Securing Peace in a Volatile World: Highlights of the Toronto Conference in Support of The Hague Appeal for Peace Campaign

The forum and conference was organized by a planning committee of Science for Peace, Voice of Women and the St. Lawrence Centre Forum. The conference was supported by the University College Lectures in Peace Series (UCLIPS).

Other organizations gave workshops, distributed literature or endorsed the conference; Peace Brigades International, Veterans Against Nuclear Arms, Development and Peace, St. Stephen’s Conflict Mediation Services, Ontario Public Interest Research Group, Student Christian Movement, University of Toronto, World Federalists, Project Ploughshares, International Campaign for the Innu & the Earth.

Jonathan Schell and Joy Warner spoke to a St. Lawrence Centre audience of 200 people on the evening of March 10, and approximately 70-80 attended the conference at The Ontario Institute for Studies on Education on March 11.

I. Nuclear Weapons Prohibition:

The Forum strongly supported reform of the United Nations and its member agencies.

  • The policies and operational mandate of The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) need to be reviewed. NATO must abandon immediately, its option of “first use” of nuclear weapons.
  • Military flight training involving low level flights (e.g. NATO member country training over Innu lands in Canada) must cease. The work of the Organization on Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) should be made better known.
  • In the absence of leadership to work for nuclear disarmament by the nuclear states, non-nuclear countries such as Canada must play a decisive role in initiating negotiations to draw up a timetable for the total and speedy abolition of nuclear weapons. E.g. Middle Power Initiative, New Agenda Coalition.
  • All nuclear forces should be taken off alert and de-coupled i.e. warheads removed from their delivery system.
  • The militarization of space must stop.
  • Sub-critical testing of nuclear arms should be opposed.
  • All countries should strike a committee of their elected body to review their nuclear weapons policy taking into consideration various reports (Canberra Commission, Carnegie Report, World Court Opinion, public opinion polls). Should the recommendations be in favour of nuclear abolition as was the Report of the Canadian Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade,released in December 1998, then citizens and NGOs should push for their implementation.
  • There should be more communication among disarmament and peace-seeking organizations within and between countries. In Canada we need to forge stronger ties with American peace activists.
  • Efforts to mobilize world public opinion in support of abolition of nuclear weapons should continue.

II. Civilian Peace Service (CPS):

Governments should acknowledge and support NGO-led initiatives like the Civilian Peace Service.

  • The indigenous knowledge of local NGOs in conflict-ridden zones should be recognized and the development of intervention strategies should include local people.
  • The ability of a local population to secure the basic needs for their survival is an important precursor to lasting peace. Those assisting must acknowledge and help facilitate this goal.
  • Ways should be sought to apply problem-solving skills used in our own families and communities to conflict situations in the larger world.
  • The U.N. should be pressed to levy a global financial transaction tax (Tobin Tax) with proceeds to be used for humanitarian initiatives such as NGO led civilian peace service.
  • More use should be made of the Internet as a means of sharing information and raising support for NGO activities.
  • It is essential to appreciate and embrace our own communities, to avoid alienation from ourselves if we hope to effect constructive change in the wider world.

III Creating a Culture of Peace

  • There is a need to change the prevailing culture of violence to a culture of peace. For this there is a need for Peace Promoters. We can encourage people to see that they are already Peace Promoters, and give them hope to continue, and find new and creative ways to promote peace like the Culture of Peace Workshop model developed by Voice of Women. Peace education should be an important part of educational curricula at all levels.
  • The obstacles to the emergence of a culture of peace were identified as: the military-industrial complex, economic systems which bring about unequal distribution of resources, a mass media that promotes consumerism, competition and violence, patriarchal power structures (not many women in parliament), complacency.
  • Some of the tools needed to be more effective peace promoters include a knowledge and understanding of the issues, the ability to influence others, accessibility to the media, money (with a caution that this should not be the primary focus), and more specifically the resources and infrastructure to train peace promoters.

IV. Poverty, Globalization and the Jubilee 2000 Campaign

  • Debt relief and future lending must not be tied to the continued adherence to structural adjustment programmes. A clearer set of rules and mechanisms for international borrowing and lending must be established where borrowers and lenders share responsibility and liability. There must be an internationally agreed mechanism for monitoring debt relief and making sure the benefits reach the most needy. There is a role for the U.N. in this.
  • The Jubilee Initiative for debt remission is part of a much broader campaign toward a fundamental re-ordering of our global economic system that will serve people’s needs.
  • The wealthy northern countries should increase the proportion of foreign aid to the majority world and channel money and resources through people-to-people initiatives.
  • Economic opportunities for women should be created,particularly in war-torn countries where the majority of the population is women.
  • Individuals can withdraw support from banks and do their business with credit unions and other alternatives to banks.
  • More attention needs to be paid to the banking system and the process of creating money. The person, private institution or government that creates money gets a windfall that should properly go solely to the people as a whole via their duly constituted government. Therefore governments need to take back the money creation function that they have over the years slowly given to the private banks. (in 1994 in the U.S. only 11% of money was created by the government.)

V Arms Trade: Problems and Recommendations

Canada is supporting, subsidizing, and aiding producers of weapons who sell to human rights violators and countries in conflict.
Recommendations: Fuller transparency of arms sales – especially Canadian sales to the United States is required.
Arms sales to human rights abusers are in violation of the UN Declaration of Human Rights and therefore we must keep this issue at the forefront. We need to push for accountability with end use as the criterion for deciding on the acceptability of arms exports. Furthermore, a security impact study is needed and we should look to civil society groups and human rights organizations to provide the leadership in making these assessments.
Arms exports represent a small percentage of Canada’s GDP but certain regions are dependent on these exports. Despite this, Canada could convert without too much dislocation.
Recommendations: Push the Canadian government to issue fewer export permits to encourage companies to shift to other markets, which they will do if pressured.
Establish an international code of conduct to harmonize standards of all countries so no country can say “If we don’t sell to such a country, somebody else will.” To ensure compliance, an international monitoring regime is required.
The general public must be provided with critical information about military spending and other arms issues.
Recommendations: Identify and contact media people who exhibit some degree of independence and flexibility.
Work more effectively with unions on issues of conversion.
UN Registry of Arms: Canada and other countries need to do more to strengthen the Register, and more attention needs to be paid to small arms.
Brokering Arms Sales. A few unpublicized Canadian companies purchase equipment in one country and turn around and sell it to others without any arms entering Canadian territory.
Recommendation: The Canadian government has shown some concern about this and should push for an international agreement to better regulate and curb these types of sales.
The arms trade involves strategic as well as economic interests.
Recommendation: Traditional hard power diplomacy should be replaced by approaches that emphasize common security and lasting peace.

VI. UN Conferences

A. Recommendations concerning the operation of the UN:

There are many egregious examples of solemnly adopted, and basic UN policies being flouted by member states.
Recommendation: A nation’s signing-on to such UN agreements must not simply mean espousing its broad principles, but rather entail a commitment to enact specific legislation, on a specified timetable, to implement the agreement.
Some transnational corporations are grossly exploiting workers, including children, and also degrading the environment, throughout the world; at the same time they are attempting, through the WTO, the IMF and other agencies, to impose a regime of international rules protecting their behaviour.
Recommendation: The UN should consider establishing codes of social and environmental behaviour for corporations operating internationally, and establishing UN tribunals to monitor adherence to these codes, with appropriate sanction mechanisms.
Some international interventions have turned out to have involved deplorable social or environmental consequences.
Recommendation: The importance of not doing harm must be given greater weight in decisions on action; in general, where difficult decisions on UN action are involved, the ‘precautionary principle’ should prevail.
The monitoring of UN human rights covenants and similar agreements remains quite inadequate, as was evident at the recent UNDHR Review hearings.
Recommendation: The UN Human Rights Commission and similar UN agencies for monitoring UN agreements must be much better funded.
Decisions at the UN are often taken in a way remote from the people.
Recommendation: Better communications are needed between the UN governing bodies and its agencies, on one hand, and citizens and NG0s, on the other.
The organisational structure of the UN serves to frustrate certain forms of action regarded as urgent by many of us.
Recommendation: There should be underway active planning, within the UN and by NGO groups, and by both working together, towards reorganisation of the UN structures. Among the issues needing examination are:
  1. Should the Security Council have any permanent members?
  2. Is the veto a positive device?
  3. Is the UN General Assembly an appropriate institution? By giving equal weight to all nations regardless of size and political structure, it clearly fails some tests of democracy. Should the General Assembly be replaced, or joined, by a ‘Citizen’s Assembly’, elected worldwide on the basis of more nearly equal suffrage for all citizens?

B. Recommendations regarding more local activities tending to make better use of and to support, the UN:

  • Citizens and NGOs should step up pressure on their governments to force accountability regarding their responsibilities under the UN and UN agreements; this should include financial commitments in support of such responsibilities.
  • Steps are essential in many nations (including Canada) to reverse the monopolising of the media by a narrow range of political and social viewpoints; we should be studying how to encourage greater diversification.
  • Governments should be pressured by citizens and NGOs to adopt and promulgate positions which support UN aims.
  • NGOs should learn to make full use of UN review mechanisms (as was done so successfully with regard to Canada’s failures at the recent review of compliance with the Human Rights Covenants).
  • NGOs should improve their ability to cooperate internationally, in order to address international issues more effectively.
  • Certain citizen/NGO initiatives are thought to have great potential for influencing public opinion on issues of relevance to the UN; especially cited were: Consumer boycotts of goods produced under unacceptable labour conditions or with unacceptable environmental consequences.
  • ‘People’s Courts’ to try governmental or corporate offenders.