Quakers from across Europe gathered at QCEA’s General Assembly last weekend. They finalised changes to how our organisation is governed, began to shape our new peace programme, and commissioned a second work programme promoting human rights.
There was extensive discussion about plans to spend European development aid money on military equipment and divert common European research funds to supporting the arms trade. QCEA’s General Assembly minuted their concern that ‘Capacity Building for Security and Development’ (CBSD) plans to develop the wrong kind of capacity in countries affected by insecurity. They said that “European taxpayers’ money will go to empower violence and men with guns”. Davorka Lovrekovic, representing QCEA supporters in Germany, encouraged everyone to speak out nationally and raise awareness amongst other faith groups.
Ploughshares into swords
QCEA supporters have already been active on this issue, comprising the majority of respondents to the formal public consultation in May 2016. Since then, momentum has slowly been growing, culminating yesterday in the decision by the Conference of European Churches to oppose CBSD. Their statement read, “The Conference of European Churches responds to this development with deep concern. Mixing military and non-military budgets and projects risks prioritising military expenditures and strategies. The limited amount of funds of the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP), until now exclusively reserved for non-military projects and action, must be protected.”
The QCEA General Assembly weekend also included a workshop on peace in Europe, facilitated by new QCEA Peace Programme Lead, Olivia Caeymaex. Participants divided into specific groups on: the military responses to forced migration, recent proposals for an EU ‘defence union’ and preventing violent extremism.
Each group answered:
- Is this issue relevant to Quakers and to the work of the QCEA Peace Programme?
- What should QCEA try to change?
- What is QCEA’s unique way of working and how could it be used to influence policy?
Two complementary work programmes
QCEA has to focus to make best use of its limited resources. At the previous gathering, in April 2016, peace was selected as QCEA primary programme. Following further analysis of the opportunities to promote other Quaker values across Europe, last weekend’s General Assembly commissioned a second work programme on the theme of human rights.
General Assembly members were concerned about a range of interconnected risks in Europe, including recent developments in Hungary, Poland, Russia the UK. QCEA’s minute read, “There is a negative momentum away from human rights, in part because of right-wing thinking and the return of greater nationalism in Europe.”
Analysis suggests this contrasts with positive momentum for sustainability that has continued following the successful COP21 climate talks in Paris last year.
The minute continued, “We can engage positively on this issue, working to protect human rights and the institutions and standards, such as the Convention on Human Rights, which uphold them … In an environment that wants to deny the rights and humanity of some, we will need to be irritating and persistent. We have seen from other issues that continued, dedicated action can change thinking and activity.”
So, what does it mean to work for human rights?
We are a long way from a world where all people are afforded even a basic level of dignity. The work needed is varied and complex. Detailed planning will now be undertaken, defining the specific focus of the programme.
Here are two examples of where we have expertise amongst our supporters and network of European Quakers, and where the is also a great need for change in European policy:
Detention conditions for refugees and asylum seekers: Despite rulings by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), asylum seekers continue to be held for long periods, including in detention centres, temporary camps and airport custody facilities. The 47-country Council of Europe’s Council of Ministers need support in their role of ensuring the enforcement of ECtHR judgements.
Restorative Justice: Europe’s criminal justice systems use almost exclusively retributive approaches. Our continent is missing opportunities to address the trauma experienced by victims, and challenging the behaviour of offenders in ways that prevent re-offending, and therefore reduce harm further across society. The Council of Europe, European Union and Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are all working on criminal justice, but will almost no voices advocating for restorative approaches.
As concepts, peace and human rights are closely intertwined. Especially for Quakers. Peace is not an end result, but requires processes of listening and respecting individuals. These processes will be at the heart of both how QCEA works, and what we hope to achieve.