INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF DIALOGUE FOR PEACE
There has not been very much publicity, but the United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed this year as the International Year of Dialogue as a Guarantee of Peace.
The proposal came from Turkmenistan with 68 co-sponsors including all of the countries of Central Asia, reflecting the fact that these countries are menaced by the nearby war in the Ukraine. The resolution was adopted by consensus although reservations were expressed by the United States, United Kingdom and Ukraine.
In his opening remarks at the launch ceremony in January, Vepa Hajiyev, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan, said, “Currently, these principles and goals are particularly relevant against the background of the existing systemic problems of international relations. In this context, we see a common task in turning the International Year of Dialogue as a Guarantee of Peace into a powerful constructive process designed to provide an incentive for dialogue, cooperation, and mutual understanding”. Other speakers at the launch ceremony considered the year as implementation of the 1999 International Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace.
Concerning the war in Ukraine, a new proposal from China insists that “Dialogue and negotiation are the only viable solution to the Ukraine crisis. All efforts conducive to the peaceful settlement of the crisis must be encouraged and supported. The international community should stay committed to the right approach of promoting talks for peace, help parties to the conflict open the door to a political settlement as soon as possible, and create conditions and platforms for the resumption of negotiation. China will continue to play a constructive role in this regard.”
According to the analysis of the French Mouvement de la Paix, the Chinese proposal was supported by many commentators in the Global South, while it was dismissed by the United States and its European allies. Some Asian countries, however, remarked that China should live up to these principles with regard to Taiwan.
Dialogues for peace are ongoing through the auspices of the International Parliamentary Union, including between opposing sides of the conflicts in Ukraine, Palestine and Cyprus.
Another important voice for peace through dialogue is that of Pope Francis. In a video distributed worldwide on February 6, the Pope states that, “The time has come to live in a spirit of fraternity and build a culture of peace.” In recent years the Pope has stressed dialog for peace with other religions, such as in his meeting with the grand imam of Al-Azhar in Egypt in 2019 and his voyage this year to Africa with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
In Africa, a continent torn by many armed conflicts, there are important voices for peace through dialogue.
Speaking at a Global Security Forum, General Djibril Bassolé, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Burkina Faso, caused a sensation by saying “We must dialogue with armed terrorist groups . . . In any case, dialogue is one of the typically African means of settling conflicts and easing tensions. I think that as Africans we must find our own ways to resolve the crises that have undermined our societies.”
With regard to African traditions for settling conflicts, a recent homage to the great poet of Madagascar, Jean Joseph Rabearivelo, underlines that “Through cultural diversity, which should be nurtured by a permanent dialogue without ulterior motives, we are rich in our differences!”
A broad approach of dialogue is being supported in Burkina Faso by the NGO Search for Common Ground. More than 500 participants, including local authorities, religious and customary leaders, and representatives of eight communities took part in an event in March. The strong participation of women, with 300 present, underscored their crucial role. The neighbouring country of Niger has made dialogue with violent extremist groups an important part of its strategy. By including dialogue in its counter-terrorism efforts, Niger is experimenting with an approach similar to those in Algeria and Mauritania , which underpin their decade-long protection against jihadist violence.
In Latin America, where dialogue made possible the peace accords in Colombia, another step forward was taken this month when the dissident rebel group, Estado Mayor Central (EMC), finally agreed to begin peace talks with the government. And in Mexico, also torn by violence, a national peace conference was convened in March by 175 organizations and groups. “We want to talk to each other, listen to each other, understand each other, support each other. We want to imagine and build all possible safeguards to face violence and find all the paths to peace.”
In Europe, where Greece and Turkey have long been in conflict, a new commitment to dialogue was made by the defense ministers of those countries following a joint visit to the areas of Turkey devastated by the earthquake in February.
In Asia, it seems that dialogue for peace can be dangerous. As explained by Al Jazeera, “under South Korean law, citizens are prohibited from contact with North Korean people or organisations unless they receive government permission.” Despite this, South Korea’s two biggest trade unions, the KCTU and the FKTU, signed a joint statement last fall with their sibling trade union in North Korea, opposing US war exercises. The South Korean government responded with a crackdown. In January the national intelligence service raided KCTU offices. Multiple organizers and union leaders were charged under the anti-communist National Security Law, accused of being spies for North Korea.
In a world where there is increasing danger of a nuclear war that could destroy all human civilization, the need for peace through dialogue is greater than ever. Let us hope that all world leaders will engage in this dialogue.
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