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Report of 12 October UN Symposium on "Can UN Build a Peaceful World"

Meeting minutes taken by Anthony Russell and report prepared by Vijay Mehta


Fabian Hamilton MP, Labour Shadow Peace and Disarmament Minister, speaking at Uniting for Peace UN Symposium. Photo credit: Prabhakar Kaza

Uniting for Peace hosted a UN Symposium on “Can UN Build a Peaceful World” on 12th October 2017 at Hilton London Euston. The Symposium was attended by over 110 people and distinguished speakers included, Fabian Hamilton MP, Labour Shadow Peace and Disarmament Minister, Breines Ingeborg, Former Director of UNESCO and Former Co-President of International Peace Bureau, Vijay Mehta, Chair, Uniting for Peace, Frank Jackson, Vice President, Uniting for Peace and Luke Addison, PeaceJam and Rotaract. The event was ably chaired by Rita Payne, President Emeritus, Commonwealth Journalists Association.

Below is a summary of the speeches given by the speakers:

Fabian Hamilton MP started his talk by saying at present, there is no such post as 'Minister for Peace'. He went to the conference on UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. US and UK Ambassador were against the treaty. Fabian always opposed nuclear weapons along with Jeremy Corbyn. Labour party members has mixed attitude towards keeping or banning the nuclear weapons. Never give up what you believe to be right & eventually the rest of the world will catch up. Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has hope and is being signed by 122 member status of UN. I am optimistic, otherwise no humanity, no civilisation to inherit. Prof. Steven Pinker talks of reduced violence throughout the world overall. "We must be optimistic” Mustard Gas has been banned. Chemical weapons now a war crime. World looks at land mines with contempt. Edmond Burke” “While men are linked together . . .they can work together & act together. Friendship, common interest. Countries want nuclear weapons for security from attack. Wearing a knife isn’t stopping people being knifed. This country has enormous soft power (despite Conservative cuts). Labour would make control of weapons contracts not retrospectively and work to pursue defence diversification agency which is a Labour policy. UK is the 2nd largest arms dealer in the world. Want to see Trident stopped, which we can’t use anyway as US has control over its operations. Ministers of Defence should be with Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) promoting peace. Terrible cuts are the worst thing. Bringing defence & diplomacy together. He said he do not want to knock the military – let’s use their skills to promote life. Civil Service is actually quite positive about peace.

Breines Ingeborg spoke of need to make peace central to what UN does. She said, there are three challenges: climate, weapons and wealth gap. There is a building up of ‘fear of others’ and militarisation but these cannot promote peace. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) military spending has reached $1.7 trillion per year worldwide, which is vastly more than UN budget (which is meant to keep peace). So we have to change mindset. Hardly anything in the UN Development Goals about disarmament. Legal arms should be added to illegal as requiring reduction. There should be a declaration for ‘The right to peace’ “Down with the weapons’ saying we should develop “an active disgust for war”, again the “big capitalistic powers.” League of Nations created out of disgust for war but failed. The UN needs us it mustn’t fail or we’ll get World War 3. United Nations headquarters and banks are on the other side of Atlantic but their agencies over here. Pakistan had taken funding for education & given it to elites, so poor suffered very poor education. he Constitution. The Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO declares that "since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed". It is meant to promote peace through culture, imagine if it had the recourses to do this. We have a strong Sec. Gen. insisting on prevention; working for prevention which costs less & has less suffering. Lets move the money from the military to meeting needs of people for prevention. We need a vision of the world we want to see & UN can provide this. ‘Humanistic' is about providing needs of people while ‘humanitarian' is about trying to deal with problem when it’s happened (firefighting). We need to find root cause of the problems. We need to close down NATO because of this idea of building up enemies. Rediscover solidarity through a culture of peace (UNESCO)

Vijay Mehta said that UN Represents our multilateral needs for peace. It has many agencies that do a tremendous amount of good work but no longer fulfils its intention to save the world from the scourge of war. The right think it should be got rid of, others think it a front to delude the world for the benefit of the permanent members, who are the biggest sellers of arms and warmongers. Coca Cola & Pepsi employ more people that the UN. It needs funding in a much better way to increase its soft power. Security council is unrepresentative, so we should widen its membership and abolish the veto power. Power of General Assembly should be enhanced. Britain should be a voice for peace. Threats worldwide are increasing so we need UN more than ever. It benefits the world, so you can help by joining the UN or Uniting for Peace. Be a diplomat and change the world. A reformed UN can create the reality of peace.

Frank Jackson said, war starts in the minds of ‘SOME’ men! Einstein said, “In the nuclear age everything changes except the minds of men”. NPT can be said to have been remarkably successful; only 4 new members not anticipated 30. There are now 9 nuclear powers. We have to make sure the ban treaty doesn’t go the same way at the NPT. It will come into force after 50 signatories & ratifications (which is much more longwinded). There will be a high-level UN conference on nuclear weapons in 2018. More info from ICAN website.

Luke Addison said I’ve been brought in to encourage young people to get involved. 2 years ago invited to take part in Model UN through Rotaract (Rotary for young people). You have to represent another country with major problems. Very good for understanding other countries & their issues. 182 countries wanted to end blockade of Cuba against 2; US & Israel! If this is a global democracy of the world how come 5 permanent members of security council hold the power? A lot of the work was vetoed but that was part of the learning curve. It shows what is being done by young people to help. Can the UN create a peaceful world? Only with us & our grass-root work can it help.

The event was a success and ended with a vibrant Q/A session and networking among different delegates.

To view the photos of the conference, click here (Thanks to Prabhakar Kaza and Bernie Holland for taking the photos)
To read VIjay Mehta's speech, click here