Women for Disarmament and Peace in the Middle East

The following statement was made yesterday in front of the Conference on Disarmament that’s taking place at the UN Geneva office.
Getting to such a statement was a very interesting and thorough process, where an Israeli Human Rights defender and a Lebanese NGO representative sat face to face and discussed the Arab Peace Initiative…

International Women’s Day Statement to the Conference on Disarmament
5 March 2009

We, women from many parts the world, take this opportunity to address the Conference on Disarmament, through a proxy, as we have done since 1984, and report on our seminar “Getting To Peace in the Middle East – Changing Threat Perceptions”, held here in the Palais on 4 March 2009. A seminar held to stimulate discussion and bring in new ideas about this important disarmament and security issue. We are fully aware that the Conference on Disarmament cannot function in a vacuum, and that successful negotiations depend not only on the good will and concerted efforts of its members, but to a large extent on the state of relations among nations and their governments.

This year the seminar was held in two parts- the first, a panel discussion focused on increasing understanding about the culture of fear that is pervasive in the Middle East. Panelists noted that weapons are used to kill people and destroy infrastructure, creating this culture of fear, violence, and instability. No state can hope to attain security for itself if it entails lowering or undermining the security – real or perceived – of other States. Disarmament is a tool to enhance security for everyone.

Also highlighted was the need to recognize and address threat perceptions. The understanding that current approaches to resolving security challenges may address a certain perception of threat, but when taken in a globalised context and a comprehensive understanding of everyone’s threat perceptions, they are often not particularly credible. Weapons of mass destruction are not a credible way to deal with threats to human rights, human dignity, or to promote shared security, on the contrary they increase vulnerabilities on many fronts – environmental, economic and the adherence to the international rule of law.

The goal of a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction has been repeatedly affirmed by all states in the region, as well as the international community at the highest political levels. In preparation for the 2010 nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, many states have raised the issue of the status of implementation of the 1995 resolution on the Middle East. It has been also been said that this resolution cannot be implemented without; at least, concurrent discussions on the Middle East peace process. Threat perceptions have a particular importance in connection with nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction and in furthering these processes.

The consolidation of peace in the area requires concurrent progress along three parallel tracks. Two of these are self-evident: the political track, including the Arab Peace Initiative and deals with intentions and the disarmament track, including the 1995 nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Review Conference Resolution and deals with capabilities, with confidence-building measures all the way through. However, neither of these two tracks are enough by themselves. Peace agreements are essential, but taken in isolation they permit the persistence of fears that unduly large military establishments could again become grave threats. Disarmament agreements are essential, but in isolation they could co-exist with rhetorical antagonism and could even be mere covers for a renewal of hostilities. Only when taken together do these two tracks reinforce and validate each other.

Even that, however, is not enough. There must be a third track along which the governments of the region demonstrate their ability to cope with their internal problems and satisfy the needs and hopes of their peoples. Without this third track, other states will not be confident that a particular country will remain true to its commitments. In an area that has known so many decades of wars and bitter enmities, confidence that a new situation has come to stay can build only slowly, through the passage of time and the demonstrated ability to solve the problems that history has bequeathed. It will be impossible to maintain and implement this third track- towards shared human security- without the full and active engagement of civil society, and particularly women.

The second part of the seminar was an NGO strategy session- where women and men from more than 30 countries came together to discuss ways to address and change this culture of fear to create a sustainable culture of peace, not to create another roadmap for peace, but how to begin walking down that road. There was a lengthy discussion about the Arab Peace Initiative with the recognition that civil society in the region and outside the region need to educate and inform others about the Initiative. It was also reported that a regional civil society network has recently started with the goal of educating about and promoting this Initiative.

Lastly, we support the recent discussions and efforts to increase access- in both formal and informal settings. Not only can NGOs contribute valuable perspectives and information to decision-making bodies, but governments must account to the people for their actions and decisions. The issue of NGO participation must be constantly raised so that actions, such as the acknowledgement of the annual message, do not sink to the level of symbolism. Additionally, the broader issue of women’s participation in decision-making bodies must be continually raised. To celebrate International Women’s Day without attempting to increase the representation and participation of women in decision-making forums in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1325 undermines larger efforts to promote gender equality and shared human security. Furthermore, increased dialogue with and participation of NGOs in these efforts will facilitate a much broader, more comprehensive understanding of security, one that can form the basis of a windfall of new security agreements and treaties. The stalemate in moving disarmament forward must be broken now. We value all those of you who are helping in this endeavor and salute your efforts.

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