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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Human Rights: Government Failures, NGO Need to Organize!

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syria Conflicts Highlight Violations of Humanitarian International Law

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, 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 February 23, 2018 at 9:58 PM

By René Wadlow

A recent wave of fighting in Syria, especially in the Eastern Ghouta zone near Damascus and in Afrin, a largely Kurdish area near the frontier with Turkey has highlighted the violations of humanitarian international law. Calls from United Nations (UN) officials for at least a month-long truce so that food and medical supplies could reach the civilian population have not been honored. The scale of the violations is such that they can be considered as a deliberate policy and not as events of “collateral damage” in the fog of war. These violations of long-established humanitarian international law are evidence that the laws of war are increasingly being undermined with few governmental reactions.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) again calls for respect of humanitarian international law and for a world-wide effort for the re-affirmation of humanitarian international law. (1)

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The Kurdish city of Afrin, in the north of Syria, under heavy shelling by the Turkish army

Eastern Ghouta is near Damascus and has been a contested zone since early in the 2011 uprising. Ghouta is close enough to Damascus so that opposition mortars can be fired on districts in Damascus – close enough also so that rockets and barrel bombs from government helicopters can increasingly fall on the zone. Hospitals have been hit, probably deliberately. Eastern Ghouta is one of the deescalation zones agreed to by Russia, Iran and Turkey. However not all the opposition groups are party to the deescalation agreement which opens the door to ever-escalating violence.

Afrin is in the Aleppo Governorate and in an area with a large Kurdish population. The Turkish government suspects all organized Kurdish groups to be “terrorists” or potential terrorists. Moreover, the demands for independence of the Kurdish Autonomous Administration in Iraq linking to a possible similar Kurdish zone in Syria is considered by the Turkish government as an active threat to be countered by force. Thus, for the past month, Turkish troops in the mis-named “Operation Olive Branch” have been attacking Afrin and its surrounding area. As an element in complicated Kurdish politics and alliances, a pro-Syrian government Kurdish militia has joined the battle to defend Afrin. The dangers of escalation and greater loss of civilian life are very real. For the moment, negotiations on a resolution of the armed conflict within all of Syria seems to be at a dead point, at least in terms of public negotiations.

With the current impossibility to reach an overall resolution to the conflict, the best we can hope for is an honest application of humanitarian international law and a broader, worldwide re-affirmation of humanitarian international law.

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Syrian civilians, including children, killed in the first chemical attack on the Ghouta, back in August 2013

Current armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria-Iraq-ISIS-Turkey, Libya, Somalia and elsewhere have led to repeated and conscious violations of humanitarian international law such as attacks on medical facilities and personnel, killing of prisoners-of-war, the taking and killing of hostages, the use of civilians as “human shields” and the use of weapons which have been banned by treaties.

Thus, there is a pressing need for actions to be taken to implement humanitarian international law in response to increased challenges. Citizens of the World stress the need for a UN-led conference on the re-affirmation of humanitarian international law including its application by non-State parties. Non-State actors such as ISIS or the Afghan Taliban, are increasingly involved in armed conflicts but were largely not envisaged when humanitarian international law was being drawn up by governments Thus, the conference would highlight the need to apply humanitarian international law both to States and to non-State actors. (2)

Such a conference would bring together into a coherent synthesis the four avenues of humanitarian international law: (3)

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

2) The Hague Convention traditions 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. (4)

Such a re-affirmation of humanitarian international law should be followed by efforts to influence public consciousness of the provisions and spirit of humanitarian international law. This can be done, in part, by the creation of teaching manuals for different audiences and action guides. (5)

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A protest by Biafran activists in London on November 13, 2015 (C) David Holt

I would cite a precedent for this re-affirmation of humanitarian international law from personal experience. During the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, I was part of a working group created by the International Committee of the Red Cross to respond adequately to the challenges of this conflict which was the first African armed conflict that did not involve a colonial power. The blocking of food flows to Biafra and thus starvation as a tool of war was stressed in our work. (6)

 

One conclusion of the working group was the need to re-affirm the Geneva Conventions and especially to have them more widely known in Africa by writing Africa-focused teaching manuals. Thus, as at the time I was professor and Director of Research of the Graduate Institute of Development Studies, Geneva, I collaborated with Professor Jiri Toman, Director of the Institut Henri Dunant on the creation of such a manual to be used in Africa. Today, such culturally-sensitive manuals could be developed to explain humanitarian international law.

Such a re-affirmation conference would be welcomed by civil society organizations related to relief, refugees, human rights and conflict resolution. A certain number of these organizations have already called attention to violations and the need for international action. There is a need for some governmental leadership for the re-affirmation of humanitarian international law as a basis of world law dealing with the protection and dignity of each person.

** Notes **

1) Hilaire McCoubrey and Nigel D. White. International Law and Armed Conflict (Aldershot: Dartmouth, 1992)

2) see Andrew Clapham. Human Rights Obligations of Non-State Actors (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)

3) see Sydney D. Bailey. Prohibitions and Restraints in War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972)

4) see Rene Wadlow “Guilty Plea in Cultural Destruction Case” Peace Magazine (Canada) Oct-Dec 2016

5) see Jacques Freymond. Guerres, Révolutions, Croix-Rouge (Geneva: Institut Universitaire de Hautes Etudes Internationales, 1976) and Thierry Hentsch. Face au blocus. La Croix Rouge internationale dans le Nigéria en guerre (Geneva: Institut Universitaire de Hautes Etudes Internationales, 1973)

6) see as a good example of an action guide Paul Bonard. Les Modes d’Action des Acteurs Humanitaires. Critères d’une Complémentarité Opérationnelle (Geneva, CICR, no date given)

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

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

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

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Ali Abdullah Saleh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Snap Every Yoke: World Law to End Slavery in Libya

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Development, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Migration, Modern slavery, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on November 29, 2017 at 4:25 PM

By René Wadlow

“Is not this what I require of you… to snap every yoke and set free those who have been crushed?” Isaiah, 58 v 6

There are many ways that an individual can be held in chains through his desires and emotions. These chains need to be broken by the development of the will and strong efforts of self-realization through mediation and therapy.

However, it is contemporary forms of slavery in its literal and not symbolic sense that must concern us today. The League of Nations on September 25, 1926 facilitated a Convention on Slavery which was a high-water mark in the world-wide consensus on the need to abolish slavery begun some 100 years before by small groups of anti-slavery activists in England, France and the USA. However as with many League of Nations conventions, there were no mechanisms written into the convention for monitoring, investigation and enforcement. Although the Slavery Convention outlawed slavery and associated practices, it not only failed to establish procedures for reviewing the incidences of slavery in States parties, but also neglected to create an international body which could evaluate and pursue allegations of violations.

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Within the United Nations (UN) system, there have been advances made, especially in investigation both making public through official UN documents the investigations of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and through the work of Special Rapporteurs of UN human rights bodies.

Thus, in a UN report on “Trafficking of Children and Prostitution in India” the authors write “Nepal appears to be the most significant, identifiable source of child prostitution for Indian brothels. Thousands of Nepalese females under the age of 20 have been identified in India by various studies. The average age of the Nepalese girl entering an Indian brothel is said to be 10-14 years, some 5,000-7,000 of them being trafficked between Nepal and India annually.”

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As Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, a former UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, has written, “Gender discrimination victimizes the girl child. Precisely because the girl child in seen in some communities as having lower priority, she is often denied access to such basic necessities as education which could ultimately protect her from exploitation. Another disquieting form of discrimination is based upon race and social origin, interwoven with issues of class and caste. It has become increasingly obvious that many children used in labor and sexual exploitation are lured from particular racial or social groups such as hill tribes, rather than the well-endowed groups in power.”

Today, it is the fate of migrants blocked in Libya, forced into forms of slavery one thought had disappeared, which rightly has focused UN and NGO concern. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Raad Al Hussein, has said that “the suffering of migrants detained in Libya is an outrage to the conscience of humanity.” His evaluation is based in part on the in-depth field investigation of UN teams which have highlighted that the majority of the 34 detention centers in Libya are concentration camps in which abuse, torture, forced work and all sorts of violence are everyday occurrences. Smugglers of people are often free to do as they please with the complicity of police officials at all levels. The risk of women being captured and raped is so high that some women and girls who are often fleeing from conflict conditions in their home countries take massage doses of birth control pills before entering Libya so that they can avoid getting pregnant. However, this can often cause irreversible injuries.

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There have been reports and filming of “slave auctions” especially in Sabba, the capital of the Fezzan province where routes from Sudan, Chad, and Niger meet and where roads leading north to the Mediterranean start. The UN also has reports from NGOs, especially humanitarian organizations, and from investigators of the International Criminal Court.

The issue which faces us now is what can be done. The League of Nations and the UN anti-slavery conventions are based on the idea that a State has a government. Unfortunately, Libya is a “failed State”. It has two rival governments, a host of armed groups, and more-or-less independent tribes.

The Association of World Citizens has proposed that there could be created a Libyan confederation with a good deal of regional autonomy but with a central government which would be responsible for living up to international treaties and UN standards. For the moment, there has been no progress in that direction or in the direction of any other constitutional system.

Slavery is a consequence of disorder. Without a minimum of legal structure, there will always be those who arise to make short-term gains including by the selling of people. The conscience of humanity of which the High Commissioner for Human Rights spoke must now speak out boldly to break the yoke of slavery. NGOs need to take a lead. Governments are likely to follow.

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

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