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Plenaries

War Crimes and Social Healing

Fadlitator: Roberta Bacic, Chile.

Panelists: Ana Chavez, SERPAJ Argentina: Rob Goldman, CO Support Group (COSG) South Africa; Vesna Terselic, Anti-War Centre, Croatia

The plenary concentrated on various questions answered by each panelist in turn. Asked about the causes and socio-economic consequences of war crimes, Rob Goldman replied that in South Africa hit-squads had caused many disappearances during the apartheid period. Bodies had been found, but most of those who had given the orders and committed the crimes had not yet been identified. A special commission would he looking into this in 1995. Apartheid had caused great economic suffering for black people robbed of their land. He thought social healing was going to be difficult - as indicated by the inscription on an Afrikaans monument commemorating the British oppression which stated: "Never forget and never forgive". Ana Chavez pointed out that in Argentina the dictatorship had been rooted in the political and economic ingredients of liberalism. The whole continent had actually endured dictatorship for the past 500 years. Forced disappearances, and torture had been prime tools of oppression during the 1976-1983 dictatorship. Although a so-called "state of rights" now existed, the state was still harassing people. Vesna Terselic said that slaughter during the Croatian civil war had already claimed the lives of several thousand people on all sides of the conflict. Many had had to flee from their homes and everyone was worried about what might happen if the UN troops departed, even though their presence offered no long-term solution.

Asked when and why the killings had stopped, Ana replied that they had been a tool which in time had ceased to he useful to the dictatorship. This became apparent during the Falklands/Malvinas war. The efforts of popular groups plus international back-up had hastened the process. Rob commented that domestic resistance, employing many different nonviolent tactics, had played a crucial part in the demise of apartheid, along with international solidarity, economic sanctions and boycotts. Vesna said that the war had stopped in Croatia. but not in Bosnia. War crimes had been used as a means of freezing the democratic process. Although the UN was monitoring the ceasefire, the situation was still very unstable.

Ana thought the role of human rights organisations was of vital importance. Under the Argentinian dictatorship the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo had walked around the square displaying pictures of their missing children. They had tried to bring the those who had perpetrated war crimes to trial, but the government had passed amnesty laws. Groups and individuals had to go on demanding accountability as civil rights were still being violated. Rob commented that, paradoxically, popular organisations were now facing difficulties in South Africa as many activists had been elected to Parliament or were government employees. It was important to support them but at the same time to bring gentle pressure to bear on them. For Vesna, valid assessment of organisations' effectiveness depended to a large extent on what one expected of them. Some journalists had done useful work in writing about anti-war actions. It was still difficult to foresee what type of civil society might emerge.

As for whether she thought social healmg was possible, Ana said she doubted whether the government was really determined to work on the healing process. Argentineans needed truth and justice, but the authorities were evading their responsibility over dealing with the disappearances. Rob felt that it might be hard to achieve a type of reconciliation that was satisfactory for everyone. Crimes needed to he confessed by those who had committed them and some form of compensation - even if only symbolic - should he offered to the victims. Prosecuting apartheid criminals might provide the right-wing with political martyrs. South Africans wanted to know who were the guilty so that they could forgive them. In Croatia the situation was rather different be-cause many of the war crimes had been committed by foreigners whom it was even more difficult to prosecute. There was much bitterness and anger on the part of the population and a desire to punish the guilty. Vesna felt that at the moment all she could do was to talk to people and help them to communicate, this being crucial to any form of reconciliation, which her country would take a very long time to achieve.

The plenary ended with a South African participant stating that social healing should not he considered just a national issue but rather one that concerned the whole of southern Africa, where apartheid had also been responsible for many crimes.

The United Nations: Can It Be More Than a Victors' Club?

Facilitator: Dorie Wilsnack, WRI Treasurer, US. Panelists: Ricardo Changala, SERPAJ-Uruguay and representative of SERPAJ-América Latina to the United Nations, and Franz Nadler, KDV im Krieg, Germany.

Dorie introduced the main issues to he discussed during the session - Has the United Nations (UN) any relevance to WRI's work? Should WRI continue to use its consultative status with the UN or should it stay away completely? - and briefly described WRI's consultative status vis-à-vis the UN's ECOSOC and UNESCO.

Ricardo Changala described SERPAJ's work at the UN. SERPAJ was one of only five Latin American NGOs to have consultative status, and as such frequently represented other groups' views at UN meetings. It worked mainly with the Commission on Human Rights and its subcommittee; with various working groups (for instance ones dealing with arbitrary detention, disappearances, Indigenous issues, and development); with several UN rapporteurs (e.g. on torture and extra-judicial executions); and with committees monitoring the implementation of various international agreements. Such work had sometimes helped local campaigns by focusing international attention on human rights violations.

Franz Nadler opined that WRI's aims clashed with those of the UN, which he viewed with suspicion as it had been established by the World War II victors to guarantee their hegemony and create a form of world army. It was not, in fact, just "peace loving" states that belonged to it. He commented that governments were tending to make UN military interventions an excuse for not demilitarising. And UN intervention forces were financially dependent on the "great powers", which consequently had a big say over where and how interventions should he made. Payments made by the UN for each Blue Helmet encouraged small states to despatch troops. UN intervention was in fact quite likely either not to affect or else to have a bad effect on the countries concerned. Moreover UN troops had engaged in such illegal activities as drug trafficking, allowing arms delivery to Bosnia despite the embargo, and setting up brothels. He did not believe in a "world regime" or in reforming the UN, so be thought WRI should renounce its consultative status. During the discussion that followed other people remarked on the negative aspects of UN work: the UN had broken international law by intervening in Yugoslavia before the seceding republics had actually been recognised; despite UN troops' 30-year presence in Cyprus, little seemed to have been achieved, and the UN's presence might even have undermined social movements' efforts to deal with the conflict; sexual exploitation of women in ex-Yugoslavia had increased because of the presence of UN troops, who had furthermore sold exit passes to deserters and displayed ethnic bias.

Others objected to WRI renouncing its consultative status arguing that the role of NGOs was precisely to influence the work of the UN; if they left, states' actions would be left unchecked. Although far from satisfactory, the UN had managed to bring positive changes in certain situations at the local level (for example in Croatia, where there would have been many more deaths without UN intervention). It was a mistake to talk of the UN as an homogenous institution, and one had to make distinctions between its various bodies; the Decolonisation committee, for instance, had done some useful work. Finally, it was important not to reject any involvement with the UN outright, but to think strategically of ways to influence UN policy in accordance with WRI aims.

Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize Winner
Extracts from the Closing Plenary speech

In the past few days I have been reflecting on what unites us so many cultures, languages, peoples. I found one thing: we're here because we are activists for life. That's the most important thing. We're here because we are the people who struggle for life, for the dignity of individuals. A long road stretches before us.

(...) After many years of activism I have often asked myself whether we aren't like a fire brigade: we rush to put out fires when summoned, then dash around putting them out; yet we aren't fire fighters. We only have a few buckets of water or sand. We face violence and conflict only when this erupts. We must probe deeper with our tactics, search for causes.

(...)I must refer to what I call the suspension of conscience. Suspension of con-science is something that turns people into mere spectators, not protagonists of their own life. It enables us to evade responsibility and leave things as they are. It takes many forms and is an integral part of mass communication by the media. It results from fear and oppression, and is conducive to shallowness of language and thought - depriving words of their meaning, pretending lies are the truth and injustices justice. It allows modification of values and permits passive social attitudes. (...) The important thing is to see how we movements for peace, human rights, and nonviolence can construct a collective conscience. (...)We must he aware of our limitations. But were there a collective conscience, a motivating agent prompting us to act, society could he transformed and liberation facilitated. (...)In my opinion all our work should have a political dimension. We should not confine ourselves merely to helping to resolve a few conflicts but should try to achieve vital social transformation.

(...) How should we see that political systems and alternative social and economic systems are influenced by our "micro" actions and day to day efforts?

(...) Another central task within our organisations is considering the true meaning of power. (...) The nonviolent approach should involve thorough examination of what comprises power and of how it is managed and used. For power is not only political; it is also intellectual, social and religious. What is inherent in power? What does it mean when power is transformed for the benefit or the people?

(...) Today Latin America is said to he democratic. But these democracies are a myth. An Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano, whom many of you know, says these democracies we live in today are really more "democraduras" demco-dictatorships than democracies: their citizens are still oppressed. Such a democratisation process is only nominal, not genuine.

(...) The findings of the World Bank are clear, suggesting that the 1980s were the lost decade - a decade in Latin America of increased impoverishment and devoid of development. Is it possible that democracy is conducive to impoverishment and marginalisation? What's happening? We need to study and redefine the principles of democracy and power. Our work suggests that human rights and democracy are indivisible: if human rights are violated, democracies are weakened and cease to he democracies.

(...) Today we believe that bloc politics has disappeared and been replaced by other international forces. Such global transformation should herald radical changes and compel us to deal with environmental problems. (...) I don't believe in this First and Third World notion. I have never understood it. We are just one world, whose wealth is badly distributed.

I mustn't end off without mentioning certain hopeful signs and praising people's abilities. One of my countty's singers, Fito Pais, has a beautiful song which asks: "Who told you all is lost? I come to offer you my heart." All is not lost. You are here from different backgrounds and have prospered from meeting each other and sharing experiences. The question is how to continue this process and transmit our new knowledge to our friends back home.

I think we should he optimistic about the possibilities of social change, in spite of the monstrous injustice besetting our world. It seems to me that there are three types of revolutionary: those who believe in wielding weapons and are out to destroy then rebuild everything (...); those who plan the revolution over a cup of coffee and the revolution ends when the cup is empty - there are many such people; then there are others, including you, for whom the revolution is an everyday event. For we change society day by day. We can cooperate over planning, form a vast network and devise joint actions to achieve liberation. Our social movements provide us with a challenge for the next century. We must use our imagination. Everything depends on us.

Thank you and a fraternal embrace of peace and goodwill.

Cecilia Moretti, WRI Vice-Chair
Summary of the Closing Plenary speech

Although Latin America is a continent full of contrasts and exposed to many conflicts, it is also a continent where there are great struggles for liberation. Recently, nonviolent actions have played an important part in these struggles. Assessing our contribution we can see that it has been quite significant and that we have planned better and defined our goals more clearly.

Since governments use their power to manipulate us more and more of us are announcing that we will not respond to violence with violence. I've been pleased to hear young conscientious objectors say they want to fight for life and therefore refuse to join the army.

The actions of Peace Brigades International of Women in Black in Israel/Palestine and former Yugoslavia (to give but a few examples) have given new impetus to the movement. It has become more pluralistic and has achieved new ways of living together in mutual respect. The quality of the work on nonviolence training has been generally of great value.

There are many activists who couldn't get to this conference because of lack of funds, work commitments, or the political situation in their own countries. Yet without their support we would not be here today. It is up to us to pass on to our groups what we have learned over the past few days and to put into practice the proposals that have been made.

We must use our scant funds to the best possible effect. We're not government or United Nations representatives, but activists for life and liberty and opponents of militarism. We should strive to act consistently in the pursuit of our goal.

Thank you to all of you who helped write this report and in particular to: Roberta Bacic, Ana Chavez, Jan van Criekinge, Ellen Elster, Maggie Helwig, Matt Meyer, Greg Payton, Vicky Rovere, Charhe Scheiner, Joanne Sheehan and Hector Tajam.

A big thank you also to our volunteer translators, Pierre Arcq, Gerd Büntzli, Inge Dreger, Jeannine Edel-Otte, Sabin Erazti, Felix Marcuello, Anne Scherer, Andreas Speck, and to our editors, Pat Arrowsmith and Francisco Roman.