Building a Culture of Peace and the Evolution of Consciousness

Seminar; Wednesday, 2 June 2004; 3:00 P.M.- 6:00 P.M.

The Role of the United Nations and Civil Society in Promoting a Culture of Peace

Statement by

Anwarul K. Chowdhury

UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States


Good afternoon, First of all I would like to extend to all of you a very warm welcome to this house of peace. My heartfelt congratulations go to the organizers, the Aquarian Age Community, for their wonderful work as a nongovernmental organization dedicated to humanity, and for taking this initiative to bring us all together to discuss such an important theme. It is very encouraging to see how civil society has joined in such collaborative way and formed strong partnerships in support of such laudable objective as building a culture of peace. Before me, Ida has provided us with a wonderful exposť on the evolution of consciousness.

As we embark on our journey for the new millennium, we envisage many promises within the grasp of humankind. We see immense possibilities. We have the power to change the world for the better. We have the technology and the wealth. With collective efforts and will, we can eliminate hunger, eradicate disease, fight malnutrition and poverty and create a fulfilling future for all. We pay tribute to human creativity and genius for the progress achieved by humankind. For all the advances made - in science, literature, arts, management and medicine - the human mind has played the pivotal role. It has made the world a better place to live in.

But there is another side to the human mind as well. That other side is capable of breeding intolerance, harbouring hatred and inflicting pain on fellow human beings. It is this side of the human mind that poses the gravest challenge for the humanity. The challenge for all of us will be to prevent the human mind from becoming consumed by ignorance, fear, violence, fratricide and intolerance. We have seen in the past century alone what these can do to undermine the progress of the human race. We have seen a culture of war and violence spread its venomous tentacles threatening to destroy all that is good, moral and just.

The dawning of the new millennium gives us a scope to take lessons from our past in order to build a new and better tomorrow. One lesson learned is that to prevent history from repeating itself - the values of non-violence, tolerance and democracy will have to be inculcated in every woman and man - children and adults alike. I would like to quote from the UNESCO Constitution because of its relevance and value: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed." The flourishing of 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. Culture of peace will then provide the bedrock to support a stable, progressing and prospering world - a world that is finally at peace with itself.

As Secretary-General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace laureate Kofi Annan has 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, a culture of peace."

Today's world and its problems are becoming increasingly more interdependent and interconnected due to globalization and advancement of science and technology. Most disturbing is that often today's atrocities are directed to people living in the same community or neighbourhood. Hatred and intolerance have blurred the vision of the perpetrators. Interdependency of the world, if not addressed with sanity, can change into a social, economic, nuclear or environmental catastrophe. The magnitude of these problems requires all human beings to work together in finding new, workable, realistic solutions.

The need for a culture of peace is evident as we reflect on how our civilization has succumbed, from time to time, to the human frailties of greed, ambition, xenophobic myopia, and selfishness. We have seen that heinous acts are often committed under the veil of public mandates when in fact they are the wishes of the few in power, be they economic, political, military, or even religious. At other times, atrocities are committed out of a mistaken fear of the unknown.

The efforts at peace and reconciliation have to be based on an understanding of this new reality. Global efforts towards peace and reconciliation can only succeed with a collective approach built on trust, dialogue and collaboration. For that, we have to build a grand alliance amongst all, particularly with the proactive involvement and participation of civil society and young people like you. No social responsibility is greater nor task heavier than that of securing peace on our planet.

Non-violence 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 would have to contribute - collectively and individually - to build peace through non-violence. "Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being" - as Mahatma Gandhi has said. Here I also join Martin Luther King Jr. in saying "At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love".

The United Nations, particularly with the broad-based support of civil society, has been at the forefront in building a culture of peace keeping in view the new global reality. In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace. The adoption of this document has been the most significant initiative at the United Nations in promoting culture of peace.

As for civil society, it is indeed eye-opening how broad-based the NGO support is for the UN initiatives towards building a culture of peace. The UNESCO Website provides us with the following data on the involvement of both governmental and civil society organizations in this field:

2,295 actors of the global movement for a culture of peace
265 international organizations

41 Agencies and Programmes of United Nations System
114 Organizations maintaining official relations with UNESCO
33 Organizations in consultative status with ECOSOC
20 Organizations associated with the United Nations DPI
56 Other organizations
2,030 national/local organizations

To me, culture of peace is a set a values, attitudes and ways of life based on principle of freedom, justice, democracy, tolerance, solidarity, and respect for diversity, dialogue and understanding. It has been an honour for me to Chair the nine-month long negotiations that led to the adoption of the Declaration and Programme of Action on culture of peace by the UN. I would always treasure and cherish that opportunity. For me this has been a realization of my personal commitment to peace and my humble contribution to humanity. I consider this document as one of the most significant legacies of the United Nations that would endure generations and boundaries.

A very important way of promoting a culture of peace is through spreading of peace education. Peace education needs to be accepted in all parts of the world, in all societies and countries as an essential element in building a culture of peace. Peace studies in all educational institutions should be incorporated as part of their curricula. Peace studies should be an essential part of our educational process as reading and writing. Young people should mobilize support in their own spheres of activities for peace education. In this context, I would like you to give your support to the Global Campaign for Peace Education which has been launched in May 1999 by the Hague Appeal for Peace. You should remember that peace education does not simply mean learning about conflicts and how to resolve them peacefully. It should also involve participation of young people in expressing their own ideas and cooperate with each other in order to eliminate violence in our societies. Worldwide efforts for spreading peace education is the international community's contribution to the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non Violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010), declared by the United Nations. I would like to particularly emphasize that national efforts and international cooperation should be reinvigorated for peace education and in this process children and young people should take the lead in organizing activities that would instill in them and others the values of a culture of peace.

Here, I would like to make a special reference to the role of the family in promoting a culture of peace. As the oldest institution in human history, family is absolutely at the core of promotion of culture of peace. Younger members of the society, growing up in a family that teaches them the virtues of tolerance, harmony and understanding, will grow up with the right values that inculcate culture of peace.

We should remember that the work for peace is a continuing process. Each of us can make a difference in that process. You should take the initiative in your hands without waiting for the others to tell you what to do. And remember that you will always find the United Nations as a valuable partner in building a culture of peace.

I believe that the real foundation of any peace proposal must be the reawakening of human spirit -- spirit that should energize and empower each and every individual belonging to our planet with love and concern for each other for the greater good of humanity.

"Victory over violence" - the grassroots campaign to raise awareness against violence, launched in August 1999 throughout the United States and continuing to expand in schools and community organizations, is a brilliant initiative undertaken by SGI-USA. Their initiative for a travelling exhibition going around the United States entitled "Building a Culture of Peace for the Children of the World" would have the benefit of evoking a sense of personal responsibility for promoting peace, human rights and environmental protection.

This exhibition was hosted by the United Nations Headquarters in the month of February this year. It was the first time that the United Nations had an exhibition devoted solely to the promotion of a culture of peace. It was indeed a great honour for all of us. Illustrating the importance a culture of peace at all levels and across geographical lines, the exhibition highlighted the work of people famous for their work in conflict resolution and peace building, but also and especially a number of young people, not known otherwise to the world that have been contributing to the culture of peace. At the opening of the exhibition, I requested school teachers to bring their students to visit the exhibition, which recorded approximately ten thousand visitors, the largest ever in the UN for any single exhibition according to those who know about such records. In particular, I was very impressed by the enthusiasm shown by young people who wrote and discussed about the exhibit upon return to their schools.

Peace is a prerequisite for human development. In the changed world we live in, it is time to discard the eye for an eye approach. As Mahatma Gandhi said, "Eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind." We have experienced enough violence. We cannot afford more. The time to act is NOW. And for that objective, I believe that culture of peace should be absolutely the most essential vehicle for realizing the goals and objectives of the United Nations in the twenty-first century. Civil society is our partner and our strength and civil society can bring the motivation that is needed towards the achievement of our goal.

Let me end on a note of guarded optimism. I believe the time of culture of peace has come. It is no longer an idea nor just a concept - it is growing into a global movement with the dedicated efforts of people like you. But that only means we have crossed the first hurdle. The rest of the journey will take us to our streets where millions are without shelter; to our schools where children are denied proper education; to our communities where poverty is endemic and harmony exists only in hope; to our societies where discrimination and exclusion is still the order of the day; but most importantly, to every human mind to rid them of the evils of intolerance and prejudice, ignorance and selfishness that compel them to repeat the cycle of violence. Only then, our movement for culture of peace would have achieved its objective. Only then, the world will be a better place to live for us, for our children and for our grandchildren.

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