New agenda for peace

The International Day of Peace is commemorated on September 21 each year.

In 1981, the United Nations General Assembly declared this as a day devoted to strengthening the ideals of peace within and among all nations and peoples.

The assembly voted unanimously in 2001 to establish 21 September as an annual event devoted to observe 24 hours of non-violence and ceasefire and to recognise the efforts of peacemakers who have worked hard to end conflict.

As conflict continues to manifest itself in different forms, this year’s Peace Day holds a deeper meaning than simply laying down arms. It focuses on “actions for peace” and how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are essential to preventing conflict and maintaining peace.  It demands the building of societies where all people feel included and can thrive.

At the global level, the UN observed the Peace Bell Ceremony on September 13 at its headquarters and the youth on  September 14 showcased their actions to accelerate progress towards achieving the SDGs and fostering peace.

In Malawi, the day will be commemorated on September 20 and 21 through an inclusive conference on conflict and peace where Malawians will dispassionately reflect on sustaining Malawi’s enviable peace.

It is heartening that Malawi continues to lead the way in conflict prevention and laying strong legislative and institutional foundations for fostering peace as demonstrated by the National Peace Policy and the Peace and Unity Act of 2022. 

Malawi’s efforts to sustain peace will only work if they are people-centered, with a full spectrum of human rights and trust among various constituencies.

SDG16 on “promoting peace and inclusive societies, providing access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions” should be our Northern star for peace.

This year marks the midpoint in our journey to implement the SDGs. The Peace Day aligns perfectly with the SDG Summit marking this milestone.

The SDGs aim to bring our world closer to achieving peaceful, just and inclusive societies free from hunger, fear and violence.

Yet, achieving these goals hinges on the commitment and active involvement of all stakeholders, including women, the youth, and people with disabilities and also on a strengthened humanitarian-development-peace and human rights nexus.

As Cyclone Freddy’s devastation demonstrated, humanitarian crises result in human suffering and human rights concerns that aggravate socio-economic grievances around and fuel tensions if not addressed.

Disasters leave communities more vulnerable.

Preventive and anticipatory actions are critical. The time to translate words into action is now.

The youth constitute over half of Malawi’s population.

The Peace Day is, therefore, a moment to encourage and actively support young people to be ambitious in their engagement as positive and constructive social agents to lead Malawi’s movement to reach the SDGs and contribute to building sustainable peace.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so Peace Day 2023 calls for a candid conversation on human rights and a commitment to create space for everyone to enjoy their inalienable rights as a human beings regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, political or other opinions, national or social origin, birth or other status.

As UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “Peace is needed today more than ever.

“War and conflict are unleashing devastation, poverty and hunger and driving tens of millions of people from their homes. Climate chaos is all around. And even peaceful countries are gripped by gaping inequalities and political polarisation.”

Therefore, Malawi should not take its peace for granted. Experience has shown that countries once perceived as most peaceful later descended into violent conflict because they did not work hard enough to safeguard their peace.

On this Peace Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to sustainable peace and development in the spirit of SDG16: Inclusive societies, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions”.

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