At the Hague, civil society mobilizes for peace, calling for a "new diplomacy"

THE HAGUE - In terms of their origins, the reversal between the 1899 Hague Peace Conference and one held this year is quite dramatic.

A hundred years ago, the First Hague Peace Conference was organized by governments. Convened by Russia and the Netherlands, it drew government representatives from 26 nations and resulted in the establishment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, predecessor to today's International Court of Justice.

The 1999 Hague Appeal for Peace - which drew at least 8,000 people from some 100 countries representing more than 700 organizations - was convened not by governments but by organizations of civil society. Governments, although they had talked extensively about holding a major peace conference in the Hague this year, disagreed over its scope and settled for a small-scale, two-day commemoration of the 1899 event.

"This shift in the initiative is most significant," said Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, in a closing address to the Appeal, which ran 11-15 May 1999. "Once the initiative for peace is taken over by civil society, peace cannot be far away. This should happen all over the world."

Indeed, the decision by civil society groups to hold their own event very much reflects the resultant conference's underlying theme: that governments have failed to adequately address the wider causes of war and that the structure for lasting peace can only be erected now if civil society mobilizes to give governments a push.

"The world is emerging from the bloodiest, most war-ridden century in history," said the Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice in the 21st Century, the Appeal's main document.

"On the eve of the new century, it is time to create the conditions in which the primary aim of the United Nations, 'to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war', can be realized….[T]his historic mission and responsibility cannot be entrusted solely to governments."

The 8,500-word Agenda, which was compiled through a series of preparatory meetings and via the Internet by the 70-plus civil society groups on the conference's organizing and coordinating committees, accordingly goes beyond simply calling on governments to do more. In the Agenda and at the conference, direct actions and initiatives by civil society itself were emphasized. Specifically, conference organizers advocated greater reliance on a new model of diplomacy in which "citizen advocates, progressive governments and international organizations work together on common goals," as stated in the Agenda.

"Together we represent what is known as the new, or democratic diplomacy, which has already proved its effectiveness in bringing about the treaty to ban landmines, the statute creating the International Criminal Court and the World Court opinion on the illegality of nuclear weapons," said Cora Weiss, a longtime peace activist who served as president of the Appeal.

All together, the conference was also a significant demonstration of the ever increasing organization and cooperation within international civil society as a whole. In many respects, The Hague Appeal for Peace can be seen as another step in a process of cross-sectorial alignment and collaboration among the various and diverse groups of civil society that began with the large NGO Forums associated with the decade's major United Nations global conferences on issues of education, environment and development, human rights, population, women, poverty, cities and food.

"Many NGOs expanded alliances and coalitions at the Hague," said Jonathan Dean, advisor on international security issues for the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists. "For example, we linked up more clearly than we had before with a couple of groups interested in early warnings of conflict. We also joined the global coalition on small arms and we tightened our relationship with groups moving toward complete nuclear disarmament. This meeting really took the place of a UN-organized conference on peace and disarmament issues, which it wasn't possible or convenient to hold."

Long preparations

The event drew a wide range of participants, from representatives of well-known international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to individual grassroots peace activists. A number of world leaders addressed the Appeal, including UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, H.M. Queen Noor of Jordan, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, and Ms. Hasina of Bangladesh, as well as UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy and a number of Nobel Prize winners. Some 80 governments sent representatives, said conference organizers.

"Please be assured that many of us felt that the Hague Appeal for Peace was a landmark toward progress for a peaceful world," said His Excellency Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, Bangladesh's permanent representative to the United Nations, who attended the Appeal. "Personally, I felt it was a civil society organized event. Not only was it well organized, but it had heart as well. You always felt so good. Usually, government meetings are very stiff, but you actually enjoyed being there. Beyond that it was also a very substantive meeting, which produced a substantive document."

The meeting was initiated by four groups: The International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), the International Peace Bureau (IPB), International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), and the World Federalist Movement/Institute for Global Policy (WFM). But as of the conference's end, some 70 NGOs had become involved with the event's organizing and coordinating committees and more than 700 signed on as "registered organizations" or "endorsers."

According to Ms. Weiss, the Agenda was crafted in a two-year process that involved deep consultation of those 70-some groups. Their goals were to stimulate networking, coalition building and the advancement of various specific international initiatives, with the overall aim of stimulating a broad, worldwide campaign to hasten the establishment of lasting peace in the world.

The result, as organizers acknowledge, did not win full agreement of all those who participated in the Conference or its preparations. The Hague Agenda is nevertheless a fairly comprehensive summing up of the thinking of those progressive elements of civil society that have been so involved in the NGO Forums of the recent UN Conferences. In this regard, it might be described as the first real broad-based reiteration of civil society's collective wisdom on global issues concerning peace and justice.

Among other things, the Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice in the 21st Century broadly calls for a stronger and more proactive United Nations, stronger mechanisms to implement and enforce human rights, more efforts to promote peace education, more women in decision-making, and wider efforts to promote international democracy and global governance.

In terms of specific initiatives, the Agenda calls for wider ratification of the 1997 Landmine Ban Treaty and the Biological Weapons Convention, the accelerated acceptance and establishment of the proposed International Criminal Court, and the successful launch of new campaigns to limit the proliferation of small arms and to end the use of child soldiers.

The New Diplomacy

Conference organizers hope to accomplish such activities not only through traditional forms of lobbying and coalition building, but also through great use of the so-called "New Diplomacy," a phrase adopted to signify the increasing partnership that has arisen between NGOs and governments in small- to middle-sized countries in efforts to get around opposition to specific treaties and positions by other governments, often the so-called major powers.

The most cited example of the New Diplomacy in action was the 1997 Landmine Ban Treaty, which was negotiated to a successful conclusion over the objections of several major world powers. The treaty, which as of 31 March 1999 had been signed by some 135 countries, seeks to ban the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines. It is widely agreed that the rapid and successful negotiation of its final text was due in large part to work of several "middle-power" governments working in close collaboration with a coalition of international non-governmental organizations.

"The New Diplomacy is a model based on partnership between governments and international organizations," said William Pace, executive director of the World Federalist Movement, who served as secretary-general of the Hague Appeal for Peace. "In the international campaign to ban landmines, it was clearly grid-locked in the official process. So NGOs, working with progressive governments, and especially with the leaders of Canada and Norway, pulled it out of the UN process, convened meetings of government and NGOs, drafted a treaty and got it successfully ratified by many countries around the world."

A global bazaar

In addition to plenary speeches and "overview session" panel discussions, the Hague conference also featured some 400 smaller workshops and seminars, as well as a large exhibit area where more than 180 organizations set up booths with literature tables and displays. At times the event had the aspect of a diverse, global bazaar, with many informal meetings and performances occurring with apparent spontaneity in the hallways and foyers of the Netherlands Congress Center, where the conference was held.

Religious groups were an important presence at the Appeal. "There was also consensus that religion and spirituality needed to be incorporated into the peace process, and attention paid to the importance of religion in a world without war," said Kathleen Uhler, OSF, co-director of Franciscans International, who co-coordinated a focus group on religion and spirituality. "I think religion has been the cause of war, but it can also be used to create a culture of peace."

More than 50 Bahá'ís from 19 countries participated in the conference. Among them were representatives from the Bahá'í International Community's Office of Public Information in Paris, which sponsored a presentation on "Promoting Positive Messages Through the Media." This project was selected as one of the first initiatives of the Royaumont Process, a diplomatic counterpart to the Dayton Accords that ended the conflict in Bosnia.

"Promoting Positive Messages" uses media and theatrical techniques to promote social healing and interethnic communication in the war-torn region of southeastern Europe. To date, training sessions for the project have taken place in six countries. The war over Kosovo interrupted plans to hold sessions in Bosnia, Yugoslavia, and Macedonia in spring 1999, but a new schedule is currently being devised. [See ONE COUNTRY October-December 1998.]

The Netherlands Bahá'í community and the European Bahá'í Youth Council (EBYC) coordinated the Bahá'í presence at the Appeal. Both entities had exhibition booths in the Global Forum area. As well, the Netherlands community sponsored its youth dance workshop, "Awake," which gave performances on the theme of promoting tolerance. The Youth Council was deeply involved in the formulation of the youth statement.

Many of the Bahá'ís who attended the Hague Appeal were present as representatives of other peace organizations. "There were Bahá'ís there from educational groups, interreligious groups, youth organizations and others," said Yolande Milani-Van Den Hoogen, secretary of the Bahá'í community of the Netherlands. "Bahá'ís around the world are very diverse and yet they are working hard to create a culture of peace. Our hope was to show that it is possible to work together in unity and diversity."