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Global Compact for Migration: A Necessary First Step

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

Antonio Guterres

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

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

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

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

Migrants

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

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

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

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

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

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Gaza Crisis: A Cooperative Way Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UN Focus on Forests

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Bernard J. Henry

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

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

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

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

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

What’s New in Syria? Civil Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Staffan de Mistura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Key to a Viable Future in Syria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ahmad Moutie Darkazanli

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

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

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

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

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

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

(3) Ibid.

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

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

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

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

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Vassily Nebenzia, the Russian Ambassador to the United Nations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

International Decade of Water for Sustainable Development 2018-2028

In Africa, Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Environmental protection, Human Development, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Social Rights, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on April 10, 2018 at 7:50 AM

By René Wadlow

On March 22, World Water Day, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly proclaimed “The International Decade for Action: Water for Sustainable Development 2018-2028. The Decade seeks to forge new partnerships and to strengthen capacity to manage fresh water supplies and sustainable use. Ecologically-sound water use is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, N°6 “Ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” The aim of the Water Decade is to raise the profile of water in the global agenda of governments and nongovernmental organizations.

There have already been two UN-sponsored Water Decades: 1981-1990, and a second decade called UN Water for Life Decade, 2005-2015. Water and sanitation have been set out as human rights and the UN Human Rights Council has a Special Rapporteur for the Human Right to Water and Sanitation, most recently Mr. Leo Heller. However, real difficulties remain. Some 660 million people still draw water from an unimproved source. Urbanization, population growth, desertification, drought and climate change all put pressure on water supply and use.

We will look briefly at an aspect of the world-wide water challenge: desertification and at some of the steps which the UN along with non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the UN are taking to meet this challenge creatively.

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UN efforts began in 1977 with the United Nations Conference on Desertification held in Nairobi. The desertification conference was convened by the UN General Assembly in the midst of a series of catastrophic droughts in the Sudan-Sahelian region of Africa. The conference was designed to be the centerpiece of a massive world-wide attack to arrest the spread of deserts or desert-like conditions not only in Africa south of the Sahara but wherever such conditions encroached on the livelihood of those who lived in the desert or in its destructive path. The history of the conference is vividly recalled by James Wallis in his book Land, Men and Sand (New York: Macmillan, 1980)

At the conference, there was a call for the mobilization of human and financial resources to hold and then push back the advancing desert. “Attack” may have been the wrong word and “mobilization” too military a metaphor for the very inadequate measures taken after the conference in the Sudan-Sahelian area. Today, there are still real possibilities of famine in West and East Africa on the edges of the desert. Niger and Mali and parts of Senegal and Chad in the Sahel belt are facing the consequences of serious drought as are parts of northern Kenya and Somalia.

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The most dramatic case is that of Darfur, Sudan which partakes of the Sahel drought but which also faces a war in which conflicts between pastoralists and settled agriculturalists have become politicized. It is estimated that over 300,000 people have been killed since the start of the war in late 2003. Some two and a half million people have been uprooted. The agricultural infrastructure of homes, barns and well have been deliberately destroyed. It will be difficult and costly to repair this destruction. The Darfur conflict highlights the need for a broader approach to the analysis and interpretation of active and potential armed conflicts in the Sahel region. This analysis needs to take into consideration the impact of environmental scarcity and climate variation in complex situations.

What are the causes of the desertification process? The destruction of land that was once productive does not stem from mysterious and remorseless forces of nature but from the action of humans. Desertification is a social phenomenon. Humans are both the despoiler and the victim of the process. Increasingly, populations are eking out a livelihood on a dwindling resource, hemmed in by encroaching plantations and sedentary agriculturalists, by towns and roads.

Desertification is a plague that upsets the traditional balance between people, their habitat, and the socio-economic system by which they live. Because desertification disturbs a region’s natural resource base, it promotes insecurity. Insecurity leads to strife. If allowed to degenerate, strife results in inter-clan feuding, cross-border raiding and military confrontation.

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Only with a lessening of insecurity can pastoralists and cultivators living in or near deserts turn their attention to adapting traditional systems of compromise between the two. There can be no reversion to purely traditional systems. For insecurity to abate, a lengthy process of conciliation must begin and forms of conflict resolution must be strengthened. People must be encouraged to understand that diversity is a crucial element of ecologically-sound development. Judicious resource management breeds security and an improved quality of life for everyone. We can see what efforts can be made to encourage reforestation and to slow the unwanted advances of deserts.

Desertification needs to be seen in a broad way. If we see desertification only as aridity, we may miss areas of impact such as in the humid tropics. We need to consider the special problems of water-logging, salinity and alkalinity of irrigation systems that destroy land each year. We need to identify major clusters of problems, bringing the best minds to bear on them so as to have a scientific and social base on which common political will can be found and from which action will follow.

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

COMMUNIQUE DE PRESSE – 2018-04-01-16-25-FRA

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on April 1, 2018 at 2:26 PM

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COMMUNIQUE DE PRESSE

 

Paris, le 1er avril 2018

 

LES CITOYENS DU MONDE DEMANDENT UNE ENQUÊTE INDÉPENDANTE

SUR LES VIOLENCES COMMISES PENDANT LE RASSEMBLEMENT

DE LA GRANDE MARCHE DU RETOUR LE 30 MARS

L’Association of World Citizens (AWC) se joint aux appels de l’ONU et de l’Union européenne (UE) pour une enquête indépendante sur les affrontements entre la Force de Défense israélienne et des manifestants palestiniens le 30 mars dernier dans la Bande de Gaza, lors desquels seize Palestiniens ont été tués et des centaines d’autres blessés.

L’usage de balles réelles, de billes de plomb enrobées de caoutchouc, et de gaz lacrymogènes par la Force de Défense israélienne contre des manifestants aux intentions pacifiques paraît difficilement justifié et appelle un examen impartial pour déterminer les violations des Droits Humains commises durant ces événements.

Une telle enquête est d’autant plus importante qu’il est prévu que la Grande Marche du Retour se poursuive et ait lieu également aux frontières de la Cisjordanie.

Bien que déplorant la tendance actuelle du Gouvernement israélien à isoler le pays de la communauté mondiale – non dans une moindre mesure par l’annonce du retrait du pays de l’UNESCO – l’AWC appelle à une pleine coopération avec l’ONU et l’UE en direction d’une enquête internationale sur les violences qui ont gâché la manifestation de la Grande Marche du Retour.

Faire partie de la communauté mondiale des peuples et des nations implique des devoirs et responsabilités. Respecter le droit à la protestation pacifique en fait partie. Le monde entier regarde et il faut à cette crise une issue juste et honorable.

Tout être humain a droit à la vérité et à la justice. Sur ce qui s’est produit, les Citoyens du Monde exigent l’action.

PRESS RELEASE – 2018-04-01-16-20-ENG

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, World Law on April 1, 2018 at 2:20 PM

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PRESS RELEASE

 

Paris, April 1, 2018

 

WORLD CITIZENS CALL FOR AN INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION

INTO THE VIOLENCE

DURING THE GREAT MARCH OF RETURN PROTEST ON MARCH 30

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) joins the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) in calling for an independent investigation into the clashes between the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and Palestinian protesters that took place in the Gaza Strip on March 30, killing 16 Palestinians and injuring hundreds more.

The use of live fire, rubber-coated steel pellets, and teargas by the IDF against protesters with peaceful intentions can hardly appear justified and thus warrants an impartial examination with a view to assessing the violations of human rights committed during these events.

Such an investigation is especially important as the Great March of Return is planned to continue and take place on the West Bank’s boundaries as well.

While deploring the Israeli Government’s latest tendency to isolate the country from the global community – not least by announcing the country’s withdrawal from UNESCO – the AWC calls for full cooperation with the UN and EU toward an international investigation into the violence that marred the Great March of Return protest.

Being part of the global community of peoples and nations implies duties and responsibilities. Respecting the right to peaceful protest is one of them. The world is watching and there must be a fair, honorable outcome to this crisis.

Every human being has a right to truth and justice. World Citizens want action on this issue.

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Maître Najet Laabidi de nouveau visée par les autorités tunisiennes

In Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Current Events, Disabled people, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Social Rights, Solidarity, United Nations, World Law on March 18, 2018 at 7:29 AM

Par Bernard Henry

Si l’on juge un pays sur la manière dont il traite les personnes handicapées, alors la Tunisie a besoin d’un bon avocat. Et si l’on juge un pays au respect que les pouvoirs publics accordent aux avocats, alors la terre du Jasmin semble en chute libre vers l’indéfendable.

Une fois de plus, l’avocate tunisienne Najet Laabidi, poursuivie depuis 2011 pour avoir voulu représenter ses clients comme il est naturel pour un avocat, est dans le collimateur. Et cette fois, l’injustice est plus criante encore, car les clients que l’on veut l’empêcher de représenter sont, comment le comprendre, des personnes handicapées.

Enfants autistes, elles les maltraitent

Dans un courrier du 8 mars à la Rapporteuse spéciale de l’ONU sur les Droits des Personnes handicapées, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, le Comité de Soutien de l’Affaire des Enfants autistes violentés et de Défense des Droits des Enfants/Personnes Autistes/Handicapé(e)s sonne l’alarme sur les faits dont il tire son nom, des faits remontant à février dernier seulement et qui, dans une Tunisie qui ne cesse de s’éloigner des espoirs de la révolution qui ouvrit en 2011 le « printemps arabe », sonnent comme un implacable constat d’échec – et un déchirant appel au secours.

« Le 17 février 2018, » écrit le Comité, « une vidéo a été mise en ligne sur les réseaux sociaux présentant des actes de violence (de maltraitance) d’enfants autistes dans un centre privé de prise en charge et d’éducation spécialisée à Tunis. » Sur cet enregistrement, réalisé par un employé du centre, l’on voit trois enfants se faire agresser par deux éducatrices du même centre.

La politique prise en défaut …

Les réactions n’ont pas tardé. Le 19 février, le Chef du Gouvernement tunisien affirmait son indignation, ordonnant une prise en charge psychologique immédiate pour les enfants du centre. Les premières consultations débutèrent le 6 mars.

Du côté des autres ministres, les suites furent moins reluisantes. Ministère de la Femme, de la Famille et de l’Enfance, Ministère des Affaires Sociales et Ministère de l’Education se jetèrent la patate chaude, chacun niant que le centre relève de sa juridiction. Et pour cause. En Tunisie, les centres pour enfants ou personnes handicapées sont gérées par des associations, elles-mêmes affiliées au Ministère des Affaires Sociales. Au mieux. Car le centre ne possède qu’un simple statut d’école privée, avec agrément du Ministère de l’Education, et n’abrite aucun professionnel qualifié pour la prise en charge des enfants autistes ou des personnes handicapées.

Côté grand public enfin, ce n’est pas la publicité qui a manqué à la vidéo, pas plus que les débats, à la radio, à la télévision et ailleurs. Débats où les enfants autistes ne trouvent pas que des défenseurs. C’est ainsi qu’un intervenant est allé jusqu’à justifier les violences, qu’il qualifiait d’ «intervention thérapeutique scientifique reconnue dans le cas des enfants autistes» …

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Avec l’affaire relayée y compris dans les médias internationaux, le scandale a de loin dépassé les seules frontières de la Tunisie. (Capture d’écran)

Mais l’essentiel de la population a bel et bien pris parti pour les enfants victimes, les familles d’enfants autistes et personnes handicapées, les Défenseurs des Droits Humains, les juristes et les organisations de personnes handicapées ayant été au premier rang de l’indignation générale.

Créé dans la foulée, le Comité de Soutien de l’Affaire des Enfants autistes violentés et de Défense des Droits des Enfants/Personnes Autistes/Handicapé(e)s appela au rassemblement devant la Présidence du Gouvernement. Le 20 février, à l’issue de la manifestation, des représentants du comité rencontrèrent des officiels gouvernementaux, auxquels ils rappelèrent les annonces du Chef du Gouvernement. Leurs exigences étaient simples et claires – des solutions pour les enfants du centre qui avaient dû, suite au scandale, être ramenés dans leurs familles, et des mesures à moyen et long terme pour que jamais de tels faits ne se reproduisent.

Des politiques mis au pied du mur entendaient enfin une légitime colère.

… Et le droit en déshérence

Dans tout Etat se voulant un Etat de droit, qui dit violences avérées dit procédure pénale. Au moins sur ce point, la Tunisie ne déçoit pas. Enfin, pas tout de suite.

Devant les plaintes déposées contre le centre et sa directrice par les parents des jeunes victimes, pour les besoins de l’instruction, l’une des éducatrices est en détention mais l’autre, ainsi que la directrice, ont été relâchées sous contrôle judiciaire. Malgré la gravité des faits, le centre lui-même n’a pas été fermé.

Plus incompréhensible encore, plusieurs parents des pensionnaires du centre ont pris la défense de la directrice et affirmé son innocence. Incompréhensible, certes – si l’on oublie que ces mêmes parents bénéficient d’une prise en charge de leurs enfants entièrement gratuite, là où le centre facture 700 à 900 dinars tunisiens, soit 230 à 300 euros, chaque mois. Une directrice «chèrement» défendue donc.

Et dont les soutiens ne s’arrêtent pas à des parents-clients, puisque, le 5 mars, la Commission parlementaire de la Santé et des Affaires sociales la recevait en tant que représentante d’une association sur l’autisme et porte-parole … Des centres pour enfants autistes. Rencontre diffusée le soir même au JT. Une conception bien singulière de l’exemplarité.

Elle porte plainte au nom des témoins, les gendarmes portent plainte contre elle

A l’horreur de la situation et au mépris du droit qui l’entoure, il fallait bien que viennent s’ajouter des manœuvres d’intimidation envers une avocate défendant les Droits Humains. Et il fallait que cette avocate soit, une fois encore, Najet Laabidi.

«En France, on laisse au repos ceux qui allument les incendies et on persécute ceux qui sonnent le tocsin», notait Chamfort en son temps. Apparemment une malheureuse exportation française vers la Tunisie, puisque, le 7 mars, l’auteure de la vidéo montrant les deux éducatrices «à l’œuvre» contre les enfants autistes a été retenue sans justification, et en violation de la loi, au poste de Garde nationale, la gendarmerie tunisienne, pour un supplément d’enquête à son endroit. Et à ses côtés, également retenue sans ménagement, se trouvait son avocate, Maître Najet Laabidi.

A ce jour, les deux témoins sont harcelés, sans que la maréchaussée tunisienne s’en inquiète outre mesure. Quant à Najet Laabidi, qui a déposé plainte en leur nom pour ces abus et s’en est ouverte dans la presse, elle aussi fait l’objet d’une plainte, déposée contre elle par la Garde nationale de Ben Arous et qui lui a valu une convocation devant le Procureur général de la Cour d’appel.

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Pour qui en douterait, il en faudra pourtant bien plus pour faire baisser la garde à Najet Laabidi, qui réaffirme sans ambiguïté sa détermination dans ce qui est, pour elle, bien plus qu’un dossier d’avocat. «Pour moi, lutter pour les droits des enfants autistes, lutter pour un Etat de droit, un Etat de bonne gouvernance, c’est une obligation, un rêve, jamais je ne renoncerai. Même si l’on continue à m’intimider, par des poursuites judiciaires ou par d’autres moyens, je continuerai mon combat.»

Personnes handicapées et avocats, deux luttes du droit mondial

Jadis garde-frontière officieuse des Etats européens, en renversant son tyran et en déjouant ainsi tous les pronostics des « orientalistes » occidentaux, la Tunisie a acquis une aura toute nouvelle à travers le monde. Mais en s’inscrivant ainsi en faux contre deux luttes mondiales de Droits Humains, le pays risque de se voir bientôt décrire, une nouvelle fois, moins selon sa victoire contre l’arbitraire que selon son désolant retour vers la répression.

Car, oui, les droits des personnes handicapées sont une lutte mondiale de Droits Humains, l’ONU ne les ayant d’ailleurs jamais considérés autrement, là où le grand public les aurait vus bien plus comme une question relevant de la santé ou des affaires sociales. L’adoption en 2006 de la Convention internationale relative aux Droits des Personnes handicapées en est la meilleure preuve, ainsi que la création d’une agence spécialisée des Nations Unies consacrée au handicap, UN Enable.

Depuis bien plus longtemps encore, l’ONU consacre les droits des avocats, à travers les Principes de Base relatifs au Rôle du Barreau adoptés en 1990 et qui, pour n’être pas contraignants envers les Etats, n’en sont pas moins, à l’instar de tout le droit international, des dispositions dont aucune violation n’est sans conséquence, interne ou externe, sur le plan politique.

L’on voit donc mal comment et pourquoi une Tunisie passée contre toute attente à un despotisme clanique à un Etat bâti sur le souvenir des martyrs Mohamed Bouazizi, Chokri Belaïd et Mohamed Brahmi pourrait vouloir à présent devenir, aux yeux du monde, un Etat handiphobe et qui n’a – décidément – que mépris pour ses avocats.

C’est ce qui se passerait si les enfants du centre n’obtenaient pas justice, et si, plus encore, Najet Laabidi continuait à être harcelée, en lien avec cette affaire ou sur quelque autre sujet. Même en étant capables de s’attendre à tout, y compris à une bonne surprise, c’est en tout cas plus que les Citoyen(ne)s du Monde laisseront jamais passer.

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

 

Human Rights: Government Failures, NGO Need to Organize!

In Being a World Citizen, Children's Rights, Democracy, Fighting Racism, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, NGOs, Religious Freedom, Social Rights, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, Women's Rights, World Law on March 4, 2018 at 10:08 PM

By René Wadlow

In his final address to the Human Rights Council on February 26, 2018, United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein decried the “pernicious use of the veto” by permanent members of the UN Security Council – the USA, Russia, and China in particular – to block any unity of action to reduce the extreme suffering of innocent people in “the most prolific slaughterhouse of humans in recent times.”

However, it is not only the veto in the Security Council which prevents governments from acting. There is a widespread failure of governments to act. “Time and again, my office and I have brought to the attention of the international community violations of human rights which should have served as a trigger for preventive action. Time and again, there has been minimal action.”

He continued by mentioning States in which armed conflicts were the framework for constant human rights violations, including the fundamental right to life: Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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He highlighted the growing wave of narrow nationalism promoted by political parties and in some cases by the leaders of government. “Xenophobes and racists in Europe are casting off any sense of embarrassment – like Hungary’s Viktor Orban who earlier this month said ‘We do not want our color…to be mixed in with others’ “

He concluded with a warning and an encouragement to action. “It is accumulating unresolved human rights violations which will spark the conflicts that can break the world…For the worst offenders’ disregard and contempt for human rights will be the eventual undoing of all of us. This we cannot allow to happen.”

In the light of the use of the veto in the UN Security Council and the realpolitik considerations of States in general, it is the task of nongovernmental organizations (NGO) to promote the resolution of armed conflicts through negotiations in good faith and the respect of humanitarian international law while the armed conflicts go on. NGOs must work so that universal human rights are the basis of society at all times.

In order to carry out these crucial tasks, NGOs must become stronger, have greater access to the media, increase their networks to more countries, and develop greater cooperation among themselves. These challenges require a wise use of current resources and efforts to increase them. There is a need to increase cooperation with universities and other academic institutions for background information and analysis. Government representatives always look for factual errors in NGO presentations as a way to discredit the whole presentation. Dialogue with the representatives of governments must be continued and, if possible, made more regular. States will continue to be important agents in the world society, and we must try to be in contact even when government actions are unreasonable, even criminal.

Cooperation among NGOs will facilitate an outreach to more sectors of the world society. Often a specific NGO will reach a particular milieu – religious, geographic, professional, social class. By cooperation a wider audience can be reached, and techniques for positive action set out.

As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed armed violence, systematic repression, waves of hate and xenophobia are strong today, and there is a real danger that they will grow. To meet these negative challenges, we who uphold the unity of the human family must organize ever-more effectively.

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

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