United Nations Ambassador Speaks at UCSD Global Forum

Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury spoke about the U.N. Culture of Peace Programme at this past Monday’s Global Forum held in Great Hall.

The event was co-sponsored by the San Diego World Affairs Council, the San Diego Diplomacy Council and the U.N. Association of USA, San Diego. In attendance were U.N.A. President Bettina Hausmann and U.S. National Commission for UNESCO Commissioner Joanne Tawfilis, who both spoke prior to Chowdhury’s speech.

Chowdhury discussed the goals of the 1999 U.N. Declaration and Programme of Action on The Culture of Peace and how members of the U.N. Member States, media and civil societies, and other U.N. entities can promote them. 

The Programme focuses on improving eight specific areas through both governmental and non-governmental action: education, sustainable development, human rights, equality between men and women, democratic participation, solidarity and tolerance, the free flow of information, nuclear disarmament and peace and security. While Chowdhury successfully chaired the meeting to pass The Culture of Peace declaration in 1999, he believes that individual action is necessary to actualize it.

“Poverty eradication and population issues needed to be more closely connected with broader issues of peace and development and human rights,” Chowdhury told the UCSD Guardian. “As the Cold War was ending … I felt there should be a bigger opportunity to making peace sustainable forever and not going back to a Cold War [state] again … In 1999, we got an agreement on [the Culture of Peace] but if I present it now, I don’t think I’ll get [an agreement].”

Senior and Model United Nations member Jessie Warme agreed with the notion of peace but argues it is limited.

“I think Mr. Chowdhury needs to expand his definition of ‘education’ to include the essential act of exposure to people different than you, rather than simply being told not to dislike them,” Warme said. “The ‘culture of peace’ is … about increased exposure between groups to dissipate the stereotypes. When people have little exposure to people who look, think or act differently than them, no amount of time in the classroom will sufficiently alter their anxieties and hostilities.”

Tawfilis, however, iterated Chowdhury’s message by describing how education prepares students to participate in The Culture of Peace.

“If you study really hard and go in [the world] with fresh ideas, talk to each other, speak more than one language … you can get into these dialogues and then, what Chowdhury said about oneness and put humanity, out there first … you’ll know at some point in your life what you can do to support the culture of peace.”

Chowdhury acknowledged that it is difficult to achieve consensus within the U.N. and suggested that one possible solution would be the elimination of the veto power in U.N. Security Council. The security council has 15 member nations, five (the United States, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom) of whom can block any resolution regardless of how the other members vote. 

Warme disagreed with Chowdhury’s proposal by saying it enables the U.N. to be an effective institution.

“[Veto power] does cause stalemates, but it was created after WWII in an attempt to prevent another major war — when the main military powers can say ‘No’ to a plan, it helps prevent it,” Warme said. “For countries like the U.S., Russia and China who receive little to no developmental or economic benefit from the U.N., veto power is a powerful incentive to keep them active and engaged in the U.N. and without the presence of the P5, the U.N. would be functionally useless.”

Chowdhury expanded on the issue by telling the Guardian that at least 50 percent of U.N.-member nations would need to agree to this and that the nations who have veto power would be unwilling to give it up.

“I think the founders of the U.N. gave into that situation,” Chowdhury said. “Maybe that was appropriate in 1945 but not anymore … In a monopolar world, many governments do not even have the ability to object to any point of view the U.S. holds and this is a big problem.”

When asked by an audience member about the current refugee crisis, Chowdhury said could have been addressed more promptly and adequately.

“U.N. has been trying resolve these issues [refugee crisis] over the past four or five years it has become more complex,” Chowdhury said.  “We could have handled this situation much better four years ago than now … I would also say that sometimes situations develop in a way that it is beyond anybody’s capacity to stop it.”

In addition to the refugee crisis, Chowdhury explained to the Guardian that fear of terrorism places individual human rights and liberties in danger.

“Sept. 11 has projected terrorism into a much higher level than it deserves and it has allowed the authorities in power to use the excuse of terrorism, both who are victims and perpetrators of terrorism,” Chowdhury said. “Sometimes, people do not understand that lack of liberty, freedom and individual human rights can undercut all of the other big efforts against terrorism, autocracy or dictatorship.”

Chowdhury recognizes it may be difficult to institute change directly on a political level and discussed how he believes personal efforts within The Culture of Peace are the most effective.

Additional reporting by Marvin Andrade and Reilly Hurley from Prospect, UCSD’s Journal of International Affairs.