Uniting for Peace Spring Conference 2019 Report

To view the full video of the proceedings, please click here.
To read Vijay Mehta’s speech, please click here.
To read Rev. Brian Cooper’s speech, please click here.
To read Keith Best’s speech, please click here.

Global Problems need Global Solutions’ was the theme of 2019 UfP Spring Conference held on Saturday 6 April at Wesley’s Chapel, City of London, with seventy people present. Welcoming them, UfP Chair Vijay Mehta stressed the importance of peace activism in today’s critical global situation, and event Chair Rita Payne said President Trump’s aggressive dehumanising language – calling immigrants ‘animals’ – created conditions for perpetration of atrocities. Dialogue as the way to solve disputes had to be re-established.

For Keith Best [Chair, World Federalist Movement] age-old schemes of world government were unfashionable, but more attractive was global governance – “intertwining of global institutions with proper accountability subject to the rule of law and [in] rational relationship”. Self-appointed bodies like G7 lacked “legitimated political accountability”. A movement for a structured order of consensual global governance was much needed – only such global structures could solve transnational problems. UN Responsibility to Protect and International Criminal Court were hopeful developments, as was call by 1500 politicians worldwide for a UN Parliamentary Assembly to tackle UN’s democratic deficit.

Vijay Mehta discussed key ideas in his new book How Not to go to War, advocating government Peace Departments institutionalising peace equally to Defence departments institutionalising war preparations, and city Peace Centres to promote a culture of peace at community level. The level of military spending was insane: USA spent $6 trillion and killed half a million people post 9/11; 2018 world military expenditure was $1.739 trillion – highest ever – but this had not made the world safer. In 21st-century, Costa Rica, Nepal, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Solomon Islands had set up Peace Departments. In UK in 2003 a bill to do so only failed for lack of time. Such departments would promote culture of peace and eventual abolition of war, advise and implement conflict avoidance and non-violent resolution of disputes, undertake peace research and open city and town Peace Centres to be “training and education hubs for peace builders”, to advance peace culture and non-violence at many levels of local communities. Only by institutionalising peace at many levels could the Peace Movement be strong enough to face down pro-war vested interests.

John Elliot [journalist – Financial Times] from industrial relations experience stressed the value of proper consultation in solving disputes. From knowledge of South Asia, he said India was unlikely to start a nuclear war, but its dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir was constant source of tension and border incidents, requiring resolution similar to that with China decades before.

Dr. Ahmad Shahidov [Chair, Azerbaijan Institute for Democracy and Human Rights] urged multi-lateral co-operation as vital to solving such problems as economic inequality: “millions still live in absolute poverty.” Thinking and acting globally was priority – but states now followed national interests.

Rev. Brian Cooper [UfP Churches & Inter-Faith Secretary] discussed “Religion as a Key Factor in Global Politics”. Post-Cold War US dominance had given way to rivalries of major powers – USA, Russia, China, India, EU – with regional powers e.g. Iran, Turkey, also significant. Isis, Al-Qaeda and affiliates remained a menace. Militant Jihadist Islam had many causes, with resentment against Western exploitation and interventions, and economic injustice and inequality caused by neo-liberal capitalism, especially significant. Middle East secular regimes had been challenged by faith-based forces. Yet violent Islamism – current most significant expression of misuse of faith – was but tiny part of Islam’s global spiritual revival in recent decades, itself part of a resurgence of faith virtually global except in Western Europe, whose Christian heritage was under attack from secularism. Post-Communist Eastern Europe was seeing religious revival, especially the Orthodox Church in Russia. Christianity, most numerous of world faiths [2.3 billion adherents] had varied political expressions, from African churches promoting peace processes and post-conflict reconciliation to backing conservative forces which helped the poor eg.in Poland. Religion was both misused for division or positively created harmonious communities.

Sanjay Mehta [Vijay’s son] stated that inspired by his father’s book, he planned to open a Peace Centre in London in 2020. It would aim to tackle local issues e.g. knife crime, educate young people in responsible citizenship – with army doctors and veterans as resource persons – and help young social entrepreneurs achieve their dreams. Caroline Millman and Sally Milne of PeaceJam explained its peace awareness and project work with young people, often with UN Laureates and Europe-wide, “to make them confident activists rooted in their communities.”

Open Forums highlighted importance of whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning “with loyalties to mankind”, need to harness young people’s enthusiasm for peace, use of social media to promote the peace message, and desperate situation in Yemen where UK was complicit in causing suffering by selling arms to Saudi Arabia.

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