A decade-by-decade look at some people and events in the world-wide struggle against war and violence.


 Selected by Margaret Melicharova

  peace action worldwide


1980-89 Contact and Co-operation

1980 European Nuclear Disarmament (END) called for a nuclear-free Europe, and went on to develop contacts with individuals and groups in Eastern bloc countries.

1980 The first Nuclear Free Local Authority (NFLA) in the UK was set up in Manchester.

NUCLEAR FREE LOCAL AUTHORITIES have been established to work towards the abolition of nuclear weapons and power. Starting in Manchester, the movement later extended to 170 UK local authorities and an International Network of some 4000 authorities world-wide. Local governments are now able to accept that central government decisions on defence have a local impact. Every UK region is dependent to some extent on Ministry of Defence spending; NFLA stimulates central and local government, trade unions, politicians – and peace campaigners – to think hard about the causes and consequences of MoD spending decisions.

1980 University for Peace established by the UN in Costa Rica, a country which has no army. The Chancellor is Dr Robert Muller, who is Chairman of the ‘One Day in Peace’ campaign for the World Day of Peace, January 1 2000.

1981 Founding of Peace Brigades International.

PEACE BRIGADES INTERNATIONAL (PBI) is a non-partisan, non-sectarian, non-governmental, independent, international network of unpaid volunteers and a few paid staff. Inspired by Gandhi, PBI teams (‘armed only with cameras’) use direct non-violent action to help deter violence and expand space for human rights activism in areas of civil strife. They also provide peace education and information regarding human rights and non-violent struggle for peace and social justice. Their first projects were in Nicaragua (positioning themselves between Contra and Sandinista forces in order to deter hostilities) and Guatemala (providing unarmed international protective accompaniment, also called ‘escorting’, for the Mutual Support Group of relatives of the disappeared); a similar exercise took place in El Salvador from 1987, ending in 1992 when the peace accord was signed. Further projects include Sri Lanka (1989-1998), Colombia (1994- ), Haiti (1993- ), and work with the Balkan Peace Team Coalition from 1994.

1981 A March by Nordic Women for Peace from Copenhagen to Paris.
1981 Establishment of the Women’s Peace Camp at Greenham Common, Berkshire, UK

THE WOMEN OF GREENHAM COMMON Inspired by the Copenhagen-Paris March, in August 1981 a group of Welsh women marched from Cardiff to the US forces base at Greenham Common to protest against Cruise missiles due to be installed there in 1983 ready for launching. Populated by a changing but steady stream of women, and meeting resistance and harassment, the Camp remained in action until the end of the Cold War; even after that a small anti-war presence remained until the site was handed over to the local authority for civilian development.
  The idea of peace camps (not all women-only) spread to other nuclear and military bases elsewhere in Britain and on to Europe and America. [more]

1981 French sheep farmers at Larzac were successful in their long non-violent campaign to prevent their land being seized for use as an army camp. Their action resulted in a strong and lasting sense of community, with members later sharing in other protests elsewhere.

1982 Publication of the Thorsson Report on economic conversion, linking disarmament and development and showing the destructive effects of arms spending on societies and economies world-wide. The Report invigorated efforts to introduce economic conversion from military production to humane, non-violent, goods and services.

INGA THORSSON, who was Swedish Secretary of State for Disarmament at the time of her Report, devoted fifty years of her life to the peace movement. The Special Session of the UN General Assembly devoted to Disarmament, at which her Report was presented, was associated with ‘one of the greatest peace demonstrations in history’, inspired and organised by women. Inga Thorsson told the General Assembly: ‘The world can either continue to pursue the arms race with characteristic vigour or move consciously and with deliberate speed toward a more stable and balanced social and economic development within a more sustainable international economic and political order. It cannot do both.’

1982 The UN Declaration on the Participation of Women in Promoting International Peace and Co-operation, calling for world-wide moves to encourage women’s involvement in all areas of activity for peace.

1983 The national Conference of Catholic Bishops acknowledged for the first time the right of Catholics to profess pacifism and become conscientious objectors.

1983 Thousands of American women demonstrated in front of the Pentagon, calling for ‘No more war’; 43 were sentenced to 10 days in prison or held for trial.

1983 Australian Women for Survival set up a peace camp outside one of the US bases in Australia.

1984 The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom launched a world-wide signature campaign for a comprehensive test ban treaty.

1985 The World Conference on Women, held in Nairobi, produced a document called the Forward-looking Strategies, emphasising the importance of peace education in the rearing of children.

THE NAIROBI FORWARD-LOOKING STRATEGIES: ‘Values such as tolerance, racial and sexual equality, respect for and understanding of others, and good neighbourliness should be developed, promoted and strengthened.’ ‘Women of the world, together with men, should, as informal educators, play a special role in bringing up children in an atmosphere of compassion, tolerance and mutual concern and trust, with an awareness that all people belong to the same world community. Such education would be part of all formal and informal educational processes as well as of communications, information and mass-media systems.’ ‘Universal and durable peace cannot be attained without the full and equal participation of women in international relations, particularly in decision-making concerning peace.’

1985 Jean and Hildegard Goss-Mayr, Catholic pacifist outreachers, then working in the Philippines, were influential in ensuring that the overthrow of the Marcos regime was non-violent.

1985 Hiroshima International School launched the world-wide 1000 Crane Club campaign.

THE 1000 CRANE CLUB Sadako Sasaki was two when the Hiroshima bomb was dropped. She died ten years later of radiation-induced leukaemia. In hospital, she began folding a thousand paper cranes (the white crane is the sacred bird of Japan, and 100 origami cranes traditionally mean the granting of a wish). Her friends asked children in Japan and 13 other countries to make a contribution to a memorial in Hiroshima’s Peace Park, which was set up in 1958 with the words ‘This is our cry, this is our prayer, to build peace in the world’ inscribed on its base. In the 1980s students of the International School, looking for a way to keep this message of peace alive, set up the 1000 Crane Club; they produced a booklet and asked groups of children world-wide to become members by sending 1000 paper cranes for Sadako’s memorial. The first response came from an American school in 1986. Children, almost entirely unaided, had started a movement and established a globally recognised symbol of hope for peace. [more]

1986 International Year of Peace. The Seville Statement was issued, in which scientists provided evidence that war-making was not instinctive but cultural and could therefore be abolished.

THE SEVILLE STATEMENT In 1986, inspired by Margaret Mead’s remark that ‘warfare is only an invention, it is not a biological necessity’, a group of twenty scientists, from academic institutions round the world, presented a statement at Seville University. The scientists, experts in a variety of sciences, essentially confirmed that peace is possible, by definitively showing that violence and war are not part of human nature. Evidence shows that human beings can change their cultures and can choose to behave non-violently; they also work best when co-operating; the idea of ‘an enemy’ is a construct, not a built-in concept. In 1996 UNESCO recommended that the Seville Statement should be incorporated into school curricula world-wide. [more]

1987 The UN Commission on Human Rights at last recognised conscientious objection as a basic and universal human right.

WOMEN IN BLACK: In 1988 a group of Jewish women began weekly vigils in cities and towns all over Israel calling for an end to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They wore black to symbolise the tragedy for both Jews and Arabs. Palestinian women did the same, across the Jerusalem divide. The movement eventually spread to cities in Europe and America. Notable examples include the Women in Black Against War groups of the early 1990s in Belgrade: ‘We know the vigils don’t change political decisions, but they change our lives and they matter to other women’. In some places these vigils still continue.

1988 Founding of the Middle East Children’s Alliance.

THE MIDDLE EAST CHILDREN’S ALLIANCE is a non-governmental organisation, working for peace and justice in the Middle East and for the human rights of all people in the region, especially focusing on the rights of children. By the late 1990s the Alliance, based in America, delivered more than $5 million worth of food, medicine, toys and books to the children in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in Lebanon, and in Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War. Through the Playgrounds for Peace project the Alliance aims to give children a place — and a chance — to play, where they can be children, and know something besides anger and fear. ‘Only children who are happy and feel safe can grow into adults who can reach for and sustain peace.’

1988 Mordechai Vanunu was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment for disclosing Israel’s nuclear weapons programme.

1988 Establishment of the Arms Conversion Project in the UK.

ARMS CONVERSION PROJECT (ACP) has involved local authorities, academics, trade union representatives and peace groups to help develop ‘relevant and practical responses to the adverse effects on economies resulting from changing defence requirements’. It has had some success in arbitrating between all the conflicting interests, and in developing knowledge about diversification/conversion from military to civilian industry. By the mid 1990s ACP was providing information about conversion initiatives world-wide, and setting up workshops, conferences. seminars, and campaigns.

1989 UNICEF set up peace camps for 100,000 children of Lebanon’s estranged Muslim and Christian communities.

UNICEF IN THE LEBANON: As part of its Education for Peace project, UNICEF started a magazine called ‘SAWA’ (‘Together’) to support education for children unable to go to school because of heavy fighting. It reached a circulation of 70,000, distributed via dispensaries, clinics and other aid outlets throughout Lebanon. SAWA asked its young readers for their views; many replied that they needed to meet each other to gain understanding. The camps were set up, run by 5000 trained young adult monitors. ‘The youngsters arrive with all the fears, suspicions and hatreds that religious and communal bitterness have bred, some having even taken up arms behind the barricades. When the time comes to leave, however, they take understanding home instead of hate, and sometimes they part as friends.’ The camps succeeded so well that the programme was introduced in schools as part of the national curriculum.





From the Statement issued by the Stockholm Conference on Disarmament and Development, 1987: There is no alternative to disarmament, general and complete, as a final goal. There is no alternative to a just and participatory development. But both have to find their fulfilment in a new international political-economic, social-cultural and humanitarian-moral order in which our common security will be based on mutual trust and co-operation rather than on weapons and mistrust. For no peoples or nations can regard themselves as free and secure as long as others are oppressed, exploited or insecure.’

Birgit Brock-Utne (Norwegian peace educationist) in 1985: ‘An education for peace is an education for co-operation, for caring and sharing, for the use of non-violence in conflict-solving. An education that fosters competition, conquest, aggression and violence is an education for war.’

Martha Gellhorn (1909-1998. Anti-war journalist) in 1993: ‘Watching the Peace Movement grow in numbers and competence, I see it as a talented citizenship. Citizenship is a tough occupation which obliges the citizen to make his own informed opinion and stand by it. I am exhilarated by the commitment of younger and much younger citizens to the peace Movement, other generations of conscientious people. The Peace Movement is a base for all reformers.’

Satish Kumar, Prayer for Peace 1981, adapted from the Upanishads:
‘Lead me from death to life, from falsehood to truth.
Lead me from despair to hope, from fear to trust.
Lead me from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let peace fill our heart, our world, our universe.’




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