14 September 2009
Meetings Coverage
NGO/681
PI/1909

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

People-Centred Development and National Reconciliation Key to Human Security,


Speakers Say as DPI/NGO Conference Round Tables Continue

 


(Received from a UN Information Officer.)


MEXICO CITY, 11 September ‑‑ On the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., speakers addressing the sixty-second annual DPI/NGO Conference in Mexico City on Friday morning said a people-centred development approach was the only way to ensure global security and prevent mass-scale atrocities such as “9/11” in the future.


Speaking during a round-table discussion entitled “New Challenges and Perspectives for Global Development and Security for the Twenty-First Century”, Hiro Sakurai, NGO Representative of the Japan-based Soka Gakkai International (SGI) to the United Nations and former President of the New York-based Committee of Religious NGOs, said empowering people to act on their own behalf or the behalf of others was crucial for human security.  While personally witnessing the tragedy of 11 September 2001, he noticed the concern and care people began to pay to each other on the streets of New York City.  He went through a personal transformation that day, with the attacks prompting him to think about the true meaning of human security, which placed people at the heart of political processes and challenges, and focused on developing people’s innate strengths and abilities to find the meaning and happiness as they contributed to society.


The challenge to achieving that culture of peace, however, was how to generate sustainable popular engagement on issues such as disarmament, Mr. Sakurai said.  The threat of nuclear weapons did not drive up food or gas prices or immediately impact daily life.  The consequences of climate change were already apparent in warmer and drier weather everywhere, while decisions on nuclear weapons were made by people in distant places, and seemed abstract.  The lack of awareness about the impact of armaments must change in order to achieve a nuclear-weapons-free world.  But it was difficult to motivate people in support of disarmament and the 2010-2020 International Decade for Disarmament.


SGI had devised a visual exhibit to change that by presenting people with examples of some of the choices humanity faced, he said.  People would see pictures of children playing by a river bank or holding a weapon, or in school or picking through a garbage dump.  The exhibit had been shown at 20 universities in the United States and many more elsewhere.  Students’ reaction to it, and their desire to get engaged to change the world in favour of peace and development over war and poverty, had been encouraging.  To experience genuine security, he stressed, people must speak for those who were silent and act for the powerless.  They should also engage in dialogue to create a world without nuclear weapons.


Mokhtar Lamani, a Senior Visiting Research Fellow of the Centre for International Governance Innovation at Waterloo University in Canada and a career ambassador from Morocco, said he, too, was in New York on 11 September 2001, while serving as the Permanent Observer of the Islamic Conference to the United Nations, and, like Mr. Sakurai, had felt the sense of connectedness among people there after the attacks.  He then shed light on his personal experiences trying to bring peace to a fractured Iraq, stressing that in any conflict zone, national reconciliation and security were crucial for reconstruction and development.


Mr. Lamani said that in March 2006, he was sent to Iraq as an ambassador for the Arab League to persuade that country’s divided Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish and other leaders to make peace.  But by then, most of the ethnic cleansing in Iraq had already occurred.  During his five-month stay, he witnessed the immense human suffering on the ground of the Iraqi people, which made the various resolutions in the Security Council and General Assembly on Iraq seem remote.  He also saw the colossal mistakes made by Paul Bremer ‑‑ former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority and United States Administrator in charge of overseeing Iraq’s reconstruction ‑‑ who was woefully ignorant about the Middle East, particularly Iraq.  By dismantling Iraq’s established institutions and giving power to outside religious groups, the United States Administration had created chaos and eventually become a prisoner of its own policies.  Journalists began to say that the United States had started the war in Iraq, but Iran had won it.


Iraq was left with too many actors and a fragmented society, with more than 400 parties participating in the political process and more than 150 different groups in an insurgency that did speak to each other, Mr. Lamani said.  Almost one third of the Iraqi population was either internally displaced or had sought refuge in neighbouring Syria and Jordan.  Mr. Bremer had given power to the three largest religious groups ‑‑ the Shia, Sunni and Kurds ‑‑ which had their own militia to protect them, while leaving the some 15 small minorities alone with no defence.  Those minorities were forced to flee en masse, with as many as 90 per cent of them leaving their homes and their cultures in ruins.


The hypocrisy of the United States Administration’s role, particularly under former President George W. Bush, had been very worrisome, Mr. Lamani said.  Frustrated by his inability to offer real progress for the Iraqi people and the many competing agendas, Mr. Lamani resigned his post in late 2007.  The United States Government’s subsequent decision to send more troops to protect the Iraqi people from ethnic cleansing was too little too late.  Very few people were given real protection.  The lesson from the Iraqi war, Mr. Lamani stressed, was that in any conflict in the world, security was a prerequisite for reconstruction, and national reconciliation was a prerequisite for security.  That would not happen for years too come in Iraq.  The only thing the various ethnic groups in the country shared was a strong feeling of victimization.


Adalberto Savinon, Director of the Mexico City-based Lindavista Centre for Information and Research, who moderated the round table, opened the discussion by noting that today, 11 September, had special significance all over the world.  On that day in 1973, a coup d’état had occurred in Chile leading to the beginning of a long dictatorship.  In 2001, the attacks on New York and Washington had unleashed a series of events that led to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And today, in 2009, almost 2,000 people would die as the result of firearms.  He then asked each participant to observe a minute of silence for the victims of 9/11, and following that a minute to share with others in the room what 9/11 personally meant for him or her.


Turning to the issue of human security for children, Carolina Owens, Chief of Office, Special Assistant to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said humanitarian non-governmental organizations and civil society groups were vital to the work of protecting children in conflict zones.  Since the Second World War, conflicts had increasingly occurred within States rather than between them.  Small groups were also taking control of areas for assets or resources, blurring the lines between organized criminal gangs and armed groups.  Civil society was increasingly a target.  Ninety per cent of global conflict-related deaths were civilian casualties, 80 per cent of them women and children.  There had been a surge in the use of children as combatants, particularly as weapons had become lighter and easier for children to carry.  More disturbing, was the fact that a growing number of children were becoming suicide bombers.


In the last 20 years, 2 million children had been killed in conflict zones, 6 million had been left permanently disabled and countless more had been uprooted from their homes and communities ‑‑ with severe long-term repercussions on the development of their societies, she said.  Two thirds of children in conflict, some 60 million, were not going to school.  The Secretary-General’s annual thematic report on the situation of children in armed conflict aimed to take stock of and rectify the plight of those children.  It documented in 20 conflict situations grave violations against children ‑‑ including recruitment as child soldiers, killing and maiming, abduction for trafficking, rape or sexual exploitation, attacks on schools and hospitals and denial of access to humanitarian aid ‑‑ as well as a “name and shame” list of parties to conflicts that had committed such violations to guide the international community.


Children’s rights were protected under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, as well international human rights and humanitarian law, she said.  The question now was how to ensure those treaties’ implementation.  The International Criminal Court’s ongoing prosecution of Thomas Lubanga, former head of the Union of Congolese Patriots rebel group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for recruiting and using children in warfare, among other crimes, sent a strong message that people who violated children during armed conflict would not go unpunished.


The Security Council had made children in armed conflict a peace and security issue, calling on the Secretary-General to create a monitoring and reporting mechanism to report to the Council, and setting up a Working Group on the subject, to recommend potential Council action to deter further violations.  The Council could threaten the leaders of parties to conflict with possible sanctions.  In Côte d’Ivoire, the Central African Republic, the Philippines and other conflict areas, the Council had asked warring parties to enter into dialogue with the United Nations to release child soldiers, which they did.  Non-governmental organizations and civil society groups played an important role in monitoring and reporting on violations at the country level, and in pressuring States parties to the children’s rights convention to bring their national laws in line with the treaty.


During the ensuing discussion, several participants made comments and posed questions to Ms. Owens about ways to better protect children.  One participant asked her to elaborate on the Secretary-General’s “name and shame” list and how to access it, and whether the United Nations had taken action to punish peacekeeping soldiers in conflict areas that had abused local children.  Another asked about policies in place to teach children about the dangers of war and violence, which were often glorified in the media, and whether there were international controls on toy manufacturers to stop making toy weapons.  A representative of an association representing school teachers asked for guidance on how to assist students grappling with the social and emotional consequences of having been exposed to situations of armed conflict.  One participant asked how to coordinate civil society action to help indigenous children in the Mexican states of Michoacan, Chiapas and Guerrero, who were being killed, maimed and orphaned, due to violent confrontations there.


Others stressed the need to find a healthy balance between development and peace in order to erase nuclear threats.  Disarmament was important, but development was what brought about true change in society.  Mr. Savinon had stated that 2,000 people died every day as a result of firearms, but many thousands more died daily because of hunger and poverty.  One participant asked if the Council’s membership and structure would be updated in order to allow civil society to cope with the changes in the world that had taken place since 11 September 2001.


One participant said people in Latin American and elsewhere were largely ignorant about the Islamic world and he called on Mr. Lamani to help foster a cultural, social and economic dialogue to bridge that gap and promote a better understanding of Muslims.  A Catholic priest representing a religious organization asked the United Nations and non-governmental organizations to set up a public website where members of the military could express their refusal to follow orders to use public weapons or to kill, and where ordinary citizens could state their refusal to join the military in their respective countries.


In response, Ms. Owens said there was a major push in the General Assembly, spurred by civil society organizations, to have Governments consider education as a core component of humanitarian emergency operations in conflict zones.  Until now, education had not been seen as an immediate funding requirement, such as food and medicine.  But, such assistance was needed for displaced children and those living in conflict zones.  Thanks to civil society’s lobbying, in August the Council adopted a resolution that stated that the “name and shame” list must include the names of parties to a conflict that not only recruited children as soldiers, but also killed, maimed and sexually exploited them.  The list was a public document available on the United Nations website.


The Secretary-General had a “zero tolerance” policy on sexual exploitation of civilians committed by United Nations peacekeepers, Ms. Owens said.  Abuse, however, did happen.  Many troops needed further training at home before serving in United Nations peacekeeping operations.  Regarding promoting a culture of peace to eliminate small arms and light weapons, she said that, in any conflict area, the first step was to have a systematic reliable monitoring and reporting mechanism to create greater awareness of the abuse of children, so that it could more readily be brought to the attention of the international community.


Mr. Lamani said in 1988 he helped draft the Assembly resolution that called for a United Nations Dialogue among Civilizations in 2001, to strengthen friendly relations among nations, remove threats to peace and foster international cooperation to resolve international disputes.  But, in 2001, the conversation was dominated by the 11 September attacks.  Definitions of civilizations, however, were still needed, he said, noting that Sierra Leone and Tajikistan were both part of the East, but had little in common.  Similarly, Finland and Argentina, both members of the West, were vastly different.


The high degree of frustration in societies, as well as the link between weapons and development in conflict areas, must be addressed, as they were the root cause of suicide bombing, he said.  In Iraq, it was still easier to have access to weapons than to drinking water and electricity.  It was cynical of the Council to ask the neighbouring States of countries experiencing conflict to impose an arms embargo on the conflict nation, but not to call on weapons-producing States to stop building them.


Mr. Sakurai said peace and development were closely connected.  He pointed to his close association on that issue with Anwarul Chowdhury, the former High Representative of the Secretary-General for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, a strong proponent for a culture of peace.  Peace and development must go hand in hand and could best be approached holistically.  Strong follow-up to the International Decade for a Culture of Peace, which would end next year, was needed.


The DPI/NGO Conference will reconvene at 5:30 p.m. to conclude its sixty-second session.


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For information media • not an official record