UN High Level Forum on the Culture of Peace

Address by Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, a Summer of Peace Wisdom Council Member

UN Headquarters, New York - 6 September 2013
Address at High Level Segment by the Special Guest:
Chair of the General Assembly drafting committee
for the
United Nations Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace (1998-1999)

I am deeply honored to be invited as the special guest to address today’s High Level Forum on The Culture of Peace convened by the General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic. It is under his presidency that the Assembly adopted last December by consensus its resolution 67/106 which mandated the President  to convene the Forum devoted to the implementation of the Programme of Action on Culture of Peace on the occasion of the anniversary of the adoption of the Programme. President Jeremic deserves to be commended for convening this Forum. I would like also to pay tribute to his predecessor Ambassador Nassir Al-Nasser for his pioneering initiative to hold the first-ever forum on the culture of peace last year. The assertion by Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson that “the culture of peace permeates the work of the United Nations” is welcomed by all of us.  Let me also take this opportunity to welcome the presence of my dear friend former UNESCO Director General Federico Mayor whose inspiring leadership gave the concept of the culture of peace a unique prominence and profile around the world.

Holding of the Forum at this time is very significant as the drums of war are being sounded now. Peace-loving peoples of the world are holding their breath and praying intensely so that another avoidable war does not break out.

It is my faith that the values of non-violence, tolerance and democracy which augment the flourishing of the culture of peace will generate the mindset that is a prerequisite for the transition from force to reason, from conflict and violence to dialogue and peace.

My work took me to the farthest corners of the world. From Sierra Leone to Sri Lanka, from Mongolia to Mauritius, from Paraguay to the Philippines, from Kosovo to Kazakhstan, from Bhutan to the Bahamas to Burkina Faso, I have seen time and again how people – even the humblest and the weakest – have contributed to building the culture of peace in their personal lives, in their families, in their communities and in their countries.

One lesson that I have learned from this is that we should never forget that when women – half of world’s seven billion people - are marginalized, there is no chance for our world to get sustainable peace in the real sense.

While women are often the first victims of armed conflict, they must also and always be recognized as key to the resolution of the conflict. It is my strong belief that unless women are engaged in advancing the culture of peace at equal levels with men, sustainable peace would continue to elude us.

I believe with all my conviction that when their equality is not established in all spheres of human activity, neither the human right to peace is possible, nor the culture of peace is worthwhile. As has been rightly said, without peace, development is impossible, and without women, neither peace nor development is possible.
In recent times, we have seen new conflicts breaking out in different parts of the world.
Obviously, we have to find better ways to establish peace.  We need to remember that in the hate and violence filled 20th Century, we have seen the power of non-violence in the sacrifices of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Forces of hatred and intolerance claimed their lives…but not their souls, not their ideals.
We should not isolate peace as something separate or distant. We should know how to relate to one another without being aggressive, without being violent, without being disrespectful, without neglect, without prejudice. It is important to realize that the absence of peace takes away the opportunities that we need to better ourselves, to prepare ourselves, to empower ourselves to face the challenges of our lives, individually and collectively.
Here let me also express my concern that continuing and ever-expanding militarism is impoverishing and maiming both the Earth and the humanity.
As the living apostle for peace Daisaku Ikeda particularly emphasizes the positive, active pursuit of peace as opposed to the absence of war what he calls "passive peace". His focus on the culture of peace – peace through dialogue - peace through non-violence has been very inspiring to millions. The culture of peace should be the foundation of the new global society. In today’s world, more so, it should be seen as the essence of a new humanity, a new global civilization based on inner oneness and outer diversity.
In this context, a critical dimension is worthy of our particular attention. Poverty and lack of opportunities deprive people of their dignity as human beings, leaving them hopeless and incapable of pursuing the kind of life they may deserve. I have seen this from close quarters as I traveled extensively in the poorest and the most vulnerable countries of the world championing their cause in my last responsibility with the United Nations. We must not forget that it is not only morally unsupportable but also practically unrealistic to achieve sustainable peace without addressing squarely the crushing problems of poverty and human insecurity. There will be no development without peace, and no peace without development.
Another pre-eminent concern that should get our attention is that the concept of security has for too long been interpreted narrowly: as security of territory from external aggression and has been related to the concept of nation-states than to people. End of cold war has brought to the forefront very clearly that many conflicts and their causes are within nations rather than between nations. For most people of the world, a sense of insecurity comes not so much from the traditional security concerns, but from the concerns about their survival, self-preservation and wellbeing in a day-to-day context. It is, therefore, absolutely essential that human security in a broader sense should receive priority attention of the international community. “Peace does not mean just to stop wars, but also to stop oppression, injustice and neglect”.

How can we build the culture of peace? In 1999, the United Nations adopted the Declaration and Programme of Action on the Culture of Peace, a monumental document that transcends boundaries, cultures, societies and nations.  It was an honour for me to Chair the nine-month long negotiations that led to the adoption of this historic norm-setting document. Identifying eight specific areas, it encourages actions at all levels – the individual, the family, the community, the nation, the region and, of course, the global level.  Though this landmark Programme of Action is an agreement among nations; governments, civil society, media and individuals are all identified in this document as key actors. The Global Movement for The Culture of Peace, an organizing partner of this Forum, is the frontrunner in that endeavor.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asserted at the inaugural High Level Forum on The Culture of Peace last year that “A key ingredient in building culture of peace is education. We are here to talk about how to create this culture of peace. I have a simple, one-word answer: education. Through education, we teach children not to hate. Through education, we raise leaders who act with wisdom and compassion. Through education, we establish a true, lasting culture of peace.” These words reflect what the Programme has articulated by putting “education” as the first among its eight action areas. The Secretary-General’s new global initiative known as “Education First” is aimed at giving every child the chance to attend school, to have quality lessons and to strengthen their core values and thereby, building the culture of peace. I believe strongly that to be worthwhile, this global initiative needs to focus on building the culture of peace through appropriate education to the young of today.
All educational institutions need to offer opportunities that prepare the students not only to live fulfilling lives but also to be responsible and productive citizens of the world.
Indeed, this should be more appropriately called “education for global citizenship”. Such learning cannot be achieved without well-intentioned, sustained, and systematic peace education that leads the way to the culture of peace.
Let me conclude by urging all of you most earnestly that we need to encourage our youth to be themselves, to build their own character, their own personality, which is empowered with understanding, tolerance, respect for diversity and sense of solidarity with humanity. I believe that to be very important, and we need to convey that to the young people. This is the minimum we can do as adults.

Albert Einstein once said, "The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."
Let us not sit back any more.
The time to act is NOW.
Let us send a strong, loud and clear message from this Forum that there is no place for war in our world.
Let us embrace the culture of peace for the good of humanity, for the sustainability of our planet and for making our world a better place to live.

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury is a member of the Summer of Peace Wisdom Council.  He is an inspirational champion for sustainable peace and development and ardently advances the cause of the global movement of the culture of peace. He served from 2002 to 2007 as the Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations.

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This article appears in: 2013 Catalyst - Issue 16