Pages Menu
Categories Menu

Posted by on Mar 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

Cora Weiss talk Feb 28, 2013 at the meeting convened by the NGO Committee on Human Rights

NGO Committee on Human Rights                                                              Cora Weiss

Human Right to Peace                                                                                    Feb. 28, 2013

R2P should stand for Right to Peace.


Why is it important to think about Eleanor Roosevelt when we start talking about the Human Right to Peace? One should never second guess the departed, but I wonder what she would think of the debate happening in Geneva on whether people have a right to peace?


Eleanor Roosevelt, known as ER to many, “divided her time between her family, and women’s organizations dedicated to the living wage, outlawing child labor, worker safety and peace.”

That statement is from the introduction to Eleanor Roosevelt’s book, Tomorrow is Now. Among “the issues she thought most threatened Americans was war.” (Ibid xix) She contributed an article to Why Wars Must Cease by Carrie Chapman Carr. “The only question before us now is whether…we despair of any substitute for war.” (Ibid xxix) She went on, “It takes Just as much determination to work for peace as it does to win a war.” (Ibid xxxiv) It took 3000 hours of debate and 18 Member States to come up with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “The world had never agreed on a common concept of rights.” (Ibid xxxvi)


She abhorred fear, spoke of the “handcuffs of fear”, but she feared nuclear testing and she said that we know more about nuclear power (from bombs) than we do about the consequences of nuclear fallout. She said that the cost of weapons, “in this insane death struggle is an incalculable amount of money.” “The US puts vast sums of money into military developments. Think of what we could do if we channeled that money into other fields.” Nothing seems to have changed!


Why do I refer so much to ER? She got the first standing ovation in the history of the United Nations when she presented the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and called for its adoption. Never a college graduate, Roosevelt had courage, vision, profound belief in the United Nations and faith in civil society. “We can appeal always to the enormous strength and pressure of public opinion…and this is the best risk we could take.” (pg. 98)


Eleanor Roosevelt believed in civil society. The proposed resolution on the Right to Peace was initiated by civil society, vetted by civil society, lobbied for by civil society in dozens of countries. “It is up to every one of us”, said Eleanor Roosevelt, “…to create a climate of peace and provide the machinery for keeping it.”


The resolution being debated in Geneva provides just that machinery. She supported ending the sale or gift of military aid, and asked potential recipient countries what kind of economic aid they would need to replace it. This resolution calls for conversion from military production to human security.


The point is, that the woman who brought human rights to the world would probably support the effort by civil society to add peace to her list of 30 rights in the UDHR. The Charter calls for “…saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” There is the UN Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, and more related declarations and resolutions. But none of these says that we have a right to peace, that peace is a human right. The Hague Appeal for Peace convened a conference in May 1999 under the banners, Time to Abolish War and Peace is a Human Right.


All of the resolutions on children and armed conflict, on women, peace and security, on mediation, and so many more, all UN conferences with their outcome documents…none calls for the abolition of war and neither does the one we are discussing today. But it comes closest to closing the gap, to addressing the conditions that need to be addressed to avoid war.


The Charter says that all Member States shall refrain…from the threat or use of force…(2.4) and then in Article 51, proclaims the exception to that rule by saying we have the right to self-defense. Member states seem to feel that if we declare a right to peace they might lose their right to self-defence.


Members in the Security Council can vote not to go to war if there is no threat to national security. But they cannot get rid of Article 51. But we can insist that we become exhausted  from exhausting all non- violent, non- lethal means to settle a dispute before resorting to force. We can also mobilize public opinion so that the remaining states needed to ratify the crime of aggression are signed up to include that important crime in the Rome Statute of the ICC.


There are serious among the members of the Open Ended Working Group to the draft of the Resolution on the Right to Peace, mainly by the US and EU. It is viewed by some as a diversion from the focus of the activities of the Human Rights Council; some say peace lacks a definition. Of course peace is not the absence of war but also the presence of justice and equality for all.  There are objections to the repetition of what is available in other UN documents. I say, repetition is the best form of advertising, and a good way to educate. There are so many objections. Another is that the Human Rights Council is not the appropriate place to discuss disarmament, that peace is not a right but a goal.


Among the serious omissions is the inadequate reference to the role of women. There is an effort by civil society to insert reference to the Women Peace and Security Resolutions, SC Res 1325  and the 4 1800’s, a meager attempt to rectify a serious mistake. To their credit they have kept a reference to peace education, but again, that could easily be eliminated by saying that Human Rights education takes care of that issue, which it doesn’t.


There is a lot to do to keep this noble and needed Declaration alive and effective. Every member of the NGO Committee on Human Rights and everyone else here can bring this to the attention of one Member State, or as many as you have relations with. It must not get lost, it must not get so watered down as to become meaningless. It is the Machinery that Eleanor Roosevelt called for; that we need to prevent weapons from becoming the currency of foreign policy; that we need to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.


For the text of the Draft Resolution on the Right to Peace, see, and A/HRC/20/31 for the report of the Open Ended Working Group.