A New Beginning for a New Millennium

    Can the world do without violence? The UN General Assembly says it can. By adopting two new texts -- a Declaration and a Program of Action on a Culture of Peace -- it declares: "peace is always possible and violence avoidable." The Assembly thus opposes the inevitability of the rule of imposition, force and violence which has characterized relations between individuals, groups, communities, peoples and nations since the dawn of time. 

    With these two texts, the international community -- the entire UN system -- acquires the tools to promote a culture of peace based on a universal ethical frame of reference and to preserve future generations from the scourge of war, as stipulated in the UN Charter.

    The provisions of the texts will inspire governments, international organizations and civil society. The culture of peace requires specific measures and the mobilization and participation of all people and involves a profound transformation of institutional structures as well as the values, attitudes and behaviors of individuals and groups in order to address the cultural roots of violent conflicts and wars.

    The adoption of the two texts was a sign of hope at the end of a century marked by two world wars, proliferating conflict in the Third World, nationalist upheaval and the growing assertiveness of local cultures marked by religious or cultural fundamentalism. Faced with recurrent tragedies, it is vital not to give up but, on the contrary, step up efforts to build a culture based on tolerance, democracy and respect for the rights of all.

A Long-term Undertaking

    Building a culture of peace is a long-term undertaking whose origins go back a long way. In itself, the creation of the United Nations system, in the aftermath of the Second World War, based on the values and goals common to all humanity, was an essential sign of the emergence of a culture of peace. For its part, UNESCO - as enshrined in its constitution, according to which "since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed" - has made the promotion of a culture of peace its essential mission.

    In the course of the last decade, the international instruments adopted as well as the declarations and different plans of action drawn up in world conferences under the auspices of the United Nations testify to the existence of norms, values and common objectives, all supporting a culture of peace. These constitute the basis of a universal ethical frame of reference. Each Member State can contribute to the promotion of a culture of peace by addressing the causes of conflicts so that they do not erupt into violence.

The Declaration adopted by the United Nations General Assembly defines the culture of peace as: 

A Global Strategy

    The Program of Action serves as a basis for the International Year for the Culture of Peace (Year 2000) and the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World. Member States are encouraged to take specific actions to promote a culture of peace at the national, regional and international levels. Civil society is encouraged to broaden its role. UNESCO should continue to play its important role and make major contributions. Partnerships between and among different actors should be increased and strengthened to build a global movement for a culture of peace.

Several specific measures on the national, regional and international levels are to be strengthened: those which foster a culture of peace through education, promote sustainable economic and social development, promote respect for all human rights, ensure equality between women and men, foster democratic participation, advance understanding, tolerance and solidarity, support participatory communication and the free flow of information and knowledge and promote international security.

Peace is Learned

    As UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor highlighted during the international Forum "For a Culture of Peace and Dialogue among Civilizations" held in Moscow (May 13-16, 1999), "education, a fundamental right of citizens, is one of the essential keys to the construction of the culture of peace. Multilingual and multicultural education develops tolerance and understanding among citizens free of prejudice."

Measures to inculcate a culture of peace through education involve:

    Also among the Program of Action's first measures are some promoting sustainable economic and social development: the international community and all actors in development should be made more aware of the need to undertake comprehensive actions on the basis of appropriate strategies and agreed targets to eradicate poverty. A major aim will be to strengthen the national capacity for implementation of policies and Programs designed to reduce economic and social inequalities within nations. Promoting debt relief is also prioritized, as are actions reinforcing national strategies for sustainable food security.
Other measures seek to promote respect for all human rights, including full implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action and achievement of the goals of the UN Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004). Priority is also given to realization and implementation of the right to development as well as to disseminating and promoting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    The Program of Action includes measures to ensure equality between women and men. The Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) stressed the need to give women greater political power and economic resources and ensure that they are fairly represented at all levels of economic and political decision-making. For this, resources will be accorded and national action plans drafted. At the same time, there will be provision and support for women who have become victims of any forms of violence, including in the home, workplace and during armed conflicts.

    The Program of Action includes a series of measures dealing with the promotion of international peace and security. They include promoting general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control. "Military conversion" activities, evidenced in some countries, are encouraged and there is support for initiatives to overcome problems arising from post-conflict situations, such as demobilization, reintegration of former combatants into society, as well as dealing with the problems faced by refugees and displaced persons.

    At the dawn of the 21st century, will all the countries of the world agree to write a new page of history? Peace is always possible, it can always prevail. But it has to be wanted, encouraged, nurtured and cultivated on a daily basis. As Mr. Mayor states, "without peace, there is no development, no justice, no democracy. To go from a culture of war and violence to a culture of peace and dialogue, we have to change the values, attitudes and behaviors of the past. Instead of the cynical proverb "If you want peace, prepare for war," we must say "If you want peace, prepare for peace and try to build it in your daily life".

Source: UNESCO's Office of Public Information, Paris, September 13, 1999.