Rigoberta Menchú Tum Reflects on Working Toward Peace

In every corner of the globe the anguished cries for peace can be heard. Millions of people cry in silence, carrying on their shoulders the burden of our tragic, never-ending drive toward confrontation, conflict, and war. These same millions are also bearers of hope, of the unfulfilled quest for peace-a peace that will benefit us all by according dignity to all human beings.

This need for peace is universal. From north to south and east to west, each day, with increasing frequency, people are speaking of peace. In some it appears as a speech; in many it is a vague wish or hope; in
so many more it manifests itself as the ever-present search by men and women, young and old, to attain humankind's most cherished principles. Yet despite this need, the utopia of peace continues to be little more than a distant point, barely visible on the horizon of our future, of our hope, of our vision.

For one of the threads that winds through the history of our peoples is, without a doubt, the recurring and chronic absence of peace. Be it because of greed, injustice, aggression, disrespect by some for the rights of others, or countless other reasons and causes, human beings, whole peoples, and countries have found themselves under attack-albeit in different ways in different places and times. War has been so prevalent that, if we add up all the armed conflicts and declared wars, we realize that throughout history humankind has blissfully enjoyed the silence of weapons for only a very short time.

Even so, the mere absence of armed conflict does not necessarily mean there is peace. Peace is not synonymous with the absence of war; it isn't just the silencing of weapons. For me, peace is a way of life, both for the individual and for all humankind; it is a form of coexistence among peoples, lands, and nations, the deeper meaning of which we might call mature human development, with total equality for everyone-men and women, children and adults. It is equal access to development for all nations and lands, so they may choose their own futures without anyone interfering and telling them what to do.

So peace is built on a collective basis; it is a utopia that daily grows stronger and more tangible. Everyone talks about it; everyone seems to want it. To build it, however, is a long, complicated, and difficult process, and peace cannot be without content. The absence of peace, and indeed all conflict, results from the terrible injustice that has characterized relations between countries, peoples, and cultures, between the ruling elite and the vast majority condemned to wretched poverty.

That is why building peace requires that we start by weaving a fabric out of the threads of equality, justice, participatory democracy, and respect for the rights of all peoples and cultures; we must establish intercultural relations that will promote harmonious coexistence through cultural pluralism.

Peace is not abstract; on the contrary, it must have profound social, political, economic, and cultural substance. Everyone's constant focus should be to fight for peace by helping to seek solutions to problems and to discover the causes of conflict. Peace, likewise, has profoundly ethical, human, and supportive substance.

I believe that peace is a condition, an essential requirement for the survival of humankind. For that reason, there must be an unshakable commitment, backed by the effort and contribution of everyone, to build a universal culture of peace sustained by a new code of ethics that incorporates the hopes and aspirations of all humankind as we face this new millennium:

There is no peace without justice;
There is no justice without fairness;
There is no fairness without development;
There is no development without democracy;
There is no democracy without respect for the identity and the dignity of all cultures and peoples.

I have said repeatedly that we must cross the threshold of this new millennium with the hope of those who have learned to resist, who have learned to build and dream of a brighter future-a future in which a sense of community and a respect for nature become parameters for coexistence, a future in which cultural and linguistic diversity is seen as the great wealth of humankind.

It is our deepest desire that this new millennium be based in equality, in justice at both the national and international levels, in the free self-determination of all peoples, and in a harmonious relationship with nature. Only then will it be possible to nurture sustainable development as well as an equitable distribution of wealth.

Thus will peace sustain itself.



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