G2H2 civil society workshop ahead of WHA77
Geneva, Saturday 25 May 2024

World in flames: civil society lost in the impotence of international law

The last two years of escalating warfare, coming in the wake of an earlier phase of global chaos due to the coronavirus pandemic, have deeply radicalized injustices already enshrined in dynamics of international politics, and in the obfuscation of international law and sovereignty. This particular moment of wars between and within countries reshapes conflict landscapes and worsens regional and global instability. While provoking mass casualties and colossal waves of migrations, this reality contributes to normalizing warfare in the political discourse and to weaponizing the unregulated economy. The climate of history is heating up.   

In the name of health security, institutional violence erupted throughout the pandemic time, twisting the true purpose of emergency management to justify collective suppression in several countries, posing acute threats to civil society organizations. In the very same years, marginalized and abandoned people in countries like Ethiopia, DRC, Haiti and Myanmar were treated with intractable violence. That same fury, licensed in impunity, has paved the way to a relentless craving for warfare, as we are now seeing with Russia’s ferocious invasion of Ukraine, with the new round of violence disrupting people’s struggle for democracy in Sudan, with everything that Israel has done in Gaza since Hamas’ brutal attacks on 7 October 2023. 

The current reality of warfare is a reckoning moment for us all, in terms of who we are and what our role is in today’s geopolitical scenario. There are many questions that civil society organizations operating at the international level and claiming a human rights agenda need to be confronted with. Just take the case of Gaza. Some of us have been very silent in the face of the ongoing massacres in the Gaza Strip, as these violations are deemed to be “outside of the institutional mandate” – the continuation of ordinary work is safely granted this way. Some are reluctant to speak because their governments oppose any criticism of Israel’s extremist war policies as antisemitic surge, deploying draconian measures that prepare dark days for liberal democracies ahead of elections, particularly in Europe and in the USA. Some are directly engaged with their humanitarian presence in the fields of conflict crises and find themselves torn by difficult tensions concerning how best to remain operational while denouncing what they repeatedly see and suffer at times of indiscriminate killings and tragic attacks, including to healthcare infrastructures. Some speak out conveying their rage, regardless of their specific mandates and humanitarian presence, simply because they believe this is the right thing to do, as lack of explicit solidarity is also a clear message.

Two days before the opening of the 77th World Health Assembly, where civil society will witness again both polarization and hypocrisy in the statements of WHO member states, alongside the roaring silence of country representatives unable to speak to the reality of things because of their multiple dependencies, we invited G2H2 members and interested civil society colleagues to gather in Geneva for a full-day workshop to reflect on the following questions:

  • Why does this climate of war concern us as civil society organizations ?
  • How to express and experience solidarity in times of dehumanization?
  • What are we doing, faced with the impotence of international institutions and law that were meant to protect peace and people?
  • How can we deal with our anger, our fears, our frustrations, including our dissent in analyzing the situation?
  • What could and should we do when the very function of multilateralism is in serious jeopardy?

A civil society workshop

The main goal of this G2H2 civil society workshop was simple, albeit challenging: allow ourselves the time and space to exchange our reflections listening to each other in our different and possibly diverging views. We wanted to exchange perspectives and positions and share our personal experiences beyond mere professional patterns, to jointly comprehend the implications of the mounting violence, and the arms vocation that comes with it, around us. What can we do?  

In the spirit of the G2H2 approach, the workshop aimed to broker an honest dialogue  and explore avenues for civil society positioning and actions in a world of warfare beyond silence, resignation and business as usual.  Individually, well beyond our professional mandates, we have been crossed by feelings of hopelessness and contradictions. 

We considered it being high time to talk and understand where we are, where we are going, while many of us are now engaged in the UN Summit for the Future. Can there be a future if we do not solve the present through justice and peace?

Workshop documentation

While the setup of the workshop as a protected space for sharing and debating will not allow the publication a detailed report, the organizers are currently working on collecting and publishing some key messages and will also add some photographs as impressions of the day. Stand by for these.

As a teaser, you might read the blog A world in flames: The Mad Maxus and the olive tree published by Andrew Harmer who attended the workshop.

Organizer, support, contact

The civil society workshop was organized by a team of the Geneva Global Health Hub. This G2H2 workshop was kindly hosted by MSF International and supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

    

Illustration based on a photo published by Mohammed Ibrahim on Unsplash