In The Oxford International Encyclopedia of Peace (four volumes), 2010.
Editor-in Chief Nigel Young. Oxford University Press.

The concept of a culture of peace derives from the much older concept of peace, which has it has been often been conceived as the absence of war. In this regard, one can consider that the League of Nations after World War I and the United Nations after World War II were designed to produce peace, but not specifically a culture of peace. UNESCO was an exception, however. It was founded at the same historical moment as the United Nations, as one of its specialized agencies, but those who drafted the Constitution of UNESCO recognized that peace, conceived as the absence of war, was not enough, and they wrote into the Preamble of the UNESCO Constitution “that a peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world, and that the peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind.”

Hence, it is quite appropriate that the concept of the culture of peace was introduced by UNESCO. It was first proposed at the Yamoussoukro Conference on Peace in the Minds of Men (1989, Cote d’Ivoire) which was sponsored by UNESCO. Professor Felipe MacGregor brought to the conference the concept of a culture of peace which he had formulated in his book by that name, published in 1986 in Peru.

During the early 1990's, under the leadership of Director-General Federico Mayor, UNESCO became involved actively in post-conflict peacebuilding. It proposed through its culture of peace programme to supplement the military peacekeeping activities launched by the United Nations Security Council. National Culture of Peace Programs were instituted in EI Salvador and Mozambique, and a similar programme was planned for Burundi with the experience of EI Salvador recorded in an academic paper (Lacayo et aI, 1996). UNESCO organized national culture of peace forums in Congo-Brazzaville, Philippines, Russian Federation, Sudan and Somalia.

A more elaborate definition of a culture of peace was provided at that time by Sema Tanguiane, an advisor to UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor, for the International Conference on Education in October 1994. With a few modifications his formulation was adopted by the 1995 UNESCO General Conference: A culture of peace "consists of values, attitudes and behaviours that reflect and inspire social interaction and sharing, based on the principles of freedom, justice and democracy, all human rights, tolerance and solidarity, that reject violence, endeavour to prevent conflicts by tackling their root causes to solve problems through dialogue and negotiation and that guarantee the full exercise of all rights and the means to participate fully in the development process of their society".

Later, in their 1997 article entitled Unesco's Culture of Peace Programme: An Introduction, Professor Michael True and David Adams further developed the concept of a culture of peace based on Professor True’s research on the successful use of nonviolence during the 19th and 20th Centuries by social movements such as those associated with Gandhi, King and Mandela and the experience of Adams from the culture of peace programme at UNESCO, which he was helping to develop at the time.

It can be said that the concept of the culture of peace has come only recently onto the agenda of history, because earlier approaches of peace through the United Nations Security Council, “based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments,” have not succeeded, while social movements have developed alternative principles of non-violent action that have begun to replace war and violence as means of social change.

Beginning in 1995 with resolution A/50/173, the UN General Assembly recognized the UNESCO Culture of Peace Programme by requesting reports on its transdisciplinary project entitled "Towards a culture of peace". At this point, while the UNESCO approach was not yet clearly formulated, there was almost universal sponsorship, with Europe (France, Georgia, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain), Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Philippines), Africa (Benin, Burundi, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire) and Arab States (Morocco) joining the original sponsor Peru and many other Latin American countries as co-sponsors.

By the next year, 1996, with the adoption of resolution A/51/101, the culture of peace was clearly defined as “respect for human rights, democracy, tolerance, dialogue, cultural diversity and reconciliation, and efforts to promote development, education for peace, the free flow of information and the wider participation of women, as an integral approach to prevent violence and conflicts and to contribute to the creation of conditions of peace and its consolidation.” The resolution requested UNESCO to submit to the next General Assembly session a draft declaration and programme of action on a culture of peace.

By 1997, a tension had arisen between the North and South in the UN General Assembly over the culture of peace, mirroring a tension that was developing at UNESCO in Paris (See section on UNESCO). Against the wishes of the European Union, the culture of peace was transferred from human rights and discussed under a special agenda item. The general resolution speaks of a "transformation from a culture of war and violence to a culture of peace and non-violence”, despite European attempts to eliminate this phrase. Neither of the resolutions on the culture of peace adopted during the 52nd session received the sponsorship of any European nation: A/52/13 (general resolution); and A/52/15 (International Year for the Culture of Peace). The resolution acknowledges receipt of a draft declaration and programme of action on a culture of peace, and requests a new version for the following session of the General Assembly. A year later, the same Member States sponsored resolution A/53/25 which prolonged the international year into a decade for the culture of peace and non-violence (2001-2010).

The Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace proposed by UNESCO to the General Assembly in 1998 reflected the formulation of True and Adams in the article mentioned above, although it was couched in diplomatic language. Hence, the six points listed by True and Adams were framed as (1) Education for peace, (2) Understanding, tolerance and solidarity, (3) Democratic participation, (4) Free flow of information and knowledge, (5) Equality of women and men, and (6) Sustainable human development for all. A seventh point of respect for all human rights was added. In the draft document (A/53/370), these seven points were described as dialectical alternatives to corresponding features of the culture of war and violence. For each point, a list specific actions was provided, using proposals that had been suggested by various UN bodies in response to inquiries from UNESCO.

Two important issues could not be addressed in the Programme of Action. 1) There is a strong relation between the culture of war at the national level and the culture of violence at the level of the family and community. As shown in cross-national and cross-cultural ethnographic studies, there is a causal relation by which war at the national level increases the level of family and community violence. 2) In addition to the external culture of war, there is also an internal culture of war, by which military force is used to maintain power within the state (see reference to internal military intervention in the United States).

Once the document went to informal discussions at the General Assembly, the North/South split came to the surface. The European Union required that all reference to a culture of war and violence be removed because, according to their representative, “there is no culture of war and violence in the world.” The opposition of the American representative was more blunt, referring to mention of a human right to peace and saying that "peace should not be elevated to the category of human right, otherwise it will be very difficult to start a war." On the other hand, the resolution was strengthened by adding an eighth point: “international peace and security”, including disarmament. This last point had not been included in the draft from UNESCO because it was said that it was not within the “fields of competence” of UNESCO, but it could be included in the final version because it is clearly within the fields of competence for the General Assembly.

Because of the opposition from the North, the Declaration and Programme of Action was not adopted until the last day of the 53rd General Assembly session. Had it been delayed further, it would have been killed and could not have been re-introduced in another session. The man who had seen it through an unprecedented number of informal discussions over a period of nine months, Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury of Bangladesh, rejoiced in its passage and declared, “I believe that his 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, be they at the level of the individual, the community, the nation or the region, or at the global and international levels.”

It was a great victory when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace in September 1999 as Resolution A/53/243. However, a price had been paid: the major powers removed a key phrase in the draft document that would have allowed for “an extra-budgetary and voluntary fund whereby governmental and private agencies can provide financial support for its implementation” (A/53/370, Section IIIA, paragraph 4).

Support from the South in the UN General Assembly remained strong during the initial years of the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010) even though the United Nations and its agencies did little to implement the culture of peace. Support for the annual resolutions for the culture of peace, despite a persisting boycott by the Europeans Union and other countries of the North, grew from 19 sponsors on the resolution A/55/47 of November 2000 to 66 on the resolution A/59/143 of February 2005. At the midpoint of the Decade in September 2005, at the insistence of countries from the South, the outcome document adopted by the World Summit at the United Nations included the following language:

We reaffirm the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, as well as the Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations and its Programme of Action, adopted by the General Assembly, and the value of different initiatives on dialogue among cultures and civilizations including the dialogue on interfaith cooperation. We commit to take action to promote a culture of peace and dialogue at local, national, regional and international levels, and request the Secretary-General to explore enhancing implementation mechanisms and to follow up on those initiatives.

Back in 1999, anticipating a lack of funding and follow-up by the UN system and the Member States, the Culture of Peace Programme of Action (A53/243, Section B, paragraphs 6-7), called for the involvement of civil society as well as the United Nations and the Member States in partnership for a “global movement for a culture of peace”:

6. Partnerships between and among the various actors as set out in the Declaration should be encouraged and strengthened for a global movement for a culture of peace.

7. A culture of peace could be promoted through sharing of information among actors on their initiatives in this regard.

The global movement for a culture of peace was initiated by UNESCO during the campaign for commitment to the Manifesto 2000 during the International Year for a Culture of Peace (2000). UNESCO National Commissions, UN and UNESCO field offices, non-governmental organizations, universities, and media organizations were engaged in a massive international campaign with the result that 75 million people signed the Manifesto, promising to promote a culture of peace in their daily lives. In countries such as Brazil (15 million signatures) and Colombia (11 million signatures), this laid a base for further development of the movement.

The global movement continued to develop during the first five years of the Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010). In order to measure this development, in November 2004 a website and a network were established by the Fundación Cultura de Paz to contact thousands of non-governmental organizations, requesting them to contribute to a report on progress toward a culture of peace to be submitted to the United Nations General Assembly for its scheduled plenary meeting to mark the mid-term of the Decade.

The results of the survey amounted to more than three thousand pages of text and 500 photographs from 700 organizations in more than 100 countries. The information is available on the Information Board of the website

In response to the first question of the survey, “Has your organization seen progress toward a culture of peace and nonviolence in your domain of action and in your constituency during the first half of the Decade?”, an overwhelming majority of the respondents from every part of the world replied that they have seen progress, although it is difficult to measure quantitatively.

In response to the second question of the survey, “What are the most important obstacles that have prevented progress”, there were two frequent responses: a) lack of adequate resources; and b) lack of media attention. In fact, most people are not aware of the culture of peace and that it is advancing because of the lack of attention from the mass media. As one organization stated, “bad news seems to be big news and good news seems to be no news.”

The summary report concluded that during the second half of the Culture of Peace Decade (2006-2010), the most important challenge is to continue and strengthen the progress toward a culture of peace that has been made by civil society at local and regional levels during the first half of the Decade, and to continue and strengthen the sharing of information among the actors in this regard. With regard to further development of partnerships, a model was seen in Brazil, where there are increasing partnerships between civil society and local and regional government. With regard to the media, the challenge has been to break through the silence of the commercial media so that the culture of peace and its advances become known by the general public. With regard to resources for a culture of peace, one possibility, mentioned in the survey report to the United Nations, is the potential for culture of peace tourism, which would link the principles of a culture of peace to the largest industry of the world. Finally, with regard to the United Nations, it will be important that the countries of the North re-engage in the culture of peace initiative, both at the level of the General Assembly, and at the level of UNESCO. Perhaps these countries thought that their withdrawal from the culture of peace process would lead to its disappearance, but the civil society initiatives indicate that it is not disappearing, but growing everywhere instead.

Internet references for further information:
World Report on the Culture of Peace:
United Nations Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace:
UNESCO Website for Culture of Peace:
Brief Illustrated History of Culture of Peace:
The Unesco Culture of Peace Programme in El Salvador. An initial report: From International Journal of Peace Studies (1996):
UNESCO Monograph on Culture of Peace (1995):
Culture of Peace News Network:
Unesco's Culture of Peace Programme: An Introduction, From IPRA Newsletter (1997):
Internal Military Interventions in the United States, From the Journal of Peace Research (1989):
Does culture of war abroad cause culture of violence at home?
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