|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
People in Authority Duty-bound to Build Bridges across Borders, Cultures,
Deputy Secretary-General Tells General Assembly Forum on Culture of Peace
Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the High-Level Forum on the Culture of Peace, in New York on 6 September:
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 towards 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 (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) 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 United Nations 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 coexistence. 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.
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