Wednesday, 3 April 2013

History has been made! An Arms Trade Treaty

By Chris Thompson, Education and Engagement Officer at the WCIA

History has been made! Please forgive the use of an overused expression but I feel in this context it is absolutely appropriate.

On 2nd April 2013 at a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly 180 nations voted on an international treaty to control the export of weapons. By an overwhelming majority of 154 in favour, 3 against and 23 abstentions the resolution was passed. Do not underestimate the significance of this vote.

For the first time ever, there exists an international Arms Trade Treaty to control the global flow of conventional weapons. This means that governments will be expected to regulate arms export contracts to ensure that weapons will not be used for war crimes, human rights abuses or organised crime.

Although there already exists arms treaties which regulate weapons for mass destruction, this treaty is the first to cover weapons which are used to kill people on a daily basis. This includes battle tanks, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, warships, missiles, small arms, light weapons and ammunitions.

Now that the General Assembly has voted in favour of the treaty, countries will be able to ratify the agreement from 3rd June 2013. 90 days after 50 countries have signed, it will become international law. However, the success of the treaty will depend on the will of governments to honour the agreement and even then there is no guarantee that governments will be able to persuade their own parliament to ratify the treaty.

This is a massive victory for citizens around the globe and organisations that have campaigned for an Arms Trade Treaty should celebrate. However, there is clearly much more to be done to ensure that governments honour the treaty and take action to regulate the arms trade and ensure that standards become universal.

For now though, let us bask in the glory of the last couple of days and congratulate everyone who took action for an Arms Trade Treaty. Well done!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Legal Affairs Committee Annual Lecture

On 14 January 2013 the second lecture in what I hope will be an ongoing series of lectures by distinguished highly international lawyers took place at the Temple of Peace in Cardiff. Prof. Christian Tomuschat, Emeritus Professor at the Humboldt University in Berlin gave a lecture entitled “The Judgment of the ICJ of 3 February 2012 in Germany v Italy – A Formalistic Aberration?”. The lecture was organised by the Legal Affairs Committee of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs and Aberystwyth University law school.
This lecture followed on an outstanding first lecture given one year earlier by Prof. David Kennedy of Harvard University. Prof. Kennedy was a hard act to follow, but Prof. Tomuschat did not disappoint. He gave a brilliant analysis of the recent litigation at the International Court of Justice between Germany and Italy (Jurisdictional Immunities of the State (Germany v. Italy: Greece Intervening), in which he was leading counsel for Germany. So this was a chance to hear right from the centre of the action what it means to take a case to the ICJ and how it was argued.

Prof. Tomuschat has had an extremely distinguished career as an academic but also as a practitioner at the highest level. Before moving to the Humboldt University to take up the Chair of International Law after German unification, he was Professor of International Law at the University of Bonn. He has lectured extensively throughout the world, including giving the prestigious general Course on Public International Law at the Hague Academy of International Law. Prof. Tomuschat has also appeared as counsel before the European Court of Human Rights. At United Nations level, he has been a member of the Human Rights Committee and the International Law Commission. He is a member of many learned societies and is a Member of the Institut de Droit International. He has also published a vast body of work on public international law.

Prof. Tomuschat’s lecture was notable for its outstanding analysis of the dispute between Germany and Italy over the non-payment of compensation to Italian prisoner of war. But perhaps the most memorable aspect of it was his analysis of jus cogens which clearly demonstrated the limits (and problems) of the doctrine and in the most rigorous manner questioned the unthinking reliance on it of too many international lawyers.

The lecture was very well attended by members of all the Welsh law schools, as well as the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England. The bar has been set very high for 2014. Who will face the challenge of keeping up with, if not the Joneses, at least the Kennedys and the Tomuschats? It will be an event not be missed, and I wish him or her all the best.

Prof. Ryszard Piotrowicz

Dept. of Law and Criminology

Aberystwyth University

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Blood and the Thunderer

We all have a duty to choose our words carefully - and that includes those making the accusation of anti-Semitism.

by Martin Pollard, WCIA Chief Executive

A few days ago I found myself caught up in an argument on Facebook – one of those you sort of do, sort of don’t go looking for – about David Ward’s comments on Holocaust Memorial Day. In case you’ve missed this particular controversy, Ward is the Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East who posted the following on his blog:

“…saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza".

This is arguably a fair comment about Israel, but wrapped up in an unfortunate choice of words which could certainly be construed as anti-Semitic. Making any blanket reference to “the Jews” sounds clearly like criticism of Jewish people, or Judaism, as a whole; this may not have been Ward’s intention (his later apology seemed sincere) but it offended enough people for that not to matter.

It also undermined his argument. During my minor Facebook altercation I was trying to make the point that this kind of slapdash choice of language does no favours to those who would engage in a legitimate critique of the state of Israel. By leaving himself open to accusations of anti-Semitism, or at the very least insensitivity, Ward lost not only the moral high ground but also the chance to engage in rational debate about the continuing political and humanitarian mess in the Middle East. He wanted to draw attention to the plight of Palestinians; instead he drew the ire of the Holocaust Educational Trust, his own party and a fair chunk of the general public.

Fast forward to today and we have another ‘anti-Semitic’ controversy, again with the emphasis on unfortunate timing around Holocaust Memorial Day. This time, Rupert Murdoch has apologised for a cartoon by Gerald Scarfe in the Sunday Times (possibly the first time Murdoch has apologised for anything, as fellow cartoonist Steve Bell noted acidly on the Today programme). We are told by the paper’s acting editor Martin Ivens that “Jews (and others) throughout the country reacted to this cartoon with a visceral disgust”.

But on this occasion, the controversy is in my view wholly unjustified, and raises serious questions around freedom of speech. Scarfe’s cartoon shows the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu building a wall containing Palestinians’ blood and body parts. The caption reads: “Israeli elections. Will cementing peace continue?"

Brutal, yes. Shocking, perhaps. And understandably offensive to some, especially considering its poorly-timed publication. But it is highly questionable whether such an image can be considered anti-Semitic. This cartoon plainly falls in the category of political comment, not religious or cultural diatribe: it is about Israel and its actions in the Occupied Territories; more specifically it alludes to Israel’s continuing policy of building illegal settlements on Palestinian land. It does not contain a stereotypical image of Jewishness. It contains blood; but contrary to the view of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, it does contain a ‘blood libel’.

Anyone comparing Scarfe’s trenchant political point with the obviously anti-Semitic cartoons produced regularly in Iran and elsewhere is at the very least disingenuous. More worrying is the pernicious subtext – heard all too regularly – that in some way to criticise the actions of the Israeli government is to promote distrust or hatred of Jews.

No-one should doubt that there are two sides to the Israel/Palestine story, and no peace activist or anti-Zionist should convince themselves that Israelis are not themselves under threat, or that their security concerns are not real. It is the duty of any careful critic to listen to both sides, and certainly to stand firm against the anti-Semitism that does emerge – sometimes explicitly enough to cause me a gasp of horror – in public debates about Israel and Palestine.

But we must also claim, as loudly and vociferously as necessary, the right to criticise any state that fails to afford protection or equal rights to those within the borders it controls, or that effectively ghettoises a substantial portion of the population. That criticism can and should be levelled legitimately against the government of Israel – as it can against other governments – until a lasting peace is finally achieved. And if we all choose our words carefully, we should do so without fear of causing irrelevant offence.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Annual Forum and Anniversary Lecture with a focus on UNA Wales

On 4th December the WCIA held its Annual Forum at the Temple of Peace, Cardiff.  The aim of the afternoon was to involve members in formation of strategy to take the WCIA forward through discussion groups which proved successful.

The three discussion groups were on the 75th anniversary celebrations of the Temple of Peace, CEWC and one on involving students and those aged 18-30 in the WCIA. The main suggestions focused on involving first year university students through fresher’s fairs, societies and interactive events such as model UN. This led on to the presentation on the exciting plans of the UNA Wales gender equality and responsibility to protect interns which included many of the ideas that had been suggested in the discussion groups such as model UN and organising a debate on R2P and the Syrian Crisis for 5 February, demonstrating the effectiveness of the discussion group format. 

Subsequently, the group divided again to discuss promotion of the campaigns. The gender equality group engaged in exploring how to promote the campaign within the local community. Ideas included introducing gender equality in schools and trying to break down gender stereotypes e.g. the assumption of blue for boys and pink for girls. This idea had already been successfully addressed by the previous interns who had also created lesson plans and resources on gender equality and R2P in English and Welsh for schools to use. Other suggestions included community lectures by successful women, a pledge system on gender equality for individuals and businesses and increased support for women’s sports. This shows the value of the members’ input as many good ideas were presented which could be used in the campaigns. The final contribution concerned the promotion of international women’s day in March, which Zulfia the gender equality intern is focusing on, through the use of female role models within the communities to raise awareness for gender inequality in Wales.

The Responsibility to Protect group debated the pros and cons of R2P and discussed different ways to engage people. Ideas under discussion included setting up UNA societies within universities, using video conferencing to engage members, doing more activities to promote student action, appealing to lecturers as well as students and hosting debates on R2P within schools and universities. 

The day concluded with a lecture by Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International, giving a talk on the North African uprisings. Kate's talk provided a stimulating and at times shocking insight into the  Middle East and North Africa uprisings. Kate raised awareness of the need to hold leaders to account for their actions and cited how Amnesty have been gathering evidence in areas of conflict to do just that. 

Becky Dunn
UNA Wales Student Member and Blogger  

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Bishop of Llandaff High School wins the Wales Schools Debating Championships 2012

Luis Corvini reports

When you think what a teenager could be doing in a common Monday evening, you may cogitate anything but talking politics. Wrong. That was what four students were doing last Monday in a high-level debate at the Schools National Debating Championship final.

The challenge, which happened at the Temple of Peace, in Cardiff, was established over one topic - coalition politics and if they were good or bad for Britain. For 45 minutes, the students expressed their reasons from being favourable or opposed to the idea of the cooperation process between different political parties.
At the face-off, the proposition team said the formation of a coalition government could make the country less democratic. The opposition declared that the organisation of a coalition-alliance helped Britain over difficult times, such as during World War II.
A board of five experienced adjudicators, including Wales Assembly Member Julie Morgan, analysed their performances. They were impressed by the high-standard discussion and the way the teenagers presented their arguments.
At the end, Cardiff’s Bishop of Llandaff High School students won the competition. Being part of the victorious team for the second time in a row, 16-year old Rhys Steele revealed his tactic: “Confidence is the main tip. You don’t have to know everything 100 percent, as long that you stay confident, a lot of people will believe it”, he says.

14-year old Ed Philips, Mr. Steele’s colleague in the competition, played a little joke about his debating experience: “I am one of four brothers, so in the house I have always to get your case”. He then said that he was very happy to have joined the debate group at his school.

The runners up Sam Costa, 15, and Amy Jones, 16, both students from Ysgol Ardudwy, from Harlech, North Wales, debated superbly and can proudly say that they reached the Grand Final having surpassed 53 other schools from around Wales.
For Martin Polland, chief executive of the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA), which organised the event, debates like these help teenagers to learn important skills for their future: “They are developing not only the ability to speak, but also to listen actively, understanding and engaging with somebody else with a different opinion. They also develop knowledge about important political and social issues”, says Mr Polland.

Bill Burson, representing the British Council Wales, says that discussions like these promote ideals and make young people understand that there is always two sides of opinions in democratic processes and arguments.
The Wales Schools Debating Championships has existed since 1990. Earlier this year, Wales finished second in the World Schools Debating Championship in Cape Town, South Africa after beating England in the semi finals.
The 2013 World Championship is scheduled to happen in January and February, in Turkey and four young debaters have been selected to represent Wales.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Desmond Tutu brings Southern-African philosophy Ubuntu to Cardiff

Luis Corvini

It took less than an hour for the presence of Nobel Peace Prize winner archbishop Desmond Tutu, 81, to become an unforgettable moment for hundreds of people who have assembled at the Temple of Peace, in Cardiff, to talk about the Southern-African philosophy Ubuntu, on the 25th of October at an event organised by the WCIA and Life for African Mothers.

Mr. Tutu, a loyal propagator of the Ubuntu philosophy, demonstrated some of the basic principles of this way of living by the time he stepped out of the car.

First by opening a big smile to kids holding Wales and South Africa’s flags for his welcome, and after that when keeping his kindness during his meeting with the event participants.

“I am, because you are. (…) How I behave impacts not only on me, but also others around me because we all belong together.” Tutu’s words, found in his foundations’ website, could fit easily in this day.

A philosophy that held a country together

According to Tutu’s foundation, Ubuntu teaches to look beyond a person’s individuality. The Southern African philosophy emphasizes how to create better ways for people to get connected, to increase interdependence with each other and become better human beings.

Ubuntu held an important role during the post-apartheid period in South Africa, by holding together the country’s nation in the period of intense social turbulence.

“It is intangible, but visible”

Former nurse and charity-organization Life for Mother African Mothers founder Angela Gorman was the one chosen to explain Ubuntu philosophy at the group-discussion in Cardiff. She started her speech by giving her own example of life.

Ms Gorman discovered Ubuntu after watching a BBC Panorama program called ‘Dead Mums Don’t Cry’. The documentary showed the situation of women who were dying in Chad, Western Africa, by not having essential drugs to help them during their pregnancy period.

“If you stood and watched a woman dying, like I have, because she didn’t have fifty pence for medicines [in contrast of] we have so much here, it has to change you”, Ms Gorman said. That was the moment when she decided to create the non-governmental organization and raise funds for Chad’s pregnant women.

For participant Ephson Ngadya, 39, director of a Zimbabwean theatre company that was touring the UK, who knows the concept of Ubuntu almost by heart, the “create good-do good” idea is not a something to simply be transformed into a project, but is a brotherhood principle to be shared with everyone.

“[Ubuntu] is a lifestyle. It has all to do with our values, our beliefs. What is important for me is to mainstream Ubuntu in everything that we do. We are here to promote it amongst our children, amongst our community.

Good examples came from different parts of Wales. 16-year old students, David Silk and Rhiannon Phillips, came from Brecon to Cardiff not only to meet Tutu, but also to talk about their initiatives started in their town.

“[Ubuntu] is about communities coming together. If tomorrow these people go out and smile to someone at the street, if they talk to someone at the checkout queue, and if it makes difference to one person, it was worth it. We’re going to whatever we can insure to that this [Tutu’s] visit has a legacy”, said Ms Gorman.

Tutu’s words can summarize what gatherings like this one, means to society. “If this world is going to become a better place, is not going to happen because someone falls down from heaven, it’s going to happen because of [common] people, who want to make this a more gentle, more caring and more sharing world.”

Friday, 10 August 2012

Time to accept that GM crops have their place

by Martin Pollard
Chief Executive, WCIA

Of all the articles of faith drawn up by environmentalists – many of which I share – it is surely their passionate opposition to genetically modified food that has achieved the most success in recent times.

That is the case in the European Union, anyway, where regulations on labelling, traceability and control are tighter than anywhere else in the world. Approvals for new GM products are rare, with a lack of support among member states meaning that “MON 810” maize is the only GM food cultivated commercially in the EU. GM food remains verboten under organic farming standards. Wherever scientists dare to conduct trials of new modified crops –however well controlled – the activists gather.

I am under no illusion that producing GM foods is completely safe, easy or free of negative consequences. Clearly, tight regulation is needed – as in any developing scientific field – to ensure that research is not open to over-eagerness or, worse, damaging exploitation by commercial concerns. But it is the inflexibility of many environmentalists’ approach that worries me. The clear overtone of “No GM, no matter what” is anti-scientific and anti-progressive. Instead, I am arguing that our attitude towards GM should be a cautious “yes”: yes to honest, hard-working science; yes to GM making its contribution to food security and climate change adaptation; and, of course, yes to all of the controls and regulations that are needed to make this process rigorous and effective. (The recent ban on GM trials in India reminds us of the importance of a tight regulatory system.)

It is not as if we Europeans can easily shield ourselves from GM products in any case. Meat-eaters, take note: it is estimated that 85% of the animal feed used in Europe contains unlabelled GM material. In a globalised food chain, only the most self-sufficient eaters will ever know exactly what they are eating.

But I also find it hard to understand why we are so insistent on shielding ourselves in the first place. The United States, India, China and others plant GM crops as a matter of course. One recent Chinese study showed that GM cotton crops benefit the environment, with reduced use of pesticides leading to a recovery in biodiversity in fields. And the use of GM technology in this way now appears to be supported by the British public, undermining the regularly claimed obstacle that “no-one wants GM here”.

In other areas of the world, particularly in drought-affected developing economies, GM may provide an important part of the solution to food insecurity. This is not to say that it is the only answer, or the most important one. But as the Kenyan Harvard professor Calestous Juma points out, we need all the solutions we can lay our hands on: “It doesn’t make sense to reduce the size of the toolbox when the challenges are expanding.” Another Kenyan, Felix M’mboyi, notes that European criticism of GM comes “with the luxury of a full stomach”.

Oxfam draws our attention to a number of key challenges in global food security, including the trade system, women’s participation, climate change and sustainable agriculture. GM food is not the solution to many of these issues, but it is one potential solution to some of them. At present, there is little opportunity to access GM crops for the small-scale farmers whose livelihoods are most threatened by the current challenges. Managed carefully by the international community, and with effective controls on markets, this could change.

Campaigners cite the ‘precautionary principle’ when fighting GM science, claiming that researchers should prove that GM crops are not harmful before they are allowed to proceed. But what happens when that principle comes up against the hard reality that our food resources are under greater demographic, economic and environmental pressure than ever before? When do we accept that while there might be some negative consequences of this technology – no matter how hard we strive to forestall them – the positive consequences might be greater?

There have certainly been failures, both scientific and ethical, in the GM trials and commercial arrangements conducted so far. But the history of scientific endeavour shows us that it is sensible to try harder to make things work, rather than to stop trying altogether.