Peace through Unity's Ministry for Peace Proposal
Paper for panel discussion, Wellington Branch, United Nations Association of New Zealand, Wellington 25 May 2006
It is truly regrettable that I cannot be with you today. I would have loved to listen to and learn from your thoughts and comments on the idea of Ministries or Departments for Peace. My deep thanks to Dame Laurie Salas for offering to read the following text, which will give some details on Peace through Unity's proposal for a NZ Ministry for Peace, as well as some background information leading up to making the proposal.
I believe it was the Australian Women's International League for Peace and Freedom who already in the 1930s pioneered the idea, and our long time friend, Stella Cornelius, (founder of the Australian based Conflict Resolution Network) who in the early 1980s proposed a Ministry for Peace to administer an Australian World Peace Programme, this leading to the establishment of a Peace and Disarmament sector within the Department of Foreign Affairs. Brigadier Michael Harbottle, UK, (Generals for Peace) and his wife Eirwen were also at this time campaigning for Ministries for Peace.
And today the idea of Ministries/Departments for Peace, supported by Peace Academies and Centres for education in conflict resolution, peacebuilding and peacemaking, are rapidly spreading throughout the world and gaining support from different individuals and groups in many countries; in particular the UK, the United States, and Canada, where high-profile people like US Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Walter Cronkite, UK Labour MP John Mcdonnell, and many others, have helped to draw public as well as government attention to a variety of proposals, which nevertheless all aim for the same goal, namely the creation of instruments committed specifically to promoting a culture of peace.
It was all these initiatives, but perhaps most of all the 1999 UN Declaration and Programme of Action for a Culture of Peace, which inspired us and gave Peace through Unity the courage to join the campaign for Ministries/Departments for Peace.
When we first presented the idea to the NZ Government (Oct. 2003) we argued that, while Freedom of Speech and Expression and Freedom of Worship have improved greatly since World War II, - Freedom from Want and from Fear are still plaguing our world.
We strongly believe that Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear cannot be achieved without the involvement of us, the peoples of the world. It is we people everywhere who will have to create a new sense of family where every person is cared for and no one is left out.
Globalisation has brought the challenge and opportunity for change and transformation of all societal structures and all levels of relationships. New actors, such as transnational corporations, international NGOs and others are wielding power and influence, which can and do affect the decision-making of governments. But yet another powerful actor is emerging, who will need to be accepted as a knowledgeable, skillful and responsible partner in future governance, namely we the peoples of all nations.
Somebody said that for true democracy is to come about, it must function not only vertically but also horizontally. It is us, individual human beings in our millions, who will make democracy - government by the people - become a living reality throughout the world community.
The UN Declaration and Programme of Action for a Culture of Peace repeatedly stresses the point that only through a partnership between peoples, governments and the United Nations, committing to work together for a better and fairer world and more peaceful culture, can we hope to transform the present culture of separatism, greed and brutality.
It calls on all peoples and all governments to work together for the realization of a culture of peace and "adherence to the principles of freedom, justice, democracy, tolerance, solidarity, cooperation, pluralism, cultural diversity, dialogue and understanding at all levels of society and among nations". And this will come about through applying and practicing "…values, attitudes, modes of behaviour and ways of life conducive to the promotion of peace among individuals, groups and nations".
This remarkable document underscores the importance of the participation of people from within all walks of life in this endeavour, spelling out that: "a key role in the promotion of a culture of peace belongs to parents, teachers, politicians, journalists, religious bodies and groups, intellectuals, those engaged in scientific, philosophical and creative and artistic activities, health and humanitarian workers, social workers, managers at various levels as well as to non-governmental organizations." I would like to add the military to this list!
Although the response by the NZ Government to our October 2003 letter was non-committal, yet leaving the door open for further action, Peace through Unity did not pursue the matter until the beginning of this year, when we formulated a proposal for the establishment of a New Zealand Ministry for Peace and sent it out in a limited posting, here in New Zealand as well as abroad, asking for comments and thoughts on its content.
In this paper we suggested that the primary aim of a Ministry for Peace within the New Zealand Government would be to act as an instrument for the building of a culture of peace in accordance with the guidelines of the UN Declaration and Programme of Action for a Culture of Peace, through:
- identifying root-causes of conflict, disharmony and hostility within and between peoples, cultures and nations;
- actively promoting the employment of conflict-resolution, mediation, negotiation and other peacebuilding/peacemaking skills, and encouraging that these skills become common practice;
- acting as a focal point for comprehensive, consistent and constructive cooperation and consultation between government (and its various departments) and interest groups within the various parts of society (education, health, environment, industry, unions, science, arts, culture, law, media, police, military, volunteers, local government etc.) ensuring that the legislative process of formulating any specific law takes into account the effect it may have on the community in its entirety;
- forming working partnerships with international institutions and co-workers for the building of a culture of peace worldwide;
- keeping the government and the general public aware of the UN resolutions, which our Government has committed itself and us all to implement.
In our new pamphlet "Ministry for a Culture of Peace" we say that "Today there are great stirrings throughout the world community. Power is shifting from the hands of the few into the hands of the many, who are intent on transforming a culture of disunity, brutality and greed into one of peace, fairness and good neighbourliness".
I would like to share a quote by Walter Cronkite that I read on the UN Peace Alliance website which seems to underscore this point. It says: "What is quite clear - and would become clear as you go along with this campaigning - is that you are trying, and I consider myself with you on this in every way… [to create] not only a massive but a basic change in our culture, in our entire approach to our relationships with other human beings…It's not a matter of simply getting another Department of government. You're speaking of an entire philosophical revolution".
Barbara Ward puts it perhaps even clearer, saying that: "the most important change that people can make is to change their way of looking at the world. We can change studies, jobs, neighbourhoods, even countries and continents and still remain much as we always were. But change our fundamental angle of vision and everything changes - our priorities, our values, our judgments, our pursuits… (quote appearing in Our Global Neighbourhood p 47)
This transformative process emerges from deep within the human heart and mind, and should be nurtured and cultivated, but never hurried or manipulated. If ministries for peace are genuinely to serve as instruments for the building of a universal peaceful and nonviolent culture, they shall have to evolve gradually and continuously seek to stay at the very forefront of the work they were born to do.
I cannot help feeling that New Zealand is in a unique position to pioneer the establishment of a ministry/department for peace. (I personally prefer the word ministry because to minister means to serve):
New Zealand has a Department for Peace and Disarmament within a Government, dedicated to democratic values; a Foundation for Peace and an Aotearoa/New Zealand Peace Movement with nationwide networks and support; there is also a strong initiative for the establishing of an Aotearoa/New Zealand Peace and Conflict Studies Centre similar to that of Bradford University, and many vibrant non-governmental organizations working for peace and right relations. In addition: New Zealanders are among the most generous, open minded, entrepreneurial, pioneering, and 'can-do' people in the world!
I would like if I may to argue a point for your consideration: The "Final Document' of the 1978 UN Special Session on Disarmament - the text of which was saved from erosion at the 1982 Special Session by a strong and enduring public opinion (Inga Thorsson, speaking to the 1982 NGO Conf) - points out the need for combining the concerted disarmament efforts with efforts to reducing the causes of the arms race and threats to peace: "… and to this end effective action should be taken to eliminate tensions and settle disputes by peaceful means". (Declaration para 13)
Although the world is still full of lethal weapons - we are today more aware of and understanding better than ever before the causes of violence, conflicts and desperate actions, and we are volunteering in ever increasing numbers to help remedy these.
While public opinion already in 1982 was strong enough to prevent a backward move by super powers, frozen in the grip of cold war, people are now ready, actively and constructively, to engage in reducing the causes of arms race and the threats to peace - alongside the continued campaign for disarmament. We are changing our 'fundamental angle of vision' and seeing the world - and ourselves - differently.
At the forthcoming 'People's Summit' in Victoria, British Colombia in June this year, people will be coming together from different countries, including New Zealand, to discuss the issues around the formation of ministries or departments for peace, and the possibility of establishing such a ministry within their particular country.
Perhaps the panel would consider whether the time might have come where people here in New Zealand, and the Government - and also the Department of Peace and Disarmament - are ready to take a pioneering step in preparation for the joint enterprise
of creating a New Zealand ministry for peace?
I hope very much that the panel will also include our 5-points'proposal in their discussions and look forward to hearing the outcome.