At The Hague - What I Saw and What You Missed

By Shirley Farlinger | 1999-07-01 12:00:00

Amazing things happen when 8,000 people gather, as they did from May 11 to 15 in the Netherlands, to plan a peaceful world.

The Hague Appeal for Peace Conference commemorated the Hague Peace Conference of 1899, this time organized not by Nicholas II and other imperial governments but by 700 groups from civil society with some help from the United Nations and governments such as the Netherlands, not including Canada. It marked the launch of the Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice for the 21st Century. The draft agenda was circulated well in advance for massive, global participation. The final Agenda will be spread worldwide on

What The VIPPs Said

Cora Weiss, conference president, launched the opening plenary with encouraging words including three success stories: The International Court of Justice ruling on nuclear weapons (remember the World Court Project?), the Treaty to Ban Landmines (remember the Ottawa Process?), and the establishment of the Statute for the International Criminal Court. Canadians had a major role in all three, yet were not mentioned. Cora called for a new diplomacy where women are at every negotiating table and every child receives peace education.

Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in a video smuggled out of Burma. Who better to speak of the need for humanitarian law and peaceful resolution of disputes?

There followed a cast of VIPPs, Very Important Peace People.

The Dutch Foreign Minister called for new ways to live together, especially in view of the war in Kosovo which, he says, demonstrates the need to get to the heart of problems with cooperation for democratic multi-ethnic governments in the entire region.

The President of Amnesty International noted that the success of the agreement on the International Criminal Court Statute depended on the lobbying by 800 non-governmental organizations. He urged us to help get the 120 ratifications needed to establish the Court. He said there is an arms control vacuum in governments. Although this was the century of 200 million deaths, it was also the time of the founding of the United Nations and the end of apartheid, he reminded us.

The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Sweden, Pierre Schori, said nuclear weapons are still on full alert and nuclear disarmament is at a standstill. At the same time in New York the prepcom for the NPT review was meeting. He said Russia and the U.S. must ratify START II, begin negotiations on START III, get the nuclear arsenals off alert, remove the warheads, eliminate tactical weapons, get a fissile materials cut-off, extend the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to India and Pakistan, and promote more Nuclear Weapons Free Zones.

The United Nations spoke through Olara Otunnu, Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict. From 1986 to 1996, he noted, 200,0000 children died in war. Half of all refugees are children, and there are 30,000 child soldiers. His advice included: launch an era of respect for international laws while keeping local value systems, use humanitarian ceasefires, control the flow of arms, have women at peace talks, inspire spiritual renewal, and foster democratic practices.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs for Ireland, David Andrews, outlined Ireland's work for peace and noted "small countries can and do make a difference."

Then came our heroes, Peace Laureates Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala, José Ramos Horta, East Timor, and to loud applause, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. How that man sparkles!

Rigoberta stated that no war is a just war; that the truth comes out only after the war; that peace cannot be left in the hands of those making the conflict; and that weapons should not be allowed. "I call on Mr. Milosovic and NATO to start a dialogue," she said. (It is the 50th day of bombing.)

Archbishop Tutu, in familiar Anglican garb, said "We have learned that humans are awful and wonderful. When people say you are weak, they lie, because we have destroyed apartheid. We have the capacity to end war." Then he led a chant. "What do we say to peace - Yes! What do we say to war - No!"

Now it was José's turn. "Empires were built on weapons, yet the dreamers and academics won freedom." One year ago Suharto fell. In East Timor 800,000 people were invaded by 200,000,000 with weapons from the NATO countries. When the West sells weapons to dictatorships it harms its own interests. A new agreement for East Timor was worked out in New York. "I want to thank one man, Kofi Annan" José said. "We must give the U.N. our utmost support in the years to come."

Our own Dr. Mary-Wynne Ashford of Physicians for Global Survival brings solemn news. She has just been to Moscow where she was told the Russians will not allow the bombing of Serbia to continue much longer. Russia's defence is in tatters except for its nuclear arsenals. She was told that, if pressed, Russia would have to use nukes. "What choice would we have?" an official asked. Mary Wynne noted in North America "we are asleep at the wheel during this headlong rush to war. An aroused public is our only hope." A hush followed, as we realized we are that aroused public.

Federico Mayor of UNESCO followed with a plug for a Culture of Peace where dialogue replaces violence, where wealth, knowledge, and decision making are shared and where women are half of parliamentarians (now at nine percent). "To intervene outside of U.N. is a dangerous precedent. If democracy is okay at the national level it is also okay at the international level. Together we can write the future. We are 100 percent committed to do so 100 years after the first Hague."

Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF, brought the amazing news that in Columbia the Children's Movement for Peace conducted a poll of 2,700,000 children on peace and the right to survival and are confronting the political powers with the results.

The speeches were lightened with dance and music. Judy Collins, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, got a standing ovation for her peace songs.

Next it was Sir Peter Ustinov's turn. He quipped that too many people from the "developed" countries will never develop at all. "There is a crisis in the progress of national governments. It was the Russian mothers who went to Chechnya to get their sons back. So we see the voice is mightier than the sword."

The panel ended with beautiful Arundhati Roy, young screenwriter and anti-nuclear activist in South Asia, declaring herself "an independent mobile republic, a citizen of Earth where all immigrants are welcome. Be realistic, demand the impossible because the Earth, now four trillion years old, could end in an afternoon."

We rushed from the plenary to grab lunch and find the workshop of our choice, a difficult job with 150 workshops to cover during three days. About 100 Canadians attended and we bumped into each other constantly. Canadian Voice of Women of Peace had the largest delegation and they coordinated their members to cover as many topics as possible. We can only touch some of them here.

Steve Staples of End the Arms Race, Vancouver, organized the session on Demilitarizing the Global Economy. Highlights included: The Cold War is over but the military industrial complex has won and it refuses to go out of business. It takes money to convert military jobs to civilian and the military controls the money.

NATO is re-arming and we learned Canada is part of NATO's joint strike fighter program. We must take on the U.S. defence budget, change Congress, close bases, cancel contracts, break the hold of the big contractors and get transparency on defence issues, the workshop urged.

Many workshops addressed the concerns of women: Women and Armed Conflict, Women Against War, Women Lead the Way to Peace, Dialogues on Gender and Human Security, Building Women's Leadership for Peace, If Women Ruled the World, A Culture of Peace Through Women's Human Rights, Engendering the Peace Process and Women and Globalization. The need to include women as speakers, as peace negotiators and as sources of inspiration and action was recognized throughout the conference. And one of the sponsors was UNIFEM, a U.N. women's agency was well as that feminist company The Body Shop.

There were moments of terror as we heard of the effects of global warming such as the melting of the ice shelves, the projected six metre rise in oceans, and the heat waves, all of which are unaddressed. The Kyoto Agreement (which the U.S. refused to sign and Canada is failing to live up to) was too weak. The recent free logging agreement of the World Trade Organization will double global warming.

Monsanto is taking over the whole food market but at least the U.K., Spain and Ireland are outraged about genetically manipulated foods.

Making the Case for Nuclear Abolition brought familiar people such as Jonathan Schell and Senator Douglas Roche to the platform. The Abolition 2000 campaign has 1300 groups from 85 countries. But the Ukraine has decided to accept nuclear weapons again. An International Sustainable Energy Agency is suggested as an alternative to the infamous International Atomic Energy Agency. Rob Green, former British nuclear ship admiral, urges us to write to our prime ministers stating that nuclear weapons are immoral, irresponsible, illegal and totalitarian. You could add expensive.

The final plenary continues the role call of activists. Jody Williams, Nobel Laureate for her Anti-Landmines Coalition says "the world will change when each of us become a leader. Emotion without action is useless." The issue is made very real by the Cambodian girl who lost her leg at the age of six and now makes dramatic appeals for the cause. Maj-Brit Theorin puts the matter succinctly. "You cannot create democracy through bombing the villages you want to save."

My God, who's up next? Why it's the Raging Grannies from Toronto with our friends Phyllis Creighton and Betsy Carr! These Grannies have gotten up off their fannies all right to sing their funny parodies to the huge audience.

The Prime Minister of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, looking radiant, declares that her constitution includes no use of force and complete disarmament. Bangladesh will soon ratify the International Criminal Court Treaty. It is a member of the Asian Parliamentarians for Peace and Cooperation. "I will share the Hague Declaration with all the prime ministers in the world," she promises.

Vandana Shiva, Indian scientist, author and activist notes there is biological warfare in the World Trade Organization. Designer seeds by companies such as Monsanto will sell chemicals but end life diversity. It's good news that in India 200 groups are protesting.

Secretary General Kofi Annan describes United Nations successes such as ending the war between China and Russia. "Force may be needed under the Security Council," he says. "The ultimate crime is to miss the chance for peace. Thank you, please keep it up," he ends. That he has come to the Hague Conference in the midst of the Kosovo crisis says how important we are to the United Nations.

Lack of Media

Where has the media been throughout the Hague Appeal for Peace? The total absence of reporting can only be deliberate. Of course there's a war on and the front pages are full of it. But surely this is all the more reason for some coverage of all the ways in which people are trying to avoid war, engage in multitrack diplomacy, and study the root causes of war. Over $5 trillion U.S. has been spent on the nuclear age. Is that not worthy of note on the financial pages? One and a half days of NATO's budget would cover the U.N. budget for one year. It seems we will only get all the real news at conferences like this one or via the internet. The Hague Appeal for Peace will continue over the coming months and as the final version of the declaration is compiled and sent out.

For me the peace movement has suddenly become a huge, exciting, global action more powerful than any power yet devised. I feel there's no stopping us and no better way to spend our lives.

The Milky Way is made up of little stars which look small only because they are far away. So are the peace stars we met at this conference: stars such as the Women's movement for Peace in Sierra Leone, Youths in Nigeria, African Centre for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Bougainville Women for Peace and Freedom.

Will we take up the challenge of allowing children to participate in all matters that especially affect them? In the words of young Farliz Calle, "Everyone listening to me must promise to try to end the impunity that allows people to abuse their power in the world, to stop those who torture other people, and to stop all those who are cutting the dreams, the hopes and the happiness of children." Her group has organized 10 million adults in Columbia, hardly a likely country for peace. Can we not do as much in Canada?

Shirley Farlinger is a Toronto based peace activist. For other accounts of the conference visit our website:

Peace Magazine Summer 1999

Peace Magazine Summer 1999, page 16. Some rights reserved.

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