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filler.gif (854 bytes)KOSOVO AND THE ABOLITION OF WAR


On May 11, approximately one hundred years after the first Hague International Peace Conference, another major conference, the Hague Appeal for Peace, will convene in the capital of the Netherlands. It will be attended by some 3000 representatives of civil society organizations throughout the world and will be addressed by foreign ministers, Nobel Prize winners and the Secretary General of the United Nations. Its theme: Time to Abolish War - Peace is a Human Right.

With the Kosovo tragedy either still in full swing or fresh in everyone's memory, the Hague event will appear to some as the latest exercise in tilting at wind mills. But the opposite conclusion can also be drawn: Kosovo may be viewed as the ultimate justification for a serious attempt to turn the world from its dependence on Kalazhnikovs and cruise missiles toward reliance on the peaceful settlement of disputes, which was one of the principal objectives of Hague I.

At least twice in this war and horror filled century reasonable men - women needed not apply - have signed solemn documents and established institutions which they believed and millions hoped would put an end to armed conflict. The Great War which, be it remembered, was precipitated by an ultimatum from Austria-Hungary to Serbia, was followed, ten million dead and twenty million wounded later, by the creation of the League of Nations. The guiding principles of the League were joint action against aggression, arbitration of international disputes, reduction of armaments and open diplomacy. In 1928, the United States, France and a number of other countries, "persuaded that the time has come when a frank renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy should be made", signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawing war.

In 1945, as the second "war to end all wars" was winding down, the United Nations came into being in San Francisco, "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind." In 1961, John McCloy, a Wall Street lawyer then acting as President Kennedy's arms adviser, and Valerian Zorin, the Deputy Soviet Foreign Minister, signed the McCloy -Zorin Accords, which set out a vision of "general and complete disarmament", a phrase which ambles on to this day in the vocabulary of the United Nations.

Today, these men are regarded as visionaries, in the pejorative sense of the term. The League of Nations is long dead and NATO bids fair to supplant the United Nations as the world's "peacekeeper."

Is it worth having another go at such a discredited vision? Might as well ask: Was it worth trying to abolish slavery after decades of failure? To give women the suffrage after centuries of voting by men only? To establish democratic institutions after millennia of autocracies?

Although it is reasonable to predict that Kosovo will hang like a dark cloud over the 400 sessions of the Hague Appeal and that the Hague Appeal will not produce a solution to the Kosovo problem, nor attempt to do so, it is also possible to view this great end of the millennium conclave as civil society saying to its visionless leaders: "Look, you oafs, the norms which should govern a just and peaceful world have been put in place, vide the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Hague and Geneva Conventions and dozens of other human rights and humanitarian law instruments produced by one set of diplomats so another set can violate them. All you have to do is pay attention to your own words because, as Tom Stoppard said, 'words deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.'"

The Hague Appeal will do a number of things which may prevent another Kosovo. It will bring together under one roof the advocates of campaigns already under way to stop the use of child soldiers, ban the traffic in small arms, abolish nuclear weapons, ratify the statute of the International Criminal Court and eliminate the vestiges of colonialism. It will launch some new ideas, including a carefully thought-out program called "Global Action to Prevent War", which combines phased disarmament with conflict prevention and resolution; a call for peace education in all lower and middle schools and international law and human rights education in all law schools; and a movement to give life to the neglected economic, social and cultural rights portions of the Universal Declaration.

The Hague Appeal will reconsider, in the light of this century's history, the three themes of Hague I, disarmament, conflict resolution and humanitarian law. But it will add one theme of overriding importance, called "root causes of war/culture of peace."

There will, in all likelihood, be substantial agreement that Kosovo was a case of tragedy foretold, at least from the time of Milosevic's institution of an apartheid system in Kosovo in 1989, that Milosevic should be indicted and tried as a war criminal by the Yugoslav Tribunal in The Hague, that the events leading up to the Rambouillet conference constituted gross violations of human rights approaching the level of genocide and that the world community should and could have acted to prevent the catastrophe long before it did. There will not be unanimity of support or condemnation for the NATO bombing, although the international lawyers present are likely to view it as a clear violation of international law and as "degrading" the United Nations more than the Serb army.

The Hague Appeal will not merely be a cry from the heart. It will be an appeal to reason, a demand from civil society to its leaders: "No more Kosovos, no more Rwandas, no more unilateral military actions, no more poverty in the midst of plenty, no more tolerance for ethn

The Hague Appeal will not merely be a cry from the heart. It will be an appeal to reason, a demand from civil society to its leaders: "No more Kosovos, no more Rwandas, no more unilateral military actions, no more poverty in the midst of plenty, no more tolerance for ethnic hatred, a place for youth and women at the peace tables and the other sites of governance. These are no longer insoluble problems. Solve them!"

Peter Weiss, April 10, 1999

Peter Weiss is President of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms, one of the founding organizations of the Hague Appeal for Peace. Information about the Conference is available from:

IALANA, Anna Paulownastraat 103
2518 BC The Hague, The Netherlands
fax 31 70 345 5951 or e-mail IALANA (



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