War Resisters’ International (WRI), headquartered in London, is an international anti-war organisation with members and affiliates in over 30 countries.
War Resisters’ International was founded in Bilthoven, Netherlands in 1921 under the name “Paco”, which means “peace” in Esperanto. WRI adopted a founding declaration that has remained unchanged:
War is a crime against humanity. I am therefore determined not to support any kind of war and to strive for the removal of all causes of war.
It adopted the broken rifle as its symbol in 1931.
Many of its founders had been involved in the resistance to the First World War: its first Secretary, Herbert Runham Brown, had spent two and a half years in a British prison as a conscientious objector. Two years later, in 1923, Tracy Dickinson Mygatt, Frances M. Witherspoon, Jessie Wallace Hughan, and John Haynes Holmes founded the War Resisters League in the United States.
Notable members include Dutch anarchist Bart de Ligt, Quaker Richard Gregg and Tolstoyan Valentin Bulgakov. The group had a close working relationships with sections of the Gandhian movement. In January 1948, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi attended a preparatory meeting for the World Pacifist Meeting he called, at the behest of WRI, and which eventually took place in December 1949. It took the form of 50 international pacifists meeting with 25 of Gandhi’s close associates in an “unhurried conference” in Santiniketan, West Bengal.
In the 1930s and 1940s, WRI helped to rescue people from persecution under Francisco Franco and under the Nazis and found them safe homes with WRI members in other countries. One of the leaders of the Norwegian branch of WRI (FmK), Olaf Kullmann, was arrested by the German Occupiers for his pacifist agitation; he was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he died in 1942.
During the Cold War, WRI consistently sought out war resisters in the Soviet bloc: first individuals, and later groups. After the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, WRI organised protest demonstrations in four Warsaw Pact capitals.
Daniel Ellsberg’s attendance at a talk by Randy Kehler (as Kehler was preparing to submit to his sentence for draft resistance) at the WRI’s 13th Triennial Meeting, held at Haverford College in August 1969, was a pivotal event in Ellsberg’s decision to copy and release the Pentagon Papers. (It was Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers which led President Nixon to create a group of in-house spies, who undertook the ill-fated Watergate break-in, which led to Nixon’s resignation).
In 1971, when Pakistani troops were blockading what was then East Pakistan, WRI launched Operation Omega to Bangladesh. More recently, the International Deserters Network associated with WRI has offered support for people resisting the Gulf War of 1991 and, on a much larger scale, the wars in the Balkans, where it was also engaged with several other peace organisations in an experiment in international nonviolent intervention, the Balkan Peace Team.
In 1988, a WRI advert was cited as one of the reasons for the seizure of an edition of the Weekly Mail in South Africa, after the banning of the local End Conscription Campaign.
The WRI office in London has supported three programmes: work on conscientious objection, supporting nonviolent movements against war and countering youth militarisation.
War Resisters’ International is a network of member groups. An international conference takes place at least once every four years.
The Chair has been elected at international conferences (Assembleys) or by postal vote in advance of the international conference. The office of chair was created in 1926, but was abolished at the 2019 Assembly meeting in Bogotá, Colombia, and the former responsibilities of the Chair are now shared between the members of the executive committee.
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