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Amid Tension in Islamic World, U.N. Chief Pleads for Harmony

Against a backdrop of international conflict and turmoil in the Middle East, UN officials are pleading for new investments in peacebuilding, a rollback in military spending, and a more democratic United Nations.

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Inter Press Service

Amidst growing political tensions in the Islamic world over a video caricature of the Prophet Muhammad originating in the United States, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is making an “urgent “plea for political harmony worldwide.

Decrying the rising toll of civilian deaths in Syria, the killings of U.S. diplomats in Libya, the desecration of sacred religious sites in Mali and the “disgusting film” on Islam, he said, “When we look at the suffering in our world, we know how urgently we need a culture of peace.”

Addressing delegates at a High Level Forum Friday, Ban singled out skyrocketing military expenditures worldwide as one of the primary roadblocks to the creation of a culture of peace.

“The world spends almost twice as much on weapons in one day than the United Nations spends for our global mission of peace, human rights and development in one year,” Ban said.

Last year’s military spending was estimated at a staggering 1.7 trillion dollars, mostly on the manufacture and purchase of weapons worldwide.

“That is an enormous cost to people who go to bed hungry … children who die because they lack clean water… farmers who cannot till land because it is polluted by mines,” he said.

“Economists call this an ‘opportunity cost’. I call it a moral outrage. I have made disarmament a key priority in the U.N.’s five-year action agenda,” he said.

Ban said he has a simple, one-word answer: education. “Through education, we teach children not to hate. Through education, we raise leaders who act with wisdom and compassion. And through education, we establish a true, lasting culture of peace,” he declared.

Back in September 1999, the U.N.’s highest policy-making body, the General Assembly, adopted a consensus resolution on a U.N. Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace.

Through this landmark resolution, the General Assembly laid down humanity’s charter for the approaching millennium.

Addressing the High-Level Forum, General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser said the culture of peace is a set of values, attitudes and ways of life, based on the principles of freedom, justice, democracy, tolerance, solidarity, and respect for diversity, as well as on dialogue and understanding.

“I believe spreading the culture of peace is most critical to our society today. If we are to come out of the shadows of conflict and make a new beginning, all members of society must be inspired by the culture of peace,” he said.

He said he was pleased to observe that the culture of peace is receiving increasing global attention.

Through the efforts of the United Nations, civil society, regional organisations and peace-loving states, a global movement for the culture of peace is emerging, he added. “I believe the universal character of its applicability and relevance for the international community emerges very clearly through four special dimensions of the Declaration and Programme of Action.”

If the culture of peace is to take deeper root, he said, “We will need to reach out more effectively to the younger minds as they grow up. We must place crucial focus on peace education.”

To effectively meet the complex challenges of our time, the young of today deserve a radically different education – one that does not glorify war but educates for peace, he added.

“We need an education that focuses on peace, non-violence and global understanding,” he declared.

Federico Mayor, president of the Foundation for a Culture of Peace and a former director-general of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), cited the opening lines of the U.N. charter which gave pride of place to the concept of “We the peoples.”

But “the bloody history of male absolute domination,” along with moves by powerful countries to weaken the United Nations with their vetoes, had undercut the post-war dream of peaceful co-existence, Mayor said.

“Indeed, security had trumped all and a culture of conciliation and alliance had been disregarded in favour of a culture of violence and war,” he said.

“We the peoples urgently need to (remake) the United Nations into a truly democratic multilateral system,” he said, pointing out that just as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had provided guidance more than 65 years ago, it was now time to craft a Universal Declaration of Democracy to chart the world body’s future.

“It’s here, in this hall, that this historical shift can take place — from force to words and from weapons to dialogue — towards a United Nations system with the moral authority and the security forces needed to redress so many urgent situations,” he added.

Further, the U.N. should be rebuilt without veto power resting with a few powerful nations, but with more fairly weighted voting procedures through which “the peoples” of the Charter — the General Assembly — were equitably represented.

He also called for the establishment of a “security council” on the environment, and another dealing with economic issues.

“We are in the only international institution that could start this new beginning, the way towards a world of equal human dignity for all,” he said.

The High Level Forum on Culture of Peace was organised by the Office of the President of the 66th U.N. General Assembly in cooperation with the Foundation Culture of Peace, Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and the Global Movement for the Culture of Peace (GMCoP).

It was supported by the Permanent Missions of Bangladesh, Benin, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, the Philippines and South Africa.

There were also two panel discussions: “The Culture of Peace at the core of humanity’s agenda: New partnerships, new developments”.

The second panel was on: “Strengthening the global movement, advancing the implementation of the UN Programme of Action on Culture of Peace: the way forward”.

Thalif Deen is a contributor to Inter Press Service.

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