2 October 2008


2 October 2008
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-third General Assembly

Observance of International Day

of Non-Violence (AM)

Secretary-General, marking day of non-violence in General Assembly,

notes link between celebration, birth date of mahatma gandhi

The principle of non-violence was now more important than ever, especially in the ongoing struggle for human rights, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this morning as the General Assembly held a commemoration of the second International Day of Non-Violence.

Sitting behind a bust of Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi, the Secretary-General noted the special significance of the observance, which falls each year on Gandhi’s 2 October, birth date, adding that this year, the International Day was also being celebrated during the year of the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  “There is a profound philosophical connection between the fundamental principles of human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration and those practised by Mahatma Gandhi.  Our task is to ensure that the rights in the Declaration are a living reality -- that they are known, understood and enjoyed by everyone, everywhere.”

Calling Gandhi “a personal hero”, the Secretary-General cited one of his most famous quotes:  “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”  The United Nations was putting the principle of non-violence into practice through its celebration of the Universal Declaration and its everyday activities, just as members of civil society -– religious leaders, teachers, artists and others -- were doing as well.  However, the rights of too many people around the world were still being violated.  Member States could look to Gandhi for inspiration and strive to emulate his spirit by practising the tenets of non-violence, justice and peace.

General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann suggested that, although resolutions were not officially adopted during commemoration ceremonies, Member States unofficially resolve to adopt the word “satyagraha” into their dialogue as they worked.  “Satyagraha” –- meaning “love force” or “truth force” in English -- was the word Gandhi used to describe what others called his “struggle of passive resistance”.  By adopting Gandhi’s terminology, Member States would be committing themselves to “the process of liberating humankind from its dependence on violence as a means to resolve differences”.

Others had chosen to follow in Gandhi’s footsteps, the President said, noting that Martin Luther King Jr. had applied his methods to the struggle in the United States for civil rights, economic justice and an end to the Viet Nam War.  King’s efforts had revealed the power of a non-violent movement to transform the course of one of the most powerful nations in history.  Today, the Free Gaza Movement was doing the same, using Gandhi’s methods to break the siege of Gaza through non-violent, direct action.  “From the ground-breaking work of Gandhi and King, to the ongoing example of the Free Gaza Movement, we can discern the transforming power of non-violence at a crossroads in our history.”

Part of the transforming power of non-violence lay in its ability to expose the immorality of perpetrators of injustice and oppression, said South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.  However, responding to unfair treatment by non-violent actions required courage and sacrifice.

She asked Member States the extent to which each of them had made the principle of non-violence an integral part of its thinking and work.  “How do we apply this in resolving conflicts in all situations, in our countries, in our inter-State disputes or in international conflicts?”  Nelson Mandela’s commitment to peace –- despite having spent 27 years in jail –- was a practical application of the philosophy of non-violence, and if everyone took that approach, there would be less violence and less suffering for men, women and children everywhere.

Closing the commemoration ceremony, Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee said the notion of non-violence went beyond a simple opposition to violence.  Central to the idea was the notion of justice and equity.  “If our current economic and political order is based on unjust methods and stark inequalities, that too is a form of violence which requires urgent resolution.”

Practising non-violence in its many forms would not be easy, but its application was imperative to resolving global issues such as terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, he continued, expressing the hope that Gandhi’s message would inspire the global community.  “He held no office, he commanded no army.  But millions in India and, indeed, across the world, revere him because he had the courage to dream of a saner and more civilized world.”

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.