UN 100 day countdown begins - What are you doing for Peace?

12 Jun 2009

UN 100 day countdown begins - What are you doing for Peace?

KABUL - Today marks the one hundred day countdown by the United Nations to the International Day of Peace on 21 September 2009.

In Afghanistan, Peace Day has been widely celebrated for the last two years with a huge campaign to mobilize people to call for peace under the theme “What are you doing for Peace?”

On the 2008 Peace Day in Afghanistan the United Nations Department for Safety and Security, which monitors security related incidents, recorded a 70 per cent reduction in violent incidents on the day itself.

A United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) statement on the day noted: “Guns fell silent across many areas of Afghanistan on Sunday as the tens of thousands of soldiers of the national and international militaries, and the Taliban all stood down from offensive military operations in support of the biggest International Peace Day effort that Afghanistan has known.”

In the statement the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, Kai Eide described the response as “remarkable” and urged Afghans and their international partners alike to join together in making enduring peace a common goal.

“Today’s events show the huge demand that exists for peace in Afghanistan. A window for peace has been opened, through which the people of Afghanistan are making themselves heard,” he said.

Following Peace Day Mr Eide, in a regular briefing to the UN Security Council on 14 October 2008, said: “On International Peace Day, on 21 September, hostilities were almost brought to a halt, including by the Taliban, following an appeal by the United Nations. This allowed us to vaccinate 1.6 million children against polio, a major achievement.”

2009 is widely seen as being one of the most difficult years for Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 with a growing insurgency and the challenge of holding presidential and provincial council elections on 20 August.

Visiting Afghanistan in January 2009 the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at a joint news conference with President Hamid Karzai: “This year is going to be a very important and a crucial year for the Afghanistan people and Government in many aspects, in addressing security challenges and also establishing fuller democracy and development and prosperity with the Afghanistan people.”

The Secretary-General expressed his determination to “see Afghanistan enjoy full democracy, full security and full development,” adding that “it is clear that Afghanistan will continue to face many challenges in 2009, but I think we can confront them.”

The Peace Day campaign last year in Afghanistan was reinforced with statements from President Karzai, the Commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and the Taliban.

President Karzai announced: "I advise all armed groups in Afghanistan never to fire a single shot unless and until attacked and similarly want foreign troops to act on it in respect of this august day."

An ISAF statement read: “Following President Karzai’s announcement that in honour of the UNAMA Peace day, he has ordered the Afghan National Army to refrain from offensive operations against insurgents, General David McKiernan, Commander ISAF, has also instructed all ISAF forces in Afghanistan to do the same. ISAF is working in support of the Government of Afghanistan under a United Nations mandate to help bring peace and stability to Afghanistan and the Afghan people. In support of the UNAMA Peace day ISAF forces will not engage in offensive operations from midnight on Saturday 20 Sept. until midnight on 21 Sept. 08.”

And in a statement the Taliban said: "If the United States, NATO and their allies are sincerely observing the Peace Day, and with no betrayal and trick announce a day of truce, so the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will order its mujahideen to hold defensive positions on peace day."

In Afghanistan for the 2009 Peace Day campaign, UNAMA is once again asking all UN agencies, Non-Governmental agencies, Government departments, civil society, media outlets, the business community, and the whole country to call for peace.

In the next 100 days the aim is to get a series of events and activities up and running across the country to mobilize the momentum of everyone calling for peace.

In 2008 UN agencies were able to secure so-called “Corridors of Peace” to allow polio vaccinators and food delivery to some of the most insecure parts of the country.

Afghanistan’s business community called for peace with the slogan “With Peace we can build the Afghan economy”.

Sports stars urged youngsters across the country to join the peace campaign and leading Afghan cartoonists painted specially commissioned peace drawings, which were released to the media in the last 21 days of the campaign.

Launching the International Day of Peace text messaging campaign in New York on 19 September 2008, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote in his text message: “On 21 September, the International Day of Peace, I call on world leaders and peoples around the world to join forces against conflict, poverty and hunger, and for all human rights for all.”

In the last two years international attention for Afghanistan’s Peace Day has benefited from visits to the country by filmmaker and founder of the campaigning organization Peace One Day, Jeremy Gilley.

His film, “The Day after Peace”, launched in 2008 at the Cannes Film Festival and shown in Afghanistan last year, charts Mr Gilley’s efforts to secure 21 September as a UN recognized day of global ceasefire and non-violence.

For the last two years Mr Gilley was accompanied to Afghanistan by Peace One Day Ambassador, actor Jude Law.

Speaking at a news conference in Kabul on 1 September 2008, in the run up to Peace Day, Jude Law said: “So finally our statement to you is: “Please mark the day. The need now is greater than ever before.” If you did something last year, do it again.

If you are learning about Peace Day on 21 September through this call to action, then please think of a way of you can get involved, it can be as simple as saying sorry. And make that commitment.”

Mr Gilley added: “Please do all you can to mark Peace Day 21 September. By working together, there will be peace one day.”

This year Mr Gilley aims to have his film “The Day after Peace” screened in all 192 member states of the United Nations on 21 September.

The International Day of Peace was established by the UN General Assembly in 1981 for “commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace within and among all nations and people.”

In 2001 a new resolution set 21 September as the exact date to observe the day.

The resolution declares “that the International Day of Peace shall henceforth be observed as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence, an invitation to all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Day.”

The resolution concludes by inviting “all Member States, organizations of the United Nations system, regional and non-governmental organizations and individuals to commemorate, in an appropriate manner, the International Day of Peace, including through education and public awareness, and to cooperate with the United Nations in the establishment of the global ceasefire.”

By Dominic Medley, UNAMA