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23. International Conference Sets World Agenda for Peace

Source: TOWARD FREEDOM, July 1999 Title: “United for Peace” Author: Robin Lloyd

Faculty Evaluator: Phil Beard, Ph.D.
Student Researcher: Jeremiah Price

The Hague Appeal for Peace (HAP) Conference, which took place in the Hague, Netherlands, in May 1999, has set a “Global Agenda” for world peace in the next century. Over 1,000 groups, from 100 different countries, intended to voice their suggestions on how to make international peace possible. The four-day event yielded a turnout of over 8,000 people and resulted in ground-breaking initiatives and resolutions.

One of the many new campaigns launched at the conference was the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA). The IANSA goal is to encourage tracking, protesting, and publicizing the sales and shipments of weapons. Referring to the fact that the U.S. sold $119 billion in arms, some 45 percent of the world’s total, from 1989 to 1996, Pierre Sane of Amnesty International stated at the conference that the U.S. is “becoming the arsenal of the world.”

The Hague Global Agenda calls for recognition and enforcement of World Court rulings that over 150 countries have endorsed. The United States has been unwilling to submit to the international jurisdiction of the World Court.

A long-term project put in motion at the conference is the Global Action to Prevent War. Its purpose is to establish a coalition of organizations that will build a permanent body of NGOs, individuals, and eventually governments to support world peace.

Heads of some governments avoided the event, although representatives from various governments attended. Several of the attending representatives were ambassadors and ministers, most of whom acknowledge that the majority of governments will only recognize universal values until they interfere with national or economic interests, and that governments often co-opt the language of peace to justify and protect corporate interests.

The following is the agenda that was set forth at The Hague Appeal for Peace Conference. The Global Agenda outlines 10 fundamental principles for a just world order:

1. Every government should adopt a resolution prohibiting war.

2. All states should accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice.

3. Every government should ratify the ICC and implement the Land Mines Treaty.

4. All states should integrate the New Diplomacy—the partnership of governments, international organizations, and civil societies.

5. The world can’t ignore humanitarian crises, but every creative diplomatic means possible must be exhausted before resorting to force under U.N. authority.

6. Negotiations for a Convention Eliminating Nuclear Weapons should begin immediately.

7. The trade in small arms should be severely restricted.

8. Economic rights must be taken as seriously as civil rights.

9. Peace education should be compulsory in every school.

10. The plan for the Global Action to Prevent War should become the basis for a peaceful world order.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan praised the NGOs and civil society organizations for creating the conference. While the conference was covered by Associated Press and released worldwide, the United States media ignored it, with coverage in the back pages of only a handful of small regional papers.

UPDATE BY AUTHOR ROBIN LLOYD: Ten thousand peace activists, Nobel peace prize winners, and celebrities met for four days in May of 1999 at a conference center at the Hague, the Netherlands, to virtually no U.S. (and skimpy international) coverage. A few blocks away, the boys with the big cameras clustered outside the gates of the International Court of Justice, where Yugoslavia was charging NATO with grievous violations of international law.

After all, there was a war going on. Every day, young people from the conference trooped down with banners, urging the media to provide some coverage. No luck. As a Hague Appeal staffer later explained, “Unless the story has action and can be explained in two seconds, they don’t want to cover it.”

The conference was spurred by a revolutionary idea: abolishing war in the 21st century. Hopelessly idealistic? As Cora Weiss, president of the Hague Appeal, put it, this end-of-the-century conference was convened “because we want peace to have the last word in this most war-filled, most violent century.” That concern also spurred my own partici-pation. I was tired of hearing the millennium being boiled down to an acronym—Y2K. The conference provided a context to talk about renewal and a recommitment to democratic values as we entered a new century.

And it wasn’t a bad story, complete with history (the conference occurred 100 years after the first Hague conference of 1899), hope for the future, revolutionary fervor, youth, and even some celebrities (Kofi Annan, Bishop Tutu, and Queen Noor, among others). Yet, maybe the best story was: how could this “peace conference”—dedicated to abolishing war, and taking place in the midst of one—avoid taking a stand on Kosovo? Virtually every participant had to answer that question upon returning home.

What was the conference’s stand on Kosovo? Officially, it didn’t have one. And that may well have been a factor in the press’s indifference to both the process and the 21st century agenda that emerged.

But now, after the mobilization against globalization in Seattle, the Hague conference reveals a larger story: the potential role of “civil society” in the new millennium. It’s been growing for a while; politely at the Hague, not so politely in Seattle. The people are at the gates, asserting that their interests as human beings are being ignored or manipulated by governments, international financial institutions, and corporations.

“What are these NGOs ‘swarming’ about?” The Economist asked in a December 1999 article. “Are citizens’ groups, as many of their supporters claim, the first steps towards an ‘international civil society’ (whatever that may be)? Or do they represent a dangerous shift of power to unelected and unaccountable special-interest groups?” The way the magazine framed the question suggests that they believe something pretty ominous is happening.

In fact, the number of international non-governmental organizations has increased fourfold, from 6,000 in 1990 to 26,000 today. But the key question is whether civil society can move from knocking on the door of international institutions to taking over the hall and creating a people’s parliament. It’s not as utopian as it sounds. Remember when the U.S. shifted from electing its senators through state legislatures to letting the people decide?

A Millennium NGO Forum will be held at the U.N. from May 22-26, 2000. Its agenda—to build grassroots and public support for a more effective U.N.—is moderate, but it will also provide an opening for international civil society to push the envelope on global governance. As Toward Freedom editor Greg Guma wrote recently in an editorial, “We need to move beyond fear of government and work for democracy at the world level.”

The Hague Appeal for Peace can be reached on the Internet at http://www.haguepeace.org, or e-mail: hapy@ipb.org. The Millennium People’s Assembly Network is at http://www.ourvoices.org. Toward Freedom will continue to track develop-ments on its Web site, http://www.towardfreedom.com.

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