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8 Sep, 2013

People of Power and Authority Must Reject Violence, Promote Dialogue, UN meeting on Culture of Peace hears


United Nations, Sep 6 2013 (UN News Centre) – People in positions of power and authority have a moral and political responsibility to improve understanding across borders and cultures, top United Nations official said opening a day-long General Assembly forum on the promotion of a ‘culture of peace.’

At UN Headquarters in New York, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told a high-level forum to discuss the implementation of the UN Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace that in a world of profound challenges, religious leaders, public office-holders and others must set an example by rejecting violence and promoting dialogue. (See full text below)

“This is a moment in history when we need a culture of peace – not just the absence of war, but a fully formed culture of peace – so that we can pull together as a single human family to meet our shared challenges,” he said, adding that a culture of peace permeates the work of the UN from the principles of the Charter to the universal rights that the Organization upholds.

Mr. Eliasson also stressed the importance of focusing on human beings – the men, women and children – and not just larger constructs, such as cultures, faiths and nations. “When we do not see the person and find only the proverbial ‘other’, we are on a treacherous course toward polarization, dehumanization, and worse,” the deputy UN chief said.

He also stressed that a culture of peace should have tangible meanings for people suffering extreme poverty and exclusion, particularly as the UN completes its 1,000 days of action towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and establishes a post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

Also addressing the event, General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic urged the international community to foster harmony amongst religions in the age of sustainable development – “a time of growing interdependence and multiplying challenges” that integrate economic, social and economic issues. As well as actions to promote sustainable economic and social development, Mr. Jeremic also noted the importance of education in shifting attitudes towards tolerance and understanding of others. (See full text below).

Adopted by the Assembly in 1999, the UN Programme of Action on Culture of Peace prioritizes education, in particular actions that foster peace through education – such as ensuring that children, from an early age, benefit from instruction on values and attitudes to enable them to resolve any dispute peacefully.

At last year’s High-Level Debate on the Culture of Peace, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched his ‘Education First’ global initiative to bring together a partnership to give every child the chance to attend school.

Each year since the adoption of the Programme of Action on the Culture of Peace in 1999, as well as a related Declaration, the Assembly has adopted a resolution on the topic, proclaiming the year 2000 as the ‘International Year for the Culture of Peace,’ and the period of 2001-2010 as the ‘International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World.’

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks at high-level Forum on the Culture of Peace [as prepared for delivery]

Thank you all for joining us for this important gathering.

The United Nations is founded on the principle of the dignity and equal value and weight of every single human being. Yet all too often we see blatant, often systemic violations of this principle.

In Syria, a tragic civil war has killed more than 100,000 people, displaced one third of the country’s population and inflamed sectarian tensions.

To build a culture of peace, we must heed the lessons of these appalling numbers and conditions.

But we must speak not only of numbers, but of individual fates.

When we fail to see men, women and children, but instead see larger constructs such as cultures, faiths and nations, we lose sight of the afflicted human beings.

When we do not see the person and find only the proverbial “other”, we are on a treacherous course toward polarization, dehumanization, and worse. We have been down this path before. We must stop any such descent from recurring.

Our world faces profound challenges, from environmental degradation and water and sanitation crises to glaring inequities in wealth and income and unprecedented levels of unemployment among youth.

We see discrimination against migrants and minorities, and we see political campaigns in which bigotry and demonizing of specific groups of people figures prominently.

Many Christian communities face persecution.

We must overcome anti-Semitism and the prejudice that divides us.

We must defeat Islamophobia and the fears that weaken us.

This is a moment in history when we need a Culture of Peace — not just the absence of war, but a fully formed culture of peace — so that we can pull together as a single human family to meet our shared challenges.

The goal of building a culture of peace permeates the work of the United Nations.

We see it in the principles of the Charter and in the universal rights we are to uphold.

We see it in the efforts of the Alliance of Civilizations to counter extremism, with a special focus on young people.

We see it in the wide-ranging work of UNESCO to promote peace in the minds of the world’s people.

And we see it in the Secretary-General’s Global Education First initiative, which focuses not only on giving children an education, but also on global citizenship rooted in solidarity and mutual understanding.

Education, human rights, the rule of law – these are among the long-established elements in building a culture of peace.

But this effort encompasses much more.

What tangible meaning can a culture of peace have to people suffering extreme poverty or exclusion? Our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and define a practical, yet bold agenda for the post-2015 period are thus a crucial part of our task.

The culture of peace goes hand in hand with a culture of prevention. Article 33 of the UN Charter sets out an array of tools for resolving disputes in a peaceful manner. Yet, I have the strong sense that we have not fully used these mechanisms over the years. We have witnessed a dangerous tendency to wait for crisis or conflict to erupt, at far greater later cost in all respects. Our challenge going forward is to make greater use of these preventive tools.

Building a culture of peace also requires us to reckon with a world awash in deadly weapons. A culture of peace will require us to reorient our budget priorities, away from destructive weapons and towards investment in humankind’s principal and productive capacities.

Information technology, too, will have an important role to play. There are some who blame such technology for imperilling peaceful co-existence. Certainly it has made it far easier to gain a hearing for angry and shrill views. But information technology can also be a vehicle for positive connection and spreading knowledge. As more and more people gain access to the Internet, there is great potential to advance education, to promote people-to-people contacts, help one another meet shared challenges.

That young people are among the prime users of new technologies makes me hopeful about what we can achieve. Young people today have a keen awareness, whether through media, books, the Internet or other realities that come with globalization, that they have a shared stake in this planet’s future. I believe they recognize and accept the need to do their part to build a better world.

At the same time, much as we welcome what young people will do tomorrow, we all face urgent challenges today. Those in power and positions of authority have a moral and political responsibility to build bridges and improve understanding across borders and cultures. Religious leaders, public office-holders, and others must set an example by rejecting violence and promoting dialogue. They must be willing to raise their voices publicly at times of challenge.

The Secretary-General and I are strongly committed to work for a culture of peace, and to mobilize the UN system behind this objective. We look forward to your contributions and acceptance of shared responsibility.

Thank you.

General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic’s Address to the High-Level Forum on the Culture of Peace

Your Holiness, Mr. Deputy-Secretary-General, Respected Ministers, Dear Guests, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my distinct honor to welcome you to the United Nations General Assembly’s Second Annual High-level Forum on the Culture of Peace.

I feel humbled that my spiritual leader, His Holiness Patriarch Irinej of Serbia, has accepted the invitation to deliver a missive of peace to this distinguished House. His wise stewardship of the throne of Saint Sava is ensuring that our Church continues to serve as a custodian of our identity in these trying times. Your Holiness, allow me to wish you mnogajaljeta. We look forward to hearing your remarks.

I would like to express my deep gratitude to the other two keynote speakers for this morning: Dr. Sayyid Syeed, the National Director of the Office of Interfaith and Community Alliances of the Islamic Society of North America, and Dr. Elie Abadie, the founding rabbi of the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue—whose message has been pre-recorded, on account of Jewish new year celebrations.

Let meal so acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the Deputy-Secretary-General, His Excellency Mr. Jan Eliasson. As Ban Ki-moon’s second-in-command, he has actively participated in the UN’s various peace-building programs. We are truly indebted to him for this and other contributions to the international community.

I am grateful to the People’s Republic of Bangladesh for its leading role in promoting this initiative from its inception. At today’s event, they are represented by two members of Cabinet: my good old friend, Her Excellency Ms. Dipu Moni, and His Excellency Mr. Abul Kalam Azad—ministers of foreign and cultural affairs.

Allow me also to express my deep appreciation to the Adviser to the President of the Philippines, Secretary Teresita Quintos Deles, and last but certainly not least, to His Excellency Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury—founder of the Global Movement for the Culture of Peace NGO, with whom we have been working closely to organize this event.

I look forward to your contributions, and to those of the moderators and speakers who will participate in our three panels.

Once again, thank you all for being here.


Maintaining international peace and security is the first stated purpose of the United Nations. It is enshrined in this Organization’s Charter, written in the wake of humanity’s epic victory over fascism, by countries united in their determination to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”

Together, they conceived a Grand Parliament of sovereign equal States, in the expectation that its litany of endeavors would lead mankind to turn its “swords into plough shares.” Each nation was given a seat around the high table of peace, where dialogue was endowed with greater value than force, and concord granted preeminence over strife.

In the decades that have followed, the blessings of amity were repeatedly put to the test by the strong pull of the recourse to arms.

For all the transgressions, however, the quest for peace at the United Nations did not recede, in the fervent hope that despite all setbacks, the grand aspirations expressed in the Charter by the Organization’s founders would take hold in all corners of the world.


Fourteen years ago, the Program of Action on the Culture of Peace was adopted by consensus in the General Assembly, identifying eight specific areas of action at all levels—the individual, the family, the community, the nation, and the world.

Member States rightly chose to put education first on the list, inspired in no small measure by what Mahatma Gandhi had enjoined three-quarters of a century ago, that “if we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”

To effectively meet the challenges of the 21st century, I believe the generations to come should be instilled with the ethics of non-violence, and equipped with the right tools to flourish as adults—as future parents, responsible community leaders, and engaged citizens. We must impart them with the skills, dispositions, and knowledge they will need in order to make valiant contributions to their respective societies.

In the classroom and the home, through the books they read and the webpages they browse, we must ensure that our children learn to act with tolerance and understanding of others, forswearing violence—which only begets more of the same. They must learn more about equality of opportunity and social justice; human dignity and rights; love of one’s neighbor and compassion for the most vulnerable.

They must also learn that every religious tradition has its own authentic version of these noble teachings, worthy of profound respect.


I think the importance of the power of faith to advance the culture of peace has often been understated.

We have repeatedly failed to employ it against the falseness of those who misuse any holy scripture to advance nefarious ends.

I am convinced this is where benevolent religious leaders—by expounding on the core ethical tenets we hold in common—may make a decisive difference. By further reaching out to one another, on equal footing, they would put their considerable moral authority in the service of healing the wounds of centuries of conflict between peoples of different faiths.

The alternative is a stark one: to face, virtually defenseless, the escalating danger that the ills and grievances of bygone eras may continue to be reawakened. This threatens to engulf us in a maelstrom of unmatched ferocity.


We must aim to foster harmony amongst religions in the Age of Sustainable Development—a time of growing interdependence and multiplying challenges no country can hope to solve on its own.

We are truly becoming a global community, one in which the solemn entreaty of the UN Charter—to “practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors”—has never been more pressing.

The complexity of the task brought forth last June in Rio de Janeiro at the historic UN Conference on Sustainable Development is unprecedented. For the first time ever, world leaders agreed to comprehensively integrate the three dimensions of development—namely economic, social, and environmental—into a single, fully coherent sustainable whole.

Over the next 900 days, the General Assembly will need to formulate and adopt the Sustainable Development Goals; design options for financing them; and establish workable arrangements for monitoring their implementation.

We must be ready to begin a universal transition to sustainability by 2015. We cannot afford to delay the start of a process that, once completed, will have fundamentally transformed the ways in which humanity conducts its affairs.

The challenges of this enterprise are enormous—for it is perhaps the hardest and most complex diplomatic endeavor ever attempted in the United Nations.

We must not squander the opportunity to set the world on the path to sustainable development—and so bring forth a powerful handmaiden to our efforts to spread the culture of peace to every corner of the globe.


Today, we are taking another small step towards overcoming strife and animus.

The commitment many of us have to advancing the culture of peace is informed by the remonstrance of the Psalmist to “turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it,” or by the injunction of the Qu’ran that “there is not for man [to do] except that good for which he strives.”

Holy books remind us that in creating mankind, God did not intend for us simply to be endowed with certain gifts and particular qualities. He created us “in His image” and called us to be completed “in His likeness,” so that we may humbly endeavor to come ever closer to Him—to become more ethical, more just, and more self-controlled, but also more mindful of the Eternal, the “one thing necessary.”

The wholehearted embrace of the culture of peace would propel us forward, and help make still and tranquil the ways of the world.


Amongst all the leaders and statesmen ever to walk through the doors of the United Nations, few have been quite like Dag Hammarskjöld.

I believe we may draw inspiration from the tempered words he once wrote, during his tenure as Secretary-General of the United Nations.

It is with them that I wish to conclude my remarks:

“Our work for peace must begin within the private world of each one of us. To build for man a world without fear, we must be without fear. To build a world of justice, we must be just.[…] How can we ask others to sacrifice if we are not ready to do so? […] Only in true surrender to the interest of all can we reach that strength and independence, that unity of purpose, that equity of judgment which are necessary if we are to measure up to our duty to the future, as men of a generation to whom the chance [is] given to build […] a world [culture] of peace.”

Thank you for your attention.