“Since wars began in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed” (UNESCO constitutional principle).
It was in 1989, during the International Congress on Peace in the Minds of Men, in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire, that the notion of a “Culture of Peace” was first mentioned. Over the past ten years, the idea has come a long way. In 1994, Federico Mayor, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), launched an international appeal on the establishment of a right to peace; in February 1994, UNESCO launched its Towards a Culture of Peace programme; in 1997, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the year 2000 as the “International Year for the Culture of Peace”; and in 1998, the same Assembly declared the period 2001-2010 the “International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World”. This is how the notion of a Culture of Peace conquered the world.
What Does “Culture of Peace” Mean?
Although the expression “Culture of Peace” took shape in 1989, such a culture already existed before the word was created. UNESCO’s creation is a testimonial to the existence of such a culture as early as 1945. Even though UNESCO has several mandates, it has but one mission, namely that of constructing peace. The purpose of the Organization is to contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and fundamental freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world” (Article I of the Constitutive Act of UNESCO).
The culture of peace is peace in action. Introducing such a culture is a long-term process requiring both a transformation of institutional practices and individual modes of behavior. Finally, in order to survive and become entrenched in our values, a culture of peace requires non-violence, tolerance and solidarity. The idea of consensus, or peace, is sometimes mistaken for an absence of conflict or for society’s homogenization process. However, in order to achieve mutual understanding, there must first be differences with regard to sex, race, language, religion, or culture. The quest for mutual understanding begins with the recognition of these differences and of a will to overcome them to reach a common objective. Achieving mutual understanding protects a society from self-destruction by letting it build foundations so as to design a new way to live together. Indeed, mutual understanding fosters certain values vital for peace, including non-violence, respect of others, tolerance, solidarity and openness to others. Mutual understanding does not mean homogenization of society. On the contrary, a culture of peace is enhanced by the variety of traditions. The fact that a common vision emerges from a multi-cultural society proves that living together is possible and that this society lives according to the pulse of a culture of peace.
A culture of peace is thus a comprehensive union of existing movements, hence UNESCO’s desire to create a worldwide movement for a culture of peace and non-violence. The International Year for the Culture of Peace will be one of the key moments for the creation of such a movement. This global movement should help change the culture of war into a culture of peace by uniting all groups, agencies, associations, governments and, especially, individuals within a comprehensive network that works towards the emergence of a culture of peace.
Peace in our communities and in the world requires a connection to respect for our multiple differences, and for the right of all people to justice, freedom, and dignity. This leads...