, the U. N.’s largest peacekeeping mission. However, its capacity has reached its limit. Its operations are focused on areas with roads, leaving villages on small paths largely unguarded.

There has been a growing international awareness of the use of rape as a weapon of war. The issue was raised during the conflicts which followed the breakup of Yugoslavia as well as cases brought to the International Criminal Court. The Association of World Citizens has raised the issue in U. N. human rights bodies in Geneva.

Yet there is much yet to be done to make the outlawing of rape as a norm of humanitarian law and, especially, to prevent its practice. The Nobel Peace Prize to Denis Mukwege should be a strong step forward in this effort.

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

Nadia Murad: A Yazidi Voice Against Slavery

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Refugees, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, Syria, The Search for Peace, United Nations, Women's Rights, World Law on October 24, 2018 at 9:33 PM

By René Wadlow

Nadia Murad, now a United Nations (U. N.) Goodwill Ambassador on Trafficking of Persons, is the co-laureate of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize. In 2014, when she was 21, she and her neighbors in a predominantly Yazidi village in the Simjar mountainous area of Iraq were attacked by the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). These forces were following a pattern of targeted killings, forced conversions to Islam, abductions, trafficking of women, sexual abuse and slavery. In Murad’s village, most of the older men were killed, the younger men taken to be soldiers in the ISIS forces, and the women taken into slavery, primarily as sex slaves, in Mosul, the city which served as the headquarters of ISIS.

There were some 500,000 Yazidi in Iraq though Iraqi demographic statistics are not fully reliable. Yazidi leaders may give larger estimates by counting Kurds who had been Yazidis but had converted to Islam. There had been some 200,000 Yazidis among the Kurds in Turkey but now nearly all have migrated to Western Europe, Australia and Canada. Many of the Yazidi are ethnic Kurds and the government of Saddam Hussein was opposed to them not so much for their religious beliefs but because some Yazidi played important roles in the Kurdish community seen as largely opposed to his government.

Nadia Murad

 

After a time in Mosul, Murad, with the help of a compassionate Muslim family, was able to escape Mosul and make her way to the Iraqi Kurdistan area where many Yazidis from the Sinjar area had already arrived. Once there she joined a newly created association of Yazidi women who had organized to defend their rights and so that the voices of women could be heard. A few of these women were able to be resettled in Western Europe. Nadia Murad was able to live in Germany where she became the spokesperson for Yazidi women and other women who had met a similar fate. In December 2015, she addressed the U. N. Security Council and became the public face both for the Yazidi women and for an even larger number of women victims of the fighting in Iraq and Syria.

The structure of the Yazidi world view is Zoroastrian, a faith born in Persia proclaiming that two great cosmic forces, that of light and good, and that of darkness and evil, are in constant battle. Man is called upon to help light overcome darkness. However, the strict dual thinking of Zoroastrianism was modified by another Persian prophet, Mani of Ctesiplon in the third century CE. Mani tried to create a synthesis of religious teachings that were increasingly coming into contact through trade: Buddhism and Hinduism from India, Jewish and Christian thought, Gnostic philosophy from Egypt and Greece, as well as many smaller traditional and “animist” beliefs. He kept the Zoroastrian dualism as the most easily understood intellectual framework, though giving it a more Taoist (yin/yang) character. Mani had traveled in China. He developed the idea of the progression of the soul by individual effort through reincarnation – a main feature of Indian thought.

Yazidi_Girl_tradicional_clothes

Within the Mani-Zoroastrian framework, the Yazidi added the presence of angels who are to help humans in their constant battle for light and good. The main angel is Melek Tavis, the peacock angel. Although there are angels in Islam, angels that one does not know could well be demons, so the Yazidi are regularly accused of being “demon worshipers” (1).

While it is dangerous to fall into a good/evil analysis of world politics, there is little to see of “good” in the ISIS actions. Thus, Nadia Murad can be seen as a bringer of light into a dark time.

 

Note
(1) A Yazidi website has been set up by Iraqis living in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA. The website is uneven but of interest as self-presentation: http://www.yeziditruth.org (“Yazidi” is sometimes written “Yezidi”)

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

The International Court of Justice Reaffirms the Protection of Humanitarian Goods in Times of Sanctions and Boycotts

In Current Events, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Track II, United Nations, World Law on October 24, 2018 at 9:24 PM

By René Wadlow

In July 2018, the Islamic Republic of Iran brought a case against the United States (U. S.) policy of sanctions to the World Court in the Hague. After the U. S. withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action commonly called the “Iran Nuclear Deal”, the U. S. announced that it was reintroducing economic and financial sanctions against Iran, and that additional sanctions would begin on November 5, 2018. Iran cited a 1955 Treaty with the U. S. as the legal basis for its complaint.

The 15-member Court published its unanimous decision on October 3, 2018 stating that the U. S. “must remove” sanctions that could stop food, medical supplies, humanitarian products and products needed for civil aviation. The U. S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, replied that although the U. S. considered the case without merit and was not bound by the Court ruling, the U. S. had already removed medicine and humanitarian items from its sanctions list. In addition, the U. S. was withdrawing from the 1955 Treaty which it already considered as no longer valid. The U. S. Government would review all its treaties to avoid their being cited in World Court proceedings.

The U. S. is party to some 70 treaties in which the World Court has jurisdiction. Each of these treaties provides that any dispute concerning the interpretation or application of the treaty may be brought to the World Court by any party to the treaty. Some of the treaties have many parties, others as with the Iran Treaty are bilateral.

The decision of the International Court of Justice reaffirms the protection of children in States under sanctions and boycotts. The Association of World Citizens (AWC) had raised this issue in Geneva during the negotiations which led to the Convention of the Rights of the Child adopted on November 20, 1989. World Citizens had raised the same issue in the mid-1990s as a result of the wide-scale suffering of children and pregnant women during the sanctions against Iraq and also the U. S. boycott of Cuba. Thus the Court decision will make this protection a norm of world law.

International_Court_of_Justice.jpg

The International Court of Justice, often called the World Court, is the successor to the Permanent Court of International Justice associated with the League of Nations. When the United Nations (U. N.) was established in 1945, the International Court of Justice was created as the principle judicial organ of the U. N. It is composed of 15 judges who are elected by the U.N. General Assembly and the Security Council.

According to the Statute of the Court, the judges should be chosen with a view to representation of the principal legal systems of the world. The judges are expected to be independent and not to take instructions from governments. Only States may be parties in cases brought before the Court. An individual cannot bring a case before the Court nor can a firm. The U. N. and its Specialized Agencies may request advisory opinions from the Court on legal matters arising from their activities.

States have hardly been lining up to take cases to the Court. For long periods, the Court has no cases before it or very few. This makes the Court one of the most underutilized of intergovernmental organizations.

World Citizens have stressed that slowly but surely the U. N. plays the key role in the articulation of the values, norms, and laws of the world community. The U. N. General Assembly was mandated in Article 13 of the Charter to encourage “the progressive development of international law and its codification.” The Assembly has done so in a number of ways. It created the International Law Commission in 1949 which has usefully reviewed, updated, and codified traditional fields of international law leading to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties in 1969.

More directly, the General Assembly has proclaimed the standards of international law such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) which has become the world standard and the guide for both regional and national human rights law. The General Assembly also proclaimed the standards for behavior among States with the Declaration of the Principles of International Law Relating to Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States according to the Charter of the United Nations (1970).

The General Assembly has organized special conferences for drafting international law such as the law of the sea which produced the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. The U. N. General Assembly has also created the U. N. Commission for International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) to deal more particularly with the private law aspects of international economic relations.

Nongovernmental organizations, such as the AWC, have contributed to building and strengthening a world peace structure composed of world law and world institutions which will command such general acceptance that resort to law will replace unilateral action of States based on narrow domestic political considerations.

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

Syria: “Is this how you want international affairs to be conducted now?”

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, Syria, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on April 18, 2018 at 8:40 PM

By René Wadlow

In the emergency United Nations (UN) Security Council meeting called by Russia on April 14, 2018, the Russian Ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, asked of the representatives of the USA, France and the UK “Is this how you want international affairs to be conducted now?” He was referring to the coordinated air strikes of the USA, France and the UK aimed at targets associated with Syrian chemical weapons programs.

The use of violence as an instrument of world politics is not a new idea as the Ambassador may know if he reflects on Russian history. But Russian history may also remind him that it was a diplomat of the Czar who suggested the first Hague Peace Conference and its efforts to limit the means used in war. The 1925 Geneva Protocol is a direct outgrowth of the “Hague spirit.”

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Vassily Nebenzia, the Russian Ambassador to the United Nations.

A suspected chemical-weapon attack on April 7, 2018 on rebel-held Douma, a city of some 130,000 near Damascus, had killed at least 50 people and sickened hundreds more. The attack may have been of weaponized chlorine and nerve agents possibly sarin. The Assad government has been accused of using chemical weapons before – charges which the government has denied saying that chemical arms were used by rebel factions such as Jaysh al Islam.

A major issue is that the use of chemical weapons, probably sarin or a sarin-like substance is 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 is 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 wells because everyone needs to drink. Likewise poison gas is abhorred because everyone needs to breath.

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 and new inspectors arrived in Syria on April 13.

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A protest by Syrian revolution activists and supporters in Paris on March 30.

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.

Humanitarian international law is largely based on self-imposed restraints. 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 humans 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 Association of World Citizens (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.

Limiting the use of chemical weapons or other banned weapons such as land mines and cluster munitions is only part of what is required. There needs to be negotiations in good faith to put an end to the armed conflict. The AWC has called for good-faith negotiations among all the parties from the start of what was at first non-violent demonstrations in March 2011. Neither the Government nor the opposition were willing to set an agenda or a timetable for good-faith negotiations. The Government held out vague promises for reform but without giving details and without open discussion among those concerned. As the fighting has escalated, the possibility of good-faith negotiations has increasingly faded despite efforts by the UN mediators to facilitate such negotiations.

The situation has become increasingly complex as new actors play increasingly active roles. The entry of Turkish forces and their Syrian allies into the city of Afrin after two months of fighting in the area of this largely Kurdish-populated city on the frontier with Turkey. It is impossible to know if this is a limited show-of-force or the first steps of a broader anti-Kurdish policy in northern Syria.

There is a growing awareness that there is a dangerous stalemate and that there is no military “solution”. It is often at this “stalemate” stage of a conflict that parties turn to a negotiated compromise. (1) The dangers of a wider conflict with more States involved are real. Thus the situation requires careful concerted action both on the part of governments and nongovernmental organizations.

Note
1) See Louis Kriesberg and Stuart Thorson (Eds) Yiming, The De-Escalation of International Conflicts (Syracuse University Press, 1991)

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

PRESS RELEASE – 2018-04-01-16-20-ENG

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on April 1, 2018 at 2:20 PM

-- Logo 2017 --

 

PRESS RELEASE

 

Paris, April 1, 2018

 

WORLD CITIZENS CALL FOR AN INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION

INTO THE VIOLENCE

DURING THE GREAT MARCH OF RETURN PROTEST ON MARCH 30

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) joins the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) in calling for an independent investigation into the clashes between the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and Palestinian protesters that took place in the Gaza Strip on March 30, killing 16 Palestinians and injuring hundreds more.

The use of live fire, rubber-coated steel pellets, and teargas by the IDF against protesters with peaceful intentions can hardly appear justified and thus warrants an impartial examination with a view to assessing the violations of human rights committed during these events.

Such an investigation is especially important as the Great March of Return is planned to continue and take place on the West Bank’s boundaries as well.

While deploring the Israeli Government’s latest tendency to isolate the country from the global community – not least by announcing the country’s withdrawal from UNESCO – the AWC calls for full cooperation with the UN and EU toward an international investigation into the violence that marred the Great March of Return protest.

Being part of the global community of peoples and nations implies duties and responsibilities. Respecting the right to peaceful protest is one of them. The world is watching and there must be a fair, honorable outcome to this crisis.

Every human being has a right to truth and justice. World Citizens want action on this issue.

– 30 –

Maître Najet Laabidi de nouveau visée par les autorités tunisiennes

In Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Current Events, Disabled people, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Social Rights, Solidarity, United Nations, World Law on March 18, 2018 at 7:29 AM

Par Bernard Henry

Si l’on juge un pays sur la manière dont il traite les personnes handicapées, alors la Tunisie a besoin d’un bon avocat. Et si l’on juge un pays au respect que les pouvoirs publics accordent aux avocats, alors la terre du Jasmin semble en chute libre vers l’indéfendable.

Une fois de plus, l’avocate tunisienne Najet Laabidi, poursuivie depuis 2011 pour avoir voulu représenter ses clients comme il est naturel pour un avocat, est dans le collimateur. Et cette fois, l’injustice est plus criante encore, car les clients que l’on veut l’empêcher de représenter sont, comment le comprendre, des personnes handicapées.

Enfants autistes, elles les maltraitent

Dans un courrier du 8 mars à la Rapporteuse spéciale de l’ONU sur les Droits des Personnes handicapées, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, le Comité de Soutien de l’Affaire des Enfants autistes violentés et de Défense des Droits des Enfants/Personnes Autistes/Handicapé(e)s sonne l’alarme sur les faits dont il tire son nom, des faits remontant à février dernier seulement et qui, dans une Tunisie qui ne cesse de s’éloigner des espoirs de la révolution qui ouvrit en 2011 le « printemps arabe », sonnent comme un implacable constat d’échec – et un déchirant appel au secours.

« Le 17 février 2018, » écrit le Comité, « une vidéo a été mise en ligne sur les réseaux sociaux présentant des actes de violence (de maltraitance) d’enfants autistes dans un centre privé de prise en charge et d’éducation spécialisée à Tunis. » Sur cet enregistrement, réalisé par un employé du centre, l’on voit trois enfants se faire agresser par deux éducatrices du même centre.

La politique prise en défaut …

Les réactions n’ont pas tardé. Le 19 février, le Chef du Gouvernement tunisien affirmait son indignation, ordonnant une prise en charge psychologique immédiate pour les enfants du centre. Les premières consultations débutèrent le 6 mars.

Du côté des autres ministres, les suites furent moins reluisantes. Ministère de la Femme, de la Famille et de l’Enfance, Ministère des Affaires Sociales et Ministère de l’Education se jetèrent la patate chaude, chacun niant que le centre relève de sa juridiction. Et pour cause. En Tunisie, les centres pour enfants ou personnes handicapées sont gérées par des associations, elles-mêmes affiliées au Ministère des Affaires Sociales. Au mieux. Car le centre ne possède qu’un simple statut d’école privée, avec agrément du Ministère de l’Education, et n’abrite aucun professionnel qualifié pour la prise en charge des enfants autistes ou des personnes handicapées.

Côté grand public enfin, ce n’est pas la publicité qui a manqué à la vidéo, pas plus que les débats, à la radio, à la télévision et ailleurs. Débats où les enfants autistes ne trouvent pas que des défenseurs. C’est ainsi qu’un intervenant est allé jusqu’à justifier les violences, qu’il qualifiait d’ «intervention thérapeutique scientifique reconnue dans le cas des enfants autistes» …

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Avec l’affaire relayée y compris dans les médias internationaux, le scandale a de loin dépassé les seules frontières de la Tunisie. (Capture d’écran)

Mais l’essentiel de la population a bel et bien pris parti pour les enfants victimes, les familles d’enfants autistes et personnes handicapées, les Défenseurs des Droits Humains, les juristes et les organisations de personnes handicapées ayant été au premier rang de l’indignation générale.

Créé dans la foulée, le Comité de Soutien de l’Affaire des Enfants autistes violentés et de Défense des Droits des Enfants/Personnes Autistes/Handicapé(e)s appela au rassemblement devant la Présidence du Gouvernement. Le 20 février, à l’issue de la manifestation, des représentants du comité rencontrèrent des officiels gouvernementaux, auxquels ils rappelèrent les annonces du Chef du Gouvernement. Leurs exigences étaient simples et claires – des solutions pour les enfants du centre qui avaient dû, suite au scandale, être ramenés dans leurs familles, et des mesures à moyen et long terme pour que jamais de tels faits ne se reproduisent.

Des politiques mis au pied du mur entendaient enfin une légitime colère.

… Et le droit en déshérence

Dans tout Etat se voulant un Etat de droit, qui dit violences avérées dit procédure pénale. Au moins sur ce point, la Tunisie ne déçoit pas. Enfin, pas tout de suite.

Devant les plaintes déposées contre le centre et sa directrice par les parents des jeunes victimes, pour les besoins de l’instruction, l’une des éducatrices est en détention mais l’autre, ainsi que la directrice, ont été relâchées sous contrôle judiciaire. Malgré la gravité des faits, le centre lui-même n’a pas été fermé.

Plus incompréhensible encore, plusieurs parents des pensionnaires du centre ont pris la défense de la directrice et affirmé son innocence. Incompréhensible, certes – si l’on oublie que ces mêmes parents bénéficient d’une prise en charge de leurs enfants entièrement gratuite, là où le centre facture 700 à 900 dinars tunisiens, soit 230 à 300 euros, chaque mois. Une directrice «chèrement» défendue donc.

Et dont les soutiens ne s’arrêtent pas à des parents-clients, puisque, le 5 mars, la Commission parlementaire de la Santé et des Affaires sociales la recevait en tant que représentante d’une association sur l’autisme et porte-parole … Des centres pour enfants autistes. Rencontre diffusée le soir même au JT. Une conception bien singulière de l’exemplarité.

Elle porte plainte au nom des témoins, les gendarmes portent plainte contre elle

A l’horreur de la situation et au mépris du droit qui l’entoure, il fallait bien que viennent s’ajouter des manœuvres d’intimidation envers une avocate défendant les Droits Humains. Et il fallait que cette avocate soit, une fois encore, Najet Laabidi.

«En France, on laisse au repos ceux qui allument les incendies et on persécute ceux qui sonnent le tocsin», notait Chamfort en son temps. Apparemment une malheureuse exportation française vers la Tunisie, puisque, le 7 mars, l’auteure de la vidéo montrant les deux éducatrices «à l’œuvre» contre les enfants autistes a été retenue sans justification, et en violation de la loi, au poste de Garde nationale, la gendarmerie tunisienne, pour un supplément d’enquête à son endroit. Et à ses côtés, également retenue sans ménagement, se trouvait son avocate, Maître Najet Laabidi.

A ce jour, les deux témoins sont harcelés, sans que la maréchaussée tunisienne s’en inquiète outre mesure. Quant à Najet Laabidi, qui a déposé plainte en leur nom pour ces abus et s’en est ouverte dans la presse, elle aussi fait l’objet d’une plainte, déposée contre elle par la Garde nationale de Ben Arous et qui lui a valu une convocation devant le Procureur général de la Cour d’appel.

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Pour qui en douterait, il en faudra pourtant bien plus pour faire baisser la garde à Najet Laabidi, qui réaffirme sans ambiguïté sa détermination dans ce qui est, pour elle, bien plus qu’un dossier d’avocat. «Pour moi, lutter pour les droits des enfants autistes, lutter pour un Etat de droit, un Etat de bonne gouvernance, c’est une obligation, un rêve, jamais je ne renoncerai. Même si l’on continue à m’intimider, par des poursuites judiciaires ou par d’autres moyens, je continuerai mon combat.»

Personnes handicapées et avocats, deux luttes du droit mondial

Jadis garde-frontière officieuse des Etats européens, en renversant son tyran et en déjouant ainsi tous les pronostics des « orientalistes » occidentaux, la Tunisie a acquis une aura toute nouvelle à travers le monde. Mais en s’inscrivant ainsi en faux contre deux luttes mondiales de Droits Humains, le pays risque de se voir bientôt décrire, une nouvelle fois, moins selon sa victoire contre l’arbitraire que selon son désolant retour vers la répression.

Car, oui, les droits des personnes handicapées sont une lutte mondiale de Droits Humains, l’ONU ne les ayant d’ailleurs jamais considérés autrement, là où le grand public les aurait vus bien plus comme une question relevant de la santé ou des affaires sociales. L’adoption en 2006 de la Convention internationale relative aux Droits des Personnes handicapées en est la meilleure preuve, ainsi que la création d’une agence spécialisée des Nations Unies consacrée au handicap, UN Enable.

Depuis bien plus longtemps encore, l’ONU consacre les droits des avocats, à travers les Principes de Base relatifs au Rôle du Barreau adoptés en 1990 et qui, pour n’être pas contraignants envers les Etats, n’en sont pas moins, à l’instar de tout le droit international, des dispositions dont aucune violation n’est sans conséquence, interne ou externe, sur le plan politique.

L’on voit donc mal comment et pourquoi une Tunisie passée contre toute attente à un despotisme clanique à un Etat bâti sur le souvenir des martyrs Mohamed Bouazizi, Chokri Belaïd et Mohamed Brahmi pourrait vouloir à présent devenir, aux yeux du monde, un Etat handiphobe et qui n’a – décidément – que mépris pour ses avocats.

C’est ce qui se passerait si les enfants du centre n’obtenaient pas justice, et si, plus encore, Najet Laabidi continuait à être harcelée, en lien avec cette affaire ou sur quelque autre sujet. Même en étant capables de s’attendre à tout, y compris à une bonne surprise, c’est en tout cas plus que les Citoyen(ne)s du Monde laisseront jamais passer.

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

 

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