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Politics Beyond National Frontiers

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Democracy, Environmental protection, Human Development, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Migration, Modern slavery, NGOs, Nonviolence, Refugees, Religious Freedom, Social Rights, Solidarity, Sustainable Development, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, Women's Rights, World Law on May 24, 2023 at 6:38 AM

By René Wadlow

In our current globalized world society, there is an increased role for politics without borders. Politics no longer stops at the water’s edge but must play an active role on the world stage. However, unlike politics at the national level which usually has a parliament at which the actors can recite their lines, the world has no world parliament as such. Thus, new and inventive ways must be found so that world public opinion can be heard and acted upon.

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly is the closest thing to a world parliament that we have today. However, all the official participants are diplomats appointed by their respective States – 195 member states. UN Secretariat members, the secretariat members of UN Specialized Agencies such as UNESCO and the ILO, are in the hallways or coffee shops to give advice. Secretariat members of the financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF are also there to give advice on costs and the limits of available funds. The representatives of Nongovernmental Organizations (NGO) in Consultative Status with the UN who can speak at sessions of the Economic and Social Council and the Human Rights Council cannot address the General Assembly directly. However, they are also in the coffee shops and may send documents to the UN missions of national governments.

(C) Jérôme Blum

Politics without borders requires finding ways to express views for action beyond the borders of individual countries. Today, most vital issues that touch the lives of many people go beyond the individual State: the consequences of climate change, the protection of biodiversity, the resolution of armed conflicts, the violations of human rights, and a more just world trade pattern. Thus we need to find ways of looking at the world with a global mind and an open heart. This perspective is an aim of world citizenship.

However, World Citizens are not yet so organized as to be able to impact political decisions at the UN and in enough individual States so as to have real influence. The policy papers and Appeals of the Association of World Citizens (AWC) are often read with interest by the government representatives to whom they are sent. However, the AWC is an NGO among many and does not have the number of staff as such international NGOs as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Greenpeace.

The First Officer and External Relations Officer, Bernard J. Henry, and the Legal and Mediation Officer, Attorney Noura Addad, representing the AWC at an OECD roundtable in March 2019 (C) Bernard J. Henry/AWC

We still need to find effective ways so that humanity can come together to solve global problems, that is, politics without borders. Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

UN Security Council Focus on World Hunger

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, NGOs, Social Rights, Solidarity, Sustainable Development, The Search for Peace, Track II, UKRAINE, United Nations, World Law on May 8, 2023 at 12:00 PM

By René Wadlow

On May 23, the United Nations (UN) Security Council will hold a special briefing to address the issue of food insecurity under the chairmanship of Mr. Alain Berset, President of the Swiss Confederation. During May, the rotating chairmanship is held by Switzerland led by the Swiss Ambassador to the UN in New York, Ms. Pascale Baeriswyl. The meeting will have as background a May 3 report of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concerning early warning on areas facing acute food insecurity. The report highlights that some 250 million persons are living in this situation of acute food insecurity with the Democratic Republic of Congo leading the list with some 27 million persons due to armed violence and the breakdown of governmental structures. The Congo is followed by Ethiopia, largely due to fighting in the Tigray area. The war in Ukraine is also having a negative impact limiting production and export of food goods – a principal export of Ukraine. In addition to armed conflict, there is the growing impact of the consequences of climate change.

Today, cooperation on food insecurity is needed among the UN family of agencies, national governments, nongovernmental organizations, and the millions of food producers to respond to this food crisis. These measures will have to be taken in a holistic way with actions going from the local level of the individual farmer, the national level with new governmental policies, to measures at the multi-State regional level such as the European Union and the African Union, and at the world level with better coordinated action through the UN system.

(C) Feed My Starving Children

There is a need for swift, short-term measures to help people now suffering from lack of food and malnutrition due to high food prices, inadequate distribution, and situations of violence. Such short-term action requires additional funding for the UN World Food Program and the release of national food stocks. However, it is on the longer-range and structural issues on which we must focus our attention.

The Association of World Citizens has taken a lead in the promotion of a coordinated world food policy with an emphasis on the small-scale farmer and a new awareness that humans are part of Nature with a special duty to care and respect for the Earth’s inter-related life-support system. As Stringfellow Barr wrote in Citizens of the World (1952), “Since the hungry in the world community believe that we can all eat if we set our common house in order, they believe also that it is unjust that some die because it is too much trouble to arrange for them to live.”

A central theme which Citizens of the World have long stressed is that there needs to be a world food policy and that such a world food policy is more than the sum of national food security programs. John Boyd Orr, the first Director General of the FAO, proposed a World Food Board to stabilize food prices and supplies. He resigned as Director General when the food board proposal was not accepted and then devoted much of his energy to the world citizen movement.

For World Citizens, the emphasis must be placed on creating a world food policy which draws upon improving local self-reliance while not creating nationalistic policies which harm neighbors. Food is a key aspect of deep structural issues in the world society and thus must be seen in a holistic framework. The briefing and debate of the UN Security Council may give us strong elements on which to promote a world food policy.

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

L’impact du désordre environnemental sur la migration sud-nord

In Africa, Asia, Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Environmental protection, Human Development, Middle East & North Africa, Migration, NGOs, Refugees, Social Rights, Solidarity, Sustainable Development, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on August 10, 2022 at 7:01 AM

Par Nadia Belaala

Dans un premier temps, il nous semble important de faire un rappel de l’état des lieux environnemental dans lequel se trouvent la terre et ses ressources, en considérant les interactions entre l’humanité et les écosystèmes qui y vivent.

Selon le Rapport Planète Vivante de WWF (2020), les activités humaines ont amené à une diminution de 68% des populations mondiales de mammifères, d’oiseaux, de poissons, de reptiles et d’amphibiens en 50 ans.

En Europe, par exemple, l’Union Internationale pour la Conservation de la Nature (UICN) indique la disparition de 36 espèces entre 2015 et aujourd’hui, et plus de 11% sont menacées d’extinctions (dont 58% d’arbres endémiques et 40% de poissons d’eau douce).

En Afrique, ce sont 700 millions d’hectares de terres (soit plus de dix fois la surface de la France), qui ont été dégradées par la pression humaine,  et ce en lien avec la désertification et le surpâturage (source : la Banque mondiale, 2016). Cette situation crée un cercle vicieux, qui amène à une urgence alimentaire, laquelle nécessite à son tour une exploitation excessive des arbres et une sur-utilisation des engrais et pesticides[1].

Au niveau mondial,  le stock de poissons a reculé de 50% entre 1970 et 2010, les côtes africaines étant les plus pillées au monde, notamment par la Chine[2]. Il se pourrait que les stocks halieutiques exploités par les êtres humains déclinent jusqu’à disparaître en 2048, si l’on en croit les prévisions d’Isabelle Autissier, présidente de WWF-France (jusqu’en janvier 2021).

Quant aux villes, si elles n’occupent que 3% de la surface continentale mondiale[3], elles concentrent 55% de la population mondiale et consomment plus des deux tiers de la demande énergétique mondiale (source : Rapport de situation 2019 sur les énergies renouvelables dans les villes de l’ONU). Elles sont, par ailleurs, particulièrement vulnérables aux changements climatiques et aux catastrophes naturelles du fait, entre autres, de leur forte concentration humaine, tout en étant en partie les causes de ces aléas climatiques[4].

L’histoire de l’humanité est en train de se jouer, en notre défaveur à tous ; il n’y a pas de région, de pays ou de continent épargnés. Il y a une réelle urgence à s’en préoccuper, car si nous n’agissons pas, c’est notre propre espèce que nous mettons en péril.

Une des premières conséquences de ces désordres environnementaux est d’obliger, inexorablement, des populations à se déplacer.

Bien que l’histoire de l’humanité soit faite de migrations, ces dernières se multiplient fortement, depuis quelques années. Auparavant, c’était les guerres, les violences, maintenant, ce sont aussi les aléas climatiques qui poussent les êtres humains à quitter la terre qui les a vus grandir et qui leur a permis de construire leurs identifications fondamentales.

Nous savons que, d’une manière générale, toute migration, à laquelle s’ajoute celle due à l’environnement, provoque des perturbations socioculturelles énormes, autant pour ceux qui la subissent que pour ceux qui l’accueillent. Elle engendre des souffrances humaines indicibles qui questionnent et violentent notre humanité.

Lequel d’entre nous n’a pas encore, en mémoire, ces images insoutenables des migrants noyés gisants sur les plages, en particulier sur les deux rives de la Méditerranée ?

Parmi ces migrants, combien sont des réfugiés climatiques ? Nous n’avons pas encore assez d’études qui nous renseignent avec précision sur cette question, mais il est avéré qu’ils sont de plus en plus nombreux.

Pourtant, force est de constater que le sujet des réfugiés climatiques est le parent pauvre de la politique actuelle, le lien entre migration et réchauffement climatique faisant l’objet d’un silence assourdissant de la part de nos politiques. Pour autant, en 2013, un rapport du Conseil norvégien pour les réfugiés (NRC) fait état de 22 millions de personnes ayant été déplacées en raison de catastrophes naturelles, ce qui est trois fois plus élevé que le nombre des personnes fuyant un conflit.

Mais qui sont ces migrants, ces réfugiés de l’environnement ? Ce sont des personnes « qui sont forcées de quitter leur lieu de vie temporairement ou de façon permanente à cause d’une rupture environnementale (d’origine naturelle ou humaine) qui a mis en péril leur existence ou sérieusement affecté leurs conditions de vie »[5].

Alors comment sont catégorisés ces « réfugiés climatiques », appelés aussi « déplacés » ou « éco-migrants » ? Ils sont, d’emblée, intégrés aux seules catégories existantes: celles des « réfugiés économiques » ou des « réfugiés de la misère ». En effet, ils n’ont pas de statut juridique, car ils ne remplissent pas les critères de la Convention de Genève signée en 1951. 

Cette dernière n’accorde l’assurance d’une protection aux réfugiés que dans certains cas, à savoir, « des situations de persécutions liées à la race, à la religion, à la nationalité, aux opinions politiques, ou à l’appartenance à  certains groupes sociaux » (UNHCR).

De ce fait, les pays d’accueil, connus pour leur qualité de vie et leur sécurité, et vers lesquels se dirigent naturellement ces éco-migrants, ne disposent d’aucun budget pour recevoir ces derniers.

Selon le Rapport mondial sur le déplacement interne (2020) de l’ONG Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC), chaque année, plus de 20 millions de personnes qui sont déplacées, le sont pour cause de catastrophes naturelles, dont 86% de nature hydrométéorologique.

Alors, quels sont les changements environnementaux qui provoquent de tels flux migratoires ?

L’Ined (Institut national d’études démographiques) fait état de 3 phénomènes[6] principaux :

1) L’intensité accrue des catastrophes naturelles.

En effet, entre 1995 et 2015, plus de 600.000 personnes sont décédées du fait de ces catastrophes météorologiques. Plus de 4 milliards de personnes ont en été blessées, ou sont tombées dans une forte précarité à la suite de ces catastrophes. (Source : rapport du Bureau des Nations unies pour la réduction des risques de catastrophes)

2) La hausse du niveau des mers.

Elle risque de rendre inhabitables certaines zones basses à forte densité de population.

C’est le cas de nombreuses régions du Bangladesh[7], par exemple. Ce pays, tout comme l’Inde, a vu s’accroître ses problèmes socio-économiques et politiques en raison notamment du déplacement des Rohingyas, forcés de fuir le Myanmar.

3) La raréfaction des ressources hydriques, aussi appelée stress hydrique.

Elle engendre sécheresse et désertification. C’est notamment le cas des États du Sahel, où les modèles climatiques prédisent une aggravation de la sécheresse dans les années à venir. Cette situation a déjà été à l’origine de déplacements majeurs de populations et d’une perte importante du bétail dans cette région d’Afrique. Le bétail, rappelons-le, constitue la principale source de production agricole[8].

Par ailleurs, et depuis quelques années, on assiste à une augmentation des inondations meurtrières notamment en Afrique de l’Ouest. Ces évènements sont dus à différents phénomènes tels que le changement de l’usage des terres, la réduction des jachères, ou encore la déforestation et l’urbanisation. Tout ceci rend les sols incapables d’absorber les eaux diluviennes notamment dans la zone du Sahel[9].

Ainsi, en 2018, ce sont 250.000 Afghans qui ont dû fuir leurs villages en raison des fortes chaleurs, induisant une vulnérabilité extrême de cette population, déjà exposée aux conflits armés.

Selon un rapport du Conseil norvégien pour les réfugiés, « en 2013, les catastrophes naturelles ont fait presque trois fois plus de déplacés que les guerres » (INED) et 85% d’entre eux sontdes pays en développement.

Pour une grande partie de ces populations, c’est l’exode vers l’Occident, et particulièrement l’Europe,  qui est le plus tentant et le plus tenté, dans l’espoir de vivre dignement, ou tout au moins de survivre …

Comment dès lors permettre à ces populations de vivre dans leurs territoires, d’y travailler et d’en utiliser les ressources ?

Certaines bonnes pratiques locales, simples d’accès, notamment pour les populations autochtones pourraient aider à lutter contre ces problématiques environnementales. Quelques-unes commencent d’ores et déjà à émerger et devraient faire, nous l’espérons, effet « boule de neige ».

À titre d’exemple, citons le mouvement de la ceinture verte au Kenya (Green Belt Movement) qui a été lancé par la biologiste Wangari Maathai et qui encourage les femmes à planter des arbres, ce qui leur permet, à terme, d’améliorer leur niveau de vie.

En Mongolie, toute une muraille verte a également vu le jour, pour résister à l’avancée du désert de Gobi.

Au Burkina Faso, des paysans construisent des cuvettes en demi-lunes qui permettent de concentrer les précipitations et réduire le ruissellement[10].

Au Rajasthan, pour récupérer l’eau des moussons, recharger les nappes phréatiques et réalimenter les rivières, les paysans ont remis au goût du jour le « johad », une technique agricole ancestrale, qui consiste à collecter les eaux de pluie pendant la saison des moussons et les utiliser en les faisant filtrer dans le sous sol pendant la saison sèche[11].

Wangari Maathai

On peut aussi évoquer la transformation de la villa « ASSIE GAYE » au Sénégal en 2009-2010, qui s’est faite grâce à l’utilisation de matériaux locaux, comme la terre crue argileuse. Elle est alimentée en énergies renouvelables, grâce à un générateur éolien, un générateur photovoltaïque et un collecteur thermique. Ce qui en fait une maison durable, à la fois sur le plan écologique et économique[12].

Enfin, nous devons rappeler qu’il est indispensable pour l’humanité de relever le défi majeur de ces problématiques environnementales et humaines qui s’offrent à elle. Il nous faut intégrer tous les possibles en matière de changement climatique annoncés par les rapports du Groupe GIEC, dans le but d’y répondre.

Il serait ainsi plus urgent d’attribuer certains budgets étatiques à la prise en charge des réfugiés climatiques, plutôt que d’augmenter, par exemple, ceux inhérents à la défense et à l’armement.

Par ailleurs, la lutte contre le fléau de l’évasion fiscale pourrait, éventuellement, profiter à ces mêmes réfugiés et ainsi limiter la pression sur les pays d’origine ou encore sur les pays accueillant ces migrants.

Pour clôturer mon propos, j’emprunte un peu de sa sagesse à Wangari Maathai qui précise  qu’« Aujourd’hui, nous affrontons un défi qui exige un renouvellement de notre mode de pensée, pour que l’humanité cesse de menacer le système qui assure sa propre survie. Nous sommes appelés à aider la terre à guérir ses blessures et, à guérir les nôtres – en fait, à embrasser la totalité de la création dans toute sa diversité, sa beauté et ses merveilles. »[13]

Nadia Belaala est architecte et ingénieure sociale, anciennement Officier du Développement durable de l’Association of World Citizens.

[1] Meyerfeld, B. (2016). Alerte érosion : l’Afrique s’effrite et ses terres s’appauvrissent dangereusement. Le Monde Afrique,

[2] Valo, M. (2013). Comment la pêche chinoise pille les océans de la planète. Le Monde,

[3] Boughriet, R. (2016). De nouvelles normes mondiales pour un développement urbain durable,,

[4] Desforges, D. (2009). Les villes face au changement climatique. Regards croisés sur l’économie, 2(2), 84-86.

[5] Cournil, C. (2010). Les “réfugiés environnementaux” : enjeux et questionnements autour d’une catégorie émergente. Migrations Société, 2(2), 67-79.

[6] VERON, J. (2014), Quels liens entre migrations et environnement ? Institut national d’études démographiques,

[7] Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, Q. (2006). Changement climatique, inondations et gestion des crues : le cas du Bangladesh. Hérodote, 2(2), 73-94.

[8] LEBEL, T. (2018), Au Sahel, le climat durablement perturbé depuis la « grande sécheresse. Le Monde Afrique,


[10] (p.22)



[13] European think & do tank. (2016). Réchauffement climatique et migration, zoom sur un phénomène méconnu, p.3,

Woody Guthrie: This Land Is My Land And I Won’t Let Them Take It Away

In Arts, Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Human Rights, Migration, Poetry, Social Rights, Solidarity, United States on July 14, 2022 at 8:39 PM

By René Wadlow

This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York island,

From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters,

this land was made for you and me.

Woodrow Wilson Guthrie (1912-1967) whose birth anniversary we note on July 14, was the voice of the marginalized, especially those hit by the drought in the west of the USA during the late 1920s-early 1930s – what has been called the “dust bowl”.

Many lost their farms due to unpaid bank loans, and others moved to the greener pastures of California where they were not particularly welcomed. However, nearly all were United States (U. S.) citizens and they could not be deported to another country.

A dust storm in Texas, 1935

Times have changed. Today, there are the homeless who would like to reach the USA. There has been a good deal of media attention given to those at the frontier, including those who have died trying to reach the USA.

Less media attention has been given to those living in the U. S. and who are being deported to their “home country” although some have been living in the U. S. since childhood and could sing “This land is my land.”

A large number of persons, an estimated three million, were deported during the 8-year presidency of Barack Obama with relatively little attention given except by specialists. The more flamboyant speeches of former President Trump have awakened more people to the issue of deportation and the conditions in which people are held prior to deportation.

Those in danger of deportation are not organized in a formal way. The U. S. trade union movement is a weak organizational force whose membership has vastly declined. In practice, trade unions never fought to protect “illegal” foreign workers even when trade unions were stronger. There are legitimate, non-racist concerns that an influx of immigrants will lower wage rates and overburden welfare services. These non-racist concerns join in with the noisier, racist voices.

Opposition to deportation has come largely from religious-spiritual groups stressing human dignity and using places of worship as sanctuaries in which to house people in danger of deportation. This sanctuary movement began in the early 1980s to provide safe havens for Central American refugees fleeing civil armed conflicts. Obtaining refugee status and asylum in the U. S. was difficult. Some 500 congregations joined the sanctuary movement to shelter people based on the medieval laws which protected church building against soldiers. Other congregations used the image of the Underground Railroad which protected runaway slaves prior to the Civil War.

There is now a new sanctuary movement started in the Age of Trump, focused on the protection of undocumented families from the newly created police of the U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Woody Guthrie would no doubt lend his singing voice to help those in danger of deportation as he did for the farmers and workers of the 1930s.

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

October 16, World Food Day: Ecologically-Sound Development

In Being a World Citizen, Environmental protection, Human Rights, Social Rights, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on October 16, 2021 at 2:01 PM

By René Wadlow

Since the hungry billion in the world community believe that we can all eat if we set our common house in order, they believe also that it is unjust that some men die because it is too much trouble to arrange for them to live.
Stringfellow Barr, Citizens of the World (1954)

World Food Day was set by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly for October 16, the date of the creation of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome in 1945 building on a Food Institute in Rome which had been Part of the League of Nations network. The Preamble of the FAO Constitution states, “determined to promote the common welfare by furthering separate and collective action for the purpose of raising levels of nutrition and standards of living”. The Constitution stresses as one of its aims “contributing towards an expanding world economy and ensuring humanity’s freedom from hunger.” To achieve freedom from hunger for humanity, there is a need to eliminate poverty. The elimination of poverty must draw upon the ideas, skills and energies of whole societies and requires the cooperation of all States.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030) aims by 2030 to “Double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets, and non-farm resources.”

Yet as Lester Brown, the U. S. agricultural specialist, has written,

“We are cutting trees faster than they can be regenerated, overgrazing range lands and converting them into deserts, over-pumping aquifers, and draining rivers dry. On our crop lands, soil erosion exceeds new soil formation, slowly depriving the soil of its inherent fertility. We are taking fish from the oceans faster than they can reproduce.”

To counter these trends, we need awareness and vision which has living in harmony with Nature at its heart. Thus, we need political and social leadership to bring about the socio-economic changes needed.

There is a consensus that strong measures are needed to deal with worldwide growing food needs. These measures must be taken in a coordinated way with actions going from the local level of the individual farmer to the national level with new government policies to the world level with better coordinated activities through the UN System.

A central theme which citizens of the world have long stressed is that there needs to be a world food policy and that a world food policy is more than the sum of national food security programs. While the adoption of a national strategy to ensure food and nutrition security for all is essential, a focus on the formulation of national plans is clearly inadequate. There is a need for a world plan of action with focused attention to the role which the UN system must play if hunger is to be sharply reduced.

There is also a need to keep in mind local issues of food production, distribution, and food security. Attention needs to be given to cultural factors, the division of labor between women and men in agriculture and rural development, in marketing local food products, to the role of small farmers, to the role of landless agricultural labor and to land-holding patterns.

Fortunately, there is a growing awareness that an integrated, comprehensive approach is needed. World Citizens stress that solutions to poverty, hunger and climate change crisis require an agriculture that promotes producers’ livelihoods, knowledge, resiliency, health, and equitable gender relations, while enriching the natural environment and helping balance the carbon cycle. Such an integrated approach is a fundamental aspect of the world citizen approach to a solid world food policy.

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

Concerted Efforts Against Trafficking in Persons

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Europe, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Migration, Modern slavery, NGOs, Social Rights, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, Women's Rights, World Law on July 30, 2021 at 10:01 AM

By René Wadlow

On July 30, there should be a worldwide concerted effort against trafficking in persons. The United Nations (UN) General Assembly in Resolution A/RES/68/192 in 2012 set out July 30 as a day to review and reaffirm the need for action against the criminal global networks dealing in trafficking of persons. The trafficking of human beings reveals the hunger of the global economy for human labor and the disrespect for human dignity. Drugs, guns, illegal immigration are the nightmare avenues of how the poor world becomes integrated into the global economy. These are intricate networks and are intertwined with interests in business and politics.

A recent UN report presented to the Commission on the Status of Women highlighted that human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal industries and one of the crucial human rights crises today.

From Himalayan villages to Eastern European cities – especially women and girls – are attracted by the prospects of a well-paid job as a domestic servant, waitress or factory worker. Traffickers recruit victims through fake advertisements, mail-order bride catalogues, casual acquaintances, and even family members. Children are trafficked to work in sweatshops, and men to work in the « three D jobs » – dirty, difficult and dangerous.

Despite clear international standards such as the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, there is poor implementation, limited governmental infrastructure dedicated to the issue. There is also a tendency to criminalize the victims.

Since 2002, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has collected information on trafficking in persons. The International Labor Organization, the World Health Organization – especially in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention – and the International Organization for Migration – all have anti-trafficking programs, but they have few «people on the ground» dealing directly with the issue.

Thus, real progress needs to be made through nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) such as the Association of World Citizens which has raised the issue in human rights bodies in Geneva. There are three aspects to this anti-trafficking effort. The first is to help build political will by giving accurate information to political leaders and the press. The other two aspects depend on the efforts of NGOs themselves. Such efforts call for increased cooperation among NGOs and capacity building.

The second aspect is research into the areas from which persons – especially children and women – are trafficked. These are usually the poorest parts of a country and among marginalized populations. Socio-economic and development projects must be directed to these areas so that there are realistic avenues for advancement.

The third aspect is psychological healing. Very often persons who have been trafficked have had a disrupted or violent family life. They may have a poor idea of their self-worth. The victim’s psychological health is often ignored by governments. Victims can suffer a strong psychological shock that disrupts their psychological integrity. Thus, it is important to create opportunities for individual and group healing, to give a spiritual dimention through teaching meditation and yoga. There is a need to create adult education facilities so that persons may continue a broken educational cycle.

We must not underestimate the difficulties and dangers which exist in the struggle against trafficking in persons nor the hard efforts which are needed for the psychological healing of victims. July 30 can be a rededication for our efforts.

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

En Colombie, la guerre contre la coca décime la terre et les espoirs de paix

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Environmental protection, Human Rights, Latin America, NGOs, Social Rights, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on May 16, 2021 at 8:23 PM

Par Bernard J. Henry

La Colombie vivra-t-elle un jour en paix ? Les événements actuels, la révolte sociale contre un projet de taxation du Président Ivan Duque qui l’a depuis abandonné, n’incitent qu’au pessimisme, dans un pays déjà longuement marqué par le conflit entre le Gouvernement et la rébellion des Forces Armées Révolutionnaires de Colombie – Armée du Peuple (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo ; FARC-EP) ainsi que par le narcoterrorisme des grands cartels de la drogue comme ceux de Cali et de Medellín. Aucune comparaison possible entre les trois, certes – mais seul le résultat compte.

Comme si déjà les affrontements entre êtres humains n’éprouvaient pas assez le pays, le Président Ivan Duque ouvre aujourd’hui un nouveau front, contre le dernier ennemi que devrait se donner quelque Etat que ce soit. Car la nouvelle ennemie de Bogota, c’est sa terre. Sa terre nourricière.

Coca veut-il toujours dire cocaïne ?

La déclaration de guerre, c’est le Décret 380, signé le 12 avril dernier par Ivan Duque et autorisant la reprise de la pulvérisation aérienne de glyphosate, herbicide produit au départ par la seule firme Monsanto sous la marque Roundup et dont le brevet appartient depuis 2000 au domaine public, pour l’éradication des cultures illicites. Sans surprise, c’est d’abord la coca qui est visée, et à travers elle, la culture de cocaïne. C’est oublier que cette plante, cultivée depuis plusieurs millénaires dans les Andes, représente bien davantage dans la culture locale.

Le mate de coca (C) Getty Images-iStockphoto

Jadis élément rituel des croyances incas de la Colombie jusqu’au Chili, toujours présentes dans les rites chamaniques, les feuilles de coca sont aujourd’hui consommées en infusion, le mate de coca. Elles sont riches en minéraux essentiels, en vitamines, en protéines et en fibres. Les âges leur ont aussi découvert des vertus médicinales contre le vertige, en anesthésiant, en analgésique ou en coagulant, leur taux élevé de calcium les ayant rendues tout aussi efficaces contre les fractures osseuses, parmi les nombreuses vertus que même la médecine moderne leur reconnaît.

C’est ainsi que la coca représentait, en 2012, 0,2% du Produit Intérieur Brut colombien. Mais de nos jours, pour Bogota, coca ne veut plus dire que cocaïne. Or, ce nom ne désigne pas forcément ce que l’on croit.

Sitôt le mot prononcé, «cocaïne» évoque une drogue dure. Or, ce n’est pas le sens premier du terme. La cocaïne est un alcaloïde, une substance parfaitement naturelle contenue dans les feuilles de coca. Elle est naturellement ingérée lorsque l’on consomme le mate ou, c’est son usage le plus courant, lorsque l’on en mâche les feuilles, comme le font les Andins depuis des milliers d’années. La coca agit ainsi comme un remède à la faim, la soif, la douleur ou la fatigue. Sous cette forme, elle ne crée aucune addiction.

Transformée en un produit stupéfiant, le chlorhydrate de cocaïne, puis «sniffée» en «rails», la cocaïne devient un psychotrope et crée une addiction particulièrement dangereuse sur le plan psychique. C’est là qu’elle devient une «culture illicite» car alimentant les économies des cartels mais aussi ceux de groupes paramilitaires, dont jadis les FARC-EP.

Le glyphosate de Monsanto, vendu sous la marque Roundup

Mais si la coca détient le problème, elle renferme aussi la solution. Pour les cocaïnomanes, la consommation des feuilles telles quelles, bénéfique et non addictive, offre un moyen de se désaccoutumer et guérir.

Bien que ne pouvant l’ignorer, pas plus qu’ignorer que de nombreuses communautés paysannes dépendent de la culture de la coca comme seul moyen d’existence, Bogota a décidé de l’éradiquer par la force, envoyant l’armée détruire cent trente mille hectares au risque même d’affamer sa population campesina et rallumer les feux mal éteints de la guerre civile.

Pour qui aurait cru que l’urgence sanitaire liée à la COVID-19, confinement compris comme dans tant d’autres pays du monde, aurait arrêté ou du moins suspendu les ambitions guerrières gouvernementales, comme la société civile colombienne qui demandait une suspension, peine perdue. Au moins sept départements colombiens ont vu l’armée mener pendant ce temps-là sa guerre à mort contre la coca. Une guerre d’autant plus inquiétante que le front en est proche, par trop proche, de celui de l’ancienne guerre contre les FARC-EP.

FARC-EP : Un accord de paix en danger

Dans les années 1980, dernière décennie de la Guerre Froide, donc du système international de Droits Humains antérieur à la Conférence de Vienne en 1993, plusieurs groupes d’opposition armés avaient été identifiés à travers le monde comme violateurs des Droits Humains au même titre que les gouvernements, parfois le gouvernement même qu’ils entendaient combattre. Parmi eux, les Khmers Rouges au Cambodge, le Parti des Travailleurs du Kurdistan (PKK) en Turquie, le Sentier Lumineux (Sendero Luminoso) au Pérou et, en Colombie, les FARC-EP.

L’emblème des FARC-EP

Pur produit de la Guerre Froide, apparues en 1964, les FARC-EP présentaient une idéologie marxiste-léniniste, prônant un système agrarien et anti-impérialiste en Colombie. Composées de plusieurs dizaines de milliers d’hommes et de femmes, les FARC-EP usaient de techniques militaires variées mais aussi du terrorisme, à l’image de l’ETA au Pays basque espagnol qui les soutenait ouvertement. Leur économie de guerre se fondait sur l’extraction minière illégale, le racket économique, l’enlèvement contre rançon – ainsi de la Sénatrice Ingrid Betancourt en 2002, qui demeura leur otage jusqu’en 2008 – et le trafic de stupéfiants.

En mars 2008, le décès du leader des FARC-EP Manuel Marulanda Vélez marqua un tournant dans l’histoire du groupe armé. Les désertions se multiplièrent et, bien que poursuivant leurs attaques terroristes contre la police, l’armée et le secteur de l’énergie, des FARC-EP jadis redoutables apparurent désormais craintives et fatiguées.

Un processus de paix fut lancé qui aboutit, en juin 2016, à la signature d’un cessez-le-feu entre le Président Juan Manuel Santos et les FARC-EP à La Havane. En août, Santos annonça un accord de paix formel, qu’il soumit à référendum en octobre mais qui fut rejeté de peu par l’électorat. Le mois suivant, un accord révisé fut signé puis finalement ratifié. Un an après le cessez-le-feu, en juin 2017, les FARC-EP prononcèrent leur dissolution en tant que groupe armé, remettant leur armement aux équipes des Nations Unies sur place et devenant, comme le prévoyait l’accord de paix, un parti politique.

Quelques milliers d’irréductibles poursuivirent la lutte armée et le trafic de drogue. En août 2019, plusieurs leaders des anciennes FARC-EP annoncèrent à leur tour y revenir, bientôt mis hors d’état de nuire par les troupes colombiennes. L’accord de paix perdura donc, dont les quatre premiers points montraient une volonté concrète de combattre à la fois le conflit et ses causes originelles – une réforme rurale exhaustive, la participation politique des membres des anciennes FARC-EP, une fin définitive des affrontements et, en Point 4, une «solution aux drogues illicites».

Un rapport parlementaire colombien rendu l’an dernier montrait que, si la culture du coca était en recul, non moins de quinze mille hectares ayant été perdus en un an, celle de cocaïne connaissait en revanche un regain de 15%. Peu surprenant dans la mesure où les solutions prévues par l’accord de paix, l’éradication manuelle et la mise en place de cultures de substitution, ont été largement ignorées par les autorités. Écarter ainsi les accords conclus et les solutions de bon sens qui les composent, c’était offrir un boulevard aux tenants du glyphosate, parmi lesquels le Ministre de la Défense Carlos Holmes Trujillo, qui ont donc fini par l’emporter.

Outre la santé, l’économie et l’écosystème des communautés campesinas, et malgré la victoire militaire sur la tentative de résurgence armée d’une partie des FARC-EP, le glyphosate met donc bel et bien en danger y compris l’accord de paix lui-même, au mépris de l’ancien groupe armé et de ses efforts vers la paix, mais aussi des décisions judiciaires et, rien de moins, des recommandations internationales.

La justice colombienne et l’ONU l’avaient dit

Une première fois pourtant, la Colombie avait mis fin à la pulvérisation aérienne. En 2015, l’impact avéré de cette pratique sur l’environnement et les Droits Humains, notamment le droit à la santé, avait amené Bogota à renoncer à en faire usage. Deux ans plus tard, c’était la Cour constitutionnelle (Corte Constitucional) qui se saisissait du sujet et se prononçait en son Arrêt T-236-17.

Pour la juridiction suprême, le glyphosate était indubitablement une substance toxique à même d’entraîner diverses maladies, dont le cancer. Elle ordonnait ainsi que la pulvérisation aérienne ne soit utilisée qu’en dernier ressort, après l’échec de toute substitution volontaire ou éradication manuelle. Et surtout, la Cour, sortant du pur plan agricole ou scientifique, investissait aussi le champ politique en appelant le Gouvernement à résoudre le problème en tenant compte du Point 4 des Accords de Paix avec les FARC-EP. Mais faute d’application crédible des programmes de substitution volontaire, bien que ceux-ci soient un pilier des accords de paix, il leur a été préféré l’éradication forcée.

L’ONU elle-même s’en est indignée et le 17 décembre dernier, dix de ses experts indépendants écrivaient à Ivan Duque en lui demandant de renoncer à la pulvérisation aérienne, porteuse « d’énormes risques » pour l’environnement mais aussi d’une possible atteinte aux engagements internationaux colombiens en matière de Droits Humains. Appel donc resté lettre morte.

La pulvérisation aérienne au glyphosate en action

Sans paix avec la terre, aucune paix pour l’avenir

Avec Carlos Holmes Trujillo, la «ligne dure», sans mauvais jeu de mots sur la cocaïne au demeurant, a gagné. Qu’importe si, à cause d’elle, des Colombiens vont se trouver démunis, et/ou malades, qu’importe si l’écosystème se trouve irrémédiablement endommagé, qu’importe si la terre devient stérile. Leur guerre totale contre d’anciens ennemis qu’ils veulent soumis plus que partenaires a dégénéré en guerre contre la terre colombienne elle-même, la Pachamama, «Terre-Mère» comme la désigne la cosmogonie andine depuis des temps anciens où, déjà, l’on mâchait la coca.

A l’instar d’autres organisations non-gouvernementales, l’Association of World Citizens (AWC) a pris attache avec le Gouvernement colombien en demandant que le Président Ivan Duque renonce à la pulvérisation aérienne de glyphosate, au profit des solutions préconisées par l’accord de paix avec les FARC-EP, éradication manuelle et substitution volontaire, telles que les demande aussi la Cour constitutionnelle.

«A moins d’étendre le cercle de sa compassion à tout ce qui vit, l’homme ne pourra lui-même trouver la paix», disait Albert Schweitzer, auteur du concept de Révérence envers la Vie et lui-même référence naturelle de l’AWC. Le drame colombien du glyphosate illustre on ne peut mieux cette pensée. Heureusement, il n’est pas trop tard.

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

Antonio Gramsci: A Cultural Base for Positive Action

In Being a World Citizen, Democracy, Europe, Literature, Social Rights, Solidarity, The former Soviet Union, The Search for Peace on January 24, 2021 at 7:54 PM

By René Wadlow

Antonio Gramsci (January 22, 1891 – April 24, 1937) was an Italian Socialist and then Communist editor who is best known for his notebooks of reflections that he wrote while in prison. (1) Gramsci grew up on the Italian island of Sardinia and saw the poor conditions of the impoverished peasants there. He studied just before the First World War at the University of Turin at a time when industry, especially the Fiat auto company was starting. Gramsci became concerned with the conditions of the new industrial working class. When the First World War started, he was asked to join a new Socialist newspaper that had started in Turin.

Antonio Gramsci

In 1921, in part due to the Russian Revolution, the Italian Communist Party was born. Some of the Socialists, including Gramsci, joined the new party, and Gramsci became an editor of the Communist newspaper. In 1922, he went to Russia as a delegate of the Italian Communist Party to a convention of Communist Parties from different parts of the world.

Also in 1922, Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party came to power and quickly began a crackdown on the Communists and other opposition movements. In 1926, after a failed attempt on Mussolini’s life, there was a massive crackdown on Communists. Although he had nothing to do with the effort to kill Mussolini, but as a Communist deputy to the national Parliament, Gramsci was sentenced to 20 years in prison. His health, which had never been strong, deteriorated in prison. On April 27, 1937 he died, aged 46.

While in prison, he wrote his ideas in notebooks which were censored by the prison authorities. Then the notebooks were passed on to family members. Gramsci had to be careful about how he expressed his ideas. The notebooks were published only after the end of the Second World War and the defeat of the Fascist government. Thus, Gramsci was never able to discuss or clarify his views. Nevertheless, his prison writings have been widely read and discussed.

Benito Mussolini

The concept most associated with Gramsci is the idea of “hegemony”. Hegemony is constructed through a complex series of struggles. Hegemony cannot be constructed once and for all since the balance of social forces on which it rests is continually evolving. Class structures related to the mode of production is obviously one area of struggle – the core of the Marxist approach. However, what is new in Gramsci is his emphasis on the cultural, ideological, and moral dimensions of the struggle for hegemony.

For Gramsci, hegemony cannot be economic alone. There must be a cultural battle to transform the popular mentality. He asks, “How it happens that in all periods, there co-exist many systems and currents of philosophical thought and how these currents are born, how they are diffused and why in the process of diffusion they fracture along certain lines and in certain directions.”

Gramsci was particularly interested in the French Revolution and its follow up. Why were the revolutionary ideas not permanently in power but rather were replaced by those of Napoleon, only to return later? Gramsci put an emphasis on what is called today “the civil society” – all the groups and forces not directly related to government: government administration, the military, the police.  There can be a control of the government, but such control: can be replaced if the civil society’s values and zeitgeist (world view) are not modified in depth. There is a slow evolution of mentalities from one value system to another. For progress to be permanent, one needs to influence and then control those institutions – education, culture, religion, folklore – that create the popular zeitgeist. He was unable to return to the USSR to see how Stalin developed the idea of hegemony.

The intellectual contribution of Gramsci has continued in the work of Edward Said on how the West developed its ideas about the Middle East. (2) Likewise, his influence is strong in India in what are called “subaltern studies” – what those people left out of official histories think. As someone noted, “I believe firmly that the history of ideas is the key to the history of deeds.”


(1) Antonio Gramsci, The Prison Notebooks (three volumes) (New York: Columbia University Press); Antonio Gramsci, Prison Letters (London: Pluto Press, 1996)

(2) See Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (London: Vintage, 1994)

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

Albert Schweitzer (January 14, 1875 – September 4, 1965): Reverence for Life

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Fighting Racism, Human Rights, Social Rights, Solidarity, Spirituality, The Search for Peace on January 14, 2021 at 10:51 PM

By René Wadlow

The human race must be converted to a fresh mental attitude, if it is not to suffer extinction… A new renaissance, much greater than that in which we emerged from the Middle Ages, is absolutely essential. Are we going to draw from the spirit enough strength to create new conditions and turn our faces once again to civilization, or are we going to draw our inspiration from our surroundings and go down with them to ruin? — Albert Schweitzer

January 14 was the anniversary of the birth of Albert Schweitzer and a special day at the hospital that he founded at Lambaréné. Alsatian wine would be served at lunch, and conversations over lunch would last longer than usual before everyone had to return to his tasks. In 1963, when I was working for the Ministry of Education of Gabon and spending time at the Protestant secondary school some 500 yards down river from the hospital, I was invited to lunch for the birthday celebration. As the only non-hospital person there, I was placed next to Dr. Schweitzer, and we continued our discussions both on the events that had taken place along the Ogowe River and his more philosophical concerns.

I was interviewing Gabonese staying at the hospital on what they thought of schools, of schoolteachers, of their hopes for their children. When Schweitzer was not busy writing, I would go sit with him and discuss. Since many of the people who came from Europe or the USA to visit him would always say “Yes, Doctor, I agree”, he had relatively little time for them. But since I would say, “But no, you also have to take this into account…” he was stimulated and we had long talks. On his basic position of reverence for life, I was in agreement, and I have always appreciated the time spent on the river’s edge.

As Norman Cousins has noted,

“the main point about Schweitzer is that he helped make it possible for twentieth-century man to unblock his moral vision. There is a tendency in a relativistic age for man to pursue all sides of a question as an end in itself, finding relief and even refuge in the difficulty of defining good and evil. The result is a clogging of the moral sense, a certain feeling of self-consciousness or even discomfort when questions with ethical content are raised. Schweitzer furnished the nourishing evidence that nothing is more natural in life than a moral response, which exists independently of precise definition, its use leading not to exhaustion but to new energy.”

The moral response for Schweitzer was “reverence for life”. Schweitzer had come to Lambaréné in April 1913, already well known for his theological reflections on the eschatological background of Jesus’ thought as well as his study of Bach. As an Alsatian he was concerned with the lack of mutual understanding, the endless succession of hatred and fear, between France and Germany that led to war a year later.

Since Alsace was part of Germany at the time, Schweitzer was considered an enemy alien in the French colony of Gabon. When war broke out he was first restricted to the missionary station where he had started his hospital and later was deported and interned in France. He returned to Gabon after the First World War, even more convinced of the need to infuse thought with a strong ethical impulse. His reflections in The Decay and Restoration of Civilization trace in a fundamental way the decay. He saw clearly that

“the future of civilization depends on our overcoming the meaningless and hopelessness which characterizes the thoughts and convictions of men today, and reaching a state of fresh hope and fresh determination.”

He was looking for a basic principle that would provide the basis of the needed renewal. That principle arose from a mystical experience. He recounts how he was going down river to Ngomo, a missionary station with a small clinic. In those days, there were steamboats on the Ogowé, and seated on the deck, he had been trying to write all day. After a while, he stopped writing and only watched the equatorial forest as the boat moved slowly on. Then the words “reverence for life” came into his mind, and his reflections had found their core: life must be both affirmed and revered. Ethics, by its very nature, is linked to the affirmation of the good. Schweitzer saw that he was

“life which wants to live, surrounded by life which wants to live. Being will-to-life, I feel the obligation to respect all will-to-life about me as equal to my own. The fundamental idea of good is thus that it consists in preserving life, in favoring it, in wanting to bring it to its highest value, and evil consists in destroying life, doing it injury, hindering its development.”

Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben, — reverence for life — was the key concept for Schweitzer — all life longs for fullness and development as a person does for himself. However, the will to live is not static; there is a inner energy which pushes on to a higher state — a will to self-realization. Basically, this energy can be called spiritual. As Dr. Schweitzer wrote

“One truth stands firm. All that happens in world history rests on something spiritual. If the spiritual is strong, it creates world history. If it is weak, it suffers world history.” The use of Schweitzer’s principle of Reverence for Life can have a profound impact on how humans treat the environment. Reverence for Life rejects the notion that humans can use the environment for its own purposes without any consideration of its consequences for other living things. It accepts the view that there is a reciprocal relationship among living things. Each species is linked to many others.”

Aldo Leopold in his early statement of a deep ecology ethic, A Sand County Almanac, makes the same point:

“All ethics so far evolved rest on a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts…The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soil, water, plants, and animals, or collectively, the land.”

War and the potential of the use of nuclear weapons is the obvious opposite of reverence for life. Thus, in the mid-1950s, when the political focus was on the testing in the atmosphere of nuclear weapons, Schweitzer came out strongly for an abolition of nuclear tests. Some had warned him that such a position could decrease his support among those who admired his medical work in Africa but who wanted to support continued nuclear tests. However, for Schweitzer, an ethic which is not presented publicly is no ethic at all. His statements on the nuclear weapons issue are collected in his Peace or atomic war? (1958). The statements had an impact with many, touched by the ethical appeal when they had not been moved to action by political reasoning. These protests led to the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which bans tests in the atmosphere — an important first step.

Schweitzer was confident that an ethic impulse was in all people and would manifest itself if given the proper opportunity.

“Just as the rivers are much less numerous than underground streams, so the idealism that is visible is minor compared to what men and women carry in their hearts, unreleased or scarcely released. Mankind is waiting and longing for those who can accomplish the task of untying what is knotted and bringing the underground waters to the surface.”

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

U. N. Day: Strengthening and Reforming

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Democracy, Environmental protection, Human Development, Human Rights, International Justice, NGOs, Social Rights, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on October 25, 2020 at 4:11 PM

By René Wadlow

October 24 is United Nations (U. N.) Day, marking the day when there were enough ratifications including those of the five permanent members of the proposed Security Council for the U. N. Charter to come into force. It is a day not only of celebration, but also a day for looking at how the U. N. system can be strengthened, and when necessary, reformed.

There have been a number of periods when proposals for new or different U. N. structures were proposed and discussed. The first was in the 1944-1945 period when the Charter was being drafted. Some who had lived through the decline and then death of the League of Nations wanted a stronger world institution, able to move more quickly and effectively in times of crisis or at the start of armed conflict.

The official emblem of the League of Nations.

In practice, the League of Nations was reincarnated in 1945 in the U. N. Charter but the names of some of the bodies were changed and new Specialized Agencies such as UNESCO were added. There was some dissatisfaction during the San Francisco negotiations, and an article was added indicating that 10 years after the coming into force of the Charter a proposal to hold a U. N. Charter Review Conference would be placed on the Agenda – thus for 1955.

The possibility of a U. N. Charter Review Conference led in the 1953-1954 period to a host of proposals for changes in the U. N. structures, for a greater role for international law, for a standing U. N. “peace force”. Nearly all these proposals would require modifications in the U. N. Charter.

When 1955 arrived, the United States and the Soviet Union, who did not want a Charter Review Conference which might have questioned their policies, were able to sweep the Charter Review agenda item under the rug from where it has never emerged. In place of a Charter Review Conference, a U. N. Committee on “Strengthening the U. N. Charter” was set up which made a number of useful suggestions, none of which were put into practice as such. The Committee on Strengthening the Charter was the first of a series of expert committees, “High-Level Panels” set up within the U. N. to review its functioning and its ability to respond to new challenges. There have also been several committees set up outside of the U. N. to look at world challenges and U. N. responses, such as the Commission on Global Governance.

While in practice there have been modifications in the ways the U. N. works, few of these changes have recognized an expert group’s recommendations as the source of the changes. Some of the proposals made would have strengthened some factions of the U. N. system over the then current status quo – most usually to strength the role of developing countries (the South) over the industrialized States (the North). While the vocabulary of “win-win” modifications is often used, in practice few States want to take a chance, and the status quo continues.

Now, the Secretary General knows well how the U. N. works from his decade as High Commissioner for Refugees, U. N. reform is again “in the air”. There are an increasing number of proposals presented by governments and by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) associated with the U. N. The emphasis today is on what can be done without a revision of the Charter. Most of the proposals turn on what the Secretary General can do on his own authority. The Secretary General cannot go against the will of States – especially the most powerful States – but he does have a certain power of initiative.

There are two aspects of the current U. N. system that were not foreseen in 1945 and which are important today. One is the extensive role of U. N. Peacekeeping Forces: The Blue Helmets. The other is the growing impact of NGOs. There is growing interest in the role of NGOs within the U. N. system in the making and the implementation of policies at the international level. NGOs are more involved than ever before in global policy making and project implementation in such areas as conflict resolution, human rights, humanitarian relief, and environmental protection. (1)

NGOs at the U. N. have a variety of roles – they bring citizens’ concerns to governments, advocate particular policies, present alternative avenues for political participation, provide analysis, serve as an early warning mechanism of potential violence and help implement peace agreements.

The role of consultative-status NGOs was written into the U. N. Charter at its founding in San Francisco in June 1945. As one of the failings of the League of Nations had been the lack of public support and understanding of the functioning of the League, some of the U. N. Charter drafters felt that a role should be given to NGOs. At the start, both governments and U. N. Secretariat saw NGOs as an information avenue — telling NGO members what the governments and the U. N. was doing and building support for their actions. However, once NGOs had a foot in the door, the NGOs worked to have a two-way avenue — also telling governments and the Secretariat what NGO members thought and what policies should be carried out at the U. N. Governments were none too happy with this two-way avenue idea and tried to limit the U. N. bodies with which NGOs could ‘consult’. There was no direct relationship with the General Assembly or the Security Council. The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in Article 71 of the Charter was the body to which “consultative-status NGOs” were related.

A wide view of the 19th session of the Human Rights Council. (C) Jean-Marc Ferré / UN Geneva

What in practice gives NGOs their influence is not what an individual NGO can do alone but what they can do collectively. ‘Networking’ and especially trans-national networking is the key method of progress. NGOs make networks which facilitate the trans-national movement of norms, resources, political responsibility, and information. NGO networks tend to be informal, non-binding, temporary, and highly personalized. NGOs are diverse, heterogeneous, and independent. They are diverse in mission, level of resources, methods of operating and effectiveness. However, at the U. N., they are bound together in a common desire to protect the planet and advance the welfare of humanity.

The role of NGO representatives is to influence policies through participation in the entire policy-making process. What distinguishes the NGO representative’s role at the U. N. from lobbying at the national level is that the representative may appeal to and discuss with the diplomats of many different governments. While some diplomats may be unwilling to consider ideas from anyone other than the mandate they receive from their Foreign Ministry, others are more open to ideas coming from NGO representatives. Out of the 193 Member States, the NGO representative will always find some diplomats who are ‘on the same wave length’ or who are looking for additional information on which to take a decision, especially on issues on which a government position is not yet set.

Legal Officer Noura Addad representing the AWC during a meeting at UNESCO in November 2018 (C) AWC External Relations Desk

Therefore, an NGO representative must be trusted by government diplomats and the U. N. Secretariat. As with all diplomacy in multilateral forums such as the U. N., much depends upon the skill and knowledge of the NGO representative and on the close working relations which they are able to develop with some government representatives and some members of the U. N. Secretariat. Many Secretariat members share the values of the NGO representatives but cannot try to influence government delegates directly. The Secretariat members can, however, give to the NGO representatives some information, indicate countries that may be open to acting on an issue and help with the style of presentation of a document.

It is probably in the environmental field — sustainable development — that there has been the most impact. Each environmental convention or treaty such as those on biological diversity or drought was negotiated separately, but with many of the same NGO representatives present. It is more difficult to measure the NGO role in disarmament and security questions. It is certain that NGO mobilization for an end to nuclear testing and for a ban on land mines and cluster weapons played a role in the conventions which were steps forward for humanity. However, on other arms issues, NGO input is more difficult to analyze.

‘Trans-national advocacy networks’ which work across frontiers are of increasing importance as seen in the efforts against land mines, for the International Criminal Court and for increased protection from violence toward women and children. The groups working on these issues are found in many different countries but have learned to work trans-nationally both through face-to-face meetings and through the internet web. The groups in any particular campaign share certain values and ideas in common but may differ on other issues. Thus, they come together on an ad hoc basis around a project or a small number of related issues. Yet their effectiveness is based on their being able to function over a relatively long period of time in rather complex networks even when direct success is limited.

These campaigns are based on networks which combine different actors at various levels of government: local, regional, national, and U. N. (or European Parliament, OSCE etc.). The campaigns are waged by alliances among different types of organizations — membership groups, academic institutions, religious bodies, and ad hoc local groupings. Some groups may be well known, though most are not.

There is a need to work at the local, the national, and the U. N. levels at the same time. Advocacy movements need to be able to contact key decision-makers in national parliaments, government administrations and intergovernmental secretariats. Such mobilization is difficult, and for each ‘success story’ there are many failed efforts. The rise of U. N. consultative-status NGOs has been continual since the early 1970s. NGOs and government diplomats at the U. N. are working ever more closely together to deal with the world challenges which face us all.

(1) This interest is reflected in a number of path-making studies such as P. Willets (Ed.), The Consciences of the World: The Influence of Non-Governmental Organizations in the U. N. System (London: Hurst, 1996), T. Princen and M. Finger (Eds), Environmental NGOs in World Politics: Linking the Global and the Local (London: Routledge, 1994), M. Rech and K. Sikkink, Activists Without Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998); Bas Arts, Math Noortmann and Rob Reinalda (Eds), Non-State Actors in International Relations (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001); and William De Mars, NGOs and Transnational Networks (London: Pluto Press, 2005).

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

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