Speech and Official Launch of United Nations International Day of Non-Violence

Oct 2, 2014


Michelle Gyles-Mcdonnough

United Nations Resident Coordinator, and United Nations Development Programme Resident Representative for Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei


Royal Lake Club, Lake Gardens, Kuala Lumpur


The Chairman of Gandhi Memorial Trust of Malaysia, Mr. S. Radhakrishnan and the Board of Trustees;

Your Excellencies, Honourable Judges, Retired Judges and the President of the Industrial Court;

Tan Sri-Tan Sri, Puan Sri-Puan Sri;

Dato-Dato, Datin-Datin;

Members of the media;

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good afternoon - Selamat Petang,

I’m delighted to be invited here today to launch the International Day of Non-Violence and the Fifth Gandhi Memorial Lectures to commemorate the 145th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.  I remember very fondly my participation in this wonderful commemorative event last year, shortly after my arrival in Malaysia, and it is indeed a pleasure to join this community again to celebrate Gandhi and his commitment to improving the lives of all people through non-violence, human rights and peace.

Today is a most appropriate day to celebrate the life and contributions of such a great man as Mahatma Gandhi because this International Day of Non-Violence, established by resolution of the UN General Assembly in summer 2007, is an occasion to "disseminate the message of non-violence, including through education and public awareness".  The General Assembly resolution reaffirms the global goal – the goal of humanity – "to secure a culture of peace, tolerance, understanding and non-violence", values that Gandhi’s life profoundly demonstrates.

The continuous effort put into today’s celebrations by The Gandhi Memorial Trust of Malaysia is outstanding and noteworthy, and shows dedication to an important human aspiration – the right to a dignified life and to live in peace and in harmony with our community and our environment.  Efforts such as these that celebrate and commemorate acts for peace are crucial for acknowledging steps of success toward achieving global peace, at the same time that we remember the many who have fallen, and who this very day fall victims of war, conflict and violence.  Indeed, for the pursuit of non-violence we have a long way to go.

The nature of violent conflicts has changed quite dramatically in recent decades.  The predominant form of violent conflict has evolved from national armies fighting each other to armies fighting for independence, separation or political control; and to various forms of violence involving non-state actors such as rebels, gangs, and organised crime, sometimes with economic and military power greater than the State’s.  Different from the past, the forms of violence we see today often have no clear military, political or ideological objective, and as such, these kinds of conflicts are not easily addressed with traditional instruments, such as diplomacy and military means.  And the drivers of violence often include a wide range of factors, including, political, economic, social, and health and environmental issues.  The violence we see today can be driven by socioeconomic inequalities, injustice, unemployment, disagreement regarding natural resource management, human rights abuse, religious extremism, political exclusion or corruption.  In many cases, it is difficult to define clear causes and the different factors are interrelated, and continue to change over time.

We see both long enduring crises and new and emerging conflicts, in Sudan, Syria, and Gaza; in Iraq, Central African Republic, Nigeria, and the Donbass region in Ukraine, and the continuing drug war.  Xenophobia and other forms of dangerous – and deadly – discrimination, terrorism, human trafficking, rights abuses and violence against women and children threaten millions of people and their right to a life in dignity.  Meanwhile, the Ebola virus has already claimed the lives of more than 1,500 people and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has described the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region as the world’s first ‘climate change conflict’.

Most of the victims of conflict are powerless and innocent civilians.  Without peace they have little hope of improving their lives.  The current presence of 16 UN peacekeeping operations around the world, with nearly 100,000 military and 17,000 civilian personnel involved, is evidence of the challenges confronting our world and we must salute the brave men and women from so many countries around the world, including the 20,000 Malaysian women who have served in UN peacekeeping missions over the years.  We also mustn’t forget the attacks on other actors for peace - those who, like Mahatma Gandhi, work on behalf of the powerless as they become targets: Media representatives, doctors, nurses, humanitarian workers, alike have been wounded and lost lives in trying to help others from the cruel grip of violence.

The nature and drivers of violence and conflict, and their increasing expressions, require new ways of establishing and working for peace.

As we continue our efforts for global peace and stability, this International Day for Non-Violence is a day to pause and reflect; and to take inspiration from all those devotees and advocates of non-violence, those who have stood up for peace, for justice, for security of others, and find new pathways to peace and non-violence.  It is those devotees, people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Daisaku Ikeda, who set the example in our times.

The exhibition that we can view here today, “The legacy of building peace”, is important in portraying the work of these three men, representing different cultures and continents, who in their lives shared a commitment to improving the lives of all people.  These men, and many more men and women like them the world over, have left an enduring legacy for humanity, by walking the path of peace.  And now we must find new champions and advocates for peace and non-violence, starting with ourselves.  Consistent and persistent work and action for peace must be acknowledged, applauded, and must be visible to our children, just as the cruelty - harm and terror - of war must be exposed.

The United Nations, with and through the work of its member states, will continue to steadfastly pursue peace, security, and development and human rights for all.  This is our raison d’être.  This is why the United Nations was created after the devastation and misery created by World War II, in the hope not only of ending wars, but also of making them unnecessary.  This work translates – in Malaysia and worldwide – into promoting values and norms, to establishing institutions, and  assisting countries in the process of economic and social development, and through international cooperation, at all times focusing our efforts on the most vulnerable and marginalized – people caught in conflict, refugees and asylum seekers, migrant workers, indigenous peoples, and population groups who are victims of discrimination whether due to race and ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, age or economic status.

Indeed, peace is the most important aspect of nation building; fundamentally tackling the roots of conflict and intolerance and reaching the most vulnerable requires a foundation of non-violence and peace.  The United Nations has an important role, and Governments are in the lead.  However, ultimately, the foundation for non-violence will be built by people.  Gandhi reminded us that a nation's culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people: teachers and faith leaders, parents and community voices, representatives of the private sector and grass-roots groups – non-violence is everyone’s business.

As I end my remarks, allow me to leave with you the message from UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to all of us on this day:


On this International Day of Non-Violence, we commemorate the philosophy of the late Mahatma Gandhi, who through his example proved that peaceful protests could accomplish much more than military aggression.

The principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, the year of Gandhi’s death, owe much to his beliefs.

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.”

We have to foster a culture of peace, built on dialogue and understanding, for living together in harmony while respecting and celebrating humanity’s rich diversity.

There is no greater tool than education to enhance human dignity, promote a culture of non-violence, and build lasting peace. Through education, we can craft new ways of living with each other and the planet. Education can also lay the foundation for developing new forms of global citizenship and solidarity that are so essential in today’s world.

On this Day, I call on all people to counter the forces of intolerance, advance global citizenship and forge human solidarity based on Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence.


I trust we can all heed the Secretary-General’s call.

Thank you.


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