September 1999 Volume 20 Issue 3
Darren Puscas completed a six-month internship in the national office of Project Ploughshares in May 1999.
Thousands of NGOs and activists came together in The Hague, Netherlands from May 11-15 to discuss world security and demilitarization issues and attempt to put together an agenda for peace to present to the United Nations General Assembly. Though the meeting was punctuated with such luminary figures as Bishop Desmond Tutu, landmines ambassador Jody Williams, East Timorese activist José Ramos Horta, and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the conference focused more on the individual meetings and projects which gave people from various regions of the world an invaluable opportunity to discuss their own specific areas of expertise with their colleagues. Included was the launch of two global campaigns: 1) the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) which was formed to set up a concrete network to pursue specific, enforceable rules for monitoring the flow of arms, and 2) the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons.
Three of the major themes permeating conference discussions were 1) reconciliation of conflicting groups through dialogue, formal truth commissions, possible reparations, and ultimately forgiveness; 2) broadening the context of prevention to recognize the role of economic and social rights in securing more meaningful and stable peace; and 3) finding ways to expand and enforce international agreements and UN mandates such as the International Criminal Court to ensure that all are following the rule of law and that justice is increasingly available for victims of conflict. Implementing these three themes will be an uphill battle, given the often interest-based nature of power and deeply entrenched hatreds, but recognition of these problems and working towards practicable means to solve them were among the most positive outcomes of The Hague Appeal process.
Another dominant point of discussion at the conference was the war in Kosovo, then at its apex. Somewhat surprisingly, there was a deep split among delegates on a number of issues, including whether the conflict should be wholly condemned on pacifist grounds, whether or not there was just cause for NATO to bomb Serbia as a humanitarian intervention, if the bombing was adding to the problem rather than fixing it, or if there was even a legal right to bomb under the provisions of international law. An effort by a coalition at the conference to have The Hague Appeal officially condemn the bombings was not adopted by the organizing committee, in large part because of this variance of opinion.
Overall, as is often the case at such grand international conferences, it was the opportunity for dialogue across borders that became the most valuable result of The Hague Appeal. Although certainly not to a scale which reflects world demographics, people from countries which often do not have a voice had an opportunity to speak and be heard. Two of the most poignant examples came from Sudanese and Sierra Leonian women and children who gave impassioned statements about the ravages of war in their countries. Now is the time for the international community and all the small but vital pieces in this puzzle to begin the work of putting their inspirational words into concrete action.