Courageous Individuals Who Embrace Non-Violence Effectively Corner Their Oppressors, Says Secretary-General on International Day of Non-violence

30 September 2011

Courageous Individuals Who Embrace Non-Violence Effectively Corner Their Oppressors, Says Secretary-General on International Day of Non-violence

30 September 2011
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Courageous Individuals Who Embrace Non-Violence Effectively Corner Their


Oppressors, Says Secretary-General on International Day of Non-Violence


Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at a special event on the occasion of the International Day of Non-violence, 30 September, in New York: 

The dramatic events of the past year showed the immense power of non-violence.  People in Tunisia, Egypt and beyond proved that it is more effective to fire off a tweet than to fire a gun.  They did more than topple long-entrenched Governments; they emboldened other oppressed peoples to think that the path of non-violence might work for them.

This is not an easy path.  There is a heavy risk for those who stare down the barrel of a gun armed only with the knowledge that they have right on their side.  A heavy risk — even a deadly risk.  But courageous individuals who embrace non-violence effectively corner their oppressors.  Those oppressors will not like their choices.  They can crack down harder — but that would reveal their moral bankruptcy.  Or they can negotiate and trigger a process of change.  Non-violence confounds those who face it — and that is why it works.

More than two millennia ago, King Ashoka of the Mauryan Empire in India began a great tradition.  After witnessing the horrors of war, he renounced violence, embraced Buddhism and devoted his life to peace.  Mahatma Gandhi carried on this great Indian practice when he used the power of non-violence to lead an historic movement for India’s independence. For Gandhi-ji, means and ends were one.  He lived by the conviction that only peaceful tactics could usher in a peaceful future, free from recrimination.  As Mr. [Doctor] Mashabane [ South Africa] knows well, Gandhi’s outlook was shaped by his experiences in South Africa.

Gandhi’s writings inspired people worldwide, including the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  I vividly remember visiting Atlanta and seeing Dr. King’s editions of Mahatma Gandhi’s books.  The young civil rights leader studied these works intensely, marked up their pages and drew inspiration from their wisdom.  I saw those precious artefacts displayed alongside Dr. King’s letters to the United Nations own Nobel Peace Prize winning mediator, Ralph Bunche.  The United Nations is proud of this connection to the non-violent struggle for progress.

Our Charter clearly champions a non-violent approach whenever possible. Article 33 explicitly calls on parties to “first of all” seek a solution by peaceful means.  When necessary, the Security Council may use coercive measures.  We saw this most recently in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya, where United Nations-authorized operations helped restore stability.  The Council authorizes the use of force to protect civilians from violence — and then only as a last resort.

Preventive diplomacy is one way the United Nations acts on its commitment to non-violence.  We are engaging early on, before tensions escalate into conflict. We are training mediators.  We are strengthening our strategic partnerships so we can respond more quickly to crises.  And we are supporting national institutions that promote dialogue and provide peaceful channels for the resolution of disputes.  The United Nations Department of Political Affairs Mediation Support Unit, the United Nations Development Programme Bureau of Crisis Prevention and Recovery, and the United Nations Regional Centres in Central Asia and Africa are other important parts of the picture.  As I emphasized in my recent report to the Security Council, preventive diplomacy is not an option, it is a necessity.  Our peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions in hotspots around the world are calming tensions and fostering peace.

In addition to these direct approaches, the United Nations continues its day-to-day work to address the many silent emergencies that create instability. We continue to work for the Millennium Development Goals, our blueprint for overcoming disease, poverty and hunger.  We are advancing gender equality and human rights.  We are helping to establish the rule of law and to fight impunity.  We are striving to create conditions where people can enjoy peace, embrace peace and pass on the value of peace to their children.

The timeless and tremendous power of non-violence has transformed our world in the past year alone.  The transitions that are under way will certainly be difficult.  For too long, countries invested in violence instead of peace.  But people are choosing non-violence.  And if they continue using peaceful means they can shape a better future in all countries — including established democracies.

Let us commit to supporting the brave individuals who stake their lives on the belief that peaceful forms of protest bring lasting forms of peace.  Thank you.

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