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Bem ANGWE Right to Peace-Important Connotation on Human Rights
September 18,2015   By:chinahumanrights.org


Right to Peace-Important Connotation on Human Rights


To say that the world is gradually turning into a theatre of war where characterized with various landmarks of terror, inter and intra state conflicts and tensions where all forms of conventional and unconventional methods of are employed by groups, is stating the obvious. This reality has increased in the 21st century where reports of various armed non state actors takes delight in mass killings, maiming, kidnapping etc. human sufferings, misery as well as displacements resulting from this malaise have in a manner of speaking ‘gone out of the roof’. Many parts of the globe hitherto regarded as safe havens are gradually turning into theatres of war, thereby putting states under perpetual pressure in their quest to fulfil their legitimate constitutional obligation of ensuring peace and security in their respective domains.

Various remedies and measures proposed and tried to address the foregoing scenario notwithstanding, this global albatross have not only remained a recurring panorama, but has in recent times assumed a frightening dimension with attendant crimes against humanity as well as other grave human rights violations.

With the forgoing state of affairs, this topic of discussion could not have come at a better time than now.

After a brief introduction, this paper will examine briefly what human rights are. Under this heading, the paper peripherally explains the concept of human rights, its universality in applications etc. Thereafter, the paper will touch on definition of what peace is examining it from two broad forms; the concept of peace as a human right, thereafter followed by consideration of the nexus between peace, security and human rights as well as highlight some imperatives of the observance of human rights norms in peace architecture. Here attempts will be made to see if the right to peace qualifies as human rights in the strict sense of it. The paper will proceed with a short synopsis of international instruments providing for the right to peace; obligations for the realisation of human rights to peace; implementation/promotion of the right of people to peace and thereafter conclude.


I shall deviate from the traditional expectation of commencing this kind of discussion with a definition of the term Human Rights. Suffice to say however that various definitions abound depending on one’s perception, learning, situation or orientation. Human rights can be said to entitlements or claims that accrue to one because he or she is human. Modern society protects these rights with laws. E.g. the constitution or international treaties. In the most general sense, human rights are understood as rights which belong to any individual as a consequence of being human, independently of acts of law.

It has become routine to speak to different “generations” of human rights. Our focus is on the human rights of the third generation. These are highly complex composite rights and are sometimes called “solidarity rights”. One prominent example is the Right to Peace.


Before we discuss further on the right to peace, it’s imperative to examine what peace means.

Peace is a period of harmony between different social groups that is characterized by lack of violence or conflict behaviours, and the freedom from fear of violence. Commonly understood as the absence of hostility and retribution, peace also suggests sincere attempts at reconciliation, the existence of healthy or newly healed interpersonal or international relationships, prosperity in matters of social or economic welfare, the establishment of equality, and a working political order that serves the true interests of all.

Discussion of peace is therefore at the same time a discussion on the form of such peace. Is it simple absence of mass organized killing (war) or does peace require a particular morality and justice? (Just peace). Peace must be seen at least in two forms:

  • A simple silence of arms, absence of war.

  • Absence of war but accompanied by particular requirements for the mutual settlement of relations, which are characterized by terms as justice, mutual respect, respect for law and good will.

The Right to Peace is the 2nd component for a human right of a third generation. It grew up within the Human Rights Commission (HRCion), where it was first proclaimed in 1976. A next stage was reached when the General Assembly in 1978 adopted the Declaration on the Preparation of Societies for Life in Peace, which affirmed that “every nation and every human being...has the inherent right to live in peace”. The process of standard-setting came to its culmination in 1984 with the adoption on the Declaration of the Right of Peoples’ to Peace.

There have been arguments that the human right to peace is a third generation right and therefore do not rise to the level of “rights” since they have no “specific meaning” and impose “no specific duties”.

On the other hand, human rights are a product of their times, and such is the case with the first and second generation rights. One group of rights is not meant to outdate or ascend another, but rather to expand upon and supplement others. This is clear in the international community’s continually expanding conception of what it considers to be human rights and the strides that have been made to formalise them. New aspects of life, new situations, and new types of conflict that cannot be foreseen are continually pushing the definition of human rights beyond old limits. This is a normal process that has been adopted by national legal systems the world over, and it should be no surprise that the same process is becoming evident in an increasingly interconnected world.

Such is the case with the right to peace, which is the product of a paradigm shift at the international level. Rights that focus solely on the relationship between the state and the individual are not sufficient in responding to a globalised world in which problems are no longer purely defined in national terms. The right to peace is an attempt to respond to the perils of the modern interconnected world. Therefore, dismissing it as vague and declaring that it offers nothing new is an exercise that misses the mark. The right to peace is innovative and addresses a swath of new and interconnected global challenges.


The right to peace is not only a basic and necessary right, but it is in fact inseparable from the fundamental right, which is the right to life. It is vital for the full enjoyment and promotion of all human rights. Indeed, peace and security are essential foundations for social progress and sustainable development.

The right to peace belongs to individuals, peoples and states. If in connection with individuals and states there are no problems of definition, however, with respect to peoples as juridical subjects, there has been much discussion, especially concerning the process of strengthening the right to self determination, specifically the criteria of assessment for when a certain group may be considered as a “people”.

At the level of the individual, the right to peace also implies an element of protection, the right of the individual to life in peace, that is the right to existence, to life, however not any existence but to an existence evolving in a peaceful and fruitful climate. The right of a person to peace also included the right not to participate in actions conducive to the threat to or violation of peace. A special importance for the right to peace of the individual is also presented by various civil and political rights, to which a new dimension connected to the problems of peace is added: the right of association in non-governmental organisations and associations for peace, the right to education for peace, the right to obtain information about the foreign policy of the respective country and to participate in the taking of the major decisions in the questions relating to international peace.

The right to peace is broad, covering the prohibition of the threat or the use of force; conscientious objections to military service; the right to demonstrate for peace; accountability of the military; peacekeeping; the right development; the right to safe, clean peaceful environment, and the rights of victims, right to human security, right to live in safe and healthy environment, right to disobedience and conscientious objection and the right to disarmament.

The focus must remain on the beneficiaries of the right to peace. Attention must also be given to the remedies available for violation of the right to peace; including the punishment by domestic courts and eventually by international criminal court of those who engage in aggression and breaches of the peace.

The right to peace is not sanctioned through a legal text with mandatory value. Nevertheless in international legal order, there is certain recognition of it, either unilaterally expressed position of states, or by those expressed within the UN or in a regional framework. Its content is not fully clarified, but it undergoes a continuous evolution. The further laying of foundations for the right to peace in all its areas will have to put the emphasis on the fact that this right is an equal right for all individuals, for all peoples and all states and that it requires a special responsibility for the gradual construction of peace. The democratisation of international institutional and normative structures for promoting peace is therefore necessary for the effective exercise of the right to peace as a guarantee of peaceful and prosperous world.

Action in favour of peace is implicitly an action for the permanent exercise and continuous realisation of the right to peace. This action also demands a mental effort of creativity, both at the national and on the international level.


The antonym for peace is war. Therefore, activism aimed at restoring peace or sustaining peace as a human right naturally connotes the employment of measures by agencies or personnel of state charged with the responsibility of restoration and preservation of a peaceful environment during war, i.e Law enforcement officers.

The quest for peace and security which is a primary requirement of human rights in the face of heightened global threats through terrorism and insurgency, has triggered intense discuss on whether basic Human rights standards has any place of consideration in the pursuit of societal peace or safety.

Contrary to widely -held assumptions, security (which is a precursor for human rights) and human rights are not mutually exclusive. They are also not inversely proportional to each other. Rather they go together and form an integral whole. The provision of security itself is the most basic human rights protection obligation of governments. As a matter of fact, security officers are first line human rights defenders by virtue of the very nature of their work.

Globally, many countries despite adoption of democratic norms which is believed to be the most human right friendly system of governance still grapple with barrage of accusations of human rights violations in many of their institutions, particularly the security sector. This has been compounded by desperate effort to address current global security challenges which is rolling back some gains already made in the protection of human rights and rule of law in many countries, particularly emerging and developing democracies and economies.

There is no love lost between state security operatives and human rights advocates as both holds each other in suspicion. State security operatives always reckon that the human rights advocates tend to dwell only on the behaviour of state authorities than they are with crimes and criminal elements. This, the state believes is done without due regard to the responsibility of the state to ensure peaceful environment and security of persons within its borders. They also believe that in dealing with errants, there should be no room for legal niceties usually canvassed by human rights advocates.

There is no doubt that the required balance expected of the state in its quest to fulfil its obligation to protect human rights of individual citizens and the constitutional responsibility to the security of lives and welfare of the state as an entity is a delicate one. The following excerpts from Michael Ignatief  write up: ‘Lesser Evils’ sheds a little light on the complications of such balance.

“Security is as much a right as liberty, but civil libertarians haven’t wanted to ask which freedom we might have to trade in order to keep secure...

But thinking about lesser evils is unavoidable. Sticking too firmly to the rule of law simply allow terrorists too much leeway to exploit our freedoms. Abandoning the rule of law also betrays our most valued institutions. To defeat evil, we may have to traffic in evils: indefinite detention of suspects, coercive interrogations, targeted assassinations...These are evils because each strays from national and international law and because they kill people and deprive them of freedom without due process. They can be justified only because they prevent the greater evil. The question is not whether we should be trafficking in lesser evils but whether we can keep lesser evils under the control of free institutions... ”

As offensive as Michael Ignatief’s analysis may appear to human rights expectations, it is not far from the practical realities obtainable in many climes around the globe. The intention of this paper is not to deny the obvious as indicated by Michael above, but the emphasis must be on the building of strong state institutions that will give vent to individual remedies against any human rights violations by states in its quest to ensure a peaceful society for all.


The right to peace is provided for in many international and regional instruments. However the degree of enforceability will not be stressed in this paper. Nevertheless, it must be emphasised that the need for peace cannot be sacrificed on the altar of academic polarisation on the enforceability or otherwise of instruments. The emphasis should rather be on the on the inherent desire and need for man to live in peace.

Some key provisions on the right to peace include:


1. Solemnly proclaims that the peoples of our planet have a sacred right to peace;

2. Solemnly proclaims that the preservation of the right of peoples to peace and the promotion of its implementation constitute a fundamental obligation of each state.

3. Emphasis that ensuring the exercise of the right of peoples to peace demands that the policies of states be directed towards the elimination of the threat of war, particularly nuclear war, the renunciation of the use of force in international relations and settlement international disputes by peaceful means in the basis of the character of the UN;

4. Appeals to all states and international organisations to do their utmost to assist in implementing the right of peoples to peace through the adoption of appropriate measures at both the national and international level.


Article 23(1) All peoples shall have the right to national and international peace and security.


Section 4.1All person have the right to live in peace so that they can fully develop all their capacities, physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual, without being the target of any kind of violence...

The Asian charter situates right to peace in the centre of development, morality, intellectual capacities of the peoples. This is arguably one of the most comprehensive frameworks for the right to peace.


The right to peace cannot be guaranteed by each state alone (ut singuli) A particular role is played by the International Community of states, which as a result of co-operation among states, and in the extant institutional forms, has spread responsibilities for the defence of international peace and security.

The right of the individual to peace involves corresponding obligations not only of individuals, but also of peoples and states. It can thus be affirmed that the right to peace is an absolute right, implying obligations by all towards everyone (erga omnes). The obligations can be obligations in fact rather than in law (non faciendo or in faciendo).

In respect to the right to peace, until now the emphasis was placed on the prerogative resulting from this right without underscoring to a sufficient extent the fact that every subject of this right (individuals, peoples, states) is at the same time, a bearer of a correlative obligation. As shown in the preamble of UNESCO’s constitution, “Since wars begin n the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences ofpeace must be constructed".

It is obvious that nature is not responsible for the outbreak of wars. Thence, it seems natural that as well as the right of individuals, peoples and states to peace an equal importance should accrue to their obligation to maintain and defend international peace.

Some of paramount obligations are listed below:-

  1. The effective and practical realisation of the human right to Peace necessarily involves duties and obligations for States; International organisations, civil society, peoples, men and women, corporations and other elements of society and, in general, the whole international community.

  2. The fundamental responsibility for preserving peace and protecting the Human Right to Peace lies with the State and also with the United Nations Organisation as a centre which harmonises the concerted efforts of the Nations to fulfil the purposes and principles proclaimed in the United Nations Charter.

  3. States have the obligation to protect human rights, to prevent and cooperate in the prevention of catastrophes, to respond to catastrophes when they occur and to repair the damage caused. They are also required to adopt measures to build and consolidate peace.


Here are some ways that the right of peoples to peace can be promoted and implemented.

  1. Peace education and public awareness on issues related to peace.

  2. Building peace programmes: Training and research in sustainable development, Human rights education, skills for peaceful relations, good governance, the presentation of conflict and peace building.

  3. Learning to live together: support people in understanding each other and working together to build lasting peace.

  4. Social transformation: the urge for innovative solution conducive to universal values of peace, human dignity, gender equality ,non violence and non discrimination, National Conference on Peace, Peace Campaigns, support towards Peaceful Elections & Transition


In conclusion, there is no doubt that the social contract theory which emphasizes the justification for societal existence as exchange of some degree of individual ‘natural’ rights for collective security and welfare places obligation on government to take steps through policies, laws etc for the peace of its peoples.

However, it is my belief that in discharging this onerous obligation aimed at ensuring collective rights to peaceful societies, must be ensure that the measures are methodically implemented taking into consideration the human rights concerns of individual within their countries. Steps in this direction would reassure the populace of the government’s resolve to strictly respect their individual rights in its quest for a peaceful society.

Finally, it must be emphasized that there is no reason why any country should shy away from seeking international collaboration, assistance and advice in the quest for peace in their respective climes.

To end this presentation, permit me to adopt these important quotes from the United Nations personalities:

“The promotion and protection of human rights for all and the rule of law is essential to all components of the Strategy, recognizing that effective counter-terrorism measures and the promotion of human rights are not conflicting goals, but complementary and mutually reinforcing”

  - United Nations Global Counter Terrorism Strategy (General Assembly Resolution 6o/288, Annex)

ii. “Peace is a long road that we must travel together- step by step, beginning today ”

  - Ban Ki-Moon (8th Secretary General of the United Nations)

In other words, Peace begins with each person practising equality, simplicity, and humility. Peace building continues especially in the midst of intolerance and injustice existing as patron-client politics. We should strive to make peace not just a priority but a passion. Only when we fully understand our own potential to make the human right to peace the ruling norm in society will the international community have fulfilled the promise it made in 1945. This promise was to construe the defences of peace in the minds of all the peoples of the earth and finally “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”

I commend these quotes to governments and all peoples of the world that are interested in peace.

(The author is Deputy Director and Head, Directorate of the Office of the Executive Secretary of National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.)