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Monday, 13 July 2015

Remembrance Day: UNITECH Students' Peace and Leadership Conference 23 July 2015

Each year on the 23rd of July on Remembrance Day in this country we commemorate all Papua New Guinean soldiers who served during World War I, World War II and in missions within the country, and abroad. It is celebrated today, because on 23rd of July 1942 the Papuan Infantry Brigade led by Australian Officers, engaged with the Japanese enemy at Awalla, near Kokoda.

Today, we are here not to glorify war but rather to celebrate the virtues of a positive peace. We will have a video lecture made especially for you for this conference by Thomas Pynn, Professor of Peace Studies at  Kennesaw University in Atlanta (Georgia, USA) who asks what exactly we want to remember on this day. The way we remember can reflect either martial - which means war related - values or human values. Remembering is an intentional act, in which we have a choice, he says. He also speaks about the Alternative to Violence Project AVP (1975) project, which recently has developed a strong youth component.

But let's go back to the lessons the past has in store for us, if we care to learn them. I am sure none of the Papua New Guinean soldiers will fondly remember the horrors of war. They will however truly appreciate the benefits of today's peace, however partial or imperfect. Many of those soldiers served under colonial masters. Those masters have gratefully acknowledged the contribution of PNG soldiers made to victory. In fact, only the positive collaboration  between Australians and Papua New Guineans against the Japanese explains why Papua New Guinea was spared Japanese occupation, while Indonesia (then Dutch) was not. From this collaboration, strong and lasting bonds of friendship were formed.

Most Papua New Guinean soldiers served on the side of democratic powers, although many of them also served - out of need - totalitarian and fascist Japan. Today's freedoms, however, can only be enjoyed because democracy triumphed and not totalitarianism and fascism.

On Remembrance Day when we remember war, it is a fitting day to reflect on peace with the goal of promoting and extending the full benefits of true peace to all members of society. This requires a special type of leadership, and during this conference we can deepen our understanding about the type of leadership peace building requires.

"Peace riding in a triumphal chariot Bosio Carrousel" by Jastrow
There is a special reason to celebrate peace on our campus in Lae. The man who opened this campus was a strong proponent of peace among nations, and instrumental in the creation of the 1945 Charter of United Nations and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Not by coincidence, he was also one of the architects of Papua New Guinean independence in 1975, and as Minister of the Territories (1951-65) prevented the expropriation by the colonial rulers of traditional land[1].

This man is Paul Hasluck, the 17th governor general of Australia. He opened the monument which you see at the entrance of our campus commemorates the opening of our campus on 27 June 1969. Sir Paul was a career diplomat, historian, poet and writer. In 1945 he attended the San Francisco conference, called by the 50 nations which were at war with fascist Germany and Japan. During World War II, the Allies against Germany and Japan adopted the Four Freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from fear, and freedom from want—as their basic war aims. These four freedoms later became the basis of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Peace and justice are related. There can be no peace without justice and respect for human rights. There can be no peace when there is poverty, ignorance and intolerance.  There can be no peace when tribalism prevails. The quality of leadership is essential for achieving this type of positive peace.

Frederik W. de Klerk, former prime minister of South Africa and with Nelson Mandela winner of the Nobel Peace prize in 1993, was himself a late convert to peace. His remarks are relevant for Papua New Guinea, because South Africa suffered and suffers from many of the same social ills: "Peace does not fare well where poverty and deprivation reign. It does not flourish where there is ignorance and a lack of education and information. Repression, injustice and exploitation are inimical with peace. Peace is gravely threatened by inter-group fear and envy and by the unleashing of unrealistic expectations. Racial, class and religious intolerance and prejudice are its mortal enemies." These remarks set a clear agenda for peace: eradication of poverty, education, justice, and combating tribalism, intolerance and prejudice.

But let's reflect more generally on the philosophical basis of peace, and go back in time, so that from a broader perspective we can more fully understand how to bring it about today. In the 17th century, the Amsterdam born philosopher Benedictus de Espinoza looked for a positive definition of peace: "For peace is not mere absence of war, but is a virtue that springs from force of character". This opens a way to think about which actions are required for building peace.

His view was later paraphrased as "Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice." This is a positive, muscular definition of peace, which points out that only confident individuals who stand up for justice and can think critically will bring about peace, not those merely obeying the rules or renouncing violence. Peace is something that we must all work for, it will not come about by itself.

So if peace is linked to justice, can we say we are really at peace in Papua New Guinea? When average life expectancy of a Papua New Guinean is a mere 62 years, due to a combination of infectious and poverty related diseases, and life style diseases such as diabetes and hypertension? Are we at peace when we are confronted with violent crimes on a daily basis? Are we at peace, when journalists are threatened, or academics deported? When tribal leaders import automatic weapons and keep their private armies, to be activated at election times? Are we at peace when our students, can not travel down the high way because of large scale tribal conflicts and revenge killings? What are the differences with war zones elsewhere in the world? Are we standing up for justice and peace, and working towards peace in our society?

We hope at this conference the conversation around the questions concerning peace in general, and in particular in Papua New Guinea can continue. Meanwhile, we must all see as the true goal of our leadership to bring peace within ourselves, our families, our communities and the society in which we live, and to the organizations which we serve.

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