Deputy Secretary-General: Statements
New York, 2 October 2014 - Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at Special Event on the Occasion of the International Day of Non-Violence [as prepared for delivery]
Today’s date, October 2, is an important one in the United Nations calendar. Marking the birthday of the national and international icon, Mahatma Gandhi. Since 2007, this date has been celebrated across the world as the International Day of Non-Violence. I thank the Indian Mission for organizing today’s event to mark both of these important anniversaries.
We are living in dramatic and perilous times. There is a resurgence of exceptionalism and sectarianism in many parts of the world. Many minorities find themselves under attack. Millions of civilians are being displaced as conflict forces them to flee for their lives.
The response to violence is all too often more violence when, in fact, reconciliation and dialogue is needed.
So it is very timely to recall Mahatma Gandhi’s call for peace and non-violence. His famous warning echoes down the years: “An eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind”. We must heed this warning, now, today. We must reject violence as the futile and default means to bring about change. And we must embrace the path of non-violence and peaceful settlements as the road to sustainable and equitable transformations of our societies.
Despite the threats and dangers faced by ordinary people protesting for their rights, non-violent resistance has played a vital role in many campaigns for justice and in transitions from authoritarianism around the world. It comes in many forms, including marches, vigils, boycotts and civil disobedience.
Mahatma Gandhi used the power of non-violence to lead the historic ‘Salt March’ against unfair colonial taxation. The power he found in non-violent resistance has later brought about transformational change in countries as diverse as the United States, South Africa, Georgia and Northern Ireland. Gandhi’s lessons were adopted by leaders as varied as Vaclav Havel, Andrei Sakharov, Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa and Martin Luther King.
I have in my office a photograph of Martin Luther King from 1965 marching in Birmingham, Alabama under the flags of the United States and, please note, the United Nations.
In recent times, we have seen non-violent protestors fill public squares from Wall Street to the Arab world.
The United Nations Charter champions non-violence. Chapter VI is devoted to Pacific Settlement of Disputes Article 33 calls on parties to first of all seek to resolve disputes by peaceful means, including negotiation, mediation, arbitration and resort to regional agencies or arrangements (by the way, a link to Chapter VIII of the Charter).
Through preventive diplomacy and the recent “Human Rights up Front” initiative by the Secretary-General, we try to bring non-violence to concrete action.
We aim to be engaging early on, before human rights violations or tensions escalate into mass atrocities and violent conflict.
The timeless and spiritual power of non-violence has helped transform our world for the better.
Let us recommit to supporting the brave individuals who have risked and risk their lives in peaceful protest. Let us reaffirm our belief in the power and potential of non-violent actions. And in our mission to bring the world as it is today a little closer to the world as it should be, let us never abandon the fundamental values embodied by Mahatma Gandhi: passion, compassion and belief in the dignity and equal worth of all human beings. We the Peoples, whom we ultimately are to serve.
Statements on 2 October 2014