Tag Archives: World Citizens

Rocky Road to World Law: Need for a U.N.-led Conference on the Reaffirmation of Humanitarian Law by Rene Wadlow

World law, as world citizens use the term, is more than current international law. World law has as its base universally recognized international law but also the human rights declarations and standards, the oft-repeated declarations of the United Nations General Assembly as well as the international legal bodies such as the World Court and the International Criminal Court (ICC) The International Criminal Court is the most recent of the world courts, and its Rome States have not been ratified by all U.N. members, the United States being a significant holdout. 

Some States have withdrawn from the ICC and other States do not cooperate with it, such as the Sudan. The ICC can act only after the relevant national courts have acted or when national courts are unable to act (the case of some ‘failed States’) or when there is an unjustified unwillingness of national courts to act when crimes against humanity have been committed.

wc00The Association of World Citizens has repeatedly stressed that humanitarian law (international law in times of war, primarily the Geneva Conventions) are being systematically violated and that there should be a U.N.-led World Conference for the Re-affirmation of Humanitarian Law.

In the armed conflicts in Afghanistan, there have been repeated violations of humanitarian law by all sides: violations in the treatment of prisoners of war, violation of the prohibition of torture, prohibition of attacking medical facilities and medical personnel. The ICC has undertaken preliminary investigations to collect evidence. Among those who have violated humanitarian law are U.S. troops, and thus evidence should be collected.

Although most evidence could be collected within Afghanistan itself, it would be useful to interview persons who had served in Afghanistan but now have returned to the U.S.A. and to see written reports no longer stored in Afghanistan. Thus the ICC plans to send investigators to the U.S.A. to interview and collect documentation.

However, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on 15 March 2019 that the U.S. will revoke or deny visas to ICC personnel investigating allegations of torture or other war crimes committed in the conflicts in Afghanistan. Pompeo also announced that the U.S. will consider imposing financial sanctions and restrictions on “persons who take or have taken action to request or further such ICC investigation”. He could have added imprisonment if we recall those who provided evidence of war crimes in Iraq.

Unfortunately Pompeo sends the wrong message to all other parties that torture, rape, attacks on medical facilities will not be tried. Pompeo helps to undermine further international humanitarian law.

law001_400We have to think back to 1947-1948 and the leadership of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt as chair of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights to recall any U.S. leadership on world law. Unfortunately law has never been part of U.S. culture. The lone cowboy taking the law into his own hands by shooting it out on a dusty street seen in many films remains the U.S. ideal.

As mentioned, most of the necessary evidence can be found in Afghanistan itself. Bringing anyone from any party to trial for crimes in Afghanistan seems to me unlikely. Nevertheless, as world citizens, we need to keep the standards of world law in mind. These standards should be clear. Thus our repeated call for a U.N.-led conference on the re-affirmation of international humanitarian law.

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Yemen: Two Assassinations and Potential Changes by Rene Wadlow

The assassination of Jamal Khashoggi on 2 October 2018, a day designated by the United Nations as the Day of Nonviolence, and especially the wide reaction to that assassination may result in a change of Saudi Arabia’s policy in the Yemen war. The assassination and the reaction may have weakened the power of the Crown Prince Mohammed Ben Salmane, the chief promoter of the Saudi war in Yemen. Jamal Khashaggi was opposed to the war in Yemen as not serving Saudi Arabia’s interests. While there are probably a number of reasons that Khashaggi was put on a “hit” list, opposition to the war and its U.S. support may have been an important reason.

The situation in Yemen is tragic in its humanitarian aspects but is somewhat more fluid due to the second assassination.

yeme000_400The assassination on December 4, 2017 of former Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh has potentially opened a new chapter in the ongoing struggle for power in Yemen. There might be a possibility that with a major actor pushed off the stage, the lesser actors might accept the good offices of the United Nations (UN) mediator I and form an inclusive central government. There is also a real possibility that the armed conflict becomes even more protracted as factions see increased opportunities to advance their interests.

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

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

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

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

Saleh, however, never really accepted the idea of giving up power and its material benefits. He formed an alliance with a religious movement that drew its members from the same geographic region. Saleh had combated this Huthi movement, including by force of arms, when he was president. But for a time, the alliance seemed to be mutually beneficial. The alliance broke sharply in November 2017. Fighting among the Huthi forces and those loyal to Saleh broke out in the capital Sana’a thatNovember and on December 4, Huthi troops shot Saleh in his auto as he was trying to leave the city.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Women’s Critical Role in the Food Chain by Rene Wadlow

15 October is the U.N. designated International Day of Rural Women. It is a day in which to highlight the need to increase food production, especially in those countries that face a persistent food deficit. There is a need to increase production, create better storage methods to prevent post-harvest loss, and improve distribution methods.

Women play a crucial role in every link of the food chain: production, storage, marketing, and finally in the preparation of food for the family. Therefore it is important to look at some of the blocks and drawbacks that prevent better production and to analyse the persistent inequalities and discrimination that women face at the village level — discrimination in schooling, especially at the technical and higher levels, discrimination in land ownership and land tenure, discrimination in inheritance of land and access to resources. We must look at what factors stand in the way of transforming gender relations and of eliminating gender inequalities. Promoting gender equality is an important part of a development strategy that seeks to enable all people — women and men alike — to escape poverty and to improve their standard of living.

farm01_400We must look not only at drawbacks but give special attention to methods used for the empowerment of women and gender equality in the food cycle. There are a growing number of households headed by women in rural areas. The reasons vary but most often the reasons are associated with migrations, divorce, abandonment, widowhood, civil strife, and absent-father adolescent parenthood. I will use examples from Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia where I have worked.

The division of labor between men and women in agriculture can vary greatly from one ethnic group to another even within a limited region and often concerning the same crops and activities. That is why all generations are dangerous and why detailed study of specific patterns is important. A useful tool for study is the gender tool kits prepared by the World Bank’s Gender Analysis and Policy Section. While one may be justly critical of some of the World Bank’s loans and policy directives, the Bank has developed good guides for research such as Monica Fong and Anjana Bhushan’s Toolkit on Gender in Agriculture. See the Bank’s GenderNet http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/gender). The Net has two subsection on gender in Africa and gender in Latin America and the Caribbean. (1)

While recalling the danger of generalizations, there are nevertheless certain patterns that one finds so often that such patterns merit special attention — such as food preparation nearly exclusively by women. Thus it is important to note both the work in the fields, at the market, but also in the home with the preparation of food and care of children if we want to have a complete picture of the role of women. Household division of labor needs to be looked at closely. Because women in Vietnam do the household budgeting, it is often assumed that women do not need independent access to resources and that they have full control over household income regardless of who earns it. Field research now indicates that this is not always the case and thus it is necessary to look closely at the decision-making structure of rural households to see if there are unmet needs.

For more HERE!

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UN General Assembly: Can It Provide The Needed Global Leadership?

The United Nations General Assembly began its yearly session on 17 September under the leadership of Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility of Ecuador. In her opening statement she called for stronger global leadership to ensure more peaceful, equitable and sustainable societies. She said that her priorities were contained in the acronym DARE meaning delivery, accountability, relevance and efficiency. The President of the General Assembly is elected for one year. Thus President Espinosa will provide leadership until September 2019, facing continuing challenges to the world society such as climate change, migration, persistent poverty, and armed conflicts. In addition, she said “I am also prepared to facilitate quick and effective responses of the General Assembly to emergency situations as they arise – unfortunately they will arise.”

una01_400In fact, emergency situations arise more quickly than expected. Both deal with the same structural issue – how does the U.N. General Assembly deal with agreements among Member States in which the General Assembly played no role. Nevertheless, the agreements have an impact on States that were not party to the agreement. Now that the agreements are in danger, what is the role of the General Assembly and its President?

The first test starts Monday 24 September and will consider the future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) more commonly called the Iran Nuclear Deal. The crux of the compromise agreement was that Iran would restrain its nuclear program – especially aspects that could have military uses ­ in return for the relaxation of economic sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.

The US Government, a major player in the agreement, has now withdrawn, seriously weakening the whole agreement. The other U.N. Security Council members and Germany, parties to the agreement, have indicated a willingness to continue the agreement, but all recognize that the application of the agreement is on unsteady ground.

To make matters even more complicated on 5 November, an aspect of the U.S. sanctions policy will come into force: any firm in the world trading with Iran will be unable to use U.S. financial institutions or trade in U.S. dollars. Since a large number of firms deal with the USA and use U.S. financial facilities, the U.S. sanctions policy can have wide application. Already in anticipation of the 5 November start, firms have withdrawn trade agreements with Iran. How the U.N. General Assembly deals with this issue will be a test case for both the General Assembly leadership and for “world public opinion”.

The second test case is the agreement between Russia and Turkey concerning a demilitarized zone near Idlib in Syria close to the Turkish frontier. Both Iran and the Syrian Government led by Bachar Al-Assad are directly impacted by the agreement. The U.N. General Assembly played no direct role in the negotiations of the agreement: Iran, Turkey, Russia being the chief negotiators. The United States and France which have military operations in Syria are concerned as is Israel which is concerned with all that goes on in Syria.

Idlib Governorate has a fairly dense population which has increased considerably with people displaced from other cities and combat zones. In a number of cases, ceasefire agreements had been reached to allow some of the population in these other zones and insurgents to withdraw to Idlib.

There is a wide-spread fear that if there is an attack by Russian and Syrian Government forces within Idlib, there could be a large flow of refugees toward Turkey. To prevent this potential flow toward Turkey, the Turkish government has heavily increased its troops in the frontier zone. Turkey then entered into negotiations with Russia to create a “safe-demilitarized zone” into which the insurgents, having put down their arms, could enter.

However, the different insurgent, opposition movements were not directly involved in the negotiations, and today say that they are not bound by the agreement among governments.

Thus, in a dramatic way, the role of non-governmental armed groups comes to the fore. The United Nations was created to facilitate negotiations and agreement among Member States. A small door was opened through the Charter for a consultative status with ECOSOC for non-governmental organizations (NGOs). NGOs had to be accepted by a committee of government representatives. Such consultative status was to be for well-established NGOs and not opposed by the government in which they had their headquarters.

However, since the 1990 end of the Cold War, the role of armed non-governmental forces has grown. U.N. mediators and Special Rapporteurs of the U.N. Council on Human Rights have recognized this fact and have discussed at times with the representatives of armed groups. Nevertheless, the U.N. General Assembly is still government-focused. Syria and Idlib is a crucial example of the new forms of armed conflict. What will be done – or left undone – by the General Assembly needs to be watched closely.

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