New York

02 October 2014

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at Special Event on the Occasion of the International Day of Non-Violence

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, rightly so. And I thank the Indian Mission, particularly Ambassador Mukerji, for organizing today’s event to mark both of these important anniversaries.  I don’t know whether you had the same sense as I when we saw this movie sequence, but there was an atmosphere of soothing serenity entering the room, particularly after last week’s very hectic activities. And I thank you for bring that atmosphere into this Trusteeship Council Chamber.

I don’t need to say to this distinguished audience that we live 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 while we talk, as conflict forces them to flee for their lives. We see the images every day.

The response to violence is all too often more violence, when in fact, as we all know, reconciliation and dialogue is what is needed.

So it’s very timely and very appropriate 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”.  An eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind. Something to take to our hearts. We must heed this warning today.  We must reject violence as the default means to bring about change.  And we must embrace the path of non-violence and peaceful settlements of disputes as the road to sustainable and equitable transformations of our societies.

Despite the threats and dangers faced by 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, as we recall, 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 South Africa, the United States, Georgia, Northern Ireland. Gandhi’s lessons were adopted by leaders as varied as Václav Havel, Andrei Sakharov, Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa and Martin Luther King.

I have in my office on 38th floor a photograph that I am very proud of, which was given to me. It’s a photograph of Martin Luther King from 1965 marching in Birmingham, Alabama for civil rights. And – this is noteworthy – under two flags: under the flag of the United States and, please note, under the flag of 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 prevention and non-violence. Chapter I, on “Purposes and Principles”, states that we are to take “effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace”. Article 33 calls on parties to first of all seek to resolve disputes by peaceful means, including negotiation, mediation, arbitration, resort to regional agencies or arrangements (by the way, a link to Chapter VIII, interestingly enough), and other peaceful means of their own choice. And Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent methods are part of that Article 33.

Through preventive diplomacy and the recent initiative by the Secretary-General to place “Human Rights up Front”, we must try to bring non-violence to concrete action.

We must all aim to engage early on, before human rights violations or before tensions escalate into mass atrocities and violent conflict, as we have seen far too often. Have you thought of the fact that you say “never again” – every time you say it more than once, it’s a recognition of failure. We must make sure that we don’t keep repeating “never again”.

A world in turmoil, yes. Huge disregard of human rights, huge disregard of international humanitarian law, and extremism that takes the form of unspeakable acts of violence. These should be reminders enough for us to go back to the sources of the UN Charter and the wisdom of Mahatma Gandhi and the followers of his beliefs.

The timeless and spiritual power of non-violence has helped transform our world for the better. And I think, Mr. Ambassador, it’s very, very good that you have so many young people here today, who take this message on, and through their fingers can reach the world with this message of non-violence and peaceful solutions.

So let us today, in closing, commit to supporting the brave individuals who have risked and risk their lives in peaceful protest. And Mahatma Gandhi is one on the long road of such brave individuals.

Let us reaffirm our belief in the power and potential of non-violent actions.  Let us remember that our mission – not least here in the United Nations, for all of us who toil in theses corridors in all the many pursuits that we follow – let us remember that our mission is to bring the world as it is today – and it’s not a pretty place – to bring the world as it is today a little closer to the world as it should be. And let us never abandon the fundamental values, in this work, embodied by Mahatma Gandhi: passion, and compassion – nothing happens in life without passion, but the wrong things happen without compassion – but also, the belief in the dignity and the equal worth of all human beings.  “We the Peoples” – the first three words of the Charter – “we the peoples”, whom we are ultimately here to serve. 

Thank you.