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Annual Meeting of NGOs at United Nations: Development But Not Peace
an article by David Adams

I go each year to the annual meeting of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) at the United Nations in New York. This year there were 2800 participants. Three years ago we were evacuated from the meeting after the attack on the World Trade Center, thinking that the UN building might be next. This year was less dramatic, but still full of contradictions.

The theme of the program was the UN's Millennium Development Goals. Dialogue was divided. On one side was the "official line" of the UN which promotes capitalist globalization through the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization. On the other side were grass roots activists insisting that the poor should be empowered. Peace, and the culture of peace, relatively absent in the official line, was often expressed by those at the grassroots.

The grassroots approach was strongest from Brazil and the new administration of President Lula. Frei Betto, Lula's advisor for abolition of poverty and famous as a liberation theologian, explained his role as trying to reform the very nature of the nation-state. "The state was devised by the rich and for the rich," he explained. "We are trying to change this by bringing all of the different departments into a new synergy that serves the poor instead." Regarding peace and development, he quoted Isaiah that "Without justice there can be no peace."

Another former special advisor to Lula and a founder of the Porto Allegre process, Oded Grajew, spoke of the work in Brazil to engage capitalist enterprises and make them serve the interests of the poor: "Whether we like it or not, they hold the power, economic power, political power, electoral power, media power. For example, almost none of you in this hall really believe that the war in Iraq is for democracy. It's for oil. But that is not what people get from the media." This remark drew one of the biggest ovations of the conference.


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What is the United Nations doing for a culture of peace?,

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Following the Second High Level Forum of the United Nations on the Culture of Peace, Anwarul Chowdhury, a former Under-Secretary General of the UN, had this to say about what the UN is doing for a culture of peace.  His remarks were published by the Independent European Daily Express.

Civil society worldwide has been in the forefront of the global movement for the culture of peace, working diligently and patiently at the grassroots level, he said.

"I find it is the governments and power structures which are the most persistent foot-draggers with regard to advancing the culture of peace through policy steps and action," said Chowdhury, a former U.N. under-secretary-general and currently representing civil society and the Global Movement for the Culture of Peace. . .  

The United Nations, he pointed out, has shown great vision by adopting its historic, norm-setting Declaration and PoA on the Culture of Peace in 1999, but has not been organised enough in making the document a system-wide flagship effort of the world body.

"I am a believer that the world, particularly the governments, will come to realise its true value and usefulness sooner than later," Chowdhury said.

This report was posted on September 15, 2004.