12 November 2008
General Assembly
GA/10782

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-third General Assembly

Plenary

46th & 47th Meetings (AM & PM)


INTERFAITH INITIATIVES CAN ENSURE RICH CULTURAL DIVERSITY MADE WORLD MORE SECURE,


NOT LESS, SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS ASSEMBLY DEBATE ON CULTURE OF PEACE


Assembly President Says Only Heroic Action Can Remedy ‘Moral Bankruptcy’,

Leaders from Saudi Arabia, Israel, Philippines Urge Cultural Dialogue, Tolerance


Trying to bridge the widening gap between faiths and cultures as extremists increasingly exploited religion for their own purposes, the General Assembly this morning opened a high-level meeting of world leaders gathered to extend a culture of peace around the globe.


Nearly two dozen Heads of State and Government and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke eloquently about the pressing need to shape a future in which cultural and religious differences were celebrated and used to bring all people together to address common challenges, rather than to sow mistrust, discord and violence.  Some 70 world leaders are expected to address the Assembly’s two-day dialogue on the Culture of Peace when it concludes tomorrow evening.


In his opening remarks, Secretary-General Ban said new divisions could emerge in today’s world as economies merged, cultural boundaries disappeared and new media brought societies closer together.  “And indeed, we are seeing some troubling phenomena,” he said, noting, among others, that communal strife was intensifying; extremist ideologies were on the rise; and societies were more polarized. 


Yet, he said that while anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and other kinds of faith-based discrimination and racism were showing a “dismaying persistence”, interfaith initiatives were a way to ensure that the world’s rich cultural diversity made the world more secure and peaceful -– not less.


He said the World Conference on Dialogue, held this past July in Madrid on the initiative of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, brought together religious leaders, academics and others to foster dialogue and cooperation on that front.  He praised the Conference for building on the United Nations long-standing efforts -- enshrined in the United Nations Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- to promote tolerance and mutual respect.


In his address to the Assembly, King Abdullah said that throughout history, differences between followers of religions and cultures had engendered intolerance, causing devastating wars and bloodshed without any sound logical or ideological justification.  It was time to learn from the harsh lessons of the past and agree on ethics and ideals in which everyone believed, he said.


He invited the Madrid Conference participants to elect a committee that would conduct a future dialogue.   Saudi Arabia’s concern for an ongoing discourse stemmed from Islamic faith and values and compassion for human conditions.  The country would continue to extend its hand to everyone advocating peace, justice and tolerance.


General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto of Nicaragua asked Member States to choose between allowing behaviour such as selfishness and unbridled greed to dominate societies and acting to ensure that solidarity and social responsibility become the guiding principles.  One of today’s most pressing problems was the shameful reality that half of humanity lived at levels of hunger, malnutrition and poverty that were incompatible with their inherent dignity and rights.


The United Nations had the opportunity to include the values of past prophets, saints and sages in its work, he added.  The upcoming High-level Follow-up Conference on Financing for Development, scheduled for Doha, Qatar, in two weeks, would be filled with references to ideals such as justice, peace and tolerance.  “We know that nothing short of heroic decisions and actions can awaken us from our moral coma,” he declared urging delegates to let solidarity be the “star” at the conference as they strove for peace and addressed the ongoing financial crisis.


Introducing a draft resolution on “promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation for peace”, the Philippines’ President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said one of the resolution’s most relevant points was the affirmation that mutual understanding and interreligious dialogue were important components of the culture of peace.


The draft was especially relevant to the United Nations as the Secretary-General had issued a report on interreligious and intercultural activities for the first time in the Organization’s history.  The resolution also asked that a United Nations decade be proclaimed for interreligious dialogue.  Noting that her country chaired the first United Nations Summit on Interfaith Dialogue three years ago, she said the Philippines’ participation in the present initiative improved its relationship with Middle Eastern and Islamic nations.  “What we are doing together here today and tomorrow is every bit more powerful than bullets”, she said.


Jean-Louis Cardinal Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue of the Holy See, extended the regards of Pope Benedict XVI, who said the gathering was needed by the international community.  “The United Nations must be a school for peace”, said Cardinal Tauran, adding that all Member States were equal at the United Nations.


World leaders from regions of religious conflict reiterated the call for a culture of peace. “ Israel is ready for peace,” said Israeli President Shimon Peres.  Regardless of the results of the upcoming elections, he stressed the Israeli Government’s commitment to continue peace negotiations with the Palestinians and the recent explorations of peace with Syria.  As it renewed faith and strengthened dialogue among nations, the High-Level meeting could spark a profound worldwide move toward reconciliation.


Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said turning to dialogue to settle existing conflicts, or defuse simmering ones, would not yield results unless trust had been woven into the process.  Ongoing oppression questioned the credibility of any dialogue, which was primarily true in the Arab Levant and Holy Land, and he questioned how dialogue could flourish when Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Arab territories persisted.


Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority, said tolerance and coexistence among religions could only be promoted if dialogue aimed at achieving peace was deepened. He called on all Member States to uphold these core principles and create a culture of tolerance that maintained the right to religious belief and human dignity.  “The people of Palestine, Muslims and Christians, aspire to peace and justice and are committed to the principles of peaceful coexistence,” and he pledged to continue to work for a lasting peace based on justice and respect for all rights so that, rather than being a victim of history, the Palestinian people could become a participant of history.


While pointing out the political nature of today’s terrorism, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai said his country had emerged as a powerful example of genuine cooperation among civilizations over the past seven years.  Countries around the globe, from Europe to the Mideast to Asia and the United States, were supporting efforts to rebuild Afghanistan.  Today’s meeting would help affirm that all religions nurtured people’s inner desire for peace.  Conflict did not stem from religion, but the pursuit of narrow political objectives by certain adherents of religions or political ideologies.


Also speaking today was the President of Finland. 


The Prime Ministers of Qatar, Morocco and Djibouti also spoke, as did the Special Envoy of the President of France (also on behalf of the European Union).


The Minister of State for External Affairs of India also spoke, as did the Minister for Foreign Affairs for the Dominican Republic, and the Senior Advisor of the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden.


Also addressing the Assembly were the Ministers of Culture of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Denmark, as well as the Chairman of the Senate of Kazakhstan and Senator of Australia.


The Amir of Kuwait, the King of Jordan, and the Grand Imam of Egypt also spoke.


The representatives of Libya, Guatemala, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, also spoke.


General Assembly will reconvene Thursday, 13 November at 10 a.m. to continue its high-level meeting on the Culture of Peace.


Background


The General Assembly met today to begin its two-day high-level meeting on the culture of peace.


For consideration of the issue, the Assembly had before it the Secretary-General’s report on Interreligious and intercultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation for peace (document A/63/262), which highlights activities carried out by key United Nations entities involved in the field.  It provides information on the observance of the International Day of Non-Violence, and the International Day of Peace, as well as an overview of other regional and global initiatives.  It is to be read with the annual report of the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (document A/63/127).


Among the key State-driven initiatives listed in the 20-page report is the World Conference on Dialogue, held in Madrid in July.  That Conference, which was the personal initiative of the King of Saudi Arabia, was opened by the King of Saudi Arabia and the King of Spain.  The main thrust of the discussions was on the need to promote understanding and tolerance among followers of the world’s faiths, and on the dual needs to combat terrorism and propaganda on the “clash of civilizations”.  The report says that some 200 clerics, academics, and experts representing diverse creeds and belief systems from around the world took part in the Conference.  Appropriate modalities for a follow-up to the Conference are being finalized.


The report concludes that, given the growing number of actors involved in intercultural and interreligious dialogue, and difficulty of reflecting in a comprehensive manner on new initiatives, the Assembly might focus its future request for reporting on the preparations of the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2010) by the United Nations and other major international actors.


Also before the Assembly was the Secretary-General’s note transmitting the report of the Director-General of UNESCO on International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World, 2001-2010 (document A/63/127), which presents an overview of the activities of UNESCO and other United Nations entities to promote and implement the Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, and contains recommendations thereon.


The report encourages United Nations system agencies, funds and programmes to continue focusing their programmes on the various dimensions of the culture of peace, especially at the country level.  For their part, Member States are encouraged to, among other things:  increase educational efforts to remove hate messages, distortions, prejudice, and negative bias from textbooks and other educational media; update and revise education and culture policies to reflect cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and sustainable development; and revise national laws and policies that discriminate against women, and adopt legislation that addresses domestic violence, trafficking of women and girls, and gender-based violence.


Statement by General Assembly President


General Assembly President MIGUEL D’ESCOTO BROCKMANN, of Nicaragua, said the world was experiencing the worst period since the United Nations’ founding, marked by multiple crises and the worst moral bankruptcy of self-proclaimed “more advanced” societies.  “It is not only Wall Street that needs to be bailed out,” he declared.  “We need to bail out all humankind from its social insensitivity.”  In that pursuit, morals and ethics must be given a central place.


With that, he called on States to choose between allowing behaviour such as unbridled greed and irrational consumerism to dominate societies, or taking steps to ensure that solidarity and social responsibility become guiding principles.  Among the most burning problems today was the shameful reality that half of humanity subsisted at levels of hunger, malnutrition and poverty that were wholly incompatible with their inherent dignity and rights.


“We are all aware of this shameful reality,” he said.  “We also know that we have the means to do something about it.”  What was lacking was political will to move from a rhetorical acknowledgement of that reality to concrete action.  He proposed ways to apply values to achieve that, saying first that great spiritual and moral strength was needed for the kinds of action required, which was why States had gathered today.  Progress on the United Nations’ complex agenda was too slow, and delegates must not hesitate to draw on the moral force of their faith and ethical convictions.


Acknowledging King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia for calling attention to the need for today’s meeting, he said nothing was more important in the “odyssey of human experience” than placing such values at the centre of efforts to cope with current crises.  To achieve expectations, the Assembly must make absolutely clear that it had not gathered to talk about religion or theology; but rather to pledge moral strength at the service of the United Nations’ goals.


Nothing short of heroic decisions could awaken the world from its “moral coma”, he said, naming that as reason why wealthy nations had not complied with the commitment to give 0.7 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) to help eradicate hunger and poverty.  He also urged returning to faith-based values in efforts to stop polluting the environment.  Having been unfaithful of the most sacred principles, humans had endangered their survival and Earth’s capacity to sustain life.


Despite such difficulties, the Earth had been blessed with great spiritual prophets, saints and sages, who had offered values to societies through the millennia, embodied in text such as the Torah, the Bible, the Koran and the Vedas, and teachings of Buddha, Lao Tzu and Confucius.  The United Nations had the opportunity to include such “spiritual assets” in its work, he said, noting that the high-level Follow-up International Conference on Financing for Development to begin shortly in Doha, Qatar, would be filled with references to the ideals of justice, peace, progress and tolerance, among others.


Discussing the Conference agenda and its proposed outcome document, he said there were references to improving international cooperation in tax matters, as billions of dollars, that could be used for development, were lost annually due to the failure to pay taxes.  There were calls for combating corruption, reminders to corporations, in the section on international private capital flows, of the “duty” of corporate social responsibility and non-predatory practices, and, in the section on international official development assistance, calls to donor countries to respect their pledge to allocate 0.7 per cent of GDP for helping poor countries.


To deal with external debt, there was a proposal to identify more effective solutions to that problem, as current ideas had been insufficient.  In a “systemic issues” section, there was a call for a thorough review of international financial structures, as they had not adequately included developing countries in decision-making processes, he said.


The financial crisis was a central issue to be addressed at the Conference, and for that reason, he urged that solidarity be the “star” that guided delegates to the peace they strove to attain.  In closing, he stressed taking heroic actions to save the world from the crises that threatened all peoples:  rich and poor, from the North and South.


Statement by the Secretary-General


Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON said globalization could be a great force for progress as economies merged, cultural boundaries disappeared, and new media brought societies closer together.  At the same time, new fault lines could emerge.  The international community was seeing troubling phenomena as communal strife intensified, extremist ideologies were on the rise and societies were more polarized.  Anti-Semitism remained a scourge, and “Islamophobia” had emerged as a new term for an old and terrible form of prejudice.


One of the great challenges of today was to ensure that the world’s rich cultural diversity made the world more secure, not less.  Peace required more than a competitive equilibrium.  For peace to endure, individuals, groups, and nations had to come to respect and understand each other, he said.


Interfaith initiatives were addressing that need with greater frequency, and one of the most respected initiatives had been the World Conference on Dialogue, held in Madrid, in July, at the invitation of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.  At the landmark meeting, followers of the world’s religions, eminent scholars, intellectuals and others had gathered.  The participants had affirmed their belief in the equality of human beings, “irrespective of their colour, ethnicity, race, religion or culture”.  They had pledged to act within their spheres of influence to foster dialogue and cooperation.


Mr. Ban said the United Nations welcomed the Madrid Conference as a major contribution to its longstanding efforts to promote tolerance and mutual respect.  That work derived from the Organization’s Charter, its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was now in its sixtieth year, and other groundbreaking human rights instruments.


Those efforts assumed shape with initiatives such as the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, which had been supporting grass-roots civil society projects to help bridge cultural divides.  The next forum would be hosted by Turkey in April, next year.   Member States and other groups had put forth other initiatives, he said.


But the international community could not be satisfied with declarations of intent and commonality.  Dialogue that delivered was needed, along with new partnerships that would continue after the last delegate had gone home.  Government officials, grass-roots groups, top executives, philanthropists, academics and others were needed.  Further, he said young people were especially needed.  With less ingrained prejudices, they were well placed to approach the unfamiliar -- whether people, customs or ideas -- with open minds.


“Living together in peace has proved tragically difficult,” he said, urging the Assembly to try harder to bring shared values to life and ensure human dignity for all.  With knowledge and leadership, people could live up to the best of all our traditions.


Statements


KING ABDULLAH BIN ABDULAZIZ AL SAUD of Saudi Arabia said the religions, through which Almighty God sought to bring happiness to mankind, should not be turned into instruments to cause misery.  Human beings were created as equals and partners on the planet, and they would live together in peace and harmony or would be inevitably consumed by the flames of misunderstanding, malice and hatred.


Throughout history, differences between followers of religion and culture had engendered intolerance, causing devastating wars and bloodshed without any sound logical or ideological justification.  It was time to learn from the harsh lessons of the past, and agree on ethics and ideals in which everyone believed.


“Terrorism and criminality are the enemies of every religion and every civilization,” he said, adding that they would not have appeared except for the absence of tolerance.  The alienation that affected many young people, leading them to drugs and crime, had become widespread because of the dissolution of family bonds that Almighty God intended to be strong.  “Our dialogue, conducted in a constructive manner, should, by the grace of God, revive and reinstate these lofty ideals among people and nations,” he declared.


He thanked the Assembly President for convening the meeting and was grateful to the world’s leaders, from East and West, for attending.  He invited the Madrid dialogue’s participants to elect a committee that would conduct a dialogue in the future.  He assured everyone that Saudi Arabia’s concern for the dialogue stemmed from Islamic faith and values, and compassion for human conditions.   Saudi Arabia would continue to extend its hand to everyone advocating peace, justice and tolerance.


GLORIA MACAPAGAL-ARROYO, President of the Philippines, recalled the World Conference on Dialogue, held in Madrid in July, saying that event had brought together Jews, Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and representatives of other religions, in the hope of promoting tolerance among followers of the world’s faiths.


Introducing a draft resolution on “promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation for peace”, tabled jointly by the Philippines and Pakistan, she said among its salient points was the affirmation that mutual understanding and interreligious dialogue were important components of the culture of peace.


Indeed, the text emphasized that everyone had the right to freedom of expression, and that the exercise of that right carried special duties for respecting the rights of others and protecting national security, she said, adding that it also requested that a United Nations decade be proclaimed for interreligious dialogue.  In addition, the draft was especially relevant to the United Nations, as for the first time in the Organization’s history, the Secretary-General had issued a report on interreligious and intercultural activities.


At the same time, she said the story of faith had too often been twisted into a source of despair among peoples.  There were those who wished to instigate religious war, and the challenge was to redeem the true meaning of faith to bring prosperity to the world.  She cautioned against making the mistake that tolerance of other faiths be viewed as a “blank check” for abuse.  “We will never accept violence cloaked in religion by anyone, at any time,” she asserted.


For its part, the Philippines had advocated interfaith dialogue, she said, noting that, for years, it had worked to achieve peace on the island of Mindanao.  That peace process recently had been dealt a setback by violence carried out by renegade elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.  The country was working to reach “as much progress as possible” on peace within the parameters set by authentic dialogue with communities, yet, before restarting that process, there must first be stability on the island.


In addition, the historic divide between Christians and Muslims in the Philippines was narrowing “dramatically”, she said, due in no small part to a focus on interfaith dialogue, and “a willingness to accept the sincerity of those who differ with us in faith”.


Recalling her country’s chairing of the first United Nations Summit on Interfaith Dialogue three years ago, she said the Philippines’ participation in the present initiative advanced its relationship with Middle Eastern and Islamic nations.  “What we are doing together here today and tomorrow is every bit more powerful than bullets,” she said.  Delegates were present today to bridge the valley that unnecessarily divided them, whether they lived across the street, river, ocean or continent.  With that, she called for adopting the resolution.


SHEIKH SABAH AL-AHMAD AL-JABER AL-SABAH, Amir of Kuwait, stated that the Assembly had gathered today to “foster the peace and the good of humanity” through dialogue and understanding.  It had gathered to consolidate relationships in the face of increasingly diverse and intense global challenges, such as new conflicts and civil wars, which had resulted from failures to resolve political issues in many parts of the world.  He highlighted threats such as terrorism, drugs and discrimination, along with the prevalence of fanaticism and hatred, which had “shaken the foundations of global stability”.


Therefore, he called for a careful examination of “our painful reality” through serious, sincere dialogue between people, religions and cultures; a focus of efforts on the consolidation of religious and moral values and the common, underlying principles of all religions.  He encouraged intellectual leaders of the followers of the divine religions and other beliefs to start the dialogue, in which the United Nations played a catalytic role, by designating the year 2001 as the Year of Dialogue among Civilizations, and adopting a resolution to consider 2010 as the Year of Rapprochement among Cultures.


Analysis had shown that it was the pursuit of extremism, fanaticism and discrimination that had caused human tragedies, not cultural values or religious beliefs –- indeed, religions provided solutions to problems humanity was facing; it was not the cause of them.  That was why clergy, too, were called upon to correct misconceptions.  Further, educators should raise awareness with young people, and the media must be positive and more sensitive to the scope of its influence on the public when covering such topics.


For Kuwait’s part, it had founded an international centre for moderation, and its Government agencies have created programmes for all segments of society to raise awareness.  Kuwait had also held many regional and international conferences about moderation in Islam, religious tolerance, respect for followers of other religions and refusal to offend religious symbols, among many measures, he said.


Finally, he said the best outcome of the Assembly’s two-day meeting would be the essence of a universal commitment to respect all religions, to not ridicule or intrude upon religious symbols, and to deter such acts and those who called for them.  He also encouraged delegations to commit to banning campaigns that sought to deepen the discord between religions and to undermine the chances of peaceful coexistence for all.


SHIMON PERES, President of Israel, recalled that 13 years ago, this week, his friend and partner, then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated, “while singing a song of peace”.  However, he went on to say, “Assassins may take a life, but they cannot kill a dream.”  He reminded the Assembly that during that time, many Arab and Muslim leaders had joined Israel in its grief, allowing tragedy to unite across boundaries and borders, and illuminate the shared goals of peace and fraternity.


The first call to peace between brothers, he said, was Abraham to his nephew Lot.  “Please let there be no strife between me and you, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen, for we are kinsmen.”  Furthermore, a basic tenet of religious faith was that man was created in God’s image, he stated, and to harm a man was to harm God.  Thus the agenda of nuclear weapons, long-range missiles and terrorism, among others, needed to be changed.


He then recalled the 1919 meeting between Emir Feisal and President Weizmann, who met to create an agreement of coexistence between Arabs and the Jewish people.  “Instead, we confronted one another, abandoning faith for greed and fording swords instead of peace,” he said, stressing that their declaration for a collaborative goal of both national aspirations had not been fulfilled, leading to the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and homes, and the waste of resources spent on weapons that could have been spent on advancing life.  Quoting an Arab proverb, he described the three events that could not be reversed; “[…] an arrow released from its bow; a word which has escaped one’s mouth; and a bullet that splits the heart.”


Although the past could not be changed, he urged all in attendance to shape the future, a feasible goal in light of the Saudi proposal promising an Arab peace initiative that emerged from it, one that stated that a military solution would not achieve peace and security.  Speaking directly to King Abdullah, he said, “Your Majesty, the King of Saudi Arabia, I was listening to your message.  I wish that your voice will become the prevailing voice of the whole region, of all people.  It’s right.  It’s needed.”


“ Israel is ready for peace,” he stated.  Regardless of the elections in Israel, he affirmed the Government’s commitment to continue peace negotiations with the Palestinians, as well as the recent explorations of peace with Syria.  Such efforts could produce results that offered global opportunities, while not erasing national identities.  While renewing faith and strengthening dialogue among nations, he heralded the high-level meeting as one that could produce such a profound movement of reconciliation throughout the world.  As the international community faced many shared and serious global crises, the results of such efforts -- a duty and a responsibility of all States and religious leaders -- would offer new solutions to such old challenges.


Disavowing extremism and isolation, KING ABDULLAH BIN AL HUSSEIN of Jordan stated that today’s dialogue was being conducted on a “solid basis”, with the goals of maximizing common ground for religious followers, and advancing mutual recognition of the roles of each religion and culture in contributions to human civilization through the ages.  He noted that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had held a landmark meeting with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, and had then convened the Mecca and Madrid conferences, thereby starting the process of breaking down barriers between religions that led up to the discussions today.


At a time when Islam was being subjected to “injustice” and accusations resulting from ignorance about the religion, moderation and tolerance were called for, in lieu of extremism, violence and bigotry.  Fears, suspicions, even hatred were created by misinformation and stereotypes, and the understanding and trust between peoples of different faiths and cultures had been eroded.  He said communication, therefore, was vital, and called for a new, global dialogue among people of different faiths and civilizations.  Such a dialogue was essential to reveal commonalities that united humanity, taught respect for differences and exposed fraudulent extremist teachings.


In Jordan, interfaith dialogue and understanding had been made priorities.  The Amman Message, an explanation of Islam and a call for peaceful coexistence, had been endorsed by the Organization of Islamic States, and was supported by over 500 leading Muslim scholars.  Another initiative was “A Common Word”, which involved exploring common ground between Christianity and Islam.  A global dialogue was sought in those endeavours towards peace, and today’s summit showed the high-level priority for support for such discussions.  He expressed hope that the next step would be to advance dialogue from the conference rooms into homes, schools, offices and lives.


On the Middle East political conflict, its growing regional and global impacts were noted, especially with young people questioning its relevance to equality, respect and universal justice.


He went on to say that the political conflict was the core conflict in the Middle East.  It demanded a just, negotiated solution that brought statehood and freedom to the Palestinians, and security and more regional acceptance for Israel.  Millions of people, especially the young, were questioning “whether the West means what it says about equality, respect and universal justice”.


Meanwhile, he said, extremists of all religions -- Muslim, Christian and Jewish -- were thriving on the doubts and divisions.  Justice, respect for international law, and the right of all peoples to live in dignity were deep, shared values that could possibly bring a peaceful end, along with improved communication and the support of youth, who are “vital to success”, he said.


TARJA HALONEN, President of Finland, said that with the advent of globalization, the importance of national borders had decreased.  Globalization had brought about more human contact, and in today’s world, different people, cultures, civilizations and faiths encountered each other every day.  People had different opinions and beliefs.  Increased interaction could promote understanding among people, but it could also strengthen prejudices and stereotypes.  Attention was needed from all Member States.  While the political leaders of a country could not shoulder the entire responsibility, encouragement and guidance were needed.


How to analyze a situation and solve conflicts was important in all of society, including homes, schools and workplaces, she said.  Peacebuilding was needed “always and everywhere”.  One of the basic and most comprehensive sources of human rights was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written and approved by consensus at the United Nations in 1948.  States were currently celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of that Declaration, which emphasized human dignity and equality, as well as established a solid basis for dialogue between various cultures and civilizations.


Finland was committed to the universal values, rights and freedoms included in the Declaration, and viewed it also as a “declaration on responsibilities”; it was everyone’s responsibility to respect and observe the universal human rights, in full and everywhere.  The Declaration offered equal and universal human rights to all humans –- men and women, believers and non-believers.  It had been, and still was, a great source of inspiration to combat discrimination and marginalization everywhere, she said.


The dispute between Israel and the Palestinians was often mentioned as a key issue, symbolizing the breach between the West and the Muslim world.  Finland welcomed and supported serious initiatives to solve that dispute.  While it was generally acknowledged that any solution must be based on a two-State model, and on reaching agreement on the status of Palestinian refugees and on Jerusalem, there was, nevertheless, no instant formula for peace.


Finding a solution required negotiations, which were always influenced by national and international political situations.  She said Finland considered it self-evident that Israel must immediately cease building settlements, and that the Palestinians must cease their violent attacks on Israeli targets.  Other countries and organizations should, above all, support the negotiations and refrain from doing anything that hindered them.


MICHEL SLEIMAN, President of the Republic of Lebanon, said today’s meeting bore particular importance, as it was a high-level response to the peace and dialogue process launched last July by the King of Saudi Arabia in Madrid, Spain.  States’ common interest in the invitation to dialogue was compounded by heightened fears around the extremism of those who exploited religious emotions to fuel power struggles.  That interest had grown as a result of concern at events characterized by ethnic violence, terrorism, and assaults on dignities.  As a result, States had come to view efforts to place religious and cultural differences in their context, not as a luxury, but as an urgent matter.


With that, he called for warding off the evils caused by violence committed in the name of eliminating “the different other”, and engaging in a genuine dialogue of life and ideas that was both patient and bold.  The best way to do that was to bring hearts and minds together, particularly as many experiences, including that of Lebanon, had taught that the real test of any dialogue was whether it could empower people to build alternative bridges to those destroyed by fear, particularly in times of intimidation.


At the same time, the recourse to dialogue to settle existing conflicts –- or defuse simmering ones -– would not yield results unless it had diligently woven into its process relations of trust towards others.  Highlighting the significance of cultural, educational and media efforts that should accompany dialogue, he said the effectiveness of dialogue was subject to the dynamics of asymmetrical power relations.


Continued oppression placed the credibility of any dialogue at stake, he said, which was primarily true in the Arab Levant and Holy Land.  He asked how dialogue could flourish when Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Arab territories persisted.  Such a reality contravened United Nations resolutions, and Jerusalem, the “City of Peace”, would not realize its historic mission unless the injustice imposed on the Palestinian people was redressed.


It was no secret, for those who knew Lebanon, that the country embodied unique characteristics that had withstood ordeals which tested the will to live together, he said.  Combined with its deeply rooted experience in unity and diversity, that had made Lebanon a place of openness.  Speaking before the Assembly in September, he had stressed Lebanon’s ambition to become an international centre for managing the dialogue of civilizations and culture and, consequently, a “global laboratory” for that inter-entity dialogue.


Indeed, Lebanon seemed to be a necessity for both the East and the West and, thus, deserved the full support of the international community, he said.  As States gathered today to renew their rejection of “the clash of ignorance”, he urged remembering the strong link between the choices made in approaching dialogue, and commitment to the United Nations Charter.  Such an invitation recalled what had brought Lebanon closer to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which it had helped to draft, and to the United Nations, which had stood by it in defending its freedom and sovereignty.


HAMID KARZAI, President of Afghanistan, said there was nothing more important than eliminating the scourge of extremism, xenophobia and hatred, and that was only possible through dialogue and cooperation.  Today’s meeting was meant to affirm that all religions nurtured humankind’s inner desire for peace and self-realization.  Conflict or confrontations had not stemmed from religion, but the pursuit of narrow political objectives of certain adherents of many religions or every political ideology.


While many people associated terrorism with religion or explained it as the East’s reaction against the West, the terrorism known today was political rather than religious.  “The terrorism known today is the historical product of bad politics and the reckless pursuit of narrowly defined interests,” he added.


The term “Islamic terrorism”, frequently used to describe acts of brutality and violence, was fundamentally misleading.  Islam, a religion of peace and moderation, unequivocally condemned any act that violated the life and property of an innocent individual.  He said the Holy Koran had equated murdering an innocent person to the killing of all humanity.  Muslims had actually been among the most afflicted victims of international terrorism.


For the world to rectify past failings and reverse threats against peace and co-existence, dialogue, understanding and mutual acceptance was the way forward.  The few discordant voices that preached hatred and division, and that misused the name of religion for their political goals, must be countered.  To overcome misperceptions, he said, populations needed to be educated and informed about the differences and commonalities of all cultures.


Rather than a “clash of civilizations,” the international community was confronting a world whose size had been shrunk by the forces of globalization.  The international community needed to appeal to the media to educate people and build bridges, rather than equating differences with incompatibility, threats and fear, he said.


Over the past seven years, Afghanistan had been a powerful case for the prospect of genuine cooperation among civilizations aimed at achieving common goals.  Countries such as Saudi Arabia, United States, European Union, Japan, China, India, United Arab Emirates, Iran and Pakistan were supporting efforts to rebuild Afghanistan.  The future of a peaceful world rested in the extent to which cooperation among civilizations, as shown in Afghanistan, could become the rule and not the exception, he said, adding:  “We must all remember the words of our Holy Books, and we must conquer our basic instincts for fear and hatred.”


SHEIKH HAMAD BIN JASSIM BIN JABR AL THANI, Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, thanking the King of Saudi Arabia for convening today’s high-level meeting, said dialogue among cultures, civilizations and religions was among the most prominent issues recommended in the outcome document of the Assembly’s 2005 World Summit, at which States unanimously agreed that furthering international relations was the only means to fight extremism.  Indeed, dialogue had become a central policy pillar at national, regional and international levels for achieving peace and sustainable development.


For its part, Qatar’s values of tolerance for various religions had become the foundation for its policy, which was guided by the tolerant Islamic Sharia.  Qatar viewed interreligious and intercultural dialogue as a strategic choice that urgently required the creation of an open space to ensure peace among the world’s peoples.  His country had been keen, since 2003, to host the Doha Conference on Interreligious Dialogue on an annual basis.


Recalling that all religions shared common ground, and urging equality and harmony, and acceptance of others, he said political and economic interests, rather than religious differences, had been the root causes of confrontations.  Rather than instigate such discord, they must be a motive for expanding understanding and continuing dialogue, as stated in the Holy Koran.


He regretted that various tendencies fuelled interreligious intolerance and only escalated confrontation, especially as they undermined a “process of awakening” based on understanding.  He urged moving from dialogue to action, saying that Qatar fully agreed with the recommendations of the Madrid Conference, most notably on the need to set global rules for dialogue, with a view to agreeing on the moral principles that represented the common denominator among peoples.


Such a result-oriented approach was the best way to promote and protect common values against the threats of isolationism and intolerance, he said.  In that regard, he urged making efforts to launch that stage among Governments, and involve all “mind-shaping actors” in the religious, social, and academic fields, among others.  The lofty goal to which States aspired was to preserve human dignity and build a peaceful world for future generations.


ABBAS EL FASSI, Prime Minister of Morocco, celebrated the gathering of such an important interfaith meeting and thanked King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for his efforts to promote such an important and constructive dialogue among faiths and nations.  The encouragement of such dialogue, begun at the Madrid conference in July, had strengthened “the fundamentals of communication between the representatives of all faiths, reinforcing international cooperation with a view to ensuring spiritual security and peaceful coexistence in our societies”, he stated in his opening remarks.


As technology transformed and, at times, diminished borders throughout the global community, Morocco had placed great emphasis on regional and international interfaith and intercultural dialogues as a response to the often-destructive ethnic and religious extremism experienced in so many regions of the world.  He said that following the terrorist attacks of 11 September, 2001, His Majesty King Mohammed VI called for a permanent and strategic dialogue among States, focusing on establishing peace and respect “without distinction between ethnicity, religions and cultures”.


He said Morocco’s King had also made great efforts toward creating a successful and lasting peace in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, calling for the creation of a sovereign State, side-by-side with Israel with Al Qods as capital.


He then went on to note several specific objectives of the framework in developing an international community based on tolerance, the first being the creation of an interfaith dialogue mechanism so that Member States could continue to contribute different initiates and maintain genuine dialogue between one another.  The second was a promotion of an academic culture of dialogue, which, through a network between educational institutions, would engender a forum where all, young and old, intellectuals and theologians, could meet.


Incorporating interreligious dialogues in all schools, the third objective, would build a foundation of tolerance with the youth of the world, he continued.  The fourth called for the increase of the participation of the media in spreading “a culture of tolerance and the promotion of the values of openness, while reconciling between the freedom of expression and the respect of the sacred religious and spiritual beliefs”.


With the support of Member States, all those objectives could be met through a structured work and action plan.  He called for all Member States to work collectively to not only promote a global community based on tolerance and understanding, but to challenge undermining ideas that heralded the “end of history”.  The Kingdom of Morocco offered its full support and commitment to such actions, and called for the adoption of the outcome document of the high-level meeting, concluding that such a document would “give the necessary financial and moral impetus to reach the noble goals that we strive for collectively”.


JEAN-LOUIS CARDINAL TAURAN, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue of the Holy See, joined all previous speakers in expressing his deep thanks for the convening of the High-Level Meeting on Interfaith Dialogue.  He also extended the warm regards of Pope Benedict XVI, who called the gathering much needed by the international community.


“The United Nations must be a school for peace”, he stated, as it was a place in the world where all Member States were equal.  The daily debate only increased the sentiment of belonging to the same global family.  He noted that believers had their place in their society, as the prayers of believers practiced solidarity, taught peace, and offered trust before judging.  These attitudes educated people to allow peace to flourish.


Quoting Pope Benedict XVI that peace is compromised by indifference, he reminded the Assembly that as people gathered in their temples, churches and synagogues to pray they experienced brotherhood and remembered that man did not live by bread alone.  Faith gave meaning to the human adventure.  However, he emphasized that believers needed to be consistent and that the spread of violence was not part of the covenant of brotherhood.  Indeed, believers were called upon to uphold the collective wheel, where respect of human life, the acceptance of diverse of opinions, and the protection of natural resources, among others, were honoured.


The final declaration at the Madrid Conference had been the result of such shared beliefs and dialogue.  Dialogue was essential to life as it was the way people became acquainted with one another.  He offered, in his conclusion to the Assembly, that brotherhood and prayer lead the way to a safer world.  “Make brotherhood not just an ideal, but a reality,” he said.


MOHAMMAD SAED TANTAWY, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt, said that when talking of the culture of peace in Islam, Muslims talked about positive dialogue among civilizations, religions and cultures, and he offered nine realities of faith and human nature.  All people were created by God to cooperate with one another with virtue and piety, not transgression and aggression.  “No Arab is better than a non-Arab, except by piety,” he said, quoting from the Koran.  The reality was that differences in beliefs and ideas were human nature.  Imposing beliefs on one another only created hypocrites, not true believers.


However, he went on to say, differences in beliefs did not preclude cooperation, mutual understanding, friendliness or an exchange of benefits sanctioned by God.  There were two common cornerstones revealed to the messengers of God:  to worship God alone with devotion, and to maintain good manners.  He said that the good word worked equally with friends and non-friends.  Justice was a virtue, he continued, quoting the scripture that “when you judge between people, you judge with justice […] and when you speak, then be just”, and he called to the Assembly to stand strong against the crimes of injustice until justice prevailed. 


“Consolidating security and peace in any State is a blessing that leads to prosperity”, among other benefits, he said, emphasizing that that principle was the core to rejecting terrorism.  Indeed, terrorism was a religious and world tragedy that explicitly violated the provisions of divine laws which considered “the murder of one person the same as slaughtering all people”.  That brought him to one of his last points, that of constructive dialogue, which was the appropriate way to settle conflicts and disputes among people. 


Focusing on what was right or wrong was a futile exercise, he said.  However, with each side explaining their perspective, there was a way towards reconciliation.  The last reality was that each state had its culture.  It was here that he urged the East to learn from the West and the West to learn from the East, as should the North and the South.  He emphasized his belief in cooperation between civilizations, not the clashes and animosity so present in today’s world. 


ALAIN JUPPÉ, former Prime Minister and Special Envoy of the President of France, speaking on behalf of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, thanked King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who had taken the commendable initiative of fostering dialogue among religions.  The Saudi leader had called on believers to find common ground rather than divergence, and that initiative was warmly welcomed.  France fully supported interfaith dialogue for various reasons, notably because, through its own experience since the 1789 Revolution, it had developed a concept of secularism aimed at organizing the peaceful coexistence of beliefs and non-beliefs.  Among the permanent goals of French diplomacy, especially since “9/11”, was to prevent the convergence of factors which would support the idea of a clash of civilizations.  France formally challenged that idea.


Speaking next on behalf of the European Union, he said Europeans, who had a long history of religious war, decided to encourage intercultural and interfaith dialogue, particularly as notions of tolerance were at the heart of European identity.  Europe fully supported the Alliance of Civilizations initiative, led by Spain and Turkey at the United Nations, and although Europeans believed that faith was a question of individual choice, religious communities could play an essential role in furthering dialogue and fraternity.  Such dialogue should be as broad as possible, and compliance with the values outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a “vital pillar” on which to build it.


In that process, parties must be prepared to face contrasting views -– or even criticism -- he continued, adding that freedom of religion could not be achieved without freedom of speech.  Lastly, dialogue should be free from all political involvement, with Governmental or intergovernmental authorities simply helping to create a conducive environment.


Returning to his national capacity, he emphasized that France was particularly committed to interfaith dialogue, with the Church and State separate entities.  National authorities respected all faiths, and strove to ensure that each person, including atheists and rationalists, felt free and respected.  Such principles guided France’s work in the international arena, and his speech today.  The best way to limit conflict was for authorities to deliberately avoid becoming involved in all matters that dealt with exercising individual freedom, while carefully ensuring that dialogue continued to happen in a spirit of mutual respect.


DILEITA MOHAMED DILEITA, Prime Minister of Djibouti, said it was with a tremendous sense of honour he took the floor today to participate in the high-level meeting.  The culture of peace, which had been on the Assembly’s agenda since its fifty-second session, was among the most crucial themes for the international community, and he supported the unprecedented initiative put forward by the King of Saudi Arabia, as it formed a dialogue among followers of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, among other faiths, and demonstrated genuine desire to reconcile differences.


Turning to Islam, a religion of peace, he said the faith today was associated with international terrorism, a barbaric phenomenon which required collective effort to combat.  While convinced of the need to combat terrorism and all its aspects, he urged overcoming the phobia about things associated with Islam.  States must do all to prove that accusations against the religion were unjustified.  Indeed, the Koran advocated love -- not hate -- as well as coexistence and respect.


Continuing, he said humanity was suffering from a loss of values, and going through a difficult phase in which distrust prevailed.  The main cause was ignorance, which created a “fear of the other”, and he urged using education and dialogue as weapons for overcoming the distortion of religious messages and concepts.


All societies had multiple identities, and such a plurality was an asset that must be put to good use, he stressed.  In that context, tolerance had become extremely important, and the culture of peace was ideal for bringing about understanding and peaceful coexistence among nations.  Such a dialogue must take place not just among States, but at regional and local levels.  The culture of peace was a “horizontal” tool to build bridges, and it was the Assembly’s duty to make people aware of the value of diversity.


Moral integrity of speech and action, tolerance, and the quest for virtue and wisdom were universal values, he said, urging concentrating on a belief in those noble principles that were the foundation of all religions.


He reminded delegates that with globalization, peoples’ fates were increasingly linked, and that new reality was distinct from the history of their ancestors.  In closing, he stressed the need to respect the diversity of peace, and enhance the value of tolerance.  The road to integration demanded “unswerving political will” to help build a better future, and he encouraged the Assembly to endorse the conclusions taken at the World Conference in Madrid.


KASSYM-JOMART TOKAYEV, Chairman of the Senate of the Parliament of Kazakhstan, asserted that the various States and religions coming together at the conference were all motivated by the noble ideal to hold an open dialogue among cultures and religions with the simple and clear common goal of building a more secure and stable world. 


Noting that the current situation in the world was complex and controversial, he said Kazakhstan regretted the news of the latest victims of terrorism, wars, and conflicts arising from xenophobia, religious intolerance and civilizational contradictions.  At the same time, current global challenges ignored racial, ethnic or religious differences and posed threats that affected equally all nations and peoples striving to live in peace and harmony. 


In his view, there was no alternative to mutual understanding, respect and tolerance.  The time had come for statesmen and religious leaders everywhere to come together to make those principles a reality, he said, adding:  “We will be unable to protect the world from violence and chaos unless joint efforts are undertaken.”  He said no nation would ever give up its historic, spiritual and cultural identity, as it was the right and natural tendency.  Thus, every culture, not to mention religion, had a legitimate right to freely exist and to be mutually respected.  Also in that regard, Kazakhstan, as a nation where many ethnic groups and religions had been successfully coexisting for centuries, stood ready to contribute to the development of the global dialogue of religions and cultures.


He said his country was constantly involved in strengthening the interaction of various cultures and civilizations, in promoting active cooperation in that area within the European countries and institutions in economic, political and cultural areas.  The country’s own experience had revealed the opportunity and need for rapprochement of different cultures and religions on the global scale.


SALAM FAYYAD, Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority offered his gratitude and thanks to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and to the President of the General Assembly for the convening of the High-Level Dialogue.  He said Palestine was a land where the lives of the great prophets were deeply rooted in its history, and where Palestinian Muslims and Christians had preserved hundreds of years of a culture of tolerance and coexistence despite the past sixty years of strife and conflict.  He called on the Saudi leader and the Assembly to help bring an end to “the chains of occupation and injustice, which have brought nothing but hatred, fear, and intolerance to our land”.


The Charter of the United Nations was based on joint efforts to strengthen international relations and to build capacities for an exemplary human society.  That required the expansion and deepening of dialogue.  Although many still suffered from governance based on racial, religious or ethnic superiority, he heralded the challenges to such extremism.  Those challenges continued to contribute to the model of coexistence and the maintenance of international peace and security by building and developing friendly relations, based on equal rights and the right to self-determination, among nations and peoples. 


It was here that the current initiative for dialogue was so important, as civilization “did not arise in human history without having interacted with other civilizations”.  He went on to observe that tolerance and coexistence between religions -- a necessity to human life -- could only be promoted through the deepening of dialogue aimed at achieving peace, and he called to all Member States, collectively and individually, to uphold those core principles.  He also called for the creation of a culture of tolerance that maintained the right to religious belief and human dignity with full equality of rights.  To that end, the “Mecca Appeal” issued by the World Islamic Conference for Dialogue, in June 2008, and the Madrid Conference this past July had both advanced the framework for addressing the root causes that fuelled intolerance and extremism in all forms. 


However, to speak of religious tolerance he needed to speak of the city of Jerusalem, a city of some of the holiest shrines of Christianity and Islam.  Occupation of Jerusalem over the last four decades had altered the character and status of the Holy City through the harassment of its Palestinian, Christian and Muslim citizens.  The Security Council and General Assembly, as well as other United Nations organs, had adopted numerous resolutions which challenged measures taken by Israel, making void its laws and jurisdiction. 


However, none of those resolutions had been implemented and he called for the international community to give Jerusalem and its inhabitants the support necessary to address illegal practices that impeded on the principles of justice and rules of international law.  Doing so would ease tensions and fears of the citizens and enhance dialogue toward the achievement of freedom, peace and tolerance.


If the suffering of the Palestinian people continued unabated –- from their displacement and living in exile, to the confiscation of their land, water and resources -- he stated, the international efforts to establish peace on a two-State solution based on the 1967 borders would be jeopardized, and he urged the international community to support the Arab Pace Initiative which provided broad prospects to end the conflicts and establish peace and harmony.  Recalling that the late President Yasser Arafat had “raised the olive branch […] which is deeply rooted in our land as a symbol of coexistence and tolerance”, he reaffirmed both Arafat’s message and the Declaration of Independence of the State of Palestine.  “The people of Palestine, Muslims and Christians, aspire to peace and justice and are committed to the principles of peaceful coexistence,” he said, and pledged to continue to work for a lasting peace based on justice and respect for all rights so that, rather than being a victim of history, the Palestinian people could become a participant of history. 


ELIZABETA KANCESKA-MILEVSKA, Minister of Culture of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, thanking the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for initiating today’s gathering, reminded delegates that last September in the Assembly, she had told them that the core of the country’s cultural tradition was its openness towards other cultures.  Despite various challenges, she trusted it would provide an excellent example of how intercultural, inter-ethnic and interreligious dialogue could be promoted at the national level.


In that context, she said that last year, the country had hosted the World Conference on Dialogue among Religions and Civilizations, at which hundreds of political and religious leaders had openly discussed how to generate political will to eliminate common stereotypes, including through establishing new channels of communication.  A follow-up conference would be held in 2010.


She stressed the importance that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia attached to the Alliance of Civilizations, saying that all present today were aware of the need to strengthen political action to deal with division, and deviations from the United Nations Charter, among other fundamental human rights instruments.  With that, she reaffirmed support for the Alliance’s goals.


Emphasizing that respect for cultural diversity was at the core of her Ministry’s activities, she said the annual Programmes for Culture, and the Law of Culture, were means for advancing that goal.  Cultural diversity represented “treasure and advantage”, she said, explaining that diverse traditions held great artistic potential and, at the same time, represented one instrument of peace.  The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had adopted the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.


Politicians had the primary responsibility for creating environments conducive to building understanding, she explained, noting that such a process must engage all stakeholders, as that interdependence was crucial in raising awareness for collective wellbeing. The United Nations was at the forefront of multilateral settings for such work, and her Republic’s international engagements were coordinated accordingly.


She said the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was a co-sponsor of the resolution proposed by the Philippines and Pakistan, and was confident that today’s deliberations would constitute a step forward in achieving its common objectives.  In closing, she urged focusing great attention on culture, saying that her Government was working to increase concern for national cultural values by establishing a system based on European standards.


E. AHAMED, Minister of State for External Affairs of India, said every one of the world’s major religions had a home in his country, making it a nation of unparalleled diversity.  Islam had flourished on the subcontinent for over 1,300 years, and there were now 150 million “Ummah” among the population.  In other words, one Muslim in every ten, worldwide, was an Indian.  Christianity came to India shortly after its founding, while Jewish and Zoroastrian people had an ancient history of freely practicing their faiths in India.


He said dialogue was a historical tradition in India, and it drew upon respect for knowledge, willingness to question and desire to learn.  It was in the absence of such dialogue leading to understanding that intolerance, bigotry and violence flourished.  One reason why extremist ideologies, violence and terrorism had grown was the lack of dialogue, because there was no disputing that terrorism, as a manifestation of extremism, intolerance and violence, was the antithesis to all religions.  The central teachings of all religions were based on the universal values of peace, goodness and humanity.  “No religion condones violence or the killing of human beings.”


The rise of intolerance worldwide was disturbing, he said.  Increased resources were being made available to violent and intolerant groups that misused religion to justify and propagate their extremist agendas.  Countering such tendencies diverted resources from development efforts.  Moreover, the destructive actions of such groups could have serious consequences for social stability and peace.  The nations of the world must come together to tackle such evils as a matter of increasing urgency.  “Modern societies cannot and should not tolerate extremism and violence.  And those who consciously or unconsciously abet extremism would be well served to remember that these are monsters that might not easily go away,” he said.


A clear message must be sent about the importance of tolerance for the faiths and beliefs of others.  The Charter stated that the peoples of the United Nations were determined to practice tolerance and live together in peace.  The responsibility of Member States to promote tolerance and respect must be emphasized.  Then, a larger platform must be built based on tolerance and the fundamental equality of all cultural traditions, religions and faiths.


CARLOS MORALES TRONCOSO ( Dominican Republic) said a peaceful world could only be achieved when subjects like those being considered by the Assembly dominated debates among neighbours, countries, Governments and the governed.  A world of conflict had been founded in the abandonment of “a culture of dialogue”.  Although dialogue was not the imposition of certain beliefs, points of view or culture on others, groups regularly took up dialogue as a strategy for domination and as a means of imposition on their interlocutors.  Dialogue strengthened cooperation, tolerance and mutual respect, and provided a means of examining differences, sharing ideas, breaking down mistrust and promoting togetherness.  Dialogue should, therefore, be promoted as a solution to the problems of an interconnected world. 


Continuing, he said promoting dialogue implied the rejection of theories that encouraged the clash of civilizations, cultures and religions, as well as of international terrorism.  Its promotion also implied fighting for the respect of human dignity and rights.  By working toward a culture of peace, Member States would commit themselves to the peaceful resolution of conflict.  Conflicts, like natural disasters, led to death, depleted resources, paralyzed economies and nations immersed in insecurity and despair.  Conflicts aggravated political, economic, social and environmental situations, which caused suffering and unimaginable hardship.  “Only through dialogue, which will bring us closer and help us understand others’ arguments, could we think of living in peace,” he said.


He said it did not matter if religions practiced their faiths differently or used different Holy Books, “because we were all members of one family and human race”.  Although religious fundamentalists acted under the notion that only they possessed a monopoly on transcendent truths of spirit, religion was, in fact, intrinsically against discrimination, violence, hate, hostility and conflict.  In that regard, he trusted that the Assembly’s discussions on Dialogue would be as fruitful as the expectations of its promoters, and would lead to an era of understanding, cooperation, compassion and peace.  However, such an imagined world would not be one of stillness, “in which we would find ourselves in a permanent state of contemplation; human beings, as history had shown, were always fighting”. That being the case, he said that if there was to be peace, let it be an “active peace”.


CARINA CHRISTENSEN, Minister of Culture of Denmark, said that increasing intercultural dialogue and understanding was an integral and indispensable part of the effort to ensure a dynamic and peaceful development of international relations, and it was due to the appreciation of that fact that her Government had been supportive of several interfaith initiatives in the country, as well as abroad.


To that end, Denmark attached great importance to promoting dialogue between young people, and, in today’s ever-changing world, it was vital to consider carefully what was conveyed to future generations.  In that regard, education was perhaps the single most efficient path to a peaceful handling of cultural and religious diversity, she stressed.  Such education had to put a stronger emphasis on commonly shared values like tolerance, mutual understanding, respect for cultural, ethnic and religious diversity, protection and promotion of universal human rights, including the rights of religious minorities, adherence to non-violence, and the principles of peaceful co-existence.


For that reason, she continued, Denmark was proud to have hosted the Copenhagen conference on education for dialogue and intercultural understanding in October this year.  That conference had been organized and sponsored by what he said was an impressive group of international and national organizations committed to the objective.  Among them were the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC); the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization; the Council of Europe; the Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for the Dialogue Between Cultures; the Danish Centre for Culture and Development; and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.


Noting that one of the main themes of the Copenhagen conference was how to combat stereotypes about religions and beliefs in educational systems, she expressed the hope that the resultant expert recommendations would serve as an inspiration for practitioners throughout the world just as she hoped today’s Assembly meeting would similarly do.  She added that it was important that, as responsible leaders, participants in the Assembly meeting promulgated tolerance and mutual understanding to avoid conflict and hatred between peoples just because they had different cultures, different beliefs and looked different.


KERRY O’BRIEN, Senator of Australia, said his country was committed to the proactive pursuit of peace and understanding, and attached great importance to interfaith cooperation as a means of promoting mutual respect and tolerance across the region.  Today was an historic day for the United Nations, with leaders of different faiths gathering to discuss ways to use those beliefs to create a better world.  The challenge now was to transform that initiative into real outcomes that affected peoples’ lives.


Warmly welcoming the Philippines’ leadership in promoting the Ministerial Meeting on Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace, he said Australia had been accepted as a member of the Dialogue, and he also commended the roles of Saudi Arabia and Spain in promoting the World Interfaith Dialogue in Madrid, in July.  His Government actively supported the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and was committed to the work of the Alliance of Civilizations, having joined its Group of Friends in 2007.  With the European Union, Australia co-hosted a Youth Interfaith Forum in December 2007, which had recognized the important role of young people in fostering peace.


At a regional level, Australia had taken the lead in fostering interfaith cooperation through the Regional Interfaith Dialogue, which aimed to focus the attention of religious leaders on their potential to enhance moderate voices within their communities.  Indeed, he said the Southeast Asian region’s religious leaders were uniquely placed to build trust, but by the same token, it was the duty of all in the community -– including political decision makers -– to apply a values-based dialogue to all their activities.


Domestically, he said, among the 150 initiatives supported under the National Action Plan to Build on Social Cohesion, Harmony and Security, was the establishment of a national centre of excellence for Islamic studies.  Australia looked forward to continuing its work on interfaith dialogue domestically and with its international partners.


What was happening today could not just be left to stand on its own, he cautioned, urging States to show how a broader understanding among cultures could address longstanding disputes.  In that spirit, he welcomed the President of Israel’s positive statement today concerning the Arab Peace Initiative, citing his comment that it was a “serious opening for real progress”.  He hoped that such an opportunity would be endorsed by all, as the “fanatics standing against us” would not be easily deterred.  Those advocating peace must show they were even more determined.


GIADALLA A. ETTALHI ( Libya) stressed the pressing need to intensify dialogue between religions and cultures, which would in turn serve as a tool in realizing the goals of the United Nations, as stipulated in its Charter and reaffirmed by the outcome document of the Assembly’s 2005 World Summit.  He commended the “great efforts” of the United Nations, particularly those of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, several regional organizations, and especially the “Alliance of Civilizations” formed by Turkey and Spain.


At the current critical stage, an objective and “true understanding” of each other was imperative, as unsettled elements in the past were being revisited and were resulting in modern-day political actions that caused wars, destruction and severe suffering to millions around the world.


He highlighted Islam and Muslims in general as the “principle victim” –- though not the only one -– of events and responses after 11 September, 2001.  Though not the first time Islam had been targeted by misunderstanding or prejudice, the intensification of “Islamophobia” had occurred in recent years, according to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.  That had resulted in the defamation of Islam and racial intolerance of Muslims in Western societies.  Muslims were particularly concerned because, while the overwhelming majority of their religious brethren adhered to the principles of peace and tolerance, a vested group of Islamaphobes was spreading negative portrayals of both the religion and its followers as supportive of terrorism and extremism.


He also stated that the reasons for tension and conflict arose from “the spirit of domination” and in trying to make other civilizations and cultures “carbon copies” of themselves.  In conclusion, he noted Libya’s hosting of many meetings for dialogue between religions, and its belief in the importance of gaining an understanding of other religions which will create a world where “peace, progress and justice prevail”.


GERT ROSENTHAL (Guatemala), paying tribute to the King of Saudi Arabia for initiating today’s important meeting, said Guatemala understood first-hand the tragic consequences of intolerance, whether arising from ethnic, religious, social or ideological differences.  Among the underpinnings of the peace accords that had ended almost four decades of fratricidal conflict was the formation of a multiethnic, pluricultural and multilingual society.


Continuing, he said a culture for peace was a tool to be massively disseminated.  That required strengthening education, which was the first action that should be promoted among the eight identified in the Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace.  Eliminating content that incited hate from school textbooks was the starting point.  Closely linked to that was the need to update education and cultural policies to reflect a human-rights based approach, which guaranteed equality among men and women.


In the sphere of education, he reaffirmed the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s lead role in applying a programme of peace.  The adoption of UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity was a clear example of the categorical rejection of a thesis that predicted an inevitable clash between civilizations, while the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples had been a recognition of the inherent value of human diversity.


Guatemala supported the Alliance of Civilizations, and activities of the Tripartite Forum on the Cooperation between Religions in favour of Peace and Development, among other initiatives that rejected the misuse of religions by extremists.  In closing, he stressed that Cultural Diversity Day, on 21 May, and International Peace Day, on 21 September, be better acknowledged.


PETER MAURER ( Switzerland) said dialogue was about creating relationships with people who thought differently from one another.  Today’s meeting of ideas and thought was what drove transformation.  It changed the way one person or State saw another.  It changed political dynamics.  He went on to say that an important component of dialogue was that of not just giving but receiving.  Each participant, rather than believing they were the high point of society or the sole purveyor of truth, needed to have the humility to receive.  Without that ability, a person would not be capable of dialogue.


With a long history of co-existence and pacifism, Switzerland had learned to develop a common determination, focusing on what united in practice and not what separated ideologically.  In doing so, it had developed a pragmatic political culture, where the protection of minorities and a constant search for compromise was crucial for the unity in their country.  That responsibility initiated from each citizen and from each State.  “It begins with us”, he said, and quoted the opening remarks of the President of the General Assembly.  “We are gathered here today to talk not about religion.  We are here today to pledge to place our reserves of moral strength at the service of the goals of the United Nations.”


The job of ensuring respect for the diverse cultures of the global community was not just political will.  It was the smooth functioning of the rule of law, where freedom of thought, conviction, religion and freedom from discrimination could be guaranteed.  Switzerland supported the interfaith Dialogue on the Culture of Peace and the processes that would lead to the transformations of conflicts.  “We interact in unity despite our differences, to make our world a better world.”  That was the core of Switzerland’s of foreign policy and one which they pursued within the Organization.


Mr. HENNINGSSON, Senior Advisor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, welcomed today’s noble initiative undertaken by the King of Saudi Arabia.  Discussing cooperation between the United Nations and religious organizations, he drew attention to the dialogue that took place in Istanbul, Turkey, last month, and included the Director for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).


Turning to the UNESCO project “The Image of the Other” in school curricula, he said that project had been ongoing for four years, carried out in cooperation with the League of Arab States, among other partners.  In closing, he profoundly appreciated the United Nations’ efforts to restore trust among the world’s peoples, notably through initiatives stemming from the Muslim world.


FRANK MAJOOR (Netherlands), aligning himself with the statement made earlier on behalf of the European Union, recalled that the European Union had been built on a culture of peace established after years of war.  Building on the three needed characteristics for fruitful religious dialogue, just discussed by former French Prime Minister Alain Juppé, he observed that people had multiple identities:  those who were Christian, were also men and women; those who were Hindu, were also artists and journalists.  In other words, interreligious dialogue was only one form of dialogue.  Dialogue also should be welcomed on basis of economic social and political identities.


Second, the Netherlands had facilitated interreligious dialogue on various occasions, he explained, pointing out that dialogue that went hand-in-hand with various forms of cooperation was very often effective.  Through it, people discovered their commonalities, and found that religions shared differences that supported human rights and fundamental freedoms.  On that basis, he urged bridging gaps.  In the same spirit, he supported the Faith in Human Rights initiative, organized by a Dutch non-governmental organization, to be held at The Hague on 10 December.


Third, he said Governments were facing huge financial, environmental and social challenges that needed the help of business, youth and others to solve them.  The Dutch legal system dealt nationally and internationally with the rights and freedoms of individuals.  It would not be possible to point to the authoritative voice on behalf of religion.  It would be impossible for a judge to determine if the rights of religion had been violated -– to whom would he turn for guidance?  The Netherlands did not support calls for legal protection from religious beliefs, but rather supported the rights of individual believers.


For the same reasons, he was sceptical about establishing an advisory body that represented the world’s religious movements.  How would it work, he wondered, and how would it decide who would represent any particular movement?  How would belief be defined in such a context?  He feared that such a body would produce more problems than it would be able to solve.  As such, he urged making interreligious dialogue practical, and welcomed initiatives taken in the past year in the hope that they would prove practical and durable.  His country would continue to help foster such a dialogue.


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For information media • not an official record