Peace is the United Nations’ highest calling
The International Day of Peace was established in 1981 by the United Nations as an annual observance of global non-violence and ceasefire. Every year, people in all parts of the world honour peace in various ways on 21 September.
This year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will ring the Peace Bell at United Nations Headquarters in New York in the company of the UN Messengers of Peace. He has called for a 24-hour cessation of hostilities on 21 September, and for a minute of silence to be observed around the world at noon local time.
In his statement issued to commemorate this year’s Day of Peace, Secretary-General Ban said that “Peace is the United Nations’ highest calling.”
“It defines our mission. It drives our discourse. And it draws together all of our world wide work, from peacekeeping and preventive diplomacy to promoting human rights and development.”
The United Nations General Assembly adopted resolutions in 1981 and 2001 establishing the International Day of Peace and urging “all nations and people” to commemorate the Day as an opportunity to promote peaceful resolutions of conflicts and to honour a cessation of hostilities during the day.
Over the past year, the United Nations has been involved in seeking resolution to the world’s most intractable conflicts and in supporting peace once it has been achieved, through peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding.
In 2007, for example, the UN Security Council deployed a record number of peacekeepers to 19 peace operations around the world. More than 100,000 blue berets and civilian staff are serving in the field to build and keep peace.
In late September 2007, the Secretary-General will convene four high-level meetings at UN Headquarters to unite world leaders and those from conflict areas to address some of the most serious challenges today in peace and security – the situation in Afghanistan, Darfur, Iraq and the Middle East.
Ending the tragedy in Darfur has been at the top of the agenda of the Secretary-General, who undertook intensive diplomacy along with several actors in the international community until an agreement was reached by the Security Council to deploy a joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping operation in Darfur (UNAMID). The Secretary-General visited the region in early September, and as a result of his meetings with Sudanese, Chad and Libyan leaders, peace talks among the parties to the conflict in Darfur are scheduled to take place. Meanwhile, the UN has been leading the largest humanitarian assistance effort in the world to care for the victims of Darfur’s conflict.
The Secretary-General visited Iraq in March 2007 and has pledged to increase UN assistance there. The Security Council, in its Resolution 1770 of August 2007, reaffirmed the importance of the UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and its mandate to strengthen institutions for representative government, promote political dialogue and national reconciliation, engage neighbouring countries, assist vulnerable groups and promote the protection of human rights and judicial and legal reform. On 22 September, the Secretary-General will convene the leaders of key countries involved with supporting Iraq, including its neighbors and its prime minister, to discuss the implementation of resolution 1770 and how the UN and international community can best assist in achieving peace and security there.
The UN also has a peace operation in Afghanistan which works to help stabilize the national authority and democratic institutions. On 23 September, the Secretary-General and the President of Afghanistan will convene a meeting of the Joint Coordination Board established by the Afghanistan Compact, also at UN Headquarters in New York, to discuss ongoing cooperation between the international community and the Government of Afghanistan to consolidate recent achievements in the transition process and overcome continuing challenges.
Also on 23 September, to further the quest for peace in the Middle East, the Secretary-General will host a meeting of the Quartet, composed of the United Nations, European Union, the United States and Russia, at UN Headquarters.
The UN has also helped other countries and communities make progress towards peace this year. Southern Lebanon has been largely peaceful since the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was expanded, following the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in mid-2006. Also during the past year, the United Nations Security Council decided to establish an international tribunal which will prosecute the persons responsible for the attack of 14 February 2005 resulting in the death of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. At the same time, UN offices and agencies in the Middle East continue to provide aid to millions of refugees and victims of conflict and promoting dialogue among the factions.
In Haiti’s Port-au-Prince, the crime-ridden neighborhood of Cité Soleil, once dominated by gangs, now enjoys relative calm thanks to security operations carried out by UN peacekeepers in support of the Haitian National Police.
The UN also supported and secured key elections in Haiti and in other countries emerging from devastating conflict. For the first time since independence 40 years ago, the huge Democratic Republic of the Congo held democratic elections with UN help in 2006. This year, the UN also supported three rounds of elections in the newly independent Timor-Leste. UN peacekeepers in all three countries are there to support newly elected authorities and fledging democratic institutions while helping to maintain the fragile peace. Peacekeepers left Sierra Leone in 2005, but the UN remained involved and helped the country hold presidential and parliamentary elections in August, 2007. In January 2007, a new UN mission in Nepal was established to prepare and conduct Constituent Assembly elections in the Himalayan country which had been divided by internal conflict.
UN diplomacy has been ongoing in Somalia, Chad and the Central African Republic to contain conflict and prevent further violence in these countries, where peacekeepers may also soon be deployed to stabilize extremely vulnerable societies.
The Peacebuilding Commission undertook its first year of operations to support countries emerging from conflict, by focusing the efforts of the UN system on Sierra Leone and Burundi, where UN peacekeeping operations had recently ended after helping to end bitter conflicts.
The UN General Assembly has remained focused on terrorism and one year ago adopted a Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, the first time that Member States universally demonstrated the will to counter terrorism in a coordinated manner by establishing a framework of coordination for related UN activities.
“On this International Day, let us promise to make peace not just a priority, but a passion,” the Secretary-General has said. “Let us pledge to do more, wherever we are in whatever way we can, to make every day a day of peace.”