Preventing Violence

 

Lowell Ewert

Director of PACS Program at the University of Waterloo

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003


This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: Lowell Ewert, where do you work and what do you do?

A: I teach at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. I am the director of peace studies there.

Q: Where is peace spawned from in your view?

A: One can look at a variety of sources. I prefer to look to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted in 1948 on December the 10th. If you look at the preamble it talks about the reason for this document, and that reason is to prevent war. It is very explicit that the world community having emerged from the horrors of two World Wars in twenty some years, realized they needed to have a different way of resolving conflicts. The preamble says basically, "To avoid war in the future we need to respect human rights."

Q: What are the four basic principles you laid out yesterday?

A: I think when you look at human rights instruments and treaties if you take all of these treaties put them into a blender and grind them up and then distill the core essence of all human rights instruments I think you come up with a least four key principles, some people would say more.

The first being everyone in the world who is living has a right to participate in political decisions in some way.

The second is that everyone has the right to hold those in powers over them accountable for decisions that are being made.

The third is that everyone has the right to work for change without having to pick up a gun and use violence. Peaceable change is a core element to human rights principles.

Lastly, there is this vague, but undefined word called "dignity." Every human rights instrument affirms the dignity of all people.

Again, the point here is that while human rights instruments have numerous different articles, provisions, and protections, the easier way to look at the function of human rights is to look at these four principles and understand that is one of the major motivational factors running throughout each of these instruments.

Q: Can you draw the link a little more clearly for me between peace and human rights?

A: The link is that if individual human rights are respected there is no need for violence because individuals who are aggrieved have a way to respond to that, and if they feel under represented they have a way to become politically involved and active. If you take away the ability and the opportunity of individuals to work for change and to represent their own community's interest then you leave them no alternative but to use violence.

Q: So, in nation building would you say that those four basic principles elaborated in any number of various codes are the basic working paper by which you need to establish a government or a society?

A: I think it is essential because what you are doing essentially is you are taking the pressure of society by allowing people to be involved in decisions that effect their lives and changes that need to be made. You are allowing society to develop these alternative ways of dealing with conflict that is a normal part of every society.

Q: Thanks.