Posts Tagged NGOs

Another Victory for NGOs in the International Legal System: The Cluster Bomb Ban

Good news this weekend: the Convention on Cluster Munitions, signed by 107 States and ratified by 38 as of today, has entered into force today. It is now binding international law. But it is also a great victory for non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the confirmation of a recent trend: the influential role civil society is starting to play in the elaboration of international law.

First of all, a few words on the Convention on Cluster Munitions. It was negotiated in Dublin in May 2008 following a diplomatic conference on Cluster Munitions, attended then by 127 States, and signed in December of the same year in Oslo. The purpose of the Convention is to ban the use of cluster bombs, a specific type of anti-personnel weapon that disperse large numbers of either explosive submunitions or bomblets over an entire area (see the ICRC Cluster Munition FAQ or the New York Times Cluster Munition Page for more information on cluster bombs), the military purpose being to “contaminate” the area and make it unusable by the enemy forces.

As you probably can imagine, it can raise depending on its use some major issues with regard to international humanitarian law, as it seems almost fundamentally incompatible with the principle of distinction between combatant (essentially military) and non-combatant  (civilian) targets. It is hard to imagine it being used in an exclusively military zone that will never be used again by civilians, especially considering that these cluster bombs can still go off 30-40 years after being dropped, killing or mutilating civilians by accident. According to the Cluster Munition Coalition, one third of all recorded cluster munitions casualties are children, and 60% of the casualties are injured while undertaking their normal activities. These bombs are still in use by a certain number of conflicts in the world today, including the United States in Iraq in 2003, Israel in Lebanon in 2006, as well as by both sides in the Russian-Georgian conflict of 2008. Read the rest of this entry »


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Latest News on Conflict Minerals – Victory in U.S. Congress

After writing about Congo’s conflict minerals and NGOs such as the Enough! Project‘s efforts to alert public opinion, good news recently came out of the United States Congress.

From the Enough! Project’s website:

Today, Congo activists, U.S. consumers, and the people of Congo won an incredible victory against long odds. Congress passed the Wall Street reform bill with the inclusion of a key provision on conflict minerals. The conflict minerals language requires companies that use tin, tungsten, tantalum, or gold in their products to file a disclosure report with the Securities and Exchange Commission detailing whether these materials originated in Congo or its adjoining countries. And thanks to you, the bill requires companies to audit these reports to actually prove whether they are sourcing from conflict mines or not.

While passage of the conflict minerals provision is not a cure-all for completely ending the war in Congo, it is a huge step forward. This new law – once it is signed by President Obama – begins to eliminate the source of funding that allows armed militias to continue to terrorize and humiliate communities, cause countless deaths, and commit widespread sexual violence and rape.

While the fight is not over, activists should be very proud of this impressive victory and deserve to relish in this moment. Across the United States, Congo activists, members of the diaspora, and concerned consumers – the growing movement across America that sees the urgency in ending the world’s deadliest war – rallied around the passage of this legislation. They overran the Facebook pages of elected officials, followed up with phone calls, met face-to-face with their representatives, and called on industry leaders to clean up their supply chain.  Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Russ Feingold (D-WI), Representatives Jim McDermott (D-WA), Howard Berman (D-CA), and Donald Payne (D-NJ), Chairmen Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Barney Frank (D-MA), and many other brave members of Congress also deserve special praise for taking a major step to ending the neglected conflict in eastern Congo. These are just some examples of the creative advocacy that has helped elevate the issue of conflict minerals to reach today’s tipping point.

From the day President Obama signs the bill, the Securities and Exchange Commission will have nine months to promulgate regulations implementing the new law. It will be up to us to ensure that these regulations are as strong as possible. While the jewelry and manufacturing lobbyists were caught off guard by the conflict minerals language and weighed in too late to remove the language, you can be sure industries will fight to make sure the regulations implementing the law are as weak as possible. As this story continues to develop, we’ll be coming to you with new ways of getting engaged. Please stick with us.

Congratulations on today’s exciting victory!

Good news indeed.

A little reminder video on what’s wrong with conflict minerals and consumer electronics:

UPDATE: A nice piece about this in Newsweek: The Genocide Behind Your Smartphone.

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Talking to the Enemy in the “War on Terror”: Treason or Reason?

On June 21st, 2010, the United States Supreme Court in the decision Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project upheld in a 6 to 3 decision federal statute 18 USC § 2339B(a)(1) that criminalizes “material assistance and resources” to groups considered to be terrorist organizations. “Material assistance and resources,” as understood by the federal statute, is defined in 18 USC § 2339A as:

any property, tangible or intangible, or service, including currency or monetary instruments or financial securities, financial services, lodging, training, expert advice or assistance, safehouses, false documentation or identification, communications equipment, facilities, weapons, lethal substances, explosives, personnel (1 or more individuals who may be or include oneself), and transportation, except medicine or religious materials; (emphasis is mine)

Presented that way, there’s nothing that seems abnormal, in particular from an American point of view in the context of the “War on Terror.” I should also note for the sake of thoroughness that, by federal statute, it is up to the State Department to decide which group is or is not a terrorist organization, and that such a decision is open to judicial review.

The problem in the Holder decision is that the Supreme Court considers that teaching terrorist groups about international law and means to resolve conflicts in a non-violent manner can be considered as “material assistance,” as it amounts to “training” and “expert advice or assistance.”

The Humanitarian Law Project, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Rutherford Institute, had pleaded that the federal statute was too vague and that it infringed on its First Amendment rights, to no avail. The majority opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, considers in its conclusion (p. 35-36) that:

The Preamble to the Constitution proclaims that the people of the United States ordained and established that charter of government in part to “provide for the common defence.” As Madison explained, “[s]ecurity against for­eign danger is . . . an avowed and essential object of the American Union.” The Federalist No. 41, p. 269 (J. Cooke ed. 1961). We hold that, in regulating the particular forms of support that plaintiffs seek to provide to foreign terror­ ist organizations, Congress has pursued that objective consistent with the limitations of the First and Fifth Amendments.

For’s summary of the decision, see here.

This decision poses several problems to NGOs and individuals who enter in contact with groups that are considered to be terrorist organizations in attempts to resolve peacefully conflicts. A particularly interesting Op-Ed piece was published in the New York Times yesterday, written by two academics, Scott Atran and Robert Axelrod, which discusses past experiences, some of them their own, in talking and exchanging with terrorist groups in hope of advancing towards peace, and how that has known some failures, but also some successes. I found their conclusion to be particularly interesting:

It’s an uncomfortable truth, but direct interaction with terrorist groups is sometimes indispensable. And even if it turns out that negotiation gets us nowhere with a particular group, talking and listening can help us to better understand why the group wants to fight us, so that we may better fight it. Congress should clarify its counterterrorism laws with an understanding that hindering all informed interaction with terrorist groups will harm both our national security and the prospects for peace in the world’s seemingly intractable conflicts.

Talking to terrorist organizations is – as the Supreme Court majority opinion and dissenting opinion, as well as Scott Atran and Robert Axelrod’s account prove – open to debate, but in certain cases, it is necessary. Terrorism, whether domestic or international, is for the majority of people not an end in itself. Terrorism thrives on poverty, frustration, hopelessness and despair. Refusing to talk at least to the most moderate members of such groups in the hope of bringing them into peace discussions, and criminalizing the teaching of international law and peaceful dispute resolution to such members, seems completely absurd, not to mention counter-productive.

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