Adoption of Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace

The adoption of the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace by the United Nations General Assembly was a long and difficult process because of the opposition of the Great Powers.

A draft of the document was prepared by UNESCO and sent to the UN Secretary-General in the form of document A/53/370 on September 2, 1998. The procedure is explained in the first two paragraphs of the cover page of that document;

"1. The General Assembly, in paragraph 4 of its resolution 52/13 of 20 November 1997, requested the Secretary-General, in coordination with the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and taking into account the debate in the General Assembly, the specific suggestions of Member States and the comments, if any, of member States in the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization at its twenty-ninth session, to submit a consolidated report containing a draft declaration and programme of action on a culture of peace to the Assembly at its fifty-third session.

2. The Secretary-General has the honour to transmit to the General Assembly the consolidated report prepared in accordance with the resolution. The proposals and suggestions contained in the report are the result of extensive consultations conducted by the Director-General of UNESCO with entities of the United Nations system, including the relevant executive committees, as well as interested specialized agencies and other organizations. The Secretary-General, in coordination with the Director-General of UNESCO, will pursue inter-agency consultations on the follow-up actions to be taken within the system at the next session of the Administrative Committee on Coordination, to be held in October 1998."

For the rest of A/53/370, click here.

Once the document A/53/370 arrived at the UN, it ran into opposition and had to go through nine months of "informal consultations" before it was finally adopted. The person who managed this "birth process" with great diplomacy and skill was the Ambassador from Bangladesh, Anwarul Chowdhury.

Ambassador Chowdhury explained his task in a speech he gave when he was invited to UNESCO Paris in January 1999. Click here for his speech.

Chowdhury began by explaining the history prior to the arrival of A/53/370 from UNESCO.

As he explains, previously, in 1997, in the face of opposition to the culture of peace by the Great Powers ("some delegations had a lot of difficulty with that"), "it was realized that the only way some of the misperceptions about culture of peace could be dispelled was to . . . have its own independent standing. We found that the best way to provide a push to the concept would be to make it a separate item of agenda of the plenary of the Assembly." Thanks to his diplomatic work, "on 19 September 1997, the General Assembly decided to include a special agenda item entitled 'Towards a Culture of Peace.'"

UNESCO had prepared an earlier draft document for the culture of peace in response to a request from the fifty first session of the UN General Assembly (Resolution A/51/101) at the beginning of 1997, which stated in its final action paragraph "requests the Secretary-General, in conjunction with the Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, to report to the General Assembly at its fifty second session. . . including the preparation of elements for a draft provisional declaration and programme of action on a culture of peace." In response, that earlier draft document was provided by UNESCO and accepted in UN document A/52/292, dated 19 September 1997. Click here for document A/52/292.

The UNESCO draft contained in A/52/292 was not converted into a UN resolution in the Assembly's 52nd session, but instead as mentioned above, the UN General Assembly requested UNECO to prepare a revised document for its 53rd session. This was explained as follows in Ambassador Chowdhury's speech:

"At the fifty-second session, Bangladesh took the initiative of presenting to the plenary of the General Assembly on behalf of fifty countries the draft resolution on culture of peace, which was approved by consensus." Bangladesh prepared the resolution, mentioned above (A/52/13) which, as he says, "contained a request to the Secretary-General, in co-ordination with the UNESCO Director General and taking into account the debate in the General Assembly and the specific suggestions of Member States, to submit a draft declaration and programme of action on a culture of peace to the General Assembly at its fifth-third session.

On 10 November 1998, which was the beginning of the 53rd session of the General Assembly, Bangladesh (i.e. Ambassador Chowdhury) initiated plenary discussion of the culture of peace including document A/53/370, the draft declaration and programme of action on a culture of peace that had been prepared by UNESCO (see above). As the Ambassador says in his speech, "The discussion at the plenary was very positive and supported the early adoption of the draft documents at the current session of the General Assembly. In summing up the meeting the President of the General Assembly informed that Bangladesh would coordinate consultations on a draft resolution on this item for the adoption of the draft documents at a later date. Accordingly, Bangladesh held the first round of informal consultations on 2 December 1998."

A number of delegations supported adoption of the resolution without delay; however, as the Ambassador explains, "some delegations, including those of the European Union held that they needed to examine the document and would like to have more time. In view of that it was decided that delegations would seek the views from their respective capitals and would provide written comments by 7 January 1998 so that further informal consultations could be scheduled in January 1999. Before I left New York, I was informed that the EU would need a little bit more time to submit its comments."

That was the situation in January 1999 when Ambassador Chowdhury came to speak at UNESCO in Paris. He concluded, "I believe that the most significant development of culture of peace within the United Nations system would be the adoption of the draft declaration and programme of action by the General Assembly. The United Nations will then have a clear set of recommendations and proposals to build on. It will also provide Member States guidelines to undertake programmes and activities at the national level. As I mentioned earlier, we shall continue our efforts to ensure that the documents are adopted by this session of the General Assembly. . . . In conclusion, let me once again state that we owe UNESCO a deep debt of gratitude for shaping culture of peace and pursuing it with diligence and tenacity. My thanks to Director General Mayor for his pioneering role. Culture of peace will be his legacy to future generations and our tool to forget a better world for our children to inherit."

Little did he (or we) guess at that time (January 1999) that the resolution would require nine more months and 18 informal consultations, not to mention many other diplomatic maneuvers. I have heard it said that this is the record in the entire history of the United Nations. Finally the resolution, A/53/243 would be adopted on 13 September 1999, the last day of the 53rd session. If the opponents of the resolution had succeeded in postponing its adoption by one more day, it would have been killed forever, because the rules of the General Assembly do not allow a resolution to be proposed in more than one session.

It is thanks to Ambassador Chowdhury and the support he obtained from the non-aligned nations that they were able to overcome the opposition of the Great Powers and obtain adoption of the Declaration and Programme of Action.

At the very first informal session (see below), the European Union tried to stop the process of adoption. As described by the head of the New York office of UNESCO, writing to Director-General Mayor on December 2, 1998: "The Ambassador of Bangladesh had to use all his diplomatic skills in the meeting this morning to counter a fairly ridiculous proposal from EU, supported by Canada, designed exclusively to delay the adoption of the Declaration and Program of Action. The EU has suggested that the draft text should be sent back to the Executive Board of UNESCO for discussion. The suggestion was clearly untenable. They then suggested that the General Assembly should ask for written comments from all member states and wait until these comments are received (8 months one year?) before taking any further steps. Several countries opposed this proposed procedure, saying that the text had been around for long enough and the question of the Culture of Peace has been with the General Assembly for three years now."

In fact, the informal process continued for nine months. Although I have copies of minutes from all of the informal consultations chaired by the ambassador, I have put only the first page or two of them on line here, so that you can get some idea of how they progressed, along with notes about the final revisions after the end of the informal consultations. Note that you may need to zoom in on the pages if they are too small to read.

Consultation No. 1 - December 2, 1998
Consultation No. 2 - February 22, 1999
Consultation No. 3 - March 17
Consultation No. 4 - May 6
Consultation No. 5 - May 10
Consultation No. 6 - May 20
Consultation Nos. 7-8 - June 14-15
Consultation Nos. 9-12 - July 8-14
Consultation No. 13 - July 23
Consultation Nos. 14-18 - August 6-12
Revision 4 - August 18
Revision 5 - August 23
Status on August 27
Compromise September 2

Ambassador Chowdhury and his allies among the non-aligned nations had to fight hard to keep from losing the essential aspects of the draft resolution. This was because the Great Powers demanded that many sections and phrases be removed. Essentially the process was a negative process of removal; there was very little positive that was added.

One of the removal demands was especially devastating. As you can see from the minutes of Consultation 4 on May 6, the European Union demanded to delete the phrase "speedy transition from a culture of war and violence to a culture of peace." To quote the minutes, "According to him [the EU representative], "there is no culture of war and violence in the world." Ironically, at that very moment, NATO was bombing Kosovo with depleted uranium bombs from high-altitude B-52 bombers!

Because of the insistence of the Great Powers that one cannot speak about the culture of war and violence at the United Nations, the resolution had to be drastically modified. The draft sent from UNESCO (A/53/370) had presented the eight programme areas for a culture of peace as the opposites of the eight principal characteristics of the culture of war. But since the final resolution could not mention the culture of war, the origin and significance of the eight programme areas was taken away.

As for the Declaration, the changes made during the informals weakened it by politicizing it and losing much of the ethical tone which had hoped would make it an enduring document. Among the provisions eliminated were the respect for democratic principles in international relations, reference to the "deep cultural roots" of war, and the reference to promotion of a "global movement for a speedy transition from a culture of war and violence to a culture of peace and non-violence in the new millennium", as well as reference to the culture of peace as a "process of individual, collective and institutional transformation" and to promotion of a culture of peace as an element of UN reform.

As for the Programme of Action we have already mentioned the devastating effect of removing all reference to the culture of war. Several other key provisions were eliminated, including "reform of management practices that corresponds to the principles of a culture of peace" and "research on experiences of national truth and reconciliation commissions." Also eliminated was reference to the establishment of a voluntary fund whereby governmental and private agencies could provide financial support for the programme. One aspect strengthened the programe of action: international peace and security, including disarmament, was recognized as one of the programme areas. At UNESCO we had not been able to put this into the draft resolution because we were told that this was not the business of UNESCO.

In the end, despite the opposition of the Great Powers, resolution A/53/243 (available here) was adopted without a vote on September 13, 1999. As far as I know, Ambassador Chowdhury, in good diplomatic fashion, has never publicly stated how he managed to get it passed. One can only suppose that he told the Great Powers, "I have the votes, and if you insist on a vote, it will only show you as a minority against peace."

One detail needs to be clarified. If you put the following phrase into a search engine, you will find many mentions by Ambassador Chowdhury and by Soka Gakkai, his source of financial and moral support, that he was the chair of the "U.N. General Assembly Drafting Committee for the Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace (1998-1999)."

It should be clear from the preceding history that Ambassador Chowdhury chaired the "Informal Consultations of the Plenary of the 53rd Session of the General Assembly on the Draft Declaration and Programme of Action for a Culture of Peace - Agenda Item 31 'Culture of Peace'". It was not called a "Drafting Committee." To be certain of this, I posed the question to the United Nations Library, as can be seen in the email exchange you can see here.

To conclude, let us recall Ambassador Chowdhury's words to the General Assembly when the resolution was adopted:

"I believe that this document is unique in more than one way. It is a universal document in the real sense, transcending boundaries, cultures, societies and nations. Unlike many other General Assembly documents, this document is action-oriented and encourages actions at all levels. All people from all walks of life and all sorts of backgrounds can contribute to its implementation."

As Ambassador Chowdhury said of Federico Mayor above, we can now say of the Ambassador, "Culture of peace will be his legacy to future generations and our tool to forge a better world for our children to inherit"
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