Non-Violence, Sustainable Development, and the Gandhian Trinity

Remarks by Dr. Noeleen Heyzer,
Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Executive Secretary of
the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and Special Advisor of the United Nations Secretary-General for Timor-Leste

Commemoration of the International Day of Non-Violence
Bangkok, Thailand, 2 October 2013

Your Excellency Mr. Anil Wadhwa,
Ambassador of India

Dr. Rajni Bakshi, Gandhi Peace Fellow,
Indian Council for Global Relations



Students and staff from the New International School of Thailand,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction & SG’s Message

Our commemoration this year of the International Day of Non-Violence takes place as violence continues to claim innocent victims around the globe.

In places as far-flung as Kenya, the United States, the Philippines, Myanmar, and Syria - we are confronted on a daily basis by the awful truth that despite the great progress we have made, violence still cripples individuals, families, communities, and nations in the second decade of the 21st Century.

It is one thing to reject violence from the safety of conference halls, temples, and classrooms – but it is something altogether different to choose non-violence when face-to-face with those who embrace its use. This was the message of Mahatma Gandhi’s life – and his campaign of action without violence, on the basis of truth force – Satyagraha.

It is my great pleasure to address you today as we celebrate the power of non-violence on the day of the Mahatma’s birth. As Gandhi once observed: “The pursuit of truth does not permit violence on one’s opponent…I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”

The United Nations was created by the global recognition of this truth – that collective peace is the most important goal of humanity, and that every measure must be taken, every option exhausted, and every effort made to avoid the use of violence.

I would like to share with you now a message from the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon:
I quote:

Today we celebrate the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi and his resonant legacy of non-violence. Gandhi showed the power of peacefully opposing oppression, injustice and hatred. His example has inspired many other history-makers such as Martin Luther King Jr., Václav Havel, Rigoberta Menchú Tum and Nelson Mandela. Their message to each of us is to champion human dignity, reject intolerance and work for a world where people of all cultures and beliefs live together on the basis of respect and equality.

Non-violence is neither inert nor passive. It takes courage to stand up to those who use violence to enforce their will or beliefs. It requires resolve to stand against injustice, discrimination and brutality and to demand respect for diversity and fundamental human rights. It also requires courage to move from conflict and embrace peaceful negotiation. Non-violence needs leaders – across nations and in communities and homes – backed by an army of brave people prepared to demand peace, freedom and fairness.

The United Nations stands for the peaceful resolution of disputes and the end to all forms of violence, whether state-sponsored or imbedded in culture and practice, such as the violence and intimidation women and girls endure in all regions. Ending such violence can start with each of us – in homes, schools and workplaces. Violence can be contagious, but so can peaceful dialogue.

The United Nations is also focused on ending poverty in a generation. Poverty is a fertile ground for violence and crime; it is inherently violent to the needs and aspirations of the world’s most vulnerable people. That is why we place such emphasis in fulfilling the promise of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, and setting a new development agenda with poverty at its core and sustainable development as its guide. As populations grow and pressures on the planet increase, we need also to be aware of the violence we inflict on the natural world.

As we set sights on a sustainable future we must be guided by the imperative to “do no harm” to people or the planet. On this International Day of Non-Violence, I call on global citizens everywhere to be inspired by the courage of people like Mahatma Gandhi. Turn your back to division and hatred; stand up for what is right and just. Work with your fellow women and men for a world of lasting justice, peace and prosperity for all.

End of quote from the United Nations Secretary-General.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Gandhian Trinity & Sustainable Development

Very insightfully, the Mahatma said: “Poverty is the worst form of violence”. It is the worst kind because it makes the poor even more vulnerable to all other kinds of violence. Poverty is not just a lack of income and assets, it is also lack of access to basic services such as clean water and sanitation. It is lack of power – not being able to have a voice in issues which affect your life.

It is this poverty which must be our focus, as we make our big final push to 2015 on achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Asia and the Pacific. The future we want is a world and a region free from poverty, and from all forms of violence and discrimination.

In his movement to express truth through the simple activities of life, and to act in non-violent opposition to injustice, Gandhi developed three essential pillars for a better world. This Gandhian trinity changed the path of empires, exerted unmatched moral authority on world events, and holds much wisdom even today as we shape a more sustainable, inclusive, and resilient future.

The first aspect of this trinity is Sarvodaya – upliftment of all. It is the belief that every person owes a duty of care to every other person, and also to the planet and our natural environment.

The second part of the Gandhian trinity is Swaraj – social transformation through individual empowerment. It emphasizes self-discipline and self-restraint – the change of personal behavior to change the world.

The third facet of the trinity is Swadeshi – local economy. It centers on the importance of decent and productive work for all people.

Although developed for a very different time, and very different challenges, the essence of the Gandhian trinity has evolved and can be seen clearly in the modern principles of sustainable development.

We should draw on the power of this philosophy as we tackle the violence of poverty, inequality, and injustice.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,


In conclusion, as we celebrate the life and message of Mahatma Gandhi, and mark the International Day of Non-Violence, let us together affirm our shared commitment to ensuring peace and prosperity for our people and our planet.

Let us work together for development, stand together against those who choose violence, and build together, the future we want where basic needs become basic rights, where all people develop their full potential, and where progress for one is progress for all.

I thank you.