The struggle to subject war to law

IssueDecember 2009 - January 2010
News by Talyn Rahman, George Farebrother

The two-day (1-2 September) “Citizen and the Law of Armed Conflict” conference at Friends House, London, was organised by a coalition of organisations concerned with the need to develop better dialogue with MPs and decision-makers on law and peace issues.

The first day consisted of talks from a wide range of lawyers, MPs, academics and activists while the second day enabled participants to discuss techniques on how to empower citizens. We are now planning the way forward after the conference. We are calling our network “NetLap” (Network for Law and Peace).

Information technology will play a part in all our initiatives. There is already an IT working group and its progress can be checked on our wiki (see below).

Suggested actions
Suggested future actions for our network include:

  • Development of work by local activists with their MPs, bearing in mind examples of successful contacts and the need to provide opportunities for interaction between parliamentarians and concerned citizens.
  • We should provide a bank of briefings to inform constituency MPs, as well as the relevant cross-party parliamentary committees, and maintain a record of results available to all the members of the network.
  • A specific project: there was enthusiasm for the issue of the relationship between the Security Council and the International Criminal Court.
  • We should prepare briefings for parliament itself, try to work through all-party groups (APGs) offering our support, for example by providing contacts, and easing lines of communication.
  • We should also identify key people in the ministries, and perhaps set up an event in parliament. We should explore the use of parliamentary questions and identify MPs willing to table them.
    We should try to encourage the formation of an independent lawyers’ group as a resource for MPs.
    One method is to establish a continuing relationship with a particular official. To this end, dialogue workshops are available. In addition, the Freedom of Information Act would be of use to us. Bill Rammell, minister for the armed forces, spoke to us at the end of conference. We shall be meeting him on 1 December to discuss the need for officials to improving responses to letters.

    A good outcome would be to explore the possibility of regular meetings with officials to review correspondence. Failing that, we could produce a regular report to send to a well-chosen official.

    We need more information on public opinion and public-government interaction. If we could afford it, we could fund an opinion poll on some of these questions.

    We should also find ways of reaching out to younger people