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Rapid Ratification Needed of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

In Asia, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Environmental protection, Human Development, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on July 19, 2017 at 10:53 AM

RAPID RATIFICATION NEEDED OF THE TREATY ON THE PROHIBITION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS
By René Wadlow

On July 7, 2017, at the United Nations in New York, a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was voted by 122 Member States, one Member State, the Netherlands, voted against, and one Member State, Singapore, abstained. The People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) was the only nuclear-weapon State to take part in the Treaty Conference and to vote in favor of its adoption. The other nuclear-weapon States did not participate in the drafting of the Treaty.

Immediately after the positive vote, the delegations of the USA, the United Kingdom, and France issued a joint press statement saying that “This initiative clearly disregards the realities of the international security environment… This treaty offers no solution to the grave threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program, nor does it address other security challenges that made nuclear deterrence necessary.”

Article I of the Treaty sets out its basic intention: to prohibit all activities involving nuclear weapons including to develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons and to use, threaten to use, transfer, station, install or deploy these weapons.

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The Treaty will be open for signature and thus the start of the process of ratification at the start of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on September 20, 2017. 50 ratifications are necessary for the Treaty to come into force. September 21 is the World Day for Peace, set by the UN General Assembly in 1981. The theme this year is “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All”.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) believes that signing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons would be a most appropriate way to mark the Day of Peace and its theme “Together for Peace”. The AWC warmly welcomes the Treaty and expresses its deep appreciation to the UN Secretariat, the delegates of the Member States, and fellow non-governmental organization representatives who have worked to achieve this common goal, an important step toward a world free of the threats posed by nuclear weapons.

World Citizens were among those who called for the abolition of nuclear weapons shortly after their first use on Japan, and many Japanese world citizens have constantly participated in efforts toward their abolition.

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On August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. That was the first ever nuclear attack in U. S., Japanese, and world history. Around 250,000 people were killed in that bomb attack alone. (C) U. S. Navy Public Affairs Resources Website

World Citizens have also stressed that the abolition of nuclear weapons is part of a larger effort of disarmament and the peaceful settlement of disputes. At each 5-year review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), World Citizens have stressed that Article VI of the NPT has not been fulfilled by the nuclear-weapon States. Article VI says that “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” Unfortunately, the issue of general and complete disarmament and forms of verification and control are no longer topics on the world agenda.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons follows what has been called The Hague Law tradition of the banning of weapons because of their humanitarian consequences, a tradition first stressed in Saint-Petersburg in 1868 and which was at the heart of the two peace conferences of The Hague in 1899 and 1907. This tradition has led to the ban on poison gas by the 1925 Geneva Protocol as well as the more recent bans on chemical weapons, biological weapons, anti-personnel land mines, and cluster munitions. A conference of UN Member States was held in Vienna, Austria on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons which brought up-to-date the many reports and studies on the impact of the use of nuclear weapons on humans and Nature. Thus the emphasis of the negotiations on the Treaty concerned more humanitarian consequences rather than arms control issues.

World Citizens have always stressed that the abolition of nuclear weapons and other disarmament measures must be accompanied by efforts to strengthen world institutions that can skillfully address conflicts as early as possible. Acting together, all States and peoples can help to define a dynamic vision and program for achieving global security that is realistic and achievable. Progress toward a cosmopolitan, humanist world society requires the development of effective norms, procedures and institutions.

Thus, the start of a speedy ratification procedure of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on September 21, Day of Peace, would be a sign to the peoples of the world that there is at the world level a vision of this crucial step toward a world of peace and justice.

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

A letter to the President to the Turkish Republic

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Democracy, Europe, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, United Nations, World Law on July 19, 2017 at 8:58 AM

-- AWC-UN Geneva Logo --

TRANSMITTED BY FAX AND EMAIL

July 18, 2017

Hon. Recep Tayyip Erdogan
President of the Turkish Republic
Ankara
Turkey

Honorable President Erdogan:

As a Nongovernmental Organization in Consultative Status with the United Nations (UN) and accredited with the UN Human Rights Council, the Association of World Citizens (AWC) wrote on June 12 expressing concern over the arrest by police of Mr. Taner Kiliç, Attorney at Law, Chair of Amnesty International Turkey.

A month has passed and Attorney Kiliç remains in detention. More preoccupying still, we hear a court in Turkey has just sent six Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) to prison, including Amnesty International’s Turkey Director, Ms. Idil Eser, less than a month after jailing Attorney Kiliç.

It appears that other HRDs have also been arrested, namely Günal Kursun and Veli Acu (Human Rights Agenda Association), Özlem Dalkiran (Citizens’ Assembly), Ali Gharavi, an IT strategy consultant, and Peter Steudtner, a nonviolence and well-being trainer. They are being held pending trial on the suspicion of “assisting an armed terrorist organization”.

Four HRDs were charged but released on bail – Nalan Erkem (Citizens Assembly), Ilknur Üstün (Women’s Coalition), Nejat Tastan (Equal Rights Watch Association) and Seyhmus Özbekli (Rights Initiative).

The AWC is sorry to hear that the Turkish authorities have arrested and jailed these HRDs just when they are needed most. As your country is still trying to make sense of the major constitutional crisis that took place with the failed coup d’état against the democratically-elected government of Turkey last year, there is a need for all positive, useful energies to get involved in the search for a more inclusive, participatory form of governance in Turkey.

We understand that the charges brought against the abovementioned people are related to the Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization. While the AWC certainly understands Turkey has been under pressure from terrorist groups for a number of years, especially in connection with the ongoing conflict in Syria where your country supports the people’s democratic revolution, like we do, we believe that charges related to terrorism must not be brought too lightly or quickly against an individual or an association – also bearing in mind the many existing cases throughout the world of HRDs who were branded “supporters of terrorism” only because they had denounced human rights violations by state agents, while they were also being targeted by those very terrorist groups they were being accused of supporting.

A year and a day ago, our President, Prof. René Wadlow, highlighted precisely this phenomenon and the risks induced thereby in an article published in Foreign Policy News. We are attaching a copy thereof for your reference and you can access it online here:
http://foreignpolicynews.org/2016/07/17/prepare-defend-human-rights-turkey/

The AWC believes that Turkey has reached a turning point in its history and a country with as great a culture and past as yours cannot afford to put its future in jeopardy by shutting out – or locking up – people who are so precious to its present and future.

Therefore, we are sure that your Government will make all efforts to immediately and unconditionally release Attorney Taner Kiliç, Ms. Idil Eser, as well as HRDs Günal Kursun, Veli Acu, Özlem Dalkiran, Ali Gharavi and Peter Steudtner.

The AWC further urges you to have all existing restrictions imposed on HRDs Nalan Erkem, Ilknur Üstün, Nejat Tastan and Seyhmus Özbekli lifted.

We thank you very much in advance for bringing Turkey back in line with UN standards.

Please accept, Honorable President Erdogan, the assurances of our highest consideration.

Prof. René Wadlow
President

Bernard Henry
External Relations Officer

Cherifa Maaoui
Liaison Officer,
Middle East & North Africa

Noura Addad, Attorney at Law
Legal Officer

June 20: World Refugee Day

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

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JUNE 20: WORLD REFUGEE DAY
By René Wadlow

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

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

Refugee Rights Protest at Broadmeadows, Melbourne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Battle for Raqqa: Protests needed on violations of humanitarian law

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

BATTLE FOR RAQQA: PROTESTS NEEDED ON VIOLATIONS OF HUMANITARIAN LAW

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

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

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

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The ILO building in Geneva, Switzerland

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

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

Child_labor_in_Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prof. René Wadlow is President and a Representative to the United Nations –Geneva of the Association of World Citizens.

Najet Laabidi, avocate engagée pour l’Etat de droit en Tunisie

In Democracy, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, World Law on May 27, 2017 at 8:35 AM

NAJET LAABIDI, AVOCATE ENGAGÉE POUR L’ÉTAT DE DROIT EN TUNISIE

Par Bernard Henry

«L’Etat de droit, ce n’est certainement pas le droit de l’Etat». Le 5 mai dernier, Frédéric Sicard, Bâtonnier de l’Ordre des Avocats de Paris, accueillait dans la bibliothèque du Palais de Justice les élèves-avocats qui venaient de prêter serment en audience solennelle. A deux jours du second tour d’une élection présidentielle de tous les dangers où, comme quinze ans auparavant, le choix allait être entre les valeurs républicaines et l’extrême droite, le premier des avocats parisiens avait pour les nouveaux entrants des paroles très politiques – sans bien sûr l’être tout-à-fait, réserve de l’avocat oblige.

Maître Sicard n’aurait aucune raison de se réjouir, encore moins sa Vice-bâtonnière Dominique Attias, native de Tunis, s’il savait quel est, par-delà la Méditerranée, le sort de sa consœur Najet Laabidi dans cette Tunisie présentée comme le seul et unique succès des révolutions arabes, là où l’Egypte est revenue au point de départ et où Libye et Syrie ont sombré dans le chaos et la guerre.

Une militante acharnée des Droits de l’Homme

Originaire de Siliana, dans le nord-ouest voisin de l’Algérie, Najet Laabidi s’inscrit à la Faculté des Sciences juridiques, politiques et sociales de Tunis, la plus réputée du pays. Elle prête serment en 2008 à Tunis et ouvre son cabinet dans le quartier universitaire d’El Manar.

FrontLine Defenders

Immédiatement, la jeune avocate s’implique dans la défense des Droits de l’Homme. Dans ce qui est encore la Tunisie des Ben Ali-Trabelsi, où les opposants vivent dans la clandestinité ou se retrouvent derrière les barreaux au moindre mot de trop, elle s’engage dans des procès touchant à la liberté d’expression. Ses plaidoiries attirent l’attention d’autres avocats engagés, tels que Khaled Krichi, Mohamed Nouri et Samir Dilou – qui deviendra quelques années plus tard ministre au nom du parti islamiste Ennahda.

Désormais reconnue par ses pairs et camarades de combat, Najet Laabidi rejoint l’association Liberté Equité, dont elle entre bientôt au Conseil d’administration. Puis vient la révolution en 2011, et pour l’avocate, ce n’est que le début du combat.

A l’épreuve de la justice «révolutionnaire»

Le 8 novembre 2011, choisie et contactée pour représenter des victimes de mauvais traitements dans l’affaire Barakat Essahel, l’avocate subit un déluge d’insultes et de menaces de la part de proches d’anciens officiels de l’Etat poursuivis en justice pour avoir torturé des prisonniers politiques sous Ben Ali. D’abord par téléphone avant le procès, puis le jour venu, en pleine salle d’audience.

La police militaire évacue les auteurs des injures et menaces, mais ne lève pas le petit doigt pour protéger l’avocate. Il lui est ordonné de ne pas quitter le prétoire jusqu’à ce que tout le monde soit sorti. Elle décline une proposition de la raccompagner en voiture. Le ton est donné de ce que seront les années qui suivent pour Najet Laabidi.

Quatre ans plus tard, deuxième round. Le 26 novembre 2015, elle plaide lors d’une audience d’opposition contre Ezzedine Jenayeh, ancien Directeur de la Sûreté nationale sous Ben Ali, condamné par contumace pour délit de violences dans l’affaire Baraket Essahel et qui conteste le jugement. D’entrée, la procédure consacre l’arbitraire.

«Quand il a fait opposition, contrairement à la loi et au Code de procédure pénale, il s’est présenté en prévenu libre et la Chambre correctionnelle a refusé la présence des avocats des parties civiles, dans l’ignorance totale du principe du droit à la défense et du procès équitable». La Présidente du Tribunal militaire permanent, Leila Hammami, rejette en bloc les constitutions des parties civiles, niant aux avocats jusqu’au droit de représenter leurs clients. Najet Laabidi et son confrère Abderraouf Ayadi dénoncent des vices de procédure, et aussitôt, Leila Hammami porte plainte contre les deux avocats pour «outrage à un fonctionnaire de l’ordre judiciaire». Rien que ça.

Dans le viseur d’une justice (toujours) politique

Entretemps, aux côtés d’Abderraouf Ayadi, Najet Laabidi est devenue membre de la direction d’un parti politique, Attayar, ou en français, le Courant Démocrate, fondé par l’ancien ministre Mohamed Abbou qui fut lui-même avocat et détenu politique puis gréviste de la faim sous Ben Ali. Et comme par hasard, eux deux et eux seuls sont visés par la plainte.

Ils se retrouvent convoqués le 17 décembre 2015 devant le juge d’instruction du Tribunal militaire permanent de première instance de Tunis. Ils ne vont pas à sa rencontre, demeurant à l’extérieur, entourés de confrères et de sympathisants. Ce sont le Président de la Section des Avocats de Tunis, en quelque sorte le Bâtonnier local de l’Ordre tunisien qui est unitaire et national, et une délégation d’avocats qui se rendent chez le magistrat à leur place par solidarité.

Devant le Tribunal militaire, les deux avocats avaient accusé Leila Hammami de partialité, les propos de Najet Laabidi ayant été filmés puis diffusés sur les réseaux sociaux. «Dans ma vidéo,» rappelle l’avocate, «j’ai évoqué les circonstances de l’impunité, j’ai souligné que le Tribunal militaire ne pouvait pas consacrer les principes d’un procès équitable car, dans ce corps d’Etat, il y a toujours la corruption». Nouvelle plainte de Leila Hammami le 21 décembre 2015, la magistrate versant au dossier un CD de l’enregistrement de Najet Laabidi lui disant ses quatre vérités.

Il n’en faut pas plus au Procureur général près la Cour d’appel de Tunis pour lancer des poursuites sur le fondement de l’Article 128 du Code pénal pour «outrage à un fonctionnaire public». Convoquée le 1er février 2016 devant le juge d’instruction du Tribunal de première instance de Tunis, Najet Laabidi refuse de comparaître. Le 12 octobre 2016, elle est condamnée par contumace à un an d’emprisonnement.

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Informée de sa condamnation seulement le 24 avril dernier, l’avocate y fait opposition. A l’issue de son audience le 10 mai dernier, Najet Laabidi est condamnée à six mois de prison, décision dont elle interjette immédiatement appel. Mais qui n’aurait jamais dû intervenir en premier lieu, puisque ce qu’on lui reproche, outre peut-être son appartenance à un parti politique d’opposition, c’est d’avoir agi comme ce qu’elle est – une avocate.

Symbole d’un Etat de droit introuvable

Poursuivie pour l’exemple, Najet Laabidi l’est sans nul doute. Mais au-delà de l’exemple, de par l’acharnement judiciaire dont elle fait l’objet depuis les premiers mois de la Tunisie du 14 janvier, elle est devenue un symbole. Le symbole d’un Etat de droit que tous appellent de leurs vœux, dont chacun(e) se dit le meilleur espoir pour peu qu’on lui confie le pouvoir, mais qui, dans les faits, plus de six ans après la fuite de Ben Ali et sa famille, demeure introuvable en Tunisie.

Lors des premières poursuites contre Najet Laabidi en 2011, l’Association of World Citizens (AWC) était intervenue auprès des autorités tunisiennes pour la soutenir. Nous l’avons fait cette fois encore, conscients de ce que représentent des poursuites contre un avocat dans un pays qui, six ans et demi après avoir renversé la dictature dans une révolution inattendue du monde, en particulier des «orientalistes», peine encore à asseoir l’Etat de droit. Quel que soit le système juridique que l’on se choisit, jamais un tel résultat ne peut être atteint si l’on ne respecte pas la liberté d’exercice professionnel des avocats.

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Najet Laabidi a elle aussi bien conscience de la portée, bien au-delà du simple cadre judiciaire, du procès en conscience professionnelle dont elle fait l’objet. «Ce dossier démontre que l’impunité persiste, que le système de corruption existe encore, avec l’absence d’une volonté politique d’assurer l’indépendance de la justice ainsi que le respect des avocats et de leur immunité.»

L’avocate ne cache pas son dépit devant les fruits amers d’une révolution saluée de par le monde et qui, selon elle, n’a rien réglé des maux anciens de la Tunisie. «L’Etat de droit réside dans le respect des lois, et surtout, de l’égalité pour tous devant la règle de droit, chose qui n’existe malheureusement toujours pas en Tunisie,» n’hésite-t-elle pas à conclure. «Aujourd’hui, les victimes de la torture, mais aussi celles de la corruption, n’ont pas réussi ni à avoir leurs droits, ni à poursuivre les tortionnaires et les corrompus».

Sous Ben Ali, un silence aussi pesant que feutré entourait les dissidents et défenseurs des Droits de l’Homme pourchassés par le régime. Couronné «rempart contre l’islamisme», l’ancien Premier Ministre de Habib Bourguiba, dont il avait été le «tombeur» en 1987, n’avait rien à craindre des grands de la Méditerranée. Jacques Chirac lui-même avait déclaré à Tunis en 2003 : «Le premier des Droits de l’Homme, c’est de manger», autrement dit, Tunisiens taisez-vous et finissez vos assiettes.

Depuis la révolution, la Tunisie où, jadis, le simple fait d’être membre d’Ennahda faisait de vous un terroriste a connu successivement le retour de bâton islamiste, puis le retour en grâce des anciens du Rassemblement constitutionnel démocratique de Ben Ali à travers le nouveau parti Nidaa Tounes. Les anciens refuzniks non-islamistes, qu’ils se nomment Taoufik Ben Brik, Sihem Ben Sedrine, Radhia Nasraoui ou Hamma Hammami, ont connu, libres et au grand jour, des destins et des fortunes diverses. La Tunisie n’est plus telle que Ben Ali la tenait, mais elle n’est pas pour autant telle que les opposants au dictateur la rêvaient. On y mange moins qu’avant, les prix des denrées alimentaires ayant flambé, et l’on y est à peine plus libre.

Mais l’Etat de droit voulu par la révolution, crié dans les «Dégage !» des Tunisiens à Ben Ali en janvier 2011, vit toujours. Il vit dans l’esprit et le cœur d’une avocate comme Najet Laabidi, dont le prénom signifie «délivrance» et qui, un jour, sera peut-être celle de son peuple en laquelle elle croit tant.

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

Saudi Arabia: Still Lost in the Sands of War

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

SAUDI ARABIA: STILL LOST IN THE SANDS OF WAR

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

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

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

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King Salman of Saudi Arabia

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

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

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

1) an immediate ceasefire ending all foreign military attacks;

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

3) a broad national dialogue;

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

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

We can, alas, only repeat ourselves today.

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Note:

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

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

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

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

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

Par René Wadlow et Bernard J. Henry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Syria: Armed Conflict Resolution and the Reconstruction of an Inclusive and Just Society

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on April 3, 2017 at 10:45 PM

SYRIA: ARMED CONFLICT RESOLUTION AND THE RECONSTRUCTION OF AN INCLUSIVE AND JUST SOCIETY

By René Wadlow

On April 5, 2017, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) will hold a joint conference on the future of Syria and its region. “Civil Society” is invited to participate, but it is not clear in advance if the Brussels meeting will be a “fundraising” one, in which case most Nongovernmental Organizations (NGO) in consultative status with the UN will have little to contribute or if there will be wider aims.

The EU-UN meeting is the third in a short space of time concerning Syria, a reflection of concern with the refugee flow and the continued violence and suffering in Syria and Iraq. The following is a text written on behalf of the Association of World Citizens (AWC) that is being sent to governments in advance of the April 5 conference. The text notes earlier appeals and efforts of the AWC in the Syria-Iraq-Turkey conflicts.

Following the January 23-25, 2017 talks in Astana, Kazakhstan sponsored by the Russian Federation, Turkey, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, a new round of United Nations (UN)-sponsored talks, March 23-31 was held in Geneva (informally called Geneva 4). The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, has led the UN, Geneva and Lausanne-based talks. Not all the parties involved in the Syria-Iraq conflicts are participants in the talks. ISIS and the Kurds were not present, nor have all segments of the opposition to the Government of President Bashar al-Assad been formally present. What informal talks are held in Geneva hotels and restaurants during the negotiations are not officially reported. There is a large and active Kurdish community in the Geneva area and some may be spokespersons for the effort to create Rojava, a Kurdish autonomous zone in Northern Syria that might form some sort of association with the Kurdish autonomous area of Iraq.

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The Geneva-based talks have concerned short-term issues such as a ceasefire, safety of Syrian civilians and humanitarian access. There have also been longer-range issues concerning political processes such as a transition administration, constitutional changes, and elections for a new, more broadly based government.

Parallel to the intra-Syrian talks mediated by Mr. de Mistura, the UN has been concerned with the human rights issues having created an Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic as well as a joint UN-Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons investigative mechanism.

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The Association of World Citizens (AWC), a Nongovernmental Organization in consultative status with the UN, active on issues of the resolution of armed conflicts and the promotion of human rights, had welcome a July 20, 2011 call of then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for an inclusive dialogue to respond to pressing grievances and longer-term concerns of the Syrian people. The AWC, in a message to the Secretary-General, encouraged broad participation of Syrian civil society in such a dialogue and indicated that the AWC, knowing the possible usefulness of international NGOs in conflict resolution, would help facilitate such discussions in any way considered appropriate.

In December 2011, there was the start of a short-lived Observer Mission of the League of Arab States. In a February 9, 2012 message to the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, Ambassador Nabil el-Araby, the AWC proposed a renewal of the Arab League Observer Mission with the inclusion of a greater number of NGO observers and a broadened mandate to go beyond fact-finding and thus to play an active conflict resolution role at the local level in the hope to halt the downward spiral of violence and killing.

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

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The fighting in Syria, Iraq and parts of Turkey has led to a large number of displaced persons and refugees. The response of governments to the refugee flow has been very uneven, welcoming in a few cases, outright rejection in other cases. The AWC early on called for a UN-led conference on refugees and internally displaced persons. The AWC welcomed and participated in the UN conferences on refugees and humanitarian aid.

The armed conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan have led to serious violations of humanitarian international law: attacks of medical facilities and personnel, the execution of prisoners of war, the use of torture, the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage, the deliberate attacks on civilian populations, the use of weapons banned by international treaties. Therefore, the AWC has stressed the need for a UN-led conference to reaffirm humanitarian international law. If strong support for international law is not manifested now, there is a danger that violations will become considered as “normal”, and thus will increase. Strong measures of support for humanitarian international law are needed to be undertaken now.

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The structures of government, the authority, and the geographic limits of administrative regions, the rights and participation in national life of minorities have been issues in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon since the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. Appropriate forms of government which allow both for local autonomy and regional cooperation need to be developed. The search for an appropriate structure for those considering themselves to be Kurds has been a particularly difficult issue often leading to violence. The AWC which has a decentralization, federalist tradition in the spirit of Alexandre Marc and Denis de Rougemont, has highlighted that federalism and decentralization are not steps toward the disintegration of a State but rather are efforts to find a more just structure of State organization and regional cooperation.

The AWC welcomes the April 5, 2017 EU-UN conference on Syria and the region. The AWC reconfirms its willingness to cooperate fully in the vast and critical effort for an end to the armed conflict and a development of an inclusive and just society.

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

Robert Muller (March 11, 1923 – September 20, 2010): Crossing Frontiers for Reconciliation

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Human Development, Human Rights, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on March 11, 2017 at 9:47 AM

ROBERT MULLER (MARCH 11, 1923 – SEPTEMBER 20, 2010): CROSSING FRONTIERS FOR RECONCILIATION

By René Wadlow

“The time has come for the implementation of a spiritual vision of the world’s affairs. The entire planet must elevate itself into the spiritual, cosmic throbbing of the universe.”

— Robert Muller

Robert-Muller

Robert Muller, whose birth anniversary we mark on March 11, was the former Assistant Secretary-General for Economic and Social Service of the United Nations (UN), and, after his retirement, he served as Honorary President of the Association of World Citizens (AWC).

He was brought up in Alsace-Lorraine still marked by the results of the First World War. As a young man, he joined the French Resistance movement during the Second World War when Alsace-Lorraine had been re-annexed by Germany. At the end of the War, he earned a Doctorate in Law and Economics at the University of Strasbourg. Strasbourg was to become the city symbolic of French-German reconciliation and is today home of the European Parliament.

Determined to work for peace having seen the destructive impact of war, he joined the UN Secretariat in 1948 where he worked primarily on economic and social issues. For many years, he was the Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). His work with ECOSOC brought him into close contact with Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) whose work he always encouraged.

In 1970, he joined the cabinet of the then Secretary-General U Thant, who was Secretary-General from 1961 to 1971. U Thant had a deep impact on the thinking of Robert Muller. U Thant’s inner motivations were inspired by a holistic philosophy drawn from his understanding of Buddhism, by an intensive personal discipline and by a sense of compassions for humans. U Thant had been promoted to his UN post by the military leaders of Burma who feared that had he stayed in the country, he would have opposed their repressive measures and economic incompetence. Although U Thant was reserved in expressing his spiritual views in public speeches, he was much more willing to discuss ideas and values with his inner circle of colleagues. U Thant held that “the trouble of our times is that scientific and technological progress has been so rapid that moral and spiritual development has not been able to keep up with it.”

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U Thant (left) shaking hands with then U. S. President John F. Kennedy (right).

Muller agreed with U Thant’s analysis. As Muller was a good public speaker, he often expressed these views both in UN meetings and in addresses to NGOs and other public meetings. Muller became increasingly interested in the views of the French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who had lived his last years of his life in New York City. For Teilhard, as he wrote in Phenomenon of Man, “No longer will man be able to see himself unrelated to mankind neither will he be able to see mankind unrelated to life, nor life unrelated to the universe.”

Muller saw the UN as a prime instrument for developing a sense of humanity as all members of one human family and for relating humans to the broader community of life and Nature. As Muller wrote, “We are entering one of the most fascinating and challenging areas of human evolution. In order to win this new battle for civilization, we must be able to rely upon a vastly increased number of people with a world view. We need world managers and servers in many fields.”

I had the pleasure of knowing Robert Muller well as he was often in Geneva for his UN economic and social work and, at that time, had a home in France near Geneva, where he did much of his writing. Muller was also deeply influenced by the thinking of another Alsatian, Albert Schweitzer, who had also spent most of his life outside France.

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Albert Schweitzer, the legendary humanitarian who coined the concept of “reverence for life” (Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben).

I had known Albert Schweitzer when I was working for the Ministry of Education of Gabon in the early 1960s. Both Schweitzer and I, influenced by Norman Cousins, had been active against A-Bomb tests in the atmosphere, and so I had been welcomed for discussions at the hospital in Lambaréné. For Muller, Schweitzer with his philosophy of reverence for life and the need for a spiritual – cultural renewal was a fellow world citizen and a model of linking thought and action.

For Muller, the UN was the bridge that helped to cross frontiers and hopefully to develop reconciliation through a common vision of needs and potential for action.

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Robert Muller, an example for all of us at the Association of World Citizens.

Notes:

For two autobiographic books, see Robert Muller. What War Taught Me About Peace (New York: Doubleday) and Robert Muller, Most of All, They Taught Me Happiness (New York: Doubleday, 1978).

 

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

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