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Human Rights Abuses in Syria including CW

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It is incontrovertible that human rights abuses against civilians in Syria have been perpetrated by both Assad and radical elements of the rebel forces.

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria set up by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 have said that war crimes have been committed by both sides over the last two years but the majority of incidents that have been reported to them have been by victims of gross violations of their human rights perpetrated by the Syrian government or their allied ‘ghost’ militias (Shabiha).

FIDH findings were that war crimes on both sides

Even as early as January this year, the Tunisan, Souhayr Belhassen, female President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) based in Paris has called for UN action to stop these human rights violations and to bring those responsible to justice via the International Criminal Court (ICC). FIDH, established over 90 years ago, is the peak international body for human rights with over 178 member organizations in 100 countries. FIDH has a consultative status before the United Nations. FIDH sends in fact finders into the affected areas, assists victims of human rights abuse by referring their cases to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, in the Netherlands or regional human rights courts and uses its influence to mobilize the international community to uphold the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She said ““Peace in Syria can only be effective if those most responsible for the most serious crimes -whatever their affiliation- face justice. The future of Syria can only be built on a strong fight against impunity” [1]

What has taken the world community so long to implement this sensible recommendation? Why has President Obama been selective or dismissive in his assessment of the UN and FIDH findings and recommendations? Moreover, why has the US Administration not mentioned, disregarded, or failed to give the same ‘red line’ ultimatums to the rebels in the light of highly probative independent findings in Turkey and Syria, that Al-Nusra Front (a significant player in the rebel opposition camp)have access to Sarin gas?

Turkish government/UN findings sarin gas in hands of some extremists within rebel forces

In May this year 12 Syrian militants from Al-Nusra were arrested in Isatmbul, and three southern provinces in Turkey on terrorism charges for possession of sarin gas cylinders. [2]

The latter report also suggested that the rebels had used chemical weapons in Khan al-Assal Northern Aleppo in March/April 2013 which killed at least 27 people. UN inspectors were apparently invited at the time to investigate. In a BBC article on 6 May 2013, “Testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests rebels have used the nerve agent, sarin, a leading member of a UN commission of inquiry has said” [3]

Carla Del Ponte, prominent member of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in relation to the March/April 2013 use of sarin gas said that the first use of chemical weapons in Syria that the Commission investigated, appeared to have been by the rebels:

“Our investigators have been interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals. According to their report of last week, which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated. I was a little bit stupefied by the first indications we got … they were about the use of nerve gas by the opposition,”. … “Chemical weapons particularly nerving gas were used….used by opponents of the government, the rebels…we have no indication at all …that the Syrian government …have used chemical weapons…but special UN Commission need to investigate this

See Carla Del Ponte TV interviews wherein she says Sarin was used by rebels:

[4] www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdcEjjOvniU&feature=youtu.be

[5] www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvH435WWhO0

In a BBC article on 6 May 2013, “Testimony from victims of the conflict in Syria suggests rebels have used the nerve agent, sarin, a leading member of a UN commission of inquiry has said” [6]  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22424188 ]

Carla Del Ponte is a well-respected lawyer and was a former Swiss Attorney General, prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). She would not make such statements lightly. It certainly casts reasonable doubt on US claims that only Assad’s regime has access to and used chemical weapons.

Chemical Weapons

There are a vast array of chemical weapons. Some are lethal and others like ‘tear gas’ are not.

“Tear gas comes in many forms: pepper spray (OC gas), CS gas, CR gas, CN gas (phenacyl chloride), nonivamide, bromoacetone, xylyl bromide, syn-propanethial-S-oxide (from onions), and Mace (a branded mixture).Lachrymatory agents are commonly used for riot control. Their use as chemical warfare agents is prohibited by various international treaties.”[7]

Most lethal chemical weapons have been now banned by most members of the international community (however, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons have not yet received the same universal condemnation and treatment).

“The most dangerous of these are

  1. nerve agents are organo-phosphates such as Tabun (GA), Sarin (GB), Soman (GD), Cyclosarin (GF) and V-series of nerve agents (VX) [ note VX has the texture and feel of motor oil, causes violent contractions of the muscles and then death by asphyxiation) , and
  2. vesicant (blister) agents which are formulations of sulphur mustard such as H, HT, and HD.

All are liquids at normal room temperature, but become gaseous when released”[8]

These chemical weapons are unitary weapons which are lethal chemical munitions which produce a toxic result in their existing state without having to be mixed with other chemicals.

Nerve agents work by chemically blocking an enzyme in the nervous system thus disrupting the mechanism by which nerves transfer messages to organs.

“Poisoning by a nerve agent leads to contraction of pupils, profuse salivation, convulsions, involuntary urination and defecation, and eventual death by asphyxiation as control is lost over respiratory muscles. Some nerve agents are readily vaporized or aerosolized and the primary portal of entry into the body is the respiratory system. Nerve agents can also be absorbed through the skin, requiring that those likely to be subjected to such agents wear a full body suit in addition to a respirator…. Survivors of nerve agent poisoning almost invariably suffer chronic neurological damage. This neurological damage can also lead to continuing psychiatric effects.” [9]

The majority of the chemical weapon stockpiles are of the unitary type and most of it is stored in one-ton bulk containers.

These are to be contrasted to binary munitions such as the US developed M687 which contain two, unmixed and isolated chemicals (e.g. methylphosphonyl difluoride (DF ) and isopropyl alcohol and amine OPA) which do not react to produce Sarin’s lethal effects until mixed. This usually happens just prior to battlefield use.) [10]

“Even at very low concentrations, sarin can be fatal because it is 500 times more toxic than cyanide. Death may follow in one minute after direct ingestion of a lethal dose unless antidotes, typically atropine and pralidoxime, are quickly administered…A person’s clothing can release sarin for about 30 minutes after it has come in contact with sarin gas, which can lead to exposure of other people…. People who absorb a non-lethal dose but do not receive immediate appropriate medical treatment may suffer permanent neurological damage. Sarin degrades after a period of several weeks to several months.” Because Sarin (GB) decomposes quickly to form non-toxic Phophonic acid (especially in a high pH environment), it is usually used militarily in a binary weapon and not in its pure form. [11]

Sarin Gas (GB) was developed by the Germans the 30’s in preparation for WWII but not used until Iraq (at the time it was an ally of the US) against Iran and then its own Kurdish population in the 80’s. It was also used by a Japanese militant sect in the Tokyo metro system in 1995. It was used again in Syria in March/April and August 2013. However other gases were used by the Germans during the war to exterminate Jews, Slavs and other opponents of the Nazi regime, and by the Japanese in Manchuria. [12]

Once used, there are some countermeasures and medicines that can assist a victim which include:

  1. Atropine which is often loaded in an auto-injector/Mark 1 NAAK/ATNAA and once in the blood stream clears the lungs (this drug is a poison but is fast acting, and
  2. 2-PAM chloride, reactivates the poisoned enzyme (which is safer than atropine but takes longer to act). [13]

In 1989, after the use by Iraq of chemical weapons, the Australia Group (so called because it was an initiative of Australia) was formed by most OECD countries, European Commission, EU, Ukraine and Argentina. “These countries agree to maintain export controls on a uniform list of 54 compounds, including several that are not prohibited for export under the Chemical Weapons Convention, but can be used in the manufacture of chemical weapons” [14]

1993: Convention on the prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and on their destruction (the ‘CWC’, or the ‘Convention’) aims to eliminate an entire category of weapons of mass destruction (WMD: see UN Resolution 687) by prohibiting the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer or use of chemical weapons by States Parties and the safe destruction of such WMD and declaring information to and allowing inspection by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW): [15]

In the 1990’s senior ranking al-Qaeda operative, Syrian born, Abu Musab Al Suri (aka known as Umar Abd al-Hakim and Mustafa Setmariam Nasar and Abu Rida al Suri) ran two of Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist training camps in Afghanistan including Khalden and the notorious Darunta camp, where he developed and experimented with chemical weapons. Detainees at Guantanamo such as al Malki and Saed Khatem confirmed that al Qaeda had a chemical weapons capability as early as 1995 and in fact ran a two week training course on chemical poisons at the Darunta camp. (Unclassified Guantanamo reports leaked by Wikileaks) [16] Commission Report Chapter 4 and Global Security referencing of the Department of Homeland Security assessment that there was as early as 1993 some confidence to high confidence that al-Qaeda sought or had WMD capability. [17]

Al Qaeda’s experiments with chemical weapons is well documented, even CNN published a story in 2002 which they claimed to have acquired documents in the bombed out ruins of the Darunta camp in Nangarhar Afghanistan showing chemical formulas for sarin and a series of mud and stone buildings, to chemical testing. Most revealing of all were videotapes showing al Qaeda experiments poisoning dogs with chemical weapons. CNN had the video tapes watched by experts such as John Gilbert (CW specialist Science Applications International Corp) and David Kay ( UN weapons inspector in Iraq) who said they were horrified to see that al Qaeda had CW capability. “David Kay said he was convinced “above a reasonable doubt” that the gas on the tape is a nerve agent, possibly an improvised nerve agent or possibly Sarin.” [18]

Abu Musab Al Suri is also associated with various Al Qaeda and Salafist insurgents in Syria including Jammat e Jihal al Suri. [19]

In 2007 Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi/Dr Ibrahim/Abu Dua carried out a chlorine gas attack in Iraq. [20]

It is most likely that Abu Musab Al Suri and the chemical weapons expertise he has is now under the umbrella of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (Syria) which has now operationally merged with Jabhat al-Nusra.

Syria has never been a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention and so has been developing, producing and stockpiling chemical weapons containing Sarin gas, mustard gas and VX gas for decades. However, they are a signatory to the 1925 Geneva Protocol(to the Hague Convention) for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare which has been ratified and is part of Syrian law. [21]

In any case, under customary international humanitarian law, the use of chemical is prohibited and is a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court 1998 in so far as international conflicts are concerned and is arguably relevant to civil wars (either directly as per Article 70 of the Lieber Instructions adopted in the American Civil War or by necessary implication that use of chemical weapons or any other weapons for that matter against civilians would be in breach of Article 8: 2) c) (i) and 2) e) (i) ). [22]

“Syria has an extensive chemical weapons program, and a variety of delivery methods: missiles, rockets, artillery shells, and air-dropped munitions. The country has been dependent on assistance in procuring important precursor chemicals and equipment from Russia, Egypt, West Germany, France, Iran, North Korea, and possibly other countries over a period of 20 years. Syria has been able to acquire an offensive chemical weapons capability that continues to be the regime’s strategic deterrent against Israel, and was rebuilding its chemical weapons capability in 2009, according to satellite images analysed by Jane’s Intelligence Review. Russia has delivered millions of protective masks to the Syrian military… The threat is clear and the consequences potentially a humanitarian disaster. Even if Syria’s chemical warfare agent production and storage facilities could be destroyed by air strikes, the downwind dispersal of the chemical agents or their combustion products could expose thousands of people to injury and death.” [23]

Conclusion and legal justification for justice

It is clear that it is not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Syrian government alone has used chemical weapons on civilians in Syria during the civil war (at least to May 2013). [We are yet to see the report by the UN Chemical Weapons inspectors in relation to the despicable chemical attacks in Damascus on 21 August 2013 which killed 1,429 people, mainly civilians including hundreds of children]. Nevertheless it is indisputable that the Syrian Government has committed War Crimes quite independently of any alleged use of chemical weapons by virtue of their shelling civilians with artillery.

For example in the Houla Region North of the city of Homs on 25 May 2012, the Syrain Army’s artillery strike that killed at least 20 people is on its own conceivably a war crime if the attack was aimed at or recklessly indifferent to civilian casualties.

See Article 8 The Rome Statute section 2 c) “In the case of an armed conflict not of an international character, serious violations of article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, namely, any of the following acts committed against persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention or any other cause: (i) Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture”; and also Article 8 The Rome Statute section 2 e) “Other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in armed conflicts not of an international character, within the established framework of international law, namely, any of the following acts: (i) Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities”.

As a result of the artillery barrage and the subsequent murders of another 88 civilians by the Ba’ath party (of which Bashar al-Assad is the Secretary General) militia the Shabiha, the UN Security Council unanimously condemned the Syrian government. On 28 and 29 May 12012, the U.S., U.K., Germany, Australia, France, Spain, Italy, Canada and five other nations jointly expelled Syrian ambassadors and diplomats from their territories….The Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr said the international response could include referrals to the International Criminal Court and imposing U.N. sanctions such as an arms embargo as well as financial and travel restrictions on identified individuals. In August 2012 UN investigators released a report which stated that it was likely that Syrian troops and Shabiha militia were responsible for the massacre. [24]

Furthermore actions by both the Syrian government and the rebels who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity can be targeted by nation states such as US, Britain or France using military sanctions proportionate to the responsibility to protect, , even without UN approval. According to Geoffrey Robertson QC, a prominent international criminal and human rights lawyer and judge who has argued landmark cases at the European Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights, and UN war crimes courts, said:

“The right to intervene, to stop a crime against humanity or deter a crime against humanity, has been with us for many centuries, and it predates the United Nations and it continued after the United Nations… long before the United Nations was created in 1945, Britain didn’t need world approval to attack foreign ports to stop the slave trade, or to lead a coalition to stop Ottoman Empire atrocities and liberate Greece…. NATO’s 1999 Kosovo bombing campaign halted ethnic cleansing of Albanians by Yugoslav forces but didn’t have Security Council authorization. The Independent International Commission on Kosovo later judged the campaign a “legitimate” use of military power”[25]

The Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on 23 August 2013 that “Any use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anybody, under any circumstances, would violate international law, (and would) would amount to a “crime against humanity”: [26]

“ It is the duty of every state to prosecute u=international crimes so as to prevent impunity for such crimes…. Regrettably, as it stands now, the only international crime explicitly related to chemical weapons which has been recognised by the international community is the war crime of the use of asphyxiating gas in international armed conflict. Given the nearly universal adherence to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, this limitation, which dates back to the 1925 Geneva Protocol, is outdated and needs to be addressed. Both the jurisprudence of the ICTY and the comprehensive study published by the International Committee of the Red Cross have concluded the customary international law prohibition, binding on all States, on the use of chemical weapons in international armed conflict (may) now extend to the use in non-international armed conflict as well.” [27]

Those individuals that have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity including use of chemical weapons seem to be on BOTH sides of the Syrian Civil War and therefore those individuals guilt of war crimes should, as the UN and FIDH have found and recommended, be prosecuted in the ICC if the UN Security Council can agree or specialist ad hoc international tribunals (such as the Nuremburg, Rwanda and Former Yugoslavian Tribunals) forthwith. As there may be political resistance at the Security Council level to refer the Syrian government to the ICC (Syria not being a party to the Statute of the ICC) and given the fact that most of the accusations are against the current government of the Syrian Arab Republic the preferable course would be an ad hoc international war crimes tribunal, because its jurisdiction will have primacy over domestic Syrian courts. [28]

“the UN Security Council must refer the situation in Syria to the ICC to investigate all parties to the conflict for crimes against humanity. If those most responsible for the international crimes committed in Syria are not brought to justice, this will be a tacit endorsement for escalating massacres and other international crimes. Any efforts towards a lasting political solution in Syria would be futile without ensuring accountability and justice. FIDH also calls on the international community to impose targeted sanctions against those individuals in Syria who are deemed most responsible for violations of international law, until these individuals can be tried in court. As some countries call for a military intervention in Syria, FIDH reminds the international community that the protection of the Syrian people from further atrocities must be at the centre of any action in Syria. All States must strictly abide by international law, in particular international human rights, humanitarian and criminal law, and be held accountable in case of grave breaches of such standards.”[29]

(The last two Reports by the official UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria dated 5th February (Fourth Report) and 4th June 2013 (Fifth Report) respectively are highly critical of the Assad regime but document atrocities and human rights violation by both sides in the Syrian civil war. The 5th UN Report waters down Carla Del Ponte findings/assertions that there was no evidence of chemical attacks by Assad’s government up to 15th May 2013 “by both parties” but requires “further investigation and justice for the victims…there can be no peace in Syria without justice.”)

Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic to the 23rd session of Human Rights Council 5th Report dated 4 June 2013 ( A/HRC/23/58 ) covers the period 15 January to 15 May 2013. The findings are based on 430 interviews and other collected evidence.          

“This report documents for the first time the systematic imposition of sieges, the use of chemical agents and forcible displacement. War crimes, crimes against humanity and gross human rights violations continue apace. Referral to justice remains paramount. … There are reasonable grounds to believe that chemical agents have been used as weapons. The precise agents, delivery systems or perpetrators could not be identified….136. As the conflict escalates, the potential for use of chemical weapons is of deepening concern. Chemical weapons include toxic chemicals, munitions, devices and related equipment as defined in the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and Their Destruction. Also applicable is the 1925 Geneva Protocol which Syria has ratified. The use of chemical weapons is prohibited in all circumstances under customary international humanitarian law and is a war crime under the Rome Statute…. 139… “

The 5th Report goes on to say that up to that point, the commission relied primarily on first-hand accounts to corroborate incidents, there were 4 previous chemical weapons attacks– on :

  1. Khan Al-Asal, Aleppo, on 19 March;
  2. Uteibah, Damascus, on 19 March;
  3. Sheikh Maqsood neighbourhood, Aleppo on 13 April, and
  4. Saraqib, Idlib, on 29 April.

– there are reasonable grounds to believe that limited quantities of toxic chemicals were used. It has not been possible, on the evidence available, to determine the precise chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrator…. 140. Conclusive findings – particularly in the absence of a large-scale attack – may be reached only after testing samples taken directly from victims or the site of the alleged attack. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that the Panel of Experts, led by Professor Sellström and assembled under the Secretary General’s Mechanism (SGM) for Investigation of Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons (pursuant to Resolution 42/37c of 1987 and Security Council Resolution 620 of 1988), is granted full access to Syria…on 28 March 2013, the Commission reiterated its requests (made several times since October 2012) for access to investigate human rights abuse to the Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic and no response was received.”[30]

The UN Security Council has not been able to achieve unanimity on a resolution to use lethal military force against the Syrian government (China and Russia are against the idea) [31]

However if a resolution calling for the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity to go to trial under the auspices of the ICC or ad hoc tribunal, there may well be agreement.

Whatever, individual states may choose to do militarily, they should all agree to such a UN resolution in the face of so many UN Reports. [32]

If individual countries feel compelled to take military action without UN sanction, such strikes may be lawful if they are done to protect civilians from the perpetrators of those crimes at international law and not for an ulterior purpose.

Alexander Athos

4 September 2013

Ref:

[1]         http://www.fidh.org/FIDH-calls-the-Security-Council-to-12709

 http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/30/us-syria-crisis-turkey-dUSBRE94T0YO20130530

[2]         http://rt.com/news/sarin-gas-turkey-al-nusra-021/

[3]        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22424188

[4]         http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TdcEjjOvniU&feature=youtu.be

[5]         http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvH435WWhO0

[6]         http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22424188 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carla_Del_Ponte

 http://www.policymic.com/articles/61295/media-tells-us-that-syria-used-chemical-weapon-but-look-what-the-un-says

[7]         http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tear_gas

[8]        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lethal_Unitary_Chemical_Agents_and_Munitions

[9]        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_weapon

[10]       http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Binary_chemical_weapon

[11]       http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarin

[12]       http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22307705

[13]       http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nerve_gas

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_I_NAAK

[14]      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australia_Group

[15]       http://www.opcw.org/chemical-weapons-convention/

 http://www.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/Treaty.xsp?action=openDocument&documentId=9D3CCA7B40638EF5C12563F6005F63C5

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_Weapons_Convention

[16]       http://caseclosedbylewweinstein.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/screen-shot-2011-04-27-at-9-08-14-am.png and  http://www.globalsecurity.org/security/profiles/reported_chemical_weapons_training_at_darunta.htm

[17]       http://www.globalsecurity.org/security/profiles/al-qaeda_seeks_wmd.htm

[18]       http://edition.cnn.com/2002/US/08/19/terror.tape.chemical/

[19]      http://www.globalsecurity.org/security/profiles/jamaat_e_jihal_al_suri.htm

[20]       http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/09/02/a-short-history-of-bio-chemical-weapons/

[22]

{Note: Article 8 of the Rome Statute War Crimes includes:

2 a)      Grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, namely, any of the following acts against persons or property protected under the provisions of the relevant Geneva Convention, relevantly:

(i) wilful killing (ii) torture (iii) wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health (iv) Extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly …(vii) Unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement

2 b)       Other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict, within the established framework of international law, namely, any of the following acts:

  1.             (i) Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities (ii) Intentionally directing attacks against civilian objects, that is, objects which are not military objectives…(iv) Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread…(v) Attacking or bombarding, by whatever means, towns, villages, dwellings or buildings which are undefended and which are not military objectives… (x) Killing or wounding treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army (xvii) Employing poison or poisoned weapons; (xviii) Employing asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and all analogous liquids, materials or devices…(xx) Employing weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering or which are inherently indiscriminate in violation of the international law of armed conflict, provided that such weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare are the subject of a comprehensive prohibition

2 c)      In the case of an armed conflict not of an international character, serious violations of article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, namely, any of the following acts committed against persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention or any other cause:

2 e)      Other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in armed conflicts not of an international character, within the established framework of international law, namely, any of the following acts:

  1. Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities;
  2. Intentionally directing attacks against buildings, material, medical units and transport, and personnel using the distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions in conformity with international law;

 http://untreaty.un.org/cod/icc/statute/99_corr/cstatute.htm

Note in relation to the Geneva Conventions, Protocols were added in 1977 and 2005 …

“They combine clear legal obligations and enshrine basic humanitarian principles.

• Soldiers who surrender or who are hors de combat are entitled to respect for their lives and their moral and physical integrity. It is forbidden to kill or injure them.

• The wounded and sick must be collected and cared for by the party to the conflict which has them in its power. Protection also covers medical personnel, establishments, transports and equipment. The emblem of the red cross, red crescent or red crystal is the sign of such protection and must be respected.

• Captured combatants are entitled to respect for their lives, dignity, personal rights and convictions. They must be protected against all acts of violence and reprisals. They must have the right to correspond with their families and to receive relief.

• Civilians under the authority of a party to the conflict or an occupying power of which they are not nationals are entitled to respect for their lives, dignity, personal rights and convictions.

• Everyone must be entitled to benefit from fundamental judicial guarantees. No one must be sentenced without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court. No one must be held responsible for an act he has not committed. No one must be subjected to physical or mental torture, corporal punishment or cruel or degrading treatment.

• Parties to a conflict and members of their armed forces do not have an unlimited choice of methods and means of warfare. It is prohibited to employ weapons or methods of warfare of a nature to cause unnecessary losses or excessive suffering.

• Parties to a conflict must at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants in order to spare civilian population and property. Adequate precautions shall be taken in this regard before launching an attack.”

 http://www.icrc.org/eng/war-and-law/overview-war-and-law.htm }

——–

[23]      http://defenceforumindia.com/syrian-crisis-chemical-weapons-451

[24]       http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houla_massacre

[25]      http://www.rferl.org/content/syria-intervention-legal-debate/25090615.html; see too:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-23847169.

[26]       http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45684#.UiYCOaVBOcw

{Article 7 of Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court:

‘Crime against humanity’ means any of the following acts when committed as

part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population,

with knowledge of the attack:

national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender … or other grounds that are universally

recognized as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act

referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court; …

 http://www.haguejusticeportal.net/Docs/HJJ-JJH/Vol_2(1)/Chemical_Warfare_%20as_genocide.pdf }

[27]      L. Tabassi and E. van der Borght Chemical Warfare as Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity HAGUE JUSTICE JOURNAL Vol 2 No 1 2007; pp20-21 and J. Henckaerts and L. Doswald-Beck, Customary International Humanitarian Law, Volume I: Rules, Cambridge University Press (2005), pp. 261-263.]

[28]       http://www.crimesofwar.org/a-z-guide/courts-and-tribunals/

[29]       http://www.fidh.org/escalating-crimes-in-syria-un-security-council-must-take-responsability-13892

[30]       http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/CoISyria/A-HRC-23-58_en.pdf

[31]       http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57600384/syria-resolution-authorizing-military-force-fails-in-u.n-security-council/

[32]      Notes on UN Reports:

Here is list of the five UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria (IICI) Reports relating to Human Rights in Syria. All the IICI Reports were based on 1,630 interviews conducted and Photographs, video recordings, satellite imagery and medical records were collected, Reports from Governments and non-Government sources, academic analyses, and United Nations reports, including from human rights bodies and mechanisms and humanitarian organizations, also formed part of the investigation since the mandate began in September 2011 :

For the period March 2011 to January 2013:

1st Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic  23rd Nov 2011  A/HRC/S-17/2/Add.1

2nd Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic22nd Feb 2012  A/HRC/19/69 

3rd Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic16th Aug 2012  A/HRC/21/50 

4th Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic  5th Feb2012    A/HRC/22/59 

For the period January 2013 to 15 May 2013:

5th Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic 4th June            2013   A/HRC/23/58 

It is worth mentioning that in addition to the Chemical Weapons use discussed herein, there were 17 massacres recorded over the last fourth month period to May 2013 alone. Many of these massacres were by Government forces or associated militias. However others were committed by rebel extremists such as the Usud Al-Tawhid Brigades and Al-Nusra via their self-styled Sharia Courts (para 38 et seq of the 5th Report).

Here is a brief summary of the major UN reports and documents relating to Human Rights in Syria:

22nd Mar 2011A/HRC/16/G/12                      Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic  

28th Apr 2011  A/HRC/S-16/L.1                       Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

4th May 2011   A/HRC/RES/S-16/1      Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

18th Aug 2011  A/HRC/S-17/L.1                       Grave human rights violations in the Syrian Arab Republic

2nd Sept 2011   A/HRC/WG.6/12/SYR/1          National report Syrian Arab Republic

5th Sept 2011   A/HRC/WG.6/12/SYR/2          Compilation Syrian Arab Republic

15th Sept 2011A/HRC/18/53              Report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

16th Sept 2011A/HRC/18/G/1                        Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic

23rd Nov 2011A/HRC/S-17/2/Add.1   1st Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic

30th Nov 2011  A/HRC/S-18/L.1                       Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

5th Dec 2011    A/HRC/RES/S-18/1      Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

24th Jan 2012   A/HRC/19/11              Report of Working Group

15th Feb 2012  A/HRC/19/G/2                        Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic

21st Feb 2012  A/RES/66/253             Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

22nd Feb 2012  A/HRC/19/69               2nd Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic

23rd Feb 2012A/HRC/19/NGO/82     Cairo Institute

22nd June 2012            A/HRC/20/37              Report of Secretary General

25th July 2012  A/67/181                     Report of Secretary General Human rights and unilateral      coercive measures

16th Aug 2012A/HRC/21/50               3rd Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic

25th Sept 2012A/HRC/21/32              Report of Secretary General

17th Oct 2012  A/HRC/RES/21/26       Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

18th Oct 2012  A/HRC/22/G/1                        Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic

11th Nov 2012  A/HRC/22/36              Report of Secretary General

15th Nov 2012  A/HRC/21/32/Corr.1   Report of Secretary General- Corrigendum

19th Nov 2012  A/HRC/20/37/Corr.1   Report of Secretary General- Corrigendum

5th February    A/HRC/22/59               4th Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic

12th February   A/RES/67/183             Report – Corrigendum

18th February   A/HRC/22/59/Corr.1   Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

22nd February  A/HRC/22/NGO/143   Statement by STP on human rights in the Syria

18th March      A/HRC/22/L.31                        Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

20th March      A/HRC/22/L.31/Rev.1Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

12th April         A/HRC/RES/22/24       Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic

23rd May          A/HRC/23/NGO/73     Cairo Institute

24th May          A/HRC/23/NGO/89     Cairo Institute

28th May          A/HRC/23/L.1              Killings in Al-Qusayr

29th May          A/HRC/RES/23/1         Killings in Al-Qusayr

4th June                        A/HRC/23/58              5th Report – IICI on the Syrian Arab Republic

11th June          A/HRC/23/L.29                        Deterioration Situation of human rights in the Syria

14th June          A/HRC/RES/23/26       Deterioration Situation of human rights in the Syria

28th August      A/HRC/24/NGO/15     Arab Women Foundation

Alexander Athos is a writer and businessman.He was awarded a Bachelor of Arts (European History) Personal background Alexander was christened Orthodox brought up Catholic and now Evangelical Christian with an acceptance of the best in Christian tradition and a respect for genuine people of faith from other cultures. Political inclinations: Christian intellectual who has an eclectic predisposition to understanding global and national political and social trends and seeking to influence them for good by thoughtful and persuasive discourse.

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Middle East

India-UAE tourism and education linkages

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In spite of the continued uncertainty with regard to the trajectory of the covid19 pandemic, globally, countries are trying to return to normalcy. Significantly, the performance of United Arab Emirates (UAE’s) tourism sector in the first quarter of 2022 was not just back to pre-covid levels, but actually managed to do better.

H.E. Dr. Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and Small and Medium Enterprises and Chairman of the UAE Tourism Council highlighted these point while providing tourism figures for Q1 2022.Hotels received an estimated six million visitors in the first quarter of the year – a rise of 10% from 2019. Revenues for the first quarter of 2022, were AED (United Arab Emirates Dinar) 11 billion or USD 3 billion (2.9 billion) which was a jump of 20% from the first quarter of 2019.

The stellar performance of UAE’s tourism sector in the first quarter of 2022 is being attributed to a number of factors including two major events — the Dubai Expo 2020 and the World’s Coolest winter campaign.

In order to attract more visitors to the Dubai Expo 2020, UAE had also relaxed conditions for international travellers. The Emirate has also introduced new visitor visa categories with an eye on giving a boost to tourism. What is remarkable is that during the first quarter of 2022, average occupancy increased 25% from 3 nights to 4 nights and witnessed an 80% growth (no other country had such high occupancy rates)

The total number of tourists received was 4 million, and not surprisingly, Indian nationals along with tourists from UK, US and Russia accounted for a significant percentage of tourists to UAE. While other countries like Singapore have also opened their borders to international tourists, including Indians, and removed restrictions, the biggest advantage the UAE has is its geographical location – especially for tourists from the South Asian region. Given that the travelling time is less, even short breaks are possible.

Apart from this, getting a UAE visa is relatively easier than one for the west and even ASEAN countries. UAE also has enough to offer for families in terms of shopping, recreation etc. There is also a wide variety of options, as far as hotels are concerned.  Since a significant number of Indians have business links or even offices in Dubai, in many cases holidays are coupled up with business trips. The fact that UAE hosts important cricketing events – in 2021 it hosted the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2021 and T20 world cup – will help it in attracting more Indian tourists in the future.

UAE is not only likely to continue to remain as a favoured tourist destination, but in the near future, it is also likely to attract more international students, especially from India. Apart from its geographical location, and the fact that it is home to a substantial population of South Asian expats, it is also home to a number of campuses of UK and US universities.

Most importantly with an eye on attracting qualified professionals and researchers, UAE has introduced a long term residency visa, dubbed as Golden Visa for  researchers, medical professionals and those within the scientific and knowledge fields, and remarkable students. Here it would be pertinent to point out that UAE-India Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) which came into effect earlier this month permits easier access for Indian engineers, IT professionals, accountancy professionals and nurses. The introduction of short term work visas will also help in attracting professionals from India.

  In the past, one of the reasons why UAE lost out to other countries, in attracting professionals and students from South Asia (though the number of Indian professionals in UAE has been increasing in recent years), who preferred the West, Australia or Singapore, was the fact that UAE did not provide long term residency.

With the introduction of long-term visas, it is not only professionals, but even students who otherwise may have sought to pursue education in the west who will now look towards the UAE. One of the options, which students from India could go for is the dual degree program, which has been introduced by many UK universities, where they spend some time in UAE and the rest in UK. Here it would be pertinent to point out, that UAE universities are also offering scholarships with an eye on attracting international students. One of the provisions of the India-UAE Foreign Trade Agreement (FTA) which both countries signed earlier this year is that India will set up an IIT in Abu Dhabi.

The UAE has been seeking to re-invent for some years. A good example of this is the UAE Vision 2021, Dubai Vision 2030 and Abu Dhabi Vision 2030. The Gulf nation has been able not only to handle covid19 successfully, but with its innovative and visionary thinking it has been able to do remarkably well in attracting tourists. Its ability to think out of the box will enable it to emerge as an important economic hub. UAE is likely to not just remain a favoured tourist destination, but also could emerge as a top preference for Indian nationals to study and work.

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s heady days

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These are heady days for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

With King Salman home after a week in hospital during which he had a colonoscopy, rumours are rife that succession in the kingdom may not be far off.

Speculation is not limited to a possible succession. Media reports suggest that US President Joe Biden may visit Saudi Arabia next month for a first meeting with the crown prince.

Mr. Biden called Saudi Arabia a pariah state during his presidential election campaign. He has since effectively boycotted Mr. Bin Salman because of the crown prince’s alleged involvement in the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Mr. Bin Salman has denied any involvement but said he accepted responsibility for the killing as Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.

Mr. Bin Salman waited for his 86-year-old father to return from the hospital before travelling to Abu Dhabi to offer his condolences for the death of United Arab Emirates President Khaled bin Zayed and congratulations to his successor, Mohamed bin Zayed, the crown prince’s one-time mentor.

Mr. Bin Salman used the composition of his delegation to underline his grip on Saudi Arabia’s ruling family. In doing so, he was messaging the international community at large, and particularly Mr. Biden, that he is in control of the kingdom no matter what happens.

The delegation was made up of representatives of different branches of the ruling Al Saud family, including Prince Abdulaziz bin Ahmed, the eldest son of Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the detained brother of King Salman.

Even though he holds no official post, Mr. Abdulaziz’s name topped the Saudi state media’s list of delegates accompanying Mr. Bin Salman.

His father, Mr. Ahmed, was one of three members of the Allegiance Council not to support Mr. Bin Salman’s appointment as crown prince in 2017. The 34-member Council, populated by parts of the Al-Saud family, was established by King Abdullah in 2009 to determine succession to the throne in Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Bin Salman has detained Mr. Ahmed as well as Prince Mohamed Bin Nayef, the two men he considers his foremost rivals, partly because they are popular among US officials.

Mr. Ahmed was detained in 2020 but never charged, while Mr. Bin Nayef stands accused of corruption. Mr. Ahmed returned to the kingdomn in 2018 from London, where he told protesters against the war in Yemen to address those responsible, the king and the crown prince.

Mr. Abdulaziz’s inclusion in the Abu Dhabi delegation fits a pattern of Mr. Bin Salman appointing to office younger relatives of people detained since his rise in 2015. Many were arrested in a mass anti-corruption campaign that often seemed to camouflage a power grab that replaced consultative government among members of the ruling family with one-man rule.

Mr. Bin Salman likely takes pleasure in driving the point home as Mr. Biden mulls a pilgrimage to Riyadh to persuade the crown prince to drop his opposition to increasing the kingdom’s oil production and convince him that the United States remains committed to regional security.

The crown prince not only rejected US requests to help lower oil prices and assist Europe in reducing its dependency on Russian oil as part of the campaign to force Moscow to end its invasion of Ukraine but also refused to take a phone call from Mr. Biden.

Asked a month later whether Mr. Biden may have misunderstood him, Mr. Bin Salman told an interviewer: “Simply, I do not care.”

Striking a less belligerent tone, Mohammed Khalid Alyahya, a Hudson Institute visiting fellow and former editor-in-chief of Saudi-owned Al Arabiya English, noted this month that “Saudi Arabia laments what it sees as America’s wilful dismantling of an international order that it established and led for the better part of a century.”

Mr. Alyahya quoted a senior Saudi official as saying: “A strong, dependable America is the greatest friend Saudi Arabia can have. It stands to reason, then, that US weakness and confusion is a grave threat not just to America, but to us as well.”

The United States has signalled that it is shifting its focus away from the Middle East to Asia even though it has not rolled back its significant military presence.

Nonetheless, Middle Eastern states read a reduced US commitment to their security into a US failure to respond robustly to attacks by Iran and Iranian-backed Arab militias against targets in Saudi Arabia and the UAE and the Biden administration’s efforts to revive a moribund 2015 international nuclear agreement with Iran.

Several senior US officials, including National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and CIA director Bill Burns, met with the crown prince during trips to the kingdom last year. Separately, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called the crown prince.

In one instance, Mr. Bin Salman reportedly shouted at Mr. Sullivan after he raised Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. The crown prince was said to have told the US official that he never wanted to discuss the matter again and that the US could forget about its request to boost Saudi oil production.

Even so, leverage in the US-Saudi relationship goes both ways.

Mr. Biden may need Saudi Arabia’s oil to break Russia’s economic back. By the same token, Saudi Arabia, despite massive weapon acquisitions from the United States and Europe as well as arms from China that the United States is reluctant to sell, needs the US as its security guarantor.

Mr. Bin Salman knows that he has nowhere else to go. Russia has written itself out of the equation, and China is neither capable nor willing to step into the United States’ shoes any time soon.

Critics of Mr. Biden’s apparent willingness to bury the hatchet with Mr. Bin Salman argue that in the battle with Russia and China over a new 21st-century world order, the United States needs to talk the principled talk and walk the principled walk.

In an editorial, The Washington Post, for whom Mr. Khashoggi was a columnist, noted that “the contrast between professed US principles and US policy would be stark and undeniable” if Mr. Biden reengages with Saudi Arabia.

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Saudi religious moderation: the world’s foremost publisher of Qur’ans has yet to get the message

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When the religious affairs minister of Guinea-Conakry visited Jeddah last week, his Saudi counterpart gifted him 50,000 Qur’ans.

Saudi Islamic affairs minister Abdullatif Bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh offered the holy books as part of his ministry’s efforts to print and distribute them and spread their teachings.

The Qur’ans were produced by the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an, which annually distributes millions of copies. Scholar Nora Derbal asserts that the Qur’ans “perpetuate a distinct Wahhabi reading of the scripture.”

Similarly, Saudi Arabia distributed in Afghanistan in the last years of the US-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani thousands of Qur’ans produced by the printing complex, according to Mr. Ghani’s former education minister, Mirwais Balkhi. Mr. Balkhi indicated that the Qur’ans were identical to those distributed by the kingdom for decades.

Mr. Ghani and Mr. Balkhi fled Afghanistan last year as US troops withdrew from the country and the Taliban took over.

Human Rights Watch and Impact-se, an education-focused Israeli research group, reported last year that Saudi Arabia, pressured for some two decades post-9/11 by the United States and others to remove supremacist references to Jews, Christian, and Shiites in its schoolbooks, had recently made significant progress in doing so.

However, the two groups noted that Saudi Arabia had kept in place fundamental concepts of an ultra-conservative, anti-pluralistic, and intolerant interpretation of Islam.

The same appears true for the world’s largest printer and distributor of Qur’ans, the King Fahd Complex.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has, since his rise in 2015, been primarily focussed on social and economic rather than religious reform.

Mr. Bin Salman significantly enhanced professional and personal opportunities for women, including lifting the ban on women’s driving and loosening gender segregation and enabled the emergence of a Western-style entertainment sector in the once austere kingdom.

Nevertheless, Saudi Islam scholar Besnik Sinani suggests that “state pressure on Salafism in Saudi Arabia will primarily focus on social aspects of Salafi teaching, while doctrinal aspects will probably receive less attention.”

The continued production and distribution of Qur’ans that included unaltered ultra-conservative interpretations sits uneasily with Mr. Bin Salman’s effort to emphasize nationalism rather than religion as the core of Saudi identity and project a more moderate and tolerant image of the kingdom’s Islam.

The Saudi spin is not in the Arabic text of the Qur’an that is identical irrespective of who prints it, but in parenthetical additions, primarily in translated versions, that modify the meaning of specific Qur’anic passages.

Commenting in 2005 on the King Fahd Complex’s English translation, the most widely disseminated Qur’an in the English-speaking world, the late Islam scholar Khaleel Mohammed asserted that it “reads more like a supremacist Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian polemic than a rendition of the Islamic scripture.”

Religion scholar Peter Mandaville noted in a recently published book on decades of Saudi export of ultra-conservative Islam that “it is the kingdom’s outsized role in the printing and distribution of the Qur’an as rendered in other languages that becomes relevant in the present context.”

Ms. Derbal, Mr. Sinani and this author contributed chapters to Mr. Mandaville’s edited volume.

The King Fahd Complex said that it had produced 18 million copies of its various publications in 2017/18 in multiple languages in its most recent production figures. Earlier it reported that it had printed and distributed 127 million copies of the Qur’an in the 22 years between 1985 and 2007. The Complex did not respond to emailed queries on whether parenthetical texts have been recently changed.

The apparent absence of revisions of parenthetical texts reinforces suggestions that Mr. Bin Salman is more concerned about socio-political considerations, regime survival, and the projection of the kingdom as countering extremism and jihadism than he is about reforming Saudi Islam.

It also spotlights the tension between the role Saudi Arabia envisions as the custodian of Islam’s holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, and the needs of a modern state that wants to attract foreign investment to help ween its economy off dependency on oil exports.

Finally, the continued distribution of Qur’ans with seemingly unaltered commentary speaks to the balance Mr. Bin Salman may still need to strike with the country’s once-powerful religious establishment despite subjugating the clergy to his will.

The continued global distribution of unaltered Qur’an commentary calls into question the sincerity of the Saudi moderation campaign, particularly when juxtaposed with rival efforts by other major Muslim countries to project themselves as beacons of a moderate form of Islam.

Last week, Saudi Arabia’s Muslim World League convened some 100 Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist religious leaders to “establish a set of values common to all major world religions and a vision for enhancing understanding, cooperation, and solidarity amongst world religions.”

Once a major Saudi vehicle for the global propagation of Saudi religious ultra-conservatism, the League has been turned into Mr. Bin Salman’s megaphone. It issues lofty statements and organises high-profile conferences that project Saudi Arabia as a leader of moderation and an example of tolerance.

The League, under the leadership of former justice minister Mohammed al-Issa, has emphasised its outreach to Jewish leaders and communities. Mr. Al-Issa led a delegation of Muslim religious leaders in 2020 on a ground-breaking visit to Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi extermination camp in Poland.

However, there is little evidence, beyond Mr. Al-Issa’s gestures, statements, and engagement with Jewish leaders, that the League has joined in a practical way the fight against anti-Semitism that, like Islamophobia, is on the rise.

Similarly, Saudi moderation has not meant that the kingdom has lifted its ban on building non-Muslim houses of worship on its territory.

The Riyadh conference followed Nahdlatul Ulama’s footsteps, the world’s largest Muslim civil society movement with 90 million followers in the world’s largest Muslim majority country and most populous democracy. Nahdlatul Ulama leader Yahya Cholil Staquf spoke at the conference.

In recent years, the Indonesian group has forged alliances with Evangelical entities like the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), Jewish organisations and religious leaders, and various Muslim groups across the globe. Nahdlatul Ulama sees the alliances as a way to establish common ground based on shared humanitarian values that would enable them to counter discrimination and religion-driven prejudice, bigotry, and violence.

Nahdlatul Ulama’s concept of Humanitarian Islam advocates reform of what it deems “obsolete” and “problematic” elements of Islamic law, including those that encourage segregation, discrimination, and/or violence towards anyone perceived to be a non-Muslim. It further accepts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, unlike the Saudis, without reservations.

The unrestricted embrace of the UN declaration by Indonesia and its largest Muslim movement has meant that conversion, considered to be apostasy under Islamic law, is legal in the Southeast Asian nation. As a result, Indonesia, unlike Middle Eastern states where Christian communities have dwindled due to conflict, wars, and targeted attacks, has witnessed significant growth of its Christian communities.

Christians account for ten percent of Indonesia’s population. Researchers Duane Alexander Miller and Patrick Johnstone reported in 2015 that 6.5 million Indonesian had converted to Christianity since 1960.

That is not to say that Christians and other non-Muslim minorities have not endured attacks on churches, suicide bombings, and various forms of discrimination. The attacks have prompted Nahdlatul Ulama’s five million-strong militia to protect churches in vulnerable areas during holidays such as Christmas. The militia has also trained Christians to enable them to watch over their houses of worship.

Putting its money where its mouth is, a gathering of 20,000 Nahdlatul Ulama religious scholars issued in 2019 a fatwa or religious opinion eliminating the Muslim legal concept of the kafir or infidel.

Twelve years earlier, the group’s then spiritual leader and former Indonesian president Abdurahman Wahid, together with the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, organised a conference in the archipelago state to acknowledge the Holocaust and denounce denial of the Nazi genocide against the Jews. The meeting came on the heels of a gathering in Tehran convened by then Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that denied the existence of the Holocaust.

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