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2021 Peace Proposal (Part 8 of 13 Segments)

Value Creation in a Time of Crisis

Daisaku Ikeda, Soka Gakkai International

January 26, 2021

When I think about the significance of the initiatives led by WFP and UNICEF, I am strongly reminded of the importance of the global safety net that has been woven together in overlapping layers through the activities of different agencies of the United Nations. The UN has a number of organizations tasked with addressing the needs of specific populations, such as UN Women and UNHCR. Through the initiatives and activities of these entities, the UN has brought a sustained focus on those who would otherwise be left behind and has opened the way for the provision of international support.

In my 2019 peace proposal, I highlighted the importance of fostering people-centered multilateralism as a means of protecting those who face the most serious threats and challenges. It is increasingly urgent that we make this approach foundational to how humanity lives in the twenty-first century.

Last year, the UN launched the UN75 initiative, a global consultation to commemorate its seventyfifth anniversary. This is an ambitious attempt to listen to the voices of the world’s people through surveys and dialogue. In addition to the more than 1,000 dialogues conducted in person, online and through social media, more than one million people in all UN member and observer states across the globe responded to an online survey. The results make it clear that the overwhelming majority support greater global cooperation. Respondents of all age groups and nationalities expressed the view that this is vital in dealing with today’s challenges and that the pandemic has increased the need for international solidarity. [40]

The voices of participants from across the globe were published in the survey report. As one notes:

The virus has taken away jobs, interactions, education and peace. . . Students who have worked so hard to get an education might not get a job, people who don’t have access to technology can’t move forward in a society that now depends heavily on it, workers who are supporting their families have lost their jobs and it doesn’t seem like life will be back to normal anytime soon, so people are stressed, anxious and depressed because they fear the future. [41]

As the above comment suggests, this sense of urgency for global cooperation arises not from some idealized vision of international society but from people’s lived realities as they confront adversity in various forms. And this is being felt by large numbers of people across different countries.

Reading of the hopes and expectations for the UN expressed by the world’s people, I am reminded of the words of former UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, who passed away at the age of one hundred in March last year. Born in Lima, Peru, he took part in the first UN General Assembly in 1946 as a member of the Peruvian delegation. He spent most of his career as an ambassador and senior UN official before being appointed Secretary-General, serving two consecutive terms over ten years starting in 1982.

We met for the first time in Tokyo in August 1982, soon after he took office as Secretary-General, and on a number of occasions after that. I still vividly recall how each time I touched upon the importance of civil society support for the UN, Mr. Pérez de Cuéllar, a man known for his sober and honest manner, permitted himself a smile as he expressed his deep commitment to the UN’s mission.

He played a crucial role in resolving a number of conflicts as Secretary-General. Even in the final days of his tenure, he continued negotiations to bring an end to the civil war in El Salvador, culminating in the historic peace agreement reached on New Year’s Eve, his last day in office. This achievement still shines as an important milestone in UN history.

He once described the UN’s essential role as follows:

The Charter and the working of the world Organization do not promise a problem-free world. What they promise is a rational and peaceful way of solving problems. . . To the great dangers of the proliferation of nuclear and conventional weapons, political disputes, violations of human rights, the prevalence of poverty and threats to the environment have been added new sources of conflict. There is a need for the world’s wealth of political intelligence and imagination—and compassion—to be employed in coping with these dangers. It can be done through constant and systematic effort only within the United Nations. [42]

In another address, he expressed his deep commitment as UN chief to actions that would benefit all of humankind, saying that the crisis the UN was then facing could provide creative opportunities for renewal and reform. [43] To meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the climate emergency, I believe we should adopt the approach called for by the late Secretary-General and make the present crisis an opportunity for strengthening people-centered multilateralism through the UN system. Likewise, the current UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, has affirmed that overcoming today’s fragilities and challenges requires better global governance, [44] something we must continue to promote.

From this perspective, I would like to propose the holding of a high-level meeting at the UN to address COVID-19 as a means to further strengthen networking and collaboration among the world’s governments. With a view to the possibility of new infectious diseases emerging in the future, I would further propose that international guidelines governing pandemic response be adopted at such a meeting.

Last month, a special session of the UN General Assembly focusing on the current pandemic was held at UN Headquarters in New York where General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir addressed the gathering, expressing the sentiment shared by millions worldwide:

Right now, we are all dreaming of the day this pandemic is over. The day we can take a deep breath of fresh air without fear. The day we can shake the hands of our colleagues, embrace our families, and laugh with our friends. [45]

Toward that end, he called for strengthened international cooperation led by the UN. Following a moment of silence in memory of all those who have lost their lives, heads of state and government addressed the session through pre-recorded video statements, and online panel discussions were held with WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. I believe the high-level meeting I am calling for could be convened as a follow-up to develop international guidelines that would serve as the basis for a coordinated COVID-19 response. These guidelines should be sufficiently robust to also defend against future outbreaks of infectious disease.

We have seen how, in 2001, the UN General Assembly Special Session issued a Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS with a list of categories for action and a timeline for achievement, and how this provided a powerful impetus to each country’s response to that epidemic.

It is also worth looking at the international approach to disasters of a different nature. In 2015, four years after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 was adopted at the third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Sendai, a city that had been severely affected. This framework included guiding principles and priorities for action in disaster risk reduction, clearly underlining that the aim is to protect not only people’s lives but also their livelihoods. It further included specific lessons learned from disasters including the Tohoku earthquake, such as the importance of enhancing resilience—the capacity of societies to recover 19 from severe shocks. Further, as a result of the Sendai Framework setting specific targets toward 2030, including substantially reducing the number of victims of disaster worldwide and containing damage to critical infrastructure such as healthcare and educational facilities, countries around the world have begun to share priority areas and best practices in this field.

I believe that, building on the achievement of the Sendai Framework and based on lessons learned and experiences acquired, international guidelines for combating the current pandemic must be established as a matter of great urgency.

Although the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include bringing an end to certain communicable diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, there is no explicit mention of the word “pandemic.” Bearing in mind the possibility that new infectious diseases will emerge, the international guidelines I am proposing should outline the priority actions for pandemic response to be implemented by 2030. As guidelines linked to the SDGs, they should be integrated in such a way as to reinforce those goals.

Alongside a meeting to draw up such global guidelines, I would like to propose the holding of a “beyond COVID-19” youth summit, a convening of young people to discuss the kind of world they would like to see in the aftermath of this crisis. Two years ago, the UN Youth Climate Summit took place at UN Headquarters in New York. It provided a platform and opportunity for young leaders from around the globe to engage with UN leadership, sharing their solutions on climate issues so that their concerns could better be reflected in policy-making processes.

A “beyond COVID-19” summit could utilize online platforms, thus enabling the participation of many more young people from diverse backgrounds, such as those struggling in poverty, those living in conflict areas and those compelled to live as refugees. Such a summit would provide youth with the opportunity to freely exchange their views and hopes with UN officers and national leaders.

Many participants in the UN75 dialogues mentioned above voiced the need for UN reform that would strengthen collaboration with civil society and expand the involvement of women and youth in UN decision making. Of the suggestions detailed in the UN75 Report, I would especially like to highlight the idea of establishing a UN youth council with the role of communicating to the UN leadership ideas and proposals developed from the perspective of young people.

In my 2006 proposal on UN reform, I shared my strong belief in the importance of promoting young people’s active engagement with the UN. Referencing Archimedes, I stated that when youth have “a place to stand,” they can leverage the potential of the UN. And in my 2009 peace proposal, I called for the creation of an office of global visioning within the UN Secretariat to help identify the future direction of the UN and bring focus to that purpose. It is crucial that the UN not only react to immediate challenges but also better reflect the voices and perspectives of women and youth in its efforts to develop future-oriented action strategies.

To that end, a UN youth council would regularize and sustain the kind of youth engagement described above. A youth summit dedicated to responding to the COVID-19 crisis, following the precedent set by the Youth Climate Summit, would build momentum for the creation of such a youth council. I sincerely believe that the active participation of youth in this way would bring fresh ideas and vitality to the organization, strengthening UN-centered global governance for the benefit of the world’s peoples.

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