Date:2017-09-21    Count:30529




The 2017 International Day of  Peace is devoted to the the me of  “Togetherness for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All.” How does it relate to the commitment of the UN system and UNESCO in particular to build, uphold and promote peace? 

Peace is the most noble objective enshrined both in the Charter of the United Nations and the Constitution of UNESCO. In spite of all efforts since the founding of the United Nations system more than seventy years ago, the world has been beset by conflicts, civil strife and wars. Building and preserving peace, preventing conflict and promoting the emergence of peaceful interactions among people has proved to be an abiding task and challenge for the multilateral system, until today. Without peace, there can be no societal advances and no sustainable economic or social development.

Indeed, the threats to peace are becoming more diversified. New challenges are frequently political, economic, sometimes environmental and sometimes a mix of all. They can take the form of intra- or inter-state or communal conflicts which may turn into wars or terrorism and take vastly different forms, such as disputes for freshwater resources, cyber-conflicts or traumatic and destabilizing human population movements and internal and external displacements. 

For seventy years, the UN system’s message has been the same: The defences of peace must be built in the minds of women and men, on the basis of human rights and dignity, through cooperation in education, the sciences, culture, communication and information. Solidarity and dialogue are the strongest foundations for peace, guided by equality, respect and mutual understanding.

All this presupposes that the fundamental principles of peace must be “appropriated” by different cultures in order to be effectively exercised and therefore contribute to peace, rather than remaining as abstract standards, or even standards imposed by others. The universality of the fundamental principles of peace can then only be strengthened by genuine dialogue among cultures, effective reconciliation processes and people-to-people interactions and engagements.

Peace is the cornerstone of all people’s daily lives, respecting each other’s dignity and identity. In a world of complex interdependences, where a conflict anywhere can spread to become a conflict everywhere, we must recognize that peace is more than the absence of war. Peace means living together with our differences – of sex, race, language, religion or culture – while furthering universal respect for justice and human rights on which such coexistence depends. Everyday peace must be made a tangible reality for all. To that end, greater account must be taken of the close links between cultural diversity, dialogue, development, security and peace. These interdependent notions underlie the tension between universality and particularism, cultural identities and citizenship.

The culture of peace draws on all the assets required to help construct the defenses of peace in the minds of people: formal and non-formal education preparing world citizens for their local and global responsibilities; the sciences as a universal language for all and a provider of solutions to looming conflicts; culture as a resource for nurturing dialogue and rapprochement, but at the same time for fueling tension and conflict, if unduly instrumentalised; communication and information as the very vector for the borderless interconnection of humankind and tool for promoting mutual understanding. UNESCO and all international and regional organizations must promote genuine international cooperation, interaction, engagement and partnerships for living together peacefully, free and equal. 

UNESCO’s General Conference adopted, at its 36th session (November 2011), a new Programme of Action for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence. It built on the knowledge gained and the best practices identified in the implementation of the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010) and programmes launched in connection with the dialogue among cultures and civilizations initiatives and among peoples (as far back as2005), the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2010) and the subsequent International Decade for the Rapprochement of People (2013-2022) and its Action Plan as well as the 10 years of implementation of the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001). In essence, the culture of peace remains a commitment to peace-building, mediation, conflict prevention and resolution, peace education, education for non-violence, tolerance, acceptance, mutual respect, dialogue and reconciliation. It helps people to cope with social, ethical, cultural, political, environmental and other societal transformations.

In aiming at peace as an everyday living experience of peoples as well as a global awareness and reflection, one must inspire policies facilitating inclusive, open and pluralist societies. Knowledge of other cultures and religions as well as their intimate relationships and productive contacts are a precondition for dialogue and mutual understanding.

In thepresent era of instability marked by many social changes and mutations, in particular in conflict and post-conflict situations, youth and women are the most affected. They live in vulnerable and tenuous situations without the tools to change their living conditions and life prospects. Therefore, it is crucial to instil a measure of hope among young women and men, and to ensure that they are equipped with knowledge, skills and information necessary to cultivate a culture of peace, including social and technical competencies necessary to help mitigate conflict and promote reconciliation. It is noteworthy that the United Nations Security Council has already dedicated several special sessions to a discussion of the contribution of women to conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peace-building. The international community has thus recognized that in spite of good intentions the practical involvement of women has not been at the level and with the intensity it should have been given the immense contribution and the power women and women’s groups can exercise in civil society. 

The UN’s 2030 sustainable development agenda, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015, was above all designed as an agenda for peace, through partnerships across the globe and at all levels of society, among all peoples. Each human being has a shared responsibility to shape a better future for all through peacebuilding in our own lives.

No State, no matter how powerful, can ensure peace alone. Together, in partnership, we can build the defences of peace in the minds of every woman and man – especially young minds -- to foster new relations of harmony and compassion with others and the world. This is precisely also the intention of the One Road One Belt Initiative, which called at its May 2017 High-level Forum for intensified people-to-people contacts.

Dialogue will be a major mechanism to succeed in this daunting task. Focusing on and creating the conditions for an effective dialogue among peoples is of primary concern.Harmony without uniformity is the principal objective. All societal actors must be involved: women and men, civil society groups, governments, the private sector, academia, the media and representatives of various religions and faiths. This is why already in 1945 the Charter of the UN spoke about “We, the peoples of the UN determined …” and not “We the countries…”

Religious leaders have a particular responsibility to help impart the message of dialogue among societal groups and to advocate for the core values underlying any dialogue, the most important of which are: peaceful interaction, tolerance, respect for the Other, mutual understanding, respect for human rights, gender equality and recognition of cultural diversity.

To foster people-to-people engagement, we must provide individuals with the skills and tools to understand better cultural diversity and to make the most of it. We must also promote the principle of learning to live together, because living together cannot be taken for granted, it must be learned and taught.In increasingly complex and diverse societies, we must do more to promote cultural literacy for all members of society, to develop widespread intercultural competences, starting in school. Cultural diversity can take various shapes and carry different meanings. We must develop intercultural dialogue across this variety of circumstances. The key is to identify and encourage those forms of cultural diversity that promote greater awareness. Global citizenship education will be a crucial initiative to link people across geographical, state and cultural borders.

As we move ahead, we must marry words with action.

Let me conclude by proposing four points on which we all might be able to agree on this international day of peace 2017:

1.We hold that peace is both an outcome and key enabler of development. There can be no peace without sustainable development and no sustainable development without peace. Human rights, social justice and equality, economic welfare and the rule of law are indispensable for sustainable peace and prosperity and for coping with complex global challenges.  

2.We are committed to promoting a culture of peace as a vector of sustainable development and the well-being of citizens through the goals of the 2030 development agenda. The practices of mutual respect and tolerance, reinforced through intercultural dialogue and a commitment to non-violence and reconciliation, are essential to realize everyday peace for all members of society and through people-to-people interaction.

3.We urge Member States to continue building a culture of peace at the national, regional and international levels and in all communities, and to promote democratic governance, global citizenship, cultural diversity, pluralism and social justice.  

4.We stress the particular role of education, the sciences, culture, and global media structures as key elements of the soft power of Member States and their peoples for peaceful interaction at all levels, for social transformation and for ensuring common security through international cooperation.

Li Ruohong, president of China World Peace Foundation and Beijing International…
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