Antonio Guterres has been the UN’s Secretary-General since 2017. He has an interesting background for a World’s Top Diplomat: he was a socially active teenager who became Socialist Prime Minister of Portugal and later the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees. As a politician he was criticised for being soft and indecisive, but soft power is all he has as Secretary-General and his willingness to keep an open mind while seeking consensus among divided parties should serve him well. Radio 4 did a good profile of him which is still available: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b095pjt1
This year he has made headlines twice: in March he issued a call for a global ceasefire to enable a collective response to the pandemic, which was implemented minimally here and there. In July he delivered the annual Nelson Mandela lecture, a broad-ranging analysis of the global situation, strong on the need to address the world’s inequalities and forthright on the failure of “the nations that came out on top” after WWII to contemplate reform of the Security Council and so make it more legitimate and effective.
“Inequalities define our time,” he said as he recalled the UN’s founding vision where the basic necessities of life are human rights to which everyone is entitled. Globally, violence against women “is at epidemic levels”. Campaigners in 2016 were hoping that the new Secretary-General would be a woman; what we got was a man who has achieved for the first time gender parity among the senior UN jobs.
Looking ahead, his prescription for Building Back Better calls for a new Social Contract and a Global Deal to address “two seismic shifts”: the climate crisis and digital transformation. His suggestions for economic development included consideration of a Universal Basic Income. And the Global Deal would require “a redistribution of power, wealth and opportunities”, with governance based on “full, inclusive and equal participation in global institutions”.
The conversations he called for in this, the UN’s 75th anniversary year, made it clear to him what the peoples of the world want is governance measured in human and not economic terms. He concluded, “We are at breaking point. But we know which side of history we are on.”
The theme of the 2020 International Day of Peace (21 September) was Solidarity. In addition to whatever events could be organised round the world in pandemic time, Peace One Day presented an extraordinary virtual programme running from 10·00 in the morning to 10·00 in the evening. There were technical glitches now and then but it was a fantastic demonstration of the global face-to-face communication possible in our time.
Participants came from all the world’s regions, ethnicities and faiths; young, middle-aged and elderly; famous in their fields or unknown. There was solidarity in support for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the current agenda for peace. I was happy to see that the UK is one of the Pathfinders — a group of states and organisations committed to accelerating the implementation of SDG16, which aims to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development” and “provide access to justice for all”.
Among the famous faces online were Mark Rylance, Jude Law, Richard Branson and Mary Robinson. Outstanding among others was Bella Ramsey, a teenage actress who is an Ambassador for Young Minds. My single take-away message from it all was the evidence that everyone everywhere can make a meaningful contribution to peacebuilding from wherever they happen to be.
CND’s annual conference, this year entitled “Campaigning in the post-virus world”, will be held on October 10 and 18, on separate weekends. The CND AGM and Policy Conference will take place on Saturday October 10, and the following weekend, on Sunday October 18, London Region CND will host a public conference of discussion and workshops.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the conference will be held entirely online. Registration is now open until the end of Friday 2nd October. Please visit the following website to register: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/120419753725/
There is no registration fee this year for either groups or individuals. Many thanks to William Rhind for agreeing to ‘attend’ as our Group delegate.
All the doubters and sceptics who have hitherto regarded arms conversion as an unachievable utopian dream must be thinking again in the light of the coronavirus experience. For it has actually happened. In the space of one week, a company that normally made aircraft wings, together with defence firm Babcock, had converted to making thousands of government- approved, desperately needed ventilators for the NHS, instead of producing for war. Of course, the government blundered its way into this solution and we know it was a case of too little, too late. But there can be no turning the clock back on this stunning example of swords into ploughshares and what can be achieved when the situation demands it.
The pandemic has already taught us one thing; that all the nuclear weapons in the world cannot protect us from a deadly virus such as Covid 19. Hopefully it has also taught many people that the NHS, our most valuable protector against disease, must not be starved of resources as it clearly has been, when so many lives, not just of patients, but of dedicated staff, have been unnecessarily lost. Our slogan NHS Not Trident has taken on even greater significance in this awful period.
The Labour Party conference in 2017 adopted a resolution calling for a Defence Diversification Agency to be set up and while this has yet to be accomplished, much work has gone on behind the scenes and work within the trade union movement has resulted in more unions supporting the idea, realising that their members’ jobs will not be jeopardised by conversion of the arms industry into production for social use. On the contrary, research is showing that jobs in the defence industry have dramatically shrunk, also that production for peaceful use can employ many more people in more secure occupations.
Much remains to be done of course, but we can be proud that CND is continuing to pursue the idea of defence diversification. At a CND fringe meeting at the TUC this year Kate Hudson chaired a meeting where three speakers from trade union and varying backgrounds brought us up to date on trade union involvement and stressed the need to persevere with our campaign. Hilary Wainwright, co-founder of Red Pepper, stressed the need to keep defence diversification on the agenda; the more persistent we are, the more it becomes feasible. Hilary also emphasised the role of trade unionists, the skilled creators of wealth. It is important to use and develop their ideas and involvement, not just during election campaigning but all the time, presenting positive alternatives to war and nuclear weapons that can win widespread support.
We can be encouraged that in the midst of this dreadful, unprecedented crisis, common sense will continue to prevail and gain support. We must step up demands to cancel Trident and spend the £205bn saved on the NHS and other social needs. We must build on what has been done, win more active trade union support for defence diversification and give people confidence in their own power to help rebuild society for peace not war.
On 6th August, we gathered as usual at Rushmere on Wimbledon Common, this year being mindful of the need to socially distance.
We set up our table, decorated with beautiful CND posters and traditional golden cranes (thanks to Gill McCall for once again applying her artistic talents to the stall). As the sun began to set, Ruth and Alison delivered some thoughts and poetry to mark 75 years since the bombing. A one minute silence followed, before each of the socially distanced crowd of more than 40 was invited to float a candle in an origami boat, on the still, calm water (for once, there was no wind up on the Common which proved to be a bit of a problem!) Some of us leafleted, and we spoke to at least 10–15 new people about the significance of our ceremony: and without exception, our message resonated! The appetite for peace is growing.
As part of their commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and to raise much needed funds, National CND suggested members make 75 origami cranes and ask for sponsorship. I spent several happy hours using a YouTube video to learn how to make the cranes and then several days making 75 cranes from any paper I could find around the house. I managed to raise £100 towards the target of £7,500. Altogether just over £4,000 was raised. Thank you to all those who sponsored me.
As you know, almost exactly three years ago, the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (the Ban Treaty) opened for signature at the United Nations — a treaty which will make nuclear weapons illegal in the countries that sign it. And, now we are so close to seeing this agreement enter into force, the countdown is really on!
The Ban Treaty needs 50 countries to ratify it before it becomes international law. And at the time of writing, 45 countries have done so, with a further 84 signing it. Who will be next?
Part of this campaign involves contacting local council leaders to request that their borough becomes a ‘Nuclear Ban Community’. You will recall that we have written to Merton Council and received a negative response. As some members live in Wandsworth borough, we are about to write to the Leader of Wandsworth Council with the same request.
Saturday 5th September 2020 was WDC/CND’s second monthly Peace Table since we resumed activity, after the easing of the lockdown. The theme was the UN International Day of Peace on 21st September. We decided to set up outside Centre Court this time. At first it felt a bit strange to be out on the street again, and being masked meant that people could hardly hear our words or read our body language. Still we managed to distribute a good number of leaflets, managed to have a few meaningful conversations, and made our statement about standing for Peace. As ever, huge thanks to everyone who helped distribute the leaflets, “Climate not Trident”, and copies of the UN Charter (it’s 75 years since it was signed).
Special thanks to Gill McCall for once again producing a great, eye-catching display, especially the papier-mâché hot-air balloon carrying the UN Peace Bear. We asked members of the public to suggest a name for it, but a decision has yet to be made!
Congratulations to campaigners in Liverpool. Thanks to a broad civil society campaign in Liverpool against the Electronic Arms Fair, the event was cancelled. The campaigners were supported by CAAT, CND, PSC and other organisations. Following the event’s cancellation, over 40,000 emails were sent to the Liverpool City Council Cabinet, demanding the mayor implement a policy to ensure such an event will not take place in the city in the future. Following his commitment, the mayor will now meet with representatives of Liverpool Against the Electronic Arms Fair to map a time frame for the implementation of a stringent and robust charter.
There is still more work to be done, notably planning resistance to the London DSEI Arms Fair, due to be held 14–17 September 2021. CAAT and STAF (Stop the Arms Fair) have now started working on their strategy, and we will keep you up to date with their plans as they are publicised.
The Covid-19 restrictions have compelled us to revise the way in which we hold our meetings. One meeting in a garden, socially distanced, was moderately successful, but with the change in the weather, we had to seriously consider meeting on-line. So the September Steering Group meeting was the first one held via Zoom; there were a few hiccups, but we hope they will get sorted out. Given the restrictions that still apply about numbers meeting inside, we will need to carry on using this system for the foreseeable future.
William Rhind has kindly agreed to set up the meetings so, if you’d like to participate in a future meeting via Zoom, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can then send you the link at the appropriate time. The next meeting is scheduled for Friday 9th October at 6·30pm.
This year, Remembrance Sunday is the 8th of November. At the time of writing, Merton Council is unable to confirm if the ceremony at Wimbledon War Memorial will take place as usual. However, we propose to produce a wreath of red and white poppies and place it on the memorial, with the addition, this year, of a laminated copy of the UN Charter. The details of how this will be done have not yet been decided but we will keep you informed by email.
White poppies will be available from the Peace Table on 3rd October (11am–1pm at Raynes Park station), and also via our Chair Maisie Carter from that date. Email email@example.com or phone 07377 333034.