Writers for Peace congress 2003

Minutes from the yearly General Meeting of International PEN’s Writers for Peace Committee in Bled, Slovenia 21st-22nd May 2003

Centres present (in alphabetical order):

Belgian Dutch-speaking
Swiss Italian
Vietnamese Writers Abroad
*) Centres being voted in as Committee Members on the morning of the second day (see below)

Also present:

Mr Terry Carlbom, International Secretary of International PEN
Ms Jane Spender, Administrative Director of International PEN (first day)

The meeting was chaired by the Chair of the WfPC, Mr Veno Taufer.

The Chair proposed the following agenda, which was adopted unanimously and without discussion:
1) Report of the Chair
2) Changes to the Standing Orders of the WfPC
3) Recommendations and Resolutions
4) Elections
5) Any other business.

NB: Because of the time schedule, parts of items 3, 4 and 5 on the agenda were postponed to the meeting’s improvised second day (the original program only provided for one session during the meeting). For clarity’s sake, these minutes nevertheless follow the adopted agenda, since the time schedule does not influence on the decisions taken as they are referred to in the minutes.


Since the last General Meeting, there have been two meetings of the WfPC, both during International PEN’s international congress in Ohrid, Macedonia in September 2002. Those two meetings were quite vivid. 7 resolutions were proposed, and the WfPC worked very hard on some of them. One resolution about Iraq proposed by the German centre, one resolution on the Middle East conflict proposed by the Israeli and the Norwegian centres and one resolution on the occupation of the Palestinian land proposed by the Bangladesh and the Palestinian centres all referred to the Declaration of Peace and Freedom which was formulated by the WfPC and adopted by International PEN at its international Congress in Lugano, Switzerland in 1987. There was much discussion about these resolutions.

On February 18th, 2003, WfPC sent a letter of moral support to UN’s Secretary General, Mr Kofi Annan, and to UN’s Security Council. This letter was distributed to all centres. It supported all efforts to avoid a war in Iraq. There was much discussion about an eventual protest against the war. WfPC decided that it would be much more positive to support the efforts to stop the war. Protests were already made through other channels and organizations, also by several individual PEN centres.

According to the Chair’s opinion, WfPC should return to the roots of our work. One of these roots is the Declaration of Peace and Freedom from the Lugano congress in 1987.


According to the Chair’s opinion, we should give the WfPC some sort of frame. In the future, it will be more and more important that we claim what we are against and what we are for. Paragraphs 4 and 5 from this declaration were proposed by the Chair as a preamble for the WfPC’s Standing Orders, but in such a way that the preamble opens with paragraph 5, which is more general, and continues with paragraph 4. This proposal was adopted unanimously, after some discussion. The new preamble to the Standing Orders thus reads:

There can be no freedom without peace and no peace without freedom; the free development of the individual and of society is a condition for long-lasting peace. Only free men and women can live in peace with other people, nations, classes, races and religions.
Terrorism is to be condemned whether it includes state terrorism, individual terrorism or terrorism that justifies itself as part of a struggle for liberation. Movements using terrorist methods annul the missions to which they are dedicated and lose all claims to legitimacy.

The other proposed changes in the Standing Orders were unanimously adopted without discussion. These proposals have been distributed to all centres.


a) Proposed recommendation on the situation in Iraq, made by the Norwegian centre.
The proposal was adopted unanimously after thorough discussion, and with some additions to the proposed text. It then was decided to send the adopted text to the office of UN’s Secretary General, asking him to distribute it to the UN delegations of all member states of UN’s Security Council.

The adopted text reads as follows:

The Writers for Peace Committee of International PEN, assembled at its annual conference in Bled, Slovenia in May 2003,

Recalling Article 2 of the PEN Charter, that our cultural heritage should be spared in times of conflict;

States that it is profoundly shocked and saddened by the damage inflicted on Iraq by the recent war and its aftermath, especially the damage to some of humanity’s oldest cultural artefacts, which to a large extent seem to have been lost, looted or destroyed;

Is of the opinion that the existence of a free, democratic and diversified civil society under United Nations responsibility is essential to rebuild the dignity of Iraq according to the wishes of its peoples;

Believes that this reconstruction must encompass both the restoration of Iraq’s cultural heritage and the development of present-day NGOs and institutions to safeguard and promote this heritage, and must include local, regional and national media, libraries and other cultural institutions, as well as modern educational establishments;

Notes the necessity and importance of both institutional and individual exchanges between Iraq and all countries to assist in this reconstruction, and thus

Strongly recommends all PEN Centres, within their own communities, to encourage their own national cultural institutions to initiate and participate in such exchanges;

Urges all PEN Centres to encourage any individual contacts which ultimately may lead to the creation of a PEN Centre in Iraq,

Requests the Board and the International Secretary to bring this Recommendation to the attention of the NGO-UNESCO Liaison Committee, to focus the attention both of the other NGOs in relations with UNESCO and of Unesco itself.

b) Proposed Resolution on the situation in Chechnya and Russia, made by the Norwegian centre and amended in consultation with the Russian centre.
The proposal was adopted unanimously after some discussion, but without further changes. It was decided to send the text as an open letter to the President and the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, and to the Lord Mayor of St. Petersburg, and to distribute it as widely as possible through press agencies and other international media. It also was decided that the text should be distributes by the individual participants to as many political instances as possible. The French PEN Centre will ensure that it reaches the French Minister of Foreign Affairs as soon as possible, in view of the G8 meeting in Evian in June 2003.

The adopted text reads as follows:

The Writers for Peace Committee of International PEN, assembled at its annual conference in Bled, Slovenia in May, 2003,

Considering the alarming effects which the still ongoing, brutal conflict in Chechnya has both on the right to freedom of expression and on the human rights situation in general, not only in Chechnya and the Caucasus, but also in Russia itself, where journalists, writers and those working in other media reporting on the conflict still face serious difficulties amounting to harassment from the Russian police and government;

Also considering the vast international media attention which, during the tercentennial celebrations in St. Petersburg, will be given to Russia, a country in armed conflict,

Calls upon the world’s media when making their reports from St. Petersburg, not to forget the several newspapers and broadcasting companies reporting from the Caucasus which face threats to their existence or the desperate and life-threatening situation faced by their journalist colleagues in the war-torn region;

Likewise calls upon international human rights organizations to continue their support for Russian civil society, asking them not to give up their essential work in Chechnya and the Caucasus;

Also calls upon the government of the Russian Federation to ensure that all Russian media fully enjoy their right to freedom of expression, including when covering the conflict in Chechnya;

Further calls upon the parties in the conflict in Chechnya to cease all violence immediately and to work to solve the conflict by peaceful means through negotiations undertaken by those representatives of both parties elected in internationally recognized elections, in the presence of international observers.


a) Election of chair for the WfPC:
Mr Veno Taufer had been nominated for reelection by a large number of the member centres, and his biographical details and declaration of intent had been distributed to all member centres as foreseen in the Standing Orders. There was no other proposal. Mr Taufer was reelected by applause.

b) Election of vice-chair for the WfPC:
It was proposed to elect two vice-chairs for the WfPC, in order to assure adequate representation of some of the world’s most important conflict zones. The International Secretary reminded the Committee that in such a case, the Standing Orders would have to be changed, meaning that an actual election of a second vice-chair could only take place at the Committee’s next meeting. The proposal was rejected, and Kjell Olaf Jensen then was unanimously elected as vice-chair.


– The Bosnian-Hercegovinian PEN Centre and the Portuguese PEN Centre, which had applied for membership in the WfPC, were adopted as new member centres by applause. As this happened on the morning of the second day, these two centres took part in the discussion and voting for the resolution on Chechnya and Russia and in the election of vice-chair.

It was suggested that one Committee meeting at the Congress might be dedicated to the session of the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva the following spring, where International PEN has a representative (Ms Fawzia Assaad, PEN Suisse Romande) with the right to speak during the session. No decision was taken.

It was suggested that the WfPC, during the next Congress,  might discuss the possibility for a regional meeting in Diyarbakir. This meeting would discuss questions concerning peace and freedom of expression. Such a conference has already been discussed, and it is decided that International PEN’s Committee on Translations and Linguistic Rights shall organize this regional conference. The following decision was taken unanimously:
The Writers for Peace Committee endorses and applauds this conference and strongly supports the action taken by the Committee for Translations and Linguistic Rights.

The Belgian Dutch-speaking PEN Centre informed that it has organized a writer’s flat – if a writer needs such an opportunity, please contact the Centre, whether the problems concern freedom of expression or other matters. The only demand is that the actual writer shall make two lectures during her/his stay.

A question was raised concerning the situation of the large number of persecuted Cuban poets. International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee is already working on the problems of these writers.

The Vietnamese Writers Abroad Centre informed that the Centre has elected a new board of directors two months ago.

Kjell Olaf Jensen