United Nations High Level Forum on The Culture of Peace

United Nations High Level Forum on The Culture of Peace by Siegrid (Siggy) Raible

UN-1-300x225On September 6, 2013, on a glorious late summer day, I attended with our founder, Nitza Escalera, a daylong conference held at the United Nations entitled the “United Nations High Level Forum on the Culture of Peace.”

I came to the forum not knowing what to expect.  I was surprised to learn that on September 13, 1999 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution, number 53/243, known as the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace.  In that document are spelled out eight action areas of the Culture of Peace.  They are:

  1. Fostering a culture of peace through education.
  2. Promoting sustainable economic and social development.
  3. Promoting respect for all human rights.
  4. Ensuring equality between women and men.
  5. Fostering democratic participation.
  6. Advancing understanding, tolerance and solidarity.
  7. Supporting participatory communication and the free flow of information and knowledge.
  8. Promoting international peace and security.

A copy of the full resolution can be viewed at: www.un.org/Docs/asp/ws.asp?m=A/RES/53/243

Fast forward to September 14, 2012 when the United Nations held its first forum on the Culture of Peace at which the assembly passed another resolution, number 67/106.  The implication of that resolution was that the United Nation’s General Assembly led by its President would convene a future forum in 2013 with panels which would focus on the Programme of Action mentioned above.  The meeting would coincide with the anniversary of the adoption of founding resolution, September 13, 1999, and the forum would be organized and be an “inclusive collaboration among Member States, international organizations and civil society.” (Program Notes)  This is the forum I attended on September 6, 2013 and about which I am going to share some of my impressions.

The forum opened with remarks from the President of the UN General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic and its Deputy Secretary, Jan Eliasson.  Blessings were delivered by the Patriarch Irinej of Serbia, Dr. Sayyid M. Sayeed, National Director of the Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances of the Islamic Society of North America and Rabbi Elie Abadie of the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue.  Dr. Abadie’s address was delivered by video due to the beginning of the Rosh Hashanah holiday.

There were three panels with 21-22 presenters.  Panel members dealt with such diverse subjects as the universal tenets of interfaith peacebuilding to the contribution of our global media to peace and conflict.   All the presenters were impressive.  To do justice to each of them would require a longer venue then this essay will allow.  I would simply like to share with you some of my reflections on the day.

Before I give you my take on the day’s events I would like to comment that this day of peacebuilding fell during a time when our global community is once again considering military action in a very volatile region.  The region in question is the Middle East and the most recent hot point is the on-going civil war in Syria.  In fact, the UN president was called away to another UN meeting convened for the purposes of discussing the recent horrific developments there.

In addition, as a New Yorker, the date of September 11th will always have profound significance.  The UN conference falls just five days shy of the anniversary date of the loss of so many innocent lives.  The remembrance of that tragic day and the further tragedies it entailed make this time of the year a time to look back and remember and it is as well a time to look forward and plan ahead for a world where “peace be with you” is more than just a greeting.  For both these reasons, this day of peacebuilding is prescient.

I would like to share with you what was for me the hallmark of the forum.  What resonated with me were the opening comments of the UN President Vuk Jeremic and Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, the Chair of the UN General Assembly drafting committee for the UN Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace, the founding document on which this forum is grounded.

President Jeremic stated in his opening remarks that peace begins with each of us; that it is incumbent on each of us to build a world culture of peace.  It is not enough to live in a world without war.  It is necessary to be pro-active in peacebuilding.  He quoted Gandhi who believed that the key to achieving a culture of peace was through education.

I am reminded of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific and the song “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.”  In that song, the rest of the words to that sentence are “to hate ….”  I believe in President Jeremic’s remarks he called for the world’s communities to build a world culture of peace.  In order to build this world we must be carefully taught the tools of peacebuilding.  As another presenter stated peaceful living entails the development of virtuous habits and virtuous habits are learned.

Ambassador Chowdhury stated that education is the key to building a culture of peace.  As he so aptly put it education in peacebuilding is the first pillar for global citizenship.   This resonates with me because our mission at Pasos is peacebuilding through education.

If peacebuilding begins with the individual, then the stories of two of the panel members is emblematic of the process.  The two speakers recalled personal tragedies and how they were able to turn those personal tragedies into the pro-active process of peacebuilding.   This is peacebuilding in action.  Let me recall their stories.

In one instance a random act of violence by one individual upon another resulted in the death of a family member.  The second instance consisted of the repeated violent acts of a group upon an individual, which resulted in the individual leaving her family, community and country.  In both instances the individuals chose to channel their experiences towards a path of peacebuilding.

The individual who lost a teenage son founded an organization to empower violent young people to make difference choices.  The young lady who was kidnapped and forced into the Lords Resistance Army in Northern Uganda founded an organization, which is committed to building peaceful and healthy societies in Africa.   Their stories are inspirational.  If these individuals could find the means to overcome horrific acts of violence afflicted on their person and family, then those of us who live in relative peace can and should strive for the same goal.  That goal is the promotion and building of peaceful communities.

The telling and re-telling of their stories is a powerful tool; the message is that violence does not beget violence.  The educational message is each individual can make a change for the better.

If we believe in peace as a goal worth striving for, then the road to peace begins with the individual, extends to the family, then to our local, regional, state and finally global communities.  And, I would maintain that the path to the achievement of that goal is education.  Education as one of the presenters stated is the means to be free and to be responsible; responsible for ourselves and to our greater communities.  Just as the personal stories the two presenters shared proved, we can take a tragedy and turn it into a positive peaceful force for change.  As Ambassador Chowdhury put it “there is no place for war in our world.”    That is the inspired message I took away from my day at the UN on September 6, 2013.

Siegrid (Siggy) Raible is a member of the Pasos Peace Museum Advisory Board, Philosophy and Political Science graduate of Hunter College and an experienced Office Manager of a Law Firm. Her passions include a dedication to the arts, veteran’s affairs, health issues and activities that promote peace and social justice.

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