Since 1964, the Maltese people have known September 21 as Independence Day – the day our small nation set itself on the challenging road that led us to where we stand today. Yet, for the past 30 years, this date has also had the global significance of being celebrated as the International Day of Peace.

International Peace Day was established by a 1981 UN General Assembly resolution, in an effort to enhance international devotion towards the promotion of worldwide peace, in part through encouraging people to work cooperatively towards this goal.

The first Peace Day was celebrated in 1982. It continued to be marked on the third Tuesday of September each year. But 10 years ago, in 2001, it was decided that the International Day of Peace should be annually observed on September 21 as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence.

On Peace Day, people around the world take part in various activities focused on the theme of “peace”. Education and the fruits of education are central to the observance.

The events devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace, among and within all nations and peoples, vary from private gatherings to public concerts and forums involving large audiences. They include interfaith ceremonies, the lighting of candles, prayer meetings, a convoy of vehicles, tree planting, art exhibitions and walks, all promoting the chosen theme.

This year’s theme is “Make your voice heard”. It pays tribute to the many civil society activists who lent the strength of their imagination to building and preserving peace. Considering that young people aged 15 and 24 constitute 1.2 billion of the world’s human capital, the theme addresses the younger generations.

The imagination, ideals and energies of young people are vital in the search for peace and the further development of the societies in which they live as well as those beyond. The young are therefore being encouraged to demonstrate the power of connection by reaching out to each other, and rallying together, in the common cause of dignity and human rights to which their peoples aspire. Indeed, it is in tribute to young people, and the spirit they represent, that the UN has chosen this year’s theme, under the overall idea of peace and democracy.

In establishing Peace Day, the UN General Assembly invited all member states, the United Nations system, regional organisations, non-governmental organisations, peoples and individuals to commemorate the Day in different ways, particularly, as already mentioned, through education. It is a pity that in Malta, 30 years on, the celebration, which has grown to include millions of people worldwide, has yet to gain the ground it deserves. This is especially so in a small nation like ours that values and needs international peace so much, in the light of the many trials and tribulations it has had to pass through whenever peace was absent from its region.

Even if the celebration of the International Day of Peace falls on the same day as our Independence Day, this should not hinder our resolve to celebrate it properly. On the contrary, such a coincidence should be seen as an additional motivation to make our nation’s and our individual voices heard all the more loudly in favour of values that together serve as a catalyst for peace: solidarity and cooperation between peoples, humanitarian aid to whoever needs it in a time of crisis, full respect for human rights, and justice as the indispensable condition for authentic freedom and lasting peace.