IG’s Peace Blog

Peace and its many aspects

Is peace a human right?

I think most of us would agree that if there are such things as human rights–and, despite skepticism in certain quarters, there are–then peace should figure among them.  After all, the benefits of human rights (freedom, democracy, equality of economic opportunity, secure cultural identity, to mention just a few) would seem to depend on peace.  One of the first “victims” of violent conflict is human rights, as “security” becomes a community’s top priority, and the argument that some aspects of human rights have to be sacrified in the name of security becomes plausible and even compelling.

Oddly enough, if you look at the main human rights documents, peace, as such, is not mentioned explicitly as a right.  In an apparent effort to address this omission, the U.N. General Assembly passed, in 1984, the “Declaration on the Right of Peoples to Peace” , which reads:

“The General Assembly,
Reaffirming that the principal aim of the United Nations is the maintenance of
international peace and security,
Bearing in mind the fundamental principles of international law set forth in the Charter of
the United Nations,
Expressing the will and the aspirations of all peoples to eradicate war from the life of
mankind and, above all, to avert a world-wide nuclear catastrophe,
Convinced 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,
Aware that in the nuclear age the establishment of a lasting peace on Earth represents the
primary condition for the preservation of human civilization and the survival of mankind,
Recognizing that the maintenance of a peaceful life for peoples is the sacred duty of each
1. Solemnly proclaims that the peoples of our planet have a sacred right to peace;
2. Solemnly declares that the preservation of the right of peoples to peace and the
promotion of its implementation constitute a fundamental obligation of each State;
3. Emphasizes that ensuring the exercise of the right of peoples to peace demands 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. Appeals to all States and international organizations to do their utmost to assist in
implementing the right of peoples to peace through the adoption of appropriate measures at
both the national and the international level.”

Gap closed, right?  Yes and no.  Most, I think, would agree that this declaration gives great credibility to peace as a human right.  However, some analysts try to distinguish between what is a right of “peoples” and a human right; the former belonging somehow to a collective and the latter to the individual person.  I don’t find this very convincing, since you can find references to “peoples” throughout U.N. documents, including the Charter itself and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

So, is peace a human right?  I would say “yes”, but some of the legally-minded might still be debating its exact nature and status as a right.  Still, important steps in the right direction have been taken.


November 25, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , ,

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