September 21: International Day of Peace The Luarca Declaration and the Human Right to Peace

5 December 2007
September 21: International Day of Peace The Luarca Declaration and the Human Right to Peace

The international day of peace was established 26 years ago in 1981 by the United Nations General Assembly as an annual observance of global non-violence and ceasefire. Every year the United Nations and its specialized agencies remind the world that peace is the highest good, peace with justice.

On 21 September 2007 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon rang the Peace Bell at UN headquarters in New York in the company of UN Messengers of Peace.

In Geneva a round table on the human right to peace was held at the Council Chamber in the Palais des Nations, moderated by Professor Carlos Vill?n Duran, co-author of the book "La Declaraci?n de Luarca sobre el Derecho humano a la paz", which has just been published by Ediciones Mad? in Spain.

The Luarca Declaration is a product of Spanish academics and civil society, adopted in Luarca, Spain, on 30 October 2006 and officially presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council on 15 March 2007. Participants in the Round Table were Luis Narvaez of Amnesty International, Patricia Lewis, director of UNIDIR in Geneva, Ingeborg Breines, Director of UNESCO in Geneva, Andr?s Guerrero of UNICEF and myself.

It was my honour to read the peace message of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "Peace is one of humanity’s most precious needs. It is also the United Nations’ highest calling.

It defines our mission. It drives our discourse. And it draws together all of our worldwide work, from peacekeeping and preventive diplomacy to promoting human rights and development.

This work for peace is vital. But it is not easy. Indeed, in countless communities across the world, peace remains an elusive goal. From the displaced person camps of Chad and Darfur to the byways of Baghdad, the quest for peace is strewn with setbacks and suffering.

September 21, the International Day of Peace, is an occasion to take stock of our efforts to promote peace and well-being for all people everywhere.

It is an opportunity to appreciate what we have already accomplished and to dedicate ourselves to all that remains to be done.

It is also meant to be a day of global ceasefire: a 24-hour respite from the fear and insecurity that plague so many places.

Today, I urge all countries and all combatants to honour this cessation of hostilities. And I ask people everywhere to observe a minute of silence at noon local time. As the guns fall silent, we should use this opportunity to ponder the price we all pay due to conflict. And we should resolve to vigorously pursue ways to make permanent this day’s pause.

On this International Day, let us promise to make peace not just a priority, but a passion. Let us pledge to do more, wherever we are in whatever way we can, to make every day a day of peace."

After reading the Secretary-General’s statement, I emphasized that the human right to peace goes well beyond the mere prohibition of war, well beyond the imperative of disarmament. While the United Nations Security Council retains the primary function of ensuring international peace, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the Human Rights Council and all subsidiary organs also have a mandate to work for peace, because peace is the raison d’?tre of the United Nations and all of its activities must serve this ultimate purpose.

Civil society also has a sacred duty to work for peace. The Luarca Declaration, which takes a holistic approach to peace, covers its many components, only one of which is the prohibition of the use of force. Peace also entails the promotion of conditions of social justice, the realization of the right to development, access to the necessities of life, including clean water and a healthy environment. Peace is a condition to the enjoyment of one’s culture and identity. Peace and human dignity go hand in hand.

Patricia Lewis of UNIDIR spoke eloquently about the necessity of abolishing weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. She deplored the long-term effects of radiation in places where atmospheric nuclear tests had been conducted, and reminded States of their obligation under article 6 of the Non-proliferation Treaty to negotiate with a view to complete nuclear disarmament. She also endorsed efforts to adopt an International Convention to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). In this context she referred to article 11 of the Luarca Declaration, which stresses the right to disarmament. Subparagraph 3 stipulates: "Individuals and peoples have the right to the allocation of the resources freed by disarmament to the economic, social and cultural development of peoples and the fair re-distribution of such resources, responding especially to the needs of the poorest countries and to vulnerable groups, in such a way as to put an end to inequality, social exclusion and poverty."

Ingeborg Braines of UNESCO recalled the famous preamble of UNESCO’s Constitution which stipulates: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed," Thus, what better place to start building these "defences" than at grammar school and high schools, in the minds of youth? Such is the thinking underpinning UNESCO’s work in the area of peace and non-violence education programmes.

Observers from several non-governmental organizations, including the Red Cross and Citoyens du Monde also took the floor to endorse the Luarca declaration and stress the role of civil society in creating a culture of human rights..

In my final comments I referred to the semantics of human rights and to the widespread misconceptions emanating from the deliberately misleading terminology which postulates a false hierarchy of human rights. In Europe the so-called "first generation rights" (civil and political) are preferred over the "second generation rights" (economic, social and cultural) and are deemed more important than the "third generation rights" (right to development, to a clean environment, to peace).

Some observers even question whether a human right to peace exists, or whether it is a chimera, a recent invention of blue-eyed idealists. The human right to peace is surely not recent, since the preamble and article 1 of the United Nations Charter place peace at the very heart of activity of the Organization and as its most sacred goal.

This false hierarchy of rights must be reversed, because the so-called third-generation rights are really "enabling" rights, which allow us to enjoy civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Instead, we could propose three categories of rights: 1) enabling rights such as peace; 2) over-arching rights such as equality, and 3) end rights such as the right to identity and culture, the right to be just who we are.

Peace, however, is much more than an enabling right. Peace is also an overarching right and an end right. It is alpha and omega, it is the starting point, the means and also the end of human endeavor. Pax optima rerum.

The panel was closed by Professor Vill?n Duran, who gave a brief tour-d’horizon of the drafting history of the Luarca Declaration, the
regional conferences that have already been held and the
program of forthcoming conference. The Declaration will be enriched by the input of all world cultures and legal systems and should be adopted by the Human Rights Council and then by the UN General Assembly. A working group of experts shall then be appointed to monitor compliance with the Declaration and to engage in promotional activities, including support of the Millennium Development Goals.

Alfred de Zayas,

La Declaraci?n de Luarca sobre el Derecho Humano a la Paz, edited by Carmen Rosa Rueda Casta??n and Carlos Vill?n Dur?n, was published Ediciones Mad?, Granda, Siero, Spain 2007.