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International Peace Conference condemns unlawful wars

category international | crime and justice | news report author Sunday November 12, 2006 21:15author by Edward Horgan - Irish Peace Society, University of Limerickauthor email edward.horgan at ul dot ie Report this post to the editors

Von Sponeck, Biehler and Norris link Shannon, Prestwick and Leipzig

Former UN Assistant Secretary General Hans von Sponeck, Professor Bernot Biehler, and Senator David Norris highlighted the futility of attempting to make peace by making war. The shocking and bloody failures of the recent wars and occupations of Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine/Lebanon, demonstrate the urgent need to enhance and enforce the rule of international law, and to create international peace by peaceful means.

Speakers at a peace conference at the University of Limerick, held on Remembrance Day, 11 November 2006, have appealed for the reinforcement of the rule of international law in order to replace outdated concepts of international security with a sustainable system of ‘human security’.

The three keynote speakers consisted of a former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, an expert in international law and an Irish legislator: Hans von Sponeck, Professor Gernot Biehler, and Senator David Norris.

The three were united in their denunciation of the recent wars and occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine/Lebanon, which they unanimously held to be unlawful. Creating international peace by peaceful means is not a pipe dream, they agreed; it is an imperative, to counter the use of weapons of mass destruction by a powerful alliance of western states.

The conference, organised by the students’ peace society at the university, had an international flavour, being attended by more than 70 students and activists from Ireland, Germany, the Middle East and even the Congo. Representatives from the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Shell to Sea campaign also contributed to the conference.

Speakers and delegates condemned Ireland’s complicity in the deaths of an estimated 655,000 people in Iraq, by allowing over 1,000,000 armed US troops to be transported though Shannon Airport. This is in direct contravention of the Hague Convention V, which establishes the obligations of states declaring themselves to be neutral.

One of the highlights of the conference was the launch of the English edition of Hans von Sponeck’s new book: A Different Kind of War - The UN Sanctions Regime in Iraq, which was hosted by O’Mahony’s bookshop in Limerick.

One of the purposes of the conference was to devise strategies to counter militarisation throughout the world. A lively exchange of experiences commenced between peace activists from civilian airports at Shannon, Prestwick, and Leipzig, all of which have recently been used by the United States for the transit of troops and munitions to the Middle East. Irish and German participants shared a wish to see sustainable regional development plans for the hinterlands of their respective airports.

For further information please contact:
Edward Horgan: edward.horgan at ul dot ie, 085-1026631
Fraser Gray: fraser.gray at ul dot ie, 087-4167849
Coilín ÓhAiseadha: aatchoo at gmail dot com, 086-0603818

author by Coilinpublication date Mon Nov 13, 2006 00:42author address author phone Report this post to the editors

... for the demilitarisation of our airports.

Not only did the conference establish cordial international links between concerned citizens campaigning for the demilitarisation of Shannon, Prestwick and Leipzig, but another German group, based near Ramstein Air Base, sent their apologies and expressed a wish to participate in an exchange of information and experience, and in joint initiatives. See below.

I wonder whether there are any other groups out there who might wish to exchange experiences and coordinate our efforts?



Hallo dear friends in Ireland,

we are members of a German committee of citizens living near Ramstein Air Base in Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany. It is the biggest and busiest base of the U. S. Air Force in Europe / USAFE and as a former commander Brig. Gen. Rob Kane said, "one of, if not THE, most important military installations in the world". It hosts the headquarters of the USAFE and was and is the "war fighting headquarters" for the bombings in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. 90 percent of the weapons, ammunitions and troops flown by air lift to the battlefields of the U. S. Army take off from Ramstein.

We try to inform the German population what is going on there and have started the "Ramsteiner Appell", to get a decision of our parliament that stops all these actions of the U.S. Military, forbidden by our constitution.

Informations are to be found on our websites:
www.fluglaerm-kl.de and www.ramsteiner-appell.de .

We are sorry not to be able to take part in your peace meeting in Limerick this time. We would like to stay in regular contact with the Irish peace movement, trying to stop the U.S. war mashine together. We hope, your meeting is a real success and we would be glad to get informations of results and decisions. Let us keep contact for peace in the world.

Yours sincerely
Wolfgang Jung (BI gegen Fluglärm, Bodenlärm und Umweltverschmutzung e.V.)
Fee Strieffler (Ramsteiner Appell)

Related Link: http://www.fluglaerm-kl.de/
author by Coilinpublication date Mon Nov 13, 2006 01:28author address author phone Report this post to the editors

First, some more information about the Leipzig group:
The three delegates came from a German action committee entitled "Flughafen natofrei" ("NATO-free airport" - a reference to Halle/Leipzig airport).

Details in German, including some very striking photos:
http://www.flughafen-natofrei.de (Javascript off)

A full ten active members have already been resisting the recent militarisation of their airport, hanging banners bearing the slogan "NEIN ZUM KRIEGSFLUGHAFEN" ("No to the war airport") up in the centre of Leipzig and the surrounding countryside. Oddly enough, when they held a demo in front of the state parliament, one newspaper cut the photograph just above the banner, so that the readers couldn't know what the demo was actually about. (Reminiscent of the Clare Champion's shoddy coverage of the demo with Abu Ghraib veterans at Shannon two weeks ago.)

The group has also held various pickets and information meetings. They are strong on research: well informed about the aircraft and airlines involved, which are not all the same as those at Shannon.

Arising out of the "airport neighbourhood watch" workshop and subsequent discussions, a few specific proposals for ongoing cooperation with the Leipzig delegation include:
1. Reports of what we got out of the conference. (At least one from each side. I will prepare a report on behalf of the Irish side myself.)
2. Ongoing exchange of information about aircraft, airlines, demos, media campaigns, etc. Perhaps even a website to share information in both languages?
3. An Irish delegation to the "BUKO" congress in Leipzig next Easter. The concept of the BUKO is similar to a social forum, but has actually been going for a lot longer than that.

See the BUKO's website here:
Bundeskongress Internationalismus BUKO30 http://www.buko.info
This will include a main topic on "war and peace" to discuss militarization (particularly of their airport) and possibly host workshops by Irish activists.

By the way, the whole conference had a distinctive German tint to it, through the participation of Hans von Sponeck, Gernot Biehler, the three from Leipzig and a big Glaswegian anarchist weapons inspector who also spoke German. Time to buy a good German dictionary, methinks.


Street theatre with Flughafen natofrei
Street theatre with Flughafen natofrei

Related Link: http://www.flughafen-natofrei.de
author by Woodland Creaturepublication date Tue Nov 14, 2006 13:18author address author phone Report this post to the editors

There is a impending meeting with the Prestwick weapons inspectors and concerned locals. I'm going to formaulate some proposals based on discussions that took place with other military flight activists at the Limerick conference and will report back.

Let's keep hounding the war criminals out of our airports!

Related Link: http://www.tridentploughshares.org
author by Margaretpublication date Tue Nov 14, 2006 19:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

International Peace Conference
The theme of last Saturday’s conference on international peace was Ireland’s Role in International Affairs - from supporting war to promoting peace. As the talks and workshops progressed throughout the day it seemed apparent that there was much individuals and groups of people could do to affect international peace and uphold International Law. Between talks there was lots of swapping of email addresses and phone numbers as new contacts were made and new ideas for promoting peace were circulated.

Mention is made above of the visitors from Leipzig. Many of us have been aware of rendition flights going through Prestwick airport in Scotland. Among the many people from oversees who attended the conference was Richard McKean. Richard made a long trip via rail and ferry to share his experience of weapons inspections at Prestwick. On three successive nights (August 5-8th ) this summer as the US military sent munitions to Israel for use in bombing Lebanon, groups of Trident Ploughshares activists turned into “war crime detectives” and inspected planes and documents (see http://tridentploughshares.org/article1436).

I couldn’t attend the workshop (someone had to keep the ginger nut supply topped up!), so hopefully someone else will write a report on those for people who couldn’t come to Limerick on the day. The following is the account of two of the talks from notes I had taken. Please add your own notes and comments.

Hans von Sponeck
(bio borrowed from http://www.transnational.org/)
Hans von Sponeck joined the UN Development Program in 1968, and worked in Ghana, Turkey, Botswana, Pakistan and India, before becoming Director of the European Office in Geneva. He has served thirty-two years with the organization, including at the UN HQ in New York. In his last post he succeeded Denis Halliday in charge of UN humanitarian operations in Iraq in October 1998, overseeing roughly 500 international staff and 1,000 Iraqi workers. He was responsible for directing all UN operations in the country, managing the distribution of goods under the Oil-for-Food program and verifying Iraqi compliance with that program. Hans von Sponeck resigned in February 2000, in protest of the international policy toward Iraq, including sanctions.

Hans discussed the structure of the UN, noting that it comprised of 51 member states in 1945 and 192 member states in 2006, but that the political structures have remained pretty much the same during this time. The UN is supposed to act for the benefit of all of these 192 member states, not just in the interests of individual counties. He said that the UN charter itself was a good comprehensive guide/document that if it were applied it would result in a better world, with peace, socio-economic progress for all, and human rights for all (http://www.un.org/aboutun/charter/). In his view, activists at Shannon and Prestwick had acted towards achieving these goals as set out in the charter. He also gave an example of Kofi Annan travelling to Baghdad in 1998 for talks with Saddam Hussein. Kofi Annan was criticised for it but Hans von Sponeck notes that engaging in dialog of this kind is one of the fundamental principles of the UN charter.

I was quite surprised to say that Ireland was ranked as the 4th highest state for quality of life out of all member states. An overview of how this Human Development Index (HDI) is calculated can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Development_Index
Hans then drew some parallels between the changes in mortality and quality of life in developing countries and Ireland over the past 35 years (up to 2005). Mortality rates for children less than 5 were 27 out of every 1000 in Ireland 25 years ago. By 2005, this figure had reduced to 6 out of every 1000 children. In developing countries however the figure only fell from 91/1000 to 88/1000 over the last 25 years. Similar trends can be seen for adult literacy, life expectancy etc.

On considering reforms of the UN Hans noted the widespread institutionalised mis/dis-information and the need for political accountability. According to him, a holistic approach is needed to make progress. By this he meant that in conflict situations like the Middle East dialog needs to happen with all groups including Fatah and Hamas (see Article 33 of UN charter).

Professor Gernot Biehler, Professor of international law at Trinity College Dublin

Gernot gave a very interesting talk on International Law and it’s relationship to the actions of the individual (and group). He said that International Law is clearly definable but not particularly enforceable, illustrating this with the example that you can’t go to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and sue the US for invading Iraq or using Shannon airport.

He noted that International Law can’t solve all problems but it is good and clearly defined and that most governments want to adhere to International Law and neutrality in our case, but is torn by the American lobby and political pressure. It is through cases such as Horgan V An Taoiseach and DPP V DPP v Deirdre Clancy, Nuin Dunlop, Karen Fallon, Damian Moran and Ciaron O'Reilly that precedents are created that enforce International Law. Governments will then realign their activities based on these cases and realise that it’s not a good idea to ignore International Law. Enforcement of these laws is the key and this enforcement is more complicated that national laws. Intelligent test cases are needed to provide a means of enforcement of International Law.

On answering questions on the ICC, Gernot noted that anyone has, in theory, the power to ask the prosecutor of the ICC to investigate issues and bring cases to the court. Obviously governments didn’t want this to become a common occurrence, and he noted that the Israeli government in particular were very worried at the prospect. Some clauses were added that prohibit approaching the investigator in this way if there are national proceedings already under way or if the UN Security Council asks the court not to prosecute. On a practical level this has resulted in cases been taken in the UK that otherwise would not have been instigated because it was either a choice of a national UK court or the International Criminal Court.
He finished by saying that only through the activities of individuals and groups can issues of International Law be brought to the fore and that without them there would be a totally different approach to foreign relations with America. On a note of caution, he re-iterated that these activities should be “done with intelligence”.

David Norris’s rousing speech closed the day by reminding us of the power of the individual by re-telling the story of Tom Hyland, the retired bus driver from Ballyfermot, who set up the East Timor solidarity committee, ended up joining the foreign affairs committee, and by making himself an expert affected real change in East Timor.

Follow-up activities were suggested including a peace camp at Shannon at Christmas with an alternative nativity play, a possible joint date for actions at all three airports (Shannon, Leipzig, Prestwick and more), and a possible meeting of all Irish anti-war groups soon with a common theme.
It was clear from the day that the issue of the war in Iraq, Ireland’s involvement with it, and international peace in general should be election issues next year.

author by cropbeye - anti war Ireland (Cork)publication date Tue Nov 14, 2006 20:29author email cropbeye at yahoo dot comauthor address Cork (North Side)author phone Report this post to the editors

The organisers did an excellent job.

The call has gone out for everyone to become more involved in the movement.

There was a call for more networking.

As Ed Horgan correctly said Whatever you do don't do nothing.

author by Coilínpublication date Tue Nov 14, 2006 22:54author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks for the thanks. Too many people to mention lent a hand.

What struck me most was the commitment with which participants engaged with the talks and workshops. People divided themselves very evenly between the workshops. Students and activists listened intently. Some took copious notes. Others asked insightful practical questions.

Intense neworking went on in the breaks, with contact details being exchanged in all directions.

Participants were quick to lend a hand with practicalities. Obviously, people understand that the demilitarisation of our airports is not a passive, theoretical exercise, but a practical challenge that needs people to participate actively.

So I should say a big thanks to everybody who responded to the invitation, made the trip from Dublin or Galway or Scotland or even Leipzig and gave up the whole of their Saturday to talk about what we can do to reinforce international law and promote true, _human_ security.

Another thing that struck me was the diverse mixture of participants and speakers, who spanned a great breadth of knowledge and experience.

It was a particular privilege to be chauffeur for a former Assistant Secretary General of the UN and a Scottish anarchist weapons inspector who lives in the woods near Prestwick Airport. I won't share the contents of the conversation here; the richest experiences have to be had for yourself.

I look forward to more comments from participants.


author by Richard - TPpublication date Wed Nov 15, 2006 00:37author email richard.mckean at zoom dot co dot ukauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Limerick International Peace Conference 11/10/07
Richard “Bushman” McKean:


Firstly, I'd like to say that for many (all?) of us at Limerick, there was a real sense of positive energy and determination in the air. This came as a personal watershed given the amount of apathy myself and others have encountered when trying to get participation in actions earlier in the year. I met many dedicated and tenacious individuals who are undeterred by recent brutality of the Irish state.

The conference was truly a broad church in its participants: an ex-UN assistant Secretary General, Hans von Sponeck; an Irish Senator, David Norris; an ex-Irish Army Comandant, Ed Horgan; a professor of International Law, Gernot Biehler; and by no means least the diverse array ethnically, socially and politically, of activists.

There was a distinct lack of the clique prosthletising and dogmatic bunfights that usually attend any gathering of activists- and which for years reduced me to the apathy of anonymously insulting politicians.

Here's a sampler of what I found interesting. There will be more accurate/verbatim/comprehensive to follow.

Airport Activism

Conor of the Shannon airport activists gave us a presentation of their monitoring activities and in the workshop/discussion all 3 localities shared stories and ideas. Laurence of the Shannon group will be providing us information and costings for the potential of linking up with their transponder data scanning set up. We will also formulate a co-authored handbook, sharing intelligence, data and methods; solidarity actions and concerted direct action is not a matter of if, but, when.

The Leipzig contingent want Prestwick & Shannon groups to speak at the coming Buko social forum next Spring.

The UN

Hans delivered what I personally found to be the most engaging speech. He outlined a strong case for urgent reform of the UN, illustrating grave concern over the influence of the security council's present structure, but remaining adamant that the UN Charter is as relevant today as it ever was. Naturally, the United States “toolbox” attitude to UN participation- picking it up and putting it down as it needs it- came in for the sternest of criticism.

He outlined how the US's foreign policy is going hand-in-hand with new trade groupings that seem to be emerging that could challenge US hegemony.

He saw a Security Council that was politically accountable as the way forward and envisaged a conflict management policy of including ALL sides of the debate in the effort towards resolution-be that Fatah, Hizbollah etc etc etc.

He relayed the total front of lies and disinformation that he battled against as the head of the UN Oil for Food Programme in Iraq, which eventually drove him to resignation of his 30-year UN career.

International Law

I found Gernot's contribution the most disheartening. Although to be fair, he pointed out that despite the fact that international law is largely hypothetical, there have been many cases where the national courts have set legal precedent in cases argued from a humanitarian standpoint. He illustrated how legislation like the ICC may not bear fruit itself, but the fear of trails in the Hague has for the UK into prosecuting the war crimes of its soldiers within the national system.

In the discussion, there was general assent to notion that international law and domestic law should be “on a continuum”, or to put it another way “murder is murder is murder!” and mass murder should be prosecuted with all the same outrage, seriousness and immediacy as any single act of the crime.


I was encouraged to find that the workshop on activism strategy was, whilst being informative and cleverly simple, running over schedule, not because so many were finding the small group brainstorming too difficult, but rather that too many were coming up with too many ideas and were damned if they weren't going to be enthusiastic about telling the workshop :-)

A tonic to anyone who is despairing that all people want to do is march from A to B and do a bit of shouting before going home feeling purged.

David Norris

I'm glad he went on last; how could anyone come on after his quickfire vitriol and diatribe delivered with a pace and skill that would leave George Galloway lying on the canvas scared to get up again. It wasn't all laughs however, his eulogy of the achievements of one lone Irish bus driver who became a bugbear for the Suharto regime drove home the point that individuals make change and if tenacious they can move mountains.

Nearly there...

The proposal that has fired my imagination the most is Hans's proposal for an International Peace Directory.

Not that this idea is better/more important than the many things proposed over the day, but it was the most unexpected.

I have a few ideas on the structure myself. I'd like to set up a wiki page for collaboration myself, if I had the time to learn how!

Perhaps some online collaboration RE: airports would also be desirable?

Last but by no means least

I'd like to thank all who organised, participated and helped in this rare event. I'd especially like to thank Adam for logistics, A-L for putting up with my smelly feet and Margaret in Limerick for being hotelier/chauffeuse and witty travelling companion. Not to forget Coilin for a lift from Dublin whose passengers were the perfect ingredients for a comedy sketch you couldn't write in fiction. And for that matter, Ed, Conor, Mags Liddy, Sean, Laurence, Frazer, Christine, Lutz and every bloody person I had the pleasure of their acquaintance- and the sarcastic bloke at the petrol station who turned buying a roll and sausage into a laugh.

I propose that Limerick become an annual event, where goals are declared and progress is reported.


Further insights at:


author by Coilínpublication date Wed Nov 15, 2006 19:06author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Thanks for your report, Richard. It's good to read a comprehensive report from somebody who experienced the whole thing as a committed participant, and who can even see schedule slippage as a plus.

I keep noticing new initiatives being mentioned, possibly because ideas developed in conversations between smaller groups. This means that there might be no full account of everything that comes out of the conference.

I'd love to see a network of transponders to keep track of suspicious aircraft. Perhaps we could have a shared Irish-Scottish-German website - maybe using Indymedia's Oscailt open publishing tool - to share information about transponder data, sightings, demos, incursions, media coverage, trials, resignations of politicians, etc. This might be used to gather raw material that could be ordered into an airport neighbourhood watch handbook. I think Laurence or Margaret may be able to tell you how to set up a wiki.

Just one reservation about your suggestion to make Limerick an annual event: Have we got to wait a year for the next one? ;-)


author by Richardpublication date Thu Nov 16, 2006 17:07author email richard.mckean at zoom dot co dot ukauthor address Doon ra widsauthor phone Report this post to the editors

In case anyone is interested, there is a conference in Brussels on the 25th with other EU activists attending (including a couple from TP).




I wish I didn't have to leave!


Related Link: http://www.vredesactie.be/article.php?id=383
author by Margaretpublication date Mon Dec 04, 2006 10:53author address author phone Report this post to the editors

On Friday five people, who in August along with 12 others carried out inspections of Prestwick Airport to look for evidence of US munitions bound for Israel for use the Lebanon conflict, were acquitted of all charges against them at Ayr Sheriff Court. This group included Richard McKean who participated in the conference in Limerick.

More details on UK Indymedia: http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2006/12/357670.html
and the Trident Ploughshares website: http://www.tridentploughshares.org/index.php3

author by Richard McKeanpublication date Tue Dec 19, 2006 13:47author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I'm not sure there is bias; if there is it is merely a reflection on activities of the activists who attended and spoke. Prestwick and Shannon are/were being used by the US to service Israels war crimes in the Lebanon and Palestine. These were the local issues for the respective activists.

I think I can confidently speak for the whole peace movement in condemning all wars of aggression- especially where they contravene international humanitarian law by targeting civilians and the infrastructure that is essential to civillian wellbeing and safety.

It sounds like you may be surprised to know that often the wars in Africa & Asia are exploited by the West. Read Mark Thomas's excellent book on the UK arms trade for insight into this.

Personally, I assure you, I would try to prevent war crimes against any human beings. Prestwick just happens to be one of my local airports. It is used also to service the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If it were being used to aid and abet war crimes in East Timor or the Democratic Republic of Congo, I'd still feel obliged to act.

Don't get the cart before the horse. The objection is to war crimes and the aspect of nation states is of secondary importance.

Related Link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Used-Famous-Nelson-Mandela-Underground/dp/009190921X/sr=8-1/qid=1166532345/r
author by MichaelY - iawmpublication date Tue Dec 19, 2006 14:28author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hi Richard,

Good to hear of your acquittal and note that you don't forget us here in Ireland. Your name and Prestwick came up this morning in a debate in a local radio station, Clare FM, a couple of us in the Irish Anti War Movement had with an Irish MEP in relation to rendition flights. You see, one of our Fianna Fail Government MEPs is attempting to insert amendments to the section of the European Parliament Report that "expresses serious concern about the 147 stopovers made by CIA operated aircraft in Ireland"....he says he's trying to "soften the language"...."as there is no proof that these flights were actually transferring prisoners"!

There is, of course, plenty of circumstancial indications, names and regs of flights, names of, paper and shell CIA-related companies owning aircraft and then disappearing...and the fact that the Irish Government has decided to accept "categorical denials by the US Government" that no prisoners were transferred through Ireland!! They haven't looked for proof and they blabber about not having any! His last remark was to imply that criticism of Ireland in this way was "unpatriotic"!! The last refuge of a scoundrel!

Our best regards to you and all our friends in Scotland - we will continue to struggle and, who knows, we may even win!!

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