Today, the Executive Committee of Pax Christi International feels very honoured to be received by you in your capacity of Director General of UNESCO.
Dear Director General,
Today, the Executive Committee of Pax Christi International feels very honoured to be received by you in your capacity of Director General of UNESCO. I am from Jerusalem. Given the serious problems in my homeland and given the terrible violence affecting the peoples in my region, I am speaking today with in my mind on the conflict between Israeli and Palestinian. Our peoples are living in fear. Hatred has spread to another generation. Several other members of our Executive Committee live in situations of war as well, or in conflicts between armed groups, or in violence or injustices. Just a few of these include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, El Salvador, and the Philippines. In some of these countries, many efforts have been taken to at least start the first beginnings of a peace process.
In recent decades more and more people around the world have come to the conclusion that conducting war is not a productive way to resolve conflict, and in fact only exacerbates problems. People have become increasingly aware of the pervasive, extensive and destructive effects of war on various segments and areas of society, and are seeking ways — often through the mechanisms of the United Nations and UNESCO — to limit or abolish those effects. At the same time, recent decades have provided stirring examples of the effectiveness of non-violent social action, as peoples and nations are freed of oppressive leaders and systems of government through the use of non-violent 'people power'. Unfortunately it is true that there are a lamentable number of violent conflicts being fought around the world today, some of which seem absolutely intractable and unending. I only have to mention the violence in my own country.
Pax Christi International and its national sections worldwide put emphasis on integrating into its own work the foundations and principles of UNESCO's programme "A Culture Of Peace". The Pax Christi International Youth Forum makes its own contribution to building this Culture of Peace programme, with the annual peace route and specific seminars such as those held in Northern Ireland, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. Together with John Coughlan, our youngest member of the Executive Committee, we are convinced that young people in our world must truly become 'agents for peace in the future.' Indeed, we all need to work peacefully towards a new culture based on non-violence, tolerance, mutual understanding and solidarity. The world is in need of such a culture and a common system of values. As a human community we desperately need new behavioural patterns for individuals, groups and nations, grounded in mutual respect for the dignity of all people and built on foundations of justice and right relationships. Without these, we will never realise true international peace. Together with UNESCO, Pax Christi International and other NGOs should work for these aims and develop a civilian peace service able to help reduce tensions in potential conflict zones.
UNESCO should continue to develop policies concerning conflict management. Each institution or body has a specific role to play in the three broad stages of conflict: prevention, escalation and post-conflict. First, prevention means stimulating democracy and realising human rights in potential conflict areas; monitoring and warning before conflict breaks out; and preventing the escalation of a conflict. Secondly, the period of escalation of a conflict: here no moral legitimisation of the war or conflict should be given by religious authorities; aid should be given to victims; all this needs to be combined with projects to support Local Capacities for Peace and with inter-religious dialogue as a way of peace praxis. Thirdly, the post-conflict stage is the period of de-escalation, reconciliation, reconstruction and co-operation. Initiatives such as Truth Commissions and War Tribunals should be supported in order to heal the wounds of the past.
Our partners in such countries as Croatia, Haiti, Guatemala and El Salvador are dealing with these issues. Some of our members come from these countries: Claudette Werleigh, our first Vice President, is from Haiti – where Pax Christi has an associated group in Porte au Prince; Maria Julia Hernandez is from El Salvador – Maria is the Director of Tutela Legal, the office of the Archdiocese of San Salvador dealing with human rights. Tutela Legal is an Affiliated Organisation; Katarina Kruhonja is from Croatia – She is the President of the Centre for Peace, Non-Violence and Human Rights, which is Affiliated with Pax Christi International. Our Executive Committee member from India, Virginia Saldanha, is responsible for the women's desk of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, FABC. She is active on human rights, violence and women, and on several aspects of the role of religions in peace making. The role of women as peacemakers is becoming a special focus Pax Christi International. Our movement will continue its "diplomacy in the field." I give you a few examples:
Some Examples of Pax Christi projects in the field
Dialogue of young people in conflict areas
In my own country, the Arab Educational Institute, an Affiliated Organisation with Pax Christi International, is a Palestinian organisation for a community education operative in the Bethlehem area of Palestine. After its foundation in 1986 the Institute organised programmes to promote understanding of Palestinian culture and history as well as for peace education. Since the Second Intifadah started in September last year, the Institute can hardly implement its objectives. But still, they try to organise events in which young people, Moslems and Christians, can have exchanges about what is happening in daily life. During the latest Christmas period for instance, an exchange event was organised in which hundreds of prayers and reflections on peace and justice came from all over the world (in 6 different languages). Students could read these messages and could discuss the content of them
Peace Zones and Communities
In the Philippines, Pax Christi has been essential in the development of peace zones on Negros and also in assembling the farmers of these zones to discuss their situation. Cesar Villanueva, our Vice President from the Philippines, plays an active role in mediating in this conflict and in trying to get the different actors on the road to peace. Peace Communities in Colombia are established in Chocó and Urabá. Pax Christi has supported them from the beginning. These communities have decided to be independent and neutral in the conflict. In fact, the Peace Communities are an application of international humanitarian law into practice. Helped by the local church and the international community, these communities are organising themselves in order to demand respect for their rights as civilians and to continue their lives with valour and solidarity. UNESCO would be of enormous help to the Philippines, as well as in Colombia, by encouraging the establishment of new Peace Communities and supporting those that already exist. UNESCO could also support the continued reflections and sharing of the different peace zones communities for their sustainability.
Two members of our Executive Committee from Africa are here with us today, Msgr. Laurent Monsengwo, Archbishop of Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Olive Luena from Tanzania. They played a constructive role in our regional consultation meeting in Pretoria, South Africa, from the 8th to 13th of October 2000. Representatives from 20 countries in the Horn of Africa, the Great Lakes region, the Eastern, the West and southern Africa attended. Participants appealed for the demobilisation and rehabilitation of child soldiers and their resettlement in society. They called on governments to end the proliferation of small arms in Africa. In their final statement, participants condemned the manipulation of ethnic groups to obtain political power or riches. They also asserted their belief in the role of women in peace making and establishing democratic societies. This consultation strengthened the different ongoing projects of Pax Christi in different African countries.
In Former Yugoslavia
Pax Christi has been able to develop local initiatives with partners in different parts of the former Yugoslavia. I will mention a few of them. There was a recent high-level seminar on "Peace in the Balkans via Integration: the Future of the Balkans is in Europe," which brought together young people from Serbia to Brussels and The Hague. They met with officials at the European Union and at the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia.
For many years, hundreds of young volunteers have been working with the refugees in Zenica. (Bosnia & Herzegovina). Today, they are focussing their activities on two big refugee camps near Zenica. National and international workers live and work there together. The main aspect of the peace work is organising activities with refugees in the camps. Regular activities are the language courses, the women-Club, kindergarten, etc. Pax Christi friends visit families, especially those who are old and in need. In Banja Luka, in the other part of the country, Pax Christi also has projects with refugees, on integration of displaced people and on inter ethnic dialogue.
From 1995 Pax Christi has facilitated a dialogue project between young Serb and Albanian people in Kosovo and later a dialogue between young people from Kosovo with Northern Ireland. Since then, a series of contacts and seminars have been organised. In December last year, Pax Christi organized a seminar in Skopje, Macedonia, in order to stimulate exchange and cooperation between people in Kosovo and people in Northern Ireland. The seminar found ways to explore similarities and differences in conflict dynamics between Northern Ireland and Kosovo. Since 1996, Pax Christi has set up several meetings in Northern Ireland with representatives of NGOs, student organisations and political parties from Serbia and Kosovo. These four-party discussions with Catholics, Protestants, Albanians and Serbs took place before, as well as after, the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. They proved to function as a new channel for exchange of opinions and experiences, and most importantly, the of healing the wounds and preparing for the future. Pax Christi also started its activities in Macedonia in May 2000. It concerns two programs: improvement of interethnic relations and assistance to human rights organisations.
Mr Director General, for Pax Christi, making peace a tangible reality is our primary concern. As an international movement motivated by spiritual principles but grounded in the practical realities of our world, we are hopeful that the legacy of conflict arising from discrimination and intolerance, much of it driven by religious nationalism, can be overcome. True spiritual awakening and organised religion are vital instruments in achieving peace. New efforts must be intensified in a truly new culture that needs to be rooted in the minds and hearts of ordinary women and men. UNESCO can count on the commitment of Pax Christi International. I thank you very much for your attention.
+ Msgr. Michel Sabbah
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
President Pax Christi International
Pax Christi International