Kofi Annan and his principle that “Peace must be sought, above all, because it is the condition for every member of the human family to live a life of dignity and security” was at the heart of his eponymous Peace Address, with all speakers paying tribute to the former UN Secretary General. 2023 marks the fifth anniversary of Kofi Annan’s passing.
The Peace Address was opened by Marie-Laure Salles, Director of the Institute, who called on the importance of hope in our current climate, and noted that, “Peace is a project, an eternal one. And a project that calls for courage and integrity. Peace has to be established. But we know that it must also be constantly re-established, sustained, and fought for on a daily basis.”
Nathalie Fontanet, State Councillor of the Republic and State of Geneva, added in her welcome remarks that “peace is not a destination but a journey.”
The event featured a special performance by Barbara Hendricks, celebrated Soprano, human rights activist, and Lifetime UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. A champion for the rights of refugees, she sang her “Medley for Refugee Children” consisting of “Summertime”, “Home” (poem by Warsan Shire), “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and “O Freedom We Shall Overcome”, with accompaniment by Ulf Englund on the bottleneck guitar.
For it is upon those foundations [of respect, care, compassion, and solidarity with humankind] — those values and the ways with which we, as individuals, carry ourselves — that peace, real peace, even an imperfect peace, can be built.
– Filippo Grandi
Filippo Grandi opened his keynote lecture with the powerful statement that, “We live — again — in a time of war” noting the polarisation that rules the current global climate, citing the 46 emergencies in 32 countries declared over the past 12 months by UNHCR and the explosion of crises displacing refugees and displaced persons around the world, which has reached the unprecedented figure of 114 million displaced people, reaching 114 million in 2023. He emphasised the necessity of Geneva Peace Week and reminded us of Kofi Annan’s belief that we must all contribute to peace in our own way.
Addressing the events in Israel and Palestine, Grandi warned of the “risk of a fracture that could be irreparable.” He reiterated that “we must do everything in our power to try and turn this devastating crisis into an opportunity to renew the discourse of peace in the Middle East.”
Grandi presented four key pieces of “food for thought” during his lecture: the need to keep humanitarian action around the world as strong as possible while peace is failing; the importance of ensuring flexibility for humanitarian responses, especially in the most challenging situations where humanitarians are the only ones on the ground; the crucial need to nurture resilience and invest much more in emergency peacebuilding; and the need for the international community to reboot principles of law and humanity.
As conflicts around the world are growing and agreement between international parties becoming harder to reach, international law is “increasingly being violated without any consequence for the violators, but with the gravest of consequences for civilians”. Grandi suggested that this latter issue be approached with both a hardware solution — a call for political leaders and governments to respect international law and human rights — and a software solution, with a call to everyone to nurture respect for others with care, compassion, and solidarity.