United Nations Holds Second Forum on ‘the Culture of Peace’

Photo courtesy of Doris Abdullah
Church of the Brethren United Nations representative Doris Abdullah.

On Friday, Sept. 6, the United Nations held the Second High Level Forum on The Culture of Peace. The background for the forum is the passing of, by consensus, Resolution 53/243 on the Declaration and Program of Action on a Culture of Peace, followed by the implementation of the International Decade for Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010).

The president of the General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic, opened the forum followed by opening remarks from the deputy secretary-general Jan Eliasson. In recognition of the vast role of religion for a Culture of Peace, the three keynote speakers came from the religious community: His Holiness Patriarch Irinej of Serbia; Sayyid M. Syeed, National Direction Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances, Islamic Society of North America; and Elie Abadie, M.D., a rabbi from the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue.

As noted, the keynote addresses were given by persons from the Abraham faiths–Jewish, Christian, and Islamic. They were followed by addresses from heads of state, theologians, and professors, among other noted individuals. All spoke their own words on peace, or quoted words from holy books, and upheld modern-day peacemakers such as Nelson Mandela or those deceased peacemakers we build monuments to honor such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Three of the people who spoke at the day-long forum have gone forward with making a difference in their communities, or helped make peace somewhere in the world by their actions.

One was Azim Khamisa, founder of the Tariq Khamisa Foundation, whose son was killed 18 years ago by a 14-year-old gang member. Khamisa runs his organization along with the grandfather of his son’s killer, to help bring youth safety to our urban areas. He noted that the killer of his son was only 11 years old when he joined the gang. His organization offers youth an alternative to joining a gang. He quoted Dr. King on the responsibilities of those who love peace to learn to organize and be as effective as those who love war.

Tiffany Easthom, country director for South Sudan, Nonviolent Peaceforce. Easthom goes to both of the sides involved in an armed conflict. Her organization does not take sides in the conflict, but acts as mediator between the warring factions. Sometimes the warring communities cannot speak face-to-face with each other, but will talk to strangers that they feel do not have a stake in the outcome. The Nonviolent Peaceforce does not have weapons of any kind.

Grace Akallo, founder and executive director of United Africans for Women and Children’s Rights (UAWCR) was one of the 139 girls kidnapped from a girl’s boarding school in 1996 by the Lords Resistance Army in northern Uganda. Although 109 of the kidnapped girls were released to Sister Rachelle Fassera, who had followed the rebels into the forest, Akallo–who was 15 at the time–was one of the 30 girls that the rebels kept. The girls had to become soldiers and wives to the rebels. As a survivor, she speaks on behalf of children who are forced, by adults, to become soldiers and if they survive, cannot return to their villages or homes because of the stigma of what they have done and/or because their families are dead.

Special thanks to the forum and its reminder of the actions that are needed for a Culture of Peace to take hold. We all have the words for peace and most of us can quote peace texts either from scripture or from other people we have heard speak on peace. But, this forum forced me to ask myself, What action did I take today toward a Culture of Peace? For indeed it is said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the Children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

— Doris Abdullah is the Church of the Brethren United Nations representative and chair of the Human Rights Sub-Committee for the Elimination of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance.