4 September 1997


4 September 1997

Press Briefing



At a Headquarters press conference this morning, two recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize announced that the United Nations had been called upon to declare the years 2000-2010 the decade for the culture of non-violence. The appeal, contained in a letter sent to all Member States, also requested that the year 2000 be declared a year for education in peace and non-violence.

Representing the Noble Laureates were Mairead Corrigan Maguire and Archbishop Emeritus of South Africa Desmond Tutu. The Ambassadors of Bangladesh and El Salvador also spoke this morning, as did a representative from the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the Secretary-General of the Appeal of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. The press conference was sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Nina Sibal, director of UNESCO's liaison office in New York, introduced the speakers.

At the outset of the press conference correspondents heard a recorded message from Aung San Suu Kyi, of Myanmar, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her work in human rights. In her message, Ms. Suu Kyi said that one of the best possible contributions towards peace and security in the world was to help children build healthy and joyful lives. Violence against children constituted violence against the best in ourselves, she said.

The next speaker was Mairead Corrigan Maguire, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 for her leadership in the movement to end the violence in Northern Ireland. Ms. Maguire began by requesting a moment of silence in memory of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and for the families of those who had been killed in the recent violence in Jerusalem.

War was obsolete, she said. Problems could be solved through dialogue and negotiation. Ethnic and political conflicts, which were the problems of the future, required new political structures and real democracy. Military weapons were of no use in that regard. Non-violent methods of conflict- resolution must be taught in the homes, community and schools.

The non-violent movement had a long history of success, she continued. The task at hand was to advance towards the new millennium with the realization that human life is sacred. Resources were required to develop the skills and awareness needed for peace. Funds currently allocated to the military should be redirected towards building a culture of non-violence for the entire human family.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his leadership in the campaign against apartheid in his native South Africa, spoke next. He recalled that years ago he had witnessed young children dancing around a burning corpse. Those children, he said, had been

brutalized by an evil social system. The international community had assisted in deconstructing that system. It had applied "pressure to those who were at each others' throats, forcing them to sit down and talk".

Today, the world marvelled at the miracle of South Africa, which, by all indications, had been heading for a blood bath, he continued. That destiny had been averted because of the international community's participation by which the obvious had been recognized: dialogue and negotiation were better than bloodshed and alienation. If South Africa had been able to change direction, it could happen anywhere. South Africa's success had not been due to intelligence or virtue. Instead, South Africa had succeeded because God wished to use the country as a model for peaceful transition. The once- intractable problems of South Africa were today being resolved.

Peace was cheaper than conflict, he continued. People were fundamentally made for interconnectedness. Adam and Eve were vegetarians -- God's dream was for a world of interdependence and harmony. Human existence was premised on a fundamental law of interconnectedness. When that law was broken, "all sorts of things go horribly wrong", he said.

Next, Ambassador Anwarul Karim Chowdhury of Bangladesh said that 12 countries had requested that the General Assembly in its upcoming session include in its agenda an item entitled "Culture of Peace", to be discussed in plenary (see document A/52/91). They had further requested that the debate be followed by the adoption of elements of a declaration and a programme of action on the culture of peace. The Economic and Social Council, at its last session in Geneva in July, had recommended that the year 2000 be declared as the international year for the culture of peace. He hoped the Assembly would endorse that decision.

Next, Ambassador Ricardo G. Castaneda-Cornejo of El Salvador said he was honoured to be part of the effort to develop a culture of peace. Such an effort was a natural concern to someone whose country had suffered the violence of war. The international community had provided needed assistance to his country when it so requested. It was particularly fitting, therefore, that El Salvador participate in the effort to declare a decade of peace and the year 2000 the international year for the culture of peace. Peace was an ongoing concern; it required faith in humanity.

The Secretary-General of the Appeal of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates Foundation, Pierre Marchand, then recalled the history of the campaign. In February, he and Ms. Maguire had drafted an appeal to Heads of States worldwide and asked all the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates to sign the draft. That appeal was the first time that all the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates had issued one united call for action.

UNESCO Press Conference - 3 - 4 September 1997

The appeal had three components, Mr. Marchand continued. First, it asked that the General Assembly declare the years 2000-2010 the decade for the culture of non-violence. The appeal also called for the development of a culture of non-violence to achieve and sustain a non-violent way of life worldwide. The Laureates also requested that the year 2000 be declared the year of education for non-violence. In India, 100 schools had already begun to implement a curriculum of non-violence in primary schools. That experimental process would generate feedback and help refine teaching methods and curricula so that a concrete curriculum could be proposed in the year 2000.

Mr. Marchand then said that more than 20 governments had indicated that they would support the draft resolution when it came before the Assembly. In addition, several hundred non-governmental organizations from across the world had expressed their support for the initiative. Participation and support was needed from governments and civil society, but journalists also had an important role to play. The public must be made aware of the united will of those Nobel Laureates.

The final speaker was Lou Ann Ha'aheo Guanson, Vice-President of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, which would participate in the worldwide implementation of the campaign. She said that her organization had an international network and an 80-year tradition of working for peace within cultural and religious diversity. A culture of non-violence was possible and necessary. The science, spirit and skills of respect for life must be created.

A correspondent asked for the Archbishop's reaction to the latest violence in Jerusalem. The Archbishop said that people must think peace and work for peace. Deepest sympathy was called for whenever life was injured, threatened or lost. He desperately hoped that the peace process could be revived. There would be no real security in the region before the establishment of a just dispensation.

Another correspondent asked whether the campaign would advocate reductions in military spending. Ms. Maguire said that social and economic problems caused violence. Resources were needed to address many of those problems in concrete terms. People were not randomly violent; usually there were underlying causes. The amount of money being dispensed to military activities was disproportionate with the need in that area.

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For information media. Not an official record.