Priorities for sustainable development

by Andreea Prisecaru

A strong plan for global development that counteracts violence and promotes the progress of a peaceful civilization could build bridges for harmonious growth on an international level. This idea is encompassed in the UN’s Culture of Peace. At the Peace and Security workshop for the UN75 festival in October 2020, one of the questions participants discussed was: ”what are current priorities for sustainable development?”.

The first proposal concerns the call for a global ceasefire – the General Assembly supported this back in April. Action needs to be taken immediately in this direction – as UNICEF said: ‘’for 250 million children caught in the nightmare of armed conflict, a global ceasefire could be the difference between life and death’’. We know for sure that unless armed conflict stops, it will be impossible for people delivering Covid-related medical help to reach communities in conflict in Libya Syria, and elsewhere. We also know that hospitals have been a common target for airstrikes and even if a ceasefire is achieved, delivery of humanitarian help will not be without challenges. Therefore, this resolution aims to push for global advocacy for a ceasefire. The obstacle right now is that powerful countries choose the Security Council table to continue their traditional conflicts, to everyone’s loss, especially those who the Sustainable Development Goals have committed should not be left behind. The US and Russia claim they must continue with counter-terrorism operations while China fights over having a nice paragraph referring to the World Health Organization. However, there is one resolution the General Assembly can use in its advantage. The 70-years old Uniting for Peace resolution came about when in 1950 the Security Council failed to act, empowering the General Assembly to consider the matter immediately and use all means to maintain international peace and security. Therefore, I hope you agree that the UN should continue to push for a global ceasefire, one important way in arresting the spread of the COVID pandemic. Despite inherent difficulties, the principle behind the Uniting for Peace resolution is the recognition that there will be times when the global community, acting together, makes it clear to the Great Powers that even though they led the fight against tyranny seventy five years ago, the future of humankind trumps their replaying Cold War games.  

My first proposal identifies with one of the proposals detailed in Stepping Stones for a better future published by Together First: We demand a Security Council that acts   or gets out of the way’ 

My second proposal introduces the Smart Sustainable Cities project, which aims to integrate technology with sustainable management strategies for utilising resources in a more efficient way. This initiative has already been embraced by many countries – we can see how in Copenhagen, street lights have efficient/ lamps /adjusted/ on an algorithm /with /lighting/ triggered by human activity and with intensity adjusted at night for efficiency. Worldwide, Zurich and Stockholm are in the top ranks, followed by Geneva and Vienna. Why is this important? Because 30 years from now it is estimated that 70% of the world’s population will live in cities so the concept of Sustainable Cities makes it an important, as well as an efficient resolution to the world’s growing population. However, cities need more preparation before they can offer a healthy life for all their inhabitants, despite their economic power. Look at Paris where one year of living in its streets is the equivalent of smoking 90 packs of cigarettes. In light of these and other data, we need cities to continue to improve their infrastructure, becoming more sustainable, also sharing their knowledge with those cities in developing countries, reducing the knowledge gap. It is important to help the environment in a holistic way: from improving waste management to optimising traffic flow and sanitation systems. Some businesses have aligned with environmental goals – for example, the ride-sharer Uber has committed to carbon-free rides by 2040. The Smart Sustainable Cities project resonates completely with the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals. Yes, some initiatives have to be global, but we need to engage communities better than we have done so far. The current disagreement between national and local government leaders in England regarding COVID19 shows these challenges. With their engagement and leadership, an important condition for the Culture of Peace Initiative is secured.  

ITU-T, Smart Sustainable Cities at a Glance

My second proposal: Encourage city leaders in richer countries to embrace the Smart Sustainable Cities project and similar initiatives and to share them with poorer cities.     

Tolerance and Solidarity

By David Wardrop

In our Peace and Security workshop for the UN75 festival in October 2020, we used the UN Culture of Peace Initiative as our platform. I presented questions relating to ‘tolerance and solidarity’, one of the eight essential elements in the UN Culture of Peace Initiative. Like other presenters, I was charged to pose the audience an ‘impossible choice’ with both options being unequivocally desirable. So how might they vote?   

I recalled that those who built the United Nations 75 years ago had lived through a pandemic, a global depression, genocide and world war. We are facing only one of these but still need to act in that same sense of solidarity for, as we look around, far too little assistance has been extended to countries with the fewest capacities to face the pandemic challenge.

UN International Day of Tolerance - Global event | New Europeans

People ask why Tolerance is included in the UN’s Culture of Peace Initiative. After all, it is not a challenging word, not the word we would pin on a flag as we storm the ramparts of prejudice. When the concept of the Culture of Peace was being hammered out in UNESCO, we should note that in 1984, Ronald Reagan had pulled the US out of UNESCO and the following year Margaret Thatcher did likewise. Their reasoning, influenced by the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing US think tank, was that UNESCO was seeking to control the media. In fact, that was a proposal put forward by the then East Germany, but which did not even reach general debate.

With the US and UK no longer members, the balance of Anglophone and Francophone thinking in UNESCO tipped towards French concepts and interpretations. In 1995, UNESCO launched the International Year for Tolerance, asking all UN member states, UNESCO members or not, to promote its ideals.

Those of us in the UK advocating its return to UNESCO membership – we were back in 1997 – were puzzled. How could we promote a campaign for an attitude which can best be described as sufferance or liberality, at best neutral? But when we learned that in French the word tolerance has a more dynamic meaning, implying curiosity in the other, a wish to understand the other side of the argument and that only then could we manifest tolerance, it all made sense! We knew exactly which communities we should target, those who suffered that fuzzy anglophone type of tolerance but who needed the francophone type! Some years earlier, at the UK launch of the UN International Year of Disabled Persons, we had watched open-jawed as all pressure groups talked about their challenges, but none would listen to each other. In time they learned. So, for the International Year of Tolerance, we brought together those representing the deaf, blind, physically, and mentally handicapped, and those campaigning on gender and sexuality platforms, encouraging them to share how they overcame those challenges. All admitted they had not listened to each other’s challenges all those years back but now quickly joined a supervisory group to take the new Year of Tolerance forward.  

The first proposal was that negotiators, international and inter-personal, must be encouraged to show evidence of their understanding of each other’s position, and to share publicly that evidence.  

With regards to Solidarity, COVID-19 has forced us to step up and show it – and share! 

We have seen how cautiously countries approached the decision on whether to endorse the international COVAX programme, sharing research, sharing vaccines and treatment with nations and their peoples. As the UN Secretary-General said in his address on 21 September, ‘The dangers of “vaccinationalism” is not only unfair, but also self-defeating. None of us is safe, until all of us are safe.’ The UK has joined COVAX, but it took its time but now 172 countries have shown solidarity and joined.  

But let us not overlook what we can do on a personal level, for instance, Black Lives Matter. Would we be taking it as seriously had not images of George Floyd gone round the world? Those who watch Premier League matches must hail the determination of its leading players to honour this commitment. Will we stick with this new realisation, recognising we have turned a blind eye to this over these last decades? The International Year for Disabled Persons I mentioned earlier was quickly seen as offering inadequate time for the world to be mobilised and was immediately followed by a Decade. And still the job’s not done but even so, legislation is sufficiently embedded.   

So, who are we showing solidarity with, for how long and how do we measure outcomes?

Last month, in Ethiopia ten Amhara and Oromo political parties signed an interim agreement on joint political positions in Addis Ababa. The interim agreement marked an historic milestone in the relations of the two largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia and issued a strong call for de-escalation of tensions and for reconciliation. And yet, a month later, the Tigray community is at war with the Ethiopian government and all previous sense of solidarity has been tragically lost.

In Cyprus, study visits are designed in a way to provide students with an opportunity to collaborate with each other and integrate new perspectives with cultural heritage environments to enhance learning initiatives. This sounds good but what have they been doing over these 30 years and why are today’s 50-year olds not showing tolerance? In Bosnia, neighbouring schools separated by faith play basketball against each other – but only once a year. That is just not good enough, but we must be persistent, ‘tie ourselves to the mast’, commit as did the founders of the United Nations.

Therefore, my second proposal was to challenge the audience to commit to Black Lives Matter, recognising it to be a milestone albeit an important one on the route to true international and interpersonal solidarity and to rejoice that we have the opportunity to play a part in it – and to do so.  

By a smallish margin, the audience voted for the first proposal.

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Democratic Participation

By David Wardrop

In our Peace and Security workshop for the UN75 festival in October 2020, we used the UN Culture of Peace Initiative as our platform. I presented questions relating to democratic participation, one of the eight essential elements in the UN Culture of Peace Initiative. Like other presenters, I was charged to pose the audience an ‘impossible choice’ with both options being unequivocally desirable. So how might they vote? 

Firstly, I recalled that the UN Secretary-General wants better public engagement and communication with communities. So, let us make that a priority, globally and within our communities, learning from each other. But how do we ensure it actually happens?

In 2011, the Open Government Partnership was set up by governments and civil society advocates seeking to create a unique partnership—one that combines these powerful forces to promote accountable, responsive and inclusive governance.

Today, seventy-eight countries including the UK and a growing number of local governments—more than two billion people—along with thousands of civil society organisations are members of the Partnership. Its Implementation Plan showcases successful case studies and identifies ‘bright lights’, those communities which are exemplars of reform. These can be in stable democracies, even in those experiencing civic tension as in the United States. On our page on the UN75 festival website, we showed how the Police Department in Camden, New Jersey, can be as an exemplar to all US police departments, especially those being stressed by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. And this begs the question: who initiates these reforms, giving breath back to minority groups, those whose voice is unheard? In such developed states, the rise of the BLM movement makes us ask why these issues are too often seen through the white man’s lens only. Last month, a revealing survey run by the UK journal Peace News showed the impact BLM has had on the British peace movement, prompting self-identified white readers to unlearn a lot and to listen to other voices.

Facing quite different challenges, following inter-faith warfare in the Central African Republic, the NGO Search for Common Ground is now launching a 24-month project with funding from the UN Democracy Fund to promote permanent and collaborative dialogue between citizens, civil society, and local authorities across eight districts in the capital Bangui. A brave initiative but even if it falters, we must watch it and we must learn from failure. Peace really is a dynamic. 

United Nations Democracy Fund |

So, my first proposal was this. We should urge that evidence of the representation of the interests of minorities be a pre-requisite for any national or civic review, and it must be clear at all times.

Then again, in all these programmes, youth is in danger of being excluded from proposed solutions. Recognising this, the well-received report Stepping Stones for a Better Future published by Together First, the  network of people and organisations co-led by UNA-UK, supports the view that ‘When it comes to the future, younger participants and those in many developing countries tend to be more optimistic than those who are older or living in developed countries’. Optimistic, yes, but is that enough? This week’s news that young people in the USA, UK and Australia are questioning the value of democracy demands action, in both developed and developing countries. Let us harness this tremendous energy and commit to creating a UN youth council. Just do it! Create a high-level champion for civil society itself.

So, my second proposal was to ensure youth be represented even in the highest fora, starting with a UN Youth Council, despite local and national cultural obstructionism.

How did the audience vote? They preferred the first proposal, 51% to 49%. 

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The equality of women: are there priorities?

by David Wardrop

In our Peace and Security workshop for the UN75 festival in October 2020, we used the UN Culture of Peace Initiative as our platform. I presented questions relating to the equality of women, one of the eight essential elements in the UN Culture of Peace Initiative. Like other presenters, I was charged to pose the audience a ‘tough choice’ between two options both being unequivocally desirable. So how might they vote?    

Firstly, a question on political correctness. UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, based in Paris was formed in London 75 years ago. Its constitution is held by our own Foreign Office.

Its original preamble stated:

That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”

In the year 2000, at the time of the launch of the UN Culture of Peace, Federico Mayor, its Director-General advocated this amendment:

”That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men and women that the defences of peace must be constructed.

Asserting that only men start wars and that women should be seen as central to the construction of the defences of peace. The impact of UN Security Council resolution 1325 Women, Peace and Security agreed the same year rang out loud. UK statistics show that when women are charged with murder, there is usually a man involved also.

In September 2018, visitors to UNESCO were surprised to see yet another iteration of the original preamble, filling the entire wall of the foyer.

That since wars begin in the minds of men and women, it is in the minds of men and women that the defences of peace must be constructed.

Sometimes, even within the UN family, political correctness can override scientific and historical evidence. So how do we reach our first proposal?

From 1945 to 2000, the chronology of UN conventions relating to women focused on their protection.

1969, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), questioned whether women and children should be afforded special protection during conflicts.

1974, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in Emergency and Armed Conflict

1975, the first demands for greater women’s participation in security were formally presented at the World Conference of the International Women’s Year,

1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women demanded that more women be placed at the highest levels of decision-making in peace and security.

2000 United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 (2000): This was the landmark point of women’s rights in maintaining peace and security. This turned everything upside down.

The challenge now was perceived as not the protection of women but the involvement of women in the solution. So, what happened? Well, the UN’s Member States did nothing!

So, in 2005, Kofi Annan called them out and demanded they develop action plans. UNA hosted the public announcement of the first British Action Plan that same year. It was a start, and, over the next 15 years, seven further Security Council resolutions addressed critical issues on women, peace and security.

So how have we progressed? In 1993, women made up 1% of deployed uniformed personnel but today it is 6% and 10% in police units in UN Peacekeeping missions. However, the responsibility for deployment of women in the police and the military lies with Member States so still there were laggards but radical, even controversial proposals have now been agreed. The 2028 target for women serving in military contingents will be 15%, and 25% for military observers and staff officers. The 2028 target for women serving in formed police units is 20%, and 30% for individual police officers. There is considerable push-back by Member States to these ambitious targets, but the UN is determined to push its case. The involvement of women in advancing progress in peacekeeping, peacebuilding and post conflict resolution is an accepted given. But there is more work to be done. To be effective, women need to be treated differently and there had remained disconnect between what women in the field needed and what they were being offered. It has not been a level playing field and there were no rules. That was until August 2020 when the UN Security Council agreed Resolution 2538 agreed which offers clear direction on how to increase the deployment of uniformed women in peacekeeping. It demands the establishment of national databases and support for mixed engagement teams with women included at all times. Also, the improvement of best practices for recruitment, retention, training and deployment of women in national militaries and police. And better accommodation, sanitation, health care and protective equipment, considering their specific needs as well as demands concerning security and privacy. Let us recognise that women are a force for peace!

The Story of Resolution 1325 | Women, Peace and Security - YouTube

So, my first proposal was that troop contributing states ensure they are ready to support initiatives which introduce gender specific facilities and aids to ensure that women peacekeepers can be most effective in their roles.  

Then, this theme must be mirrored in the communities where those involved in post-conflict reconciliation and UN peacekeeping are deployed. For instance, Sierra Leone’s post-war gender reforms have illustrated how some national and local actors, those who personally benefit through traditional patriarchal structures, are likely to treat such legal and policy changes as a threat to their authority and welfare. They too must be counselled.

Let us remember that Sustainable Development Goal 5 (Gender Equality) and Goal 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) refer to this aspect of the Women, Peace and Security agenda. Also, evidence from post-conflict African states supports the claim, once thought as extravagant, that ‘There is no sustainable peace without the full and equal participation of women’. The work in Somalia of the UK-based NGO Conciliation Resources points to success here despite that country’s parliament resisting One Man One Vote, not fearing women, rather the possible demise of the clan system.

It was Sudan’s military that overthrew the country’s long-time president, but it was a cadre of brave women who were the driving force in the protest movement. In Angola, local and provincial elections are called zebra elections with each party having to alternate male female candidates in their party lists.

However, many such initiatives have ground to a halt. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to international NGOs withdrawing experienced conciliators and trainers from the field. In this vacuum, women are of course the losers.

In many of these countries, legislation has brought about this revolution and we need to encourage more. There are more women leaders now in African states than in European ones but still their support base is insecure.

So, my second proposal was that women in communities in post-conflict and fragile states must be included in all conflict resolution and civic management training programmes as they have shown they are ‘forces for peace’.

The audience preferred to support the second proposal – but hated taking the decision.   

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