With a press of a button, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, flanked by four world-renowned personalities who help promote the aims of the United Nations, kicked off this year’s celebration of the International Day of Peace by sending a text message appealing for non-violence.
Mr. Ban’s text message read: “On 21 September, the International Day of Peace, I call on world leaders and peoples around the world to join forces against conflict, poverty and hunger, and for all human rights for all.”
The effort is part of a UN campaign that urges cell phone users in the United States to compose peace messages to be published on a website and delivered to world leaders gathered for the General Assembly next week.
Joining Mr. Ban at a ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York, which began with the traditional ringing of the peace bell, were four UN Messengers for Peace: Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas, wildlife researcher and conservationist Jane Goodall and Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, as well as renowned violinist Midori Goto, who was appointed a Messenger of Peace today.
The Secretary-General noted that the International Day takes on special meaning this year because 2008 also marks the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“We know that human rights are essential to peace,” he said. Yet too many people around the world still have their rights violated – especially during and after armed conflict. “That is why we must ensure that the rights in the Declaration are a living reality – that they are known, understood and enjoyed by everyone, everywhere.”
Later Mr. Ban and the President of the 63rd session of the General Assembly, Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, welcomed more than 700 participants to a student conference organized by the Department of Public Information, focusing on the theme “Peace and Human Rights.”
The Secretary-General called on the students to “use this chance to speak out about what concerns you most and think about your future and the future of this world.”
He added that today’s generation has powers of social networking that his generation can “hardly comprehend.
“I use electronic communications all the time, but honestly – this is a little embarrassing – I have zero friends online. But you – collectively – can reach tens of thousands of people in an instant. You can mobilize way beyond your clique, beyond your community, even beyond the borders of your own country. That is the power you have and I count on it – your power to make this world different when you become leaders, and even before.”
More than 200 students took part in a similar event hosted by the UN in Bangkok, at which they explored the role of human rights in achieving peace.
“This Day offers an opportunity to focus the region’s attention on the crucial relationship between peace and human rights, which are increasingly recognized as inseparable,” Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), told the gathering. “Having the direct involvement of youth as our partners today can only add to the region’s understanding of this relationship – tomorrow, they will be the leaders who will have to deal with these two vital and inextricably-linked issues.”
The International Day of Peace was first established by the UN General Assembly in 1981 as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence. The Assembly called for people around the world to use the Day as an opportunity to promote the resolution of conflict and to observe a cessation of hostilities during it.