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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

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

On 5 April 2017, the European Union and the United Nations will hold a joint conference on the future of Syria and its region. "Civil Society" is invited to participate, but it is not clear in advance if the Brussels meeting will be a "fund raising" one, in which case most non-governmental organizations (NGO) in consultative status with the UN will have little to contribute or if there will be wider aims.

The EU-UN meeting is the third in a short space of time concerning Syria, a reflection of concern with the refugee flow and the continued violence and suffering in Syria and Iraq. The following is a text written on behalf of the Association of World Citizens (AWC) that is being sent to governments in advance of the 5 April conference. The text notes earlier appeals and efforts of the AWC in the Syria-Iraq-Turkey conflicts.

Following the 23-25 January 2017 talks in Astana, Kazakhstan sponsored by the Russian Federation, Turkey, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, a new round of UN-sponsored talks, 23-31 March was held in Geneva (informally called Geneva 4). The UN Special Envoy for Syria, Mr Staffan de Mistura has led the UN, Geneva and Lausanne-based talks. Not all the parties involved in the Syria-Iraq conflicts are participants in the talks. ISIS and the Kurds were not present nor all segments of the opposition to the Government of President Bashar al-Assad have been formally present. What informal talks are held in Geneva hotels and restaurants during the negotiations are not officially reported. There is a large and active Kurdish community in the Geneva area and some may be spokespersons for the effort to create Rojava, a Kurdish autonomous zone in Northern Syria that might form some sort of association with the Kurdish autonomous area of Iraq.

The Geneva-based talks have concerned short-term issues such as a ceasefire, safety of Syrian civilians and humanitarian access. There have also been longer-range issues concerning political processes such as a transition administration, constitutional changes, and elections for a new, more broadly based government.

Parallel to the intra-Syrian talks mediated by Mr de Mistura, the United Nations has been concerned with the human rights issues having created an Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic as well as a joint UN-Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons investigative mechanism.

The Association of World Citizens,(AWC), a non-governmental organization in consultative status with the UN, active on issues of the resolution of armed conflicts and the promotion of human rights, had welcome a 20 July 2011 call of then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for an inclusive dialogue to respond to pressing grievances and longer-term concerns of the Syrian people. The AWC, in a message to the Secretary-General encouraged broad participation of Syrian civil society in such a dialogue and indicated that AWC,knowing the possible usefulness of international NGOs in conflict resolution, would help facilitate such discussions in any way considered appropriate.

In December 2011, there was the start of a short-lived Observer Mission of the League of Arab States. In a 9 February 2012 message to the Secretary General of the League of Arab States, Ambassador Nabil el-Araby, the Association of World Citizens proposed a renewal of the Arab League Observer Mission with the inclusion of a greater number of non-governmental organization observers and a broadened mandate to go beyond fact-finding and thus to play an active conflict resolution role at the local level in the hope to halt the downward spiral of violence and killing.

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

The fighting in Syria, Iraq and parts of Turkey has led to a large number of displaced persons and refugees. The response of governments to the refugee flow has been very uneven, welcoming in a few cases, outright rejection in other cases. The AWC early on called for a UN-led conference on refugees and internally displaced persons. The AWC welcomed and participated in the UN conferences on refugees and humanitarian aid.

The armed conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan have led to serious violations of humanitarian international law: attacks of medical facilities and personnel, the execution of prisoners of war, the use of torture, the deliberate destruction of cultural heritage, the deliberate attacks on civilian populations, the use of weapons banned by international treaties. Therefore, the Association of World Citizens has stressed the need for a UN-led conference to reaffirm humanitarian international law. If strong support for international law is not manifested now, there is a danger that violations will become considered as "normal", and thus will increase. Strong measures of support for humanitarian international law are needed to be undertaken now.

The structures of government, the authority, and the geographic limits of administrative regions, the rights and participation in national life of minorities have been issues in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon since the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War. Appropriate forms of government which allow both for local autonomy and regional cooperation need to be developed. The search for an appropriate structure for those considering themselves to be Kurds has been a particularly difficult issue often leading to violence. The Association of World Citizens which has decentralization, federalist tradition in the spirit of Alexandre Marc and Denis de Rougemont, has highlighted that federalism and decentralization are not steps toward the disintegration of a State but rather are efforts to find a more just structure of State organization and regional cooperation.

The Association of World Citizens welcomes the 5 April 2017 EU-UN conference on Syria and the region. The Association of World Citizens re-confirms its willingness to cooperate fully in the vast and critical effort for an end to the armed conflict and a development of an inclusive and just society.


A Time of Renewal : The Day of World Citizens

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

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

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

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

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

UN report highlights violations of humanitarian international law

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Human rights conventions and standards, valid at all times but especially violated in times of armed conflicts;

4) The protection of sites and monuments which have been designated by UNESCO as part of the cultural heritage of humanity, highlighting the August 2016 decision of the International Criminal Court on the destruction of Sufi shrines in northern Mali.[3]

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

The law of the South China seize

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

René Wadlow



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


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