The High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
At the Lisbon Forum 2017
Session 3: Building Inclusive Societies
Ismailii Center, June 1-2, 2017
Ladies & Gentlemen
First of all, I am very pleased to be here for the first time at your distinguished forum. So I would like to thank Amb Antonio Gamito, Executive Director of the North-South Center of the Council of Europe for inviting me to be part of this important venue.
The 2 previous sessions on Managing Migration and Avoiding Populism are very much linked to the theme of this session : building inclusive societies.
Allow me to elaborate : The global landscape as we see it today is rather scary. It seems to be increasingly intolerant and more divided. Discrimination and violence are rising. Xenophobia and hate speech against migrants and minorities has become the new normal.
We’re witnessing a global migration, unlike anything we’ve seen in generations. This mass influx of people fleeing conflict and poverty has spawned a range of reactions, some of them extremely dangerous.
Increasingly, new migrants are seen as an economic drain and a strain on public benefits. They are perceived as unable to adapt to customs and life in receiving societies; they are associated with fears of terrorist attacks.
At the same time, an increasing number of governments are backing harsh measures targeting these migrant and refugee communities, and anti-immigrant political candidates and parties are rising in popularity.
Behind that phenomenon is fear: fear that national identities are being weakened by growing diversity; fear of the natural evolution of our modern societies towards being multi-cultural and multi-religious.
However, we must also acknowledge that many communities opened their hearts and doors to refugees and migrants and many people are speaking out against hate speech.
Given this evolving global landscape, building Inclusive Societies is and should be a key priority. It also converges with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Specifically, Sustainable Development Goal 16 calls upon us to “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels”.
Sustainable development cannot be realized without peace and security; at the same time, peace and security will be at risk without sustainable development.
Inclusive societies provide avenues for political, social and economic inclusion. They guarantee social and human rights, access to opportunities and employment. Inclusion reduces the risks of violent extremism and terrorism.
Rising disparities of wealth and opportunities within societies lead to marginalization and exclusion. Gender inequality, unemployment, and particularly youth unemployment, fuel radicalization and push people towards violent extremism.
Many years of experience have proven that heavy-handed approaches and a single-minded focus only on security measures have failed. We know that extremism and terrorism flourish when human rights are violated and aspirations for inclusion ignored. We must pay particular attention to addressing the causes of violent extremism.
Too many people, especially young people, join terrorist groups because they lack prospects and meaning in their lives. We need to make a special effort to reach out to young people and recognize their potential as partners and leaders. We need to support their dreams of a better life and a positive vision of the future. Their voices need to be heard in political processes and decision-making. Their participation is an important element in building inclusive societies that can resist the threat of violent extremism.
Building inclusive societies requires overcoming challenges in the areas of dialogue and integration, education, youth, cultural diversity, migration, media and communication. These areas are all part of the Alliance of Civilizations’ mandate.
As you are aware, The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations was initiated more than 10 years ago at a time when polarization between cultures was high. Sadly, today we find ourselves in an almost similar position with growing tensions and conflicts. The four pillars of our organization – Education, Youth, Migration, and Media – remain as relevant today as they were ten years ago.
We work to promote multiculturalism, diversity and tolerance. As a soft power tool, the Alliance was established to contribute to a more peaceful world by countering radicalization and polarization, by encouraging greater intercultural understanding and engaging in projects and programs that advance these goals.
The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations works on inclusive approaches to address all these global challenges in the context of cultural and religious diversity, including violent extremism. Promoting intercultural and interreligious dialogue is key in achieving these goals. Dialogue breeds understanding and understanding dilutes fear of the other. Just 10 days ago , I had the privilege to participate in the Madrid Conference on the Victims of Ethnic & Religious Violence in the Middle East in which there was an acknowledgment that fostering inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue is a crucial tool to fight radicalization and violent extremism.
The impact of UNAOC project activity cannot be measured solely by the number of people exposed to training, capacity building, intercultural exchange and educational programming. The real benefit is measured by the numbers of people affected by the activities of those young civil society leaders and their programs at the community, regional and national level when they go back home. By that measure, UNAOC programming has had a positive impact on hundreds of thousands of people, many young people, who have been provided positive messages of tolerance, understanding and mutual respect.
We have sought to engage youth as critical messengers who can spread the word when it comes to issues of inclusion and diversity. We recognize that instilling values in our youth is the one most lasting, most sustainable investment we as a global society can make.
The positive values we seek to impart to the youth of the world require the help and cooperation of civil society. UNAOC has acted to advance the agenda of strengthening civil society, recognizing its ability to extend the reach of official programming. All of UNAOC programming includes an element of connection to civil society.
Recognizing the role media plays in shaping perceptions, we launched the #SpreadNoHate initiative which aims at countering hate speech against cultural, religious and ethnic minorities culminating in a symposium in partnership with the EU in Brussels this past January. This is still an on-going project that is gaining a lot of traction and we hope to launch the next edition this year in the MENA region.
There are many examples that I can give of specific project activities that we do which aims at bridging cultural gaps and building more inclusive societies. But I don’t want to take much of your time.
Concluding, I trust that through our collective efforts we can build communities that are more inclusive as they recognize diversity as a source of strength and richness rather than a threat .
I thank you.