Statement by Kul Chandra Gautam
At interaction Programme with Gautam Buddha International Peace Award Laureates
Kathmandu, 18 May 2011
It is a great honour for me to join the winners of the first Gautam Buddha International Peace Award, the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and to present a Nepalese perspective on the issues of global peace and nuclear disarmament which they have shared with us so eloquently.
The message that the Mayors have brought to us from the hibakusha, survivors of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is a clear and compelling one. In one sentence their message is: “no one else should ever suffer as we did”.
As the two mayors emphasized, this simple phrase encapsulates a profound philosophy of non-violence, non-revenge, and human solidarity. The “no one” that the hibakusha refer to includes those whom they could easily have termed as enemies. But the sincere desire of hibakushas to prevent any repetition of the nuclear tragedy that befell on them, specifically rules out the temptation of revenge.
Some of Nepal’s political activists who glorify revolutionary violence could and should learn much from the hibakusha’s deeply held conviction that the survival and dignity of the human race demands eschewing hatred and desire for revenge, and pursuing justice and equity through peaceful, non-violent means.
This wisdom borne out of the experience of hibakushas in the 20th century was already at the heart of Gautam Buddha’s teachings two-and-half millenniums ago.
The Buddha was indeed a most eloquent advocate of peace and harmony in both precept and practice. In precept he stood for peace and equality of all human beings – and even all non-human living forms – whom he asked that we all extend loving kindness and compassion.
He reminded us that all beings were scared of violence as life was dear to all, and all feared death. And he advised us neither to kill nor get others to kill.
To this noble end, the Buddha helped create perhaps the longest standing spiritual organization of the world in the form of the Sangha, in which all people of goodwill were admitted irrespective of their race or caste or class or socioeconomic circumstances.
Wherever the Buddhist Sangha spread, it disseminated the core values of nonviolence, tolerance, understanding and coexistence. While offering itself as a philosophical standard-bearer of virtue, morality and rationality, it allowed and even encouraged diversity in thought, belief, worship and rituals.
We Nepalese are the inheritors of this enlightened tradition. But we seem to have long since forgotten these values embodied and disseminated by the greatest messenger of peace on earth who was born in this blessed country.
Like so many other countries in the world today, this holy land that gave birth to Buddha, the Prince of Peace, who renounced his Kingdom to spread the message of peace to the whole world, is experiencing an orgy of violence and lawlessness today.
I will return to the issue of peace in Nepal a little later in my remarks.
Today we live in a world of extraordinary prosperity where our knowledge of science and technology and the communications revolution is making it possible for people to pursue the long cherished human dream of freedom from hunger, freedom from poverty, freedom from oppression and freedom from fear.
We see the great positive potential of globalization to empower people, especially our youth with knowledge, skills and aptitudes to take charge of their lives and destiny, and to bring the benefits of economic progress, social justice and political freedoms to the whole of humanity.
Among the major obstacles that prevent us from reaching these cherished human goals are the world’s distorted priorities that lead to excessive violence, militarization, proliferation of nuclear, biological, chemical and conventional weapons, which snatch away precious resources from human development.
In the name of national security, we allow massive diversion of resources to military uses that seriously undermine people’s human security. Indeed, the continuing acceptance of violence as a means to ensure political stability or change endangers not just human security, but universally accepted human rights and the prospect for faster human development.
I know there are many justifications for high military expenditures. From the genuine need for national security, to wars of independence, from revolutions for the liberation of the oppressed, to counter-insurgency against rebellions, from the fight against terrorism, to cyber-crimes of our times, good justification can be invoked for pumping more money on arms, armies, guerilla forces and vigilante groups.
But all too often, violence begets more violence. Reliance on a military approach leads to a self-perpetuating cycle of greater militarization. Guns become more indispensible than butter. Milk for children becomes less important than missiles for the military. Priorities get distorted.
Consider these facts:
According to the authoritative annual report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), world military expenditure reached a record $1.5 trillion last year, an increase of nearly 50 percent since 2000. That is more than $120 billion a month, or $4 billion every day.
Last year, the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council – US, China, France, UK, and Russia collectively spent some $882 billion, accounting for 60 % of worldwide military expenditure. As if high military spending was a key to becoming permanent members of the UN Security Council, Germany, Japan, India and Brazil that aspire to such membership have also increased their military budgets in quite massive ways.
Many other countries continue to give high priority to finance military programmes, which far exceed their reasonable security requirements. These include desperately poor countries such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, DPRK and Myanmar, as well as the newly rich countries such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, and even Singapore.
It is particularly worrying to see non-stop escalation of military expenditures in the Asia Pacific Region. After the end of the Cold War military spending declined noticeably in Europe, Latin America, and Africa, but it continued to increase in Asia and the Middle East. In 2008 Asia overtook Europe as the 2nd biggest military spender, well ahead of all the European NATO members combined.
It appears that a major beneficiary of the Asian economic miracle has been the military sector. We have hard time getting enough money for health, education and poverty reduction programmes, but the military seems to always secure more than its fair share of national budget in good times as well as bad.
For example, the current global economic crisis has hit everybody hard, except the arms merchants and manufacturers that continue to do a brisk business.
It is not just the state military apparatus, the world is awash with 500 million small arms and light weapons circulating freely, and traded like any other commodity in the world’s $6 to $10 billion annual small arms bazaar.
Besides rising military expenses, the epidemic of small arms, and ready resort to violence, the world today is confronted with proliferation of nuclear weapons, continued use of cluster munitions and landmines that seriously undermine human security, with innocent women and children as their prime victims.
Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, the arsenals of nuclear powers still contain over 20,000 nuclear weapons. And the prospect of a catastrophic nuclear accident cannot be ruled out.
The periodic nuclear testing and test-firing of missiles, and the dangerous brinkmanship by DPRK, for example, is a frightening reminder that rogue regimes and well-organized terrorist groups could hold the whole world hostage to a nuclear catastrophe.
In this context, we welcome US President Barack Obama’s historic statement in Prague in April 2009 in which he pledged that the US would take “concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons”.
President Obama even got the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, somewhat prematurely, for his bold promise to rid the world of nuclear weapons. He needs to deliver on that promise.
A good beginning has been made through the historic 2010 New START Treaty signed by Russia and the United States of America. This Treaty commits Russia and USA, which together possess 90 % of the world’s 20,000 plus nuclear weapons to make deep reductions in their nuclear arsenals.
Other nuclear-weapons states need to follow suit to help sustain and accelerate the momentum.
But these steps are still not enough, and all of us in civil society, including the world’s great religions, must press political leaders to further accelerate actions to completely rid the world of all weapons of mass destruction.
With this in mind, a group of 15 recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, led by President Oscar Arias Sanchez of Costa Rica, have developed an International Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers. It seeks to prevent the transfer and use of arms by parties to conflicts that habitually violate international human rights standards.
More than 200 NGOs have established an international Action Network to campaign against the proliferation and misuse of such arms.
As we heard in their most touching messages yesterday and today, the Mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are playing a leading role in eliminating nuclear weapons from the world through a visionary and bold Mayors for Peace movement, a global coalition of mayors of some 4700 cities in over 100 countries.
We should all support the Mayors for Peace initiative to promote their 2020 Vision to eliminate all nuclear weapons by the year 2020, the 75th anniversary of the first use of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
All of us who care for the well-being of children, youth, women and innocent civilians, must join hands with these great leaders and other activists, not just against nuclear weapons but also against all other weapons of mass destruction, including biological and chemical weapons, landmines, cluster munitions and small arms, as part of a larger campaign for peace and disarmament.
We know that throughout human history, nationalists, imperialists, revolutionaries and warriors of all kinds, including terrorists, have always found justification for their wars and military ventures. Religious as well as revolutionary fundamentalists, and opportunists, often glorify violence in defense of their favourite causes, as “holy wars”.
But there is nothing holy about the nature and consequences of modern armed conflicts. Whereas previously wars were fought among soldiers, and their casualties were largely combatants, the victims of modern warfare, violent insurgencies and counter-insurgency are largely non-belligerent civilians, primarily, women and children.
Consider these facts:
Schools and hospitals which should be safe havens for children, have often been used as barracks and targets of attack by armed groups. In many countries, parties to the conflict systematically deny humanitarian agencies access to areas under their control, with devastating consequences for civilian populations.
Religious fanatics justifying “holy wars” and political revolutionaries justifying “peoples’ war” ought to do far more soul searching when they glorify revolutionary violence. And citizens must be more suspicious of their true intentions.
After all, the children of the rich and those in power, including military commanders and guerilla leaders, do not serve as child soldiers and are not deprived of basic education and health services during wars and conflicts. It is always the children of the poor, often from indigenous and marginalized communities, those living in poverty, in refugee camps or among internally displaced persons, who form the pool for recruitment as soldiers, guerillas and jihadists, and are sent to the front-line as cannon-fodders.
An over-sized military and excessive military expenditures – compared to investment in basic social services, are often the tell-tale signs of impending conflict, especially in poor countries ruled by autocratic governments.
Disproportionately large military budget should be a warning sign for citizens to caution their governments that the country might be unwittingly headed towards more conflict and violence.
International donors ought to be more vigilant and tight-fisted in offering generous development assistance to countries that allocate more money for guns and soldiers than for bread and butter for their citizens. Yet, unfortunately, very few donors today make an explicit linkage between military expenditure and development aid.
Let me now make a few comments on Nepal – its role in peace and disarmament globally and in our own country.
Globally, Nepal has always stood for peaceful resolution of conflicts. Nepal’s foreign policy is guided by the principles of Panchasheela and the Charter of the United Nations. Nepal has been a signatory of virtually all international treaties and conventions aimed at non-proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.
Nepal contributes to world peace through its active participation in UN Peace-keeping Operations. We are the 6th largest contributor to UN Peace-keeping and have so far deployed over 80,000 soldiers and police personnel as peace-keepers around the world. We are proud to host the UN Regional Center for Peace and Disarmament for Asia and the Pacific in Kathmandu.
Nepal even pursued the idea of declaring itself as a “Zone of Peace”. This idea was first floated at the 1973 Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Algiers. It was further elaborated by the late King Birendra at his coronation in 1975 when he said, “We need peace for our security; we need peace for our independence; and we need peace for our development”.
It was with that earnest desire to institutionalize peace that Nepal called on the whole world to recognize it as a Zone of Peace (ZoP). For nearly two decades, getting itself recognized as a ZoP was a key plank of Nepal’s foreign policy. By 1991 Nepal’s call for ZoP was endorsed by some 110 countries.
In reciprocity for its own appeal, Nepal actively supported the concept of Nuclear Weapons Free Zones (NWFZ) in many parts of the world, including in South-east Asia, the South Pacific, Central Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle-East, Antarctica, and in Seabeds and Ocean Floor as well as Outer Space.
The concept of NWFZ would prohibit the stationing, testing, use and development of nuclear weapons, and other weapons of mass destruction within the declared zones.
Although Nepal’s proposal was well-meant, actively pursued and endorsed by a large number of countries, it failed to garner the support of one of its key neighbours. Today Nepal is surrounded by powerful neighbours who are themselves nuclear weapons states.
A country that was calling on others to recognize it as a ZoP, descended into a zone of terrible civil war in the 1990s. Brandishing an ideology of “power comes from the barrel of the gun”, a revolutionary movement unleashed brutal killings, destruction, and other terror tactics that provoked similarly violent repression and reprisals from state authorities.
Today, the war has ended, but genuine peace has not yet come to Nepal.
It has been 5 long years since a comprehensive peace agreement was signed, and a violent civil war came to an end in Nepal. We had historic elections to a Constituent Assembly and declaration of a secular republic. But ordinary people have yet to see any peace dividend.
During the decade of conflict, Nepal’s national army increased from 46,000 soldiers to 96,000. In addition we have a para-military Armed Police Force of nearly 60,000 and the Maoist combatants in cantonments of nearly 20,000. In the past decade Nepal’s annual defense budget increased from NPR 4 billion to 12 billion rupees, not counting the cost of APF, the Maoist combatants and the police force.
Nepal today desperately needs at least 60,000 additional primary school teachers and a similar number of pre-school monitors and primary health workers. But we seem not to have enough budget for these national priorities, while we maintain our bloated army, a sizeable armed police force and the private army of a political party that is now part of the government.
The presence of these sizeable security personnel funded through the national treasury, does not seem to make the people of Nepal feel very secure. On the contrary, a major complaint of most ordinary people in Nepal today relates to rampant lawlessness, impunity and insecurity.
Amidst these disturbing trends, a most tragic development is the widespread availability and use of small arms across the landscape of Nepal. We have an estimated 55,000 small arms and light weapons in the hands of armed gangs, criminals, private militia, and ordinary citizens.
This is leading to criminalization of politics and politicization of violent crimes, particularly in the Terai and eastern Hills, but increasingly here in Kathmandu and other towns as well.
In Nepal both the state and non-state actors let loose the genie of violence upon the populace over the last dozen years. Easy recourse to violence has inculcated misplaced values in the minds of our youth that violent confrontation is the only way to get quick results in support of their socio-political demands.
In all post-conflict countries, including Nepal, ready availability of such arms makes legitimate law-enforcement increasingly difficult. Domestic violence against women and children becomes more brutal and fatal.
Whether it is to settle minor local disputes, or partisan issues blown out of proportion, or even genuine grievances that require thoughtful debate, our first and instinctive recourse often is to call for strikes, demonstrations, shut-down of public transport, closure of schools, disrupting public services, instilling a sense of fear, and inconveniencing innocent people.
The voices of more thoughtful people, who want to settle disputes and differences of views through peaceful dialogue, are drowned out. The aspirations of our youngsters to live in peace, to learn and earn, to develop their personality, to be creative and useful citizens are thwarted by the emergence of a culture of violence and impunity.
In a democracy, people have the right to protest, engage in collective bargaining, and press their demands peacefully. But generalized bandhs, indiscriminate closure of schools, public services and businesses that inconvenience innocent people, who are not party to any conflict or dispute, are a blatant violation of citizens’ human rights.
The concept of human security and human rights of people are grossly violated when political parties, their sister organizations and other groups subject innocent civilians to violence, intimidation, and extortion perpetrated through aggressive and unruly behaviour with impunity.
Not allowing ordinary people to live in peace, not allowing children to go to school, not allowing innocent passengers to travel on highways, not allowing patients to go to hospitals to seek health care, not allowing labourers to earn a living, not allowing shop-keepers to open their shops, depriving ordinary citizens from buying and selling essential commodities – all these are a violation of citizens’ fundamental human rights.
Because of some examples of the recent past, there is a conviction that violence is a necessary and acceptable tool to achieve political demands. This belief leads to easy calling of bandhs and a quick and sudden recourse to anger and fist-fights for the most mundane of altercations.
Thus it is that doctors are assaulted in hospital emergency rooms; professors and principals are attacked by their students in college and school premises; and everyone is on edge for where the next violent attack will come from.
To discourage such culture of violence and impunity, and to encourage messages of peace, a group of us – including Madan Krishna Shrestha and Haribamsa Acharya, Rajesh Hamal, Amrit Gurung, CK Lal, Ani Choying Dolma and yours truly, started a “rollback violence” campaign – himsa antya abhiyan – last year.
The campaign has yet to gain full momentum, but we are convinced that such a campaign is desperately needed in this country, and that it would resonate well with the people of Nepal. This is because the kind of violence we see today, has always been alien to the Nepali people, regardless of their faith, language, region, class or calling.
We must acknowledge that ‘structural violence’ of poverty, inequality, exclusion and marginalization has long persisted in Nepal, but widespread physical violence in public life is a recent phenomena and a by-product of the decade-long armed conflict.
Yes, we must fight to end the deep-rooted structural violence in our society, but that does not justify the current wave of indiscriminate physical violence, as two wrongs do not make a right.
A semblance of justice achieved through unjust means, is not real justice but only a temporary revenge. Human history shows us that justice pursued through violent means, rarely helps build a just and peaceful society. On the contrary, it often sows the seeds of hatred, distrust and revenge afterwards.
People of goodwill seeking social justice, political freedoms and economic progress must, therefore, reject a culture of violence as an acceptable means for achieving any worthy goals.
Most importantly, we must inculcate in the minds and hearts of our children and youth the values of non-violence and peaceful pursuit of all worthy goals. Our children must not be socialized in an atmosphere where political and physical violence is accepted as a part of everyday life.
Let us build a grand alliance of civil society, including religious organizations, the media, parents and teachers associations, etc. to put pressure on political parties and other groups that incite or condone violent activities, and support our youths to find peaceful ways of addressing their concerns.
Let us create a wave to establish or reinforce a social norm that violence is immoral, unethical and illegal because it violates other people’s human rights.
Let us reinforce the on-going movements of ‘Children as Zones of Peace’, or ‘Schools, Hospitals and Religious institutions as Zones of Peace’. And let us form alliances with groups dealing with domestic violence, violence against women, children and innocent civilians.
Our long-term vision should be to create a society that values non-violence – broadly defined. This would include addressing “structural violence” through all peaceful means, including peace and ethics education in our basic education curricula.
The “Mayors for Peace” movement has been a source of encouragement and inspiration to all peace activists around the world, including here in Nepal.
I am sure many of us would fully agree with Mayor Taue when he says, “Claiming that nuclear weapons serve in preserving peace, not by dropping them but by the fact of possessing them, is an act that seeks to create a world based on intimidation rather than trust”.
Mayor Akiba touches our hearts when he says that “the wish for peace is based on the Buddha nature in all of us” and that “the wish to rid the world of not only nuclear weapons but all war is based on human nature”.
As the Mayors for Peace pursue their campaign for a Nuclear Weapons Convention with their 2020 Vision for a nuclear weapons free world by 2020, I hope Nepal will be among the first countries to support that Convention, and all of us will join you, Mayors Akiba and Taue, in your noble campaign.
The Gautam Buddha International Peace Award has certainly brought you close to all Nepalis’ hearts, and we hope it has planted a special bond of friendship with Nepal in your hearts.
For far too long, nations of the world have given higher priority to military-based national security than civilian-based human security. Let us foster a global movement to denounce violence and promote peace, and honour the advocates of non-violence like Mayors Akiba and Taue, and the hibakushas of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.