Ban lauds efforts of UN forum for inter-cultural understanding in troubling times

6 April 2009 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today stressed that as the deepening global economic recession tears the fabric of societies by throwing a growing number of people out of work, the need for cross-cultural tolerance, dialogue, respect and understanding has never been greater.

In a message to the second forum of the United Nations campaign for understanding between faiths and cultures, known as the Alliance of Civilizations, Mr. Ban warned that too many people are jobless, hungry and angry and looking for scapegoats in other communities and religions.

“This is extremely dangerous and even deadly. Unfair blame leads to unjust punishment,” Mr. Ban told the two-day gathering in Istanbul, Turkey.

“Even a child could be murdered on the excuse that it would only grow up to be ‘one of them.’ We have been this way before, too many times,” he added.

Underscoring the importance of the Alliance of Civilizations – launched by the UN in 2005 to help overcome prejudices between nations, cultures and religions – the Secretary-General stressed that it “stamps out sparks before they catch” and become fires.

Mr. Ban said that this was critical, because “no amount of blue helmets, ceasefires or human rights monitors can bring lasting peace without a genuine spirit of cooperation among different communities, different faiths, [or] different groups.”

Noting that forum participants were not only meeting to talk but to sign new agreements, launch networks and fund projects, Mr. Ban said, “Your efforts will do more than prevent problems. They will generate solutions,” and give economies a boost by making societies more stable for investors.

Among Alliance initiatives that Mr. Ban commended were an online project aimed at helping young people understand other religious traditions, a media fund promoting mainstream films that challenge cultural stereotypes, a fellowship programme that helps young leaders create new models of collaboration and a film festival on migration and integration.

He also paid tribute to the Rapid Response Media Mechanism developed by the Alliance, which connects journalists with a wide range of international experts whose voices can help broaden the range of views being heard when events and controversies threaten to split societies.

“It is the most polarizing voices that are perceived to offer the most gripping viewing or listening experiences. At such times, our Alliance experts serve as invaluable moderating influences,” said Mr. Ban.

Attending the conference are the heads of the two countries that sponsor the Alliance, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, along with the UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, former President of Portugal Jorge Sampaio, as well as diplomats, heads of State, religious leaders, academics, corporate executives, civil society leaders and representatives of youth groups.

Mr. Ban concluded his address to the Forum saying that “the Alliance gives us a chance. A chance to consign identity-based divisiveness to the past – something we should have done long ago. A chance to recognize our common humanity before it is too late.”

While in Istanbul, the Secretary-General met with Mr. Zapatero to discuss the global food crisis, the upcoming donors’ conferences for Haiti and Somalia and last week’s Group of 20 (G-20) Summit in London.

Before heading back to New York, Mr. Ban also attended a lunch hosted by Mr. Erdogan and met with Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger of Austria and President Danilo Türk of Slovenia.

Mr. Ban will brief the General Assembly tomorrow on his 12-day trip which took in six countries before leaving for Asia by the end of the week to make an official visit to Laos and to attend the summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Thailand.


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