21st September is the UN Day of International Peace and it is an opportunity for us to remember that this club of Member States, with its General Assembly of 193 Countries and Security Council with 5 Permanent Members, has been around since 1945 but not succeeded in maintaining peace in this world constantly at war.
The refugee crisis of the past few months, that saw the biggest movement of people since the end of World War II, has not been resolved and the countries responsible for the wars that caused the refugee crisis, have not taken full responsibility for solving the crisis. More importantly, there seems to be no groundswell of opinion to put a stop to the behaviour which causes so much human misery.
One would expect the UN to lead the call for change rather than just call on member states to fund its relief efforts. But perhaps that is not a fair way of looking at it. Perhaps without the United Nations, things would be worse. Its agencies pioneer great work around the world and support the development of a better world.
The Day’s theme for 2016 is “The Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace.” It is commendable that, in spite of the depressing cycle of wars, effort is being put to ensuring that the building blocks of peace, the sustainable development goals, are being given a chance to have an impact.
At the heart of sustainability, is equity and justice. It was Desmond Tutu who said that “you cannot be neutral in situations of injustice. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
As an African, since we are in the International Decade for People of African Descent (2015 – 2024), it is important to look at its theme, Recognition, Justice and Development, and observe how it intersects with the UN Day of Peace.
The Sustainable Development Goals were the result of a discussion between nations. We have one planet and we need to use its resources equitably to benefit all the people of the planet. Equity has not ever been at the heart of human interaction and more often than not, it has been ‘might means right’.
The UN has tried to mitigate this tendency but at the very heart of this institution is an ingrained inequality: the will of the General Assembly is often ignored by the Security Council with its 5 permanent states and their veto.
Nevertheless, the existence of the General Assembly and its capacity to bring countries together to debate and make decisions, recognise wrongs and try to put them right is a source of hope.
In September 2015, the 193 Member States of the United Nations adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals unanimously at an historic summit in New York. The new ambitious 2030 agenda calls on countries to begin efforts to achieve these goals over the next 15 years. It aims to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. The Sustainable Development Goals are integral to achieving peace in our time, as development and peace are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.
“The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are our shared vision of humanity and a social contract between the world’s leaders and the people,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “They are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success.”
The UN International Decade for People of African Descent, is another concrete example of the UN, as a collective, making it clear that there are wrongs to right and that Development, Sustainable Development cannot happen where there is injustice and a failure to recognise the unfortunate position that some of humankind find themselves in as a result of the actions of others.
The outgoing UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said “Let us all work together to help all human beings achieve dignity and equality; to build a greener planet; and to make sure no one is left behind.”
The UN Day of Peace is an opportunity to remember that #AnotherWorldIsPossible