Special Event Marking the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures

By Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs

Mr. President of the General Assembly,
Mr. Secretary-General,
Distinguished panelists,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to open this meeting to mark the International Year on the Rapprochement of Cultures at the United Nations. I welcome the President of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General and other distinguished representatives.

First, I would like to recall that in its resolution 64/81, the General Assembly invited the secretariat to organize a special activity to celebrate the International Year on the Rapprochement of Cultures in 2010 at the United Nations Headquarters. This activity complements the work carried out by UNESCO, the lead agency for the InternationalYear.

As you may know, my Department has been designated by the General Assembly as the focal point in the Secretariat on intercultural and interreligious matters. As such we have organized this event today.

Unfortunately, the volcano eruption and the resulting air traffic disruption have prevented some panelists from being here. Some replacements have been made at the last minute. I wish to thank our speakers for their flexibility given these difficult circumstances.

I also wish to remind you our objectives for this meeting. Firstly, this event should help solidify and promote a shared conceptual framework on intercultural issues. Secondly, we should inspire and mobilize support for new activities that commemorate the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures.

Without further ado, I would like to give the floor to H.E. Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki, President of the 64th session of the General Assembly, to make an address. You have the floor, Sir.

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I thank the President of the General Assembly for his address.

I am now pleased to give the floor to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki Moon. You have the floor, Sir.

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I would like to thank the Secretary-General for his statement. The Secretary-General has taken a personal commitment to raise the profile of intercultural dialogue at the United Nations, and I wish to praise his efforts toward this noble cause.

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Now I am pleased to give the floor to H.E. Mr. Gaziz Telebayev, Vice-Minister of Culture for the Republic of Kazakhstan. He will give an address on the experience of Kazakhstan in building capacity for intercultural and interreligious dialogue. Kazakhstan has been a pioneer in this regard. It has created a centre for international research and training in this field in Astana. It has hosted three Congresses of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions which have prompted increased understanding and solidarity among religious leaders. The accomplishments of Kazakhstan are exemplary and warrant our attention during this International Year.

You have the floor, Sir.

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I thank H.E. Mr. Telebayev for his address.

Next I would like to give the floor to Mrs. Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Mrs. Obaid needs little introduction as she is well known to all of us. I would just like to say that under her leadership, UNFPA has carried out very interesting work on culturally sensitive approaches to development with a particular focus on gender equality. UNFPA has also established a Global Forum of faith-based organizations for population and development aimed at enhancing religious partnerships. Mrs. Obaid will deliver an address on “Promoting international development through a cultural lens”.

You have the floor, Madam.

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I thank Mrs. Obaid for her address.

I now give the floor to Chief Wilton Littlechild, Commissioner for the Canadian Truth and Conciliation Commission for Boarding Schools. Chief Littlechild, as a former Member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, has extensive experience on the promotion of indigenous cultures. As you may know, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is currently holding its annual session at UN Headquarters. Its theme this year highlights the need for cultural inclusiveness in development work. Chief Littlechild will give an address on “Promoting the Rapprochement of Cultures: the indigenous perspective”.

You have the floor, Sir.

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I thank Chief Littlechild for his address.

Next may I present Ms. Christine Alfsen, Director, UNESCO Office in New York. As you know, the General Assembly designated UNESCO as the lead agency for the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures. The very idea of the Year originated at the Executive Board of UNESCO in Paris. UNESCO along with my Department, DESA, is working closely to promote intercultural dialogue at the United Nations, including at the General Assembly under the agenda item “culture of peace”.

You have the floor, Ms. Alfsen.

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I thank Ms. Alfsen for her remarks.

Now I will give the floor to our last speaker, Mr. Marc Scheuer, Director at the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations. Mr. Scheuer has extensive experience in intercultural affairs at the Council of Europe and at the United Nations. Under his direction the Alliance of Civilizations has become an active and valuable UN mechanism to foster the rapprochement of cultures. It will hold its third Forum in Rio de Janeiro from 27 to 29 May 2010.

You have the floor, Sir.

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I thank Mr. Scheuer for his remarks.

The floor is now open for any comments or questions delegations may have.

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I will now give the floor back to our speakers for any comments they may have.

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Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

We have heard the final speaker. Before concluding, I wish to express my appreciation to the panelists who have shared their experiences and reflections. I also wish to thank all of you for your presence and participation.

Today we have heard some rich examples of how cultural and religious diversity can be acknowledged, honoured and promoted. The symposia, meetings, ceremonies and other events that are being carried out in commemoration of this International Year help to diminish the power of stereotypes and to fight against extreme ideas and racism. I trust that you will continue to take part in these events in New York, Paris, Rio de Janeiro and elsewhere.

Please note that my Department will prepare a report on intercultural and interreligious dialogue and cooperation for peace mandated by the General Assembly. It will include activities carried out during this International Year for the Rapprochement of Culture and it will be presented to the 65th session of the Assembly in September.

Thank you very much. I declare the meeting closed.