12 February 2014 – Trusteeship Council- UNHQ
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be with you in my capacity as High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. Our initiative has taken a leading role in promoting World Interfaith Harmony Week each year since its establishment.
I would like to thank the Committee of Religious NGOs for our partnership in organizing this event. I would like to take a moment to recognize all NGOs and their extraordinary efforts in promoting and protecting human rights across the globe.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I suppose one could see the irony in our celebration of “interfaith” and “harmony”. While we honor these ideals this week, we are surrounded by a world, ridden with conflict and turmoil. Our vision of a united human family, coexisting peacefully with our differences rather than despite them, is, an ideal concept that is yet to be fully achieved.
The harsh fact is that turmoil exists in a number of countries around the world. Steps, which have been initiated towards peace offer a hope for dialogue in several conflict regions. While the locations differ, there is a common thread connecting them.
Radical notions embodying a distorted perspective of religion often fuel acts of violence. But why? The idea that religion could be used to justify violence is a contradiction in itself.
The late, former U.S. President John F. Kennedy once declared: “Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.”
Whether you follow a certain faith, or are not practicing any at all, there is no set of beliefs that endorses violence, destruction and harm. In fact, every major religion and philosophy is based on the idea of doing unto others, as you would have them do to you.
So what does this mean for us? We must promote views that are open-minded, not restricted. We must reject intolerance and encourage a culture of acceptance and understanding. This can be done through education, communication, and restructured policies. We need to start addressing the issue of extremism as not always a question of religion, but a problem having economic, social, political and humanitarian dimensions.
The Alliance of Civilizations serves an enormously diverse globe with many different countries, religions, and cultural and social practices. It is important to remember that a group may be a minority in one place, and the “majority” in another. If we are to survive as a species we must embrace our diversity, a task that must be taken up by all elements of society including NGOs, religious leaders and other civil society groups, including business. There is no country, however powerful, that can remain an island unto itself. We are very much interconnected economically and we share common problems.
We at the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations are making our strongest efforts to help facilitate an economic, political and social context conducive to development. The foundation for growth is cooperation. In recognition of this, I am pleased to share with you UNAOC’s efforts to build a number of valuable partnerships to help catalyze the process of development.
I would like to mention several MOU’s that we have signed with various partners, including civil society, as follows:
Towards the end of last year, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Education Above All, a remarkable initiative led by Her Highness Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser of Qatar.
The UNAOC is committed to helping achieve primary level education for children worldwide. Education is an essential component of eradicating extreme poverty, a key goal for 2015’s new agenda. All children, regardless of their religion or race, should be given the basic right to a quality education.
We have also developed a partnership with the State Committee for Work with Religious Associations of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan, which supports the National Tolerance Center, is home to the Islamic, Orthodox, Catholic, Christian, Jewish and Protestant faiths. Situated in Baku, the center’s facilities have been designed for the promotion of direct dialogue among religious leaders and for holding training and workshops on interfaith tolerance for religious advocates. Our team in New York looks forward to visiting the Center very soon.
Earlier this year, the UNAOC signed an MoU with the Alliance of Civilizations Institute in Istanbul, Turkey. This is a significant event for us, as it begins a partnership with an institute that is dedicated to promoting diversity and thus initiating an interreligious dialogue among people of different faiths.
The UNAOC recently signed an MoU with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Together, the UNAOC and FAO are devoted to advance nutrition and standards of living for all people in member countries.
Our combined efforts will help improve the efficiency of production and distribution of food and agricultural products for all people, thereby expanding the world economy and protecting humankind from hunger.
I am confident that our partnerships will be valuable in achieving both primary objectives of post 2015 agenda, of combating poverty and enabling a framework supportive of sustainable development.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We at the UNAOC are making a determined effort at our own initiative to open pathways of communication and encourage idea exchanges between individuals from diverse social, political and religious backgrounds.
The Fellowship Programme, running since 2009, is an educational initiative aimed at exposing our world’s emerging leaders to religion, media, culture, politics and civil society. It is a platform for sharing knowledge and ideas, and inspiring partnerships across faiths, borders and cultures.
The UNAOC’s Summer School Programme extends the themes of interfaith and multiculturalism. It is based on the idea that people have more in common than what divides them. Individuals, when provided with the opportunity, will explore their mutual interests, thereby inspiring collaborations that would enable innovative ideas. Combining distinct perspectives is an advantage that can offer us groundbreaking strategies that address urgent issues across the world.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The UNAOC is launching a unique project this year, that will monitor hate speech in the media—particularly in relation to specific cross-cultural events both North and South of the Mediterranean. Our aim is to help media professionals heighten the standard of reporting to prevent the use of hate speech or messages of intolerance.
These are just a sampling of the activities that the UNAOC has been setting forth to help increase understanding among all peoples. Know that we are committed to furthering this cause, and will continue to look for new avenues of cooperation. I believe that this is what makes the UNAOC a dynamic mechanism for bridging the gap between people.
We applaud other organizations, institutes and individuals for sharing their passion for this cause. I would especially like to recognize His Holiness, Pope Francis. He is bringing a new perspective on social justice to the Church.
Pope Francis has also taken on the intractable problems of poverty and development, publicly condemning an “economy of exclusion”. Though the Pope is a religious figure, his influence extends beyond that of his own faith. This further enforces the reality that religion is profoundly intertwined with economic and social progress.
I am pleased to announce that I have initiated dialogue with the Vatican. I look forward to discussing the potential ways in which the UNAOC and similar initiatives can be used as tools to engage religious institutions in peace building dialogue and activity.
The UNAOC is a unique entity within the UN network, as it is the only initiative serving as means to promote understanding, reconciliation and forgiveness. We have taken the time to understand the dynamics and social processes that drive interfaith dialogue and encourage peaceful coexistence. We recognize that we must give every group—no matter its practiced faith of choice—an equal chance, an equal voice in decision-making. We can empower them.
As I mentioned before, we must all take ownership of the obligation to do good and prevent harm, which NGOs, religious authorities and social leaders are well positioned to do. However, the UNAOC has the mandate needed to facilitate reconciliation, negotiate peace and prevent the violence, genocide and senseless killings resulting from our differences—which have nonetheless proven to be so blinding.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I know that inter-faith dialogue, on any level and concerning any topic, is a delicate issue. I speak personally when I say that I truly acknowledge the sensitivity surrounding the topic of faith—and specifically, the differences between faiths. However, the coexistence of multiple religions is now the norm in our world. The truth is, we are a majority of minorities.
Though we were born to different faiths, though we may speak in separate tongues, we all live on this same earth as a part of one human family. Thus it is our duty and our right to transcend our differences and build peace across our communities. I sincerely hope that you will join me in achieving this.