By Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg | 1992-09-01 12:00:00

Rio de Janeiro must be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and also one of the scariest. During the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development the Brazilian government removed street people from their usual habitat and placed military personnel with fixed bayonets on guard at conference sites throughout the city. Not that this prevented robbers and muggers from doing their work. violence is a daily occurrence in Rio. The World Bank's structural adjustment policies, which force governments to reduce public spending, are taking their toll.

Perhaps the street thieves were a metaphor for the robbery taking place at UNCED itself, where poor nations, indigenous peoples, women, peace and the planet itself were shortchanged. Although it was not on the official agenda, both Maurice Strong and Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland noted the need to address militarism in their opening remarks. This may have been the result of lobbying efforts by Non-Governmental groups. This April the Working Group on Militarism, the Environment and Development issued a communiqué to UNCED Working Group Chairs and Delegates. They noted that the Preparatory Committee had been undermined by efforts to minimize the enormous impact of the world's military in global environmental contamination. The communiqué reproached many nations for passively supporting the U.S. lead to exclude any mention of military issues in relevant U.N. documents. Militarism, it said, consumes vast amounts of the world's financial resources and leads to disproportionate suffering for the world's women, children and the poor.

This was the background to myriad workshops and treaties on militarism at the Global Forum, the NGO alternative to the official UNCED process.. While government delegations rested comfortably in posh hotels close to the UNCED conference sites at Rio Centro, the Global Forum went on 40 km away in Flamengo Park, a peoples' park on the beach close to downtown. N(;() representatives observed first hand the impact of World Bank policies on the poor of Rio.

The two sites were also far apart in philosophy and action. While government negotiations generally watered down conventions in order to arrive at agreements, NGOs from all over the world forged treaties with visionary principles and concrete action agendas. This was a complex task as different cultures from East, West, South and North struggled together to find common ground and language.

Rosalie Bertell, together with an international group of women, organized a day of workshops on militarism. Workshop participants learned of spacecraft and supersonic military jets' damage to the ozone layer; British nuclear weapons programs contaminating the oceans and land mass with radioactivity; the new military and nuclear developments of the unification of Europe, as well as the militarization of previously neutral Ireland; and the health risks caused by depleted uranium scattered in Persian Gulf states as a result of its use in U.S. and British arms I here was a dramatic description of the ongoing peace and human rights activities of the Mothers of the Plaza Del Mayo in various countries in Latin America and the ongoing activities in the South Pacific relating to the politics of nuclear weapons testing there.

The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom conducted a session with Wangari Maathai of the Green Belt Movement (Kenya), and Lopetti Sentuli of the Pacific Resource Centre. Other workshops included Nuclear Free Zones and chemical and biological weapons.

The NGO Treaty on Militarism, the Environment and Development was the result of the dedicated efforts of approximately 20 negotiators and was launched at a press conference with former Swedish Ambassador for Disarmament Maj-Britt Theorin. Theorin was a member of a U.N. working group which identified military resources which could be used to protect the environment.

Many of the other NGO treaties also mentioned the need to end militarism and the necessity of peace dividends to provide resources for communities. Frequently, financing environmental recovery and restoration was linked to the peace dividend. These NGO treaties almost uniformly called for local decision-making, cooperation between North and South in tackling poverty, global economic reforms, including democratizing GATT; preventing toxic and nuclear hazards, and encouraging education on all these issues.

From the Global Forum came ideas for improved communication with NGOs. A major focus was on electronic communication training. Banks of computers were set up in the Gloria Hotel to train NGO delegates on such networks as NGO Net, Peacenet, and Web.

The garbage created by the conference delegates was a major problem. It illustrated just how dependent the world is on the wasteful products of transnational corporation, even at conferences which discuss the need to stop destroying natural resources. The quantities of throw-away materials were outrageous. When [used my own cup, concession workers didn't know what to make of it. The food products and their containers were symptomatic of the notion that we can always tell others what to do but not practice what we preach.

I should also comment that the final photograph of the heads of state reads like a picture of the Fathers of Confederation. So while there are celebrations about agreements on women's participation , they are symbolic and nothing more. Until the gender and other marginalized people's power imbalance is seriously dealt with in the governments of the world, we will continue to have "business as usual."

Post-Rio outreach has begun. Women for a Just and Healthy Planet held a public meeting in Toronto to help local groups integrate the alternate treaty and UNCED issues into their work. This follow-up will be important. Plug into the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (1 Nicholas Street, 3rd Floor, Ottawa, Ontario KIN 7B7) for future information nationally and connect with local groups doing work through the United Nations Association of Canada.

Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg is with Voice of Women, Women for a Just and Healthy Planet, Peace Magazine, CCNR and the WEED Foundation.

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1992

Peace Magazine Sep-Oct 1992, page 18. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg here

Peace Magazine homepage