Elevate Positive Peace as a Core Objective of the UN

By Autumn Melody Thomas

One of the eight building blocks of the UN’s Culture of Peace Programme is Human Rights. The essence of human rights is to protect individuals; by affording them not only the basic necessities of survival, but the opportunity to thrive in a safe and habitable environment, full of dignity and free from fear. If human rights are prioritised and preserved; civil unrest vanishes, backlash against governments quells, and the need for third party humanitarian intervention is thwarted. Regardless of the resources peace keeping missions may bring or the accountability international agreements aspire to bind states to, if the underlying cause of conflict remains at the local level, violence still remains a possibility. Therefore the preservation of human rights remains paramount to cultivating a lasting culture of peace. 

The most sustainable way to eradicate conflict is to target the structural factors which cause the gravitation towards violence in the first place. By pre-emptively addressing systemic human rights grievances and violations, issues can be peacefully resolved at the source before they reach the point of erupting into violence. Early operationalising of pre-emptive conflict prevention, works towards an ideal environment of ‘Positive Peace’, in which elevated economic and societal outcomes, paired with a diminished number of grievances, lowers levels of violence and the will to resort to it. Positive peace can be easily understood as a society free from the structural problems that would lead its citizens to resort to violent actions. Or, in layman’s terms, violence is rendered unnecessary because there are no issues to fight over. For example: If human rights are upheld, society is functions well, and citizens are generally happy…a peaceful environment prospers naturally. 

To create an environment free from conflict-igniting human rights violations takes firstly, a clear and comprehensive understanding of what ‘human rights’ means globally, what it takes to uphold them, and how the international community is obligated to act when these rights become jeopardised. States must have an obligation to refrain from violations of internationally agreed upon human rights standards and further, must act swiftly and decisively when violations arise, before they have a chance to erupt into violence. The creation of this understanding, and the will to engage in globally-backed peace keeping initiatives takes research, leadership, education, policy changes, and a normative will to triumph human rights as invaluable. 

Geneva and the Human Rights Council - Global Centre for the Responsibility  to Protect
United Nations Human Rights Council

Proposal 1: Elevate Positive Peace as a Core Objective of the UN 

UN facilitated deliberative and diplomatic approach to pre-emptive peace building through early identification of grievances and potentials for violent conflicts. Paired with early local level outreach designed by international peace keepers in tandem with local authorities to target the area’s unique issues and needs. 

Proposal 2: Expand Accountability Mechanisms to Defend International Human Rights 

Building on initiatives such as the Responsibility to Protect, UN member states must accountably bind themselves to upholding human rights standards, initiating unanimous international reactionary efforts when violations begin to occur, and cultivating a normative shift towards a culture that rejects human rights violations and the resort to conflict as viable options.The UN Peacebuilding Commission is the best UN mechanism to take this proposal forward and they must be afforded the support and resources to do so.  

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Steps towards the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons

By Saoirse McGilligan

The festival ”What next for the United Nations?” took place in October 2020 and marked the UN’s 75 years anniversary. Its workshops explored the challenges we face in building a more secure world. For the Peace and Security program, we showcased our manifesto for a better world focusing on peace: challenging new ideas, proven case studies, and even those proposals that can frighten governments but which should really spur them to action. This article will outline the key ideas for the Disarmament and Security presentation: Steps towards the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

When we think about peace we often think about war as an antonym. Indeed, Tolstoy’s War and Peace comes to mind (although thankfully my proposals are much shorter). 

It seems inevitable that we come quickly to the issues of security and disarmament, therefore, when discussing war. The topic is vast and so in keeping with recent UN developments, and specifically the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, I chose to focus on nuclear disarmament. 

Article 11 of the UN Charter states that the General Assembly might consider the principles of cooperation including the disarmament and regulation of armaments.  

There are two key proposals on how to achieve peace involving disarmament. The first is to focus on what is happening in the world around us right now. 

In 2017, the UN passed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Currently there are 84 signatories and 46 parties, yet the treaty requires 50 countries to sign it in order to achieve its ratification. I suggest that the UN look to ongoing projects, such as the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear weapons. ICAN won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. One particularly effective strategy is the #ICANSAVE MY CITY campaign on social media, which encourages individuals to campaign to their local city, the local city signs up to ICAN and in turn campaigns the government. So far Paris, Sydney, Kannur and Nagasaki are just some of the cities to sign up to ICAN. 

“A-Day” First atomic bomb explosion at Bikini in the Marshall Islands 1 July 1946.


My second proposal ensures that nuclear weapons and killer robots are part of people’s everyday understanding. We need to understand what they are, their history, their role in society today and the ethical questions surrounding them. Most people will not engage in a topic if they do not understand it or do not think it relevant. The reality is that nuclear weapons affect us all, as humanity but also as a planet. Therefore, we all need to know about them. Proposal Two is inspired by work already happening by some organisations, such as Pugwash which is currently organising an ethical science festival for young people. Proposal Two focuses on workshops for young people so that they can engage in the ethical questions of nuclear weapons and killer robots. 

Who would run these workshops? Well, it’s unlikely that one solution would fit all, but in the UK for example there are various UN university societies across the country. Students who are members of these societies could run the workshops for younger people in the surrounding areas. This could ensure a multidisciplinary approach.  

So, the two key proposals. 

Proposal One: Coordinated activity led by local politicians and university students to persuade city authorities to join the #ICANSAVE My City campaign, moving public opinion towards support for the ratification of the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. 

Proposal Two: Noting the adverse impact upon human development by the development of nuclear weapons over 75 years, University UN associations in the UK lead an ethics-based campaign to raise awareness of the similar dangers posed by Lethal Autonomous Weapons (killer robots), leading to their control and elimination.  

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