“We the people of the United Nations determined to save the succeeding generations from the scourge of war which twice in our lifetime time has brought untold sorrow to mankind …. and to these ends to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security…” these are the rallying words in the preamble of the Charter of the United Nations, which member states signed at its founding in 1945 and which remain meaningful today, 73 years later.
As the world commemorates the International Day of Peace (Peace Day), we are reminded of the vital role of the UN in the maintenance of peace in the world. We are also invited to reflect on the intricate relationship between peace, humanitarian action and sustainable development.
Since 1981, Peace Day has been observed annually on the 21st September, to provide people around the world with an opportunity to recommit to peace. This year’s theme, “The Right to Peace - The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70” reminds us of the basis for the foundation of the United Nations and the recognition that peace like human rights, grants dignity to all of us as we pursue enhanced prosperity.
The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, in his message this year notes that, “This foundational document is a reminder that peace takes root when people are free from hunger, poverty and oppression and can thrive and prosper. With the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as our guide, we must ensure the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.” Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.” These are key if we are to sustain freedom, justice and peace in the world. Sustainable peace is a shared universal responsibility that begins with us keeping peace in our families, communities and Nations. It is very important for us to practice and teach these ideals regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or religion.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognize the inter-linkage between the achievement of peace, dignified humanitarian action and sustainable socio-economic development by calling on us to place people and planet at the epicenter of efforts to eliminate poverty and achieve prosperity for all. SDG 16 calls for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development by providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. A peaceful society is one where there is justice and equality for everyone.
The universality of human rights
I am aware that every nation has a peace and human rights code that perhaps predates the founding of the United Nations and/or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Codes of many ancient civilizations, kingdoms and chiefdoms that have been passed on from generation to generation, conveying tenets that rally communities for peace, productivity and respect for one another. These tenets can be found translated in modern instruments thus enabling us to recognize the universality of the Human Rights Declaration, embrace its links to positive traditional values and protect its manifestation in the modern-day Constitutions that govern our lives.
Uganda offers an example of how local values can inform modern responses to sustaining peace, inclusive development and principled humanitarian action by reclaiming the values of Obuntubulamu – our shared humanity- as the foundation for implementing the national vision.
Various cultures in Uganda have elaborate peaceful means to conflict resolution. The Acholi, for example have what is termed as “mato put”, a means through which those who have committed crimes or atrocities can be submitted to traditional justice for the sake of peace and reconciliation.
The Baganda in central Uganda, have a ceremony of “okutta omukago” (creating a permanent bond of peace, love and friendship) which was a tradition way of building bridges after way and strengthening bonds that bind, families, communities and tribes.
The National Vision 2040 aims at transforming Uganda from a predominantly peasant and low-income country to a competitive upper middle-income country. This vision is in line with long standing cultural values, shared universal principles and international law. It has also informed the partnership agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Uganda, known as the UN Development Assistance Framework. Part of this framework addresses Peace, Security and Resilience by focusing on human rights, gender, governance, accountability, social cohesion and conflict prevention.
Are you a Peace Champion?
I encourage Ugandans to become champions for SDG 16 for Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions by seeking peaceful resolution when disagreements arise around you. We can be part of the solution by taking small steps, preventing an injustice at school or in your community, encouraging a non-violent approach to problem solving and, disseminating messages of peace. Victor Ochen, former internally displaced person and Nobel Peace Prize nominee is our SDG 16 Ambassador. He uses his life to inspire youth in Uganda and around the world. Every one of us can be an ambassador for peace. Take a few minutes to record yourself reading one of the 30 articles of the Uganda Constitution on human rights and share your video with your friends and family. Record an elder, mentor, religious leader or peer explaining conflict resolution mechanisms to learn and inspire others.
Let’s make peace an individual and shared responsibility. What will you do to ensure a peaceful Uganda? How will you keep the concept of Ubuntu alive and help those around you respect human rights, nurture dialogue and encourage tolerance for peaceful co-existence? What will you do to promote freedom from fear of violence?
Luganda: Omulirwano gwokya bbiri (a neighbour’s problem should be shared by you).
Acholi: Kuc obedo tic pa wan ducu? (Peace is a shared responsibility).
Runyoro: Obusinge buli bujunanizibwa bwa boona (It’s the responsibility of all to keep peace).
“More than ever before in human history, we share a common destiny. We can master it only if we face it together…,” Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General.