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Category: Human Rights

Dag Hammarskjold (29 July 1905 -18 September 1961) Crisis Manager and World Community Builder

A collage of stamps from around the world honoring Dag Hammarskjold

You wake from dreams of doom and −for a moment− you know: beyond all the noise and the gestures, the only real thing, love's calm unwavering flame in the half-light of an early dawn. Dag Hammarskjold Markings1

Dag Hammarskjold became Secretary-General of the United Nations at a moment of crisis related to the 1950-1953 war in Korea, and he died in his plane crash in 1961 on a mission dealing with the war in the Congo. The first Secretary-General of the UN, Trygve Lie, had resigned in November 1952 in the light of the strong opposition of the Soviet Union and its allies to the way the United Nations Command operated in Korea. Even though it was called the “United Nations Command”, the main fighting forces and the logistic support were provided by the United States.

Among UN Security Council members and other important delegations, it was felt that, given the way Trygve Lie was pushed out before a second term, he should be replaced by a person from a Nordic country, and the name of Dag Hammarskjold started to be proposed as a suitable candidate from an appropriate country, Sweden. It took five months of discussions before on 10 April 1953 Hammarskjold took office in New York.

Yemen negotiations move ahead slowly – post-war planning needed

Over 170 schools have been destroyed in the north of Yemen due to the conflict.

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.

The Refugee Crisis: United Nations Declares the Problem “Unprecedented”

Migrants on the move with small children in Miratovac, Serbia

One of the unintended consequences of people fleeing their homelands as a result of conflict, terrorism, famine, and political and religious persecution has been an increase in right-wing nationalism and an anti-immigrant populist uprising as witnessed by the recent “Brexit” vote in Great Britain.

From France to Germany, Italy and Austria; from the Netherlands to Hungary and Greece, a wave of nationalistic leaders has taken center stage across the continent of Europe seeking to capitalize on the anti-refugee bias.

We in the United States have witnessed political rhetoric that feeds on the fears of the populace – real or imagined. Despite passage of the American SAFE Act in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris, some seek to completely bar Syrian refugees from entering the U.S., fearing that refugees are posing as terrorists. The vetting process is extremely stringent, as it should be, but it is wrong to assume all refugees mean us harm.

Each year on June 20th the world comes together to mark World Refugee Day. Beginning in 2001 it is a time to commemorate the strength, courage, and resilience of millions of refugees. The U.N. estimates that 65 million people have been displaced as a consequence of ongoing regional hostilities. This is the largest number ever to be reported by the U.N.

To place this figure into some perspective, consider this: one in every 113 people is now a refugee, asylum-seeker or internally displaced. Furthermore, in 2015 24 people had to flee their homeland every minute due to conflict or persecution, according to the U.N.’s Global Trends 2015 report submitted by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Rio 2016: Olympic Games Trump Human Rights?

2016 Olympics, Brazil, Rio de Janiero, Human Rights, Police Brutality

Ready or not, Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 Summer Olympics in August.  The Brazilian city, which is set to receive one million visitors,  has long been plagued by violent crime and police brutality—a security risk for both athletes and tourists.  In order to combat these fears, Brazil loaned $895 million to the city to keep the peace. But there is another, often neglected group, that also deserves protection: Rio de Janeiro's residents.

Combined with the numbers on police violence, Brazil's security policy gives NGOs and observers reason to pause.  Police in the state of Rio de Janeiro were responsible for 436 killings in 2014 alone, according to Human Rights Watch. And no fewer than 85,000 security officers will be deployed throughout the games. (Forces include civilian and military police, National Public Security Force soldiers, members of the armed forces,  and privately funded brigades.)

Police Brutality

Brazil's extreme security measures might make visitors feel more at home, but the same can't be said for millions of residents who face high rates of homicides committed by police. These security operations to reduce crime before events such as the World Cup or the Olympics often threaten the local population, according to Amnesty International.

Reimagining the United Nations: A 2020 Vision

Future Parliament

This essay is a revised and updated version of the cover story for the Fall/Winter 2015 issue of DISARMAMENT TIMES, the journal of the United Nations NGO Committee on Disarmament, Peace, and Security.

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"Does the United Nations Still Matter?" It often seems so irrelevant to the problems of the modern age that those words appeared last year on the front page of The New Republic magazine. More than seven decades after the UN's invention in 1945, our multiple planetary crises seem dramatically different from those confronting the generation that emerged from the rubble of the Second World War. Isn’t it time to devise architectures of global governance intended not to avoid the mistakes of the 1930s, but focused instead on the intertwined predicaments of our own 21st Century?

A New Global Governance Commission

If so, we have a new guide to start the journey. It’s the report from the “Commission on Global Security, Justice, and Governance,” co-chaired by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former UN Under-Secretary-General Ibrahim Gambari. The name they chose reflects the inescapable links the Commission sees among those three variables. Their report elaborately makes the case that we can’t have security anywhere without justice, or justice anywhere without security. And it asserts that nothing could do more to provide both security and justice to much of humanity than smart 21st Century innovations in global governance.

The Security of Human Rights

Recently, President Obama announced the end of the arms embargo against Vietnam, “ensur[ing] that Vietnam has access to the equipment it needs to defend itself and...underscoring the commitment of the United States to a fully normalized relationship with Vietnam.” While the Obama Administration has maintained that this is not being done as a response to China’s growing military, and hold over the disputed South China Sea, others see it as strategic decision to balance a rising China.

But some, like John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, have criticized the move as being “undeserved at this time.” With Obama too noting that “there are still areas of significant concern in terms of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, [and] accountability with respect to government,” many argue that Vietnam’s current treatment of human rights does not merit closer ties with the U.S. For example, an activist was grabbed and held until after Obama had left the country.

World Humanitarian Summit: On the front lines for action

World Humanitarian Summit 2016

The World Humanitarian Summit organized by the United Nations will open on 23 May 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey.  The aim of the conference in the words of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki moon is to see what should be done “to end conflict, alleviate suffering and reduce risk and vulnerability.”  Turkey is on the front lines of the consequences of armed conflict with nearly three million refugees from Syria and Iraq as well as its own attacks against Kurds. Turkey has entered into agreements with the States of the European Union concerning the flow of refugees through Turkey to Europe − agreements that have raised controversy and concern from human rights organizations.

Given the policies of the Turkish government, some non-governmental organizations have refused to participate in protest.  Doctors Without Borders − one of the best-known of the relief organizations − has pulled out.  However, the Association of World Citizens will participate while working for a settlement of Kurdish issues at the same time.

As with all UN conferences, there has been a good deal of earlier discussion. These discussions within UN agencies, national governments, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have led to a synthesis document which sets out the agenda and the main lines for discussion in Istanbul.  It is the Secretary-General’s report for the World Humanitarian Summit One humanity: shared responsibility. (A70/709). There is a useful overview of the current world situation of refugees, internally-displaced people and of people on the move to escape persistent poverty.  There are also warnings about future displacement of people due to the consequences of climate change.

New Challenges for Global Citizens

The Global Citizenship Commission (GCC) under the leadership of the former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown presented its report The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the 21st Century (free PDF download) to the United Nations on 18 April 2016.

The Global Citizenship Commission was created “to illuminate the ideal of global citizenship. What does it mean for each of us to be members of the global society?” The principal aim of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was to create a framework for a world society that was in need of universal codes based on mutual consent in order to function. This universality was clearly reaffirmed in the 1993 Vienna Declaration of the World Conference on Human Rights in which nearly all UN Member States took part.

In 1948, the members of the UN Commission on Human Rights saw the human rights process as a three-step effort. First was the proclamation of the general principles which was the UDHR. The second step was to be the codification of these principles into laws both at the world and at national levels. The third step was to be some form of implementation through reports and observation, possible complaints procedures and ultimately some form of enforcement or sanctions. In 1948, it was not clear how the second and third steps should be carried out.

Security Council Resolution Highlights a Foundation of World Law

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Red_Cross_and_Red_Crescent_Movement#/media/File:Croixrouge_logos.jpg

The protection of medical facilities and medical personnel is at the heart of the laws of war, more often called humanitarian law. On May 3, 2016, the United Nations 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 the Congo and Afghanistan. These attacks on medical facilities are too frequent to be considered “collateral damage.” They 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 in the experiences of Henri Dunant at the 1859 battle of Solferino in Italy. A businessman, not a doctor, Dunant found himself a witness of the battle and organized local women to start treating the wounded. negotiated so that doctors among the Austrian prisoners of war could be released to help the wounded. Nevertheless, many soldiers died from lack of care after acute suffering.

The image of the dying stayed in Dunant's mind. On his return to Geneva, he began to organize what has become the International Committee of the Red Cross, followed by many national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, now structured in a federation. Both the International Committee and the federation have their headquarters in Geneva and cooperate closely with the UN, the World Health Organization, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, and NGOs.

Ethiopia: Where Economic Progress and Human Rights Clash

https://www.usaid.gov/ethiopia/newsroom/president-obama-visits-ethiopia

When you think of Ethiopia, images of starving children probably come to mind. But the East African nation has come a long way since the 1984-1985 famine, which claimed over one million lives. Economic growth has increased around 10 percent annually for the past decade, putting it in line with the government's goal of becoming a "middle-income" nation by 2025.

The country's "pro-poor" polices are transforming the nation and creating a path to prosperity and stability. Western governments—including the United States and Canada—consider Ethiopia an "island of stability" surrounded by the struggling states of Sudan, Somalia, South Sudan, and Eritrea.  

Yet for all its economic success, the Ethiopian government casts a long shadow on human rights.

Last year, a violent crackdown on protesters in Oromia resulted in upwards of 200 deaths, according to Human Rights Watch. The anti-government demonstrations, which were set off by plans to expand the capital Addis Ababa into the region, have been fueled by frustrations over political and economic marginalization. Protesters say the military and police responded with public beatings, unlawful arrests, and even killings.

Eyewitness testimonies, mostly reported via social media and by activists, have been difficult to verify. Restrictions on travel have made independent investigations next to impossible. Journalists can't travel without permission and are typically assigned a government minder when they do.