Earlier this week, in Geneva, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights hosted an expert meeting on ‘the right of peoples to peace’. It is the result of a call in a resolution adopted (but with opposition from the rich countries of the north) by the Human Rights Council last June. Materials concerning the meeting are available on the website of the High Commissioner: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/rule_of_law/workshop/index.htm
I participated in the workshop, and spoke on two of the panels. The highlight of the conference was a wonderful address by Antonio Cançado Trinidade, a Brazilian scholar who was recently elected to the International Court of Justice.
A report will be prepared, and the matter will return to the agenda of the Human Rights Council in June 2010.
This is a long neglected aspect of human rights. In fact, there is still much debate as to whether it has a place in human rights law at all. This can be seen in debates about the introduction of the crime of aggression into the Rome Statute. For example, Amnesty International has not taken a position on the definition of the crime of aggression because it says that ‘its mandate - to campaign for every person to enjoy all of the human rights (civil and political and economic, social and cultural rights) enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards does not extend to the lawfulness of the use of force.’ Human Rights Watch takes a similar position, importing the jus in bello/jus ad bellum distinction from international humanitarian law.
I couldn’t disagree more. There are several references to peace in the preamble of the Universal Declaration. The preamble of the Declaration, as well as the preambles of the two Covenants, repeat the immortal four freedoms of Franklin Roosevelt, which include ‘freedom from fear’. And article 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: ‘Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.’ If we have a right to live in peace, then those who deprive us of it are violating our human rights.
It is true, of course, that the right to peace is woefully underdeveloped in human rights law. That doesn't mean it isn't there, however. Hopefully, the Human Rights Council will keep the momentum going, and we will give the human rights to peace the place importance it deserves.