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Reflections on International Day of Peace

Posted on September 19, 2008

Director, Centre for Development and Peace Studies, Guwahati


September 21 is the International Day of Peace or World Peace Day. The UN International Day of Peace was established in 1981 by resolution 36/67 of the General Assembly to coincide every year with its opening session in September. In 2001, through resolution 55/282, the Day was fixed annually on September 21 and was meant to become a day of global ceasefire and non-violence. It is also an invitation to all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Day. Lastly, the resolution invites all Member States, organisations of the United Nations system, regional and non-governmental organisations and individuals to “commemorate, in an appropriate manner, the International Day of Peace, including through education and public awareness, and to cooperate with the United Nations in the establishment of the global ceasefire.”

Individuals or groups can contribute a lot to mark the Day in a meaningful manner. But, what have we been doing or seeing? In Assam, suspected ULFA militants carried out yet another stealth bombing on the eve of the World Peace Day. The ‘cycle-bomb’ blast on Thursday, September 18, at Bijni, in the western Chirang district, injured more than 20 people, several of them critically. If the ULFA has expressed no desire for a cessation of violence (I am talking of the belligerent anti-talk group), the authorities have failed to make significant headway in taking forward the peace processes with half-a-dozen insurgent groups in Assam who are on a ceasefire with the authorities. The delay, deliberate or otherwise, in pushing ahead with the peace dialogue has made groups like the NDFB and others restive. Danger of the gains achieved out of these groups entering into a truce with the government being lost looks real. Cynics aren’t wrong in assuming that the authorities might actually love to keep playing the violent cat-and-mouse game.

Celebrating an International Day of Peace in today’s un-peaceful world may raise questions and make many wonder whether commemorating such a day can really make a difference. But one has to live with the hope that such goals like observing a day to push peace can help reduce violence, even if marginally. Now, what does a day like World Peace Day hope to achieve? It could be the following:

  • At the most basic level, the day calls for 24-hours of worldwide ceasefire and non-violence.
  • It exists to give people a chance to call for peace, individually or collectively.
  • In countries that have witnessed an extended period of peace, it is first and foremost a day for people on which to truly appreciate how fortunate this is, that it is important to work to maintain peace, and that it should never be taken for granted.
  • It is also a day to educate oneself about all those not so fortunate people who are living in conflict areas, and to express solidarity with them.
  • It is a day to let political and communal leaders know that peace should take a central position in their policies.
  • In conflict areas, September 21 also offers some concrete possibilities. It might provide a symbolic moment to start peace processes or negotiations. It gives added force to a call for peace and ceasefire. When the ceasefire is honoured, it provides an opportunity to access areas that might otherwise be closed off, to bring people there food, medicine or other necessities.
Take the case of North-east India . Insurgent groups battling the Indian state often seek international support to push forward their cases. Insurgent groups operating in the region have been writing to world leaders and global non-governmental organizations seeking support to their causes and seem to have great faith in the United Nations system. Groups like the ULFA have been saying that any peace talks with New Delhi must be held under the supervision of the UN. But, I am saddened to say that no insurgent group in this part of the world has bothered to honour the call of the UN to stop hostilities or violence for a day every year, on September 21. Perhaps that is expecting too much from groups who are professedly outside the purview of the laws of the land. Life has to go on. On this World Peace Day let us push the following slogan: “Preach Peace, Reject Violence, Resolve Conflict.”