The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) was established in 2005, as the political initiative of Mr. Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General and co-sponsored by the Governments of Spain and Turkey.
A High-Level Group of experts was formed by Mr. Annan to explore the roots of polarization between societies and cultures today, and to recommend a practical programme of action to address this issue. The Report of the High-Level Group provided analysis and put forward practical recommendations that form the basis for the implementation plan of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.
On 27 February 2013, Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser assumed the position of High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations succeeding President Jorge Sampaio.
The UNAOC High Representative and Secretariat are based and operating from New York. The Alliance maintains a global network of partners including states, international and regional organizations, civil society groups, foundations, and the private sector to improve cross-cultural relations between diverse nations and communities.
In its 2006 report, the High-Level Group identified four priority areas for action: Education, Youth, Migration, Media . UNAOC project activities are fashioned around these four areas, which can play a critical role in helping to reduce cross-cultural tensions and to build bridges between communities.
Guided by the principles of the UN Charter, the report of its High-Level Group, and the priorities of the Secretary-General, the UN Alliance of Civilizations works toward a more peaceful, more socially inclusive world, by building mutual respect among peoples of different cultural and religious identities, and highlighting the will of the world’s majority to reject extremism and embrace diversity. UNAOC will seek to operate in situations where is can contribute to broader efforts to ameliorate identity based crises and promote culturally sensitive development policies.
The High-level group described UNAOC as an entity that would assist in diminishing hostility and promoting harmony among the nations. The UN Secretary-General has described it as a soft power tool for bridging divides and promoting understanding between countries or identity groups, all with a view toward preventing conflict and promoting social cohesion. UNAOC pursues its objectives through a variety of activities:
- Contacts and dialogues with stakeholders (governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental)
- Development of targeted projects
- Advocacy, including direct public statements or appearances by the High Representative or UNAOC staff
- Interventions to defuse religious and cultural tensions by mobilizing third parties that can act as forces of moderation and understanding such as religious leaders, grassroots organizations, youth leaders and women leaders.
Priorities of the High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, the High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations has, on several occasions, since he assumed office in February 2013, laid out with clarity his priorities for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. He has designated six priorities, both substantive and operational in nature. They include:
- Building on previous achievements and moving further to accomplish additional goals in the areas of Education, Youth, Migration and Media.
- Strengthening partnerships and cooperation in multilateral system.
- Adding complementary concepts and tools to the conflict prevention tool box.
- Linking relevant UNAOC project activities to the post-2015 development agenda.
- Increasing interaction of UNAOC with media, civil society and the business sector.
The High Representative added sports, music and entertainment and other forms of collective expressions of human values to UNAOC toolbox. He has repeatedly stressed that these celebrations of humanity’s noble yearnings can foster the culture of peace, and the Alliance of Civilizations should make every effort to use them to that end.
Those priorities constitute the framework of any strategic plan and are reflected in the organizational structure.
The High Representative has been explicit about his plans to operate in situations impacted by tensions based on identity issues by reaching out to religious leaders, grassroots organizations and youth groups. As such, the Alliance can use mediation as a tool of preventive diplomacy. The UN Secretary-General had reiterated in a conference in Istanbul in 2012, that the Alliance could have an important mediating role in many conflicts where culture or religion comes to play.
Additionally, the High Representative has made clear that as we approach 2015, it is essential to address inequalities as a development problem and is itself a threat to global security. He reiterated on several occasions that peace, security, human rights and development are mutually reinforcing elements; without peace there will be no chance for development. He firmly believes that building tolerance, respecting diversity and promoting co-existence is a moral obligation if we want to advance the causes of peace, human rights and development.