“On this International Day, let us promise to make peace not just a priority, but a passion.” (UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, International Day of Peace, 21 September 2007)
Today marks the 31st Anniversary of the International Day of Peace – a day of peacemaking in which millions of people across the world resolve to put their differences aside to promote peace after war, civil conflicts, social strife, and political upheavals. All over the world, people are urged to commemorate the International Day of Peace through education for peace and by raising public awareness on active non-violence through the strengthening of the ideals of peace both within and among all nations.
We do not need to look afar in order to witness the bitterness that conflicts leave behind and the heavy burden left for people to carry on their backs as a result of war. Four decades after its own bloody conflict, Cyprus is becoming a home and a safe heaven for people who have fled the most serious civil and political rights violations. Amongst these are people from Palestine fleeing the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, families escaping from the heated situation in Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, and now as we speak, people fleeing the deadly insurgency in Syria.
Today there are 15.3 million refugees around the world and 26.4 million people internally displaced by conflict and violence, including unlawful killings, disappearances, prolonged administrative detention, torture, property confiscation and destruction, and restrictions on a person’s fundamental freedom of movement, assembly, religion, speech and association.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is mandated to assist and protect refugees and advance solutions to their displacement. In some cases, UNHCR also supports internally displaced populations, as it happened in Cyprus in 1974. UNHCR works alongside a range of other actors, including humanitarian and human rights nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) in an effort to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another state, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally, or to resettle in a third country.
However, resolving the plethora of problems faced by all those that are forced to flee from conflicts, in a sustainable manner, requires more than the helping hand of intergovernmental institutions and humanitarian organisations. It requires addressing not only present vulnerabilities to human rights violations, but also means to address past human rights abuses so as to protect rights in the future. What is more, by promising to make peace a passion and not just a priority, we will be improving the safety and security of refugees and helping to prevent the recurrence of abuse.