Report: Online Joint Conference, “Building Peace, Security and Justice through the Rule of Law and Global Governance”

A Report of the online conference, “Building Peace, Security and Justice through the Rule of Law and Global Governance”

‘Building Peace, Security and Justice through the Rule of Law and Global Governance’ was the urgently relevant theme of the Uniting for Peace (UfP) Autumn Conference on 29 October 2021, held online and co-arranged with the World Federalist Movement (WFM), with seven expert speakers. It was chaired by Sandra Coyle, Consulting Executive Director, WFM.

Keith Best, WFM Executive Chair and former UK MP, traced the development of institutions aiming to prevent or limit war from the League of Nations and United Nations, through the Nuremberg Trials to the role of the International Criminal Court. As modern weapons systems were too costly for most nations, “the machete and small arms have become the main killing weapons in many current conflicts”, while terrorists have added a new dimension of threat to world peace. Setting up a North Asia Nuclear-Free Zone, embracing USA, Russia, China, Japan and the two Koreas, would be a major step for global security. The view of China and Russia that internal human rights issues were not a UN Security Council responsibility, showed differing perceptions of its role among its permanent members was now a problem. Democratisation of major global institutions was now a pressing issue: there needed to be a “people’s voice” at G7, G20 and UN. An assembly of international parliamentarians established within the UN system would be a step forward.

Vijay Mehta, Author and Chair, UfP, in his contribution, he said how can strong institutions achieve peace, when a very small body of decision   -makers controls the fate of the world’s population, with regard to wars, nuclear proliferation, global inequality, climate change crisis, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity? Global institutions have come to constitute an elite club, disconnected from the people and not operating morally. Consequently, global governance is ineffective: key institutions are out of touch, and leaders pursue national agendas rather than the global interest. UN is too weak to prevent conflicts, nuclear proliferation and war crimes – because world military expenditure now tops $2 trillion, and dangerous military alliances – NATO, China & Russia, and now UK, US, Australia – all cause arms races and threaten world peace.

In the face of all this, how can Rule of Law be strengthened? UN reforms should include setting up an International Anti-Corruption Court. Ministries and Departments for Peace, promoting Continental Unions on model of EU, and giving all Continents a special UN seat at Security Council would be important reforms. Public opinion should no longer accept the misuse of resources for war purposes.

David Swanson, Executive Director, World Beyond War, outlined a range of international treaties outlawing war, which were routinely ignored by governments bent on war. There was general ignorance of the illegality of war.  States defended war by speaking of “defensive war” and “laws of war”. It was hypocritical for US and allies to speak of a “ruled-based global order”, when US as world’s leading non-ratifier of international treaties, leading promoter of interventions and wars. The military should no longer be excluded from climate treaties. He urged a range of civil society peace actions, from support of the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a universal jurisdiction and ‘going beyond’ just war theory. Public opinion must pressure major powers to commit to peace-building.

Stephen Hockman, QC, of Six Pump Court Chambers, spoke of the movement to set up a new International Court for the Environment, to help the fight against climate change. International treaties should be regarded as inter-national legislation. In some countries, laws had been passed dealing with climate change issues [eg. re carbon reductions], but there was very little legislation at international level concerning “trans-boundary harm”. Poor nations suffering from the emissions of major powers have no redress at law – ICC would enable that. Flooding caused by high emissions was a good example of “trans-boundary harm”. ICC would first declare the relevant fundamental principles concerning such a concept, and subsequently act as a world court on environmental issues.

Jennifer Trahan, Professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs spoke on the arguments in her book “Existing Legal Limits to the Security Council Veto Power in the Face of Atrocity Crimes.”  The premise of her book is that the veto power of the permanent members is being read in isolation to the rest of the requirements of international law.  She argues that a veto cast in the face of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes (or the serious risk of these crimes occurring) needs to be considered in light of:  (1) protections of peremptory norms of international law (Jus Cogens); (2) the UN Charter’s Purposes and Principles; and (3) treaty obligations such as those contained in the Genocide Convention and Geneva Conventions. She argues that the vetoes we are seeing — blocking measures when at least nine members on the Council agree to take action to stop or curtail the commission of such crimes — are out of line with those legal obligations. States and NGOs should raise these issues and make clear that the veto needs to be used in conformity with international law and the obligations of the UN Charter. The General Assembly should also consider either issuing a resolution on this topic or sending a request for an Advisory Opinion to the International Court of Justice.

At the time of making this report, we are still waiting for the contributions of two speakers –Marjolijn Snippe and Jojo Mehta.

Report prepared by Brian Cooper, UfP Vice President and Vijay Mehta, UfP Chair.

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