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UN High Level Forum Pleads for Culture of Peace

By J R Nastranis

NEW YORK (IDN) - The United Nations General Assembly deliberated on peace and non-violence at the UN headquarters in New York on September 9, making a significant contribution to fostering global citizenship at a point in time when the world is torn apart by multidimensional conflicts in all sectors of the globe. [P16] GERMAN | JAPANESE TEXT VERSION PDF | NORWEGIAN

At the fourth UN High Level Forum on the Culture of Peace, convened by General Assembly President Sam Kahamba Kutesa, senior UN officials and eminent peace advocates pointed out that peace neither meant absence of conflict nor did it automatically result from ending conflict, but rather from building societies that embraced diversity, equality, democratic participation and access to education.

The one-day UN High Level Forum has been convened since 2012. It highlights the importance of implementing the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace adopted by the Assembly 1999, with former UN Under Secretary General and Bangldesh Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury as Chair of the drafting committee.

September 9 Forum focused on the roles that all stakeholders – Governments, community and religious leaders, educators, the media and others – could play in creating a culture of non-violence. In the post-2015 era, many speakers agreed, the priority must be on advancing a vision for overall improved well-being for the peoples of the world.

“Peace is a distant dream without development,” said Einar Gunnarsson of Iceland, speaking on behalf of UNGA President Sam Kutesa. “This is part of the core challenge in promoting a culture of peace and ensuring peaceful societies,” he said. For more than 70 years, the desire for peace had driven nearly every facet of the UN’s work. However, new challenges such as terrorism, cybercrime, human trafficking and climate change continued to defer that dream.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to be endorsed at UN Summit from September 25 to 27, he pointed out, contained goals that required the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies. “The onus is upon us to ensure effective implementation,” he stressed.

In a similar vein, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the Forum was about confronting the “very hard truths in our world”, where, across many war-torn regions, there were brutal violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and, even in mostly peaceful and democratic societies, minorities were attacked. “We cannot turn our eyes away from the suffering,” he stressed. “We cannot close our hearts.”

Ban invoked the stern warning of Mahatma Gandhi: “There will be no lasting peace on earth unless we learn not merely to tolerate but even to respect the other faiths as our own.”

Elaborating on that theme in a keynote address, Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, said his grandfather did not believe that nationalism could sustain the world, as it created the impression that one could exist without concern for others. “Our futures and destinies are interconnected,” he said. “The only way to live in stability was to create stability. That ought to be the common endeavour,” he added

His grandfather’s philosophy of non-violence was about personal transformation, he noted. “We are all part of society”, he said, “and unless we, individually, recognize non-violence and live it, we cannot have a Government that believes in peace.” Peace must begin with the individual.

To drive home the point, he shared a memory of throwing away a pencil as a young boy, only to have his grandfather ask him to retrieve it. People’s use of natural resources, his grandfather had explained was, in fact, violence against nature. Violence was committed by over-consuming resources and depriving others. Today, in the United States alone, he pointed out, USD20 billion in food was thrown away annually, while more than 1 million people went to bed hungry.

A culture of non-violence was built through love, respect, understanding, appreciation and self-realization. “We have to respect our connection with all of creation. We are here for a purpose. We have to find and fulfil that purpose,” he stressed.

Round tables

The Forum discussed the core themes in two round tables. The first round table, titled ‘promotion of the culture of peace in the context of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda’, examined strategies for fostering a culture of peace in over the next 15 years. The second, on ‘the role of the media in the promotion of the culture of peace’, considered how various forms of media could be used to foster tolerance and mutual understanding.

Opening the discussion in the first round table, Ambassador Chowdhury said that the international community must work to eliminate the structural violence embedded in society, stressing that in the absence of peace it would be impossible to achieve the goals of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

Former President of Romania Emil Constantinescu stated that recent popular movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria had drawn attention to the absence of a dialogue and efficient diplomacy. Preventing conflict required a comprehensive, balanced vision, which took into consideration the interests of various ethnic and religious communities and the rights and obligations of independent States’ citizens.

Former UNESCO Director General Federico Mayor pointed out that in the last 25 years, there had been many excellent plans and agendas and programmes of action that had been “completely useless”. Commitments had been made, but there had been no action. The reality was that children were dying of hunger everyday while countries invested in military spending. Sustainability was already at risk because there were potentially irreversible processes at work in the environment.

The present generation had an immense responsibility to reverse this situation, added, because the international community was on the verge of the point of no return. “I am sure that the measures that are going to be adopted here in a few weeks will be very good. But we have wonderful documents already. Afterwards nothing happened,” he said, warning that tomorrow could be too late.

Other panellists included Maria Emma Mejia, Permanent Representative of Colombia; Amina Mohammed, the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning; and Barbara Adams, Adviser at the Global Policy Forum and Social Watch. In addition, Elizabeth Shuman, representing the Executive Committee of the Department of Public Information’s programme for non-governmental organizations (DPI/NGO), acted as the designated discussant.

The panel discussion on ‘role of the media in the promotion of the culture of peace’ was chaired and moderated by Marjon V. Kamara, Permanent Representative of Liberia. The panellists included Abulkalam Abdul Momen, Permanent Representative of Bangladesh; Cristina Gallach, UN Under-Secretary-General for Communication and Public Information; Michael Nagler, President, Metta Centre for Nonviolence; and Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls, Founder-Director, FemLINKPACIFIC, Fiji.

Opening the panel, Liberia’s Permanent Representative Kamara said the media, a powerful driver of change through the free and participatory exchange of information, had a crucial role in advancing a culture of peace.

Speaking from personal experience, Bangladesh’s Permanent Representative Momen said the media wielded enormous political power and was a vital agent of social change if mobilized properly. The media had transcended its traditional existence to encompass online social platforms that informed and educated people in an unprecedented way. The saying that “the pen is mightier than the sword” underscored the urgency of efforts to encourage the media towards positive change. Specifically, the media needed to end hatred and intolerance and create a mind-set of mutual respect.

Rounding out the panel, Bhagwan-Rolls, Founder-Director, FemLINKPACIFIC said community media had the ability to transform the notion of security based on Security Council resolution 1325 (2000). Unless there was an express role for the community media beyond traditional public relations, its role in the post-2015 agenda would be limited. Content should be able to reflect progress or lack thereof in terms of achieving goals while ensuring that women were able to define peace, security and development.

Who made the news and why should not be based on patriarchal patterns of power, she said, emphasizing that Member States should be responsive to the views of local communities. A legislative and regulatory environment was needed to ensure diversity and decentralization of power in an effort advance sustainable peace and development with a view to fostering global citizenship. [IDN-InDepthNews – 12 September 2015]

Photo: UN General Assembly | Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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