Tag Archives: Culture of Peace

A Friend in Need:  The UN declares its intentions on migrants and refugees, Dr. Robert Zuber

31 Jul

dayoffriendshipToday is Friendship Day, a time to contemplate what we mean to and for each other, the many ways in which our lives intertwine, and how we can better accompany friends, family and colleagues as a precondition for staying our own course.

At the UN, this day is intended in part to support the goals and objectives of the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, a “culture” that privileges respect of persons, honors community and international obligations to rights and development, and refrains from any behavior that impedes the ability of others to pursue a life of dignity.

When I was younger, there was a saying that in our 20s we think we’ll be “saved” by love; in our 30s by friendship.  Well into our 40s we realize that nothing will save us.  Indeed, at that point in life, most are encouraged to turn from our preoccupation with personal ambition and emotional reassurance to embrace the challenges of a world not where we want or need it to be, certainly not what we wish to leave as our legacy to those we love and those we’ll never know.

This repositioning of life energy, I would argue, is in itself an act of friendship.  To brave the cold, harsh winds that currently batter our politics and our compromise our best selves, to eschew narrow self-preoccupations and seek to reign in the current madness without creating more of it, these are great acts of courage and kindness worthy of the best of friendship.

Global Action, like many small ventures, survives on such acts.  The confidence that is shown in us, the financial sacrifices that others make for us, the interest that others show in our impact (real and potential), the inspiration that comes to us from the valuable work of others, all are so very deeply appreciated.  Indeed, we recognize that some of these gifts are offered mostly on faith, mostly on the hope that, together with many other voices, we can help steer this partially disabled ship towards calmer, safer, fairer waters.

And these attributes and gifts are in no way confined to the relationship between small policy offices and their benefactors.  In my Inbox this morning is the fruit of many weeks of careful, sometimes painful negotiations towards adoption of a “Political Declaration” to address the question of large movements of refugees and migrants, a declaration that in its final form will be adopted at the UN by foreign ministers and/or heads of state in September.

Ambassadors Kawar of Jordan and Donoghue of Ireland are among the most respected diplomats currently at the UN, and as co-facilitators they carefully steered this General Assembly process through many drafts and some significant state objections; all this with the backdrop of millions of men, women and children on the move while responsibilities for their wellbeing are at present disproportionally confined to a few states that are “middle income” at best – Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and others.

The Declaration seeks to balance some difficult policy controversies – how to protect internally displaced persons without compromising state sovereignty; how to describe the “burdens” assumed by host states without implicating migrants and refugees as “burdens” themselves; how to calibrate what the UN often refers to as “common but differentiated” responsibilities such that more states are able and willing to extend concrete acts of friendship and protection to persons –especially children – displaced by armed violence, political instability and climate-related impacts that we have collectively not done enough to prevent.

The language of this draft Declaration makes such responsibilities crystal clear: We are determined to save lives.  Our challenge is above all moral and humanitarian.  Equally, we are determined to find long-term and sustainable solutions.  We will combat with all the means at our disposal the abuses and exploitation suffered by countless refugees and migrants in vulnerable situations. We acknowledge a shared responsibility to manage large movements of refugees and migrants in a humane, sensitive, compassionate and people-centred manner.

These are the values that represent the best of what the UN is capable of.   These are also the values on which a durable, dependable, inclusive, global friendship is built.

On this Friendship Day, it might be interesting to note that, in 1998, none other than Winnie the Pooh was named Ambassador of Friendship at the United Nations.  Pooh’s fictional “character” has been described elsewhere as a bit naive and slow-witted, but also friendly, thoughtful, and steadfast.  The draft Political Declaration negotiated over many weeks by Ambassadors Kawar and Donoghue resolutely avoids the first set of characteristics but might well serve as a model for the latter.

When asked by others what I need from my friends, my answer is essentially the same as what I imagine they need from me – insight and forgiveness: insight in the form of active attentiveness, challenge to our own status quo, an insistence that we become the best that we are capable of being; forgiveness in the form of confessing how our stubborn judgments sometimes betray our values and commitments, how we are sometimes “in the way” of the objectives of our heart’s desire ( not to mention the needs of a planet under stress), how we sometimes give in to the temptation to treat persons in crisis as though they have a life-threatening communicable disease.

Whether with colleagues or migrants, we can all “friend” better.   Let’s use part of this day to figure out how that’s done.

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The UN’s Anniversary Season:   September Barricades and Ritual Benefits, Dr. Robert Zuber

14 Sep

This past week, the UN hosted three events – on the 10th anniversary of the Responsibility to Protect (RtoP), on promoting a Culture of Peace, and on ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) – all of which are now annual events on the UN’s September calendar.   On Monday the 14th (today) there is another commemoration, 10 years of addressing threats posed by incitement to commit terrorist acts based on Security Council Resolution (SCR) 1624.  Later this fall, Spain will preside over a 15 year celebration and review of SCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.   Other commemorative events will quickly fill the UN calendar in its 70th year.

Anniversaries can be the stuff of Hallmark Cards, full of sentimentality and, at times, optimism bordering on escapism.  We’ve all “celebrated” anniversaries in one form or other – marriages, birthdays, work tenure, institutional longevity.   Some of these milestones represent true celebrations of high achievement – productivity, loyalty, innovation – while others chronicle sorrows, disappointments and unfulfilled expectations.  Probably most fall somewhere else, in that uneasy space between knowing we’ve done well with what we’ve been given, and knowing that we haven’t yet done enough.

Such is the case as well for our small office, now honoring and assessing 10 years of Global Action’s (GAPW) current leadership.   We’ve done some good things, made some stable connections, helped launch new initiatives, written books and blogs, tweeted across the social universe, mentored many extraordinary young people, etc.   And still the ice caps melt, refugees gather desperately at sometimes hostile borders, human rights take a beating from Yemen to Ukraine, species are pushed towards extinction,  pandemics are one unsuspecting host away from emerging, weapons continue to flow in many deadly directions.

Have we “done our jobs,” or have we not?   Some days it is hard to tell.  Clearly the problems that persist on our watch and that have defied resolution over many years should make us pause – and keep our advocacy strategies humble.  But pausing is not the same as giving in, and humility is the proper accompaniment of hopefulness, not its adversary.

Yesterday, friends of GAPW hosted a Garden Party to honor our past 10 years of mostly modest achievements.  Among its other benefits, the Party was a reminder of how important it is for persons, communities and institutions to invest in ritual celebrations of many kinds.  Such rituals serve as ‘place markers’ for people in the midst of so much change, so much turmoil.   In a world of such a pace as ours, with so many demands and accompanying distractions, it is important for all of us to double back on the memories and symbols that help to define our life paths.   It is important for us in this work to smile a bit more and also to renew pledges not to lose touch with the values and aspirations that motivated participation in our loftiest projects in the first instance.

But as intimated by CTBTO’s Lassina Zerbo during last week’s session, there is always more to be done than honoring and remembering.  There is also assessing and changing to address new circumstances.  In practical terms during this “anniversary season,” there is also the need to ask how we can best expand efforts towards full CTBT ratification, how we can push the Responsibility to Protect norm into a broader diplomatic engagement within the UN General Assembly (as several states in last week’s interactive debate suggested), how we can advocate for cultures of peace when there is sometimes so little peace within us or around us.

Soon to come at the UN is another “anniversary” of sort – that time each September when we are all reminded of our true place in the global hierarchy.  The conference rooms that we visit many hours each day will become largely off limits to us.   For this short period, we apparently become more of annoyance to the UN system than a valued accompaniment, a security threat more than a welcome advocate for a fair and inclusive global system.

There are currently no rituals to give meaning to these annual restrictions, and probably no taste for developing any.  But for us and perhaps for others on the non-state side of the UN system, this has now become our time for seasonal assessment of the ways in which we are – or are not – fulfilling the responsibilities entrusted to us. This is our time to ensure we are doing all we can with whatever means we have at our disposal such that the “high level” doors to access for the needs and aspirations of diverse civil society are not closed to all, even if some are temporarily closed to us.

For this office in its 10th year, the “promised land” still largely exists in the form of a promise. During the UN’s anniversary period, as so many temporary access barriers are being erected, we will lay plans for engagement – both policy and ritual – to offer our best guidance, attentiveness and hospitality to the diplomatic community once our freedom has been restored to resume walking the long road that now lies in front of us.