February 2022

Ukraine: a Quakers in Britain statement, 24th February

Quakers in Britain strongly condemn the attack on Ukraine. It is a grave development for humanity, and a violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations.

“Our belief in the preciousness of all human life leads us to oppose all war", said Paul Parker, Recording Clerk of Quakers in Britain.

Quakers have always held peacebuilding as a core principle for life:

'All bloody principles and practices we do utterly deny, with all outward wars, and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever, and this is our testimony to the whole world.' Quaker declaration 1660

This sentiment applies as much today, in a world of nuclear weapons, as it did then.

Quakers call for a cessation of fighting and for all parties to observe international law, including international humanitarian law. This prominently includes the Geneva Conventions, which regulate the conduct of war, and to which both Russia and Ukraine are states parties. All sides should take the earliest opportunity to halt hostilities and to resume negotiations.

Protection of human life should be of primary importance. “We know war leads to unimaginable suffering. In particular, exposing children to violence can have lifelong damaging effects", said Paul Parker.

“All sides should commit to establishing and respecting humanitarian corridors allowing civilians to flee the fighting. We also appeal for conduct that avoids embedding grievances and injustices that will become the seeds of future violent conflict. Crucially, this means doing everything possible to avoid and resist the creation of enmity between peoples. It also means persevering with efforts to engage in dialogue and preparing the ground for the return of people to their homes."

Although war makes dialogue and peacemaking far more difficult, it does nothing to diminish the need for courageous peacemaking efforts. We know there are people in both Russia and Ukraine working tirelessly for peace. We continue to uphold and stand in solidarity with them at this violent and perilous time.

The nuclear ban treaty began on Thursday 22nd January 2021. 

Marigold Bentley, a member of our Area Meeting and a staff member at Friends House explains why international law is a vital part of the toolkit for creating a better world.

The government of the United Kingdom, a nation state with an active nuclear weapons capacity, has stated many times that it will not become a signatory. So why does a treaty which the UK rejects matter to us as Quakers? The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) seeks to outlaw nuclear weapons. The UK is in a minority of nation states with nuclear weapons. Through the TPNW becoming international law, more than 50 nation states are making clear that they want an end to the possession of them. Through the TPNW the UK will be swimming against the norms set by other countries.

A remarkable fact of Quaker worship is that it enables us to envision a world in which war is a thing of the past and right relationships with one another and the planet flourish. Our role, then, as Quakers is to make that religious vision a reality in the everyday. Our personal lives and relationships seek to reflect that vision but so do our structures and work at the national and international level. We are not alone in having that vision and whilst ours is rooted in a radical reading of the Gospels, for others it has different roots.

The fun thing about working for a better world, alongside others who approach problems from different perspectives, is that enormous progress can be made as more people identify a shared vision and feel they can join in. The basis is not who or what are we, but what do we want to achieve together? 'Us' can become everyone and not just an elite or a narrow segment of society who serve themselves. The United Nations is such a collective effort. That is why Quakers work together on international law, which itself is a collective effort to make for social change. International law can also be seen as a collective assertion of global values along with limits on how countries can treat each other and their citizens.

Quakers have engaged actively on the international stage since the early days of Quakerism. My reading of our history is that Quakers have had remarkable confidence and belief that by stepping up internationally they will be able to influence and make progress towards the world we want to see. Experience years ago working at the Quaker United Nations Office in New York gave me an insight into the contribution Quakers can make – through involving non-governmental actors and providing opportunities for influential off-the-record conversations.

Human constructs such as the United Nations are inevitably flawed and no one could claim they are perfect. There are many forces at play in relation to lawmaking, and a number of them do not have the common good at heart. It would be naïve if we did not recognise this.

However, the purpose of international law is that it can provide a positive framework for global progress on difficult issues. The rules-based system of treaties has provided opportunities for improving standards on many issues including human rights, child soldiers, conscientious objection, disarmament, and environmental protections – to name just a few. Whether a nation state has signed or not, if global standards have been established, a norm is created and an aspiration named.

We now all have a new chance to make the world a safer place through making nuclear weapons illegal. Quakers welcome the UN nuclear ban treaty and will actively use the opportunity it gives us to end ownership, development, threat and use of nuclear weapons for ever.