The Courage of Non-Violence

ES Dr.Noeleen Heyzer delivering speech at the rostrum for Event - Observance of the International Day of Non-Violence, Monday, 8 October 2012 ES with Indian Ambassador taken by Ms. Natalie Srisutcharit, Editor/Reporter, Emissary Broadcasting Corporation (EBC).
Event: ESCAP Commemoration of the International Day of Non-Violence
Location: Bangkok, Thailand

Your Excellency Mr. Anil Wadhwa,
Ambassador of India

Excellencies,

Distinguished members of the ACPR

Colleagues,

Students and staff from the New International School of Thailand,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction & SG’s Message

The United Nations was created from the ashes of global conflict, by a generation that had experienced the horrors of world wars and by people who resolved that never again would violence be allowed to define our common humanity.

Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations defines the purpose of our organization:

To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace…

In other words, the core of the United Nations has always been our preference for the resolving conflict through non-violence.

It is an honour for me to address you today to commemorate the International Day of Non-Violence, established by the General Assembly in 2007, to coincide with the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi – whose life and name embody non-violent resistance to injustice.

I would like to begin today by sharing with you a message from the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon:

“Earlier this year, I had the privilege of paying my respects at the Raj Ghat memorial to Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhi. Gandhi’s vision and example showed how one person can change the world. In tribute to his enduring legacy, we mark this International Day of Non-Violence each year on the anniversary of his birth.

In these times of global turmoil and transition, it is fitting that we take a moment to reflect on Gandhi’s message of understanding and peace.

As we look around the world, tolerance is being tested. Fighting is taking a heavy toll from Afghanistan to Syria to the Sahel. The economic crisis is fuelling xenophobia and other forms of dangerous – and deadly – discrimination. Terrorism, human trafficking, rights abuses and violence against women threaten millions of people.

We must work even harder for understanding among and within religions and communities and between and within countries.

I have made prevention a key priority in the five-year action agenda of the United Nations. But prevention means more than separating warring parties and cooling tensions. Fundamentally tackling the roots of conflict and intolerance will take a culture of non-violence and peace.

Governments must lead. But ultimately, the foundation for non-violence will be built by people: teachers and faith leaders, parents and community voices, business people and grass-roots groups.

Perhaps it may be easier to pick up a weapon than to lay down a grudge. It may be simpler to find fault than to find forgiveness. But I have been deeply moved by communities and people in every corner of the world who have been inspired by Gandhi’s example and made a real difference.

Let us take strength from all of these efforts and work together to build a world of nonviolence and lasting peace.”

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Active Courage & Eliminating Exclusion

In June 1893, when he was still a young lawyer, newly-arrived in Apartheid South Africa, Gandhi was forced from a train for refusing to sit in the third class compartment because of the colour of his skin.

It was an incident he later described as one of the most important influences on his belief that a “No” uttered from conviction is always better than a “Yes” uttered only to please or worse, to avoid trouble.

Too often, Gandhi’s message of non-violence is mistaken for passivity, but his real message advocates active courage. The courage to stand up for your values and to act on your convictions, but to do so in ways which themselves demand the courage of non-violence.

Regrettably we have seen again, in recent weeks, too many examples around the world of violence as an expression of anger and of revenge. Yet violence never serves the causes in whose name it is committed – generating instead only more violence, and destroying the best opportunities for positive change.

It was the Mahatma who once observed “I have learned through bitter experience that the one supreme lesson is to conserve my anger – and as heat conserved is transmitted into energy, even so our anger, controlled, can be transmitted into a power that can move the world.”

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Gandhi, Poverty & Sustainable Development

As Gandhi said: “You cannot have a good social system when you find yourself low in the scale of political rights…[and] you cannot have a good economic system when your social arrangements are imperfect”.

This observation echoes our current focus on rebalancing the three pillars of sustainable development – economic, social, and environmental, to ensure a more inclusive and sustainable future for our region.

In Asia and the Pacific our growth and our development has improved, but remains far from perfect. There are large and growing gaps between rich and poor, between urban and rural, and between men and women. If poverty is seen as the worst form of violence, then we must ensure that in Asia and the Pacific the violence of poverty is eradicated.

Writing in the 1920’s, Gandhi set out seven social sins to be avoided. They remain as relevant and powerful today as when they were first written - Politics without Principle, Wealth Without Work, Pleasure Without Conscience, Knowledge without Character, Commerce without Morality, Science without Humanity, and Worship without Sacrifice.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Conclusion

As we celebrate non-violence, and Gandhi’s legacy today, it is our shared responsibility to rise to the challenges of poverty, to eliminate exclusion and discrimination, and to reject the notion of second-class people and communities in the 21st century.

As the family of the United Nations, it is also our shared duty to stand firm against those who choose violence to advance their agendas. Let us, together, affirm our commitment to dialogue, development, justice and peace – and resolve to act always with the courage of non-violent convictions.

I thank you.