UNESCO and International Institute for Peace co-founded by Forest Whitaker sign an agreement
“Alone we can make a difference, but together we can change the world,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova during a ceremony to mark the signing of an agreement between UNESCO, the International Institute for Peace (IIP) co-founded by UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Forest Whitaker, Rutgers University (New Jersey, USA) and the United States government.
This agreement makes Rutgers University the only higher education institution to have UNESCO as its official partner. The program’s affiliation with an official UN institution provides a unique platform to address the issues of peace and non-violence on a more global level.
UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador Forest Whitaker said that he hopes the Institute would open “a space for dialogue […] to attain lasting peace, not just through the work of policy makers, but by the local community as well. Peace building is community building”. He referred to his own difficult upbringing to explain why he was motivated to address the issue of violence among children and youth.
In a moving plea, Forest Whitaker urged everyone present to consider the destructive impact that violence may have: “We cannot ignore the pain of others, it would be like ignoring a pain in our hands or a cancer in our hearts.” “Conflict is an ordinary process of life, but certain conflicts are unacceptable: women and men being killed, 250,000 child soldiers around the world.”
UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova stressed that dealing with issues of violence in conflict and peace building “requires a different approach”. She emphasized that working at the grassroots level is an important way of mobilizing local communities in peace building efforts.
During the ceremony, United States Ambassador to UNESCO, David Killion, expressed his government’s support for the project: “It is a partnership of which my government and I are especially proud, as the work of the Institute speaks directly to the fundamental mandate of UNESCO -- to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men and women”. The Director-General added that such a strong engagement between UNESCO and the United States “is an important foreign policy strategy and one of the most powerful ways to strengthen public-private relationships.”
IIP’s objective is to focus on the problem of urban violence and work with people around the world to foster community and peace-building among educators, community and religious leaders, entrepreneurs, local police, and young people affected by violence. The Institute also aims to engage citizens in diplomacy and to encourage them to participate in building peace through research, practice and public engagement.
Forest Whitaker and IIP’s other co-founder, Aldo Civico, explained that the project is still in its early stages. Nonetheless, they indicated that Africa would be one of the main regional focuses of the IIP’s activity, adding that upcoming projects are planned in South Sudan and northern Uganda.