6 April 1999

Press Briefing



The idea was to start the steps and sow the seeds for the abolition of war, to declare peace a human right and to design a culture of peace, not for a year or a decade, but forever, Cora Weiss, President of the Hague Appeal for Peace, told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.

Joining Ms. Weiss were Olara Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh; Bill Pace, Secretary- General of the Hague Appeal for Peace; Stephen Lewis of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF); and Nina Sibal of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The Hague Appeal for Peace was an end of the century, civil society conference taking place from 11 to 15 May in The Hague, Ms. Weiss said. An unprecedented action had taken place in the Netherlands yesterday -- where three governments had come together to try two people in a third country under the laws of another country. That had never happened before in legal history.

That was not going to be the last unprecedented act of the year, she continued. In May, in The Hague, civil society would be calling for peace to have the last word of the century, and getting together with governments and international governmental organizations. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh would be among the main speakers, and the major participants included UNICEF, UNESCO, and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

The four agenda areas under the umbrella of the Hague Appeal included disarmament and human security; conflict prevention and resolution; international human rights and humanitarian law; and the root causes of war/culture of peace. It would be an action-oriented conference, where actions would be taken together with governments and international governmental organizations, with the determination that the current century -- the most violent and war-filled in history -- should not repeat itself starting in the year 2000. Governments, international governmental organizations and civil society were going to commit themselves to a permanent culture of peace.

Mr. Otunnu said that he considered the Hague Appeal for Peace and the conference organized for May to be of capital importance, for several reasons. First, while the world should be entering the new millenium celebrating peace,

it was not. The reality of the transition period was of increased bloodshed, most of whose victims were children and women. The Hague Appeal must be used to begin an international movement to reverse that trend, and to protect women and children.

He said that he had just returned from a trip to Africa -- Rwanda, Burundi and the Sudan. What had struck him, upon seeing the sites where genocide had occurred, was that no one had the right to be complacent. Witness the history of Europe during World War II; Cambodia, not so long ago; Bosnia, yesterday; and today what was unfolding in Kosovo. Another reason to take advantage of the Hague Appeal Conference was to highlight the need for lack of complacency and to reverse that trend.

A third reason, he said, was the hope that the Hague Appeal for Peace Conference would launch a new era of the application of humanitarian and human rights instruments. The era that was being left behind was one of the elaboration of those standards -- from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, all of which were very impressive. What was less impressive, however, was the lack of their impact on the ground. Words on paper were impressive, but they could not make a difference to a woman or child in danger. Therefore, the new era must be the era of application, respect for the standards developed internationally, as well as locally.

Finally, today too many children were cynically exploited, in many contexts, for example as sexual objects and child labourers. However, the worst exploitation to which children were submitted was being used as child soldiers. Close to 300,000 children worldwide were participating in wars. The Appeal had to be used to reverse that trend and address the economic and social factors that facilitated that phenomenon -- including raising the minimum age for recruitment from 15 to 18.

Ambassador Chowdhury said that the Prime Minister and people of Bangladesh had been supporting the cause of peace, not only internally, but with its neighbours and other countries. Bangladesh had taken a leadership role in promoting the culture of peace within the United Nations system, in its various activities and programmes. Going to the Hague Conference would be a reiteration of Bangladesh's commitment to work for peace.

Mr. Lewis said that the document which accompanied the Hague Appeal was a fine compendium of initiatives for peace. It was compelling and worth embracing, and that was why UNICEF was deeply involved. The world was entering the millenium in bad shape. At the Hague Conference, UNICEF would put forward the position that unless children were partners in peace, there would never be any peace.

Ms. Weiss said that peace education was going to be a major component of the Hague Appeal for Peace. The final product of the Appeal -- the Hague

Hague Press Conference - 3 - 7 April 1999

Agenda for Peace and Justice for the Twenty-first Century -- would be an action-packed document, which would serve as a guideline for governments, inter-governmental organizations and civil society. The culture of peace that UNESCO was designing and supporting, and their campaign for peace education was very important in that regard.

Ms. Sibal said that she hoped that the Hague Appeal would launch the United Nations Decade for the Culture of Peace, which would begin in 2001. The UNESCO and UNICEF had been singled out as the two parts of the United Nations system that would provide the greatest input into that decade. The culture of peace was no longer a UNESCO or UNICEF initiative, but a declaration and programme of action, which would encompass peace education and many other parts of the agenda, to be adopted at the Conference. What was being looked for at the May meetings was for civil society and the United Nations system to come together in a coalition, which would move into the Decade for the Culture of Peace.

Mr. Pace said that the end of the nineteenth century peace conference (1899) had been convened by imperial governments. The end of the twentieth century peace conference (1999) would be convened by civil society. The Agenda and the four hundred programmes had been brought by the organizing committee, governments and participating organizations. One of the expected products of the Conference included the global launch of the historic effort to complete the establishment of a permanent international criminal court that would bring justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Also, the landmines campaign would be coming from the first conference of parties and using the Hague Conference to explain the next stages in their important effort.

Those actions would be combined with an international agenda, he continued. The Foreign Ministers of Norway and Canada would be talking about the new diplomacy -- the model of international organizations, governments, non-governmental organizations and civil society working together to make practical advances in the humanitarian and human security agenda. There would be a number of very practical products, including an Agenda, that he hoped would be embraced by the United Nations, as well as regional and national governments.

Ms. Weiss added that the Hague Appeal for Peace was written into a United Nations resolution, and had equal partnership status with governments.

Responding to a question on how the Hague Appeal would deal with Kosovo, Mr. Pace said that the agenda of the Hague Appeal was the one brought by the participating organizations, and there would be several programmes dealing directly with Kosovo and the issue of humanitarian intervention. It would not be a conference in which participants would agree and adopt something en masse, because the participating groups had separate mandates and focuses.

Hague Press Conference - 4 - 7 April 1999

On the other hand, the Conference should be prospective, he said. Part of the focus of the Conference should be on the tools and structures of peace, the mechanisms to prevent and deter the kind of situation now facing Kosovo. Also of interest would be a "moot court", which would put the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on trial.

Ms. Weiss said that there were already two roundtables planned on Kosovo. There would be enough informal demand for a "teach-in" where all sides could be heard. Perhaps from civil society, some viable alternatives would emerge.

Asked about how many government delegations would be participating in the Conference and the extent of their commitments, Ms. Weiss replied that 12 governments had stated that their Prime Minister, Foreign Minister or representative of Government would attend. Among those attending would be Albania, Jordan, Canada, Norway, the Netherlands, Ireland, Lebanon, Bangladesh, Sweden and Bosnia and Herzegovina. They had not committed themselves to anything more than participating with civil society in a common problem towards a common solution.

With regard to the extent that civil society organizations and non- governmental organizations were reflective of public opinion, Mr. Pace said that those organizations represented expertise and the different sectors of society more than the people in some generic sense.

Ambassador Chowdhury added that the representative nature of a non- governmental organization hinged on its partnership at the national level. Bangladesh had had great experiences of partnership between the Government, non-governmental organizations and other actors of civil society. That had helped to move the development agenda in his country. The legitimacy of any non-governmental organization would depend on how closely it was involved in partnerships with other actors.

Clarifying what was meant by putting NATO "on trial", Mr. Pace said that there was a proposal by a Dutch legal group to do a "moot court", where they would raise the legal issues involved in Kosovo in an international court of justice setting, with the different players involved.

Ms. Weiss added that it was just a proposal and that there was another proposal to have a global peace "teach-in". Those proposals were under discussion by the organizing committee at the moment.

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For information media. Not an official record.