“In a new millennium, let us rediscover faith. Not in order to use it against others like has happened so many times in our history, but to understand our reason for existing in this world. Peace is the name of God. “ – Professor Dr. Emil Constantinescu
This statement by Professor Dr. Emil Constantinescu, former president of Romania, was made during the United Nations High Level Forum on The Culture of Peace on Wednesday, September 9 .1 The Lutheran Office for World Community had the opportunity to attend this all-day event, which focused on fostering a “culture of peace” in our world today. This concept, “Culture of Peace”, is rooted in A/RES/53/243, a resolution passed during the 53rd Session of the General Assembly in 1999. In this resolution, “Culture of Peace” is a set of attitudes and values based on non-violence, dialogue, cooperation, the promotion of human rights, developmental and environmental needs, gender equality, and the freedom of expression, just to name a few. This resolution was further bolstered by resolution A/RES/56/5 in 2001, which declared 2001-2010 the “International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World.” Similarly, the General Assembly passed a resolution in 2012 (A/RES/68/125) reiterating the original “Culture of Peace” resolution passed in 1999. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America observed a “Decade for a Culture of Nonviolence” between 2000 and 2010.
The forum on the 9th continued in the tradition of continually reinforcing the “Culture of Peace.” Specifically, panelists, experts and national representatives focused on the upcoming 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs) and the role of the media in creating an international peace culture. Various national delegates also had the opportunity to express their visions of the future. The United States spoke of a future where freedom of expression and journalism contribute to this culture of peace, while Bangladesh spoke fervently about violence that stems from intolerance, as well as the violent division that occurs when walls between peoples are built. Overall, the energy in the room was optimistic; optimistic for a future devoid of violence and hate.
However, just one day prior, on September 8, the Lutheran Office for World Community also took the opportunity to sit in on a General Assembly Informal Interactive Dialogue on the Report of the Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect. “Responsibility to Protect” is a concept that has been developing since 2005, which outlines three methods for dealing with atrocity and violence occurring in our world. The third method, arguably the most contested among Member States, provides the international community the opportunity to take collective action against crimes of genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, etc.2 This third method was most recently utilized by the Security Council in 2011 in the actions it took against authorities in Libya, following the widespread violence against civilians.3
During this dialogue on September 8, the concept of the “Responsibility to Protect” manifesting in collective action was contested. The Russian Federation spoke out against international efforts to intervene. Citing Libya as an example, they argued that the situation in Libya has spiraled into chaos and instability – a direct consequence of this policy.4 On the other hand, the United States praised the “Responsibility to Protect” and invoked the current situation in Syria as reason for further attempts of international collective action.4 While the support for the “Responsibility to Protect” was noticeable, many concerns were voiced over the use of international collective force in the face of atrocity.
These two all-day events, occurring just one day apart from each other, were my first two official experiences in the United Nations. I left the building after the second event and asked myself the following questions: How do we as Lutherans, peacemakers and followers of a loving God, who are eager and willing to build a worldwide Culture of Peace, respond to the current reality of violence and atrocity in some parts of the world? Do we invoke collective action among UN Member States, often times using violence against oppressive regimes? Or do we rely solely on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, hoping that economic and social development will provide the seeds for peaceful cultures?
As a fresh-out-of-university 22 year old, I cannot begin to answer these questions. National delegates, humanitarian organizations, and international church bodies have been discussing this complex dichotomy for years. However, I have to return to the inspiring words of Professor Dr. Emil Constantinescu about using faith as a means for peace:
“… the world powers, international organizations, the United Nations, the UNESCO, the civil society, try to create a political culture of security through negotiation and cooperation, in order to promote peace and understanding throughout the world. We are looking for the lowest common denominator, on which everybody can agree. My opinion is that we should plan for more. If we want to make real peace and understanding between people, we must focus to identify, not the lowest common denominator, but we should relate ourselves to the highest common denominator – faith.”
I have been overwhelmed with admiration for how active faith-based groups are at the United Nations. Social justice is at the forefront of all conversations, faith is shared, and ecumenical working groups have formed to promote peace in its many forms – climate justice, gender justice, and hunger relief, just to name a few. These groups, many ecumenical and inter-faith, illustrate how justice and peace can be created in an ever-increasingly diverse world.
And while I unfortunately still cannot answer my questions posed above, I will attempt to answer them with another question: How can we use faith in this millennium to reconcile the security-based concept of “Responsibility to Protect” and the development concept of ”Culture of Peace”?
Let us continue to work to bring faith into all conversations here at the United Nations and use faith as a tool for advocacy, partnership, and understanding, not as a tool for division. Through this, I am already confident that change can be made and that people will see peace.
To view the recorded webcast of the General Assembly Informal Interactive Dialogue on the Report of the Secretary-General on the Responsibility to Protect, please click here.
To view the recorded webcast of the United Nations High Level Forum on The Culture of Peace, please click here.