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A Step Forward in the UN’s Efforts Against Rape as a Weapon of War

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Modern slavery, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, Women's Rights, World Law on April 26, 2019 at 10:50 PM

By René Wadlow

On Tuesday, April 23, 2019, the United Nations (UN) Security Council voted Resolution 2467 concerning the use of rape as a weapon in times of armed conflict. This resolution builds on an earlier resolution of June 24, 2013 which called for the complete and immediate cessation of all acts of sexual violation by all parties in armed conflicts. The new resolution introduced by Germany contained two new elements, both of which were eliminated in the intense negotiations in the four days prior to the vote of 13 in favor and two abstentions, those of Russia and China.

The first new element in the German proposed text concerned help to the victims of rape. The proposed paragraph was “urges United Nations entities and donors to provide non-discriminatory and comprehensive health services including sexual and reproductive health, psychosocial, legal and livelihood support and other multi-sectoral services for survivors of sexual violence, taking into account the special needs of persons with disabilities.”

French Ambassador François Delattre

The United States (U. S). delegation objected to this paragraph claiming that “sexual and reproductive health” were code words that opened a door to abortion. Since a U. S. veto would prevent the resolution as a whole, the paragraph was eliminated. There had been four days of intense discussions among the Security Council members concerning this paragraph, with only the U. S. opposed to any form of planned parenthood action. After the resolution was passed with the health paragraph eliminated, the Permanent Representative of France, Ambassador François Delattre, spoke for many of the members saying “It is intolerable and incomprehensible that the Security Council is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict and who obviously didn’t choose to become pregnant should have the right to terminate their pregnancy.”

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzya

The second concept of the German draft that was eliminated was the proposal to create a working group to monitor and to review progress on ending sexual violence in armed conflict. Such a working group was opposed by the diplomats of Russia and China, both of which have the veto power. Thus, for the same reason as with the U. S. opposition, the idea of a monitoring working group was dropped. Both China and Russia are opposed to any form of UN monitoring, fearing that their actions on one topic or another would be noted by a monitoring group. The Russian diplomat had to add that he was against the added administrative burden that a monitoring group would present but that Russia was against sexual violence in conflict situations.

Thus, the new UN Security Council Resolution 2467 is weaker than it should have been but is nevertheless a step forward in building awareness. The Association of World Citizens (AWC) first raised the issue in the UN Commission on Human Rights in March 2001, citing the judgment of the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia which maintained that there can be no time limitations on bringing an accused to trial. The Tribunal also reinforced the possibility of universal jurisdiction that a person can be tried not only by his national court but by any court claiming universal jurisdiction and where the accused is present.

Nadia Murad, the Iraqi women’s rights activist who was raped as an ISIS/Daesh slave

The AWC again stressed the use of rape as a weapon of war in the Special Session of the Commission on Human Rights Violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo citing the findings of Meredeth Turshen and Clotilde Twagiramariya in their book What Women Do in Wartime: Gender and Conflict in Africa (London: Zed Press, 1998). They write “There are numerous types of rape. Rape is committed to boast the soldiers’ morale, to feed soldiers’ hatred of the enemy, their sense of superiority, and to keep them fighting: rape is one kind of war booty; women are raped because war intensifies men’s sense of entitlement, superiority, avidity, and social license to rape: rape is a weapon of war used to spread political terror; rape can destabilize a society and break its resistance; rape is a form of torture; gang rapes in public terrorize and silence women because they keep the civilian population functioning and are essential to its social and physical continuity; rape is used in ethnic cleansing; it is designed to drive women from their homes or destroy their possibility of reproduction within or “for” their community; genocidal rape treats women as “reproductive vessels”; to make them bear babies of the rapists’ nationality, ethnicity, race or religion, and genocidal rape aggravates women’s terror and future stigma, producing a class of outcast mothers and children – this is rape committed with consciousness of how unacceptable a raped woman is to the patriarchal community and to herself. This list combines individual and group motives with obedience to military command; in doing so, it gives a political context to violence against women, and it is this political context that needs to be incorporated in the social response to rape.”

The Security Council resolution opens the door to civil society organizations to build on the concepts eliminated from the governmental resolution itself. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must play an ever-more active role in providing services to rape victims with medical, psychological and socio-cultural services. In addition, if the UN is unable to create a monitoring and review of information working group, then such a monitoring group will have to be the task of cooperative efforts among NGOs. It is always to be hoped that government acting together would provide the institutions necessary to promote human dignity. But with the failure of governments to act, our task as nongovernmental representatives is set out for us.

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

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Rocky Road to World Law: Need for a UN-led Conference on the Reaffirmation of Humanitarian Law

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Track II, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on March 22, 2019 at 10:52 PM

By René Wadlow

World law, as World Citizens use the term, is more than current international law. World law has, as its base, universally-recognized international law but also the human rights declarations and standards, the oft-repeated declarations of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly as well as the international legal bodies such as the World Court and the International Criminal Court (ICC). The International Criminal Court is the most recent of the world courts, and its Rome Status has not been ratified by all UN Member States, the United States (U. S.) being a significant holdout.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

Some States have withdrawn from the ICC and other States do not cooperate with it, such as the Sudan. The ICC can act only after the relevant national courts have acted or when national courts are unable to act (the case of some ‘failed States’) or when there is an unjustified unwillingness of national courts to act when crimes against humanity have been committed.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has repeatedly stressed that humanitarian law (international law in times of war, primarily the Geneva Conventions) are being systematically violated and that there should be a UN-led World Conference for the Re-affirmation of Humanitarian Law.

In the armed conflicts in Afghanistan, there have been repeated violations of humanitarian law by all sides: violations in the treatment of prisoners of war, violation of the prohibition of torture, prohibition of attacking medical facilities and medical personnel. The ICC has undertaken preliminary investigations to collect evidence. Among those who have violated humanitarian law are U. S. troops, and thus evidence should be collected.

Although most evidence could be collected within Afghanistan itself, it would be useful to interview persons who had served in Afghanistan but now have returned to the U. S. and to see written reports no longer stored in Afghanistan. Thus, the ICC plans to send investigators to the U. S. to interview and collect documentation.

However, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on March 15, 2019 that the U. S. will revoke or deny visas to ICC personnel investigating allegations of torture or other war crimes committed in the conflicts in Afghanistan. Pompeo also announced that the U. S. will consider imposing financial sanctions and restrictions on “persons who take or have taken action to request or further such ICC investigation”. He could have added imprisonment if we recall those who provided evidence of war crimes in Iraq.

Unfortunately, Pompeo sends the wrong message to all other parties that torture, rape, attacks on medical facilities will not be tried. Pompeo helps to undermine further international humanitarian law.

We have to think back to 1947-1948 and the leadership of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt as chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights to recall any U.S. leadership on world law. Unfortunately, law has never been part of U. S. culture. The lone cowboy taking the law into his own hands by shooting it out on a dusty street seen in many films remains the U. S. ideal.

As mentioned, most of the necessary evidence can be found in Afghanistan itself. Bringing anyone from any party to trial for crimes in Afghanistan seems to me unlikely. Nevertheless, as world citizens, we need to keep the standards of world law in mind. These standards should be clear. Thus, our repeated call for a UN-led conference on the re-affirmation of international humanitarian law.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

United_Nations_High_Commissioner_for_Human_Rights_(21509596784)_(cropped)

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.

Syria Conflicts Highlight Violations of Humanitarian International Law

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

** Notes **

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

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Ali Abdullah Saleh

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

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

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

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

Capture d'écran 2017-12-07 00.04.38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COMMUNIQUE DE PRESSE – 2017-11-17-21-30-FRA

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Press release, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on November 17, 2017 at 8:24 PM

-- Logo 2017 --

COMMUNIQUE DE PRESSE

 

Paris, le 17 novembre 2017

 

LES CITOYENS DU MONDE APPELLENT LA FEDERATION DE RUSSIE

A CESSER DE FERMER LES YEUX

SUR L’UTILISATION D’ARMES CHIMIQUES EN SYRIE

 

L’Association of World Citizens (AWC) est profondément déçue du veto opposé par la Fédération de Russie au renouvellement par le Conseil de Sécurité de l’ONU du mandat du Mécanisme Commun d’Enquête sur les armes chimiques en Syrie.

L’AWC soutient fortement depuis le départ la nécessité d’enquêtes internationales sur l’utilisation d’armes interdites par le droit mondial.

Un rapport de l’ONU publié en octobre établit la responsabilité des forces armées de la République arabe syrienne, notoirement soutenues par la force militaire russe, dans l’attaque au gaz sarin contre Khan Cheikhoun en avril dernier.

Les armes chimiques sont prohibées en vertu du droit humanitaire international et leur utilisation par quelque partie que ce soit dans le conflit syrien constitue donc un crime de guerre, susceptible d’être jugé comme tel par la Cour pénale internationale, les tribunaux nationaux ou toute institution ad hoc qui viendrait à être créée à cette fin.

L’AWC appelle la Fédération de Russie, le Conseil de Sécurité de l’ONU, et tous les Etats membres de l’ONU à apporter leur plein soutien aux enquêtes existantes et à mener sur l’utilisation d’armes illégales en Syrie, au premier rang desquelles les armes chimiques.

PRESS RELEASE – 2017-11-17-21-30-ENG

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Press release, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on November 17, 2017 at 8:24 PM

-- Logo 2017 --

PRESS RELEASE

 

Paris, November 17, 2017

 

WORLD CITIZENS CALL ON THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION

TO STOP CONDONING THE USE OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS IN SYRIA

 

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) is deeply disappointed by the veto opposed by the Russian Federation to a renewal by the United Nations (UN) Security Council of the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism on chemical weapons in Syria.

The AWC has strongly supported the need for international investigations on the use of weapons prohibited by world law.

A UN report released in October established the responsibility of the armed forces of the Syrian Arab Republic, known to be backed by the Russian military, in the sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun last April.

Chemical weapons are prohibited under international humanitarian law and their use by whichever party to the Syrian conflict is thus a war crime, liable to be tried as such by the International Criminal Court, national courts, or whatever ad hoc institution may be created to that end in the future.

The AWC calls on the Russian Federation, the UN Security Council, and all UN Member States to bring their full support to investigations on the use of illegal weapons in Syria, starting with chemical weapons.

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