The international community celebrated on September 21st 2013 the “International Day of Peace, 2013”, with the theme “Education for Peace”.
This year’s celebrations took place against the backdrop of continuing violence in countries like Syria, Somalia, Iraq, Colombia, Egypt, Central African Republic or renewed fighting in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Philippines, which have resulted in several millions of people fleeing their homes and thousands being killed in unimaginable brutal ways.
Senseless and sometimes random terrorist attacks, that are often planned to inflict maximum casualties among innocent people, also constitute a significant threat to personal and national security across the world.
The latter is vividly illustrated by the one more terrorist attack that Kenya suffered this weekend at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi, which has resulted in over 70 deaths, many of them innocent women and children.
This year’s celebration of the International Day of Peace, therefore, sends a sharp reminder that the global community has to be not only aware of the necessity of peace but also the imperative for active engagement in practices and efforts for conflict prevention and peace building. In most cases, attaining durable stability or ensuring conflict prevention cannot be done passively or automatically guaranteed.
The theme for the 2013 International Day of Peace: Education for Peace, was chosen at the inspiration of the U.N. Secretary General’s Education First Campaign, an initiative aimed at raising the political profile of education, strengthening the global movement to achieve quality education and at generating additional and sufficient funding through sustained advocacy efforts.
Undoubtedly, education is an important avenue towards a more peaceful world. This calls for educational programming specific to the subject of peace building. Achieving gains in education will have an impact on all the Millennium Development Goals as well, from enhancing skills of young people for decent employment, to higher incomes and poverty reduction, lowering child and maternal mortality, empowerment of women, better health for all the sections of populations and more environmentally-friendly societies.
Rwanda’s post – genocide development experience amply demonstrates the critical importance of active and sometimes innovative approaches to building durable peace and stability on the part of national leaders and people, with the right support from the international community.
Active peace building and consolidation as well as promotion of social cohesion and poverty reduction have been one of the key drivers of the country’s amazing recovery and economic development. Commendable efforts have been made in uniting Rwandans after the tragic events of 1994, that culminated in one of the worst genocides the world has ever known.
The establishment of the Gacaca courts stood out in this regard: they have helped the country to close about two million genocide cases in only 10 years, a process that would have taken hundreds of years in conventional judicial settings.
But more importantly, the Gacaca jurisdictions have not only provided justice to the victims and survivors of the genocide, they have also helped in the healing process of the deep wounds created by the genocide, and by extension the reconciliation of Rwandans.
The leadership’s concerted efforts to implement many key principles of democratization and promote adherence to basic human rights coupled with vigorous poverty eradication initiatives have also been important factors in in the country’s continuing peace and stability. Rwanda’s tremendous contribution to UN Peacebuilding missions in other parts of the world is also broadly acknowledged.
It is also the case that Rwanda still faces various challenges to peace and security: among them the persistence of genocide ideology, the repercussions of the conflicts in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and existence there of negative forces like the FDLR as well as prevalence of cases of gender - based violence.
As we mark the International Day of Peace, it is important to note the importance of educating our children on peace building and conflict prevention as they are the leaders of tomorrow. Indeed, education is vital for fostering global citizenship and building peaceful societies.
Every parent in the family, every teacher in schools at all levels, every leader in public meetings and debates, need to contribute actively to nurturing the culture of peace. The recent addition of the peace education section to the Genocide Memorial at Gisozi is notable.
As the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, rightly noted in his message for this Day of Peace, “Let us pledge to teach our children the value of tolerance and mutual respect. Let us invest in the schools and teachers that will build a fair and inclusive world that embraces diversity. Let us fight for peace and defend it with all our might”.
Our communities will only develop, achieve the economic transformation we are longing for, if durable peace prevails. This will be achieved if every girl and every boy receives a quality education and learn the values of peace that will also help them to see themselves as part of a global community.
This will require bold political leadership and increased financial commitment by both governments and development partners. The leadership and people of Rwanda have amply demonstrated this over the past two decades.
But there is no room for complacency, as President Kagame recently intimated during the occasion of launching the EDPRS II at the Parliament in Kigali: efforts in that regard have to be maintained or even deepened.
The author is the UN Resident Coordinator, Rwanda