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

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

Par Bernard J. Henry

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

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

Coca veut-il toujours dire cocaïne ?

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

Le mate de coca (C) Getty Images-iStockphoto

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

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

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

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

Le glyphosate de Monsanto, vendu sous la marque Roundup

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

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

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

FARC-EP : Un accord de paix en danger

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

L’emblème des FARC-EP

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

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

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

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

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

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

La justice colombienne et l’ONU l’avaient dit

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

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

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

La pulvérisation aérienne au glyphosate en action

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

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

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

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

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

International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, NGOs, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on April 26, 2021 at 7:40 PM

By René Wadlow

April 24, International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace was established by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly and first observed on April 24, 2019. The resolution establishing the Day is in part a reaction to the “America First, America First” cry of the U. S. President, Donald Trump, but other states are also following narrow nationalistic policies and economic protectionism. The Day stresses the use of multilateral decision-making in achieving the peaceful resolution of conflicts. Yet as the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, said, “Multilateralism is not only a matter of confronting shared threats, it is about seizing common opportunities.”

One hour after Trygve Lie arrived in New York as the first UN Secretary-General in March 1946, the Ambassador of Iran handed him the complaint of his country against the presence of Soviet troops in northern Iran. From that moment on, the UN has lived with constant conflict-resolution tasks to be accomplished. The isolated diplomatic conference of the past, like the Congress of Vienna in 1815 after the Napoleonic wars has been replaced by an organization continually at work on all its manifold problems. If the world is to move forward to a true world society, this can be done only through an organization such as the UN which is based on universality, continuity, and comprehensiveness.

Europe after the Congress of Vienna in 1815

Today’s world society evolved from an earlier international structure based on states and their respective goals, often termed “the national interest”. This older system was based on the idea that there is an inevitable conflict among social groups: the class struggle for the Marxists, the balance of power for the Nationalists. Thus, negotiations among government representatives are a structured way of mitigating conflicts but not a way of moving beyond conflict.

However, in the UN there is a structural tension between national sovereignty and effective international organization. In the measure that an international organization is effective, it is bound to impair the freedom of action of its members, and in the measure that the member states assert their freedom of action, they impair the effectiveness of the international organization. The UN Charter itself testifies to that unresolved tension by stressing on the one hand the “sovereign equality” of all member states and, on the other, assigning to the permanent five members of the Security Council a privileged position.

The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in session

Nonetheless, what was not foreseen in 1945 when the UN Charter was drafted was the increasing international role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). “We the Peoples” in whose name the UN Charter is established, are present in the activities of the UN through NGOs in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council. NGOs have played a crucial role in awareness-building and in the creation of new programs in the fields of population, refugees and migrants, women and children, human rights, and food. Now, there is a strong emphasis on the consequences of climate change as the issue has moved beyond the reports of climate experts to broad and strong NGO actions.

This increase in the UN related nongovernmental action arises out of the work and ideas of many people active in social movements: spiritual, ecological, human potential, feminist, and human rights. Many individuals saw that their activities had a world dimension, and that the UN and such Specialized Agencies as UNESCO provided avenues for action. Thus, as we mark the International Day of Multilateralism and Diplomacy for Peace, we recognize that there is the growth, worldwide, of a new spirit which is inclusive, creative, and thus life-transforming.

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

The Day of Mother Earth: Living in Harmony with Nature

In Being a World Citizen, Environmental protection, NGOs, Solidarity, Spirituality, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on April 22, 2021 at 8:24 PM

By René Wadlow

International Mother Earth Day on April 22 each year was established by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 2009. Its aim is to promote living in harmony with Nature and to achieve a just balance among the economic, social, and environmental needs of present and future generations. The concept of living in harmony with Nature was seen by the UN delegates as a way “to improve the ethical basis of the relationship between humankind and our planet.” It is the biosphere to which we belong. It is becoming the common heritage of mankind which we must defend.

The term “Mother Earth” is an expression used in different cultures to symbolize the inseparable bonds between humans and Nature. Pachamama is the term used in the Andean cultures of South America. The Earth and the ecosystem are our home. We need to care for it as a mother is supposed to care for her children and the children to show love and gratitude in return. However, we know from all the folk tales of the evil stepmother as well as the records of psychoanalytic sessions that mother-children relations are not always relations of love, care and gratitude. Thus, to really live in harmony with Nature requires deep shifts in values and attitudes, not just “sustainable development” projects.

The UN began its focus on ecological issues with the preparations for the 1972 Conference in Stockholm. However, the concept of living in harmony with Nature is relatively new as a UN political concept. Yet it is likely to be increasingly a theme for both governmental policy making and individual action.

As Rodney Collin wrote in a letter, “It is extraordinary how the key-word of harmony occurs everywhere now, comes intuitively to everyone’s lips when they wish to express what they hope for. But I feel that we have hardly yet begun to study its real meaning. Harmony is not an emotion, an effect. It is a whole elaborate science, which for some reason has only been fully developed in the realm of sound. Science, psychology and even religion are barely touching it as yet.” (1)

Resolutions in the UN General Assembly can give a sense of direction. They indicate that certain ideas and concepts are ready to be discussed at the level of governments. However, a resolution is not yet a program of action or even a detailed framework for discussion. “Living in harmony with Nature” is at that stage on the world agenda. As Citizens of the World, we strive to develop an integrated program of action.

Note
1) His letters have been assembled after his death by his wife into a book:
Rodney Collin, The Theory of Conscious Harmony (Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 1958)

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

Hugo Grotius: The Law of States

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Human Rights, International Justice, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on April 13, 2021 at 7:50 PM

By René Wadlow

Hugo Grotius (April 10, 1583 – August 28, 1645) whose birth anniversary we mark on April 10 played a crucial role in the development of the Law of States, in particular through two books written in Latin Mare Librium (Liberty of the Seas) 1609 and De Jure Belli ac Pacis (Law in War and Peace) 1625) Grotius is a key figure in the transition between the older feudal period and the important role of city-states and the development of a state system.

Grotius showed his intellectual talents early in life and was considered a youthful genius. At 17, in 1601, he published Adamus Exul (The Exile of Adam). In the drama, Satan is sharply critical of God’s grand design and is jealous of Adam being prepared to share in it having done nothing to bringing it about. Grotius’s Eve is a lovely, loving and enchanting partner, but is bored and ready for an apple. John Milton who met Grotius in Paris and read Adamus Exul there used many of the same themes in his Paradise Lost.

Hugo Grotius was Protestant and also wrote on religious subjects. However, he was caught up in intra-Protestant theological disputes in what is today Holland. Due to these theological tensions, he lived most of his life in Paris – 1621 to 1644 – where he served as the Ambassador of the Court of Sweden, a Protestant country. He was well thought of by the French King, Louis XIll, and Cardinal Richelieu, the power behind the King.

As the feudal period was ending, laws had to be formulated so that relations among states were not to be based only on material strength. Just as Hugo Grotius was writing at a time of a historic shift from the structures of the feudal period to the creation of states, so today there is a shift from international law in which the focus is on law concerning states to an emphasis on law with the focus on the individual citizen. Just as feudal structures and city-states did not disappear, so today, states are still present but there is a shift in focus. Today, we have an increase in multistate entities such as the European Union, the African Union, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on the one hand and multinational corporations and individuals on the other.

The shift to the law of the person grew from the lawlessness of states during the Second World War. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights created a new focus, and it was followed by the two International Covenants on Human Rights and then the Convention against Torture, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The system of monitoring, investigation and reporting set up by the United Nations (UN) human rights bodies are important avenues to focus upon individuals. As then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, “No shift in the way we think or act can be more critical than this: we must put people at the center of everything we do.” The UN’s influence is derived not from power but from the values it represents, its role in helping to set and sustain global norms, its ability to stimulate global concern and action, and the trust inspired by its ability to improve the lives of people.

UN efforts to extend international law to the practice of transnational corporations have not acquired the momentum that the focus on the rights and obligations of individuals has done. However, there is a growing emphasis on what is increasingly called “civil society”. The civil society that has emerged and evolved around the UN spans a wide range of interests, expertise and competencies. While there are UN structures for dealing with non-governmental organizations which are granted consultative status, there is no equivalent structure for dealing with transnational corporations although some have real influence on the policies of governments and the lives of people.

Today, there is a need to increase the rule of law within the world society. We need individuals with the vision and dedication of Hugo Grotius.

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

U. Thant (1909-1974): Member of the Human Race

In Asia, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Spirituality, The Search for Peace, United Nations on April 13, 2021 at 7:22 PM

By René Wadlow

I am always conscious of the fact that I am a member of the human race. This consciousness prompts me to work for the great human synthesis which is the implicit goal of the World Organization I had the privilege of serving … Thus I am making a plea for a dual allegiance. This implies an open acceptance of belonging to the human race as well as to our local community and nation … I believe that the mark of the truly educated person facing the 21st century is that he feels himself to be a World Citizen.
U. Thant in View from the UN (New York: Doubleday, 1979)

At a time when the face of Burmese leadership is that of the current military dictator General Min Aung Hlaing, best known for his campaign against the Rohingya, it is useful to recall another style of Burmese leadership, that of U. Thant, the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General from 1961 to 1971.

U. Thant was the third UN Secretary-General. This gentle Burmese Buddhist was regarded as unremarkable which was exactly what the major powers, led by the USA. and the USSR, wanted after the lightning bolt of the second Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold.

The Secretary-General is accorded a central role – by the UN Charter, by history, and by the trust placed in him by Member States. With no enforcement capacity, the Secretary-General is armed only with the tools of his own making. States would generally prefer a good housekeeper who does not initiate, innovate, or otherwise threaten their equilibrium of the status quo. But U. Thant’s self-effacing nature belied his moral courage and inner strength. Those who voted for him were later to find themselves surprised.

The fullest statement of U. Thant’s beliefs and practices is his talk on “The Role of Religious Convictions” at the Third International Teach-in at Toronto, Canada in 1967. The teach-in was part of an effort at conflict resolution in the 1963-1975 USA-led Vietnam war. The USA had worked so that the war in Vietnam would be discussed as little as possible at the UN and especially that the UN would take no action. This left U. Thant highly frustrated. As a Burmese, he knew Indochina well, and as UN Secretary-General, he believed that the UN should be a leader in conflict resolution efforts worldwide. As the UN was unable to act officially, he gave support, both moral and intellectual, to religious efforts to mediate the Vietnam conflict. Thus, his statement to the Toronto teach-in stressed his Buddhist roots as some of the Vietnamese Buddhists were very active in conflict resolution efforts.

As a Buddhist, I was trained to be tolerant of everything except intolerance. I was brought up not only to develop the spirit of tolerance but also to cherish moral and spiritual qualities, especially modesty, humility, compassion and most important, to attain a certain degree of emotional equilibrium. I was taught to control my emotions through a process of concentration and meditation. Of course, being human, and not yet having reached the stage of arhat (enlightened being) I cannot completely “control” my emotions.

Among the teaching of the Buddha are four features of meditation, the primary purpose of which is the attainment of moral and spiritual excellence: metta (goodwill or kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy), and upekka (equanimity or equilibrium).

A true Buddhist practices his metta (kindness) to all, without distinction – just as the sun shines on all, or the rain falls on all, without distinction. Metta embraces all being impartially and spontaneously, expecting nothing in return, not even appreciation. Metta is impersonal love or goodwill, the opposite of sensuous caring or a burning sensual fire that can turn into wrath, hatred, or revenge when not requited.

Karuna, the quality of compassion, is deeply rooted in the Buddhist concept of suffering. Human life is one of suffering, hence it is the duty of a good Buddhist to mitigate the suffering of others.

Mudita (sympathetic joy) can best be defined as one’s expression of sympathy with other people’s joy. The happiness of others generates happiness in the mind of a good Buddhist. The person who cultivates altruistic joy radiates it over everyone in his surroundings.

Upekka (equanimity) connotes the acquisition of a balance of mind whether in triumph or tragedy. This balance is achieved only as a result of deep insight into the nature of things, and primarily by contemplation and meditation. If one understands how unstable and impermanent all worldly conditions are, one learns to bear lightly the greatest misfortune or the greatest reward. To achieve upekka, one has to meditate. Buddhist meditation aims at cleansing the mind of impurities, such as ill will, hatred, and restlessness; it aims at cultivating such qualities as concentration, awareness, intelligence, confidence, and tranquility, leading finally to the attainment of the highest wisdom.

The highest wisdom is in little evidence on the part of the Burmese military these days. There is a real danger that military violence will provoke violence in return. Mediation efforts in the spirit outlined by U. Thant are urgently needed.

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

24 mars : La vérité est un Droit Humain

In Being a World Citizen, Democracy, Human Rights, Latin America, NGOs, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, Spirituality, Track II, United Nations on March 26, 2021 at 5:00 PM

Par Bernard J. Henry

Trente-cinq ans déjà, en janvier dernier, que le chanteur français Daniel Balavoine trouvait la mort tragiquement lors du Paris-Dakar où il était présent non comme coureur, mais, fidèle à ses convictions telles qu’il les exprimait dans ses chansons, pour une opération humanitaire qu’il avait mise en place et voulait voir aboutir – littéralement, il l’aura payé de sa vie.

Dans ses chansons, Balavoine évoquait souvent les Droits Humains, le sous-développement, les atteintes à l’environnement et, bien sûr, le racisme, comme dans son dernier succès de son vivant, L’Aziza. A sa manière, il était un Citoyen du Monde au sens où le conçoit l’Association of World Citizens (AWC). Dans son album de 1983 intitulé Loin des yeux de l’Occident, il chantait le sort des femmes dans le Tiers Monde, comme l’on appelait alors le monde en développement, les écrivains emprisonnés par les dictatures militaires d’Amérique latine et, dans cette même région du monde, les Mères de la Place de Mai en Argentine. Depuis 1977, deuxième année de la dictature militaire dans le pays, ces mères de «disparus forcés» manifestent face au siège du gouvernement en demandant la vérité sur le sort des leurs. La junte au pouvoir les avait surnommées les «folles de la Place de Mai» pour les discréditer ; elle n’a ainsi fait que rendre leur cause mondialement célèbre.

Dans Revolución, dernière piste de Loin des yeux de l’Occident qui a pour titre le dernier vers de cette même chanson, Balavoine chantait ainsi d’elles :

«Comme on porte une couronne,

Elles ont la peur sur leur visage ruisselant,

Espérant la maldonne,

Elles frappent leur poitrine en défilant,

Pieusement questionnent :

‘Est-ce que disparus veut dire vivants ?’

Faut-il qu’elles pardonnent

Pour croire que leurs morts ne sont qu’absents ?»

Et c’est bien là toute la question, au-delà même des atteintes aux Droits Humains – la question de la vérité sur les sévices commis, cette vérité que l’on refuse aux proches des victimes et qui, dans notre monde d’aujourd’hui, est pourtant considérée en elle-même comme un Droit Humain à part entière.

Monseigneur Romero : le plomb d’une balle pour le plomb du silence

Chaque année, dans le langage technique et bureaucratique, comme l’ONU et les autres organisations intergouvernementales bien intentionnées mais lourdes à manier en ont le secret, le 24 mars est la «Journée internationale pour le droit à la vérité en ce qui concerne les violations flagrantes des droits de l’homme et pour la dignité des victimes», même s’il suffit d’en retenir quatre mots, les plus «essentiels» comme le dit ce monde de pandémie – droit à la vérité.

Si Balavoine chantait les disparitions forcées, violation des Droits Humains qui invisibilise par excellence le martyre infligé aux victimes et permet comme nulle autre le mensonge, y compris en sa forme la plus cruelle et cynique qu’est le silence, le droit à la vérité concerne tout type d’atteinte aux Droits Humains, qu’elle soit perpétrée derrière les épais murs d’un bâtiment gouvernemental ou sous les yeux de qui voit soudain un proche connaître le pire. Et bien sûr, de la même manière que Chamfort parlait au dix-huitième siècle d’une France où «on laisse en repos ceux qui mettent le feu, et on persécute ceux qui sonnent le tocsin», dans un pays qui attente au droit, quiconque le dénonce devient soi-même une victime de choix.

Monseigneur Óscar Romero

C’est en mémoire de l’une de ces victimes, qui avait osé élever la voix sur les atrocités dont il avait été témoin, que la Journée internationale a été proclamée. Il se nommait Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez, il était Archevêque catholique romain de San Salvador, capitale du Salvador où la guerre civile opposait depuis peu le gouvernement conservateur et une guérilla marxiste. Lui aussi conservateur au départ, Monseigneur Romero reçoit un choc avec l’assassinat en 1977 d’un prêtre jésuite de son diocèse par un escadron de la mort pro-gouvernemental. Il devient alors un ardent défenseur des Droits Humains, notamment de ceux des paysans. Devenu un farouche dénonciateur des exactions de l’armée et des paramilitaires, il est abattu d’un coup de fusil en pleine poitrine le 24 mars 1980 alors qu’il dit sa messe dans un hôpital.

Le Salvador, autre pays dont avait parlé Balavoine dans Dieu que l’amour est triste, où il le rebaptisait le «San Salvador». Et autre exemple de la guerre aux Droits Humains que menaient à travers l’Amérique latine, du Guatemala jusqu’à la Terre de Feu, des dictatures civiles ou militaires auxquelles tout était bon pour réprimer la moindre opposition, cette guerre qui, en 1982, allait avoir pour victime collatérale à des milliers de kilomètres par-delà l’Atlantique, au Palais des Nations de Genève, Theo van Boven, chassé de la direction du Centre des Nations Unies pour les Droits de l’Homme pour avoir lui aussi élevé la voix trop fort, même si lui, au moins, y survécut et en témoigne encore à ce jour.

Le mensonge, première atteinte aux Droits Humains

Bien entendu, le temps a passé. Trente-cinq ans depuis le décès tragique de Daniel Balavoine. Plus de quarante ans depuis l’assassinat de Monseigneur Romero et bientôt tout autant depuis l’éviction de Theo van Boven. Mais le temps et l’évolution des atteintes aux Droits Humains n’ont fait, surtout depuis la Conférence de Vienne en 1993, que renforcer la victime, réelle ou potentielle, dans sa position centrale dès qu’il est question de défendre les Droits Humains ou, comme ici donc, de diffuser l’information sur les violations.

Theo van Boven

Ce qui est vrai pour les «folles de la Place de Mai», comme les appelaient avec mépris les «hommes des casernes» de Buenos Aires, est vrai pour toute autre situation où des droits sont violés et le secret est invoqué pour en cacher l’existence, ou la réalité au profit d’une version plus commode. Il n’est pas un type de violation des Droits Humains où le droit à la vérité ne s’avère crucial, même ce qui paraît évident pouvant receler une réalité plus occulte.

Qui a tué Lokman Slim au Liban ? Qui donne l’ordre de harceler Nidžara Ahmetašević, militante bosnienne de l’aide aux migrants à la frontière entre Croatie et Bosnie-Herzégovine ? Pourquoi Mohamed Gasmi, Défenseur des Droits Humains en Algérie, est-il poursuivi au pénal par son gouvernement sous les accusations calomnieuses, désormais devenues typiques des régimes autoritaires et des démocraties illibérales à travers le monde, d’avoir «eu des contacts avec des agents étrangers ennemis du pays» et «d’avoir comploté pour commettre des actes terroristes en sol national» ? Autant de questions auxquelles l’AWC s’est employée depuis le début de cette année à recueillir des réponses, autant que possible. Parce que le mensonge, à commencer par le silence qui en est la forme la plus venimeuse, est la première et la pire des atteintes aux Droits Humains.

Le droit à la vérité sur les atteintes aux Droits Humains n’est donc pas un pur vœu moral, pas plus qu’il ne doit demeurer un vœu pieux. Il est un véritable droit, dont la revendication n’est pas morale ou spirituelle mais bel et bien juridique, et au sens large du terme, politique. A défendre toujours, contre le mensonge et le silence des violateurs et contre les fausses vérités des tenants du complotisme et du confusionnisme sur Internet et ailleurs de par le monde.

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

A New Start for Stability in Libya

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

Mohammed Younes Memfi

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

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

General Khalifa Haftar

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

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

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

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

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

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

For a World Citizen Approach to Protecting Human Rights Defenders

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

By Bernard J. Henry

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

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

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

Legal, legitimate, but unrecognized

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

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

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

Human rights under attack means defenders in danger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shattering national borders – and human rights, too

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

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

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

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

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

Globalizing solidarity with HRDs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

Stringfellow Barr: Joining the Human Race

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Human Development, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on January 16, 2021 at 3:13 PM

By René Wadlow

Stringfellow Barr: January 15, 1897 – February 3, 1982

Stringfellow Barr, whose birth anniversary we mark on January 15, was a historian, largely of the classic Greek and Roman Empire period and an active world citizen. He served as president of the Foundation for World Government from its start in 1948 to its closing in 1958. He was president of St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, also home of the United States (U. S.) naval academy which turns out sailors. The aim of St. John’s under Stringfellow Barr was to turn out well-read liberals who would have studied a common set of “Great Book” starting with the Greeks such as Plato. The Great Books approach to learning developed community reading circles across the USA, very popular in the 1950s.

Stringfellow Barr had the good luck or a sense of the right timing to publish a short 36-page booklet Let’s Join the Human Race in 1950. (1) In his January 30, 1949 Inaugural Address on becoming President of the USA, Harry Truman set out four policy ideas which he numbered as Point One to Point Four. Point Four was really an afterthought as some mention of foreign policy was needed for balance. Point Four was “a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underdeveloped areas.”

Harry Truman

While the first three points dealing with domestic policy were quickly forgotten, Point Four caught the interest of many Americans as had the earlier Marshall Plan for Europe. For some Americans Point Four as the idea was called had an anti-Russian coloring. U. S. technology to raise the standard of living of poor countries would prevent them “from going communist”. For others, such as Stringfellow Barr, the effort of raising the standard of living of the poor was a good thing in itself, and it should not be the task of the USA alone.

Barr wrote “The people of the world are alone able to take on what is the main economic problem of every single national group – the problem of rebuilding their common world economy. They can hope to do it only by the massive use of public funds. America cannot do it for them … The nearest thing to a suitable agency that already exists is the United Nations. And the United Nations is the nearest thing that exists only because the people of the world lack a common government.”

Barr called for the United Nations (UN) to create a World Development Authority “calling in all neighbors from the Mighty Neighborhood.” He developed the idea in a full-length book in 1952 Citizens of the World (2). He places the emphasis on hunger which at the time was the public face of underdevelopment. Robert Brittain’s Let There Be Bread and Josué de Castro’s The Geography of Hunger were among the most widely read books by people interested in development at the time.

Today we have a broader view of what development requires, however food and rural development remain critical issues. The efforts of the UN system for development are not integrated into a World Development Authority. There are repeated calls for greater coordination and planning within the UN system. The 2015-2030 Sustainable Development Goals are an effort to provide an over-all vision, but common action remains difficult.

As Barr pointed out at the time, most of the proposals to improve the UN have focused their attention on the elimination of war, obviously important in the 1950s when war between the USSR and the USA was a real possibility, highlighted by the 1950-1953 Korean War. However, world citizens have tried to look at the total picture of the social, political, and economic life of all the people of the world. Today the focus of citizens of the world is more on the need for world-focused attitudes and policies rather than on new political structures. Yet the vision of Stringfellow Barr remains important as we highlight his birth anniversary.

Notes

1) Stringfellow Barr, Let’s Join the Human Race (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1950, 36 pp.)

2) Stringfellow Barr, Citizens of the World (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1952, 285 pp.)

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

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