Does peace have a chance?

The Human Right to Peace

A review of The Human Right To Peace by Douglas Roche

Published on April 1, 2004

The Human Right To Peace
Douglas Roche


In this book, Douglas Roche, a senator, former Member of Parliament, and UN disarmament official, presents his views on the current prospects for the survival of civilization and what will be required to guarantee it.

In the first section, “The Culture of Peace,” Roche catalogues the grisly recent history of armed conflict, and argues that in the age of globalization and weapons of mass destruction, “morality and pragmatism have intersected.” Roche maintains that, for both moral and prudential reasons, we must find a way to overcome what he calls the culture of violence and the special interests that generate it, especially the media and the military/industrial complex. Given the indiscriminate destructive power of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, Roche argues that the concept of a “just war” has been rendered obsolete.

The second section is titled “The Culture of Peace,” defined by Roche as a “…set of values, attitudes, traditions, and modes of behaviour,” including respect for life and the environment, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and gender equality. In order to achieve such a state, Roche claims the need “to emphasize that the peoples of the world have a sacred right to peace.” One cannot help noticing that the word “sacred,” which means literally “pertaining to religion,” is not included in the title of the book, and it soon becomes clear that Roche is a religious person. It is Roche’s view that this right, which he thinks is the basis for the living of a life that is not, as Hobbes put it, “nasty, brutish and short” is a basic human right – one every human being has as a function of what it means to be a human being – and also serves as the basis of all other human rights.

But just how can the transition from war to peace be accomplished? In the third section, “Changing Our Attitude,” Roche recommends reliance on the United Nations (whose accomplishments he lauds despite what he terms the deliberate sabotaging of the organization by self-interested governments, especially the United States), world religions (despite what he admits to be their violent history), and what he calls “education for peace.” He concludes by expressing the hope that, despite all the difficulties we face, a culture may be put in place that allows all human beings to live secure and productive lives.

Although it is hard to disagree with Roche’s heartfelt preference for peace over war, and his dire warnings about what weapons of mass destruction may do to the planet, there is very little argument or scholarship here, in the strict sense, to support some of Roche’s major claims. There are no proper footnotes in the text to identify the precise location of Roche’s quotations, only general “Chapter Overviews.” Roche’s writing tends to be repetitious, as in his citing of so many grandiose UN resolutions which, unfortunately, have not had the positive consequences for which one might have hoped. And he does not actually define what a right is, the different types of rights that have been identified, and whether the concept of “a human right to peace” is cogent. (There is a rich philosophical literature which goes into these and related matters.) The overall result is a book that sounds as if it is, despite Roche’s disclaimers, “merely railing against injustice” and has the feel of preaching to the converted. mRb

Dr. Kenneth Alan Milkman is affiliated with the Department of Philosophy at Dawson College.



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