From bell ringing in New York to battle scarred Afghanistan, UN marks Peace Day
“Peace is the highest calling of the United Nations - and for me personally,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared on the lawn in front of the towering UN Headquarters as he stood facing the Peace Bell, a gift from Japan cast from the pennies donated by children from 60 nations, before driving the ringing beam into it three times.
“Peace defines our mission. It drives our discourse. And it draws together all of our world wide work, from peacekeeping and preventive diplomacy to promoting human rights and development,” he added.
The International Day of Peace was first established by the UN General Assembly in 1981 as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence. The General Assembly called for people around the world to use the Day as an opportunity to promote the resolution of conflict and to observe a cessation of hostilities during it. UN staff throughout the world are observing a minute of silence in the name of peace.
Three UN Messengers of Peace stood at Mr. Ban’s side at the ceremony – Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas, wildlife researcher and conservationist Jane Goodall and holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel.
A half a world away in Afghanistan, which has seen an upsurge in violence, thousands of people rallied behind the country’s biggest-ever peace effort, even as fighting continued in the south. From Kandahar to Kunduz, from Herat to Jalalabad, peace events were taking place, and on a scale never seen before in the country, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said.
“You can’t hear about all that’s happening and not feel moved by it,” UNAMA Deputy Special Representative Bo Asplund said. “Today is an achievement for all people of this country. The demand for peace is overwhelming.”
Although Peace Day is marked each year on 21 September, this year in Afghanistan it has been the special focus of a two-month campaign in which UNAMA teamed up with Jeremy Gilley, founder of Peace One Day, actor Jude Law, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to promote it. Scores of groups have joined in, including businesses, civil society, government, international donors, UN agencies, politicians, Afghan celebrities and performers, schools, municipal and regional authorities, and individual citizens.
Even warring factions promised to honour the Day by putting down their weapons so that 1.3 million children can be vaccinated against polio, with more than 10,000 vaccinators visiting areas in southern and eastern regions as part of the National Immunization Days organized by UNICEF, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the Health Ministry.
In Lebanon, where a beefed-up UN force of more than 13,000 blue helmets is seeking to keep the peace after last year’s war between Israel and Hizbollah, force commander Claudio Graziano summed up the overall hope at a ceremony at the cenotaph to UN peacekeepers who have fallen in the line of duty.
“Today is meant to get people not just thinking of peace, but doing something about it,” he declared. “Let us pledge our direct support for a worldwide ceasefire.”
In his speech, Mr. Ban referred directly to the global crises. “In countless communities across the world, peace remains an elusive goal,” he said. “From the displaced person camps of Chad and Darfur [Sudan] to the byways of Baghdad, the quest for peace is strewn with setbacks and suffering.
“Over the next few days [during the General Assembly annual General Debate], I will be convening high-level meetings on Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, to seek to advance our quest for peace in those troubled lands. And I will be convening a high-level event on climate change. If we are to build enduring peace around the world, we need to protect the one and only planet we all share,” he added.
Today was the first time Mr. Ban has presided over the International Day of Peace and ever since he took office on 1 January this year he has made mitigating and reversing the impact of global warming a priority of his stewardship as the world’s top diplomat.
Following his speech and a minute of silence, the Japanese choir Tarumi Violinists performed and the UN Singers sang a “Song of Peace.”
Mr. Ban then attended the annual Student Observance at UN Headquarters, where 700 middle and high school students, including refugees from Peru and Sudan, exchanged views on the theme “Peace: A Climate of Change” via video conference with young people at the UN missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lebanon and Sudan.
“Around me, I can see the next generation of scientists, business leaders, politicians, journalists, artists and civil society activists – perhaps even a future Secretary-General of the United Nations,” he told the youngsters. “In all of you, I can see the future of the United Nations, and of our world. Your energy and idealism make that future look bright.
“By participating in this International Day of Peace, you are demonstrating that you already know better that to repeat the mistakes of the past. You will choose to talk rather than fight. You will listen rather than shout. You will cooperate rather than condemn. You will protect our environment rather than over-exploit it.”