International Peace Bureau in Alexandria, Egypt

Once more, fabled ancient Alexandria has a magnificent library. It’s more than a library – it is home to six (!) institutes, permanent and temporary exhibit space, a cinesphere, a shop, a cafeteria, a dining room, and spacious, comfortable conference rooms. It was the perfect place for the International Peace Bureau to host a conference last November entitled “Books Not Bombs: Sustainable Disarmament for Sustainable Development.”

There were many new faces – students, Egyptians, even a representative from the government of Saudi Arabia. (This government, we heard, now wants to break out of its isolation.) The Saudi diplomat was certainly not familiar with a new human right for woman – UN Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) which sets out, among other things, that women must be included in all decision-making related to peace and security from prevention to post-conflict reconstruction. But then, almost all governments to date are only paying lip service to this new obligation. Ever optimistic, I felt a small measure of satisfaction in informing him over lunch of this advance.

The intention of the Alexandria conference was to exchange ideas on issues related to global over-armament and underdevelopment. Another, was to bestow the Sean McBride Prize on an individual pushing the disarmament movement forward. This year it was Jayantha Dhanapala, a strong UN civil servant who headed the Department for Disarmament Affairs, serves as an honorary IPB President and current President of Pugwash International. He was a runner-up in the recent search for a new UN Secretary General. He is a promoter of gender parity and civil society.

One concrete example of his passion for disarmament and peace is the pioneering link he forged between the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs and the CSO Hague Appeal for Peace to introduce peace education curriculum to young children in Albania, Peru, and several other countries.

It was three days of inspiring speeches, (a little short on women presenters), discussion, and workshops. We were reminded:

  • that the USA, responsible today for 46% of world’s military spending, has spent 5.8 trillion dollars on the military since 1945;
  • to mainstream the idea of HUMAN security
  • to address the relationship between poverty and conflict;
  • to vigorously address the misallocation of resources;
  • to examine the development and environment link;
  • that the UN itself must stop working in “silos” (the Millennium Development Goals failed to incorporate any commitments to disarmament!)

Jayantha Danapala characterized the reality of the international community’s efforts to address disarmament and development as “ritualistic”, “whimpers,” “banal.”

Education at all levels is key! And civil society is essential. Alyn Ware, a conference speaker from New Zealand, reminded us of the greater strength of civil society when and if we build collaboration of movements!

I came away with a very full peace bibliography from the Alexandria library. (Copies available. Contact janis.alton@sympatico.ca

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ISSN 1925-170X (Print) | ISSN 1925-1718 (Online)