Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate

Annual Erskine Childers Lecture – 2009: Action for UN Renewal

Dear friends,

I am very happy to be here with you. I would like to thank Vijay Mehta and the Action for UN Renewal for kindly inviting me to give the 2009 Erskine Childers Lecture.   

Erskine Childers, UN Diplomat and son of the 4th President of Ireland, gave a lecture in London in 1973 on ‘Strengthening the UN’ in which he said, ‘The UN must become root-cause directed, not merely responsive’.  I feel this is a challenge not only to the UN but also to each of us. We spend a great deal of our time responding to one crisis after another. This is important because when people need help, be it a natural catastrophe or human-made one, it is necessary that they receive it.

The UN deserves congratulations in many instances, as its many humanitarian bodies undertake and provide excellent help in many situations.  However, the UN is a global non-partisan organization of 192 member-states whose Charter’s preamble states that war shall be abolished and the UN is mandated to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.   

In view of this policy obligation to work for the abolition of war, it is incomprehensible to me why in September 2008 a Joint Declaration on Cooperation between the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was signed by the Secretary-Generals of the two bodies.  

The two organizations are far apart. The UN’s mandate is to abolish war and work for peace and disarmament whereas NATO is a nuclear-armed alliance of 26 member-states and with 70 percent of the world’s military expenditure – and expanding.

I believe this joint declaration should be cancelled and we should move to dismantle NATO. This should have been done when the Warsaw Pact was dismantled, as NATO has no role now. NATO’s (USA is NATO) membership includes nuclear-armed states such as USA, UK and France, which maintain a Nuclear First Use Option and are indeed a danger to the world.

The USA has nuclear weapons in six states in Europe. As the USA and the UK are updating their nuclear weapons they are endangering the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and ignoring their commitments to disarm. If governments are serious about peace, we need to renounce war as an institution and disarm our world of all weapons of mass destruction.

Steps should include:

Remove all US nuclear weapons from Europe and US missile defence installations from the Russian border. UK, France, USA, Israel, Russia and all other nuclear states ought to abolish nuclear weapons. Establish a Middle East Nuclear Free Zone, free from all weapons of mass destruction, and set up similar zones in other parts of the world. I believe we should replace NATO with a Nonviolent European Common Security Community. Establish the same in other world regions, and also an overall Global Nonviolent Common Security Community.

Armies:  I believe we should work to transform the culture of militarism into a culture of nonkilling, nonviolence and peace. Armies could be abolished (as it has been done in countries like Costa Rica), establishing instead a multinational community of unarmed peacekeepers.

Similar nonviolent transformation and training could be used in police, prison and security establishments. We have only to watch the TV screens to see the horror of wars and violence – the siege and bombardment of Gaza by Israel, the allied forces ‘shock and awe’ invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Russia’s bombing of Chechnya – all of which broke international humanitarian laws and were crimes against humanity.  

We all, as the human family, can work for the abolition of wars and nuclear weapons. They are part of the root causes of much suffering and fear in the world, and both are outdated, well past their sell-by date in an interconnected, interdependent world.  However, to do this we must disarm our own violence-accepting mindsets, and begin to transform our violent cultures into non-killing, nonviolent cultures.

In December 2007 the Nobel peace laureates launched a Charter for a World Without Violence. This Charter sets out principles helpful in moving us toward a new, nonviolent culture for the human family. It is hoped the UK and other world governments and institutions will endorse it. In 2008 the Parliament of Calabria, Italy, and also the Parliament of the Basque Country endorsed the Charter.

Calabria also set up a Ministry of Peace and in doing so joined a growing world movement that seeks to find nonviolent alternatives to local and international conflicts. There is a great desire around the world, amongst its peoples, to find alternatives to wars and weapons. In June I attended a conference in Tokyo where over 10,000 gathered to protect Article 9 – the clause in the Japanese constitution that rejects war and militarism.

If more governments adopted such a Peace Clause in their constitutions we could move towards a world without war. I would like to propose that the United Nations General Assembly discuss and adopt the Japanese Article 9, thereby encouraging its member-states to move away from war and militarism and towards nonviolent conflict prevention and resolution.

The Charter for a World Without Violence’s Article 13 sets out the Principle that everyone has the right not to be killed and the responsibility not to kill others, as a step towards building nonkilling societies. To realize such a world it is necessary to establish or strengthen implementing institutions. We could consider a Nonviolent Security Council to replace the current Security Council in which all members have nuclear weapons and are major arms exporters.

We could also have a Global Non-Killing Rescue Service and a Global Council of Reconciliation and Restorative Justice. Also, a Nonviolent Global Ecumenical Body and Ministries of Peace in every government, in every country. Currently we have an NGO, the Nonviolent Peaceforce, operating in several countries, and made up of people who believe that local and international conflicts can be solved without military force.

In this area of peace and international security the UN has the greatest potential to make an enormous difference, but it is also in this area that it shows most acutely its weaknesses. There is a critical need to have international agreements on national boundaries and to have an international agency with the ability to nonviolently enforce the protection of such boundaries if neighbouring countries breach them. To me this is an obvious role for the UN.

I support the reform of the UN Security Council. The text of the UN Charter could be changed to make the Security Council more representative, making the UN more democratic by increasing the number of the permanent members in the Security Council to include representatives from the Islamic/Muslim world (now a quarter of the world’s population) and also from India, one of the world’s largest economic powers. Removal of the veto would make the UNSC more democratic and representative, allowing progress towards disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control.

In taking Erskine Childer’s advise to become ‘root-cause directed’, we each need to look into our lives and root out violence from there. The World Health Organization says that violence is a preventable disease, and the Saville Statement assures us that we are not born violent. So how come there is so much violence? And how do we build non-killing, nonviolent societies where we live and around our world? Is it possible? I believe the answer is yes, but we need to unlearn many of our ideas.   

Why do we give permission for our governments to go to war, what is really mass killing of civilians and destruction of their environment and infrastructure? The idea we have in our minds, that killing is somehow necessary, and in the name of national defence we give our governments permission to do so, has caused untold numbers of wars and millions of unnecessary deaths.

If we are to abolish war (mass murder), we need to disarm our own mindsets and recognize that every human life is sacred and, as we have a right not to be killed we have no right to kill others – not individually nor collectively through wars or armed revolutionary struggles.

We need to remove the permission we give to our governments to go to war and insist that there are always alternatives. There are always alternatives to violence, and we elect our political leaders to solve our problems through dialogue and negotiations. Politicians who take their country to war are failing to meet their legal responsibility to protect the citizens of both their own countries, and the citizens of other countries.  

For example, during my visit to Gaza in October 2008, with the Free Gaza Movement, we saw the terrible suffering of the people of Gaza under a two-year siege imposed by the Israeli government. This siege, a form of collective punishment of l.5 million people by the Israeli government, is a breach of the Geneva Conventions and a crime against humanity. We met with Hamas and representatives of all political groups, who were keen for dialogue, but in the following week the Israeli government broke the siege and began an all out military bombardment of Gaza, killing over one thousand people and injuring over 5,000 (l, 855 children and 795 women) thus committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.   

The tragedy is that this was preventable. The political/military Israeli mindset that continues to believe that problems are solved through militarism must be challenged.  The Israeli/Palestinian problem, one of the root causes of which are the military occupation and the apartheid policies of Israel, can be solved.

I would encourage people to support the Boycott/Divestment Campaign against Israel until it starts upholding its obligations under international law, giving human rights and justice to the Palestinians. It is hoped that the Obama administration will speak to Hamas and the Palestinian representatives, and will be more evenhanded and fair in its efforts to help find a just and peaceful solution to the Israel/Palestinian conflict.

The United Nations has a major responsibility to protect all our human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated 60 years ago that, ‘A world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief is the highest aspiration of the common people.’  The UDHR is universal and indivisible and is the rich
heritage of all the peoples of the world.  

It is the Magna Carta for humankind, and in every generation, in every place, we are called to uphold and protect our rights and the rights of others. When governments abuse these rights (or armed revolutionary groups) we must stand up to protect them.  This is a daily, ongoing task.

For example when last week the UK government deported Geert Wilders, the Dutch MP, denying him freedom of speech; when Israel denies Mordechai Vanunu, the Israeli nuclear whistleblower, freedom of speech and movement; when the Iranian government this week puts on trial in Iran peaceful leaders of the Baha’i religion and imprisons Iranian women for campaigning for basic human rights; then we, as members of the human community, must speak up for the ‘silenced’ and support the United Nations and all freedom loving people to work for a nonviolent, non-killing world based on human rights and freedom.

18th February 2009


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 21 Feb 2009.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: SAVING SUCCEEDING GENERATIONS FROM THE SCOURGE OF WAR – BUILDING A NONKILLING, NONVIOLENT CULTURE FOR THE HUMAN FAMILY, is included. Thank you.

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