Make the International Day of Peace Meaningful Through the Culture of Peace

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

In 1981, it was a proud moment for me, as a representative of Bangladesh, which became a full member of the United Nations only seven years before, to witness the declaration of the International Day of Peace (IDP) by the UN General Assembly. This declaration demonstrated that the UN was devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples.

Two decades later, in 2001, the General Assembly unanimously voted to designate the Day as a period of nonviolence and cease-fire. The Assembly invited all nations and peoples to honor a cessation of hostilities during the Day and also to commemorate the Day through education and public awareness on issues related to peace. It also decided that, with effect from the fifty-seventh session of the General Assembly, the International Day of Peace would be observed on September 21 each year. Since 2002, the Day is being observed with increasing number of countries, organizations and entities throughout the world. I am proud to say, as the Honorary Chair of the IDP NGO Committee at UN since 2008, that civil society has become the main motivator worldwide for the observance of the Day and in enhancing its true significance.

In this context, I would particularly recognize the role of the “11 Ways to Transform Your World” campaign, which is a “worldwide platform for the promotion of peace, justice, sustainability and transformation that annually includes as many as 700 associated events in over 60 countries around the world.” Beginning on September 11, another significant day for the world, it culminates on the International Day of Peace, which is now observed by as many as 3,500 organizations in over 120 countries. For more information, the campaign’s Global Unity Calendar can be accessed here.

In recognizing the value of this year’s IDP theme “Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All,” the new United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres says that the Day “offers a moment for the peoples of the world to acknowledge the ties that bind them together, irrespective of their countries of origin. It is a day on which the United Nations calls for a 24-hour global ceasefire, with the hope that one day of peace can lead to another, and another, and ultimately to a stilling of the guns. Yet there is more to achieving peace than laying down weapons. True peace requires building bridges, combating discrimination and standing up for the human rights of all the world’s people.” He profoundly declared, “Our duty as a human family is to replace fear with kindness.” Here I would welcome very much the global student videoconference organized every year by the United Nations Education Outreach Section and the IDP NGO Committee at UN.

In my keynote address on “Human Security — an Essential Element for Creating the Culture of Peace” at the Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand, in August 2007, I underscored that “Peace is a prerequisite for human development.… We all must undertake efforts to inculcate peace in ourselves. We cannot expect the world to change if we do not start first and foremost with changing ourselves — at the individual levels.” For a meaningful observance of the IDP every year, I believe, therefore, that “the culture of peace should be the most appropriate vehicle to prepare our world in addressing effectively the complex challenges of the twenty-first century.”

The lesson we need to take from the violence-ridden 20th century, I believe, is that however much the world around us changes, we cannot achieve peace without a change in our own minds, and therefore in the global consciousness. The wealth and the technology can only give us the opportunity to better the world. But we must have the mind to seize that opportunity; the culture of peace must find a well-rooted place in each one of us — both as an individual and as a member of the global society. We must remember that technology and wealth can be put to destructive use too. The difference between war and peace, between poverty and prosperity, between death and life, begins essentially in our minds.

Never has it been more important for the next generation to learn about the world and understand its diversity. The task of educating children and young people to find non-aggressive means to relate with one another is of primary importance. At the same time, I would stress the importance of women’s equal participation in all efforts for peace and security — in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building. We must strive to integrate their concerns more effectively in peace processes worldwide, and achieve women’s full, equal and effective participation in those processes and at all decision-making levels. Women and girls have an essential role to play in rebuilding war-shattered societies, not through token representation but as equal, full-fledged participants in the process.

Making a call for a resolute recognition of the Human Right to Peace, let me end by asserting that nonviolence can truly flourish when the world is free of poverty, hunger, discrimination, exclusion, intolerance and hatred. When women and men can realize their highest potential and live a secure and fulfilling life. Until then, each and every one of us will have to contribute — collectively and individually — to build the culture of peace through nonviolence. We have to succeed together or together we shall perish. The choice is obvious.

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, the Honorary Chair of the IDP NGO Committee at the UN since 2008, has devoted many years as an inspirational champion for sustainable peace and development, and to ardently advancing the cause of the global movement for the culture of peace that has energized civil society all over the world.

As a career diplomat, Permanent Representative to United Nations, President of the UN Security Council, President of UNICEF Board, UN Under-Secretary-General, the Senior Special Advisor to the UN General Assembly President, and recipient of the U Thant Peace Award, UNESCO Gandhi Gold Medal for Culture of Peace, Spirit of the UN Award and University of Massachusetts Boston Chancellor’s Medal for Global Leadership for Peace, Ambassador Chowdhury has a wealth of experience in the critical issues of our time — peace, sustainable development, and human rights.

Ambassador Chowdhury’s legacy and leadership in advancing the best interest of the global community are boldly imprinted in his pioneering initiative in March 2000 as the President of the Security Council that achieved the political and conceptual breakthrough leading to the adoption of the groundbreaking UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in which the Council recognized for the first time the role and contribution of women in the area of peace and security.

He served as Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations in New York from 1996 to 2001 and as the Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations, responsible for the most vulnerable countries of the world from 2002 to 2007.

He has been the Chair of the International Drafting Committee on the Human Right to Peace; an initiative coordinated from Geneva and was a founding member of the Board of Trustees of the New York City Peace Museum.

He is the founder of the New York-based Global Movement for The Culture of Peace, and has been a part of the 12-member Wisdom Council of the Summer of Peace for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014, a worldwide participatory initiative to advance the Culture of Peace.

He has been decorated by the Government of Burkina Faso in West Africa with the country’s highest honour “L’Ordre National” in 2007 in Ouagadougou for his championship of the cause of the most vulnerable countries. 

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This article appears in: 2017 Catalyst, Issue 19: The International Day of Peace