UNESCO’s pursuit of building just and peaceful societies: the role of human rights for sustainable peace


On 21 September - the International Day of Peace - UNESCO organized at Headquarters a round table discussion on “Building Just and Peaceful Societies: UNESCO’s contribution to a Culture of Prevention”, examining the complex yet fundamental relationship between human rights and sustainable peace. UNESCO’s preventive role in building sustainable, peaceful societies centered the initial discussion which was then followed by a panel guided by the recently released UNESCO publication Long Walk of Peace: Towards a Culture of Prevention – the fruit of a partnership between UNESCO, Abat Oliba University (Barcelona, Spain) and 32 UN entities.

Opening the discussion with his experiences as a UN peace-making representative in various countries, Lakhdar Brahimi, former Algerian Foreign Minister, United Nations and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, Ambassador and Chair of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, focused on the importance of the international community in the reconstruction in post-conflict/post-disaster situations.

“In every situation, the international community is different. The international community that counts is composed of the parties that have interests and influence… So we have to remember the fact that this is the international community that need to be more mobilized –along with local parties, if a genuine peace process is to be achieved”, he said.

Ms Al-Nashif reiterated UNESCO’s prominent preventive role at the heart of the United Nations system to foster resilience of individuals in building just and sustainable societies.

“The pursuit of genuine and sustainable peace is at the core of UNESCO’s mandate, as expressed in the famous preamble of its Constitution, ‘since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed’…  The world has changed since then – but our determination to provide every human being with the skills, capacities and possibilities to become everything they wish, in dignity and respect, remains as firm as ever.”

Her speech was proceeded by a thought-provoking panel discussion, moderated by Jens Boel, former chief archivist of UNESCO, and Maha Al-Salehi, young advocate for human rights, featuring substantive interventions by Professor Priyankar Upadhyaya, UNESCO Chair of the Malaviya Centre for Peace Research at the Banaras Hindu University, Mark Goodale, anthropologist, professor at the University of Lausanne, Doudou Diene, former United Nations Special rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, and Cécile Coudriou, President of Amnesty International France.
The debate addressed issues such as the concept of peace, the importance of tackling impunity and the current relevance of Universal Declaration of Human Rights to tackle the challenges of the 21st century.

Finalizing the discussion, Prof. Mark Goodale highlighted the significance of international solidarity in achieving sustainable peaceful societies with his words:

“…[looking at] all the struggles on peace and dignity and freedom, the one lesson we learn is that the only lasting peace came from people, not states, not political entities. Peace is about all of us people working together.”