An internationally recognized advocate for women and children’s rights encouraged BYU students to strive to build institutions that can support peace and justice for all on Sept. 23.
Rima Salah visited BYU law students to accept a Peacemaker Award presented by the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution.
Salah serves as chair in the Early Childhood Peace Consortium and has extensive experience with the United Nations and UNICEF. Salah dedicated the Peacemaker Award to every woman and every man who sacrificed their families and lives to transfer war to peace, promoting understanding between peoples and nations.
Growing up as a refugee, Salah’s experiences in Jordan shaped her vision in building an inclusive world. She wanted to defend the vulnerable and serve as their voice. “I witnessed the terrible effects that war has on people’s lives, particularly on women and children,” Salah said.
Salah often worked with children who were traumatized, displaced, orphaned, and who had never seen a school in their lives. Many of these children were child soldiers, trafficked and endured horrific circumstances.
“The impact of violent conflict on communities and families was tremendous and should never be tolerated,” Salah said.
Working with the U.N. and UNICEF was the fulfillment of a dream for Salah. She wished to be part of a process to promote justice and improve people’s lives from early in her life and now has a “complete platform for the pursuit of peace, justice, social progress and, particularly, human rights.”
Maintaining peace and security is at the heart of why the U.N. was created 76 years ago. “Nothing is too ambitious for the cause of peace and justice, and to give hope to people who have lost hope in humanity,” Salah said. “We cannot build peace if we do not have justice.”
The U.N. peace operation must be flexible and people-centered to respond to changing needs on the ground. The U.N.’s focus needs to be on preventing conflict, maintaining peace and protecting civilians, Salah said. “Only then will peace operations become more responsive and more relevant to the millions of people living in situations of conflict.”
Salah encouraged students to strive to build institutions that can support cohesion and justice for all. She said she knew she was in the right place on BYU’s campus, surrounded by those who are “fostering a better understanding of peace, and empowering students and others in conflict resolution skills to build a better world of peace, justice and development.”
She emphasized the role of academic institutions and their importance in the cause of peace, and how each student can be an agent of change and driver of peace in the community.
“The task of building a world of peace, justice and development is formidable, but there is room for optimism, because each one of us is responsible — it is our shared responsibility — we need greater commitment and involvement from all of us,” Salah said.
She emphasized each individual’s ability to create change and environments of peace, justice and inclusion, urging students to take action immediately.
“There is no better time than now to unite our strength, change the tide of violence and build a peaceful world for us and the generations to come,” Salah said. “The time is now.”