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Sunday, 18 September 2011





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This year's theme - Peace and Democracy:

Three decades of World Peace Day

Peace, everyone wants it, but only a few find it. In a world torn apart by conflict and war, peace is the ultimate goal. Sri Lankans are now experiencing peace after almost 30 years and the world over, there are millions of people who still yearn to experience it. Yet, it is not easy to achieve.

Peace is not only the absence of war or conflict – it is very much a state of mind. The seeds of peace should first be planted in our hearts. It is only through such a collective effort that peace can be established everywhere.

This is the aim of the International Peace Day, which falls every year on September 21. This year’s Peace Day is especially significant, as it marks the 30th anniversary of the Peace Day concept launched by the United Nations in 1981, although Peace Day was actually celebrated only from 1982.

President of the Kyung Hee University of South Korea Young Seek Choue proposed the idea for a Peace Day at a conference of the International Association of University Presidents held in San Jose, Costa Rica, in 1981. The proposal was presented by Costa Rica and endorsed by the 36th session of the UN General Assembly on November 30 1981, in resolution 36/67. However, it was only in 2002 that September 21 was declared International Peace Day on a permanent basis.

"Peace Day should be devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples. This day will serve as a reminder to all peoples that our organisation, with all its limitations, is a living instrument in the service of peace and should serve all of us here within the organisation as a constantly pealing bell reminding us that our permanent commitment, above all interests or differences of any kind, is to peace." (UN Peace Day resolution)

Ideals of peace

The UN General Assembly has declared this as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace, both within and among all nations and peoples. Individuals too can make a positive contribution to make peace in addition to governments and warring factions. However, peace cannot exist or work in isolation. It needs several other requirements such as freedom and democracy to thrive.

Indeed, the theme for this year’s International Day of Peace (also known as World Peace Day) reflects this intimate bond - “Peace and Democracy: Make Your Voice Heard”.

It goes without saying that peace and democracy are inextricably linked. Together, they form a partnership that promotes the well-being of all. Embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, democracy supports an environment for a host of political rights and civil liberties. This year’s theme is thus a call for peace as well as democracy. Yes, even the simple act of casting your vote at an election is an expression of one’s faith in democracy and peace. A vote is a powerful ‘voice’ in a democracy.

There is a healthy debate in our country on the best ways that the peace momentum can be maintained and reconciliation among different segments of the population achieved. A Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) will be established to evolve a political solution acceptable to all communities in the country. This can be described as a fine example for the intricate link between peace and democracy.

Importance of democracy

The holding of elections in the North after the defeat of terrorism also indicates the importance of democracy to a culture of peace. This is thus an ideal opportunity for citizens to apprise MPs about their own ideas for lasting peace and reconciliation; they in turn can present such ideas to the PSC.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki -moon, in his message on World Peace Day 2011, also reminds us of the connection between peace and democracy. “Peace is our mission; our day-to-day quest. Democracy is a core value of the United Nations. It provides channels for resolving differences. But democracy does not just happen; it has to be nurtured and defended. The world needs you to speak out.”

Incidentally, he opened the “Give Peace Another Chance” symposium in observance of the annual International Day of Peace last Wednesday, where these points were stressed.

On Peace Day itself, the "Peace Bell" will be rung at UN Headquarters in New York City. The bell is cast from coins donated by children from all continents. It was given as a gift by the United Nations Association of Japan, and is referred to as "a reminder of the human cost of war." The inscription on its side reads: "Long live absolute world peace."

Individuals can wear White Peace Doves to commemorate the International Day of Peace. Some communities will also release live white doves, a symbol of peace, to signify peace efforts.

Advocates of peace are already looking forward to one significant event next year: For Peace Day 2012, several organisations around the world are calling for and working towards a Global Truce - a day of ceasefire and non-violence observed by all sectors of society globally. It is hoped that this will be the largest reduction in global violence in recorded history internationally.

It need not necessarily be a big event. One can light a candle for peace or meditate thinking about the serenity of peace. One can make peace with personal enemies, resolve disputes at work or home or join a group that works for peace. After all, peace begins at home. Such individual efforts, magnified on a global scale, can and do make a difference. We tend to think that achieving peace is difficult, but it can start on a simple note too.

Role of religions

Religions can also play a major role in spreading peace. All religions advocate peace and urge their followers to work for it. Unfortunately, there are misguided elements who misuse religion for violent purposes. Religious leaders have an obligation to step in and stop such tendencies.

At town or village level, religious leaders can spread the message of peace among their congregations. They can step in to settle personal disputes as well. Above all, religious schools can produce a generation of youth who aspire for peace.

Children at a Peace Day event

It is vital that everyone from students to world leaders aspires for peace. There still are around 20 major conflicts around the world, with an average of 500 deaths each annually although there has been a drop in the number of armed conflicts since the 1980s. While some of them are widely known, many others go unnoticed by the world’s media.

Most, if not all, of these conflicts are in the developing world in Africa, Asia and South America. There are also instances of military interventions by superpowers in several countries which have brought disastrous consequences for the people of those countries.

Apart from conflicts per se, another dangerous trend is the escalation of terrorist attacks in some parts of the world. As we have experienced ourselves, situations of strife and terrorism in developing countries can devastate their economies and shatter the lives of ordinary people from a child recruited as a soldier by a terror group to a worker who dies in a bomb explosion.

Wars and conflicts lead to more poverty and deprivation of basic human rights.

It has been shown that the biggest death tolls do not come from actual fighting, but from war-exacerbated disease and malnutrition. Peace and democracy are often the first casualties of these conflicts. Thus, resolving these conflicts is essential for these countries and regions to develop and prosper.

This Peace Day and next year’s planned Global Truce could truly transform the world if there is a genuine determination to bring peace and democracy to conflict-ridden parts of the globe. That should be the wish of all those who desire peace. A world free of strife would mean a better life for all its seven billion inhabitants.



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