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Speech by Ms. Esther Kuisch Laroche, Director and Representative, UNESCO Cluster Office in Tehran


on the occasion of International Day of Peace (21 September 2014)

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

Kuisch-Laroche2The International Day of Peace reflects the innermost aspiration of all peoples to live together, free and equal in dignity and rights. The theme of 2014 is the “right of peoples to peace”, selected to mark the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on the Right of Peoples to Peace by the United Nations.
The right to peace is of the utmost importance in view of the violence that is currently tearing the world apart. To build peace, we must understand the new realities of war today, and the way in which both human lives and identities are under attack in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, in violence that aims to strike at the cultural and religious values of peoples. 

Nowadays, our societies and cities are ever more diverse - but intolerance is on the rise. Conflicts are aflame across the globe and one and half billion people now live in fragile or conflict-affected countries. Half the world is under 25 years old. Ninety percent live in developing countries and face what we call a ‘crisis of future’ - without skills, without jobs.
The math is simple.
Peace is more than the absence of war; as is the motto of the Tehran Peace Museum.
The world is not safe when over one billion people live in extreme poverty. Societies are not secure when people lack access to education and health, when unsustainable practices threaten the environment, when people do not enjoy equal rights.

At UNESCO we believe that peace based exclusively upon political and economic arrangements of governments, can never be a lasting peace. We need to create solidarity among human kind, by fostering greater dialogue, understanding and trust between peoples. And we believe that education, sciences, culture and arts are important tools to bring us all closer together.
“[S]ince wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”
This statement, penned by the founding Member States of UNESCO 70 years ago amid the ruins of the Second World War, holds true to this day. Aware of the ravages wrought by modern warfare, we must be as bold as they were and invest more in levers to build lasting peace. To counter discourses of hatred that seek to set cultures against each other, we must guarantee universal access to quality education to enable one to withstand calls to violence. To counter the destruction of cultural diversity and the persecution of minorities, we must protect heritage as a force for mutual understanding. To counter ignorance, we must guarantee freedom of expression and protect journalists. We must relentlessly combat racism, discrimination, extremism and the manipulation of cultural and religious identities.
The International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022), led by UNESCO, is an opportunity for all of us to join efforts to build a genuine “culture of peace”.
On 24 September 2013, President Rouhani called for a “World against Violence and Extremism” during his speech at the 68th session of the UN General Assembly in New York. He said –and I quote:

“We should accept and be able to open a new horizon in which peace will prevail over war, tolerance over violence, progress over bloodletting, justice over discrimination, prosperity over poverty, and freedom over despotism. As beautifully said by Ferdowsi, the renowned Iranian epic poet:
Be relentless in striving for the cause of good
Bring the spring, you must. Banish the winter, you should.”
Let me close by saying that it is my sincere hope that peace will soon become a reality in all parts of the world, especially in this troubled region.
I visited the Tehran Peace Museum a little while ago, and as I toured the exhibition and listened to the stories of war survivors and victims of chemical weapons, I had to think of something that Nelson Mandela once said [and I quote]:
“Our human compassion binds us, the one to the other - not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”

I wish you all a very happy International Day of Peace.
Thank you.