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The International Day of Peace: Human Rights and Peacekeeping

Pupils attend a class in an all girls' school as part of a World Food Programme (WFP) food-for-education project, encouraging student enrollment. Peacekeeper of United Nations-African Union Hybrid Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) speaks with a villager during a routine patrol.
A Bolivian UN peacekeeper demonstrates proper dental care to the population of Marin neighbourhood. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his wife, Yoo Soon-taek, release two white doves, as the symbol of peace, during a visit to the

The International Day of Peace was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1981 for “commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace within and among all nations and people”. Twenty years later, the General Assembly set 21 September as the date to observe the occasion annually as a “day of global ceasefire and non-violence… through education and public awareness and to cooperate in the establishment of a global ceasefire”.

This year, as we commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the 60th anniversary of UN peacekeeping, the Day offers an opportunity to spotlight the crucial relationship between peace and human rights, which are increasingly recognized as inseparable.

In the aftermath of World War II, world leaders acknowledged that “disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts” and have prevented the “advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy…freedom from fear and want”. Today, we are still struggling to achieve this vision.

Too many conflicts, from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to conflicts in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Darfur, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, cause unnecessary loss of life and have a devastating impact on the structures that maintain societies, such as education, health and justice systems and the maintenance of law and order.

Conflicts are deeply rooted in grievances caused by systematic human rights violations, discrimination, marginalization and impunity that manifest themselves long before violence begins. Conflicts themselves account for profound and shocking examples of human rights abuses.

80-year-old Ratna Maya Thapa from the Central Region of Nepal shows her voter registration card after walking for one and a half hours to cast her ballot in the Nepalese Constituent Assembly elections. Argentinean peacekeepers of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) assist an elderly woman walking to a countrywide distribution centre of food aid donated by the government of Mexico.
Members of the homeless families receive emergency supplies distributed by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Pallets of census material, vital for the success of Sudan's pending democratic elections, are assembled at the Juba airport in Southern Sudan prior to being airlifted by the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) to Malakal.

Millions of people have crossed borders as refugees, or been forced to live as internally displaced persons within their own countries. Thousands have been victims of sexually based violence, a consequence of the lawlessness that prevails during wartime and, increasingly, a tactic used by warring factions..

Hundreds of thousand of children who live in war zones are denied the right to education, while lose basic social services such as shelter, sanitation, access to clean drinking water, health care and employment. The rule of law collapses, taking with it other rights, such as the right to a fair trial, and giving rise to abuses such as torture. Freedom of movement is curtailed as checkpoints and roadblocks are set up by State and non-State parties to a conflict. Worst of all, people are killed in violation of their fundamental right to life.

In addition to alleviating suffering, the protection and restoration of human rights by State and non-State actors has proven essential for the realization of lasting peace and the avoidance of relapse into war. The return and reintegration of displaced populations and refugees, the accountability for past atrocities, the rebuilding of the judiciary and other foundations of a democratic society are an indispensable part of peace efforts and post-conflict reconstruction.

The United Nations is determined to help the untold numbers of victims of conflict to ease suffering and restore the basic rights of a normal life. The UN also continues to build upon the significant progress made in putting into place international human rights frameworks to protect victims of conflict and prevent its occurrence.

Currently, more than 100,000 troops, police and civilians are deployed 17 peacekeeping operations around the world, in hotspots such as Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Middle East. And the UN is undertaking political missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and other global flashpoints. United Nations civilian and uniformed personnel are working to create stability, prevent sexual violence, rebuild schools and health facilities, and ensure that refugees and internally displaced persons are able to return to their homes.

The protection and promotion of human rights form an indispensable part of UN peace missions. UN human rights workers focus on monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in their area of responsibility. They help ensure that peace processes promote justice and equity. They prevent and redress violations of human rights, build human rights capacities and institutions and mainstream human rights into all UN programmes and activities. (For more information on UN human rights work and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, visit www.ohchr.org. For more information on UN peacekeeping, visit www.un.org/peacekeeping)  

This year to mark the International Day of Peace, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will ring the Peace Bell at United Nations Headquarters in New York on Friday, 19 September, in the company of the UN Messengers of Peace. UN offices and peacekeeping missions around the world will also be holding events to observe the occasion. A minute of silence will be observed at 12 noon local time on 21 September, around the world.

To encourage even greater awareness of this important Day, the United Nations is encouraging people around the world to send text messages for peace on or before 21 September. UN offices in several countries are organizing campaigns. Messages collected by the UN will be presented to world leaders gathering in New York for the 63rd General Assembly from 23 September.