October is proving to be a very busy month. Our monthly meeting fell on the 1st.
Syrian Tragedy -
Considering some of the Ethical Questions posed
(A reminder of the 2 videos for suggested viewing were: From Upworthy – watch-a-2-minute-video-thatll-bring-you-up-to-speed-on-syria and from the New York Times – New York Times: Putin plea for caution from Russia on Syria .)
We started the discussion separating and defining principles from the geopolitical regional posturing and proxy fighting. As soon as you start this sort of process it is not surprising to find that we were in the realm of Human Rights and the Rule of Law.
CHARTER of the UNTITED NATIONS – PREAMBLE
WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS DETERMINED
AND FOR THESE ENDS
HAVE RESOLVED TO COMBINE OUR EFFORTS TO ACCOMPLISH THESE AIMS
Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.
UNIVERSAL DECLARATION of human rights – PREAMBLE
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,
Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,
Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,
Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,
Now, Therefore 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, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.
Ingrid van Dooren took these notes:
Relevant provisions of international law concerning the prohibition of the use of violence by states:
United Nations Charter article 2 par. 3: “All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.”
Article 2 par. 4: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”
Article 24 of the UN Charter gives the Security Council of the UN the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.
Article 33 tells parties to any dispute to seek a solution first of all by negotiation, mediation etc. If they fail to do so article 37 tells them to refer the dispute to the Security Council, which can decide whether to take action.
Article 39 gives the Security Council the power to determine the existence of a threat to the peace and make recommendations or take measures.
Article 41 empowers the Council to decide on measures not involving the use of armed force and article 42 to take action by air, sea, or land forces.
The Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 1949, ratified by Syria in 1953 and by the USA in 1955, contains provisions stating basically that civilians are to be protected and treated humanely.
Another international treaty that might be relevant is the 1925 Geneva Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare.
What is very clear is that states are not supposed to resort to violence on their own. It has to go via the Security Council. The only exception is article 51 of the UN Charter which allows states members of the UN to use force in self defence. As always with international law there are interpretation problems. What is self-defence? Is there a war between the two states? Is it an internal conflict? Depending on the answer to these and other questions the international provisions may or may not apply to a specific case.
At our meeting we expressed the view that force should not be used, not even in an indirect way (bullying or accusations of human rights violations or using an aggressive attitude in general). We are worried about the ease with which states (USA!) ignore the United Nations/international law/human rights. They draw their own plan, often just because their power position is threatened. Sanctions against states (Syria) might be the only thing that can be done. Yet even that can be regarded as a form of violence and it might hit the population rather than the government.
We are also worried that the UN only seems to go in afterwards as peace keepers.
We want to find out what BHA and IHEU have done/are doing on the subject. They probably have consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council.
A civil society where human rights are protected has to be built up from the bottom but states won’t do that.
FROM IHEU WEB SITE:
Raheel Raza, speaking for Center for Inquiry, made the first speech yesterday morning (17 September 2014) at the 24th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, which was very well received. This was the only speech during the entire debate on Syria to suggest that the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) had a special responsibility to work towards a solution to the civil war in one of its member states. Here is Raheel’s statement in full:
Center for Inquiry
UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL: 24th Session 9 – 27 September 2013
Speaker: Raheel Raza, CFI Representative, 16 Sept 2013
Interactive dialogue with the COI on Syria
Both sides have been deeply implicated in acts of utter barbarity in the civil war in Syria, the worst example of Muslim on Muslim violence in living memory. Surely therefore it must fall to the OIC member states to play a key role in ending this conflict, particularly given the current lack of consensus in the International community and the Security Council to agree a way forward. Yet, as we have seen, the OIC itself remains deeply divided on how to move forward with member states supplying arms to both sides.
Nevertheless, the international community has agreed one fact: chemical weapons have been used and have killed more than 1000 people in Damascus. Surely this council can agree that the use of these weapons must be investigated, and that the mandate must include establishing unequivocally who was responsible and ensuring that the perpetrators are – eventually – brought to justice.
A new Security Council resolution is needed, empowering a team of inspectors to establish responsibility, and requiring both sides to co-operate fully with the investigation with the threat of military intervention remaining on the table in case of non-compliance.
However, Mr President, military intervention should be used only as a last resort. The history of the past ten years has shown that military intervention in the Middle East by outside powers can have catastrophic consequences for all concerned.
Thank you sir.
ALSO FROM IHEU WEB SITE:
Submitted by admin on 7 June, 2005 – 16:30
The world is a dangerous place. In spite of almost insuperable financial and political obstacles, the UN has been the principal institution dealing with these dangers. An overriding problem which has limited the UN’s effectiveness has been, as says the New York Times, “Washington’s unremitting hostility to the UN”.
Still the UN has been remarkably successful both in peace-making and peace-keeping. This is the conclusion of the Rand Corporation, not a particularly liberal number-crunching think tank. The message is surprisingly upbeat. Even in the worst failed states, low income countries under stress can be helped into recovery. The UN has been quite effective in dealing with these problems. Of the eight UN-led missions studied by the Rand Corporation, seven have brought sustained peace. (Namibia, El Salvador, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, East Timor and Cambodia)
Question: why is it in the developed world’s interest to intervene? The answer is simple and overwhelming. Chaos is a travelling epidemic for crime, disease and general social instability. Atrocities committed within failed states spread to armed rebels in neighbouring countries. Since the 1970’s the number of civil wars had by 1990, increased sharply to over 50.
In 1992, the UN created a peacemaking and peacekeeping office, resulting in a rapid growth in UN activity in combating civil wars. By 2002, the number had dropped by 40% to about 30. In the last 15 years, more civil wars have ended than in the previous two centuries, in large part because of UN action. There are currently 17 peacekeeping missions involving 80,000 people. The annual cost of all UN peacekeeping operations in a year is less than what America spends in a month in Iraq.
Most of the failures such as Rwanda and Bosnia have occurred when the Security Council, which mandates these operations, cannot agree. When there is cooperation within the Security Council, even worst case examples such as Liberia, can be rescued. In that crime ridden country, the United States, the UN and Nigeria have worked together for a power-sharing transitional government. Neighbouring Sierra Leone is no longer a theatre of killings, because Sierra Leone is prosecuting its criminals through a UN-backed special court. The underlying principle is that the culture of impunity that plagues much of Africa can only be stopped by internationally accepted legal means.
Currently the world body is involved in a major humanitarian disaster in the Sudan. The Secretary General has been pressing for a beefed up international force and has succeeded in gaining unanimous Security Council approval for 10,000 troops to serve as peacekeepers. The delays in the deliberations have come about because the US and the Sudan resist the use of the International Criminal Court, the legal body with the right to try criminals accused of crimes against humanity.
In the Congo, a major effort is being undertaken to eliminate the outrageous sex abuses which have hurt the UN’s reputation. It is important to understand that this is a sovereignty issue in which each country insists on control over their troops but at the same time must take the responsibility to monitor their soldiers. Procedures are being implemented for a zero-tolerance effort to implement this responsibility.
To prevent future disasters the UN has offered two proposals. One is a peace-building commission to alert the Security Council of upcoming tensions and potential conflicts. Another proposal which can meet the need for potentially preventive interventions is a rapid deployment force. That has long been on Kofi Annan’s wish list. Peacemaking and peacekeeping are not synonymous. Sometimes peacekeepers arrive to monitor an agreement which then unravels, leaving the peacekeepers to face hostile fire. Over the years, up to 102 nations have contributed troops and personnel and 2000 have died in this service.
SERVICE FOR WORLD PEACE:
This Service was an honour to help in putting together and as a participant. It was spiritually moving, heartfelt and ultimately optimistic. We are grateful for the support of those that attended and those that sent us their apologies and best wishes. Thanks especially to our co-host Medway Unitarians.
Empathy, gratitude, humility, awe, serenity, courage; these are so much more than intellectual pursuits. They are part of what it is to be human and are essential to a full understanding of Humanism.
MEDIATION – THE FINAL TALK IN THE LOCAL SPEAKERS SERIES:
We have been pleased to support this series organised by Chatham Unitarians. Ingrid van Dooren has successfully hosted these for three years. This last talk for this year was by Sue Holmes from Medway Mediation.
Sue gave a brief history of Medway Mediation from its classical origins to the establishment of the charity and an overview of its impressive work. She went on to explain the process of mediation and I could not but help think they were totally in accord with humanist principles. It was also an evening that fell in with the theme so far for the month. I think it is so very necessary, in terms of building peace, to recognise and promote the role of the peacemakers.
The work Sue does is admirable and deserves wider support. The charity offers a service that turns situations and people that are a drain on the resources of the greater community in to assets and strengths in building a community with greater peace.
Ingrid does follow up these talks with a report. I will keep you posted.
In addition to our monthly discussion evening we will be joining the MIFA (Medway Inter Faith Action) Party as part of this year’s Interfaith Week. We are also offering our support to the Kent Workplace Mission Chaplain to Medway Council for the Remembrance Day Service and will represent North Kent Humanists, British Humanist Association and United Kingdom Armed Forces Humanist Association with a short reading:
“We are humbled in gratitude by those who chose to defend our freedom and made the ultimate sacrifice. This day we honour them in unending remembrance. We will never forget; our silence speaking these truths where words would fail.”