4 November 1998


Press Release
GA/9497



ASSEMBLY PROCLAIMS 2001 UNITED NATIONS YEAR OF DIALOGUE AMONG CIVILIZATIONS, EXPRESSING DETERMINATION TO FACILITATE INTERNATIONAL DISCUSSION

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Instead of Accepting 'Clash of Civilizations" International Community Should Create Bounteous Crossroad, Malaysia Says

The General Assembly this morning proclaimed the year 2001 as the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilization as it adopted, without a vote, a resolution on the subject.

By the terms of that text, the Assembly expressed its firm determination to facilitate and promote dialogue among civilizations and invited governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations to implement appropriate programmes and promote the concept of such a dialogue.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, the representative of Austria said that the United Nations was the ideal place to take forward the dialogue among civilizations. However, that dialogue must occur within the framework of the United Nations Charter and other international legal norms of universal validity, to assure peace and stability in today's world. The international community must not allow such concepts as the newly popular "clash of civilizations" theory, to become self-fulfilling prophecies. The European Union, therefore, rejected the application of the "clash" theory to international relations and political practice.

Also referring to the clash of civilizations, the representative of Malaysia said that too often the international community had seen how misunderstandings about a nation, a culture or an individual had led to mistrust, fear, prejudice, dispute and even war. Instead of accepting that international dynamics would lead civilizations to clash, the international community should strive to create a bounteous crossroad of civilization.

Introducing the draft, Mohammed Javad Zarif, Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran, said Iran's promotion of the dialogue among civilizations was based on the premise that diversity of humankind was a source of strength and not a cause for division. Dialogue among civilizations would allow the process to encompass all nations and peoples regardless of their race, colour, creed and national origin. Iran's call for dialogue stemmed from the belief that


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through better articulation of differing ideas, visions and aspirations, violence could be avoided.

The representative of Egypt said that the dialogue among nations should be based on equality of civilizations, regardless of their age, achievements, level of development, or the strength of their beliefs and ideologies. The representative of the Solomon Islands wondered, whether the talking would be done only by certain elites to the exclusion of a wider representation of society. Those decisions, he said, should not be left to the Secretariat of specialized agencies. The observer for the Organization of the Islamic Conference said that his organization was already conducting work on the dialogue among civilizations, with a meeting of the Islamic Conference working group on that subject having been held in Jeddah last June.

The representative of India said that there was a need for tolerance, for an acceptance that what was strange or foreign was not necessarily threatening or uncivilized. It would be unproductive to attempt to prescribe universal solutions based on the preferences of a segment of the world's population. The days of absolute sovereignty were over and liberalization, as well as integration, into a regional or the global economy, meant a loss of control for national governments.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Acting-President of the Assembly, Subbas Chandra Mungra (Suriname) extended to the Governments and the peoples of Central America his sympathy for the tragic loss of lives and extensive material damage inflicted by a disastrous hurricane. He also urged the international community to demonstrate its solidarity by providing assistance to the affected countries.

Representatives of Senegal, Cyprus, Syria, Japan and New Zealand also spoke in the debate this morning.

The Assembly will resume its work on Tuesday, 10 November, when it will start its consideration of the report of the Economic and Social Council and the item on the culture of peace. It will also have before it the report of the Credentials Committee.


Assembly Work Programme

The General Assembly met this morning to consider designating the year 2001 as "United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations".

The Assembly had before it a draft resolution by which it would make that designation (document A/53/L.23/Rev.1) and invite governments, the United Nations system and relevant international organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGO) to plan and implement appropriate cultural, educational and social programmes to promote the concept of dialogue among civilizations. While expressing its firm determination to facilitate and promote dialogue between nations, the Assembly would ask the Secretary-General to present a provisional report on related activities during its fifty-fourth session and a final report the following year.

The draft is sponsored by Afghanistan, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, China, Côte D'Ivoire, Cyprus, Egypt, Fiji, Greece, India, Iran, Italy, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Libya, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Spain, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Yemen.

Statements

MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran, introducing the draft, announced that Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Denmark, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom had joined the list of sponsors.

Central to Iran's initiative regarding dialogue among civilizations was the premise that diversity of humankind was a source of strength and not a cause for division, he said. The process would encompass all nations and peoples regardless of their race, colour, creed or national origin. The call for the dialogue among civilizations stemmed from the collective wisdom of man to avoid violence through better articulation of differing ideas, visions and aspirations. Such a dialogue was intellectual and cultural in essence. It postulated that the gift of diversity ought to be recognized and explored through interaction and communication. Promotion of dialogue among different cultures on the basis of tolerance and respect for diversity would result in the reduction of tensions and contribute to international peace and security.

It was imperative that each and every member of the international community took part in the process of promoting and facilitating the dialogue among civilizations, he continued. It would require the engagement of scholars, philosophers, intellectuals, artists and historians, among others. The United Nations had been built around the notion of bridging the divide between nations, to promote peace and understanding through dialogue and interaction. The proposal to designate the year 2001 as the "Year of Dialogue


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among Civilizations" sought to indicate the collective resolve of the international community to begin the new millennium with a fresh approach to global interactions and a determination to build a better tomorrow for future generations based on a new paradigm of understanding and mutual respect.

IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal) said that his country's first independent President, Leopold Sédar Senghor, had some decades ago launched the idea of a universal civilization, where ideas and knowledge would meet. It was believed that the sharing of cultures would lead to a pan-human civilization. Today, with the growing interdependence of nations, that idea was more timely than ever. A new culture of international relations was necessary, one of dialogue and solidarity. The idea of relations between nations and people, based on respect for the customs of others, led Senegal to co-sponsor the draft resolution.

The international community must accept negotiations and the reconciliation of cultures, he said. The importance of a global culture, based on what people shared, was made clear though the lessons learned from previous wars. There was not a choice between dialogue or confrontation. In recognizing the right to be different, the Organization's theme for the year 2001 would make a major contribution to the world in its struggle for peace, dialogue and solidarity.

MAGED A. ABDELAZIZ (Egypt) said the international community had to reaffirm that diversity strengthened unity. Diversity made the international community a dynamic whole based on healthy competition and positive coexistence. Dialogue among civilizations was essential to enhance the concepts of coexistence and tolerance, and reduce hatred and mistrust. If each civilization became aware of the specifics of other civilizations through a rational dialogue, doors would open to better understanding, and international peace and security would be strengthened.

In such a dialogue, there was no supremacy of one civilization over another, he said. That dialogue should depend on equality of civilizations, regardless of how long they had existed, how developed they were, how many achievements they had made, or how strong their beliefs and ideologies were. Egypt, with its multicultural civilization, had always believed in dialogue between those who belonged to the same civilization and, more importantly, between those from different civilizations. To affirm its commitment and enthusiasm to begin such dialogue, it had decided to co-sponsor the draft. That draft called on governments, the United Nations system and other relevant international organizations to plan and implement appropriate cultural, educational and social programmes to promote the concept of dialogue among civilizations.

CONSTANTINE MOUSHOUTAS (Cyprus) said the promotion of cooperation, tolerance and understanding through dialogue was not only a lofty ideal and a good policy, it was an imperative for survival. It was crucial that the bonds


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of the common destiny of mankind be strengthened. The item under consideration aimed at that lofty goal. The United Nations Charter considered dialogue as the means for harmonizing human relations and solving differences between States which were bound to arise. It furthermore placed dialogue at the highest peak of human endeavours, aimed at the effective solution to international problems.

It was time to institutionalize dialogue among peoples of different cultures and civilization, if the causes of peace and justice were to be served, he said. Also, the tendencies to portray specific religions and cultures as threats to peace and coexistence must be addressed. It was through dialogue that his Government was committed to solving the problem of Cyprus. "We strive for a peaceful solution, where the two communities can live in peace and harmony as they have done for centuries in the past", he added. Cyprus had therefore co-sponsored the draft.

HANS PETER MANZ (Austria), on behalf of the European Union and Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, said the "clash of civilizations" was a new and rather pessimistic concept to describe and define the patterns of conflict in a newly evolving, multi-polar international system. At the end of this century, those conflicts seemed to have grown in number and become more cruel and violent. The international community must not allow such theories to become self-fulfilling prophecies. The European Union, therefore, rejected the application of the "clash" theory to international relations and political practice.

He said the Union strongly supported dialogue among and within cultures and religions. That dialogue already existed in a variety of forms, and at all levels. However, it had to be strengthened to overcome errors and deficiencies of the past to peacefully settle conflicts and to remove their causes. Dialogue at the national level could best be ensured within a vibrant and participatory society based on the rule of law and a respect for human rights.

The European Union viewed the United Nations as the ideal body to motivate the kind of dialogue just mentioned, he continued. To assure peace and stability in today's world, dialogue must occur within the framework of the United Nations Charter and other international legal norms of universal validity. "We must do our utmost to avoid fragmentation of international law, international policies and cooperation under regional or cultural pretexts", he added.

RASTAM MOHD ISA (Malaysia) said that the new item calling for dialogue among civilizations should receive more attention from the international community, beyond the academic realm. Too often the international community had seen how misunderstandings of and distortions about a nation, culture or individual had led to mistrust, fear, prejudice, dispute and even war. In his


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article titled "Clash of Civilizations", published a few years ago, author Samuel Huntington hypothesized that such a clash would dominate global politics. It certainly carried a very ominous prediction. Instead of looking at such a possible clash, his delegation believed the international community should strive to create a bounteous crossroad of civilizations. The advance of multimedia technologies, the speed and ease of travel and the lightning- paced dissemination of information, had heightened awareness among civilizations and provided greater opportunity for interactions between peoples.

Civilizations were not static; they changed with time, he said. Even the values and customs of a society at a particular period of time might differ from the values of the same society during a different period. Because of the dynamic state of civilizations, dialogue was necessary. Observance of certain principles were necessary to enhance dialogue as the means to maintain peace and security, develop friendly relations among nations and people, increase international cooperation and resolve international issues and problems. First among them was the principal that the utmost respect for the welfare of society was the priority of State, society and religion. Secondly was the principle of mutual respect of each others' values, cultures, aspiration and abilities. Other vital principles included: the equality of nations large and small, powerful and weak; a commitment to build peace through international and regional security; and mutual cooperation and help, with less reliance on unilateralism.

Efforts must be made to ensure that the use of force would not be an acceptable means to resolve differences, he continued. The United Nations had a central role to play in making dialogue the accepted international norm of interaction and for bridging the gap between peoples, nations and civilizations.

KAMALESH SHARMA (India) said that there was a need for tolerance: an acceptance that what was strange or foreign was not necessarily threatening or uncivilized. It was only partially true that the world had become a global village. No corner of the globe was inaccessible but, barring the developed world, much of it remained terra incognita. The recent crisis in South-East Asia, caused in part by the sudden speculative withdrawal of foreign investments, was perhaps an indicator of how a lack of empathy between civilizations made it easy to treat other people as objects. In a globalized economy where information was money or power, civilizations must learn about each other, and learn to value one another.

His country did not subscribe to the theory that conflict was inevitable, he continued. However, it would be unproductive to prescribe universal solutions based on the experience and preferences of a segment of the world's population. The days of absolute sovereignty were over. Liberalization and the integration into a regional or the global economy, meant a loss of control for national governments. The familiar attributes of


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national identity were fading and, quite often, people defined themselves by the culture in which they had been brought up. If that sense became combatively defensive, culture could become the enemy of civilization. For that reason,in a globalized world, the need for a dialogue among civilizations was more critical than ever before.

"We have heard enough of clash of civilizations. It is time to discourse harmony of civilizations, and there is no more propitious place to do this than ... the United Nations, which we have to strive harder to transform into the nations united," he said.

FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria) said the initiative to create a world free of war and based on the peace and equality of all peoples, deserved the attention of the whole world. It stemmed from the principles of the United Nations Charter and had been given broad support. The Arab civilization was a tolerant and generous one. It drew its inspiration from other civilizations. Dialogue among civilizations would open the door to future prospects for everyone to contribute on equal footing for the well-being of all. The initiative was a call to humankind to put an end to foreign occupation. Syria extended a hand to other civilizations and cultures to build a society for tomorrow based on justice, equality and cooperation. The draft confirmed the principles of the Charter, of the pluralism of civilizations, and the importance of positive interaction among civilizations. He hoped it would be adopted by consensus.

HAROLD FRUCHTBAUM (Solomon Islands) said his delegation rejected the claim of inevitability and welcomed efforts to encourage continuous dialogue between peoples. He had no difficulty in recognizing the great civilizations of the time and in the history of humankind, but he asked what recognition was to be given to those cultures and civilizations that comprised larger ones. Another question to be asked was what was the relationship between culture and civilization.

Much thought had to be given to how the proposed "United Nations Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations" would be structured, he said. For example, who the participants in the dialogue would be, and whether the talking would only be done by certain elites to the exclusion of a wider representation of society. Such questions could not be left for resolution by the Secretariat or a specialized agency. If the year of dialogue was to be successful, the planning had to begin here and be open to all.

MOKHTAR LAMANI, Observer for the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said that history had witnessed the contribution of Islam to the world in various fields. The Islamic culture had taken from the Greek and Persian societies. Other civilizations had taken from Islam, affirming that humanity was one in time and place.


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Humanity, throughout its long history, had faced no more threatening danger than the one the international community was witnessing today in the form of genocide, ethnic conflicts and nuclear weapons proliferation. In efforts to prepare for the year 2001, a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference working group was held in Jeddah, from 23 to 25 June, to organize a symposium on dialogue among civilizations. The Conference believed the current initiative should be respected and followed-up on by the international community.

Action on Draft

YUKIO TAKASU (Japan), speaking in explanation of position, said Japan supported the draft. The international community must not resort to hostility, but engage in dialogue. His country was promoting cultural exchange in various fields. Encouragement of international cooperation through dialogue would prevent unnecessary violence and bloodshed in the future. Tolerance and respect for diversity were conducive to universal respect of human rights. The international community must confirm its common goals. Japan expressed gratitude to Iran for having taken the initiative on the issue.

Before the Assembly took action on the draft, the Acting-President of the Assembly, SUBHAS CHANDRA MUNGRA (Suriname), announced that additional co-sponsors of the text were: Belarus, Benin, Finland, France, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, and United Arab Emirates.

The Assembly then adopted, without a vote, the resolution on the dialogue among civilizations.

MICHAEL JOHN POWLES (New Zealand), explaining position following action, said that his country supported the draft. The dialogue among civilizations was an enormously important issue. The co-sponsors of the draft should be commended. Because of lack of time, his country had not joined the sponsors, but believed that the initiative had a huge potential for support of North-South relations. New Zealand would support all the initiatives aimed at the reduction of tension between the North and the South.

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