International Day of Peace — 21st September 2023
By Trisha Gopal / GICJ
History of International Day of Peace
While there is rarely any disagreement about the value of living in a peaceful world, there is not often much clarity on what that can look like or how that can be achieved. It is for this reason in 1981, the United Nations General Assembly established the International Day of Peace with the aim of “commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples”, a foundational tenant upon which the United Nations was first built. In 2001, once again by unanimous vote, the General Assembly affirmed the importance of September 21 as a fixed date of observance in calling attention towards global and lasting peace. Since then, the International Day of Peace has also been observed as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence.
Seeing its abstract nature, we often only tend to understand what “peace” is in its absence. With ongoing conflict, global insecurity due to climate change, and a rise in concerns surrounding cybersecurity and data privacy, among other global issues, peace as an “absence of war” continues to be pertinent today. However, this negative definition has been supplemented with the growing demand for a “positive peace” over the years. As conceptualised by Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung, positive peace ensures that all forms of violence and exploitation are minimised through sustainable development and a shift in social attitudes.
International Day of Peace 2023
Each year, the International Day of Peace is commemorated with a unique theme born out of the time's specific global challenges and hopes. Recognising that peace is not just to live and let live but also the culmination of every individual and community’s active effort, this year’s theme is Actions for Peace: Our Ambition for the #GlobalGoals. With 2023 marking the halfway mark of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and International Day of Peace 2023 aligning with the SDG Summit, this year’s celebrations encourage us to see peace as the necessary pretext for achieving the SDGs within and among nations. Indeed, with conflict and violence disrupting communities, hindering economic development, and exacerbating inequality, this year’s celebrations remind us that peace is not just a goal in and of itself but an enabler of the other 17 interconnected SDGs; peace is the first step to a more just, equitable, and sustainable world.
In addition to this year’s International Day of Peace being an essential bridge between peace and the SDGs, 2023 is the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Peacekeeping, and Special Political Missions. These three documents have acted as guiding lights in the advocacy for building sustainable peace through the upliftment of human rights. Thus, their concurrent anniversaries serve as a reminder of the values of peaceful coexistence upon which the UN was founded and the role of governments in simultaneously promoting peace and human rights.
Measuring Peace in 2023
Yet, the question of measuring and weighing “peacefulness” remains. The Global Peace Index (GPI), created by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) in Sydney, Australia, serves as the leading tool for measuring peacefulness across 163 countries (99.7% of the world population). In their 2023 report, it was found that the average global peacefulness dropped by 0.42% and the average country score dropped by 5%, making it the thirteenth reduction in peace in the last fifteen years, with more countries deteriorating than improving. The report comments on the long-lasting impacts of peacefulness, with the countries ranked most and least peaceful remaining on both ends of the index since its inception. The IEP further emphasises that the war in Ukraine was a driving force for the deterioration of global peacefulness due to the spillover effects of both violence and peacefulness across borders; Eastern Europe and Eurasia thus stood as an example of the most significant regional deterioration. The 2023 GPI report urgently calls for a “systemic response to building peace” as global conflict is on the rise and the gap between most and least peaceful countries widens.
The Climate Crisis’ Impact on Peace
Besides ongoing war and conflict, the rising threat of the climate crisis heavily informs peace discourse in the international community today. TheSecretary-General for Peace Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, spoke about the severe impact of transboundary environmental challenges on UN peace operations, especially due to the increased risk of conflict from rising sea levels and other climate-related changes. He further cemented a shift in priorities such that “efforts in conflict prevention, peacemaking, peacebuilding, and peacekeeping reinforce and are complemented by our commitment to addressing the climate crisis.” Work on the issue has started, as seen in the Climate Security Mechanism created by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2018, which has been working to provide Member States, regional organisations, and UN bodies support on navigating the relationship between climate, peace, and security. Nonetheless, there is still much more work to be done to ensure that the most vulnerable communities are protected and uplifted.
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ)
As we commemorate this day, Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) calls for people to reflect on their actions to promote peace in their lives and communities. We also urge governments to take accountability for their central role in advancing both positive and negative peace and laying the foundation for fair implementation of the SDGs.
GICJ stands with the victims of the over 110 active global conflicts whose sacred right to peace has been disrupted and condemns the use of violence by state and non-state actors to further their agendas at the cost of human lives and dignity. It further affirms Hans Kelsen’s idea of Peace Through Law and of believing in the power of international norms and legal institutions in the pursuit of peace. Together, through our collective ambition and dedication, we can build a more peaceful and sustainable world for present and future generations.
 Galtung, Johan. “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research.” Journal of Peace Research, vol. 6, no. 3, 1969, pp. 167–91. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/422690.