High-Level Forum on a Culture of Peace

Opening segment by Ms. Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General for the Social and Human Sciences, UNESCO at the High-Level Forum on the Culture of Peace, on 10th September 2020.

Your Excellency Mr. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the General Assembly, Your Excellency Mr. António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Distinguished Ambassadors and representatives, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me first thank the President of the General Assembly for having convened this Forum, a valuable tradition that gains new significance within the current climate.


Our world has been deeply shaken by the COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic has not only taken a tragic toll of human lives, but it has also dramatically exposed our vulnerabilities, shed light on our injustices, and disrupted our assumptions.

The numbers speak for themselves:

Livelihoods and economic prosperity are being decimated with up to 340 million jobs at risk – 11.9% of the world’s total workforce[1], whilst between 71 and 100 million people are projected to enter extreme poverty because of the crisis[2].

The opportunity gap continues to grow, with UNESCO statistics showing that 825 million students – 47% of the global total – remain affected by school closures[3], exacerbating levels of inequality already unprecedented in modern history, and contributing to the first decline in human development since records began in 1990[4]. And discrimination and violence are on the rise (including through many populist governments), with the number of reported incidences of racism and xenophobia increasing significantly.

31 million additional cases of gender-based violence are expected to emerge over the next 10 years as a result of COVID-19[5]. And I want to commend the SG leadership on defending the rights of women in the current context.

All this create the conditions for a perfect storm that is not conducive to peaceful and cohesive societies.

The pandemic has demonstrated the fragility of our world.

But it has also confirmed that among our growing diversity, we remain fundamentally interconnected and unavoidably interdependent.

It has reminded us of the need for a culture of peace – a culture of peace that is a way of life: an instrument not only to avoid war, but to address longstanding tensions between individuals and technology; people and planet; and those who have and those who do not.

This requires a commitment to build peace in the minds of men and women all the way through, and a clear understanding that an unfair and unsustainable world cannot be the basis for truthful, peaceful and trusting relationships among countries and people.

Pursuing this vision is why UNESCO exists, and what we seek to achieve through every one of our activities:

This is why, among others:

We have created an innovative framework to measure the enabling environment and impact of intercultural dialogue, looking to strengthen the evidence-base on what works and why, and create actionable insights to help leaders build effective processes to address difficult issues before they lead to conflict or violence.

We work with communities to develop intercultural skills – respect, empathy, tolerance, and mutual understanding – providing the socio-emotional basis to learn and engage with those different from ourselves. This in turn can help to tackle challenges as varied as the integration of migrant communities in Austria, the participation of indigenous populations in Costa Rica, and gender-based exclusion in Zimbabwe.

We mobilise the arts to advocate for human rights and dignity as the inalienable foundation of intercultural exchange, working with the most vulnerable to facilitate post-conflict reconciliation, integration, and the prevention of violence.

And we are developing an instrument to address the ethics of Artificial Intelligence to ensure that these amazing technologies contribute to a peaceful world.

The need for a culture of peace, the need for UNESCO, is more pronounced today than ever before. Peace is as an essential enabler, and an ultimate outcome of a fairer, sustainable world.

We cannot rest on our laurels, and at UNESCO, we are building the evidence of what works, and what does not, we have increased our investments and strengthened our partnerships and commitments.

We hope that this will support the efforts of those that are now rowing against the tide in a world that is not as we would like it to be. Too much confrontation, too much violence, too much despair.

I am sure that today’s celebration will serve as an important catalyst for action in this direction. Count on UNESCO at this critical time.

Thank you.

[1] International Labor Organization. (2020). ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. Fifth edition. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@dgreports/@dcomm/documents/briefingnote/wcms_749399.pdf

[2] Gerszon D., Laknerr M., Castaneda Aguilar A., Wu H. (2020). Updated estimates of the impact of COVID-19 on global poverty.

[3] UNESCO. (2020. Education: From disruption to recovery.

[4] UNDP. (2020). COVID-19 and Human Developement: Assessing the Crisis, Envisioning the Recovery.

[5] UNFPA. (2020). Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Family Planning and Ending Gender-based Violence, Female Genital Mutilation and Child Marriage.

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