Gandhi’s enduring legacy

RESPECT: Children offer prayers to a statue of
Mahatma Gandhi during celebrations on Monday
(2) to mark the 148th anniversary of his birth
RESPECT: Children offer prayers to a statue of Mahatma Gandhi during celebrations on Monday (2) to mark the 148th anniversary of his birth
President of the 72nd
session of the UN
general assembly, at
the international day
of non-violence on
Monday (2)


I WANT to thank the Permanent Mission of India for organising today’s event.

It gives us an opportunity to focus on non-vio­lence and on the way it can change how we live.

Mahatma Gandhi was born on this day, Octo­ber 2, 148 years ago. He dedicated his life to us­ing non-violence for change. Even nearly 70 years after his death, he is a source of inspiration.

There are many people using non-violence to better their communities, countries or the wider world. They are peacefully defending those who have had their rights and dignity violated.

They are using non-violent ways to gain ac­cess to the services and opportunities needed for a decent life. They are trying to lead others away from conflict and violence, towards com­promise and peace. And they are using their voices to argue on behalf of a planet that can’t speak for itself.

Much of this work is being done by brave and dedicated individuals. The UN must support them, both through advocacy and through its direct work on the ground.

The principle of non-violence is also at work on a larger scale. It is a core principle of many non-governmental organisations, political groups, regional organisations and even local and national government actors.

We must remember that the United Nations is the biggest global actor and promoter, of non-violence. We might phrase things differently here. We talk of the three pillars, dealing with human rights, sustainable development and peace and security. We are all working for the same things. Every day, the UN is using non-vio­lent means to strive for peace and a decent life for all, on a sustainable planet.

Unfortunately, we are not yet living in the world that Gandhi dreamed of. Many actors still use violence as their tool of choice. Every day there is new evidence of the destruction and hu­man suffering, which results from this choice.

Intolerance and hate speech are features of our world. International human rights and hu­manitarian law are constantly violated. Con­flicts, violent extremism and terrorism don’t show any signs of decreasing. Even the planet is suffering from a violence of sorts, due to the harmful impact of human activities.

The message of non-violence is therefore needed more today than ever.

And this brings me back, to the inspiration I referred to briefly at the beginning of my speech.

Initially, Mahatma Gandhi was simply one person, carrying out individual acts. These indi­vidual acts, however, led thousands to follow. And this shows us the real difference between violence and non-violence. One inspires fear. The other inspires positive action. This action is what is needed for transformative change.

As a global leader in non-violence, the UN needs to do more to promote this principle, and to inspire others to do so, too.

First, this will mean stepping up our efforts in conflict prevention.

Mediation is one of the most effective tools of non-violence. It can turn parties away from con­flict, towards compromise. This means it can avert violence – which only leads to loss – and promote non-violence, resulting in benefits on all sides.

At the recent general debate, I heard member states call loudly for a stronger UN – especially for its mediation and conflict prevention ca­pacities. They also called for more support to local, national or regional actors using non-vio­lent ways to stop or prevent conflicts. Secretary-general Guterres has placed prevention at the core of his mandate. This issue will be a main focus throughout the 72nd session.

Second, the UN should do more to promote the use of non-violence across all three pillars of its work.

To succeed in doing so, people from all coun­tries and all walks of life must be more closely engaged with the UN. Strong partnerships can help to spread a message of non-violence that will be heard. This must involve religious lead­ers, community activists and, importantly, young people.

More effort must also be made to harness new communication and outreach tools. If one mes­sage of violence is posted on Facebook, two messages of peace must appear in response. The UN can act as platform from which these cam­paigns and activities can be mobilised.

And third, we need to do more to respond to global challenges as they emerge. This means ensuring that the UN is evolving as fast as the world around it. The longer it takes to respond to a major development or crisis, the higher the chance of violence being seen as the only answer.

We have entered an era of UN reform. Mem­ber states will have different concerns and pri­orities to address as we move forward. However, we should remember our common aim: A Unit­ed Nations that is fit for purpose, which can offer non-violence solutions to global challenges.

I want to conclude with some pragmatism. Violence can be tempting. It brings fast results. It can topple governments, or change social or­ders, in a short space of time.

However, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Nothing enduring can be built on violence.” So, whether we call it sustainable development, transformative change or simply a better world, none of this can happen through violence.

The UN must act as a constant reminder of this. It must not only work through non-vio­lence, but it must inspire others to do so too.

And I want to thank India, again, for providing some inspiration to us, here today, as we work to ensure this happens.