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Syria: Concerns Raised and Possible Next Steps

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Migration, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, Syria, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on March 16, 2019 at 8:52 AM

By René Wadlow

March 15 is widely used as the date on which the conflict in Syria began. March 15, 2011 was the first “Day of Rage” held in a good number of localities to mark opposition to the repression of youth in the southern city of Daraa, where a month earlier young people had painted anti-government graffiti on some of the walls, followed by massive arrests.

I think that it is important for us to look at why organizations that promote nonviolent action and conflict resolution in the US and Western Europe were not able to do more to aid those in Syria who tried to use nonviolence during the first months of 2011. By June 2011, the conflict had largely become one of armed groups against the government forces, but there were at least four months when there were nonviolent efforts before many started to think that a military “solution” was the only way forward. There were some parts of the country where nonviolent actions continued for a longer period.

There had been early on an effort on the part of some Syrians to develop support among nonviolent and conflict resolution groups. As one Syrian activist wrote concerning the ‘Left’ in the US and Europe but would also be true for nonviolent activists “I am afraid that it is too late for the leftists in the West to express any solidarity with the Syrians in their extremely hard struggle. What I always found astonishing in this regard is that mainstream Western leftists know almost nothing about Syria, its society, its regime, its people, its political economy, its contemporary history. Rarely have I found a useful piece of information or a genuinely creative idea in their analyses “(1)

A Syrian opposition rally in Paris
(C) Bernard J. Henry/AWC

In December 2011, there was the start of a short-lived Observer Mission of the League of Arab States. In a February 9, 2012 message to the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, Ambassador Nabil el-Araby, the Association of World Citizens (AWC) proposed a renewal of the Arab League Observer Mission with the inclusion of a greater number of non-governmental organization observers and a broadened mandate to go beyond fact-finding and thus to play an active conflict resolution role at the local level in the hope to halt the downward spiral of violence and killing. In response, members from two Arab human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGO) were added for the first time. However, opposition to the conditions of the Arab League Observers from Saudi Arabia let to the end of the Observer Mission.

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

In these years of war, the AWC, along with others, has highlighted six concerns:

1) The widespread violation of humanitarian law (international law in time of war) and thus the need for a UN-led conference for the re-affirmation of humanitarian law.

2) The widespread violations of human rights standards.

3) The deliberate destruction of monuments and sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

4) The use of chemical weapons in violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol signed by Syria at the time, as well as in violation of the more recent treaty banning chemical weapons.

5) The situation of the large number of persons displaced within the country as well as the large number of refugees and their conditions in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. In addition, there is the dramatic fate of those trying to reach Europe.

6) The specific conditions of the Kurds and the possibility of the creation of a trans-frontier Kurdistan without dividing the current States of Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran.

These issues have been raised with diplomats and others participating in negotiations in Geneva as well as with the UN-appointed mediators. In addition, there have been articles published and then distributed to NGOs and others of potential influence.

The Syrian situation has grown increasingly complex since 2011 with more death and destruction as well as more actors involved and with a larger number of refugees and displaced persons. Efforts have been made to create an atmosphere in which negotiations in good faith could be carried out. Good faith is, alas, in short supply. Efforts must continue. An anniversary is a reminder of the long road still ahead.

Notes:

(1) Yassin al-Haj Saleh in Robin Yassin-Kassal and Leila Al-Shami, Burning Country, Syrians in Revolution and War (London: Pluto Press, 2015, p. 210)

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

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The Spiritual and Socialist Start of International Women’s Day

In Being a World Citizen, Human Rights, NGOs, Solidarity, United Nations, Women's Rights on March 8, 2019 at 10:53 PM

By René Wadlow

March 8 is the International Day of Women and thus a time to highlight the specific role of women in local, national and world society. International Women’s Day was first proposed by Clara Zetlin (1857-1933) at the Second International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen in 1911. Later, she served as a socialist-communist member of the German Parliament during the Weimar Republic which existed from 1920 to 1933 when Hitler came to power. Zetlin went into exile in the Soviet Union shortly after Hitler came to power. She died there several months later in 1933.

Zetkin had lived some years in Paris and was active in women’s movements there. The women were building on the 1889 International Congress for Feminine Works and Institutions held in Paris under the leadership of Ana de Walska.  De Walska was part of the circle of young Russian and Polish intellectuals in Paris around Gerard Encausse (1865-1916), a spiritual writer who wrote under the pen name of Papus and edited a journal, L’Initiation (1). Papus stressed the need for world peace. In 1901 Papus spent time in Russia as a spiritual adviser to Tsar Nicholas II. Papus had warned the Tsar against the growing influence of Rasputin.

Clara Zetkin

This turn-of-the-century spiritual milieu was influenced by Indian and Chinese thought. Translations of fundamental Asian philosophical texts were increasingly known in an educated public. ‘Feminine’ and ‘masculine’ were related to the Chinese terms of Yin and Yang − not opposed but in a harmonic balance.  Men and women alike have within themselves the Yin and Yang psychological characteristics. ‘Feminine’ characteristics or values include intuitive, nurturing, caring, sensitive and relational traits.  ‘Masculine’ traits are rational, assertive and analytical.

Yin and Yang

As individual persons, men and women alike can achieve a state of wholeness, of balance between the Yin and Yang.  However, in practice, ‘masculine’ refers to men and ‘feminine’ to women.  Thus, some feminists identify the male psyche as the prime cause of the subordination of women around the world.  Men are seen as having nearly a genetic coding that leads them to ‘seize’ power, to institutionalize that power through patriarchal societal structures and to buttress that power with masculine values and culture.

Thus, Clara Zetkin saw the need to call attention in a forceful way to the role that women as women play in society and the many blocks which men place in their way.  She made her proposal in 1911 and the idea of the Day was taken up within the Socialist movements.

The harmonious balance of Yin and Yang, present in the early discussions around Ana de Walska and Papus, largely dropped out of the Socialist version of International Women’s Day.  However, with greater attention being given to Chinese philosophical thought, we may see a revival of the theme.

The emerging world society has been slow to address the problem of injustice to women, because it has lacked a consensus on sex-based inequality as an urgent issue of political justice.  The outrages suffered every day by millions of women − domestic violence, child sexual abuse, child marriage, inequality before the law, poverty and lack of dignity require concerted action. Leadership on these issues comes more often from nongovernmental organizations rather than legislative action. Solidarity and organization are crucial elements to create sustainable ways of living in which all categories of people are encouraged to contribute. March 8, 2019 is a reminder of the positive steps taken but also the distance yet to be covered.

Note

1. See the biography by Marie-Sophie André and Christophe Beaufils, Papus (Paris: Berg International, 1995, 354pp.)

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


That Cooler Heads May Prevail

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, NGOs, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, World Law on February 22, 2019 at 1:19 AM

By René Wadlow

When the drums of war start beating, can cooler heads prevail and negotiations in good faith start? Vijay Mehta has written a useful overview of efforts to create a Department of Peace within governments so that there would be an institutionalized official voice proposing other avenues than war. (1)

Such proposals are not new. In 1943, Alexander Wiley, a liberal Republican senator had proposed to President Franklin Roosevelt that he establish a cabinet-level post of Secretary of Peace as there was already a Secretary of War. The Secretary of War has now been renamed Secretary of Defense, but the function has not radically changed.

A Secretary of Peace in Wiley’s vision would be charged with preempting conflicts before they exploded into violence and proposing peaceful resolutions. In the USA after the end of the Second World War, in a “never again” atmosphere, other members of Congress suggested the creation of such a Department of Peace. However, such a vision was never transformed into a reality.

As the Cold War took up ever more energy and funds, a compromise was reached in 1984 at the time that Ronald Reagan was President. The United States (U. S.) Institute of Peace was created and has produced some useful publications and does some conflict resolution training for diplomats and mediators. However, the leadership of the Institute of Peace has not played a visible role in foreign policy formation. One must look elsewhere for cooler voices to cover the beat of the war drums.

The headquarters of the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D. C.

There is currently a test in real time as the situation in Venezuela grows more complex. There are real possibilities of armed violence, ranging from armed violence within the country to the creation of armed militias operating from Colombia and Brazil as the Contras had in the Nicaragua case, to an old-fashioned intervention by U. S. troops. All these “cards are on the table”. There is no Secretary of Peace officially in the U. S. Government (nor in that of Venezuela either) The influence of national security advisors to the U. S. President has grown, and they have the advantage of frequent personal contact.

Latin America has often been considered as a U. S. “zone of influence”. Unlike current situations in the Middle East which are of direct concern to European States, Latin America has never been a priority of European countries with the exception of Soviet-Cuban relations. Spain has a cultural and economic interest in Latin America but does not try to influence U. S. policy toward individual States. The current U. S. administration seems largely indifferent to the views of the United Nations (U. N.). On the Venezuela crisis the U. N. Secretary-General has called for calm and restraint but has made no specific proposals.

In the U. S. there are a good number of “Think Tanks” devoted to policy making as well as university departments and programs with a geographic – area studies – orientation. As I am not a specialist on Latin America (most of my academic focus has been Africa and the Middle East), I do not know which have strong policy impact. I have seen relatively few public statements coming from academic Latin American specialists, though there is probably outreach to representatives in Congress.

Thus, we must watch the policy-making process closely. Obviously, my hope is that the cooler minds will win out and compromises made, such as holding new elections with international election monitors. This is a test in real time of Vijay Mehta’s aim How Not to Go to War.

Note:
(1) Vijay Mehta. How Not to Go to War: Establishing Departments for Peace and Peace Centres Worldwide (Oxford: New Internationalist Publications, 2019)

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

Reprisals on Human Rights Defenders: Need for NGO Action

In Being a World Citizen, Human Rights, NGOs, Solidarity, Track II, United Nations, World Law on February 5, 2019 at 11:28 PM

By René Wadlow

On January 23, 2019, the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), Antonio Guterres, in a statement listed States which had carried out reprisals or intimidation including killings, torture, and arbitrary arrests against individuals cooperating with the UN on human rights issues. He said,

“The world owes it to these brave people standing up for human rights, who have responded to requests to provide information and to engage with the United Nations to ensure their rights to participate is respected. Punishing individuals for cooperating with the United Nations is a shameful practice that everyone must do more to stamp out.” He went on to add “Governments frequently charged human rights activists with terrorism or blamed them for cooperating with foreign entities or damaging the state’s reputation of security.”

The UN human rights bodies and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have established a number of mechanisms for gathering information on the status of human rights in certain countries or about certain issues. In practice, most of this information is complaints on the violation of human rights. In some cases, the information comes from the local branch of an international nongovernmental organization and also from a national human rights organization. In other cases, it comes from a victim or the family of a victim. Information may also come from journalists, religious groups, or visitors to a country who are willing to carry a message out of the country.

Many human rights defenders are people working in isolated, remote areas far from the international networks of protection. These unsung defenders become a vulnerable target in areas where impunity prevails, and assailants operate with virtual no fear of having to account for their crimes. Nevertheless, international appeals with accuracy of information and speed of reaction can be helpful which the Association of World Citizens (AWC) knows from direct experience.

With the often cited “War on Terrorism”, there is a disturbing trend to use national security reasons and counterterrorism strategies by States as a justification for blocking access by communities and civil society groups to UN human rights staff. Women cooperating with the UN have reported threats of rape and being subject to on-line smear campaigns.

The information is collected at the UN High Commissioner’s Office in Geneva and is evaluated to see if the information fits into a pattern of continuing human rights violations or if it is an individual event. In some cases, the same information is also given to well-known human rights NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The AWC receives a certain amount of information which is usually passed on orally to the UN Secretariat in Geneva without the names of the contacts. Like journalists, one must protest one’s sources. On the other hand, the AWC cannot prove the information. Thus, in its public statements, this association only raises broad country situations such as the national minorities and the Rohingya in Myanmar (Burma). However, in private letters to the UN Ambassadors in Geneva and New York, we raise specific cases, often of what is increasingly called “human rights defenders”.

I present the States listed by broad geographic region rather than all together in alphabetical order as they are in the UN statement as other States in each region may also have human rights violation issues, often inter-related to the State named. Thus, the list of States is only those which the UN is aware that there have been reprisals against individuals who have given information to the UN units. We will close with some observations on what NGOs can do to limit such reprisals.

Middle East & North Africa

Bahrain
Egypt
Israel
Saudi Arabia
Morocco

Africa

Cameroon
Democratic Republic of Congo
Djibouti
Mali
Rwanda
South Sudan

Asia

China
India
Maldives
Myanmar
Philippines
Thailand
Turkey

Latin America

Colombia
Cuba
Guatemala
Guyana
Honduras
Trinidad and Tobago
Venezuela

Europe

Hungary
Russian Federation

Central Asia

Kyrgyzstan
Turkmenistan

The impact and increasingly higher profile of human rights informants has left them more and more exposed to a high risk of harassment, repression, arbitrary detention and extra-judicial executions. Governments are not the only actors. Depending on the country, there can be gangs, militias, paramilitary and other nongovernmental groups who also menace people thought to be giving information to the UN or to international human rights organizations.

The publication by the UN of its list is done with the hope that governments themselves will take positive action to protect. In some countries, internal security services or police-related “death squads” may act without the knowledge of the highest authorities of the State. In other States, there is little repression that does not come on orders of the higher authorities. There is a need for representatives of NGOs and also the media to be alert, especially for violations in States which are not otherwise in the news. Active networking remains crucial.

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

Migration in a Globalized World Economy

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Europe, Fighting Racism, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Migration, NGOs, Refugees, Social Rights, Solidarity, The former Soviet Union, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on December 21, 2018 at 12:12 AM

By René Wadlow

The present era of globalization of the economy is not new, but as a term and also as an organizing concept for policy making, it dates from 1991 and the formal end of the Soviet zone of influence which had some of the structures of an alternative trading system.

Earlier, dating from the 1970s the term used was “interdependence”. The emphasis was on economic relations but there was also some emphasis on cultural and political factors. In a July 1975 speech, United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who had an academic background and kept himself informed of theoretical trends said “All of us – allies and rivals, new nations and old nations, the rich and the poor – constitute one world community. The interdependence on our planet is becoming the central fact of our diplomacy… The reality is that the world economy is a single global system of trade and monetary relations on which hinges the development of all our economies. An economic system thrives if all who take part in it thrive.”

Interdependence was to help build a world society based on equality, justice, and mutual benefit. As Secretary Kissinger said the need was “to transform the concept of world community from a slogan into an attitude.”

Interdependence was to be articulated into policies leading to disarmament, peaceful change, improved welfare especially for the poorest and respect for human rights. However, in practice the continuing USA-USSR tensions, questions of access to oil especially in the Middle East and the difficulties of establishing rules and controls for the world trade system kept “interdependence” as a slogan and not as a framework for policies and decisions of major governments.

The term “globalization” has progressively replaced that of “interdependence” The concept of globalization continues the interdependence focus on global economic linkages but adds an emphasis on the organization of social life on a global scale and the growth of a global consciousness. Global consciousness is the essential starting point of world citizenship. Globalization is a socio-economic process in which the constraints of geography on social and cultural patterns recede and in which people become increasingly away that these geographic constraints are receding.

The rapid pace of globalization requires that research and practice keep up with the speed of changes in order to reduce unnecessary risks and to provide legitimacy and confidence in the world system. However, within the world society – as within national societies – there are many different interests. At the world level, there are not yet the web of consensus-building techniques found in public and private institutions at the national level.

There were recently two intergovernmental conferences being held at the same time which indicated the possibilities and the difficulties of reaching agreement among most of the States of th World: COP 24 held in Katowice, Poland devoted to issues of climate change and the conference on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, held in Marrakech, Morocco.

The COP 24 had the advantage of building on the 2015 Paris Climate Accord and on the serious scientific research carried out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Katowice conference was to develop a common system of rules, reporting and measurement for the Paris Climate Accord. This “rule book” was largely accomplished. A sub-theme was to show that the international spirit which had led to the Paris Agreement was still alive and well despite criticism and a lack of visible progress.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is the first of its kind, although there are earlier agreements on the status of refugees. In many countries, there has been sharp debates on immigration policy – often with more heat than light. Some States have already indicated that they will not sign the Compact even though it has been repeatedly pointed out that the Compact is not a treaty and thus not legally binding. The Compact sets out aspirations and strengthens some of the processes already in practice. The representatives of some States which signed indicated that they will be “selective” in the processes which they will put into practice.

Blue: Will adopt the Compact, Red: Will not adopt the Compact, Yellow: Considering not adopting, Gray: Undetermined

There was an agreement to hold a review conference in 2022. There is a growing tendency in inter-governmental treaties to set a review conference every four or five years to analyze implementation and the changing political and economic situation.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has been stressing for some years the importance of migration issues. Migration is likely to increase as climate changes have their impact. Thus, the AWC calls upon Nongovernmental Organizations to focus cooperatively and strongly on migration and the standards of the Global Compact.

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

We, Disabled People, the Global Uncontacted Tribe

In Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Conflict Resolution, Democracy, Disabled people, Human Development, Human Rights, Social Rights, Solidarity, United Nations on December 3, 2018 at 8:09 AM

By Bernard J. Henry

What is an “uncontacted tribe”? Come on, you’ve heard of them. These are native communities living in their traditional forest or island habitat, following their millennia-old, nature-based lifestyle and refusing contact with the outside world. Since Jair Bolsonaro, the far-right candidate for the presidency of Brazil, won the election on October 28, the future of Brazilian uncontacted tribes lies in the balance as Bolsonaro pledged during his campaign to have all these tribes wiped out.

One would assume that an uncontacted tribe is logically a people living in one single place, not a group scattered throughout the world, thus being more appropriately called an “uncontacted diaspora”, although the expression wouldn’t make much sense. If that’s what you think, then, think again.

This world of ours is indeed home to a global uncontacted tribe. The tribe has a name – disabled people. And I happen to be one of them. You may be glad that you’re not.

The Real Wretched of the Earth

If you have the firm belief that you could never live with a single one of your rights being violated or not properly implemented, then, indeed, be glad you’re not of our own. Disabled people, currently one billion people making up 15 per cent of the world’s population,are the largest minority in the world and, indignantly enough, the category of human beings whose rights are the most blatantly ignored and violated.

Poverty hits us hard, as, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), eighty per cent of persons with disabilities live in developing countries and studies by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) show that disability rates are significantly higher among groups with lower educational attainment in OECD member states. Among the world’s poorest people, says the World Bank, 20 percent have some form of disability and their communities view them as the most disadvantaged.

Disability doesn’t even spare women and children. A 2004 survey in Orissa, India, found that virtually all the women and girls with disabilities were beaten at home, 25 per cent of women with intellectual disabilities had been raped and 6 per cent of women with disabilities had been forcibly sterilized. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that 30 per cent of street youths are in some way disabled. Mortality for disabled children may be as high as 80 per cent in countries where underage mortality has, overall, decreased below 20 per cent, says the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, adding that, in some cases, it seems as if children are being “weeded out”. Due to malnutrition, diseases, child labor and other causes, disabled children in developing countries are projected to increase over the next thirty years.

When not faced with ignorance, as the OECD says an average 19 per cent of less educated people have disabilities, compared to 11 per cent among the better educated, we must cope with the consequences of armed conflict and violence. The WHO estimates that, for every child killed in warfare, three are injured and left with a permanent form of disability. In some countries, up to a quarter of disabilities result from injuries and violence.

While local uncontacted tribes strive to keep away from “civilization”, we, the global uncontacted tribe, try to fit in but get pushed back by everyone, everywhere. Being a global tribe, the issues we face can rightly be called global issues. But seldom are found global solutions, let alone sought to begin with.

A Global People with No Global Rights

It wasn’t until 2006 that a billion inhabitants of planet Earth saw their rights formally enshrined in a binding treaty – the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, signed on March 30, 2007. The Convention came into force on May 3, 2008 and, to date, 177 countries are States Parties. A specifically-dedicated United Nations (UN) agency, UN Enable, is tasked to ensure that the Convention is respected and enforced throughout the world. And even obtaining that didn’t come easy.

In 2004, the U. S. Administration, then led by President George W. Bush and at odds with much of the world over the Iraq war, opposed the Convention with all its might and argued that national laws within individual countries would always be better than a world treaty. Save that only 45 countries have anti-discrimination and other disability-specific laws, whose background varies heavily from country to country and makes it impossible to have a common global pattern of law emerge from domestic legislation.

In the U. S., disabled people were part of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, which landed them laws granting formal rights binding on federal, state, and local government and courts. By contrast, in France, disabled people started to gain specific rights after World War I, when so many veterans returned from the battlefield with injuries for life, needing either specific welfare pensions or assistance in finding a job. In the latter case, French disabled people had to wait until 1975 for a broader law, which was itself succeeded only in 2005 by a more thorough law, in both instances thanks to the determination of one man – Jacques Chirac, who was Prime Minister in 1975 and President in 2005, and whose daughter Laurence, who died in 2016, was gravely disabled. France is a State Party to the Convention, while the U. S. is only a signatory.

The Convention does not allow UN Enable to recognize and register persons as disabled people in the absence of a national framework, in the style of UNHCR which registers refugees in those countries without a national asylum agency. A shameful instance of national sovereignty without the limitations that would guarantee the greater good for everyone. Making us, disabled people, even more of a global uncontacted tribe.

We Are World Citizens – Sometimes World Leaders, Too

Are we doomed to remain forever global outcasts, a global uncontacted tribe as no one wants to contact us, at least without being judgmental and paternalistic toward us? Can we ever fit into society? To borrow a quote from Mark Twain, some of us “did not know it was impossible, so they did it”. And their names may just astound you.

Stephen Hawking, the British theoretical physicist. John Nash, the American mathematician, whose life inspired the movie A Beautiful Mind. Vincent Van Gogh. Ludwig van Beethoven. Frida Kahlo. Tom Cruise. Robin Williams. Stevie Wonder. Ladyhawke, the New Zealand singer and musician who became world famous in 2008 with her worldwide hit Paris is Burning. To name but a few.

Others still made it to top government posts. Joaquin Balaguer, former President of the Dominican Republic. Wolfgang Schaüble, several times a Federal Minister and now Speaker of Germany’s Federal Assembly (Bundestag). Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. In the United States, Robert Dole, a longtime Senator from Kansas and the Republican presidential candidate in 1996, as well as his recently-deceased fellow Senator and former Republican presidential nominee John McCain of Arizona – and, most importantly, two former Presidents, both Democrats, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, no less.

The latter won four presidential elections, got his country out of a major economic and social crisis, won World War II and created the United Nations – having done all that from a wheelchair. For an uncontacted tribe, we may not be deemed a completely useless portion of the world’s population.

Don’t Look at Our Name – Look at Our Selves

Even the name “disabled people”, coined by the non-disabled to refer to us, seems to have become more than this world can bear. Some are now using the name “differently abled”, at the very risk of stressing how different we are while we need to be recognized for our specificities but also for our similarities to the so-called “able” people. What’s in a name? Too much.

Disabled people need to be considered for what they are – people forced to live with a disability that requires special attention from society, while each of them retains his or her own self, skills and, unlike what our name suggests, abilities.

December 3 was proclaimed International Day of Disabled Persons in 1992, through UN General Assembly Resolution 47/3. Every year, the same question is asked of the people of the world: Why are you so afraid of the global uncontacted tribe? What makes you think they cannot be but a burden to society? Wouldn’t it be better for both you and them if you would only choose a more inclusive lifestyle that creates equal opportunities, regardless of (dis)ability?

And the world continues to wonder. It sees the global uncontacted tribe. It talks to us. But it uses a language we cannot understand, for its words cannot convey our own thoughts. And uncontacted we remain.

If you really want to contact us, just start by realizing that what you call “disability” originates in your own minds. We, the global uncontacted tribe, hold fortunes in knowledge and experience, different from yours. Please let us help you make this world a better place.

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

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

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

Asia Bibi

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

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

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

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

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

Capture d'écran 2018-11-01 23.48.17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note:

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

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

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

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nadia Murad: A Yazidi Voice Against Slavery

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

The International Court of Justice Reaffirms the Protection of Humanitarian Goods in Times of Sanctions and Boycotts

In Current Events, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Track II, United Nations, World Law on October 24, 2018 at 9:24 PM

By René Wadlow

In July 2018, the Islamic Republic of Iran brought a case against the United States (U. S.) policy of sanctions to the World Court in the Hague. After the U. S. withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action commonly called the “Iran Nuclear Deal”, the U. S. announced that it was reintroducing economic and financial sanctions against Iran, and that additional sanctions would begin on November 5, 2018. Iran cited a 1955 Treaty with the U. S. as the legal basis for its complaint.

The 15-member Court published its unanimous decision on October 3, 2018 stating that the U. S. “must remove” sanctions that could stop food, medical supplies, humanitarian products and products needed for civil aviation. The U. S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, replied that although the U. S. considered the case without merit and was not bound by the Court ruling, the U. S. had already removed medicine and humanitarian items from its sanctions list. In addition, the U. S. was withdrawing from the 1955 Treaty which it already considered as no longer valid. The U. S. Government would review all its treaties to avoid their being cited in World Court proceedings.

The U. S. is party to some 70 treaties in which the World Court has jurisdiction. Each of these treaties provides that any dispute concerning the interpretation or application of the treaty may be brought to the World Court by any party to the treaty. Some of the treaties have many parties, others as with the Iran Treaty are bilateral.

The decision of the International Court of Justice reaffirms the protection of children in States under sanctions and boycotts. The Association of World Citizens (AWC) had raised this issue in Geneva during the negotiations which led to the Convention of the Rights of the Child adopted on November 20, 1989. World Citizens had raised the same issue in the mid-1990s as a result of the wide-scale suffering of children and pregnant women during the sanctions against Iraq and also the U. S. boycott of Cuba. Thus the Court decision will make this protection a norm of world law.

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The International Court of Justice, often called the World Court, is the successor to the Permanent Court of International Justice associated with the League of Nations. When the United Nations (U. N.) was established in 1945, the International Court of Justice was created as the principle judicial organ of the U. N. It is composed of 15 judges who are elected by the U.N. General Assembly and the Security Council.

According to the Statute of the Court, the judges should be chosen with a view to representation of the principal legal systems of the world. The judges are expected to be independent and not to take instructions from governments. Only States may be parties in cases brought before the Court. An individual cannot bring a case before the Court nor can a firm. The U. N. and its Specialized Agencies may request advisory opinions from the Court on legal matters arising from their activities.

States have hardly been lining up to take cases to the Court. For long periods, the Court has no cases before it or very few. This makes the Court one of the most underutilized of intergovernmental organizations.

World Citizens have stressed that slowly but surely the U. N. plays the key role in the articulation of the values, norms, and laws of the world community. The U. N. General Assembly was mandated in Article 13 of the Charter to encourage “the progressive development of international law and its codification.” The Assembly has done so in a number of ways. It created the International Law Commission in 1949 which has usefully reviewed, updated, and codified traditional fields of international law leading to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties in 1969.

More directly, the General Assembly has proclaimed the standards of international law such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) which has become the world standard and the guide for both regional and national human rights law. The General Assembly also proclaimed the standards for behavior among States with the Declaration of the Principles of International Law Relating to Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States according to the Charter of the United Nations (1970).

The General Assembly has organized special conferences for drafting international law such as the law of the sea which produced the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention. The U. N. General Assembly has also created the U. N. Commission for International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) to deal more particularly with the private law aspects of international economic relations.

Nongovernmental organizations, such as the AWC, have contributed to building and strengthening a world peace structure composed of world law and world institutions which will command such general acceptance that resort to law will replace unilateral action of States based on narrow domestic political considerations.

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

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