Istanbul – May 27, 2013
Honorable, Prof. Hikmat Ozdemir, President of the Fatih Sultan Mehmet University,
Honorable, Prof. Musa Duman, Rector of the University,
Honorable, Dr. Bekir Karliga, Senior Advisor to the H.E. the Prime Minister of Turkey,
Distinguished professors, and guests,
Dear students, Ladies and gentlemen,
I am most appreciative of the great honor conferred to me, to address you here at the Alliance of Civilizations Institute.
I’m pleased to address you in my new capacity as the High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.
Here in Turkey, the active country at the United Nations, I can say that your country shows a bright example of modern Muslim communities and what they can provide at the brinks of new era of International realities, with multifaceted East and West relations.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I was indeed impressed by the curricula and the various activities of the Alliance of Civilizations Institute. It stands as a symbol of hope for generations to come, to teach them and the world how to realize the benefits of diversity and co-existence.
In this regard, I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to humbly contribute to your broad intellectual message of peace, tolerance and development.
I will start by saying that the Alliance of Civilizations, interfaith dialogue, mutual understanding and also Mediation are very close concepts to my heart even before I took over the helm at the UN Alliance of Civilizations.
Early on, during my tenure as Permanent Representative of the State of Qatar, I carried forward the strategic policy of my country in fostering those concepts, at the UN, in Doha and elsewhere.
I continued to do the same as President of the UN General Assembly during its 66th session. And now, as the UN High-Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations,
I am even more aware of the tremendous responsibility that was bestowed on me.
Enhancing inter-cultural dialogue is an area I focused on during my various mandates.
Therefore, I will tackle these issues from the UN perspective and through their effect on various aspects during the 21st century.
Ladies and gentlemen,
At the outset, I would like to reaffirm the relevance of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations in these times of historical changes and unprecedented political, economic, social and cultural challenges.
The wisdom of peace loving member states led to the establishment in 2007 of the Alliance, after recommendation by a High-Level Group of 20 dignitaries.
My country hosted the second meeting of the group in February 2006.
This wisdom could defuse tensions that threatened international peace and security emanating from cultural differences.
Today, it is unfortunate that in some parts of the world we still witness growing intolerance, xenophobia, and incitement to hatred.
In some societies, culture is perceived as a source of division, instead of a path to dialogue and human solidarity.
Let me give you some sad examples.
Lately in some regions minorities became repetitively subject to atrocities or mass killings, only because they belong to different cultures.
Holy books are burned and religious symbols are defamed.
It is worse when accompanied with occupation.
The scourge of occupation cannot be accepted any more in the 21st century and it will not lead to peace.
These are not the societies we want to live in. We should respect diversity in our societies.
However there are always signs of hope that the International Community can overcome most difficult crises.
History proved that science, technology, philosophy and knowledge – all benefited greatly from the sharing of ideas among people of different cultures and backgrounds.
Yes, historical experience has shown that diversity of cultures leads to diversity of knowledge and ideas.
Currently we have entered a world in which these issues will continue to unsettle us, unless we realize the benefits of diversity. Unless we share the fruits of globalization in a just and harmonious way, between all members of the human family.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The United Nations was built on the premise that dialogue is the best path leading to peace. That cultural diversity, freedom of thought, respecting each other and our Human Rights, enhances our life.
Hence, the United Nations recognized that our world consists of different faiths and religions.
The UN always expressed its special concern over hatred and religious intolerance, and it took several initiatives to fight these scourges.
The principles of the Alliance of Civilizations are every where in International Law.
For instance, I invite you to take a look at the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, at the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, as well at the many other relevant Human Rights covenants and instruments put in place since 1948.
The Charter of the United Nations reaffirmed the importance of achieving its purposes and principles, in the context of equality and I quote “without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion”
Check for example articles: 1/3, 13/1/b, 55/c and 76/c, in the Charter.
The United Nations was built on those principles.
How to achieve this and apply those principles our current challenges, defines our task – a vital task.
Having spent a life time at the UN I can say that the principles of coexistence are enshrined in International Law, but we also need the right mechanism to do so, the philosophy of its practical implementation.
In this context, let me remind you that the principles of the culture of peace were re-affirmed at the largest gathering ever of the world leaders, which are the UN Millennium Summit in 2000 and the World Summits in 2005 and 2010.
The United Nations, through its General Assembly, Human Rights Council and bodies, have endlessly introduced Human Rights resolutions prohibiting discrimination on grounds of religion, race, xenophobia and of related intolerance.
Do you know why?
Because peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free.
Because multi-ethnic, multi-faith, multi-lingual and multi-cultural societies are to be viewed as a source of wealth for all humanity.
Therefore we need a strong Alliance of Civilizations to augment our strength for better understanding of one another, better implementation of our commitments towards achieving development.
Ignoring these facts would be inconsistent with our international promises towards our people and would endanger our survival on our planet.
World leaders need to understand that we are living during an era with unprecedented challenges and that we really need to unite.
We simply need to revert to International Law, International human rights law that protects our living in real civilized societies.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Alliance was established at a time when grave tensions rooted in cultural differences gripped our world.
This new mechanism for peace emerged as a new hope for the international community to stem the tide of intolerance and offer a perspective of hope and peace for security and development.
It is encouraging that today, the Group of Friends of the Alliance of Civilizations has reached approximately 140 Member States and 23 entities, in addition to other partners.
I am hopeful that, in the future, the membership of the Group will be universal.
The Alliance of Civilizations has contributed, through its various activities, to a clear shift in the way we need to look at diversity during the 21st century.
Through various activities in the areas of Youth, Education, Media and Migration, the AoC is helping in developing visions and strategies to disseminate the message of peace.
The impact of the Alliance can also result into real mechanism of Preventive Diplomacy.
Following the Madrid, Istanbul and Rio Forums, the fourth forum of the Alliance was held last December in my hometown of Doha.
It focused on the interconnection between diversity and development.
It is obvious that without harmony among different groups in a society, it is not possible to reach the needed stability for achieving sustainable development and real prosperity.
In this year’s forum which was held in Vienna this past February, there was clear emphasis that without responsible leadership, our ability to coexist in our small planet is at risk. I personally believe that responsible leadership can create the necessary social cohesion where every man and woman feel included. We owe to our people, to the peoples of the world to fulfill their expectations.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
The Alliance has a role in a world, where different cultures can unite us, not divide us. Remember the famous phrase “united we stand, divided we fall”.
The Alliance can serve as a bridge for a more peaceful and tolerant human family.
In that context, I laid down at the Forum in Vienna my vision and my priorities for the next few years of my tenure.
First, Building on the Previous Achievements of my predecessor and move further to additional goals through various activities in the areas of youth, education, media and migration.
Second, Strengthening partnerships and cooperation in the multilateral system because the road to success is based on the principle of partnership.
Third, adding complementary tools to our conflict resolution tool box. I can see the Alliance using mediation a soft power tool of preventive diplomacy to diffuse ethnic and religious based conflicts.
I have also added sports, music, arts and other forms of collective expressions of human values. These celebrations of humanity noble yearnings can foster the culture of peace, and the Alliance of Civilizations should make every effort to use them to that end.
Fourth, The inter-connection between diversity and development. Peace can last only where human rights are respected, because peace, security, human rights and development are interconnected and mutually reinforcing.
Fifth, Strengthening the Financing and Structure of the Alliance
Steps should be taken to improve the level and type of predictable funding.
On a similar note, the transition to new leadership creates new opportunities for restructuring the Alliance as an institution.
As I am based in New York, UNAOC will have an opportunity to build a new structural coherence.
And since the Alliance has limited financial and human resources, I intend to locate more support, from donor countries, entities and partners.
Sixth, increasing UNAOC’s interaction with Media, Civil Society, Business Sector and Academia
Throughout my tenure, I will work in close cooperation and full coordination not only with the UN system but with all Member States, as well as with the Media, the Business Sector, Academia and Civil Society.
These were my priorities for the next five years, and I was glad to receive the endorsement and support of the membership of the AoC Group of Friends while in Vienna.
Dear Colleagues and friends,
I can say there is still a long way for most of us to recognize the reality of different cultural, religious and political identities and not to allow them to be an obstacle to reaching out to one another.
As educated individuals, diplomats, academics and leaders who understand the challenges of our time, we must build bridges for Humankind that are strong enough to carry the weight of our differences.
That process requires a sense of common history and perspective. Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone should make the effort to listen to that story as part of the general narrative.
One more important aspect is that we also need to understand the impact of new Information and Communication Technologies on our societies.
I do not need to remind you. You all know how today social media can play positive role in bringing us together. However, they also may serve, if misused, as a dividing tool through spreading hatred.
I believe in the interdependence between related components to achieve peace.
Our prophet peace be upon him said “Shall I not inform you of a better act than fasting, alms, and prayers? Making peace between one another”
Abraham Lincoln said once “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make them my friends?”
How wise and intelligent examples!
Before concluding, let me sincerely thank you once again for giving me this unique opportunity to be with and to join this intellectual discussion.
My commitment to nations living together side by side, accepting and respecting others as they are, and focusing more on the common values rather than differences, has strengthened.
I will continue to work to foster interfaith dialogue, and mutual understanding.
Finally, I remind myself and remind you all that our different civilizations can be invested to enhance our peace and security for the sake of development of our one and common world, for the sake of humanity.