UNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

03/31/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 04/01/2021 07:58

Cutting Edge | Breaking barriers to peace through culture

Culture should be a force of unity, not division. Numerous experiences demonstrate how culture can provide a crucial entry point for international cooperation to unite people across borders in the protection of shared cultural heritage or cultural exchange. Cultural diplomacy is at the heart of the UNESCO Silk Roads programme, which for more than 30 years has engaged several countries in building links between people from different communities along these routes. Culture was also the catalyst for reopening dialogue to overcome the contentious frontier between Thailand and Cambodia through the safeguarding of the Temple of Preah Vihear. The 2018 joint inscription of Traditional Korean wrestling (Ssirum/Ssireum) on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity brought together the two Koreas in a sign of solidarity and rapprochement. In the Lake Chad Basin region, the UNESCO project 'Biosphere and Heritage of Lake Chad' (BIOPALT) has taken a multidisciplinary approach to strengthen national capacities in shared natural resource management across five countries (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Niger, Nigeria and Chad). In Nigeria, for instance, UNESCO has conducted training in management of transboundary water resources using a 'Potential Conflict to Potential Cooperation (PCCP)' approach, thereby strengthening water diplomacy and collaborative natural resource management for peace and sustainable development. Likewise, in Ivory Coast, UNESCO joined United Nations Development Program (UNDP), United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Ministry of Culture last October to roll out a series of dialogue and peacebuilding mechanisms to promote inter-ethnic alliances between local communities, including youth. These efforts were followed up in January as part of World Day for African and Afrodescendant Culture with the launch of an awareness caravan that provides content on the history of ethnic alliances in order to support peacebuilding. To date, 400 young community relays for peace have been trained, who act as peace mediators for the consolidation of inter-ethnic values throughout Ivory Coast.

When the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace in 1999, it became the universal blueprint for the international community to promote a culture of peace and non-violence. This was carried forward across the UN with thesubsequent International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010), the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2010) and the Programme of Action for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence. A culture of peace promotes the values, attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies through a range of human rights-based actions, including education, culture and media. The increased recognition of the value of intercultural dialogue resulted in the UN International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013 - 2022), which is led by UNESCO.

Within the UN-wide system, the shift towards sustaining peace and conflict prevention has placed greater emphasis on the role of culture in peacebuilding frameworks. When UN Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals(link is external) (SDGs) in 2015, the reciprocal links between peace and sustainable development were brought to the fore in building 'peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence'. Sustaining peace and conflict prevention are articulated in SDG 16 that focuses on achieving peaceful and inclusive societies and to significantly reduce all forms of violence and related deaths everywhere. In the following year, the UN twin resolutions on sustaining peace (A/RES/70/262)(link is external) and (S/RES/2282)(link is external) emphasized addressing the root causes of conflict and defined prevention as the avoidance of 'the outbreak, escalation, recurrence, or continuation of conflict'. Peace is more than the absence of war, it is a dynamic process, that requires tools, resources and political will. This task is explored in UNESCO's 2018 publication 'Long Walk of Peace : towards a culture of prevention', which compiles the experiences of 32 UN bodies and highlights the dynamic reconfiguration of UN peacebuilding from a post-conflict context to a framework of sustaining peace. Responding to crisis rather than investing in prevention generates untenably high human and financial costs. This therefore gives impetus for policymakers at all levels - from local to global - to focus on preventing violent conflict more effectively through culture.

As a critical tool in conflict prevention, education nurtures values of understanding, tolerance and respect. Multicultural and interfaith approaches to education are fundamental, particularly in situations of growing ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity. In the long-term, such approaches help build inclusive societies that are resilient in the face of crisis. Based on principles of solidarity, dialogue and respect for diversity, UNESCO's Global Citizenship Education programme empowers learners with the skills, values, attitudes and behaviors to shape more peaceful and sustainable societies. Similarly, UNESCO's intercultural competencies tool 'Story Circles' has been piloted in five countries (Thailand, Costa Rica, Zimbabwe, Austria and Tunisia), where it has demonstrated positive results in the inclusion of migrants and dialogue among indigenous peoples.

Likewise, UNESCO is committed to tackling prejudice, racial discrimination and social injustices that have been left in the aftermath of slavery and have long-lasting repercussions on peoples' identities, inclusion and opportunities. The Slave Route Project, launched in 1994, examines the foundations and consequences of this painful legacy in different regions of the world. Through research, pedagogical materials, conservation of archives, oral traditions and sites of memory, it aims to contribute to a better understanding of the continued impact of this history. The International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024) also promotes the fulfilment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of people of African descent and a greater knowledge of their contribution to humankind.

Lake Chad,

HomoCosmicos/Getty Images*

Intercultural dialogue is increasingly recognized for its role in preventing conflict. Based on a 2017 UNESCO survey amongst Member States, some 71% of countries have policy frameworks in place on intercultural dialogue. However, gaps remain in how intercultural dialogue can be better supported to tackle culture or identity-based grievances that may be reported as triggers of community tension and conflict and - in the worst case - violence and genocide. UNESCO is working with the Institute for Economics and Peace to develop data to better understand the structures, processes and skills needed to render dialogue effective towards these peace-related outcomes.

In addition to supporting intercultural dialogue, the arts can also provide learners with an open environment to exchange experiences and personal worldviews. In times of crisis, the arts can be a significant source of solace and healing to help cope with trauma and loss. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, interactive theatre has been used as part of human rights-based approaches to boost intercultural competences in schools to fight against hate speech and prejudice. The integration of cultural diversity into curricula has also demonstrated benefits in nurturing intercultural understanding and tolerance. UNESCO's Art Lab for Human Rights and Dialogue highlights the power of art for memory, rehabilitation and reconciliation. Launched in 2018 in collaboration with the National Theatre of Chaillot (Paris, France), the programme works to mainstream arts to strengthen human rights across development and humanitarian programmes. Last December, Art Lab put forward recommendations for boosting the arts for inclusion and justice.

Inherently connected to the understanding of community, intangible cultural heritage is a vehicle that enables social cohesion, inclusion and a sense of belonging. It helps intergenerational and inter-ethnic communication, fosters respect for the linkage between intangible and material values, and promotes a balanced approach to the use of renewable natural resources, thus strengthening sustainable development. Intangible cultural heritage can also be a basis for resilience, reconciliation and peace. For example, in the village of Conejo in Colombia's Guajira Department, a UNESCO-funded project led by the FundaciĆ³n Universidad del Norte is making a difference to the lives of former combatants through their reintegration into civil life and the revitalization of the social fabric, while building on living heritage as a tool for dialogue and reconciliation in this territory affected by the armed conflict.

Indigenous knowledge, in particular, plays a crucial role in establishing dialogue to address conflict and ensure climate and food security. The Los Pinos Declaration [Chapoltepek] - Making a Decade of Action for Indigenous Languages (2022-2032) was the outcome of the high-level closing event of the International Year of indigenous Languages (IYIL2019) held last February in Mexico. The Declaration underscores the value of indigenous languages in peacebuilding processes and in creating better futures for peace, development, justice and reconciliation. UNESCO has been working in conjunction with indigenous pastoralists in Africa to promote peace-building in the context of climate stress and adaptation in the Sahel and East Africa, under the umbrella of the Organization's Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) programme. Pastoralists have emphasized that resource conflicts can be eased through understanding indigenous knowledge of weather and climate. Through dialogue with scientists, policy-makers and neighbouring communities there is greater awareness of climate sensitive adaptation.Building on a process that began in 2016, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples(link is external) stresses the importance of taking a human rights-based approach to the repatriation of indigenous peoples' ceremonial objects, human remains and cultural heritage, in recognition of their rights to self-determination, culture, property, spirituality, religion, language and traditional knowledge.

Wayne Quilliam/Canva