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NGOs call for peace

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-05-14

Thousands of citizens from around the world gathered this past week to attend the "Hague Conference for Peace," held in the Netherlands from May 10 until May 15. Hundreds of NGOs, including more than 50 delegations from Japan, discussed initiatives and reasons for a "Peace and Justice" agenda for the 21st Century. The conference was one of the largest gatherings of NGOs in history, attracting international guest speakers such as Kofi Annan, Jodi Williams, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. With so much recent focus on violence and war in the media, the conference was seen as a major movement by citizens and organizations of the international community to put an end to war and the persecution of minorities. "The demilitarization of war and the construction of culture and peace" was the main theme of the summit, with many different panel discussions occurring throughout the six-day meeting. The current crisis in Kosovo was discussed at length during several sessions, which looked at both the humanitarian problems in the region and NATO's role in Kosovo. The "Hague Appeal for Peace" movement also organized many cultural events, with participation from many countries. Some of the cultural activities included traditional dances and art displays. The agenda set by the Coordinating and Organizing Committees to accomplish the goal of world peace called for immediate action to prevent the negative impacts of small arms; a global campaign for peace and education, international ratification for an international criminal court; an international campaign to ban land mines; the abolition of nuclear weapons; global action to prevent war; and stopping the use of children in military actions. Organizers chose Hague as the location for the conference because of the city's historic link with the world's previous two peace conferences, which took place in 1899 and 1907. Both were seen as historical steps in the creation of the United Nations, and this year marks the 100-year anniversary of the first world peace meeting. The Coordinating Committee saw cooperation between many world-wide networks and organizations, some of which included Amnesty International, the Lawyer's Committee for Human Rights, and the Lawyer's Committee for Nuclear Policy. The main NGOs which represented Japan included Peace Boat, Japan branch of International Lawyer's Against Nuclear Arms (JALANA), and Peace Depot. Japanese participants focused mainly on issues concerning threats to Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution and problems with U.S.- Japan military guidelines. The conference was seen as particularly important for Okinawa's anti-base activists, who have been trying to rid the prefecture of all U.S. bases. Former Okinawa Governor Masahide Ota was also in attendance and gave a speech concerning the military base issues facing the prefecture. The conference also marked the first time "Gensuikin" and "Gensuikyo" actively participated in the same event. The two Japanese organizations, which represent atomic bomb victims, had problems cooperating in the past due to differences in ideology. Because Japan is still the only nation to have suffered the effects of a nuclear weapon used during a war, the presence of both "Gensuikin" and "Gensuikyo" at the Hague conference was a very important milestone for Japan's "nuclear free" movement. Many Japanese delegates expressed their concern over the present tensions between countries within the Asia region. Peace Boat called for the creation of a "Nuclear Free Zone" in the Korean Peninsula and Japan. The findings of the organizing committee are expected to be presented to the governments of the world through the United Nations for review.

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