Month: <span>August 2023</span>

Danilo Dolci Book Reviews

Danilo Dolci: Development and Opposition to the Oppression of…

Featured Image: Portrait of Danilo Dolci. Conference in Geneva, Mai 25, 1992. By MHM55, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

“The Gandhi of Sicily”.

Danilo Dolci (1925-1997),  was active in the movement for world citizenship and deeply influenced by the non-violent methods of Mahatma Gandhi. He was often called “The Gandhi of Sicily”.

In 1952;  Danilo Dolci went to live in a small, very poor town of western Sicily. The towns-people watched him and wondered why an intelligent and well-educated man should come to live in an area where murder was commonplace;  and the poor stole from the poor. The people had tolerated Fascism for 21 years and the oppression of the Mafia even longer.

Danilo Dolci;  born near Trieste in the north of Italy;  was the son of a railroad official who had worked in Sicily in this youth;  and told his family of the poverty and suffering there – a place to be avoided if possible. When the Second World War began;  Danilo Dolci was conscripted but refused combatant training and was imprisoned. After the war;  he worked with a dynamic priest, Zeno Saltini who had built a community for abandoned children.

The Connections with the Mafia.

However;  Danilo Dolci went on to study architecture and town planning in Milan and Rome;  and wrote articles on the use of reinforced concrete. He had a spiritual awakening experience ; which led him to ask if his life goal was to build luxury apartments;  for those who were already well-off. He replied “no” and recalled his father’s accounts of poverty in Sicily.

Dolci moved to western Sicily;  and following the example of Gandhi; first set out to listen to the life experiences of the people around him. He later published these accounts in a series of books;  based on what the poor said of themselves and their lives. (1) Unemployment and under-employment were constant themes.

A job could be had only through the connections with the Mafia;  which controlled what little formal economy existed in the area. The Mafia had ties to the political structures as well as to the higher Roman Catholic clergy.

Mahatma Gandhi

You might to be interesting read Simone Panter-Brick Gandhi and Nationalism.

“Reverse Strike”

Dolci worked simultaneously on two fronts. On one;  he tried to give immediate help;  on the other;  he tried to address the causes of misery. In 1956;  Dolci and his local friends launched a “reverse strike” by repairing a long neglected road. Their justification for this was Article 4 of the Italian Constitution which affirms that:

“all citizens have the right to work and to promote conditions which render this right effective.”

The day before this “strike-in-reverse” the 700 participants fasted in preparation. Dolci and 22 others were arrested and sentenced to four months in prison. The trial, however;  drew international attention to Dolci and his ideas and efforts.

Dolci established a Centro Studie Insitiative; a sort of village university, close in spirit to the Danish Folk High Schools. The aim was to disperse the despair and hopelessness that the Mafia and poverty had brought to Sicily.

His work was of small, patient steps. The path is not easy but is being continued by others for whom he set out the way.

Danilo Dolci

Trappeto, Sicily 1952. Social activist Danilo Dolci in a hunger strike for eight days (October 14 to 21), in the home of Mimmo and Giustina, whose child died of hunger. [1], Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Note.

1) For two books of Danilo Dolci in English of Sicilians telling of their life experience see: Danilo Dolci. Sicilian Lives (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981, 304pp) and Danilo Dolci. To Feed the Hungry (London: Macgibbon and Kee, 1959, 327pp).

 

Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.

 

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

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World Humanitarian Day Appeals

World Humanitarian Day: A Need for Common Actions.

Featured Image: Photo by Wylly Suhendra on Unsplash.

The United Nations General Assembly has designated 19 August as “World Humanitarian Day” to pay tribute to aid workers in humanitarian service in difficult and often dangerous conditions.  19 August was designated in memory of the 19 August 2003 bombing of the UN office building in Baghdad, Iraq in which Sergio Vieira de Mello,  UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and at the time Special Representative of the UN Secretary General was killed along with 21 UN staff members. Over 200 UN employees were injured. The exact circumstances of the attack are not known, and why USA and UN security around the building was not tighter is still not clear. A truck with explosives was able to dive next to the building and then blew itself up.

Sergio de Mellow had spent his UN career in humanitarian efforts, often with the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees and at other  times as Special Representative of the UN Secretary General. As an NGO representative to the UN in Geneva and active on human rights issues, I knew him during his short 2002-2003 tenure as High Commissioner for Human Rights. Many of us had high hopes that his dynamism, relative youth (he was 54) and wide experience in conflict resolution efforts would provide new possibilities for human rights efforts. His death along with the death of others who had been Geneva-based was a stark reminder of the risks that exist for all engaged in humanitarian and conflict resolution work.

Sergio de Mello
Brazilian diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Melo. By Wilson Dias/ABr, CC BY 3.0 BR <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Collateral Damage.

This year the risks and dangers are not just memories but are daily news. On 3 May 2016, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2286 calling for greater protection for 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 on medical facilities are too frequent to be considered “collateral damage.” The attacks indicate a dangerous trend of non-compliance with world law by both State and non- State agents.  The protection of medical personnel and the  treatment of all the wounded − both allies and enemies − goes back to the start of humanitarian law.

The Association of World Citizens has stressed the need for accountability, including by investigation of alleged violations of the laws of war.  The grave violations by the Islamic State (ISIS) must be protested by as wide a coalition of concerned voices as possible. There is a real danger that as ISIS disintegrates and no longer controls as much territory, it will increase terrorist actions.

(Red Cross) Conventions.

The laws of war, now more often called humanitarian law, have two wings, one dealing with the treatment of medical personnel in armed conflict situations, the military wounded, prisoners of war, and the protection of civilians. This wing is represented by the Geneva (Red Cross) Conventions. The second wing, often called The Hague Conventions limit or ban outright the use of certain categories of weapons. These  efforts began at The Hague with the 1900 peace conferences and have continued even if the more recent limitations on land mines, cluster weapons and chemical weapons have been negotiated elsewhere.

The ban on the use of weapons are binding only on States which have ratified the convention. Thus the current use of USA-made cluster weapons in Yemen by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition is, in a narrow sense, legal as the USA, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have not signed the cluster weapon ban. The Association of World Citizens was one of the NGOs leading the campaign against cluster weapons. My position is that when a large number of States ratify a convention (which is the case for the cluster-weapons ban) then the convention becomes world law and so must be followed by all States and non-State actors even if they have not signed or ratified the convention. The same holds true for the use of land mines currently being widely used by ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

The current situation concerning refugees and internally-displaced persons can also be considered as part of humanitarian law.  Thus those working with refugees and the displaced within their country are also to be honored by the World Humanitarian Day.  To prevent and alleviate human suffering, to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human person − these are the core values of humanitarian law.

There needs to be a wide public outcry in the defense of humanitarian law so that violations can be reduced. The time for action is now.

Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

The Uprooted.

Increasing numbers of people in countries around the world, have been forced from their homes, by armed conflicts and systematic violations of human rights. Those who cross internationally recognized borders…

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Peace Planners Appeals

 Peace Planners: Awake!.

Featured Image: Photo by  Eddie Kopp,  Unsplash.

The recent NATO Summit in Vilnius is an indication that the war planning community is busy at work in the spirit of Von Clausewitz that war is a continuation of politics by other means.  Thus there is a need for the peace planning community to be awake and be equally busy.  The challenges which humanity faces today: armed violence, persistent poverty, mass migration, and the consequences of climate change, require strong collective action at the local, the national, and the world level.

Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831). By Karl Wilhelm Wach, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.   

For peace planners, we need to analyse current armed conflicts and the strong tensions which may lead to violence.  Sometimes these tensions start as small localized events, such as tensions between military forces on the India-China frontier, but such tensions contain the seeds for later armed violence.  The recent trip of the 100 year old Henry Kissinger across the Pacific to discuss with the Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu is an indication that tensions in the Indo-Pacific area are being taken seriously.

Chinese Minister of National Defence, General Li Shangfu in Singapore at the Shangri La Dialogue on Sunday, 4th June 2023. By Photographer: Danial Hakim, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons.

NGOs bring their early warning capacities and problem-solving.

    For peace planners, there is a need to stregthen measures for early intervention.  Too often intervention by the United Nations or other intergovernmental agencies such as the African Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe occurs only once the conflict has become a serious dispute involving violence.

    For those of us who are outside of governmental institutions, there is a need to strengthen the capacity of non-governmental organizations (NGO) for peace planning.  NGOs on bring their early warning capacities and problem-solving knowleadge to the United Nations and regional intergovernmental organizations.  Among NGOs, exchanges of information, the creation of regional or thematic working groups, and co-ordinated information campaigns are vital needs. 

Henry Kissinger at the 2009 premiere of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Photographer’s blog post about event and photograph. By David Shankbone, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Adlai Stevenson.

As soon as well-researched material is available, the issue is to get the information to the right people, at the right time, and in the right wording.  Timeliness and clarity of message are crucial.  Many governmental decision-makers receive thick reports, jargon-laden faxes, and briefing notes.

    The challenge for us who plan for a more peaceful world is to help develop processes for dialogue.  As Adlai Stevenson said at the U.N.

“We do not hold the vision of a world without conflict.  We do hold the vision of a world without war – and this inevitably requires an alternative system for dealing with conflict.”

Adlai Stevenson, Democratic candidate for president. Note: Contrast slightly increased from original image (see below) (1956). [1], Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.   

René Wadlow, President, The Association of World Citizens.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

The Uprooted.

Increasing numbers of people in countries around the world, have been forced from their homes, by armed conflicts and systematic violations of human rights. Those who cross internationally recognized borders…

1 2 12

China-India Frontier Appeals

Track Two Efforts Needed to Reduce China-India Frontier Tensions.

Featured Image: Arunachal Pradesh – India. Photo by Unexplored NortheastUnsplash.

There has been a constant buildup of military forces by the governments of both India and China along their common frontiers.  The Indian provence of Arunachal Pradesh (called Zangman by the Chinese) with Itanagar as its capital is claimed by the Chinese.  The frontier was drawn in 1914 and is called the McMahon Line. The frontier dispute led to the October-November 1962 China-India armed conflict with important consequences especially for Indian foreign-policy making.

    In recent years there have been flashes of tension along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) as the military of both China and India have built new roads and observation posts along the LAC. Such tensions could grow as the relative political power of India and China grows and takes the form of a struggle for power.  Currently there are no public negotiations between the Chinese and Indian governments. India, this year, is the chair of the G20 grouping of states.  The Indian government has organized a number of G20 seminars on different issues in a number of Indian cities.  However, for the moment, China has not sent representatives to these seminars.

Group photo of the G20 leaders during the 2021 meeting. By Casa Rosada (Argentina Presidency of the Nation), CC BY 2.5 AR https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/ar/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons.

Track Two.

    The Association of World Citizens has expressed its active concern with these tensions on the China-India frontier and the possibilty that the tensions will increase.  With the lack of formal China-India negotiations, the Association of World Citizens raises the possibility of strong Track Two discussions.

    The term Track Two was coined by the U.S. diplomat Joseph Montville in his book The Arrow and the Olive Branch.  Track Two discussions are organized by non-governmental organizations often with the help of academic institutions.  Track Two discussions among non-officials of conflicting parties aim to clarify outstanding disputes and see on what issues negotiations might progress.

    As Adam Curle, experienced in Quaker mediation efforts has written:

“In general, governments achieve their results because they have power to influence events, including the ability to reward or to punish.  Paradoxically, the strength of civilian peacemaking resides specifically in their lack of power.  They are neither feared nor courted for what they can do.  Instead, they are trusted and so may sometimes be enabled to play a part in peacemaking denied to more official diplomats.”

     Thus, it will be important to follow as closely as possible the results of  the G20 seminars in India and then build upon them in a Track Two pattern. Concerning the China-India frontier issues, both governments must be convinced that there is a considerable desire for peace among their citizens.  There is also a need for some involved in Track Two efforts to hve an integrated perspective of peacebuilding techniques and a long-term view of possibilities for transforming political relations.

  René Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

The Uprooted.

Increasing numbers of people in countries around the world, have been forced from their homes, by armed conflicts and systematic violations of human rights. Those who cross internationally recognized borders…

1 2 12

Democratic Republic of Congo Appeals

Democratic Republic of Congo: Sky Getting Darker.

Photo by  jorono,  Pixabay.

The armed conflict in the eastern area of the Democratic Republic of Congo (RDC) on the frontier with Rwanda seems to be growing worse and is impacting in a negative way the lives of people. The current fighting adds to the insecurity of the area and has virtually stopped cross-frontier activities largely done by women small traders. As a result, the price of existing food supplies has increased greatly, and shortages are to be feared.

The current armed conflict is among a Tutsi-led militia, the Mouvement du 23 Mars (M23), the forces of the RDC government and different ethnic militias. The President of the RDC, Felix Tshisekedi, sponsored the creation of local militias to help government soldiers, but the government does not control these militias. The United Nations (UN) Stabilization Mission in the Congo (MONUSCO) which has been in the RDC since 1999 is the largest UN peacekeeping force with some 15,000 members.

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo meets with Democratic Republic of the Congo President Felix Tshisekedi on the margins of the NATO Ministerial at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., in Washington, D.C., on April 3, 2019. [State Department photo by Michael Gross/ Public Domain]. By U.S. Department of State from United States, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Helmet Icon of United Nations Peacekeeping Logo. By United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

A theoretical UN sponsored arms embargo.

However, it has been unable to halt the fighting or to protect civilians. In fact, the area of conflict has grown and engendered a catastrophic humanitarian crisis, causing the displacement of more than one million civilians in North Kivu Province. The M23 has recently launched attempts to win allies in South Kivu Province, in particular the armed group Twirwaneko, with the objective of opening a front in South Kivu.

The government of Rwanda has become increasingly involved in the Kivu conflict with direct intervention by the Rwanda Defense Force (RDF) and, despite a theoretical UN sponsored arms embargo, with weapons and other military equipment. The M23 is also fighting against the Forces démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) a Hutu-led group hostile to the government of Rwanda.

Non-State actors and armed militias such as those in the RDC.

Recent attacks by M23 on populations associated with, or presumed to support the FDLR, have grown. Incidents of rape, including gang rape, by M23 combatants are prevalent but are not limited to the M23. The armed conflict is colored by a tense political situation with general elections, most significantly a presidential election, scheduled for December 2023.

The increased violence indicates the need for local non-governmental peacebuilding efforts which can be also facilitated by international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). There is also a greater need to build respect for International Humanitarian Law (IHL). When the framework of current IHL as drafted in the 1948 Geneva Conventions in light of the experiences of World War II, the focus was upon the actions of national armies. Today, much violence and strife is due to non-State actors and armed militias such as those in the RDC.

There are two major weaknesses in the effectiveness of IHL.

  1. The first is that many people do not know that it exists and that they are bound by its norms. Thus, there is an important role for greater educational activities, the dissemination of information to the wider public, specific training of the military, outreach to armed militias, and cooperation with a wide range of NGOs.
  2. The second weakness is that those violating IHL are rarely punished. Few soldiers are tried or court-martialed. This weakness is even more true for non-state militias and armed groups. There is yet much to do for the realization of the rule of law.

Note.

  1. For useful guides to International Humanitarian Law see: D. Schindler and J. Toman, The Laws of Armed Conflict (Martinus Nihjoff Publishers, 1988).
  2. H. McCoubrey and N.D. White, International Law and Armed Conflict (Dartmouth Publishing Co. 1992).

Prof. René Wadlow is President of the Association of World Citizens.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

The Uprooted.

Increasing numbers of people in countries around the world, have been forced from their homes, by armed conflicts and systematic violations of human rights. Those who cross internationally recognized borders…

1 2 12

world refugee day Appeals

World Refugee Day.

June 20 is the United Nations (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 on May, 23-24, 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 nongovernmental 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 programs 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 re-settlements. 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.

World Refugee Day
Immigration – Refugee arrivals in Australia – Athol Townley, Minister For Immigration of Australia, with the first Hungarian refugees to arrive after Hungarian uprising. By Department of Immigration, Central Office, Australia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Investing in Stability.

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.

Conflict Management.

However;  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.

World Refugee DaySyrian refugee camp on theTurkish border for displaced people of the Syrian civil war. By Voice of America News: Henry Ridgwell on the Turkish border, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

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.

 

By Prof. René Wadlow,  President of the Association of World Citizens.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

Balance and Harmony Education of World Citizenships.

A Day of Balance and Harmony.

Featured Picture: Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash.

              Our earth is a small star in the great universe
            Yet of it we can make, if we choose, a planet
Unvexed by war, untroubled by hunger or fear,
Undivided by senseless distinctions of race, color, or theory.
                  Stephen Vincent Bennet.

The 21st of June;  the Summer Solstice;  is in many cultures the cosmic symbol of balance and harmony: balance between light and dark, between the universal and the local, between giving and receiving, between women and men, and between our inner and outer worlds. History records humanity’s preoccupation with the sun’s annual cycle.  Sites such as Stonehenge in England;  are thought to have been erected specifically to trace the path of the sun through the heavens.

The Ancient Egypt.

The sun has always had symbolic meaning.  As that most ancient Sanskrit prayer;  the Gayatri tells us;  the sun is a disc of golden light giving sustenance to the universe;  and Plato used the image of the sun to represent the idea of the One;  the Good. In the age of the Old Kingdom in ancient Egypt;  the concept of harmony, order, and balance were personified by the goddess Ma’at;  the winged woman;  who replicated on earth, the celestial balance of order and beauty.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash.

Yin and Yang.

In Chinese culture; the principle of harmony and balance is represented by the Taoist elements of Yin and Yang.  If one element becomes too strong, imbalance results.  Therefore; it is necessary to strengthen the weaker element so that harmony can be restored.  There must be a skilled understanding of energy flows to understand the appropriate balance.  Understanding the conscious restoration of the balance of Yin/Yang energies owes much to the Tao Te Ching attributed to the 6th century BCE Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu.

philosopher Lao Tzu. Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ying and Yang Picture. By Klem, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 Heraclitus (cira 504 BCE).

At the same period, Greek philosophers concentrated in the Ionian cities also stressed the  need to understand the techniques of the redistribution of energies in order to achieve balance.  Heraclitus (cira 504 BCE) of the city of Ephesus is probably the best known of these  thinkers.  He too stressed that harmony is created by a balance of opposite forces.

The efforts to restore harmony by a balance of energies can often be long as there are structures and institutions which, although lifeless, take a long time to crumble.  One needs patience.  Yet, there are also times when unexpected  shifts are possible. One must always be sensitive to the flow of energy currents.

Bust of an unknown philosopher. This one is in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. One suggestion is that it is Heraclitus, but the museum makes no such assumption. By RoyFokker, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Harmony and Balance.

21 June is a day of recognition of the world-wide increase of light; which destroys ignorance.  It is a day in which we celebrate illumination as it dispels darkness.  It is a day during which we can all recognize the growth of greater consciousness; and concern for the common good. Therefore; the Association of World Citizens stresses cooperation; and visions of a better future. Harmony and balance include tolerance, acceptance, equality and forgiveness of past pains and conflicts.

Photo by Sean Stratton on Unsplash.

Due to the efforts of those with a world vision, people throughout the world are recognizing their responsibility to each other are are attempting to revolve ancient and entrenched global problems. Today, we see a new spirit of cooperation as we move toward a cosmopolitan, humanist world society.  We see a growing spirit of forgiveness, reconciliation, and dialogue.  We are one human race, and we inhabit one world. Therefore, we must see the world with global eyes, understand the world with a global mind, and love the world with a global heart.

 Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.

Torture Education of World Citizenships.

26 June: International Day Against Torture.

Featured Image: Painting in museum DPRK. By AgainErick, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Torture has a bad name among the police and security agencies of most countries. Thus torture is usually called by other names.  Even violent husbands do not admit to torturing their wives.  Thus;  when NGO representatives started to raise the issue of torture in the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva in the early 1980s;  the government representatives replied that it was a very rare practice;  limited to a small number of countries and sometimes a “rogue” policeman or prison guard. 

However;  NGO representatives insisted that, in fact; it was widely used by a large number of countries; including those that had democratic forms of government.

Sean MacBride (1904-1988).

Getting torture to be recognized as a real problem;  and then having the Commission on Human Rights create the post of Special Rapporeteur on Torture; owes much to the persistent efforts of Sean MacBride (1904-1988); at the time the former chairman of the Amnesty International Executive Committee (1961-1974) and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate (1974). MacBride had been the Foreign Minister of Ireland (1948-1951);  and knew how governments work.

However; He had earlier been a long-time leader of the Irish Republican Army (IRA); being the son of John MacBride; an executed leader of the 1916 Easter Rising – an attack on the Dublin Post Office. With his death; John MacBride became an Irish hero of resistance.  Later Sean had spent time in prison accused of murder. He told me that he had never killed anyone;  but as the IRA Director of Intelligence; he was held responsible for the murders carried out by men under his command.  Later, he also worked against the death penalty.

Torture

Seán MacBride. By Bogaerts, Rob / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons.

26 June as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

As examples of the current use of torture kept being presented by NGO representatives and as some victims of torture came to Geneva to testify; the Commission on Human Rights named a Special Rapporteur and also started to work on what became the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel  Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Treaty came into effect on 26 June 1987; and in 1997 the UN General Assembly designated 26 June as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

Independent Experts.

Human Rights treaties negotiated within the UN create what are known as “Treaty Bodies”; ­ a group of persons who are considered to be “independent experts”. As the saying around Geneva goes; “some are more ‘expert’ than others, and some are more ‘independent’ than others.  Countries which have ratified a human rights convention should make a report every four or five years to the specific Treaty Body. For the Torture Treaty;  it is every four years to the 10-person expert group.

Many States are late, some very late, in meeting this obligation. There are 158 States which have ratified the Torture Convention;  but some 28 States have never bothered to file a report. States which have not ratified the treaty do not make reports.

Concluding Observations.

NGO representatives provide the experts with information in advance and suggest questions that could usefully be asked. The State usually sends representatives to Geneva for the Treaty Body discussions; as the permanent Ambassador  is rarely able to answer specific questions on police and prison conditions. At the end of the discussion between the representative of a State and the experts; the experts write “concluding observations” and make recommendations.

Unfortunately; the Convention is binding only on States.  However; increasingly non-governmental armed militias;  such as ISIS in Syria and Iraq carry out torture in a systematic way. The militia’s actions can be mentioned but not examined by the Treaty Body.

While there is no sure approach to limiting the use of torture; much depends on the observations and actions of non-governmental organizations.  We need to increase our efforts; to strengthen the values which  prohibit torture; and watch closely how persons are treated by the police, prison guards and armed militias.

 

Rene Wadlow, President and a Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, of the Association of World Citizens.

Here are other publications that may be of interest to you.