Report from IPB Conference

by Shaughan Dolan ~ October 7th, 2016. Filed under: News.

Conscience, for the first time in many years, attended the International Peace Bureau World Congress this year hosted in Berlin. This was made possible by Conscience members and supporters who kindly donated over £1,500 to send our Campaign Manager Shaughan Dolan and Conscience Executive Committee member and Director Robin Brookes to represent Conscience.

Day 1.

Conscience met with young people to discuss the future of the peace movement. At a meeting with over 20 countries represented Conscience put forward the concept of conscientious objection to military taxation – an idea more often felt than openly discussed. I put forward the argument that peace, development and human rights need to be at the heart of our foreign policy. Development and human rights are impossible without peace – so the role of the conscientious objector becomes ever more important.

In the evening we had the opening plenary which hosted peace makers from across the world. We started with a word from our hosts, the Technical University of Berlin. The President of the school outlined the long history of the school’s association with war. In 1941 it was the powerful centre of research for the Nazi war machine. In 1943 The Technische Universität Berlin was obliterated by the Allied Airforce in a bombing raid. it was rebuilt in 1946 as part of the great post-war reconstruction of Germany. In 1991 the University led the world by banning all research used exclusively for military purposes. In 2016 it is hosting one of the most important peacebuilding conferences in the world.

We also heard from Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni peacebuilder, and her experience in leading non-violent protests against the government in Yemen. She told the conference that she slept in the streets for 10 months, giving flowers and gifts to the armed police officers trying to disrupt the peaceful protests.  Karman became the first Arab woman, the youngest person at that time, to have become a Nobel Peace Laureate and carries the nickname the ‘Mother of the Revolution’ after bringing down President’s Saleh violent and corrupt government. Whilst Yemen now faces huge security challenges from Saudi militarism and intervention, Karman’s activism serves to remind us that peace and non-violence can create effect change even highly undemocratic societies.

Day 2.

On Saturday I met with International Peace Tax Campaigners Hannelore and Wolfgang from Netwerk Freidenstuer (Peace Tax Network) based in Germany. We discussed how they had approached campaigning by targeting those who pay minimal taxes, such as students and the elderly, and produced literature outlining how with every cigarette you smoke, every cup of coffee you drink and every meal you eat a percentage goes towards military spending. It’s an interesting approach as much of the UK campaign focuses solely on income tax. We arranged our workshop and discussion panel for the Sunday and parted company – I had to attend a session with inspirational female campaigners in Syria.

There I met with Sabiha Khalil, a member of the Syrian Women’s network and peace activists. She shared her stories of children being given Islamist propaganda in Turkey’s refugee schools. It’s very upsetting that certain groups are trying to shift the narrative from a fear of war to a support of it – an extremely worrying development. These children will be the next generation of Syrians – with the hope they will grow up to be peacebuilders and not pushed towards violence.

Wejdan Nassif shared her experience of delivering aid, to areas where aid is being denied in parts of Syria, largely as a policy of the Assad regime to ‘starve out’ opposition. Wejdan operates a network of 20 women who participate in delivering the aid – often endangering their own lives – and are a powerful example of how active non-violence can reduce suffering in conflict zones.

After the plenary session we came together for musical and cultural exchange featuring the Berlin Metropole Orchestra and Arja Saijonmaa, a Finnish singer who works with Performance Artists for Nuclear Disarmament (PANDA) who champion peace through music.

Day 3.

We began with a Conscience and Peace Tax International (CPTI) conference where peace tax campaigners from across the world came together across the world to discuss how our campaigns are developing. We heard campaign updates from Belgium, Germany, America and the campaign in the UK. The UK Conscience Campaign led the world this year being the only campaign to have this issue discussed in its native Parliament! America led the way in demonstrating the potential for military spending to spiral out of control – our military spending is around 5% of the total income tax take – in America, it is closer to 45%!

Our session also included a musical interlude where Manukka, a professional musician, sung for us a rendition of Bob Marley’s Redemption song. We finished our session with a workshop by our German sister campaign that looked at the impact of war taxation on everyday spending – a very interesting subject that looked at the substantial contribution German pensioners make towards military spending despite not (in most cases) paying income tax!

Following on from Conscience’s interfaith event earlier this year I attended a session looking at interfaith approaches to breaking down divisions. One was such a simple idea – it encouraged a multifaith community to live together for one year, sharing evening meals as often as possible. It’s amazing that in a world where conflict and war get ever more complicated, that peacebuilding can start with something as simple as breaking bread together.

Japan works by remembering its history as a society defined by militarism and war for many generations, with Buddhists leading a new path designed on the founding principles of its religion. We heard from a Catholic preacher who has worked in war zones and advised policy makers – sending out a clear message that far too many wars are preventable and nation building must be considered as part of any post-conflict plan.

Lastly Conscience attended the International Peace Bureau Presidents’ Reception where four past presidents of the IPB gave their views on how the peace movement has been developing over the last decade and how the IPB can improve. Conscience had a chance to catch up with former President (and Conscience supporter) Bruce Kent and discussed education outreach work he had been undertaking with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

This brought the Conference to a close. It was a tremendous opportunity to hear uplifting stories from some of the world’s foremost NGOs, peace campaigns and Nobel Laureates. It was also a chance for Conscience to tell the story of its journey this year in passing the first reading of the Taxes for Peace Bill and to pass that knowledge onto our international sister campaigns.

This was all made possible by Conscience members and support who contributed to our crowdfunding campaign. You have helped Conscience work with and learn from some of the most effective peacebuilders in the world.

Thank you.  

Back to top