10 January 2019
Building the Culture of Peace | Interview with Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
Throughout 2019, the Seikyo Shimbun, a daily newspaper of the Soka Gakkai in Japan ran a monthly Culture of Peace informational series “Building a Culture of Peace,” to mark the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace (UN General Assembly Resolution A/53/243). This interview by Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN and Founder of the Global Movement for the Culture of Peace (GMCoP) was the first in the series. Sharing his passion for and faith in the culture of peace, Ambassador Chowdhury explains the concept and background of the culture of peace, and the role each individual plays in creating and living the culture of peace.
Seikyo Shimbun: Could you explain the concept of the Culture of Peace?
Ambassador Chowdhury: Simply put, the Culture of Peace as a concept, as a motivation means that every one of us needs to consciously make peace and nonviolence a part of our daily existence. We should not isolate peace as something separate or distant. We should know how to relate to one another without being aggressive, without being violent, without being disrespectful, without neglect, without prejudice. It is important to realize that the absence of peace takes away the opportunities that we need to better ourselves, to prepare ourselves, to empower ourselves to face the challenges of our lives, individually and collectively. It is also a positive, dynamic participatory process wherein “dialogue is encouraged and conflicts are solved in a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation.”
Each and every individual is important to the process of transformation required to secure the culture of peace in our world. Each person must be convinced that nonviolent, cooperative action is possible. If a person succeeds in resolving a conflict in a nonviolent manner at any point in time, then this individual has made a big contribution to the world because this singular act has succeeded in transferring the spirit of nonviolence and cooperation to another individual. When repeated, such a spirit will grow exponentially, a practice that will become easier each time the choice is made to face a situation, resolve a conflict nonviolently.
On 16 December 1998, at a Security Council meeting on the maintenance of peace and security and post-conflict peace-building, I implored that “International peace and security can be best strengthened, not by actions of States alone, but by men and women through the inculcation of the culture of peace and non-violence in every human being and every sphere of activity. The objective of the culture of peace is the empowerment of people.”
SS: How and when did the concept of the Culture of Peace come to be?
AC: As we were coming out of the Cold War, it dawned on us to see how best to take advantage of the end of that era of bitter rivalry and proxy wars and to make peace sustainable. The Constitution of UNESCO says, “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” The concept of the culture of peace started evolving in this spirit, to promote a change of values and behavior. The International Congress on Peace in the Minds of Men held in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire in 1989 organized by UNESCO was a landmark gathering to give a boost and a profile to the concept.
In 1996, I was appointed as the Ambassador of Bangladesh to the United Nations in New York. And I felt that the culture of peace is a marvelous concept that humanity needs to embrace. I took the lead in proposing in 1997 along with some other Ambassadors in a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to include a specific, self-standing agenda item of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on culture of peace. A new agenda item on the culture of peace was thus agreed upon after considerable negotiating hurdles and the new item was allocated to the plenary of the General Assembly for discussion on an annual basis.
Under this item, UNGA adopted in 1997 a resolution to declare the year 2000 the “International Year for the Culture of Peace”, and in 1998, a resolution to declare the period from 2001 to 2010 the “International Decade for the Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World”.
On 13 September 1999, the United Nations adopted the Declaration and Programme of Action on the Culture of Peace, a monumental document that transcends boundaries, cultures, societies and nations. It was an honor for me to Chair the nine-month long negotiations that led to the adoption of this historic norm-setting document that is considered as one of the most significant legacies of the United Nations that would endure generations. Through this landmark adoption, the General Assembly laid down humanity’s charter for the new approaching millennium.
In this connection, I am delighted to announce that UNGA adopted a resolution on 12 December 2018 to observe the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the document in a befitting manner on 13 September 2019. I consider it a distinct honor to be invited to do this interview to inaugurate the year-long coverage by Seikyo Shimbun the 20th anniversary of the culture of peace. I would particularly commend the Soka Gakkai Women’s Peace Committee for this brilliant initiative to bring the message of the culture of peace to the people of Japan. Above all, SGI and its President Daisaku Ikeda has been a truly devoted partner in the building of the culture of peace.
A significant aspect of the essential message as articulated in the UN documents effectively asserts that the “culture of peace is a process of individual, collective and institutional transformation …” ‘Transformation’ is of the most essential relevance here. The Programme of Action identifies eight specific areas which encourage actions at all levels – the individual, the family, the community, the nation, the region - and, of course, the global level. Though the Declaration and Programme of Action is an agreement among nations, governments, civil society, media and individuals are all identified in this document as key actors.
SS: What drives your passion for and faith in the Culture of Peace as the leader for its development?
AC: I am not a leader. I am a humble advocate for the culture of peace and proud believer in its essential relevance for survival of our people and our planet.
Growing up in Bangladesh in a middle class family, early in childhood, my sister and I learned to interact with people in ways that greatly enhanced our learning on a variety of subjects, sharpened our communication skills, and developed empathy and compassion in us.
Among things that our parents taught my sister and me, one far-reaching lesson was how to treat other people. Treating everybody equally became very natural to us.
Another element in which my passion for and faith in the culture of peace has its foundation is that I joined the liberation war of Bangladesh, which started in March 1971. Since I was a diplomat, my efforts focused on mobilizing international support for our sovereign existence as a nation. I was seriously moved and traumatized by what I saw and what I heard from fleeing refugees. It had a long-lasting impact on my future emphasis on multilateral cooperation for development and, of course, on the culture of peace, women’s equality and rights of the child.
SS: What should we keep in mind as we promote the Culture of Peace?
AK: It is essential to remember that the culture of peace requires a change of our hearts, change of our mindset. The Culture of Peace can be achieved through simple ways of living, changing of your own behavior, changing how you relate to each other.
How do we build and promote the culture of peace? To turn the culture of peace into a global, universal movement, the most crucial element that is needed is for every one of us to be a true believer in peace and non-violence. A lot can be achieved in promoting the culture of peace through individual resolve and action. By immersing ourselves in a culture that supports and promotes peace, individual efforts will–over time–combine and unite, and peace, security and sustainability will emerge. This is the only way we shall achieve a just and sustainable peace in the world.
All educational institutions need to offer opportunities that prepare the students not only to live fulfilling lives but also to be responsible and productive citizens of the world. For that, educators need to introduce holistic and empowering curricula that cultivate the culture of peace in each and every young mind. Indeed, this should be more appropriately called “education for global citizenship”. Such learning cannot be achieved without well-intentioned, sustained, and systematic peace education that leads the way to the culture of peace. If our minds could be likened to a computer, then education provides the software with which to “reboot” our priorities and actions away from violence, towards the culture of peace.
For this, I believe that early childhood affords a unique opportunity for us to sow the seeds of transition from the culture of war to the culture of peace. The events that a child experiences early in life, the education that this child receives, and the community activities and socio-cultural mindset in which a child is immersed all contribute to how values, attitudes, traditions, modes of behavior, and ways of life develop. We need to use this window of opportunity to instill the rudiments that each individual needs to become agents of peace and nonviolence from an early life.
President Ikeda has highlighted empowerment of people–particularly women and young people–as a major element in building the culture of peace. As President Ikeda says, women are more caring, more mindful of what is in the best interests of society for present and future generations than men are. To that, I would like to add that young people of today should embrace the culture of peace in a way that can not only shape their lives but can also shape the future of the world.
Let us–yes, all of us–embrace the culture of peace for the good of humanity, for the sustainability of our planet and for making our world a better place to live.
Let that be our resolve as the world observes next year the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Culture of Peace Declaration and Programme of Action by the United Nations on 13 September 1999!
This interview was published in Japanese in the Seikyo Shimbun, a daily newspaper of the Soka Gakkai in Japan, on 10 January 2019.