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December 29, 2012

How to Make the World a Better Place – Get Involved!

GirlUp logoAs we approach the New Year, it is important to think about how young people can become more involved as global citizens interested in global issues and their solutions. As a Teen Advisor for Girl Up, a United Nations Foundation campaign raising funds and awareness for UN programs that benefit girls, I have talked to countless teenagers about their role in making the world a better place for all. Many are unsure about where to begin or do not think that they can make a difference, but I believe that they simply do not understand how easy it can be. Here are four actions that anyone, but especially teenagers, can take to help create lasting change:

1.      Educate yourself. Read up on issues that you care about to be as knowledgeable as possible. Nicholas Kristof’s regular column in the New York Times is a good place to start for the latest information on international as well as domestic issues.  His book and documentary, Half the Sky, is a powerful way to learn about global issues affecting girls and women.
girl up stop child marriage logo2.      Advocate.  Make your voice heard! Meet with your elected officials to discuss pending legislation that matters to you, or send them an e-mail or letter. Don’t feel intimidated about meeting with your congressperson—they love to hear from their constituents, especially young people. The bill that I am passionate about is H.R. 6087 which lays out the U.S. plan for helping to end child marriage in foreign countries, and I plan to meet with my representative to discuss her support for it.
3.      Spread the word. Use social media to raise awareness about causes you care about. Tweets, Facebook status, and other posts have the potential to reach hundreds of people and take only seconds to write.
4.      Host an event. Don’t be intimidated—events don’t have to be elaborate or hard to plan. Ask a local restaurant to host a Charity Night where they give a certain percentage of one night’s profit to your organization. Alternatively, host a screening of a relevant documentary at your house or school and donate the admission fee.

The number of young people has never been higher, so we can be key allies in creating lasting peace in the world. Whether teenagers or young adults, I firmly believe that if we join together to make a difference in our own future, 2013 will be a watershed year for youth’s involvement in sustainable global peace.

December 27, 2012

Palestine’s Membership at the International Criminal Court: What It Could Mean for Israel

palestine hillsIntroduction

With Resolution A/67/L.28 on the Status of Palestine at the United Nations having been passed with an overwhelming majority at the General Assembly on November 29, 2012, the Palestinian Authority’s status has been upgraded from a United Nations permanent observer entity to that of a non-member observer State. Although the Resolution does not necessarily mean that all States, including the nine that voted against the Resolution and the forty one that abstained, must now recognize Palestine as a State, it does mean that Palestine will have access to United Nations and agencies, including the International Criminal Court.

For many observers, this has been hailed as a great triumph for Palestine, and some commentators anticipate that Palestine will seek membership at the International Criminal Court in order to file claims against Israeli officials for the Gaza blockade, disproportionate attacks against and collective punishment of Palestinians, and the occupation of the West Bank. However, as will be shown below, seeking membership at the Court will prove to be a double-edged sword for Palestine. Israel will inevitably counterclaim against Palestinian officials, including members of Hamas responsible for intentional attacks against civilian targets in Israel.

Palestine’s Right to File Claims without Israel’s Consent

Under article 12 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (SICC), in order for the International Criminal Court to exercise jurisdiction, either: (i) the crime must have been committed in the territory of an International Criminal Court member State or on board a vessel or aircraft registered with a member State; (ii) the nationality of the accused must be with a member State; or (iii) the State in question must agree to jurisdiction. Israel is not a member State of the International Criminal Court. Therefore, the only way that Israeli officials could be tried by the Court would be if either Israel accepted the Court’s jurisdiction, which given Israel’s past conduct would be highly unlikely, or a crime over which the Court exercises jurisdiction is committed in the territory of an International Criminal Court member State or on board a vessel or aircraft registered with a member State. What this means is that if Palestine becomes a member State of the Court, which it may now do as a result of the recognition conferred by Resolution A/67/L.28, it could file claims against Israeli officials at the Court for crimes that occurred on Palestinian territory.

Palestine’s New Right— Robust as It Seems?

This sounds like a major shift in politics and relations of Israel and Palestine, since Palestine may now pursue Israeli officials before the International Criminal Court without Israel’s consent. It is so significant that some nations, including the United Kingdom, sought a commitment from Palestinian leaders that Palestine would not file a claim against Israel before the International Criminal Court as a precondition to voting for Resolution A/67/L.28. When the United Kingdom did not receive this commitment, it abstained from voting on the Resolution.

UN Intl Court of JusticeHowever, while Palestine’s potential International Criminal Court membership appears significant and, according to some commentators, it may significantly derail the Israel-Palestine peace process, the reality is that the Court will not likely play any important role in the relations between the two nations. Palestine is keenly aware if it were to join the International Criminal Court and file a claim against Israel, Israel would immediately retaliate with a counterclaim. Palestine would quickly find its membership with the Court to be a mixed blessing: Palestine would not only enjoy the right to bring actions before the Court but would also be vulnerable to actions brought against it. Of the claims over which the Court holds jurisdiction, one could make the argument that Palestine, through its Gaza Strip arm ruled by Hamas, is far more vulnerable to claims brought against it than is Israel.

For example, it would be difficult to characterize the blockade of the Gaza Strip or Israel’s disproportionate counterattacks as crimes falling under the Court’s jurisdiction, such as murder or extermination “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack” (art. 7.1 SICC). Israel would argue that the blockade and attacks were never aimed at civilians, but rather at Hamas militants who have repeatedly fired rockets into civilian areas of Israel. Other supposed crimes such as collective punishment of Palestinians and the settlements are, in the words of Kevin Jon Heller’s November 29, 2012, Opinio Juris commentary, “fraught with ambiguity and difficult to prove.”

Defending Against Israeli Claims

Palestine, in contrast, would encounter great difficulty defending against an Israeli claim that Hamas fired rockets directed at civilians in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, thus constituting crimes against humanity. If Israel could prove that rockets were fired indiscriminately at civilian targets, Palestinian leaders could be held guilty of violating the principle of distinction (discrimination), a key precept of international humanitarian law that requires parties to a conflict to distinguish between the civilian population and combatants in order to spare civilian populations and property.

Palestinian Fatah leadership could argue that rockets fired were under the exclusive control of Hamas, a non-state entity that neither represents the Palestinian people nor serves as the legitimate governmental authority of Palestine. However, such an argument would likely be futile. International criminal law over the last century has increasingly recognized non-state actors as potential violators of international law. There has been renewed and increasing interest in assigning responsibility and accountability to them for their actions. There has thus been a trend in both domestic as well as international law to find jurisdiction in such cases. Even the 1945 Charter of the International Military Tribunal (London Charter), which laid out the laws and procedures of the Nuremberg Tribunal that adjudicated crimes against the Nazi regime, could be read to apply to non-state actors. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda made clear that crimes committed by non-state actors could be adjudicated, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia went as far as even convicting a number of non-state actors for crimes against humanity.

Following this trend, the International Criminal Court allows prosecutions of individual non-state actors. In defining crimes against humanity, the Statute of the Court requires that attacks directed against any civilian population involve a course of conduct involving the multiple commission [of murder, extermination, enslavement, etc.] against any civilian population, pursuant to or in furtherance of a State or organizational policy to commit such attack” (art. 7.2 SICC). Thus, by including “organizational policy,” the Statute of the Court can be read to include acts by organizations, such as insurrection movements or other groups such as Hamas that may not have a clear nexus with state action.

Conclusion

The General Assembly’s upgrade of Palestine from observer entity to non-member observer State is more complicated than would seem at first glance. Although the upgrade will grant Palestine new rights under international law, the exercise of at least some of these rights, including the filing of claims against Israeli officials before the International Criminal Court, could be more detrimental to Palestine than to Israel.

palestine sea of galilee

December 25, 2012

Heal the World: A Personal Reflection on the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting

sandy hook vigilIt was with numbing shock and great grief that, with my nine-month-old daughter clasped in my arms, I learned of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 14th. I followed the story with mute keenness and baffled interest for the next three days. The tragedy visited upon the small town of Newtown, CT, was unspeakable and the pain untold.  As more information streamed in on the news, I just clutched my baby girl closer, transfixed in horror.

Fast rewind to December 5th: I was visiting with a friend and colleague in Wheeling, WV, when Father Bekeh suggested a visit to some of the kids at the school that he oversees as part of the Catholic establishment in Bentwood, WV. We visited almost all of the classes and found that the five-year-olds were the most fun. When we asked them how old they were, one piped up, “We all five!” And then one of them with an unusually deep voice for a five-year-old joined saying, “I’m almost five!” Some of them even went ahead to venture a guess at my age, coming up with the opinion that I was about sixty or sixty-one years-old, and one of them wanted to know if I was Father Bekeh’s dad! At that moment I realized that I was probably teaching the wrong age group in my current role as an Instructor at a University.

But the best part was when my colleagues and I went to the gym and found a few of the students on stage industriously preparing for a Christmas play. Since I’m a great music enthusiast, this was the most enlivening part of our impromptu tour. At one point, I was so enthused that I jumped in and learned the moves as the children danced along. Again I found myself thinking that I should probably stop teaching university kids and become an elementary teacher, and I shared this with my colleagues.

sandy hook griefSo, when news of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting broke, my mind naturally turned to the loveable little people that I had met just over a week before. In our brief interaction, the light of each little child’s unique character and personality shone through.  With each one, I guessed to myself what she or he might grow up to be, thinking “This little child could grow up to be a great actor or this one will be a great leader someday, and this little one might be a famous sportscaster who will give Bob Costas a run for his money,” and I thought on about their potential futures, “…a winning NFL player, …a ballerina, …an opera singer….” Who would ever even hurt, much less murder in cold blood such little angels? What was the unjustifiable and dark “reason”? Why? Questions on top of hard questions without answers filled my mind.

Some of these questions, already asked about similar recent mass shootings, were under discussion on the Piers Morgan news commentary show for two or so consecutive days before the unimaginable, tragic event in Newtown, Connecticut. I am not a US citizen and do not even dare add my voice to what seems to be an intractable historical issue that is enshrined in the constitution. However, I tried to learn more about the “gun culture” in the U.S. that comes up each time one of these terrible incidents occurs.  Besides covering the worrying statistics about how many guns there are in the U.S. (including that 70% of NFL football players carry guns), Piers Morgan’s interview of Bob Costas included the primary justification given by gun owners in the U.S. for having a gun (or more than one) in the home—their guns are used for hunting and the protection of home and family.

Obama sandy hook memorialI laud President Barack Obama’s strongly worded speech in Newtown delivered at one of the saddest moments in U.S. national history, the memorial service for the 26 innocents who lost their lives: “We will have to change. We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.” Obama promised to use whatever power available to him in the Office of the President to engage citizens, from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like Newtown, CT; Oak Creek, WI; Aurora, CO; and Tucson, AZ. Obama has lived up to this promise already by promptly setting up a task force (in less than a week) to work on proposals for the reform of firearm laws to be led by vice-president Joe Biden. This is a good start as talk, many words, and much debate about guns following mass shootings begin to be transformed into concrete and constructive legislative action.

Law reforms will go a long way to curb such gruesome events, but as the president said, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in society. That’s an infallible truth. But it is also true that Hollywood and gaming violence sells. Social militarization and regimentation of young people, even young children, is alive and well in our world today. Coincidentally, while writing this piece and listening to an assortment of oldies collected from YouTube, Gil Scott-Heron’s Work for Peace video started to play. The video illustrates my point.  Some of the images that caught my eye in the last half of the video include a young Arab kid in military fatigues posing with a semi-automatic gun; two Caucasian kids with what looks like an AK-47; a girl who could be from Somalia holding a pistol above another girl’s head; an Asian kid adjusting something in a pistol; an Indian/Pakistani kid being helped by an adult to hold a revolver; Monk children admiring a pistol and so on. As children, we are taught that war is play: rat-a-tat-tat, children chase each other mocking the sounds of gunshots. War is accepted as normal human behavior as evidenced by the innocent children and adults struggling to escape a war-torn Syria.

So beyond disarming crazed and disturbed hands, we have to heal humanity’s collective psyche. This will mean a sociological and psychological revolution of sorts: a massive healing of the mind and soul. While this may be realistically and practically impossible, we can sow the seed today. If war is taught, why not teach our children about Peace and call it non-violent conflict resolution?  Why not elevate mediation skills to the top of the curriculum starting early in elementary school?  And why not build rewards into the study and practice of non-violence in all parts of life that are commensurate with the goal—non-violent conflict resolution in every family, every community, every country, and in the entire world. That is how we should demonstrate that we care for our children.

What Faith Can Do

We can disarm our neighborhoods with loving care and a warm sense of community and togetherness. For sorely needed words of comfort and inspiration, I suggest a song from Kutless entitled What Faith Can Do.  My thoughts are with the parents who lost their children, people who lost loved ones, and Newtown, a small town that lost the intangible sense of safety in a hail of bullets from a legally purchased and registered, private citizen-owned firearm.  To those whose grief is profound, to them I say you’re not alone.

sandy hook candlelight vigil

December 20, 2012

We Pray for Peace

This video is about our responsibility to pray for peace in all our endeavors. It is unfortunate to note that until we experience war that leaves children and women homeless and dreams shattered, we can rarely appreciate the value of peace. Must war take place before we appreciate and treasure peace?

Encourage others to pray for peace.  Please share this video with the world at large.

We Pray for Peace – Jozeph King

Blessings now and always.

Shalom,
Jozeph King

December 9, 2012

Finding a Measure of Peace

Can we measure the peacefulness of the world?  And beyond that, estimate the impact of conflict on the global economy?  On first consideration, these seem like impossible tasks.  After all, the drivers of human conflict are varied and complex.  But one organization–using a tool called the Global Peace Index–has set about to do both.

The Global Peace Index (GPI) is an attempt to measure the relative position of nations’ and regions’ peacefulness. It is the product of Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) and developed in consultation with an international panel of peace experts from peace institutes and think tanks with data collected and collated by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The list was launched first in May 2007, and has been published each spring since that time. The study attempts to rank countries around the world according to their peacefulness. The index currently ranks 158 countries, up from 121 in 2007. The study is the creation of Australian entrepreneur Steve Killelea and is endorsed by individuals such as Kofi Annan, the Dalai Lama, archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, economist Jeffrey Sachs, former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, and former US president Jimmy Carter.

About the Global Peace Index – from Visions for Humanity

The Global Peace Index takes into account 23 factors.  Factors examined by the authors of the index include both internal factors–such as levels of violence and crime within the country–and external factors–such as a country’s  military expenditure, its relations with neighboring countries and the level of respect for human rights. The index is showcased each year at events in London, Washington DC, Brussels and the United Nations in New York.

2012-Global_Peace_IndexAn article in The Guardian compared the 2012 Global Peace Index with 2011 and found the following:

  • Somalia is the least peaceful country at 158th position and with a score of 3.392. Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo make up the bottom five
  • There has been change for the the indicators as well. The top three largest improvements have been for the Political Terror Scale, terrorist acts and military expenditure as a % of GDP
  • Iceland has remained at the top spot as the most peaceful country in the world, after dropping in the rankings in 2009 and 2010 because of violent demonstrations linked to the collapse of its financial system
  • Sub-Saharan Africa is no longer the least peaceful region in the world, for the first time since the GPI began
  • The US moved from 82 to 88

One of the most interesting aspects of the Global Peace Index, is its estimate of the “peace dividend” – the added economic value if we had lived in a world totally at peace in 2011.  This year’s estimate: $9 trillion.  In addition to the human suffering that a world in conflict

You can explore the Global Peace Index yourself, by downloading the spreadsheet containing the GPI information, or using the interactive map on the Vision of Humanity website.

December 7, 2012

Culture’s Role in the Art of Peace-Building and Reconciliation

Aspen Cultural Diplomacy Forum From 22 to 24 October 2012, International Christian University (ICU) hosted the “2012 Aspen Cultural Diplomacy Forum” on its verdant campus in Tokyo, Japan. The Forum was cosponsored by ICU, the Aspen Institute and the Japan ICU Foundation (JICUF) and formed part of ICU’s 60th Anniversary Project. The three-day event, the first ever of its type on the ICU campus, centered on discussion among over ninety specialists and intellectuals from twenty-two countries worldwide. The Forum dealt with the role culture plays in “the Art of Peace-Building and Reconciliation,” which served as the central theme of the three day event. The format was designed specifically to encourage participation of the diverse participants through candid discussions of difficult issues in the field of cultural diplomacy, particularly within the Asia-Pacific region.

Sadako OgataEntering its 5th year, the Aspen Cultural Diplomacy Forum has been established as the world’s premier cultural diplomacy event. It is convened by the Aspen Institute Global Initiative on Culture and Society in collaboration with partners who contribute to its scope and mission. The inaugural Forum was hosted in Paris in 2008 by the Aspen Institute and the Arts Arena of the American University of Paris under the dual themes of “Culture in Conflict” and “Culture on the Move”. The 2011 reiteration of the Forum—the Creative Arts World Summit— was co-hosted in Oman by the Aspen Institute and the Royal Opera House Muscat to explore various artistic and cultural trends.

Among the participants of the Forum at ICU, two in particular were especially highly-esteemed. Madame Sadako Ogata, special advisor to the President, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), spoke about her extensive experiences regarding the development of the concept of Human Security as the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees and president of JICA. She also focused on Japan’s future and its relationship with such neighboring nations as China and South Korea. She expressed her hope that students would work to be more actively involved in the world outside Japan and step up to take important roles in society and politics. Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria, spoke about his country’s transition from a colonial state to independence and recalled his own role in the transition’s subsequent civil wars, democratization and stabilization.

The Forum also involved discussion on ways to strengthen peace-building work through reducing propaganda and widely accepted cultural prejudices, removing negative labels attached to regions and races, and looking not for differences but commonalities among humans. Each day of the Forum brought large numbers of students hoping to become involved in peace-building and diplomacy, including a number of the Rotary International Peace Fellows on campus. Both Japanese and international, graduate and undergraduate students alike were able to meet the participants and integrate themselves fully into the three day Forum. With such a significant Cultural Diplomacy Forum on the ICU campus, especially dealing with such a variety of contemporary issues in the Asia-Pacific and beyond, the seeds for a more peaceful future were sown.