Executive Briefing by
The High Representative for UNAOC
UNOG – October 16, 2017
I am very pleased to be doing this briefing today and I would like to thank Mr. Michael Moller, Director-General of the UN office in Geneva for inviting me and arranging for this meeting.
You are all aware of the idea behind creating the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations almost 12 years ago as the political initiative of the UN Secretary General, co-sponsored by the Governments of Spain and Turkey. The initiative meant to challenge Huntington’s theory about the “Clash of Civilizations” at a time where the World was already polarized, fueled by injustice and inequality that so often lead to violence and conflict that by default pose a serious threat to international peace security.
Our world is changing and so are the challenges and threats around us. The context of launching the Alliance, though, remains even more relevant than before. The challenge of addressing polarized perceptions, clashing cultures and mutual suspicions has never been more important. Fostering interreligious and intercultural dialogue between different cultures and religions and promoting respect and understanding, all these tasks must be continued.
Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue Processes becomes crucial 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. He has 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. We also count on the political support of the Group of Friends of the Alliance which has grown over the years. The Group of Friends now includes 146 Members of which are 119 UN Member States, 1 non-member state, and 26 international organizations.
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.
How did we do transform this vision into action?
UNAOC team have been working on expanding and evolving UNAOC programs portfolio. The projects we implemented so far 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. We plan to launch the second edition of the Young peace builders in the MENA region by February 2018.
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.
We are also using the digital revolution in creating the PEACEapp project, and providing workshops on enhancing digital skills to young refugees in Kenya, Jordan and Spain. Hence creating a platform for social inclusion and the prevention of identity-based conflicts by using game apps.
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 are now working on our next seminar to be organized in Egypt before the end of this year.
PLURAL+, a joint initiative of UNAOC and IOM in which an international jury select and award young people for the best videos that promote diversity and tolerance . We have introduced to this current edition a new award named “PLURAL+ Award for the Prevention of Xenophobia”. The award ceremony will be held on 7 November at the UNHQ.
Another flagship program is The Fellowship Program. The new edition kicked off last week. 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.
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“. Key religious players from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths who have been skeptical or opposed to peace in the Middle East were invited to engage in the dialogue for peace. The first meeting was successfully held in Alicante, Spain in November 2016 followed by another meeting at the UN in NY with the participation of the UN Secretary General.
We have also revamped our partnerships with existing partners such as the ONUART Foundation. I had the pleasure to see many of you at The Silk Road Concert on Saturday which we co-organized and sponsored with ONUART.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
That was in a nutshell what we did over the past 4 plus years building and improving on existing programs, while at the same time expanding and evolving our portfolio.
I hope this presentation of our current and future programs and activities shed some light on our work.
I thank you and I am ready to take any questions.