Moving from the pandemic to a global culture of peace

Shoshana Bekerman

Director/Inter Parliamentary Coalition for Global Ethics

De la pandemie la o cultură globală a păcii

Throughout the years since the founding of the United Nations in 1945, many multinational treaties on issues such as human rights, terrorism, international crime, refugees, disarmament, protection of the environment, commodities business ethics and social justice been enacted through the efforts of the United Nations to achieve sustainable global peace and stability. The U.N. organs, agencies, programs and bodies work tirelessly to implement the goals of the United Nations as specified in the U.N. Charter including: maintaining peace throughout the world; developing friendly relations among nations; helping nations work together to improve the lives of poor people; encourage respect for each other’s rights and freedoms; and serving as a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations to achieve these goals. The recent United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) encompass many of these aims for the next decade. Towards these ends, the General Assembly has passed a series of resolutions to facilitate the creation of a global Culture of Peace, a concept introduced to the United Nations by the former Director General of UNESCO, H.E. Prof. Federico Mayor. These resolutions form the foundation for a Culture of Peace, especially necessary in areas of conflict as well as in all societies and nations, torn by internal conflict and violence. Goal no. 16 of the UN SDGs aims to develop peaceful and inclusive societies, in order to accomplish all other stated goals.

The Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Global Ethics (IPCGE) was established as a resource for parliamentarians, religious and civic leaders from all U.N. member states. The goal of the IPCGE is to assure the implementation and legislation by member parliaments of the universal values of “global ethics” which we share, and to act together for prevention of international and national conflicts which pose a threat to freedom, human rights and environmental protection across the globe.

The initiative calls for parliamentarians to commit to initiating legislation on mandatory education for the implementation of the values of a culture of peace in their respective national parliaments. Religious and spiritual leaders will also be called upon to teach their followers and supporters the values and concepts of the culture of peace as inherent in global ethics and the law of the land; educators will be tasked with implementing education for the culture of peace in the educational system; civic leaders will join the effort to imprint the values of the culture of peace in civil society. Through the energetic support of Spanish Senator Gutierrez, the Council of Europe has issued a written document in support of this initiative. The recent global chaos in the social, health and economic arenas brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the crucial need for our initiative to help society recover from this trauma.

In a recent webinar held in partnership with the World Academy of Arts and Sciences, the former Speaker of the Parliament of Madagascar, H.E. Jean Max Rakatamamonjy, presented a further view which has been adopted by the IPCGE as a supplement to the ongoing initiative to implement a culture of peace. In the words of His Excellency: "Today, we're actually facing one of biggest world crises in the COVID-19 pandemic: it is time show support for each other and to bring down all barriers. Today, good health systems and infrastructures are key conditions in order to better fight the pandemic. However, in all countries affected by war, conflict and internal tensions, there is a lack of capacity to detect and slow the spread of the virus.

This explains why the UN first called for a Global ceasefire on March 23rd. This might seem like a request that would fall on the deaf ears of guerrillas, terrorists and belligerent governments across the globe. But over the past months, fighters from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Colombia or Ukraine have signalled a willingness to put down their weapons as the world confronts a deadly pandemic that could devastate civilian populations and armies alike. Indeed, it is very difficult to fight on two fronts at the same time, to manage both a war and a pandemic. In addition, COVID-19 has also provoked a series of discriminatory acts across the world, with different groups being targeted. Although the profile of the victims varies from one country to another, there seems to be a common pattern to the discriminatory acts that occurred during the pandemic: most often, the target is generally "the Other", the foreigner, a person belonging to an ethnic or cultural minority distinct from one’s own. The COVID-19 pandemic has tended to reinforce inequalities and to exacerbate the problems faced by disadvantaged groups, including equitable access to health care, social assistance, education and employment.

The main challenge is to take this as an opportunity for peace, for dialogue and negotiations. In order to do so, we need to invest in peace in a sustainable manner. Peace is not only a political problem defined by the absence of violence and war, but is also characterized by the liberation from fear and covers political, cultural, economic, environmental, social and educational issues alike. It involves living together with our differences - whether of sex, language, religion or culture, by promoting a universal respect for justice and the very human rights that such coexistence depends on.

Since we believe that the environment is important, we have created a Ministry of the Environment. Since we believe that education is important, we have created a Ministry of Education. The same goes for health and justice, which have their own Ministries. Yet what about peace? Why does it sound so alien to us to have a Ministry of Peace? Is it because we do not have examples of success? That is not true. Ethiopia just created one last year. The reality is that we don’t want to learn from each other. Is it because we do not know what kind of mandate this Ministry could have? Once again, it is not. This is not only a concept, since we know our needs – and therefore many specific tasks could be attributed to this kind of Ministry.

Not enough detailed attention has been given by academics and peace activists as to how the perspective for peace can be institutionalized within government and even within Parliaments. The perspective for peace will not suddenly emerge from within government; it has to be worked at. Creating such Ministries, or even related Parliamentarian commissions, is a very practical way of working for peace. We may already have peace institutes, national platforms working on the culture of peace or a national peace strategy, yet we can nevertheless have a greater impact, better coordination and more resources mobilized within a public administration fully dedicated to these aims. It would help in directing government policy towards the non-violent resolution of conflict prior to escalation to violence, and seeking peace by peaceful means above all."

The pandemic has not only affected people's health and livelihoods around the world, it has caused social upheaval in many nations and is creating a lasting impact on relations between individuals, communities and nations. Truly, the need for a culture of peace has never been greater.

In a High-Level Panel initiative organized by the Inter Parliamentary Coalition for Global Ethics in January 2020, prior to the global outbreak of the pandemic, the former Secretary of Peace of Guatemala outlined the accomplishments of her Ministry which was the first and only Ministry to function to establish a national culture of peace on the basis of that country's peace agreement signed in 1997.  It also featured an online education program on the culture of peace. The IPCGE hopes to promote this as a model for all nations to secure a better, more peaceful and more just world.

Another concept put forward during the High-Level Panel was the notion that societies cannot function without the voluntary actions and contributions of ordinary civilians and citizens. This concept has been promoted for the past few years by the Esther Ajayi Foundation. This was most evident during the pandemic, when it became clear in all affected nations that the government alone could not supply the sustainable needs of its citizens without the voluntary contribution of organizations and individuals. Towards that end, the IPCGE, in coordination with the Esther Ajayi Foundation, is initiating a Global Day of Giving to be presented as a resolution to the UN General Assembly. We hope to gain global support for this most crucial endeavour. One immediate project will be the "Art of Giving" global art competition for youth, an initiative which hopefully will bring this message to the youth and, through them, to the adults. We hope these goals will likewise be furthered in partnership with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization, as they truly represent the values of the ancient Levant.

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