General Assembly Hears 52 Additional Speakers During High Level Dialogue On Inter-religious, Inter-cultural Understanding, Cooperation For Peace

Wed, 10/10/2007

 Sixty-second General Assembly

Plenary

18th & 19th Meetings (AM & PM)

GENERAL ASSEMBLY HEARS 52 ADDITIONAL SPEAKERS DURING HIGH-LEVEL DIALOGUEON INTERRELIGIOUS, INTERCULTURAL UNDERSTANDING, COOPERATION FOR PEACE

Organization of Islamic Conference Seeks Bridge Between Islam, Christianity;Holy See Says ‘Unmask Terrorist Pretence to Justify Acts on Religious Grounds’

In order to mend the cultural fault lines dividing the West and much of the Muslim world, the head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference today called urgently for Islam and Christianity to agree on a “historic reconciliation”, which would bring the two religions closer together, eliminate ancient grudges and pave the way for a promising future.

“In this age of globalization, a historic reconciliation between Islam and Christianity will be an event of resounding proportion, affecting almost half of humanity,” said Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), whose plea for interfaith healing echoed similar calls from the more than 50 Government ministers and senior diplomats who addressed day two of the General Assembly’s High-level Dialogue on Interreligious and Intercultural Understanding and Cooperation for Peace.

To highlight the relevance and importance of today’s meeting, he said that wide-ranging campaigns of hate speech were currently sweeping large areas where Islam, as a religion, was being attacked and denigrated. Western institutions in Europe were unanimous in reporting that “Islamaphobia” was on the rise and that a new form of discrimination had emerged based on the hatred of Islam. “We are dealing, not with words, but with facts on the ground,” he said.

Islam and Christianity, “two great religions of the world”, could not afford to let their relationship be defined according to antiquated antagonistic paradigms, he said. “If we manage to clear this major obstacle, we are confident that the entire world will be safer, more peaceful and prosperous,” he added, declaring that dialogue was indispensable in building bridges as a means of communication among religions and cultures. Dialogue was a must in promoting awareness of the necessity of understanding and confidence-building, and in ushering the world towards peace, security and harmony.

Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for the Holy See’s Relations with States, reaffirmed that faithfulness to one’s own religious convictions was not expressed in violence and intolerance, but in sincere respect for others, dialogue and reason. At a time when the so-called clash of civilization was gaining currency in some quarters, religions had a special role to play in blazing new paths to peace, in union with one another and in cooperation with States and international organizations.

He agreed that there could be no peace without understanding and cooperation among religions, but such understanding implied religious liberty, including the right to disseminate one’s own faith and the right to change it. “Respect for religious liberty would unmask the pretence of some terrorists to justify their unjustifiable actions on religious grounds,” he asserted. If violence still arose between religious groups, anti-incitement programmes should be supported, including the mobilization of religious leaders and mass movements to counter both hate speech and public acts calculated to spur sectarian violence.

To empower religions to fully assume the role of promoting cooperation and tolerance, religious leaders must work together to ensure that religious freedom was recognized, safeguarded and fostered by all and everywhere, he said. “If the High-Level Dialogue is to bear fruit, our message today must get out of the confines of these halls to touch each and every person and community of believers throughout the world.”

During the day-long debate, delegates tackled a range of challenges affecting societies in a globalized world, touching on themes that reverberated beyond continents and time zones. States were continually being pushed, they said, to respond to demands for freedom to practice religion and express identity in tolerant social environments. Religion was often misused to sow divisions, discrimination and death; however, problems usually lay with “the faithful” rather than faith itself. All great religions were equal streams of a civilized human coexistence and none could say that one faith was “the only way”.

Modern communication and transport brought people of various backgrounds into constant contact with one another, and migration, a related challenge, transformed relatively uniform communities into multicultural societies. While national language programmes for immigrants had helped facilitate dialogue and social integration, speakers also called for multilateral bodies, such as the United Nations and the Council of Europe, to establish concrete mechanisms to promote dialogue and foster intercultural and interreligious understanding.

Education was essential for reaching the hearts and minds of young people; “nobody is born a terrorist or extremist”, one speaker declared. Participants stressed that youth must be guided towards understanding “the beauty of diversity”. Bringing together young people of different faiths and cultures would promote a culture of respect, tolerance and understanding. The establishment of more -- and better -- youth cooperation programmes would foster appreciation for the values and belief systems of others.

“We have no time to lose,” a participant said. “Otherwise, we risk that our societies are taken hostage by extremists on all sides.” Religious leaders must take up that mantle and do their part to promote respect among faiths, particularly as negative portrayals of Muslims in Western media had exacerbated harassment of Muslims in many parts of the world, delegates said. As one speaker explained: “Religion is not the cause of these problems and [religious leaders] need to do more to prove it.”

It was also important to actively promote democracy, as wars often did not occur among democracies. States should encourage the political concept of “civic friendship” in an effort to ensure broader tolerance and acceptance among all religions and cultures. Moreover, media should be encouraged to disseminate the value of peace, and there was hope that the various initiatives that had emerged on the issue would both complement each other and make use of the United Nations to create a communication bridge to promote common human development.

In other business today, the General Assembly approved a meeting for the Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) during the main part of the sixty-second session.

Also speaking today were the Deputy Foreign Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the United Republic of Tanzania and Romania.

The State Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Austria, Special Representative of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt, Assistant Minister for Multilateral Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Serbia, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs and European Integration of Croatia, the Capital Minister for Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia, the Director for Human Rights and Good Governance, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and the First Deputy Head of the State Committee on Nationalities and Religions of Ukraine also addressed the Assembly.

The permanent representatives of Kazakhstan, Chile, Liechtenstein, Panama, Malawi, Cuba, Malaysia, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Monaco, Sierra Leone, United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka, Algeria, Indonesia, Montenegro, Kuwait, Qatar, Norway, Guatemala, Morocco, Uzbekistan, China, Finland, Jordan, Suriname, Japan, Colombia, Tajikistan, Syria, Tunisia, Switzerland, Honduras, Viet Nam, Botswana, Slovenia, Spain, Brazil, Albania, Sudan and the Republic of Moldova were also heard.

The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 8 October to conclude the High-level Dialogue and begin consideration of the Secretary-General’s report on the work of the Organization

Background

The General Assembly met this morning to continue its High-Level Dialogue on Interreligious and Intercultural Understanding and Cooperation for Peace.

Statements

SEIF ALI IDDI, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, United Republic of Tanzania, said that the world needed to work harder to build bridges between faiths and cultures. The importance of dialogue and tolerance for peace could not be overemphasized, particularly when there were extremists bent on exploiting differences and tensions. Here, he stressed the important role civil society and non-governmental organizations played in helping to encourage intercultural understanding and to diminish the dangerous tensions that often threatened to destabilize societies.

Interreligious and intercultural cooperation was woven through the fabric of Tanzanian society, he continued. His country was home to more than 100 religions and the practitioners of all those faiths were encouraged to worship as they chose and to respect those of different faiths. The Government had long believed in promoting a culture of tolerance and had, among other things, forbidden political parties to be formed that were based solely on race, religion or tribe. The Government promoted freedom of expression, but also believed that that principle implied respect for the culture and beliefs of others. He said that Christian and Muslim leaders in the country had created a forum that had contributed to engendering understanding and cooperation. He added that religious leaders of all faiths had worked with the Government on various social issues, such as poverty. He urged the Assembly not to underestimate the power of ignorance and the power of those that used that lack of knowledge and understanding to foment hatred and discrimination. It was necessary to examine the root causes of such behaviour.

ANTON NICULESCU, Secretary of State and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Romania, endorsed the statement made by the Presidency of the European Union and said that, in an increasingly globalized world, intercultural dialogue would be a permanent process requiring worldwide participation at every level. That dialogue was essentially one between individuals. Noting that the Romanian city of Sibiu was, with Luxembourg, the 2007 European Capital of Culture, he emphasized the different religions and confessions that peacefully coexisted in Romania. Romania had hosted the Third European Ecumenical Assembly in September 2007 –- the first time it had taken place in a largely Orthodox country.

He welcomed the Alliance of Civilizations initiative and expressed support for its activities. He also expressed satisfaction with the conclusions of the first ministerial meeting of the Group of Friends and said the Alliance was ready to move forward and achieve tangible results. He looked forward to the upcoming European Year of Intercultural Dialogue in 2008 and expressed the hope that it would result in greater understanding of Europe’s “unity in diversity”. Stressing the historical and cultural diversity of the Black Sea region, he announced the intention to propose a project to promote an intercultural and interreligious dialogue in the Black Sea region, which could be developed in partnership with the Alliance of Civilizations.

HANS WINKLER, State Secretary for European and International Affairs of Austria, said interreligious and intercultural relations were becoming strained within societies and beyond national borders, and the disquieting truth was that it was happening despite the laudable efforts of many organizations and an almost endless number of action plans. Yet, while that might be discouraging, “We must stand up against all forms of extremism and the abuse of religious convictions and cultural traditions.” Dialogue was the prerequisite for the peaceful coexistence of different cultures, and the United Nations was the best framework to promote dialogue on a global scale by setting standards, including legal standards, and by being the vanguard in the protection of human rights.

“Nobody is born a terrorist or extremist,” he said. “Education is the key to reaching out to the hearts and minds of young people.” Access to knowledge and information were the driving forces for changes in society and for a peaceful and secure coexistence of all citizens. Recently, the Government and the Islamic Community in Austria initiated and supported a Conference of European Imams in Vienna, adopting a declaration that stated the need to develop a “Muslim European Identity” and addressed gender issues, leaving no doubt as to the compatibility of Islam, democracy, rule of law and fundamental freedoms. “We have no time to lose,” he said. Otherwise, societies could be taken hostage by extremists on all sides. The success or failure of efforts today would determine the future for our children.

ALY MAHER ELSAYED, Special Representative of the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt, said holding today’s dialogues in the United Nations was “essential and indispensable for the realization of aspired peace in the world”. Religions, though differing in some aspects of belief, all shared common values of respect for human beings, human dignity and human life. They rejected violence and promoted peace. Therefore, those who attempted to exploit religions and cultures to justify violence were in fact undermining those religions. Dialogue alone could extend bridges between peoples, regardless of differences in beliefs and ethos. Respect for cultural identities was the point of departure for the successful dialogue, since it generated interaction that allowed for mutual understanding and acceptance.

However, he said dialogue was not the concern of Governments alone. It was the concern of every individual in society, all non-governmental organizations and all thinkers. The greatest threat to international peace and security was the proliferation of violence and the use of force as a means of expression. The international community, represented by the United Nations, was unable to settle chronic political and economic problems and such failure bred feelings of injustice, oppression and double standards. Those feelings were catalysts for conflict and the international community should redouble its efforts to settle those conflicts within an international framework characterized by democracy and equality. Collective action, with strong coordination between various initiatives, was necessary. To that end, Egypt would hold the conference and workshops of the Dialogue among Peoples and Cultures in Alexandria early next year. “Our common endeavour to promote tolerance, respect for religions and beliefs, and cultural diversity has to be translated through this dialogue into a clear action plan and practical programmes,” he said.

FEODOZR STARCEVIC, Assistant Foreign Minister of Serbia, said that religion was often misused to sow divisions, discrimination and death. To be sure, however, religion itself was not to blame. The problem was usually not with the faith, but with the faithful. All great religions were equal streams of a civilized human coexistence, he said, stressing that none could say that one faith was “the only way”. The key was to foster understanding and profound respect for all the world’s religions and cultural traditions. No one knew that more than the people of the Balkans, which throughout history had faced many confrontations of civilizations -– confrontations which often had religious dimensions. As a result, an ambivalent cultural and psychological political legacy had been left to the people of the region.

However, during the long period of the former Yugoslavia, coexistence and tolerance had been fostered. Yet, that harmony was destroyed by the surge of nationalism in the 1990s. However, the people and States that emerged from the territory that had been Yugoslavia, “following normalization among them”, had all turned to the promotion of democracy and human rights. For Serbia, as a multi-ethnic and multireligious society, such religious cooperation was a priority. In cooperation with other Balkan and South-Eastern European countries, Serbia had made considerable efforts to promote dialogue and reconciliation in an effort to achieve peace and stability in the region.

He said that current developments in Serbia’s southern province of Kosovo were in stark contrast to the constructive atmosphere of tolerance and dialogue under way elsewhere in the region. For the past eight years, that province, under the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), had been “the single area in Europe where the enjoyment of basic human rights has not been possible due to the lack of security, freedom of movement and work for the Serbian community”. Serbian homes and churches had been demolished and acts of violence had been committed against Serbs and other non-Albanians. All possible measures to promote cooperation and coexistence were needed and would make the achievement of a political solution more possible than what was now the case. Serbia was ready to make all parts of the Balkan region a zone of peace, stability and cooperation.

PJER SIMUNOVIC, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs of Croatia, said that his country was at a crossroads of different religions and cultures. Indeed, it was where Central and Eastern Europe met at the Mediterranean, and where Christianity met Islam, and was a region of rich history and diversity. Croatia was, therefore, committed to combating intolerance and discrimination and to promoting mutual respect and understanding. Indeed, all religious groups operated independent of the State.

He went on to say that every State had an obligation to promote freedom of religion and belief. But it was also the duty of religious leaders to promote education and understanding among other faiths. He welcomed the work of the United Nations-backed Alliance of Civilizations in its efforts to promote dialogue and understanding for peace.

FAHD BIN ABDULRAHMAN ALRAJEH ( Saudi Arabia) said that it was important to adopt laws that promoted respect for religion, as well as to criminalize the defacement or destruction of religious symbols and places of worship. It was also important to involve the media in combating ignorance and encouraging tolerance. The people of the Middle East had always been “bridge-builders”, and Saudi Arabia had called for dialogue among all the countries and religious groups of the region. Saudi Arabia’s King had always promoted cooperation and understanding between and among peoples to avert a clash among civilizations. He had established a multidisciplinary group of partners devoted to promoting dialogue.

He said that his country was home to many people of different cultures and religions. But, that was not a cause for tension, but rather a cause for cooperation and understanding that could ensure peace and prosperity for all. Success in that endeavour went a long way towards defeating those who sought to undermine societies and peoples living harmoniously together.

AART JACOBI, Director for Human Rights and Good Governance at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, drew attention to the “Dutch clause” in the 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, which states that nothing in the Declaration shall restrict or derogate from any right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenants on Human Rights. That principle remains as important today as it had been 25 years ago. Dialogue was a useful instrument to promote understanding. At the same time, the international human rights system provided the umbrella under which dialogue became possible. While he wanted to join forces with those who wanted to promote tolerance and dialogue, that dialogue could not be allowed to put into question the “universal validity of our common values”.

Another cherished principle was that real dialogue could only succeed if it encompassed citizens, he continued. Non-governmental organizations had a key role to play in developing grass-roots activities. Religious leaders bore a major responsibility; without denying the principles of their own faiths, they could make clear that one should have respect for other religions, as well as for those who chose not to adhere to any religion. The more contacts among religious leaders and their followers, the more that could be learned about the backgrounds of different religions and the easier it would be for people to really understand and respect each other.

VICTOR VORONIN, First Deputy Head of the State Committee on Nationalities and Religions of Ukraine, said that his Government encouraged freedom of religion and promoted the practice and preservation of all beliefs. Religious education and protection of religious minorities was also a priority of the Government. He said that the authorities did not intervene in the practice of any beliefs. There was a high degree of interest in dialogue among the country’s religions. A range of measures had been carried out to create an even greater atmosphere of tolerance and understanding. As a result of that work, peace and harmony reigned. Ukraine supported the Assembly President’s efforts to promote intercultural dialogue. Ukraine would also participate in such other efforts as would be undertaken within the framework of the Black Sea Economic Corporation.

BYRGANYM AITIMOVE ( Kazakhstan) said religious education, tolerance and mutual understanding were necessary to stem the rising tide of international threats, such as terrorism and religious extremism. Global security required harmony among religions and the peaceful coexistence of ethnic groups. United Nations initiatives, such as the current High-Level Dialogue, were, therefore, particularly important, as were the recommendations of the Alliance of Civilizations to create a network of relations among distinct civilizations in the areas of youth, education, media, and migration.

The moral standing of any society was based on how it treated other nations and cultures, she said. In that regard, she reminded the Assembly that her country was home to 130 ethnic groups representing 45 confessions, yet had never experienced a religious or inter-ethnic war since its independence. Its Constitution protected the right to freedom of faith and expression and the State encouraged people to adhere to their own cultures and religions. The history of religions and promotion of tolerance was even integrated into the educational system. The international community should follow suit by establishing a fairer world, consolidating international law and justice, and implementing United Nations resolutions and signed international agreements. To do that effectively would require concrete collective measures that would address the issue in the media, among youth and within educational systems. Finally, she called on Member States to support her Government’s proposal to officially declare an international year of dialogue among religions and cultures in the near future.

HERALDO MUÑOZ ( Chile) said that promoting religious cooperation and understanding was one of the international community’s most challenging tasks. States could be successful if they worked hard to ensure tolerance and, importantly, human rights for all. Chile was known as an asylum from oppression and the welcoming of foreigners was one of his nation’s most deeply rooted traditions. By example, he said that Chile was home to one of the largest Palestinian populations in the world. That population interacted freely with the country’s large Jewish population. Practitioners of all faiths were encouraged to worship freely. The Government had made it a priority to ensure that media and educational programmes eradicated exclusionary ideas.

All religions and cultures were worthy and deserving of respect, but such respect should not come at the cost of freedom of expression. It was important, then, to actively promote democracy, particularly since it had been proved that wars did not often occur between democracies. Chile would, therefore, call on all States to encourage the political concept of “civic friendship” –- which existed even between political adversaries –- in an effort to ensure broader tolerance and acceptance among all religions and cultures.

CHRISTIAN WENAWESER ( Liechtenstein) said that after the events of 9/11, cross-cultural tensions had increased, and there had been a tendency to view the world in terms of a “clash of civilizations”, a vision which posited that cultures were static, monolithic entities. It was important to remember that, in fact, “a civilization or culture evolves constantly over time, adapts to new conditions and settings and is formed in interaction with other cultures and identities”. Embracing a dynamic concept of culture and identity was vital in order to bring about a meaningful dialogue between civilizations and religions.

“Arrogance has no place in dialogue,” he said. Yet, what seemed to be arrogance could actually be a sign of fear. “Diversity yields many opportunities but it may be regarded as a threat because it challenges the ways of life we are used to and disturbs the comfort human beings find in stability and the preservation of the status quo.” Globalization meant that there was a trend towards the predominance of one culture over others, and that, at the same time, differences between cultures and religions had become more noticeable as modern communication and transport brought people of different backgrounds into constant contact with one another. He suggested that frequent, inclusive dialogues would be a key tool for overcoming fears. Access to the media and information technology were likewise important in advancing understanding between peoples.

He pointed to migration as a major challenge, since it could bring about the “transformation of relatively uniform communities to multicultural societies”. Liechtenstein had a large immigrant population -– 33.9 per cent of residents were foreigners, he said –- and the principality had been forced to take on xenophobia and racism. The Government had introduced programmes to teach immigrants the national language, as well as to facilitate dialogue. These programmes had been largely successful. Still, he said, multilateral bodies like the United Nations and the Council of Europe were the most adequate forums to establish an overall dialogue between civilizations and foster intercultural and interreligious understanding.

GIANCARLO SOLER ( Panama) said important international conferences this year had strengthened the existing consensus about the fundamental principles of cultural and religious understanding and their value for peaceful cooperation, but what was lacking was a way to materialize the results. Rival economic, environmental and territorial interests tended to create tensions that could be swayed and accelerated in ethnic, cultural and religious arenas. But, those interferences should be avoided and a disposition for cooperation should be harboured.

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was a step in the right direction, he said, and it was natural that after centuries of marginalization native peoples would lay claim to their culture. At the same time, that assertion had sometimes served to encourage resentment and promote confrontation. To avoid that, it must be ensured that the recognition of indigenous peoples could be assumed by everyone, “not as a way to praise inequities, but as a proper juncture to live together”. In order to build relationships geared towards cooperation, communication must highlight what cultures and religions have in common. A continuous push was needed in educational systems and the media to eradicate all expressions of racism, xenophobia, intolerance and cultural exclusion. International organizations, Governments and social, cultural and religious organizations all needed to complement each other, for peace to take place as an inclusive and lasting reality.

STEVE D. MATENJE ( Malawi) called upon the international community to create an environment conducive to sharing human experiences with a view to combating cultural and religious intolerance and all its consequences. Respect for religious and cultural diversity could contribute to international cooperation, peace and security. Legal, political or military means were no longer sufficient to achieve those goals. The contribution of faiths and cultures was needed to achieve a just and harmonious world.

To promote interreligious and intercultural understanding, he said that educational systems must promote respect for diversity; the media must support ethical and responsible dialogue; and countries must promote the use of information technology to promote dialogue, especially among young people. Further, he said that Malawi’s Constitution guaranteed, among other freedoms, that every citizen had the right to use the language and participate in the cultural life of his or her choice. It also guaranteed protection against discrimination on all religious and cultural grounds, and continued to create an environment that promoted understanding among its peoples. He supported the Secretary-General’s call for a year of dialogue among religions and cultures, and welcomed his proposal to establish a focal point on the matter within the Secretariat.

BASILIO ANTONIO GUTIERREZ GARCIA (Cuba) said that, in today’s world, which was characterized by neo-liberal globalization, corporate rapaciousness and privileged consumerism, it was more important than ever to reaffirm the importance of full respect for the political, social and religious diversity of every nation. Cuba noted with concern that today’s world also witnessed “genocidal wars waged by the powers of the North in their voracious pursuit of hegemonic dominance”. That was accompanied by an escalation in human rights violations in pursuit of a so-called “war on terror”, particularly in the form of racial discrimination and religious intolerance against national, ethnic and religious minorities. All this xenophobia was amplified when it came to people of Arab origin or Muslim faith. He added that Western media continued its campaign to cast a negative image of Islam and to identify some cultures with terrorism.

In light of that disturbing reality, preserving the human race, safeguarding individual and cultural identity, and fostering a culture of peace based on peaceful coexistence was “a must”. For its part, members of the Non-Aligned Movement, including Cuba, had recently held a meeting on human rights and diversity in Iran. That meeting had adopted the Tehran Declaration and Programme of Actions, pledging to take action on a series of measures aimed at defending cultural diversity, among other issues. He hoped that the upcoming international review of the Durban Declaration on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination would provide an excellent opportunity to discuss that issue in the framework of the global struggle against racism, xenophobia and other intolerances. Finally, he called on the international community to strive to create a democratic and equitable international order, and to “vigorously oppose” the so-called “clash of civilizations” used as a pretext by those wishing to impose their will on others.

DATO’ KAMILAN MAKSOM ( Malaysia) said that differences in religions and cultures continued to be blamed for the world’s conflicts and tensions, when everyone knew well that divergent political viewpoints were to blame. When humankind’s diversity should be celebrated, zealots in some quarters were working hard to sow discord. At the same time, some societies viewed other peoples and cultures “from the perspective of their own benchmarks and philosophies”, and imposed their beliefs on others, thus contributing to acrimony and distrust among nations and peoples. He stressed that, just as religion was “taken to extremes”, so too was democracy, including freedom of speech and expression. Those principles often ignored the sensitivities of certain groups and peoples. Moreover, the oppression and ill-treatment of certain groups, such as the Palestinian people and Muslim minorities in certain parts of the world, was also contributing to the growing schism between Islam and the West.

He called on the international community to work harder to bridge the growing gap between religions and cultures. Education was one way to do that. The world’s youth should be guided towards understanding the beauty of diversity. Young people of different faiths and cultures should be brought together and “the responsible guidance of young minds” would promote a culture of respect, tolerance and understanding. Malaysia was convinced that, through the establishment of more and better youth cooperation programmes, understanding and appreciation of the values and belief systems of others would be forged.

ROSEMARY BANKS ( New Zealand) said that her country’s commitment to interfaith and intercultural dialogue was part of its wider response to helping build a more secure and peaceful world. Its involvement in such initiatives as the Alliance of Civilizations and the Asia-Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue reinforced its wider regional and global counter-terrorism and peacekeeping efforts.

In May this year, New Zealand hosted two significant gatherings in order to advance the global response to interfaith and intercultural issues in a practical way, she continued. A high-level symposium on the High-Level Group report to the Alliance of Civilizations hosted by the Prime Minister, in coordination with the Government of Norway, from 23-24 May and the third Asia-Pacific Regional Interfaith Dialogue was co-sponsored by Indonesia, Australia and the Philippines from 29-31 May. The symposium succeeded in drawing out recommendations that had particular potential and relevance for implementation in the region. New Zealand would be working with regional partners and the Alliance of Civilizations Secretariat to promote the Symposium’s outcomes and the Alliance’s implementation plan within the region. As a first step, New Zealand had recently contributed $NZ50,000 to the Alliance’s Trust Fund, earmarked for projects in South-East Asia.

Ms. Banks added that the inclusion of intrafaith discussions in the Interfaith Dialogue was a key outcome for her country, because New Zealand saw intrafaith discussions as a means to build lasting networks, particularly amongst the region’s Muslim communities, which could be a force for moderation and pluralism. New Zealand’s effort was only part of a growing national, regional and international effort to build intereligious and intercultural understanding and cooperation for peace. The country commended the important leadership which the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had continued to display in the area and welcomed the contribution of the Commonwealth’s Commission on Respect and Understanding, and other such initiatives.

PARK HEE-KWON ( Republic of Korea) said that the world today faced competition between integration and confrontation, and modern technology drove economic integration. Distances collapsed, removing mediating buffer zones between peoples of different backgrounds, with the potential to trigger cultural and social tensions. Some had protested that globalization was the imposition of Western values on non-Western parts of the world. In addition, extremism inhibited the realization of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and could undermine efforts towards peace and prosperity.

The common denominator of all cultures and religions was love and brotherhood, he said. The root causes of intercultural misunderstanding were poverty and human rights violations, combined with historical fault lines of cultural and religious differences. He said that an all-inclusive United Nations system intent on alliance-building, especially with civil society institutions such as religious groups, was essential to dissolve distrust. He supported recent initiatives in that direction. Because resources were limited, he said, attention should be focused on immigration, youth, politics and education. Initiatives should be coordinated to avoid duplication. Peacebuilding, attainment of the Millennium Development Goals and respect for human rights provided the basis for mutual understanding among the world’s peoples.

GILLES NOGHÈS ( Monaco) said that dialogue among civilizations must be recognized as a fundamental principle, as it was meant to establish and maintain tolerant and peaceful relations among peoples of different traditions, cultures or religions. “How can we not be astounded that it has taken 20 centuries […] to establish the importance of cultural diversity?” he asked. Liberties rested on the principle of tolerance. Differences must be recognized and respected, while violence condemned. Terrorism must not lead to the interruption of dialogue and tolerance.

Monaco aligned itself with the statement by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Portugal on behalf of the European Union, who cited that organization’s adoption by consensus last year of a resolution for the elimination of all forms of intolerance based on religion or conviction, as an example of engagement aimed at guaranteeing that fundamental freedom. The country also fully subscribed to the initiative launched by Spain and Turkey for the Alliance of Civilizations.

JOE R. PEMAGBI ( Sierra Leone) said civil society’s presence in the current High-Level Dialogue was a reminder that the promotion of understanding, peace and cooperation was not the exclusive prerogative of Government. The United Nations was the epitome of intercultural understanding and cooperation for peace. Despite political and other differences, Member States should try to live together in peace and practice tolerance, as written in the United Nations Charter. Tolerance was one of the seven national values of Sierra Leone and –- “in spite of its status in the international system of economic and social development” -- it enjoyed one of the highest levels of religious tolerance in the world. Muslims, Christians and animists celebrated religious and national holidays together, intermarried freely, and regularly showed respect to the prayers and traditions of others.

Religion should be used as an instrument of national development, he said, as had been done in his own country. Religious institutions had been used to establish and maintain schools and as an instrument of peace, reconciliation and national cohesion after the long rebel war. Education was also becoming a powerful tool. “Peace education” had been implemented in formal and non-formal national education programmes at grade-school and university levels. He stressed that further support was necessary in order for “peace education” to fully achieve its potential. The media was also a potent instrument for the promotion of intercultural understanding, cooperation and peace, though, regrettably, national and international media had at times “fanned the flames of intolerance” instead. “Irrespective of our professions, our national and corporate interests, we are tenants of one world,” he said. He urged the media to join the work of others in supporting the global campaign for a culture of peace and dialogue among civilizations, cultures and peoples.

ANWAR OTHMAN BAROUT SALEEM AL BAROUT ( United Arab Emirates) said that historical events had proven that some cases of aggression, occupation and violence, as well as cultural and economic dominance of developed States against the world’s developing nations, had exacerbated feelings of injustice, inequality and marginalization. Those feelings had created new forms of hostility and mistrust and a breeding ground for new security threats. The root causes of those phenomena should be contained. The growing disparities among communities should be reversed and the closeness among them enhanced, in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter and human rights covenants.

The United Arab Emirates was among the first States to support the Alliance of Civilizations, having given it $1 million, he said. His Government continued to support principles of respect for human dignity, human rights and the beliefs of all human beings without exception, according to the teachings of Islam. It had implemented a number of initiatives to strengthen cultural communication with the world. They included various conferences, workshops, contributions and campaigns, such as the $2 million Zayed Book Award, which was intended to motivate writers and intellectuals to contribute to Arab and human culture; the launch of the Sorbonne Abu Dhabi University; and a humanitarian initiative to educate 1 million children in poor areas around the world. He also stressed that the Palestinian question was the main factor behind the widening gap between Muslim and Western countries and called on the General Assembly to demand that Israel accept and facilitate the process of establishing an independent and viable Palestinian State. He also stressed the need to compel Israel to halt all measures aimed at erasing the Arab and Palestinian cultural identity in the Occupied Territory.

PRASAD KARIYAWASAM ( Sri Lanka) said the “commonality of our beliefs can unite us” and the diversity of our views and traits could enrich our knowledge, rather than serving as a cause for division or conflict. The word “tolerance” should be emphasized in its broadest possible sense, in an effort to promote common values in all religions and cultural traditions and engender respect for diversity and the other. Over its 2,500-year recorded history, Sri Lanka had remained multicultural and multireligious, and tolerance and compassion towards the other had been the key to its civilization. It was common to find Buddhist temples, Christian churches, Muslim mosques and Hindu temples in close proximity, he added.

Understanding the unity of thought and the essence of truth in all major religions that promoted similar values for the good of the human being was essential, he said. Noting the exponentially advancing technology and interconnectedness of today’s world, he said there was a tendency for predominant economic and political power to manifest itself as a force for cultural domination that overwhelmed vulnerable societies. That trend could act against understanding. Sensitivity to such phenomena and cognizance of the right of each individual, community and society to stand on its own were, therefore, essential for cooperation. Noting the recent celebration of the International Day of Non-Violence, he quoted Mahatma Gandhi, who had said: “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”

YOUCEF YOUSFI ( Algeria) questioned how the international community could counter the culture of ignorance, rampant discrimination, and racial and xenophobic political speech so prevalent in the current world. Interreligious dialogue was a fundamental part of the answer, since all religions carried common messages of peace, tolerance and salvation that could bring the world together. Regrettably, current stereotypes had painted Islam in such a way that it had become synonymous with oppression, intolerance, extremism and terrorism. In fact, he explained, Islam preached respect and the value of dialogue was enshrined in the Koran.

Geographically, Algeria was at the centre of many civilizations. As such, it had developed a global view and had historically promoted the ideals of peace and dialogue between civilizations and religions. That commitment continued today. His Government strongly supported initiatives by UNESCO and the Alliance of Civilizations to further dialogue among nations. He expressed his hope that those organizations would participate actively, effectively and courageously to work towards a lasting peace. However, dialogues on peace and intercultural cooperation would be meaningless if the international community did not simultaneously discuss and attack the social and economic development problems facing the world. Poverty, underdevelopment and the destruction of the environment affected all cultures equally. Overall, dialogue should be used as “an unchanging means to bring people closer together”. He expressed his gratitude to UNESCO, not only for its promotion of interreligious dialogue, but also for its efforts to promote education and science. Those remained the best ramparts against ignorance and conflict and the best solution for harmony and peace.

ADIYATWIDI ADIWOSO ASMADY ( Indonesia) said that intensive and extensive dialogue was an essential tool for building bridges between faiths and cultures. She encouraged intrafaith, as well as interfaith and intercultural, dialogue. Indonesia had an ancient tradition of consultation and consensus, and it was in that spirit that the country had sustained its cultural diversity without sacrificing national unity. Hence, diversity was seen as a blessing, not a disadvantage. Traditional and modern tools, such as education, could promote harmony in diversity. A good education taught children about unity and common threads, she said. To that end, Indonesia’s Ministry of Religion had been conducting courses for teachers in Islamic boarding schools on religious and cultural diversity.

Indonesia was engaged on the issue through regional organizations and bilateral relations with countries of different religious and cultural backgrounds. The Government also supported the efforts of non-governmental actors promoting interreligious harmony. As the daily intermediary between people and ideas, the media should also be involved in promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue. It was normal for human society to have elements of tension, she said. The situation called for greater investment of imagination and effort. At the national level, actions should be taken to counter extremism and promote educational reform. She hoped that the United Nations would institutionalize intercultural and interfaith initiatives, and stressed the importance of resolving international disputes, especially those involving friction between faiths.

NEBOJSA KALUDEROVIC ( Montenegro) reminded the Assembly that, on issues of interreligious and intercultural cooperation for peace, ideas alone were not sufficient. The United Nations was an excellent framework for practical and creative development of intercultural and interfaith cooperation among nations, but it required the strong involvement of civil society to be most effective. On a national level, Montenegro had been a safe haven of ethnic and religious tolerance in a region where abuses and atrocities were often committed in the name of religion. As his President had once said, “The harmony of religions and ethnic relations is the greatest treasure of Montenegro.” His Government was bound to preserve and enhance that legacy not only on a national level, but also regionally. To that end, he welcomed the Euromed Barcelona Process and the proposed 2008 European Year of Intercultural Dialogue.

He emphasized the importance of the Alliance of Civilizations as “an exceptional framework for developing national and international strategies and actions plans”. Intercultural and interreligious understanding laid the basis for cooperation in many other areas, such as the economy, industry, and political and public life. Returning to the theme which began his statement, he said the Assembly should now find concrete ways to turn the ideas of the Dialogue into action and stressed the importance of education in passing those ideas onto youth. His Government was ready to take an active role on any relevant programme, since “only by reaching out to accept the diversity can we become a real partner of the modern world”.

ABDULLAH AHMED MOHAMAD AL-MURAD ( Kuwait) said that he had chaired yesterday’s interactive panel discussion on “Best Practices in Interreligious and Intercultural Understanding”, and had been pleased with the open and frank participation of civil society actors and representatives of Member States during that informal event. He went on to say that, for years now, differences between cultures had been growing and it was time to promote global -- as well as national -- dialogue, understanding and good relations, which would in turn strengthen international peace and security. The necessary internal mechanisms must be provided to fight racism and discrimination and to promote a respect for diversity.

He said that the Gulf States had just yesterday sent out a message of peace, calling on all nations to promote dialogue and understanding. That was necessary because of the increased reports of violence against and harassment of Muslims in many parts of the world. That situation was exacerbated by the negative portrayals of Muslims that permeated Western media. Here he said that, while Kuwait supported freedom of expression, it would call for that freedom to be practiced with respect. At the same time, he said that religious leaders needed to do their part. Religion was not the cause of those problems and religious leaders needed to do more to prove that was so, he declared.

NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER ( Qatar) said that, while all religions shared a common set of human values, religious and ethnic conflicts were still on the rise. Those tensions constituted an increasing threat to sound relations between States. His Government had submitted numerous proposals to the international community on how to address religious and cultural clashes by strengthening relations between groups on three levels, namely: exposing the root causes of conflicts between peoples and cultures; educating the media on its impact when disseminating misconceptions about different cultural groups; and defusing tensions, with the aid of political and Government leaders from various cultural groups.

He said that proposals and rhetoric, however, were not enough. Qatar had already shown its commitment to turning its proposals into action by organizing an annual series of international interreligious conferences to strengthen dialogue and communication. It had also supported the establishment of the Alliance of Civilizations. His Government would continue to support national, regional and international efforts to promote dialogue and understanding among religions, cultures and peoples. He concluded with the words of the Emir of Qatar: “Pursuing dialogue would win new adherents who believe that dialogue is more effective than bickering, and that communicating is more useful than keeping one’s distance. Dialogue has become an urgent need to get rid of the burdens of yesterday and recognize the mistakes of today.”

MONA JUUL ( Norway) said the issue of religious and cultural identity was receiving more attention worldwide than ever, and represented a challenge for societies and nations. Often, more secular societies underestimated religious and cultural leaders’ roles in promoting tolerance and respect for diversity. Dialogue presented an opportunity to seize the middle ground and challenge the dominance of the extremes. In recent years, religion had been used to promote and deepen conflicts, which were really political power struggles, rather than clashes based on religious differences.

However, she said, respect for cultural and religious diversity should not be misunderstood as uncritical acceptance of all facets of religion and culture. Religion and culture could serve both good and bad purposes. It was necessary to strike the right balance between respect and criticism in dialogue. Although many spoke of an “ongoing conflict” between the Muslim and Western worlds, Norway did not believe in such a conflict, and considered that dialogue too polarized to result in fruitful discussions. The United Nations continued promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue was an important political mechanism for enhancing mutual understanding and respect for freedom of religion and cultural diversity.

JORGE SKINNER-KLÉE ( Guatemala), said that cultural diversity needed to be accepted, and promotion of tolerance and dialogue was essential. All members of the United Nations and of the human family accepted the challenge of fighting for peace and friendly relations between States. That, in turn, meant respecting fundamental freedoms, including freedom of belief. Guatemala was a very diverse country, where the role of indigenous peoples had been re-valued in the wake of a peace agreement that had ended 40 years of fratricidal war. Recognition of the role of women over the centuries had made it possible for societies to survive and thrive. Guatemala did not see tolerance as a way to institutionalized hierarchies; tolerance that promoted genuine dialogue and opened minds was to be encouraged. Such dialogue between individuals and nations was possible, if based on equality and respect.

He said that ignorance led to the worst forms of intolerance. Guatemala paid tribute to the United Nations for having provided instruments to promote universal values. Raising cultural diversity to the level of shared heritage had been a major development. Such heritage was a renewable treasure that guaranteed the survival of mankind. It was not possible in a few minutes to discuss solutions, but it was encouraging that basic standards already existed. The time to take action against ignorance was now. There needed to be a real effort to combat poverty and malnutrition, as well as prejudice and stereotypes based on religion and culture, as those were the real triggers of violence. It was fitting to celebrate an International Day of Non-Violence. Indeed, 365 days should be used to eliminate violence.

EL MOSTAFA SAHEL ( Morocco) welcomed the contents of the final report of the High Level Group of the Alliance of Civilizations. Morocco, as a member of that group, would spare no effort in contributing to ensure the success of the group’s work. The values identified by the group constituted pressing issues that needed to be achieved in order to enhance religious and cultural coexistence and peace among States. Morocco had launched several initiatives in the area, including the first universal conference involving Imams, in 2005. A second conference in 2006 had focused on the role to be played by men of religion in bringing people together. Also, Morocco suggested the elaboration of an international charter of rules for ensuring respect for holy sites.

He argued today that the dialogue of civilizations should go beyond the circumstantial, and should extend to human rights. Diversity of religious activities contributed considerably to international awareness of the importance of the contribution of dialogue to peace, including to correcting stereotypes. Despite spiritual and cultural disparities, dialogue would help to achieve the goal of peaceful coexistence.

To be Continued ...........