The meeting in London on 2 April of Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev is placed under the sign of needed cooperation to deal with the world-wide financial and economic crisis. There is also a need to deal with a number of on-going tension areas such as the Russia-Georgia-Abkhazia-South Ossetia conflict where negotiations in Geneva are making slow progress. However, it is in the nuclear-weapon field where quick bilateral agreements can be reached. An agreement to reduce nuclear arsenals on both sides and to take weapons off hair-trigger alert would signify to the world that major agreements can be reached to provide common security.
There have always been at least two major aspects of nuclear issues — one is to prevent the proliferation to new states such as Iran or North Korea, the other is to reduce the number of warheads among existing nuclear-weapon states. The reduction of the number of warheads seems to be on the table for new USA-Russia negotiations. The number of 1000 each seems to be a common goal. Speedy negotiations can be encouraged by the Obama-Medvedev discussions.
The USA and Russia have reduced strategic nuclear weapons by more than two-thirds since the 1991 end of the Cold War, but neither country has begun planning for the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons. Much strategic thinking in both countries remains bound to the Cold War past and is at best vague on what use nuclear weapons have in the new world society. While strategic frameworks have historical, cultural and economic roots, they must also evolve to meet new realities.
A new willingness to strengthen cooperative political relationships between the USA and Russia is an essential requirement for creating an atmosphere of political confidence that will draw other nuclear-weapon states into the process of weapon reduction. There is a world-wide danger of continued reliance on nuclear weapons with outdated strategic thinking. The USA and Russia can show the way to eliminate those sources of instability that are driving other states to develop nuclear weapons. A common US-Russian commitment to work for a Nuclear-weapon Free Zone in the Middle East would be a sign of a renewed willingness to deal seriously with the security issues of the Middle East.
An easily-achieved mutual confidence-building measure would be to lower the operational status of nuclear arsenals, basically to take nuclear weapons off ‘hair trigger’ alert. Such a measure would enhance confidence and transparency. The lowering of operational readiness of nuclear-weapon systems has been urged by United Nations General Assembly resolutions starting in 2007. Such a change of status by the USA and Russia would be an important mark of respect for world opinion in the lead up to the 2010 review conference on the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
The last few years have been years of drift in US-Russian relations. A quick agreement on nuclear issues would be a sure sign of a willingness to put relations back on track.
* Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens
The International Criminal Court has started its first trial of the militia leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, especially for his use of child soldiers to commit murder and systematic rape. However, more important militia leaders from the Democratic Republic of Congo should also be in The Hague. The governing body of the ICC will be meeting at the UN in New York in a few days. The ICC needs to be able to move ahead in the Congo situation. Your support for effective action on the Congo is appreciated.
Laurent Nkunda to the ICC ?
The Special Session of the Human Rights Council on the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on 28 November 2008 was the beginning of the end for self-proclaimed General Laurent Nkunda and his Congress for the Defense of the People (CNPD).
The Geneva-based Council had taken a long time in getting around to highlighting the human rights violations in the administrative provinces of North and South Kivu. The United Nations has some 17,000 peacemakers in Congo (MONUC), the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission, but their capacity is stretched to the limit. Their mission is to protect civilians, some 250,000 of which have been driven from their homes since the fighting intensified in late August 2008. Despite the MONUC troops, there have been large-scale occurrences of wilful violations of human rights and humanitarian law by all parties in the conflict, with massive displacement of populations, plundering of villages, systematic rape of women, summary executions and the use of child soldiers.
The eastern area of Congo is the scene of fighting at least since 1998 — in part as a result of the genocide in neighboring Rwanda in 1994. Efforts at reconciliation, reform and reconstruction have not been carried out in the eastern provinces. The illicit exploitation of natural resources, the inability to deal with land tenure and land use issues, the lack of social services and of socio-economic development have created the conditions which led to the current violence.
Systematic rape and the use of child soldiers are crimes which are covered by the mandate of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Rape is a violation of international humanitarian law. Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions prohibits “violence to life, health and physical or mental well-being of persons, in particular murder as well as cruel treatment such as torture…outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment, rape, enforced prostitution and any form of indecent assault, slavery..”
Laurent Nkunda’s CNDP, also the pro-government militias often called the ‘Mayi-Mayi’ as well as the regular army of the Democratic Republic of Congo recruited and used child soldiers in the ongoing conflict. Child soldiers who attempt to escape have been killed or tortured, at times in front of other child soldiers to discourage further escapes. Child soldiers are forced to commit crimes, including murder and rape. Such crimes are a major barrier to community reconciliation and to successful reintegration of demobilized children as communities and even families fear the return of such brutalized children, who are consequently shunned. The use of child soldiers is contrary to international conditions to which the Democratic Republic of Congo is a party.
The 28 November session of the Human Rights Council sent indirect signals to the Rwandan government that its support for Nkunda might be more costly than it was worth. Although the African governments, members of the Council, did everything they could to avoid criticizing anyone and even the European Union governments kept things very general, the talks in the hallways and over cups of coffee left no doubt that the situation could not continue. The Asian countries, such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, which provide the great bulk of the UN forces were getting tired of having their troops considered weak and largely useless, unable to fulfil their mandate of protecting the population. The Asians pushed behind the scenes for changes.
The warnings finally got back to Kigali, the Rwandan capital and to Joseph Kabila, President of RDC, and a deal may have been struck. What follows is logical but there is no proof: The number two of Laurent Nkunda’s CNDP, Jean Basco Ntaganda, his chief of staff, had an arrest warrant of the International Criminal Court out against him for war crimes committed earlier when he headed his own militia before joining forces with Nkunda. In December 2008, Ntaganda, known as ‘the Terminator’, switched sides, denounced Nkunda and said that he and his men would now work with the Congolese army. Virtually at the same time, there was an agreement between the Congolese military and the Rwandan military to stage a joint operation against the Hutu militias on the Rwanda-Congo frontier. It was during this operation that Rwandan forces “arrested” Nkunda and took him out of the Congo to Kigali.
The possible Rwanda-Congo deal is that the Congo would protect Jean Bosco Ntaganda against the warrant of the ICC in exchange for his changing sides, while Rwanda would protect Laurent Nkunda but get him out of the Congo as he was causing a backlash against Rwanda. It is said that Nkunda was helped by Rwandan businessmen and factions within the army. It is possible that the government of Rwanda turned a blind eye rather than actively helping Nkunda. The deal may be that both Nkunda and Ntaganda would keep out of sight until the world’s attention, never very focused on the Congo in any case, turned to other matters.
However, both Nkunda and Ntaganda merit trial by the ICC. The courts of both Rwanda and Congo are inadequate at best. Rwanda and Congo could indicate their inability to provide fair trials to the men and transfer them to The Hague for trial. I would not hold my breath waiting, but what happens in the two cases is a test of the effectiveness of international justice.
Meanwhile, there are dangers that fighting and human rights violations in eastern Congo will continue unless measures are taken to deal with root causes of the conflicts. The people in eastern Congo have lived together for many centuries and had developed techniques of conflict resolution, especially between the two chief agricultural lifestyles: that of agriculture and cattle herding. However, recent economic and political factors have overburdened the local techniques of conflict resolution and have opened the door to new, negative forces interested only in making money and gaining political power.
UN peace-keeping troops are effective when there is peace to keep. What is required today is eastern Congo is not so much more soldiers under UN command, than reconciliation bridge-builders, persons who are able to restore relations among the ethnic groups of the area. The United Nations, national governments, and non-governmental organizations need to develop bridge-building teams which can help to strengthen local efforts at conflict resolution and re-establishing community relations. In the Kivus, many of the problems arise from land tenure issues. With the large number of people displaced and villages destroyed, it may be possible to review completely land tenure and land use issues.
World Citizens were among those in the early 1950s who stressed the need to create UN peace-keeping forces with soldiers especially trained for such a task. Today, a new type of world civil servant is needed — those who in areas of tension and conflict can undertake the slow but important task of restoring confidence among peoples in conflict, establishing contacts and looking for ways to build upon common interests.
Rene Wadlow, Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizens
thanks a lot for your friendship.
i send you a lot of love right now.
i whish humor guides you through
time and space and happiness
is a good friend...may your live be
something you love to live....
Hello Kimberly! A warm welcome to the community of IPeace and thank you for adding me as your friend. I am very pleased to be one of your first friends on your page - nice to see you and your lovely smile here among friends from all over the world. I wish you all the love, peace and light you can imagine. May the sun always shine brightly in your heart and may our common dream of worldwide peace become true. I am sure you will soon have many like minded friends here and hope you will enjoy sharing with all these wonderful people. Blessings, all good wishes and a welcome hug coming to you to USA with this little dove as an ambassador of peace from your new Austrian friend Heimo
The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed in Resolution A/61/L22, the year 2009 as the International Year of Reconciliation “recognizing that reconciliation processes are particularly necessary and urgent in countries and regions of the world which have suffered or are suffering situations of conflict that have affected and divided societies in their various internal, national, and international facets.” The Resolution was introduced by Nicaragua’s representative who stated that “reconciliation between those estranged by conflicts was the only way to confront today’s challenges and heal wherever fraternity and justice were absent from human relations.”
Yet we need to ask how can genuine reconciliation take place between people and groups with bitterly held beliefs and a violent history? How can the needs for national healing be reconciled with the demands for justice by the victims of terrible violence?
The General Assembly resolution gives a partial answer by stressing that “dialogue among opponents from positions of respect and tolerance is an essential element of peace and reconciliation.”
For there to be a respectful dialogue among opponents, certain barriers that prevent negotiations must be dismantled as a sign of a willingness to enter into a process of negotiations. Some barriers are physical, some psychological, others ideological. These barriers must be overcome if we are to progress on the long road to reconciliation. Let us, with the New Year, start now both as individuals and as members of movements in the spirit of the historian Howard Zinn’s “People are Practical”
They want change but feel powerless, alone,
do not want to be the blade of grass that
sticks up above the others and is cut down.
They wait for a sign from someone else
who will make the first move, or the second.
And at certain times in history
there are certain intrepid people who take the risk
that if they make that first move others will follow
quickly enough to prevent their being cut down.
And if we understand this, we
might make that first move.
…And if we do act, in however small a way,
we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future.
The future is an infinite succession of presents,
and to live now as we think human beings should live,
in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself
a marvellous victory.
Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens