As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upend economies and societies, while also threatening to erode trust in public institutions and democracy, it is critical that people everywhere continue to pursue peace.
That was the core message UN Secretary-General António Guterres delivered to Ambassadors meeting on Thursday for a virtual High-Level Forum on the Culture of Peace.
“Not since the United Nations was founded have we faced such a complex and multidimensional threat to global peace and security”, the UN chief said. “In the face of this grave danger, it is more important than ever to work for a culture of peace, as the essential foundation for global cooperation and action.”
Inner oneness, outer diversity
The concept of a culture of peace has its genesis in an initiative put forward more than 20 years ago by Anwarul K. Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi diplomat and former senior UN official.
Ambassadors have met annually since 2012 to uphold their commitment to the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, which the UN General Assembly adopted by consensus and without reservation on 13 September 1999.
Speaking at this year’s event, Mr. Chowdhury explained that a culture of peace simply means that everyone must consciously make peace and non-violence a part of their daily existence.
“We should not isolate peace as something separate or distant”, he advised. “We should know how to relate to one another without being aggressive, without being violent, without being disrespectful, without neglect, and without prejudice.”
He added that “In today’s world, more so, it should be seen as the essence of a new humanity based on inner oneness and outer diversity.”
The hour of greatest need
With countries still battling COVID-19, the need for a culture of peace has never been greater, according to the current General Assembly President.
Tijjani Muhammad-Bande listed some of the fallout from the pandemic, such as the disruption to education worldwide, rising domestic violence and hate speech, and an anticipated increase in extreme poverty and hunger.
“A culture of peace is more than just the absence of conflict as it embraces the inter-relationships between peace and development”, he said.
“Fostering a culture of peace means building global solidarity and cooperation much needed in these trying times.”
Central role of human rights
The UN chief laid out components for achieving a culture of peace, which he said must be centred on human rights, and on ending injustice and discrimination, whether based on gender, ethnic origin, religion, disability or sexual orientation.
“Throughout the pandemic and beyond, we need to invest in social cohesion, recognizing that diversity is a richness, not a threat. Each community must feel that its identity is respected, while playing a full part in society as a whole,” he stated.
Mr. Guterres called for “a new generation of social protection” anchored by Universal Health Care and the possibility of a universal basic income. He also stressed the importance of access to quality education, which he labelled “one of the great enablers of progress and crucial for nurturing new generations in understanding shared histories.”
The UN chief further showed how the culture of peace extends beyond humanity. He urged people everywhere to “work together with our planet, not in opposition to it”, including for the benefit of future generations.