Remarks by Mr. Miguel Angel Moratinos
The High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
“Lessons Learnt: What challenges still to overcome”
Lisbon Forum – 2 December 2020
I am very pleased to be participating again the Lisbon Forum and I thank my friend Ambassador Manuel Montobbio and the North South Center for inviting me to address this panel.
Across the world, countries, rich and poor alike, continue to grapple with the impact of the pandemic on their economies, social structures and their lives and loverhoods. The COVID19 was a litmus test for political leaders and all other non-state actors. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the world’s vulnerabilities, divisions, falsehoods and brutal inequalities.
As the United Nations turned 75 this year, there was ample reflections on the global context back then and now. One thing for sure distinguishes both eras : The spirit of solidarity, unity and collective action that was a driving force behind the establishment of the United Nations is absent today.
Only events of such global consequence could and should generate the solidarity, resolve and vision necessary to create those governing structures.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic unraveled, there was a strong push-back on multilateralism, cultural diversity, religious pluralism and human rights. As a global human crisis, this pandemic has exposed the fragility and the fissures within our societies. It laid bare deep-rooted inequalities and fractures. Societies are divided across cultural, ethnic and religious lines. We see it in the resurgence of Neo-Nazis organizations and anti-Semitism. Manifestations of hate speech, racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, Christianophobia as well as all forms of discrimination against vulnerable communities continue, leading to a vicious circle of toxic hate and deadly violence. Youth and women were further marginalized despite their indispensable potential and valuable contribution to peace and development. Even old people and those with disabilities were not spared.
The microscopic pandemic attacked people indiscriminately regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity or gender. Paradoxically, communities have been vilified for their sheer color, ethnicity or religion. These patterns of behavior, not uncommon prior to the pandemic, often lead to fragmentation and violence. Allowing the pandemic to tear apart the The The surge in hate speech, stigma and discrimination against certain communities that sowed divisions and tore the fabric of our societies, is perhaps one of the most serious upheavals COVID19 has inflicted on our world.
The central notion here is that this global crisis is a human crisis with the human being at the epicenter of it. Crises as such, demands coordinated, inclusive and results-oriented responses based on unity and solidarity. It is a time when leaderships are tested and citizens demonstrate their empathy and resilience. The pandemic hit at a time when the world was already turning inward instead of outward. There was a reversal towards individualism and nationalism. The retreat from multilateralism was magnified under the lens of the pandemic.
Moreover, we have also seen the appalling manifestations of racist discourse against faith communities by ethnonationalist or ultra right forces pitting communities against each other within the same society.
Such global context is reminiscent of the historical context that was the springboard for launching the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations 15 years ago. Those who are not familiar with the work that the Alliance has been doing, would rightly ask how are current global challenges relevant to the work of the Alliance? Can intercultural and interreligious dialogue play a constructive role in cementing our societies again? How can pluralistic and increasingly complex societies live together peacefully and respectfully? Is it enough to save the planet, which is utterly crucial, if we do not know how to share it and live together peacefully respecting the equal rights of individuals and communities around the world to participate in their societies?
These are some of the fundamental questions that the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) has been addressing since its inception in 2005. The complex, demanding dialogue of civilizations, cultures, and religions is necessary, possible, and fruitful. Intercultural and interreligious dialogue is a critical tool against isolation, mistrust, and confrontation. It is also the most powerful vector for conflict prevention and conflict resolution. I must say, a viable tool that has been often overlooked. History has shown that dialogue is not a simple process, but that if we fail to teach and cultivate it, the situation can give way to a monologue or to mutism, which is conducive to conflict and violent extremism.
As we prepare to rebuild a better world, I firmly believe that cultural diversity and the invocation of spirituality are crucial components that should be included in our future diplomatic toolbox to complement the political dimension in conflict resolution.
UNAOC was created to serve as a coalition against extremist forces, a movement of collective will to advance mutual respect for cultures, traditions, and religious beliefs, and a platform to bridge divides and overcome prejudice, stigmatization, misperceptions, and polarization. The Alliance promotes collective action in society as a means of addressing the threats that emerge from the hostile perceptions that incite violence, overcoming cultural and social barriers, reducing tensions and improving relations between societies and communities with diverse cultural and religious backgrounds, and combatting violent extremism.
Today’s human crisis has proven beyond doubt that an All-Of-Society approach is imperative to overcome the challenges posed by COVID19. Civil Society, women and youth led organizations, community-based organizations, religious leaders and faith-based organi¬zations play a vital role. In assisting the most vulnerable populations, these networks are active in bringing economic and livelihood opportunities and adapting responses to the community context. We have long recognized that active engagement and partnership with these stakeholders is key to achieving the objectives of UNAOC. So we strengthened and expanded our network of youth-led organizations, faith actors across the faith spectrum, women leaders and civil society organizations.
We have also strengthened our efforts patricianly with youth. We work for them and with youth. Being one among those segments of the society who were adversely impacted by the pandemic due to the loss of jobs and the closure of educational institutions across the world. We are very proud of the our youth alumni whose projects we support either seed funding or mentorship workshops. These young people have been in the front lines supporting their communities during the pandemic. Continuing to nurture and empower young women and men, is imperative if we are to recover and rebuild better.
The changing nature of the global challenges we face today require global responses. One that is anchored in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and rule of law. At the same time, we need to develop and strengthen new forms of cooperation with other international and regional organizations – a networked multilateralism – as well as closer contacts with businesses, civil society and other stakeholders – an inclusive multilateralism.
Let us always remember that the first words of the United Nations Charter are “We the peoples”, and it is we the peoples of today’s world who are called upon to find ways to address our differences peacefully and respectfully and to find opportunities to live and thrive on the planet that we are rightly striving to save. Racism and all forms of discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, color or gender is an afront to the Universal Human Rights. It was, therefore, heartening for me to see the Appeal of One Humanity, Our Humanity from the North South Center of the Council of Europe. It’s another proof that the notion of “One Humanity” is gradually emerging as an cornerstone as we chart the course for rebuilding a better world. I fully support this appeal.
Optimists like myself, always see a light even in the darkest tunnels. This crisis provides an opportunity to renew our commitment to fulfilling Goal 16 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to “Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies”. Showing compassion and kindness to the most vulnerable nations and people is what makes us all human belonging to “One Humanity” despite our many cultures and identities. It is the raison d’être of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.
I thank you and I look forward to the discussions.