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World Citizens - People's Congress




News - Day to day - Free expression - AMIP - Other editions

René Wadlow

Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens
Editor of "Transnational Perspectives"
Elected Delegate at the People's Congress

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

On 7 July 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.

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

The Association of World Citizens 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 Association of World Citizens warmly welcomes the Treaty and expresses its deep appreciation to the U.N. 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.

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 U.N. 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 21 September, 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.

by Rene Wadlow

The Empty Chair, but Democratic Vistas Radiate

Ever the undiscouraged, resolute, struggling soul of man;
Have former armies fail’d, then we send fresh armies – and fresh again

Walt Whitman ‘Life

Liu Xiaobo, Nobel Peace Prize lauiate died on 13 July 2017 at age 61 after having been jailed for 11 years for being a chief writer of an appeal for democratic and human rights reforms in China. Concern has been expressed for his wife Liu Xia, who has been under heavy survallance since the arrest of her husband. To honor his memory, we reprint an essay written at the time of the Nobel ceremony.

The chair for Liu Xiaobo was empty at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony on 10 December 2010 , and there were a few other empty chairs of ambassadors from countries that had been constantly warned by Chinese emissaries that attendance at the ceremony would be considered an unfriendly act. However the spirits of the armies holding to Democratic Vistas were there. Walt Whitman in Democratic Vistas had denounced the depravity of the business classes and the widespread corruption, bribery, falsehood, and mal-administration in municipal, state, and national government. He was worried about the mal-distributation of wealth and the treatment of the working people by employers. Yet Whitman kept alive his ideal of social and political progress and the possibility of higher consciousness. Likewise Liu Xiaobo and the other authors of Charter 08 are critical of the current trends of Chinese society but are firm in the hope that “all Chinese citizens who share this sense of crisis, responsibility and mission will put aside our differences to seek common ground to promote the great transformation of Chinese society.

Christmas Day 2009 a court convicted of “inciting subversion of state power” and sentenced him to 11 years in prison and two additional years of deprivation of political rights. The verdict cited as evidence passages from six essays Liu published online between 2005 and 2007 and his role in drafting Charter 08, an online petition for democratic reform issued on December 9; 2008 which has since been co-signed by some 10,000 persons, mostly Chinese in China. This December 2010, Liu Xiaobo received the Nobel Prize for Peace, though his presence at the ceremony in Oslo was represented by an empty chair.

Liu Xiabo’s case highlights one of the most crucial challenges facing the emerging Chinese civil society: the limits of freedom of expression. Liu Xiaobo not only offers his criticism of the regime but puts forth proposals to deal with crucial questions facing both the government and society, such as his essays on the future of Tibet

Liu Xiaobo also reflects on the history of the relationship between the ruler and the ruled and urges the Chinese people to awaken from a supplicant mentality shaped by a historical system continued to the present that has infantilized them. As he wrote “After the collapse of the Qing dynasty and especially after the CPC came to power, even though our countrymen no longer kowtow physically like the people of old, they kneel in their souls even more than the ancients…Can it be that Chinese people will never really grow up, that their character is forever deformed and week, and that they are only fit to, as if predestined by the stars, pray for and accept imperial mercy on themselves?”

His essays, since he returned to China from a visiting professorship at Columbia University in New York City in May 1989 to participate in the 1989 Democracy Movement, have infuriated the Chinese authorities with his hard, polemical style — “ Driven by profit-making above all else, almost no officials are uncorrupted, not a single penny is clean, not a single word is honest…Degenerate imperial autocratic tradition, decadent money-worship, and the moribund communist dictatorship have combined to evolve into the worst sort of predatory capitalism.”

Liu Xiaobo stresses that China’s course toward a new, free society depends on bottom up reform based on self-consciousness among the people, and self-initiated, persistent and continuously expanding non-violent resistance based on moral values. He underlines the importance of New Age values that “Humans exist not only physically, but also spiritually, possessing a moral sense, the core of which is the dignity of being human. Our high regard for dignity is the natural source of our sense of justice.”

He sets out clearly the spirit and methods of non-violent resistance in the current Chinese context. “The greatness of non-violent resistance is that even as man is faced with forceful tyranny and the resulting suffering, the victim responds to hate with love, to prejudice with tolerance, to arrogance with humility, to humiliation with dignity, and to violence with reason. The victim, with a love that is humble and dignified takes the initiative to invite the victimizer to return to the rules of reason, peace, and compassion, thereby transcending the vicious cycle of ‘replacing one tyranny with another’. Regardless of how great the freedom-denying power of a regime and its institutions is, every individual should still fight to the best of his/her ability to live as a free person and make every effort to live an honest life with dignity…

“The non-violent rights-defense movement does not aim to seize political power, but is committed to building a humane society where one can live with dignity…The non-violent rights-defense movement need not pursue a grand goal of complete transformation. Instead it is committed to putting freedom into practice in everyday life through initiation of ideas, expression of opinions and rights-defense actions, and particularly through the continuous accumulation of each and every rights-defense case, to accrue moral and justice resources, organizational resources, and maneuvering experience in the civic sector. When the civic forces are not yet strong enough to change the macro-political environment at large, they can at least rely on personal conscience and small-group cooperation to change the small micro-political environment within their reach.”

Liu Xiaobo thus joins those champions of non-violent action such as Martin Luther King and the Dalai Lama who have been recognized by the Nobel Peace Prize. The spirit of the New Age is rising in the East and is manifesting itself in non-violent action to accelerate human dignity— a trend to watch closely and to encourage.



The text of the six essays cited in the trial for “inciting subversion of state power” and a translation into English is in the N°1, 2010 issue of China Rights Forum published by Human Rights in China: www.hrichina.org.

by Rene Wadlow

Stabilizing trans-frontier migration

Following each other closely, beginning with the 2 July 2017 meeting in Bamako, Mali of the G-5 Sahel (Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger) with the additional presence of Emmanuel Macron, President of France, followed by a meeting of the Ministers of the Interior of the 28-member European Union, followed by the G20 Heads of State in Hamburg, Germany, the challenge of the stabilization of socio-economic conditions in Africa to help halt the migration to Europe has been an important, if divisive, issue. In addition to refugees fleeing armed conflicts such as those in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Mali, there is an increasing number of persons trying to reach Europe, now often through Libya. The breakdown of an organized government in Libya has facilitated groups of smugglers of humans offering their services, for money, to move people toward Italy. With the start of summer, the number of people trying to reach Europe has increased, as has the number of people who have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

People are fleeing war and armed conflicts as well as persistent poverty linked to high unemployment levels, sectarian-religious tensions, as well as a lack of opportunity for advancement. The motivation of each person trying to get to Europe can be different at the individual level, but the overall pattern of armed conflict, ethnic tensions and government failure to hold out hope for advancement create the basic framework. In addition, short-term drought in the Sahel as well as parts of East Africa add to the motivations to move. It is not clear if the current droughts are part of a regular cycle of "good and bad agricultural years" or if they are part of a larger pattern of climate change.

There is wide agreement among European governments that the best thing would be if current migrants stayed home with some efforts from Europe and North America to provide money for development projects. Few are asking why development aid from the early 1960s when the African States became independent has not done more in convincing people to stay at home to develop their lives there. Even fewer people are asking why the development programs of the 1950s, the last decade of colonial rule when some development programs on a large scale were undertaken did not accomplish more. Money and the transfer of skills was the heart of European and US projects for Africa in the 1960s and little has changed in the thinking today.

It is obvious that funds and skills are necessary for development, but if all that was necessary were money and skills, we would not be where we are today. At the core of a new development approach there needs to be "State-building" with institutions and policies which meet the basic needs of people. However, there is a wide-spread reluctance for European governments to engage in "State-building" after the relative failures of State-building by the USA in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Haiti as well as the more multilateral failure in Somalia.

The relevant political scale for dealing with and regulating migratory patterns has moved to a world level while implementation remains largely at the national or at best, regional level. Migratory flows have become more diverse, creating more complex and more varied routes. Likewise, meeting the basic needs of humanity is a world-level issue that needs to be undertaken by world-level institutions such as the United Nations.

Can the UN System be made more responsive to meeting the basic needs of all? Membership in the UN is regarded as advantageous for the legitimacy it confers on States and the right to participate in the full range of UN activities. The stabilization of migration will require that a policy of meeting basic needs be at the core of each government's actions. Migration will continue, but it can be done in an orderly way that benefits both sending and receiving countries.

One of the most important and complex questions facing the world today is that of how development can be carried out in a way which can satisfy the most basic needs of all people in the shortest possible time. The June 1976 World Employment Conference Declaration of Principles and Programme of Action makes a major intellectual contribution to the resolution of this question with the world-wide acceptance of the Basic Needs Approach to Development with its emphasis on people as central to the development process [i].

There have been two fundamental texts proclaimed by the United Nations and its member Agencies. The first is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1948 - "A common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations." The Universal Declaration stresses the rights of each person in the world, no matter what his State citizenship and no matter where he finds himself. The Universal Declaration set the stage for the development of Human Rights Law which develops the application of each Article of the Declaration.

The second fundamental text is the Declaration of the World Employment Conference called under the auspices of the International Labour Office in Geneva in 1976 which placed the family and the household at the core of the development process. Thus, the United Nations has underlined the importance of the individual and their rights and then the central role of the family and household as the basic unit around which to work for development.

Ideas have power in three ways:

  • By changing the ways issues are perceived;
  • By defining lines of action and agendas for policy;
  • By becoming set in institutions in ways which ensure implementation over the longer run.

Although the Basic Needs Approach builds on the development thinking in the United Nations and national governments of the 1950s and 1960s such as rural development, urban poverty alleviation, employment creation through small-scale industries, the Declaration of Principles begins by its awareness that "past development strategies in most developing countries have not led to the eradication of poverty and unemployment; that the historical features of the development processes in these countries have produced an employment structure characterized by a large proportion of the labour force in rural areas with high levels of underemployment and unemployment; that underemployment and poverty in rural and urban informal sectors and open unemployment, especially in urban areas, has reached such critical dimensions that major shifts in development strategies at both national and international levels are urgently needed in order to ensure full employment and an adequate income to every inhabitant of this One World in the shortest possible time."

Thus the major shift in development strategies seen in the Basic Needs Approach is to focus on the family with the objective of providing the opportunities for the full physical, mental, and social development of the human personality. The Programme of Action defines a two-part approach. "First, Basic Needs includes certain minimum requirements of a family for private consumption: adequate food, shelter and clothing, as well as certain household equipment and furniture. Second, Basic Needs includes essential services provided by and for the community at large, such as safe drinking water, sanitation, public transport, health, education and cultural facilities."The Programme adds a basic element to the actions: "A basic-needs-oriented policy implies the participation of the people in making the decisions which affect them through organizations of their own choice."

The Basic Needs Approach concentrates on the nature of what is provided rather than on income - income having often been used as the criteria for drawing a "poverty line". The Basic Needs Approach is concerned not only with the underemployed but also with the unemployable: the aged, the sick, the disabled, orphaned children and others. Such groups have often been neglected by the income and productivity approach to poverty alleviation and employment.

Much of the Basic Needs Approach has been incorporated into the UN's yearly Human Development Report. But as is normal for an organization such as the United Nations where the representatives of States play the major role, the focus on the family has often given way to the focus on the State and its "Basic Needs".

[i] See the Director General's Report and the Declaration in International Labour Office.Employment, Growth and Basic Needs: A One World Problem (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1977, 224 PP.)

Rene Wadlow

SOS: Save our seas

On 5 to 9 June 2017, the United Nations will bring together in New York the representatives of governments, of governmental regional associations such as the Alliance of Small Island States, non-governmental organizations, private corporations, and academic institutions to study the challenges which face humanity to conserve and use our oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. The status quo is inadequate. The aim of the conference is to strengthen cooperation and coordination among institutions and groups at all levels.

Compelling arguments have been presented before in U.N. conferences in favor of a more responsive use of the seas without much action following. Thus the Association of World Citizens is stressing that the June Ocean Conference should be an opportunity for the development of world law concerning the oceans and for setting standards that enable peaceful political and economic relations and cooperation. Oceans, seas, rivers and lakes are all part of the global commons. They should be intelligently maintained and managed for the present and future good of all people and with full concern for the wild life inhabiting them.

Many of these issues have been raised by James Alix Michel, President of the Republic of Seychelles in his book Rethinking the Oceans (1). As he writes "The oceans are the world's last frontier with vast areas still to be explored and an enormous supply of resources yet to be harnessed. In terms of development, barely a start has been made, for example, to tap into the huge potential of renewable energy, while to take another example, the prospects for seabed mining are undoubtedly immense yet still little known."

Challenges and issues can be placed in four categories:

  1. Sea and Ocean delimitation issues, such as those in the South China Sea or between the two Korean governments. These issues arise from the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention which sets out the territorial sea of 12 nautical miles followed by the Exclusive Economic Zone. These issues will probably be avoided at the June conference as "too political".
  2. Save our Seas: The protection and to the extent possible to undue the harm of pollution already done by bad human practices. The hope is that the Ocean Conference will issue a firm pledge for collective action to accelerate actions to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, including marine debris, nutrient pollution, untreated waste water, solid waste discharge, and pollution from ships.
  3. The sustainable management of existing resources and practices: fishing, ocean transportation, tourism. There is a need to enhance sustainable fisheries management and to counter destructive overfishing and unregulated fishing. Many fish stocks have been driven to exhaustion or are overstressed. Nevertheless, sea food is the fastest growing food commodity that is traded globally.
    The recent Belt and Road Initiative Forum in China has highlighted the projected growth in ocean transportation with the modernization of existing ports and the creation of new port cities.
    Much mass tourism is related to ocean and sea locations. The negative, pollution-related impact of mass tourism must be reduced. New forms of tourism such as eco-tourism or educational tourism can be developed.
  4. The development of new resources: Seabed mining issues had already been raised during the 1970s UN Law of the Sea Conference. Seabed mining has not developed as quickly as was thought possible at the time as land-based mining continues to meet current needs. However, seabed mining remains a real possibility, and issues of who gets what and how from mining the seabed remains. In addition, as global warming reduces the Arctic ice cover, possibilities of oil and mining increases. There are issues both of territorial boundaries and of the impact on the fragile ecology of the Arctic.

To create a better life on earth, we need to find better ways to grow food, to generate energy and to protect the ecology on which our future depends. As citizens of the world, we have confidence in negotiations in good faith, in mutual respect, understanding, and world cooperation. The June Ocean Conference is the next opportunity to move toward a harmonious world society.



1) James A. Michel Rethinking the Oceans (St.Paul, MN: Paragon House, 2016, 227pp.)

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

On 5 April 2017, the European Union and the United Nations 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 "fund raising" one, in which case most non-governmental 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 5 April conference. The text notes earlier appeals and efforts of the AWC in the Syria-Iraq-Turkey conflicts.

Following the 23-25 January 2017 talks in Astana, Kazakhstan sponsored by the Russian Federation, Turkey, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, a new round of UN-sponsored talks, 23-31 March 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 all segments of the opposition to the Government of President Bashar al-Assad have 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.

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 United Nations 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.

The Association of World Citizens,(AWC), a non-governmental 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 20 July 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 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 9 February 2012 message to the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, Ambassador Nabil el-Araby, the Association of World Citizens proposed a renewal of the Arab League Observer Mission with the inclusion of a greater number of non-governmental organization observers and a broadened mandate to go beyond fact-finding and thus to play an active conflict resolution role at the local level in the hope to halt the downward spiral of violence and killing.

On many occasions since, the AWC has indicated to the United Nations, the Government of Syria and opposition movement the potentially important role of non-governmental organizations, both Syrian and international, in facilitating armed conflict resolution measures.

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 Association of World Citizens 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.

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 Association of World Citizens which has 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 Association of World Citizens welcomes the 5 April 2017 EU-UN conference on Syria and the region. The Association of World Citizens re-confirms 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.


A Time of Renewal : The Day of World Citizens

A moment to celebrate our sense of being a world citizen is the midnight passage between 20 March, now designated by the United Nations as the International Day of Happiness and 21 March which is now a UN holiday marking the start of Novrov, the New Year in Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. 21 March is also the start of the New Year for the world-wide faith of the Baha'i

As the scholar of religion Mircea Eliade has pointed out, there are moments "out of time" when all is considered possible. The laws of the previous time are suspended and the new time has not yet started. This is a widely-shared belief, even if largely separated from any religious significance, as we see in the moment just before the start of one January when people chant the number of seconds prior to midnight: ten, nine, eight... Happy New Year!

The midnight passage between 20 and 21 March is linked to the Spring Equinox, a time of equal balance between day and night. However, at midnight it is yet too early to see any signs of dawn. We know only by faith and hope that light will come. In the same way we know that we are at a crucial moment in world history when there is a passage of consciousness focused on the individual State to a consciousness focused on the unity of humanity. Not all persons are moving at the same speed to a universal consciousness. There are those who are still at a"America First" level, but there are an increasing number of people who realize that harmony and balance are the key to our ascent to the next higher level: harmony between intellect and heart, mind and body, female and male, being and doing. We are moving toward the full development of each person in a cosmopolitan, humanist world society.

Today, after decades of conflict when the emphasis of State leaders, both in policy and practice, was upon competition, conflict and individual enrichment, world citizens place an emphasis on harmony, cooperation, mutual respect and working for the welfare of the community with a love of Nature of which we are a part.

Earth is our Common Home. Let us protect it together.

UN report highlights violations of humanitarian international law

On 2 March 2017, the special committee on Syria created by the UN Human Rights Council presented its report in Geneva on the systematic violation of humanitarian international law during the battle of Aleppo. The committee led by Paulo Pinheiro, a respected figure of UN human rights efforts, underlined the deliberate targeting of civilians, attacks on hospitals, the summary execution of prisoners of war, the use of cluster munitions and of chlorine gas – both banned by international treaties. The scale of the violations are such that they can be considered as a deliberate policy and not as events of "collateral damage" in the fog of war. These violations of long-established humanitarian international law are evidence that the laws of war are increasingly being undermined with few governmental reactions

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

Thus, there is a pressing need for actions to be taken to implement humanitarian international law in response to increased challenges. Citizens of the World stress the need for a United Nations-led conference on the re-affirmation of humanitarian international law including its application by non-State parties. Non-State actors such as ISIS or the Afghan Taliban, are increasingly involved in armed conflicts but were largely not envisaged when humanitarian international law was being drawn up by governments Thus, the conference would highlight the need to apply humanitarian international law both to States and to non-State actors.[1]

Such a conference would bring together into a coherent synthesis the four avenues of humanitarian international law[2]:

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

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

3) Human rights conventions and standards, valid at all times 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.[3]

Such a re-affirmation of humanitarian international law should be followed by efforts to influence public consciousness of the provisions and spirit of humanitarian international law. This can be done, in part, by the creation of teaching manuals for different audiences and action guides.[4]

I would cite a precedent for this re-affirmation of humanitarian international law from personal experience. During the Nigeria-Biafra civil war, I was part of a working group created by the International Committee of the Red Cross to respond adequately to the challenges of this conflict which was the first African armed conflict that did not involve a colonial power. The blocking of food flows to Biafra and thus starvation as a tool of war was stressed in our work.[5]

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

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


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

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

Rene Wadlow "Guilty Plea in Cultural Destruction Case" Peace Magazine (Canada) Oct-Dec 2016

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

Paul Bonard. Les Modes d'Action des Acteurs Humanitaires. Critères d'une Complémentarité Operationelle (Geneva, CICR, no date given)

The law of the South China seize

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying replied on 24 January 2017 to statements of the new US President on US interests in the South China Sea delimitation issues saying "China is firm in safeguarding our rights and interest in the South China Sea... China has indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters. The United States is not a party to the South China Sea issue." Her heated statement came in response to a 23 January statement of White House spokesman Sean Spicer who had said "If those islands are, in fact, in international waters and not part of China proper, we'll make sure we defend international interests from being taken over by one country."

The South China Sea islands delimitations have been an issue for some time and can be the source of increasing tensions. Therefore, it is useful to look at the Law of the Sea Convention and the way that national claims have come to dominate what my friend John Logue, then Director of Villanova University Common Heritage Institute called "the Law of the Seize." What started out in November 1967 with a General Assembly presentation by Ambassador Arvid Pardo of Malta as a call to establish a new political and legal regime for the ocean space ended in December 1982 with a draft convention. It was a mixed bag of successes and disappointments, but the Convention on the Law of the Sea has now been ratified by 162 states but not by the United States and certain other industrialized states.

Ambassador Pardo's phrase 'the common heritage of mankind' meant more than a global commons, open to all to exploit. It implied the establishment of rules by which exploitation of a part of the earth's resources were to be governed, and of institutions capable of acting on behalf of mankind as a whole. For Pardo, the 'common heritage of mankind' was to lead to the transformation of world politics.[1]

For world citizens, the quality of the Law of the Sea Convention was of particular significance. The Convention tried to structure what had been largely customary international law and state practice into a legal comprehensive treaty. The Convention was an effort to formulate a written constitution for the world's oceans. It was perhaps the most comprehensive legislative attempt in the annals of international law. The Convention specified that the greater part of the oceans was considered res communitis, a global common beyond national ownership, although the diplomats accepted an extension of national sovereignty from three to 12 miles from the coast line and a new concept of a 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

However, the UN Law of the Sea Conference was first and foremost a political conference with over 160 states participating. From the outset of the conference, it was agreed that the convention had to be drafted by consensus in order to create a political and legal system for the oceans acceptable to all - to manage what Arvid Pardo had called 'the common heritage of mankind'. During the negotiations, there were groupings that cut across the Cold War divisions of the times, especially within a group called "the landlocked and geographically disadvantaged countries." There were also informal groups of persons who acted in a private capacity, a mixture of NGO representatives, legal scholars, and business corporation representatives who prepared suggestions on many of the issues of the conference.[2]

Although the negotiations were carried out by the representatives of governments, all considered to be equal, there were a number of key individuals who through their personality, vision, negotiating skills, and drive played roles well beyond the status in world politics of their States. Thus, the President of the conference, Hamilton Shirley Amerasinghe of Sri Lanka was an outstanding leader, so much so, that when there was a change in government in Sri Lanka and Amerasingh was replaced as Ambassador to the UN, it was decided, after heated debates, that he should continue as President of the conference - the only case of a private citizen directing a UN conference. Unfortunately, he died in 1980 before the conference ended so he did not see the fulfillment of his efforts. He was replaced as President by a man who had already played a key role as chair of a working group, the very able Tommy Koh of Singapore. Paul Engo of Cameroon, chair of a different working group, was the dynamic voice of Africa, while Jens Evensen of Norway was the most active and constructive leader among European and North American diplomats.

The conference was, in many ways, a race against time as unilateral measures by individual states were breaking old conventional rules, making ocean practices a mixed pattern of national legislation, and customary international law. Unilateral legislation was being passed concerning the two key issues of the conference: national sovereignty beyond the shore line and deep sea mineral mining. South American states were claiming a 200-mile limit beyond the shore line, and the US Congress had passed legislation to allow US corporations to mine mineral resources on the sea bed, in particular manganese nodules.[3]

The forces of nationalism were too strong to be swayed by Pardo's appeals to international cooperation and technocratic rationality. Instead the coastal states, developed and developing alike, saw in the newly available ocean areas an unexpected windfall, offering the prospect of a previously unimagined extension of their natural resource base through the creation of a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. The economic goal of national autonomy had prevailed over the interests in global cooperation, setting in motion the processes of establishing vast national enclosures of offshore areas, especially those enclosures consonant with the new Exclusive Economic Zone regime. International cooperation had yielded to national autonomy.

During the conference, there were lengthy discussions concerning the exclusive economic zone of 200 miles around 'islands', 'rocks', and 'low-tide elevations'. The distinctions were loosely made, and no one saw that the mining of petroleum around islands would become today an important political issue and a source of international conflict. Conflicts over national sea boundaries are particularly strong in the Pacific Ocean among China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, Taiwan, and Cambodia, with India and Indonesia watching closely. The disputes arise largely because of the claims of waters around small islands as national territory. Most of these island are not permanently inhabited but are claimed as the starting point of "territorial waters". Originally, the disputes concerned exclusive fishing rights within national territorial zones. Now the issues have become stronger, as it is believed that there are large oil and gas reserves in these areas.[4]

Concerning China's dispute with Japan (which is also largely true of China's policy with other Asian countries), Krista Wiegand writes "China's current strategy is to negotiate with Japan over joint development of natural gas and oil resources outside the disputed zone This seems to be the most rational strategy it can take in the disputes. Rather than dropping its territorial claim, China continues to maintain its claim for sovereignty, while at the same time benefiting from joint development of natural gas resources. By maintaining the territorial claim, China also sustains its ability to confront Japan through diplomatic and militarized conflict when other disputed issues arise".[5]

Territorial sea disputes can be heated up or cooled off at will or when other political issues require attention. We are currently in a "heating up" stage, though a 2002 Phnom Penh Declaration of Conduct of Parties in South China Sea calls for trust, restraint, and settlement by juridical means. Today, world citizens call for calm and a policy of mediation and arbitration before current tensions lead to ever-greater divisions.

René Wadlow



  1. See A. Pardo The Common Heritage: Selected Papers on Oceans and World Order, 1967-1974 (Malta University Press, 1975) When a new government came to power in Malta in 1971, Pardo was replaced as Ambassador to the UN. His views were presented during the Law of the Sea negotiations through NGO representatives, in particular Elizabeth Mann Borgese, daughter of the anti-Nazi German author Thomas Mann.
  2. For a good picture of the active role that well-informed non governmental representatives played during the eight years of negotiations see: Ralph and Miriam Levering Citizen Action for Global Change: The Neptune Group and the Law of the Sea (Syracuse University Press, 1999) For a lively and detailed analysis of the key issues and the techniques of negotiation by a fellow NGO representative see Roderick Ogley Internationalizing the Seabed (Gower Publishing, 1984)
  3. For the world citizen positions that John Logue and I were advocating at the time see: Finn Laursen (Ed.) Toward a New International Marine Order (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1982)Louis B. Sohn, Professor of International Law at Harvard Law School was an outstanding example of an individual scholar. His proposals for dispute settlement largely formed the basis of the dispute mechanisms of the Convention.
  4. Douglas M. Johnston and Mark J. Valencia Pacific Ocean Boundary Problems (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1991)
  5. Krista R. Wiegand Enduring Territorial Disputes (University of Georgia Press, 2011)


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