By Rosemarie Pace, Director of Pax Christi Metro New York (PCMNY)
On September 18th, PCMNY observed International Peace Day during CNV Week of Actions with prayer and a presentation by Alexandra Hiniker, Pax Netherlands Representative to the UN. Her topic, Promoting Just, Peaceful and Inclusive Societies from Grassroots to the UN. It focused on the protection of civilians in Syria, Iraq and South Sudan, including humanitarian disarmament and arms control policies. Below is the reflection from this event by Rosemarie Pace.
Thirty-four years ago, one year before Pax Christi Metro New York was incorporated, the United Nations celebrated the first Peace Day on September 21st. Its purpose was and still is to provide opportunities for nations, organizations, and individuals to engage in peacemaking activities on a common date. It is also meant to be a Day of Ceasefire, personal or political, but especially for nations engaged in armed conflict to allow humanitarian aid to reach people in greatest need living in war zones. UN Peace Day has grown over the years to be commemorated by millions of people across the globe. Unfortunately, it has not caught on in the U.S.A. to the degree that it has in other parts of the world, but PCMNY is proud to have made it one of our annual events.
This year, on September 18th, PCMNY hosted Alexandra Hiniker, Pax Netherlands representative to the UN, who led a discussion on “Promoting Just, Peaceful and Inclusive Societies from Grassroots to the UN.” Her particular focus was protection of civilians in Syria and South Sudan, including humanitarian disarmament and arms control policies. Over 25 of us filled the meeting room of 20 Washington Square North to pray, listen, and learn, not just from Alexandra, but also from each other. We began with a service that included a ritual using water and salt that symbolized life and tears, but ended with these words: “But let us not forget that salt and water can also help cleanse and heal. Let us commit ourselves to healing divisions between people, through our prayers, words, and actions.”
Alexandra is a young woman with international experience that defies her youth. From 2007 to 2012, she worked on humanitarian disarmament issues in some of the world’s most bombed and mined countries, first with the United Nations in Cambodia, and then with the Cluster Munition Coalition in Laos and Lebanon. She began her international development career implementing pandemic preparedness projects in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Her current work at the Pax New York office provided the theme for our UN Peace Day event.
First, Alexandra shared some facts about the Syria conflicts, for there are many conflicts raging in Syria, both civil and international, domestic and proxy. And while so many different players battle, the Syrian people are the ones who suffer and die or risk death to escape. One of the biggest problems is starvation, which is being used as a weapon. Another major problem is that four out of five UN Security Council member-states are involved in some way in the Syrian wars. In addition, there is no plan for what happens after the fighting stops, should either the Assad government or the rebels “win.”
The presentation evolved into an open discussion in which Tom Fasy, a Veteran for Peace, spoke with great affection about his three trips to Syria over the years, and others raised questions or shared knowledge and resources with which they were familiar. (See http://livingonone.org/salamneighbor/ and https://www.whitehelmets.org/.) Alexandra was particularly interested in what this group of activists was doing on behalf of Syria. Unfortunately, many of us had to admit we felt stifled in what we could do to address such a complex and political quagmire. Prayer, petitions, education, and charitable outreach seemed to summarize our modest efforts.
Before concluding, Alexandra re-directed our focus to South Sudan, which receives far less attention, but is also in dire need of humanitarian aid and conflict resolution. The world’s newest country has been in a civil war for most of its very short history. Arms control is gravely needed.
Finally, Alexandra mentioned the Pax initiative, “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” (http://www.dontbankonthebomb.com/), which reports that “382 private and public financial institutions from around the world have invested 493 billion USD in 26 companies involved in the production, maintenance and modernization of nuclear weapons since January 2011.” Exposing these financial institutions can have an impact if enough people know and choose to divest. This actually happened in Rhode Island where the manufacture of cluster bombs was terminated due to opposition and financial loss. Imagine if this could happen to the production of nuclear weapons!
After a disturbing yet stimulating afternoon, we ended with a closing prayer and a Greeting of Peace.