Report of Annual Erskine Childers Lecture 2009

“Saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war”

Building a non-killing, non-violent culture for the human family

Erskine Childer’s memory is revisited annually by Action for UN Renewal. Erskine was an UN diplomat and the son of the 4th President of Ireland in 1993. This lecture had a great turn-out of around 120 attendees. Our chairman Vijay Mehta was one of the speakers, with guest speakers Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire, welcome visit  by Erskine Childer’s family, partner Marjolijn Snipe and son David Childers. Former BBC World’s Asian Editor and Chair of Commonwealth Journalist Association Rita Payne was chairing the talk.

Vijay introduced the lecture illustrating how Erskine Childers was a “man with few illusions about UN flaws, shortcomings, and its need for reforms”, values which are followed through by Action for UN Renewal (ACT-UN). He went on to say that ACT-UN emphasises the UN’s successes but also recognises weaknesses embedded in the UN system. The obvious example Vijay used was the recent conflict between Israel and Hama, which failed to stop the war, despite repeated visits from the Secretary-General.

Marjolijn highlighted her life with Erskine while he was still alive, explaining how passionate he was for human rights, describing him as the “walking encyclopaedia” who had flowing knowledge. David was only 12 weeks old when his father died, but embraced that David has the same character as his father. Throughout her speech, Marjolijn used beautiful quotes to describe her husband, which nearly brought her to tears.

Mairead was very passionate when sharing personal stories with us about her family and the terrorist acts of the IRA, where three of her family were killed. She stressed that we are spending too much time concentrating on one crisis after another and there seems to be no long term planning for peace. The United

Nations deserves congratulations to their efforts, however it is incomprehensible why a joint declaration was made between them and NATO, who has no role in the world today nor will it ever be.

“If governments are serious about peace, we need to renounce war as an institution and disarm our world of all weapons of mass destruction” and instead build on a culture of non-militarism and strengthen that idea in the new generation. She urged “we need to look into our own life to root out violence” and “un-learn” many of our ideas alternate to violence.

It was incredibly moving how she talked about her experience in Gaza last year, illustrating how the Palestinians had no contact to the outside world because of closed borders by Israel and Egypt. She sat with a group of Hamas, who wanted to talk but no one was willing to hear them. The non-existence of basic human rights in Palestine breaks the Geneva Conventions, and said she can sympathise with both the Palestinians and the Israelis who are in the middle of an “ethnic political conflict” as her people in Ireland suffered years ago.

“We can’t be afraid of different cultures,” she reinforced, as her smile dropped, “When governments abuse these rights, we must stand up to protect them. This will be a daily and ongoing task…we as members of the Human Community must speak for the ‘silenced’ and support the United Nations and all freedom loving people to work for a nonviolent, nonkilling world based on human rights and freedom”.
Her speech was closed off by a standing applause, and a song by Tony Kempster called “Music of Healing” on his guitar.

The outcome of the event was quite inspiring.

It is important to promote the charter for a world without violence. Vijay concluded that it is a necessity to campaign for the UN General Assembly to discuss and adopt Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, encouraging members to move away from war and militarism. This particular campaign will be showcased by ACT-UN in the near future, and we believe that Article 9 is vital in moving society towards non-violence conflict prevention.

Written by Talyn Rahman

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