The UN’s First Ever High-Level Forum on the Culture of Peace


The sixty-sixth General Assembly convenes high-level forum on the “Culture of Peace”, with education, youth outreach, women’s empowerment highlighted as keys to a more peaceful world.

Secretary-General:  Through education we can teach children not to hate; Round Tables: Building partnerships; advancing Action Programme implementation

“When we look at the suffering in our world, we know how urgently we need a culture of peace,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, opening the first-ever General Assembly high-level forum on the topic, citing troubling events in today’s headlines; from the fighting in Syria that was taking a deadly toll on civilians, to Mali, where sacred sites in the legendary city of Timbuktu were under attack, and the terrible attacks in Libya and elsewhere where a “disgusting film” appeared to have sparked violence.

“At a time of tension, we need calm,” he said, adding that senseless violence — even in countries not at war — was taking too many lives.  The world’s people were crying out for a culture of peace.  They intuitively understood that there could be no military solution to conflicts and that the planet’s scarce resources should be spent to help people flourish, not cause more suffering.  Indeed, the $1.7 trillion spent last year on weapons was an enormous cost to people who went to bed hungry.  “Economists call this an ‘opportunity cost’.  I call it a moral outrage,” he said, declaring:  “We need a culture that upholds human dignity and human life.

The Secretary-General’s call was echoed throughout the day-long event, in a moving address during the opening ceremony by General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser and statements by special guests Federico Mayor, President of the Foundation for a Culture of Peace, and Cora Weiss, President of the Hague Appeal for Peace.  Eileen Lin gave a musical performance and key delegations that supported the convening of the Forum made statements.  The event also featured two panel discussions, respectively, on building partnerships to promote a culture of peace, and advancing implementation of the United Nations Programme of Action on a Culture of peace, adopted by the Assembly in 1999.  At the end of the day, Mr. Al-Nasser strongly recommended that the Forum be convened every year on 13 September, the day the Programme had been adopted.

“We are here to talk about how to create this culture of peace. I have a simple, one-word answer:  education,” Secretary-General Ban continued, stressing that through education children could be taught not to hate and leaders could be taught to act with wisdom and compassion.  He announced plans to launch a new global initiative next week — “Education First” — which would aim to give every child a chance to attend school, strengthen core values and receive a quality education.  “Governments must lead, but ultimately a culture of peace will be built by people:  teachers, religious figures, partners and community leaders and grass roots groups all joining together to denounce violence and demand peace,” he said.

In his opening remarks, Assembly President Al-Nasser said that a culture of peace was a set of values and attitude based on the principles of freedom, respect for diversity, and solidarity, as well as dialogue and understanding.  Declaring that spreading such a culture was most critical to today’s world, he said:  “If we are to come out of the shadows of conflict and make a new beginning, all members of society must be inspired by the culture of peace.”

He went on to note the significance of stepping up implementation of the Programme of Action, which, he said, outlined a comprehensive, inclusive approach in specific actions areas, from bolstering education to enhancing tolerance and solidarity, and including international peace and security.  The Programme also rallied a broad array of partners around a culture that set goals based “not on the principle of an eye for an eye, but on tolerance, solidarity and dialogue to settle difference and heal wounds.”  He backed the Programme’s strong focus on education and stressed that if the culture of peace was to “take deeper root […] we will need to reach out more effectively to the younger minds as they grow.”

“The youth of today deserve a radically different education — one that does not glorify war but educates for peace,” he said, calling for education that focused on peace, non-violence and understanding.  Another area that needed focus was giving long overdue recognition to the fact that women had a major role to play in promoting a culture of peace and bringing about lasting reconciliation.  “The cause of peace needs to be understood not only in the passive sense of the absence of war, but also in the constructive sense of creating conditions for equality and social justice,” he said, calling on all delegations to truly believe in peace and “practice what we profess”.

Mr. Mayor began his address reciting the opening lines of the United Nations Charter, and stressed that while the oft-repeated phrase “we the peoples” had been wisely chosen to frame the Organization’s founding document, “the bloody history of male absolute domination” along with moves by powerful countries to weaken the United Nations with their veto, had undercut the post-war dream of peaceful co-existence.  Indeed, security had trumped all and a culture of conciliation and alliance had been disregarded in favour of a culture of violence and war.

“We the peoples urgently need to [remake] the United Nations into a truly democratic multilateral system,” he declared, stating that just as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had provided guidance to a newly-fledged United Nations more than 65 years ago, it was now time to craft a Universal Declaration of Democracy to Chart the world body’s future.  “It’s here, in this hall, that this historical shift can take place — from force to words and from weapons to dialogue — towards a United Nations system with the moral authority and the security forces needed to redress so many urgent situations,” he said.

Further, the Organization should be rebuilt without veto power resting in a few powerful nations, but with well-weighted voting procedures through which “the peoples” of the Charter — the General Assembly — were equitably represented.  He also called for the creation of a “security council” on the environment, and another, dealing with economic issues.  “We are in the only international institution that could start this new beginning, the way towards a world of equal human dignity for all,” he said, echoing the Assembly President’s call for renewal and urging a recommitment to the Programme of Action on the Culture of Peace and acceleration of its implementation as a way to jump start such a change. 

When Ms. Weiss took the floor, she said that the recipe for a culture of peace had many ingredients, including education that incorporated “peace education” and equality between women and men.  Further, the Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security needed to be fully implemented, for without women’s presence in the peace process, decisions would be ineffective. “Subservience undermines democracy,” she underscored.

Turning to the threats that undermined efforts to a Culture of Peace, she pointed out that, among others, poverty was a form of violence that could be prevented and cured.  The environmental damage of extracting hard-to-mine resources led to corruption and the displacement of people.  Military spending and weapons proliferation and their ensuing “bloated military budgets” soaked up funds for human security.  Acknowledging that nations had the right to defend themselves, she questioned the $1.7 trillion used to prepare for war, calling it indefensible and in conflict with United Nations goals and priorities.

However, she said, there was progress as well, commending, among others, the new visa agreement between India and Pakistan, the peace talks between the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia and Columbia to take place in Oslo, and the Global Network of Women Peace Builders that worked to implement localization training of resolution 1325 (2000) in six countries.  In this regard, she commended the Global Network’s “bottom-up approach” to policymaking which brought mayors, police, tribal leaders, teachers, and women together to learn how to adapt the resolution.

Urging several steps towards achieving a Culture of Peace, she called for the adoption of a convention on nuclear weapons, a more robust Arms Trade Treaty and a new Security Council resolution on children, youth and peacebuilding.  When citizens of every nation attained the skills to resolve violent conflict and live by international standards of human rights, gender and racial equality, then a Culture of Peace would be achieved.  “Imagine how your country can benefit,” she told delegations, “and what you can do to help foster it.

At the end of the opening ceremony, statements were made by delegations that had supported and contributed to today’s event, including Bangladesh, Benin, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Philippines and South Africa.  Representatives commended the convening of the first ever high-level forum on the topic as well as the work of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) which, as the delegate of the Philippines stated, had been promoting a culture of peace since the 1990s.

Several speakers drew attention to wars and conflicts within their own countries.  Recalling the 30 years of internal strife in Guatemala, that country’s delegate lauded the progress made in the 15 years since the Peace Accords had been signed.  However, changing the mindset and attitudes of people took time and “deliberate” efforts, which his Government sought though education, legislation and public policy. 

Benin’s representative, echoing an African Head of State, emphasized that “peace is not a word, but a behaviour”, and it needed to be pursued with determination, as “there were many things that could happen on the road to peace.”  In 1999, his country had experienced unrest and violence and it was 10 days of dialogue that had spared Benin war and put it on the road to democracy.

Noting that his country had produced four Nobel Peace Laureates, the delegate of South Africa highlighted key components of his country’s foreign policy, which focused on creating stability and conditions for sustainable development in Africa and promoting the African Agenda.  A culture of peace was not just the absence of war between and within nations, he underscored.  It required a profound socio-cultural and economic transformation to “render peace rather than war as an attractive alternative”.

Wars still existed, Costa Rica’s representative said, but rarely between nations.  Rather, they were between groups that “turned proximity into hostility”, and where the “other” could be suddenly classified as “the enemy”.  Rueing the fact that negotiations on an arms trade treaty continued to be mired in politics, he said it was a “sombre moment for peace and human dignity”.  Quoting Emerson, he said, “Peace cannot be achieved through violence; it can only be attained through understanding.”

Summing up the day’s events, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said Mr. Al-Nasser, whose tenure wraps up Tuesday, had been one of the most active Presidents the Assembly had ever had.  Indeed, he had continually stressed the importance of culture, peace and dialogue.  Mr. Eliasson said the participants in the day’s events — diplomats and civil society partners and youth representatives, all working together — were a blueprint for creating the culture of peace.  Indeed, he had always believed that diplomats would never succeed if they worked in a cultural vacuum; broad cultural interaction and understanding generated peace.  Moreover, education could not be passive in the face of the needs of the day — children must be given the chance to build global citizenship and promote a culture of peace.

Recalling that the international community would next week commemorate the death of former United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, he said the renowned diplomat had been the embodiment of the twin concept of culture and peace — “his diplomatic side could not be separated from his passion for culture.”  Indeed, Mr. Hammarskjold had been a dynamic diplomat because he had immersed himself in cultural activities.  By way of conclusion, Mr. Eliasson said that without peace there was no development and without development there was no peace.  Moreover, without respect for human rights and the rule of law there was neither lasting peace nor sustainable development.  As such, he urged work on all those tracks towards a better world for all, based on a culture of peace.  “Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something and you in this room are proof of that,” he declared.

For a full account of the entire day’s proceedings including reports on both morning and afternoon panels, please click on the following link http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2012/ga11281.doc.htm

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