Remarks by Mr. Miguel Angel Moratinos
The High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
High-Level Meeting of UNAOC Group of Friends
8 February 2022
I am truly pleased to be convening this meeting of the UNAOC Group of Friends in person after more than two years of virtual meetings. I thank you all for your time and effort whether you are joining in person or virtually.
In preparation for this meeting, my office shared with you on Friday a provisional summary of the progress made in UNAOC activities in the period from January to December 2021 as well as highlighting the priorities in 2022.
I will be pleased to hear your comments and proposals.
As reflected in the summary, and despite the challenges we all had to deal with during the pandemic in our different capacities, UNAOC continued to deliver on its mandate in 2021 guided by UNAOC Action Plan for 2019-2023 which I presented to you in September 2019.
This would not have been possible without the substantive support of the Group of Friends membership and the commitment of our partners, as well as the dedication and hard work of the UNAOC team.
As we begin yet another year of grappling with the pandemic, we reflected on the areas where we made progress and other areas that need to be improved and enhanced.
I wish to highlight where we stand in four areas:
- mandates and initiatives
- advocacy and policy initiatives
- institutional development
First: Regarding Mandates and Initiatives
1. UNAOC continues to prioritize its engagement with faith actors and religious leaders across the faith spectrum within the framework of its mandate to advance interreligious dialogue and combat all forms of discrimination based on religion and belief. As the UN Focal Point for monitoring antisemitism and enhancing a system-wide response since 2020, I convened several online consultations with major Jewish organizations, envoys on antisemitism and relevant UN entities. Other rounds of consultations are planned in 2022 that will broaden the scope of participation and enrich the discussion before a final report is produced consolidating participants’ views. The final report will inform a results-oriented document that can provide guidance towards a coordinated and enhanced response to antisemitism anchored in human rights.
2. As the leading UN entity coordinating the implementation of the UN Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites that we elaborated in 2019 at the request of the UN Secretary-General in the aftermath of the attacks on mosques in Christchurch (New Zealand), I am pleased to inform you that we are making progress in two of the main recommendations of the Plan: the global communications campaign launched on the occasion of the high-level meeting of the Group of Friends in September 2020, and the mapping of religious sites.
The Global Communications Campaign #forSafeWorship invites people worldwide to submit short multimedia stories about their personal connections to religious sites in order to celebrate their universality as symbols of our shared humanity, history, and traditions. In 2021, the hashtag #forSafeWorship generated 7.6 million in social media reach. Through UNAOC dedicated website forsafeworship.org, we received 127 submissions, including selected stories and videos about places of worship in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
On the mapping of religious sites, in 2021, UNAOC and the United Nations Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT) started to implement a phased approach with a focus on five pilot countries in accordance with the principles of geographical balance, respect of freedom of religion, and belief and representation of different religious confessions in the respective pilot countries. The mapping will provide enhanced access to information on religious sites and contribute to raising awareness of the importance of safeguarding religious sites. I would like to take the opportunity to convey my gratitude to the Government of Argentina for their great cooperation in this project. Regarding other pilot countries, we were making good process in mapping religious sites in Burkina Faso until the recent events in the country and we look forward to having the opportunity to bring to fruition the work in progress. We are also very honored to have onboard the Governments of Morocco and Sweden and our respective teams have already initiated the work on this innovative project. For Asia and the Pacific, we have had initial and fruitful discussions with the Government of Thailand and look forward to welcoming them as a pilot country, pending further deliberations in the capital.
Meanwhile, I wish to benefit from the presence of Mr. Lars BROMLEY, Principal Analyst and Research Advisor at UNOSAT to demonstrate to you the state of the web map of religious sites in Argentina. (demo)
Another important component of the implementation of the Plan of Action is to identify opportunities to test its recommendations on prevention, preparedness, and response in the field.
In this sense, we actively working with UNOCT, UNCTED, UNICRI and INTERPOL, on the implementation of the UN Global Programme on Countering Terrorist Threats against Vulnerable Targets. In 2021, UNAOC was actively engaged in the elaboration of the modular guide on religious sites- one of the five guides produced as addenda to the UN Compendium of Good Practices on Critical Infrastructure Protection- containing tools, recommendations and good practices from around the world on the safeguard of religious sites. We are also actively involved in the consultations with confirmed and potential beneficiaries and look forward to offer any assistance, as required, as the Programme starts translating into national action plans to protect vulnerable targets.
Another important partnership that is helping us disseminate the Plan and try to test its recommendations on the ground is the ‘Strengthening the security and resilience of at-risk religious sites and communities’ project. The key target beneficiaries include religious leaders, security and facilities officers of places of worship, as well as faith groups. It is funded and supported by the European Commission and will be implemented by Enhancing Faith Institutions (EFI), Finn Church Aid (FCA), and Architects Council of Europe (ACE) in seven pilot countries in the European Union in 2021-2023. UNAOC chairs the external Advisory Board made of religious leaders that provides guidance to the implementation of the project.
3. One of UNAOC priorities is to promote mutual respect, compassion and humility through leveraging interreligious dialogue which found due recognition in the United Nations General Assembly resolutions. It is also being recognized in the United Nations Secretary-General reports covering issues that fall under the UNAOC’s scope of work across its pillars and initiatives. Notable recently adopted United Nations General Assembly resolutions include: the Follow-up to the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace and Promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation for peace; the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy: seventh review (June 2021); Promoting a culture of peace and tolerance to safeguard religious sites (January 2021). UNAOC was tasked by the UN Secretary-General as the UN focal point leading and providing substantive content in interfaith and interreligious related activities. In this context, 2021 saw an expansion of the scope of work and a significantly growing faith network.
Second: Regarding Programming activities
UNAOC continued to leverage an All-of-UN, All-of-Society approach contributing to efforts in preventing and countering violent extremism conducive to terrorism as vice-chairs with UNESCO and UNDP of the Working Group of PCVE under UNOCT chairmanship.
Such approach was mainstreamed across our pillars: Youth, Education, Media, Migration and Women.
As such, crosscutting New Projects were launched or completed within 2021.
1. In January 2021, UNAOC and UNOCT/UNCCT launched a pilot project EDIN – “Empowering Dialogue and Interfaith Networks”. The first edition focused on Christianity, Judaism and Islam. We hope that the next edition of the project would be dedicated to other faiths such as Hiduism, Sikhism, Buddism, The partners provided young religious leaders, representatives of faith-based organizations and young media makers with a peer-to-peer learning space to enhance their capacity to prevent sectarian violence and counter-terrorist narratives, using efficient communication tools and strategies to reach their community. Participants created and implemented 17 social media campaigns targeting various audiences across Europe, MENA and public at large. Their campaigns highlighted positive examples of peaceful coexistence and interfaith harmony among three Abrahamic faiths, and celebrated diversity, promoted inclusion and tolerance, addressed radicalization, hate speech, prejudices and biases, extremist views about ‘the other’ and related violence. EDIN’s 20 participants come from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon, Norway, Saudi Arabia, the UK and Ukraine. The project has been completed and we plan to showcase the work of these participants in an in-person event on 18 February 2022. You will receive the invitations soon.
2. As a partner in the United Nations Global Programme on Security of Major Sporting Events, and Promotion of Sport and Its Values as a Tool to Prevent Violent Extremism under UNOCT, UNAOC together with UNICRI and the International Centre for Sport Security ICSS is delivering on the program by mainstreaming youth perspectives in the programme. In 2021, UNAOC organized 2 youth events to collect youth’s input on P/CVE through sport, and to create a dialogue between them and P/CVE decision- and policymakers. It also provided substantial feedback on the “Guide for Policymakers for the use of Sport for the Prevention of Violent Extremism” and the “Compendium of Best Practices on integrating sports and its values as a tool to prevent violent extremism and radicalization”.
3. Another model of coordinated work with UN entities is the joint project “Intercultural Dialogue and Socio-Emotional Competencies for Peacebuilding”, a partnership with UNESCO, The Mahtma Gandi Institute for Peace, UNOCT/UNCCT. The project aims to support young people in co-designing and co-creating games that will be used as pedagogical tools for transferring, enhancing, and developing skills and competencies for intercultural dialogue and social and emotional learning to prevent violent extremism. 53 ‘Gamechangers’ from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were selected to participate.
4. Cities are hubs for diverse populations. They are charged with the complex task of providing equitably for the ever-increasing multicultural and multi-generational population that lives in them. With a focus on leveraging the role of cities and mayors, we partnered with the Mayor of the municipality of La Courneuve and completed the project “News Generation Against Hate: Empowering Local Youth to Create Alternative Narratives in the Media” project. The project empowered young people to combat misinformation, hate speech and stereotypes by promoting multiculturalism and interreligious understanding in the media.
Third: in the area of Advocacy and Policy Initiatives
In line with advancing UNAOC role in mediation of cultural and religious conflicts.
1. On mediation, we continue to identify opportunities where UNAOC mandate and expertise can be helpful to look for comprehensive and sustainable solutions, in close dialogue with the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs.
In 2021, and in the context of the Women’s Alliance for Peace- a partnership between UNAOC and Women for Africa, a Spanish non-profit organization- we have established a network of women mediators from grass-root organizations in Mali and the Central African Republic and we are currently providing them with training to strengthen their capacities as mediators.
One of the highlights of 2021 was my official trips to Azerbaijan in June 2021 and Armenia in November 2021. In both countries, I was honored to meet with the political and religious leaderships and offer my good offices to mediate for durable and lasting peace and stability.
To consolidate the mediation portfolio, we plan to open an office in Istanbul to be dedicated to Mediation in religious and cultural contexts.
2. In December 2021, the Peace4Culture initiative was launched in partnership with the Government of Azerbaijan and ICESCO. The initiative complements the process we started together in the Baku Process and the successive World Fora for Intercultural Dialogue.
3. UNAOC continues to promote and implement #OneHumanity Campaign that aims at enforcing the notion of sports as an equalizer for social inclusion, bringing people together from diverse cultures, religions, and ethnicities. A dedicated website featuring stories of solidarity, compassion, and hope from its global community of programme participants, alumni, and partners worldwide was created (solidarity.unaoc.org). In 2021, the hashtag #OneHumanity reached an estimated total of 52.9 million social impressions, generating more than 897,000 interactions. Several partnership agreements were signed with Fundación Club Atlético de Madrid, La Liga, Global Association of Sports Federations (GAISF), the International Jump Rope Union, World Dodgeball Association and International Judo Federation, spearheading the UNAOC’s “One Humanity Campaign”.
Fourth: Institutional developments
Again despite a year of challenges, we succeeded in inaugurating a UNAOC office in Geneva at the Palais des Nations on 8 November, 2021 thanks to the support of the Director-General of the UN office in Geneva, and the co-sponsors Spain and Turkey.
The number of Group of Friends increased in 2021 bringing its total membership count to 156. I welcome the newest members Andorra, Cote D’Ivoire, Cuba, and The Muslim World League.
We continued to strengthen our coordination and joint cooperation with relevant UN entities across the UN system.
The continuity of our core activities, nonetheless, does not mean that our job is done nor that it will be business as usual. I echo the UN Secretary-General’s words in January when he said the existing multilateral frameworks are not delivering on our common aspirations for peace, sustainable development, human rights and dignity for all.
As the pandemic exposed deep-seated inequalities, it was no coincidence that there is rise in racism, xenophobia and discrimination resulting in exacerbating the fragmentation of the societies. As part of the UN system, we must work to meet the challenges we face with renewed determination based on the guidance provided by Member States in General Assembly Resolutions acknowledging the role of UNAOC and in line with the vision outlined in the Secretary-General’s report on “Our Common Agenda.”
Therefore, going forward, I would like to highlight the priorities in 2022:
First, we will continue to strengthen and reinforce the prevention portfolio both within and beyond the United Nations, including through our vice-chairing of the PCVE working group within the UN Secretary-General’s Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact.
Second, we will bolster our engagement and interaction with Member States and regional organizations to maintain the momentum on multilateral cooperation. In the pipeline, there is a number of high-level conferences including The Antalya Diplomacy Forum, UNOCT’s Annual Forum of Beneficiaries of Technical Assistance in Doha and we will organize the Youth Forum to deliver on the Global Program on Security of Major Sporting Events and Use of Sports Values for the Prevention of Violent Extremism.
On 18 February we will showcase the work of the participants of the EDIN project Empowering Dialogue and Interfaith Networks. 14 participants and their trainers will be in New York for the event co-organized with UNOCT and UNCCT.
In the first quarter of 2022, we will launch the joint project with Turkish Airlines ‘Sports for Peace”.
Third, we plan to expand our geographical presence and visibility and maintain closer coordination and coherence with the wider UN offices in the field. As I mentioned earlier in my remarks, we envisage a new UNAOC office in Istanbul to be focused on Mediation in Cultural and Religious conflicts. We are in discussions with the host country and the relevant UN divisions.
It is envisioned that in the course of the next few months a number of events will be organized in Geneva taking advantage of our newly established office at the Palais des Nations.
Fourth: We are exploring the idea of convening a global conference on the UN Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites in accordance with the UN General Assembly resolution adopted in January 2021 on “promoting a culture of peace and tolerance to safeguard religious sites” invites the UNSG to convene such conference (PP4) which :
“Invites the United Nations Secretary-General to convene a global conference involving United Nations entities, Member States, political figures, religious leaders, faith-based organizations, media, civil society and other relevant stakeholders that aims to contribute to spearheading political support for specific actions to take the United Nations Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites forward;”
Fifth: Continue our active engagement with other UN entities to contribute to the Secretary-General’s priorities outlined in his report Our Common Agenda in several areas including the youth component in shaping the future, the agenda for peace, renewing trust and addressing discrimination within a renewed social contract anchored in human rights.
In conclusion, I would like to sincerely thank our donors for their trust in and support for UNAOC in particular in alphabetical order: Finland, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Thailand, as well as AEXCID, IOM, UNOCT, Accenture, BMW Group, Turkish Airlines and Tres Quarts per Cinc Quarts.
I am also very grateful to our longstanding donors the co-sponsors Turkey and Spain for their unwavering support for the Alliance over the years.
Finally, I am deeply grateful to all the membership of the Group of Friends, as well as our partners for their invaluable commitment and support.
I take this opportunity to thank UNAOC staff numbering 19 out of which 12 are women.
I thank you.