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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.

-- AWC-UN Geneva Logo --

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

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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.

Syria: Armed Conflict Resolution and the Reconstruction of an Inclusive and Just Society

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 10:45 PM

SYRIA: ARMED CONFLICT RESOLUTION AND THE RECONSTRUCTION OF AN INCLUSIVE AND JUST SOCIETY

By René Wadlow

On April 5, 2017, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) will hold a joint conference on the future of Syria and its region. “Civil Society” is invited to participate, but it is not clear in advance if the Brussels meeting will be a “fundraising” one, in which case most Nongovernmental Organizations (NGO) in consultative status with the UN will have little to contribute or if there will be wider aims.

The EU-UN meeting is the third in a short space of time concerning Syria, a reflection of concern with the refugee flow and the continued violence and suffering in Syria and Iraq. The following is a text written on behalf of the Association of World Citizens (AWC) that is being sent to governments in advance of the April 5 conference. The text notes earlier appeals and efforts of the AWC in the Syria-Iraq-Turkey conflicts.

Following the January 23-25, 2017 talks in Astana, Kazakhstan sponsored by the Russian Federation, Turkey, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, a new round of United Nations (UN)-sponsored talks, March 23-31 was held in Geneva (informally called Geneva 4). The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura, has led the UN, Geneva and Lausanne-based talks. Not all the parties involved in the Syria-Iraq conflicts are participants in the talks. ISIS and the Kurds were not present, nor have all segments of the opposition to the Government of President Bashar al-Assad been formally present. What informal talks are held in Geneva hotels and restaurants during the negotiations are not officially reported. There is a large and active Kurdish community in the Geneva area and some may be spokespersons for the effort to create Rojava, a Kurdish autonomous zone in Northern Syria that might form some sort of association with the Kurdish autonomous area of Iraq.

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The Geneva-based talks have concerned short-term issues such as a ceasefire, safety of Syrian civilians and humanitarian access. There have also been longer-range issues concerning political processes such as a transition administration, constitutional changes, and elections for a new, more broadly based government.

Parallel to the intra-Syrian talks mediated by Mr. de Mistura, the UN has been concerned with the human rights issues having created an Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic as well as a joint UN-Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons investigative mechanism.

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The Association of World Citizens (AWC), a Nongovernmental Organization in consultative status with the UN, active on issues of the resolution of armed conflicts and the promotion of human rights, had welcome a July 20, 2011 call of then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for an inclusive dialogue to respond to pressing grievances and longer-term concerns of the Syrian people. The AWC, in a message to the Secretary-General, encouraged broad participation of Syrian civil society in such a dialogue and indicated that the AWC, knowing the possible usefulness of international NGOs in conflict resolution, would help facilitate such discussions in any way considered appropriate.

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 AWC proposed a renewal of the Arab League Observer Mission with the inclusion of a greater number of NGO 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.

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

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The fighting in Syria, Iraq and parts of Turkey has led to a large number of displaced persons and refugees. The response of governments to the refugee flow has been very uneven, welcoming in a few cases, outright rejection in other cases. The AWC early on called for a UN-led conference on refugees and internally displaced persons. The AWC welcomed and participated in the UN conferences on refugees and humanitarian aid.

The armed conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan have led to serious violations of humanitarian international law: attacks of medical facilities and personnel, the execution of prisoners of war, the use of torture, the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage, the deliberate attacks on civilian populations, the use of weapons banned by international treaties. Therefore, the AWC has stressed the need for a UN-led conference to reaffirm humanitarian international law. If strong support for international law is not manifested now, there is a danger that violations will become considered as “normal”, and thus will increase. Strong measures of support for humanitarian international law are needed to be undertaken now.

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The structures of government, the authority, and the geographic limits of administrative regions, the rights and participation in national life of minorities have been issues in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon since the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. Appropriate forms of government which allow both for local autonomy and regional cooperation need to be developed. The search for an appropriate structure for those considering themselves to be Kurds has been a particularly difficult issue often leading to violence. The AWC which has a decentralization, federalist tradition in the spirit of Alexandre Marc and Denis de Rougemont, has highlighted that federalism and decentralization are not steps toward the disintegration of a State but rather are efforts to find a more just structure of State organization and regional cooperation.

The AWC welcomes the April 5, 2017 EU-UN conference on Syria and the region. The AWC reconfirms its willingness to cooperate fully in the vast and critical effort for an end to the armed conflict and a development of an inclusive and just society.

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

Aleppo: Short-term action followed by reaffirmation of humanitarian law

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Refugees, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on December 20, 2016 at 10:34 PM

ALEPPO: SHORT-TERM ACTION FOLLOWED BY REAFFIRMATION OF HUMANITARIAN LAW

By René Wadlow

 

Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations (UN) Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs describing the ever-more destructive situation in and around Aleppo, Syria, said, “The parties to the conflict have shown time and again they are willing to take any action to secure military advantage even if it means killing, maiming or starving children into submission in the process.”

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A large number of persons are trapped within the city, victims of blind bombardments, shelling, landmines and gunfire. Some persons are used as “human shields” and are unable to protect themselves. Medical facilities have been destroyed, and medical supplies are lacking. Food is unable to reach much of the population, and relief efforts are unable to reach persons in real need.

For the moment, there seems to be no willingness to negotiate a broad ceasefire. The UN Security Council is blocked. Thus, the only short-term action possible is to create “safe routes” so that those who wish to leave the besieged areas can do so. Mr. Brita Hagi Hasan, an elected official of a committee administering parts of Aleppo, has made a moving appeal for such humanitarian corridors. Some persons, an estimated 16,000 as of the first of December, have already been able to leave the city, but many more would do so if true safe routes were put into place.

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Brita Hagi Hasan (left), Chairman of the Local Council of the City of Aleppo, the (now defunct) local administration committee created by the leaders of the Syrian revolution there, addressing supporters in Paris, France on December 1, 2016. (C) Bernard J. Henry/AWC

However, there are two immediate obstacles. Many persons feel that such “safe routes” would, in fact, not be safe. There is a fear that they would be trapped, and once outside of their houses in the open, they would be shot at or bombed. The second fear is that they would not be safe when they reach government-held areas but could become victims of government-led repression.

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Thus, there is a double, short-term need: the first is accompaniment of citizens leaving the area either by UN or other international troops or by unarmed nongovernmental observers. With such accompaniment, there would be some reluctance to attack persons on foot or in buses. The second need is for credible guarantees by the government that there would be no reprisals against civilians, most of whom have been living in opposition-administered parts of the city, often for several years. There needs to be some sort of international follow-up to make sure that such government guarantees are honored.

Beyond these short-term but vital efforts, there is a longer-term need for the reaffirmation of the validity of humanitarian law and especially a reaffirmation of respect for humanitarian law.

The current armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, and the Syria-Iraq-ISIS-Kurds-Turkey conflict have seen a dangerous erosion of respect for the laws of war concerning medical facilities and personnel, concerning prisoners of war, of hostages, and of civilians, in particular women and children. There have been repeated cries of alarm from leaders of the International Committee of the Red Cross, of the UN, and nongovernmental organizations such as the Association of World Citizens (AWC). However, violations of these fundamental prohibitions of the laws of war continue. There have been relatively few calls for creative responses in the face of these continuing violations.

Thus, the AWC stresses the need to create immediately internationally-guaranteed safe routes for the evacuation of civilians from the besieged areas of Aleppo. Such guaranteed safe routes can also serve as a model for civilians in other besieged cities.

The AWC also calls for a serious investigation of the reasons for the erosion of the respect for humanitarian law to be followed by a UN-led conference on the reaffirmation of humanitarian law.

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

Yazidi Freedom of Thought Honored

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on December 3, 2016 at 11:07 PM

YAZIDI FREEDOM OF THOUGHT HONORED

By René Wadlow

The Yearly Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought awarded by the European Parliament was given on October 27, 2016 to Nadia Mourad Bassi Taka and Lamiya Aji Bachar, both Iraqi Yazidis. Both had been taken captive by Islamic State (IS) forces in August 2014 and then sold into sexual slavery and forced marriage. Both were recently able to escape from bondage and went to Germany as refugees. Both have become spokespersons for the Yazidis, especially those Yazidi women who are still being held in sexual slavery. The United Nations (UN) has appointed Nadia Taka as Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.

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There were probably some 500,000 Yazidis, a Kurdish-speaking religious community living in northern Iraq, many in the Mosul area. Iraqi demographic statistics are not very reliable, and Yazidi leaders may give larger estimates by counting Kurds who had been Yazidis but who had converted to Islam. There were also some 200,000 Yazidis among the Kurds of Turkey but now nearly all have migrated to Western Europe, primarily Germany, to Australia, Canada, and the USA. There are also some Yazidis among Kurds living in Syria, Iran and Armenia. The Yazidi do not convert people, and so the religion continues only through birth into the community.

The structure of the Yazidi world view is Zoroastrian, a faith born in Persia proclaiming that two great cosmic forces, that of light and good, and that of darkness and evil are in constant battle. Man is called upon to help light overcome evil.

However, the strict dualistic thinking of Zoroastrianism was modified by another Persian prophet, Mani of Ctesiphon in the third century CE who had to deal with a situation very close to that of ours today. Mani tried to create a synthesis of religious teachings that were increasingly coming into contact through travel and trade: Buddhism and Hinduism from India, Jewish and Christian thought, Hellenistic Gnostic philosophy from Egypt and Greece as well as many smaller, traditional and “animist” beliefs. Mani kept the Zoroastrian dualism as the most easily understood intellectual framework, though giving it a somewhat more Taoist (yin/yang) flexibility, Mani having traveled to China, he developed the idea of the progression of the soul by individual effort through reincarnation – a main feature of Indian thought combined with the ethical insights of Gnostic and Christian thought. Unfortunately, only the dualistic Zoroastrian framework is still attached to Mani’s name – Manichaeism. This is somewhat ironic as it was the Zoroastrian Magi who had him put to death as a dangerous rival.

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

If one is to take seriously the statements of the IS leadership, genocide – the destruction in whole or in part of a group – is a stated aim concerning the Yazidis. The killing of the Yazidis is a policy and not “collateral damage” from fighting. The 1948 Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide allows any State party to the Convention to “call upon the competent organs of the United Nations to take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide.” Thus far, no State has done so by making a formal proposal to deal with the Convention.

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The Yazidis have always been looked down upon by both their Muslim and Christian neighbors as “pagans”. The government of Saddam Hussein was opposed to them not so much for their religious beliefs but rather because some Yazidi played important roles in the Kurdish community, seen as largely opposed to the government. The Yazidis also had some old ownership claims on land on which oil reserves are found in northern Iraq which makes them suspect in the eyes of the current leadership of the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq. The government of the Kurdish Region has accepted the Yazidi refugees but has done little to help their socio-economic development perhaps fearing competition with the Kurdish families now in control of the government. In all fairness, the government and the civil society of the Kurdish Region are stretched well beyond their means to deal with the refugees and displaced.

The current fighting in both Iraq and Syria overshadows concerns for the freedom of thought as the ability to live is in question. However, the Sakharov Prize may serve as a reminder that the quality of life is also measured by the ability to think and to hold on to one’s convictions.

(1) A Yazidi website has been set up by Iraqis living in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA. The website is uneven but of interest as a self-presentation: yeziditruth.org.

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

Les Citoyens du Monde appellent à des couloirs humanitaires à Alep (Syrie) pour laisser entrer l’aide et sortir les civils

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on December 2, 2016 at 1:04 AM

LES CITOYENS DU MONDE APPELLENT A DES COULOIRS HUMANITAIRES A ALEP (SYRIE) POUR LAISSER ENTRER L’AIDE ET SORTIR LES CIVILS

-- AWC-UN Geneva Logo --

L’Association of World Citizens (AWC) est choquée et révoltée par les attaques délibérées perpétrées par l’armée du Gouvernement syrien et les alliés étrangers de celui-ci contre les quartiers est de la ville d’Alep, sous le contrôle des forces révolutionnaires.

Nous condamnons fermement le refus persistant du gouvernement russe d’accepter aucune des résolutions proposées par la France au Conseil de Sécurité des Nations Unies pour une fin des bombardements menés par les troupes russes sur les secteurs d’Alep tenus par les rebelles.

Nous condamnons avec la même vigueur le refus constant des gouvernements syrien et russe de laisser ouvrir des couloirs humanitaires à l’intérieur d’Alep et depuis la ville, tant pour y laisser entrer l’aide d’urgence que pour permettre aux civils qui souhaitent quitter la zone de combat de le faire sans que leurs vies en soient mises en danger.

Nous en appelons aux gouvernements syrien et russe en vue de cesser leur obstruction à l’ouverture de tels couloirs et de créer enfin les conditions permettant, d’une part, à l’aide d’être acheminée aux zones qui en ont besoin, d’autre part, aux civils souhaitant fuir les secteurs subissant des attaques de chercher un abri en dehors d’Alep sans que ce soit à leurs risques et périls.

Enfin, l’AWC appelle à une solution politique en Syrie qui n’avalisât aucun fait accompli généré par des violations du droit international.

World Citizens Call for Humanitarian Corridors in Aleppo, Syria to Let Aid In and Civilians Out

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on December 1, 2016 at 1:15 PM

WORLD CITIZENS CALL FOR HUMANITARIAN CORRIDORS IN ALEPPO, SYRIA TO LET AID IN AND CIVILIANS OUT

-- AWC-UN Geneva Logo --

The Association of World Citizens (AWC) is shocked and outraged by the relentless attacks carried out by the Syrian Government’s army and its foreign allies on the eastern districts of the city of Aleppo controlled by revolutionary forces.

We strongly condemn the persistent refusal of the Russian Government to accept any of the resolutions proposed by France to the United Nations Security Council for an end to the Russian forces’ bombardments on Aleppo’s rebel-held sectors.

We condemn with equal strength the Syrian and Russian Governments’ constant refusal to have humanitarian corridors opened into and from Aleppo, both to let emergency aid in and allow those civilians who wish to leave the combat zones to do so without endangering their lives.

We hereby call on the Syrian and Russian Governments to stop blocking the opening of such corridors and make it possible at last for aid to be delivered to those areas in need and for civilians wishing to flee those sectors under attack to seek shelter outside of Aleppo without putting themselves at risk in so doing.

Finally, the AWC calls for a political solution in Syria that does not endorse any fait accompli generated by violations of international law.

Battle for Mosul: Can There Be Respect for the Laws of War?

In Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on October 18, 2016 at 7:43 PM

BATTLE FOR MOSUL: CAN THERE BE RESPECT FOR THE LAWS OF WAR?
By René Wadlow

On Monday, October 17, 2016, the battle of Mosul began as the troops of the Iraqi army started moving toward the northern Iraq city of Mosul. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, announced the effort to take Mosul, a city of over one million people which has been held by the forces of the Islamic State (ISIS or Daesh in its Arabic initials) since July 2014. The Iraqi troops are assisted by Turkish troops and tanks, by United States (U. S.) Special Forces who have also been training the Iraqi troops, and by the Kurdish peshmerga militias who have attacked surrounding villages but who, for political reasons, are not likely to enter Mosul.

There are estimates that there are some 4,500 ISIS troops facing some 50,000 on the Iraqi government side. ISIS has been aware that an attack on Mosul was in preparation for a long time and has responded by mining buildings and roads as well as building tunnels. It is likely that some ISIS fighters have slipped away, but it is also likely that the remaining majority of ISIS will fight to the bitter end, preferring death to surrender. In a situation that is confused by the number and nationalities of the groups in combat as well as the very ethnically and religiously mixed population of Mosul, what possibilities exist for respect of the laws of war?

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Two Kurdish peshmerga fighters at Mosul Dam in 2014.

The laws of war, now often called humanitarian law, have two wings, one dealing with the treatment of medical personnel in armed conflict situations, the treatment of the military wounded and prisoners of war as well as 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 since even if the more recent limitations on land mines, cluster weapons and chemical weapons have been negotiated elsewhere than in The Hague.

For the Hague Conventions such as the ban on land mines, the ban is binding only on States which have ratified the convention. Although the Islamic State had some of the markings of a proto-State, it was not recognized as a State by any other State. Basically ISIS can be considered as an armed militia.

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ISIS, or Daesh, the self-styled “Islamic State”, only believes in violence. It has always displayed an unmitigated hatred of everything that international law and human rights stand for. It is neither “Islamic” nor a “State” and never will be.

The status of the Geneva Conventions for non-State militias can be debated. When I was involved at the United Nations (UN) with the national minorities of Burma in the 1990s, I encouraged the Burmese militias to study, discuss and then sign the Geneva Conventions, of which the Swiss government is the depositary power. When the Burmese government learned of our efforts, they quickly signed the Geneva Conventions. Once the national minorities had signed, and I sent the document to the Swiss government and to the International Committee of the Red Cross, both the Burmese military and the national minorities released a number of prisoners of war as a mark of good faith which had never been done before. The status of world law for non-State entities and individuals is a crucial question, and there are discussions at the International Criminal Court on this issue.

The current situation concerning refugees and internally-displaced persons can also be considered as part of humanitarian law. The status of refugees is more widely respected than that of the internally-displaced.

ISIS has shown no interest or respect for humanitarian law nor for universally-recognized human rights. ISIS has carried out many summary executions of perceived opponents. There is a real danger that as ISIS disintegrates and no longer controls as much territory, it will increase terrorist actions having “nothing left to lose”.

The violations of the laws of war are not limited to ISIS. 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 indicate a dangerous trend of non-compliance with the laws of war by both State and non-State agents.

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 law. These values may get lost in the “fog of war” of the battle for Mosul. Therefore, there needs to be a wide public outcry in the defense of humanitarian law so that violations can be reduced. As the tanks move ahead, the time for the defense of humanitarian values is now.

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

Tair, 19: Israel, “Will you put me in jail for a murder I will not commit?”

In Being a World Citizen, Conflict Resolution, Current Events, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, Solidarity, The Search for Peace, Uncategorized, War Crimes, World Law on April 27, 2016 at 9:30 AM

TAIR, 19: ISRAEL, “WILL YOU PUT ME IN JAIL FOR A MURDER I WILL NOT COMMIT?”
By Bernard Henry

In 1987 a British new wave group called Johnny Hates Jazz topped the charts with a song called I Don’t Want to Be a Hero, whose standardized, rather soulless music hid lyrics that were anything but common in the pop song industry of that era. No phony story of an impossible love romance – the song was really a fierce anti-war statement.

Among the lyrics, a question asked by the young man stating his refusal of conscription stands out:

“And what if I fail?
Will you put me in jail
For a murder I will not commit?”

By the time the song was released, the United Kingdom had long renounced conscription, as had the United States, Canada, and Australia. In the Western world, only in Europe could a draft be found, although the practice had gradually disappeared from the continent when the twentieth century ended. Except for Norway, Finland, Austria and Greece – plus neutral Switzerland – the then NATO allies of Britain against the Warsaw Pact are now all draft-free.

In what is generally called “the West”, only one non-European country retains a strong draft – Israel.

Ever since the Jewish State was created in 1948, its armed forces regrouped under the Hebrew acronym Tsahal, literally Tsva Haganah Lé-Yisrael, “Israeli Defense Force” (IDF), have taken in young people of both genders, male and female. Having been often at war with its Arab neighbors, being constantly in need of military personnel to maintain its occupation of the West Bank and the Golan Heights, Israel has traditionally had all of its sons and daughters wear the uniform for a few years – three for the boys, two for the girls. Exemptions are given, though, to observant religious Jews and, on quite different grounds, to non-Druze Arab Israeli citizens.

Then comes the problem when you “don’t want to be a hero”, in short, when you declare yourself a conscientious objector (CO), thus joining the number of the country’s shministim, “twelfth-graders”, students who refuse to comply with the law and enter the IDF once they have completed their high school studies as the law requires. You must appear before an IDF board, and if you fail to obtain exemption from military service, you will be ordered to enlist at once – or go to jail.

That is what happened this year to Tair Kaminer, 19. A member of Mesarvot – Jews for Justice for Palestinians, the young woman filed for conscientious objection but was turned down by the board. Sent to jail a first time, she was released and jailed again, and then jailed and released three more times. “The last military officer who sent me to jail told me that he was a member of the conscientious objection board,” says Kaminer. “He added that I had no chance of obtaining CO status and he would send me back to jail ‘for the rest of my life’ if I continued to resist.”

While serving her current sentence, Kaminer was given two weeks’ leave for the Jewish Passover, a national holiday in Israel. But upon leaving the military prison, she was told to return the next day. She chose to fully observe the two weeks’ leave and, instead of reporting to the prison as ordered, she stayed at home. “I am not ending my protest”, she insists. “I will return to the prison.” But she will have the IDF keep their word.

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Tair Kaminer

Kaminer is by no means the first Israeli conscript to refuse enlistment. The issue has been with the IDF since 1970, when a first Shministim movement was created, followed in 1982 by the Yesh Gvul “There is a Limit/Frontier” organization of reservists who refused to serve in the Lebanon War, and a surge of CO initiatives under the premiership of the hawkish former IDF general and Defense Minister, Ariel Sharon, in the early 2000s. The latest two IDF military campaigns against Gaza, “Cast Lead” in 2009 and “Protective Edge” in 2014, also resulted in more CO applications from young Israelis, as has the announced expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. As for today’s Shministim movement, it is comprised by an estimated 3,000 high school students.

This only makes it harder to understand why the IDF has proved so adamant about punishing Kaminer specifically, putting her in jail, as Johnny Hates Jazz sang, for “a murder (she) will not commit”.

In a country like Israel where such people as former Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert died without being prosecuted for the gross human rights abuses committed under their command by, respectively, IDF proxies in Lebanon and the IDF proper in Gaza – and to date, the incumbent, Benyamin Netanyahu, remains immune from domestic or international prosecution over the IDF’s campaign on Gaza’s civilian population in 2014, there must be room for the honest refusal of war stated with courage by young people whose love for their country will not be turned into hatred of their neighbors.

Hopefully, Tair’s sacrifice of her own freedom will let the Israeli government see that, in the very words of Johnny Hates Jazz, “It’s time to forget and forgive” its COs at last.

Johnny Hates Jazz, “I Don’t Want to Be a Hero”

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

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