The Official Blog of the

Archive for the ‘Solidarity’ Category

Pakistan Blasphemy Death Sentence Overturned: A One-time Event or a Trend Toward Justice?

In Asia, Current Events, Human Rights, NGOs, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, Track II, United Nations, Women's Rights on November 1, 2018 at 10:55 PM

By René Wadlow

On October 29, 2018, the Supreme Court of Pakistan reversed the decision of lower courts sentencing to death Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of four for blasphemy. After 3,422 days of imprisonment in solitary confinement, the Supreme Court reversed a 2010 lower court verdict. Asia Bibi is now in seclusion and will probably leave the country as some 60 persons in Pakistan have been murdered since 1990, accused of blasphemy.

Her case had drawn attention in Pakistan. Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab Province, was murdered by his bodyguard for commenting on the Bibi case and suggesting that the blasphemy laws should be modified or abolished. Shahbaz Phatti, the Central Government’s Minister for Minorities likewise was murdered for commenting on the Asia Bibi case. Already, there are angry groups in the streets near the homes of the Supreme Court justices attacking their decision. The military has been called to protect them, but radical Islamist groups such as the Tehreek-i-Labaik may incite more demonstrations.

Asia Bibi

During the presidency of General Zia ul-Haq (1977-1988) the Hudaad (Punishment) Ordinances were introduced in 1984 which “define crimes against Islam”. In hudaad cases, the testimony of a non-Muslim is considered worth half that of a Muslim. Section 298-B and 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code dealing with blasphemy singles out the Ahamadiyya as “non-Muslim”, considered by Sunni theologians as heretics, while the Ahmadi consider themselves as the final flowering of Islam. Shi’a Muslims have also been arrested for blasphemy as the law has been expanded to include defiling of the Prophet’s family and companions. (1)

Section 298-C is very broad. “Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammad (Peace be upon him) shall be punished with death.

While the blasphemy laws were originally directed against the Ahmadi, some of whom hold high position in society, the blasphemy laws are increasingly used against Christians who are often the rural poor, having been converted from low caste Hindus prior to Independence. While there is a small Protestant elite, the bulk of Christians in Pakistan are Roman Catholic and rural poor. Those in cities often carry out menial work, sweeping streets, garbage collection. Thus, when accused, it is difficult for them to pay a lawyer, and lawyers who have taken the defense have been threatened with death. In the climate of intolerance which prevails and in view of threats and pressures brought on the judiciary, it has become nearly impossible to obtain a fair hearing for those charged under the blasphemy laws.

In practice, the blasphemy charges are often used to mask more material motivations, often disputes over land ownership and land use as well as personal vendetta. The failure of successive Governments to bring under control the Islamist extremist movements in the country has strengthened their hands to victimize individuals and groups with impunity.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) is opposed to the death penalty in all cases, which certainly includes the “crime of blasphemy”. The AWC has appealed to the authorities of Pakistan to repeal the blasphemy laws and raised the Asia Bibi case in the human rights bodies of the human rights bodies of the United Nations (UN) in Geneva. There can be no doubt that freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief is of a fundamental character and arises from the inherent dignity and worth of the human person.

Capture d'écran 2018-11-01 23.48.17

In 1981, after almost 20 years of formulation and reformulation, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (GA Res 55, November 25, 1981). The Declaration represented the efforts of a relatively small group of governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) both religious and secular such as the AWC. The UN Commission on Human Rights, continued by the Human Rights Council, has a Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief who makes reports largely based on information provided by NGOs. The existence of the Special Rapporteur and thus an automatic agenda item allows NGO representatives to highlight issues as they develop. An example is my 2008 intervention at a time when the Government of Indonesia was about to follow the pattern of Pakistan in its attacks on the Ahmadiyya.

-- Logo 2017 --

         “Mr President, One of the important functions of NGO representatives in the work of our Council is that of ‘early warning’. By calling attention at the first signs of danger, our hope is that governments and NGOs working together in a cooperative spirit can uphold universally recognized human rights standards. Our aim is to avoid violence and to prevent an escalation of tensions which often take on a life of their own.

It is in this spirit that we raise what seems to be a growing pressure against the Ahmadiyya branch of Islam in Indonesia. We raise it under agenda item 9 as the defamation of a religion can be understood as attacks without reasoned discussion on the doctrine of a religion, on the founder of a religious movement or on the current representatives of a religious movement.

Thus, attacks on the Ahmadiyya are often focused on the founder of the movement: Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad who is considered by his followers as the promised Madhi who is to mark the birth of a new era. The movement began in the early 1880s in what was then British India’s Punjab province, now split between India and Pakistan.

From there, the movement has spread to many different countries, including Indonesia. In normally tolerant Indonesia, the Ahmadiyya movement has carried on its activities of worship, education and social services in relative peace for many years.

The causes of the recent flair up of defamation against the founder and the charges of being heretics against the Ahmadiyya followers need to be looked at carefully if we are to prevent what seems to be some violent attacks against flowers followed by police closings of places of worship. The constant defamation of the founder should serve as a warning. In cooperation with the Government of Indonesia, the Council must do all it can to encourage the restoration of mutual understanding among people of different religious movements. Thank you Mr. President”

The AWC welcomes the decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. We will have to watch if it is a one-time event not to be repeated soon or if, more hopefully, it is a sign of a trend toward justice on the part of the new Pakistan Administration.

Note:

(1) See Charles H. Kennedy. “Repugnance to Islam. Who Decides? Islam and Legal Reform in Pakistan” in International and Comparative Law, Vol. 41, Part 4, p. 772, October 1992.

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

Advertisements

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

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

Denis_Mukwege_VOA_cropped

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nadia Murad: A Yazidi Voice Against Slavery

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

Nadia Murad

 

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

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

Yazidi_Girl_tradicional_clothes

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

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

 

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

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

World Food Day: A Holistic World Food Policy is Needed

In Being a World Citizen, Human Development, Human Rights, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations on October 16, 2018 at 8:15 PM

By René Wadlow

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

Stringfellow Barr, Citizens of the World (1954)

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

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

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

FAO.png

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) did encourage governments to develop national food security policies, but the lack of policies at the world level has led to the increasing control of agricultural processes by a small number of private firms driven by the desire to make money.  Thus today, three firms — Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta — control about half of the commercial seed market worldwide.  Power over soil, seeds and food sales is ever more tightly held.

There needs to be detailed analysis of the role of speculation in the rise of commodity prices. There has been a merger of the former Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade to become the CME Group Market which deals in some 25 agricultural commodities. Banks and hedge funds, having lost money in the real estate mortgage packages of 2008 are now looking for ways to get money back. For the moment, there is no international regulation of this speculation. There needs to be an analysis of these financial flows and their impact on the price of grains. The word needs a market shaped by shared human values structured to ensure fairness and co-responsibility.

There is likewise a need for a serious analysis of the growing practice of buying or renting potential farm land, especially in Africa and South America, by foreign countries, especially China and the Arab Gulf states. While putting new land under cultivation is not a bad policy, we need to look at the impact of this policy on local farmers as well as on world food prices.

Cultivated land

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

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

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

Dampening the Fuse in the Wider Middle East

In Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Human Development, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on August 21, 2018 at 8:13 PM

By René Wadlow

 

In an article “The Fuse: A Chain of Nations in Conflict” in the Bulletin of Peace Proposals (Number 2, 1980), Alan and Hanna Newcombe compared adjacent States in conflict to a fuse of a bomb which would be a wider or more violent armed conflict.

“The diffusion of war from nation to nation along the chain is facilitated by certain properties of the chain: geographic adjacency, high military preparedness, substantive conflicts between successive neighbors and a chain of two against one alliance which cause each nation to see itself surrounded by enemies.”

There is now a danger of creating such a chain of two against one alliance which would institutionalize the current divides among States in the wider Middle East. Tentatively set for October 12-13, President Trump plans to bring Arab allies to the White House to forge a military alliance against Iran. Officially known as the Middle East Strategic Alliance, it is often called the “Arab NATO” – a Saudi-led effort that includes the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt and Jordan.

Hanna-Newcombe-01

Such a formal military-political alliance could be the match that sets the fuse burning. The wider Middle East is the scene of rapid socioeconomic change and political flux. Factions from this Arab-Islamic heartland are considered prime movers of terrorism, both within the heartland and reaching out to Europe and the USA. Countries from outside the heartland zone of instability, in particular the USA, Russia, and Western Europe consider this zone of Middle East important to their national interests.

Moreover, the Arab-Islamic heartland which includes Israel is by far the largest importer of major conventional weapons and associated military services. Hostility is the order of the day. “My enemy’s enemy is my friend” is the first rule of the conflict game.

Efforts by the United Nations (UN) to foster negotiations in good faith in the armed conflicts of Yemen, Syria, and Libya have not been successful. The withdrawal of the USA from the Iran Nuclear Accord has seriously weakened the Accord. Negotiations on Yemen are to start at the UN in Geneva in early September, but there are few signs that the parties in this conflict are willing to compromise. Negotiation among Israelis and Palestinians, at least in public, are at a dead point, and tensions are growing.

Aerial_bombardments_on_Sana'a,_Yemen_from_Saudi_Arabia_without_the_right_aircraft._injustice_-_panoramio

A wider awareness of the fuse effect should lead to a wider vision of the issues. The lack of this wider vision is one of the major weakness of the policy making of States. A wider vision would stress three inter-related aspects:

– the wide geographic area and the impact of extra-regional States;

– the many regional factors that interact: the social structures, the economic production, ethnic loyalties, religious convictions, political power struggles, external influences;

– the longtime dimension which has created the institutions and the attitudes now present.

Thus, there is a need for what is likely to be a slow and difficult reweaving of the social fabric of the Arab-Islamic heartland: a social weave that will include many different ethnic groups and religious currents, a weave that will integrate people at very different stages of modernization. This weave of a new society will have to integrate Israel which is a regional power in the same way that Israel will have to integrate the Arab-Islamic culture as a legitimate component of Israeli society. The weave of a new Arab-Islamic society will contain three types of strands:

– new attitudes;

– new institutions of consultation, compromise and cooperation;

– new governmental policies based on compromise and cooperation.

The Association of World Citizens has for a good number of years proposed a Conference for Security and Cooperation in the Middle East with full recognition of all States in the region, with steps toward a Middle East Common Market, and cooperation on water issues. Such a Middle East Conference is based on the Helsinki Conference of 1973-1975.

Some seeds for a Middle East version of the Helsinki process were planted but have not yet sprouted. The 1975 Helsinki Final Act has a chapter entitled “Questions relating to security and cooperation in the Mediterranean”. The link between security in Europe and the Mediterranean has been formalized starting in 1994 with the Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation: Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Israel. It is theoretically possible for leadership from these six states to propose an enlargement. Libya and Lebanon can also be considered Mediterranean. One could also start with a totally new process – inspired by the example of the Helsinki process but with no organic link.

Thus, it is not an “Arab NATO” which is called for but a Conference on Security and Cooperation in the Middle East that is needed.

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

Freedom From Fear: Still an Unmet Goal

In Being a World Citizen, Democracy, Human Development, Human Rights, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on July 27, 2018 at 6:13 PM

By René Wadlow

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States (1933-1945) in his January 6, 1941 State of the Union address to Congress presented the “Four Freedoms”, much of the world was at war: German troops were advancing in Europe as were the Japanese armies in China. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) said then, “I suppose that every realist knows that the democratic way of life is at this moment being directly assailed in every part of the world – assailed either by arms or by secret spreading of poisonous propaganda by those who seek to destroy unity and promote discords in nations that are still at peace … And the assailants are still on the march, threatening other nations, great and small.” Territorial conquest and resistance against occupation was the focus of attention of much of the world’s population.

The United States was not yet at war and defined its position as neutral. Many Americans hoped to be able to stay out of the war, having been disillusioned by the continuation of “power politics” in Europe and Asia after the end of the First World War despite the creation of the League of Nations.

510px-FDR_in_1933

In 1941, FDR was in the process of changing his own focus of attention from a “New Deal” President primarily concerned with the domestic consequences of the world-wide economic depression to becoming a world leader articulating liberal values for all the world’s population, and playing a major role in the founding of the United Nations (UN). Thus, in his presentation to Congress, he stressed world themes and called upon people to lift their eyes above the current aggression and control of land to focus upon the broader themes of a positive way of life.

The “Four Freedoms” presented to Congress were the essential need and right of every citizen of the world. As FDR put it “In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

  • The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.
  • The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world.
  • The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understanding which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants –everywhere in the world.
  • The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor – anywhere in the world.
    That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation”

Earlier in the address, FDR had outlined some of the steps needed to build the socio-economic framework for freedom from want:

  • Equality of opportunity;
  • Jobs;
  • Security;
  • The ending of special privilege for the few;
  • The employment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.

close-up-lady-liberty-new-york-city-60121

Many of those who would lead the struggle against colonialism in Asia and Africa heard in the Four Freedoms “everywhere in the world” the moral basis of their fight for equality and freedom. The address also inspired those in Latin America who felt the domination of United States economic power and who knew that political independence was only part of the story.

FDR held forth the possibility that the Four Freedoms would be attainable “in our own time and generation”. Thus, FDR calls us – especially those of us who were alive if not always politically active in 1941 – to analyze where we are today.

Freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion were relatively easy to incorporate into articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a Declaration which owes much to Eleanor Roosevelt, the first Chairperson of the UN Commission on Human Rights during its drafting stage (1946-1948).

THE_FOUR_FREEDOMS_-_MESSAGE_TO_THE_77TH_CONGRESS_-_NARA_-_515601

Today, the UN Human Rights Council has Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression and freedom of conscience which, each year, studies accusations of violations. They enter into discussions with governments so that government practice meets international standards. There are effective nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) which monitor the situation and who provide detailed information to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Likewise, there are problems concerning government limitations on freedom of expression and concern with the degree of concentration of power in a few private world communication empires, but no government today openly questions the right to freedom of expression.

Freedom from want has been difficult to translate into reality, although in the speeches of government, NGO and business representatives, there is wide agreement that poverty is a bad thing. Nevertheless, a haunting fear for many in the world – probably about one third of the world’s population – is daily survival: finding food, clean water, reasonable shelter, adequate protection against illness. Much of the work of the UN and its Specialized Agencies as well as numerous NGOs is devoted to the effort to provide “freedom from want”. Yet more needs to be done if we are to shoulder the responsibility of ridding the world of the constant fear of want.

Freedom from fear has been even more difficult to translate into daily reality, in part because fear has an individual character linked to self-alienation and its accompanying anxiety.

In FDR’s original presentation freedom from fear was directly linked to disarmament and measures against aggression. Unfortunately, there has been little “disarmament dividend” since the end of the Cold War in 1990 symbolized by the signing in November 1990 of the “Charter of Paris on the New Europe”. While there is no longer a reason to fear a war between the USA and Russia which could have led to a nuclear exchange, world politics is still largely determined by the nuclear-weapon States: the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel. Military budgets remain high – that of the USA reaches amounts that are difficult to justify even if one believes that arms provide “security”.

There are many armed conflicts within a State. Trans-frontier arms trade remains high and increasingly involves private as well as government buyers and sellers. The tasks which FDR set out for us in 1941 are still with us. The UN, national governments and NGOs all have a role to play in establishing the Four Freedoms at the heart of daily life. Thus, we must direct our thoughts along the lines of cooperation and creativeness.

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

Global Compact for Migration: A Necessary First Step

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Europe, Fighting Racism, Human Rights, Migration, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, Track II, United Nations, World Law on July 15, 2018 at 9:17 PM

By René Wadlow

On July 12, 2018, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly agreed to the text of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration after more than a year of discussions among Member States, nongovernmental organizations, academic specialists on migration issues as well as interviews with migrants and refugees.

The discussion had gained visibility in September 2016 at the UN General Assembly which set out the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. As a result, the International Organization for Migration, created in 1951 largely to deal with displaced people after the Second World War, was more formally integrated into the UN “family”.

Antonio Guterres

The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, welcomed the Global Compact, saying it reflected “the shared understanding by Governments that cross-border migration is, by its very nature, an international phenomenon and that effective management of this global reality requires international cooperation to enhance its positive impact for all. It also recognizes that every individual has the right to safety, dignity and protection.”

M-Lajcak

However, the General Assembly President, Miroslav Lajcak, also indicated the limitations of the agreement saying “It does not encourage migration, nor does it aim to stop it. It is not legally binding. It does not dictate. It will not impose. And it fully respects the sovereignty of States.” The Global Compact will be formally adopted by Member States at an intergovernmental conference in Marrakesh, Morocco on December 10-11. Thus, it is useful to see what the Compact does do and what non-governmental organizations concerned need to do between now and early December.

Citizens of the world have stressed that the global aspects of migration flows have an impact on all countries. The changing nature of the world’s economies modify migration patterns, and there is a need to plan for migration as the result of possible environmental-climate changes.

The current flow of migrants and refugees to Europe has become a high profile political issue. Many migrants come from areas caught up in armed conflict: Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia. The leaders of the European Union (EU) have been divided and unsure in their responses. Local solidarity networks that offer food, shelter, and medical care are overwhelmed. Political debates over how to deal with the refugees have become heated, usually with more heat than light. The immediacy of the refugee exodus requires our attention, our compassion, and our sense of organization.

Migrants

EU officials have met frequently to discuss how to deal with the migrant-refugee flow, but a common policy has so far been impossible to establish. At a popular level, there have been expressions of fear of migrants, of possible terrorists among them, and a rejection of their cultures. These popular currents, often increased by right-wing political parties make decisions all the more difficult to take. An exaggerated sense of threat fuels anti-immigration sentiments and creases a climate of intolerance and xenophobia.

Therefore, the Association of World Citizens, which is in consultative status with the UN, is stressing the need for cooperative efforts carried out in good faith to meet the challenges of worldwide migration and continuing refugee flows. There is a need to look at both short-term emergency humanitarian measures and at longer-range migration patterns, especially at potential climate.

We know that there are governments whose view is that “Yes, there are migrants and refugees, but we do not want them here. Our first and last line of defense is SOVEREIGNTY.” In addition to these governments, there are political parties and groups with a less legalistic line of defense. There are shades of racism and religious prejudice that go from pale to very strongly colored. We can expect these groups to be very active between now and early December to push government to indicate that the Global Compact is not a treaty, is not binding, and will not influence national decision making.

Thus, it is up to those holding World Citizen Values of equality, respect, cooperation and living in harmony with Nature to be even more active before December so that the Global Compact will serve as a framework for governmental and civil society action.

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

Gaza Crisis: A Cooperative Way Forward

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Development, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations on May 15, 2018 at 8:38 PM

“Men take great decisions only when crisis stares them in the face.”

Jean Monnet, one of the fathers of the European Comment Market

The shooting of Palestinian protesters by the Israeli military on May 14, 2018 on the frontier between the Gaza Strip and Israel has increased persistent tensions to a crisis level. The veto by the United States (USA) of a resolution within the United Nations (UN) Security Council to create an independent investigation of the situation prevents a clearer presentation of the situation.

The protests had a double theme: A short-term and a longer-term focus. The short term focus was on the need for an immediate improvement of social and economic life by lifting the blockage of goods imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt. The long-lasting embargo has crippled, and in some cases destroyed, the manufacturing and agricultural sectors in the Gaza Strip. The economic and social situation in Gaza distorts the lives of many with high unemployment, poor health facilities, and a lack of basic supplies.

Capture d'écran 2018-05-15 22.22.21

The longer-range issue is the right of return which gave the protest its name: The Great Return March. The issue concerns the claim of Palestinians to land and homes that they left at the time of the creation of the State of Israel due to the armed conflict which followed quickly after the proclamation of the State of Israel. The possibilities of financial compensation, of the return of a number of Palestinians, of financial compensation to Jews who left Arab countries at the same time are all issues that will be raised when there are serious negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. Negotiations on a broad range of issues and the creation of new, more just government structures are certainly needed. However, the strength of tensions and conflicts in the wider Middle East make it difficult to see when such over-all negotiations might start. Therefore, it may be useful to look at partial ways forward, perhaps starting with Gaza where current tensions are great.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) believes that there must be a sharp break in this pattern of violence by creating institutions of security, development, and cooperation. This association believes that longer-lasting measures must be undertaken that will allow new patterns of understanding and cooperation to be established.

In an earlier UN discussion of Gaza tensions, the AWC had proposed in a written statement to the Human Rights Council “Human Rights in Gaza: Need for a Special Focus and Specific Policy Recommendations” (A/HCR/S-12/NGO-1, October 14, 2009) that a Gaza Development Authority be created, a transnational economic effort that would bring together the skills, knowledge and finance from Gaza, Israel, the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank, and Egypt to create conditions which would facilitate the entry of other partners.

Our proposal is obviously inspired by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) of the US “New Deal”. The TVA was a path-making measure to overcome the deep economic depression of the 1930s in the USA and the difficulties of cooperative action across state frontiers in the federal structure of the USA.

POWER_TO_WIN._10_YEARS_OF_TVA_-_NARA_-_515880

In May 1933, in a message to Congress, President Roosevelt suggested that an Authority should be a “corporation clothed with the power of Government but possessed of the flexibility and initiative of a private enterprise. It should be charged with the broadest duty of planning for the proper use, conservation and development of the natural resources of the Tennessee River drainage basin and its adjoining territory for the general social and economic welfare of the Nation… If we are successful here, we can march on, step by step in the development of other great natural territorial units.” Some quickly saw the international use of the TVA. A study by the economist Herman Finer in a 1944 International Labor Office study TVA: Lessons for International Applications is an example.

Today, the deep divisions in the Israel-Palestine area require more than economic measures − although economy and raising the standards of living remain important elements. Today, there should be a structure which provides security as well as economic advancement.

Therefore, the AWC proposes the creation of an International Temporary Transition Administration for Gaza that would promote security, stabilization, economic development, and institution building. Such a Transitional Administration would be limited in time from the start, perhaps five years.

Unlike the earlier UN Trusteeship agreements which followed upon the League of Nations mandate pattern, the Gaza Transitional Authority would welcome civil society cooperation from outside the area. Such a Transitional Administration cannot be imposed. We request a UN Secretariat study on what such a Transitional Administration would require and encourage discussion among those most directly involved.

The current crisis in the Gaza area requires bold, new approaches. The wider Middle East has many conflicts which could expand. Thus, creative advances in the Gaza situation could create a change in attitudes and a willingness to create new forms of cooperative action.

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

UN Focus on Forests

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Environmental protection, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations on May 6, 2018 at 10:17 PM

By René Wadlow

Humanity is challenged today to be conscious of the consequences of beliefs and actions on the protection of the Planet. While there have always been some people concerned with the safeguarding of the physical world, never before have the issues of individual and collective behavior been as central to political considerations.

Thus from May 7 to May 11, the thirteenth session of the United Nations (UN) Forum on Forests (UNFF13) will be held in New York. The Forum helps to sensitize political leaders to the complexity and magnitude of the challenges facing sustainable forest management. There are two major issues that are discussed in the Forum. The first is the status of “subsistence forestry” practiced by the vast majority of rural people. The second issue is the role of government policy and practice toward private corporations, many of whom are rapidly destroying forests in their search for new resources to exploit.

Foret_de_chene-liège

With more than half of the world’s forests already altered, degraded or converted to other land uses such as agriculture or pasture, and much of the rest subject to illegal exploitation and poor management, ecologically-sound forest management is the only way of ensuring the survival of the world’s forests. In fact, there is a great need for reforestation activities. The task of turning the tide of attention away from efforts to limit deforestation toward reforestation is a daunting one. We need to work together cooperatively to leave the Earth greener than we found it.

Nongovernmental Organizations in Consultative Status with the UN, such as the Association of World Citizens, play an important role in these Forums. However, there remains much to do to translate discussions at the UN whose aim is to develop awareness into action at the national and local level.

Amazon_Manaus_forest

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

Airstrikes Alone Won’t Stop Assad – Instead, Let’s Stop Failing Syria’s Civil Society

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, Syria, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations on April 21, 2018 at 7:32 PM

By Bernard J. Henry

In April 2017 and once again earlier this month, United States (U. S.) President Donald J. Trump brought into the Syrian conflict something that had never been in it before, upsetting even his own supporters who had bought a very different speech from him as a presidential candidate back home in America. Having campaigned for “dialogue” with the Russian Federation and urged support for the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, against the terrorist threat as posed by the Islamic State (IS), Trump ended up striking the very Assad regime he had called on the world to stand by.

Until the first U. S. strike took place on April 6, 2017, the only strikes that had taken place in the region had been against the IS, albeit with little success in bringing down the terrorist organization – a job that the Iraqi army and Syria’s own Kurds from the northern entity of Rojava ended up doing instead. But now, a seemingly invulnerable Assad was in danger too.

Airstrikes_in_Syria_140923-F-UL677-654

Throughout the world, those who had remained silent as the Syrian President was slaughtering his own people started blasting Trump as a global thug, just for the non-lethal strikes the U. S. had conducted on chemical weapons research sites in Syria. However questionable Trump’s foreign policy may be in other respects, what in the world was it that made him less defensible than a Bashar al-Assad who has spent the last seven years inflicting unspeakable suffering to his own people?

Some were led by primary anti-imperialist thoughts, leading them to view Assad as a hero for standing up to the USA; others were simply acting on knee-jerk islamophobia, confusing Islam with fundamentalism and unduly hailing Assad as a secular progressive. The same kind of confusion that turned haters of fascism into Hitler supporters against communism.

Yet misguided pacifism should never make us forget that a handful of airstrikes, largely symbolical and non-impact in mere military terms, will never provide the basis for a long-term policy to resolve an armed conflict that has claimed so many lives and driven scores of people away from their homes.

What’s New in Syria? Civil Society

Punishing the regime with an airstrike for committing a chemical attack was hardly a departure from what had taken place so far. For seven years, a brutal, obsessively repressive Syrian government has locked the Middle East and, beyond that, the entire world in a paradigm of realism – the theory of international relations that dictates that military power is the one thing guiding the walk of life between nations.

A major shift has been made from the liberal theory of international relations, a theory under which international rules and institutions are paramount to the functioning of the international community – such as the United Nations (UN) and its Security Council, recklessly hijacked by Russia and China through the two nations’ systematic use of the veto to block any action against the Syrian tyranny.

Much more than being a solution, the airstrikes are thus a problem – just as much as Assad’s conduct, never really opposed by the international community, only “deplored” in international forums, is the original problem. Both, though, are but symptoms of the real disease.

Protesters carry opposition flags and chant slogans during an anti-government protest in the rebel-held town of Dael

As a great many commentators have observed, including Syrian dissident Yassin Al Haj Saleh in his 2016 book La Question Syrienne (1), throughout the reign of the Assad dynasty, the people of Syria have been set aside. Geopolitics alone has been behind the wheel, not least through the long-running occupation of the Syrian plateau of Golan by Israel and Syria’s hold on Lebanon which lasted from the Lebanese civil war in the 1970s to 2005 and the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

Unlike Tunisia and Egypt which were first to rise against their tyrants during the Arab Spring of 2011, and more like Libya under Colonel Gaddafi, until then, Syria did not have a full-fledged civil society. Nongovernmental organizations there would be neutral charities operating under the auspices of the First Lady, Asma al-Assad. Any other private sector organizations, such as trade unions, are basically spawns of, or directly controlled by, the ruling Ba’ath Party. Founding an organization without seeking state sanction meant assured prosecution and, most of the time, imprisonment. The very first instance was the Declaration of Damascus in 2004, a broad-tent platform which brought together most components of the Syrian opposition, from the Communists to the Islamists. Most of its founders and members were jailed by the authorities, and then forced to flee the country after their release.

Along with literature, as more books by Syrians have been published since 2011 than under the whole Assad dictatorship “undisturbed”, the revolution unleashed a new power among the Syrian people – civil society. Since the early days of the revolution, independent Syrian groups have appeared at a steady pace throughout the world, ranging from think tanks to relief organizations, signaling that the Syrian people would no longer keep their thoughts and hopes to themselves, no matter how harsh repression back home may be.

Repression, both by the Assad regime and, from 2014 to 2017, the then “Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham”, a formerly minor jihadi group which had grown to outpower even the Iraqi army and prey on, much more than the Syrian military, the Free Syrian Army of the Syrian revolution. Reared under the Assad dictatorship’s infamous prison regime, IS leaders and members would not hear one word too many in that “caliphate” they had created along the Sykes-Picot border between Iraq and Syria.

A Syrian civil society that grew like a mushroom town has taken the entire world, and the factions to the Syrian conflict itself, by surprise. But has it been able to really play a role in shaping Syria’s future?

The UN Civil Society Support Room – Failure at the Highest Level?

Arguably, Syrian civil society groups have been no major players in the battle of wills between those nations defending the Assad regime and those confronting it – albeit in a lukewarm, versatile manner, like France since Emmanuel Macron became President.

One man who, for all his political failures, cannot be blamed for not trying is Staffan de Mistura, the Italian-Swedish diplomat who has been since 2014 the United Nations (UN) and Arab League Envoy for Syria. In January 2016, de Mistura created a Civil Society Support Room (CSSR) meant as a tool for the participation of civil society groups in the Geneva rounds of peace talks over Syria, composed of groups invited to take part on a rotating basis. Funded by the foreign ministries of Switzerland, Norway, and Sweden, as well as the European Union, the CSSR is managed jointly by Swisspeace and the Norwegian Center for Conflict Resolution (NOREF).

UN_Special_Envoy_for_Syria_Staffan_de_Mistura_-_2017_(26170932839)_(cropped)

Staffan de Mistura

Located near de Mistura’s own office at the Palais des Nations, the CSSR mainly reflects his inventor’s belief that there is no military solution to the armed conflict, only a negotiated, diplomatic outcome. Accordingly, the Special Envoy has cared to bring together groups from both the new Syrian civil society, most of them based abroad, and the regime’s own supporters within Syria proper.

While having proved an outstanding achievement in terms of Track II diplomacy, possibly offering a framework to be followed in other instances of civil unrest, the CSSR also has its shortcomings, some of which have even turned out to call into question the credibility and viability of the mechanism itself. As researchers Sara Hellmüller and Marie-Joëlle Zahar note in a report published by the International Peace Institute (2) – Hellmüller also being on the CSSR management team – a seemingly unsolvable lack of “tangible outcomes”, as they put it, means three life-threatening challenges for the CSSR.

First, as time goes by and nothing changes, participating groups are led to doubt the usefulness of their presence, when not questioned by their own constituents about it. Second, although de Mistura has constantly undertaken to maintain a “balance” within the CSSR, inviting groups from both the revolutionary and pro-regime civil societies, those revolutionary organizations based outside Syria often have issues with visas from the host governments or “personal security concerns” (3). Third, besides the successful diplomatic exercise and symbolical achievement of bringing civil society together, participating groups seldom agree on what issues should be dealt with, whether everyday concerns or longer-term prospects for Syria, and even when they do, opportunities to interact with de Mistura’s own office often turn out to offer little interest, if any at all.

Similarly, a Women’s Advisory Board created simultaneously with the CSSR has drawn suspicion from revolutionary groups for including ranking female supporters of the Assad regime, viewed as mere mouthpieces for the very government whose harsh repression of dissent has sparked the war.

In both committees, one problem makes it a lot harder for revolutionary groups based within Syria: Some group representatives who managed to travel to Geneva learned upon arrival, or while taking part in meetings, that their home area had been bombed or otherwise attacked by regime forces, killing or injuring some of their loved ones there.

Faced with as many difficulties, some groups invited to join the CSSR ended up throwing in the towel. On November 28, 2017, ten Syrian organizations led by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SN4HR), all invited on November 21 to join the CSSR on November 28-30, plainly rejected de Mistura’s invitation. The ten groups, among them the Violations Documentation Center founded by lawyer Razan Zaitouneh who was abducted in 2013 and has been unheard of since, blamed de Mistura for not bringing their concerns to the UN Security Council as they expected him to, criticized an overly loose and vague meeting agenda, blasted the overly short time between the invitation’s issuance and the actual meeting which left no time for prior preparation, and basically sent off the inviting staff for being unable to answer specific questions due to lack of knowledge on the issue. (4)

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and at the end stands the CSSR as a good idea turned into an honorable failure.

The Key to a Viable Future in Syria

There lies the danger – depriving Syria of a viable, free civil society is the biggest threat that one might impose on the already devastated country, with little prospects of rebuilding as long as the Assad regime will be in place, ruling over a vanquished people but itself reduced to a mere pawn of its Iranian and Russian allies.

Isolated series of airstrikes cannot bring an end to the war, let alone provide a political agenda for a free, peaceful Syria. Even the Syrian revolution does not want outside intervention; what it wants is the means and ability to fight it out with the Assad dictatorship. Only two kinds of armed forces in Syria have resorted to specially-recruited foreign fighters thus far: groups with religious claims, not only jihadi groups but also Christian armed groups, and the Marxist-inspired northwestern Kurdish entity of Rojava. Free Syrians do not want a Third Gulf War between the West and a Mideast country, but a chance to oust Assad on their own, as nearly happened in 2012 and 2015, and build a better future for themselves in their own land. If anybody can enable them to do so, civil society can.

Then what can and should be done? In their protest to Staffan de Mistura, SN4HR and the nine other organizations listed five recommendations, logically inspired by the shortcomings they had cited to turn down de Mistura’s invitation:

“1. Prior involvement of civil society organizations in identifying the topics for the meeting in consultation with the office of the special envoy.

2. The contribution of the organizations in developing frameworks and discussion points for the meeting.

3. The assignment of people who are specialized in the topic of meeting in the process of sending invitations and communication with the Syrian organizations.

4. The full inclusion of the results of the Civil Society Support Room meetings in the periodic briefings of the Special Envoy to the Security Council.

5. Concluding the work of the Civil Society Support Room with a press conference that communicates to the Syrians and the world the results of the Civil Society Support Room meeting.”

These principles could be wisely extended to any forum, whether national, regional or international, where Syrian civil society groups ever get a chance to speak or otherwise express their views. But, since “Charity begins at home”, strengthening Syrian civil society must happen first and foremost in Syria proper, however unrealistic that might seem in view of the Assad regime’s increasingly merciless repression of resistance.

Ahmad Moutie Darkazanli, a longtime activist against the Assad dynasty who has lived in, and campaigned from, France for a number of years, does not say otherwise. “In Syria, civil society was totally controlled by the Mukhabarat, the state intelligence agency. All associations, trade unions, and other civil society groups came under constant scrutiny. There was never a real public debate. True free expression from civil society within Syria came started only in mid-2012, and as more and more areas were liberated from state control in 2013, it grew even stronger. Security was the main concern for these groups.”

17761088_10211040216056324_6157621412440719189_o

Ahmad Moutie Darkazanli

Thus, says Darkazanli, first things first. “What Syrian civil society needs is better funding, which makes it possible to develop more viable and reliable agendas and to better train activists within the various groups. Ultimately, an efficient mechanism of control and financial traceability are needed, too.”

But, as Darkazanli himself points out and the CSSR’s saddest records show, no civil society can hope to properly function when heavy shelling ruins all its efforts and realizations. So, concludes Darkazanli, “As a prerequisite, there must be a secured territory, where people can feel safe and accordingly build and serve the community free from fear!”

Airstrikes may bring some deterrent, but they can never replace a body of civil society created by a people who were, after almost fifty years of dynastic tyranny, finally learning to be free. Looking closer at the way that Donald J. Trump and Emmanuel Macron treat their own civil societies at home, neither of them is truly qualified to teach any lessons to a foreign country, however tyrannical its government might be. Then, “exporting democracy” through armed intervention does not have an impressive record in neighboring Iraq, or in Libya where chaos prevails with no end in sight.

As a people erased from existence by their government for nearly half a century, Syrians have a willingness to act for a different, better future. Despite strategic differences, sometimes more than that, between two or more of these groups, they have created a civil society that may be in exile but is up and running. All they need is true support and empowerment to provide opportunities for a better future, a prospect that truly scares the Assad dynasty a lot more than all the airstrikes that the armed forces of the three Western Permanent Members of the UN Security Council can carry out will ever do.

(1) Yassin al Haj Saleh, La Question syrienneActes Sud, 2016.

(2) Sara Hellmüller and Marie-Joëlle Zahar, Against the Odds: Civil Society in the Intra-Syrian Talks, International Peace Institute, March 2018.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Statement by Syrian human rights organizations on the invitation to the Civil Society Support Room in Geneva, November 28, 2017, Syrian Network for Human Rights.

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

%d bloggers like this: