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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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).

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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.”

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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.

Syria: “Is this how you want international affairs to be conducted now?”

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, Syria, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on April 18, 2018 at 8:40 PM

By René Wadlow

In the emergency United Nations (UN) Security Council meeting called by Russia on April 14, 2018, the Russian Ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, asked of the representatives of the USA, France and the UK “Is this how you want international affairs to be conducted now?” He was referring to the coordinated air strikes of the USA, France and the UK aimed at targets associated with Syrian chemical weapons programs.

The use of violence as an instrument of world politics is not a new idea as the Ambassador may know if he reflects on Russian history. But Russian history may also remind him that it was a diplomat of the Czar who suggested the first Hague Peace Conference and its efforts to limit the means used in war. The 1925 Geneva Protocol is a direct outgrowth of the “Hague spirit.”

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Vassily Nebenzia, the Russian Ambassador to the United Nations.

A suspected chemical-weapon attack on April 7, 2018 on rebel-held Douma, a city of some 130,000 near Damascus, had killed at least 50 people and sickened hundreds more. The attack may have been of weaponized chlorine and nerve agents possibly sarin. The Assad government has been accused of using chemical weapons before – charges which the government has denied saying that chemical arms were used by rebel factions such as Jaysh al Islam.

A major issue is that the use of chemical weapons, probably sarin or a sarin-like substance is in violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare of which Syria is a party, among the 135 governments which have signed. The attack was also a violation of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction which came into force in 1997. The Convention created The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Syria signed the Convention in 2013 as part of a compromise decision to have its chemical-weapon stock destroyed.

The use of poison gas strikes deep, partly subconscious, reactions not provoked in the same way as seeing someone shot by a machine gun. The classic Greeks and Romans had a prohibition against the use of poison in war, especially poisoning water wells because everyone needs to drink. Likewise poison gas is abhorred because everyone needs to breath.

There is a real danger that the Geneva Protocol of 1925, one of the oldest norms of humanitarian international law will be undermined and the use of chemical weapons “normalized”. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is already investigating the use of chemical weapons in seven other locations in Syria and new inspectors arrived in Syria on April 13.

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A protest by Syrian revolution activists and supporters in Paris on March 30.

Chemical weapons have been used in armed conflicts in the Middle East before. Although Egypt had signed the 1925 Geneva Protocol, Egyptian forces used chemical weapons widely in their support of the republican forces in the Yemen Civil War (1962-1967) with very few international outcries. As a result of the lack of any sanctions against Egypt, Syria requested Egyptian technical assistance in developing its own chemical weapons capabilities shortly after 1967 – well before the al-Assad dynasty came to power.

Humanitarian international law is largely based on self-imposed restraints. Humanitarian international law creates an obligation to maintain the protection of all non-combatants caught in the midst of violent conflicts as set out in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977. Moreover, there is an urgent need to focus special attention on the plight of children. They are the least responsible for the conflict and yet are most vulnerable. They need special protection. The norms to protect children in armed conflicts are set out clearly in the Additional Protocols which has 25 articles specifically pertaining to children. The norms are also clearly stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most universally ratified international treaty. The Convention calls for the protection of the child’s right to life, education, health and other fundamental needs. These provisions apply equally in times of armed conflict and in times of peace.

As with the use of weapons prohibited by international treaty: chemical weapons, land mines, cluster munitions, the protection of children must be embodied in local values and practice. The classic Chinese philosopher Mencius, in maintaining that humans were basically good, used the example of a child about to fall into a well who would be saved by anyone regardless of status or education.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has called for a UN-led conference on the re-affirmation of humanitarian, international law. There needs to be a world-wide effort on the part of governments and non-governmental organizations to re-affirm humanitarian values and the international treaties which make them governmental obligations.

Limiting the use of chemical weapons or other banned weapons such as land mines and cluster munitions is only part of what is required. There needs to be negotiations in good faith to put an end to the armed conflict. The AWC has called for good-faith negotiations among all the parties from the start of what was at first non-violent demonstrations in March 2011. Neither the Government nor the opposition were willing to set an agenda or a timetable for good-faith negotiations. The Government held out vague promises for reform but without giving details and without open discussion among those concerned. As the fighting has escalated, the possibility of good-faith negotiations has increasingly faded despite efforts by the UN mediators to facilitate such negotiations.

The situation has become increasingly complex as new actors play increasingly active roles. The entry of Turkish forces and their Syrian allies into the city of Afrin after two months of fighting in the area of this largely Kurdish-populated city on the frontier with Turkey. It is impossible to know if this is a limited show-of-force or the first steps of a broader anti-Kurdish policy in northern Syria.

There is a growing awareness that there is a dangerous stalemate and that there is no military “solution”. It is often at this “stalemate” stage of a conflict that parties turn to a negotiated compromise. (1) The dangers of a wider conflict with more States involved are real. Thus the situation requires careful concerted action both on the part of governments and nongovernmental organizations.

Note
1) See Louis Kriesberg and Stuart Thorson (Eds) Yiming, The De-Escalation of International Conflicts (Syracuse University Press, 1991)

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

Syria: From a ceasefire to comprehensive negotiations?

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, Syria, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations on February 27, 2018 at 9:16 PM

By René Wadlow

After multiple delays to reach agreement with the Russian ambassador, on February 24 the United Nations (UN) Security Council adopted a resolution for a 30-day ceasefire “without delay” in Syria. The truce would allow for the delivery of emergency aid and the evacuation of the wounded, including the beleaguered Eastern Ghouta, home to some 350,000 people near Damascus. Now, we need to work to have the ceasefire honored.

Eastern Ghouta is near Damascus and has been a contested zone since early in the 2011 uprising. Ghouta is close enough to Damascus so that opposition mortars can be fired on districts in Damascus – close enough also so that rockets and barrel bombs from government helicopters can increasingly fall on the zone. Hospitals have been hit in Ghouta, probably deliberately.

Afrin, the scene of new fighting, is in the Aleppo Governorate. It has a large Kurdish population. The Turkish government suspects all organized Kurdish groups to be “terrorists” or potential terrorists. Moreover, the demands for independence of the Kurdish Autonomous Administration in Iraq being linked to a possible similar Kurdish zone in Syria is considered by the Turkish government as an active threat to be countered by force. Thus, for the past 10 days, Turkish troops in the misnamed “Operation Olive Branch” have been attacking Afrin and its surrounding area. As an element in complicated Kurdish politics and alliances, a pro-Syrian government Kurdish militia has joined the battle to defend Afrin.

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The fighting between Turkey and the YPG in and around Afrin has made the headlines lately. (Screenshot)

It is too early to know if the ceasefire will be respected. There have been ceasefires in the past which did not hold. However, a ceasefire is not an end in itself. It is a time which may create a “breathing space” during which there are potentially increased possibilities for negotiations on the end to the armed conflict which began in the Spring of 2011.

Currently, there are two sets of inter-related but separate official negotiations undertaken. The most comprehensive is that of the UN carried out largely in Geneva but also at times in Vienna. The second is sponsored largely by the Russian Federation with some support at different times from Iran and Turkey. There may be less public discussions carried out in the shadows of the official mediations about which little is made public and which probably involves only a number of the actors in the conflict.

Mediation is the action taken by a third party to facilitate two (occasionally more) hostile parties coming together to negotiate. Mediation is not negotiation. Negotiation is the process of bargaining and compromise by which those directly in conflict can reach an agreement. The function of the mediator is to remove the obstacles to negotiation, in part by bringing the conflicting parties together for direct discussions.

The impartial mediator sees no enemies but only the mental and physical suffering of war, as much among “the aggressors” as among the victims. The hatred and suspicions that nourish the conflict makes the conflict increasingly complicated. Part of the mediators’ task is psychological, to lessen the negative emotions so that a slight change of understanding can occur. But this psychological task must be carried on as though one is discussing political and military issues. Mediators must present their efforts in such a way that they will be listened to, avoiding words or ideas that evoke automatically a hostile response.

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Left to right: Kofi Annan, Ban ki-moon and Lakhdar Brahimi. Under Ban as Secretary-General of the United Nations, Annan and Brahimi successively served as UN mediators for Syria, both unsuccessfully. (International Peace Institute)

Mediation is an on-going process with many steps both forward and backward. If skillfully carried out, psychological advances may be made; some tensions may be eased, some misconceptions dispelled, some fixed ideas diminished. For parties in a conflict to seek compromise, there needs to be a certain “atmosphere” – an informed public opinion that will accept the compromise and build better future relations based on an agreement.

The official mediator’s role is not to suggest the constitutional or political nature of the settlement to which the protagonists should arrive. The official mediator can only suggest how constitutional structures might be discussed.

It is chiefly on the issue of constitutional structures that there is a difference between efforts carried out by the UN and the Russian Federation and what can be done by a nongovernmental organization such as the Association of World Citizens (AWC). Non-official mediators must be able to speak to the wide range of protagonists in the Syrian-Iraq conflicts without being seen as supporting one faction or another.

The AWC has been concerned with possible con-federal structures for both Syria and Iraq. The AWC has a long-standing interest in helping to develop appropriate constitutional structures for States facing the possibility of prolonged or intensified armed conflicts. An emphasis is placed on the possibilities of con-federation, autonomy, renewal, and trans-frontier cooperation. The AWC continues the con-federal, trans-frontier tradition of the world citizens Denis de Rougemont (1906-1985) and Alexandre Marc (1904-2000) (1). In the recent past, the Association has proposed con-federal structures to deal with conflicts situations in Mali, Ukraine, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Libya, Sudan and Cyprus.

The AWC has been actively concerned with Kurdistan issues which involves structures of both Iraq and Syria as well as positive cooperation among Kurds living in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Iran. While the AWC does not sponsor Kurdish demands as such, we believe that the Kurdish issues in Syria, Iraq and Turkey merit close attention. Con-federation and autonomy are broad concepts, capable of covering a multitude of visions extending from very limited local initiatives to complete control over everything other than foreign policy. The ways in which the elements and patterns of autonomy are put together require political imagination, far-sighted political leadership, a willingness to compromise, and constant dialogue.

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In September 2017 a majority of Iraqi Kurds voted for independence. Who knows what lies ahead for a historically stateless Kurdish people now? (C) Levi Clancy

There are legitimate fears among some in Syria and also in Iraq that consideration of con-federal structures opens the door to having Syria and Iraq broken into separate zones of influence, dependent on outside powers – the USA, Russia, Iran, Turkey. Thus, we need to stress that autonomy does not mean division. There is also a need to stress trans-frontier cooperation among groups.

Some sectors demanding greater recognition are not primarily geographically based. The Sunni-Shi’a divisions cut across zones though there are zones which have a majority of one particular religious tradition. Religion is not the only dividing factor: Kurd, Turkmen can be considered ethnic factors.

Comprehensive negotiations on the future of Syria and Iraq within the context of the wider Middle East are difficult to organize. It is not sure that the ceasefire in Syria will hold long enough to create an atmosphere leading to serious official negotiations. For those of us in the nongovernmental field, we must use every opportunity to promote a broader, more cooperative framework to consider the challenges and to facilitate serious discussions.

Note:

1) See Christian Roy, Alexandre Marc et la Jeune Europe (Presse de l’Europe, 1998); J. Laubert de Boyle, Les non-conformistes des années 30 (Seuil, 1969); Michel Winock, Esprit. Des intellectuels dans la cité. 1930-1950 (Seuil 1996)

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

Syria Conflicts Highlight Violations of Humanitarian International Law

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on February 23, 2018 at 9:58 PM

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) The Hague Convention traditions dealing with prohibited weapons, highlighting recent treaties such as those on land mines and cluster munitions;

3) Human rights conventions and standards, valid at all time but especially violated in times of armed conflicts;

4) The protection of sites and monuments which have been designated by UNESCO as part of the cultural heritage of humanity, highlighting the August 2016 decision of the International Criminal Court on the destruction of Sufi shrines in northern Mali. (4)

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

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

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

 

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

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

** Notes **

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Korea: An Olympic Truce – Time for Concerted Nongovernmental Efforts

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Korean Peninsula, NGOs, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on February 8, 2018 at 11:03 PM

By René Wadlow

The holding of the Winter Olympics in South Korea from February 9 to 25, followed by the Paralympics on March 9-18, may be an opportunity to undertake negotiations in good faith to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula and to establish, or re-establish, forms of cooperation between the two Korean governments.

Such negotiations in good faith would be in the spirit of what is known as the “Olympics Truce”. Truce in classic Greek meant a “laying down of arms”. A truce was usually announced before and during the Olympic Games to ensure that the host city was not attacked and athletes and spectators could travel safely to the Games and return to their homes.

In 1924, Winter Olympics were added to the Summer Olympics which had been revived earlier in an effort to re-establish the spirit of the Classic Greek games. At the 2000 Sydney games at the opening ceremony, South and North Korean delegations walked for the first time together under the same flag. Today, with greater tensions, there needs to be more than symbolic gestures. There needs to be real government-led negotiations to reduce tensions. In addition to the two Korean States, the USA, China, Russia, and Japan are “actors” in the Korean “drama”.

There have been over the years since the 1953 armistice periodic increases of tensions related to the policies of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (South Korea). Currently, the nuclear program and missile launches of North Korea, the establishment of sophisticated anti-missile systems in South Korea, increased sanctions against North Korea voted by the United Nations (UN) Security Council as well as a new administration in Washington has led to an escalation of tensions. While tensions in the past have been managed by diplomatic discussions or changes in policy, there are always dangers that conflict management may fail due to miscalculations, misinterpretations of military moves, misinterpretations of aims and strategies. The misinterpretations and the failures of conflict management were important factors in the start of the Korean War in 1950 as well as the intervention of Chinese “volunteer” troops. (1)

Today, we are at a time when crisis triggers are ready. Crisis triggers are actions which occur prior to the onset of overt physical hostility between adversary States. Fortunately, not all triggers are pulled. Yet we must ask ourselves if the current tensions could slip out of the control of conflict management techniques.

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The palaestra, where athletes would train for the Olympic Games in Ancient Greece

For Korea, certain “rules of the game” of conflict management have been worked out. Rules of the game constitute a framework for standards of behavior which maintain restraint, unless there is a breakdown or serious miscalculation. There needs to be some degree of common interest among the parties which makes possible the development of these rules of the game for conflict management. Objectively, a lowering of tensions and a return to the status quo ante should be possible. But objective conditions do not always keep the rules of the game in place.

Today, the tensions around the two Korean States, the USA, China, Russia and Japan are somewhat like the pre-1975 Helsinki period when tensions between NATO and the Warsaw Treaty Powers periodically rose, fell, and rose again. Certain rules of the game had been set but were not formalized in treaties. Tensions, but also conflict management were largely US-USSR affairs. Other countries in Europe were on the sidelines. Neutrals such as Finland, Sweden and Switzerland were largely ignored.

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During the prelude to the 1975 Helsinki Conference, there were useful unofficial contacts among non-governmental organizations and academics – what is now called Track II processes. These contacts and exchanges of publications helped pave the way for later governmental negotiations.  As with the 1975 Helsinki Conference, Track II leadership may be an important factor in highlighting shared stability concerns and a strengthening of the rules of the game. (2)

As the representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) we have very limited influence on the decision-making process concerning Korea of the six governments most directly involved. The Association of World Citizens (AWC), as other NGOs, has made appeals for positive action to these governments as well as to the UN Secretary-General. Many of the positive suggestions have concerned what is often called a “freeze for freeze” agreement: a suspension of the yearly United States (U. S.)-South Korean war exercise and a progressive reduction of U. S. troops stationed in South Korea and elsewhere in Asia, especially Japan in exchange for a ban on North Korean nuclear and missile testing and negotiations to replace the 1953 Armistice with a Peace Treaty.

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The Korean Unification Flag will serve as the flag of the unified Korean team during the Winter Olympics this year

The AWC has also made proposals for economic cooperation, more numerous meetings among separated family members and cultural exchanges. However, as the saying goes “Do not hold your breath waiting”. For the moment, we look in vain for enlightened governmental leadership. The appeals for calm by the Chinese authorities have not been followed by specific proposals for actions to decrease tensions.

Today, there is a need for a coming together of non-governmental organizations who are primarily focused on the resolution of armed conflicts with those groups concerned with the abolition of nuclear weapons. The current Korean tensions are based on the development of nuclear weapons and missile systems and the pressures and threats to prevent their development. The Olympic Truce period should be taken as an opportunity to advance “Track II” efforts on the part of NGOs to see on what topics fruitful governmental negotiations could be set out.

Notes

1) See Glenn D. Paige, The Korean Decision June 24-30, 1950 (New York: The Free Press, 1968) and Allen S. Whiting, China Crosses the Yalu. The Decision to Enter the Korean War (New York: McMillan Co. 1960)

2) For a good overview of Track II efforts in different parts of the world, see Oliver P. Richmond and Henry F. Carsey (Eds), Subcontracting Peace: The Challenges of NGO Peacebuilding (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2005)

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

Con-federation, Constitutional Reforms, Renewal and Trans-frontier Cooperation

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations on January 5, 2018 at 8:58 PM

By René Wadlow

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has a longstanding interest in developing appropriate constitutional structures for States facing the possibilities of prolonged or intensified armed conflicts. An emphasis is placed on the possibilities of con-federation, autonomy, renewal, and trans-frontier cooperation. The AWC continues the con-federal, de-centralist, trans-frontier cooperation tradition of World Citizens Denis de Rougemont (1906-1985) and Alexandre Marc (1904-2000). (1)

In the recent past, this association has proposed con-federal structures to deal with conflict situations in Mali, Ukraine, Myanmar, Libya and Cyprus as well as Kurdistan, which involves both the structure of Iraq as well as positive cooperation among Kurds living in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran. While the AWC does not sponsor the Kurdish demands as such, we believe that the Kurdish issues in Syria, Iraq and Turkey merit attention.

The current AWC emphasis is on the wider Middle East as this is an area where current armed conflicts may slip out of the control of conflict management techniques and institutions. The wider Middle East is an area of unrest, often without avenues for dialogue and compromise among the parties. Even in those States where there is no armed fighting such as Iran, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel-Palestine, there are strong tensions which can get worse and also spread. For the parties in these conflicts to seek a compromise, there needs to be a certain “atmosphere” – an informed public opinion that will accept the compromise and build better future relations based on an agreement. It is in the creation of such an atmosphere that citizens of the world have an important role to play. We see the dangers of calling into question of the nuclear agreement with Iran, especially by the United States (U. S.) administration.

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In today’s world, only one nation-state claims to be a con-federation – Switzerland, officially the Swiss Confederation, a country of high political stability, harmonious ethnic and linguistic diversity, and a long-running tradition of informal diplomacy toward conflict resolution too.

As a nongovernmental organization (NGO), we can have little influence on who will be the “leaders” of these States, but we can play a role in proposing new con-federal constitutional structures linked to new attitudes, what I call ‘renewal’ within the existing social-ethnic-religious groups involved. New constitutional forms by themselves will not reduce the current antagonisms. However, if people now caught up in the ‘fog of conflict’ see that there may be possibilities for changes in the structures of government that will recognize their identity and views, doors may open for compromise.

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Canada, the world’s second largest country, is organized as a confederation. The northernmost nation in the Americas stands out as a model of democracy, decentralized government, and coexistence between various ethnic and linguistic groups.

Con-federation and autonomy are broad concepts, capable of covering a multitude of visions extending from very limited local initiatives to complete control over everything other than foreign policy. Autonomy can therefore incorporate all situations between nearly total subordination to the center to nearly total independence. The ways in which the elements and patterns of autonomy are put together require political imagination, far-sighted political leadership, a willingness to compromise, and constant dialogue.

In none of the wider Middle East situations: Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, on which we have made proposals have we found much of a climate for meaningful negotiations . Our “track record” outside the Middle East has not been much better: Sri Lanka, Burma, Mali, Sudan, and Ukraine. I think that from our contacts with diplomats at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva and New York, our proposals for new constitutional structures are not brushed off lightly, but they are not acted upon either. National political leaders often have a short attention span for issues unless there are strong domestic reasons for remaining involved. Diplomats often share this short-term point of view. “We are concerned with a ceasefire, with stopping the flow of Middle East refugees to Europe. After that, it is up to the people in each State to work out their constitutional structures. We thank you for sharing your ideas on the future of the Middle East. When the smoke clears, please come back to see us, but, of course, I may have retired by then.”

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Rojava, a state-like entity formed by the Kurds of Syria, claims in its Constitution to be based on “democratic confederalism” and vows to be a part of a future “federal Syria”. Can that claim ever be realized, or is it bound to remain only wishful thinking?

Negotiations means a joint undertaking by disputants with the aim of settling their disputes on the basis of mutual compromise. Negotiation is a basic political decision-making process, a way of finding common interests, to facilitate compromise without loss of what each considers to be essential objectives.

The challenges posed by the conflicts in Mali, Ukraine, Myanmar, Libya, and Kurdistan need to be measured against the broad concept of security. Barry Buzan of the University of Copenhagen sets out four types of security:
1. Political security concerns the organizational stability of states, systems of government, and the ideologies that give them legitimacy.
2. Economic security concerns access to the resources, finances and markets necessary to sustain acceptable levels of welfare.
3. Societal security concerns the sustainability within acceptable conditions of the evolution of traditional patterns of language, culture, religions and customs.
4. Environmental security concerns the maintenance of the local and the planetary biosphere as the essential support system on which all other human enterprises depend.

One of the difficulties in each situation is what I would call “the frozen image of the other”. In each case, the group or groups demanding new State structures are seen in the minds of the current government authorities as being the same people with the same aspirations as when the demands were first made: the Karen of Myanmar today are the same as the Karen of the Union of Burma in 1947; the Tuareg of north Mali today are the same as those calling for the creation of an independent State in 1940 when the withdrawal of French troops to Dakar had left a political vacuum.

However, there have been evolutions in policy proposals and in the level of education and experience of new leadership of those demanding autonomy. Yet “frozen images” exist and need to be overcome within all decision-makers involved. The modification of “frozen images” is one of the tasks of non-governmental organizations and Track II diplomatic efforts. This is what I call “renewal”, the ability to think in new terms, so see things in a different way, to see the “Other” as part of the same humanity.

Notes

(1) See: Christian Roy, Alexandre Marc et la Jeune Europe : L’Ordre nouveau aux origines du personnalisme (Presse de l’Europe, 1998)
Jean-Louis Loubet del Bayle, Les non-conformistes des années 30 : Une tentative de renouvellement de la pensée politique francaise (Seuil, 1969)
Michel Winock, Esprit: Des intellectuels dans la cité, 1930-1950 (Seuil, 1996)
Denis de Rougemont, The Future Is Within Us (Pegamon Press, 1983)

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

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

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

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Ali Abdullah Saleh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent UN Reports Point To Anti-Rohingya Genocide in Myanmar

In Asia, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, International Justice, NGOs, Refugees, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, Uncategorized, United Nations, World Law on November 27, 2017 at 8:23 AM

By René Wadlow

Recent reports of October 25, 2017 from the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights based on extensive interviews with Rohingya refugees from Myanmar (Burma) now in Cox’s Bazar area of Bangladesh as well as reports from the World Food Program and UNICEF point to anti-Rohingya genocide in Myanmar without using the “G” word. The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, said that the Rohingya flight was a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. The brutal attacks against the Rohingya in Rakhine state have been well organized, coordinated and systematic, with the intent of not only driving the Rohingya population out of Myanmar but preventing them from returning to their home.

The Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948 requires action on the part of governments once genocide has been determined. Although any State party to the Convention can bring the situation to appropriate UN bodies, no State has ever evoked the 1948 Genocide Convention. However, the Convention is clear that a group need not have been totally destroyed for acts to be considered genocide. Intent is the key concept. Article VIII of the Convention states “Any Contracting Party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide, or any of the other acts enumerated in Article III.”

The Genocide Convention in its Article III states that the following acts shall be punishable:

a) Genocide

b) Conspiracy to commit genocide

c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide

d) Attempt to commit genocide

e) Complicity in genocide.

Article IV states that “Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in Article III shall be punished whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.”

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The Burmese military have since shortly after the independence of the country in 1947 carried on a policy of repression against national minorities advocating independence of their area, later modified to demanding greater autonomy within a federal Union of Burma. The first and second (1974) constitutions of Burma took over the nationalities policy designed by Joseph Stalin when he was Commissioner of Nationalities in the then newly created USSR. A state within the Union would be named after a dominant ethnic group with a larger homeland of provinces for the majority population. Thus, there were seven ethnic minority states: the Chin, Kachin, Karen, Kayah (formerly called Karenni), Mon, Shan, and Rakhine (or Arakan) and seven divisions which are largely inhabited by the majority, sometimes called Burman or Bamar. As in the USSR, states had people other than the dominant nationality which gave its name to the state. Some were ethnic minorities which had always lived there; others were people living there who had moved from elsewhere for work, marriage or other life events. Some were Chinese or Indians who had moved to Burma for economic reasons.

In these conflicts, war crimes have been committed by the military and reported to UN human rights bodies:

a) arbitrary arrest and torture

b) enforced disappearances

c) systematic rape

d) confiscation of property

e) internal displacement of populations.

However, only in the case of the Rohingya can one speak of an intent of genocide – with calls by some nationalists and military to make Myanmar “Rohingya free”. Among the ‘nationalists’, there are ‘Buddhist extremists’. A form of Buddhist influence has grown since 2012 when speech and media restrictions fell away, opening a vacuum that extremists have helped to fill.

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The chief difference between the Rohingya case and those of the national minorities along the Thai and China frontiers is economic. The Burmese military are brutal but also corrupt, especially among the officer corps. The minorities along the Burma-Thai-China frontiers are deeply involved in the trade of drugs, arms, gem stones, timber and the trafficking of women to Thailand and China. There are close economic links between the Thai and Burmese military as well as between the military and the armed insurgencies.

As long as the military get their cut of the income from trade, they are willing to put up with periodic cease-fire agreements, are selective in their scorched earth policy and close their eyes to certain cross-frontier economic measures. Unfortunately for the Rohingya, they live in a poor, subsistence agriculture area next to a poor, subsistence agricultural part of Bangladesh. There might be oil resources off the coast of Rakhine state, but they have not been exploited, and it is not sure that they are really there. Thus, there is no money among the Rohingya with which to bribe the military. The idea of getting rid of the Rohingya is not so wild a dream as most had already been declared as “stateless” in a 1982 citizenship law.

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A September rally in Paris to support Myanmar’s Rohingya community

As government representatives are reluctant to raise the issue of genocide, in part for fear that they might have to do something, it has been the representatives of nongovernmental organizations who have publicly highlighted the issue, although no government has followed.

On behalf of the Association of World Citizens, I had raised the issue of genocide concerning the Fur and related groups in the Darfur, Sudan violence. Darfur means “House of the Fur” but there are also other small tribal groups in the area whose way of life may be destroyed by the systematic killing of old persons, those’ who hold tribal history and tribal law in memory – there being no written records.

In 2004, in the UN Sub-commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, in “Darfur, Sudan: Non-impunity and Prosecutions for Genocide (E/CN.4/Sub/2004/NGO24), I stressed the systematic nature of the violence against the Fur, Massaleit, Zayhawa and Birgit. After citing the evidence from public UN staff reports, I wrote, “The evidence of systematic actions – to quote from Article II of the Genocide Convention – committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such – is clear. What is less clear is the determination of UN Member States to act to end this violence. Until now, the efforts of governments in Darfur have been inadequate as reliable reports indicate that human rights violations have grown worse. The Genocide Convention provides an adequate framework for urgent action. Only one State needs to call on the UN to act under Article VIII. We need political will for rapid UN action to stop genocide in Darfur now – and not after it is all over, when the cry will go up, as in the past ‘Never Again!'”

A month after our appeal, the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights, Dr. Bertrand Ramcharan, firmly stressed the Darfur situation in its harshest light.” First, there is a reign of terror in this area, second, there is a scorched-earth policy, third, there is repeated war crimes and crimes against humanity, and fourth, this is taking place under our eyes.” (Associated Press Report, May 8, 2004).

However, governments were able to avert their eyes, and no government invoked the Genocide Convention. Governments have often been unwilling to use the international legal structures which they themselves have created.

We continue to face the same issue with the massive flight of the Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh and India. The welcome of the Rohingya by these governments has been “cool” if not hostile. It is very likely that a “Rohingya-free” Myanmar has been created as few persons are likely to return to Myanmar. The current challenge is how the Rohingya will be resettled in Bangladesh and India without creating new socio-economic tensions. The wider issue is to what extent are representatives of governments willing to act creatively on the few structures of world law which they have created.

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

The Disintegrating Donbass. Is there a future for a con-federal Ukraine?

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Europe, Human Rights, NGOs, Solidarity, The former Soviet Union, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on November 27, 2017 at 8:22 AM

By René Wadlow

The flight on November 23, 2017 of Igor Plotinitsky, President of the separatist Ukrainian area of the Lugansk People’s Republic is a sign of the continuing difficulties of developing appropriate forms of constitutional government in the Ukraine. Plotinitsky was in open conflict with his “Minister of the Interior” Igor Konet whom he had fired but who refused to give up his position. It is reported that military troops are moving from Donetsk, the other People’s Republic of the Donbass, and perhaps other troops from Russia but without signs of identification.

Much of the fate of the two Donbass People’s Republics is in the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin, but he is unwilling to take public responsibility. Some have argued that two people’s republics in Donbass is one too many and that the two republics will be unified under the leadership of President Alexandre Zakhartchenko of Donetsk. Meanwhile the Ukrainian government has reinforced its troops on the frontier with the separatist zone.

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The flag of the “Republic of Donetsk” as written in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet

Officially the Donbass is under an agreement signed in Minsk on February 12, 2015 among Russia, Germany, France, and Ukraine acting under a mandate of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The agreement called for a ceasefire, local elections, a reintegration into the State of Ukraine but with constitutional reforms giving greater local autonomy. In practice, the Minsk accords have never been carried out.

The new crisis may return to the status quo of continuing tensions, occasional artillery exchanges, a lack of any effective cooperation, and a continuing economic decline. It is estimated that some 10,000 persons have been killed in the conflict since April 2014. However, there is a danger that the conflict slips out of control, and violence increases. The secretariat of the OSCE must be on high alert.

A crisis can at times be a moment to reconsider the possibilities and to seek a more long-lasting agreement. At the start of the Ukraine conflict in April 2014, the Association of World Citizens (AWC) had proposed the creation of a Ukrainian confederation with decentralization, respect for cultural autonomy, economic cooperation among the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the European Union. Some of the ideas are reflected in the Minsk agreement, but distrust is so high that no practical steps have been taken.

The current crisis may serve as a reminder of how dangerous a disintegrating Donbass can be. An alternative would be to study seriously the possibilities of a con-federal Ukraine.

The AWC has a longstanding interest in developing appropriate constitutional structures for States facing the possibilities of prolonged or intensified armed conflicts. In the recent past, we have proposed con-federal structures to deal with conflict situations in Mali, Ukraine, Myanmar, Libya and Cyprus as well as Kurdistan which involves both the structure of Iraq as well as positive cooperation among Kurds living in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran.

OSCE_SMM_monitoring_the_movement_of_heavy_weaponry_in_eastern_Ukraine_(16544233550)

OSCE Special Monitoring Mission members monitoring the movement of heavy weaponry in eastern Ukraine

Con-federation and autonomy are broad concepts, capable of covering a multitude of visions extending from very limited local initiatives to complete control over everything other than foreign policy. Autonomy can therefore incorporate all situations between nearly total subordination to the center to nearly total independence. The ways in which the elements and patterns of autonomy are put together requires political imagination, far-sighted political leadership, a willingness to compromise, and constant dialogue.

In none of the six situations on which we have made proposals have we found much of a climate for meaningful negotiations although there have been formal negotiation processes carried out in the Ukraine case by the OSCE and on Cyprus by the United Nations.

Negotiations means a joint undertaking by disputants with the aim of settling their disputes on the basis of mutual compromise. Negotiation is a basic political decision-making process, a way of finding common interests, to facilitate compromise without loss of what each considers to be essential objectives. For the parties in a conflict to seek a compromise requires a certain climate – an informed public opinion that will accept the compromise and build better future relations on the agreement.

The challenges posed by the conflicts in Mali, Ukraine, Myanmar, Libya, Cyprus and Kurdistan need to be measured against the broad concept of security. Barry Buzan of the University of Copenhagen sets out four types of security. “Political security concerns the organizational stability of states, systems of government, and the ideologies that give them legitimacy. Economic security concerns access to the resources, finances and markets necessary to sustain acceptable levels of welfare. Societal security concerns the sustainability within acceptable conditions of the evolution of traditional patterns of language, culture, religions and customs. Environmental security concerns the maintenance of the local and the planetary biosphere as the essential support system on which all other human enterprises depend.”

One of the difficulties in each situation is what I would call “the frozen image of the other”. In each case, the group or groups demanding new State structures are seen in the minds of the current government authorities as being the same people with the same aspirations as when the demands were first made: the Karen of Myanmar today are the same as the Karen of the Union of Burma in 1947; the Tuareg of north Mali today are the same as those calling for the creation of an independent State in 1940 when the withdrawal of French troops to Dakar had left a political vacuum.

However, there have been evolutions in policy proposals and in the level of education and experience of new leadership of those demanding autonomy. Yet “frozen images” exist and need to be overcome within all decision-makers involved. The modification of “frozen images” is one of the tasks of nongovernmental organizations and Track II diplomatic efforts.

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

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