High-Level Conversation of the United Nations General Assembly
Religions for Peace
6 May 2016, Trusteeship Council Chamber, UN
Your Excellency, Mr. Mogens Lykketoft , President of the General Assembly,
Honourable Kevin Rudd, President, Asia Society Policy Institute
Your Excellency, Mr. Frank La Rue, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, UNESCO,
Your Excellency, Mr. Abdul Moiz Bokhari, Ambassador, Senior Adviser to the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me start by thanking, His Excellency Mogens Lykketoft and the Permanent mission of Kazakhstan to the United Nations for organizing this High-Level Conversation on Religions for Peace, a topic which lies at the heart of the work of the Alliance of Civilizations.
This meeting complements the High-Level Thematic Debate which I organized this past year in conjunction with the offices of the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the President of 69 th Session of the General Assembly of the UN, on “Promoting Tolerance and Reconciliation: Fostering Peaceful, Inclusive Societies and Countering Violent Extremism”.
During the debate, we provided the UN as platform for more than 19 religious leaders from several faiths around the world to make recommendations on means of providing a narrative to counter violent extremism.
I believe this was the first step on the right path. And today, I consider that this High Level Conversation is a continuum to build up on my initiative.
I would also like to express my gratitude to the distinguished panelists who join us today. You bring out the importance of the collaboration of governments and the civil society. Together we recognize that mutual respects for different faiths and cultures are the bedrock of a world at peace.
I also want to thank the representatives of the main religions who join us to today. Your presence shows your commitment to advance inter religious dialogue as a key tool to fight violent terrorism. Understanding and acceptance of differences in religious beliefs are also the foundations of long-term sustainable development. Prosperity and well-being demands that people coexist in full respect of their diversity.
The first Article of the United Nations Charter should remain our guide. It specifies that one of the main purposes of the United Nations is the promotion of human rights and freedom for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.
Now at the helm of the Alliance of Civilizations, I have strengthened my determination to build bridges between nations, societies, communities of different cultures and religions.
I strongly believe that our only hope to tackle the horrors of terrorism and the attraction of extremist groups to young people is to provide young people with an understanding of the rewards that come from the respect for differences in religions and cultures.
UNAOC has been developing projects that bring together people, especially young people, from a wide range of religious and cultural backgrounds. I want to help them to work across their differences and make them aware that to accept diversity is an asset to their future. To build on differences will bring prosperity, comfort and security to theirs and future generations. Our activities are focused around four pillars: migration, education, media and youth. I am fully aware that promoting dialogue between religions and cultures needs to be supported by concrete action plans.
The United nations Alliance of Civilizations just held its 7th Global Forum in Baku, Azerbaijan under the theme: “Living together in inclusive societies: a challenge and a goal”. The Forum was an extraordinary opportunity for various stakeholders representing Member States, the civil society, media, academia, religious and youth leaders as well as the business community to reaffirm their conviction that human rights, access to education, health, employment require inclusive societies. The Forum allowed us to review various perspectives as presented by the participants and to initiate new approaches for people to live inclusively together.
We recognized that inclusive society is the ultimate goal, however the path to that goal is riddled with challenges. Unity will arise when people understand that tolerance for the other enhances their individual freedom of religion and beliefs. Peace and social development demand inclusive societies with the participation of all regardless of gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs and cultural identity. We had intensive discussions, especially with our youth leaders on how best the Alliance could support the 2030 Agenda For Sustainable Development, in particular Goal 16 which calls for the promotion of “peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development.”
As you all know, I put great emphasis on projects dedicated to young people. Young people are the prime targets and victim of extremist rhetoric. They are attracted by messages that give them a sense of purpose and legitimacy. They drift into the clutches of terrorist organizations and cut ties with families, communities and move to countries where groups such as ISIL, Al-Qaida and Boko Haram have spread. They throw themselves in a life from which, even if they want to, they have major difficulties to extract themselves from. Some return to the countries where they were born and sacrifice themselves in the name of an ideology of hatred.
During our Forum in Baku, we had a special session where some 150 youth representatives from all over the world shared their experience and worked together to define future narratives that stress the benefits of listening and learning from the messages of different faiths, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Through a range of thematic focus groups, they learned how their differences were really superficial and how these differences could be transformed into a better understanding of different perspectives and ways to find new solutions.
The Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism presented by the Secretary-General and endorsed by the General Assembly recognizes that security-based counter-terrorism measures cannot eradicate terrorism unless preventive steps that address the roots of the problem accompany it. What drives so many young people to join extremist groups? How can we counteract the narratives of terrorist organizations?
The Plan identifies distortion and misuse of beliefs, ethnic and cultural differences as one of the drivers of violent extremism. One of the key recommendations focuses on dialogue and conflict prevention. We are full partners of the Counter-Terrorism Task Force and the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Center for the promotion of dialogue and education to combat violent terrorism.
The engagement of religious leaders is essential to counteract the messages of the leaders of terrorist groups who distort the core of religious beliefs for self-serving purposes. We need religious leaders to assert their rejection of violent doctrines and emphasize the peaceful and tolerant values inherent in their theologies. We need religious leaders to condemn the destruction by extremists of ancient sites that are the testimony of the history ancient culture sand symbols of pluralism and tolerance.
In this context, UNAOC is offering its views and perspectives on the religious and cultural aspects of conflicts, with religious leaders playing a key role as peace promoters. UNAOC has an important role to play in advancing new perspectives for humanitarian action, particularly thanks to its existing cooperation with continuously growing networks religious leaders. They are the voices of moderation and like civil society organizations, they have the knowledge, experience and power to reach communities threatened or plagued by humanitarian emergencies.
The fight against extremism and terrorism demands the concentrated efforts of all parts of the international community. Governments, international and regional organizations, the civil society, academia and religious organizations all have a role to play to fight the afflictions brought to our world by extremism.
The fear of terrorism, perpetuated in some instances by false or misleading stories in media, fosters the rise of stereotyping and stigmatization that can lead to hatred, exclusion, polarization, and xenophobia – all of which can contribute to radicalization. This is why the Alliance of Civilizations launched its new initiative No Hate Speech, to counter these narratives of hatred and mistrust. During the Forum, we included a Session on How to defeat Hate speech. As a result, a textbook on concrete recommendations on how to avoid and combat hate speech will be published in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.
Let’s not forget, that in the midst of the current worldwide violent attacks, Pope Francis has declared an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. “Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”
As a final word, I want to reiterate the commitment of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations to be part of the global partnership in the prevention of violent extremism.