KEYNOTE PRESENTATION BY

AMBASSADOR ANWARUL K. CHOWDHURY

UNITED NATIONS UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL
AND HIGH REPRESENTATIVE FOR THE LEAST DEVELOPED COUNTRIES, LANDLOCKED DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
AND SMALL ISLAND DEVELOPING STATES


AT THE
"15TH ANNUAL NOBEL PEACE PRIZE FORUM"


SPONSORED BY
AUGSBURG COLLEGE, AUGUSTANA COLLEGE,
CONCORDIA COLLEGE, LUTHER COLLEGE
AND ST. OLAF COLLEGE
IN COOPERATION WITH THE NORWEGIAN NOBEL INSTITUTE

CONCORDIA COLLEGE, MOORHEAD
14 FEBRUARY 2003

Introduction

As we embark on our journey for the twenty-first century, 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 will pose the gravest challenge for the humanity. The challenge for us will be to prevent the human mind from becoming consumed by ignorance, fear, violence, fratricide and intolerance. We have seen in past century alone what these can do to undermine the progress of the human race. We have seen war, intra-state conflicts, endemic violence and social strife. We have seen ignorance and fear erode our values. We have seen worst forms of intolerance in racism and xenophobia. We have seen widespread deprivation, conflict over scarce resources and suppression of human rights. We have seen a culture of war and violence spread its venomous tentacles threatening to destroy all that is good, moral and just.

Time and again, we are powerless in the face of continuing conflicts. The last century has been the most violence-ridden in the history of mankind. There seem to be no end to the horrors we witnessed in Rwanda, Srebrenica and Cambodia. The killing fields are too many, the causalities and suffering endless. We suffered in a culture of war and violence.

Culture of Peace in a World of Turmoil

The theme for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize Forum that will focus on the key issues articulated in Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech last December is not only timely - it is of great significance in today's world of turmoil. In that speech,
the Secretary-General said, "We need to recognize the dignity of one life … saving one life is to save humanity itself … Today's conflicts are not so much between nations as between powerful and powerless, free and frettered, privileged and humiliated." In recent times, we have seen new conflicts breaking out in many parts of the world. For some of the old ones - where we thought we were looking at light at the end of the tunnel - things have gone the opposite direction. It is therefore important that we take a close look at our approaches toward bringing peace to strife torn lands and bridging the gulf of hatred. We have to find out where we went wrong. And we have to find better ways to establish peace. We need to remember that in the hate and violence filled
20th Century, we have seen the power of non-violence in the sacrifices of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Forces for hatred and intolerance claimed their lives…..but not their souls.

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 repeating itself, the values of non-violence, tolerance and democracy will have to be inculcated in every woman and man - children and adults alike. All of you would have heard it many times, but I would like to quote from the UNESCO Constitution one more time 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.

Changing Nature of Conflicts

The first step towards examining the road to peace should start with an appreciation of the changing nature of conflicts. Gone are days of war between states for conquest, extension of spheres of influence in the name of ideology. The Great Game is history. So is the Cold War. Today's wars are about settling border disputes, controlling resources, capturing power, retaining tribal or clan dominance or continuing instability in neighboring States and regions to profit in muddy waters.

These days we call them "civil conflicts" but there is nothing civil in the way they are conducted. Genocides, rapes, lynching, hacking off limbs of innocent civilians are common.
Most disturbing is that often these atrocities are directed to people living in the same community or neighbourhood. Hatred and intolerance have blurred the vision of the perpetrators.

Today's world and its problems are becoming increasingly more interdependent and interconnected due to globalization and advancement of science and technology. 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 intensifying its work in these efforts, the United Nations - as the only universal body - needs the support of every country and every individual. The world body must take the lead in fulfilling its Charter obligation of maintaining international peace and security worldwide. In the responsibility that the United Nations must shoulder towards this objective, stronger focus on prevention and peace building is essential. The United Nations needs to be more than a fire brigade rushing in to put out the conflagrations.


Movement for a Culture of Peace

We need to generate a movement that creates a culture of peace and non-violence in the world and promotes dialogue among civilizations. A movement that ensures that amity would replace atrocity, harmony would overcome hatred and stability would remove suspicion.

As Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said, "The dialogue among civilizations must be peaceful. It must occur not just between societies but within them. It must be a dialogue of mutual respect, based on a framework of shared values - values such as those found in the United Nations Charter, like equality, justice and dignity - within which different traditions can co-exist. Such a dialogue can serve as an inspiration to all humanity. It can help us learn from each other. It can help us rise above the intolerance and conflicts that have blighted our history and undermined human progress."

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. We have to succeed together or together we shall perish. The choice is obvious.

Action at the United Nations

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. To me, culture of peace is a set a values, attitudes and ways of life based on principle of freedom, justice, democracy, tolerance, solidarity, respect for diversity, dialogue and understanding.

The Declaration highlights the ideals, norms and objectives of a global culture of peace. The Programme of Action accompanying the Declaration identifies major areas such as: education, sustainable development, human rights, equality between women and men, democratic participation, advancing understanding, tolerance and solidarity and international peace and security.

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. I would always treasure and cherish that. For me this has been a realization of my personal commitment to peace and my humble contribution to humanity.

I consider this document as on the most significant legacies of the United Nations that would endure generations.

The adoption of the document provides all of us a clear set of guidelines for action. It is a universal document in the real sense transcending borders, cultures, beliefs and societies.
It identifies actors who have a role in advancing culture of peace. In addition to States and international organizations like the United Nations, it includes religious and community leaders, parents and family, teachers and students, artists, journalists … people from all walks of life.

Here, I would like to make a special reference on 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 and non-violence.

Grand Alliance for Culture of Peace

Adoption of a Programme of Action on Culture of Peace is only the first step. Our success will rest on the strength of our movement, our partnership for its implementation. For that, we have to build a grand alliance amongst all, particularly with the proactive involvement and participation of civil society.

I believe that the culture of peace and non-violence is receiving wider and wider global acceptance. Through the efforts of the UN, and especially the UNESCO; through projects implemented nationally and regionally; through declaratory statements by regional organizations; through symposia, workshops and forums held in various parts of the world like this one;
and through widespread involvement of civil society, again you being a part of that, we are witnessing the movement gather momentum. The United Nations had observed the year 2000 as the International Year of a Culture of Peace and the present decade is being celebrated as the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World.

Let me recall here the point I made on 16 December 1998 at a Security Council meeting on the maintenance of peace and security and post-conflict peace-building. I mentioned, "International peace and security can be best strengthened, not by actions of States alone, but by men and women through the inculcation of a culture of peace and non-violence in every human being and every sphere of activity. The elements of a culture of peace draw from age-old principles and values which are respected and held in high esteem by all peoples and societies. The objective of a culture of peace is the empowerment of people. It contributes effectively to the overcoming of authoritarian structures and also exploitation, through democratic participation. It works against poverty and inequality and promotes development. It celebrates diversity, advances understanding and tolerance and reduces inequality between women and men. We regard the culture of peace as an effective expedient to minimize and prevent violence and conflict in the present day world.
Over countless years, humankind has failed to abolish or do away with war. Indeed, persons of the eminence of Nobel Laureates Lester Pearson and Bertrand Russell have expressed the view that some people may even be thrilled at the prospect of war. What is clearly needed, therefore, is,
as the eminent American philosopher William James said decades before the United Nations came into existence, the moral equivalent of war, something that would be as heroic to people as war has often been depicted to be, but also compatible with the essential human spirit which emphatically it is not. This is the need that the culture of peace strives to fill."
I strongly believe that lasting peace and true reconciliation can come from within the society that has gone through the trauma of conflict. Only when people are able to overcome hatred,
the animosity and the suspicion that drove their actions, can we have a situation where violence does not break out at every instigation.

How can we contribute in enabling societies to rise above all the divisions and doubt and anger? How can we contribute towards societies that possess the inner strength to demonstrate their cohesiveness when time is really difficult?

Justice for Healing

Before I address those questions, let me add a word on justice. I firmly believe that there must be justice for healing the wounds. A society can exorcise the ghost of atrocities only when there is justice for its victims and punishment for the perpetrators. In recent years, international community has come together in establishing the special courts in former Yugoslavia, in Rwanda, in Sierra Leone and hopefully in Cambodia. We have the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court. Everyone agrees that there cannot be impunity for perpetrators of atrocities. It is now up to the international community to back up its intentions with deeds to ensure that these mechanisms are more than symbolic.

While calling for justice, we face a particular dilemma. How best can we ensure justice when the perpetrators are children, especially older children? How can they go back to the very same communities where some of them committed grievous crimes?

I visited Sierra Leone and the region as a member of the Security Council Mission looking for answers to some of these questions and others. I have seen the ravages and mental scars that remain in the psyche of the child combatants. They are confused with the reality and horrified of the future. They feel lost. They would like to come back to a caring society but have no idea how.

We have to give them the opportunity to return. We have to provide them useful goals they can work for. Without goals to achieve in their society, they will look for achievements elsewhere, even if it is through fighting in the streets or from the bush. These children - these child soldiers - have to be reintegrated into their communities without stigmatizing them permanently.

Involvement of the Community for Peace and Reconciliation

In this process of reconciliation and reintegration, we need the involvement of the community itself. Four factors are helpful if we are to see a successful intervention on the part of communities working for peace, justice and reconciliation in a post conflict setting:

(i) Strong civil society action at the grassroots level:
Civil society actors can bring about a helpful atmosphere for promoting peace and
non-violence. Humanitarian organizations too can contribute greatly in that direction.

(ii) Regeneration of traditional values and norms that are eroded during conflicts: Traditional institutions, like the family as well as indigenous conflict prevention mechanisms,
are useful tools in this regard.

(iii) Involvement of women: From Burundi to Somalia to Northern Ireland to the Middle East and Cambodia, women have shown great capacity as peacemakers. They assumed activist roles while holding together their families and communities. At the grassroots and community levels, women have organized to resist militarisation, to create space for dialogue and moderation and to weave together the shattered fabric of society.

(iv) Spreading a culture of peace: This, in my opinion, is most critical to the society.
If the society is to come out of the shadows of conflict and make a new beginning, its members must be inculcated in a culture of peace.

Why do I put such emphasis on culture of peace? Three reasons. First, it targets individuals. There cannot be true peace unless the mind is at peace. Second, it brings together all actors.
In addition to States and international organizations, actions to promote culture of peace can be undertaken, as I said earlier, by people from all walks of life. Third, it sets its goals not on the principle of an eye for an eye, but on tolerance, solidarity and dialogue to settle differences and heal wounds.

Conclusion

Peace is a prerequisite for human development. And peace cannot be achieved unless the mind is at peace. Peace is meaningful only when we have peace within and peace without. In the changed world we live in, it is time to discard the eye for an eye approach. We have experienced enough violence. We cannot afford more. The time to act is NOW. It is in this context 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.

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 would have achieved its objective. Only then, we shall have a culture of peace that will inspire truly universal values.

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