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

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

By René Wadlow

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

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

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Ali Abdullah Saleh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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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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World Humanitarian Day

In Being a World Citizen, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, NGOs, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on August 21, 2017 at 7:10 PM

By René Wadlow

In memory of Sergio Vieira de Mello (1948-2003)

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The United Nations (UN) General Assembly has designated August 19 as “World Humanitarian Day” but celebrated this Monday, August 21, to pay tribute to aid workers in humanitarian service in difficult and often dangerous conditions.  August 19 was designated in memory of the bombing on August 19, 2003 of the UN office building in Baghdad, Iraq in which Sergio Vieira de Mello, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and at the time Special Representative of the UN Secretary General was killed along with 21 UN staff members. Over 200 UN employees were injured. The exact circumstances of the attack are not known, and why United States (U. S.) and UN security around the building was not tighter is still not clear. A truck with explosives was able to dive next to the building and then blew itself up.

Sergio de Mello had spent his UN career in humanitarian efforts, often with the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees and at other times as Special Representative of the UN Secretary General. As an NGO representative to the UN in Geneva and active on human rights issues, I knew him during his short 2002-2003 tenure as High Commissioner for Human Rights. Many of us had high hopes that his dynamism, relative youth (he was 54) and wide experience in conflict resolution efforts would provide new possibilities for human rights efforts. His death along with the death of others who had been Geneva-based was a stark reminder of the risks that exist for all engaged in humanitarian and conflict resolution work.

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Currently, the risks and dangers are not just memories but are daily news. On May 3, 2016, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2286 calling for greater protection for health care institutions and personnel in light of recent attacks against hospitals and clinics in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Afghanistan.  These attacks on medical facilities are too frequent to be considered “collateral damage.” The attacks indicate a dangerous trend of non-compliance with world law by both State and non- State agents.  The protection of medical personnel and the treatment of all the wounded − both allies and enemies − goes back to the start of humanitarian law and the first Red Cross Conventions.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has stressed the need for accountability, including by investigation of alleged violations of the laws of war.  The grave violations by the Islamic State (ISIS) must be protest by as wide a coalition of concerned voices as possible. There is a real danger that as ISIS disintegrates and no longer controls as much territory, it will increase terrorist actions. However, ISIS is not the only group which has violated humanitarian international law.  Government forces such as those of Saudi Arabia fighting in Yemen have attacked medical facilities and civilian targets.

The laws of war, now more often called humanitarian, international law, have two wings, one dealing with the treatment of medical personnel in armed conflict situations, the military wounded, prisoners of war, and the protection of civilians. This wing is represented by the Geneva (Red Cross) Conventions. The second wing, often called The Hague Conventions limit or ban outright the use of certain categories of weapons. These efforts began at The Hague with the 1900 peace conferences and have continued even if the more recent limitations on land mines, cluster weapons and chemical weapons have been negotiated elsewhere.

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The ban on the use of weapons are binding only on States which have ratified the convention. Thus the current use of USA-made cluster weapons in Yemen by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition is, in a narrow sense, legal as the USA, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have not signed the cluster weapon ban. The AWC was one of the NGOs leading the campaign against cluster weapons. My position is that when a large number of States ratify a convention (which is the case for the cluster-weapons ban) then the convention becomes world law and so must be followed by all States and non-State actors even if they have not signed or ratified the convention. The same holds true for the use of land mines currently being widely used by ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

The current situation concerning refugees and internally-displaced persons can also be considered as part of humanitarian law.  Thus, those working with refugees and the displaced within their country are also to be honored by the World Humanitarian Day.  To prevent and alleviate human suffering, to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human person − these are the core values of humanitarian international law.

There needs to be a wide public support in the defense of humanitarian international law so that violations can be reduced. The time for action is now.

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

Rapid Ratification Needed of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

In Asia, Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Environmental protection, Human Development, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on July 19, 2017 at 10:53 AM

RAPID RATIFICATION NEEDED OF THE TREATY ON THE PROHIBITION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS
By René Wadlow

On July 7, 2017, at the United Nations in New York, a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was voted by 122 Member States, one Member State, the Netherlands, voted against, and one Member State, Singapore, abstained. The People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) was the only nuclear-weapon State to take part in the Treaty Conference and to vote in favor of its adoption. The other nuclear-weapon States did not participate in the drafting of the Treaty.

Immediately after the positive vote, the delegations of the USA, the United Kingdom, and France issued a joint press statement saying that “This initiative clearly disregards the realities of the international security environment… This treaty offers no solution to the grave threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program, nor does it address other security challenges that made nuclear deterrence necessary.”

Article I of the Treaty sets out its basic intention: to prohibit all activities involving nuclear weapons including to develop, test, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons and to use, threaten to use, transfer, station, install or deploy these weapons.

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The Treaty will be open for signature and thus the start of the process of ratification at the start of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on September 20, 2017. 50 ratifications are necessary for the Treaty to come into force. September 21 is the World Day for Peace, set by the UN General Assembly in 1981. The theme this year is “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All”.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) believes that signing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons would be a most appropriate way to mark the Day of Peace and its theme “Together for Peace”. The AWC warmly welcomes the Treaty and expresses its deep appreciation to the UN Secretariat, the delegates of the Member States, and fellow non-governmental organization representatives who have worked to achieve this common goal, an important step toward a world free of the threats posed by nuclear weapons.

World Citizens were among those who called for the abolition of nuclear weapons shortly after their first use on Japan, and many Japanese world citizens have constantly participated in efforts toward their abolition.

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On August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. That was the first ever nuclear attack in U. S., Japanese, and world history. Around 250,000 people were killed in that bomb attack alone. (C) U. S. Navy Public Affairs Resources Website

World Citizens have also stressed that the abolition of nuclear weapons is part of a larger effort of disarmament and the peaceful settlement of disputes. At each 5-year review of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), World Citizens have stressed that Article VI of the NPT has not been fulfilled by the nuclear-weapon States. Article VI says that “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” Unfortunately, the issue of general and complete disarmament and forms of verification and control are no longer topics on the world agenda.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons follows what has been called The Hague Law tradition of the banning of weapons because of their humanitarian consequences, a tradition first stressed in Saint-Petersburg in 1868 and which was at the heart of the two peace conferences of The Hague in 1899 and 1907. This tradition has led to the ban on poison gas by the 1925 Geneva Protocol as well as the more recent bans on chemical weapons, biological weapons, anti-personnel land mines, and cluster munitions. A conference of UN Member States was held in Vienna, Austria on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons which brought up-to-date the many reports and studies on the impact of the use of nuclear weapons on humans and Nature. Thus the emphasis of the negotiations on the Treaty concerned more humanitarian consequences rather than arms control issues.

World Citizens have always stressed that the abolition of nuclear weapons and other disarmament measures must be accompanied by efforts to strengthen world institutions that can skillfully address conflicts as early as possible. Acting together, all States and peoples can help to define a dynamic vision and program for achieving global security that is realistic and achievable. Progress toward a cosmopolitan, humanist world society requires the development of effective norms, procedures and institutions.

Thus, the start of a speedy ratification procedure of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on September 21, Day of Peace, would be a sign to the peoples of the world that there is at the world level a vision of this crucial step toward a world of peace and justice.

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

June 20: World Refugee Day

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Democracy, Europe, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Migration, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on June 20, 2017 at 8:19 AM

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JUNE 20: WORLD REFUGEE DAY
By René Wadlow

June 20 is the United Nations (UN)-designated World Refugee Day marking the signing in 1951 of the Convention on Refugees. The condition of refugees and migrants has become a “hot” political issue in many countries, and the policies of many governments have been very inadequate to meet the challenges. The UN-led World Humanitarian Summit held in Istanbul, Turkey on May 23-24, 2016 called for efforts to prevent and resolve conflicts by “courageous leadership, acting early, investing in stability, and ensuring broad participation by affected people and other stakeholders.”

If there were more courageous political leadership, we might not have the scope and intensity of the problems that we now face. Care for refugees is the area in which there is the closest cooperation between nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the UN system. As one historian of the work of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has written “No element has been more vital to the successful conduct of the programs of the UNHCR than the close partnership between UNHCR and the non-governmental organizations.”

Refugee Rights Protest at Broadmeadows, Melbourne

The 1956 flow of refugees from Hungary was the first emergency operation of the UNHCR. The UNHCR turned to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the League of Red Cross Societies which had experience and the finances to deal with such a large and unexpected refugee departure and resettlement. Since 1956, the UNHCR has increased the number of NGOs, both international and national, with which it works given the growing needs of refugees and the increasing work with internally displaced persons who were not originally part of the UNHCR mandate.

Along with emergency responses − tents, water, medical facilities − there are longer-range refugee needs, especially facilitating integration into host societies. It is the integration of refugees and migrants which has become a contentious political issue. Less attention has been given to the concept of “investing in stability”. One example:

The European Union (EU), despite having pursued in words the design of a Euro-Mediterranean Community, in fact did not create the conditions to approach its achievement. The Euro-Mediterranean partnership, launched in 1995 in order to create a free trade zone and promote cooperation in various fields, has failed in its purpose. The EU did not promote a plan for the development of the countries of North Africa and the Middle East and did nothing to support the democratic currents of the Arab Spring. Today, the immigration crisis from the Middle East and North Africa has been dealt with almost exclusively as a security problem.

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Za’atari, Jordan. The biggest refugee camp in the world.

The difficulties encountered in the reception of refugees do not lie primarily in the number of refugees but in the speed with which they have arrived in Western Europe. These difficulties are the result of the lack of serious reception planning and weak migration policies. The war in Syria has gone on for six years. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, not countries known for their planning skills, have given shelter to nearly four million persons, mostly from the Syrian armed conflicts. That refugees would want to move further is hardly a surprise. That the refugees from war would be joined by “economic” and “climate” refugees is also not a surprise. The lack of adequate planning has led to short-term “conflict management” approaches. Fortunately, NGOs and often spontaneous help have facilitated integration, but the number of refugees and the lack of planning also impacts NGOs.

Thus, there is a need on the part of both governments and NGOs to look at short-term emergency humanitarian measures and at longer-range migration patterns, especially at potential climate modification impact. World Refugee Day can be a time to consider how best to create a humanist, cosmopolitan society.

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

Battle for Raqqa: Protests needed on violations of humanitarian law

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on June 16, 2017 at 9:06 AM

BATTLE FOR RAQQA: PROTESTS NEEDED ON VIOLATIONS OF HUMANITARIAN LAW

By René Wadlow

The battle for Raqqa, a symbolic city for the Islamic State or, under its Arabic acronym, “Daesh” (ISIS/DAESH) in Syria is underway with ever-increasing dangers to civilian populations caught in the cross-fire of ISIS/DAESH and the advancing Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, supported by air strikes of the United States (U. S.)-led coalition.

The United Nations (UN) Secretariat has raised an alarm concerning the fate of families held by the ISIS/DAESH forces for possible use as “human shields” in the battle for the city of Raqqa held by ISIS/DAESH since 2014. The use of civilians as “human shields” is a violation of the laws of war set out in the Geneva Conventions. ISIS/DAESH leaders have been repeatedly warned by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which, by treaty, is responsible for the respect and application of the Geneva Conventions.

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Infantry soldiers with the Syrian Democratic Forces patrolling the Raqqa countryside in December 2016. (C) VOA

In addition to the families which have been rounded up or are prevented from leaving, there are a large number of children trapped in the city and who may be used in military ways, either to fight or as suicide bombers.

The danger from the disintegrating ISIS/DAESH is that there are no longer the few restraints that existed among some of the ISIS/DAESH leadership for the laws of war. As troops have drawn closer to Raqqa, they have found mass graves with both soldiers and civilians killed. One of the fundamental aspects of the laws of war is the protection of prisoners of war. Once a person is no longer able to combat, he must be treated as a prisoner and no longer a combatant. Not killing a prisoner is a core value of humanitarian law, and ISIS/DAESH has deliberately violated this norm.

There is a real danger that, as the “caliphate” disintegrates and no longer controls territory, ISIS/DAESH will increase terrorist actions and deliberate violations of the laws of war. The Association of World Citizens has stressed that the laws of war have become part of world law and are binding upon States and non-State actors even if they have not signed the Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Additional Protocols. Therefore, the Association of World Citizens (AWC) calls for the re-affirmation of humanitarian international law. The AWC calls to the soldiers and militia members in armed conflicts to refuse orders to violate international law by refusing to use weapons outlawed by international treaties such as chemical weapons, land mines, cluster munitions and white phosphorus munitions. We must defend all who use their individual conscience to refuse to follow orders to violate humanitarian international law

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Fighters with the YPG Kurdish units and the SDF near the Euphrates east of Raqqa. (C) VOA

World law does not destroy violence unless it is bound up with an organized, stable and relatively just society. No society can be stable unless it is broadly based in which all sectors of the population are involved. Such stability does not exist in either Syria or Iraq. However repeated violations of the laws of war will increase the divide among groups and communities.

Only by a wide public outcry in defense of humanitarian law can this danger be reduced. These grave violations by ISIS/DAESH and others must be protested by as wide a coalition of concerned voices as possible. The time for action is now.

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

Syria: Chemical Weapon Use, Destruction of Children, The Ethical Vacuum

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Refugees, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on April 12, 2017 at 12:22 PM

SYRIA: CHEMICAL WEAPON USE, DESTRUCTION OF CHILDREN, THE ETHICAL VACUUM

By René Wadlow

The defense of those using their conscience to uphold humanitarian international law.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) calls for the re-affirmation of humanitarian international law. It is a call to the soldiers and militia members in armed conflicts to refuse orders to violate humanitarian international law by refusing to use weapons outlawed by international treaties such as chemical weapons, landmines, cluster munitions or any weapon to attack civilians, especially children and women. We must defend all who use their individual conscience to refuse to follow orders to violate humanitarian international law.

“At the heart of this growing phenomenon of mass violence and social disintegration is a crisis of values. Perhaps the most fundamental loss a society can suffer is the collapse of its own value system. Many societies exposed to protracted conflicts have seen their community values radically undermined if not shattered altogether. This has given rise to an ethical vacuum, a setting in which international standards are ignored with impunity and where local value systems have lost their sway.”

-Olara Otunnu, then Special Representative of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Report to UN General Assembly, 1998.

The attack on Khan Sheikhoon in Idlib Province of Syria on April 4, 2017 raises at least two essential issues concerning humanitarian international law and the protection of children in times of armed conflict.

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A major issue is the use of chemical weapons, probably sarin or a sarin-like substance 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 was 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 well because everyone needs to drink. Likewise poison gas is abhorred because everyone needs to breath to live.

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.

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.

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Humanitarian international law is largely based on self-imposed restraints. Although the International Criminal Court has a mandate to try crimes of war and crimes against humanity, its impact on the way armed conflicts are currently carried out is small. Thus, restraints need to rest on the refusal of soldiers and militia members to carry out actions that they know to be against both humanitarian international law and the local value system. This is especially true of the non-harming of children in times of armed conflict.

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 human 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 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. Such a conference would bring together into a coherent synthesis the four avenues of humanitarian international law:

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

2) The Hague Convention tradition 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.

There is also a need to use whatever avenues of communication we have to stress to those living in Syria-Iraq-ISIS-Kurd-majority areas-and Turkey that they have a moral duty to disobey orders that violate humanitarian international law. We on the outside must do all we can to protect those who so act humanely in accord with their conscience.

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

Saudi Arabia: Still Lost in the Sands of War

In Children's Rights, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on April 5, 2017 at 9:38 PM

SAUDI ARABIA: STILL LOST IN THE SANDS OF WAR

By René Wadlow

The aggression of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition (Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates) against Yemen began on March 24, 2015 so that we can now mark its second anniversary. However, there has been little progress toward a resolution of the armed conflict. Rather, there has been an increase in suffering, displacement of people, and destruction of the society. Saudi Arabia has changed the name from “Operation Decisive Storm” to “Operation Restoring Hope”, probably on the advice of the public relations firm which advises the United States (U. S.) Pentagon on the name of its operations. The first 28 days in 2015 of bombing from the air of cities and camps, killing women and children, created a sand storm, but the results were in no way decisive. Since that start on March 24, at least a 4,600 people have been killed, many more wounded and many displaced within the country. Nevertheless, the aggression has had little impact on the power configuration within the country.

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) has constantly called attention to the violations of the minimum standards of the laws of war. There are international agreements which set humanitarian law and human rights standards in times of armed conflicts, mainly the Red Cross Geneva Conventions of 1949 written in the light of experience during the Second World War and the two Protocols to the Conventions written in 1977 in the light of experiences of the Vietnam War. Not all States have ratified Protocols I and II, and a number of States have made reservations, especially refusing to forgo reprisals against civilians. Protocol I requires that attacks against military objectives be planned and executed so that “incidental” civilian injuries are not “excessive in relation to the specific military advantages anticipated”. The decision-making is subjective on the part of the military, and military officers rarely see any action as “excessive” (1)

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Another consequence of the bombing in Yemen is the starvation of the civilian population due to lack of food and water. As a result of the widespread use of defoliants in the Vietnam War, there was written as Article 54 (2) of the 1977 Additional Protocol I, a prohibition to destroy foodstuffs, crops, drinking water installations and irrigation works. Yemen is, at the best of times, short of food and drinking water installations. The bombing has deliberately increased the hardship as well as increasing the number of displaced people with resulting lack of access to food and water.

The members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council looked at the situation, and then decided to look away, although the Council appointed a UN mediator to try to find a “political solution”. The UN envoys to Yemen have had little influence on the promotion of a “political solution” or even any meaningful negotiations. The first UN envoy, Jamal Benomar, resigned in frustration. He has been replaced by Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed of Mauritania, who had been earlier the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen and so knows the country and its many factions well.

There is wide agreement in UN circles that Yemen is in a quagmire, with a free-fall of its economy, a collapse of its health services, its food imports blocked, and the country on the eve of division between north and south. The country’s present form dates from 1990 when south Yemen (Aden) was more or less integrated into the north, but the country remains highly fractured on tribal, sectarian, and ideological lines, with tribal structures being the most important. In the best of worlds, one could envisage a federal Yemen with a rule of law. More realistically, we can hope that autonomous tribal areas can be created that do not fight each other actively and allow necessary food imports and medical supplies into their areas.

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King Salman of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia, which should have known better, thought that it could expand its influence in Yemen. The new King Salman with his son Mohammed as Defense Minister hoped for a quick victory, having an endless supply of modern military equipment from the USA, England and cooperation from the Gulf States. The memories of the Egyptian intervention with its heavy use of chemical weapons in the Yemen civil war of the 1960s was overlooked, both by Saudi Arabia and its close partner Egypt, although Egypt had lost some 20,000 soldiers at the time.

One generation rarely learns from the experiences of earlier generations, and both Saudi’s and Egyptians had hoped to advance their interests in Yemen’s political confusion. Instead, Saudi Arabian leaders have been lost, blinded by the sands of war. It is likely that the King and his son will never be trusted again. The aggression in Yemen was the first foreign policy effort of Saudi Arabia which had not been designed and directed by the USA − their first effort to walk alone. The King and his son were lost in the sands of war and will never be heard of again on the international scene, but oil revenues will continue to assure the royal court of a comfortable life style.

The AWC has proposed a four-step approach to the resolution of the armed conflict:

1) an immediate ceasefire ending all foreign military attacks;

2) humanitarian assistance, especially for hard-to-reach zones;

3) a broad national dialogue;

4) through this dialogue, the establishment of a highly decentralized federal government.

In an April 17, 2015 letter to the then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the President of the Association of World Citizens wrote “It is imperative for the United Nations to be more effectively involved in ending the senseless aerial attacks and to establish a ceasefire, ensuring humanitarian and medical assistance to the people of Yemen. The critical situation is escalating and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen is approaching catastrophic dimensions”

We can, alas, only repeat ourselves today.

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Note:

D. Schindler and J. Toman, The Laws of Armed Conflicts (Martinus Nihjoff Publishers, 1988)

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

Syrie : Résoudre le Conflit Armé et Reconstruire une Société Qui Soit Inclusive et Juste

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, NGOs, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on April 3, 2017 at 10:56 PM

SYRIE : RÉSOUDRE LE CONFLIT ARME ET RECONSTRUIRE UNE SOCIÉTÉ QUI SOIT INCLUSIVE ET JUSTE

Par René Wadlow et Bernard J. Henry

Le 5 avril 2017, l’Union européenne (UE) et l’ONU tiendront une conférence commune sur l’avenir de la Syrie et de sa région. La « société civile » est invitée à y participer, mais il est impossible de savoir par avance si la rencontre de Bruxelles sera un événement de « récolte de fonds », auquel cas les Organisations Non-Gouvernementales (ONG) dotées du statut consultatif auprès de l’ONU ne pourront apporter qu’une contribution limitée, ou si les buts fixés seront plus ambitieux.

La rencontre organisée par l’UE et l’ONU est la troisième sur la Syrie en un laps de temps très court, démontrant l’ampleur des inquiétudes quant au flot des réfugiés ainsi que devant la violence et la souffrance qui ne semblent pas connaître de fin en Syrie et en Irak. Le texte suivant a été écrit au nom de l’Association of World Citizens (AWC) qui le transmet en amont aux gouvernements concernés par la conférence du 5 avril.

A la suite des pourparlers qui se sont tenus du 23 au 25 janvier 2017 à Astana (Kazakhstan) sous le parrainage de la Fédération de Russie, de la Turquie et de la République islamique d’Iran, un nouveau tour de pourparlers parrainé par l’ONU a eu lieu du 23 au 31 mars à Genève, sous l’appellation non-officielle de « Genève IV ». L’Émissaire spécial de l’ONU pour la Syrie, M. Staffan de Mistura, a dirigé ces pourparlers conviés par l’ONU à Genève et Lausanne.

Toutes les parties en présence au conflit en Syrie et en Irak n’y ont pas participé. Ni Daesh ni les Kurdes n’y étaient présents et toutes les composantes de l’opposition au Gouvernement du Président syrien Bachar al-Assad n’y ont pas été représentées. S’il existe des pourparlers non-officiels dans des hôtels ou des restaurants de Genève parallèlement aux négociations, en tout cas, personne n’en parle. Il existe une vaste et active communauté kurde à Genève et dans sa région, où certains agissent peut-être comme porte-paroles des efforts actuels de création du Rojava, zone autonome kurde au nord de la Syrie dont il est envisageable qu’elle s’associe un jour avec la région autonome kurde d’Irak.

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Les pourparlers de Genève ont porté sur des questions à court terme, parmi lesquelles un cessez-le-feu, la sécurité des civils syriens et l’accès aux humanitaires des zones en besoin d’aide. D’autres questions ont été abordées sur un plus long terme, s’agissant de processus politiques tels une administration transitoire, des changements constitutionnels, et des élections en vue d’un nouveau gouvernement dont les fondements soient plus larges.

En parallèle aux pourparlers intra-syriens lors desquels M. de Mistura a officié en tant que médiateur, l’ONU s’est saisie des préoccupations liées aux Droits Humains en Syrie, ayant créé une Commission d’enquête internationale indépendante sur la République arabe syrienne ainsi qu’un mécanisme commun d’enquête ONU-Organisation pour l’Interdiction des Armes Chimiques.

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L’Association of World Citizens (AWC), Organisation Non-Gouvernementale (ONG) dotée du statut consultatif auprès de l’ONU, active dans la résolution des conflits armés et la promotion des Droits Humains, avait salué l’appel lancé le 20 juillet 2011 par le Secrétaire Général de l’ONU de l’époque, Ban Ki-moon, pour un dialogue inclusif sur les griefs du peuple syrien et ses préoccupations pour l’avenir. A travers un message au Secrétaire Général, l’AWC avait encouragé une participation aussi large que possible de la société civile syrienne à un tel dialogue, ajoutant que l’AWC, consciente de l’utilité qui peut être celle des ONG internationales dans la résolution des conflits, aiderait à faciliter de telles discussions de toute manière jugée appropriée.

En décembre 2011 commença une Mission d’Observation de la Ligue des Etats Arabes qui allait s’avérer de courte durée. Dans un message du 9 février 2012 au Secrétaire Général de la Ligue des Etats Arabes, l’Ambassadeur Nabil el-Araby, l’AWC a proposé un renouvellement de la Mission d’Observation de la Ligue Arabe, avec l’inclusion d’un nombre plus important d’observateurs issus d’ONG et un mandat élargi dépassant la simple mission d’exploration, et ainsi jouer un rôle actif de résolution des conflits au niveau local dans l’espoir d’arrêter la spirale qui engloutit le peuple syrien dans la violence et le carnage.

A bien des reprises depuis lors, l’AWC a rappelé à l’ONU, au Gouvernement syrien et aux mouvements d’opposition le rôle important que peuvent remplir les ONG, tant syriennes qu’internationales, pour faciliter la résolution des conflits.

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Les combats en Syrie, en Irak et dans certaines régions de la Turquie ont généré un grand nombre de personnes déplacées et de réfugiés. La réaction des gouvernements au flot de réfugiés s’est montrée pour le moins inégale, quelques-uns s’étant montrés accueillants et d’autres ayant ouvertement fermé leur porte. Très tôt, l’AWC avait appelé de ses vœux une conférence de l’ONU sur les réfugiés et personnes déplacées. L’AWC a salué la convocation par l’ONU de conférences sur les réfugiés et l’aide humanitaire, au sein desquelles elle a pris toute sa part.

Les conflits armés en Syrie, en Irak, au Yémen et en Afghanistan ont causé des violations graves du droit humanitaire international : attaques contre des installations médicales et du personnel de santé, exécutions de prisonniers de guerre, tortures, destructions délibérées du patrimoine culturel, attaques délibérées contre des populations civiles, usage d’armes que les traités internationaux interdisent. En conséquence, l’AWC a souligné la nécessité d’une conférence de l’ONU pour la réaffirmation du droit humanitaire international. S’il ne se manifeste pas maintenant un soutien fort au droit humanitaire international, il existera un danger réel de voir les violations désormais considérées comme « normales », ce qui les rendra hors de contrôle. Des mesures fortes de soutien au droit humanitaire international doivent être prises sans délai.

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Les structures de gouvernement, l’autorité, les limites géographiques des régions administratives et les droits des minorités de prendre part à la vie de la nation posent problème en Irak, en Syrie au Liban depuis l’époque de la désintégration de l’Empire ottoman après la fin de la Première Guerre Mondiale. Il est essentiel de développer des formes de gouvernement adaptées rendant possibles à la fois l’autonomie locale et la coopération régionale.

La recherche d’une structure adaptée à ceux qui s’identifient comme Kurdes s’est avérée être une question particulièrement difficile qui a donné lieu à des violences. L’AWC, fidèle à la tradition de décentralisation et de fédéralisme d’Alexandre Marc et de Denis de Rougemont, tient que le fédéralisme et la décentralisation ne sont pas des chemins vers la désintégration d’un Etat, mais tendent au contraire à créer des structures plus justes d’organisation de l’Etat et de coopération régionale.

L’AWC salue la conférence organisée le 5 avril par l’UE et l’ONU sur la Syrie et la région du monde à laquelle elle appartient.

L’AWC affirme une nouvelle fois son souhait de coopérer pleinement à la vaste et indispensable tâche de mettre fin au conflit armé et de développer une société qui soit inclusive et juste.

Le Professeur René Wadlow est Président de l’Association of World Citizens.

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

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