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A New Start for Stability in Libya

In Africa, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Libya, Middle East & North Africa, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations on February 17, 2021 at 10:21 PM

By René Wadlow

The 74 members of the Libya Political Dialogue Forum meeting in Geneva, Switzerland with the mediation of the United Nations, on February 5, 2021, announced the creation of a new executive authority for all of Libya. This interim unity government would lead the administration until national elections which are to be held on December 24, 2021. This interim executive authority has the mandate to fulfill the October 23, 2020 Ceasefire Agreement which calls for a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of all foreign fighters.

This new interim executive authority by its membership, tries to build a balance among the three geographic divisions of the country. It also tries to build on new faces which have been relatively not directly involved in the troubled situation since the 2011 end of the government of Muammar Qaddafi.

The new interim executive will have a three-person Presidency led by Mohammad Younes Memfi. He was born in 1958. He is an engineer and businessman from Misrata. He was educated in Canada and has not been directly involved in politics before. The other two members of the Presidency are Abdullah Hussein Al-Lafi, more involved in politics but not in the first ranks, and Mossa Al-Koni, an ethnic Tuareg from the south near the frontier with Mali. Abdul Hamid Mohammed Dbeibah will serve as Prime Minister under this new Presidency.

Mohammed Younes Memfi

There is still a long road ahead to create meaningful reconciliation among the divisions based on geography, tribal networks, and religious brotherhoods. At Independence in 1951, authority rested with King Sayyid Idris (1890-1983), the leader of an important Islamic Brotherhood who remained more concerned with religious reforms than with the structure of the government. (1)

When the military officers led by Colonel Muammar Qaddafi took power in a coup in September 1969, there was for a short time some discussion as to the forms that the government should take. Colonel Qaddafi wanted to do away with parliamentary government and representative elections in favor or people’s committees, a people’s congress and revolutionary committees – all held together by the ideological assumptions of his Third Universal Theory – a concept that embodied anti-imperialism, Arab unity, Islamic socialism and direct popular democracy. (2)

General Khalifa Haftar

Disagreements on the nature of the State had led to important divisions among the ruling circle, especially in 1975. However, all open discussions on the nature of the State, of the relations between State and society, of the place of tribes and of religious brotherhoods were considered subversive, in fact treason. In practice, but not in theory, decision-making was in the hands of Colonel Qaddafi, his family, friends, and tribal allies. (3)

Since the end of the Qaddafi government, the country has been largely divided into three unstable zones: The West with Tripoli as the main city, with a “Government of National Accord” led by Faiez Sarraj, an East around Benghazi, with the “National Libyan Army” under General Khalifa Haftar, and the south divided among many political, tribal factions.

However, both the West and the East contain different armed tribal groups, Islamic militias and armed groups linked to the exploitation of migrants, trafficking in arms and drugs. As the disorder dragged on, more and more outside States became involved to different degrees and in different ways: Russia, Turkey, Egypt, France, the USA and to some extent the African Union.

To what extent the new interim authority will be able to create public services, limit outside influences and create appropriate forms of government will have to be seen. Libya merits close attention.

Notes
1) For a useful analysis of Libyan governmental structures see J. Davis, Libyan Politics, Tribes and Revolution (London: I. B. Tauris, 1987)
2) See M. M. Ayoub, Islam and the Third Universal Theory: The religious thought of Muammar al Qadhdhafi (London: Kegan Pail, 1987)
3) See René Lemarchand (Ed), The Green and the Black, Qadhafi’s Politics in Africa (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988)

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

Ethiopia: Storm Clouds Getting Darker

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, Sudan, The Search for Peace on January 24, 2021 at 8:20 PM

By René Wadlow

In an earlier article on the armed conflict in Ethiopia “Storm Clouds Gather Over Ethiopia” I agreed with other observers of the situation that one knows when an armed conflict starts but not when it ends. There is always a real danger that violence spreads to other parts of the country and that neighboring States get involved. Now both dangers have taken form in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is a federal republic structured on the basis of 10 states or provinces. The provinces have the name of the major ethnic group within that province. However, no province is populated exclusively by one ethnic group. Through history and economic development people have moved to areas beyond their original “homeland”. However, people from a “foreign” ethnic group can be made to feel as “second class citizens”, and there may be violence used against them in times of tensions.

A neighborhood in Tigray

Thus, in the far west of Ethiopia, there is a small province called Benishangul-Gumuz, named after two ethnic groups, the Berta and the Gamuz. However, there are three other ethnic groups which also consider the area as their “homeland”. The area has good farmland and is a major producer of vegetables. Thus, Amhara farmers from the larger neighboring Amhara province have progressively settled in Benishangul-Gumuz. Tensions over land use has grown between the Amhara farmers and the dominant Gumuz. At the same time that the federal government forces were moving into the Tigray province, Gumuz militias attacked the Amhara settlers. The federal government sent in troops to restore order, but troops can not deal with the basic issues of ethnic-based tensions and disputes over land ownership which is often collective rather than individual. Thus, the tensions and violence in Tigray and Benishangul-Gumuz provinces may spread to other provinces as well.

In addition to the dangers of violence spreading to other provinces, there is a real danger that neighboring Sudan will get involved. The Ethiopian federal government’s military action within Tigray province has caused an exodus of some 50,000 persons across the frontier into Sudan. A smaller number have crossed the frontier into South Sudan.

Abdallah Hamdok

The Sudanese government in far-away Khartoum has been preoccupied with restructuring itself after the 30 years of governance by Omar al-Bashir came to an end in April 2019. However, the entry of a large number of refugees from Tigray must have pushed some in the Sudanese government to look at maps to see where all this trouble was going on. They saw that part of the trouble was near the Al-Fashaga triangle, a small area but of rich farmland largely farmed by Ethiopian farmers. However, Al-Fashaga is within the territory of Sudan, set by the British-Egyptian condominium in 1902 and 1907.

The Ethiopian settlers in Al-Fashaga had created self-protection militias without a relation to the Ethiopian central army. However, with the the current Ethiopian army near Al-Fashaga, the Sudanese government is rushing tanks and troops to the area. The acting Prime Minister of Sudan, Abdallah Hamdok, has publicly reaffirmed Sudanese ownership of the area. While it is difficult to have accurate reporting from Al-Fashaga, some nongovernmental organizations working with refugees in Sudan near the frontier have warned of possible fighting and increased tensions. There are real possibilities of the storm clouds getting darker.

Note:

An earlier article on the same subject from Prof. René Wadlow: Storm Clouds Gather Over Ethiopia.

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the 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.”

Notes

(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.

For a World Citizen Approach to Protecting Human Rights Defenders

In Africa, Asia, Being a World Citizen, Democracy, Europe, Human Rights, International Justice, Latin America, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on January 19, 2021 at 6:28 PM

By Bernard J. Henry

What are, if any, the lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 crisis? As far as we, World Citizens, are concerned, the most important one is undoubtedly this: As we have been saying since the early days of our movement, global problems require global solutions.

Beyond the appearance of a mere self-serving statement, this traditional World Citizen slogan finds a new meaning today. Never has it been so visible and proven that national sovereignty can be not only a hurdle to solving global problems, but a full-scale peril to the whole world when abused. While many European nations were quick to react to the virus as a major health crisis right from early 2020, others led by nationalists, namely the USA, the UK and Brazil, adamantly refused to take any action, dismissing the virus as harmless if not non-existent. Just like an individual who is not aware of being sick can pass the disease on others while behaving without precaution, a country that does not act wisely can contribute dramatically to spreading the disease throughout the world. And that is what happened.

No use beating about the bush – that kind of behavior is a violation of human rights, starting with the right to life and the right to health. Even though COVID-19 is first and foremost a medical issue, it also has implications in terms of human rights. There comes a question which has been with us since the beginning of the century: In the absence of a global institution, such as a global police service, in charge of overseeing respect for human rights worldwide, what about the people devoting their lives to performing this duty of public service, these private citizens whom we call Human Rights Defenders (HRDs)? Before COVID-19 ever appeared, many of them were already in danger. While vaccines and medicines are being developed to counter COVID-19, there does not seem to be a cure in sight for the perils HRDs face every day.

Legal, legitimate, but unrecognized

HRDs, people defending human rights, have existed from the early days of human civilization in one form or another. Since 1948 and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), followed by a number of treaties and similar declarations, it has obviously been viewed as more legitimate and legal to promote and protect rights which were now internationally recognized. The UDHR itself has made history by evolving from a non-binding resolution of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly to an instrument of customary international law, toward which states feel obligated through, as international law puts it, opinio juris. But in a postwar Westphalian world where only states had international legal personality, the people defending the rights enshrined in the UDHR, in other words HRDs, long remained deprived of formal recognition.

It all changed in 1998, when the UN General Assembly celebrated the half-century of existence of the UDHR by presenting it with a companion text, officially called Resolution 53/144 of December 9, 1998 but better known as the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms – in short, the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (DHRD).

Like the UDHR, the DHRD was born “soft law”. But the resemblance stops there. In twenty-two years of existence, the DHRD has been nowhere near accepted by states under opinio juris. Accepting international human rights is one thing, but endorsing the creation, if only morally speaking, of an international category of people authorized to go against the state to promote the same rights, well, that continues to be more than the nation-state can live with. Everywhere in the world, HRDs feel the pain of that denial of recognition.

Human rights under attack means defenders in danger

Traditionally, human rights in the Western sense of the word mean freedom of opinion and expression. These rights continue to be curtailed in too many countries, beyond geographical, cultural, religious, or even political differences. Inevitably, that goes for HRDs defending these rights too. The two “least democratic” countries sitting as Permanent Members on the UN Security Council, Russia and China, also stand out as world leaders in political repression.

During the Cold War, the Eastern bloc would put forward economic and social rights as a counterpoint to the said Western notion. Even though human rights were “reunified” over thirty years ago, economic and social rights remain taboo in various parts of the world. In Thailand and Nicaragua, health workers have been punished for demanding better equipment to treat COVID-19 patients. In the Philippines, city residents who pushed for more adequate shelter in times of lockdown were similarly repressed by their government.

Cultural rights, often alongside indigenous rights, can truly be described as disturbing all forms of governments in countries which used to be colonies of Western powers, from Latin America, most recently in Honduras and Paraguay, to Asia with such examples as Malaysia and Indonesia. In such countries, being an HRD trying to advance the rights of indigenous groups all but equates trying to tear the whole nation apart.

Everywhere in the world, such typical 21st-century pressing issues as LGBT rights and, more than ever since the #MeToo scandal, women’s rights may be popular causes, but taking them up almost systematically means trouble, be it in North African countries like Egypt and Tunisia or in the European nations of Poland and Andorra.

Last but not least, even though one might think the wide consensus on the issue opens doors for action, defending environmental rights is proving no easy task. From Madagascar to Belarus, trying to get your government to live up to its responsibilities is bound to create a most unsafe environment for you.

For those who need and manage to flee, being abroad does not even mean being safe anymore. China has been found to be heavily spying on activists from the Uyghur minority living in foreign countries, and last month the AWC had to send an appeal to the authorities of Canada regarding a Pakistani HRD from the Baloch minority group who was found dead in Toronto, after the local police service said the death was not a criminal act but a fellow Baloch HRD and refugee there expressed serious doubts.

When the DHRD should be providing greater relief and comfort for the performance of human rights work, HRDs continue to be denied any character of public service, leading to acute stigmatization, intimidation, and ultimately repression. As many signs that the nation-state is losing its nerves in trying to defend a Westphalian national sovereignty that COVID-19 has now largely proved is out of date.

Shattering national borders – and human rights, too

One form of human rights abuse that has become particularly salient since the late 2000s, further fueled by Brexit in 2016 and the now-ending Trump presidency since 2017, is the systematic persecution of refugees and migrants – and, more preoccupying still, of those nationals in the countries of arrival trying to lend a hand to the newcomers. In France, President Emmanuel Macron was thought to have been spared from the influence of populist parties backed by Vladimir Putin’s Russia; yet several activists have been prosecuted on these sole grounds, such as Martine Landry of Amnesty International France and Cédric Herrou, both from the Nice area near the Italian border. Eventually, both were cleared by the judiciary. In the USA, migrants’ rights activist Scott Warren was similarly prosecuted – and similarly acquitted. But in both countries and others still, the problem remains unsolved.

No wonder this is happening at all. Even those governments least favorable to the brand of xenophobia “exported” by Moscow since the last decade have become unfathomably sensitive to the issue of migration and asylum, as they too feel threatened by the outside world and flaunt their borders as ramparts, shielding them from some barbaric conduct with which they confuse different customs and religions, thus adopting the very same attitude as those populists they claim to be fighting. That leaves citizens trying to help refugees and migrants singled out as traitors and criminals.

The mass arrival of migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East in the summer of 2015 proved that Europe and, for this purpose, the rest of the world were wrong to assume that crises in other, distant parts of the world could never hit home too violently. In this case, the crisis bore a name – ISIS, the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Sham (the Levant)”. The Iraqi-born terrorist group had conquered a wide swath of land the previous year, seizing territory from both Iraq and Syria along the border, and established on it a “caliphate” that drew scores of individuals from many parts of the world, especially Europe and North Africa. The previous summer had seen its militias persecute the millennia-old Christian minority of Iraq and other religious groups such as the Yezidis. A year before the UN dared called it genocide, the AWC did.

When the Taliban’s “Islamic Emirate” of the late 1990s in Afghanistan had been recognized by three countries, no one recognized the “Islamic State”, let alone the caliphate. Obviously, recognizing the “caliphate” would have been both a violation of international law and an insult to all of ISIS’s victims back home and abroad. Nonetheless, as the French-American scholar Scott Atran and the specialist Website e-ir.info noted, the “ISIS crisis” proved that the traditional notion of the nation-state was now being violently rejected – violently, and ISIS leaders knew full well how to make good use of it, cleverly rendering their barbaric ways appealing to Westerners and North Africans frustrated at the lack of social and political change back in their home countries.

Questioning the nation-state in such an insane, murderous manner can only be diametrically opposed to the mindset of a World Citizen. Stopping borders from serving as ramparts against foreigners irrationally viewed as enemies, bringing the people of the world together regardless of political nationality, none of this can ever be compatible with the creation of yet another nation-state, albeit de facto, to terrorist ends at home and abroad. Even though the massive afflux of migrants and refugees was certainly no phenomenon the best-prepared state in the world could have successfully dealt with overnight, European nations failed at it miserably. In suspecting and rejecting foreigners for fear of terrorism, they only made it easier to commit terrorist attacks on their soil and endanger their own population, including the Muslim population which automatically becomes a scapegoat every time a jihadi terrorist attack is carried out. Nobody’s human rights were well-served and everybody’s human rights ended up as losers.

Globalizing solidarity with HRDs

There you have it. The harder states, European and others, strive to defend their borders as sacred, God-given privileges, the harder human rights and their defenders get hit and everybody loses.

Consequently, returning to the comparison with COVID-19, a true World Citizen perspective toward protecting HRDs must put forward what has been absent throughout the pandemic, in terms of both public health and patient care – globalization. Not the unfair, inhumane economic globalization we have known since the 1990s, for that one too is responsible for what has happened over the past twelve months. A World Citizen can only seek a globalization of solidarity, bearing in mind that, as French President Emmanuel Macron once put it, “the virus does not have a passport” and travels freely through all human beings who accept, or get forced, to become its living vehicles.

The very same principle should apply to human rights and their defenders. The UDHR is by name universal, as are all human rights. Therefore, why wouldn’t the defense of the same rights be universal by nature? If terrorism can be let to shun national borders in its war on the whole world, then why can’t brave, devoted HRDs enjoy the recognition they deserve, in every country, on every continent, and from every type of government? Why in the world would a terrorist get greater attention than a citizen dedicating their life to championing the dignity of all fellow human beings? If this divided world of ours could possibly find some sort of unity in support of health workers fighting COVID-19, then why not around HRDs, too?

World leaders can no longer look away from the issue. Uniting around one global problem means endorsing the principle of global solutions for everything else. If there is to be a different future for the world, a better future, then trusting and respecting HRDs, supporting and helping them, and ultimately joining their ranks are as many keys that will unlock a brand new era of shared true dignity.

Bernard J. Henry is the External Relations Officer of the Association of World Citizens.

Henry Usborne (January 16, 1909 – March 16, 1996) World Citizen Activist

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Democracy, Human Rights, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on January 16, 2021 at 6:42 PM

By René Wadlow

Henry Usborne was a British Member of Parliament (MP) elected in the Labour Party landslide in 1945. He was re-elected in 1950. He was an engineer and Birmingham businessman yet a socialist. Born in India, he always had a broad view of world politics. He was concerned that the United Nations (UN) whose Charter had been signed in June 1945 before the use of the atomic bombs had the same weaknesses as the League of Nations. Soon after his election, he spoke in Parliament for the UN to have the authority to enforce its decisions, an authority which the League of Nations lacked. He spoke out for a code of human rights and for an active world bank.

The early years of the UN were colored by the growing tensions between the USA and the USSR – the start of the Cold War. There were deep disagreements over the future of Germany. Non-official contacts between English and Soviets became more difficult. Proposals for international control of atomic energy were refused or not acted upon within the UN.

Thus Usborne, while still favorable to the efforts of the UN. felt that more popular support for a stronger UN was needed. He was influenced by the experience of the 1934 Peace Ballot which had been organized by the British League of Nations Association. Voters in this non-official vote were asked if they were in support of Britain remaining in the League of Nations. Over 11 million votes were cast with some 10 million in favor of remaining in the League. It is likely that those who wanted out did not bother to vote. Nevertheless, the 1934 Peace Ballot showed strong popular support for the League.

Usborne played a key role in 1946 in the creation by world citizens and world federalists from Western Europe and the USA in the creation in a meeting in Luxembourg of the Movement for a World Federal Government. With these new contacts he envisaged a vote in the USA and much of Western Europe to elect delegates to a Peoples’ World Convention which would write a constitution for a stronger world institution. He proposed that there be one delegate per million population of each State participating. He did not envisage that the USSR and its allies would participate, but he hoped that India would as Jawaharlal Nehru had played a key role in developing support for the United Nations. (1)

In October 1947 he went on a speaking tour of the USA. His ideas were widely understood as they followed somewhat the pattern of the United States (U. S.) Constitutional Convention. The delegates had originally been chosen to develop amendments to the existing Articles of Confederation. They set aside their mandate to draft a totally other basis of union among the states which became the U. S. Constitution. Understanding did not necessarily mean support; yet a fairly large number of organizations were willing to consider the idea.

However, in June 1950, war was started in Korea. Usborne and many others were worried that this was the start of the Third World War. Usborne as many other world citizens turned their activities toward the need for a settlement with the USSR and forms of arms control if there was no possibility for disarmament. The idea of the creation of an alternative world institution stronger than the UN was largely set aside. The focus became on strengthening the UN by finding programs in which the USSR and the USA could participate such as some of the early proposals for UN technical assistance programs. (2)

Usborne, as other world citizens, put an emphasis on developing a sense of world citizenship and a loyalty to all of humanity without spelling out the institutional structures such world citizenship should take. At the end of his second term in Parliament, he left party politics but remained an active world citizen always willing to share his convictions.

Notes

(1) See Manu Bhagavan. The Peacemakers: India and the Quest for One World (New Delhi: HarperCollins India, 2012)

(2) See Stringfellow Barr, Citizens of the World (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1952)

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.

Nagorno-Karabakh: Uneasy Ceasefire, Key Issues Remain

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

By René Wadlow

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

Nicol Pachanian

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

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

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

Ilham Aliyev

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

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

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

Building Stronger Conflict Prevention Networks

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Europe, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, The former Soviet Union, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on November 9, 2020 at 1:44 PM

By René Wadlow

As we reflect on current armed conflicts on which the Association of World Citizens (AWC) has proposed measures for conflict resolution – Nagorno-Karabakh, Yemen, Syria, Ukraine-Donetsk-Lugansk-Russia – we ask ourselves if we are to be overwhelmed by an endless chain of regional wars capable of devastating entire countries or will we help build the structures for the resolution of armed conflicts through negotiations in good faith. Can we help build stronger conflict prevention networks?

In each of these current conflicts, there is a mix of underlying causes: ethnic tensions, social inequality, environmental degradation, and regional rivalries. In each conflict, there were warning signs and a building of tensions prior to the outbreak of armed conflict. This was particularly true in Syria where there were four months of nonviolent protests and local organizing for reforms before violence began. Not enough was done by external nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to strengthen and protect these nonviolent reform movements in Syria. Given the complexity of conflict situations and the often-short time between the signs of tensions and the outbreak of violence, external peacebuilding organizations have to be able to move quickly to support local civil society efforts.

In each of these four situations, the degree of civil society organizations differs. We need to look carefully at the different currents within the society to see what groups we might be able to work with and to what degree of influence they may have on governmental action. Governments tend to react in the same ways. Governments cling to the belief that there can be simple security-related solutions to complex challenges as we see these days with the current use of police and military methods by the government of Belarus.

There is often a pervading mistrust between the central government and outlying territories. Such mistrust cannot be overcome by external NGOs. We can, however, reflect with local groups on how lines of communication can be established or strengthened.

Preventing the eruption of disputes into full-scale hostilities is not an easy task, but its difficulties pale beside those of ending the fighting once it has started. NGOs need to have active channels of communication with multinational governmental organizations such as the United Nations (UN) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). NGOs may have an easier time to be in contact with local nongovernmental forces in the conflict States as both the UN and the OSCE are bound by the decisions of governments.

Growing resource scarcity and environmental degradation, the depletion of fresh water and arable land played an important role in exacerbating conflicts in Yemen. The armed conflict has made things much worse. There is now a growing world-wide recognition of the environmental-conflict linkage. Thus, groups concerned with the defense and restoration of the environment need to become part of the network of conflict resolution efforts. There is much to be done. Building stronger conflict prevention networks should be a vital priority.

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.

Note
(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.

En Tunisie, les femmes ne doivent plus être les oubliées de la révolution

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Social Rights, Solidarity, Track II, United Nations, Women's Rights, World Law on October 13, 2020 at 12:07 PM

Par Bernard J. Henry et Cherifa Maaoui

Il est des anniversaires qui ne sont pas des fêtes. Cette année, la Déclaration et Programme d’action de Beijing adoptée à l’issue de la Quatrième Conférence mondiale sur les femmes, du 4 au 15 septembre 1995, a quinze ans. En décembre, la Résolution 1325 du Conseil de Sécurité des Nations Unies sur les conflits armés et les femmes aura vingt ans. Malgré ces deux anniversaires capitaux, dans le monde d’aujourd’hui, les femmes n’ont trop rien à fêter.

C’est encore plus vrai de celles du monde arabe, bientôt dix ans après les révolutions populaires parties de Tunisie avec l’éviction du Président Zine el Abidine ben Ali le 14 janvier 2011. La Tunisie, considérée comme le seul vrai succès du « printemps arabe » et dont les institutions héritées de cette époque tiennent toujours, tandis que l’Egypte est retournée vers l’autoritarisme et l’espoir s’est perdu dans les sables de la guerre en Libye, en Syrie et au Yémen. Epargnées par le conflit armé, les Tunisiennes n’en ont pas moins dû lutter, menacées dans leurs droits par la mouvance islamiste et jamais confortées dans ceux-ci par la droite « destourienne » se voulant héritière du bourguibisme.

Aux prises avec une incertitude politique inédite depuis la révolution de 2011, ouverte par le décès du Président Beji Caïd Essebsi en 2019, la Tunisie a connu une élection présidentielle marquée par le fait que l’un des deux candidats qualifiés pour le second tour, Nabil Karoui, se trouvait depuis peu en détention. En sortit vainqueur un conservateur assumé, le juriste Kaïs Saied, suivi du retour en force au parlement du parti islamiste Ennahda. Rien qui laisse augurer d’avancées dignes des deux anniversaires onusiens en Tunisie, où il ne manquait qu’un drame criminel pour venir plonger dans la terreur et la rage des femmes n’en pouvant plus d’être les oubliées des colères de l’histoire.

Les droits des femmes constamment écartés de la loi

En disparaissant, Beji Caid Essebsi laissait en héritage aux Tunisiennes un espoir déçu, ou plutôt, inaccompli. En novembre 2018, son gouvernement approuvait un projet de loi, transmis à l’Assemblée des Représentants du Peuple chargée de se prononcer, sur l’égalité des sexes dans l’héritage, là où un Code du statut personnel qui se distingue dans le monde arabe et musulman par son aspect moderniste et progressiste cohabite étrangement avec une survivance de la charia en droit tunisien n’accordant à une femme que la moitié de l’héritage d’un homme.

Beji Caïd Essebsi

Caid Essebsi décédé, son successeur Kaïs Saied élu dans un climat de chaos constitutionnel, le projet de loi tombait dans l’oubli. Fidèle, trop fidèle même, à ses annonces de campagne en faveur d’une prépondérance systématique de la charia en cas de conflit avec le droit civil, le nouveau chef d’Etat choisissait de célébrer la Fête nationale de la Femme Tunisienne le 13 août dernier en désavouant la notion d’égalité telle que défendue par le projet de loi.

Dans le même temps, Rached Ghannouchi, chef historique du parti islamiste Ennahda, devenait Président de l’Assemblée des Représentants du Peuple. Très vite, il trouvait sur son chemin une avocate et députée, Abir Moussi, du Parti destourien libre fondé par d’anciens responsables du Rassemblement constitutionnel démocratique, le parti unique sous Ben Ali dissous après la révolution.

Certes, les menaces d’Ennahda sur l’égalité des sexes en Tunisie, notamment à travers un projet de déclarer les femmes « complémentaires » des hommes et non leurs égales dans la future Constitution, ont laissé des souvenirs amers. Mais cet affrontement entre un ancien dissident devenu dignitaire et une bénaliste sans repentir offrait peu d’espérance, lui aussi, à des Tunisiennes dont les droits semblaient cette fois mis en sommeil pour longtemps.

Soudain, aux errements d’une politique tunisienne orpheline est venu s’ajouter un crime – plus exactement, un féminicide. De ceux qui sortent la politique du champ de la raison, faisant d’elle, à coup sûr, la politique du pire.

Quand un féminicide ravive le désir de voir l’Etat tuer

Le 21 septembre dernier, la famille de Rahma Lahmar, âgée de vingt-neuf ans, signalait la disparition de la jeune femme alors qu’elle rentrait de son travail. Quatre jours plus tard, son corps mutilé était retrouvé à Aïn Zaghouan, en banlieue de Tunis, et il apparaissait bientôt qu’avant d’être tuée, elle avait été violée. Rapidement, l’auteur présumé était appréhendé – un récidiviste condamné deux fois pour tentative de meurtre.

Rahma Lahmar, victime d’un féminicide en Tunisie

Il n’en fallait pas plus à l’opinion publique pour réclamer la peine de mort, jamais abolie en droit tunisien bien que faisant l’objet d’un moratoire depuis 1991. Les magistrats tunisiens continuent de l’infliger, quelques cent trente personnes se trouvent aujourd’hui dans le couloir de la mort en Tunisie, mais personne n’est exécuté. Le violeur et meurtrier de Rahma Lahmar doit l’être, estime la famille de la victime rejointe par une opinion publique excédée, ainsi que par un Kaïs Saied qui en vient lui-même à rouvrir la question de la peine de mort.

Kaïs Saied

Quelques jours après, l’Algérie voisine était ébranlée par un drame semblable. Le 1er octobre, une jeune femme de dix-neuf ans prénommée Chaïma tombait dans un piège tendu par un homme qui, à seize ans, l’avait violée et avait lui aussi eu affaire depuis lors à la justice de son pays. Dans une station-service désaffectée, à une cinquantaine de kilomètres à l’est d’Alger, il la violait, la frappait, puis la jetait à terre, l’aspergeait d’essence et la brûlait à mort. Comme son homologue tunisien, il était arrêté sous peu et son crime ignoble réveillait dans le pays des envies de peine de mort.

Chaïma, victime d’un féminicide en Algérie

Le 12 octobre, loin du monde arabe mais toujours dans le monde musulman, le Bangladesh, en proie à une vague d’agressions sexuelles, instaurait une peine capitale automatique pour le viol, sans s’attaquer en rien aux défauts de sa législation nationale en termes de violences contre les femmes.

En 2011, la révolution non-violente des Tunisiens avait inspiré le monde arabe jusqu’au Yémen. Aujourd’hui, le drame du viol mortel en Tunisie n’est peut-être pas ce qui donne envie de voir l’Etat faire couler le sang jusqu’en Asie, mais en tout cas, il n’y échappe pas. Pourquoi ?

La peine de mort, fausse justice et vrai symptôme de l’injustice

Quel que soit le crime commis, aussi abject soit-il et le viol puis le meurtre de Rahma Lahmar est l’archétype du crime impardonnable, l’Association of World Citizens (AWC) est par principe contre la peine de mort où que ce soit dans le monde. Par indulgence envers les criminels ? Par faiblesse dogmatique ? Ces arguments n’appartiennent qu’à ceux qui ne comprennent pas ce qu’est en réalité la peine de mort, non pas un châtiment judiciaire comme l’est, par exemple, la réclusion criminelle à perpétuité, mais un meurtre commis par l’Etat, à l’image de celui commis par le meurtrier que l’on cherche ainsi à sanctionner. Une vengeance, sans rapport aucun avec la justice qui doit punir les criminels des actes par lesquels ils se mettent eux-mêmes en dehors de la société. Comme le chante Julien Clerc dans L’assassin assassiné, par l’application de la peine capitale, le crime change de côté. Pire encore, là où un crime peut être commis sous une pulsion soudaine – qui ne l’excuse pas quand bien même – la peine de mort résulte immanquablement d’une délibération, consciente et volontaire, de citoyens agissant sous le couvert de la puissance publique.

Le violeur et assassin de Rahma Lahmar l’a privée pour toujours de son droit à la vie ; comment espérer réaffirmer les droits des femmes en Tunisie en appelant à ce qu’il soit lui aussi privé de son droit à la vie, plaçant ainsi l’Etat de droit au même niveau qu’un criminel récidiviste, ce qui serait du plus absurde et indécent ? Pas plus qu’elle n’a d’effet dissuasif prouvé, la peine de mort ne répare aucune injustice. Elle nous fait seulement perdre ce qui nous sépare des criminels. Pour quoi faire ?

Si la Déclaration et Programme d’action de Beijing en 1995, puis la Résolution 1325 du Conseil de Sécurité cinq ans plus tard, omettent toute référence à la peine capitale pour les crimes commis contre les femmes, ce n’est pas par hasard. On ne fait respecter les droits de personne en faisant couler le sang au nom de l’Etat, pas plus qu’on n’envisagerait de le faire par le crime.

En Tunisie, l’envolée des partisans de la peine de mort après celle de Rahma Lahmar en est, ironiquement, la preuve. Tant ils s’époumonent à crier vengeance, ils en oublient l’essentiel, la cause de tout le drame – la négation des droits des femmes. Et ce n’est même pas leur faute.

Seul le respect des droits des femmes peut créer la justice

Lorsqu’il s’agit du meurtre, que ce soit celui d’une femme, d’un homme voire d’un enfant, pour justifier leur acte injustifiable, les meurtriers ne sont jamais à court de raisons. En revanche, le viol ne s’explique, lui, que d’une seule façon. L’homme qui viole une femme la réduit à un corps, sans plus d’esprit, celui d’un être humain comme lui, doté du droit de refuser ses faveurs sexuelles si elle le souhaite. Ce corps privé de tout droit, déchu de la qualité d’être humain de sexe féminin, soumis par la brutale force physique, n’est plus que l’objet dont entend disposer à son gré l’homme qui viole. Autant le meurtre ouvre grand les portes de l’imagination, autant le viol verrouille la vérité, celle d’une négation de la féminité, une négation de la femme.

A quoi s’attend, sinon à cela, une société tunisienne qui, au gré des alternances politiques postrévolutionnaires entre islamistes et droite bourguibiste, ne défend que mollement les droits des femmes lorsqu’elle n’en vient pas ouvertement à les nier ? Dans un Maghreb et, plus largement, un monde arabe et musulman où son Code du statut personnel se détache depuis toujours comme étant d’avant-garde, une Tunisie qui s’interdit d’avancer ne peut que se voir reculer.

Rached Ghannouchi

C’est du reste ce qu’a bien compris Rached Ghannouchi, trop satisfait de pouvoir voler au secours de l’avocate et ancienne députée Bochra Bel Haj Hmida, en rien proche des positions d’Ennahda mais qui, pour avoir réaffirmé son opposition à la peine de mort en pleine affaire Rahma Lahmar, a subi un lynchage en règle sur les réseaux sociaux, jusqu’à un député notoirement populiste et sexiste qui s’est permis de tomber suffisamment bas pour imputer son refus de la peine capitale au fait qu’elle-même « ne risquait pas d’être violée ». De quoi faire passer les islamistes les plus réactionnaires pour des anges de vertu et ils savent en tirer profit.

Bochra Bel Haj Hmida

De tels propos, à l’aune du viol et du meurtre de Rahma Lahmar, sont immanquablement la marque d’une société qui manque à consolider dans sa législation les droits des femmes, ainsi qu’à les inscrire durablement dans sa morale civique et politique. Il paraît lointain, le temps où, en 2014, la Tunisie s’est débarrassée de ses dernières réserves envers la Convention des Nations Unies pour l’Elimination de toute forme de Discrimination envers les Femmes, la fameuse CEDAW, là où Algérie, Egypte, Libye, Syrie et Yémen conservent leurs propres réserves. Un engagement international ne sert à rien si, chez lui, l’Etat qui le souscrit en ignore ou viole l’esprit.

Inutile de réussir sa révolution si, ensuite, on rate son évolution. Sans des femmes sûres de leurs droits, réaffirmés dans la loi comme dans les esprits, la Tunisie en aura tôt fini d’être en termes économiques, sociaux ou sociétaux, une éternelle success story.

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

Cherifa Maaoui est Officier de Liaison Afrique du Nord & Moyen-Orient de l’Association of World Citizens.

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