By Anwarul K. Chowdhury
NEW YORK, Aug 22 2023 (IPS)
14 June has become a black day for the UN High Forum on The Culture of Peace (HLF-CoP) convened by the successive Presidents of the UN General Assembly since 2012.
This exalted, high profile, much-celebrated, much-awaited popular, productive, and purposeful gathering of the General Assembly was derailed in a very ill conceived and unthoughtful manner by the Office of the President of the UN General Assembly (OPGA) and the current Team Bangladesh at the UN.
And that was done without even informing the civil society which has been a major partner in organizing the day-long event for a decade.
Also, important to recall that during the last ten years, the Culture of Peace agenda of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) was taken up as an integral part of the HLF-CoP and the annual resolution on the follow up of the Declaration and Programme Action on a Culture of Peace was adopted.
That was purposeful and had substantive implications related to collaboration between Member States and civil society advocating the culture of peace.
Though adoption of a resolution is an intergovernmental affair, in view of the fact the UN’s foundational documents on culture of peace give civil society a special role asserting that “Civil society needs to be fully engaged in fuller development of a culture of peace” (Article 5 of the Declaration).
The first and only occasion the UN has done that.
The annual UN resolutions on the subject also repeated that special role since 1997. Why then this bypassing of the civil society by the organizers of the HLF-CoP? Over the last ten years since 2012, GMCoP has worked closely with OPGA mostly with positive outcomes.
But the 77th OPGA and Team Bangladesh at the UN were found to be not interested in collaborating with the civil society.
The event was truncated into a half-day affair calling it a Plenary Meeting. The whole spirit of connecting the Members States through a day-long engagement held in two parts was totally abandoned. The other half is known popularly as the civil society component of the Forum. In the decade-long history of the HLF-CoP, this has never happened.
Why the Culture of Peace is such an anathema?
The opening speech by current President of the General Assembly (PGA) on 14 June had no reference to the main issue – Culture of Peace. Even the foundational document was not mentioned in full in his presentation.
Wonder what was the motivation? PGA speaking on the agenda item 14 on Culture of Peace do not find it necessary to mention culture of peace even once, yes, not a single time. His speechwriter must have prepared it to recycle it for other similar peace-related occasions.
In the section containing “Conclusion and recommendations” of the “Report of the UN Secretary-General on a Culture of Peace (A/77/614)” of 29 November 2022, paragraph 42 says:
“As outlined in “Our Common Agenda” (OCA), a culture of peace must be based on a better understanding of the underlying drivers that sustain conflict, an idea that will be developed further through the Secretary-General’s “New Agenda for Peace” (NAP).
Neither of those two Agendas – OCA and NAP – mention “culture of peace” at all, yes, no reference at all. This is a gross misinformation recorded in the Report of the UN Secretary-General. One would again wonder where we have reached in terms of accuracy and thoroughness.
Nobody, not even the so-called culture of peace defender Team Bangladesh, noticed because the delegates do not read the SG’s report as thoroughly as they are expected to.
The incumbent Secreatary-General has the unique distinction of not attending a single HLF-CoP, including the 20th anniversary forum, during his seven years at the UN in the post. His predecessor attended in person a number of times to listen to the wise words of the Nobel laureates and other eminent persons.
HLF-CoP is the only Forum of the UN which was graced by the participation of as many as six Nobel Peace Laureates – all women to honor the global role and work of women for the culture of peace. In the UN history, nothing like this happened at any annual event or on any occasion.
Pope Francis’ recent book (English version) on war and peace is titled “Against War – Building a Culture of Peace” to the great delight amongst the culture of peace civil society organizations.
The Mayors for Peace, a multilateral organization based in Hiroshima with a membership of 8300 Mayors in 166 countries and regions have integrated “Promoting the Culture of Peace” as part of its Mission Statement in 2021.
Efforts from civil society thwarted unceremoniously
As the Founder of the Global Movement of The Culture of Peace (GMCoP), a coalition of the 18 civil society organizations advocating for the culture of peace at the UN, I had taken the initiative of meeting with the PGA77 and briefing him about the background of the HLF and the annual resolutions of the Assembly mandating the PGA to convene the Forum.
The gorgeous past programme booklets and approved UN visual identity samples were also left with him. He was kind and gracious. But unfortunately, his staff dealing with culture of peace were not. Thereafter, the civil society representatives reached out to staff responsible for the HLF but were advised to come through the relevant Member States.
I am flabbergasted finding such disdain for civil society. Civil society had collaborated and supported the OPGA since 2012. This OPGA was the most unhelpful of all to the civil society representatives.
How was the HLF-CoP initiated?
The HLF was initiated in 2012 by the 66th PGA Ambassador Nassir Al-Nasser mainly to address the weakest area of the implementation of the UN’s own Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace adopted more than two decades ago in 1999, namely the commitments by the Member States who were responsible for the adoption of the landmark resolution by consensus.
The other objective of Ambassador Al-Nasser was to build a true collaborative channel between Member States and the civil society organizations which are the strongest and most-enthusiastic about advancing the culture of peace. That was a visionary perspective put to action in initiating the HLF-CoP.
The 2019 HLF-CoP was a grand occasion convened by PGA72 María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the UN’s foundational document on culture of peace on 13 September 1999. For that, GMCoP commenced a 20th anniversary profile build-up advocacy with its other civil society partners.
Team Bangladesh fails miserably as the Culture of Peace champion
It is inconceivable when one finds the current Team Bangladesh’s disinterest in the culture of peace recalling that its predecessor Team Bangladesh took the first pioneering step on 31 July 1997 to write to the then newly elected Secretary-General Kofi Annan requesting inclusion of a new item of UNGA agenda on culture of peace.
My own voluntary guidance and attention, along with those from the civil society were extended to Teams Bangladesh and OPGAs over the years through many diverse ways that included writing the annual draft resolutions presented by Bangladesh on the culture of peace; inputs for remarks of PGAs on behalf of Bangladesh delegation; arrange funding for the travel and hospitality of keynote speakers occasionally from far off cities by arranging for resources.
All these civil society supports was shunned by the current Team Bangladesh.
Since 1996, the culture of peace became the flagship initiative of Bangladesh. Its leadership role on the culture of peace was recognized by PGA67 inviting Bangladesh Foreign Minister to chair the HLF-CoP in his place. Two Foreign Ministers and Ministerial level representatives of Bangladesh spoke at the Forum’s Panel Discussion on different occasions.
One wonders how this cold shoulder could be given to the culture of peace without instructions from the capital. Leadership of the Government of Bangladesh back home continue its whole-hearted support and encouragement to the long-standing high-profile role of Bangladesh on the culture of peace.
At the truncated HLF-CoP on 14 June 2023, Team Bangladesh obtained the lowest number of co-sponsors which had no countries of Europe or US. Lowest number also for the speakers and again no country from Europe spoke.
OPGA needs transparency and streamlining
One wonders why OPGA is so dismissive of the initiatives and of the valuable suggestions offered by the civil society.
In fact, OPGA has become another layer of UN bureaucracy. That is of a hybrid kind invoking that it works for the Member States through PGA leadership while reaching out to the Secretariat for all types of support and assistance.
Before this current structure of OPGA with 20+ support staff commenced some years ago, UN’s Department of General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM) was managing everything smoothly and efficiently. Now it spends most of the time convincing the OPGA staff who wants to assert the primacy of the PGA in the affairs of GA.
When Bangladesh Foreign Minister was PGA in 1986, I was his Special Assistant with a team of three Bangladesh colleagues. The exalted title of Chief of Cabinet of PGA was not in existence at that time. Things worked well and PGA’s responsibilities were carried out successfully.
OPGA needs to be more transparent. In 1998, I recall as Chair of the UN’s Budgetary Committee, an amount of US dollars $250,000 was approved for OPGA. What is its total budget now (not just UN’s regular one but through other contributions)?
How much of that is devoted to travels for PGA and his staff? On occasions, the GA issues take a secondary position to PGA travels. Which countries second their staff to the OPGA? After all these years of the experience of ever-expanding OPGA structure, there should be an independent evaluation of its value-added benefits, if any.
I believe that the UN should own the culture of peace and internalize its implementation throughout the UN system. Also, Secretary-General should prioritize the culture of peace as a part of his leadership agenda. He should make good use of this workable tool that UN possess in the culture of peace programme to advance the objective of sustainable peace.
We need to remember that the culture of peace remains permanently a decision of the UNGA. No one – a PGA or an Ambassador – can obliterate it from the attention and engagement of the global community.
Any cursorily organized, hurriedly-put-together, mandate-obligated arrangements for the HLF-CoP now would not get the trust and confidence of the culture of peace community, more so that of the GMCoP.
Keeping in mind the experience the role played by OPGA and Team Bangladesh during the 77th UNGA session, we hope there will be a better experience at the 78th session which commences in two weeks.
The Culture of Peace is not a quick fix. It is a movement, not a revolution!
Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Chair of the nine-month-long negotiations resulting in the consensus as mandated by UN General Assembly and presenter of the agreed text of this document (A/RES/53/243) for adoption by the Assembly; Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN (1996-2001); UN Under-Secretary-General (2002-2007).
IPS UN Bureau