H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser
The High Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations
The Symposium on the Protection of Religious Minorities Worldwide
13 November 2014 – ECOSOC – UNHQ
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me start by saying that I am very pleased to convene this symposium co-organized with Pax Romana on a timely subject that addresses key issues that challenge minority communities, in particular religious minorities and States in all regions.
The rights of Minorities and the principles of non-discrimination are inherent in the UN Charter and various international treaties and declarations. Foremost among these is the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National, Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. Almost two years ago, we celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the adoption by all Member States at the General Assembly in 1992 of this essential declaration, which marked a global recognition that the rights of minorities everywhere must be respected, protected and promoted in the face of continuing violations of the rights of those belonging to certain communities.
As a major United Nations instrument that specifically addressed the special rights of minorities, the Declaration can be viewed as a point of reference for the international community. Yet, much remains to be done to make the rights stipulated in this Declaration a reality. Today, many ethnic and religious minorities continue to face discrimination, marginalization and exclusion, let alone systematic persecution in some countries that amounts to crimes against humanity.
In that respect, the United Nations is all too aware of the dangers of intolerance when it comes to minority populations. The United Nations Secretary General himself has taken up this cause saying : “The United Nations work to promote tolerance is fundamental to both conflict prevention and peace-building. Without tolerance, our work on development and good governance would achieve little”.
Allow me to remind you that in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document , which is the same world gathering that re-affirmed the role of UNAOC as a platform for dialogue, all Heads of State and Government committed to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, including their incitement , and to provide assistance to states under stress to fulfil their responsibilities towards their populations.
In that sense, UNAOC takes these facts seriously when conducting its mission since minorities are the vulnerable parties who become the subject of discrimination and xenophobia. This is where the four pillars of the Alliance of Civilizations come into play, namely Youth, Education, Media and Migration.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In today’s globalized world, multi-ethnic communities and religious pluralism weave the fabric of our diverse societies. Sadly, some myths resist reality and a majority group or a dominant religion or culture in countries around the world seek to impose their beliefs or identity on other groups who are a minority.
I see a world today grappling with a rising wave of hostility and extremism, and this poses serious threats to the establishment, promotion and advancement of the Post-2015 development Agenda; especially to the eleventh and sixteenth goals of the SDGs. I cannot stress enough the fact that peace & security and sustainable development are a “two-way relationship.”
Hostility towards the other is manifested in demonstrating intolerance and extremism that escalates to violence, and too often, to systematic persecution. The innocent victims of such criminal acts are usually the vulnerable populations including religious minorities. Sectarian violence is dividing societies, fueling violent conflicts and feeding the furnace of intolerance.
Extremists and radical ideologues misuse religion and incite hatred to foster hostility towards other minorities who embrace different beliefs or faiths. By doing so, those fundamentalists contradict the most sacred tenets of sacred faiths.
None of the faiths, all existing faiths advocates for violence or intolerance.
On the other hand, at the States level, a growing number of governments are imposing restrictions on religious beliefs and practices by minority religious groups, hence nurturing a conflict-ridden environment and enflaming sectarianism.
Wherever communities believe they face persistent discrimination, humiliation, or marginalization based on ethnic , religious or other identity markers, they are likely to assert their identity more aggressively. This is where we see those who try to enflame the feelings of resentment and collective anger.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I ask the question: What can be done? There is a lot of work ahead of us.
But let’s first agree to the notion that intolerance and violence are obstacles to peace and security in any given society and in the world where we all live.
Governments, the international community, religious and political leaders have a shared responsibility to confront and curb hostility towards minorities.
Good governance plays a vital role in including minorities in societies and protecting their rights and interests. States should contribute to the elimination of negative stereotypes against individuals on the basis of their religion or belief, in particular members of religious minorities.
Education programmes, awareness-raising campaigns, monitoring and preventing hate speech , interreligious and intercultural dialogue initiatives can help broaden horizons towards an appreciation of the real diversity and creativity of human beings in this universe.
I would like to take a moment to explain how all this relates to the work and the mission of the Alliance of Civilizations.
The Alliance is one entity in the UN that is particularly devoted to fostering inter-cultural and interreligious dialogue and promoting tolerance. We strive to achieve this goal through wide-ranging approaches to our four pillars which I mentioned earlier with the added priorities of sports, music and the arts.
Recognizing the vital role of religious leaders and faith-based organizations in promoting tolerance and curbing incitement , we at the Alliance , are now working more closely with relevant UN Departments and agencies to ensure that the voices of faith-based communities are heard when we discuss these controversial topics. We continue to work to bring more religious leaders into the mainstream of the UN’s activities around conflict resolution and mediation.
When it comes to media, the modern media is a source of information for many people.
This industry can, therefore, greatly influence public opinion and shape perceptions.
Media can be used as a propaganda machine presenting a distorted view of particular issues, thus fueling hatred and violence. It can also play a constructive role. For that reason, we have been particularly active in skill- building with training for media professionals. We had recently launched a media-friendly glossary on the coverage of migration, thus providing journalists covering migration and migrant-related culturally sensitive issues with a viable tool. By doing so, UNAOC is contributing to strengthening discussions among media professionals on ways of improving standards of reporting to avoid intolerance and hate speech towards minorities. We are now in the early stages of developing a project on monitoring Hate Speech & Incitement.
The Alliance has developed programs that ensure a diversity of voices and free quality content. We continue to create opportunities for young men and women to launch for-profit social enterprises, and empower youth by educating them on the values of tolerance, diversity and respect of the other, therefore, providing them with opportunities to be leaders of social change within their own communities. Our initiatives are based on the conviction that youth are the driving force for change, and education, formal and non-formal is the ultimate short, medium and long-term solution to secure lasting change in the future.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me conclude by re-affirming that the protection of religious minorities worldwide is an integral part of the protection of human rights. It is our collective responsibility, as international community, governments, NGOs, religious and political leaders and educational institutions to collaborate together to achieve this goal.
Thank you and I wish you fruitful discussions.