Intercultural Dialogue Crucial in Preventing, Resolving Conflicts, Secretary-General Tells Security Council Thematic Debate

26 May 2010
SC/9936

Intercultural Dialogue Crucial in Preventing, Resolving Conflicts, Secretary-General Tells Security Council Thematic Debate

26 May 2010
Security Council
SC/9936
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

6322nd Meeting (AM)

Intercultural Dialogue Crucial in Preventing, Resolving Conflicts,

 

Secretary-General Tells Security Council Thematic Debate

 

Intercultural dialogue was crucial in preventing and ending conflicts, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council today as he opened a meeting on that subject, with Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon presiding.

“Dialogue can defuse tensions and keep situations from escalating,” Mr. Ban said at the start of a meeting on “Intercultural Dialogue for Peace and Security”, an initiative of the Lebanese presidency, just prior to his departure for a meeting of the related Alliance of Civilizations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“[Intercultural dialogue] could promote reconciliation in the aftermath of conflict and could also introduce moderate voices into polarized debates,” he said, adding:  “At a time when prejudice and hatred are all too common, when extremists seek new recruits through incitement and identity-based appeal, when politicians use divisiveness as a strategy to win elections — dialogue can be an antidote.”

Prime Minister Hariri said dialogue was based on the recognition of identities and depended on not turning the assertion of those identities into hostility leading to bloody “borders” dividing religions and cultures.  Dialogue in culture, society and politics — or “shared living” as it was called in Lebanon — was the path to preserving unity and being enriched by plurality, he added, saying that those goals were at the heart of his own country’s insistence on parity between Muslims and Christians, as stipulated in the 1989 Taif Agreement that had ended Lebanon’s civil war.

The practice of dialogue at the global level should turn away from the logic of might, impositions and double standards, he said, emphasizing that maintaining hegemony, oppression and injustice without raising fundamental ethical questions rendered dialogue itself questionable.  “This is true in our country, which has been subjected to 25 years of Israeli occupation and recurrent Israeli wars,” he said.

Asking how dialogue could build confidence and new relationships in the context of a continuing Israeli occupation of Palestinian and other Arab lands, he said that a durable and just peace in Palestine, as per the terms of the Arab Peace Initiative, would have substantial influence over relations between cultures and religions the world over, he said.  It was also necessary for the success of dialogue in crisis-solving and for achieving genuine rapprochement between the Western and Muslim worlds.

Following those opening remarks, the rest of the Council membership took the floor, agreeing for the most part that intercultural dialogue was an important element in the maintenance of peace and security.  Many speakers stressed, in addition, that it was crucial to avoid linking any religion or culture with ills besetting the international community, such as terrorism.  Many spoke of their national experiences of turning diversity into a benefit through dialogue.

However, some speakers also emphasized that intercultural dialogue could only be truly effective if it was frank and inclusive of all sectors of society, particularly women.  France’s representative said it must allow the exercise of free expression, without exception, and include tolerance for criticism.  It must be inclusive of all philosophies, religious and non-religious alike.

In a similar vein, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom said:  “Dialogue must mean exactly that.  It requires a willingness to be influenced, as well as to influence.”  Reconciliation required acceptance of different views and a recognition of shared values and common interests, he added.

Like many others speakers, he expressed hope that the Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks would bring about negotiations towards a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, and that next month’s jirga in Afghanistan would result in a durable settlement.  The representative of Gabon and other speakers stressed the value of dialogue in resolving conflicts in Africa and other regions.

Also speaking today were representatives of the Russian Federation, Japan, Brazil, United States, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey, Mexico, Uganda, China, Nigeria and Austria.

The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 12:10 p.m.

Background

For this morning’s meeting on an intercultural dialogue for peace and security, the Council had before it a concept paper by the Lebanese presidency, conveyed by a letter dated 19 May 2010 from the Permanent Representative of Lebanon addressed to the Secretary-General (document S/2010/248).  The paper notes the General Assembly’s work on strengthening religious and cultural tolerance since 2001, the establishment of the Alliance of Civilizations in 2005, the high-level meeting on the Culture of Peace in 2008, and the designation of 2010 as the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures.

According to the paper, peaceful relations among peoples and nations are threatened in the contemporary world by alienation, misconceptions, lack of respect, exclusion, marginalization and ignorance of other cultures, traditions, beliefs and history.  In addition, tensions and dangerous acts of violence have arisen due to essentialist approaches to religions and civilizations, mutual fears, stereotyping and preconceived ideas, perceptions of injustice, use of double standards, disregard for international law, and situations of occupation and oppression.

In this context, the paper calls on the Security Council to more comprehensively address the need to promote intercultural dialogue for peace and security so as to overcome prejudice and hostile perceptions; combat ignorance and xenophobia; and advance a culture of reconciliation based on the values of respect, tolerance, diversity, equality, justice, protection of human rights and rule of law.  The Council should consider intercultural dialogue for peace and security as an instrument of preventive diplomacy, conflict management and resolution and peacebuilding, the paper states.

Opening Remarks

BAN KI-MOON, Secretary-General of the United Nations, describing intercultural dialogue as an important topic for Lebanon and all Member States, said it was especially relevant now, on the eve of the Third Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations, beginning on Friday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  The Alliance had just welcomed the United States, its 100th member, he added, expressing hope that the membership would expand further still.

“Dialogue could defuse tensions and keep situations from escalating,” he continued.  It could promote reconciliation in the aftermath of conflict and introduce moderate voices into polarized debates.  At a time when prejudice and hatred were all too common, when extremists sought new recruits through incitement and identity-based appeals, and politicians used divisiveness as a strategy to win elections, dialogue could be an antidote.

The Secretary-General emphasized the need to protect cultural diversity, which was a basic right, and to strengthen educational systems so that young people could benefit from cultural diversity and not be victimized by those who exploited differences.  It was important to cast a wide net of engagement because solutions required the active partnership of local governments, civil society, the media, young leaders and many others, he added.

Noting that the General Assembly had proclaimed 2010 the International Year for Rapprochement of Cultures, he said the challenge for the Security Council was to follow up on today’s discussion by incorporating intercultural dialogue more fully into efforts to maintain international peace and security.  For that purpose, all Council members should draw on their national experiences with multiculturalism to share the lessons learned, he urged.

Statements

SAAD HARIRI, Council President and Prime Minister of Lebanon, spoke in his national capacity, saying that, while difficulties had tested his country and people, their will to live together in one homeland had not been shaken.  Lebanon was enriched by its diversity, openness and partnership between Christians and Muslims, he said, stressing that the need for dialogue between people of different faiths and cultures was far greater today in view of the dangers that might be brought about by policies based on fear and threats.  Dialogue stemmed from the recognition of identities and not turning the assertion of those identities into hostility leading to bloody “borders” dividing religions and cultures.

Dialogue was also based upon respect for religious plurality and cultural diversity, he said, adding:  “To be sure, opting for dialogue is responsive to the new or recurrent social and political phenomenon marked by communal and ethnic violence, terrorism and coercion.”  Dialogue in culture, society and politics — or “shared living” as it was called in Lebanon — was the path to preserving unity and being enriched by plurality.  Those goals were at the heart of the country’s insistence on parity between Muslims and Christians, as stipulated in the 1989 Taif Agreement that had ended Lebanon’s civil war.

He went on to say that parity was the basis of Lebanon’s ability to contribute to intercultural and interreligious dialogue at the world level, and to self-understanding as a basis of encounter and exchange, rather than an arena of conflict.  “Dialogue does not ignore contradiction, nor does it deny democratic competition, but is a mode of managing plurality so that differences do not generate hostility or cause divisions.”  It was not a process of negotiations conditioned by power relations but one of equal footing among dialogue partners.  That was why the practice of dialogue at the global level should turn away from the logic of might, impositions and double standards, he said, emphasizing that maintaining hegemony, oppression and injustice without raising fundamental ethical question rendered dialogue itself questionable.

“This is true in our country, which has been subjected to 25 years of Israeli occupation and recurrent Israeli wars,” he said.  Thousands of Lebanese citizens had been killed, while the economy and stability had been severely affected, amid the continuing occupation of parts of the country.  “It is legitimate to ask:  how could dialogue build confidence and new relationships in the context of a continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Arab lands and the persistent denial of the national and human rights of the Palestinian people, and more particularly their right to return to an independent State with Jerusalem as its capital?”

In other words, the spirit of justice and respect for international law must prevail for an authentic dialogue to occur, he emphasized.  That was all the more true since Jerusalem, the city of peace and encounter among believers of the monotheistic religions, could not fulfil its historical vocation unless its people were freed from injustice, changes to its demography and character ceased, and the occupation ended.  A durable and just peace in Palestine, as per the terms of the Arab Peace Initiative, would have substantial influence over relations between cultures and religions, he said.  Moreover, a just peace was a necessity for the success of dialogue as an approach to crisis solving and achieving genuine rapprochement between the Western world and the Arab and Muslim world, he added.

ALISTAIR BURT, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the United Kingdom, stressed the importance of intercultural dialogue as an instrument for preventing conflict, noting that all too often, prejudice could cause conflict.  Next month’s peace jirga in Afghanistan was an opportunity to begin a dialogue for a sustainable settlement.  In the Middle East, the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian dispute had been a source of resentment for more than 60 years and was an obstacle to dialogue among Muslims, Jews and Christians.  The current proximity talks offered hope for a solution, but the region must support dialogue and take steps to build trust, he stressed.

He said that, while intercultural dialogue should acknowledge difference, it should also be built on universal human values.  “Dialogue must mean exactly that.  It requires a willingness to be influenced, as well as to influence,” he added.  Reconciliation required acceptance of different views and recognition of shared values and common interests.  The United Nations was well-placed to support dialogue.  Politicians alone could not build understanding across cultures; that task must begin with open societies.  New technology in communications should enable the citizens to be better informed, he said, adding that openness in communication would inspire and challenge politicians in their roles on behalf of their citizens.

GÉRARD ARAUD ( France) said no one could deny the value of intercultural dialogue in a globalized world, but it could not be an end in itself and should not see cultures as fixed and static.  Each individual could choose many identities or none at all, and cultures were constantly changing.  While the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was the best place to discuss such matters, the Security Council must take into account the cultural aspect of conflicts, which, however, could not be seen as the root cause of conflict, but rather something used by parties to foment tension.

He said his country was proud to be home to people from diverse cultures who had come together around the values of the Republic, including human rights.  As a member of the Alliance of Civilizations, France looked forward to the upcoming meeting in Brazil, he said, emphasizing that dialogue must enable the participation of women, as well as the inclusion of all philosophies, including humanism.  The exercise of absolute free expression was also crucial for real dialogue, including tolerance of criticism.

ALEXANDER PANKIN ( Russian Federation) welcomed the various international platforms for dialogue, stressing that they should be complementary and not in competition.  The Russian Federation had great experience of cultural diversity because it brought together many cultures and social groups.  While agreeing that extremism was fomented by distorted views of other cultures, he denied the legitimacy of the notion of a clash between cultures and the attribution of terrorism to any particular culture, emphasizing that tolerance and mutual respect should be the basis for the international community to confront challenges in that area and others.  As for the resolution and prevention of conflicts, mediation was an important tool, but it required deep cultural knowledge, which must be used in the mediation efforts of the United Nations, as well as those of national and regional mechanisms, he said, adding that the expertise of regional players was a unique platform in building bridges.

YUKIO TAKASU ( Japan) underscored the importance of intercultural dialogue in building respect between peoples and overcoming any mistrust between them.  The Security Council should place more emphasis on building bridges through intercultural dialogue before the eruption of conflict, he said.  It must maximize available means and consider how the United Nations could best put dialogue and mutual respect at the core of peace agreements.

He went on to say that inclusive intercultural dialogue was crucial to peacebuilding, and education was an important element of it.  Japan attached great importance to the concept of human security, and all people, regardless of identity, were entitled to enjoy a peaceful life, free from fear and want.  The United Kingdom had been involved in fostering intercultural dialogue with many peoples, specifically between those in the Middle East, he said, pledging his country’s continued efforts in that area.

MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI (Brazil), remarking that today’s debate was timely in light of the upcoming meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations in Rio de Janeiro, said the topic was very close to the hearts of Brazilians because of their diversity.  Intercultural dialogue was indeed relevant to the Council’s work because of the need for adequate communication, mutual understanding and a minimum of trust in the maintenance of international peace and security.

Structured dialogue among people, groups, Governments and religious organizations could be an important part of a deeper approach to preventive diplomacy, she noted, particularly where conflicts arose because of profound differences — actual or perceived — in values, traditions and faiths.  Peacekeeping missions could contribute to dialogue by setting an example to illustrate how differences did not necessarily imply conflict and prove that different people could cooperate.  The civil affairs components of such missions could contribute by supporting local media, especially radio, and through quick-impact projects, she said.

BROOKE D. ANDERSON ( United States) thanked Prime Minister Hariri for his recent visit to Washington, D. C., which had brought out the many things the two countries had in common.  She also expressed hope that the Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks would lead to good-faith negotiations resulting in a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.  The United States called on all countries of the region, as well as others in the international community to help build a climate conducive to peace.  The United States supported frank and open dialogue based on mutual respect between countries and cultures.

She went on to underscore the importance of direct, person-to-person dialogue, including international exchange and training programmes, such as those in which her country was particularly involved and which currently engaged 2.4 million people a year.  The United States itself had long been an experiment in people from diverse origins living together, she pointed out, stressing the value of the Alliance of Civilizations initiative, as well as President Barack Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world.  While not all differences could be bridged, frank and open dialogue with all those who exercised mutual respect and peaceful aspirations could go a long way towards reducing tensions.  From climate change to nuclear proliferation, a climate of serious and respectful dialogue was needed to find peaceful solutions to even the most intractable problems, she said.

IVAN BARBALIĆ ( Bosnia and Herzegovina) said intercultural dialogue was a permanent process with worldwide participation at all levels and should be placed at the top of the political agenda.  Cultural diversity had become one of the major political challenges to modern democracies.  Noting that history had shaped Europe as a multicultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious continent, he said new realities such as migration and globalization were expected to enrich it and make it more open, more deeply democratic and more multicultural.

However, alienation, misconceptions, exclusion, marginalization and lack of knowledge about culture and beliefs represented a serious threat to peaceful relations among peoples and nations, he said.  Intercultural and interreligious dialogue could play an increasingly important role in post-conflict societies and could also be a useful tool of preventive diplomacy.  Multiculturalism should not be defined only as a multitude of cultures with equal status, but as a system based on common values and the development of peace.

The highest priority should be assigned to reinforcing intercultural dialogue, underlining shared values and promoting the peaceful settlement of disputes, he said.  Intercultural dialogue as a tool of peacebuilding was an indispensable instrument for fostering tolerance and consolidating the values of justice, equality and respect.  It should be an integral part of nationally owned peacebuilding strategies for promoting a culture of peace and turning pluralism into a source of strength.  The Council, given its primary responsibility to maintain international peace and security, could and should do more in terms of preventive diplomacy and promoting intercultural dialogue, he emphasized.

EMMANUEL ISSOZE-NGONDET (Gabon) said intercultural dialogue was a fundamental element in maintaining international peace and security, and the Security Council could, therefore, not remain on the sidelines during the International Year, particularly given globalization’s advances and that the world was faced with such threats as terrorism and extremism.

Such threats were intensified by passions, blind selfishness and a refusal to listen to each other with humility, he said.  Experiences in Rwanda, Liberia and Sierra Leone demonstrated the importance of bridging cultures to prevent conflict and bring existing conflicts under control.  Media were particularly important for mutual understanding, he said, adding that it was only through intercultural dialogue that a true peace could be realized, one that did not destroy the diversity of the world’s peoples.

ERTUĞRUL APAKAN ( Turkey) stressed the need for cooperative approaches and a stronger multilateralism, which were needed for a better understanding among nations, so that they could rise above classical stereotypes and reject the “us versus them” mentality.  The United Nations must take the lead in that context and make every effort to promote intercultural dialogue.  Given the negative security implications of any failure to do that, the Council should also assume its fair share of responsibility while dealing with conflict situations.

Security could not be ensured solely through military means, he emphasized, noting that intercultural perceptions were sometimes at the core of conflicts.  There was a need for comprehensive strategies that addressed the root causes of such misconceptions, he said, adding that intercultural dialogue issues should have their rightful place in policy formulations.  Cultural diversity was an integral part of the common heritage of humanity and an asset for advancing humankind.  To achieve mutual respect and understanding, it was necessary to accept differences, fight ignorance and prejudice, identify commonalities and encourage dialogue, he said.

It was important to make the best use of the opportunities presented by globalization, he said, pointing out that his country had straddled and bridged many cultures historically, geographically and socially, while trying to create an environment of mutual understanding.  Turkey was proud of its diverse social fabric and inherent cultural differences, he said, pointing out that its political philosophy was firmly based on dialogue and cooperation.  It had co-sponsored the Alliance of Civilizations initiative, and since its inception in 2005, the Alliance had become a truly global peace initiative aimed at breaking down walls of misperception, connecting people and building bridges to develop intercultural skills.

CLAUDE HELLER ( Mexico) said most Member States had a multi-ethnic make-up that promoted diversity and plurality.  All cultures and civilizations contributed to the enrichment of humanity and to respect for and understanding of religious, ethnic and cultural diversity.  In doing that, they helped strengthen the very elements contained in the United Nations Charter.  The active promotion of a culture of peace and dialogue among civilizations, in which cultural diversity was respected and encouraged, must be seen as a fundamental value governing relations among States, he stressed.

In recent years, armed conflict and acts of terrorism had exacerbated jealousy and fear between different societies, he recalled, noting that erroneous perceptions, ignorance and preconceptions often led to acts of violence that threatened international stability.  That was why it was essential to combat stereotypes and false assessments that created patterns of hostility and led to a lack of confidence between societies and individuals.  Racism, phobia and intolerance were far too rooted in contemporary reality, despite legally binding agreements and good international intentions in recent years.

The Council must make efforts towards greater cultural understanding aimed at helping overcome prejudices and strengthening reconciliation initiatives based on respect, tolerance, diversity, equity and justice, he stressed.  It must also create strategic alliances with other competent bodies to combat extremist tendencies that put peace and international security at risk.  While many countries recognized the benefits of diversity in theory, in practice, some believed it could weaken the State, cause conflicts and retard development.  It was necessary to deflate that myth in order to foster tolerance in favour of peace and international security.  Mexico had a rich, varied culture, which gave particular importance to dialogue between cultures and helped to end exclusion and social inequities, he said, pointing out his country’s role in the Group of Friends of the Alliance of Civilizations initiative.

RUHAKANA RUGUNDA ( Uganda) said that promoting intercultural dialogue was a way to foster peace and security, particularly since many conflicts resulted from misperceptions of other groups.  Dialogue could help build a multilateral system based on mutual respect and solidarity, and clarifying the values of various cultures was crucial for that purpose, he said.  Saluting UNESCO’s commitment to building understanding, as well as the Alliance of Civilizations initiative, he said it was important to continue promoting intercultural dialogue for peace and development.

LI BAODONG (China), noting that the international community bore the responsibility of seeking common understanding, expressed hope that today’s meeting would strengthen peaceful coexistence.  Intercultural dialogue was valuable in maintaining international peace and security, and for that reason, it was essential to treat all cultures and faiths with equal respect, strengthen intercultural dialogue in an inclusive spirit, and settle conflicts by peaceful means.  It was also crucial to avoid linking terrorism to any particular culture or religion, he stressed, voicing support for related United Nations initiatives and pledging his country’s full support.

U. JOY OGWU ( Nigeria) said the idea of a culture of peace was not new to the United Nations, and was indeed the bedrock of international cooperation.  However, there was a lack of political will to promote dialogue as a peacebuilding tool, an attitude that hopefully would be changed by today’s meeting.  Nigeria knew first hand the challenges and benefits of cultural diversity, and was determined to preserve both its unity and its diversity, garnering from it a great desire to promote peace in its own region and at the international level, where dialogue was needed to build a global village that upheld the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

THOMAS MAYR-HARTING (Austria), describing his country’s long tradition of dialogue between cultures and religions, as well as recent initiatives in Europe to foster dialogue with Muslim communities, said the Security Council could more actively encourage steps towards meaningful dialogue to help prevent and manage conflict and build sustainable peace.  At the same time, the Council needed to ensure respect for the principles of the rule of law, the needs of transitional justice, as well as human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Intercultural dialogue as a means of conflict prevention and resolution, as well as peacebuilding could only be truly effective if all sectors of the society concerned were included, he said.  The Council should, therefore, stress that women’s contributions must be integrated into dialogue and point to the vital role that women could play in re-establishing post-conflict societies, fostering tolerance and building sustainable peace.  The Council could also intensify cooperation with regional and subregional organizations in that regard, he added.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.