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FREE EXPRESSION

René Wadlow

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

Syria: You want it darker

The last of the recording of song/poems of Leonard Cohen before his death is called "You Want it Darker", a reflection on what was once and no longer is. The title song has the repeated line "You want it darker, we kill the flame". The same line can be used on our current analysis of the armed conflict in Syria. March 2018 marks the seven-year cycle of the first protests followed by the armed conflict.

If the number of persons killed, tortured, uprooted, made refugees were not enough, there are now three elements for those who want to make it darker and to put out the flame of possible negotiations in good faith to end the fighting and to create the basis for a broader-based and more just government.

The first of the new elements is the entry of Turkish forces and their Syrian allies into the city of Afrin after two months of fighting in the area of this largely Kurdish-populated city on the frontier with Turkey. It is impossible to know if this is a limited show-of-force or the first steps of a broader anti-Kurdish policy in northern Syria. It is very difficult to know how foreign and military policies are set in Turkey. While President Erdogan is certainly the spokesperson for these policies, the group of ideologues, military, security and financial people creating policy is in the shadows. Their long-range vision is not clear. Moreover, it is difficult for groups such as the Association of World Citizens to try to influence Turkish policy from outside the country. The Turkish media is increasingly under government control; there are journalists and blog writers in prison for expressing their views. Many teachers and professors have lost their jobs after the failed coup. The consequences of Turkish policy toward Syria are impossible to know in advance, but they are more likely to make things darker.

The second element of potential darkness is the change in the security/foreign policy services of the USA. John Bolton, known as a "war hawk" has been appointed as the National Security Advisor in the White House. Bolton had been the US Ambassador to the United Nations for a little over a year, from August 2005 to December 2006. He had what is called a "recess appointment" - that is he took the place of the outgoing ambassador for the time remaining of the appointment. A recess appointment does not need confirmation by the US Senate. When Bolton was to be confirmed by the Senate, he was refused in light of his aggressive and "undiplomatic" behavior. He has long been an advocate of "America First" and ill-at-ease (if not just hostile) with multilateral diplomacy. In recent years, he has been a news analyst for Fox News and outspoken in his opposition to Iran. Iran is one of the key players in the Syria drama.

Bolton is likely to have an ideological kin in Mike Pompeo, currently head of the CIA and nominated to be Secretary of State. The post of Secretary of State needs confirmation by the Senate, that of the National Security Advisor does not. The Senate debate on the confirmation of Pompeo may tell us more about US strategy, but both men are known for their hostility to Iran. There are non-governmental possibilities to try to influence US government policy. However, in the seven years of the Syrian war, non-governmental influence for a negotiated settlement has been weak.

The third new element, not directly related to Syria but with implications for the Middle East is the growing tensions among the US, Europe and the Russian Federation. The charges of Russian influence in the election of President Trump has led to nearly daily attacks on Russian policy and practice. In Europe, the charge of Russian involvement in an effort to kill a former Russian "Double Agent" in England has led to the mutual expulsion of diplomats. At a time when difficult negotiations on Middle East issues needs to be taken, the diplomatic services are weakened.

Thus, we start a new cycle in the war in Syria with at least three negative currents. There may be possibilities to light more candles, but for the moment, there seem to be more singing along with Leonard Cohen "We kill the flame".

2018-03-26


Dangerous Rivalries over Water Resources

22 March is World Water Day, a time set by the United Nations General Assembly so that each year we may take into consideration the water challenges that humanity faces.

Water has often been used in many cultures as a powerful symbol, an element that purifies and that heals. Thus it is a symbol of both action and stillness - the need to find stillness in the midst of action and peace in the midst of creativity. As the US author Henry Miller said, "The waters of the Earth! Next to light, the most mysterious element of creation. Everything passes away in time. The waters abide."

Yet water can also be a source of conflicts. In light of climate changes, the peaceful management of water systems is increasingly urgent. There is a need to create legal frameworks for equitable, peaceful, and sustainable water management.

Drought, erosion and advancing desertification can become major problems. In many areas there are shrinking water tables. Water is being pumped and consumed faster than the aquifers can be re-charged through natural mechanisms. One region's water problems can have implications well beyond its borders.

Water is linked to issues of climate change, energy, food supplies and prices. Local water issues may worsen, converging into a global water crisis and leading to political insecurity and conflict at various levels.

Therefore, a participatory approach to water issues is essential. It is necessary to secure the public commitment to the preservation of eco-systems which assure wise water use. In many cases, the disposal of untreated wastewater and hazardous wastes from industries pose a severe threat to groundwater quality.

In light of the many fresh-water management and associated conflict resolution issues, the Association of World Citizens has focused on trans-frontier river systems which have a potential for environmentally-induced conflict: the Nile, the Mekong, the Jordan, the Niger and the river systems that arise from the Himalayan Watershed and the Tibetan Plateau. The emphasis of the Association of World Citizens is on cooperation so that common interests are founded and acted upon. World Water Day, 22 March, is a time for reflection and positive action.

2018-03-22


Syria Conflicts Highlight Violations of Humanitarian International Law

A recent wave of fighting in Syria, especially in the Eastern Ghouta zone near Damascus and in Afrin, a largely Kurdish area near the frontier with Turkey has highlighted the violations of humanitarian international law. Calls from U.N. officials for at least a month-long truce so that food and medical supplies could reach the civilian population have not been honored. The scale of the violations 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.

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

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

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

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

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. (2)

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

  1. The Geneva Conventions – Red Cross-mandated treaties;
  2. The Hague Convention traditions dealing with prohibited weapons, highlighting recent treaties such as those on land mines and cluster munitions;
  3. Human rights conventions and standards, valid at all 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. (4)

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

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

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

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

Notes

  1. Hilaire McCoubrey and Nigel D. White. International Law and Armed Conflict (Aldershot: Dartmouth, 1992)
  2. see Andrew Clapham. Human Rights Obligations of Non-State Actors (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)
  3. see Sydney D. Bailey. Prohibitions and Restraints in War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972)
  4. see Rene Wadlow “Guilty Plea in Cultural Destruction Case” Peace Magazine (Canada) Oct-Dec 2016
  5. see Jacques Freymond. Guerres, Révolutions, Croix-Rouge (Geneva: Institut Universitaire de Hautes Etudes Internationales, 1976) and Thierry Hentsch. Face au blocus. La Croix Rouge internationale dans le Nigéria en guerre (Geneva: Institut Universitaire de Hautes Etudes Internationales, 1973)
  6. see as a good example of an action guide Paul Bonard. Les Modes d'Action des Acteurs Humanitaires. Critères d'une Complémentarité Operationelle (Geneva, CICR, no date given)


Action against human trafficking

The US Senate designated 11 January as the National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in 2007 and the day has been marked each year since as a time to develop both awareness but especially action. There is a world-wide need to dismantle trafficking networks and to help survivors to rebuild their lives. Citizens of the World welcome the US Senate call to action but no country can meet this challenge alone, and thus on a world-wide scale, we need to address the underlying conditions of poverty, discrimination and ignorance that push so many into bondage.

traf1_400One of the most destructive forms of oppression is that of trafficking in persons. Such trafficking is done in total disregard for the dignity of the person and his welfare. The recent increase in the scope, intensity and sophistication of crime around the world threatens the safety of citizens everywhere and hinders countries in their social, economic and cultural development.

The dark side of globalization allows trans-frontier criminal syndicates to broaden their range of operations from drugs and arms sales to trafficking in human beings. Some gangs are involved in all three. In other cases, agreements are made to specialize and not expand into the specialty of other criminal groups.

Basically, there are two main sources of international trafficking in persons. The first are refugees from armed conflicts as we see today with refugees from the armed conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The second category are people leaving their country for economic reasons – sometimes called “economic refugees”. Migration for better jobs and a higher standard of living has a long history. Poverty, ethnic and racial tensions and gender-based discrimination are all factors in people seeking to change countries. The smuggling of wc00migrants and the trafficking of human beings for prostitution and slave-like labor have become two of the fastest growing worldwide problems of recent years. From Nepal villages to Eastern European cities women and girls are attracted by the prospect of a well-paid job as a domestic servant, waitress or factory worker. Traffickers recruit victims through fake advertisements , mail-order bride lists, casual acquaintances, and even family.

The lack of economic, political and social structures providing women with equal job opportunities also contributed to the feminization of poverty, which in turn has given rise to the feminization of migration, as women leave their homes to look for viable economic solutions. However, trafficking in human beings is not confined to the “sex industry”. Children are also trafficked to work in sweatshops, and men to work in the “three D jobs “ - dirty, difficult, and dangerous.

The pattern of trafficking in persons will continue to grow unless strong counter measures are taken, especially by non-governmental organizations who help build the political will for action. We must not underestimate the difficulties and dangers which exist in the struggle against trafficking. It is a task which requires cooperation and action to change attitudes, overcome apathy and root out deep-set corruption.

There is also an important role for psychological healing. Very often women and children who have been trafficked into the sex trades have a disrupted or violent family life. They often have a poor image of their self-worth. Thus it is important to create opportunities for individual and group healing.

11 January can serve as a day of re-dedication to work for the respect of human dignity, to understand the causes of migration and to counter the trafficking in persons.

 

 

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