Tag: <span>Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)</span>

International Humanitarian Law Appeals

Upholding International Humanitarian Law in Times of Armed Conflict:…

Featured Image: Ukrainian diaspora in Brussels protests the Russian invasion, Processed with VSCO with acg preset. By Bartosz Brzezinski from Chicago, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

By René Wadlow.

The invasion by Russian troops into Ukraine has raised in a dramatic way the issue of the respect of international humanitarian law. There have been reports of the use of cluster munitions fired into civilian areas. The Association of World Citizens (AWC) was very active on efforts which led to the convention banning cluster weapons.

Regular military personnel of all countries are theoretically informed of the rules of the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, and the Protocol Additional adopted in 1977.

When the 1949 Geneva Conventions were drafted and adopted, it was possible to spell out in considerable detail rules regarding prisoners of war and the protection of civilians, in particular Common Article 3 (so called because it is found in all four Conventions) provides that: 

“each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions: Persons taking no active part in the hostilities…shall in all circumstances be treated humanely without any adverse distinction founded on race, color, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.”

 

The importance of Common Article 3 should not be underestimated. It sets out in straightforward terms important protections that all parties to a conflict must respect. In order to meet the need for additional protection, international humanitarian law has evolved to cover not only international armed conflict but also internal armed conflict. Today, international human rights standards are also considered part of international humanitarian law, thus providing additional protection for vulnerable population groups such as women, children, and minorities.

As situations of internal violence and strife proliferate, abuses committed by non-State actors, such as armed militias, are increasing concerns. Fundamental standards of international humanitarian law are intended to ensure the effective protection of human beings in all situations. The standards are clear. (1)

Geneva Conventions

Geneva Conventions – signing in 1949. By British Red Cross., CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

There are two major weaknesses in the effectiveness of International Humanitarian Law.

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 promotional activities, the dissemination of information through general education, specific training of the military, outreach to armed militias, and cooperation with a wide range of non-governmental organizations.

The second weakness is that violations of international humanitarian law are rarely punished. Governments too often tolerate these violations. Few soldiers are tried, or court-martialed, for the violations of international humanitarian law. This weakness is even more true of non-governmental militias and armed groups.

In fact, most violations of international humanitarian law are not actions of individual soldiers or militia members carried away by a sudden rush of anger, fear, a desire of revenge or a sudden sexual urge to rape a woman. Soldiers and militia members violating the norms of international humanitarian law are acting on orders of their commanders.

Thus, the only sold response is an act of conscience to refuse an order of a military or militia higher up and refuse to torture, to bomb a medical facility, to shoot a prisoner, to harm a child, and to rape a woman. Conscience, that inner voice which discerns what is right from wrong and encourages right action is the value on which we can build the defense of international humanitarian law. The defense of conscience to refuse unjust orders is a large task but a crucial action for moving toward a law-based world society.

Original Geneva Conventions

The original document of the first Geneva Convention from 1864, on loan to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva, Switzerland. By Kevin Quinn, Ohio, US, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

Notes

(1) For useful guides to international humanitarian law see:

D. Schindler and J. Toman, The Laws of Armed Conflicts (Martinus Nihjoff Publishers, 1988)

H. McCoubrey and N.D. White, International Law and Armed Conflicts (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
Migrants and Refugees. Appeals

World Policy for Migrants and Refugees.

Featured Image: A line of Syrian refugees crossing the border of Hungary and Austria on their way to Germany. Hungary, Central Europe, 6 September 2015. By Mstyslav Chernov, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

By Rene Wadlow.

« There is no doubt that Mankind is once more on the move. The very foundations have been shakened 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 19 September 2016, the 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 milion 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.

General Assembly by Basil D Soufi, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

You might be interested in reading U.N. General Assembly: Can It Provide the Needed Global Leadership?

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 overshaddowed 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 the leadership of the United Nations, there 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. Non-governmental 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.

Nansen Passport Memorial By Sparrow (麻雀), CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

World Policy for Migrants and Refugees.

The 19 September 2016 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 is pre-existing 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.

Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring. Official photo as FWS employee. c. 1940. By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Spirit of the Summit.

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.

Professor Rene Wadlow, President, Associacion 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

nuclear weapon Appeals

Steps Toward Security in the Middle East.

Featured Image: Photo by Ilja Nedilko on Unsplash.

“The struggle against the nuclear weapon cult and threats it poses to international peace, security and development, like all struggles against belief systems which have outlived their times, is going to be long and arduous”   

K. Subrahmanyal. Nuclear Proliferation and Internationsal Securtiy.

 
    The U.N. Conference on the Establishlent of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons and other Weapons of Mass Destruction took place at the U.N. in New York, 29 November to 3 December 2021.
The Conference is open-ended – that is open to those States that wish to attend – with a mandate provided by General Assembly Resolution A/73/546 to continue meeting annually:
 

“until the confernce concludes the elaboration of a legally binding treaty establishing a Middle East Zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.”

The first session was held 18-22 November 2019.

K. Subrahmanyam
 K. Subrahmanyam (2010). By MarcEduard, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.
 
The process will not be easy in an area where armed conflicts exist and are undermining stablity. There are very real concerns concerning nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Regional conflicts could unleash a nuclear war through escalation of a conventional war, miscalculation or delibeate pre-emptive attack. This is the second time that the conference is held.  The 22 countries of the Arab League and Iran participated as did the U.K. and Russia.  Israel and the U.S.A. did not.  While the difficulties are real, the Conference provides opportunities for governments of the region to share perspectives, consider proposals and look at the institutional requirements to establish such a zone.
 
    While non-governmental organization representatives cannot participate as such in the Conference, a nuclear-weapon free zone is of vital interest to those organizations working on arms control, disarmament, and regional conflict resolution.
 
The Arab League
Emblem of the League of Arab States (2008). By Jeff Dahl, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.
   
The idea of a Middle East nuclear-free zone was first put forth by a non-governmental organization, the Israeli Committee of the Denuclearization of the Middle East in April 1962.  Non-governmental organizations, often working closely with the United Nations disarmament secretariat, have played a role in the creation of regional nuclear-weapon free zones starting with the Treaty of the Tlatelolco for Latin America, after the dangers highlighted by the Cuban Missile Crisis.
 
As the “father” of the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco the Mexican Ambassador Alfonso Garcia Robles explained the concept of nuclear-weapon free zones as a step toward global disarmament:
 

“We should attempt to achieve a gradual broadening of the zones of the world from which  nuclear weapons are prohibited to a point where the territories of Powers which possess these terrible tools of mass destruction will become something like contaminated islets subjected to quarantine.”

Alfonso Garcia Robles
Alfonso Garcia Robles (1981). By Marcel Antonisse, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/nl/deed.en>, via Wikimedia Commons.
 
    Non-governmental organizations have proposed that the following States be included in the Middle East process: Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, the Palistinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen.  In looking at the list of potential members, we see that a nuclear-weapon free zone is not the only issue on the political agenda.  We also see that the possibilities of action for non-governmental organizations to work on security issues is not the same in each country.  There is deep mistrust and rivalries among many of these States.
 
    Thus, it is probably necessary for non-governmental organizations outside of the area to organize what are called Track II initiatives – a non-official way to discuss regional security issues and to provide policy advice to governments.  A first step is to identify opportunities,  areas of mutual interest, and then to make recommendations where progress can be made and where governmental diplomatic efforts could be made.  Civil society organizations can also reach out to youth in the Middle East who are interested in creating positive changes with in the region.
 
    A first opportunity to present proposals to government representatives will be the Review Conference on the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT Review) to be held at the U.N. in New York during this January 2022. Nuclear-weapon free zones as well as the needed confidence-building measures have provided an important focus of earlier NPT Reviews. 
 
The Association of World Citizens has stressed the importance of Nuclear-weapon Free Zones at earlier NPT Reviews and will do so again for the January 2022 Review.
 
 
  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…

1 2 12

Human Rights UN: Growth of World Law.

Human Rights: The Foundation of World Law

Eleanor Roosevelt holding poster of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (in English), Lake Success, New York. November 1949. By FDR Presidential Library & Museum, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The General Assembly proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.
Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In human history, there have been periods when there is a collective response to new challenges; and thus new ways of organizing thought and society. All do not respond at the same speed nor in the same way. Those who have power and wealth due to the old structures are often reluctant to change. Thus, today, some government leaders still see the world in older structural terms – as a collection of relatively independent and autonomous nation-states – a guiding social framework which had served humanity well for several hundred years after the end of the European feudal wars. Yet now, that nation-state framework is not adequate.

Declaration of the Essential Rights of Man.

We already live in a world society bound through communications and economy to a common destiny. Thus there is a need for a universalistic ethic, one that englobes all of humanity. A foundation of this universalistic ethic is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the UN General Assembly meeting in Paris, December 1948. As early as the 1945 San Francisco Conference to draft the UN Charter, a proposal to embody a ‘Declaration of the Essential Rights of Man’ was put forward, but it was shelved because it required more detailed consideration than was possible at that time.

Within the framework of the rights set out in the Universal Declaration, there has been a steady growth of world law with human rights conventions and treaty bodies that monitor their application. Among the most important of these conventions are the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Jawaharlal Nehru at the UN General Assembly, New York, 1948. By Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Universal World Citizen.

Human rights are universal because the subject of human rights is the universal world citizen and not the political citizen as defined by state citizenship. Human rights inaugurate a new kind of citizenship, the citizenship of humanity. Human rights gives people the sense that world law belongs to them.

In order to affirm these human rights, there has been a dynamic growth of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) dealing with human rights, a growth involving the expansion of established organizations as well as the birth of many new organizations. NGOs have become indispensable to the human rights movement through their characteristic activities: monitoring, investigation and reporting, lobbying national governments and the UN, educating the public and coming to the defense of individuals when dealing with courts or intergovernmental bodies.

As Javier Perez de Cuellar, then UN Secretary-General, has said:

“Our age which has often been so cruel, can now pride itself on having witnessed the birth of a universal human rights movement. In all walks of life, brave individuals are standing up for their brothers who have been reduced to silence by oppression or poverty. Their struggle has transcended all frontiers, and their weapon is knowledge. Defending human rights today means above all bringing the most secret crimes to light. It means trying to find out and daring to speak out with complete objectivity, something which requires courage and occasionally, even heroism…The United Nations is cognizant that for human rights to be more fully recognized and respected, the awareness and support of all are required.”

Arrival at Schiphol of UN Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar. By Rob Bogaerts / Anefo, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/nl/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons.

Thus NGOs such as the Association of World Citizens are on the frontlines of building a new world society based on human rights.

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

1 2 21

United Nations UN: Growth of World Law.

The United Nations as One

Featured Image: Photo by Brandi Alexandra on Unsplash.

By Dr. Rene Wadlow.

” The outer message of the United Nations is peace.
The inner message is Oneness.
Peace – we strive to structure;
Oneness – we manifest.”

Dag Hammarshjold has written that the United Nations was:

“the beginning of an organic process through which the diversity of peoples and their governments are struggling to find common ground upon which they can live together in the one world which has been thrust upon us before we were ready.”

Basically, the function of the UN is to create consensus (being of one mind) on crucial world issues. Such consensus-building is slow, and it is done by repeating endlessly in resolutions of the General Assembly and other UN bodies, year after year, the same idea until it becomes common place. Slowly national governments align their policies upon this common core as non-governmental organizations and the media take up the issues – sometimes a little ahead of governments and sometimes only later.

Dag Hammarskjöld (1950s). By Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

UN Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence.

In 60 years, there have been six issues which have moved from the stage of the ideas of a few to become common policy. This evens out to an idea per decade, and the UN has tried to push “theme decades” with only limited success as we see from the current “UN Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence.”

I see the six ideas as follows:

  • 1. The end of direct colonialism. There grew from the start of the UN until the mid-1960s the idea that colonial administration had ended its usefulness as a form of government. The end of colonialism owes much to the UN system, though, of course, inequality and domination, the signs of colonial status, have not been overcome.

  • 2. Apartheid as a bad structure for South Africa and for other countries tempted by similar structures of racial division was a theme of many resolutions and speeches. Slowly, the image of a multi-racial and multi-cultural society took hold, encouraged by enlightened leadership at the national level.

  • 3. There are basic human rights and these should be respected. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights along with the Preamble to the UN Charter are the two lasting documents of the UN and stand as the guide for common action.

  • 4. Closely related to the idea of human rights but needing a special effort at consensus building is the idea that women are equal to men and should be so treated. Although the idea is obvious, both the UN and national governments have found it difficult to put into place.

  • 5. The ecological balance of the world is in danger and needs remedial action. The ecological efforts of the UN began in 1971 and are enshrined in the “Covenant with Nature” – a text of equal importance to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, although not as well known.

  • 6. There should be a Palestinian state. From the 1947 partition plan to today, this idea has been repeated. There is a broad consensus, but such a state has not been created. Without the constant discussion in the UN, the Israel-Palestine tensions would have become a bilateral issue of interest to few other states, as the issue of Kashmir, created at the same time, has faded from the UN stage to become an India-Pakistan issue.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 December 1948. By UN, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

There is now a seventh idea, increasingly articulated but not yet manifested in action.

  • The idea is that there is a relationship between the goals of the UN – an idea often stressed by Kofi Annan during his period as Secretary-General: the need to accept or acknowledge the indivisible links between security, development, and human rights. “It is clear that security cannot be enjoyed without development, that development cannot be enjoyed without security, and neither can be enjoyed without respect for human rights.”

Many of us as NGO representatives have tried to push other ideas within the UN system, especially disarmament and improved techniques of conflict resolution, without success. Today, the UN has little impact on issues of violence, but no other organization does either.

Thus we have violence and a good number of tension areas where greater violence may break out. Violence-reduction is probably the chief task facing the new Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. There is little common ground on what can be done to reduce violence and settle conflicts peacefully. We must not underestimate the time and difficulty that it takes to build consensus within the UN, but I believe that violence-reduction (sometimes called peace) is the next “big idea” whose time has come to the UN.

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

1 2 21