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UNESCO New Zealand Lecture - A Culture of Peace

Issue date: 
Wednesday, 18 July 2001
The Hon Dame Silvia Cartwright, PCNZM, DBE, QSO

Nga hau e wha, nga iwi e tau nei, tena koutou katoa

E nga mana, e nga reo, rau rangatira ma, tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa

My greetings to you all, people who have gathered from near and from far.

To all honoured guests, to the speakers, my respects and my greetings.

The year 2000 was the International Year for the Culture of Peace, and this year marks the beginning of the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World. So I am delighted to have been asked by National Commission for UNESCO to speak this evening about a culture of peace.

When a year is designated as way of marking a particular subject or objective there will always be a sharper focus on the issue than in any other year. The International Year for the Disabled for example, produced many valuable improvements worldwide for those who are physically or intellectually disabled.

So too, the International Year for Women back in the 1970s stimulated widespread discussion and policy development which improved the status of women. An international year will stimulate many changes, some of which will be of permanent benefit. It is hoped therefore that the momentum achieved during this year will continue and be strengthened in the years ahead.

Although the goal of global peace may, at times, seem unattainable, there are few who would doubt that we must continue to strive toward making this a more peaceful world.

In seeking to attain that goal, we must work first towards understanding exactly what peace means. Peace does not simply mean an absence of war. We can live in a world without war, yet one in which conflict remains palpable. And that is not truly a state of peace.

The quest for peace begins with an examination of the attitudes and values held by individuals and communities. To quote the UNESCO Constitution: " since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed."

We have expended considerable effort in determining how peace can be constructed and sustained. This has involved an examination of the individual traits that are found where peace prospers. They include tolerance, respect for others, and for their human rights.

And our understanding of the term 'human rights' and desire to implement them has also expanded. We now know that the protection and promotion of human rights benefits us as well as those whose rights are threatened.

Over 50 years since the Charter of the United Nations was drawn, we now observe a wider range of rights than the fundamental rights to life, to liberty, and security of person. We acknowledge the wisdom of the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when it recognised that the 'inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world'. We now accept, for example, that everyone has a right to development - to share fairly in the world's goods and opportunities; that we all have the right to freedom from violence both in our private as well as in our public lives.

We understand, too, that we cannot have peace if we fail to protect the environment. We can survive as a population only if we conserve, develop sustainably, and protect the world's resources. We know that if we fail in these objectives there will be little chance of peace in our lifetimes and certainly even less in our children's and grandchildren's.

In order then to improve our peace and security, we must address a diverse range of issues, including economic development, social justice, and protection of the environment, political equality, disarmament and human rights, and always nurturing democracy. In addressing these issues, we have become acutely aware that the battle for peace is waged at home as well as overseas. Promotion of peace in the family and in the community is as important as peace building internationally.

We New Zealanders regard ourselves as a peaceful people. For many years now we have proclaimed this internationally, working to resolve conflict and to prevent new ones.

Recently the Prime Minister has affirmed again New Zealand's commitment to working for a more peaceful world. Our humanitarian efforts, in the form of support for UN peacekeeping missions and foreign aid programmes, and our long-term work for nuclear disarmament, demonstrate our strong commitment to peace and security.

New Zealand continues to be committed to working with the UN to help bring an end to violence. The Cold War has ended, but internal conflicts continue to plague member nations. Recent turmoil in East Timor, Kosovo and Sierra Leone has highlighted the brutal consequences for civilians caught up in conflict.

Huge numbers are displaced internally and become refugees, hunger and violence escalate, racism increases, and the education of children is disrupted, sometimes permanently. Women and children, the disabled, and displaced and ethnic and religious minorities fare particularly badly.

New Zealand has a long and distinguished record for supporting multinational peacekeeping missions. And it is an area of activity in which we show particular aptitude, and for which our forces are much in demand. In order to build on this expertise and to promote peace, one of the government's five key objectives for New Zealand's defence policy is to contribute to global security and peacekeeping through participation in the full range of UN and other appropriate multilateral peace support and humanitarian relief operations.

Currently there are nearly 800 New Zealand Defence Force personnel deployed in thirteen separate peace support and mine action missions worldwide. In addition, New Zealand Police and civilian administrators as well as election observers play a significant role in contributing to international peacekeeping.

New Zealand peacekeepers have acquired their excellent reputation overseas for their professionalism, diplomacy, empathy, relative absence of racism, and dedication. The small size of our nation, and our lack of geo-political importance have given our peacekeepers the skills required to get along with other nationalities and to broker peace agreements where a different and more egocentric attitude would have failed.

But our involvement has come at a price. New Zealanders were shocked by the loss of three of our soldiers in the course of UN service in East Timor. Other countries have also lost peacekeepers and late last year, militia in West Timor tragically murdered three UNHCR personnel. So we have learned afresh that war brings its tragedies even when the conflict seems small by international standards.

The contribution of all peacekeepers, UN field staff and the families who support them, deserve our respect and gratitude. Not only is their presence a constructive use of combat trained forces, but we are also acutely aware that their duty as professionals is often outweighed by their personal sacrifice.

But moving to stem the effects of war and conflict is not enough. It is time to progress from a culture of reaction to one of prevention. Nowhere is this need for preventive action more critical than in the area of disarmament. The threat of proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction still hangs over us all. Tens of thousands of nuclear weapons remain in the arsenals of the five recognised nuclear powers.

Again, New Zealand has played a valuable role. There have been significant successes arising from our work with the international community to reduce this accumulation of weaponry. The number of nuclear weapons has halved since 1982, and we were instrumental in establishing the nuclear-free zone in the South Pacific. Since then, there has been solid progress made towards establishing nuclear-free zones in South East Asia, Africa and Central Asia. Should we and like-minded nations succeed in this objective, we will have achieved significant progress in preventing war.

New Zealand has also contributed to the promotion of a culture of peace through our overseas development assistance programmes. These programmes aim to eradicate poverty and assist nations with their long-term development needs, thereby reducing conflict born of poverty and deprivation. Our overseas aid typically is small-scale, and locally sustainable. We do not have large sums to spend, and nor is money the panacea for the development problems of less fortunate societies. But where we do excel is in the application of simple solutions, ones that involve inventiveness, and skill in addressing the problems facing communities in developing and conflict-ridden countries.

A culture of prevention also starts at home. While it is important for New Zealand to do everything it can to promote the goal of international peace, there is a degree of hypocrisy if we fail to promote the building of a culture of peace at home. The foundation of a peaceful world lies in creating a fair society where everyone has equal access to opportunity and to education.

We must redouble our efforts to reduce economic and social inequalities at home, continue to focus on how we treat minorities, and foster strong and resilient communities, and how to build faith in our democratic institutions and systems.

We should demonstrate at home the skills for which we are so much admired in our international work - simple solutions, ones that import respect for the individual, and for his or her human rights, tolerance, and dogged persistence when the going seems too hard. We must place our highest value on education for the building of a peaceful community and in order to prevent conflict and crime.

It is a particular source of shame that children, who need and deserve the opportunity to grow in peace and to receive our greatest care and protection, so often receive the least. Our claim of some decades ago that New Zealand is a great place in which to raise children can no longer be made.

Our child abuse, family violence and sexual assault statistics are truly disturbing. As I emphasised at my swearing-in ceremony, we cannot hold our heads up internationally as peace negotiators and peacekeepers unless we promote and practice peace in our own communities. If we have more concern for children who suffer violence overseas, than for those in our own families and whanau, we can indeed be accused of hypocrisy.

At least we have acknowledged the problem, and as part of that acknowledgement we now deal more openly with the fallout from family violence and sexual abuse, particularly of our children. But are we doing enough to prevent another generation of children becoming victims or criminals?

This decade has been proclaimed the International Decade for Peace and Security for the Children of the World. The UN has embarked on a series of programmes specifically to address the greatest problems that affect children. We in New Zealand have a responsibility as a nation that professes to love peace, to support these programmes and again to show world leadership in the care of our children. Only then can our concern for the children of strife torn societies ring true.

And it is not only our children who suffer from a violent and conflicted society. Our cities are violent places where crimes of robbery, and attacks on the person are now commonplace. Violence in a society can be an indicator of injustice and inequality. Those who commit violent acts will often be poorly educated, lack empathy with those who are vulnerable in the community, and have a severely dysfunctional family life. Often they will be poor.

Criminal justice policies suffer from pressure from a poorly informed public, and a particularly vicious crime, in particular, can bring forth calls for Old Testament justice. Failure to communicate adequately where we have succeeded in addressing violent crime leaves us less able to focus on the areas where much more work is required.

Increasingly, research demonstrates that imprisonment for a wide range of non-violent offences is counter-productive. Young criminals emerge embittered, unemployable, and with an indifference about re-offending. So policies that emphasise prevention of offending, particularly violent offending, while ensuring that those who are truly a danger to the community are kept out of it, make sense even if they do not assuage the thirst for vengeance.

Restorative justice, integrated management of offenders, programmes which target youth at risk, home detention and diversion, are all honest attempts to reduce the numbers of offenders who will be imprisoned and to divert those who are deemed less likely to re-offend. Above all, education is the key to reducing offending and re-offending. Providing a person at risk of criminal offending with a means of earning a living, or of effecting positive life changes is more likely to reduce criminal offending than a purely punitive policy.

These are sane and civilised approaches to criminal offending, and the very model of preventive action. Baying for blood may be very satisfying but it is unlikely to be effective in the reduction of crime.

The UN General Assembly has had a leading role in promoting education as the key to the creation of a culture of peace and non-violence. We in New Zealand also believe that democracy is the foundation of a peaceful society. So we must ensure that our children are educated to understand the importance of democratic principles. Teachers and youth leaders need to be trained to value the principles of democracy and the culture of peace, and to teach and model it in it the policies and practices of the classroom. And we need to continue to develop methods of peaceful conflict resolution.

Far more influential, however, than any thing a teacher can do is the example set to children by their parents. A tolerant parent is more likely to have a child who will treat people with respect and dignity. If parents ignore people or treat them with anger or disdain, or if they use violence themselves as a means of resolving disputes, their children may too. If we are genuinely committed to promoting a culture of peace, as individuals we must look to our values and ensure that we all exhibit a peace loving life to our nation's children.

In the end, peace is achieved by tiny actions in our everyday lives. As Eleanor Roosevelt is reported as saying in the 1950's:
'Where, after all, do universal rights begin? In places, close to home - so close and so small that [they] cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he lives in; the school or college he attends, the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the large world.'

Peace in the new millennium, therefore, is a greater challenge even than the prevention of war. It requires an ongoing emphasis on reducing conflict in the home, among our children, our communities and in the wider, international context. It means that we must also continue to play a part in encouraging disarmament, in peacemaking and in helping the development of countries where conflict has destroyed normal life for its citizens.

We may be a tiny country, but we can lead by example in encouraging education as a means of achieving peace and supporting democracy. We have our own challenges to meet in reducing violent crime, but there are also areas, such as protection of the environment, peace keeping and peace building, where we can demonstrate leadership.

All this demands a partnership between government and civil society. We have much to do and we must do it together.

I would like to commend UNESCO for the support they have given to the International Year for the Culture of Peace, and their continuing efforts to promote peace over the decade.

UNESCO's steering committee was extremely effective in raising awareness of the year through initiatives such as the Peacebuilder Awards, the formation of the Peace Network and the distribution of Manifesto 2000. Let us hope that we can continue the momentum generated by the year and help set the course towards a just and peaceful community over the rest of the decade.

And here in New Zealand let us reflect on the symbolism of the tatau pounamu - the door of greenstone - the expression for an enduring peace, one which is often cemented by the exchange of greenstone heirlooms.

As Ngati Kahungunu Chief, Nga Rangi-mata-ea said "he tatau pounamu, kia kore ai e pakaru, ake, ake" - "let us conclude a permanent treaty of peace, that may never be broken. Forever, forever".

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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