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I.C. Lamba: Peace without a Religious Foundation Cannot Be Sustained

Paper delivered at Interreligious and International Peace Council Inaugural Meeting, “Global Governance for a New Realm of Peace,” New York, October 1-3, 2003

When the United Nations was created at the end of the Second World War in 1945, its overarching mission was global peace. The envisaged peace would embody the collective responsibility underlined in the opening line of the preamble, “We the people of the United Nations.”

For effective discharge of its overall functions, the United Nations has operated through its several specialized agencies, such as the United Nations Development Program, World Tourism Organization, United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations Population Fund, United Nations Environment Program, World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization/World Food Program, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and affiliates such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The focus of each agency was to promote the visibility of the United Nations and enhance peace in a turbulent world. The ultimate objective, therefore, was the fulfillment of human development in an environment of peaceful co-existence.

The burning questions for us all should be: Why does peace continue to elude the world? Why is the United Nations not achieving its noble objective? How can the United Nations be renewed to build and enhance a culture of peace? These were some of the searching questions that formed the agenda of the Millennium Summit of 2000, which reviewed the performance of the United Nations and came up with the Millennium Development Goals for human development. However, the Millennium prescriptions of 2000 have been found to be not comprehensive enough for the desired revitalization of the United Nations. Where and how is the UN failing? What role can religion play? Can an interreligious and international peace council serve as an answer?

There is no doubt that the United Nations has, since its launching in 1945, made enormous strides in fulfilling its mission of global peace. However, it is clear that a fast-changing world has defied the original operational strategies which can no longer meet the new challenges that continue to destabilize the world. New strategies are therefore called for in the search for national and international peace.

No new organization can replace the United Nations as the harbinger and promoter of peace, but enhancing the effectiveness of the organization and its agencies must remain our crucial agenda in the twenty-first century. The problem possibly lies in our failure to identify the ingredients that will constitute peace.

The world has entered the twenty-first century with a gloomy outlook. International terrorism evidenced in the hideous attacks of September 11, 2001, has introduced new global insecurity and racial hatred which spills over to negatively affect religious assumptions and interaction. Wars continue to devastate the development potential while vulnerable groups of victims suffer helplessly from destitution, hopelessness, and hunger. Diseases such as HIV/AIDS have posed the most difficult challenge to the world of science as millions fall victim to the pandemic. HIV/AIDS has led to desperation for millions of adults and orphans, and weakening of labor power, disintegration of households, and collapse of traditional coping strategies.

Although the UNDP Human Development Report (2003) has aptly described the UN Millennium Development Goals as a compact among nations to end human poverty, in fact poverty is getting worse in many countries in the current environment of despair created by an interplay of disease and wars. In my country, Malawi, where the HIV/ AIDS prevalence rate is 16 percent in a population of 12 million, a person survives on less than half a dollar a day, 50 percent under the UN recommended daily rate. In this background even human rights cannot function effectively. People’s intolerance has given rise to unwarranted violent conflicts, contrary to the UN ideal of a culture of peace that UNESCO has taken up for years now as a linchpin of human progress.

Today, peace continues to feature as a mirage. It is perhaps important to remind ourselves of the old adage that wars start in the minds of men and women and it is in the same minds that the defenses of peace must start. The most urgent task, therefore, lies in changing the mind-set of the United Nations members in favor of peace. There is need to move into the future with creativity in the hunt for peace. Implementation of the UN Millennium Development Goals is already proving an uphill struggle, exacerbated not only by inadequate resources, but also by unabating global turbulence.

The picture painted of the United Nations seems bleak and yet realistic. The UN needs energizing to meet new challenges and that explains why reform efforts are already underway in the UN. In fact these reforms are not restricted to the General Assembly and Security Council, but extend to the agencies as well, wherever need has been identified. If indeed human behavior can be described as cyclical, then only institutional and mind reform can sustain the organization in a world of changing security.

Professor Kenneth Galbraith of Harvard University is said to have cited three major problems in the world today, which include the gap between the rich and the poor, nuclear weapons that threaten security, and discrimination focused on religion, race, gender and other divisions, all of which the United Nations and its agencies are supposed to address. It is my view that even if every person became rich and the entire world nuclear-free, it would still be necessary to seek reform of people’s states of mind to tackle the discrimination and prejudice that generates most national and international conflicts today. The major task, therefore, must involve seeking a medium for fundamental change in the United Nations. It is necessary to underline the likely contribution of an interreligious and international peace council to radical change and innovation which should complement the work of the UN and its organs and agencies in creating a new morality. The UN must indeed be seen as an organization at a turning point in need of energizing.

The peace council idea introduces novelty and creativity in the search for peace with a fundamental base in religious convictions. The challenge ahead remains the integration or affiliation of this council with the UN system; the modicum or modalities may not be found today, but the effort must continue. Peace without a religious conception and foundation cannot be sustained to form the desired culture.