I begin by conveying to the graduates my heart-felt congratulations for your achievements. It is a significant day for you as you stand on the threshold of your professional life. On this very special occasion, I want to share with you my thoughts on what I call the beacon of hope for the new millennium.
As we embark on our journey for the twenty-first century, we envisage many promises within the grasp of humankind. We see immense possibilities. We have the power to change the world for the better. We have the technology and the wealth. With collective efforts and will, we can eliminate hunger, eradicate disease, fight malnutrition and poverty and create a fulfilling future for all. We pay tribute to human creativity and genius for the progress achieved by humankind. For all the advances made – in science, literature, arts, management and medicine – the human mind has played the pivotal role. It has made the world a better place to live in.
But there is another side to the human mind as well. That other side is capable of breeding intolerance, harbouring hatred and inflicting pain on fellow human beings. It is this side of the human mind that poses the gravest challenge for the humanity. The challenge for us will be to prevent the human mind from becoming consumed by ignorance, fear, violence, fratricide and intolerance. We have seen in past century alone what these can do to undermine the progress of the human race. We have seen a culture of war and violence spread its venomous tentacles threatening to destroy all that is good, moral and just.
The dawning of the new millennium gives us a scope to take lessons from our past in order to build a new and better tomorrow. One lesson learned is that to prevent history repeating itself – the values of non-violence, tolerance and democracy will have to be inculcated in every woman and man – children and adults alike. All of you would have heard it many times, but I would like to quote from the UNESCO Constitution one more time because of its relevance and value: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” The flourishing of culture of peace will generate the mindset that is a prerequisite for the transition from force to reason, from conflict and violence to dialogue and peace. Culture of peace will then provide the bedrock to support a stable, progressing and prospering world – a world that is finally at peace with itself.
As Secretary-General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace laureate Kofi Annan has said, “Over the years we have come to realize that it is not enough to send peacekeeping forces to separate warring parties. It is not enough to engage in peace-building efforts after societies have been ravaged by conflict. It is not enough to conduct preventive diplomacy. All of this is essential work, but we want enduring results. We need, in short, a culture of peace.”
The first step towards examining the road to peace should start with an appreciation of the changing nature of conflicts. Gone are days of war between states for conquest, extension of spheres of influence in the name of ideology.
Today’s world and its problems are becoming increasingly more interdependent and interconnected due to globalization and advancement of science and technology. Most disturbing is that often today’s atrocities are directed to people living in the same community or neighbourhood. Hatred and intolerance have blurred the vision of the perpetrators. Interdependency of the world, if not addressed with sanity, can change into a social, economic, nuclear or environmental catastrophe. The magnitude of these problems requires all human beings to work together in finding new, workable, realistic solutions.
The need for a culture of peace is evident as we reflect on how our civilization has succumbed, from time to time, to the human frailties of greed, ambition, xenophobic myopia, and selfishness. We have seen that heinous acts are often committed under the veil of public mandates when in fact they are the wishes of the few in power, be they economic, political, military, or even religious. At other times, atrocities are committed out of a mistaken fear of the unknown.
The efforts at peace and reconciliation have to be based on an understanding of this new reality. Global efforts towards peace and reconciliation can only succeed with a collective approach built on trust, dialogue and collaboration. For that, we have to build a grand alliance amongst all, particularly with the proactive involvement and participation of civil society and young people like you. No social responsibility is greater nor task heavier than that of securing peace on our planet. As the great advocate for peace SGI President Daisaku Ikeda has exhorted, “Path to peace has not been and will not be easy, but never be defeated”.
Non-violence can truly flourish when the world is free of poverty, hunger, discrimination, exclusion, intolerance and hatred – when women and men can realize their highest potential and live a secure and fulfilling life. Until then, each and every one of us would have to contribute – collectively and individually – to build peace through non-violence. “Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being” – as Mahatma Gandhi has said. Here I also join Martin Luther King Jr. in saying “At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love”.
The United Nations, particularly with the broad-based support of civil society, has been at the forefront in building a culture of peace keeping in view the new global reality. In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace. The adoption of this document has been the most significant initiative at the United Nations in promoting culture of peace. To me, culture of peace is a set a values, attitudes and ways of life based on principle of freedom, justice, democracy, tolerance, solidarity, respect for diversity, dialogue and understanding. It has been an honour for me to Chair the nine-month long negotiations that led to the adoption of the Declaration and Programme of Action. I would always treasure and cherish that opportunity. For me this has been a realization of my personal commitment to peace and my humble contribution to humanity. I consider this document as one of the most significant legacies of the United Nations that would endure generations.
A very important way of promoting a culture of peace is through spreading of peace education. Peace education needs to be accepted in all parts of the world, in all societies and countries as an essential element in building a culture of peace. Peace studies in all educational institutions should be incorporated as part of their curricula. Peace studies should be an essential part of our educational process as reading and writing. Young people like you should mobilize support in your own spheres of activities for peace education. In this context, I would encourage you to support the Global Campaign for Peace Education which has been launched in May 1999 by the Hague Appeal for Peace. You should remember that peace education does not simply mean learning about conflicts and how to resolve them peacefully. It should also involve participation of young people in expressing their own ideas and cooperate with each other in order to eliminate violence in our societies. Worldwide efforts for spreading peace education is international community’s contribution to the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non Violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010), declared by the United Nations. I would like to particularly emphasize that national efforts and international cooperation should be reinvigorated for peace education and in this process children and youth should take the lead in organizing activities that would instill in them and others the values of a culture of peace.
Here, I would like to make a special reference to the role of the family in promoting a culture of peace. As the oldest institution in human history, family is absolutely at the core of promotion of culture of peace. Younger members of the society, growing up in a family that teaches them the virtues of tolerance, harmony and understanding, will grow up with the right values that inculcate culture of peace.
We should remember that the work for peace is a continuous process. Each of us can make a difference in that process. This is specially true of young people like you. You should take the initiative in your hands without waiting for the others to tell you what to do. And remember that you will always find the United Nations as a valuable partner in building a culture of peace.
It is uniquely remarkable that President Ikeda has been presenting with great enthusiasm and determination his peace proposals every year for the last twenty years. He particularly emphasizes the positive, active pursuit of peace as opposed to the absence of war that he calls “passive peace”. Recognizing the challenging realities of the present day world, he has been focussing on the need for promoting a culture of peace, peace through dialogue, peace through non-violence. He has been emphasizing that a culture of peace should be the foundation of the new global society. He very appropriately underscores that peace is not something which is distant but it is something which can be pursued through day-to-day efforts by cultivating care and consideration for others and through understanding, tolerance and respect for diversity. He has highlighted empowerment of people as a major element in building a culture of peace and very eloquently emphasized the emergence of women in leading the way for that.
I believe that the real foundation of all the peace proposals of President Ikeda has been the reawakening of human spirit — spirit that should energize and empower each and every individual belonging to our planet with love and concern for each other for the greater good of humanity. He talks about a human revolution which will bring out the best in everybody and which should be the ultimate objective of every individual and every nation.
“Victory over violence” – the grassroots campaign to raise awareness against violence, launched in August 1999 throughout the
Peace is a prerequisite for human development. Peace is meaningful only when we have peace within and peace without. In the changed world we live in, it is time to discard the eye for an eye approach. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind.” We have experienced enough violence. We cannot afford more. The time to act is NOW. And for that objective, I believe that culture of peace should be absolutely the most essential vehicle for realizing the goals and objectives of the United Nations in the twenty-first century.
Let me end on a note of guarded optimism. I believe the time of culture of peace has come. It is no longer an idea nor just a concept – it is growing into a global movement with the dedicated efforts of people like you. But that only means we have crossed the first hurdle. The rest of the journey will take us to our streets where millions are without shelter; to our schools where children are denied proper education; to our communities where poverty is endemic and harmony exists only in hope; to our societies where discrimination and exclusion is still the order of the day; but most importantly, to every human mind to rid them of the evils of intolerance and prejudice, ignorance and selfishness that compel them to repeat the cycle of violence. Only then, our movement for culture of peace would have achieved its objective. Only then, the world will be a better place to live for us, for our children and for our grandchildren.
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