It was with such an idea that Jeremy Gilley, an actor and movie producer turned militant, obtained World Peace Day, to be celebrated each 21st of September by the United Nations. In 2001, the UN established that World Peace Day would be a day of global ceasefire and non-violence.
Peace One Day, the charity that supports Gilley’s action, has been active in promoting truce agreements in the world’s most affected conflict-zones every September 21st. In previous years, peace initiatives have been undertaken between foes in Afghanistan, Somalia or the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Iraq, a sight never seen before took place: Kurdish militants and Iraqi soldiers were part of the same soccer team. Sports, concerts and rallies can be an auspicious way to express peaceful intentions.
This annual observance can do more than just bring people together. Some successful initiatives have enabled humanitarian aid – impossible on any other day of the year – to be delivered on World Peace Day. In Afghanistan, a year’s worth of work with Peace One Day’s partners contributed to a reduction in violence on September 21st 2007. Thanks to the compromise agreed between NATO troops, the Taliban and the Afghan soldiers, polio vaccination convoys reached 4.5 million people, hitherto unapproachable. The following year the figure was even higher, with a drop in violence, as recorded by the UN Department of Safety and Security, of 70 percent on that day.
Building on these success stories, Gilley has been developing a new project for this year in collaboration with Interpeace. Together, they are working on a campaign to coordinate NGOs in a ‘Global Truce 2012 NGO Coalition’. The idea is that all members will combine their advocacy skills and initiative efforts to reach out to a maximum number of citizens for September 21st 2012.
Interpeace will be one of the trendsetters. Before the launch, Interpeace director, Scott Weber, announced in a press release: "Our peacebuilders in Africa, Asia, Central America, Europe and the Middle East will be marking Peace Day and Global Truce 2012 this September." Gilley also talked about his ambition in setting up the coalition: "We are partnering with different dynamic sectors of society to mobilize the largest gathering of people in the name of peace on one single day, Friday 21 September 2012. We are calling this initiative ‘Global Truce 2012’.” He hopes the initiative will "inspire people around the world to get involved."
Peace One Day has an ambitious vision, but the goal is simple: "Peace Day is everyone’s legacy. If it doesn’t belong to everyone, it’s not going to work. Creating the world record for peace by creating the largest-ever global reduction of violence on a single day."
Why involve NGOs, one wonders? The simple answer is that NGOs are often more trusted than governments and are viewed as less partisan. They may have the advantage of a broad local network and extensive access to conflict zones. Through community work, NGOs benefit from people’s confidence that the truce will be implemented and monitored. Through their cooperation with international organizations – Gilley mentions the strong support given by the United Nations or the African Union – NGOs can access and sometimes even represent institutions. The NGO coalition also represents the idea of global unity beyond politics.
So what happens on September 22nd?
Promoting peace for one day is given momentum by the twin aspirations of Peace One Day and Interpeace. At the launch of the NGO coalition on 12th June 2012, both ideas were made public. Jeremy Gilley expressed the first one: if one day of peace is possible in Afghanistan, prey to one of the world’s most violent conflicts, it is possible anywhere else. Interpeace director Scott Weber offered the other: if peace is possible one day, it is possible on any other day. The NGO coalition will be a "coalition for one and all days," and will benefit from a synergy effect. A coalition, in Weber's words, can overcome "personal and institutional ego, [which] are a problem to peace."
As the first of its kind, World Peace Day is an attractive initiative for many humanitarian NGOs as a means to further their goals. War Child, Mercy Corps, the Mine Advisory Group, Accord, Viva Rio or BRAC have already joined and work towards organizing effective actions on that day. The next few months leading up to this year’s ‘Day’ will be dedicated to raising awareness through events – such as concerts or sports functions – and via the social media.
With 1.5 billion people living in conflict-affected zones around the world, a day of peace represents a lot. Raising awareness about the need for peace and its potential is essential, and a practical demonstration, even for 24 hours, is the most persuasive argument. It is also essential to act. As a guest speaker at the launch, Martin Bell, a BBC war reporter and a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, said: “goods things happen because people make them happen. Bad things happen because people let them happen.”
(Photo © Peace One Day)