The Declaration on the right to peace is in the pipeline to the General Assembly of the United Nations

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

In 2010, the HRC also approved the resolution 14/3, requesting “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… ". 

Therefore, the Advisory Committee (AC) adopted on 6 August 2010 the recommendation 5/2 on the promotion of the right of peoples to peace, establishing a drafting group chaired by Mona Zulficar (Egypt) to prepare a draft declaration on the right of peoples to peace. In light of this mandate, the drafting group initially prepared a progress report on the right to peace, which was submitted to the HRC in its 16 regular session (June 2011). 

On 12 August 2011, the AC adopted recommendation 7/3 entitled "Drafting Group on the promotion of the right of peoples to peace", by which it took note of the second progress report submitted by the drafting group (paragraph 1); it welcomed "the responses received to the questionnaire sent out in April 2011, and the discussions and statements made during its seventh session" (paragraph 2); and it welcomed "initiatives by civil society to organize discussions on progress reports of the Advisory Committee with Member States and academic experts" (paragraph 3).

In accordance with HRC resolution 17/16 of 17 June 2011 and AC recommendation 8/4 of 24 February 2012, the AC submitted to the HRC its (third) draft declaration on the right to peace, which was really inspired by the different proposals of Declarations elaborated and advocated by some civil society organizations. 

Pursuant resolution 20/15 of 5 July 2012, the HRC decided to “establish an open-ended intergovernmental working group with the mandate of progressively negotiating a draft United Nations 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.” Ambassador Christian Guillermet-Fernández (Costa Rica) was elected by the Working Group as its Chairperson-Rapporteur, by acclamation. He was nominated by the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries (GRULAC). 

In the first session of the OEWG, held in Geneva from 18 to 21 February 2013, Mona Zulficar, Chairperson of the Drafting Group at the AC said that the right to peace includes not only negative peace, but also positive peace which addresses the conditions for just and sustainable peace and enables building an environment conductive to social justice, respectful of human dignity and protective of all human rights. On the other hand, Ambassador Christian Guillermet underlined the basic principles, which should conduct the session of the Working Group (i.e. transparency, inclusiveness, consensus, objectivity and realism).

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 great added value of the Advisory Committee’s text was its elaboration on all linkages between the notion on peace and human rights, its efforts 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, this enabled Member States to 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.

In the first session, the OEWG witnessed that the text presented by the Advisory Committee was not properly supported by Member States, even by those countries that actively support the process within the HRC. Consequently, some delegations 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.

In order to keep the important work done by the Advisory Committee in the drafting process of a Declaration, the Chairperson-Rapporteur decided to recuperate the spirit of the Council 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. It was noted that all the main elements on the right to peace identified by the AC had previ¬ously been elaborated by Member States, international organizations and Non- Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in the Programmes of Action on Vienna and Culture of Peace. Consequently, the right to peace and culture of peace are different sides of the same coin. This approach was welcomed by different stakeholders, including many civil society organizations. 

It should be recalled that in the line of the resolution 14/3, a brief history of the concept of culture of peace was included in the progress report on the right of peoples to peace prepared by the AC in 2011. In particular, this UN body had already focused its attention on the origin of the concept at UNESCO, the national programmes for culture of peace, UNESCO’s medium-term strategy, transdisciplinary project, the relevant work at the General Assembly and the meaning of culture of peace.

On 1 July 2016, the HRC in Geneva adopted a Declaration on the Right to Peace by a majority of its Member States. It is the result of three years of work with all stakeholders, in which the role played by some civil society organizations was relevant. The resolution 32/28, to which the Declaration was annexed, was presented by the delegation of Cuba. In its presentation, they emphasized that the adoption of this Declaration was framed in the context of the bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities signed in Havana, between the Government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP). HRC’s work was aided by the invaluable mobilization and leadership shown by public figures from the world of art, culture and sport, gathered around the Foundation Peace Without Borders founded by Miguel Bose and Juanes.

The Declaration needs the final adoption by the General Assembly that will occur in the Third Committee of the current 71st regular session (October - November 2016) in New York. This will be a decisive moment to consolidate all the efforts made to recognize the Human Right to Peace. Many civil society organizations believe that the international community should exert their utmost efforts to reach a consensual solution for the title and article one of the Declaration, the only remaining issues without agreement among delegations for the time being. For this reason, the negotiation process should be based on dialogue, cooperation and mutual understanding.

The Declaration is the result of the tireless efforts of many peace activists, human rights promoters as well as of the important role played by some sectors of civil society for years, which have shown that genuine dialogue among all stakeholders and regional groups are the foundation of peace and understanding in the world. An important group of these civil society organizations stressed in an open letter addressed to the diplomatic community that: 

“in today's world, devastated by armed conflicts, hate and poverty, the recognition and declaration by an overwhelming majority of states that “Everyone has the right to enjoy peace”, would send to Humanity, and in particular to young and future generations, a very much needed message of peace and hope. Our organizations cannot but recognize the great importance of such message. The adoption of the UN Declaration on the Right to Peace will represent a little step forward toward the fulfilment of the solemn promises we made in 1945”.

Mona Zulficar, Chairperson of the Drafting Group on the right to peace at the Advisory Committee UN Human Rights Council

Christian Guillermet Fernandez, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the open-ended intergovernmental working group on a draft United Nations declaration on the right to peace at the UN Human Rights Council 

Coordinated by David Fernandez Puyana, PhD, LLM and MA