|High-Level Meeting on Culture of Peace (Agenda Item 45), Sixty-Third Session of the United Nations General Assembly|
|Thursday, 13 November 2008 18:43|
Statement by Ambassador H.M.G.S.Palihakkara Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations at the High-Level Meeting on Culture of Peace (Agenda Item 45), Sixty-Third Session of the United Nations General Assembly
The delegation of Sri Lanka commends you and His Majesty, King Abullah bin Abulaziz of Saudi Arabia, for this initiative to convene a high level meeting of the General Assembly on the subject of Culture of Peace. The world community is confronted with multiple crises, that touch upon human and inter state behavior in all its aspects, heightening tensions, uncertainty and even fear and anxiety. It is indeed timely to reflect on the need to understand and deal with the scourge extremism, terrorism, violence, hatred and xenophobic tendencies that lie at the root of these problems. Initiatives on dialogue among civilizations, dialogue among faiths, and dialogue among peoples and communities are not new. They have been and remain an integral part of the human endeavour to overcome conflict and intolerance. When the theories on the imminent clashes of civilization were being propounded by some, there were wise initiatives in Asia about a decade ago to promote a dialogue among civilizations. This process has come a long way. It was heartening to see its further evolution through high level meetings taking place at important venues from Madrid to Phnom Penh and from Tehran to Astana covering almost all corners of the world and now coming to fruition here at the United Nations in New York.
All these initiatives are timely in a world beset by words and deeds of bigotry. The present dialogue can deepen mutual understanding and evolve shared perspectives on common challenges affecting humanity and a vision of a collective response to such challenges, rooted in values and ethics.
Culture of peace should not be a rhetorical exercise or a matter of precept alone. Nor is it a debate on values against human rights or vice versa. Rather, it is entrenchment of a set of practices followed by men and women, who strode the world as envoys of harmony, building bridges between nations and peoples as well as cultures and civilizations. The fact that these men and women imparted the message of peace, friendship and understanding, as well as love and compassion, through personal examples make it evident that such a mission is not beyond the reach of ordinary men and women like us. It is certainly not something which is super natural or beyond our ability to practice, provided we have the will and the determination to transcend all divides that separate us.
That a Culture of Peace is the core value underpinning all of the major religions of the world is self evident. The crises of the past and present notwithstanding, we also live in an era where examples of great men and women, who have nurtured, practiced and given meaning to the concept of non-violence, tolerance and passive resistance without resort to terror or without harm to fellow human beings, have become more relevant today than ever before. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and the living legend Nelson Mandela are but a few who continue to remain the icons of peace and reconciliation. Their missions and lives have drawn more on the inner strength of being human, proving beyond any shadow of doubt that intolerance and terrorism have no place in any human endeavour to overcome oppression, denial or deprivation. There are a countless number of persons still out there, practicing these ethics even today providing “best practices” approaches to peace building and conflict resolution. As we invest time, resources and energy in forums like these it is also timely that we took a leaf out of their lives as we reflect on this important aspect of advancing a culture of peace at all levels.
We live in an increasingly fragile and polarized world. Underdevelopment, poverty and a multiplicity or social and economic ills, compounded by hatred, terrorism, defamation of religions and cultures, unsustainable consumption and exploitation continue to beset humanity. Environmental degradation, erosion of ethical values, continued weaponisation of human security, including the WMD menace, and organized crime continue to push the world towards instability and crisis. While human ingenuity has heralded breathtaking science and technology, the benefits of such creativity are increasingly being outweighed by the potential for misdirection and exploitation that these have entailed. Supremacist attitudes or assumption of control over fellow human beings that result, could militate against our efforts towards peace and tranquility in the world.
A culture of peace by definition is much more than just peace and security we often talk about. It encompasses a whole gamut of positive attributes needed to replace a culture of weapons and violence, misery and repression that has dominated the human history. These include respecting life, rejecting terrorism and violence, sharing with others, listening to understand, preserving the planet, rediscovering solidarity, and participating in democracy. This is not an exhaustive list of attributes that go into making a culture of peace a comprehensive concept. There are yet more, which both relate to our way of life as well as our relationship with fellow human beings. Compassion, not hatred and informed inquiry, not blind following, as advocated in Buddhism are key strands which run through the concept of a culture of peace.
The reports before us bring out these aspects more sharply into focus. An important aspect touched on by these reports is the role of values and ethos, instilled in the hearts and minds of people, through a sustained, conscious process of awareness-generation and enlightenment, which helps make precepts and practices of peace a culture in its own right. This takes place through mutual acceptance of diversity and pluralism as well as shared commitment to reconciliation and inclusiveness. A key to advancing a culture of peace lies, of course, in education both in its formal and non-formal systems. It is important thus that education should focus more on appreciation of cultural and civilizational values of different peoples and communities including their specific cultural forms, distinctive arts and creative expressions of peace. Civilizational linkages between and among communities and nations play a catalytic role in strengthening the ambience of peace. The role of dialogue as the ideal channel of enhancing mutual understanding and cooperation among peoples thus becomes even more pronounced.
A concept of culture of peace presupposes realizing equity and equality for all with justice and dignity. An absence of these would naturally negate any effort at achieving a global order conducive to stability and prosperity. A comprehensive approach to enhancing a culture of peace, therefore, remains predicated on a lasting commitment and will to take meaningful measures on multiple fronts, essential to securing humanity;
- First, emphasis should be on the imperative of peaceful co-existence.
- Positive recognition of differences in the ways of lives and expressions of ideas as well as pursuits of beliefs is of equal importance.
- We should both strengthen and expand the platform for dialogue. It is unfortunate that dialogue is often confused with argument, and consequently, an overemphasis on argument culture has overshadowed the importance of a culture of dialogue. This is true of many peace making efforts, whether inter-state or intra state. We need to reverse this trend. Arguments often create only adversarial processes whereas a culture of dialogue would at best emphasize on agreeing to disagree.
- A positive recognition that no religion, community, or ethnicity can be equated or associated with violence or terrorism is crucial to sustainable peace. Equally, no entity postulating or practicing terrorism can or should be allowed to claim to represent any community, ethnic or religious interests.
- It is important to address vulnerabilities, compounded by backwardness, social and economic exclusions, including by upholding the value of affirmative action as and when necessary.
- We should emphasize on a proactive, all inclusive, multi-stakeholder approach on peace building in societies where diversity and pluralism could make a lasting contribution to achieving stability and cohesion. The contributions of all religions and philosophies, which the developing world is proudly heir to, remain valid and essential to a comprehensive global peace building drive.
- It is imperative that we take conscious and determined action to more humanize our thoughts and conduct. We witness on a daily basis media – and even intellectuals – describing ordinary events in militaristic terms. It is unfortunate that we continue to posit civilians in the dichotomy of combatants versus non-combatants whereas, distinction should in fact be civilians versus non-civilians. The introduction of the term collateral into the lexicon of human relations is one of the most negative developments in recent years. It is time that we -and younger generations- were weaned away from these. Only terrorist groups would benefit from such weaponised thought processes.
Last but not least, we should build on the positive aspects of our different value systems and belief systems in order to harness a greater understanding and rapprochement. Media, like other actors and players, need to play a catalytic role in this context. It is time to desist from promotion of conflict and glorifying terrorism and rededicate ourselves to actively strengthening the foundation for multiculturalism and coexistence.
As a country where the four major religions, namely Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, have coexisted for centuries in peace and harmony, Sri Lanka shares the intrinsic belief in the value and importance of a sustained dialogue among civilizations and cultures as well as inter-religious and intercultural cooperation for peace. That spirit and ethic of co-existence and mutual respect have been the bedrock of our 2500 year old civilization founded on the core Buddhist values of compassion, understanding, modest living and nature friendliness. Buddhism and other religions have immense potential and scope to play crucial roles, as religions of peace, in culture of peace initiatives.