Remarks by Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser
The High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
at the UNAOC Group of Friends Meeting
19 April 2017
Ms. Kyung-wha Kang, Under Secretary-General and Senior Adviser on Policy for the UN Secretary General
Mr. Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support
Ambassador Feridun H. Sinirlioglu, Permanent Representative of Turkey to the United Nations
Ambassador Belen Alfaro Hernandez, Ambassador at Large, UNAOC Focal Point
Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is our first Group of Friends meeting in 2017 and I am very pleased to see a long list of speakers. A sign, I believe, of the importance of UNAOC and by default your support for our work.
I have decided on today’s topic: Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue Processes as a Tool for Preventing Conflict and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding due to its relevance in the context of the global challenges our world is facing today. I have particularly noted with deep respect the attention the United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Antonio Guterres is paying to the objective of conflict prevention. He has been clear in his statements that “preventing conflict and sustaining peace must be the priority of everything we do together”. He has also committed to surge in diplomacy for peace in partnership with regional organizations, mobilizing the entire range of those with influence, from religious leaders to civil society and the business community. It was actually music to my ears to listen to Mr. Guterres’ statement in Davos this past January as he stressed that the best prevention of conflict and for the other negative impacts on societies is sustainable and inclusive development where people are able to see their identities valued and feel that diversity is seen as richness rather than a threat.
During the past few years the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations has been able to make considerable progress in promoting the use of interreligious and intercultural dialogue as a vehicle for prevention. We have been doing so through a wide range of partnerships on the ground with grassroots organizations, faith-based leaders, youth, media experts, academia and the business community.
The need for the development of better relations between cultural and religious identity groups, a concept we have embraced since the publication of the High-level Group Report in 2006, is an ongoing, perhaps permanent process. Dialogue, the exchange of ideas through conversation, is a critical tool in any approach to building better relations between groups. More over, the vision of those eminent founders of the Alliance was shaped by the awareness that promoting understanding between nations and communities across cultural and religious divides were fundamental for conflict prevention.
How did we do transform this vision into action?
You may recall that back in 2015 at our High Level Ministerial meeting, I mentioned that I encouraged UNAOC team to expand and evolve UNAOC programs portfolio. The projects we implemented from 2015 to date are measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Allow me to illustrate:
Under the Youth Solidarity Fund (YSF) an on-going program, UNAOC provided grants and technical support in the past 18 months to 11 youth-led organizations working to prevent conflict and build peace in conflict affected contexts or post-conflict countries. As an example:
- In Indonesia, InDev, a youth-led organization harnesses the power of youth to contribute to peacebuilding in the post-conflict contexts. Nearly 400 youth were directly impacted by the project and over 8,000 persons were indirectly reached.
- In Nigeria, to address the increase of religious intolerance and violence targeting (IDPs) LIFE, a youth led organization trained over 60 young Muslims and Christians from different faith-based organizations to serve as Intercultural Ambassadors promoting understanding and tolerance through community events and the dissemination of educational materials. This project reached over 37,000 persons.
- In the MENA region, YaLa another NGO provides citizen journalism training to enable Palestinian, Israeli and other youth from the region to engage new media more effectively, promote positive messages of understanding and develop empathy and trust via online and face-to-face learning.
In 2016, UNAOC launched “Young Peacebuilders” a regional programme designed to support young people between the ages of 18 and 25 in gaining skills to promote diversity, peace and prevent violent conflict. As such, it responds to the recommendations outlined in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security and the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action on Preventing Violent Extremism.
The pilot edition took place in West Africa, where 20 young men and women from 11 countries participated in online modules followed by a one-week workshop in Abuja, Nigeria. In 2017 UNAOC we will launch the second edition of the Young peace builders in the MENA region.
Under the Intercultural Innovation Award (IIA), our groundbreaking public-private partnership with BMW Group we recognize and mentor civil society groups devoted to intercultural innovation, the Intercultural Innovation Award, is now in its seventh year.
I will give you 2 examples of such innovative approaches that we supported together:
- In Bosnia Herzegovina, the Post-Conflict Resource Center (PCRC), utilizes stories of rescuer behavior and moral courage to promote reconciliation among Bosnian citizens and youth. Through a partnership facilitated by UNAOC, United Nations Television distributed an episode of Ordinary Heroes to 80 broadcasters around the world, exposing PCRC’s work to more than 300 million potential viewers.
- In Mindanao, in the Philippines, KI Volunteers provides extensive training to Muslim volunteers before placing them in Christian-led organizations, creating friendships and helping to dispel negative perceptions. Since 2004, volunteers have contributed over 220,000 hours and impacted the lives of more than 700,000 people in the Philippines.
Since 2015 we re-created the PEACEapp project, by providing workshops on enhancing digital skills to young refugees in Kenya, Jordan and Algeciras in Spain. Hence creating a platform for social inclusion and the prevention of identity-based conflicts. We continue to work on developing this project in 2017, thanks to the generosity of the Government of Spain.
2017 began with a busy head start:
UNAOC has continued to develop its #SpreadNoHate initiative which we launched in December 2015. The initiative aims at countering hate speech against migrants and refugees in the media.
In that context, this past January, UNAOC and the European Union jointly organized a Symposium to address “Hate Speech against Migrants and Refugees in the Media” in January. The discussions were broadcast live and reached 13+ million Twitter accounts, with close to 30 million impressions. A full report that will include key findings and concrete recommendations is work in progress. We look forward to continuing this fruitful collaboration with the EU.
PLURAL+, a joint initiative of UNAOC and IOM, has launched its 2017 call for entry. In addition to the three International Jury awards, we have introduced to this current edition a new award named “PLURAL+ Award for the Prevention of Xenophobia”.
A new edition of the Fellowship Program will kick off in the fall of 2017. Thanks to the financial support from the Government of Germany, as well as a contribution from the Government of Spain, participants will travel across Europe, North America and the MENA region to work with a wide range of local partners, such as grassroots organizations, civil society associations, media, religious leaders, government officials, and other relevant stakeholders, on the role civil society and media can play in building more inclusive and tolerant societies. We are particularly grateful to Egypt and the League of Arab States, Morocco and Qatar for the in-kind support in the past years and we count on their continued involvement in this upcoming edition in 2017.
In addition to our programming activities, we expanded our outreach and engagement with other UN agencies and organizations. We contributed to the UNSG’s TOGETHER initiative through our collaboration with DPI. We are also members of the CTITF Working Group on Communications that aim at coordinating an ALL-of–UN strategy for communication on programs to counter terrorism and preventing violent extremism.
This brings me to the key role that religious leaders and actors can play in relation to addressing incitement to violence and radicalization, particularly in cases where political actors exploit social, cultural or religious differences for their own purposes. That being said, UNAOC strengthened its collaboration with religious leaders believing in their ability to work with political leaders to avoid the use of divisive language and provide opportunities for interfaith dialogue. We were very pleased to sponsor an Initiative by the Government of Spain “Summit of Religious Leaders for Peace in the Middle East“ in Alicante, Spain. Key players who have been skeptical or opposed to peace in the Middle East were invited to engage in the dialogue for peace. We hope that we can continue to build on the success of this meeting and capitalize on the momentum it created.
We have also revamped our partnerships with the ONUART Foundation and the OIC. And we look forward to a new partnership with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China under the Belt and Road Initiative.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
That was in a nutshell what we did over the past 4 years building and improving on existing programs, while at the same time expanding and evolving our portfolio.
I have 2 more points to bring to your attention before I conclude:
UNAOC 8th Global Forum:
As you are all aware our global forums provide a platform for dialogue among government representatives, NGOs, Young leaders, media practitioners, migration experts, businessmen and religious leaders to exchange views on global issues. That was reflected through the last UNAOC Global Forum held in Baku, Azerbaijan, under the theme “Living together in inclusive societies: a challenge and a goal” in April 2016 which resulted in the adoption of the Baku Declaration outlining the importance of intercultural and interfaith dialogue in achieving peace and preventing violent extremism (PVE).
But while hosting the UNAOC Global Forum entails investing resources, it serves as a great opportunity for the host country to demonstrate its national commitment to the agenda of promoting better understanding and respect between and within diverse societies and across cultures and religions. By hosting the Forum, the Government would extend its invaluable support to UNAOC and its mandate, and to the United Nations organization’s purpose to promote peace and security, human rights and development. In this context, we plan to have our 8th Forum by the end of 2017. The Focal Points meeting will be held on the margins of the forum. We are still in discussion with the few member states regarding the host country. The exact date and venue will be announced as soon as these consultations are concluded.
This brings me to my last point.
UNAOC’s Annual Report for 2016 has been completed. An advance version of the report has been sent to all of your Missions and Delegations prior to this meeting. The finalized copy of the report will be disseminated shortly.
For the 2016 budgetary year, actual expenditures were kept at the level of USD 3.9 Million. I am pleased that your continued support has allowed UNAOC to begin its work in 2017 and I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the following Governments that provided contributions to the UNAOC Trust Fund in 2016: Argentina, Azerbaijan, Finland, Germany, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Morocco, Oman, Portugal, Qatar, Spain, Sweden, Thailand and Turkey. The BMW Group remains our leading partner from the private sector. I also wish to recognize in-kind contributions of the Governments of Morocco and Egypt who continue to facilitate our Fellowship Program on the ground.
Our cost plan for 2017 is USD 5.033 Million, a level essentially similar to 2016. While this net increase is laudable, I remain concerned about our ability to maintain the health of the Voluntary Trust Fund.
In addition to the basic replenishment status of the Trust Fund, I encourage you to provide your donations as early in the calendar year as possible. The timing of your donations is important as cash flow issues can constrain our programming. I will, of course, continue to explore new ways of expanding the pool of donors, both for unrestricted use as well as for project activities of UNAOC.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I hope this presentation of our current and future programs and activities was useful.
We will always count on your support. Thank you.