The Hague Appeal – Women (7/99)

The Hague Appeal for Peace Conference was quite successful in bringing together peace and justice activists from all over the globe to network, launch new coalitions, and renew pledges to make peace possible. Four thousand people were expected to attend the four-day event in May, but over 8,000 turned up. A thousand groups representing people from 100 countries took part. But unfortunately, it was held in the Netherlands, a NATO country engaged in war at the time, and that reality did affect the outcome.

According to the organizers’ report, several of the 400 programs that took place resulted in groundbreaking initiatives and resolutions, including one by Indians, Pakistanis and Kashimirs on peace in Kashimir. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, who spoke at the closing ceremony, committed to sending the Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice for the 21st Century to every prime minister in the World. And UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan praised civil society for organizing such an impressive gathering and being at the forefront of peacemaking. 

Over 1000 young people attended the conference, developing a Youth Agenda for Peace and Justice. Participants from Egypt will translate the Agenda into Arabic for distribution in the Middle East. The UK and Canadian committees of the Hague Appeal planned to stage post-conference meetings to discuss implementation. At an organizing committee meeting after the conference, members also voted to remain a formal coalition.

One of the new campaigns launched at the conference is the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA). Pierre Sane of Amnesty International pointed out the hypocrisy of a nation that provides small arms to the world’s unstable regimes, and then restricts or turns back the refugees who flee the resulting violence. In case people didn’t know what country he meant, Sane added that the US has become the arsenal of the world.

From 1989 to 1996, the US sold $119 billion in arms, or 45 percent of the world’s total. The goal of IANSA is to encourage civil society organizations in protesting, tracking and publicizing weapons and weapons shipments; in short, Sane said, to tackle "one of the greatest humanitarian challenges of our time."

Planning sessions for the Millennium Assembly of the United Nations and the Millennium NGO forum called by Annan for June 2000, as well as the launch of the global campaign for an International Criminal Court (ICC) and a Youth against landmines movement were all well attended and enthusiastically supported.

The Global Action to Prevent War, a broad and long-term project aimed at building world peace, was also put in motion. Its aim is to establish "a coalition of coalitions," reaching out to NGOs, individuals and eventually governments. According to Randall Forsberg, director of the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies, no single campaign can deal with all the challenges. "Unless preventive action is taken over the next 10-20 years," warned the organizers, "we may see renewed armed confrontation between the most heavily armed nations – the USA, Russia, and China."

According to HAP President Cora Weiss, the conference provided an opportunity for NGOs to show governments how a discussion of peace and justice issues can be conducted. "Both the government level and the civil society level is taking the new diplomacy seriously," she argued. The idea of an international peace conference was initially proposed by the governments of the non-aligned movement in 1989, but came about mainly through the efforts of NGOs.

"They [governments] wouldn’t touch peace," said Weiss, noting that at least two permanent members of the UN Security Council rejected the proposal for a UN-sponsored peace conference. The US insists that the Security Council has exclusive authority over peace and security issues. "Because governments wouldn’t do it, it was left to us," she added. "We couldn’t let the century end without giving peace the last word."

In general, heads of governments avoided the event. Yet dozens of ministers and ambassadors did attend, including Jordan’s Queen Noor and the UN Secretary-General. Others, like Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Graca Machel and Jimmy Carter, sent written statements.

"The cries from Kosovo, East Timor, Colombia, Sudan, Somalia, Kashmir and Chechnya have been heard," said Weiss. "We will take the Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice to our local communities, to our national governments, and to the international community."

Today, however, issues of peace and justice include much more than how a political leader like Slobodan Milosevic treats Albanians in Kosovo. Just as relevant is Chevron’s encouragement of repression against Nigeria’s Ogoni, the relationship between British Petroleum and right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia, and whether the world’s poor can survive if water is privatized and intellectual property rights for crops like India’s basmati rice are bought by conglomerates like Monsanto.

As it stands, most governments will recognize universal values only up to the point where they collide with other interests. Despite a ban on anti-personnel mines accepted by 17 or 19 NATO member states, for example, the US still retains the right to use them in a NATO conflict. Proclaiming its support for the idea of a treaty banning mines, as well as the ICC, it nevertheless refuses to sign either.

Most of those who attended the conference aren’t naïve. They know that governments often co-opt the language of peace to justify their own interests or protect corporate power. Aerial bombardment becomes "humanitarian intervention," and an attack on Iraq not approved by the UN becomes "enforcement of UN resolutions." As a result, there was talk at the conference of giving more power to "well-meaning states" and UN preventive forces with wide authority. Dutch Foreign Minister Jozias van Aartsen suggested the incorporation of "humanitarian" intervention within international law. Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, who led the International Campaign to Bam Landmines, noted that activists can succeed by sticking to "do-able" aims and pressing governments to follow their lead.

A Global Agenda

The Hague Appeal outlines ten fundamental principles for a just world order:

1. Every government’s legislature should adopt a resolution prohibiting their government from going to war.
2. All states should unconditionally accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice.
3. Every government should ratify the ICC and implement the Landmines Treaty.
4. All states should integrate the New Diplomacy – the partnership of governments, international organizations, and civil society.
5. The world can’t ignore humanitarian crises, but every creative diplomatic means possible must be exhausted before resorting to force, the under UN 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.

—  Robin Lloyd is the publisher of Toward Freedom. For information on ongoing efforts to implement the Appeal and advance other campaigns, contact Megan Burke, Program Coordinator: Root Causes of War/Culture of Peace, The Hague Appeal for Peace 1999, c/o WFM, 777 U.N. Plaza, New York, NY 10017; (212) 687-2623; Fax,(212) 599-1332; website,