The fall of the walls of unfreedom. The role of international law.

av Göran Lambertz
Publicerad i Institute for Cultural Diplomacy 2014
  1. Introduction


As we all know, on Sunday it has been 25 years since the fall of the Berlin wall. This was without any doubt one of the most important events of our time. Almost from one night to the other, dictatorship and suppression was replaced by freedom. Soon the whole Soviet imperium collapsed. It was incredible, immense. I was 35 in 1985, not in my wildest dreams had I thought that only a few years later something like this could or would happen. I had grown up with the iron curtain.


It was impossible – and yet it happened.


I was here here in Berlin in 1972 with three friends. We were 22. We were both in the east and in the west, with the chance to compare. The differences between the two were there to see, clearly with the eyes. And to feel. When we had left East Germany we burst into happiness. It was such a pressure only to be there, and not knowing what strange things could happen.


The wall fell after a process where people´s yearn for freedom and their determination was helped by the new winds from the Soviet Union. Michail Gorbatjov had taken over in 1985 and brought about a cautious change, the perestrojka, with a limited but very new openness, the glasnost.



  1. Walls of unfreedom


The Berlin wall was obviously a wall of unfreedom. There are many such walls of unfreedom still today. The highest walls, and those which suppress freedom the most, are built by different materials than iron, rock and concrete. They are built by violence, harassment, inhuman treatment, lack of human rights and unpredictable cruel power.


In North Korea, ordinary people are kept within borders of unfreedom and extreme lack of knowledge. In Iraq and Syria the IS, the Islamic State, is building fundamentalistic walls between religions and human beings. Behind that wall you had better abide by the preailing religion – or die.


In Nigeria, 200 girls and young women are being kept imprisoned by Boko Haram, and USED. They are used by men who think that this is what women are for. They have been there now for many months. There have been massive protests from all over. But they are still kept as prisoners. Is it reasonable that we let this situation continue?



  1. Why?


Why is this? Why do we let this happen? And why Rwanda, why Srebrenica, etc.? A lot of the problem has to do with walls between ethnical groups. Another part of the problem is the walls built by religions.


One can hope, of course, that political processes will tear down also these walls. But can it ever be justifiable to wait for that to happen while the cruelest acts take place? I am very bothered by the fact that nothing happens. Are we doing enough?


Can we keep looking while Kim Jong-Un, the unpredictable leader of North Korea, will perhaps murder as many people as he pleases in order to feel safe that there will be no opposition in his country?


And is it really justifiable to watch for only one day without doing all we can while a terrorist organization cuts the throats of hundreds of people because they have a different view of God and religion – or because they are in the way? Can we defend standing on the side while hundreds of women and girls are kept prisoners, humiliated, by men with weapons and bizarre ideas?


Not to speak about Rwanda, Srebrenica and other blood baths where the walls between groups and nations of people have grown sky high. Brutal killings day after day, night after night. And the world was basically just – watching.


Must not the international community do something radical to be able too look itself in the mirror of future without shame?


Is it perhaps time for a world where national states lose some of their power over their territory, where the global community could intervene at times when it is urgently needed? Of course, a big hindrance is the lack of consensus around these matters in the Security Council. I don´t know how these obstacles can be overcome, but it should be everyone´s interest to stop at least the most obvious madness.


Or is it time for cultural diplomacy to really start playing a role on the international scene, an active role?



  1. How?


Basically, there are three ways of getting to grips with the outrage and the mad violence and misuse of power: 1. The use of weapons on an ad hoc-basis (as lately against the IS). 2. Stubborn and consistent diplomacy, sometimes with the use of sanctions and threat of sanctions. 3. International agreements to intervene every time in the future when something totally unreasonable happens.


The use of weapons on an ad hoc-basis is better than nothing, but unreasonable as a long term method.


Diplomacy and sanctions is far better than nothing, but how do we bring the IS and Kim Jong-Un to the table of negotiation?


I believe in the possibilities of International Law. The States of the United Nations need an agreement to always protect people against the very worst, against genocide and massacres. There must be commitments. Those who will not participate should be pressured by diplomacy and sanctions to understand their duty against the helpless. And those who violate the most essential laws to protect should know that the International Community can intervene without delay.



  1. International law today


So what is there today in international law?


There is the Charter of the United Nations. When there is a threat to peace, or aggression between States, the Security Council is to take action Even engaging armed forces is a possibility for the Council, if the last. – This is in Chapter 7, articles 39-50, of the Charter.


But the Charter does not speak about such things as genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing. It is obvious, therefore, that the Charter is not enough.


Here however there is a responsibility to protect, which has evolved in the last decade. According to this responsibility the States and the International Community have obligations:


  1. A state has a responsibility to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.
  1. The international community has a responsibility to assist the state to fulfill its primary responsibility.
  1. If the state manifestly fails to protect its citizens from the four above mass atrocities and peaceful measures have failed, the international community has the responsibility to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions. Military intervention is considered the last resort.


The authority to employ the last resort and intervene militarily rests solely with the United Nations Security Council.


Criticisms of the R2P include a "moral outrage and hysteria [that] often serve as a pretext for ‘interventions by the civilised world’ or 'the international community' and for ‘humanitarian interventions’, which often conceal the true strategic motives, and it thus becomes another name for proxy wars.



  1. So what is missing?


But despite the responsibility to protect, nothing happens in Iraq, Syria or Nigeria. And nothing will certainly happen in North Korea. The only chance seems to be that individual nations take action.


But what can we learn then from the Berlin wall? That if people take action against a rotten system, something will happen. But there needs to be someone on the top who will allow it to start. If there is not, we should use force on a global level through a convention.


We need to protect the 200 girls or women, we need to protect people against terrorist groupsl which will stop at nowhere. And we need to protect people from ludicrous violent leaders who can be expected to do just about anything.


We need to develop something better. So why not start a process? The process in itself could be very good in bringing everyone to the table, and in having a consistent long term discussion about these very serious and important matters.


Long term results need to start with a political process, with great determination. It is time to get going.


But this is ridiculous, isn´t it? It could never be done, could it? Yes, because nothing is impossible if there is determination, and if the goal is important enough. And after all, the Berlin wall did fall, didn´t it!