Culture of Peace: the UN Decade 2001-2010

by David Adams

In Jahrbuch 2010/Yearbook 2010
The Decade of a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World
Balance and Perspectives
Drava, Klagenfurt/Celovec.

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed an International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World (2001–2010) in its resolution A/53/25 on November 10, 1998. At that time, they had already declared the Year 2000 as the International Year for a Culture of Peace, and they had received from UNESCO a draft document for a Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace.

UNESCO had been working on the culture of peace for six years already, beginning with its adoption of a Culture of Peace Action Programme in 1992. Hence, a full understanding of the Decade must begin with the previous history of this Programme and the eventual involvement of the UN General Assembly, as described in the following excerpt from my article in a previous issue of this yearbook.

The Culture of Peace initiative was launched in 1989 by UNESCO at an international peace conference in Yamoussoukro, Cote d'Ivoire. Its final declaration called for the construction of "a new vision of peace culture based on the universal values of respect for life, liberty, justice, solidarity, tolerance, human rights and equality between women and men." The inspiration came from Father Felipe MacGregor of Peru, a participant in the Conference, who had published a richly illustrated book in Spanish on the culture of peace for use by schools.

The Member States of UNESCO then adopted in 1992 a proposal for a Culture of Peace Programme to bring peace to states newly emerging from conflict. With the full support of UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor, national programmes were then established, beginning with El Salvador and Mozambique, and over the next few years extended to a number of other countries. But the national culture of peace programmes did not receive the financing that had been expected from the rich Member States, and by the end of the decade they had mostly disappeared.

Meanwhile, at the UN General Assembly in New York, the Member States from the South began as early as 1995 to request a global culture of peace programme for the UN system, and in 1999 they adopted a Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace (Resolution A/53/243) and proclaimed the Year 2000 as the International Year for the Culture of Peace and the Decade 2001-2010 as the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World. The UN resolution called for a "global movement for a culture of peace" that would include initiatives of the civil society as well as governments and the UN, and that would be "promoted through sharing of information among actors on their initiatives in this regard".

For the International Year in 2000, UNESCO organized a campaign to involve the civil society and individuals around the world. Over 75 million people signed the Manifesto 2000, committing themselves to cultivate a culture of peace in daily life.

A more detailed history of the culture of peace at UNESCO may be found on my website at

The culture of peace concept, as presented to the General Assembly in the original draft document A/53/370, was specifically presented as an alternative to the culture of war that has dominated states for 5,000 years. For each of eight fundamental aspects of the culture of war, an alternative approach was proposed for the culture of peace. The following schema is taken from the history on my website at

Culture of War Culture of Peace
power characterized as the monopoly of force education for culture of peace
having an enemy tolerance and solidarity
hierarchical authority democratic participation
secrecy and propaganda free flow of information
armament disarmament
exploitation of people human rights
... and nature sustainable development
male dominance equality of women and men

There was considerable opposition to the UNESCO draft by the rich Member States from the North whose power is based on the culture of war. The Americans were most explicit, stating that stated that peace should not be elevated to the category of human right, otherwise it will be very difficult to start a war. Although they could not block its adoption, the Europeans and Americans managed to remove from the resolution any mention of the culture of war.

The rich member states also removed the provision that would have allowed for voluntary financing of proposals in the resolution. Hence, there has been practically no funding for culture of peace activities or responsible staff in the UN system. The Summit Document adopted by Heads of State at the United Nations in 2005 reaffirmed support for the 1999 resolution as well as similar initiatives and called upon Secretary-General to "explore enhancing implementation mechanisms and to follow up on those initiatives." However, as of this date in 2010, there has still been no concrete progress by the UN system in this regard. At UNESCO, support for the culture of peace was severely reduced after the departure of Director-General Federico Mayor in 1999. Although in 2006, the Member States of UNESCO reaffirmed their commitment to the culture of peace as a major theme for the organizations medium-term strategy of 2008-2013, and the UNESCO General Conference adopted a resolution supporting the culture of peace in 2009, it remains to be seen how this will be translated by the organization into concrete programme activities.

The UN General Assembly has adopted resolutions each year concerning the Decade, with the support of a majority of countries from the South, and with the total absence of support from the rich countries of the North, the Europeans, Americans and their allies. The resolutons have continued each year to "welcome" "the efforts made by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to continue the communication and networking arrangements established during the International Year for providing an instant update of developments related to the observance of the Decade," despite the fact that the UNESCO unit responsibe for the relevant website no longer maintained it after 2008.

The Global Movement for a Culture of Peace

Anticipating that there would be problems to gain continued support for a culture of peace from the United Nations and its powerful Member States, the UN resolution included provisions for involvement of the civil society in a "global movement for a culture of peace" as mentioned above. As far as I know this was the first time the UN General Assembly ever called for a "global movement." Subsequently the annual General Assembly resolutions called for "civil society, including non-governmental organizations, to continue providing information to the Secretary General on the observance of the Decade and the activities undertaken to promote a culture of peace and non-violence."

At the midpoint of the Decade in 2005, and now again at the end of the Decade in 2010, we have submitted a "World Report on the Culture of Peace" to the UN General Assembly based on reports from civil society organizations that have contributed to the Decade. Taken together these include reports from over a thousand NGOs, associations and civil society activities for the International Day of Peace.

To sum up the civil society reports in a single phrase, "the global movement for a culture of peace is advancing, but few know about it because it is not considered newsworthy by the mass media and it is not given any publicity by the United Nations system."

To give a more detailed view, the following paragraphs from the 2010 report describe the advancement of the global movement in terms of the eight programme areas of the culture of peace.

Culture of Peace through Education is the highest priority for the majority of civil society organizations contributing to the Decade. Although progress is difficult to measure, it may be the most important factor in the long run for the transition to a culture of peace. The educational efforts by civil society, carried out by means of campaigns, solidarity projects, conferences, museums, publications, Internet websites, etc., have convinced millions of people throughout the world that a culture of peace is possible and desirable. They have disseminated the vision initiated by UNESCO and elaborated by the UN General Assembly in resolution A-52-13, that “the creation of the United Nations system itself, based upon universally shared values and goals, has been a major act towards transformation from a culture of war and violence to a culture of peace and non-violence (...) which consists of values, attitudes and behaviors that reflect and inspire social interaction and sharing based on the principles of freedom, justice and democracy, all human rights, tolerance and solidarity, that reject violence and endeavor to prevent conflicts by tackling their root causes to solve problems through dialogue and negotiation and that guarantee the full exercise of all rights and the means to participate fully in the development process of their society.”

With regard to Sustainable Economic and Social Development, despite the involvement of many civil society organizations, progress is debatable. According to the report of Worldwatch, “The past decade has witnessed an unprecedented mobilization of efforts to combat the world’s accelerating ecological crisis (...) Despite all of this momentum, most of the world’s key ecological indicators signal a continued downward spiral, and the most important environmental summit of the past decade—in Copenhagen in December 2009—fell far short of expectations.” The apparent lack of success on the part of civil society to affect change in this area can of course also be partly explained by the fact that its power is limited to campaigning and influencing those who possess the political and economic power over pollution and exploitation of the world’s resources. An exceptional advance has been achieved in the field of microcredits, as described by the Grameen Bank.

Respect for all Human Rights has been promoted by civil society organizations in all respects. Important advances have been achieved in the protection of the rights of workers and the reduction of child labor as described by the International Labor Rights Forum and in the development of restorative justice as described by the European Forum for Restorative Justice.

The leadership for Equality between Women and Men, already demonstrated by civil society organizations at the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995), has been expanded during the Decade. Organizations have included this as one of their priorities in every region, as exemplified by the following quotation: “We strongly believe that many of the good things that have happened at Grameen Bank are a result of its decision to focus on women and we are definite that the culture of peace and non-violence can be strengthened by focusing on women empowerment.”

Although few contributing organizations have given their top priority to Democratic Participation, there has been a great increase in the involvement of local authorities, as described more fully below.

In the domain of Understanding, Tolerance and Solidarity, civil society has taken the lead, especially for inter-religious dialogue. In the words of Soka Gakkai, “As some call it a sea change, there has been a dramatic increase of the topic of interfaith dialogue and cooperation taken up not only by NGOs but also among the Member States and in partnership among the governments, UN and NGOs.”

Participatory Communication and Free Flow of Information and Knowledge has been advanced largely through use of the Internet by civil society corresponding to para 6 in the 1999 Programme of Action calling for the promotion of a culture of peace through sharing of information among actors in the global movement for a culture of peace.

Progress is especially evident in the domain of International Peace and Security, where civil society has taken the initiative. Important advances are described in detail by the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and the Cluster Munition Coalition. On the other hand, progress continues to elude many civil society organizations working for the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Most organizations report that obstacles remain in the path of promoting the culture of peace. It is generally agreed that there is a remarkable scarcity and difficulty of access to resources for the promotion of the culture of peace, in comparison with the immense expenses for the promotion of war and violence. Many point to lack of public awareness; as stated by the International Coalition for the Decade, “As during the first half of the Decade, media attention to the Decade and support by UNESCO have been insufficient.” In particular, UNESCO abandoned the communication and networking arrangements established during the International Year for the Culture of Peace that were meant to provide an instant update of developments related to the observance of the Decade.

What is the future for the culture of peace? The plans reported by contributing organizations indicate that most of them expect to continue and increase their efforts. One general trend that is already evident is the increased incorporation and mainstreaming of the culture of peace among local and national governments as well as among individuals and civil society organizations. The Decade began with the mobilization of non-governmental organizations and individuals during the International Year for the Culture of Peace in 2000 as 75 million people signed the Manifesto 2000, promising to work for a culture of peace in their daily lives. The Decade concludes with the additional mobilization for a culture of peace by institutions at the level of states and local communities.

The Global Alliance for Ministries and Departments of Peace has increased its campaigns and membership to 35 countries since 2005, and has contributed to the creation of two of the three existing Ministries for Peace in the world (now in Costa Rica, Nepal, and the Solomon Islands). At a more basic level, local authorities have mobilized for a culture of peace, as indicated by many reports from cities and towns in Europe, Latin America and North America. In addition, the culture of peace and its components are increasingly supported by international networks of local authorities including United Cities and Local Governments, representing most of the cities of the world, Mayors for Peace in 3,880 cities, and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability involving over 1,100 cities, towns, counties, and their associations in 70 countries.

Most participating organizations seem to agree that, while the Decade for a Culture of Peace is ending, the global movement for a culture of peace is just beginning.

A Perspective for the Future

To assess perspectives for the future, I can see no alternative except to take a very personal approach. After all, no one of us has a crystal ball that can enable us to see into the future better than another.

Having grown up in the United States, I have watched the rise of the American Empire. At the same time, I lived and worked for some time in the USSR during its last few decades, and I watched from inside the crash of another empire. Like all empires, they are (were) cultures of war.. In fact, I have come to the conclusion (shared by many others) that the culture of war is not sustainable, and the crash of the American Empire is just a matter of time. "How much time? When will it crash?" you may ask. And my answer is very simple, "Too soon, because we are not ready to replace it with a culture of peace.".

How can we prepare for the transition to a culture of peace when the empire crashes? In my opinon, this is the most important question confronting us today. I have addressed this in my new books, World Peace through the Town Hall and I Have Seen the Promised Land (a utopian novella).

In particular, I propose that we concentrate on 1) mobilization for a culture of peace at the level of local government and its integration into global networks of cities for a culture of peace; 2) an eventual reform of the United Nations to be governed by local government rather than the current system of Member States; and 3) development of consciousness and action for a culture of peace by youth.

1) Local government mobilization. As described above in the excerpt from the 2010 Civil Society Report, one of the major advances of the Decade has been increasing mobilization of local authorities for a culture of peace, as indicated by many reports from cities and towns in Europe, Latin America and North America, and the support for a culture of peace by the international networks of local authorities. This is a significant advance in democratic participation in a culture of peace, because local governments demand the participation of all citizens, unlike the situation for civil society organizations whose membership, while it may be quite extensive, is not universal. Further, as I have argued in my History of the Culture of War, while nation states have monopolized the culture of war over the course of history, cities and towns, previously engaged in the culture of war, have ceded this engagement to national authorities and retained an exclusive involvement with the various aspects of a culture of peace.

2. United Nations reform. In the scenario of my utopian novella, following the crash of the American Empire and the global economy, the United Nations is reformed so that it is governed by regional organizations of local government rather than by nation states. I argue that such a reform would put the culture of peace at the top of the agenda, whereas the United Nations, as long as it continues to be controlled by the Member States, cannot avoid representing their interests in the culture of war. Indeed, this is utopian, but I see evidence that it is possible. First of all, as mentioned earlier, one can foresee the crash of the Empire and the global economy that it controls. Second, we already can see signs of the abandonment of the United Nations by the Member States. Confronted with the economic crisis of 2008/2009, the Member States did not immediately turn for a solution to the relevant UN institutions, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, but instead they devised new networks of finance ministers to deal with the crisis. Recently in May 2010, there was only one head of state at the 10-year review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but many heads of state attended a meeting on the same subject held in the previous month in Washington outside the framework of the United Nations.

3. Youth consciousness and action. We need to orient our actions as much as possible to involve the new generation in the promotion of a culture of peace. I have recently experienced a very good example of this in the preparation of the World Civil Society Report for the Culture of Peace. There was no support for this process from the traditional organizations of my generation. Instead, I was approached by three young people who offered to work on the report without any money. Over the months of work on the Report, they engaged many others to the point that the final team consisted of youth from Mexico, Colombia, Sri Lanka, India, Norway and Switzerland as well as the initial three from Spain, Brazil and the Philippines. All of this without paying anyone and with far more energy and enthusiasm than one could obtain by paying people to work.

I should like to end with an idea that came from my work with from Helena Lourenço who has initiated a city culture of peace program in Santos, Brazil. In this framework, she is developing a center for volunteers to work in the community on the basis of the principles of the culture of peace. We dream of the day when young people from around the world will come to Santos with their backpacks to visit the city, meet other young people, enjoy the fabulous beach, and work in the community under the direction of the local volunteers to promote the culture of peace, in exchange for the modest food and housing similar to that of youth hostels that are so popular among today's youth. This would combine the democratic participation of local government culture of peace programs with the energy, enthusiasm and international travel of the new generation. The development of such programs could quickly spread the vision and experience of the culture of peace throughout the world, and prepare for the transition when its historical moment arrives.

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