The 70th Anniversary of the Creation of the United Nations: Giving Peace a Chance


War and peace perpetually alternate. Peace is always seen as an endless project, even a dream, to be realised in brotherhood by everyone all over the earth. During the last centuries, outstanding endeavours have been undertaken by the international community to create an international order free from wars through the strengthening of mechanisms aimed at promoting peaceful settlement of disputes. The UN Charter is the most solemn pact of peace in history, which lays down the necessary basic principles for an enduring peace, such as the full respect of fundamental rights. Today, in the context of the 70th Anniversary of the creation of the United Nations, the Human Rights Council should raise the voice of victims to strongly condemn war and to openly reiterate our inalienable right to live in a context in which war and conflict are progressively eliminated on earth through the promotion of mutual understanding, tolerance, respect for human rights and peaceful relationships.

1. Introduction

In its thirty-ninth session on 12 November 1984, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Right of Peoples to Peace. The result of the vote was 92 to none and 34 abstentions.* Twenty-nine States were absent from the vote and two countries did not participate. Resolution 39/11 was sponsored by 8 States.§

In general terms, most of the governmental representatives who took the floor before the vote stated that the right of peoples to peace was implicitly recognised by the international community in accordance with the UN Charter. Other governmental delegations** stated that while peace is an indispensable condition of human survival, it cannot be peace at any price. Finally, another group of countries†† stressed that the right of peoples to peace has no legal basis.

The right of peoples to peace resolution contains four substantive sections: 1. The solemn proclamation that the peoples of our planet have a sacred right to peace; 2. The solemn declaration that the preservation of the right of peoples to peace and the promotion of its implementation constitute a fundamental obligation of each State; 3. The demand that the policies of States be directed towards the elimination of the threat of war, particularly nuclear war, the renunciation of the use of force in international relations and the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means on the basis of the Charter of the United Nations; 4. The supplication to all States and all international organizations to do their utmost in implementing the right of peoples to peace.

Since 2008 the Human Rights Council (hereinafter HRC) has been working on the “Promotion of the right of peoples to peace” inspired by previous resolutions on this issue approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations and the former Commission on Human Rights, particularly the General Assembly resolution 39/11 of 12 November 1984, entitled “Declaration on the Right of Peoples to Peace” and the United Nations Millennium Declaration.

On 17 June 2010, the HRC adopted resolution 14/3 on the right of peoples to peace, which explicitly requested the Advisory Committee, in consultation with Member States, civil society, academia and all relevant stakeholders, to prepare a draft declaration on the right of peoples to peace. In addition, this resolution called upon States and relevant United Nations bodies to promote the effective implementation of the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace.

The Advisory Committee’s text identified, in cooperation with some civil society organizations, the main elements which should be part of the future Declaration (including issues such as migrants, refugees, conscientious objection to military service, disarmament, environment, rights of victims, development and human security). The added value of the Advisory Committee’s text was to elaborate on a compilation about all linkages between the notion on peace and human rights, to mobilize civil society organizations and also to create the notion of the human right to peace by putting together all these elements in the form of a Declaration. Afterwards, Member States would make a global assessment about this text and eventually accept or reject it as a good and useful basis to continue the work on this topic.

This paper will analyse the resolutions 20/15 and 23/16 by which the Council decided firstly to establish, and secondly to extend for the first time the mandate of the Open-Ended Working Group (hereinafter OEWG) aimed at progressively negotiating a draft United Nations declaration on the right to peace. The approach of the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the OEWG, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations in Geneva, will be taken into account. Resolution 27/17 by which the mandate of the OEWG was again extended will also be studied. Finally, the importance of consensus, the three UN pillars and the added value of the future Declaration will be analyzed.

2. Open-Ended Working Group

2.1 First Session

On 5 July 2012, the HRC adopted resolution 20/15 on “The promotion of the right to peace”. The resolution established an Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) with the mandate of progressively negotiating a draft UN Declaration on the right to peace on the basis of the draft submitted by the Advisory Committee, and without prejudging relevant past, present and future views and proposals. The resolution was on the mandate to negotiate a text and not on the text itself, which was a different matter.

The OEWG held its first session in 2013 and following this session it concluded that there were some governmental delegations while other stakeholders that recognize the existence of the right to peace and other groups do not, arguing that peace is not a human right, but a consequence of the full implementation of all human rights.

In addition, the OEWG witnessed that the text presented by the Advisory Committee was not supported by Member States, even by those countries that actively support the process within the HRC. Cuba, Iran and Egypt pointed out that using undefined, ambiguous and un-grounded concepts that lack any consensus in international law is counter-productive and complicates the work entrusted with the working group.  Controversial issues should be excluded from the text, such as human security, conscientious objection to military service, peacekeeping, refugees and migrants, among others. Some proposed sections should be discussed in other specialized fora (i.e. disarmament). Sri Lanka added that the draft Declaration has attempted to “re-invent the wheel” by formulating new concepts and definitions, whereas it should be guided by international law, basing itself on the UN Charter. Singapore also indicated that the thematic areas proposed seem to have been arbitrarily picked, as well as that the draft Declaration is philosophically and substantively problematic and is not conducive to a coherent and meaningful text.

Taking into account that the text prepared by the Advisory Committee in cooperation with some civil society organisations did not receive a general support by Member States, Indonesia stated that the last phrase of the resolution 20/15, which indicates “and without prejudging relevant past, present and future views and proposals,” opened the possibility to change it with new ideas and formulations. In addition, they added that a declaration should also be realistic, containing common denominators that are acceptable to all.

2.2 Second Session

On 13 June 2013, the HRC adopted resolution 23/16 by which the HRC requested the Chairperson-Rapporteur of the working group to prepare a new text on the basis of the discussions held during the first session of the working group and on the basis of the inter-sessional informal consultations to be held, and to present it prior to the second session of the working group for consideration and further discussion thereat.

The second session took place from 30 June to 4 July 2014 in Geneva. At the final meeting of this session, the OEWG, which is composed of representatives of States, civil society organizations and other stakeholders, acknowledged the constructive dialogue, broad participation and active engagement of governments, regional and political groups, civil society and relevant stakeholders, and took note of the input received from them and finally welcomed the approach put forward by the Chairperson-Rapporteur.‡‡

One of the issues that the OEWG needed to consider was that during the drafting process within the Advisory Committee all the main elements identified by this UN body had previously been elaborated by Member States, international organizations and Non- Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in the Programmes of Action on Vienna and Culture of Peace. There was nothing new in the Advisory Committee’s text apart from a useful compilation of those elements of international law linked to peace. Consequently, taking into account that the right of people to peace and culture of peace are different sides of the same coin, the HRC should recuperate the spirit of the resolutions 14/3 of 2010 and 17/16 of 2011, which clearly invite all stakeholders to promote the effective implementation of the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace.

With regard to the new text on the right to peace, it was felt that it is not necessary to re-draft a Declaration, which includes the same elements already elaborated in programmes of action previously adopted by consensus, such as the Advisory Committee had made in the past. This possible exercise would be a clear duplication of efforts and energy. In addition, as clearly explained, the Advisory Committee’s text was not accepted by Member States and consequently, the Chairperson-Rapporteur could not continue spinning on an approach, which had not received a general support, with the exception of some civil society organizations. It should also be noted that as of today no State has resorted to go back to the text prepared by the Advisory Committee. They prefer a short and concise text in the line of the text elaborated by the Chairperson-Rapporteur.

The Chairperson-Rapporteur decided to include in his text all the specific measures aimed at preserving the right of peoples to peace. Since 2008 the HRC has elaborated the following measures in all its resolutions: 1.The principles of the Charter of the United Nations, such as the peaceful settlement of disputes, international cooperation and the self-determination of peoples; 2. The elimination of the threat of war; 3. The three pillars of the United Nations (i.e. peace, human rights and development); 4. The eradication of poverty and promotion of sustained economic growth, sustainable development and global prosperity for all; 5.The wide diffusion and promotion of education on peace and6.The strengthening of the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace.

In addition, his text was based on the relationship between the right to life and the three UN pillars, taking into account that the Declaration on the right of peoples to peace of 1984 and the subsequent resolutions adopted by the HRC recognize that “life without war serves as the primary international prerequisite for the material well-being, development and progress of countries, and for the full implementation of the rights and fundamental human freedoms proclaimed by the United Nations”.

2.3 Third Session

On 12 September 2014, the Chairperson-Rapporteur presented his report of the second session of the OEWG before the HRC. Ireland commended the diligent approach that the Chairperson-Rapporteur had taken in seeking to find text that would allow a declaration to be adopted by consensus. They also welcomed the fresh direction taken in the new draft and hoped that the future negotiations will continue down this path.

In its resolution 27/17 of 2014, the HRC decided the OEWG would hold its third session for five working days in 2015 with the objective of finalizing the declaration. It further requested the Chairperson-Rapporteur to conduct informal consultations with Governments, regional groups and relevant stakeholders before the third session of the OEWG and to prepare a revised text on the basis of the discussions held during the first and second sessions of the OEWG.

This previous resolution is not explicitly referring to the draft declaration on the right to peace elaborated by the Advisory Committee, because this text was categorically rejected by Member States in the first session of the OEWG. This resolution is a clear example of the decision taken by the Human Rights Council to not accept the Advisory Committee’s text as a basis for future negotiations. The community of States and an increasing number of civil society organizations had realized that there was a close linkage, even sometimes the repetition, between the elements proposed by the Advisory Committee and the Programmes of Action on Vienna and a Culture of Peace. For this reason, no State claimed in the 27th session of the HRC to go back to the Advisory Committee’s text in order to avoid duplications.

As of 2013, most of the European and Western countries voted against the resolution, with the exception of Italy, Ireland and Romania, which abstained. This abstention does not mean that these countries implicitly support the notion of the right to peace, but they prefer to negotiate a balanced text which includes the positions of all Member States, those who believe in this right and others who do not support this notion.

The third session will take place from 20-24 April 2015 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. Eventually, the text should be adopted by the Human Rights Council in June 2015 and the General Assembly in September-December 2015.

Apart from recalling the measures identified by the Council for the promotion of the right of peoples to peace, the Chairperson-Rapporteur will again stress in his second text that the right to life has properly been characterized as the supreme human right, since without effective guarantee of this right, all other rights of the human being would be devoid of meaning. Since the right to life should not be narrowly interpreted, it has traditionally been linked to peace and security matters. As for the positional relationship between the right to life and peace, it appears to have been correctly stated in the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration on the Preparation of Societies for Life in Peace, which recognize the inherent right to live in peace.

In preparation of the third session, on 30 January 2015, the Chairperson-Rapporteur convened an informal consultation at the Palais des Nations. The Secretariat circulated a preliminary invitation to all Permanent Missions and other stakeholders on 12 January 2015. The provisional agenda and the Chairperson’s comments and questions were circulated by the Secretariat on 23 January 2015. He raised the following questions, which were answered by some missions: elements of the Charter of the United Nations, the victim-centred approach to the notion, the principles of international law and State actions to promote the future text. All governmental delegations again supported the approach put forward by the Chairperson-Rapporteur, in particular the transparency, consensus and inclusiveness of the process.

In particular, the Russian Federation stated that the second session identified clearly the points of divergence and convergence and that the third session should build on convergent issues. They considered the declaration as an expression of political will and not a legally binding document and thus would not expect any monitoring or follow-up mechanism. It should be based on the three pillars of peace, human rights and development.The United States of America appreciated the approach, in particular the consensus, and announced that they would continue to participate actively despite voting against the resolution setting up the WG. They wanted to focus its attention in those points of convergence among all different States. In addition, Algeria stressed that they did not want a ‘Christmas tree’ like the Advisory Committee had made in the past.

In addition, the Chairperson-Rapporteur met on 26 February 2015 in the morning with UN entities based in Geneva on the premises of the Mission of Costa Rica. They made useful contributions in terms of text, but in particular they focused their attention on draft Article 3 on the role of the UN entities and international organizations in the promotion of the future instrument. They considered that this Declaration contains all main elements and consequently, it would be a very useful instrument to implement their peace-building programs in the field.

The same day in the afternoon, the Chairperson-Rapporteur also met with NGOs at the Palais des Nations. He assured civil society organizations that he was listening very carefully to the proposals made by them and that he had identified some interesting points to be taken into consideration, such as the mention of the three Declarations (Right of Peoples to Peace, Preparation of Societies for Life in Peace and Principles on International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations). Other interesting elements were the Preamble of the UNESCO constitution; the issue of the eradication of poverty; the concept of eradication of inequality; the respect for life and practice of non-violence linked to education; the concept of peace infrastructures; violence, and the inherent right to life in peace. The Chair mentioned that there were also a number of elements raised during the last informal consultations by NGOs that he would like to take into account (disarmament, nuclear weapons, notion of democracy, issue of a monitoring mechanism, contentious objection, and environmental issues) which did not enjoy support by countries.

The Chair also stressed that most of the elements proposed by the Advisory Committee were not accepted even by those countries that support the initiative of the right to peace within the Human Rights Council. He again invited some NGOs to read both his report of the first session of the Working Group, which made a reading of the Advisory Committee text, and the statements delivered by States to better understand which stage the process is in at the HRC now.

Afterwards, David Fernandez (Mission of Costa Rica) referred to resolution 14/3 adopted in 2010 which had requested the Advisory Committee to prepare a declaration of the right of peoples to peace and called upon States and relevant United Nations bodies to promote the effective implementation of the Declaration and Programme on a Culture of Peace. He stressed that the elements included in the Advisory Committee text had been previously elaborated by the Programme of Action on Culture of Peace (i.e. migrants, refugees, disarmament, environment, rights of victims, economic rights…). Additionally, he pointed out that these elements were also included in the Programme of Action of Vienna. He recalled that since 2008 the HRC has elaborated some measures in all its resolutions aimed at promoting the right of peoples to peace. Finally, he stated that the main holders of the right of peoples to peace are States. Therefore, we need to go beyond by recognizing the victim approach of this notion without taking a step backwards.

3. Consensus in Action

Since the beginning of the negotiation process, the Chairperson-Rapporteur has always repeated that the work of the OEWG should be based on the TICO approach, which means the process is based on transparency (T), inclusiveness (I), consensual decision making(C) and objectivity (O), and a little realism. In this context, realism means that the Chairperson-Rapporteur shall conduct the negotiations by taking into consideration not his personal opinion on this topic, but the inputs received by the main drivers of the process – States – and other stakeholders – UN entities, international organizations and civil society. This consensual approach always needs specific diplomatic skills to identify a solution that is agreeable to a core set of delegates and then bring others into that group.

Consensus is a process of non-violent conflict resolution. In this type of process, everyone works together to make the best possible decision for the group. All concerns are raised and addressed, until all voices are heard. Since proposals are not the property of the presenter, a solution can be made cooperatively. Reaching consensus on a proposal does not mean that everyone is in agreement. It only means that all important concerns raised have been addressed, and unresolved concerns are at a low enough level that everyone feels that the goals of the group are being furthered by the proposal.

Consensus decision making is a creative and dynamic way of reaching agreement between all members of a group. Instead of simply voting for an item and having the majority of the group getting their way, a group using consensus is committed to finding solutions that everyone actively supports, or at least can live with. Consensus is neither compromise nor unanimity; it aims to go further by weaving together everyone’s best ideas and key concerns. At the heart of consensus is a respectful dialogue between equals. Consensus is looking for ‘win-win’ solutions that are acceptable to all, with the direct benefit that everyone agrees with the final decision, resulting in a greater commitment to actually turning it into reality.

In the disarmament affairs all resolutions are adopted by consensus. In addition, the convention on cluster munitions and landmines operates through the rule of consensus among all countries. The World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the World Trade Organization, among others, also operate on the unwritten rule of consensus. The Security Council is actually divided on just a limited number of issues; 92 percent of their resolutions operate by consensus. The majority of resolutions (such as 81 percent) adopted by the Human Rights Council in each session are also adopted by consensus.

It follows that consensus is the norm and tendency not only in international relations, but in the United Nations as well. In international relations, States cede part of their sovereignty on the condition that their individual voice should be heard. In general terms, the United Nations does not work like a national or regional parliament in which some political parties impose their will by using the majority of votes. For important matters affecting the life of millions of people, the United Nations, including its multiple entities and bodies, works on the basis of multilateralism with the purpose of reaching important consensual decisions.

On the basis of the UN spirit and multilateralism, the Chairperson-Rapporteur gives to the notion of consensus an important protagonism. Therefore, he gives all stakeholders a solemn call to help guide themselves in this process by recognizing the supreme importance of practicing tolerance, dialogue and cooperation. To that end, the main priority in this process is to create a solid basis with the purpose of sparing future generations the scourge of war and ensuring the maintenance and perpetuation of humankind. This highest aspiration can only be realized if all Member States and other stakeholders operate by the unwritten UN rule and tendency of consensus and dialogue.

4. The Three Pillars of the United Nations

On 26 March 2015 the Human Rights Council adopted by consensus in its 28th regular session under the leadership of the Russian Federation a presidential statement on the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War by which the “Council pays tribute to all victims….”, “…stresses that this historic event established the conditions for the creation of the United Nations, designed to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war….”, “…calls upon the States Member of the United Nations to unite their efforts in dealing with challenges and threats to international peace and security, with the United Nations playing a central role …” and finally “…underlines the progress made since the end of the Second World War in overcoming its legacy and promoting reconciliation, international and regional cooperation and democratic values, human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular through the United Nations …”.

Seventy years ago, the UN Charter established the three founding pillars of the United Nations: peace and security, human rights and development. Since 1945 these pillars have provided the framework for the United Nations to tackle important challenges. We cannot pick and choose which pillar the United Nations should support, nor can we focus on one to the detriment of the others. To do so would be to ignore the lessons of the past 70 years, and to invite future conflicts.

On 21 August 2014, the General Assembly adopted the resolution 2171 by which it expressed “… its determination to pursue the objective of prevention of armed conflict as an integral part of its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security” (para.1) and called upon “…all States to intensify efforts to secure a world free of the scourge of war and conflict” (para. 2). In this resolution Member States also expressed their deepest concern about the high human cost and suffering caused by armed conflicts and also recognized that peace, security and development are mutually reinforcing, including in the prevention of armed conflict (preambular paragraph 12).

The resolution 60/251 on the Human Rights Council adopted by the General Assembly on 15 March 2006 recognised in its preambular paragraph 6 that “peace and security, development and human rights are the pillars of the United Nations system and the foundations for collective security and well-being, and recognizing that development, peace and security and human rights are interlinked and mutually reinforcing.”

The three UN pillars have been recognised by the Human Rights Council as a fundamental element aimed to promoting the right of peoples to peace. In particular, resolutions 11/4 of 2009, 14/3 of 2010 and 17/16 of 2011 have constantly been stressed in its operative sections. They emphasize that peace and security, development and human rights are the pillars of the United Nations system and the foundations for collective security and well-being. Therefore, it follows that the three UN pillars are strongly linked to the issue of the right of peoples to peace.

During the High Level Segment of the 28th session of the Human Rights Council held in March 2015, dignitaries recognised the centrality of the UN pillars in the work of the United Nations. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Slovakia stated that there are no prospects for peace and security without respect for basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Ministry of the Principality of Liechtenstein stressed that today there is a general agreement that human rights, development and peace and security are closely interlinked and therefore, the United Nations cannot achieve its mission with a severely underfunded pillar. In addition, the Vice-Minister of Japan highlighted that protection of human rights is one of the three pillars of the United Nations’ activities along with peace and security and development. All these ideas about the three UN pillars were also included in the statements delivered by the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Germany, Cameroon, El Salvador, Vietnam, Nepal, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone and Romania.


* Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Darussalam, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Denmark, Finland, France, Gabon, Germany, Federal Republic of Greece, Grenada, Guinea-Bissau, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Malawi, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Norway, Philippines, Portugal, Saint Christopher and Nevis, Senegal, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom and United States
† Those absent include Iran, Israel, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and several developing countries
‡ Albania and Malaysia
§ Bulgaria, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, German Democratic Republic, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Mongolia and Nicaragua
¶ Mongolia, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, German Democratic Republic, Bulgaria, Vietnam, Hungary, Poland, Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, Cuba, India and Malaysia
** Malaysia and Philippines.
†† European Community
‡‡ Report of the Open-ended Inter-Governmental Working Group on the Draft United Nations Declaration on the Right to Peace elaborated by Ambassador Christian Guillermet (Chairperson-Rapporteur), Doc. A/HRC/27/63, 4 July 2014, Conclusions

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