Looking at the United Nations through the Prism of National Peace Law

By Ginger, Ann Fagan | UN Chronicle, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Looking at the United Nations through the Prism of National Peace Law


Ginger, Ann Fagan, UN Chronicle


In the United Nations and the International Court of Justice (ICJ), peace law is slowly emerging, just as military law emerged centuries ago. In this United Nations Decade of International Law, following the 1998 celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, people all over the world are looking back to the founding of the United Nations, and forward to its operation in the twenty-first century. This is a propitious moment to consider methods of enforcing human rights by actions of UN organs and agencies and World Court opinions, and by initiatives at the local and national levels. And it is the moment to consider the emergence and definition of peace law.

Peace law starts with individuals, their organizations and Governments. Like all basic law, it emerged from horrors and necessities: the Great Depression, the Holocaust, the Second World War and the atomic age. Albert Einstein warned that the atomic bomb has changed everything except our way of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled disaster. Peace law is part of the new way of thinking and acting to stem this drift. It breaks through the traditional separation of law into a State's domestic law, international law and the law in transnational agreements. It requires all of us - voters, lawyers, litigants, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), transnational corporations, Governments and armies - to realize that there is a cohesive body of law at the center of all law, which must be included in consideration of every issue.

Peace law is an enormous, magnificent tapestry. At its centre is the UN Charter, in which each nation pledged to settle its international disputes by peaceful means and established the United Nations to work unceasingly toward this goal through its organs and agencies. At the very core of peace law are the Nuremberg principles, setting forth the duty of each Government and each individual not to commit crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, and not to be complicit in their commission. The memories of Nuremberg, Dresden, Bataan, Soweto, Hiroshima and other tragic regions have led Governments to sign more international and regional treaties on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, against other specific kinds of weapons, and for regional peace and human rights. These actions and resolutions by the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, and other organs and agencies of the United Nations comprise the continuously expanding central portion of peace law. It is found in the peaceful customs of ethnic, racial, cultural, religious and national groups, and has traditionally been especially close to the minds and hearts of women who, with their children, are mostly the victims of its violation. It encompasses portions of existing law: international, human rights, civil rights, constitutional, criminal, property, contracts, conflict of laws, environmental, administrative, commercial, tort, legislative, immigration, labour, military, municipal and tax.

The almost 200 smaller areas in the peace law tapestry dude the peace law of each State in the United Nations: laws passed by governmental bodies from cities to nation States. For example, United States peace law includes the First Amendment protection of the fight to be a conscientious objector to war, the requirement that only Congress can declare war, the excess profit tax on war production in the Second World War, the War Powers Act, statutes enforcing neutrality, and Executive Order 13107. Peace law includes laws at the city level, establishing nuclear-free zones and incorporating Articles 55 and 56 of the UN Charter on human rights into dry ordinances. Peace law inspires actions for peace and protects peaceful activists who fed responsible. It rejects much traditional military law and ideology.

The UN system of governance relies in part on agencies created by UN bodies requiring States to make periodic reports on compliance with treaties, conduct dialogues, and report back to the major UN organs. …

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