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A European Walk for Disarmament
Calling itself "an international citizens inspection team to prevent war crimes," 500 nonviolent activists from around the world who had walked more than 100 miles from The Hague, converged on the beleaguered NATO headquarters, where we were met with water cannons and hundreds of baton-wielding riot police.
The marchers, protesting NATOs illegal nuclear weapons policies and its disregard for civilian lives in its bombing of Yugoslavia, defied the mayor of Brusselss declaration that our final walk to the NATO facilities was illegal.
Over the course of 3 days, some 272 "inspectors" were arrested on a variety of chargesor no charge at alland jailed for up to 12 hours. The May 27 arrests followed NATOs refusal to disclose records of its "Nuclear Planning Group" regarding its weapons of mass destruction. This international delegation of self- styled citizen inspectors had intended to provide the information to the international press, the United Nations International Court of Justice, and the International Criminal Court.
On Saturday, May 29, 63 activists were arrested without probable cause, miles away from the NATO base, under a temporary edict issued by the mayor of Brussels who declared any protest of NATO illegal. Fifty of those arrested had simply stepped from a crowded public tram when national police and Belgian secret police detained and carted them to jail.
The police actions made a mockery of NATOs routine championing of democratic freedoms such as a free press. On May 29, to a publicized press conference, 15 marchers were surrounded and ordered out of our cars after we stopped at a traffic light. When I asked the chief officer why wed been pulled over, he told me, "Youre in a war zone." With my press badge displayed, I reminded him that no declaration of war had been made by any party. When I then asked the name of the charge against us, he answered, "Uh, the impression of the intention to interfere with NATO." No one made it to the press conference, but instead we were jailed without charges till midnight and then released.
Starting out Sunday, May 16 from the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands, seat of the UN International Court of Justice, about 250 of us walked, talked, danced, drummed, and sang for 12 days in a spirited anti-war parade of flags, congas, whistles, banners, and costumes. With participants from 31 countries, we walked a total of 124 miles carrying a demand for the immediate start of international negotiations for a treaty banning all nuclear weapons (as required by the July 8, 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice), and for an end to the U.S./NATO bombing raids against Yugoslavia. In the spirit of UN arms inspections in Iraq and North Korea, we demanded that NATOs Nuclear Planning Group provide us "transparent" access to information about its European nuclear arsenal including warhead numbers, types, yields, costs, and targets.
Organized by For Mother Earth International, an anti-war network based in Gent, Belgium, the "2000 Walk for Nuclear Disarmament" was planned many months prior to the U.S.-led bombing of Yugoslavia. NATO currently threatens the "first-use" of the 200 nuclear warheads and other weapons of mass destruction that it now deploys in Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey.
Germany and Canada suggested last November that NATO renounce its nuclear first-use policy. Defense Secretary William Cohen attacked the anti-nuclear proposal, saying the current policy was "sound doctrine." A NATO delegate told the New York Times, November 24, "We have 200 nuclear weapons systems in [Europe] and their credibility would be undone without the first-strike option."
Founded in 1949, NATO members "agreed to settle disputes by peaceful means, develop individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack, to regard an attack on one as an attack on all, and take necessary action to repel an attack under Article 51 of the UN Charter." The undeclared, immoral, and illegal U.S./NATO bombardment of the former Yugoslavia added a mournful background and a dreadful urgency to the march.
Our slow-paced, pedestrian experience of civil societyblooming agriculture, manicured suburbs, bustling citieswas abruptly ended on reaching Brussels.
With NATO HQ, the European Parliament, branch offices of the Fortune 500, and the embassies of the G-8 all established here, Brussels is shadowed by the spirit of empire, haunted by the machines and armor of national police, secret police, military police, and riot police.
Dr. Fernand Rochette, director of the Catholic high school who defied the mayor by hosting us on his campus, told us, "I didnt hesitate to welcome you. My students will benefit from your commitment to the prevention of war."
The long, hot days on the road were filled with meetings, often held after six hours of walking. We met as a whole, in speakers councils, in affinity groups, as organizers and as nonviolence trainers. The consequent solidarity and friendship that was established over the course of 200 kilometers, across 25 languages and 30 cultures, came as a beautiful shared gift.
It was easy to see why dozens of the participants in this disarmament walk were seasoned by previous marches. They know from experience the love and power that a peace walk generates. Z
John LaForge is a staff member of Nukewatch, an anti-war and environmental action group based in Wisconsin.