Rapprochement initiatives amidst violence and political manoeuvres

Some diplomatic moves reflecting internationalism are curiously juxtaposed in the political fabric of world events with virulently hostile ones. And the prevailing international scene is notable for two events.

While being landmarks in the history of internationalism, both the Millennium World Peace Summit and Millennium Summit were unique. And one was rather unusual.

The envisaged goals of the summits created doubts as to whether they would rise up to their lofty aspirations. The avowed object of the World Peace Summit was to pray and discuss ways to solve conflicts to achieve global peace. About 1,000 delegates including prestigious religious leaders representing 15 major faiths in the world attended the summit.

There were the inevitable snags, however.

For one, the Dalai Lama wasn’t invited due to pressure from China. However, the Chinese government did send a delegation and this was considered a breakthrough. The agenda for the conference included an open dialogue on ‘The Role of Religion in Conflict Transformation’ and ‘Towards Forgiveness and Reconciliation.’

The UN offered all possible assistance to this one of a kind conference including contributing a share of the necessary funding.

There were natural misgivings in many quarters about the prospects of the World Peace Summit given its unique character and the choice of the United Nations as the venue. It might have seemed inauspicious as the UN has been a virtual graveyard of idealism up to now. But the possibility that this religious summit could infuse new hope and a vision was presumably the aspiration of its sponsors.

The parallel Millennium Summit was no less idealistic in that its object was to project a global vision for the 21st century. Its agenda was on relatively firm ground given that its objectives are already being pursued in the UN.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed specific targets for the summit like halving world poverty by 2015, reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing basic education to citizens of Planet Earth. It is significant that these aspirations echoed the decisions taken at the recent G8 summit in Okinawa.

However, as it inevitably happens at the UN, the pursuit of these lofty ideals faced numerous obstacles. There was an issue over the time allotment of five minutes to a speaker as the President of Venezuela Hugo Chávez had reportedly demanded half an hour in order to do justice to the subject.

The Millennium Declaration had already caused serious rifts as it didn’t contain commitments to the targets set out by the UN Secretary-General. Furthermore, the key issue of reforming the United Nations, which has been a major concern for so long, was not included although there was affirmation of a desire to achieve such reform.

An indicator of the lack of credibility in the summit apart from the prospects for success was that a number of countries announced their nonparticipation. They included Syria, Brazil, Oman, Iraq, Thailand, Tanzania, Laos, Barbados and Kyrgyzstan. Prominent among world leaders boycotting the summit were Fidel Castro and Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.

Globally, the familiar pattern of unexpected crises and uncertainties in countries around the world continues to prevail – the latest case in point is Northern Ireland, which had been basking in the euphoria of the Good Friday Agreement, which came into effect on 2 December 1999. But Northern Ireland now finds itself faced with a conflict between Loyalist groups in Belfast, which are reviving bloody memories of the past.

This fear was voiced by Britain’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Mandelson when he said that tribal conflicts could easily spiral into sectarian warfare. As such, he is taking no chances, and has sent hundreds of troops to and around Belfast’s Shankill Road, which is the Loyalist centre. This brings back memories from two years ago when the British army patrolled the streets of Belfast.

In addition, Mandelson indicated that the current Loyalist violence would impede moves that were under way to decommission IRA weapons – and indeed, that would further delay attainment of the goal of a final settlement envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement.

BY  The late Deshamanya  Dr. Vernon L. B. Mendis