Leaders at UN invoke Gandhi’s message for nonviolence

United Nations : At an observance of International Day of Nonviolence, leaders at the UN invoked Mahatma Gandhi’s message of nonviolence Thursday as a force that transcends time and place for finding peace in a world wracked by terrorism and violence.

India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said that in the face of the challenges of terrorism and violence, Gandhi’s tactics of nonviolence continued to be relevant and its basic values have to be interpreted for dealing with the current situation. “We have to find our own ways” of applying his core values of ahimsa, satyagraha and sarvodaya in the present age, she said.

The celebration of International Day of Nonviolence was held symbolically in the Trusteeship Council chamber, the UN body that once dealt with ending colonialism. The idea for this annual event held on Gandhi’s birth anniversary came from Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and the UN General Assembly established it 2007.

UNGA President Sam Kahamba Kutesa said that although “the emerging threats posed by terrorist activities and extremism are challenging the very foundations of international peace and security,” Gandhi’s unshakable belief that non-violence is the strongest force for change in the world remains applicable still today and should give us all hope and courage in these challenging times.”

The keynote speaker, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, spoke of the influence of Gandhi that transcended time and place. His strategy of satyagraha “brought about transformational change in countries as diverse as the United States, South Africa, Georgia and Northern Ireland,” he said. Gandhi’s lessons were adopted by leaders as varied as Vaclav Havel, Andrei Sakharov, Nelson Mandela, Lech Walesa and Martin Luther King.

In these “perilous times when there is a resurgence of exceptionalism and sectarianism,” Eliasson said, “the response to violence is all too often more violence when, in fact, reconciliation and dialogue is needed.”

He cited as examples of of the practical application of Gandhian principles, the “preventive diplomacy and the recent ‘Human Rights up Front’ initiative by the Secretary-General” through wihch ” we try to bring non-violence to concrete action. We aim to be engaging early on, before human rights violations or tensions escalate into mass atrocities and violent conflict.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message, “At this time of increased sectarian violence and the wanton destruction of cultural sites and heritage, it is timely to recall Gandhi’s call for peace and reconciliation, and his warning that, ‘An eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind.'”

India’s Ambassador Asoke Kumar Mukerji spoke of the importance conveying to children the “values of India’s ancient civilization and traditions, especially the values of ahimsa. He had arranged for the participation of children from the UN school at the event.

In an emotional speech, Bangladesh Finance Minister Abul MaalAbdul Muhith recalled how as a 16-year-old in Sylhet he was moved by assassination of Gandhi and organized a condolence meeting. Even though it was barely six months after the bloody partition, he said Gandhi transcended it all by his commitment to nonviolence and communal harmony. “Mahatma Gandhi was a great leader for all of South Asia, India and Pakistan,” he declared.

Ambassador Kairat K. Abdrakhmanov of Kazakhstan held up his nation as an example of the continuing relevance of Gandhi’s message of nonviolence in the contemporary world. Kazkhstan, he said, was inspired by Gandhi to give up its nuclear weapons voluntarily after it became independent in 1991 through a non-violentt struggle following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Swaraj presented the UN with a portrait of Gandhi at the spinning wheel.

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