UNESCO Extea: Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Future in Bilbao

Emily Bowman  is a student at University of Denver and is an ISA Classmates Connecting Cultures  blogger corresponding with the World Affairs Council of Houston. Emily is currently studying in Bilbao, Spain on a Fall 2 Program.

On the eve of the International Day of Peace (September 21st), the University of Deusto hosted a round table discussion organized by UNESCO Etxea on the topic of “Building a Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Future: Meeting our Responsibilities to the Next Generation”.

This is the third time the University of Deusto and UNESCO Etxea have teamed up to put on a round table discussion on human rights issues relevant to our day.

This year’s topic was chosen in context of Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development held in May in Rio de Janeiro. It also corresponds with the 15th Anniversary of the Declaration on the Responsibilities of the Present Generation to Future Generations, which the UNESCO General Conference adopted in November 1997.

The discussion was held by a panel of international experts on human rights and development, including candidates for the 2012 UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights. The speakers were: Kinhide Mushakoji, Vice President of the International Movement Against Discrimination and Racism; Janusz Symonides, professor of International Law and former Director of the UNESCO Division of Human Rights, Peace, Democracy, and Tolerance;Nasila S. Rembe, UNESCO “Oliver Tambo” Chair on Human Rights at the University of Fort Hare, Alice, South Africa; and Joana Asbrisketa, from the Pedro Arrupe Institute of Human Rights at the University of Deusto. Ángela Melo, UNESCO Director of Social and Human Sciences, acted as presenter. Isabel González from UNESCO Etxea mediated the discussion.

(Read more about the speakers and the UNESCO/Bilbao Prize here)

Ms. Melo opened the floor by explaining the reasons behind that evening’s topic of discussion.

“There cannot be development without peace and security,” she said, “They are two sides of the same coin. Sustainability must guide development”.

Quoting the first line of the UNESCO Constitution, which says, “That since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed,” Melo built upon this point as the heart of that evening’s discussion.

“Young minds are some of the most valuable defenses of peace, especially in countries emerging from conflict. Youth, the democratic pulse of today’s world, must be encouraged. Today, it is more important than ever to encourage world leaders and youth to maintain a sustainable world. We must renew our commitment to a sustainable world for the present and future generations”.

Mr. Mushakoji followed, beginning his speech with a few words of welcome in Euskera, or Basque, the local language. The crowd was very receptive of his attempt to speak in their ancient tongue.

The reason why I would have liked to speak in your beautiful language tonight is because I am going to speak about something that is very close to you. The fact that the world, in order to have a sustainable peace, needs to recall Guernica,” Mushakoji explained.

He went on to draw links between the shared histories of peace and conflict in the Basque Country and his own native Japan.

Like the bomb of Guernica, we have the bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. From this, we have concluded that it is wrong to break the right to live in peace. The right of human security came from this idea. It is not national security, it is human security.

In the interest of human security, Mushakoji argued against international capitalism and hegemony. He concluded that sustainable peace must come from a more active democracy at the local level.

Here, the center [of democracy] is the local people who make the decisions in their own cultural tradition, in harmony with the ecological context in which they live. I hope, in the future, we will be able to govern in this way. In the Basque country and in Japan, which have experienced extreme human insecurity in the past, we must join hands between localities and create a more sustainable peace.

Next, Mr. Symonides spoke on the Responsibility to Protect, “because, in the time of Libya and Syria, this is a topic that the whole world is discussing,” as he put it.

Symonides outlined the genesis of the Responsibility to Protect, and the challenge this policy presents to state sovereignty.

Sovereignty is a responsibility to protect your population against conflicts and oppression that it may be exposed to. If and when a state cannot protect its people from these actions, then the responsibility comes to the International Community. What is interesting, Responsibility to Protect is unique.

By ‘unique’, Symonide meant that international intervention, according to mandates from the UN Security Council, should only be employed in exceptional circumstances. He questioned the implementation of Responsibility to Protect in recent cases.

Are human rights being used as a pretext for intervention?

He argued that the Responsibility to Protect must be used in accordance with international military law.

Military intervention should be the last resort. Military force should be proportional. Also, military force should only be used when there is a chance for success. When success is not certain, military force will worsen the situation.

He examined the use of Responsibility to Protect in Libya. In response to Gaddafi’s attack on civilians, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1973, which says that all means, including military intervention, may be used to protect civilians.

This aligns the Responsibility to Protect with a military concept, but should it be?

He opined that, in this context, it is too possible for Responsibility to Protect to be misused as a means to unnecessary and harmful military intervention.

“Therefore, there is no question that we should apply Responsibility to Protect, but it is now a question we have confronted if we should use military intervention in Syria. We should start with diplomatic, economic means”.

He concluded that, while Responsibility to Protect is an important tool for building sustainable peace in the modern international community, diplomacy should be the first course of action in confronting a conflict situation in respect for state sovereignty and international solidarity.

Mr. Rembe spoke on the challenges and importance of young people to the future of the international community and creating a sustainable peace.

We must begin with this generation to ensure sustainability of peace.

Many young people are trapped in a sense of helplessness. Our response should be to educate young people to feel like global citizens and members of society. We must prepare young people as builders and defenders of peace.

However, Rembe warned that fostering a culture of peace in the next generation was not so simple.

A culture of peace is more than a rejection of war or a culture of impunity.

He outlined the challenges the current generation has left for the upcoming generation to face.

Today, there is a lack of leadership from governance. States are becoming weaker while multinational corporations are becoming stronger. The conflicts that rage on all over the world give testimony to injustices in control of vast resources. If you look at the areas of conflict, you will see areas of overarching diversities. The manner in which we value diversity may be the very difference in how we pass on a culture of peace to the future.

He stressed that the current generation has a responsibility to continue working towards a more sustainable peace so that it may pass on that legacy to future generations.

Finally, Ms. Asbrisketa closed the discussion, thanking the speakers for their contributions to the international debate the future of on peace and security.

The speakers will return to Bilbao in December as nominees for the 2012 UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights. The Prize recognizes the institutions, organizations, and people that have contributed in a manner of special merit to the promotion of human rights at the local, national, and international level. A ceremony will be held on December 10th, in occasion of Human Rights Day.

One thought

Leave a Reply