Kosmos Interview | Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury on the Culture of Peace

Interview with Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN, 11 December 2015

by Dot Maver

Since the founding of the United Nations, the efforts of a comprehensive research and action focus on particular issues at the highest level of governance, with all countries represented, is making a difference in various areas of human life around the world: UNICEF, Education, World Hunger, Clean Water, and so much more.

In this 70th year of the United Nations General Assembly meeting to address shared concerns and solutions, it is notable that there is support for a Culture of Peace. As we strive to build the new civilization; as we seek solutions to crisis in virtually every area of human life; as the Climate Change Summit in Paris closes; as we face violence in the extreme; this focus on peace is heartening. Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN dares to ask the question, “Is Peace A Human Right,” and in this interview offers history and perspective on the significant recent UN Resolution in support of a Culture of Peace.

KOSMOS: Ambassador Chowdhury, kindly explain to us what happened at the UN regarding this Resolution on the Culture of Peace and why it is so important.

(image) AKC: Let me lay out the context and historical perspective to respond to that. On 13 September 1999, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted, by consensus and without reservation, its landmark, pioneering and norm-setting resolution 53/243 on the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace. Among other things, it provided the substantive content and driving force for the implementation of the UN-declared International Decade for Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010) adopted in 1998. Asserting and re-affirming the commitment of the totality of the UN Member States for building the culture of peace, the UNGA plenary has adopted every year since 1997 resolutions on the subject. In 1997, it declared the year 2000, the first year of the Third Millennium, as the International Year of the Culture of Peace. All these norm-setting decisions by the UN were taken, I would say humbly, at the initiative of Bangladesh when I was the Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN in New York from 1996 to 2001.

The General Assembly, through its annual substantive resolutions, has highlighted the priority it attaches to the full and effective implementation of these visionary decisions which are universally applicable and is sought after by the vast majority of all peoples in every nation. This year was no exception.

Coming back to your question, as the lead co-sponsor, Bangladesh organized the negotiations on the draft it circulated earlier. There are four areas of the resolution which highlights its special significance.

First, the most attention was received by the paragraphs which linked the Culture of Peace and Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UNGA at the summit level in September 2015. That was also most contentious. US, European Union and Japan did not support the inclusion of any substantive reference to the Culture of Peace and its Programme of Action and SDGs and their close inter-dependant relationship. As this was the first time the annual culture of peace resolution was being adopted after the milestone the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, such a re-assertion of the close linkage was essential. Anyway a watered-down version of that connection found a place in the resolution which was adopted by consensus. It is necessary and important to know that all resolutions on the subject have been adopted by consensus since 1997 when the “Culture of Peace” was included as an agenda item of the Plenary of UN General Assembly, the apex organ of the UN system and world’s most universal forum.

Second, this year’s resolution assumes an importance it reiterated the critical importance of the culture of peace at the 70th anniversary session of the UNGA.

Third, significant reiteration of the message given to the President of the UNGA in the four consecutive annual resolutions beginning with 2012 for the convening of the High Level Forum on The Culture of Peace on or around the anniversary of the adoption of the Programme of Action on 13 September.

(image) United Nations General Assembly

Recognizing the need for continual support to the further strengthening of the global movement to promote the Culture of Peace, as envisaged by the United Nations, particularly in the current global context, the day-long, General Assembly High Level Forum is intended to coincide with the anniversary date of the adoption of 53/243. Substantively, the Forum has been an open public opportunity for the UN Member States, UN system entities, civil society including NGOs, media, private sector, and all others interested, to have an exchange of ideas and suggestions on the ways to build and promote the Culture of Peace and to highlight emerging trends that impact on the implementation process of the Programme of Action.

The Forum is convened by the UNGA President and he/she takes the lead in the preparations of the event which focuses on the implementation of the Programme of Action. It is organized through broad partnership and inclusive collaboration among Member States, international organizations and civil society.

In its preamble, this year’s resolution welcomed “the successful holding on 9 September 2015 of the General Assembly High-level Forum on the Culture of Peace, convened by the President of the Assembly, the greater participation, particularly of the member states and wide-ranging partnership, inclusive collaboration among Member States, international organizations and civil society, as evidenced at the Forum, and welcoming also with appreciation the observance 2015 by the Forum of the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration and Programme of Action.”

Fourth, the reiteration of the special focus on education in the resolution. A key ingredient in building the culture of peace is education. Peace education needs to be accepted in all parts of the world, in all societies and countries as an essential element in creating the culture of peace. The young of today deserves a radically different education –“one that does not glorify war but educates for peace, non-violence and international cooperation.” It is being increasingly realized that over-emphasis on cognitive learning in schools at the cost of developing children’s emotional, social, moral and humanistic aspects has been a costly mistake. This year’s resolution highlighted the focus on early childhood development noting with appreciation the global initiative of UNICEF’s ‘Early Childhood Peace Consortium which was launched in September 2013.

KOSMOS: You have been a tireless champion for peace throughout your life of service, even asking the question, Is Peace A Human Right? It will help us understand more fully just how significant is the passing of this UN Resolution if you will share an overview of the history leading up to this momentous vote.

AKC: Peace is integral to human existence — in everything we do, in everything we say and in every thought we have, there is a place for peace. Absence of peace makes our challenges, our struggles, much more difficult. I believe that is why it is very important that we need to keep our focus on creating the culture of peace in our lives.

The culture of peace begins with each one of us – unless we are ready to integrate peace and non-violence as part of our daily existence, we cannot expect our communities, our nations, our planet to be peaceful. We should be prepared and confident in resolving the challenges of our lives in a non-aggressive manner.

This is exactly what the UN resolution is endeavouring to promote with the support of the international community.

The adoption of the Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace was a watershed event as a possible response to the evolving dynamics of global war and security strategies in a post-Cold War world. It has been an honor for me to Chair the nine-month long negotiations that led to the adoption of the Declaration and Programme of Action in 1999.

This historic norm-setting document is considered as one of the most significant legacies of the United Nations that would endure generations. 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.

In the responsibility that the United Nations – as the only universal body – must shoulder in fulfilling its Charter obligation of maintaining international peace and security worldwide, 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 and then withdraw from the scene without doing anything to ensure that fires do not break out again. We need the culture of peace for that.

KOSMOS: Given the rise in violence and the fear-based culture we are living through, do you think this will make a difference? And what can we do to support?

AKC: One lesson I have learned in my life over the years is that to prevent our history of war and conflict from repeating itself – the values of non-violence, tolerance, human rights and democratic participation will have to be germinated in every man and woman – children and adults alike.

I would like to re-assert the UNESCO Constitution which said: “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.

When we see what is happening around us, we realize the urgent need for promoting the culture of peace – peace through dialogue – peace through non-violence. In a world where tragedy and despair seem to be everywhere, there is an urgent need – if not an imperative – for a global culture of peace.

Each of us can make an active choice each day through seemingly small acts of love, compassion, forgiveness, empathy, cooperation or understanding, thereby contributing to the culture of peace. Eminent proponents of peace have continued to highlight that the culture of peace should be the foundation of the new global society.

In today’s world, more so, it should be seen as the essence of a new humanity, a new global civilization based on inner oneness and outer diversity.

(image) As I had underscored at the conference hosted by the Hague Appeal for Peace on “Educating toward a World without Violence” in Albania in 2004, “the participation of young people in this process is very essential. Their inputs in terms of their own ideas on how to cooperate with each other in order to eliminate violence in our societies must be fully taken into account.”

Peace education should be enriched by its cultural and spiritual values together with the universal human values. It should also be globally relevant. The Hague Agenda for Peace and Justice rightly emphasizes that “…culture of peace will be achieved when citizens of the world understand global problems; have the skills to resolve conflicts constructively; know and live by international standards of human rights, gender and racial equality; appreciate cultural diversity; and respect the integrity of the Earth.”

Indeed, this should be more appropriately called “education for global citizenship”. Such learning cannot be achieved without well-intentioned, sustained, and systematic peace education that leads the way to the culture of peace.

The U.N. Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative’s essential objective is to promote global citizenship as the main objective of education. Connecting the role of individuals to broader global objectives, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior affirmed that “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

Education for global citizenship needs to be accepted in all parts of the world, in all societies and countries as an essential element in promoting the culture of peace. Never has it been more important for us to learn about the world and understand its diversity.

I am delighted to reiterate what the world leaders emphasised the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a target of Goal 4 on education in its target 7: “By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.”

Let me underscore here that to turn the culture of peace into a global, universal movement, basically all that is needed is for every one of us to be a true believer in peace and non-violence, and to practice what we profess. The seeds for peace exist in each one of us. We need to nourish and nurture those with a conscious effort to germinate in the culture of peace as a part of our responsibility as a global citizen.

KOSMOS: Is there anything further you would like to share with Kosmos readers?

AKC: Yes, we need to realize that in today’s world we continue to perceive an inherent paradox that needs our attention. The process of globalization has set in an irreversible trend toward a global integrated community, while at the same time; divisions and distrust keep on manifesting in different and complex ways.   Disparities and inequalities within and among nations have been causing insecurity and uncertainty that has become an unwanted reality in our lives. That is why I strongly believe that peace and development are two sides of the same coin. One is meaningless without the other; one cannot be achieved without the other.

Another clear message that I would share with your readers is that we should never forget that when women – half of world’s seven billion plus people – are marginalized, there is no chance for our world to get sustainable peace in the real sense.

I would reiterate that women in particular have a major role to play in promoting the culture of peace in our violence-ridden societies, thereby bringing in lasting peace and reconciliation. While women are often the first victims of armed conflict, they must also and always be recognized as key to the resolution of the conflict. It is my strong belief that unless women are engaged in advancing the culture of peace at equal levels with men, sustainable peace would continue to elude us.

To the young readers in particular I emphasize their proactive role that they should undertake to promote the culture of peace in a world which they will inhabit for decades to come. This week, to be exact on 9 December 2015, the UN Security Council highlighted their role by adopting a resolution titled “Youth, Peace and Security”. I welcome the resolution enthusiastically and ask all of you to read and absorb its contents.

I would also draw the attention of all to the initiative for the infrastructure for peace as an essential ingredient for the culture of peace. Let me recall in this context that the desire to establish Departments of Peace emerged from the belief that global peace is both urgent and possible. U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich said on September 14, 2005, upon introducing the Department of Peace legislation in the American Congress: “We desire peace so intensely that we are willing to do almost anything to achieve it, including spending half our resources for arms . . . to feel secure. We know we cannot continue on this perilous path seeking peace through violence. We know this path offers our children no future at all. . . We announce our desire for a new America. And a new world.” Those are visionary words for the nations of the world.

Also, the role civil society is essential in advancing the culture of peace. I am delighted that civil society joins actively in strengthening the global movement for the implementation of the UN Programme of Action. I would like to recall that while introducing the draft of the Programme of Action at the Plenary of UNGA’s 53rd Session on 13 September 1999 I said, “Let me also mention here that many representatives of civil society showed great interest in the work we had undertaken. They approached me time and again to find out how the document was shaping up and were genuinely excited to learn of our progress in arriving at a consensus. I mention this because I sense a great interest in this document beyond the walls of the United Nations. This will have far reaching implications in its implementation.” In this context, the very useful contribution provided by the Global Movement for The Culture of Peace representing civil society as a whole deserves the international community’s recognition.