By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
The author is a former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN, former Permanent Representative and Ambassador of Bangladesh to the United Nations, and founder of the Global Movement for The Culture of Peace (GMCoP). The following are extensive excerpts from his virtual special lecture at the International Studies Institute at University of La Verne, California on 19 November 2020. “The objective of the culture of peace,” he said, “is the empowerment of people, as has been underscored time and again by the global leader for peace and Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda.”
NEW YORK (IDN) – The UN announced on the occasion of the milestone 75th birth anniversary that the celebration “and its founding Charter comes at a time of great disruption for the world, compounded by an unprecedented global health crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with severe economic and social impacts. But it is also a reminder that times of struggle can become an opportunity for positive change and transformation.”
This reference to positive change and transformation which brings me to the subject of my lecture “The Culture of Peace: For a Safer, Saner and Substantial World”.
More than two decades have passed by since the UN General Assembly (UNGA) adopted, by consensus and without reservation, its landmark resolution 53/243 on the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace in 1999. It has been a long, arduous journey – a journey ridden curiously with obstacles and indifference.
It was a little more than 21 years ago the UN took its most forward-looking stride in ensuring a peaceful planet for all of us since the Charter of the UN in 1945. The UN Charter arose out of the ashes of the Second World War and the UN Declaration and the Programme of Action on Culture of Peace was born in the aftermath of the long-drawn Cold War.
Simply put, the Culture of Peace as a concept means that every one of us needs to consciously make peace and nonviolence a part of our daily existence. 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.
It is also a positive, dynamic participatory process wherein “dialogue is encouraged and conflicts are solved in a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation.”
Each and every individual is important to the process of transformation required to secure the culture of peace in our world. Each person must be convinced that nonviolent, cooperative action is possible, is necessary and is in everyone’s best interest.
If a person succeeds in resolving a conflict in a nonviolent manner at any point in time, then this individual has made a big contribution to the world because this singular act has succeeded in transferring the spirit of non-violence and cooperation to another individual. When repeated, such a spirit will grow exponentially, a practice that will become easier each time the choice is made to face a situation and to resolve a conflict non-violently.
My life’s experience has taught me to value the culture of peace and women’s equality as the essential components of our existence. They unleash the positive forces of good that are so needed for human progress. Peace is integral to human existence — in everything we do, in everything we say, and in every thought, we have, there is a place for peace. We should not isolate peace as something separate.
This I have seen firsthand as my work took me to the farthest corners of the world. What I have seen has given me hope and encouragement that there are forces which are determined to turn our planet into a liveable place for all. They are working hard to turn all the negative energies into positive ones so that every individual can realize her or his highest potential and live a secure and fulfilling life. I am always inspired by the human spirit and its resilience and capacity to overcome all adversity.
This realization has now become more pertinent in the midst of the ever-increasing militarism and militarization that is destroying both our planet and our people.
On 16 December 1998, at a Security Council meeting on the maintenance of peace and security and post-conflict peace-building, I implored that “International peace and security can be best strengthened, not by actions of States alone, but by women and men through the inculcation of the culture of peace and non-violence in every human being and every sphere of activity. The objective of the culture of peace is the empowerment of people.”
Echoing the great apostle of peace Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. considered his Nobel Peace Prize as “a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the critical political and racial questions of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression without resorting to violence“. I reiterate this mainly to highlight the need for revisiting those words in view of what is happening in many parts of our world, including in this country.
Now to set the scene at the United Nations for the profile of the culture of peace, let me say as we were coming out of the Cold War, we were actively pondering how best to take advantage of the end of that era of bitter rivalry and proxy wars and thereby make peace sustainable in the world.
The Constitution of UNESCO says, “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” The concept of the culture of peace started evolving in this spirit, to promote a change of values and behavior.
Soon after I became the Ambassador of Bangladesh to the United Nations in New York in 1996, I felt that the culture of peace is a marvelous and forward-looking concept that humanity needs to embrace. I took the lead in proposing in 1997, requesting some other Ambassadors to join me, in a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to include a specific, self-standing agenda item of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on culture of peace.
A new agenda item on the culture of peace was thus agreed upon after considerable negotiating hurdles and the new item was allocated to the plenary of the General Assembly for discussion on an annual basis.
Under this item, UNGA adopted in 1997 a resolution to declare the year 2000 – the millennium year – the “International Year for the Culture of Peace”, and in 1998, a resolution to declare the period from 2001 to 2010 the “International Decade for the Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World”.
On 13 September 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 that is considered as one of the most significant legacies of the United Nations that would endure generations.
I introduced the agreed text of that outcome document on behalf of all Member States for adoption by the Assembly at its 53rd regular session with its President Didier Opertti of Uruguay chairing the meeting. Through this landmark adoption, the General Assembly laid down humanity’s charter for the new approaching millennium.
The adoption of the Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace was a watershed event as an appropriate response to the evolving dynamics of global war and security strategies in a post-Cold War world. Asserting and re-affirming the commitment of the totality of the United Nations membership to build the Culture of Peace, the General Assembly has been adopting resolutions on the subject every year since 1997 highlighting the priority it attaches to the full and effective implementation of these visionary decisions.
A significant aspect of the essential message as articulated in the UN documents effectively asserts that the “culture of peace is a process of individual, collective and institutional transformation.” Transformation is of the most essential relevance here.
The Programme of Action identifies eight specific areas – including education, equality between women and men, human rights, participatory democracy – which encourage actions at all levels – the individual, the family, the community, the nation, the region – and, of course, the global level. Though the Declaration and Programme of Action is an agreement among nations, governments, civil society, media and individuals are all identified in this document as key actors.
How do we build and promote the culture of peace? To turn the culture of peace into a global, universal movement, the most crucial element that is needed is for every one of us to be a true believer in peace and non-violence.
A lot can be achieved in promoting the culture of peace through individual resolve and action. By immersing ourselves in a mode of behaviour that supports and promotes peace, individual efforts will – over time – combine, unite and form a critical mass, and as a subsequence peace, security and sustainability will emerge. This is the only way we shall achieve a just and sustainable peace in the world.
All educational institutions need to offer opportunities that prepare young minds not only to live fulfilling lives but also to be responsible and productive citizens of the world. For that, educators need to introduce holistic and empowering curricula that cultivate the culture of peace in each and every student. Indeed, this should be more appropriately called “education for global citizenship”.
If our minds could be likened to a computer, then education provides the software with which to “reboot” our priorities and actions away from prejudice and violence to respect and tolerance.
For this, I believe that early childhood affords a unique opportunity for us to sow the seeds of transition from the culture of war to the culture of peace. The events that a child experiences early in life, the education that this child receives, and the community activities and socio-cultural mindset in which a child is immersed all contribute to how values, attitudes, traditions, modes of behavior, and ways of life develop.
I would like to add here that youth of today should embrace the culture of peace in a way that can not only shape their lives but can also shape the future of the world.
In this context, let me pay my sincerest tribute to civil society which has done the most to advance the cause the culture of peace for more than two decades. The Global Movement for The Culture of Peace (GMCoP) is a coalition of civil society organizations that has been providing the leadership in those efforts. A number of them have joined us this evening.
For more than two decades, my focus has been on advancing the culture of peace which aims at making peace and non-violence a part of our own self, our own personality – a part of our existence as a human being. This is the core of my advocacy around the globe and for all ages, with special emphasis on women, youth and children.
Here I would mention very emphatically that without peace, development is impossible, and without development, peace is not achievable, but without women, neither peace nor development is conceivable.
In today’s world so full of negativity, tension, poverty and suffering, it should be seen as the essence of a new humanity, a new global civilization based on inner oneness and outer diversity.
As former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace laureate Kofi Annan had profoundly said, “Over the years we have come to realize that it is not enough to send peacekeeping forces to separate warring parties. It is not enough to engage in peace-building efforts after societies have been ravaged by conflict. It is not enough to conduct preventive diplomacy. All of this is essential work, but we want enduring results. We need, in short, the culture of peace.”
I believe strongly that the United Nations needs to have more than a fire-brigade-like approach rushing in to put out the conflagrations and then withdraw from the scene without doing anything to ensure that fires of conflict do not break out again in future.
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. As we say, “Peace does not mean just to stop wars, but also to stop oppression, injustice and neglect”.
The United Nations focus on promoting “international peace” – peace among nations – was being taken as the absence of war between states. To see peace as the opposite of war is fallacious. Absence of war or absence of active violence is not peace. It may bring cessation of hostilities, but it is obviously not peace in its totality – for sure it is not sustainable peace.
Many treat peace and culture of peace synonymously. There is a subtle difference between peace as generally understood and the culture of peace. Actually, when we speak of peace we expect others namely politicians, diplomats or other practitioners to take the initiative while when we speak of the culture of peace we know that initial action begins with each one of us.
The objective of the culture of peace is the empowerment of people, as has been underscored time and again by the global leader for peace and Buddhist philosopher Daisaku Ikeda. I believe the culture of peace is not a quick-fix. It is a movement, not a revolution.
Let us – yes, all of 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. [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 December 2020]
Photo: Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury at 2019 HLF-CoP observing the 20th anniversary of the culture of peace at UN on 13 September 2019. Credit: UN
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