INAUGURAL SPEECH BY AMBASSADOR ANWARUL K. CHOWDHURY,
UN UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL AND HIGH REPRESENTATIVE FOR THE LEAST DEVELOPED COUNTRIES, LANDLOCKED DEVELOPING COUNTRIES AND SMALL ISLAND DEVELOPING STATES

BEPPU, JAPAN 5 MAY 2006


It gives me greater pleasure to join you in this beautiful city of Beppu known for its many festivals for the First Japan Global Peace Film Festival. With its focus on the Culture of Peace and the 60th anniversary of the United Nations, this year's festival couldn't have found a better host in Japan than Beppu, a city renowned for its excellent natural setting; for its international and multi-cultural character, attracting many people from all over the world and, above all, for the hospitality of its people. The popular Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific International University adds an appropriate intellectual dimension to all this.

In a way, Beppu encapsulates what lies at the heart of the culture of peace - the value of tolerance, understanding and respect for diversity; the idea of a shared destiny and cooperation; in short, the whole concept of relating to each other in a true spirit of humanity. These are, of course, not new ideas. They may not always have won the day, but they are as old as war and conflict itself. These universal ideas are rooted in many, if not all, of the world's civilizations and they are part of the cultural values of many societies.

In the modern world, as societies have become more integrated and their destinies more intertwined, the idea of nonviolence has found expression in global regimes and institutions, not least the United Nations. The very birth of the organization in 1945 was inspired by the desire to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. This unending and determined search for a lasting peace led to the declaration by the United Nations of the year 2000 as the “International Year of the Culture of Peace” and of the years 2001 to 2010 as the “International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World.” This focus on the culture of peace reached a new height when in 1999, the United Nations adopted the Declaration and Programme of Action on the Culture of Peace. It is a monumental document that transcends boundaries, cultures, society and nations. As I said on that historic occasion of its adoption by the UN General Assembly, this document, unlike other General Assembly documents, is action-oriented. It encourages actions at all levels – the individual, the family, the community, the nation, the region and the international level. The values and principles of the culture of peace were re-affirmed at the largest ever gathering of the world’s leaders at the World Summit of September last year as the United nations observed six decades of its existence.

The challenge we now face is transforming the quest for culture of peace into a truly universal movement and turning its ideals into reality by tackling the root causes of war, conflict and violence.

As we all know, poverty is a major source of conflict. It is not by coincidence that sub-Saharan Africa, the only region that has been getting poorer over the last two decades, also has the highest incidence of conflict in the world. As we entered the new millennium, more people were being killed in conflicts in this region than in the rest of the world combined. Pervasive poverty, declining economic growth, poor infrastructure, weak administration and the abundance of cheap weapons conspire to make conflicts difficult to avoid, to control or to end. Sub-Saharan Africa may suffer from these ills in larger measure, but they afflict all the 50 most vulnerable countries in the world collectively known as the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). About 370 million people – nearly 50 percent of their entire population – live in extreme poverty. To make matters worse, the number of the extremely poor is projected to rise by 100 million by 2015, the target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals. With such massive poverty and weak state capacities, the potential for even greater conflict in these vulnerable countries is real. We should not forget that 34 of the 50 LDCs are in sub-Saharan Africa.

Of course, not only does poverty breed conflict, but conflict also cultivates poverty. Massive displacement of civilians, destruction of social and physical infrastructure and diversion of resources towards military activities all combine to depress economic activity, deprive people of their livelihoods and deny them basic services. The Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict has put the cost to the international community of the conflicts of the 1990s, not including Kosovo, at $199 billion. That is eight times more than what all the 50 Least Developed Countries received in Official Development Assistance in 2004. Just imagine the difference this amount of money could make if spent on improving the lives of the poor. If enough efforts and resources were invested in fighting poverty, many of the costly conflicts we have experienced would probably not have occurred. Fighting poverty is therefore a wise investment in achieving peace.

More than in any other time in history, the world has the wealth and the technology to end poverty and promote peace. But this unprecedented wealth can itself turn into a source of conflict, if it is concentrated in a few hands within countries and a in a few countries in the world, leaving the larger part of humanity socially, economically and politically marginalized. A situation where the world’s six richest individuals command more wealth than the combined annual income of the 50 Least Developed Countries, with 370 million people subsisting on less than a dollar a day, can hardly be described as equitable. And without equity in the world, sustainable peace cannot be achieved.

In my view, two things are needed to achieve and sustain peace in the world:
1) We need to improve the objective living conditions of the whole of humanity through poverty eradication, equitable economic development, good governance and democratization and respect for human rights.
2) We also need to change the subjective conditions that breed conflict – our beliefs and our prejudices – by cultivating the values of tolerance and understanding, in short, the culture of peace, in our mindsets. It is particularly important to ensure that children benefit from education and upbringing that promote peaceful resolution of conflict, tolerance and respect for human dignity.

I believe that film, and the arts in general, have a very important role to play in both these respects. Film and other art forms can be an important medium for promoting intra and inter-cultural dialogue and understanding, thereby building a culture of peace and non-violence. To allude to the UNESCO Constitution, film, music, literature and art are all very powerful tools in constructing the defences of peace in the minds of individuals where wars begin. It should be recognized, however, that these very powerful tools can also be abused to promote intolerance, injustice and violence. The role of sections of the media in inciting genocide in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia are cases in point.

Film and other visual arts are also very effective tools in galvanizing action in support of the victims of natural or man-made disasters, including conflict. From the Ethiopian famine of 1984-85 to the Rwanda genocide of 1994 and the Asian Tsunami of December 2004, pictures of the tragedy played a key role in mobilizing international response. Even if such response was, in some cases, rather belated, thousands, and perhaps millions, of lives were saved. Invoking and strengthening such expression of global compassion and fellow-feeling is something that few other forms of media can play as effectively as film. By focusing more purposefully on those in distress, the poor and the marginalized in society, film can bring about the response needed to improve their lives, thereby contributing to making peace a reality for the whole of humanity.

As we are meeting in a city historically known as a place for peace and healing, largely because of its hot springs, it is only appropriate that I leave you, not with food for thought, but may be with, if I may say, some water for thought. In recognition of the indispensability of water to human health, well-being, poverty eradication, sustainable development and peace, the United Nations in December 2003 proclaimed the years 2005 to 2015 as the International Decade for Action: “Water for Life.” Yet 300 million people – over 40% of the population of the Least Developed Countries – have no access to improved drinking water supply. The implication of this is ill-health, worsening poverty and reduced prospects for sustainable peace. The idea of “water for peace” can therefore be a creative way to bring meaning to the culture of peace for the world’s poor.
How about a campaign to ensure a litre of water a day for each of the 300 million people without access to improved drinking water in the Least Developed Countries? It would be fitting for such a campaign to be born in a place that has always associated water with peace, healing and life.


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