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Opening Ceremony of the 2019 Geneva Peace Week

By Isabela Carrozza Jóia

“Global challenges require global solutions, which will only be achieved through multilateralism.” With this statement, the Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Tatiana Valovaya, opened the 2019 Geneva Peace Week.

The Geneva Peace Week is an initiative of the Geneva Peacebuilding Platform in collaboration with the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), and other partners. The event’s purpose is to promote a series of meetings between international actors to discuss topics related to the promotion of peace, peacebuilding, and conflict resolution.

This year, the opening ceremony took place at the Graduate Institute’s Auditorium Ivan Pictet, with the full attendance of actors from different parts of the world. With a list of remarkable speakers, the ceremony aimed at creating the first steps towards the discussions that will take place in Geneva this week.

The Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva, Tatiana Valovaya, and the Deputy State Secretary from the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Krystyna Marty Lang, made the opening remarks.

Valoyava spoke about the importance of Peace Week for creating an environment where actors from different backgrounds can come together to discuss the main topics related to guaranteeing peace around the globe. An outstanding statement from the Director-General’s speech was that peace has little to do about the absence of war. Peace, per se, is connected to respect, to live in harmony with one another and the environment, is to speak freely and to have access to the basic needs. To maintain peace is a challenge, but the path to it is through multilateralism. Geneva, as she highlighted, is an important hub to connect actors and create new partnerships to achieve peace.

Following Valoyava’s statement, Krystyna Marty Lang also emphasized Geneva as an essential place to discuss peace and to create international engagement on the subject. She also underlined how the Geneva Peace Week is an important event that addresses the main challenges in the world today, such as the rise of hate speech and the decrease of confidence in democratic institutions. Lang also discussed the importance of creating global solutions to global challenges through multilateralism; everyone should be part of shaping policy and implementing it. The Geneva Peace Week, then, is an event where debates and discussions will take place to guarantee action on achieving peace. She concluded with a meaningful quote by Gandhi: “let’s create together the societies where people can be the change they want to see.”

Following those inspiring opening speeches, the ceremony continued to an opening roundtable on the themes of “Peacebuilding in Europe,” “Humanitarian, Human Rights, and Peacebuilding Nexus,” “Peace, Security, and the SDGs,” “Truth and Trust,” and “Business and Peace.” The panel had the presence of Dr. Ela Gandhi, founder of Gandhi Development Trust and granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi; Mohamed Mahmoud Mohamedou, Professor and Head of International History Department at the Graduate Institute; Martin Doe Rodriguez, Senior Legal Counsel at the Permanent Court of Arbitration; and Elhadj As Sy, Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The roundtable discussion mostly surrounded the new challenges to peacebuilding around the world and how it is necessary to embrace the uncertainty and bring new solutions to the picture. Dr. Ela Gandhi spoke about Mahatma Gandhi’s approach of non-violence on fighting for what is needed. She also remarked that young people have the responsibility of gathering information and spreading it around the world, to create awareness and agency.

Another significant remark made at the roundtable was from Professor Mohamedou. He recognized the importance of peacebuilding in the underdeveloped world. However, he said the concept of peacebuilding needs to expand in order to include reconciliation, notions of community, trust, and justice as well.

The discussion also had remarks from Rodriguez that discussed business and human rights. Elhadj As Sy also spoke about his organization’s work with the sad reality of people that have been displaced and are living in refugee camps. While this is the reality, he said we must fight it through multilateralism, and Geneva Peace Week is a great tool to ensure that those themes are being discussed and addressed.

The ceremony ended with a beautiful musical performance from Karim Wasfi, Founder of Peace Through Arts, Cellist, and former Conductor of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra. He talked briefly about his inspirational work on fighting terrorism and ensuring support to the victims through music.

Geneva Peace Week 2019 has officially started. The opening ceremony was just the beginning of a great set of events, meetings, roundtables, and discussions about the main topics and challenges related to creating and maintaining peace around the world.

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