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Nobel laureate urges UN staff and diplomats to make peace part of development
26 July 2010 / 03:47

[Dateline: Bangkok | Author: ESCAP]

Before a packed conference hall of diplomats, students and UN staff, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen this week urged that peace be a part of the development agenda, not only because it is valuable in itself, but also because of its critical role in promoting human development.

“Peace helps indirectly to enhance development through making governments more stable and functional, and through facilitating industrialization, the expansion of trade, and the sustained advancement of education and health services. While peace is certainly its own reward, it offers, in addition, other rewards as well.”

Professor Sen spoke on “Peace, Violence and Development in Modern Societies” in a lecture delivered at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in Bangkok Tuesday 20 July.

Professor Sen’s remarks were part of ESCAP’s Distinguished Persons Lecture series, and were followed by questions from the audience, which included staff from ESCAP and regional UN agencies as well as diplomatic representatives to the regional UN arm and students. While the large conference hall in Bangkok was packed to capacity, other ESCAP staff attended the lecture from ESCAP institutions and sub-regional offices in Beijing; New Delhi; Bogor, Indonesia; Chiba, Japan; Incheon, Republic of Korea; and Suva, Fiji through video link, skype and teleconference.

In introducing Professor Sen, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Dr. Noeleen Heyzer highlighted the critical importance of Professor Sen’s numerous contributions toward a better understanding of human development over the course of his career and also the importance of the theme of the lecture, noting that “rising conflicts and violence in different parts of the world and the Asia-Pacific region have not only posed a threat to development but have also led to immense human suffering.”

Professor Sen stressed that there are no single causes for violence in society and that the advancement of human development calls for a broader approach than solely the alleviation of poverty. Sen noted that the development agenda must include issues of human security – the “downside risks” -- as well.

“Economic, social and cultural issues need to be integrated. Removal of poverty alone may not be enough to reduce violence. You want to eliminate it anyway, but the elimination of violence, and the subsequent increase in human security, requires other approaches beyond economics.”

In his lecture, Professor Sen referred to his work as chair of the Commonwealth Commission on Respect and Understanding in 2006/2007 leading to the Report Civil Paths to Peace. Dr. Heyzer and Dr. Kamal Hossain, former Foreign Minister of Bangladesh and present at the Lecture, served as members of the Commission.

Professor Sen strongly challenged the academic approach of seeing global violence as a result of “the clash of civilizations” focused on identity politics which sees human beings as members of exactly one group defined by their native civilization or religion and leads to “hate at first sight.”  He urged instead a broader understanding of the richness of human identities that can include religious, communal, regional, national and global identities that can be present in all persons.

“In Civil Paths to Peace, we outlined a number of ways in which our broader humanity and our plural identities can be used to encounter global threats to security and peace. The ways include enhancing the reach of the media, strengthening of democratic practice seen as “government by discussion,” and addressing deprivations and humiliations as well as grievances before they are exploited by instigators to cultivate divisive conflicts.”

Professor Sen, the 1998 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, is the Thomas W. Lamont University Professor and Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. His visit to ESCAP also included participation in a high-level seminar on peace, violence and development on the day prior to the lecture.