Theme Groups


Daily violence - Social and urban insecurity

Convenor: Ana Chavez (SERPAJ-Argentina)

First there was an analysis of the elements which characterise the socio-political and economic situation on the one hand, and on the other hand, security in the different regions of Brazil, in Norway, Argentina, and France. Whereas the social situation in the rural world varies in Brazil according to region, in general one can say that the land is in the hands of the few, and the rest are faced with having to emigrate to the large zones of poverty that exist in the cities. There is a very high rate of unemployment, which aggravates social differences. With regard to security, it is characterised by the existence of private police forces, paramilitaries, police assassinations, repression of the popular movement and the growth in the number of police officers, faced with the individualist demand from the population, among other factors.

In Norway, in spite of the fact that since World War II, there has been a tendency toward the balanced distribution of natural resources, the society is passive and individualist, there are environmental problems, racism, discrimination and unemployment. The society maintains a certain control over the police, but they are not prepared for prevention, rather for repression.

In Argentina, there is a great concentration of the population in the cities, which have large areas of poverty, and there are major social and regional imbalances. Criminal law is applied to the poor, while civil and commercial law is applied to the rich (20% of the population). Nobody controls the police, they have certain legislative powers, private security forces are growing, the real political opposition is systematically repressed.

The social situation in France is injurious, above all, to immigrants, who suffer from constant discrimination, especially those who come from Algeria: opposite this exists a strong tendency toward individualism, and toward consumerism (for the part of the population for whom this is possible) and zones of poverty made up of people whose basic needs are provided for by the state. Employment is becoming more precarious, the schools are becoming militarised. Control is exercised mainly over the immigrants, over the fundamentalists, in spite of the fact that the police are integrated into the civil society.

These analyses led participants to point to structural violence as the cause of urban insecurity and of discrimination. Therefore it is necessary to build awareness among the people by means of education, while identifying the forms of capitalism. People must work for the demilitarisation of the police, the democratisation of the communications media, international denunciation of police actions which involve discrimination, a model of defence which protects the victims of the economic system, and preventive resolution of conflicts.

Finally, as concrete proposals, the first steps were taken toward establishing an international network for the denunciation of human rights violations in Latin America; people emphasised the importance of international boycotts, for example to prevent Germany's sale of weapons to Brazil, and of the development of the alternative economy.

From economic oppression to economic justice

Convenor: Hector Tajam (Proyecto Regional de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales, Uruguay)

In his comments on the theme group report at the Triennial, Hector Tajam said that only five people had taken part in the group, one from Paraguay, one from India, two from Spain and he himself from Uruguay. They had expressed concern about the general lack of attention paid to economic questions, for other themes were bound up with the economy. Peace and justice tended to he losers in the competition for resources. We should be more than mere consumers and should claim the right to help make all the decisions that affected us.

Today there were parts of the world where not even the bare necessities of life were available. Or there were places where the workforce found itself in an increasingly precarious position. At the same time wealth had come to he concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Valuing capita] above labour had prompted a neo-liberal economic policy that put people at the mercy of the private sector. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and similar international financial bodies imposed on so-called Third-World governments environmentally deleterious economic policies that could augment their foreign debts to disaster point.

Disputes over the use and distribution of wealth and natural resources remained one of the principal causes of strife between classes and states. Labour should he accorded its true value and bare necessities should be met by using human and material resources properly. Solidarity and cooperation should take precedence over competition and mutual exploitation. The quest for social justice entailed cutting military expenditure, not repaying foreign debts, providing state guaranteed social security and permitting democratic participation in decisions affecting the whole population. There would he no social justice until we ended economic oppression, and we should never forget that economic disputes were one of the most frequent causes of war.

Conscription and strategies around conscientious objection.

Convenors: Rafa Sainz de Rozas (KEM-MOC, State of Spain) and Hugo Valiente (MOC, Paraguay)

First there was a brief presentation on militarism from the Latin American and European point of views. Traditionally the situation in Latin America has reflected Europe's or the United States' conflicts and interests. After the Cold War - which, among other things, helped maintain the economic structures of exploitation inherited from colonial times - the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, them-selves instruments in the hands of European and North American countries, have exacerbated the poverty and misery of most of the Latin American population. Another factor in the increasing militarisation is the struggle against the drug trade, which in many cases has amounted to actual warfare. In such a situation, conscientious objection is the first political campaign to question the military at its roots.

With the end of the Cold War the hitherto concealed conflict between North and South reemerged, with its fundamentally economic basis. In Europe the militarisation of society is often being achieved not in the usual way, such as by obligatory military service (OMS) or alternative service (AS), but by more subtle means - by turning former military conscription into "civilian" forced labour and by imposing laws that more and more curtail individual liberty, in order to facilitate almost total control of citizenry, who it is hoped will be good consumers. This whole process has been accompanied by a change in the concept of "defence" and the structures of armies which intervene more and more to protect economic interests. Maintaining domestic "security" is today the task of the police forces which have assumed the dimensions of armies. Within this context the pacifist movements of the 1980s never managed to question militarism as such as their demands were too superficial and concentrated on the arms race. Nor have objectors known how to question militarism in most European countries, with the exception of the State of Spain, where a massive civil disobedience campaign has managed to question the values which underpin the prevalent, global militarism.

Traditionally the conflict between objectors and the state has revolved on an axis between those objectors who demanded greater freedom of conscience and the state that tried to suppress them in order to control the situation [see diagram]. In recent years debate by the CO movements (at ICOMs) has led us to believe that what we as objectors are basically striving for is the demilitarisation of society, while the state, on the other hand, wants to maintain or promote militarisation. We have to evolve strategies which prevent the CO movement remaining static on this vertical axis, planning to approach what would be a diagonal trajectory, which would he the ideal - that is, progress towards a demilitarised society which would he accompanied by an increase in individual liberty.

Analysing the situation of CO groups in Euskadi, Turkey/Kurdistan, Paraguay, Chile, Serbia, Argentina, Germany and Colombia, it becomes clear that our ideologies are not dissimilar and that what we want is a movement that has a decision making structure as horizontal as possible. We should therefore concentrate our work on training - taking care of not focusing only on young men of conscription age - becoming as financially self-sufficient as possible, linking with the rest of society, and questioning the military at its roots.

The presence of a significant number of objectors does not systematically amount to a real threat to the military (see the case of Germany or France). It is therefore important not to dismiss a country situation as very backward he-cause it has no CO law and objectors are severely punished and sent to prison (as happens in Greece and Colombia), for the presence of only a small number of objectors in these countries might actually prove a strong challenge to the existence of armed forces or of militarist government policy. So even though the CO movement in Europe may, for the most part, he stagnant, in Latin America it clearly has great potential.

As regard international cooperation, the work of the International Deserters Network provides a very good example of efficient information exchange and direct assistance for people who have fled from war. It was also proposed that future cooperation should be based on an exchange of information between LA and Europe, via KEM-MOC and the organisers of ICOM '95 (SERPAJ Chile and MOC Paraguay). An internship scheme whereby one or two objectors from MOC Paraguay would spend six to twelve months with MOC (State of Spain) was also discussed. Finally a speaking tour of European countries by SKD Izmir would be organised.

Nonviolent intervention and social defence

Convenors: Christine Schweitzer (Bund für Soziale Verteidigung, Germany) and Marcela Rodriguez (Peace Brigades International, Colombia)

After mutual introductions the group considered three main questions: what are our broad aims and our specific goals and how best to achieve them? It was pointed out that we needed to deal with two types of conflict: wars (including civil wars) and the violence caused by government oppression.

On day two current nonviolent intervention projects were discussed and different types of resistance identified: backing local initiatives; serving as a buffer in conflicts; providing aid; trying to mediate; offering training in nonviolence. Peace Brigades International, it was pointed out, has for 10 years been trying to help deal with civil rather than war-provoked violence, its strength lying in its practical efforts rather than in propounding theory - although the group recognised the importance of developing theory on the basis of practical experience.

The central principles underlying the approach of the Colombia team of PBI were described: the importance of being a voluntary rather than a professional organisation and of never accepting funds that had political strings attached being stressed. PBI's approach and structure were described, and it was stated that the organisation had recently received invitations from groups in various countries, including Croatia and an ex-USSR republic. And a project in Gaza had been proposed. Suggested criteria for a project were listed, including goals, principles, proposed structure and desired outcome.

As to what, if anything, might he done in an actual war situation, the general conclusion was that there was no easy answer to this, and different views were expressed on what should he the peace-making role of such bodies as the UN. Examples were given of relevant actions by various groups - e.g. the despatch of civilian teams to serve as human buffers at the Nicaraguan frontier; the Gulf Peace Team's efforts; peace marches in Bosnia. There had been suggestions that UN peace-keeping forces should be replaced with unarmed, trained civilians. It was pointed out, however, that the existence already of civilian peace services posed certain questions - what should their position he on conscription? Could they he truly independent if (like the US Peace Corps) they were state-funded? Should volunteer teams he national or international?

Different opinions were expressed about the present situation in Haiti and what might he an appropriate form of international nonviolent intervention there.

Finally there was debate about what should be WRI's priorities in the next three years. One person thought we should have two distinct roles: to serve as an empowering local activists' network and to be an international campaigning body - although it was pointed out that these two roles were not necessarily mutually exclusive. Several people warmed of the dangers of creating unrealistic, utopian structures. And people in general stressed the value of WRI's role as an activists' network facilitating coordinated action.

Cross-cultural exchange on nonviolence training

Convenors: Joanne Sheehan (War Resisters League, USA) and Fernando Aliaga Rojas (SERPAJ, Chile)

On the first day we introduced ourselves and discussed definitions of "nonviolence" and "training". In Latin America, Altemir and Fernando said, they preferred to use "firmeza permanente" ("permanent firmness" or "steadfast persistence") rather than "nonviolence", which was simply seen as "no violence". In Mexico, "civil resistance" was used. It was noted that "training" was also not the best word -it was more of a process of education, helping people develop their own capacity to engage in peace and justice work, with a commitment to nonviolence. For many, including IFOR, it included working from a spiritual base.

In the Philippines, Tess said, they used the word "trainors" to show they were working with humans, "trainers" referring to working with animals. Jargon defined nonviolence training in Europe as many things, including preparation for civil disobedience, conflict resolution, decision-making and group process, peace education, anti-racism, and social defence. Finally, Fernando described the dynamic of nonviolence/positive life force going out and crashing against the wall of structures, of domination and alienation. When we crashed, we hit the wall and bounced back as a violent per-son. Nonviolence was about finding another way, going in another, more positive direction thanks to a nonviolent "training" process.

On the second, third and fourth days exercises were presented and facilitated by Fernando, Altemir (joined by Sinara), and Tess.

On the last day we discussed what we needed as trainers. This included the needs for: better evaluation tools of trainings and their impact on social movements; at least some financial support for trainers, provided we were clear about what we were about as trainers ("Trainers doing it as a job are different from an enthusiastic volunteer who does it from the heart"); generally longer training sessions (more than 2 days); sharing agendas, exercises and evaluations of trainings through various means; time to review our own work and recharge; exploring and sharing the reality of the people we work with; creating a team that can adapt to changes, be innovative and flexible; building trust with the people we work with; translating resources; and finally the need for more exchanges of experiences, for example through the Transnational Trainers Gathering, the International Gathering of Trainers planned by IFOR, and the South/South Trainors gatherings (next one in Thailand in 1996).

Participants agreed to try and share information through a "nonviolence trainers' mailing" of articles, case studies, resources and information on developments in the fields of nonviolence training, which trainers will send to IFOR to he copied and circulated 3 times a year.

Racism and indigenous issues

Convenors: Matt Meyer and Greg Payton (War Resisters League, USA)

The group recognised how difficult it was to define "racism". For instance, in northern Norway, some groups discriminated against other groups the same colour as themselves; in South Africa, people of Japanese descent were considered "white"; in Germany, the notion of "culture" had replaced that of "race"; in Brazil, indigenous people were despised by their poorer, landless, white compatriots. It was important to accept groups' self-definition, which was intrinsic to seIf-determination; and it was important also to realise that the integration of the oppressed into a more powerful group did not constitute general improvement.

How governments exploited racism was discussed - for instance, in Argentina and the USA-also the unconscious racism of the poor and the conscious racism of the rich, who used it to further their own ends.

The parlous position of Brazil's indigenous people was described: their lack of territory, their subjection to forced labour and to business interests, the dissolution of their culture, and their outright physical persecution. One person commented that indigenous life was deemed not to exist, so killing indigenous people amounted to killing nobody. They served as scapegoats for the rest of the population, even having been blamed for a recent cholera epidemic. Nevertheless, we should not romanticize about them; and their position when they constituted a majority of the population was quite different from when they were in a minority.

Campaigns that managed to link indigenous issues to other social justice matters were discussed, and it was pointed out that campaigning for the right to he equal was not the same as campaigning for the right to be different It was recognised that white people had much to learn from indigenous people.

Debate about racism and militarism began with a consideration of the foundations of apartheid in South Africa and its military aspects, participants concluding that unfortunately the termination of the former had not meant an end to militarism, the new armed forces now hearing from more would-he recruits than they could cope with. South Africa's homelands had been modelled on Native American reservations in the USA - a country whose armed forces had always been rife with racism and whose recent foreign policy had clearly been racist. Racism in various other countries-Turkey, Germany and France - was discussed too.

Several different racial situations were looked at, for instance the Chilean and the Argentinian; also successful examples of "cross-cultural bridging"-that is, situations where ethnic prejudice had been countered, either nationally or by individuals or groups, examples of both of these being cited, also of interesting ethnic mixing and of positive education-for instance, the checking of school textbooks for any racist content in Argentina.

A special mini-workshop with Saswati Roy was held on ethnic conflict and cross-cultural bridges in India - a diverse, multilingual country where, although the notion of unity and diversity was propounded, growing religious fundamentalism was fostering increasing fear of "new enemies". However, teachers were trying to bring people together, for instance, bathing children from different communities in the same well.

People swapped accounts of anti-racist actions, mentioning, among other things, campaigns in Germany and Argentina to end anti-immigrant discrimination, efforts in Brazil to end divisions in society and the anti-racist work of the World Council of Churches in Geneva.

Finally a number of action proposals were made, including suggestions that we liaise with churches and other community groups; that we campaign to achieve observance of the laws that accorded land rights to indigenous people and that we help to promote the UN Day Against Racism by means of articles in Peace News.

Determination and Resistance: How Women Work Against Violence

Convenor: Maggie Helwig, Canada

Participants: Saswati Roy, India; Maria da Penha, Brazil; Carmen Magallon, State of Spain; Staša Zajovic, Serbia; Haya Shalom, Israel; Mariene Pantoja, Brazil; Ellen Elster, Norway; Rafinha, Brazil; michelle, State of Spain; Edda, Brazil

Though it was clear from the introductions onwards that women's situations vary drastically from country to country, continent to continent, and that practical strategies often have to take different forms, there were certain common issues that emerged clearly; in particular, the way in which the role of women is universally defined as submissive/inferior, and the ways in which this stereotype is used to prop up violence and economic oppression.

We began by talking about strengths and weaknesses of women's work against violence and ways in which women have chosen to organise, looking at the example of Women in Black in Israel, where a dedication to consensus politics proved to he both a strength of the group, and, later; a weakness, making them unable to respond to changing situations. We also talked about ways in which activists can respond when popular movements are in a state of decline.

Staša stressed that, if women take a "feminine", caretaking role in their community, this must be made not only visible, but an intrinsic part of international politics. This led into a discussion of the need to revalorise traditionally "female" values and roles.

Saswati shared her experiences of trying to build alternative economic systems or microsystems among women in their communities. She pointed out that women are to a large extent excluded from economic life in India because of society's beliefs about women, making women unable, due to both practical and psychological obstacles, to participate independently in the economy. Mariene and Maria noted that there are many parallels in the Brazilian situation, but that Brazilian women were not excluded from economic activity but used as a source of very cheap and easily exploited labour. Staša talked about her work building up income-generating projects in refugee camps, and there was some discussion of "parallel economies" created in different situations around the world. We also talked about the need to consider the value of "emotional work", and more generally the need to redefine the term "work".

There was also a discussion of nationalism and ethnicity, and its impact on women, particularly the exploitation of women's bodies for reproduction, and the divisions created between women by nationalist feelings.

Specific recommendations from the group included the re-establishrnent of the mixed-sex project group to promote discussion on gender issues and feminist perspectives within WRI sections; and starting a discussion within the WRI women's working group and Council members about integrating women's perspectives into the rest of WRI's agenda.

Transition to democracy

Convenors: Roberta Basic (Chile) and Rob Goldman (CO Support Group, South Africa)

We heard reports from participants about the processes of transition to democracy in South Africa, Chile, and Croatia.

As a form of government ruling over people, democracy is the best of a bad lot. It is a process that should include:

  • respect for universal human rights, especially of minorities
  • public participation in decision-making
  • channels to communicate between the people and the government
  • strong and self-reliant organisations
  • acceptance of alternative ways of life
  • allowance of non-participation in state activities (e.g. the right not to serve in the military)
  • balance of social and economic interests
  • accessibility and freedom of media and other forms of expression

Democracy requires economic justice as well as political freedom. It cannot he stable if there is a marginalised poor segment of the population. Even in so-called stable democracies (e.g. Germany, Belgium, USA) the transition continues, in one direction or the other.

Democracy provides better possibilities for pacifist and anti-militarist organisations.

Military forces are a danger to human rights. They violate the human rights by waging war and by conscription. They distort democratic decision-making by pressuring governments to take militaristic actions. They steal resources which are needed for economic and social justice. They can be an instrument for and source of political repression, both of their own soldiers and of the civilian population.

Programmes & Projects

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