(Flags from all over the world at the UN’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Jean-Marc Ferre)
As the year 2021 draws to a close, there is no better time to discuss and consider this year’s UN-declared theme: “The International Year of Peace and Trust.” While the majority of past themes are specific and usually refer to a particular global issue like the 2017 “International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development,” or the 2014 “International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” the “International Year of Peace and Trust” seems to evade this common theme of specificity. Past themes usually command the awareness of a particular issue applicable to the time, but this year’s theme lacks a certain topic, and even-- it may seem-- a cohesive idea. What could “peace and trust” possibly mean in the grand magnitude of all of our world’s nations? And, stranger still, wasn’t 1986 already the “International Year of Peace?” It's therefore rather easy to wonder why the theme was unanimously adopted by the UN, but despite its ambiguity and even slight repetition, this year’s theme could not have been established at a better time.
Like all other international year themes before, the 2021 year theme was established in a resolution. Resolutions are formal expressions of the opinion or will of UN organizations that often concern procedural matters, but can also refer to observance declarations that pertain to economic or social issues.(United Nations) These observances are designated days, weeks, years, or decades observed by the United Nations -- each with a theme or topic. By officiating observances, the UN promotes international awareness and action on these issues. They often offer many opportunities to organize activities related to the theme, where governments, civil society, public and private sectors, schools, universities, and more generally, citizens make the time a springboard for awareness-raising actions. Usually, one or more member states propose these observances, and the general assembly establishes them with a resolution. On occasion, these themes are declared by the specialized agencies of the United Nations, such as UNESCO, UNICEF, or FAO when the observance concerns issues that fall within the scope of their competencies, but the International Year of Peace and Trust was actually proposed and initiated by the Government of Turkmenistan.
On February 19th, 2020, a talk featuring the Ambassador of Turkmenistan to Pakistan, Mr. Abidjan Movlamov, was hosted by COMSATS, the Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South, about why Turkmenistan proposed this year’s theme in the first place. Mr. Movlamov stated that “The year aims to mobilize international efforts to promote peace and trust among nations on the basis of political dialogue, mutual understanding, and cooperation in order to build sustainable peace, solidarity, and harmony.” (COMSATS.org) Peace-centric policies adopted by the UN in 1995 and 2015 helped Turkmenistan and other Central Asian Republics achieve prosperity for their nations after gaining independence from the USSR, as well as help Turkmenistan establish more constructive relationships with their neighboring countries. (Sustainable Development.un.org) The International Year of Peace and Trust was therefore proposed as a sort of reaffirmation of the importance of peace; a celebration by Turkmenistan to recognize and illustrate just how much peace had helped their country prosper. While this year’s theme is clearly applicable to Turkmenistan-- especially when considering how it was proposed by the country in the first place-- understanding how this theme fits into the issues of today is integral to best uphold its ideals.
This year’s IMUN theme investigates, “A world post-crisis,” a theme that involves the exploration of measures taken to attenuate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic-- whether concerned with the resulting health, economic, or as this article primarily discusses, social issues. The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically affected the relations between and within countries. Between January 2020 and April 2021, for example, at least 158 countries recorded pandemic-related violence, with incidents ranging from individual attacks to anti-lockdown demonstrations that ultimately turned violent. According to the Global Peace Index of 2021, there were a total number of 5,000 of these violent incidents. (Vision of Humanity) Though it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think this increase in violence is due to the virus directly weakening the systems that mitigate everyday contention, in actuality, it can be attributed to the violent responses to the policies established to better combat COVID-19 contraction rates. Senior Analyst of political conflict research Katariina Mustasilta states in her 2020 article, The Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Peace and Conflict that, “...civil resistance across the globe has reemerged, as people voice concerns and grievances related to the socio-economic effects of the lockdown measures...This can threaten civil peace by widening the gap between the elites and the masses and between different societal groups.” (IPI Global Observatory) While the pandemic, and certainly the responses to it, have increased conflict-resulting opportunities, there are several measures the international community can take to support peace and transparency amongst its members and, in turn, uphold this year’s theme.
Debated at this year’s general assembly are the “Measures to ensure peace, trust, and transparency among the Member States”(IMUN) -- a perfect opportunity to support the International Year of Peace and Trust’s goals. IMUN members are invited to facilitate this idea of peace and trust within their discussions by researching how to best maintain peace between nations, whether through the proposed creation of a youth camp involving peace and inclusivity, the use of CBMs (confidence-building measures,) or the introduction of measures to decrease digital misinformation. As political scientist Eva Wuchold states in her April 2021 article, International Year of Peace and Trust, “...the proclamation of the Year is in recognition of the important role of the United Nations in developing friendly relations among nations and recognizing that the approach of multilateralism and diplomacy promotes the three pillars of the United Nations, namely sustainable development, peace and security, and human rights.” (RLS Geneva) Wuchold succinctly illustrates exactly how the International Year of Peace and Trust easily fits within this year’s IMUN debates-- a simple recognition and upholding of the pillars entrenched in the UN’s identity since its establishment in 1945. (GOV.UK)
This year as the Member States debate and discuss the role of peace in a “world post-crisis,” thinking of the International Year of Peace and Trust is a prime way to be reminded of the UN’s primary goal: maintaining peaceful relations among nations. And, much like any other year’s theme, IMUN encourages its members to foster any observances proposed by the UN for a better future-- from this year’s “International Year of Peace and Trust,” to even 2024’s “International year of camelids.” Whether concerning peace or llamas, the UN observances serve to increase the awareness of the world, and truly better it as a result.
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