The Official Blog of the

Posts Tagged ‘IRAQ’

World Law Advanced by the UN Special Session of the Human Rights Council on Human Rights Violations in Iraq

In Being a World Citizen, Current Events, Human Rights, International Justice, Middle East & North Africa, Religious Freedom, Solidarity, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on September 3, 2014 at 12:21 AM

WORLD LAW ADVANCED BY THE UN SPECIAL SESSION OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL ON HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN IRAQ

By René Wadlow

 

Two major advancements in the universal application of world law were made by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council Special Session in Geneva on September 1, 2014. The Council met in response to widespread and converging accusations of human rights violations in territory in Iraq and Syria under the control of the Islamic State (IS) also called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). I will use the term “Islamic State” which is the title that the movement most often uses now for itself.

For the past several years, the IS was one of a good number of shifting insurgency groups active in Syria in opposition to the government, and it did not receive more attention than any of the other insurgencies. It had no clear political program, and its ideology was not particularly different from that of other Islamist groups. Then suddenly in June 2014, under the leadership of the young Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the group shifted its focus from Syria to Iraq. It was able to build on the growing resentment and sentiment of marginalization of the Iraqi Sunnis and the disorganization of the Iraq army to sweep through large parts of western Iraq and eastern Syria. IS’s ideology does not recognize existing nation-states but rather a potentially unified Islamic world. One of its first symbolic moves was to destroy frontier wall and frontier posts on the Iraq-Syria frontier. Thus the name of Islamic State and the title of Caliphate for the area under its control.

In the areas under IS control, IS armed groups have killed prisoners of the Iraqi army and members of religious and ethnic minorities leading to larger scale displacement of people, often to the Kurdish Autonomous Area − some 800,000 during August. The Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees has stated that this is a “humanitarian crisis” and appealed for support from governments and civil society to meet the urgent needs of the displaced. On August 12, 2014, Heiner Beilefeldt, the Special Rapporteur of the Council on Discrimination due to Religion or Belief, warned of the destruction of religious minorities and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination activated its early warning and urgent action procedures.

During August, IS forces took areas close to the Kurdish Autonomous Area, areas in which there is a large Kurdish-speaking population but is outside the Kurdish Autonomous Area’s boundaries. The Kurdish forces fought back, helped by US bombing missions aimed at IS military equipment and posts. The danger of a military escalation and a spreading of the conflict was (and still is) a real possibility.

Kurdish women fighters in Suleymaniyeh, Iraq. Many people in Kurdistan believe the region owes much of its safety to the efforts of the Peshmerga. (C) BBC News

Kurdish women fighters in Suleymaniyeh, Iraq.
Many people in Kurdistan believe the region owes much of its safety to the efforts of the Peshmerga.
(C) BBC News

Many looked toward the UN Human Rights Council to speak out. Both some governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) urged a Special Session of the Council, the highest profile action which the Council can take. It seems that France took the lead in the effort to get a Special Session. Although a minority of 16 States among the 47 Members of the Council is needed to call a Special Session, diplomatic sense requires that as many States as possible participate in the call and that they would vote positively on the resolution at the end of the Special Session.

In the case of this session, it was agreed by government negotiators to limit the discussion to IS actions in Iraq and not bring up violations in Syria on which governments hold differing views. The negotiators organizing the effort had to have the agreement of Iraq, the concerned State, of Iran which holds the presidency of the Non-Aligned Movement and its 120 members. Iran is also heavily involved in the conflicts of Syria and Iraq. Pakistan needed to agree as Pakistan is the usual spokesperson for the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation. Italy, as current president of the EU had to play a key role.

The President of the Council, Ambassador Baudelaire Ndong Ella, had to be kept informed as the Special Session would be under his leadership.

It is difficult for someone not party to the government private negotiations to know how they are carried out and how the resolution is written, well in advance of the Session itself. In this case, the Ambassador of South Africa felt that he had been left out of the discussions and complained bitterly that the resolution had not been negotiated inclusively and transparently and had appealed to the President of the Council to defer until more time was given to delegates to negotiate the text. His request was turned down, and so South Africa was the only State to say after the resolution was passed by consensus without a vote that had there been a vote, he would have abstained.

As the final resolution is written and agreed upon prior to the start of the Session, all the statements of the Member States of the Council, the Observer States and NGOs are “for the record”. Each State wishes to have been seen as saying something in the very short time that each State is allocated. The factual information was presented at the start of the Session by Ms. Flavia Pansieri, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Ms. Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict. There is therefore a good deal of repetition in what government representatives have to say. There is a story in the United States (U. S.) about a mythical conference of comedians who have heard all the jokes before, so rather than tell a joke, they would just say a number, “Number 10” and everyone would laugh. Along these lines, I have suggested that at the UN a good deal of time could be saved by having all ideas given a number, so the Ambassador could just say, “We believe, 7 9 15, Thank you” and a skilled technician would flash a red light if ever a new idea was mentioned. My suggestion has not yet been acted upon, and so one must listen carefully to “hear between the lines” and see who is saying something different or occasionally saying it very well.

Thus, it was impossible for the Ambassador of Syria not to mention that the IS was also in Syria, which the Canadian Ambassador did as well. Germany mentioned that there were Syrian refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan but did not go into more detail. Cuba and Venezuela mentioned that the problems of Iraq were due to the U. S. invasion of 2003 “responsible or sowing the seeds of death and the social breakdown among the Iraqi people”. Ireland was the one State to mention “open and possibly genocidal attacks on minority communities” but did not mention the 1948 Genocide Convention. Austria spoke of the “total annihilation of minorities” but did not use the term “genocide”. Morocco called or Iraq to become a “cohesive State in which all citizens were equal and enjoyed their human rights.” Malaysia called upon “the voices of moderation to drown out the destructive and divisive voices of extremism and terrorism”. Lebanon called for action by the International Criminal Court (ICC), especially against those bearing passports of States which were party to the Rome Statute setting up the ICC. The Holy See (the Vatican) made a moving call or tolerance and understanding among all religions.

After the speeches “for the record”, what was the action proposal which was an advancement for world law? The action proposal followed a Council pattern but with a significant difference. The Council in the past, following a practice of the earlier Commission on Human Rights, has created “Commissions of Inquiry” also called “Fact-finding Missions”. Currently there are four such Commissions at work: Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka, and the Commission of Inquiry on Gaza. Each commission has three, sometimes four people, each from a different geographic zone. The members have usually had experience in UN activities, and the chair is usually someone who has a reputation beyond his UN efforts, such as Mr. Marti Ahtisaari, the former President of Finland who heads the Sri Lanka study.

This sign, here painted in red on a wall with a circle around it, is the letter N in Arabic. When the IS started seizing predominantly Christian-inhabited areas of Iraq by force, its militiamen immediately painted this on houses they knew or thought were owned by Christians, N being for “Nasrani” which is itself the Arabic for “Christian”. A long echo of the Nazis’ practices in pre-World War II Germany, when Hitler’s own militiamen would paint a Star of David on the front door of each Jewish-owned business. That was just before the “Final Solution” which claimed over 6 million lives.

This sign, here painted in red on a wall with a circle around it, is the letter N in Arabic.
When the IS started seizing predominantly Christian-inhabited areas of Iraq by force, its militiamen immediately painted this on houses they knew or thought were owned by Christians, N being for “Nasrani” which is itself the Arabic for “Christian”.
A long echo of the Nazis’ practices in pre-World War II Germany, when Hitler’s own militiamen would paint a Star of David on the front door of each Jewish-owned business. That was just before the “Final Solution” which claimed over 6 million lives.

Since the commissions are usually not welcomed by the government of the country to be studied, the fact-finding is done by interviewing exiles and refugees. NGOs, scholars as well as governments can also provide information in writing. The Commission reports rarely contain information that is not already available from specialized NGOs, journalists and increasingly the Internet. However, the commission reports give an official coloring to the information, and some UN follow up action can be based on the reports.

It takes a good deal of time to put these commissions together as there must be regional balance, increasingly gender balance, and a balance of expertise. Moreover, the people approached to be commission members are often busy and have other professional duties. It can sometimes take a month or more to put together a commission. In light of the pressing need presented by the situation in Iraq, it was decided that the members of the fact-finding group would be members of the Secretariat of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights so that they can get to work immediately.

Inside the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room of the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Inaugurated in 2008, the room accommodates different United Nations bodies, including ECOSOC and the Human Rights Council. (C) United Nations

Inside the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room of the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
Inaugurated in 2008, the room accommodates different United Nations bodies, including ECOSOC and the Human Rights Council.
(C) United Nations

For the UN, this is a major step forward and must have led to a good deal of discussion before being presented in the resolution. As it is, India and China objected publicly in official statements just before the final resolution was accepted. Both States maintained that using Secretariat members went beyond the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner. They were worried by the increasing investigative role of the Office which should be limited only to helping develop national capacity building: Iraq today, Kashmir and Tibet tomorrow. The Indians and the Chinese are probably not the only governments worried, but they were the only States which spoke up on the issue, objecting strongly but saying they would not block consensus on the resolution.

The other advance or world law arising from the Special Session is the principle of the universality of concern and thus of investigation. In no previous case, has the UN looked at the violations within an area not under the control of a Member State. In this case, the investigation concerns actions of a non-state actor who nevertheless controls territory and to some extent administers the territory trying to impose its vision of strict Islamic law. This is a major step forward and has implications or other state entities but which are not members of the UN or recognized by the majority of UN Member States such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Transnistra, Nagorno-Karabakh, and if a state were set up in eastern Ukraine.

This principle was stated in a widely distributed text for the Special Session and which will come out as a written NGO statement at the regular session of the Council starting 8 September. With due modesty, I quote from myself:

“The Association of World Citizens believes that world law as developed by the United Nations applies not only to the governments of Member States but also to individuals and non-governmental organizations. The ISIS has not been recognized as a State and is not a member of the UN. Nevertheless the Association of World Citizens is convinced that the terms of the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief applies to the ISIS and that the actions of the ISIS are, in the terms of the Declaration adopted by the General Assembly on November 25, 1981 ‘inadmissible’.

Citizens of the World stress the need for world law and certain common values among all the States and peoples of the world. We are one humanity with a shared destiny. The challenge before us requires inclusive ethical values. Such values must be based on a sense of common responsibility for both present and future generations.”

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

Iraq: What does one do with the broken pieces?

In Anticolonialism, Conflict Resolution, Cultural Bridges, Current Events, Democracy, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa, The Search for Peace, United Nations, War Crimes, World Law on June 23, 2014 at 9:31 PM

IRAQ: WHAT DOES ONE DO WITH THE BROKEN PIECES?

By René Wadlow

 

There is the legendary sign in shops selling china and porcelain “Do not touch; If you break it, you buy it”. The same sign should have been hung at the entry to Baghdad rather than portraits of Saddam Hussein. With Iraq in armed confusion as sectors of the country change side, and the Iraqi government seems incapable of an adequate response other than to call for military help, as concerned world citizens we must ask ourselves “What can we do?”

The forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have broken down a wall on the frontier between Iraq and Syria as a symbol of abolishing national frontiers to be replaced by a community of the Islamic faithful − the umma. In some ways, we are back to the early days of the post-World War One period when France and England tried to re-structure that part of the Ottoman Empire that is now Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel-Palestine, Jordan, Turkey and an ill-defined Kurdistan.

 

In March 2003 an international "coalition" led by the United States attacked Iraq in violation of international law and overthrew the country's dictator, Saddam Hussein. The problem is that, having acted without prior permission from the Security Council, the "coalition" was never able to garner support from the international community and build a real, stable democracy in Iraq. As a result, a significant part of the country is now in the hands of radical Islamist fighters.

In March 2003 an international “coalition” led by the United States attacked Iraq in violation of international law and overthrew the country’s dictator, Saddam Hussein. The problem is that, having acted without prior permission from the Security Council, the “coalition” was never able to garner support from the international community and build a real, stable democracy in Iraq. As a result, a significant part of the country is now in the hands of radical Islamist fighters.

 

During 1915, Sir Mark Sykes, a Tory Member of Parliament and a specialist on  Turkish affairs and Francois Georges-Picot, a French political figure with strong links to colonial factions in the French Senate negotiated how to re-structure the Ottoman Empire to the benefit of England and France. Although these were considered “secret negotiations” Sykes reported to Lord Kitchener, the War Minister, and Picot had joined the French Foreign Ministry as war service. However, both operated largely as “free agents”. Today Sykes and Picot are recalled for no other achievement than their talent in dividing. The agreement between them was signed in January 1916 but kept in a draw until the war was over. In April 1920 at San Remo, France and England made the divisions official.

History has moved on, but dividing and re-structuring remains the order of the day. The political structures of Israel-Palestine as one state, two states, or one state and occupied territories have confronted the best of mediators − and less talented mediators as well. With the war in Syria continuing, there have been suggestions to divide − or federate − the state into three parts: an Alawite-Shi’ite area, a Sunni area, and a Kurdish area. The same divisions had been suggested for Iraq earlier and are again being discussed in the light of the ISIS advances: a Shi’ite area in the south, Kurds in the north − already largely independent − and Sunnis in the Middle. Lebanon, although not a federal state, is largely structured on sectarian-geographic divisions.

 

In 1916 the Sykes-Picot agreement carved the Middle East into two "spheres of influence", one British, the other French, plus two zones of direct control by either of the colonial powers.

In 1916 the Sykes-Picot agreement carved the Middle East into two “spheres of influence”, one British, the other French, plus two zones of direct control by either of the colonial powers.

 

Constitution-making under duress is not the best way of doing things. Forced federalism presents even more difficulties than creating a federal state when people are not fighting each other. We have seen the difficulties of proposing federal structures for Ukraine, federalism seen by some as a prelude to the disintegration of the state. The difficulties in the wider Middle East are even greater, as we have three states directly involved: Iraq, Syria, Turkey with a well-organized and armed Kurdish community in Iraq and parts of Syria.

The Kurds had expected that a Kurdistan would be recognized after World War One. The issue was raised at a conference to set Middle East frontiers held in June 1923 in Lausanne. The failure of the Kurds to achieve their goal for independence and the forced inclusion of their mountainous homeland within the then newly created states of Iraq, Syria and Turkey caused resentment and unrest. All the Kurds received in 1923 was a pledge to respect minority rights. By 1924, the Turkish government had banned all Kurdish schools, organizations, publications, and religious Sufi brotherhoods. In 1925, there was the first of the Kurdish revolts in Turkey, which, on-and-off, continue to today.

 

The flag of the Kurdish people, a people without a nation, a people without a land, to whom the promises of history ring hollow today more than they ever have. (C) Bernard J. Henry/AWC

The flag of the Kurdish people, a people without a nation, a people without a land, to whom the promises of history ring hollow today more than they ever have. (C) Bernard J. Henry/AWC

 

As outsiders but as specialists in federal forms of government, is there anything which we can do to be helpful? Maps are deceptive, and what is drawn as Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish area in Iraq and Syria have, in fact, mixed populations. Nor are religious-sectarian divisions the only lines of fracture.

Nevertheless, discussions among Syrians, Iraqis, Turks, Iranians and outside specialists on forms of government may be of greater use than sending Special Forces as ‘intelligence’ specialists. Such discussions will not be easy to organize or to facilitate but in a period of constitutional disorder and flux, such efforts are necessary.

 

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

%d bloggers like this: