There has been much debate in recent years about the need for radical reform of the UN, if it is to fulfil the aspirations of its post-Second World War founders. For thinking people, it is a matter of great concern that the UN is increasingly marginalised in conditions of international crisis such as Kosovo last year. Often this is the result of the strait-jacket of the original UN charter which is based firmly on the absolute integrity of the nation-state, rendering the UN powerless in cases (such as ex-Yugoslavia) where bitter conflict is internal.
A new campaigning group is to be launched with its inaugural meeting on Wednesday 9th February at 7pm in the House of Commons, called “Action for UN Renewal”. Alison Williams who has been much involved in this movement for UN reform will talk to our group on Tuesday February 8th about UNGA-Link UK and the conference which she organised last autumn.
Alison Williams writes:
“UNGA-Link UK is the abbreviated name of the Network for a Civil Society Link with the UN General Assembly. Its purpose is to facilitate a two-way link between UK civil society and the United Nations, partly through information exchange and partly through shared representation at UN Conferences. (Practical considerations prevent every NGO and civil society group in the world, large and small, being directly represented.)
“One of our main lobbying points is for an annual Civil Society Forum to be held alongside the General Assembly. Under the UN Charter, such a forum could be set up as a subsidiary body of the General Assembly. One of the main reasons for the UN’s relative ineffectiveness is the failure of its member states to give it adequate resources and political support. We believe that with non-governmental people more closely involved with the UN, it would be easier to generate the necessary political will to support it.”
On November 3rd West Berkshire Council, in a surprise decision, gave approval for the erection of commemorative sculptures on the land occupied by the Greenham Women’s Peace Camp from 1981 until January 1st 2000.
On the Tuesday after Christmas I joined about a hundred other people in central London in the commemoration of child victims of war and violence, organised by Christian CND. It was an inspiring and moving occasion — and an excellent antidote to the overindulgence of the Festive Season!
We met at Westminster Abbey and processed to Trafalgar Square, stopping at the Houses of Parliament, the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and Downing Street to hand in New Millennial resolutions, and copies of the model Nuclear Weapons Convention. Each of these powerfully symbolic destinations was marked by carefully thought-out readings and prayers, and we sang Christmas carols outside Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence. Eventually we arrived at St-Martin’s-in-the-Fields for a one-hour ‘Service of Hope’ including especially written music by Sue Gilmurray and a sermon by the Bishop of Croydon. Felicity Arbuthnot spoke about the sufferings of the children of Iraq, and we were all given scraps of rainbow ribbon to pin onto our coats as we finally dispersed — symbolic ‘commissioning’ to continue our work for Peace.
It is the final words of the Bishop of Croydon which will stay with me (quoting Archbishop Tutu, I think): “if you think you are too small to make a difference — try sharing a bed with a mosquito!”
We were pleased to be given permission just before Christmas to display again some of the children’s art and writing submitted to our ‘Hague Appeal for Peace’ competition. We have prepared an introductory panel explaining the context of the competition, and we have also taken the opportunity to publicise Manifesto 2000 and the UN’s International Year of the Culture of Peace.
The exhibition opened in Wimbledon Library on January 4th and moves to the Donald Hope Library, Colliers Wood, from 24th January to 5th February, and Mitcham Library from 7th February to 19th February, with future dates in other libraries yet to be fixed.
If you were not able to see the peace exhibition in the Civic Centre last year, do go along.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in New York in April 2000 offers a real chance to move towards a nuclear weapons-free world. Under the terms of the NPT, the non-nuclear signatories to the treaty relinquish any military nuclear ambitions they might have, in return for an undertaking by the nuclear weapons states that they will “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date” (Article VI)
The International Court of Justice confirmed in July 1998 that under international law the nuclear weapons states have “an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.” There is absolutely no ambiguity here, and Britain’s refusal to support multilateral nuclear disarmament resolutions in the UN should be a matter of deepest shame. We are told that negotiations will be joined “when the time is right”, whenever that may be supposed to be.
Gallup polls in both Britain and America show that around 85% of people would support a global treaty to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Last December the ‘nuclear club’ states were joined only by Monaco, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Romania in voting against a resolution put to the UN General Assembly proposing the negotiation of a Nuclear Weapons Convention. This is a fact which was barely reported in the British media and which the Labour Government would prefer to keep secret.
Publicity is our best ally. You will find a petition form enclosed with this Newsletter. Please use the petition to spread the message and to collect signatures (family, colleagues, friends, neighbours) to be presented to the British delegation in New York.
This month, a consultation document entitled “Britain in the World” will have been sent to all local Labour Parties and affiliated trade unions. There now follows a period of discussion, at the end of which individual members and bodies of the Labour Party may suggest amendments to the policy. The document will be finalised in the summer and voted upon at Labour’s annual conference at the end of September. From then on, it becomes the basis of the manifesto on which Labour fights the next general election.
Although only individual members or bodies of the Labour Party may put forward amendments, the consultation document is available to the public, and any individual or organisation can submit written comments about it.
Realistically, the government is unlikely to shift its position from a defence policy based on NATO membership and nuclear weapons, but the stronger the support at each stage of Labour’s policy-making process for cancelling Trident and for the global abolition of nuclear weapons, the easier it is for CND to make its case for a nuclear-free world — and the greater heart it gives Labour party members who are fighting on our behalf.
Comments and amendments should be sent to:Britain in the World Policy Commission
with copies to CND (who will pass comments on to the appropriate National Policy Forum representatives).