A group of Canadians met at St. Paul's University in Ottawa in April to review an initiative to create a department of peace (DOP) at the cabinet level. This idea has been growing in a number of different countries, and in Canada for the past two years. There are actually such departments already in Nepal, the Philippines, and the Solomon Islands, with Costa Rica close to forming a Ministry of Justice and Peace.
In Canada, there are eight chapters working on the initiative in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton, and London. A number of organizations have endorsed the proposal as well.
The April meeting was timed to precede the federal election that at that time seemed imminent.
The DOP initiative points to the lack of a strategic focus for peace in the federal government. It proposes five key aspects: (1) education and training, (2) human and economic rights, (3) nuclear disarmament, (4) the creation of a civilian peace service, and (5) curbing violence in Canada through restorative justice and inter-faith dialogue.
It is expected that proponents of the DOP will pose questions to candidates during their election campaign. In particular, there will be questions about the change of direction of Canadian foreign and defence policy away from UN peacekeeping, peacebuilding and peace diplomacy to war-fighting in Afghanistan and the "war on terror." Candidates will also be asked about the efforts their parties would make, if elected, toward a DOP and toward nuclear disarmament.So far, the NDP has endorsed the proposal, and other parties are discussing it.
For further information see the movement's web site: www.departmentofpeace.ca.
To the surprise of no one, the ruling military junta of Burma extended the term of house arrest another year for Aung San Suu Kyi, the 61-year-old woman who actually won the last real election in her country. She has been kept confined, allegedly "for her own protection" ever since -- indeed for 11 of the past 17 years. Each year the junta extends the detention.
When last released from house arrest, in 2002, she drew huge crowds on a tour of the country, showing the generals her popularity with Burma's 54 million people.
On May 24-25, a meeting of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflicts (GPPAC) was held in Ulanbaatar, Mongolia. The organization was founded five years ago and is constituted by civil society organizations representing cities, not states.
The meeting focused on promoting Nuclear Weapon Free Zones (NWFZs) in Northeast Asia. It planned to conduct a civil society forum in support of the Six-Party Talks, which is a multilateral platform seeking ways to settle the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula. Mongolia has already declared itself a NWFZ as a single state, but the GPPAC group favors, not only institutionalizing its status as such, but also extending it by encouraging other countries in the region to form, through a new treaty, a larger NWFZ.
The National Resources Defence Council (NRDC) in the United States has conducted a campaign for a decade against the use of medium- and low-frequency sonar systems in ways harmful to marine mammals. Military active sonar works like a floodlight, sendingsound waves across tens or even hundreds of miles of ocean. That power requires the use of extremely loud sound, which can form lethal bubbles in whales' organs.
In 2003 NRDC led a coalition of wild-life advocates, which successfully restricted the US Navy's use of such sonar.
The fight is still ongoing. Other nations are developing low-frequency systems too. Mid-frequency sonar has been implicated in many strandings of whales. The US Navy previously denied responsibility, but the government's investigation established that strandings were caused by its use of active sonar. For example, after a battle group used sonar in the Bahamas, the whole population of Cuvier's beaked whales disappeared.
The Navy intends to carry out exercises this summer off California. NRDC is suing to halt the worst of these assaults against the animals. They agree that sonar can be a valuable tool, and that some training is necessary. NRDC is asking the Navy to mitigate the injuries by putting rich marine mammal habitat off limits, avoiding migration routes and feeding or breeding areas when marine mammals are present, and listening with passive sonar to ensure marine mammals are not in the testing area before using active sonar. NRDC encourages us to write to the US Secretary of Navy expressing our concern.