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Restoring Peace in New Zealand – City by City

Restoring Peace in New Zealand – City by City

In Colombia, Mayor Mockus recently hired 420 mime artists to control traffic and prevent road-rage violence in Bogotá's chaotic and dangerous streets. In Palmerston North, Mayor Heather Tanguay last year held a multi-ethnic barbecue to help build relations between conflicting ethnic communities. Representatives from over 100 ethnic community groups attended. The City of Coventry (UK), which took the innovative action of twinning with Volgograd (Stalingrad) and sending supplies when it was under siege in 1943, now runs an annual peace and conflict resolution month engaging all sectors of the community. In Christchurch, youth engaged in graffiti were employed in 2003 to paint a peace mural, redirecting their energies from illegal and disruptive art to positive art. In 1996, Mayor Selim Beslagic of Tuzla, forged a multi-ethnic program which prevented the slide into ethnic violence which was erupting in other parts of Bosnia and Serbia.

These are a few examples of cities around the world becoming active in overcoming violence and helping create a culture of peace.

Wellington City Council is to decide this week on whether it will become such a Peace City. Currently the Council is split on whether this is necessary or desirable.

New Zealand has an image of being a peaceful, inclusive country and there are some things we can definitely be proud of – being the first country to afford women the vote, our principled stand against nuclear weapons, our pride in being multicultural, our attempts to redress past injustices between Maori and Pakeha, being one of the few countries in the world to have peace education as part of the curriculum, being the only country to have a cabinet level Minister for Disarmament and our contributions to the United Nations and its peacekeeping efforts, to name just a few.

But behind the image are some sobering truths about the violence tearing apart our families and communities and eroding our peaceful image. Every year in New Zealand over 7,000 children are abused in the home. On average, 10 of these children die. About 30% of women have reported being subjected to physical or sexual violence, and there are over 40,000 reported violent crimes in the community every year.

The causes of violence are many, and not everyone agrees on which are the most important influences – negative role models, lack of parenting skills, misunderstanding between cultures, economic disparities, inability to solve conflicts creatively, lingering injustices, negative influence of alcohol, un-nutritious diets or other factors. Together they create a culture of violence. Peace Cities aim to address these influences and consciously create a culture of peace.

It may seem like a daunting job for Wellington City Council – and beyond the available human and financial resources. But in reality the opposite is the case. Compared to a violent community, a peaceful one is more productive and requires less resources for the policing, health and social services that are required to respond to violence. In addition, the programs and services which help create a culture of peace are already established in the community – just not sufficiently well known or utilised. These include inter-ethnic understanding initiatives such as Race Relations Day, peer mediation programmes in schools where pupils learn to negotiate rather than fight, organizations teaching parenting skills, Walkwise people on the streets helping prevent alcohol stimulated conflicts especially on Friday and Saturday nights, neighbourhood dispute services and more.

The main reason that these programmes and services are only partially successful in reducing domestic and community violence is because they don’t have enough visibility and so not enough people use them. Establishing Wellington as a Peace City would address this problem. It would include promotion of Culture of Peace programmes and services by the City Council through such means as the City Council website and information brochures. As such, more people would learn about the various services and programmes and be able to find ones suitable to their needs, or refer others in need to them.

In addition, Wellington City would be providing a positive role model to Wellingtonians – one emphasizing a commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflict and the development of a culture of peace. This can only serve to encourage such peace in the community.

The development of Peace Cities can also help in war prevention and promotion of international peace. Governments require some degree of citizen consent to wage war. When citizens have a connection with the cities and people of the country the government wants to attack, they are less likely to give that consent and more likely to propose nonviolent possibilities for resolving the conflict between the countries.

New Zealand’s nuclear weapons free zone was built from cities first declaring themselves to be nuclear free. This in turn moved the government to prohibit nuclear weapons. Now, Mayors for Peace, and international network of 1300 cities, is playing a vital role at the United Nations to promote the global abolition of nuclear weapons.

Coventry City Council notes that in addition to contributing to racial harmony and community cohesion, being a Peace City has enhanced their city’s image nationally and internationally providing an impetus for people to visit and a shot in the arm to business and the economy. Wellington has already benefited from being known internationally as the capital of nuclear free New Zealand. We could benefit even more from becoming known world wide as a Peace City, and we could encourage the further restoration of peace and elimination of violence throughout New Zealand city by city.

The Wellington City Council will be making a decision on whether Wellington should become a Peace City this Wednesday the 28th of June at 5:30 in the Council Chambers. We welcome members of the public to attend to show their support.

Hon Marian Hobbs, MP for Wellington
Alyn Ware, Vice-President of International Peace Bureau (Nobel Peace Laureate organization)
Annie Boanas, Youth Outreach Coordinator for the Peace Foundation

Children and young people: indicators of wellbeing in New Zealand, Ministry of Social Development, 2004, http://www.msd.govt.nz/documents/work-areas/csre/

Crime Statistics for fiscal year ending 30 June 2004 - New Zealand Police, http://www.police.govt.nz/service/statistics/2004/fiscal/

In July 2002 Christchurch City Councillors voted in favour of declaring
Christchurch a Peace City. This was seen as a way for Christchurch to
celebrate its peace history, as many people involved in the peace
movement and some of the movement's peace initiatives started in
Christchurch. More information is available here.


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