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Hawaii's lesson of peace

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“We all have a role to play... Each one of us can make a positive difference to this world of ours.” Gro Harlem Brundtland Next week, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Hina Jilani and Desmond Tutu will be in Hawaii, speaking with community leaders and civil society about peace, aloha and ethical leadership.


From 29-31 August, three Elders will be in Hawaii to take part in Pillars of Peace Hawaii: Building Peace on a Foundation of Aloha. The initiative emphasises the roles of diversity and culture in the practice of peace, and promotes the values of compassion, mindfulness and justice.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, Hina Jilani and Desmond Tutu will participate in two live-streamed events during their visit: a talk with students on ethical leadership and a public discussion on a just and inclusive global society.

“We hope we can do our little bit to spread the aloha spirit”, Desmond Tutu said in a video interview ahead of Pillars of Peace:

Desmond Tutu
Click  the image to watch the video interview

During their trip, the Elders will also meet with student, civic and business leaders as well as the general public, learning about Hawaii’s history, multiculturalism and value system.

Speaking to Susan Kang Sunderland from Hawaii’s MidWeek newspaper, the Elders discussed what they hope to achieve while in the state, and outlined their visions of peace:

Susan Kang Sunderland: How do you define peace?

Gro Harlem Brundtland

Gro Harlem Brundtland: “For me, peace is more than an absence of war; it is also about equity. There are clear links between globalisation, inequity, war, violence and environmental sustainability. We must create a fairer world for people – whether this is helping to create jobs for the huge number of unemployed youth, ensuring girls are educated to the same level as boys, or helping indigenous people secure land rights. If we don’t actively do this, we will never achieve a peaceful world.”

What barriers to global harmony do we have today?

Gro Harlem Brundtland: “I think the biggest barriers to global harmony are climate change and environmental degradation. The world is failing to act. Having been involved in sustainable development for many decades, I am pleased to say I have seen some positive progress. Leaders are definitely more aware today of climate change than 10-15 years ago. However, we must do more and we must do it quickly.

“There are strong links between poverty, inequality and environmental degradation. What is needed now is a new era of economic growth – growth that is socially and environmentally sustainable.

All countries, but in particular big nations like the US and China, must lead by example and tackle these issues head on. There are a series of climate-related meetings coming up (this year and next), and the current political leaders must bury their differences and find a way forward.”

What’s your message to students (tomorrow’s leaders)?

Gro Harlem Brundtland: “Do something! We all have a role to play – whether small or large. Think about how you want to make a difference. What do you want to contribute? We all are born to make some kind of contribution and through this we will grow ourselves. Each one of us can make a positive difference to this world of ours. We all have a shared responsibility to the future of this planet.”

What is deterring us from a universally peaceful existence?

Hina Jilani

Hina Jilani: “There are many human rights abuses and acts of injustice which affect people everywhere every day. You have to look no further than how women are treated in some societies to understand what I mean. Unless we strive toward equality – between sexes, religions, races – I don’t see how we can truly live peacefully. With no recourse to justice when perpetrators of human rights abuses are allowed to act with impunity, how can we ever hope to live in a peaceful world?”

What’s the value or role of activism?

Hina Jilani: “The struggle to realise human rights is constant and never-ending. We all have a role to play as activists. Rights are not ‘self-executing.’ Without courageous people to challenge injustices and ensure that our human rights are respected, we can have the most progressive human rights laws but live under oppression. It is activists like Nelson Mandela who make rights meaningful, who give effect to documents and standards like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“I am a lawyer and human rights defender. I grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, in a family where human rights was always a subject of conversation. My father was a political activist who was committed to speaking out for basic freedoms. I am a strong believer in speaking out but also engaging in dialogue so we can truly get to the truth of a situation and see it from all sides.

“Dialogue is the only answer; weapons never are.”

What’s the role of government and politicians in global harmony?

Hina Jilani: “Our governments have the legal obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. However, it is ‘human rights defenders’ who ensure that these obligations are met.

“These people come from all backgrounds and occupations. They are members of civil society groups and political movements, community leaders and journalists, and lawyers and teachers. Bridging the gap between lofty human rights agreements and the situation on the ground, they inform and educate the public on their rights, demand accountability from governments, and expose atrocities and rights violations.

“They carry out these activities despite being subject to harassment, detention, torture and even assassination. Without these people holding our governments and politicians to account, we can never ensure global harmony.”

What role do you see for Hawaii in global harmony?


Desmond Tutu: “I am delighted to be returning to these beautiful islands. You are truly blessed to be living here. It strikes me as a place where you can live in harmony with one another other and with your environment. As a diverse, multicultural community, you respect each other’s values and your shared humanity. You are a shining example of how the world can live together, caringly and peacefully.”

What are your hopes for the Pillars of Peace programme?

Desmond Tutu: The Pillars of Peace is a wonderful programme founded by the Omidyar family, whom I have known for many years. I cannot imagine a better way to cultivate compassion, mindfulness and justice in our daily lives and to better understand the meaning of diversity and culture in the practice of peace. I hope that the Pillars of Peace programme will continue to inspire many restless young people who will go into the world and alleviate the suffering of others.

How you do define peace?

Desmond Tutu: “To me, peace can mean many things, but I think one word can sum it: Ubuntu. This is an African saying that means ‘I am because you are.’ We are bound together. I need you in order to be me.

“We cannot hope to bring peace to the world unless we can empathise with each other, offer one another forgiveness and work together. Despite all of the ghastliness in the world, humans are made for goodness.

“My fellow South African and founder of The Elders, Nelson Mandela, taught us that we cannot do it alone. We must work together to improve this world of ours.”

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