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World Citizens - People's Congress




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René Wadlow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Association of World Citizens also calls for a serious investigation of the reasons for the erosion of the respect for humanitarian law to be followed by a United Nations-led conference on the reaffirmation of humanitarian law.

on: December 01, 2016

Turkey: Whom the gods would destroy

“Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad” Attributed to Prometheus, the bringer of fire to humanity

The Greek gods have been working overtime since 15 July 2016 and the failed military coup in Turkey. It must be admitted that the gods of Olympus have never fully admitted that areas once part of Greek civilization have been overrun by Turks. Thus the Greek gods are not fully objective evaluators of Turkish politics. Nevertheless, the Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made the task easy for the Greek gods by opening the door to irrational actions even before the gods stopped thinking of sexual pleasures and looked down on what mortals were doing in Turkey.

Since the days following the 15 July coup, the Turkish government has been arresting people, closing down newspapers and university faculties suspected in some way of being related to Fethullh Gulen, an Islamic leader who wants a return to some form of Islamic culture in Turkey. Gulen was once a supporter of Erdogan, but the two men fell out. Gulen has been living in exile in the USA. For Erdogan, it does not take much to be considered as a “supporter” of Gulen – having lived in one of the student centers that Gulen built around Turkish universities is enough.

Now, in these first days of November, the most recent expression of the revenge of the Greek gods has been to urge Erdogan to arrest elected officials of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) both municipal and members of the national parliament. The ability of persons elected to a parliament to exercise their responsibility by speaking out without fear of arrest is considered as a cornerstone of parliamentary government. One can have a vision of a broader definition of participatory democracy, but the ability of elected members of a parliament to defend their views is the strict minimum of parliamentary (even presidential) government.

The HDP is considered as a pro-Kurdish party. The party advocates a pluralistic Turkey, taking into consideration the different ethnic and religious groups in the country. The party has no known relation to the Gulen brotherhood. However, as the Kurds are the largest minority and there have been armed conflicts with the Kurds, the Turkish government claims that the HDP is related to the Kurdish militia – the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). The HDP maintains that it is not a PKK “front” and it works for non-violence and negotiation in good faith to deal with Kurdish social and political aspirations.

At a time when the armed conflicts in Syria and Iraq become ever more complicated – conflicts in which Syrian and Iraqi Kurds are playing important role – the last thing that is needed is an increased repression on the Kurds within Turkey, especially not on elected leaders who stress the rule of law and dialogue. Officials of the European Union have expressed on 4 November their concern with the arrests of the HDP parliamentarians. However, given the geopolitical importance of Turkey, verbal expressions of concern are likely to be all that the official European Union will do. Non-governmental organizations concerned with human rights, such as the Association of World Citizens, have been calling attention in the United Nations to the oppressive currents in Turkey but without any notable change in Turkish government policy and without great response from “Great Power” diplomats who need Turkish government support on a wide range of issues.

It is likely that the Greek gods have returned to their banquet table and the lovely maids who pour the wine. Madness has taken hold in Turkey. The gods have only to glance down from time to time to see what is happening. Thus, it is up to us mortals to act. Prometheus is said to have brought fire to mortals, much to the anger of the gods. Fire is also a symbol of intelligence and insight. We will have to watch closely as to how we mortals use it now.

on: November 04, 2016

UN Day: Changing of the Guard

UN Day, 24 October, this year is marked by preparations for a changing of the guard. The ten years of Ban Ki-moon as Secretary-General will give way on one January 2017 to the new Secretary- General, Antonio Guterres, who was during the same ten-year period the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. As with the changing of the guard in front of a palace or national monument, the persons change but the guards have the same uniform.

Ban Ki-moon brought his long experience in South Korean diplomacy and a certain non-confrontational Asian style – somewhat similar to that of the Berman U Thant- to the UN. (1) The major road marks of UN action during his leadership of the organization were related to socio-economic development: the setting of the 2015-2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Both agreements are important and needed a good deal of “behind the meeting hall” efforts to reach consensus. However development goals and anti-poverty measures have been relatively the same since the early 1960s when the former African colonies joined the UN. As has been said, setting goals is relatively simple, reaching them is more difficult.

Development is at the heart of the UN system – the UN and its programmes and the major Specialized Agencies (FAO, ILO, WHO, UNESCO) as well as the two financial bodies (the World Bank and the IMF). There are issues of coordination and overlap of tasks, but basically the development efforts continue with few changes.

The same steady continuation can be said to be true of the UN's human rights efforts. The international norms have been set, but the UN Secretariat has relatively few ways of control or pressure on what member States do in the human rights field. In keeping with the development focus of the UN system, there has been a somewhat greater emphasis on socio-economic rights and the fight against poverty, but most of these goals had also been set earlier.

The reputation of the UN Secretary General most often rests on peace-making and conflict resolution. The UN was designed in 1945 as a bulwark against invasion of one State by another on the model of the Second World War. In today's world, security is more often threatened rather by forces acting trans-nationally such as ISIS or by the internal disintegration of a State on the model of Somalia. On the “peace front” there have been no breakthroughs or radical improvements under Ban Ki-moon. There has been some increase in combined UN-regional organization- basically the African Union – peace-keeping missions, but with little increased impact on armed conflict resolution. UN military can keep people apart by controlling a road as they do in the Central African Republic, but the military can do little to bring people together which requires non-military skills and techniques.

The leadership of Antonio Guterres as High Commissioner for Refugees was appreciated by many in the UN system. He faced an unprecedented flow of refugees without the funds necessary nor much cooperation from governments. He was confronted with the need to deal with the armed conflicts which cause the refugee flows. He was able to develop strong cooperation with non-governmental organizations which are at the heart of work with refugees, their care and their re-settlement. He had good working relations with his staff as well as with the diplomatic milieu.

Thus many of us who have close relations with the UN system have high hopes for the role that Antonio Guterres will play. The UN in New York has recently taken the comic strip character of Wonder Woman as a role model for the equality and dynamism of women. Unfortunately, there are no Wonder Woman or Superman in real UN life. Overly high expectations of what one individual can accomplish can lead to disappointment. We must accompany Antonio Guterres with our encouragement, but more important, we need to see how non-governmental organizations can facilitate reaching UN goals.


Ending Marginalization and Exclusion

17 October was set by the United Nations General Assembly in resolution 47/196 as the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. October 17 was chosen as the anniversary of a 17 October 1987 meeting in front of the Trocadero in Paris near where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948. The 1987 meeting was called as a reminder that the victims of extreme poverty, hunger and violence do not enjoy the rights that are set out in the Universal Declaration.

In some ways the 1987 meeting is an indication of how long ideas and values take to be institutionalized in the world society. It took nearly 40 years for awareness to grow that there were people who fell outside the development and welfare provisions of governments. It took another four years for that awareness to be enshrined in a General Assembly resolution. Nevertheless, we must be thankful for resolutions which highlight the obvious. We can build upon that awareness and the resolution.

Somewhere along the line of the growing awareness that poverty exists came the realization that the eradication of poverty was not only the concern of governments but also of the poor and marginalized themselves. To use the most commonly-used image: poverty reduction is not only a “top-down” effort (governments toward citizens) but also a “bottom-up” process (of the poor toward the holders of wealth and the governmental decision-makers.) Thus today, there is an awareness that the marginalized sections of society should be involved in the decision-making process which determines the socio-cultural, economic, and political life of the State. This awareness is often termed “popular participation”, “community organizing” and “grass-roots organizations.”

As an Asian Committee for People's Organization states in its manual for organizers Organizing People for Power “It is the oppressors who, after all, control corporate decision-making, the government apparatus, the media, and the police. Although the people vastly outnumber the oppressors, in their disorganized conditions they lack the power to oppose their enemy. By themselves, the poor farmers, workers or slum dwellers are no match for the oppressors in terms of money or resources...The transfer of power from the hands of the oppressors to those of the oppressed is not easily accomplished at one fell swoop. Part of the difficulty lies in the 'culture of silence' that has been inculcated into the people's consciousness by centuries of domination. By slow degrees, the oppressed have internalized a subservient mentality that is reinforced by their daily experience. They find it difficult to see their liberation in terms of their own strength, and look instead outside themselves to an external force to come and save them. The oppressed cannot imagine that the power they await lies within them, and therefore, they lapse into a state of passivity awaiting liberation from heaven or a messianic leader.”

However, there are growing efforts by which people are released from their culture of silence and demand a meaningful participation in society through socio-economic projects which enhance their bargaining power. Such approaches involve tensions and conflicts, but conflicts can have a potential for creativity. As a setwc00 of notes for workers engaged in rural development and adult education written by the Xavier Institute of Social Service in Ranchi, India states “Projects should be the result of a process where people have perceived the need for them. This will require a clear-cut vision and manifestation of a just society. Projects can be undertaken as instruments for social transformation, and development programmes must make the conscious effort to translate these projects into useful tools to hasten the establishment of a just society.”

Today, different social conditions, identities, religious beliefs shape our one humanity. We share the responsibility to ensure the dignity of each individual. We need to find creative ways of ending marginalization and exclusion of groups and individuals. 17 October should stand as a time of re-dedication to finding creative paths to this goal.

World Food Day - 2016 - Yemen

16 October is World Food Day, so designated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization – a yearly reminder that there are people who are constantly hungry due to inadequate agricultural methods, poor distribution, poor food storage, and armed conflict.

A central theme which citizens of the world have long stressed is that there needs to be a world food policy and that a world food policy is more than the sum of national food security programs. World food security has too often been treated as a collection of national security initiatives. Yet for the formulation of a dynamic world food policy, world economic trends and structures need to be studied, and policy goals made clear. There needs to be a detailed analysis of the role of speculation in the rise of food commodity prices. Banks and hedge funds, having lost money in the real estate mortgage packages, are now investing massively in commodities. For the moment, there is little government regulation of this speculation. There needs to be an analysis of these financial flows and their impact on the price of grains.

A world food policy for the welfare of all requires a close look at world institutions, patterns of production and trade. As Stringfellow Barr wrote in his 1952 book Citizens of the World “Since the hungry billion in the world community believe that we can all eat if we set our common house in order, they believe also that it is unjust that some men die because it is too much trouble to arrange for them to live.”

However, in addition to setting out a broad, comprehensive world food policy, attention must be given to national and local issues of food production, distribution, and food security. Attention needs to be given to cultural factors, the division of labor between women and men in agriculture and rural development, in marketing local food products, to the role of small farmers, to the conditions of landless agricultural labor, and to land-holding patterns. There is also a need to look at the longer-range consequences of climate change on agricultural production.

While on some issues of food and agriculture there can be legitimate differences of opinion as to techniques of improvement, there is no doubt that war and armed conflicts have a negative impact on food production and food security. Yemen is a sharp example, and this year’s World Food Day needs to focus on Yemen. There is a double need: one is to bring in food aid in safe conditions; the second is to re-start negotiations to bring the armed conflict and Saudi-led intervention to an end.

As a result of Saudi bombing raids, started on 24 March 2015, Yemen’s underdeveloped socio-economic infrastructure has been largely destroyed. Even prior to the start of the bombing raids, Yemen was already a poor country which needed to import much of its agricultural and food supplies. The fighting among Yemeni factions and the bombing raids have led to the displacement of many people and thus the abandonment of agricultural areas. The fighting has led to the creation of hard-to-reach zones. The United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs has estimated that some 14 million people in Yemen are suffering from food insecurity and malnutrition with cases of severe malnutrition.

There is wide agreement in UN circles that Yemen is in a quagmire, with the free-fall of its economy, a collapse and destruction of its health services, its food imports blocked, and humanitarian aid workers unable to reach safely large areas of the country.

Thus World Food Day this year must be a constant reminder of the link between armed conflict, poverty and food insecurity. Yemen is a living reminder of the need for concerted action for resolving armed conflicts.


«There is no doubt that Mankind is once more on the move. The very foundations have been shaken and loosened, and things are again fluid. The tents have been struck, and the great caravan of Humanity is once more on the march.»

Jan Christian Smuts at the end of the 1914-1918 World War.

On September 19, 2016, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly held a one-day Summit on "Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants", a complex of issues which have become important and emotional issues in many countries. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) published a report on international migration indicating that there are some 244 million migrants, some 76 million live in Europe, 75 million in Asia, 54 million in North America and others in the Middle East, Latin America and the Pacific, especially Australia and New Zealand. In addition, there are some 24 million refugees – people who have crossed State frontiers fleeing armed conflict and repression as well as some 40 million internally-displaced persons within their own country. Acute poverty, armed conflicts, population growth and high unemployment levels provide the incentives for people to move, while easier communications and transport are the means.

However, as we have seen with the many who have died in the Mediterranean Sea, people will take great risks to migrate. Thus, there is an urgent need to take away the monopoly of the life and death of refugees from the hands of mafias and traffickers and to create an effective world policy for migrants and refugees.

This is the third time that the major governments of the world have tried to deal in an organized way with migration and refugees. The first was within the League of Nations in the 1920s. The 1914-1918 World War and the 1917 Russian Revolution had created a large number of refugees and "stateless" persons – citizens of the former Russian, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian Empires. These people had no passports or valid identity documents. The League of Nations created a League identity document – the Nansen Passport – which gave some relief to the "stateless" and brought international attention to their conditions. The Nansen Passport, however, became overshadowed in the mid-1930 when people – in particular Jews – fled from Germany-Austria and were refused resettlement.

The second international effort was as a result of the experiences of the 1939-1945 Second World War and the large number of refugees and displaced. Under UN leadership was created the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees. In addition, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, originally created as a temporary body, was made a permanent UN agency in recognition of the continuing nature of refugee issues.

The current third international effort is largely a result of the flow of refugees and migrants toward Europe during 2015-2016. The disorganized and very uneven response of European governments and the European Union to this flow has indicated that governments are unprepared to deal with such massive movements of people. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have not been able to deal adequately with this large number of persons despite many good-will efforts. Moreover, certain European political movements and political parties have used the refugee issue to promote narrow nationalist and sometimes racist policies. Even a much smaller flow of refugees to the USA has provoked very mixed reactions – few of them welcoming.

The September 19 Summit is a first step toward creating a functioning world policy for migrants and refugees. The Summit is not an end in itself but follows a pattern of UN awareness-building conferences on the environment, population, food, urbanization and other world issues. The impact of UN conferences has been greatest when there are preexisting popular movements led by NGOs which have in part sensitized people to the issue. The two UN conferences which have had the most lasting consequences were the 1972 Stockholm conference on the environment and the 1975 International Year of Women and its Mexico conference. The environment conference was held at a time of growing popular concern with the harm to the environment symbolized by the widely-read book of Rachel Carson Silent Spring. The 1975 women's conference came at a time when in Western Europe and the USA there was a strong "women's lib" movement and active discussion on questions of equality and gender.

Migration and refugee issues do not have a well-organized NGO structure highlighting these issues. However human rights NGOs have stressed the fate of refugees and migrants as well as human rights violations in the countries from which they fled. There is also some cooperation among relief NGOs which provide direct help to refugees and migrants such as those from Syria and Iraq living in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and those going to Greece and Italy.

The Summit's Declaration is very general, and some observers have been disappointed with the lack of specific measures. However, we can welcome the spirit of the Summit Declaration with its emphasis on cooperative action, a humane sense of sharing the responsibilities for refugees and migrants and on seeking root causes of migration and refugee flows. What is needed now are strong NGO efforts to remind constantly government authorities of the seriousness of the issues and the need for collective action. Refugees and migrants are not a temporary "emergency" but part of a continuing aspect of the emerging world society. Thus there is a need to develop a world policy and strong institutions for migrants and refugees.

Voir aussi : mediaforfreedom.com/

In Tune with the Infinite : A New Thought influence on Gandhian nonviolence

2 October has been proclaimed by the UN General Assembly as the International Day for Nonviolence, setting the day appropriately on the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi drew on a variety of thinkers to develop his approach to nonviolence: the Jain convictions of his mother, the later writings of Leo Tolstoy, Edwin Arnold, author of a verse biography of the Buddha The Light of Asia whom Gandhi knew when he was a law student in London, and the writings of the American New Thought writer Ralph Waldo Trune.

When Gandhi returned to India from his work in South Africa in January 1915, he was known among the political elite of India for his South African campaigns, but he was not part of any existing Indian organization and had no political base of his own. He was confronted with three basic facts of life: First, the world was at war and English troops were heavily engaged.

Secondly, the British administration in India (who also governed what is now Burma, decision-making being done from Calcutta), were preoccupied with stability and not with the nature of colonial decentralization. A fairly liberal Indian Council Act of 1909 had given some aspects of representative government at the level of provincial governments and most British administrators thought that this was “going far enough for the moment.”

Thirdly, the one major Indian national political movement, the Indian National Congress, founded in 1885 by the English Theosophist, A.O. Hume, former high administrator who died in 1915 just as Gandhi returned, was made up of elite, educated Indians such as its later President of Congress, Motilal Nehru, father of Jawaharlal Nehru but with little impact among the Indian masses.

As in South Africa, with Tolstoy Farm, Gandhi began his work in India with the creation of an ashram, a small intimate community in which life could be disciplined both on a spiritual and a physical level. Some of the members of the ashram were relatives and others had been with Gandhi in South Africa. Life consisted of a routine of prayer with reading of scriptures of different faiths, singing and talks, of manual labour, of social service to nearby villages and training in non-violence. Ashrams are part of religious life in India, but it must be noted that none of the Hindu religious leaders who had their own ashrams joined Gandhi’s non-violent efforts, nor invited Gandhi to join them. Gandhi became a Mahatma — a great soul — to ordinary Indians and to Indian intellectuals such as Rabindranath Tagore, who was the first to publicly use the term, but not to Hindu religious leaders.

At the ashram, Gandhi steadily Hinduized his public persona and his manner of life. He quoted from Hindu religious-political reformers such as the founder of the Arya Samaj, Dayanand Saraswati (1824 -1883) and the Bengali reformer Vivekananda (1863-1902) who was one of the first Indian religious leaders to go to the USA. Gandhi spent nearly 15 years in preparation for the March 1930 Salt March, Gandhi's first large public nonviolent effort in India, in training his close followers, in developing contacts throughout the country and in trying to understand the issues which would move people to action.

It is from his Satyagraha Ashram that Gandhi at sixty-one years of age set out for the Salt March, early morning of 1March after a long evening prayer meeting at which some 2000 people participated. Gandhi closed by saying to his band of 79 marchers, “I have faith in our cause and the purity of our weapons… God bless you all and keep off all obstacles from the path in the struggle that begins tomorrow. Let this be out prayer.”

Gandhi had been for some months before March thinking about what issue he could select around which to organize a campaign of non-violence that would have national significance, would be meaningful to many Indians and send a strong signal to the British administrators that their rule would no longer be tolerated. The decision-making body of the Congress Party with which Gandhi had an on-again-off-again relationship called the “Working Group” had met for a week over New Year’s Day, 1930. Gandhi drew up a grab bag of eleven demands around which he thought that Congress could organize non-violent campaigns. The first was the total prohibition of making and drinking alcohol and the eleventh was that Indians should be able to buy fire arms, there being a total prohibition on the sale of fire arms. Among the eleven demands was the abolition of the Salt Tax. The Working Group thought that the non-payment of taxes could be done without violence but had no idea as to how to carry this out in a dramatic way. Gandhi returned to his ashram and kept largely to himself in meditation. Then, as Gandhi later wrote, the answer came to him “like a flash”.

The importance of intuition — of ideas that come as a flash once the form has been created in another dimension — came to Gandhi largely through the writings of the American New Thought writer Ralph Waldo Trine (1866-1958). His parents were from New England and named him after Emerson.

Kathryn Tidrich has written an interesting new biography of Mahatma Gandhi: Gandhi: A Political and Spiritual Life (London: I.B.Tauris, 2006, 380pp.). Tidrich puts the accent on the spiritual and intellectual contacts that Gandhi had when a law student in London and in his years as a lawyer and non-violent activist in South Africa. She highlights the friendship with Edward Maitland and Gandhi’s connections with the Esoteric Christian Union founded by Anna Kingsford and Maitland in 1891. It is probably Maitland who introduced Gandhi to the writings of Ralph Waldo Trine.

It is from Trine’s writings that Gandhi received the term “soul power or soul force “ – the term Gandhi used as a translation into English of his Indian term satyagraha. Satyagraha is more often translated today by the term nonviolence, but there was already in use in India the term ahimsa— a meaning non and hinsa, violence. Gandhi wanted another term that was more active, and he took from Trine the term soul force.

As Kathryn Tidrich notes “All Trine’s books contained the same message: spiritual power – also termed ‘thought power’ and ‘soul power’ – could be acquired by making oneself one with God, who was immanent, through love and service to one’s fellow men …The Christ he followed was one familiar to Gandhi — the supreme spiritual exemplar who showed men the way to union with the divine essence. Trine promised that the true seeker, fearless and forgetful of self-interest, will be so filled with the power of God working through him that ‘as he goes here and there, he can continually send out influences of the most potent and powerful nature that will reach the uttermost parts of the world.”

Gandhi seems to have remained interested in Trine. He read his My Philosophy and My Religion (1921) in Yeravda jail in 1923, and in 1933, as he recovered from his 21-day fast for self-purification, he observed that the fast had sprung from ‘a yearning of the soul to merge in the divine essence. How far I have succeeded, how far I am in tune with the Infinite, I do not know.’In Tune with the Infinite was the title of Trine’s best known book. In Tune With the Infinite or Fullness of Peace, Power, and Plenty (New York: Whitcombe and Tombs, 1899, 175pp.)

For Trine, thought was the way that a person came into tune with the Infinite. “Each is building his own world. We both build from within and we attract from without. Thought is the force with which we build, for thoughts are forces. Like builds like and like attracts like. In the degree that thought is spiritualized does it become more subtle and powerful in its workings. This spiritualizing is in accordance with law and is within the power of all.

“Everything is first worked out in the unseen before it is manifested in the seen, in the ideal before it is realized in the real, in the spiritual before it shows forth in the material. The realm of the unseen is the realm of cause. The realm of the seen is the realm of effect. The nature of effect is always determined and conditioned by the nature of its cause.

“The great central fact in human life is coming into a conscious vital realization of our oneness with this infinite Life, and the opening of ourselves fully to this divine inflow. In just the degree that we come into a conscious realization of our oneness with the Infinite Life, and open ourselves to this divine inflow, do we actualize in ourselves the qualities and powers of the Infinite Life, do we make ourselves channels through which the Infinite Intelligence and Power can work. In just the degree in which you realize your oneness with the Infinite Spirit, you will exchange disease for ease, inharmony for harmony, suffering and pain for abounding health and strength.”

For Gandhi, the Salt Tax, because unjust and touching especially the poor, had already been abolished within what Trine called “the realm of cause”. Gandhi had the intuition to see that salt was then freely available for all who would take it from the sea of life (either the actual sea or from rock salt on land). Into the realm of effect one had to walk to manifest this change, and so the march to the Dandi beach on the Gulf of Camby began.


Building on the UN summit to address large movements of refugees and migrants, by Rene Wadlow

On 19 September 2016, the UN General Assembly held a one-day Summit on « Addressing Large Movements o Refugees and Migrants » – a complex of issues which have become important and emotional issues in many countries. Restrictive migration policies deny many migrants the possibility of acquiring a regular migrant status, and as a result, the migrants end up being in an irregular or undocumented situation in the receiving country and can be exposed to exploitation and serious violations of human rights.

Citizens o the world have been actively concerned with the issues of migrants, refugees, the « stateless » and those displaced by armed conflcts within their own country. Thus we welcome the spirit of the Summit Declaration with its emphasis on cooperative action, a humane sense of sharing the responsibilities for refugees and migrants and on seeking root causes of migration and refugee flows. There are three issues mentioned in the Summit Declaration which merit follow up action among the UN Secretariat, world citizens and other non-governmental organizations :

  1. The migration of youth ;
  2. The strong link between migration, refugee flows, and improving the structures for the resolution of armed conflicts ;
  3. Developing furher cooperation among non-governmental organizations for the protection and integration of refugees and migrants.

The Migration of Youth

Youth leave their country of birth to seek a better life and also to escape war, poverty, and misfortune. We should add to an analysis of trans-frontier youth migration a very large numbe of youth who leave their home villages to migrate toward cities within their own country. Without accurate informaion and analysis of both internal and trans-frontier migration of youth, it is difficult to deelop appropiate policies for employment, housing, education and health care of young migrants and refugees. It is estimated that there are some 10 million refugee children, and most are not in school.

Studies have noted an increasing feminization of trans-frontier migration in which the female migrant moves abroad as a wage earner, especially as a domestic worker rather than as an accompannying family member. Migrant domestic workers are often exposed to abuse, exploitation and discrimination based on gender, ethnicity and occupation. Domestic workers are often underpaid, their working conditions poor and sometimes dangerous. Their bargaining power is severly limited. Thus, there is a need to develop legally enforeable contracts of employment, setting out minimum wages, maximum hours of work and responsibilities ;

The Association of World Citizens recommends that there be in the follow ups to the Summit, a special focus on youth, their needs as well as possibilities for positive actions by youth.

The strong link between migration, refugee flows, and improving the structures for the resolution of armed conflicts.

The United Nations General Assembly which follows immediately the Migration-Refugee Summit is facing the need for action on a large number of armed conflicts in which Member States are involved. In some of these conflicts the United Natins has provided mediators ; in others, UN peace-keepes are present. In nearly all these armed conflicts, there have been internally-displaced persons as well as trans-frontier refugees. Therefore there is an urgent need to review the linkages between armed conflict and refugee flows. There needs to be a realistic examination as to why some of these armed conflicts have lasted as long as they have and why negotiations in good faith have not been undertaken or have not led to the resolution of these armed conflicts. Such reflections must aim at improvements of structures and procedures.

Developing further cooperation among non-governmental organizations for the protection and integration of refugees and migrants.

We welcome the emphasis in the Summit Declaratin on the important rôle that non-governmental organizations play in providing direct services to refugees and migrants. NGOs also lobby government authorities on migration legislation and develop public awareness campaigns. The Summit has stressed the need to focus on future policies taking into account climate change and the growing globalization of trade, finance, and economic activities. Thus, there needs to be strong cooperation among the UN and its Agencies, national governments, and NGOs to deal more adequately with current challenges and to plan for the future. Inclusive structures for such cooperation are needed.

Rene Wadlow

Destruction of cultural heritage condemned by the International Criminal Court

On 22 August 2016, Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi pleaded guilty to organizing and helping to carry out the destruction of nine tombs of Sufi saints in Timbuktu, northern Mali. This is the first trial of the International Criminal Court in which the destruction of UNESCO-designated cultural heritage of humanity sites is a major element of the accusation. The trial is an important milestone in the protection of cultural goods in times of armed conflict.

The evidence against Al Faqi Al Mahdi was overwhelming as originally he was proud of his iconoclastic reputation and spoke openly in public meetings and in his talks to the “moral police” of which he was the intellectual guide. Much of Islamic practice in northern Mali is Sufi-influenced, a devotional current with an emphasis on personal practice rather than communal worship. Sufi leaders are considered “saints” - the Roman Catholic terminology being the closest equivalent. At the death of certain Sufi saints, a mausoleum is built. In the case of north Mali, the mausoleum is of dried mud and brick, rather easily destroyed if that is one’s aim. The mausoleum of a saint becomes a pilgrimage goal for members of the Sufi order of which the saint was a member. Some tombs of saints with a particular reputation become pilgrimage sites for ordinary people in the area, the site is often considered to have healing qualities or to provide protection.

For most of Malian history, Sufi practices co-existed with little tension with other Islamic practices. However, the iconoclastic and anti-Sufi positions of Saudi Arabia have been spread both by Saudi preachers going to preach in other countries and by people going to study Islam in Saudi Arabia. Al Faqi Al Mahdi was trained in both a non-Sufi Koranic school in north Mali not far from Timbuktu and in Saudi Arabia. He was also trained in a Mali Government school for teachers, and Al Faqi Al Mahdi had been the chief teacher of a primary school in north Mali.

In March 2012, Mali was effectively divided into two by an armed uprising in the north. The two half were of roughly equal size, each half about the size of France. Of the 9 to 10 million inhabitants of Mali, about 90 per cent live in the south. In the northern half of the country, there is 10 per cent of the population. The majority of those in the north are Songhoy who are settled ago-pastoralists growing rice, wheat and sorghum. Also in the north but a minority in contrast to the Songhoy are the Touareg, some 850,000, originally a nomadic cattle-herding people also found in southern Algeria and Niger. They refer to themselves as “Kel Tamacheq” - those who speak the Tamacheq language. Touareg was first a derogatory term. However the term Touareg was so widely used that they have taken to using it for themselves.

In March 2012, the northern half of Mali came under the control of two rival Touareg groups with additional non-Toureg fighters coming from other Sahel countries and northern Nigeria. The larger Tourareg faction was the “Movement national de liberation de l’Azawand” (MNLA). It was larger than its rival but less well armed. Its main aim was to create an independent State, to be called Azawad.

The Touareg rival was the “Ansar Dine” - defenders of the faith - a more Islamist group which wanted to apply Islamic law to all of Mali. Many of the Ansar Dine fighters had been trained in Libya. A portion of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s Libyan army and militias was made of Touaregs who returned to northern Mali with weapons on Quddafi’s fall from power.

Although Al Faqi Al Madhi was not at first a member of Ansar Dine, he drew increasingly close to the movement and its vision of an Islamist Mali. From March 2012 until January 2013 when French troops were sent to Mali under a mandate of the UN Security Council, much of northern Mali was under the control of Ansar Dine which tried to impose its understanding of Islamic law in all its most narrow and repressive forms. Music, smoking, and alcohol were banned, and the Sufi tombs were destroyed.

There has been growing international concern about the wanton destruction of cultural heritage. On 27 February 2015, the UN Security Council condemned “the deliberate destruction of irreplaceable religious and cultural artifacts housed in the Mosul Museum and burning of thousands of books and rare manuscripts from the Mosul Library.” A few days earlier, thousands of books from the Mosul, Iraq, University Library had also been burned. The Mosul Museum had a large number of statues from the pre-Islamic Mesopotamian civilizations as well as statues from the Greek Hellenistic period. The spokesman for the Islamic State (ISIS) faction which carried out the destruction maintained that the statues represented gods which had been worshiped, while only the true god should receive worship. This approach to pre-Islamic faiths and their material culture is the same as had led to the destruction of the large Buddha statues in Bamiyam, Afghanistan - monuments that attested to the rich culture along the Silk Road.

However, the destruction of the Sufi tombs in Timbuktu highlights new and dangerous currents of division within the Islamic community itself - anti-Sufi actions which need to be watched and countered.

There have been earlier efforts to preserve cultural heritage in times of armed conflict in particular the Pan-American Roerich Pact of 1935 and the Hague Convention of 1954. The International Criminal Court trial of Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi is the first case of an international court dealing with the deliberate damage of UNESCO-designated cultural sites. Although the Sufi tombs have been rebuilt, largely by the efforts of the local population, the concept of the criminalization of deliberate destruction of cultural heritage is slowly become part of world law. A trend to be encouraged.


Yemen negotiations move ahead slowly – post-war planning needed

As a result of Saudi bombing raids, Yemen’s underdeveloped socio-economic infrastructure has been largely destroyed. Post-war planning will need to be followed by international aid for development, with post-war socio-economic construction developed on a basic needs approach.

By Rene Wadlow

The UN-mediated peace negotiations for Yemen led by Ismail Ould Cheikh in Kuwait move ahead slowly. The 13-month war was at first between Hauthis tribal forces loyal to the former president Ali Abdallah Saleh and those supporting the current president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi who had been Saleh’s vice-president for many years. The war is a struggle for power but is not an ideological-religious-tribal conflict.

Into this conflict has come a Saudi Arabian-led military coalition using bombs and sophisticated weapons. As a result, some 2.5 million people have been displaced within the country. Yemen was already a poor country which needed to import much of its agricultural and food supplies. As a result of the Saudi bombing raids, the underdeveloped socio-economic infrastructure has been largely destroyed.

Thus, there is a serious need first for post-war planning to be followed by international aid for development. “Reconstruction” would be the wrong term since there was little that had been “constructed”. Rather, we need to look to a post-war socio-economic construction developed on a basic needs approach.

The Basic Needs Approach to Development with its emphasis on people as central to the development process is embodied in the June 1976 World Employment Conference Declaration of Principles and Programme of action.[1] The Declaration underlines the importance of the individual and the central role of the family and household as the basic unit around which to work for development.

Although the Basic Needs Approach builds on the development thinking of 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 is a major shift in development strategies with its 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 added 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 incomes and productivity approach to poverty alleviation and employment creation.

For Yemen which is largely structured on the basis of clan- extended family institutions, the Basic Needs Approach is most appropriate. In practice, there are few institutions or associations beyond the clan level, although tribal and religious identities are often mentioned. Tribes and religious identity are “shorthand” terms as it is impossible to mention the multitude of clans. However, a family welfare – meeting basic needs is the most appropriate strategy on which to base post-war planning. Although the fighting continues sporadically and agreement on a possible “unity government” seems far away, Basic Needs Planning must start now.


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

World Refugee Day

20 June is the UN-designated World Refugee Day marking the signing in 1951 of the Convention on Refugees. The condition of refugees and migrants has become a "hot" political issue in many countries, and the policies of many governments have been very inadequate to meet the challenges. The UN-led World Humanitarian Summit held in Istanbul, Turkey 23-24 May, 2016 called for efforts to prevent and resolve conflicts by "courageous leadership, acting early, investing in stability, and ensuring broad participation by affected people and other stakeholders."

If there were more courageous political leadership, we might not have the scope and intensity of the problems that we now face. Care for refugees is the area in which there is the closest cooperation between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the UN system. As one historian of the work of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has written " No element has been more vital to the successful conduct of the programmes of the UNHCR than the close partnership between UNHCR and the non-governmental organizations."

The 1956 flow of refugees from Hungary was the first emergency operation of the UNHCR. The UNHCR turned to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the League of Red Cross Societies which had experience and the finances to deal with such a large and unexpected refugee departures and resettlements. Since 1956, the UNHCR has increased the number of NGOs, both international and national, with which it works given the growing needs of refugees and the increasing work with internally displaced persons who were not originally part of the UNHCR mandate.

Along with emergency responses ? tents, water, medical facilities ? there are longer-range refugee needs, especially facilitating integration into host societies. It is the integration of refugees and migrants which has become a contentious political issue. Less attention has been given to the concept of "investing in stability". One example:

The European Union (EU), despite having pursued in words the design of a Euro-Mediterranean Community, in fact did not create the conditions to approach its achievement. The Euro-Mediterranean partnership, launched in 1995 in order to create a free trade zone and promote cooperation in various fields, has failed in its purpose. The EU did not promote a plan for the development of the countries of North Africa and the Middle East and did nothing to support the democratic currents of the Arab Spring. Today, the immigration crisis from the Middle East and North Africa has been dealt with almost exclusively as a security problem.

The difficulties encountered in the reception of refugees do not lie primarily in the number of refugees but in the speed with which they have arrived in Western Europe. These difficulties are the result of the lack of serious reception planning and weak migration policies. The war in Syria has gone on for five years. Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, not countries known for their planning skills, have given shelter to nearly four million persons, mostly from the Syrian armed conflicts. That refugees would want to move further is hardly a surprise. That the refugees from war would be joined by "economic" and "climate" refugees is also not a surprise. The lack of adequate planning has led to short-term "conflict management" approaches. Fortunately NGOs and often spontaneous help have facilitated integration, but the number of refugees and the lack of planning also impacts NGOs.

Thus, there is a need on the part of both governments and NGOs to look at short-term emergency humanitarian measures and at longer-range migration patterns, especially at potential climate modification impact. World Refugee Day can be a time to consider how best to create a humanist, cosmopolitan society.

20 jun 2016

Battle for Fallujah: Protests Needed against Violations of Humanitarian Law

In simultaneous, if not necessarily coordinated operations, there are attacks against the forces of the Islamic State (ISIS or Daech in its Arabic abbreviation) in Syria and Iraq. ISIS had abolished in practice the frontier between Iraq and Syria, which had been created in 1916 by the agreement of Sir Mark Sykes for the UK and Francois Georges-Picot for France. Particular attention must be paid to the current battle for Fallujah and reports of mass violations of the laws of war.

The United Nations Secretariat has raised an alarm concerning the fate of some 400 Iraqi families held by the ISIS forces for possible use as “human shields” in the battle for the city of Fallujah, held by ISIS since January 2014. The use of civilians as “human shields” is a violation of the laws of war set out in the Geneva Conventions. ISIS leaders have been repeatedly warned by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which, by treaty, is responsible for the respect and application of the Geneva Conventions.

In addition to the some 400 families who have been rounded up and are being held as a group in the center of Fallujah, there are a large number of children -UNICEF estimates 20,000 - trapped in the city and who may be used in military ways, either to fight or as suicide bombers.

The danger from the disintegrating ISIS is that there are no longer the few restraints that existed among some of the ISIS leadership for the laws of war. As Iraqi troops have drawn closer to Fallujah, they have found mass graves with both soldiers and civilians killed. One of the fundamental aspects of the laws of war is the protection of prisoners of war. Once a person is no longer able to combat, he must be treated as a prisoner and no longer a combatant. Not killing a prisoner is a core value of humanitarian law, and ISIS has deliberately violated this norm.

However, ISIS may not be alone in the systematic violation of the laws of war. The NGO Human Rights Watch has reported that it has received credible allegations from the areas around Fallujah of summary executions, enforced disappearances and mutilations of corpses by Iraqi government forces or militias such as the Popular Mobilization Forces supported by the Iraqi government.

There is a real danger that, as the Islamic State disintegrates and no longer controls territory, it will increase terrorist actions and deliberate violations of the laws of war. The Association of World Citizens has stressed that the laws of war have become part of world law and are binding upon States and non-State actors even if they have not signed the Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Additional Protocols.

World law does not destroy violence unless it is bound up with an organized, stable and relatively just society. No society can be stable unless it is broadly based in which all sectors of the population are involved. Such stability does not exist in either Syria or Iraq. However, repeated violations of the laws of war will increase the divide among groups and communities. Only by a wide public outcry in defense of humanitarian law can this danger be reduced. These grave violations by ISIS and others must be protested by as wide a coalition of concerned voices as possible. The time for action is now.

12 Jun 2016

Syria: Beyond the laws of war

The protection of medical facilities and medical personnel is at the heart of the laws of war dating from the first Red Cross-Geneva Conventions of 1864. On 3 May 2016, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2286 calling for greater protection of health care institutions and personnel in light of recent attacks against hospitals and clinics in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan. These attacks are too frequent to be considered “accidents” and may indicate a dangerous erosion of the laws of war.

The most recent systematic bombings of medical facilities have been in and around Aleppo, Syria. A country-wide ceasefire had been brokered by the United States and Russia in order to facilitate negotiations in Geneva. The ceasefire helped to decrease levels of violence. However, the Geneva negotiations carried out separately by UN facilitators with representatives of the Syrian government and members of opposition movements did not advance and have now been suspended. In addition, there was a 5 May 2016 air strike on a large camp of internally-displaced persons in Sarmada, near the frontier with Turkey. The persons in the camp were unarmed and should have been protected by the Geneva Conventions. After the first Geneva Conventions of 1864, the scope of the Conventions have been broadened, especially in light of the Second World War and the Vietnam War.

The laws of war, now most often called Humanitarian Law, are based on reciprocal restraint. “You do not harm our prisoners-of-war, and we will not harm your prisoners-of-war.” The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has a treaty obligation to see to the respect of the Geneva Conventions. The Red Cross staff is usually well aware of what is happening “on the ground.” However, they are very reserved in making this information public as publicity could harm other Red Cross functions, such as running or helping to run hospitals or providing food and medicine. Thus, it is increasingly the role onon-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to investigate and report on violations of the laws of war.

Governments also have a role to play, and Resolution 2286 is an important resolution to uphold the rule of law. Thus we must support Resolution 2286 as a reaffirmation of the importance of world law. We must also promote good faith negotiations to end armed conflicts such as those in Yemen, Syria-Iraq, and Libya. Such negotiations are difficult; good faith is in short supply. However, as representatives of non-governmental organizations, we have certain avenues for action, and Resolution 2286 gives us a mandate.

May 07, 2016

Rene Wadlow is the President of the Association of World Citizens, an international peace organization with consultative status with ECOSOC, the United Nations organ facilitating international cooperation on and problem-solving in economic and social issues.


Yemen: Is This War Necessary?

During the Second World War in the United States, there was a government-sponsored publicity campaign to save car gas with the slogan “Is this trip necessary?” The aim was to show that if one really asked the question, many trips were not really necessary. We can ask the same question about wars today. In Yemen, is the Saudi-led war really necessary?

A new round of conflict-resolution meetings has started on 20 April in Kuwait facilitated by the United Nations and led bu Ould Cheikh Ahmed of Mauritania who had been earlier the UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen and so knows the country and its many factions well. There was an exchange of prisoners at the start as a good-will measure.

A four-step conflict resolution outline has been proposed by a number of governments and non-governmental organizations such as the Association of World Citizens:

  1. an immediate ceasefire ending all foreign military attacks;
  2. humanitarian assistance, especially important for hard-to-reach zones;
  3. a broad national dialogue;
  4. through this dialogue, the establishment of an inclusive unity government.

The title of the aggression of Saudi Arabia against Yemen changed its name from “Operation Decisive Storm” to “Operation Restoring Hope” probably on the advice of the public relations firm that advises the US Pentagon on the names of its operations. Saudi bombing from the air of cities, hospitals and refugee camps, created a storm, but the results were in no way “decisive”. It is not likely that Saudi bombing will ”Restore Hope”.

There is wide agreement in UN circles and among conflict-resolution NGOs that Yemen is a quagmire, with a free-fall of its economic and social infrastructure and with constant violations of the laws of war. The country is on the eve of a new division between the north and the south. The country’s present form dates from 1990 when south Yemen (Aden) was more or less integrated into the north, but the country remains highly fractured on tribal, sectarian, and ideological lines, with the tribal structures being the most important.

Negotiations among the multitude of factions in Yemen will be difficult. The most likely pattern will be or the country to split into two again with each half having a number of relatively autonomous regions. In the best of worlds,one could envisage a federal Yemen with the rule of law. More realistically , we can hope that these autonomous tribal areas do not fight each other actively. On a short term basis, we can hope that there will be minimum cooperation among the factions to allow necessary food imports and medical supplies.

Poverty and the lack of a political horizon seem to be the continuing fate of Yemen, but violent internal conflict and Saudi Aggression may not be permanent. With the start of negotiations, there is a role for NGOs to encourage the efforts in contacting organizations and individuals that might have a positive impact on events. There are many geopolitical and economic interests who want “peace” on their terms. Thus, our role as world citizens seeking a relatively just compromise solution is ever-more important.



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