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CIAO DATE: 11/00

Peace and/or Human Rights?

Zlatko Isakovic*

June 2000

Copenhagen Peace Research Institute


The aim of this address is to elaborate options and actual and possible implications of the dilemma: does the world need both peace and respect for human rights or just one of them? It seems that a theoretical effort aimed to answering this question requires previous, at least short, elaboration of the existing conceptions and structures of both peace and human rights as well as some other related phenomena.


1. Peace

One of the starting points of theories on peace was the attitude that force is imminent to society in its early stages, and that it could and should be eliminated by the development of culture and legal institutions, systems, etc., since it represents a threat to social life. This provided the basis for the theory launched by Jonathan Dymond and Richard Cobden in the nineteenth century. Dymond considered that war, like the slave trade, would disappear if people began questioning its purpose and refused to give in. It was useless to distinguish between unjust and just, defensive and aggressive wars. The second author believed that removing barrier to free trade was the unique means for lasting peace (more details see Chan, 1984: 108–13; Dougherty and Pfaltzgraff, 1990: 199–200: Isakovic, 2000: 144-145).

As the twentieth century brought the eruption of wars, the pacifists have been rejecting force as a means or way to ‘resolve’ conflicts, considering that its use only underline the disputes preventing settling the problems and reproducing itself. They urge replacing force by non-violent resistance (giving a significant role to persuasion). These ideas were at least partially implemented by Mahatma Gandhi, who - among other efforts - set mass of citizens of his country the example of disobedience to the British authorities by rallies, demonstrations and by boycotting British products until 1947, when his country became independent (see Merton, 1965). A US black human rights activist Martin Luther King applied an at least similar tactics. The similarities of means (non-violent resistance) and goals (advocating human rights) utilised by these two activists show the links between peace and human rights. In addition, both of the men were assassinated. For Galtung, “Gandhi is a rich source of creative and non-violent inspiration for the theory and practice of both sides of conflict” (1997).

Peace studies or research become an academic multi-disciplinary discipline in the last four decades only. Its main theoretical sources and streams are:

Peace research or study is focused on organized violence in conflicts between human beings, at the first place primarily on obvious cases of consciously used and instrumental violence.

Dimitrijevic and Stojanovic maintain that peace is not more than an international instrumental value; the researcher’s obligation is to define peace, and not something else that one would like to achieve by peace (1988: 290). According to Galtung, however, peace researchers should never hope to reach a final conclusion on the possible meaning of “peace” as in that moment the basis would be established for their research and practice’s ossification and for the creation of a technocratic orientation in peace producing. The main duty would be to discover the anti-peace’s manifestations in the light of culture and structure, which should lead to a new Theory of International Relations, which viewes world politics as broader than just politics between states. Peace research was also in need of a general peace and conflict theory and critical research (that should be used for prognosis too), constructivism, or visioning. The abolition of war as a social institution should be the goal of peace research (more details see 1988: 246–57; Malhotra and Sergounin, 1998: 477–80; Isakovic, 2000: 149). Many scholars propose developing peace education in order to fight violence. Galtung considers “a major focus of peace education is to enable and empower people to handle conflicts more creatively and less violently” (1997).

To understand peace and violence one needs to consider basic human needs - for survival, freedom, well-being, and identity. “Development aims to promote those needs: violence insults them: peace preserves them” (Galtung, 1997).

The same author considers “there are three types of violence and hence three types of peace: direct, structural and cultural. Direct violence insults human needs with the deliberate intention to hurt and harm; structural violence does so more indirectly. Cultural violence is symbolic and refers to those aspects of our cultures that are used to legitimize direct or structural violence”. These three notions have their dialectic negations - direct, structural and cultural peace. It is senseless to focus on only one of them (Galtung, 1997; compare Naidu, 2000).

Galtung stresses “conflict is part of a double, yin/yang totality: both Creator and Destroyer.” He considers “deep inside a conflict there are one or more contradictions or incompatibilities. When handled creatively they can be the driving force of human social and moral development” (1997).

Wiberg holds that “recognizing conflict behaviour is no major intellectual challenge: behaviour is by definition visible, and ‘conflict behaviour’ may rather uncontroversially be defined as ‘behaviour designed to deprive the other party of value’”. The values may be life, physical or mental health, self-esteem, freedom, social status, welfare, etc. The essential assumption is that one recognizes hostile behaviour when one sees it, at least when it is directed against ourselves (it could be more difficult when one looks at a foreign culture, having some different values). The major controversy, however, has to do with the relations between effects and intentions in conceptualizing the term “violence”. There is the narrow empirical concept of “direct violence” (which is the normal sense in everyday language) and the Galtung’s theoretical concept of “structural violence”, “which is there to the extent that people die or suffer serious harm unnecessarily: as a consequence of distribution of resources rather than overall scarcity. Empirical assessment must compare, e.g., actual mortality and what it would have been under certain assumptions.” While an empirical methodology and empirical studies has been made, it is concluded that “the concept remains highly controversial, on political, philosophical, and empirical grounds”. Wiberg attempted no final verdict (1998).

Malhotra and Sergounin concluded, “[thus], international regimes can assist in enhancing both negative and positive peace to the extent to which they provide for peaceful conflict regulation” (1998: 475). The achievements of peace research indicated by Adam Roberts are in the collection of information on methods of armaments and war, arms negotiations and control as well as on treaties on disarmament. For example, the Global Non-Offensive Defence (NOD) Network, was established in Copenhagen Peace Research Institute (COPRI) in 1994 aimed at building a worldwide network of NOD experts and supporters (see NOD & Conversion, 1994: 3) 1 .


2. Human Rights

Values are considered a major issue in peace research as well as in theory of human rights as one can say that their interests are not focused just on understanding violence but also on contributing to the human condition’s improvement (for peace research see Malhotra and Sergounin, 1998: 463; Wallensteen, 1988: 9).

There are at least five other groups of to some degree controversial and open questions related to definitions of human rights.

Thus, there are disagreements between attitudes on human rights as (predominantly) moral, divine, or legal phenomenon, which are to be validated by custom, intuition, principles of distributive justice, social contract, etc. It is not clear whether they are (partly) (ir)revocable, (un)limited. The debate on these matters will last as long as there exist scarcities among resources and contending approaches to public order (more details see: “Human Rights”, 2000).

However, it is at least partly possible to define human rights; the definition has been changed through time and space (from the concept of “natural rights”, via “the rights of Man”, which did not necessarily include the rights of women, to the present concept and expression “human rights” which was created after the Second World War). Since that time, human rights have become universally and internationally recognised as a result of approving the treaty on establishing the United Nations in 1945 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The next important steps were made in 1976 when entered into force and effect the International Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and on Civil and Political Rights (previously approved by the United Nnations General Assembly in 1966) (see Henkin, Neuman, Orentlicher and Leebron, 1999: 73).

French jurist Karel Vasak developed the notion of the “three generations of human rights”, which could be observed as an additional form of this phenomenon’s structure.

The rights of this generation tend to be posed as collective ones; each of them, however, has both collective as well as individual dimension. It is considered, “[Finally], the third generation of solidarity rights, while drawing upon, interlinking, and reconceptualizing value demands associated with the two earlier generations of rights, are best understood as a product, albeit one still in formation, of both the rise and the decline of the nation-state in the last half of the 20th century” (“Human Rights”, 2000).


3. Conclusions

Some peace researchers have a dilemma whether the present state system can provide effective future security. Within an interdependent world, in which weapons of mass destruction threaten both defeated and victors alike, self-help would not be an efficient method for providing security. One predicts a new and changed world order providing greater security, in which would be important the individual security rather than the state security. According to this vision, peace, human rights, economic welfare and environmental balance will be most successfully achieved by transnational or international institutions, and not by states (see Tickner, 1995: 187). The less the institutions are dominated by a state or a group of them the better are their chances for success.

Within this contex one can conclude, first, that it is possible that the definitions of negative and positive peace could include respect for some of the human rights elaborated in the previous segment of this text. There is the another important question could peace be observed as the mentioned “aggregate common interest” or one of such interests which limit human rights if the right to peace is not one of (internationally recognised) human rights? Moreover, war as a (very) favorable condition for gross and other violations of human rights other than the right to peace. Vice versa gross violations and breaches of human rights, which are numerous and serious in war circumstances, often lead to wars.

If one analyses the human rights belonging to the three generations, one could conclude that most of them - and particularly, for instance, the right to life and most of the other rights of the first and some of the second generation - are possible or at least easier to be implemented and respected in practice in peace time. War is in the direct contradiction with the right to peace, and one may state that particularly for aggression, as the act which triggers war (and for that reason is forbidden by the UN Charter) (more details Isakovic, 1999). At the other side, if one analyses the existing notions of peace, in many cases they seem to be hardly compatible with a disrespect for numerous of the mentioned human rights. Pursuing peace at any coast (including sacrificing of human rights) could lead to sacrificing of at least the positive peace; pursuing human rights at any coast (including sacrificing of peace) could lead to sacrificing of at least the right to peace and some fundamental human rights in mentioned meaning. However, it seems that mankind needs more peace and human rights at the same time than one by one. They are conditioned or interrelated like the two sides of the same coin, which means one cannot have one of them without having the second.

The dilemma human rights or peace can be avoided or resolved by inclusion of peace (and peace organisations and movements) within the categories of human rights (and human rights organizations and movements) or the inclusion of human rights within notions of peace.

In my opinion, if such inclusions are not acceptable for any reason, i.e. if the world needs more or less distinct notions of the two phenomena (and movements and organisations), at least in situations in which they are in relationships of collision, i.e. in relationships of conflict or incompatibility, then one must decide which one of them is more important. However, a problem could occur in finding the borderline between these two phenomena because of the tendency that they may be becoming two aspects of the same phenomenon, which the international community tends to protect in two to some degree different ways. Does any violation of one of the two phenomena or their segments represent sufficient reason for sacrificing the other phenomena or its segments?

One should add that although the general theoretical conclusion could be that people(s) should not have to choose, in real life situations there is sometimes a choice to make.

Additional dilemma could be the human rights or state sovereignty (for instance, see Møller, 1998: 3; Henkin, Neuman, Orentlicher and Leebron, 1999: 1217-1218). In the long term, the rights – supported by the process of globalization – seem to have a better chance of success. There is also the unresolved question of the price (particularly related to super and some great or continental powers) (more details: Isakovic, forthcoming: Chapter 5, Section 2).

Ottawa, June 2000

Zlatko Isakovic
BalkanPeace International Research Network
Visting Scholar
The Balkan Teaching and Research Group
The Institute of European and Russian Studies (EURUS)
Carleton University



The aim of the address has been to elaborate actual and possible implications of the dilemma: does the world need both peace and respect for human rights or just one of them? The first part of the address is devoted to presenting the main elements of the notion of peace and briefly reviewing its historical genesis, stressing the possibility that the definition of peace could include respect for (some of) the human rights.

The second part deals with the structure of human rights, particularly “third generation” human rights, which include the right to peace.

The dilemma can be avoided or resolved by inclusion of peace (and peace organisations and movements) within the categories of human rights (and human rights organizations and movements) or the inclusion of human rights within notions of peace.

In the author’s opinion, if such inclusions are not acceptable, i.e. if the world does need distinct notions (and movements and organisations), at least in situations in which they are in collision, i.e. in relationships of incompatibility, then one must decide which one of them is more important. In that case, an additional dilemma could appear: does any violation of one of the two phenomena or their segments represent sufficient reason for sacrificing the other phenomena or its segments?

Although the general theoretical conclusion could be that people(s) should not have to choose between human rights and peace, in real life situations there is sometimes a choice to make.


Literature and References

Chan, Steve (1984), International Relations in Perspective – The Pursuit of Security, Welfare, and Justice, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company

Dimitrijevic, Vojin (1985), Reign of Terror - Essay on Human Rights and State Terror, Belgrade: Rad. (in Serbo-Croatian)

Dimitrijevic, Vojin and Radoslav Stojanovic (1988), Medjunarodni odnosi – Osnovi opste teorije (International Relations – Foundations of the General Theory), Belgrade: Faculty of Law

Dougherty, James E. and Robert L. Pfaltzgraff, Jr. (1990), Contending Theories of International Relations – A Comprehensive Survey, Third Edition, New York: Harper & Row

Galtung, Johan (1964), “A Structural Theory of Aggression”, Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 11, No. 2

Galtung, Johan (1997) “Peace Education Is only Meaningful if It Leads to Action”, The UNESCO Courier, January 1997,,5744,250313,00.html, 24 May 2000

Henkin, Louis, Gerald L. Neuman, Diane F. Orentlicher and David W. Leebron (1999), Human Rights, New York: Foundation Press

“Human Rights” (2000),,5716,109242), 27 May

Isakovic, Zlatko (1999) “Ius ad Bellum from Grotius to the United Nations”, COPRI Working Papers, No. 11,;;

Isakovic, Zlatko (2000), Introduction to a Theory of Political Power in International Relations , Aldershot: Ashgate

Isakovic, Zlatko (forthcoming) Identity and Security in former Yugoslavia , Aldershot: Ashgate

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Note *: President, Balkan Peace International Research Network, Visting Scholar The Balkan Teaching and Research Group, The Institute of European and Russian Studies (EURUS), Carleton University, Ottawa. Back.

Note 1: NOD is based on the proposition that offensive military doctrines, postures and capacities are a major cause of tension, and a major stimulus to the acquisition of military capabilities and militarisation of the states which feel threatened (Malhotra and Sergounin, 1998: 476).  Back.