By Ramesh Jaura: As things appear to fall apart and decision-makers around the world grapple with ways out of manifold crises,
an eminent Buddhist philosopher and peace-builder has stressed the need for building a “sustainable global society” in which all peoples’ rights are protected and the international community agrees on a path that leads toward a nuclear weapons free world.
In an exclusive interview with IDN, Soka Gakkai International president Daisaku Ikeda expressed the hope that the adoption of sustainable development goals (SDGs) by the United Nations General Assembly in September will “energize a new round of mutual striving to contribute to a world free of needless suffering”.
The email interview in full follows:
IDN: You have stressed in your Peace Proposal 2015 the “urgent need for shared action in order to eliminate the word misery from the human lexicon.” In particular you are calling for shared action (a) “to protect the human rights of refugees, displaced persons and international migrants,” (b) for “the realization of a world without nuclear weapons,” and (c) for “the construction of a sustainable global society.” Do you see any signs of the willingness of the international community to undertake such a herculean effort? How do you think can the international community be encouraged in addressing this ambitious task?
Daisaku Ikeda: It is true that they are all formidable and daunting challenges. On the other hand, each of them is a task that must be faced if we are to create a world that guarantees all people’s right to live and to live in dignity.
Many people throughout the world, including political leaders, now share the sense of crisis that the state of things cannot be left as it is, whether in relation to the nuclear weapons issue or climate change. And yet this sense of crisis doesn’t seem to translate into the kind of shared action that is needed. It is in the nature of sovereign states that they tend to be gripped by inertia, preventing them from changing course and working with other states until they find themselves facing some imminent danger. This casts a heavy pall upon our efforts to address the challenges we face.
This may seem paradoxical, but I believe that these three challenges can in fact serve as the basis for building global solidarity.
Any debate, whether it be about nuclear weapons or climate change, so long as its starting point is responding to threats to national interest, will inevitably center on each country trying to minimize changes in policy and any resulting obligations. However, if the focus is shifted to addressing the needs of those individuals who face the possibility of irreparable harm, surely a path forward can be found.
In order to solve these and other challenges, we need to urge countries that are reluctant to take shared action to make such humanitarian concerns the focus of their policies. The driving force behind this call must be the solidarity of the world’s people who demand that everyone everywhere be able to enjoy the blessings of life and dignity.
The SGI will continue its efforts to expand the field of shared action, working with like-minded people and groups to give effective expression to the energies of civil society.
Defending human rights of refugees and migrants
IDN: What practical initiatives have you and the SGI planned to mobilize support for defending the human rights of refugees, displaced persons and international migrants?
Daisaku Ikeda: First, the SGI has been engaged in a variety of activities to support the Human Rights Up Front initiative launched by the UN two years ago. Recent tragedies such as the capsizing of a boat carrying refugees in the Mediterranean underline the urgent need for international society to protect refugees and their human rights.
A key focus of our activities has been human rights education. The SGI’s representative chaired the NGO Working Group on Human Rights Education and Learning in Geneva that was involved in the work of drafting the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2011.
In 2012, the SGI joined with Human Rights Education Associates (HREA) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to produce the educational DVD “A Path to Dignity: The Power of Human Rights Education.” Drawing from the experience and learning derived from such engagement, we intend to continue to support the UN’s initiatives in this field, particularly through educational efforts.
Further, in addition to the obvious need to strengthen the frameworks for protecting the lives and dignity of people who have become refugees, we need to consider how such people can be empowered to play an active role in enhancing resilience. This is a point that I have stressed on many occasions. The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan, like many other natural disasters that have afflicted people around the world, has starkly brought home the importance of empowerment.
As we look toward the World Humanitarian Summit to be held in Istanbul, Turkey, in May 2016, it is crucial that we position empowerment at the center of our responses to natural disasters, refugee situations and other forms of humanitarian crisis. Based on this commitment to empowerment, SGI members and organizations are working on a day-to-day basis to enhance the resilience of their local communities.
In recent years, natural disasters and environmental degradation have, alongside political and economic causes, become a major factor driving people to become refugees and internally displaced persons. The office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has also initiated activities to benefit people displaced by natural disasters and expressed expectation for the role that can be played by faith based organizations (FBOs) in this regard.
We will continue to engage in information sharing and mutual learning with other FBOs in order to create a more broad-based civil society movement for personal empowerment and social resilience.
Nuclear weapons free world
IDN: Are you satisfied with the progress that has been made toward the realization of a nuclear weapons free world? Do you see the nuclear-weapon states – the P5 and others – paying heed to the growing international public opinion for abolition of nuclear weapons?
Daisaku Ikeda: If we are honest, we have to acknowledge the current deadlock and lack of real progress in recent years toward a world without nuclear weapons.
The final outcome document issued by the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference called on the nuclear-weapon states to promptly take the following actions: rapidly move toward an overall reduction in the global stockpile of all types of nuclear weapons; further diminish the role and significance of nuclear weapons in all military and security concepts, doctrines and policies; further enhance transparency and increase mutual confidence. But as can be seen by the reports submitted to last year’s preparatory conference, there has been little meaningful progress in these or related fields.
It is truly regrettable that today, two decades after agreement was reached to indefinitely extend the NPT, the nuclear-weapon states have yet to make significant advances in the “good faith pursuit of nuclear disarmament” that is required of them under Article VI of the treaty and which was promised in exchange for support for the indefinite extension of the treaty by the other parties to the treaty.
In my peace proposal this year I called on all states—including of course the nuclear-weapon states—to take the opportunity of the Review Conference to express clearly the kinds of action they will take to prevent the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use. Further, in light of the “unequivocal undertaking of the nuclear-weapon States to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament” reaffirmed at the 2000 Review Conference, I called for the establishment of an “NPT disarmament commission,” tasked with ensuring the prompt and concrete fulfillment of this solemn commitment on the part of the nuclear-weapon states. Both proposals are based on the commitments already made by the nuclear-weapon states at past NPT review conferences.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When we think of the limited time left to the remaining survivors, it is vital that the 2015 Review Conference generate concrete outcomes and break the current stalemate, opening the way for real disarmament.
A more humane future
IDN: Your Peace Proposal 2015 pleads for “a shared pledge for a more humane future,” which knows no misery on earth. You stress the need for the “rehumanization of politics and economics.” Would the sustainable development goals (SDGs), to be agreed in September, suffice to bring about the kind of transformation you envisage? Wouldn’t the rehumanization proposed by you involve a radical transformation of existing capitalistic mindsets and structures?
Daisaku Ikeda: It has been my longstanding contention that, in addition to its mission to build the foundations for global peace, the United Nations must always stand with and act on behalf of the vulnerable, people exposed to a variety of threats, whose human rights and dignity are endangered.
Over the years, I have urged that the new international goals for the post-2015 development agenda should have as their core orientation the determination to leave no person behind, and I hope that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be adopted by the UN this autumn will indeed embody this kind of inclusiveness.
The most important thing is to continue drawing on a shared vision of a world in which no one is threatened by misery and to expand the range of shared action undertaken to bring such a world into being.
For me, to speak of the rehumanization of politics and economics is a way of focusing people’s efforts in order to build a foundation of shared action. In this context, I believe that it is possible to generate waves of meaningful change even within the present framework of capitalism.
I think it is worth remembering that, in his Theory of the Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith, perhaps best known as the champion of free markets, saw sympathy or compassion as expressions of our humanity and as a basis for economics even more fundamental than the pursuit of efficiency or profit. In this sense, I do not reject or deny the value of competition, the driving force of capitalism, per se.
Writing at the start of the 20th century, the founder of the Soka Gakkai, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi, warned against the dangers of imperialism and colonialism and called for a qualitative transformation in the nature of competition.
Makiguchi acknowledged the positive aspects of competition—the way that it can hone our efforts, inspire us to greater achievement and release creative energies. But he felt that humanity must move past the kind of ruthless competition that exploits others for one’s own benefit. Rather, he envisioned a shift to what he termed “humanitarian competition,” in which we “protect and improve not only our own life, but also the lives of others . . . because by benefiting others, we benefit ourselves.”
In our own time, I can see a number of fields – such as sustainable economic policies and renewable energy – in which different societies are starting to compete to develop the most creative ideas and share their respective best practices in a mutually advantageous relationship.
I truly hope that the adoption of the SDGs by the UN this fall will occasion and energize a new round of mutual striving to contribute to a world free of needless suffering. We need to move past zero-sum conceptions of competition and realize the kind of qualitative transformation that will create truly win-win situations, producing positive results for everyone.
“The Future We Create”
IDN: What has been SGI’s contribution towards formulating SDGs and mobilizing civil society support for such goals?
Daisaku Ikeda: We have worked for such goals in the following three ways.
First, we have been continuously participating in various discussions, expressing our views about what the SDGs should aim for and contain from a civil society perspective.
I offered suggestions for themes and concepts through the proposal I wrote on the occasion of the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) in 2012 and annual peace proposals for the past several years.
The SGI has participated in consultations on the post-MDG framework. We have also actively taken part in related discussions at forums such as the UNESCO World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development held in November 2014 and the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in March this year, where stakeholders offered their views on the post-2015 goals.
Secondly, we have worked closely with UN agencies, NGOs and other groups in various fields of activity to build cross-disciplinary networks to respond to the multi-sector nature of the SDGs.
We organized the roundtable “The Future We Create,” an official side event of the Rio+20 Conference bringing together participants from various fields, including disarmament, human rights and ecological integrity. Participants shared their insights and experiences regarding the role of education and learning in their respective areas of expertise.
Thirdly, we have engaged in grassroots efforts in various countries to raise awareness about the challenges involved in building a sustainable global society. These have included the “Seeds of Change” and “Seeds of Hope” exhibitions as well as workshops and other activities in support of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. The Decade concluded in 2014, but I believe that continued efforts are essential for mobilizing civil society support for the SDGs.
Going forward, we will continue to focus on education and learning and build on these three areas of involvement, making this a key element of our activities.
Resumption of trilateral summit
IDN: As part of the construction of a sustainable global society, you are calling for the resumption of trilateral China-Korea-Japan summits. What role do you envisage in this context for the SGI and other organizations such as yours in the three countries?
Daisaku Ikeda: During the five years from 2008 to 2012, the China-Korea-Japan summits produced a series of agreements regarding not only issues directly concerning the three countries, but also about avenues of cooperation in support of UN efforts to promote the global welfare of humanity. Regrettably, these summit meetings have not been held since 2012, when they were broken off in the midst of increasing political tensions.
I hope that they will be resumed at the earliest possible date. This will not only accelerate current moves toward the reduction of tensions, but can also serve as a starting point for enhanced regional cooperation in support of the UN’s sustainable development goals. And such cooperation in turn can help build enduring and expanding trust among the three countries.
To support this, the SGI co-organized a symposium in conjunction with the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, in March. Under the theme of “Strengthening Resilience in Northeast Asia through Cooperation for Disaster Risk Reduction,” this event brought together civil society representatives from China, South Korea and Japan. It was supported by the Trilateral Cooperation Secretariat (TCS), which promotes collaboration between the three countries. TCS Deputy Secretary-General Cheng Feng praised the initiative for helping to focus the wisdom and ideas of the three countries on shared concerns and expressed his hope for further efforts of this kind.
In the final analysis, no international political agreement can bear fruit without relations of trust among the citizens of the respective countries. I am convinced of the importance of fostering bonds of friendship by providing opportunities for people to engage in face-to-face encounters and the sharing of experiences. The SGI is determined to work to foster such trust and friendship, with a particular focus on young people.
*Dr. Daisaku Ikeda is a Japanese Buddhist philosopher and peace-builder, and president of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) grassroots Buddhist movement.