HIGH LEVEL FORUM ON THE CULTURE 0F PEACE
by Eliana Horta, RN, MS, MPH
On September 9, 2015 an all-day conference on the Culture of Peace was held in the Trusteeship Council Chamber of the United Nations Headquarters in New York. We, the torch carriers of the International Health Awareness Network, have long been aware of peace as an essential component of high-level health. The presence of peace contributes to individual and collective health, productivity and prosperity in social networks ranging in size from dyad to home, work place, and community to the international arena. Many struggle to define the concept of peace with ever more precision and to identify the essential processes that foster peace. An important milestone in the involvement of civil society (a term as used at the UN – all of us in NGOs and the general public) in naming the culture of peace occurred in September 1999. The General Assembly adopted by consensus the United Nations Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace. There were precedents for such a Declaration in the Charter of the United Nations, as well as the Constitution of UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Nevertheless, the move toward adoption of the Declaration on a Culture of Peace required the thought and commitment of advocates led by Bangladeshi diplomat and former Under-Secretary-General of the UN, Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury. This year, Ambassador Chowdhury moderated the afternoon panel of the High Level Forum. We hope you will be inspired to read the Declaration which can be found, in seven languages, at: www.un.org/Docs/asp/ws.asp?M=A/Res/53/243 . Not content to rest on his laurels after passage of the important Declaration, Ambassador Chowdhury’s initiative as President of the Security Council resulted in the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, an historic document that heralded the role of women in peace and security. For the first time, the Security Council addressed the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and moved to protect the rights of women and children in conflict and post-conflict areas. Equally importantly, Resolution 1325 acknowledged the under-used and under-valued contribution women make to prevention and resolution of conflict and to peace building. As the High Level Forum began, His Excellency Mr. Sam Kutesa, President of the General Assembly opened the morning session. After his welcoming remarks, he introduced Secretary-General of the United Nations, His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki-Moon. The Secretary-General voiced his support for the Culture of Peace and noted the continued and increasing recognition of Culture of Peace at the UN. Various luminaries of the Culture of Peace, followed with presentations sharing their perspectives on the culture of peace, gleaned from experiences lived around the world in myriad positions of government and civil society. From the many learned perspectives brought to bear by the distinguished speakers at the Forum, space constraints limit this account to the Keynote Address by Mr. Arun Gandhi, grandson of the apostle of non-violence and Indian independence leader, Mahatma Gandhi. Through remembrances and lessons learned from his grand- father, Mr. Gandhi noted that the culture of peace is much more than an abstraction. Mahatma Gandhi believed that Peace is not merely the absence of war, killing and violence. Rather, peace relies on the active involvement of people. In that sense, his non-violent techniques were not passive, but rather the height of active engagement. He taught that the waste of natural resources is violence against nature. Depriving people of resources is violence against humanity. He urged us to take personal responsibility for the parsimonious use of resources so that all people can achieve real prosperity. Mr. Arun Gandhi illustrated, throughout his presentation, that the heart of peace not only eschews physical violence but the invasive permissiveness of “passive violence” as well. There is, in passive violence, a persistent intent to control others through fear, or acts of injustice that exacerbate anger and violence. It is not only in avoiding active violence, he said, that we are not violent. We may commit passive violence without self-awareness. In his words, we must become aware that passive violence acts are “violence against nature or humanity”. Mr. Gandhi spoke about “personal transformation” in which one becomes aware of passive violence and our personal responsibility for such acts. For Mr. Gandhi “culture of peace” is not achieved only through institutions, government and laws. “Laws cannot make us respect, accept, understand or be considerate to others.” The Culture of Peace, he adds, requires personal transformation. It requires each of us to live our lives without hurting others emotionally, socially or culturally. “The worst violence is ignoring poverty”, he declares. “Peace is from the bottom up. We must become the change we want to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi, his grandfather believed in “a global vision… our future, our destiny is interconnected one to the other to create stability, prosperity and security for all. We, all of us, hold the accountability for consciousness of our purpose in life, the interconnection of every human being for the wellbeing, happiness and survival of humanity.” Panel discussion and individual speakers throughout the day echoed the perspectives of the UN Declaration of Action on a Culture of Peace and the Security Council Resolution 1325 as giant steps forward. Implicit in that perspective is the moral imperative that we all take up the work necessary to move together, step by step on the walk toward peace. Only then will we “…transition from force to reason, from conflict and violence to dialogue and peace.” Listening to the High Level Forum on the Culture of Peace was a lift from the dispiriting barrage of news of forced migration and suffering wrought by conflict, poverty and social injustice. The sharp contrast between “the possible” and “the present” impels us toward the work of building together a culture of peace.