Fifty-sixth General Assembly
43rd Meeting (PM)
ASSEMBLY PROCLAIMS AGENDA FOR DIALOGUE AMONG CIVILIZATIONS,
CULMINATION TO OBSERVANCE OF INTERNATIONAL YEAR
Action Programme Adopted after Two-Day Debate; Many
Delegates Say Need Is Highlighted by Events of 11 September 2001
Concluding its debate on efforts to encourage a dialogue among civilizations, the General Assembly this evening adopted, without a vote, a related 108-power resolution. The text proclaimed the “Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations” and contained objectives, principles and participants of the agenda and a Programme of Action.
The Assembly’s two-day debate was the culmination of the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations, aimed at nurturing a dialogue among all nations, inclusive in nature and aimed at the prevention of conflicts.
According to the Programme of Action, the dialogue was a process between and within civilizations, founded on inclusion and a collective desire to learn, to unfold shared meaning and core values and to integrate multiple perspectives through dialogue. It constituted a process for attaining such goals as inclusion, equity, equality, justice and tolerance in human interactions; promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms; and development of a better understanding of common ethical standards.
The Programme of Action invited States, the United Nations system and other international and regional organizations and civil society to consider the following as a means of promoting dialogue among civilizations: facilitating and encouraging interaction and exchange among all individuals from various societies and civilizations; promoting of mutual visits and meetings of experts in various fields from different civilizations; exchange of visits among representatives of the arts and culture and the organization of cultural festivals; sponsorship of conferences, symposiums and workshops to enhance mutual understanding, tolerance and dialogue among civilizations; planning sport competitions; and other activities.
During the two-day debate, the Assembly heard from 56 speakers on the subject, including three Heads of State and Government and ten Ministers for Foreign Affairs. During an informal segment, delegates heard from eminent persons appointed by the Secretary-General on the occasion of the Year of Dialogue among Civilizations, 2001, of which this debate was the culmination.
The representative of the United States, the host country, said this afternoon that the indiscriminate brutality of the 11 September terrorist attacks represented the antithesis of all that one could hope to achieve in a dialogue of civilizations. The greater danger confronting the world today was not that we spoke different languages, but that we did not always listen in any language. The art of hearing one another, the commitment to respond to what one was told, were the fundamental dynamics of dialogue.
Echoing other speakers, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Mozambique, Leonardo Santos Simao, said poverty led to aggravated conflicts. Poverty bred intolerance and led to the perception that some sectors of society were more advantaged than others, who were left with no hope. Peace and tolerance would remain unattainable for as long as the majority of the world’s populations went hungry.
Many representatives had welcomed new communication technologies as an opportunity for dialogue among civilizations. The representative of the United Arab Emirates said the opportunities of social and economic links provided by globalization, communications technology and the Internet during the last decade had contributed to producing a generalized culture among the younger generation who had come to prefer being associated with developed States which refrained from showing the cultural diversity of other peoples and civilizations.
In other action, the Assembly decided, on the recommendations of its General Committee in report A/56/250/Addendum 2, to allocate agenda item 169, “Administration of justice at the United Nations”, to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary). This was on the understanding that any decision requiring amending the statute of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal or relating to the establishment of a higher-level jurisdiction would be subject to the advice of the Sixth Committee (Legal).
Also on the recommendation of the General Committee, in the same report, the Assembly decided to consider the report of the Economic and Social Council(agenda item 12) as a whole in the plenary, with the understanding that the Second (Economic and Financial), Third (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) and Fifth (Administrative and Budgetary) Committees would remained seized of the chapters already referred to them for their usual consideration.
Also addressing the Assembly on the Dialogue among Civilizations this afternoon were: the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Erkki Tuomioja, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Uruguay and former President of the Assembly, Didier Opertti Badan, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, Gabriel Orellana Rojas, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, Lakshman Kadirgamar. The representatives of Tunisia, Bangladesh, Colombia, Canada, Liechtenstein, Nepal, Czech Republic, Iraq, Venezuela, Malaysia, Philippines and Cuba also spoke, as did the Permanent Observers of the Holy See, Switzerland and the International Organization of la Francophonie.
The Assembly meets tomorrow, Saturday, 10 November, at 9 a.m. to begin its general debate.
The General Assembly will continue its consideration of Dialogue among Civilizations this afternoon, and is expected to take action on draft resolution A/56.L.3 on the draft global agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations, which contains objectives, principles and participants of the agenda and a programme of action.
According to the text, dialogue among civilizations is a process between and within civilizations, founded on inclusion, and a collective desire to learn, uncover and examine assumptions, unfold shared meaning and core values and integrate multiple perspectives through dialogue.
It constitutes a process for attaining promotion of inclusion, equity, equality, justice and tolerance in human interactions; promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and enrichment of common understanding of human rights; development of a better understanding of common ethical standards and universal human values; and enhancement of respect for cultural diversity and cultural heritage.
Further to the draft, dialogue among civilizations provides important contributions to progress in promotion of confidence-building at local, national, regional and international levels; enhancing mutual understanding and knowledge among different social groups, cultures and civilizations; addressing threats to peace and security; promotion and protection of human rights; and elaboration of common ethical standards.
Participation in the dialogue, according to the draft, should be global in scope and open to all, including people from all civilizations -- intellectuals, writers, scientists, representatives of the arts, culture and the media and youth; and individuals from civil society and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) -- as instrumental partners in promoting dialogue among civilizations.
The draft contains a programme of action according to which States, the United Nations system and other international and regional organizations and civil society are invited to consider the following as a means of promoting dialogue among civilizations in all domains: facilitating and encouraging interaction and exchange among all individuals from various societies and civilizations; promoting of mutual visits and meetings of experts in various fields from different civilizations; exchange of visits among representatives of the arts and culture and the organization of cultural festivals; sponsorship of conferences, symposiums and workshops to enhance mutual understanding, tolerance and dialogue among civilizations; planning sport competitions; and other activities.
States, funding institutions, civil society organizations and the private sector are invited to mobilize the necessary resources to promote dialogue among civilizations, including by contributing to the Trust Fund established by the Secretary-General for that purpose.
The United Nations system, including the Personal Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), are invited to encourage and facilitate dialogue among civilizations and formulate ways and means to promote such dialogue in the activities of the United Nations in various fields.
The draft is sponsored by Afghanistan, Algeria, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Chad, China, Colombia, Comoros, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Denmark, Djibouti, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Nepal, Netherlands, Niger, Oman, Pakistan, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sudan, Sweden, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Viet Nam and Yemen.
JOHN D. NEGROPONTE (United States) said the indiscriminate brutality of the September 11 terrorist attacks represented the antithesis of all that one could hope to achieve in a dialogue of civilizations, if by ‘civilization’ one meant a mode of communal existence that expressed a people’s finest qualities and greatest gifts and blessings.
Attempting to don Islam’s mantle, the terrorists argued that they pursued a holy war whose premise was the non-existence of another people. But these men did not, could not, represent Islam. Instead, he said, criminal actions such as theirs reflected utter alienation and hatred –- a judgement that innocent people had no right to live, a unilateral decision to incinerate thousands of citizens of many lands and many faiths. Men and women had died –- Jews, Christians and Moslems had died – Arabs, Asians, Latin Americans, Africans and Europeans had died.
This was neither dialogue, nor was it civilization, he said, but it unquestionably added urgency to the mission in the General Assembly today. How could one harmonize differing perceptions of the world’s glorious diversity? How could one ensure that the savage impulse to negate the very existence of another people was consigned to humanity’s past? To look at these questions within the frameworks of ‘dialogue’ and ‘civilization’ captured much that was essential to this task, he said. The greater danger confronting the world today was not that we spoke different languages, but that they did not always listen in any language. The art of hearing one another, the commitment to respond to what one was told -- those were the fundamental dynamics of dialogue. And dialogue –- two-way communication –- was of supreme importance in attempting to address vast complexities of civilizations that had evolved over the course of centuries, and indeed, millennia.
Today, in the shadow of September 11, religion-based and communitarian conflicts clouded the dawn of the 21st century. Some misguided individuals believed that they could manipulate national and cultural values as if their actions took place behind a wall, but they deluded themselves if they thought their deeds were not seen and their words were not heard. In the modern globalized world, sewn together with the threads of immigration, economic interdependence and communication, no civilization –- no culture, religion or ethnicity –- could live in isolation. This provided the opportunity to have a sincere dialogue about the role that civilizations played in enriching the future of mankind.
ERKKI TUOMIOJA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, said that dialogue among civilizations was crucial for the enhancement of tolerance, mutual understanding and respect. Manifestations of intolerance rose from the fear of the unknown, which at worst led to conflicts and attacks against individuals. Open dialogue among individuals, peoples and cultures helped in bringing down barriers where they existed, or seemed to exist. For example, terrorist acts must not be linked to any particular religion or civilization. We all knew too well from history up to the very present that fanaticism, allied to any ideology or religion, could lead to blind hatred and violence. It was this kind of fanaticism and intolerance that was the common enemy.
Civilizations or cultures were not constant or immutable facts of history. They were always changing, growing, developing and adapting themselves to new times and new realities through interaction with each other. This interaction had created multi-ethnic and multi-cultural societies, rich and diverse in their heritage.
The respect for human rights did not mean that differences between cultures would vanish. On the contrary, respect for diversity and the right to enjoy one’s own culture were central elements of global ethics. The right of minorities and indigenous peoples to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion and to use their mother tongue, had to be secured, he said. In this context, it was equally important that minorities themselves respected human rights, including the human rights of women and girls. It was the responsibility of Governments to ensure that dialogue was fully inclusive.
Every individual, regardless of his or her status, must be able to participate in the dialogue. In this respect, he emphasized the importance of full and equal participation of women in all decision-making. He stressed the importance of children. Children were born without prejudices. The dialogue among civilizations must therefore begin with children.
DIDIER OPERTTI BADAN, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Uruguay, said his country fully shared the view that the dialogue always could and should prevail over discord. What united the different peoples of the world was much more essential than what divided them. From the outset, it had been clear that the initiative by the delegation of Iran would open a new and promising door for channeling a novel form of cooperation between peoples and governments.
The various actions taken kept alive the hope that significant progress was at hand, he said. He stressed the need, today more than ever, to create and strengthen ties between peoples based on knowledge, tolerance, understanding and the universal desire to promote peace and the rule of law, as well as to guarantee social, economic and political progress for all, regardless of their differences. He said the cruel experience of the United States had revealed how powerful the enemies of humanity were, how vulnerable the worlds peoples were and how vulnerable their security.
The dialogue among civilizations, he said, was an instrument with extraordinary potential to contribute to the prevention of conflicts, the suppression of rivalries and resentments and to the strengthening of brotherhood among nations. Dialogue led to understanding, mutual respect and greater understanding. It cleared up misunderstandings, eliminated prejudices and corrected errors. It was a useful tool that the United Nations should promote and develop to combat ignorance, intolerance, fundamentalist dogmatism, in any guise, and isolationism.
GABRIEL ORELLANA ROJAS, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, said his country had its roots in very ancient civilizations and its people, therefore, knew the creative potential of cultural diversity, as well as the risks of confrontation. Lessons from history had brought home the pain felt when an alien, Western culture imposed its values on an indigenous one. But, those lessons had also embraced more recent initiatives, enshrined in the peace agreement of December 1996, which sought juridical and political recognition to consolidate a multicultural, multilingual and multi-ethnic State.
The concept of a dialogue among civilizations could lead to misunderstandings, he continued. The idea of confrontation between cultures, races or religions posed a risk to the values enshrined in the United Nations Charter, particularly as a result of the 11 September events. That applied internally to many countries and also among nations. What was sought today was to extol diversity, venerate tolerance and promote dialogue, understanding and harmony. “We must be guided by the need to emphasize the many things that unite us as human beings,” he said.
That was the spirit that had led his country to subscribe to the Agreement on the Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 1995. That agreement embodied concrete undertakings in the areas of civil, political, social and economic rights. It also established joint commissions, composed of representatives of Government and indigenous organizations, which were to follow up on the commitments assumed. Moreover, the peace agreement as a whole stressed the value of human rights, tolerance, participation, democracy and development, all of which were essential components of the subject matter, he said.
Dialogue among civilizations was essential if one was to succeed in accomplishing one of the principal objectives of the United Nations: the prevention of conflicts. In addition, furthering development was a categorical imperative, since poverty and social inequality were a breeding ground for tensions and confrontation the antithesis of what the dialogue among civilizations sought to achieve.
OTHMAN JERANDI (Tunisia) said that the global community was more resolute than ever to accord the dialogue among civilizations the place it deserved due to the new context established by the terrorist attacks of 11 September. The dialogue, however, should not merely be seen as a method of counteracting terrorism, but as a means of bringing people closer together and fostering peace. Tunisia was a crossroads for many civilizations and had a rich, 3,000 year history, during which it had done much to bring peoples together. Modern Tunisia continued to promote that ideal and work towards dialogue and harmony.
His country was convinced that dialogue should be open to all and should be based upon United Nations Charter principles. All civilizations were equal. They had all contributed to humanity and none should claim superiority. Because of that, dialogue among civilizations must be used to advocate differences as a source of vitality, not division. Once the bipolar world was no longer a reality, the international community was faced with the phenomenon of globalization. It must provide opportunity for all, without imposing one cultural or economic system on the rest.
Each nation must do everything it could to improve the world, he said. The international community must shoulder its responsibilities and find just and lasting solutions to the conflicts that had been going on for so long. In particular, there should be a solution for the Palestinians, who were suffering because of the flagrant violations of their fundamental rights.
LEONARDO SANTOS SIMAO, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Mozambique stressed his Government's unequivocal condemnation of international terrorism in all its forms. It was vital that the United Nations remained central to the international efforts to combat terrorism and every threat to international peace and security. The dialogue among civilizations that was proposed for discussion today was of fundamental importance to the future of humanity.
He said his delegation believed that a meaningful search for lasting peace and prosperity in the world must be based on a permanent dialogue both within and between nations, civilizations and groups. An effective promotion of a culture of peace and tolerance should also be reflected at both the individual and national levels within our own States. In this regard, political, religious and community leaders, the media and civil society in general must take the lead. It was also essential that every individual, regardless of their culture and values, made an effort to appreciate and respect the culture and values of other human beings.
Minorities and communities within societies should be encouraged to participate in every social activity that sought to foster the sense of common belonging and should feel free to bring their individual culture and values, as an important contribution to building a harmonious and tolerant society. In this spirit, Mozambique had actively participated in several initiatives aimed at promoting dialogue under the United Nations. The efforts at promoting understanding amongst civilizations, stability and prosperity would not prevail, however, unless the root causes that continued to devastate many parts of the world, in particular Africa, were seriously addressed.
He said Mozambique strongly believed that poverty led to aggravated conflicts. It bred intolerance and led to the perception that some sectors of society were more advantaged than others, who were left with no hope. Peace and tolerance would remain unattainable for as long as the majority of the world’s populations went hungry. The fight against poverty was an essential element for fruitful dialogue between different civilizations and social groups. This was why his Government’s social and economic programme gave the highest priority to poverty alleviation.
IFTEKHAR AHMED CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said the rapid pace of globalization was bringing peoples, societies and cultures into close interaction. Information was shared at the speed of light. Money, goods, and to a lesser extent human beings, had unprecedented mobility. Values and ideas permeated geographic divides with facility. Civilizations were drawn closer to one another as never before. He was aware, though, that proximity had not always advanced understanding, nor a sharing of values. Consciousness of distinctions and recognition of differences had also bred rejection.
That process of rejection had the sad potential to cause humanity to turn its back on centuries of accomplishment. Such rejection could give rise to exclusion, intolerance and hatred. Ideas, values and practices of others could be dismissed as strange. As everyone knew well, that could lead to horrendous consequences. In a post-11 September world, one had to convert the monologue of dominance into a dialogue of accommodation. For that, it was necessary to re-acknowledge the value of dialogue among civilizations. He encouraged the General Assembly to maintain the momentum generated by the Year of Dialogue among Civilizations. He had been heartened by the many initiatives organized by a host of actors during the year and by the burgeoning signs of optimism. He looked forward to the beginning of “real dialogue and more concrete achievements.”
The adoption of the draft resolution should not and must not be an end in itself, he said. The idea was that it must create an enabling framework to institutionalize the Dialogue. States, international and regional organizations and civil society would need to work in partnership to that end. He stressed that involvement of all strata of society in the dialogue, including women, children and vulnerable groups, would be critical to its success. Overcoming exclusion and discrimination and promoting tolerance and understanding required the blessings of all.
ALFONSO VALDIVIESO (Colombia) said for more than 50 years, the United Nations had proved that without a daily dialogue between nations from various civilizations, no peace would be lasting. Only on the basis of respect and tolerance could a world be constructed in which dignity, human rights, tolerance, love, hope and peace could prevail. The United Nations had been created in the firm belief that dialogue could prevail over discord. The new threat to peace and security required that the United Nations, and its fundamental role in dialogue, be further strengthened.
Current circumstances required promotion of a dialogue based on common values, the defence of human dignity, and equality among all human beings, he said. The dialogue must be an example of peace and tolerance and a celebration of cultural and religious pluralism. That was even more important in the context of globalization. For dialogue to be effective, cultural diversity must be preserved. The Year of Dialogue among Civilizations gave an opportunity to celebrate diversity. Regional and subregional organizations should organize events promoting such dialogue. The United Nations must make promotion of the dialogue one of its basic activities.
The scheduling of conferences and seminars with the participation of civil society, governments, the United Nations and NGOs would be a valuable contribution, he said. “We must shoulder the responsibility of sowing the seeds of dialogue to harvest respect for human rights, and ensure that human endeavours are based on inclusion, not exclusion. We must overcome any exclusion and discord and intolerance so that we can move forward together towards a culture where harmony between nations, respect for diversity and solidarity will prevail,” he said.
PAUL HEINBECKER (Canada) said that tolerance, respect for diversity, adapting and accommodating change were fundamental to peaceful and prosperous coexistence, development and stability of the people. Indeed, they were part of the foundation of their safety and security. September 11 had demonstrated in a dramatic way how that safety and security could be challenged. However such challenges must not weaken international commitment to promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms
He said that for Canada, embracing diversity within a framework of democratic values and respect for human rights was the source of economic and social vitality. As a bilingual and multicultural society, Canada viewed its diversity as a fundamental characteristic of its identity and one of its greatest assets. As respect for identity, as well as recognition and promotion of diversity, built bridges among peoples, communities and nations, Canada encouraged similar action at the international level and would participate in it. For example, Canada had strongly supported the UNESCO initiative, which had recently resulted in the unanimous approval of the UNESCO Declaration of Cultural Diversity.
For dialogue to successfully contribute to understanding between people of different backgrounds and cultures, it must include a broad range of participants. Effective participation of women and girls was an essential part of any meaningful dialogue. Canada also looked to the vitality and creativity of children and youth in promoting cross-cultural understanding and tolerance.
True dialogue was only possible when freedoms of expression and association, thought, conscience and belief were respected, he said. To be sustainable, the dialogue must develop effective tools for promoting and protecting human rights. Education was a key tool in the fight to eradicate racism and other forms of discrimination and intolerance. Steps must be taken to avoid reinforcing the negative stereotypes or promoting intolerance among youth. The peoples of the United Nations must recommit themselves to open and meaningful dialogue to ensure tolerance and respect for diversity and to realize their shared values of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein) said that some commentators had interpreted the events of September 11, and the developments thereafter, as a clash of civilizations. Those who had pronounced the advent of such a clash as inevitable were wrong. Terrorism was neither an expression of or, for that matter, confined to any particular civilization. Rather, it was a scourge that existed worldwide and indeed constituted the denial and destruction of civilizations.
He said the international year of Dialogue among Civilizations was coming to an end shortly, but it was of course meant to galvanize an ongoing process to whose success all had a unique opportunity to contribute. Such a dialogue must be fully inclusive and participatory –- it was not to be held among Governments, but among peoples. However, governments were obliged to create the conditions under which a dialogue could take place. Developments in the field of information and communications technology provided the opportunity to engage with other people all around the world, but it was confined of course, to those with access to those technologies. Bridging the digital divide must thus form a part of efforts to launch the dialogue.
A genuine dialogue, based on both speaking and listening, on giving and taking, required more curiosity, openness, and a willingness to learn and to share. He agreed with those who said that diversity was an opportunity, not a threat. It was important therefore to develop and spread the understanding that diversity was an expression of neither inferiority nor of superiority. If such an understanding were the only result of the process of dialogue among civilizations, he would consider this a great achievement in itself.
ABDULAZIZ BIN NASSER AL-SHAMSI (United Arab Emirates) said that although this was the Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations, the enemies of dialogue had rushed to abort the idea of a constructive human gathering by escalating organized terrorism against innocent people. Their anger was embodied in the attacks of 11 September, or in State terrorism based on occupation, racial discrimination and religious and ethnic extremism, such as that which the Palestinian people witnessed daily in its occupied territories. The insecurities resulting from those kinds of terrorism had given the current dialogue an urgent importance.
The terrorist acts and ethnic cleansing practices witnessed in many areas of the world proved that their perpetrators did not belong to one nationality, religion or race. His country was therefore greatly concerned by the continued prejudiced campaigns of discrimination, hatred and distortion that many Zionist and Western media engaged in to connect the Arabs and Muslims to acts of terrorism. He called on Western States to reexamine their prejudiced policies with regard to the States of the Arab and Islamic worlds. He also called on them to adopt measures to confront the hostile, provocative and discriminating practices committed daily against the people of those States.
The benefits of the social and economic links provided by globalization, communications technology and the Internet during the last decade had regrettably contributed to producing a generalized culture among the younger generation. Young people had come to prefer being associated with the tools and languages of the developed States. It was thus important to ensure that the developed States did not control those tools, but worked to ensure that they were invested with diversity and multiculturalism. His country supported proposals to enhance the mechanisms of a comprehensive dialogue based on understanding and realizing the problems, concerns and aims of other peoples -- without objecting to their national rights, enslaving them, or interfering in their internal affairs.
S.B.SHRESTHA (Nepal) said the catastrophic terrorist attacks on the United States had made the United Nations the focal point for attention and confidence. The casualties from so many countries and the financial loss affecting the entire world had pricked the conscience of the civilized world. Nepal would support all decisions taken by the world body to fight terrorism on a global scale in a sustained, continuous and coordinated effort, until the terrorist threat was eradicated from every part of the world. However, not all were equally prepared to create an atmosphere where peace reigned for the prosperity of mankind. The weapon of dialogue between all civilized nations must erase the gap.
He said Nepal’s 1991 constitution had been the outcome of a dialogue among the country’s major political forces. Born of national consensus, it had provided a "sprawling umbrella" for people of different races, castes, creeds and ethnicities. In recent years, however, insurgents concentrated in remote mountain regions and branded as Maoists had displayed their ascendancy through violence. Rather than likewise resorting to violence, Nepal had asked for dialogue to resolve the issue without destroying the fundamentals of the constitution. The rounds of talks were going on.
In any form or in any circumstances, he went on, terrorism could never be justified. Yet terrorists gained easy access to fuel the frustrations of people who were socially and economically deprived. A restructured socio-economic order, with the promise of a proper perspective on human civilization was called for, with Governments as catalysts in the form of either guardian, facilitator or regulator according to a society’s circumstances.
All great religions had the common ground of promoting the good of mankind through service to others. The occasional distortions of self-proclaimed prophets caused conflict among adherents of different religions. Confrontation led to further confrontation. The key to breaking out of it was a process of dialogue that opened the gates of understanding between viewpoints.
JAN KARA (Czech Republic) said that there was little doubt about the substance and relevance of the current discussion. Indeed, the dialogue between representatives of various cultures, ethnic groups, religious or societal models in the globalized world seemed to be more important with every new challenge that arose. His delegation therefore expressed its deep appreciation to the Islamic Republic of Iran and all those who had helped to start the process. He was convinced of the power of dialogue -- through emphasizing common values -– to help prevent conflicts and problems in the world.
Since the Czech Republic had aligned itself with the statement presented this morning on behalf of the European Union, he confined himself to mentioning the series of conferences named Forum 2000, organized every year since 1997 under the auspices of Vaclav Havel, and bringing together eminent personalities with different cultural, religious or ethnic backgrounds with the aim of looking for both visionary and practical solutions for the world. The outcome of the last of those conferences, the Prague Declaration of October 17 2001, had been made available to all delegations as document A/56/498.
It was very encouraging, he continued, to see the growing list of activities within the framework of today’s agenda item -– at global, regional, national and intra-national levels. He hoped that the current debate and subsequent adoption of the Global Agenda would lay a solid foundation for continuing and enhancing the dialogue.
AKILA ALHASHIMI (Iraq) said that today the General Assembly was discussing a topic that might provide a glimmer of hope in a world that currently suffered from indescribable terror and suffering. In some countries, women and children were living in fear if they managed to escape rockets, they still faced death at any given moment of the day. Others faced poverty and social injustice. That seemed contradictory to the idea of dialogue among civilizations. The human race must be spared that kind of suffering. There was nothing worse than hegemonic countries attempting to impose their specific life pattern on other cultures and traditions. The historic heritage of Iraq, 5,000 years old, was one of compassion and the inevitability of dialogue among civilizations.
She stressed that human civilization was the real expression of human particularity. There was no superior or inferior civilization, each civilization enriched another. In order for there to be a dialogue among civilizations, it needed to be based on some basic principles. The respect for fundamental human rights could not be ignored in that connection. Tolerance and respect for religious values was also essential, as was the creation of a democratic international economic order. It was unacceptable that the international economic order was used only to benefit super Powers.
With regard to justice in international relations, she pointed out that no wealthy person could live a secure life in the midst of a hungry society, particularly when the wealth had been achieved at the expense of others. She noted that a great number of activities had been undertaken by the United Nations concerning the dialogue among civilizations. The world, however needed the United Nations to double that effort and deal with recently surfacing trends of intolerance and prejudice. She looked forward to the United Nations voicing concepts of civilizations, provided that work respected the cultural diversity within international relations.
MILOS ALCALAY (Venezuela) said that today, when the very concept of dialogue was threatened by unjustifiable actions, celebration of the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations was more important than ever. Without such a dialogue, no peace could be lasting and no prosperity could be secure. Beyond ethnic, religious or cultural differences, we shared our essence as human beings.
More than 500 years ago the course of history had changed with the clash of two worlds, he continued. Latin America had retained its various mixtures of cultures and races, which, far from being static, had taken on a dynamic that remained fragile. In accordance with the United Nations decision for the year 2001 to be a year of dialogue, at the beginning of the year the Government of Venezuela began to address the idea of a dialogue among civilizations with certain activities, among them a meeting in Caracas from 13 to 16 November to promote ongoing reflection throughout the region, along the lines of what was occurring here today.
He said the international community had to reclaim cultural diversity as a way to deal with the risk of homogenization, which was inherent in globalization. Globalization prompted an increase in interpersonal relations and greater interaction, which could yield great benefits. It was a process of not only relating to economic, financial and technical areas, but taking on a cultural dimension. The global community needed to preserve and respect the cultural and intellectual diversities of the world’s peoples.
HASMY AGAM (Malaysia) said the current debate was timely indeed in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent equation of terrorism with a particular group of people or religion. That was indeed very unfortunate, and he was therefore profoundly grateful to President Bush and other Western leaders, in rejecting very categorically the identification of Islam and Muslims with terrorism. Clearly, the heinous acts carried out in September by people who were identified as Muslims had tarnished the good name of that great world religion. Islam had been “hijacked” by a group of desperate and misguided people in pursuit of their own political and personal agendas. Some years ago, a Western scholar, Samuel Huntington, had alarmed the world when he suggested that it was heading towards a “clash of civilizations”. Whatever his motives for making that prediction, Huntington himself had said in a recent interview that he would not wish to see the fulfillment of that prophecy. He had called for a constructive dialogue between the West and Islamic world.
It was a sad commentary on human affairs that in spite of the advances made in science and technology, humankind remained a prisoner of the ancient prejudices and suspicions of our ancestors, as evidenced by the stereotyping of other peoples, religions and cultures simply because of differences in skin colour, facial features, customs and religions.
To a large extent, the failure to recognize the importance of constructive dialogue and interaction among peoples had led to the eruption of ethnic or religions conflicts in countries that had seemingly been united and cohesive for decades. As a multiracial and multi-ethnic nation, Malaysia was fully conscious of the inherent risks of rupture in the social fabric. Fortunately, drawing from the lessons of the past, Malaysia had been able to forge a united nation out of its diversity, through policies that propagated tolerance and understanding among people of diverse ethnicity, cultures and religions. Together, those groups had been able to harness their combined strength for economic upliftment and nation-building, while not forgetting their spiritual background. Since then, the Government had made great efforts to ensure that racial and religious harmony existed in the country, beginning at the school level. He believed that through the policies of its Government, his country would continue to be a nation that lived up to the concept of unity in diversity.
ENRIQUE A. MANALO (Philippines) said that his country had had its share of adversity and had resorted to dialogue as a means of breaking geographic, cultural and social barriers. His government had launched programmes and projects formulated through constructive dialogues to enhance understanding and mutual esteem among its people of varying ethnicity, culture and language. Those programmes had improved appreciation of the values, symbols, meanings and expressions of those different cultures and helped sustain cooperation and respect within communities. A similar process was needed at the global level.
The United Nations continued to be the bedrock upon which the dialogue among civilizations should take place, he said. It had the potential to demonstrate how dialogue could bring together, rather than polarize communities. Some had noted that since the 11 September attacks the world faced a more uncertain future. That need not necessarily be true. The temptation for exclusionism and mistrust, however, remained strong. That temptation must be resisted, by working vigorously to heal real and perceived differences.
The “us” versus “them” syndrome must be eschewed, he said, as must the stereotyping of people and cultures. Drawing from a pool of different cultures and civilizations, the world community was bound together by the urgent need to address its shared burdens -- the deprivation and indignity of poverty, the vast pockets of underdevelopment, the degradation of the environment, the existence of terrorism and conflict and the silent cry of the victims of famine and disease. Now was not the time to falter in working constructively through dialogue. The various peoples of the world might hold different beliefs, and traditions, but they remained part of the same global village.
LAKSHMAN KADIRGAMAR, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka, said that throughout the history of mankind, religion had divided man. Religion had put man against man. Religion had led to the most abominable crimes committed in the long history of warfare. It had led to intolerance, bigotry, ignorance and superstition. And yet, religion should be the great underlying force in the lives of men. The search for truth should be illuminated by the teachings of the great religions of the world, and so it would be if religion, the religions of other peoples, were approached with an open mind and an attitude of respect. In Sri Lanka four of the great religions -– Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity -– co-existed, and had co-existed for many centuries, in constructive harmony.
It was, therefore, with confidence that Sri Lanka had proposed in 1998 that the Day of Vesak –- the day on which Gauthama, the Buddha, was born, achieved enlightenment and passed away -– to be declared a day of observance of the United Nations system. The resolution to that end was moved by Sri Lanka and co-sponsored by 34 other States. Thus, the international community had united to honour the name and the teachings of one of the great spiritual leaders of mankind. He stressed the importance of religion in the dialogue among civilizations, since religion underpinned all civilizations from time immemorial. The United Nations, must bring to the peoples of the world a greater awareness of the similarities in the teachings world’s great religions.
For most people unfortunately, faith in their own religion seemed to kill even interest in other religions. The followers of each religion felt called upon to make their religion an article of export. They would drive all souls into the same spiritual enclosure, which would result in a great loss to humanity. It was spiritual vandalism to drag into the dust what was precious to the soul of a people. If the great religions continued to waste their energies in fratricidal war, instead of looking upon themselves as friendly partners in the supreme task of nourishing the spiritual life of mankind, the swift advance of secular humanism and moral materialism was assured.
He said that, owing to a cross-fertilization of ideas and insights, behind which lay centuries of racial and cultural tradition and earnest endeavour, a great unification was taking place in the deeper fabric of men’s thoughts. Man was slowly realizing that believers with different opinions and convictions were necessary to each other, to work out the larger synthesis that alone could give a spiritual basis to a world brought together by man’s mechanical ingenuity.
ABELARDO MORENO, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, said the Millennium had begun with the celebration of the Year of Dialogue among Civilizations, an excellent initiative owed to President Khatami of Iran. It was also the year of the barbarous terrorist attacks of 11 September, and the year where civilians of one of the poorest nations, affected by violence over the past 20 years, were subjected to intense aerial bombing. There had never been a greater need for a true dialogue among civilizations that could promote understanding, tolerance, coexistence and international cooperation. International reality, however, showed that those who claimed global power and wealth, particularly the hegemonistic power, did not have the political will to promote real equal opportunity and real justice for all human beings of all nations, ethnicities, cultures and religions.
He said real possibilities for the underdeveloped countries became more and more unattainable. How could there be an effective participation when poverty and hunger were spreading, when millions of inhabitants of underdeveloped countries were dying from diseases that could be cured, and when levels of illiteracy were not being reduced, he asked. Poverty and social exclusion, the result of historic injustice, could be overcome only by international cooperation by industrialized countries.
He said that choosing the path of war to combat terrorism had robbed the United Nations of its function to promote peace and dialogue. It had created conditions for new conflicts and new intolerance. A dialogue among civilizations must primarily remove any notion of cultural or ideological superiority based on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance.
RENATO MARTINO, Observer for the Holy See, said that a true dialogue between cultures required a respect for difference. Much too often, both in history and in the present times, ethnic and religious differences had been used as a justification for brutal conflict, genocide and persecution. There had also been problems where one religious group had sought to expel members of another religion from a country, often with threats and actual violence. Authentic culture could not be built upon the practice of religious persecution. Such a so-called culture stood diametrically opposed to the human person and would eventually lead to the disintegration of society.
Meaningful dialogue among civilizations could not take place in the absence of religious freedom, he added. The cultures of the world, with all of their rich diversity of gifts, had much to contribute to the building up of a civilization of love. What was required was a mutual respect for differences among cultures –- a respect inspired by the desire to uphold the right of all individuals to see the truth in accord with the dictates of their conscience and in continuity with their cultural heritage.
No authentic dialogue could take place if it failed to respect life, he said. There could be no peace or dialogue among civilizations when that fundamental right was not protected. There had been many examples of generosity, dedication, even heroism in the service of life in current times. Yet the world was still plagued by a number of attacks on life. When the human dignity of the weakest and most vulnerable members of society was not duly recognized, respected and protected all civilizations suffered. However, despite those terrible practices and the recent crises, mankind must not be discouraged. The very idea of dialogue presupposed the ability to reason and understand and especially to change and make anew. The Holy See had full confidence that a true dialogue among civilization would serve to benefit all.
JENÖ C.A. STAEHELIN Observer for Switzerland said coexistence between different cultures, religions and traditions did not happen on its own, but required constant effort and work. Now, when the world had become what was often called a global village, it was important to realize that what was true within borders was also true on the international level. Switzerland had welcomed the Iranian initiative of Dialogue among Civilizations and looked forward to the opportunity of sharing its own experiences in this field. The events of 11 September, and the events that followed, further highlighted the importance of this dialogue.
Standards, values, religions and traditions defined civilizations at the same time creating a collective identity and a sense of belonging to a whole. There was a clear link between the individual and society; hence dialogue among civilizations concerned every human being. However, identity and civilization were not static concepts nor "set in concrete". Societies emerged, re-emerged and changed according to current visions of the world.
He believed there were more similarities than differences between various civilizations. One of the priorities to achieve a dialogue among civilizations must therefore be the highlighting of all that humanity and civilizations had in
common. The concept of the dialogue was too important to remain a mere concept or a pious hope. It was vital to use the momentum and ensure that dialogue became a reality on the ground.
RIDHA BOUABID Observer, International Organization of La Francophonie said that La Francophonie, being a crossroads of peoples and cultures of all continents was particularly interested in the dialogue among civilizations. The idea of a pluralistic and open approach to culture and civilization had always been at the core of his community’s preoccupations. The acceptance of diversity should not be seen as a mere act of tolerance, but should become part of the international community’s identity. Equality should be assumed in spite of differences. The events which were dominating the world scene at present served to confirm the need to persevere with this dialogue.
He said that having a broad definition of culture, his organization wanted to make the dialogue of cultures a concrete project, presupposing the acceptance of differences in all aspects of life, including international relations. The menace of hegemony weighed heavily on many aspects of civilization. Globalization had positive aspects, as it was bringing the peoples of the world closer together, but it must not prevent people from retaining their different ways of life. One of the greatest goals of this century was to be able to live side by side and learn from one another’s differences.
He said the International Organization of La Francophonie had organized many different events on the dialogue among cultures and civilizations, and would always have at its heart the hope for a better world, and the aim of safeguarding the cultural richness of each one of the world’s societies. The ultimate objective of this Dialogue among Civilizations was a truly multipolar world, respectful of the most vulnerable, which would open a new period in international relations.
Action on draft resolution
The Assembly then acted on the draft resolution entitled "global agenda for dialogue among civilizations" (document A/56/L.3).
The Assembly was informed of additional co-sponsors of the draft: Andorra, Australia, Belarus, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Guatemala, Hungary, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Madagascar, Maldives, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Qatar, Republic of Moldova, San Marino, Slovakia, Tajikistan, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and the United States.
Without a vote, the Assembly adopted the draft resolution, thus concluding its consideration of the agenda item Dialogue among Civilizations.
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