Building A Common Global Ethic

An Address by
Senator Douglas Roche, O.C.
Global Multifaith Conference
June 22 - 28, 2000
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

In my life in public office as a legislator, I am engaged in a sea of policies, legislation, and programs all calling for increased attention - usually at the expense of one another.

Daily crises preoccupy the political agenda, and get immediate attention. But underneath the concerns of the moment there is a continuing human crisis.

The great issues of our time - war, poverty, intolerance, environmental degradation - remain in spite of surging wealth and technological advancement. These issues are all linked, yet they are often treated separately by individuals and groups working on their own either within or without the political system. T o engage these issues there needs to be an infusion of values-based principles into public policy that would establish and reinforce a common ground for all humanity: One that would emphasize the core values of respect for life, liberty, justice and equity, and mutual respect.

Sadly, this common ethic remains elusive in public policy. Consider:

These facts are not indicative of some tragic twist of fate, but are testament to a deliberate turning of heads.

The persistence of such global problems as militarism, poverty, intolerance, and environmental destruction requires great momentum to achieve a new world order. And an attitudinal change to the requisites of this order is essential. Changing old attitudes, overtaken by the realities that inequalities in living standards and opportunity have grown "from inequitable to inhuman," is what global education ought to be about. Taking steps to change what can and must be changed is the key to effective social action.

More than 40 years ago, the nations of the world, speaking through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, asserted that "everyone has a right to education." The inclusion of the right to education in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 was the beginning of a broad effort to promote social, economic and cultural rights in tandem with civil and political rights. The indivisibility of these rights is enshrined in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which became binding international law on September 2nd 1990. In this same year, the year of the Children's Summit at the United Nations, world leaders promised to lift children out of abject poverty.

Since then, the Official Development Assistance from the industrialized world to developing nations has been cut by about 30 percent -- $15 billion -- in real terms, and now stands at its lowest level since its inception in 1970. This at a period of human history when the needs of humanity, particularly children, have been elevated to a legal entitlement, a status far harder to ignore.

The wealthy industrialized north has broken its promise of education for all children, as tens of millions remain ensnared in the cycle of poverty and illiteracy. The wealthy have cut aid to the poor at a time when the lack of development is now recognized as the most acute security threat facing the least developed States.

Nevertheless, while the aid that is supposed to elevate the human security needs of the world's most vulnerable people declines, world military expenditures total approximately $781 billion. UNICEF estimates that an increased investment of $7 billion more per year for education over the next decade would deliver universally accessible education. Delivering on the promise -- the human right -- of educating all children would cost the world community less than one one-hundredth per year of what it currently spends on arms.

Recent experience demonstrates that resources are made immediately available when the need is considered important enough. When the economies of East Asia collapsed in 1997 and '98, the industrialized north mobilized over $100 billion in a matter of months to rescue them. Imagine what a fraction of such an infusion of resources could do for education. It is not the resources that are lacking, but the political will.

Let us remember such contrasts when we think of educating for a culture of peace. Policy-makers must rid themselves of the idea that peace and security can be bought only with weaponry. A culture of peace challenges the reliance on weapons and the glorification of violence.

It is often said that war is inevitable, it is part of our human nature, people have been fighting throughout history. This is a superficial analysis. Human beings are not genetically programmed for war. There is no inherent biological component of our nature that produces violence. UNESCO points out that just as war begins in our minds; so too must the new idea begin in our minds: that peace is absolutely necessary in a technological age of mass destruction.

It was Gandhi who, when asked whether the atomic bombs dropped on Japan had exploded his faith in truth and non-violence, answered that this cataclysmic event had no such affect. He insisted the force of the atomic bomb, as opposed to the force of non-violence, are of a wholly different nature. One is moral and spiritual, the other physical and material. The one is infinitely superior to the other, which by its very nature has an end. The force of the spirit is ever progressive and endless. As Gandhi saw it, its full expression makes it unconquerable in the world.

This force resides in everybody, man, woman, and child, irrespective of the colour of the skin. Only in many ways it lies dormant, but is capable of being awakened by an integrated and sustained struggle to promote peace. Global education must promote collaboration among nations through peace, the sharing of science, and the exchange of culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law, and for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Rights and freedoms which are affirmed for the peoples of the world, without distinction of race, sex, language or religion.

Gandhi further observed that without recognition of such an essential truth and due effort to realize it, there is no escape from self-destruction. In saying this, Gandhi knew that he had said nothing new. He merely bore witness to the fact, believing that the truth needed to be repeated as long as there were those who disbelieved it.

The continuing work of UNESCO, in promoting knowledge of a culture of peace, is inspiring. Responding to a request by the U.N. General Assembly to develop the concept of a culture of peace as an integral approach to preventing violence and armed conflicts, UNESCO succeeded in defining norms, values, and aims of peace. A culture of peace is the set of values, attitudes, traditions, modes of behaviour, and ways of life that reflect and inspire respect for life and for all human rights. It involves the rejection of violence in all its forms, and commitment to the prevention of violent conflicts by tackling their root causes through dialogue and negotiation.

A culture of peace is a process of individual, collective, and institutional transformation. It grows out of the beliefs and actions of people and develops in each nation within its specific historical, socio-cultural, and economic context. The key is the transformation of violent competition into cooperation based on the sharing of values and goals.

A peace consciousness does not appear overnight. It is evident that constructing a culture of peace requires comprehensive educational, social, and civic action. It addresses people of all ages. An open-minded, global strategy is required to make a culture of peace take root in people's hearts and minds.

The U.N. General Assembly has helped to foster this ethical transformation by proclaiming the year 2000 as the International Year for the Culture of Peace, to be followed by the International Decade (2001-2010) for "a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World." Mobilizing public opinion and developing new education programs at all levels are essential to promote humanity's rejection of war.

Instead of planning to fight wars, nations should put their full strength behind the efforts of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who recently stressed the need for a culture of peace in these words:

"It may seem sometimes as if a culture of peace does not stand a chance against the culture of war, the culture of violence and the cultures of impunity and intolerance. Peace may indeed be a complex challenge, dependent on action in many fields and even a bit of luck from time to time. It may be a painfully slow process, and fragile and imperfect when it is achieved. But peace is in our hands. We can do it."

In this setting, we should note the resources that UNESCO has provided to deepen our understanding of the ways to develop a Culture of Peace. UNESCO's International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century, recommended an agenda for renewal of education systems. It identified "four pillars of education."

The World Commission on Culture and Development, chaired by former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, called for the recognition of a common set of shared principles that would allow cultural diversity to flourish. A system of global ethics, it said in its report, Our Creative Diversity, must rest on certain pillars:
It is increasingly obvious that the current generation and those to come will need more knowledge and understanding of the world than their elders now, and certainly, did possess. Because of massive transformations in technology, communication and transportation humanity can now see itself, its unity and disunity, as no generation before could do. Humanity must also see not only our coexistence but also our commonality and the need for cooperation with one another.

Beyond all else, one great fact must stand out; the whole of the Earth is greater than the parts. Global security is of a higher order than national security -- security at the expense of others'. Violence, injustice, war, oppression and poverty are seen not as the inevitable consequences of greed and aggression, but as symptoms of a world disorder caused by putting the parts before the whole. A transformation of consciousness must occur.

A global order of peace and justice in the new millennium can only be achieved by educating for a global citizenship. This is a citizenship that is not disloyal to community or country, rather, it lifts up the consciousness of one's surroundings to a new recognition, never possible in the pre-technological age, of the interdependence of nations and systems making up the whole.

This is the thinking that "global education" must represent. The term "global education" expresses the holistic nature of the comprehension required to address the world's problems, and the multidimensional nature of peace.

This involves much more than the development of a few specialists. There must be millions of contacts, mutual exchanges and understanding between individuals the world over. This would develop an awareness of other peoples and foster a sense of common interests and values.

We must maintain this broad vision of education. We must see education, not only as a human need - but a human right, a necessary force for social change. Global education is the single most important resource for conquering poverty; empowering all people, especially women, safe-guarding children from labour and sexual exploitation, promoting human rights and democracy, protecting our fragile natural environment, and, ultimately, as a path towards international peace and security.

One of the most fundamental challenges we face is the realization of a humane world. This must be more than a vision. It is a moral imperative. We need new approaches to peace and security, and the educational tools to achieve them. We need to foster and promote the transition from a culture of war, violence, and discrimination to a culture of non-violence, dialogue, and tolerance. It will have to be based on collective efforts from a variety of actors and partners inside and outside of government. It will depend upon the ability to raise people's awareness of the fundamental human security needs and rights affecting the daily lives of millions.

As we start the new century, the potential for a culture of peace has never been higher. Though we are still bogged down in the remnants of a culture of war, we must summon the strength, the courage, and the endurance to share in the development of God's planet. The political resolve of governments and civil society shall be the determining factor. We must seize this moment to push the decision-makers and social actors everywhere to reorder priorities, to set an ethical basis for future action, and to empower citizens to enjoy, and participate in the rights and freedoms due them as human beings.