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One Young World Peace Day Plenary Session

The following remarks were made by Kofi Annan at the One Young World 2017 Peace Day Plenary Session in Bogota, Colombia on 7 October 2017. Ladies and Gentlemen, Counsellors, Let me begin by reminding you that it was on this day one year ago that President Santos learned he would receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in ending more than 50 years of conflict in Colombia. With all that the country has achieved, holding a discussion on Peace and Reconciliation here in Bogota has a particular resonance. So allow me to applaud One Young World for organizing this session on such a critical subject. Throughout this Summit you all have brought your youthful energy, passion, and insight into making the world a better place. As I said at the opening of the One Young World Summit, we live in troubled times. I read with dismay the One Young World survey of 2,000 young people around the world in which more than half of respondents said they had experienced conflict during their lifetime and 60 percent lived in fear of terrorism in their country. Across the world, armed conflicts rage, killing thousands, displacing millions, and challenging our collective conscience. The root of much of today’s human suffering is violent conflict. It not only robs people of their lives, but disfigures society in other ways. Armed violence disrupts agriculture, as farmers are forced to flee their land or see their harvests burned, famines follow. Health systems are overwhelmed and without access to medicine, food, and clean water diseases spread rapidly often killing many more than the guns and bullets. The economy suffers, people fall into poverty as commercial life grinds to a halt and critical infrastructure crumbles or is willfully destroyed. And conflict also damages the internal world of individuals and societies. The trauma of seeing loved ones killed, of fleeing from one’s home can last a lifetime. Violence can sharpen the differences between us; leading some to believe that coexistence with the so-called Other is impossible. But why does conflict occur? The causes are complex and contextual but allow me highlight a few general points. When we examine today’s global landscape we can see that political factors are often a major driver of armed conflict. Too many regimes fail to represent the needs and hopes of their people, through oppression and corruption. Conflict is often caused by having unequal access to political power, it follows that a good way to avoid conflict is to encourage inclusive democracy, which gives everyone a say in decisions that affect their lives. Citizens must believe that they are their nation’s own agents of change and that the ballot box is their strongest tool. The heart of democracy is the political right of its people to be equally represented and to trust in the decisions of their elected leaders. Another driver of conflict is economic inequality. When resources are not equitably shared and opportunities are not made accessible to all, grievances and resentment is nurtured. Globalization has integrated the world’s economies and societies more than ever, creating unprecedented wealth. But it is also generating a backlash because the benefits are not fairly shared and the gap between the rich and the poor has widened. These trends influence a third driver of conflict; social fragmentation. In the developed and developing world, polarization in society is rising while trust in institutions is eroding.As the old certainties are undermined by globalization, too many are retreating into primal identities, some real, some imagined, as bulwarks against uncertainty and fear. Populist and xenophobic groups are taking advantage of this fear to reject the ties that bind us across religious, national, racial, and class divides. In doing so, they undermine pluralist norms which can help maintain a peaceful, diverse, and flourishing society. And at the confluence of these drivers of conflict is climate change, perhaps the single greatest threat we face today. Climate change is rendering social, political, and economic challenges more immediate and more complex as it generates new pressures on states and societies. The global and national response to these pressures will test states and societies, with the risk that some of them will resort to violence to cope with the change. We must accept that the solution to today’s wars and conflicts must be political; force of arms is not the answer. Since taking office, the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Gueterres has made conflict prevention a cornerstone of his strategy. During my own time as Secretary General I too strove to mitigate, end, and prevent conflicts. I have continued that effort; just a day ago, my Foundation held a Symposium here in Bogota on reconciliation and how it can be achieved and sustained. Allow me to share with you some of the elements I have found to be most valuable in building peace. First, trust is the essential element for getting beyond conflict. It must be built, step-by-step, into a momentum of confidence that takes the peace process forward. Second, if a peace process is to succeed, it must be inclusive and based on a frank dialogue among all the protagonists. Third, the voices of the victims must be heard and heard clearly. Justice need not be an impediment to peace – it is an essential partner. My advice is that we must be ambitious enough to pursue both justice and peace, and wise enough to know when and how to do so. We all want peace. But, peace is a complex process. I believe that lasting peace requires reconciliation. Reconciliation is a process, an aspiration and an outcome, not a single event. It is the rebuilding and revitalizing of relationships, between individuals, groups, and between society and state. But in every post-conflict context there are unique characteristics, so there is no single recipe for successful reconciliation. Clearly the path to peace is fraught with difficulties and dilemmas. But the reward is worth the struggle. An inspiring example of this fact can be found right here in Colombia. The success of the Colombian peace process drives home a message I want to underline; we must never lose hope. We need hope but also strong leadership. And this is where everyone I see in front me today can and must play a role. During this session you will hear from your peers and from your elders. Many will speak directly to their own experiences with violence and conflict, bringing unique insights into the nature of conflict and the road to reconciliation. At the global level, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement offer a compelling roadmap on how to go forward. It will be up to you to absorb the lessons you hear today and apply them in your communities. And let me repeat; You are never too young to lead and never too old to learn. I would urge you all to remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who reminded us that “in spite of temporary victories, violence never brings permanent peace.” So put your remarkable energy, your insight, your passion in the service of reconciliation and peace. It can start at the most personal level but small steps lead us towards a better future. The path to peace is yours to construct and pursue. Thank you.