Over 1500 signatures have been collected calling for the National Assembly of Wales to create a Peace Institute comparable with those in Flanders, Catalonia, Finland, Norway and elsewhere. The petition won all-party support and received a favourable first hearing on 10 November.
The idea of a Peace Institute for Wales was fostered by Jill Evans, chair of CND Cymru. It has gained support from the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA), Cymdeithas y Cymod (the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Wales) and the peace and justice network Cynefin y Werin (Common Ground).
Speaking in support of the petition, Sue Essex, former finance minister, said: “Wales may be a small country but with a Peace Institute we could be a greater voice for peace and justice in the world.”
Peace Institute models
The most developed model is the Flemish Peace Institute. It has a full-time research staff of four and a close relationship with the Flemish parliament, which is constitutionally obliged to consider its advice.
The International Catalan Institute for Peace has the status of a public, institutional body, perhaps surprisingly, within a government department responsible for peace.
At the other end of the spectrum, the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO) is self-financing and independent of government. PRIO has over 60 full-time staff, over 80% of whom are researchers.
Founded in 1992, The Åland Islands Peace Institute is another independent charitable foundation. Enjoying consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), it conducts research on peace and conflict issues, focussing on security, autonomy and minorities, demilitarisation and conflict management.
A common feature of all Peace Institutes is their academic independence – which is valued and guaranteed by the bodies that provide financial support. The influence and standing of the institute relies on the quality of their research. While the Flemish Peace Institute is alone in having a statutory obligation to comment on government actions, all have some input in respect to education and training and lay legitimate claim to helping shape public opinion and influencing government decisions.
What’s best for Wales?
Welsh culture and history suggests a Peace Institute would quickly find a niche. This is why campaigners hope the National Assembly will agree to help create a Peace Institute. As it needs to be independent and non-partisan, however, they are not asking for it to be a quasi-governmental organisation. The idea is to create an independent Peace Institute with the following attributes:
- A relationship with the National Assembly, providing independent evaluation of the potential effects of its decisions in respect to upholding peace and human rights;
- A role examining the impact on Wales of UK defence and foreign policy decisions (for example, the training of foreign military who might be involved in human rights abuse);
- A reference point and resource, providing information about peace, disarmament, conflict resolution and human rights;
- Direct relationships with NGOs, UN agencies, other Peace Institutes and networks; Academic freedom;
- Educational provision in respect to peace studies, conflict resolution through nonviolence, awareness of human rights;
- Freedom to seek independent financing through commissioned research and to utilise funds and resources in the area of peace-building.