The Writers for Peace Committee was created in order to create cultural links, improve international collaboration, draw attention to pressure on freedom of expression that threatens peace, and support writers in difficult situations. The WfPC continues its original task as a platform for intercultural and literary dialogue among PEN writers committed to the values of peace, tolerance and freedom; without which creation becomes impossible. The WfPC adheres strongly to the ideal that all individuals and peoples have a right to peace as provided by the Resolution 71/189 on the Right to Peace, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 19 December 2016.
The Writers for Peace Committee is always trying to find effective ways to transmit its messages concerning ongoing conflicts and concerns about areas where there is potential for it. In the past decade we have drawn attention to and protested against many conflicts around the world. We focus on all situations where freedom of speech is under attack and we support many initiatives from PEN Centers and other institutions. We co-operate with the other PEN Committees (those for Women, Translation and Linguistic Rights, Writers in Prison) and we support the work of ICORN.
During the Writers for Peace Committee meeting in Paris in January 2020, the main working topics for the committee for the next few years were identified: hate speech, migration, social movements, new technologies and protection of cultural heritage.
Although we do not have an absolute definition of hate speech, we can take into consideration the legal definition as it is set out in the Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe (R 97 20). This defines hate speech as "any form of expression which spreads, incites, promotes or justifies ethnic hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other hatred based on intolerance".
In general, the term refers to crimes that are motivated by prejudice or hostility towards the victim's real or perceived ethnic or national origin, religious beliefs or ideology, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or disability. Hate speech is a part of a larger global phenomenon, connected to the rise of populist parties, identity politics and economic intentions. The role of the Writers for Peace Committee is to concentrate on these larger global phenomena that are trying to tear gaps between people and distance them from each other.
Many of today’s populists are misusing the idea of Freedom of Speech to silence the voices of their opponents or minorities. The Writers for Peace Committee has the moral duty to do the utmost to dispel all hatred and to champion the unity humanity living in peace and equality.
The Writers for Peace Committee believes the migration is normal and wishes to promote human mobility. There are no enclaves of national exceptionalism. Territories have majority agglomerations that they define as 'their' culture, but all are fluid, constantly changing and enriched by outside influences and internal adoption. The WfPC champions the way cultures and ideas infect each other.
In order to understand populism and nationalism an impartial approach is needed, free from ideological thinking. Populism is sometimes judged as negative, without trying to find the source and the causes of such movements. The Writers for Peace Committee continues to all look at the causes of these phenomena and avoid doctrinaire demonising. We do our outmost to approach each country with knowledge of its culture and of the reasons that turn people in intolerant directions. We encourage journalists and writers to look critically at ideology, preconceived ideas and fashions, and to look at evidence, concrete facts on the ground, and conduct their own investigation. A clear-eyed, fact-based and non doctrinaire approach is the aim of the Committee. However, understanding does not detract from the WfPC's determination to condemn intolerant policies, whether from governments or political activists.
We live in the time of the third industrial revolution and the new communication technologies impact our lives daily. Because of the coronavirus pandemic the impact of these new means of communication increased drastically. While they are an indispensable tool for the free transfer of information and many other useful purposes, new technology really is a double-edged sword. The mass surveillance programme of the Chinese government shows its dangers as the personal privacy of Chinese citizens is reduced to minimum. The pandemic serves as a pretext for implementing extreme measures that pose a threat to civil rights. Several other regimes are looking to copy the Chinese model. To prevent mass surveillance, a balance must be found between public safety and protection of personal privacy.
Technologies need to advance as a part of the progress of our civilization. A global independent ethical watchdog is needed, however, to prevent its misuses.
Protection of cultural sites
'Crimes against memory (artistic and historical) are crimes against humanity'.
Many cultural sites important to our heritage are unfortunately in a poor state of conservation and are endangered. Reporting on their physical state is not enough. The Writers for Peace Committee is therefore committed to reporting also on their history, artistic value and importance.
The Committee has become involved in and concerned about several world events that fall within its remit:
Hence the creation of working groups formed around fundamental themes, among which are:
- prevention of armed conflicts and wars;
- the fight against dictatorships, in particular the use of cybersurveillance;
- concern over the treatment of migrants;
- the fight against hate speech and all forms of discrimination.
Each group is currently chaired by one of the Vice-Chairmen of the Committee and is called upon to collaborate with other standing Committees.