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An interview with Bill Pace

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In May 2019, Mondial asked Bill Pace to look back and recall some of the highlights and achievements during his 25-year career as Executive Director of the World Federalist Movement – Institute for Global Policy, most of which also included his serving as the Convenor of the NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court. Excerpts from the interview are re-printed below.

Can you describe for us the nature of the World Federalist Movement when you started your work as Executive Director.

The World Federalist Movement was an old peace movement based on preventing World War III by trying to reform the charter to get enforcement of law over use of military force and extreme nationalism. There were many people in 1946 that lived through two of the largest international wars in history, and many scholars including Einstein believed that the post World War II community had 5 or 10 years to prevent World War III. So when there are enough weapons to destroy the planet a thousand times over the question was how do we deal with it? And that was the essential cause of WFM.

I started as Secretary General of the organization and then in April 1994 became the Executive Director. At that time, we had only a small office in Amsterdam which organized governing meetings for the Executive Committee and Council but had no real programmatic staff. The organization had a few thousand members mostly in the US and Europe. There was no South America, Africa or Asia participation. Now between its various programs (including the ICC Coalition and the R2P Coalition) we have been able to expand that network to over 2,500 member organizations from over 150 countries.

I’m retiring at a time when these questions of “Why war?” are more intense than they have probably been in the last 30 or 40 years.

What was your motivation for pursuing a career in the field of human rights and international justice?

I resisted the draft to Vietnam and became obsessed with understanding the institution of war. I vividly remember being at a library in Denver and coming across the book, Einstein on Peace, a 500-page biography about Einstein’s struggle to understand the question “Why war?” He believed that the path towards dealing with war was the world federalists. Nothing in the last 48 years has deterred me from the vision of a legal democratic federation of countries being the best hope for achieving nuclear disarmament.

Could you share some of your first experiences working in the field?

My first real job was working out west in the Rocky Mountains on environmental and disarmament issues at the local level. My first international experience was in 1988 when I was hired by Amnesty International USA to assist on an initiative called Human Rights Now which was a Rock and Roll tour promoting the 40th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. It was an extraordinary experience to see how relatively few people could organize something that could move hundreds of thousands of people in a politically important inspiration of human rights. This idea really played a key role in the activation of WFM showing that just a few organizations could really make a difference. Years later WFM has played a pivotal role in the 1 for 7 billion campaign, the Hague Appeal for peace, the UN2020 campaign on the 75th anniversary of the charter.

Who are three people you have worked with that you most admire?

Although it’s controversial, Kofi Annan was a very important Secretary-General, whom I was fortunate enough to develop both a professional and personal relationship with. Though his legacy is still being debated I think he was committed to standing up against to the big powers and corruption of the principles set out in the charter.

Working with Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi over the past 25 years has been incredibly rewarding. First as a leader in the process to the Rome Statue, then as part of the advanced team for the Court, then President and then a judge of the Court.

Lastly, as the non-governmental individual, Mr. Ben Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor of the Nuremberg tribunal, who has tirelessly fought for the principles of world federalism, outlawing war and recognition of the crime of aggression. It’s hard to only come with three because there are so many but those are three who were very inspiring.

You came to the organization having played a key role in civil society preparations for the 1992 Earth Summit. What were the main milestones on the organization’s growth between then and now?

I was doing work for the Earth Summit as a part of the Center for Development of international law (CDIL) which was later folded into WFM as a parallel supporting organization when I became Executive Director. I was asked to chair a working group on legal and institutional issues, which was focused on the implementation aspect of the outcomes from the Earth Summit. We wanted to see the UN environmental program become a UN environmental organization. The view was that two thirds of the earth didn’t belong to any nation state so strengthening international governance would come from the environmental world.

Since then I believe the main milestones of the organization has been in strengthening the peace and human rights architecture of the international legal order, particularly as it pertains to war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and steps forward on the crime of aggression. We have been able to do so by creating relationships and developing synergy with various human rights groups and environmental groups.

You were present at the signing of the Rome Statue, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court 20 years ago. What was that like?

I think the Times of India called it “international law-making of historic proportions.” It was one of the greatest advancements of international law and the greatest hope for peace in that time. When the decision to adopt and reject the efforts of India and the US to stall the treaty was made known there was a thunderous and emotional applause for about 25 minutes. Those who were there were a part of making history. While the legacy of what we have achieved with the Rome Statue is still being determined, I think it’s been one of the stronger treaties agreed by governments in the General Assembly and one I believe to have extraordinary potential for promoting world peace.

What are some key successes you can highlight during your Directorship at WFM? What are some failures the organization has faced?

The greatest success was being able to build an organization with 3 employees and a budget of $100,000 into an organization with multiple regional offices, a staff of 40 people, hundreds of interns and volunteers and a budget that peaked out at 4.5 million.

When I became Executive Director I was keen on developing strategic networks and campaigns that focused on various aspects that were included in world federalism.

WFM was able to accomplish that through building its network and establishing its various campaigns including the Hague Appeal for Peace and 1 for 7 billion campaign and through its various programs including the Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect and The Coalition for the International Criminal Court that collectively work on strengthening international law and human rights. The unfortunate failure is that WFM hasn’t been able to sustain its various programs. A combination of the 2008 financial collapse and withdrawal of political support for many of our projects has resulted in WFM having to do more and more with less and less.

What was the hardest decision you had to make during your Directorship at the movement?

The hardest decisions have come in the last two years with the transition of new leadership both within our organization and within the political sphere. It’s a very bittersweet time to be stepping back from my position in a world where the US government and so many other governments are abandoning the most progressive elements of the post-World War II legal order in favor of autocratic leadership. But I am hopeful that WFM will be able to make it through the various transitions and come out stronger. The organization has welcomed a new Executive Director that brings unique skills that no director of WFM has ever had. I think another strength of this transition period will be the strong women who were elected to leadership positions in the organization.

Looking ahead, what are the main challenges for the organization?

The truth is that we have had more proposals for reforming the UN charter than we had members. We had more proposals for what world federalism looks like and many of them cancel each other out. A major challenge for the organization has been developing a clear vision of what we want and how we want it, which is more important now than ever before. Going forward it will be vital to have a clear strategic plan and continue building support for our vision of international democracy and democracy principles. I have to hope that we can survive the storms of political regression. The John Boltons of the world know that we are a threat to everything that extreme nationalism stands for.

As a long-time insider, what are issues within the field of international law and global peace that are not acknowledged in mainstream media or taught in academia?

The “how” is more important than the “what.” It’s important to have what goals you want the UN and international community to embrace but its how you get to those goals that determines everything else. I think the media and academia have failed miserably in understanding how international organizations function and how international democracy can be achieved.

What advice would you give to younger generations pursuing a career in this field?

I would read Einstein on Peace by Albert Einstein and The Anatomy of Peace by Emery Reves. But I believe the best way to learn about the field is to be in it. Serve as an intern, volunteer in the field so you can learn about the work of international organizations and the great work that they do to better our world. I’ll finish by sharing a short mantra “The human race has to make peace with itself, with the rest of life on this planet, for this planet.” I believe our peace movement shares the principles of federalism that give us the legal tools of how to do this.

Anything else to add?

All the great achievements come from a few people working together and that is something that lies at the heart of our organization. I hope we can use this momentum to achieve the first preamble goal of the UN charter and “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”

Mr. William R. Pace has served as Executive Director of the World Federalis tMovement-Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP) since 1994. He has been the Convenor of the Coalition for an International Criminal Court since its founding in 1995 and is a co-founder and steering committee member of the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect. He has been engaged in international justice, rule of law, environmental law, and human rights for the past 30 years. He previously served as the Secretary-General of the Hague Appeal for Peace, the Director of the Center for the Development of International Law, and the Director of Section Relations of the Concerts for Human Rights Foundation at Amnesty International, among other positions. He is the President of the Board of the Center for United Nations Reform Education and an Advisory Board member of the One Earth Foundation, as well as the co-founder of the NGO Steering Committee for the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and the NGO Working Group on the United Nations Security Council. He is the recipient of the William J. Butler Human Rights Medal from the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights and currently serves as an Ashoka Foundation Fellow.

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