​Ramsey Clark: Gaza tests our humanity

The Palestinian people in Gaza live under some of the most inhumane conditions of any people on earth. On a daily basis Palestinians in Gaza—women, children, students, fishermen, policemen who are trying to protect civilians—are subject to assaults on their dignity and their lives. These assaults are not new or unusual, but have been part of daily life for more than 70 years. 
Often we justify our indifference by claiming that the government in Gaza is hostile to us, therefore we must be hostile to the people of Gaza. The truth is that the peace and justice party, which is linked to Hamas in Gaza, won an election that was widely acknowledged to be free and fair. Moreover, Hamas has never threatened the United States and has repeatedly sought to cooperate with the United States on a basis of mutual respect. It is true that Hamas opposes Israel, but that is because Israel was built on the Palestinian land that was taken without the consent of the Palestinian people. This happened despite the fact that the League of Nations had decided that the people of Palestine were to be given the right to decide their own future. Instead of facilitating this, as it was mandated to do, the British occupiers allowed Palestine to be overrun by outside intruders. How would any of us react if our house was overrun by armed intruders and we were forced into the street? This is exactly what happened throughout Palestine in 1948. Although the people of Gaza faced continued attacks, they also resiliently continue to demand their self-determination, a fundamental human right recognized under international law.

They do so despite the fact that the infrastructure of Gaza has been repeatedly destroyed by the aerial bombardment of the Israeli army that has periodically escalated in to an all-out war against the people of Gaza who are trapped in barely over 140 square miles of land that is completely surrounded by Israel. Even access to the sea is controlled by Israel. Recently four more fishermen were detained by Israel for trying to make a living fishing in Gaza’s territorial sea.

The history of Gaza is not one that reflects the situation over the past 70 years. Before Israel’s occupation, Gaza was a striving fishing port. It had seaside hotels, ports, and even an airport. The people of Gaza lived side-by-side in peace with Jews, Christians, and others. It was only in the early 20th Century when Israel began to consolidate its occupation of Palestine and to take the land of Palestinians, often by driving them from their homes, that Gaza began its path towards disaster.

Today, according to UNRWA, the United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees, more than 80% of Gazans are dependent on humanitarian assistance. Civilians are detained arbitrarily at the will of the Israeli occupiers. Israel makes sporadic military incursions several times a year under cover of aerial bombardment. And Israel regularly bombs the people of Gaza carrying out both targeted killings of Gazans and indiscriminate bombings of Gazan villages, towns, and Gaza City. This vicious circle of violence has been ongoing for more than 70 years, thus from even before the United Nations was created. It is the longest-standing situation of massive and widespread human rights abuses on the United Nations agenda, yet it is too often ignored.

Gazans live in a state of terror that has been created by Israel, but forgotten by the rest of the world. Israel’s acts of State terrorism against the people of Gaza are almost never mentioned in international forums discussing the combating of terrorism, especially those forums that include the United States. So often when we speak of defending our values and protecting human lives we forget the lives of almost two million Gazans that are under threat daily from an Israeli government of which the United States is the biggest supporter.

The conditions of life under which the people of Gaza live test our humanity. If we are honest about upholding the values of the dignity of life and respect for human life, then we must show greater concern for the people of Gaza. Instead, we have criminalized those in the United States who seek to provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza. The provision of humanitarian assistance can never be viewed as a hostile action, yet that is what we have done. Ignoring, the fact that more than thirty years ago the principle judicial body of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice based in The Hague in The Netherlands, with a senior U.S. judge sitting on the Court, decided that the provision of humanitarian assistance is never an illegal act. We should not need a Court to tell us this; our sense of morality should lead us to this conclusion.

Our sense of morality should tell us that we cannot sit silently as generations of Gazans are subjected to inhumane conditions of life. The conditions of life under which the people of Gaza live test our humanity. Our sense of morality—based on values of concern for human life—should tell us that this is wrong. The United States and each American should support an end to the destruction of Gaza and an end to the support for those any country or person advocating hatred and inhumanity against the Gazans living in Palestine. 

July 2016

Photo source: http://www.democracynow.org


INTLawyers calls for Attention to the Plight of Women Subject to Climate Change

Women & CC

International-Lawyers.Org welcomed the report of the Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food that documented the disproportionate impact that climate change has on the right to food of women and their families. INTLawyers informed the Special Rapporteur of the failure of COP21 to meet the expectations and needs of women effected by climate change, drawing attention to our video that captures the highlights of the critical intervention of the the women’s major group that condemned the Paris Agreement for its failure to adequately address the needs of women. Please view: http://vimeo.com/151222669. INTLawyers also asked the Special Rapporteur for recommendations on what could be done to redress this situation within the structures under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change? We eagerly await the Special Rapporteur’s response. INTLawyers is committed to protecting the most vulnerable groups that are exposed to the adverse effects of climate change using the rule of international law.

Please see:

Oral Intervention in the Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the Right to Food and the IE on Foreign Debt at the 31st Regular Session of the Human Rights Council

Civil Society Friendly UNFCCC Leaders in Short Demand

UNFCCC Secretariat Headquarters in Bonn, Germany
UNFCCC Secretariat Headquarters in Bonn, Germany

For many developing countries and NGOs, the departure of UNFCCC executive secratary Ms Karen Christiana Figueres Olsen’s departure will not be sad news. While her openness to civil society received well-deserved praise. Her apparent substantive bias towards polluters was disappointing. There is hope that her successor will be more even-handed, but there are also problems with many of those who have been suggested from the civil society point of view. Some comments on these choices from a civil society perspective follow.

#1 – Patricia Espinosa (Mexico): In Cancun Ms Espinosa representing the hosts and COP President helped push through a series of Cancun decisions that put in the mess we are in today. Like Mr.Fabius she used dishonest techniques to exclude nations that did not agree with the lowest common denominator. For example, two developing country representatives were sent to the wrong room for a meeting to get them out of the way on tough decisions. Similarly Observers or civil society were relegated to a polo grounds far away from the main meeting. A record of seemingly dishonest action does not bode well for the new head of UN agency already accused of dishonest bias.

#2 – Fatih Birol (Turkey): On the face of things, any Turk is likely to suffer from the same disability that Prince Ali suffered from in the FIFA election: the country is currently a human rights pariah that seems to violate some of the most fundamental international laws–such as article 2(4)of the Charter of the United Nations prohibiting the use of force by its bombing of Syria. Moreover the International Energy Agency and lame duck Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s UN’s Sustainable Energy 4 All Panel have not been models of civil society involvement. They are both sustained by rich States, whose opinions they tend to support, while making only illusionary efforts to appear as if civil society is being consulted. In reality civil society’s voice is generally ignored in both bodies, unless you happen to be a rich corporation that can pay to be heard. This i not someone civil society is likely to favour for leading the UNFCCC Secretariat.

#3 – Manuel Pulgar Vidal (Peru): Initially he reached out to civil society even sending an envoy to consult with civil society at the Pre-COP in Venezuela in 2014 and himself attending the parallel pre-COP State meeting. As the discussion got under away civil society became more and more irrelevant. He also did his best to side-line advocates of social interest such a health making sure his health minister, who had been a champion of ensuring attention for the health impacts of climate change at COP20 in Lima, was not in Paris to raise the issue that was uncomfortable for developed countries. Most damaging, however, was his role at COP21 where COP21 French President Fabius named him his envoy to civil society and then systematically excluded civil society or Observers from participation in any level of the decision making process. The exclusion of civil society was one of the leading reasons the Paris Agreement is so weak. If Pulgar Vidal was willing to be used to keep civil society out of COP21, one can only imagine how hostile he will be to civil society running the UNFCCC Secretariat.

#4 – Pa Ousman Jarju (Gambia): A shrewd negotiator and committed to adequate climate action as he illustrated in practice as LDC coordinator and spokesperson in the past. As noted he comes from a country on the frontline and sees some of the harshest impacts of the adverse effects of climate change on a daily basis. Nevertheless, in Paris he was seen at best as ineffective in confronting the French and at worse as having been bought off by the dubious honor of being asked to become a confident of the less than honest Fabius at COP21. Even more than Turkey, Gambia is a country ruled by an iron-fisted president who comes down harsh on those who dissent. It is hard to see Pa Ousman being able to operate free from the heavy hand of the civil-society-unfriendly policies of his president. To date Pa Ousman has not shown much appreciation for civil society. His engagement with civil society in drafting the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ report on human rights and climate change in Africa as the host country of this African Union body and despite the Ethiopian commissioner’s apparent attempts to suppress this work, might be a telling indication of where he stands on civil society participation in climate change decision making.

#5 – Nozipho Joyce Mxakato-Diseko (South Africa): During the past year Ms Mxakato-Diseko showed herself to be a capable negotiator and spokeswoman for G77 interests, however, when push came to shove, she was pushed out of the way just like her government and her Minister Edna were at COP17, which was hosted in Durban, South Africa. It is hard to see her being a strong leader of the UNFCCC. She has shown a willingness to treat civil society fairly and to afford them access, but not to fight for these values when other object. Despite her shortcomings she is likely the most civil society friendly candidate among these ten.

#6 – Dessima Williams (Grenada): She is an articulate defender of strong climate action. At least that is how she seemed until she was apparently bought out by Obama’s charm and dropped her support of the strong G77 position at COP15 in favour of backing the discredited Copenhagen Accords to which the overwhelming majority of civil society objected. If she leads the UNFCCC Secretariat civil society climate justice advocates will constantly have to watch their backs as Williams could turn on them without warning. Thus while her strong advocacy has sometimes won her kudos from civil society, her unreliability makes her a big risk for civil society to support.

#7 – André Corrêa do Lago (Brazil): NGOs will undoubtedly remember Mr. Corrêa do Lago bets for his unsuccessful effort to exclude civil society from the negotiating room at Rio+20 in 2012. he claimed NGOs did not fit into room that were half empty for the early morning meetings and then tried to impose without any reason limits on civil society participation pushed by a handful of Western European and Others Group (WEOG) States. His embarrassingly inept efforts backfired terribly, forcing him to stand down. This does not bode well for a future UNFCCC leader. And his actions at Rio+20 will likely create a disability for any Brazilian (see “#10 – Izabella Teixeira” below). Having said this, Mr. Corrêa do Lago showed him to be a strong and effective champion of principles like ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ and the financial commitments of developed States to developing States. His strategic vision and his ability to balance competing interests to achieve something better than the lowest common denominator recommend him well, but again he is likely someone whom civil society cannot really trust based on his track record.

#8 – Teresa Ribera (Spain): To even see Ms Ribera’s name on the list is somewhat of a surprise. While she is somewhat open to civil society her motives as as sinister as those of the CIA of MI5. The French IDDRI was the intellectual backbone of Fabius manipulation of COP21. It also seemed part and parcel of the strategy he deployed of repeatedly claiming the COP was open and exclusive, while at the same time making sure it was closed and non-participatory and brokering highly questionable decisions behind closed doors. It was rumored that Ms Ribera had something to do with the infamous paragraph 52 in the COP21 Decision 1, that sells out the rights of future generations for virtually nothing in return (the deal was actually done between the USA and Tuvalu).

#9 – Laurence Tubiana (France): She was the right-hand woman to Fabius as he conspired with a few western allies to eliminate civil society from COP21. While there is no evidence that she was involved in this decision, which seemed to be collusion between the UNFCCC Secretariat and the COP21 President Fabius, she was sitting right there in the middle of it and did nothing apparent to object.

#10 – Izabella Teixeira (Brazil): Known as strong and wise minister of environment, when informed at COP21 of the French COP21 President’s eventually successful efforts to change a substantive provision of the treaty claiming it was a technical change, merely shrugged as if she had no idea what she was being told. As it transpired she sat watching the fiasco without even raising a finger to support some of her more courageous developing country partners. Was she part of the dishonest deal between Fabius and Kerry or merely an ignorant bystander? Neither role bodes well for a country that is a key actor in the G77. She has not been warm towards NGOs and Brazil’s hand had to be forced to get NGOs into the room in the late night sessions at Rio+20 in 2012 where the Brazilians first banned civil society, before relenting to civil society pressure to let them into the room.

It is hoped that a women would be favored as women are still underrepresented in the UN Secretariat and the UNFCCC chief is also a senior UN Secretariat official.

Most importantly, however, is that a new UNFCCC chief has the courage to push for strong climate action that reflects the aspirations of climate justice that both civil society and the majority of developing States want to see realized.

Maybe it time that a civil society actor is chosen. It will have to be one that understands that the UNFCCC processes are State-centric, but also one who understands the important role that civil society can play merely by being in the room, observing, and letting the people of the world know what their representatives are up to when they discuss one of the most serious problems facing humanity today.

For the list of ten possible candidates see: http://www.climatechangenews.com/2016/02/23/whos-in-line-to-be-the-next-un-climate-change-chief/.

INTLawyers calls for WHO to present its mysteriously missing Workplan on Climate Change and Health

International-Lawyers.Org participated in the 138th Executive Board meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland calling for WHO’s Secretariat to present the Workplan on Climate Change and Health that it was asked to present last year by its Member States, but failed to present.

At the at the Executive Board held in January 2015 the item of health and climate change was removed from the World Health Assembly’s agenda under the false pretext that a Workplan on Climate Change and Health  had been adopted. In reality the WHO’s Secretariat had presented only the elements of a Workplan on health and climate change (WHO Doc. EB136/16), i.e. a broad sketch of a what could possibly go into a Workplan. There had been no discussions with States or stakeholders. Furthermore, the process appears as secret as the talks to arrive at the Paris Agreement at COP21 when the French Presidency manipulated the climate change outcome and pushed through an grossly inadequate accord (See INTLawyers video at https://vimeo.com/151222669). INTLawyers called on WHO to work closely with a variety of stakeholders i 2016 to develop the elements it had presented in an inclusive and transparent manner in which States, civil society, and all relevant stakeholders are able to provide their inputs into the final Workplan.

For more information, please read: INTLawyers Statement on CC & Health, v1 (1)

Also please watch this video: International-Lawyers.Org representative Ms Karen Wang’s intervention on climate change and health at the 138th Executive Board meeting of the World Health Orgnanization in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday, evening 27 January 2016

The Voice of Truth at COP21 came from Women and Youth, Not the French President

While the Paris Agreement was hailed with pomp and circumstances by the hosts France and especially by French President Hollande and Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister and COP21 President, the outcome was so far short of the minimum effort required to address the most serious adverse effects of climate change. As a consequence global efforts to address climate change may have been irreparably impaired. This result will condemn hundreds of millions of people to death and billions to lives of poverty and suffering.

In its hurry to end COP21 before the second round of the French regional elections, the French shoved through an agreement with little concern for what it contained and in a non-transparent manner. The link below includes the statements by the women and youth coalitions at COP21. These statements came at the very end of the COP21 when most people had left–although to his credit Fabius did return to hear the youth speaker, but not the women’s speaker. They are in our opinion the most honest evaluations of the Paris Agreement of any speaker at the COP2 and they are by people who were there. They can be contrasted to the underhanded and dishonest manner in which Fabius pushed through the Paris Agreement, ignoring States seeking the floor and presenting a major ‘substantive’ change as a ‘technical’ change. Watch the video and let us know your views: Office@International-Lawyers.Org. Also let us know if you have trouble viewing the video, the French government has apparently tried to block it (mainly on Youtube where it was originally posted), although once we react we can get it back up

Please view: http://vimeo.com/151222669

COP21 Evaluated

COP21 ended somewhat oddly. A text was quickly pushed through on the eve of France regional elections. In these election COP21 President Laurent Fabius’s Socialist Party was fighting for its life and needed something to cheer about. The Paris Agreement reflected more this domestic political reality than it did a step towards protecting our Mother Earth, as our planet is referred to in the Agreement. There are almost no mitigation requirements, no new resources for adaptation, a weak loss and damage provisions that is accompanied by a complete denial of responsibility the the COP Decision, and nothing about new and additional finance. Famed former NASA scientist and now climate justice advocate James Hansen called the agreement a fraud and almost every civil society organization and even a few States that spoke at COP21 criticized it as being too little, too late. One reason COP21 turned out like this is because of the non-transparent, non-open, secretive nature of the negotiations. Read the two articles published in Counterpunch magazine to find out more.

For more information, please see:

Paris Climate Deal: How Could They Do This to Us?

Paris Agreement De-Legitimate Even Before It Is Concluded