Remarks by the High Representative
at the UNAOC Group of Friends High Level Meeting
21 September 2023, Conference Room 12, UN Headquarters, New York
Part I: Opening
Your Excellency, Mr. Dennis Francis, President of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly;
Your Excellency , Mr. Hakan Fidan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkiye;
Your Excellency, Mr. José Manuel Albares Bueno, Minister for Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation of the Kingdom of Spain;
Excellencies and distinguished delegates,
I warmly thank you all for joining this meeting of UNAOC Group of Friends considering the High level week which keeps us all thinly stretched. Choosing to be here, is another testament of your support of and commitment to the mission of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.
I particularly thank H.E. President Dennis Francis, President of the General Assembly for his time.
I also express my deep appreciation to the co-sponsors of UNAOC , the governments of Spain and Turkey for their consistent political and financial support.
And of course , I thank all 160 members of the Group of Friends of UNAOC who continue to support our work and provide guidance and strategic direction.
I would like to invite you to observe a moment of silence in tribute to the victims of the earthquake in the Kingdom of Morocco and the cyclone in Libya.
Our meeting today coincides with the International Day of Peace. This year’s theme is Actions for Peace: Our Ambition for the Global Goals. It is a call to action that recognizes our individual and collective responsibility to foster peace by translating words into action.
In addition, there are 2 other milestones in 2023.
This year marks the mid-point in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Peace Day embodies our shared aspiration to end conflict in all its forms and to safeguard the human rights of all people. It is a day on which the United Nations calls for a 24-hour global ceasefire.
Nevertheless, there is more to achieving peace than merely laying down arms.
Achieving sustainable and genuine peace is and should be an on-going process rather than a one-day feel good exercise.
Nonetheless, the global landscape as we see it today reminds us of difficult times that prevailed during the Cold war era, if not worse.
Geopolitical divisions are growing wider. Old and new conflicts are escalating.
Deep-rooted inequalities are fraying our societies.
Gender equality is in reverse mode and there is a global backlash against human rights in many parts of the world.
Toxic hate, xenophobia and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief including antisemitism, Islamophobia and Christinophobia are mainstreamed and spreading at a pace never seen before enabled by the fast-growing new technologies.
Neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements are gaining both strength and traction.
They have become the fastest growing security threat in many countries.
Children in schools, worshippers in places of worship and shoppers in grocery stores, continue to be targets of such despicable acts.
The degradation of our planet is alarming, however the degradation of human values should not be overlooked.
Faced with all this, we should ask ourselves what does it take to have a paradigm shift from hate and intolerance to solidarity and compassion as a way of life .
From conflicts and wars to dialogue and diplomacy.
From dehumanizing the other to respecting and protecting human dignity.
The challenges that we face can be addressed only through stronger international cooperation.
A reformed multilateralism that serves everyone.
As we are transitioning into a multipolar world. Multipolarity is not necessarily a blue print for the balance of power or a guarantee for peace.
A Multipolar world is also a complex one. One with multiple centers of power, complex alliances and shifting alliances which can lead to both opportunities and challenges.
Multipolarity requires strong global governance and effective networked multilateral institutions.
In a multiethnic, multireligious and multicultural societies, it is equally imperative to restore and revive universal humanistic values that are embedded in the UN Charter.
In the declaration on the commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations, heads of State and Government undertook to promote peace and prevent conflicts. And although peace remain an elusive promise considering the aforementioned global landscape, it is up to us as international community to muster political will and make the right choice for ourselves and for future generations:
Choose dialogue and negotiations as a pathway to a peaceful world or choose arms and coercion and live in war.
Your Excellency, Mr. Dennis Francis President Dennis Francis,
As we talk about peace. I wish to applaud your statement at the opening of the General Debate on Tuesday in which you pledged that your presidency will reflect the values of tolerance, inclusion, cooperation and unwavering respect for human dignity that Trinidad and Tobago has profoundly upheld and defended over 61 years of membership in the United Nations.
Listening to your words on Tuesday were music to my ears as they resonate with the core values that UNAOC embraces and promotes. I , therefore, look forward to collaborating with your office to see how UNAOC can support this crucial element throughout your presidency.
I wish to invite your excellency to take the floor as I know that you have to leave shortly. Later in the program before the General Discussion , I will make a short intervention of the work of UNAOC.
President Francis, the floor is yours.
Before we move to the next segment of the program , I wish to brief you on the progress made in the work of UNAOC over the past year and onwards until August 2023. My office has already shared with you a summary report of these activities. The annual report in your folders covers in details 2022.
The report presents our work to support Member States in driving the 2030 Agenda, mainstreaming gender, protecting human rights particularly freedom of religion or belief, human dignity , combating religious intolerance , advancing peaceful co-existence, and preventing and countering violent extremism as and when conducive to terrorism.
UNAOC work aligns coherently with the priorities we have underlined in the five-year action Plan 2019-2023.
There are 4 main areas :
2. Mandates and Initiatives
1. Institutional Development
a) Members of UNAOC Group of Friends are 160 members, as of 1 September 2023, I welcome the new members :Honduras, Nicaragua, Turkmenistan and TURKSOY.
b) UNAOC strengthened its collaboration with numerous United Nations agencies and entities on the issues of PVE, mediation, countering hate speech, promoting joint programming in the areas of sport for peace, youth and education, as well as human rights. UNAOC regularly liaises and coordinates its work with UNOCT/UNCCT, UN Women, UNFPA, UNESCO, IOM, DPPA, DESA, OSAPG, UN Human Rights Office and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
c) Since November 2021, the office of UNAOC at the Palais des Nations in Geneva became operational. Through presence in UNOG with a senior staff seconded by the Government of Turkeye, UNAOC maintains greater engagement and collaboration with Member States missions in Geneva and the Geneva-based United Nations entities. Several advocacy activities were convened. Next month I will convene in Geneva a meeting on Artificial Intelligence.
d) Restructuring the status of UNAOC across the UN system and strengthening its coherence within the UN architecture, I, was granted the delegated authority by the Secretary-General. The delegation of authority framework emphasizes transparency, accountability and decision-making that is closer to the point of mandate and programme delivery. By virtue of the delegation of authority, in 2022 and in 2023, I entered with the Secretary-General entered a Senior Manager’s Compact – a key performance management tool through which I communicate directly to the Secretary-General my priorities and objectives for the upcoming year and, upon the year-end, I report to him on progress made.
e) As of April 2023, a Director for UNAOC at D2-level was appointed through a 14 month competitive process.
2.Mandates and Initiatives
When asked what keeps me awake at night , I say with certainty : religious intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief. The surge in Islamophobia and antisemitism and persecution of religious Minorites is a grave concern.
It is encouraging and reassuring at the same time that UNAOC’s work in promoting interfaith and intercultural dialogue and expanding its policy, advocacy work and related programming found due recognition in the United Nations General Assembly resolutions. It is also recognized in the Secretary-General’s reports covering issues that fall under the UNAOC’s scope of work across its pillars and initiatives. As of 2023, UNAOC was a co-penholder and lead coordinator in the preparation of the Secretary-General’s report on the “Promotion of Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, Understanding and Cooperation for Peace”, to be published in Fall 2023. It has also contributed to the 2022 High-level Forum on the Culture of Peace and to the Secretary-General’s report on the threat of terrorism based on xenophobia, racism and other forms of intolerance or in the name of religion or belief (A/77/266). The UN GA Global Counter Terrorism Strategy, 8th review encouraged UNAOC to pursue initiatives that promote diversity, pluralism and tolerance.
UNAOC continued to expand the scope and network of religious leaders, faith actors and faith-based organizations, promoting interfaith and interreligious dialogue as part of its mandate. With a renewed term , UNAOC continued to co-chair the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Religion and Sustainable Development for 2020-2022. It continued to streamline the work of the Task Force and strengthen the cooperation with its Multi-Faith Advisory Council (MFAC).
On the UN Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites : we completed phase 1 of the mapping of religious sites . The first map fully completed during this phase is the map of religious sites in Sweden. It is now available online. It was launched in July 2022 and spans a total of 4,438 religious sites across 13 denominations.
Together with UNOCT, UNICRI and CTED, UNAOC developed a good practices module on protecting religious sites and places of worship from terrorist attacks. This specialized guide, available in English, Arabic, French and Russian,
As the United Nations Focal Point to monitor antisemitism and to enhance a system-wide response, my office is working on a UN Action Plan and hopefully will be completed this year.
My office continued to provide advise to the EOSG on Islamophobia. I also continued to be outspoken about the manifestations of anti-Muslim hatred and acts of Islamophobia such as the burning of the Quran.
a) The Highlight of our advocacy year in 2022 was convening our 9th Global Forum in Fez under the overarching theme “Towards an Alliance of Peace: Living Together as One Humanity”. The event was generously hosted by the Kingdom of Morocco under the leadership of His Majesty King Mohammed VI. The Global Forum held in the African continent for the first time since 2005, offered a unique opportunity to reflect on the strong cultural identity in Africa, common heritage and shared values of the entire humanity, expand the UNAOC’s presence and partnership with African stakeholders. The event brought together participants from 136 countries, including high-level officials, political leaders, multilateral organizations, civil society, religious leaders, faith-based organizations, youth leaders and media entities
b) UNAOC continues to deliver on the #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
c) As one of the entities in the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Coordination Compact and Vice chair of the Working Group on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism Conducive to Terrorism under the chairmanship of UNOCT, we continue to implement together with 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 and the Global Program on Countering Terrorist Threats Against Vulnerable Targets.