UN High Level Forum on the Culture of Peace, 1 September 2016

Multiple conferences take place at UN Headquarters in New York every day. It is truly a house of dialogue. This is not surprising when we consider that the Charter calls on the nations of the  world to harmonize their actions for the common good. World Goodwill recently attended one of these conferences:  the High Level Forum on the Culture of Peace. It took place under the gaze of an angelic statue in one of the most visually stunning conference rooms in the HQ complex – the Trusteeship Council Chamber.

The Trusteeship Council Chamber was a gift from Denmark to the UN. This wooden statue of a woman with her arms outstretched
in the Chamber,by Danish artist Henrik Starcke, suggests "unlimited flight upwards to greater heights.”


The High Level Forum, an annual event since 2012, seeks to strengthen the global movement of citizens groups, international agencies and governments actively working to build the culture of peace, or what is known in the ageless wisdom as right human relations.

The UN focus on this theme has grown out of a landmark resolution of the General Assembly in 1999, the Declaration and Programme of Action on the Culture of Peace. A broad definition is given to the culture of peace as a set of values, attitudes, traditions and modes of behaviour and ways of life based on universal principles of freedom, justice and peace.

Attended by people of goodwill, government representatives and senior UN officials this year’s Forum highlighted the synergy between efforts to build the culture of peace and the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 16 with its focus on the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development.

The program was notable for several inspiring and visionary presentations and for the fact that over 40 governments chose to attend and present statements in support of the theme. None of the previous forums have attracted so many governments, confirming the fact that current events and the rise of violent extremism have raised the profile of the Culture of Peace agenda at the UN. 

  In his opening address the President of the General Assembly pointed out that improving the UN’s capacity to conduct peacekeeping operations and to sustain peace is critical to the achievement of the      Sustainable Development Goals. Keynote speaker Ms Ouided Bouchamaoui, a 2015 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a co-founder of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, spoke of Tunisia’s experience in  fostering democracy and  peace following the Jasmine Revolution. The relative success of the country’s transition is, she said, the result of a focus on dialogue and compromise and on the significant role of  women. Noting that the  world suffers from a lack of vision she emphasized the importance of inspiring hope for a better future amongst young people.

Two presentations that were particularly impressive were in a panel on the synergy between the SDGs and the Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace. David Nabarro is the UN Secretary General’s Special Advisor on the 2030  Agenda for Sustainable Development. An edited transcript of his brief inspirational address is available as a separate post on this blog. He spoke of his excitement about the SDG’s as a plan for the future that  embraces all the issues that matter to the world’s people. As he said there is no other plan. It’s a great plan because its universal. It offers a vision of the future for every single community of the world. It  provides a role for everybody, but more than this, it reflects a basis of a movement for what it means to be a human being.

 The 2030 Agenda makes clear that we cannot as a human race produce sustained development for subsequent generations unless we develop the capacity to resolve differences peacefully, without the  harmful use of power.  Being human requires that we value non-violent behavior and reward it in childhood, in adolescence, in adulthood - in all settings and among all people. Unless this beautiful  Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace is implemented the SDG’s will not be achieved and we will not have a fit world for the generations to come. 

 Barbara Marx Hubbard will be well known to many readers of this blog. She is the author of numerous books on social and cultural evolution and head of the Foundation for Conscious Evolution. She spoke  about the Global Movement for a Culture of Peace together with the UN’s Declaration and Programme of Action as an embodiment of a vision of a new world, something the human species has never had  before. The SDG goals were described as key areas of action in getting to that vision.  The vision is an emergent property of consciousness and we are in process of discovering how to do it.   

 Participants and governments were reminded that nature can show us the way to act on the vision and achieve the goals. Referring to the Nobel prizewinner Ilya Prigogine’s theory of Dissipative Structures,  Hubbard noted that natural systems evolve to a higher order following periods of exaggerated disorder and crisis. In such a state innovations occur throughout the system and there comes a time, as disorder  increases, when the innovations converge towards connectivity and the system cooperates in its own self-transcendence by connecting that which is working.

Drawing on this image she made three proposals for UN action. First identify the innovations that are already working, at no matter how small a scale, in solving the crises which the SDGs seek to address. Second enhance the synergy between the SDGs and the Culture of Peace by convening people in gatherings that use a whole systems approach to explore what is already working and breaking through and make the information widely available. This will give people of goodwill reason for hope and inspire further action. Third establish Offices for the Future at the UN and at every level of society tasked with identifying what is working in achieving cultures of peace and communicating that news.  

The Forum concluded with further statements from governments and a final panel on the role of youth in advancing the Culture of Peace, including a passionate and visionary appeal to governments to greater engagement with young people from the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi. 


UN TV video of proceedings 

Video excerpt Barbara Marx Hubbard 

Edited transcript, David Navarro’s address

United Nations Declaration and Program of Action on a Culture of Peace (booklet)