Magazine article UN Chronicle

Empowering Civil Society in Latin America to Promote Equality and Prevent Conflict

Magazine article UN Chronicle

Empowering Civil Society in Latin America to Promote Equality and Prevent Conflict

Article excerpt

"Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed." Constitution of UNESCO


How can we seek social justice and peace amidst widespread corruption, rising military expenditure, the systematic violation of human rights and a preponderance of predatory business interests?

Since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, there has been widespread consensus that "recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world". "Peace not only is the absence of conflict, but also requires a positive, dynamic participatory process where dialogue is encouraged and conflicts are solved in a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation", states the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, adopted in 1999, while underlining the "need to eliminate all forms of discrimination and intolerance", pointing to deep-rooted inequalities, embedded in social historical constructions, that call for structural, behavioural and attitudinal change.

Fostering a culture of peace through education was clearly established as a priority, thus recognizing the right to education as an enabler of other rights, standing on the assumption that it can promote a set of values, attitudes and modes of behaviour, allowing people to "resolve any dispute peacefully and in a spirit of respect for human dignity and of tolerance and non-discrimination". The declaration points to other fundamental aspects, such as economic, social and environmental justice; gender equality and democratic participation, including emphasis on democratic principles and practices at all levels of formal, informal and non-formal education.

In June 2000, the inspiring Earth Charter was launched, reiterating the above-mentioned principles and incorporating provisions that emphasize ecological integrity and respect for nature and Mother Earth. The Charter specifically refers to the importance of protecting the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly, association and dissent, as well as integrating into formal education and life-long learning the knowledge, values, and skills needed for a sustainable and nonviolent way of life.

These longstanding commitments now form the basis underpinning the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 16 on peaceful and inclusive societies and SDG 4 on inclusive and equitable quality education, target 4.7 of which prioritizes education for sustainable development, human rights and peace.

Notwithstanding these frameworks, the outlook for the prevention of conflict remains bleak. The 2016 Report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organization (resolution 71/1), in the section entitled "Maintenance of international peace and security", points out that political leaders are far from ensuring peaceful and equitable environments that respect the rule of law, and that the diversion of resources from development to war continues. Atrocities are taking place involving children, and increasing numbers of people are forced to flee their homes, as armed conflicts and violent extremism persist.


The international conventions, declarations, charters and agendas mentioned previously are fully embraced by the Latin American States, which, in fact, played a crucial role in the adoption of the 2016 Declaration on the Right to Peace proposed by the Human Rights Council. Eight Latin American States voted in favour and none against or in abstention. Furthermore, the region has its own constituted agreements, such as the Inter-American Democratic Charter. The latter articulates the mutually reinforcing relationship between the enjoyment of human rights and strengthened and participatory democracies. …

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