United Nations’ International Day of Peace was celebrated at Stratford City Hall on September 21 with live music and two speakers, Dr. Alistair Edgar and Dr. Gerald Filson. International Day of Peace was proposed to the UN in 1981 by Costa Rica with the intention that it would be a day of global ceasefire.
“Peace in Parts” was the focus of the talk by Dr. Edgar, a member of the Board of Directors of the UN Association of Canada and Professor of International Relations at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo. He had just returned from Cambodia, having viewed the beginnings of the international war crimes trials against those involved in the Cambodian genocide from 1975 to 1979.
Over the last decade or so there has been a “significant decline in military conflicts around the world” Dr. Edgar said, measured in part by the number of reported deaths from all forms of conflict, including genocides. He believes this could be a result of the spread of democracy “although the (changeover) process can be bloody”, or linked to poverty reduction.
However, “the central variable is a very dramatic rise in the trend towards international activism”, including UN efforts, believes Dr. Edgar.
The UN currently has 18 peace-related missions involving 120,000 personnel. Among other things, the UN supplies peacekeepers, helps in judicial reforms, helps rehabilitate child soldiers, and assists refugees. States have long been considered “sovereign political entities” preventing interference by other countries in their internal affairs. To break through this “sovereignty curtain”, the UN has instigated R2P – “Responsibility to Protect”. “States are expected to provide for the security of their citizens, but if they can’t, others must,” he explained.
Master of Ceremonies Bill Hazen presented Dr. Edgar with a copy of “The Promise of World Peace”, a Baha’i statement on peace by the Universal House of Justice.Dr. Gerald Filson is the Director of External Affairs for the Baha’i community of Canada. For two years he was the Chair of the National Executive Committee of the Canadian Network on International Human Rights and has been active in human rights work since 1993.
Dr. Filson spoke about “World Peace – Going Beyond the Political”. He described four categories of threats to world peace starting with economics. Competition, extreme nationalism, as well as economic instability and gross inequity between the poor and wealthy provide sources of potentional conflict, he said. Environmental stress and degradation that crosses borders can increase international tensions.
The proliferation of armaments must be controlled and harnessed. And international crime, excessive domestic and small-arms violence, dislocation of populations, famine, terrorism, human trafficking, and ethnic, cultural and religious tensions are among other problems that can escalate.
These problems can only be resolved when nations give up some sovereignty to international bodies. Dr. Filson noted we are already part way there, having created international cooperation in a variety of areas, “but we need something even stronger.”
“We often think social remedies to problems only lie with the government or in the passing of more laws”, said Dr. Filson “but democracy and sound government and the rule of law must also be reinforced and supported by a culture of morality.” “You can’t legislate how to behave well – this comes out of sound moral education.” Character building institutions must provide a balance to political and legal institutions, he said.
Throughout the program there were exquisite violin duets by Andrea Barstad and her student Lisa Bates, rap songs by local recording artists Nabil Moghaddam and Karim Rushdy, and original music performed by Guelph-based Brett Smith and Michael Dragoman, ending with a Baha’i prayer for mankind read by 10-year-old Stefan Barstad-Thorburn asking God to “unite all, let the religions agree, make the nations one…”