Vienna, Austria—An International Day of Peace celebration at the United Nations’ Vienna office examined the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The one-day conference, “Peace and Sustainable Development: Intergenerational Challenges,” was held in the Vienna International Center (the United Nations office in Vienna) on September 16, 2016.
The compelling combination of international speakers and panelists ranged from diplomats, academics and civil society leaders to UN officials and public-policy experts. In a unique approach, speakers included female World War II witnesses from around the world: a survivor of the U.S. atomic bombing of Japan, a woman who lived through the Germans’ Blitz bombings of England, and an Austrian subjected to deportation and forced labor.
Young people were incorporated into the event both as audience members and as musical performers. Sponsored by the Universal Peace Federation and the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS), the conference animated the SDGs with historical context, contemporary realities, and a forward-looking vision.
The morning session focused on ''Connecting Peace and the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.'' Opening speeches began with a welcome from Peter Haider, president of UPF-Austria. This was followed by a keynote speech from Jean-Luc Lemahieu, director of policy analysis and public affairs at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Mr. Lemahieu discussed the UN's agenda in tackling challenges which create social disarray and highlighted the UNODC's related work.
Norway's Ambassador Bente Angell-Hansen praised the cooperation between UNODC and Interpol in fighting corruption and then discussed the importance of SDG 10 (“Reduced Inequalities”) in reducing the inequalities that drive conflict. Dr. Walter Kemp, vice president of the International Peace Institute, outlined ''Pulling Together: The Multilateral System and Its Future,'' an upcoming report from the Independent Commission on Multilateralism. Brigadier Dr. Walter Feichtinger of Austria’s National Defense Academy delineated ''Five Thoughts'' about taking responsibility for peace both within oneself and in relation to the broader world.
Next was the first session on the intergenerational challenges of peace. Mr. Gerhard Götz of the Austrian Permanent Mission to the UN Vienna spoke of his mission's commitment to the United Nations, while Rosina Wernig, an Austrian World War II witness, discussed the Nazi regime's persecution of Austrians of Slovenian descent within the context of contemporary cultural struggles. Sarah and Mira Gregoric of the Slovenian music school in the Austrian state of Carinthia played two musical selections inspired by the International Day of Peace and Slovenian culture.
The panel discussion from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. was entitled ''What Is the Connection between Peace and the Implementation of Various SDGs?'' Dr. Michael Platzer, liaison of ACUNS, chaired the session and gave a comprehensive statistical analysis of the various SDGs, concluding that the international community showed little regard for those in need.
Dr. Ismail Yasin of the Austrian Academy of Sciences considered issues of good and evil in contemporary policy, while Dr. Stefan Stoev, founder of the IDEA Society (Society for International Development and Enhancement of Arts), discussed the impact of images and art on cultural values. Dr. Anis H. Bajrektarevic, professor in international law and global political studies, argued that powerful countries are not held responsible for the exploitation they create; Maria-Jose Alvear of the Regional Academy on the United Nations discussed new possibilities for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
A highlight of the day was when three female World War II witnesses from once-warring nations (Rosina Wernig of Austria, Hazel Richardson of the United Kingdom, and Reiko Yamada of Japan) stood side by side in ringing the Peace Bell. After a short speech citing the Colombian peace agreement and other contemporary policy issues, UNODC Deputy Executive Director Aldo Lale-Demoz invited the three female witnesses to join him in ringing the bell. Members of the Superar children's orchestra provided musical accompaniment, including a rousing rendition of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
The afternoon session, which focused on ''Peace, Sustainable Development, Disarmament and Engaging the Public,'' began with a clip from the Riahi brothers' upcoming film entitled Kinders. Film director Arash T. Riahi then discussed the importance of education and intercultural understanding in achieving peace. Jack Corley, regional chair of UPF Europe, spoke about the fundamental principles of the organization and gave an overview of his group's many accomplishments. Ambassador Franz Josef Kuglitsch, director of disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation for the Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, discussed his ministry’s leadership regarding nuclear disarmament.
Next was the afternoon session on the intergenerational challenges to peace. Ambassador Leigh Turner, the United Kingdom’s permanent representative to the United Nations in Vienna, introduced the World War II witness from the United Kingdom, Hazel Richardson. Ms. Richardson talked about growing up during the Battle of Britain and the ongoing emotional effects of having experienced constant bombardment. Mr. Fukuichiro Tanaka, minister-counselor of the Permanent Mission of Japan to the International Organizations in Vienna, then introduced the atomic bomb witness, Reiko Yamada, who gave a compelling call for nuclear disarmament.
The final panel examined the topic ''What Is the Connection between Peace, Disarmament and the Implementation of Various SDGs? How Can the General Public Become More Engaged?'' Laura Rockwood, executive director of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, chaired the session and gave an engaging talk on the necessity for nuclear abolition. Nadja Schmidt, director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) Austria, and Alyn Ware, global coordinator of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, discussed the accomplishments of their various organizations and joined the call for nuclear disarmament. Member of Parliament Petra Bayr discussed an upcoming SDG-related event at the Austrian Parliament, while Billy Batware, a consultant to the Civil Society Team of UNODC, highlighted the challenges of pursuing innovation within the UN system.
In closing the conference, Heather Wokusch, one of the organizers, thanked the participants. She noted the historical significance of including the elderly witnesses in the International Day of Peace event, especially since the UN had been created when World War II ended, with the specific mandate of advancing peace, security, development, and human rights.