From its Headquarters complex in New York, where Secretary-General Kofi Annan solemnly rang the Peace Bell, to its furthest outposts on the front-line of conflict prevention to cyberspace, the United Nations today celebrated the annual International Day of Peace with ceremonies around the world.
“Peace is the paramount United Nations mission,” Mr. Annan declared as he stood in front of the bell, a gift from Japan cast from the pennies donated by children from 60 nations, before driving the ringing beam into it three times. “It is the basis of our existence. The essence of our identity. The cause that animates everything we do.”
He appealed to global leaders who attended last week’s UN World Summit to go home and start implementing the agreements reached, which included setting up a UN Peacebuilding Commission.
At his side in the garden in front of the world body’s building were UN Messengers of Peace author and journalist Anna Cataldi, Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas, wildlife researcher and conservationist Jane Goodall, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. The UN singers and a children’s choir performed at the ceremony.
Noting the traditional Peace Day call to fighters around the world to observe a 24-hour ceasefire, Mr. Annan said: “Twenty-four hours is not a long time. But it is time enough for combatants and political leaders to consider the destruction they are visiting on their people, and on their lands. And it is long enough to look over the barricades, or through the barbed wire, to see if there is another path.”
On the other side of the world, in Ethiopia and Eritrea, a UN peacekeeping mission that is helping to monitor a ceasefire after the two countries fought a two-year border war, organized cultural events in the respective capitals, a poetry contest for junior high school students in Addis Ababa and a concert in Asmara.
In the days leading up to the celebration, the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), along with local and international partners, organized a ‘Peace Run’ in Asmara, a ‘Cycling for Peace’ race in Addis Ababa, and medical clinics in the Shilalo camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs). Events were also organized in remote locations away from the capitals, such as Adiguadad, Adigrat and Senafe.
In another African country torn by 14 years of factional fighting, Somalis were urged to become ‘Peacelords.’ “Never again should Somalis be made to kill Somalis. Never again should the country be allowed to descend into war and chaos,” Mr. Annan’s Special Representative for Somalia Francois Lonseny Fall said in a message in Nairobi, neighbouring Kenya, calling on the new transitional authorities to work together.
At the UN Conference Centre in Bangkok, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) organized a round-table discussion on the theme ‘Promotion of Peace and Unity based on the UN In Larger Freedom,’ a reference to Mr. Annan’s report issued earlier this year advocating far-reaching reforms of the world body.
Numerous events and observances are planned around the world by UN offices and peacekeeping operations, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society and religious groups to promote peace and non-violence. In a videotaped message, Mr. Annan urged all people around the world to observe a minute of silence at 12 noon.
And in cyberspace, the UN Cyberschoolbus was engaging young people around the world with a special program at UN Headquarters with young people from countries affected by violence participating through video conference.
The International Day of Peace was established in 1981 by a resolution of the General Assembly to coincide with its opening session every September. In 2001, the General Assembly approved a second resolution setting the observance on 21 September of each year.