Peace and Sustainable Development

How and which aspects of sustainable development could contribute to world peace?
Emmanuel Jal, war child from Sudan is now a well-known rapper. He spoke to 500 students from public and private schools in Geneva. Photo © Lindsay Mills.
Emmanuel Jal, war child from Sudan is now a well-known rapper. He spoke to 500 students from public and private schools in Geneva. Photo © Lindsay Mills.
Katya Chatterjee
06 October 2008

On 19 September 2008 students from secondary schools across the Geneva region had the opportunity to participate in a debate centered on the topic of "Peace and Sustainable Development". The event was organized by Earth Focus took place at the International Conference Centre of Geneva. The discussion and debate took part largely in English with simultaneous interpretation into French provided by volunteer interpreters from ICVolunteers. Volunteers also got involved as reporters and for welcoming participants and the 500 students involved in the debates.

The speakers included Dr. Alfred de Zayas (currently the Professor of International Law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations), Vita de Waal (Executive director of the Gaia Foundation and UN Representative for Planetary Association for Clean Energy) and Dr. Douglas Cripe (Senior scientist for the Climate Research Group and Climatic Change, University of Geneva).

Dr. De Zayas kicked off the discussion with numerous citations pertaining to the human right to peace. He went on to discuss how many resolutions have been set in place by the UN to support sustainable development, yet the system fails when it comes to the implementation of these norms.

Ms. de Waal started her speech with a short story pointing out that, although we may think we have the best ideas for a solution, we often forget to relate the problems to human beings. As she ended her presentation, her parting question to the audience was this: do we have the will to share the resources that we have, the wisdom to understand and the courage to act?

Dr. Cripe then took to the stage to present a more scientific perspective. He stressed that we need to realize that the world's climates are changing and accommodate for this accordingly. He illustrated his point with the present example of rapidly retreating glaciers in the Himalayas, which are resulting in fresh water resources being produced at a much faster rate than that at which neighboring countries (Pakistan, Bhutan and Nepal) are capable of using. He suggested that what we need to focus on now is building dams and reservoirs in such areas, which are "touchy" subjects as ecosystems will be affected as a consequence.

Following this, a general discussion took place and students were given an opportunity to ask questions.

Students were treated with a surprise appearance of guest speaker Emmanuel Jal - a former child soldier in Sudan, who is now an accomplished musician. He rallied great enthusiasm from the students as he offered to rap his life story. Having lost his family and home at the tender age of six, Emmanuel was recruited as a child soldier and was made to carry an AK-47 bigger than himself. Students listened to his extraordinary story attentively and erupted with applause as he finished his song. They were then given the chance to approach Emmanuel and pose questions. During this, he explained that through the medium of rap, he sees the chance to transform the pictures that he has seen into words". He talked about how the message in his music is serious and real, and comes from the heart, and the reason that he shares his story is because he tries to represent the thousands of children who do not have the chance to be there. He wants to pass the message, testify and inspire. When questioned about how he felt about the years he had lost as a child soldier, he explained that as he raps on stage, he finds the chance to rediscover his childhood by being able to run around and play on stage like a kid.

The second half of the event was dedicated to the planned debate for which students from each school had prepared. The debate revolved around the fictional country X, which faced various environmental and socioeconomic problems such as deforestation, extinction of certain wildlife, industrial pollution and contamination of the region's river. Groups from each school had been assigned certain key player roles to take on in order to simulate a real debate on sustainable development.  

Students from College du Léman represented the present government of country X.

Students from College Voltaire represented Tribe A, a local indigenous tribe laying claim to the land that they live on, due to the environmental degradation that it had undergone from deforestation and pollution of the river. The pollution of the river was the cause for contamination of the tribe's food crops, which quickly became a source of hostility between Tribe A and neighboring Tribe B, represented by Cycle d'Orientation Golette. Both tribes also experienced diseases and health problems as a direct effect of the pollution and were looking to the government and liable companies for compensation.

Students coming from the International School of Geneva (Le Grand Boissière campus) represented large companies such as the International Geneva Gold Company (a multinational gold mining company), the national logging company, the oil company and Hazon Inc. (a textile company), as well as the World Ecology Association (represented by students from Grand Boissière campus).

The Ecole Haut Lac of Vevey represented members of the United Nations such as the World Bank and World Health Organization.

Several possible solutions for the situation were put on the table, such as ecotourism as an alternative source of income for the economy. Spirited discussions took place, as the students came to the realization that what they were experiencing was merely a taste of the long and tedious process that exists in reality, in order to achieve actual results concerning sustainable development.

The end result of the debate was a unanimous verdict, formatted in form of a mission statement: "As today's youth we are very concerned about the future of humanity and our planet.  There has been enough discussion and many declarations have been written, but it is now time to take action. We urge today's decision makers to start taking more positive steps towards a more sustainable and peaceful future so that when our turn comes we can accomplish our goals of creating a better world. As we all agreed with Emmanuel Jal, We can change the World!"

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