On 13 September 2019 was held at the United Nations in New York a "High Level Meeting on the Culture of Peace" to mark the 20th anniversary of the U.N.'s Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace. The General Assembly wishes to highlight "the priority it attaches to the full and effective implementation of these forward-looking decisions which are universally applicable and responds to the yearnings of every people for progress."
The U.N. statement goes on to say "The Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace unamiously adoptd two decades ago is a universal document exploaining, outlining, and defining the focus of the Culture of Peace as agreed upon by the international community. This historic norm-setting document, considered one of the most significant legacies of the United Nations, sees the Culture of Peace as a process of individual, collective and institutional transformation." The theme of this year is "Empowering and Transforming Humanity."
Work on the theme of a culture of peace was begun at UNESCO in Paris in 1992 and was led for most of the time by Dr. David Adams. It was warmly supported by Federico Mayor when he was UNESCO's Director General. By 1999 the thinking and research within UNESCO had progressed to the point that it could be promoted within the U.N. General Assembly. Thus, the General Assembly proclaimed that the Year 2000 should be celebrated as the International Year for a Culture of Peace - a fitting way to start off the millenium.
As often happens within the U.N. when the goals of an international year are not reached within the year, the year is transformed into a decade. Thus the Decade 2001-2010 was declared to be the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World. It was to get this Decade approved at the U.N. that I became involved.
The idea of non-violence was being increasingly mentioned within UNESCO but is often seen as protests against the policies and practices of government. Thus non-violence was not overly stressed in the discussions about a culture of peace. However, if a culture of peace is to be based on "speaking Truth to Power", then non-violence had to be mentioned. Moreover, if a culture of peace is to be created, it must start in the attitudes and training of children and youth.
At the time, I was president of a French childwelfare organization working largely in countries impacted by armed conflicts, in particular Cambodia, Vietnam and Lebanon. We made an effort to get Nobel Peace Lauriates to sign a statement saying that children were important and should be educated. As a Paris-based NGO, we were in regular contact with UNESCO. Thus, the two efforts were tied together - especially that "linkage" among different approaches was a key concept in the culture of peaace process. The new title for the transformation of the year into a decade was an example of such linking.
However, the title of the decade ran into opposition before it was voted upon from two States of weight in U.N. circles: the United Kingdom and the U.S.A. Both representatives argued that their countries were already doing enough for the children of the world by contributing to UNICEF, and it was not necessary to have a whole decade focused on children. A few representatives also argued that the title of the Decade was too long, especially to get media attention. I replied that it was not up to NGO represntatives to cut the title. Governments would have to do it.
Fortunately Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury of Bangladesh was a devoted advocate of the Culture of Peace and was able to get support for the resolution and the full title of the Decade. The U.K. and U.S. representatives could not openly oppose something for the good of children. Ambassador Chowdhury said "I believe that this document is unique in more than one way. It is a universal document in the real sense, transcending boundaries, cultures, societies and nations. Unlike many other General Assembly documents, this document is action-oriented and encourages actions at all levels, be they at the level of the individual, the community, the nation or the region, or at the global and international levels."
With David Adams of UNESCO we helped draw up a "Manifesto 2000 for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence" which was signed by 74 million individuals world wide.
Obviously, we have not yet reached a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence after the efforts of the Decade. In fact, we have not even been able to reach peace as an end to armed conflicts in many parts of the world. Nevertheless, the ideal remains and a good deal of useful efforts, especially in the field of training of children and youth has been undertaken. The efforts go on!
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens