AN INTERNATIONAL BILL OF RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS OF STATES

A Proposal Towards the Promotion of Peace and the Prevention of War*

Atty. NASSER MAROHOMSALIC
Former Commissioner
of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines; and
Former Governor for Western Mindanao
of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines

War is a supremely socialistic activity.[1] In times past, tribes and nations from both sides of the hemisphere bound in their asabia[2] or commonality rose to military power, undertook conquest and expanded their dominions or built empires.

Anatomy of War

          The causes of war are manifold as man’s dispositions. Men waged war for the acquisition of territory, markets or raw materials,[3] which economic reasons actuated Imperial Japan into conquest that brought forth World War II. Others, like the European nobility who led the Holy Crusades to retake the Holy Land from the Muslims, are driven by prestige and power,[4] including the promise of their accession to new political titles for vainglory. Still others, sucked in their messianic complex as were the religious zealots of Ancient and Medieval Times and the fascists, ultranationalists and supremacists of contemporary history, embarked on war and conquest to secure people from the morass of their belief system and embedded their own in the psyche of the conquered. Also, in the pursuit of realpolitik and containment as was the case behind America’s interventionism in Vietnam, Korea, Iran, the Middle East and Eastern Europe, men waged war against a country and adopt measures to stunt its growth and development and forestall thereby its becoming a rival sovran partaking of the privileges of power, including the spread of its sphere of influence and ideology.

          Observed Millis and Real in their book, The Abolition of War, “War is a social institution, a rather special form of the organization of violence, developed by man precisely because he is a man.”[5] In brief, it is man’s inheritance to get violent and subdue weaker souls or exhibit destructive egotistical predilection towards his fellow men. Ethologistsare blinded to the idea that man is shaped by circumstances of his experiences and environment, as geneticists are drawn to their science of heredity to explain man’s disposition.

An Islamic Concept

          Antedating this intellectual discourse is Islam’s concept of man’s nature as component of two (2) dimensions: The physical or material and the spiritual. Where he tends more to his material pedigree, he debases himself and draws from his instinctive desire to propitiate his ego and physical needs, foregoing his spiritual dimension or inheritance that subsumes his ego to a greater identity, Mankind. Where he serves only himself, he becomes an outlier.

The question therefore is: Can man reclaim his belongingness to his spiritual realm, that bigger part of his identity, The Humankind, where as a social corporate, his ego is a part, and if and when a part aches, the whole body suffers? Thus, man as a part of the collective has to rationalize his affairs for the greater good of the body politic, which, in the lexicon of Islam is called, The Ummah or the Community.

Man the Recusant

          “War is all hell,” said Sherman, a general of the U.S. Army during the American Civil War. But history teaches that man’s recusancy and truculence knows no bound, and political and military leaders have had walked the stage and led their countries to war against other countries, their avidity for warfare and mass murder not befitting their human nature but that of some wilding.

          To this day, the proponents of the two world systems, Communism and Capitalism, have been carrying on their rivalry for world domination through proxy or limited or strategic war and by other means of violence and stratagems, including assassination, gunboat diplomacy, interdiction, siege and embargo.

The International Order

          In the aftermath of the First World War (1914-1918), countries organized the League of Nations to promote diplomacy in the settlement of conflict between countries and prevent war. But the body failed due to the absence of the United States in the organization and its lack of army to enforce peace, among others. Twenty-one years later, World War II (1939-1945) broke out. In its wake came the United Nations with elaborate structures and the same mandates as the League of Nations. But, largely, the international organization did not go far in settling conflicts, for not critically altering for the better normative standards in the conduct of international relations. In fact, it left untouched the principle of equality of states and the supremacy of its sovereignty which provide member-states a way out from the reach of the judicial and investigatorial or administrative processes of the United Nations. Lacking real coercive power to enforce their order and decision, the judicial instruments of the Regime of International Law, such as, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, get projected more popularly as a paper tiger. Mandated to settle conflict between and among member-states and with authority to impose sanctions and use force to maintain international peace, the Security Council is a central agency of the United Nations. Sadly, it is stymied by the politics of its five (5) permanent members that are possessed of veto power.

Arrayed into two (2) antagonistic camps: The United States of America, the United Kingdom and France on one side, and China and Russia on the other side, they exercised their prerogative to foil each other’s interest in keeping with their opposing ideologies.

          The International Bills of Rights of the United Nations – The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, The International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – only provide for the recognition by signatory states of the rights of their citizenry and are urged therein to do so by way of legislation and other measures. It is not a bill of rights and obligations of states in the conduct of foreign relations.

          Indeed, under the present regime of international law, “Many today find it almost impossible even to conceive of a system of international relations not ultimately founded upon war.”[6] To echo the observation of Millis and Real, “War is a legally recognized activity…”[7] The United Nations has largely become a forum of speeches and propaganda of its member-countries.

The Declaration of Peace and Cessation of War

          There is a need to touch up and pick up the United Nations without necessarily taking on the permanent members of its Security Council or bucking the status quo. And I refer to the introduction of an international covenant or an international treaty that defines the rights and obligations of states and put them on notice about the extent and limit of their actions between and among themselves. Efforts towards this end were started in 2013 in Seoul, Korea, by a nongovernment organization, The Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL), chaired by the Venerable Man Hee Lee of South Korea. Renowned peace and interfaith advocates and international law experts the world over forged in 2018 a final draft of a document entitled, Declaration of Peace and Cessation of War. Notables from many countries have already appended their agreement to the proposed document for filing in the United Nations General Assembly. HWPL is still gathering more signatures. In a nutshell, the proposed bill of rights and obligations of states provides the following ten (10) provisions:

  • Prohibit the threat or use of force
  • Reduce war potential and repurpose weapons to benefit humanity
  • Develop friendly relations and prohibit acts of aggression
  • Prohibit coercion against internationally recognized state boundaries
  • Ensure the right to self-determination of both people and states
  • Settle international disputes through peaceful means
  • Acknowledge the right to self-defense
  • Foster religious freedom
  • Promote peaceful coexistence among religious and ethnic groups
  • Spread a culture of peace

If passed by the United Nations and becomes an international treaty, protocols could be forged and appended thereto for its effective enforcement and the march towards world peace would go by in stride.

Or, better still, an International Bill of Rights and Obligations of States may be crafted and enacted by the United Nations within the formwork of The Declaration of Peace and Cessation of War.

Thank you.


*Delivered on the occasion of the launching of the First International Law Forum via ZOOM, sponsored by HWPL-Philippine Branch on September 18, 2020

[1]Walter Millis and James Real, The Obligation of War, Macmillan Co., New York, p. 3.

[2]See Ibn Khalbun, The Muqaddimah or Introduction to History/Philosophy of History.

[3] Millis and Real, supra, p. 28.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. p.2

[6] Id., p. 2

[7] Id., p. 3

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