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UN Observes Mahatma Gandhi’s 148th Birthday Reaffirming Commitment to Non-Violence

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By Joan Erakit

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – During a country music festival outside of the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino in Las Vegas, a gunman opened fire on concertgoers killing 50 and wounding over 200. Hours later, some 2230 miles away, the United Nations commemorated the International Day of Non-Violence at its headquarters on October 2, remembering Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement and pioneer of the philosophy and strategy of non-violence, born 148 years ago.

According to General Assembly resolution A/RES/61/271 of June 15, 2007, which established the commemoration, the International Day is an occasion to “disseminate the message of non-violence, including through education and public awareness”. The resolution reaffirms “the universal relevance of the principle of non-violence” and the desire “to secure a culture of peace, tolerance, understanding and non-violence”.

At the event titled ‘Significance of Non-violence in Today’s World’, organized by the Permanent Mission of India to the UN, its head Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin said, while the event aimed to “reaffirm our commitment to the eternal values of truth, non-violence, peace, tolerance and understanding,” there were “sings of a surge in resort to violence are evident all around us” – the most recent being the horrific mass killing at a Las Vegas concert.

Akbaruddin said: “The achievements of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela demonstrate that the outcomes of non-violent change, achieved through persuasion rather than coercion, are durable. They advocated non-violence to usher social and political changes that were national in nature; yet their approach of peaceful, non-violent resolution of differences resonates globally.”

They were exemplars of the fundamental belief that the drivers of conflict are all amenable to non-violent solutions. “A belief that underpins the activities of the United Nations.”

Addressing the event, Miroslav Lajack, President of the General Assembly (GA), said: “As a global leader in non-violence, the United Nations needs to do more to promote this principle, and to inspire others to do so too.”

First, there was the need for stepping up efforts for conflict prevention, he said, adding that mediation is one of the most effective tools of non-violence. It can turn parties away from conflict, towards compromise. This means it can avert violence – which only leads to loss – and promote non-violence, resulting in benefits on all sides.

Lajack remembered that at the General Debate days earlier, UN Member States had called loudly for a stronger United Nations – especially for the UN’s mediation and conflict prevention capacities. “They also called for more support to local, national or regional actors using non-violent ways to stop or prevent conflicts. Secretary-General Guterres has placed prevention at the core of his mandate. This issue will be a main focus throughout the [current] 72nd Session.”

Second, he added, the UN should do more to promote the use of non-violence across all three pillars of its work. To succeed in doing so, people from all countries, and all walks of life, must be more closely engaged with the world body. “Strong partnerships can help to spread a message of non-violence that will be heard. This must involve religious leaders, community activists and, importantly, young people.”

The General Assembly President called for more effort being made to harness new communication and outreach tools. “If one message of violence is posted on Facebook, two messages of peace must appear in response. The United Nations can act as platform from which these campaigns and activities can be mobilized.”

And third, Lajack said, it was necessary to do more to respond to global challenges, as they emerged. This means ensuring that the UN is evolving as fast as the world around it. “The longer it takes to respond to a major development or crisis, the higher the chance of violence being seen as the only answer,” he warned.

“Importantly, we must remember that the United Nations is the biggest global actor, and promoter, of non-violence. We might phrase things differently here. We talk of the three pillars, dealing with human rights, sustainable development, and peace and security. Collectively, however, we are all working for the same things. Every day, the United Nations is using non-violent means to strive for peace and a decent life for all, on a sustainable planet,” Lajack added.

Concluding “with some pragmatism,” he said: “Violence can be tempting. It brings fast results. It can topple governments, or change social orders, in a short space of time. However, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, ‘nothing enduring can be built on violence’. So, whether we call it Sustainable Development, transformative change or, simply, a better world to live in – none of this can happen through violence.”

The United Nations, he stressed, must act as a constant reminder of this. It must not only work through non-violence – but it must inspire others to do so too.

All the more so – because the leaders from across the globe at the High-Level segment of the General Assembly in September had pointed to “growing concern that violent conflict is surging, as are deaths due to wars and terrorist incidents,” Ambassador Akbaruddin, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN said. “Refugee numbers and military spending are reaching historic highs. The violence that we are doing to nature is, as yet, not even assessed,” he added.

However, a few years ago, a joint WHO, UNDP and UNODC study concluded that more than 1.3 million people worldwide die each year, as a result of violence in all its forms (self-directed, interpersonal and collective), accounting for 2.5% of global mortality.

More recently, amongst the main messages of the seminal UN-World Bank Study, ‘Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict‘, is that since 2010, the number of major violent conflicts has tripled, and in 2016, more countries experienced violent conflict than at any time in nearly 30 years.

“It is estimated that close to 90% of current casualties of violent conflict are civilians, the majority of whom are women and children, compared to a century ago when 90% of those who lost their lives were military personnel. Interpersonal violence takes a heavy toll too. 1300 people are estimated to lose their lives every day to violent causes,” said Akbaruddin.

And the discussion on October 2 was an effort to seek pathways to tackle the situation we are confronted with globally. It is imbued with the hope that the concept of non-violence, which is as old as civilization, can provide us a path forward, he added, quoting what Mahatma Gandhi once said: “I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and Non-violence are as old as the hills. All I have done is to try experiments in both, on as vast a scale as I could.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 6 October 2017]

Photo: A portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, painted by Raghuvar Dayal, which was presented by India’s Minister of Foreign Affairs to the UN General Assembly President on the occasion of the International Day of Non-Violence. Credit: UN Photo/Cia

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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