The 24km "peace march" between the two towns in central Italy concluded a "peace week" featuring some 400 initiatives on peace and human rights. These included the 7th assembly of the United Nations of the People in Perugia Oct. 5-6."Peace and justice walk together" and "Water for all" were among some of the banners at the march. Many carried the famous "peace flags" that marked Italian protest against the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Participants also joined the "Stand Up!" action in line with the United Nations' "No Excuse" campaign to promote the Millennium Development Goals, a set of eight goals agreed in 2000 to cut poverty and to improve health and education. People in the rally sat and then stood up to urge the Italian government to allocate the 0.7 percent of gross national income (GNI) to foreign aid.
The march, the 17th such, was started by peace activist Aldo Capitini in 1961. It is organised by Peace Roundtable, a coalition of Italian NGOs, unions, church groups and local administrations working for peace and solidarity.
The march is the big event for the Italian peace movement, and is a sort of barometer of civil society activities. To mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be celebrated in December, the theme of the march shifted this time from peace to human rights.
"It is a way to make clearer which peace we want to build: not just absence of war, but also respect for human rights," Peace Roundtable coordinator Flavio Lotti told IPS. "We still march for peace, but making more explicit the objectives we are struggling for."
A call for action issued at the march says human rights are "the legal, political and moral compass to face the current world crisis...Promoting 'all human rights for all' means rejecting the idea that the rights of some people can be sacrificed in the name of security, development or the interest of the richest, strongest, the most aggressive."
The shift of focus created some conflict among supporters. Gino Strada, founder of Emergency, a network of healthcare initiatives in war zones, declined to participate. But the larger expected drop in participation did not happen.
Amongst the biggest contingents was "No Dal Molin" from Vicenza in Northern Italy, about five hours drive from Perugia. Dal Molin is a disused airport due to be turned into a U.S. military base.
"The U.S. base Dal Molin is a wrong step, that has to be opposed and changed," protestor Andrea Tapparo said, waving a flag showing a red line across a military aircraft.
"Instead of pre-emptive war, we want pre-emptive peace, and block construction of the military base," Tapparo told IPS. "Our struggle against the base is an icon of the bigger struggle for peace. It is not just a local issue, it has an impact on people who might suffer wars."
The Burmese struggle found strong support. Many wore a red t-shirt symbolising the Burmese protest.
Human rights were also at the core of the United Nations of the People, attended by more than 700 delegates from 50 countries.
Two main themes were discussed at this meeting -- justice in Africa, and peace in the Middle East. Groups from Nairobi in Kenya, where the last World Social Forum was held, participated in the first, and representatives of both Israeli and Palestinian groups in the second.
"We agreed on the need to invest more in civil society and solidarity," Lotti told IPS. "Civil society is fostering real social change that is not visible from the top but is tangible at the bottom...we ask governments to acknowledge the work being carried on by civil society groups who are working for social change.
"We believe human rights can be enforced only through policies and politics. We are speaking out loud that we want more from our politicians."
In a press release promoters asked politicians to "listen to understand the demands and proposals" of activists and "make room for those who are never listened to by the media."
Alongside the United Nations of the People meeting, the third edition of the United Nations of Young People was held in Terni, near Assisi. More than 700 young people from Italy, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East met to discuss ways of contributing to a better world.
Copyright © 2007 IPS-Inter Press Service.