Cultural Diversity, Mutual Understanding Formed Bedrock of United Nations; Return to Such Principles Vital for World Torn by Extremism, Fear, General Assembly Told

22 March 2012
GA/11216

Cultural Diversity, Mutual Understanding Formed Bedrock of United Nations; Return to Such Principles Vital for World Torn by Extremism, Fear, General Assembly Told

22 March 2012
General Assembly
GA/11216
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-sixth General Assembly

Interactive Thematic Debate

AM & PM Meetings

Cultural Diversity, Mutual Understanding Formed Bedrock of United Nations; Return

to Such Principles Vital for World Torn by Extremism, Fear, General Assembly Told

Holds Thematic Debate on Fostering Cross-Cultural Understanding;

Panels: Peace and Development — What Works; Youth as Partners — Best Practices

Cultural diversity, freedom of thought and mutual understanding formed the bedrock on which the United Nations had been built, and returning to those principles was vital in a world increasingly characterized by extremism and an entrenched fear of the “other”, the General Assembly was told today, as senior Government officials gathered for a thematic debate on fostering cross-cultural understanding.

Convened jointly with the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, the one-day interactive debate aimed to support international and grass-roots initiatives that advanced intercultural dialogue and promoted collaborative relations among cultures.  It featured two panel discussions, respectively on “Cross-Cultural Understanding for Peace and Development — What Works?” and “Youth as Partners in Advancing Cross-cultural Understanding — Best Practices and Challenges”.

In her opening remarks, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro welcomed the many young people in the audience, saying: “The work we are discussing today is not only about you — it depends on you”.  She had seen time and again how easily young people forged relationships across the very cultural and religious borders that had kept older generations apart.  So-called “grown-ups” needed to follow the lead of young people and leave stereotypes behind.

Over the past year, in the Arab region, and recently in Senegal, young people were showing they were ready to fight for social justice, democracy, good governance and their right to contribute to development, she said.  Just as important, they wanted the values of equity, equality and fairness to prevail.  For its part, the United Nations was moving youth and cross-cultural understanding to the forefront of its agenda with the appointment of the first Special Adviser on Youth.  It also would expand the United Nations Volunteer Programme.

Beyond that, the Organization needed young people to contribute to the “crucial exercise” of setting policy, she said.  Indeed, today’s emerging generation was at home in a world of cross-cultural connection and adept at using new forms of social mobilization.  As such, the United Nations was convinced that young people could make a crucial difference in building peaceful and inclusive societies, both at home and in the global order.  Echoing the thoughts of the Secretary-General, she said: “Our job is to help them build the future they want”.

General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz al-Nasser said a shared sense of responsibility had led him to organize the thematic debate with the Alliance of Civilizations, a global initiative launched in 2005 under the auspices of Spain and Turkey, which had since emerged as a “new hope” for stemming the tide of intolerance.  The Alliance had created a clear shift in the way people viewed issues of “us” and “them”.  The world had seen how feelings of superiority and contempt could lead to war, as had been the case in Cambodia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Rwanda.  Now, a shared duty compelled States to ask why — again — culture was being seen as a source of division, and why fear of the other had led to exclusion.

Unless the benefits of globalization were shared justly throughout the human family, culture and identity would become the refuge sought by those left behind.  “This need not be so,” he said.  The Alliance’s role as a mediation tool should be strengthened, and he urged States to give it the capacity and resources required to meet its objectives.  He could see a role for the Alliance — and the Office of its High Representative — in appeasing tensions, preventing misunderstandings and mediating disputes that arose from cultural grievances.  Doing so would elevate the consideration of peace and security to a universal level.  “We should seize this historic opportunity,” he asserted.

Agreeing, Jorge Sampaio, High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, said it had become crystal clear that the growing ethnic, religious and cultural diversity of societies — and the increasing contacts among peoples — were key features of the twenty-first century.  They also posed decisive challenges for peace and development.  Dealing constructively with diversity was important, primarily because global communications were fostering a sense of isolation, which had bred mistrust and exclusion.  It was also important, he said, because cultural diversity held the potential for conflict, and could therefore not be neglected.

The ability to deal constructively with diversity, he said, was a learning process — the contrary of arrogance — and must be developed in a proactive way.  Making diversity an asset was a priority for ensuring humanity’s ability to experience peaceful coexistence at global and local levels.  “It’s our shared responsibility to meet this challenge,” he said, stressing that business and religious leaders, academics, civil society actors, the media and the vibrant participation of youth all were needed to break down walls and build shared spaces in the search for commonalities.

Beşir Atalay, Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, said that, in the age of instant communication, “we are still lacking the fundamental components of understanding each other”.  True understanding meant seeing each other in a relationship.  It meant connecting as human beings, opening ourselves to new horizons and reaching out those who were different.  Action — through social, economic and political programmes — must then be taken to bring about greater understanding and cultural affinity.  In that vein, Turkey would hold a replenishment meeting for the Alliance in Istanbul on 31 May, followed by a one-day conference on justice, peace and the initiative’s core values.

Gonzalo de Benito, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain, said the diversity of beliefs and cultures must be viewed as a positive factor in overcoming the challenges of mass migration, energy security and terrorism.  Diversity was an added value from a socio-economic point of view as well, in that inclusive societies were more creative and, therefore, more competitive.  Education played an essential role in that regard, as character was formed in the early stages of life.  For such reasons, he urged supporting teacher exchanges, saying that if young people understood their cultural identity, it would help decrease risk of threats.

During the first interactive panel, speakers shed light on the key elements of effective approaches to fostering cross-cultural understanding and how to address the issue from a youth perspective.  They focused on whether the increased use of social media allowed for meaningful interaction, and the role of educational institutions as spaces for such understanding.  They also considered whether mediation could advance the search for peace in a world of competing aspirations.

During the afternoon panel — on youth — speakers considered young people’s expertise in fostering intercultural dialogue through innovative means.  They underlined that such knowledge and creativity were assets to be harnessed by Government decision-makers in creating, carrying out and monitoring national policies and programmes related to cultural diversity.

In closing remarks, Mr. Al-Nasser said he had taken serious note of all points raised throughout the day’s events and that a summary of the discussions would be prepared and made available to Member States.  He hoped that the views and suggestions expressed today would trigger a rethinking of the challenges ahead and how to effectively tackle them.

Panel: “Cross-cultural understanding for peace and development — what works?”

Moderated by Riz Khan, reporter and broadcaster, Al Jazeera English, the panel featured presentations by Homi K. Bhabha, Professor of Humanities, Department of English, and Director, Humanities Centre, Harvard University; Ibrahim Kalin, Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister, Turkey; Vitaly Naumkin, Director, Institute of Oriental Studies; Farhan Nizami, Director, Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies; Emad El-Din Shahin, Associate Professor of Religion, University of Notre Dame; and Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, Permanent Representative of Brazil to the United Nations.

The panel considered the fact that, despite global consensus that all societies were bound together by their humanity and quest for prosperity, stability and peaceful coexistence, translating that quest into concrete action could be daunting.  Panellists shed light on the key elements of successful and effective approaches to fostering cross-cultural understanding and how to address the issue from a youth perspective.  They focused on whether the increased use of social media allowed for meaningful cross-cultural interaction and the role of educational institutions in fostering such understanding.  They also considered whether mediation could reduce tensions and advance the search for peace in a world of diversity and competing aspirations.

Opening the discussion, Mr. KHAN asked the panellists to discuss how much cross-cultural encounters really changed people’s behaviour.

Mr. BHABHA said people worldwide were increasingly communicating through technology.  But he questioned whether that technology, which was ubiquitous, was producing and communicating a set of values.  The Wikipedia website had more articles on Antarctica — some 7,800 — than on any one country in Latin America or Africa.  “The global map of knowledge is really a heart of darkness and that’s something that we should be very concerned about,” he said.  Interactive knowledge required a platform of humanistic understanding.  Information communicated via information technology must be interpreted to turn it into value-bearing knowledge. 

Mr. KALIN said that, in the past, people had lived in self-contained societies without much interaction with other parts of the world.  But, he asked whether the recent growth in the flow of information had meant more understanding.  Resistance to cross-cultural dialogue was based on the fear of losing one’s identity and integrity.  The point was not to overcome one’s identity, but rather to recognize the reality of different cultural, religious and political identities and not to allow them to be an obstacle to reaching out to others.

Mr. NAUMKIN said information had been used to influence people and to impose stereotypes on others.  Today, all cultures were suffering from a lack of confidence and identity problems were common.  Xenophobia was on the rise in Europe, as illustrated by the murder that week of Jewish children in France and Afghan villagers in Kandahar.  A cross-cultural dialogue was very important, especially for young people.  He was surprised by the fact that many young students often gained all their information from the Internet, much of which was not worthy of reading or was spoiling the culture.  There were a growing number of highly sectarian or inter-ethnic groups engaged in violence and that was not in line with cross-culturalization or cross-cultural dialogue.

The moderator then asked the next panellist if it was true that the international community was not building enough of a common history.

In response, Mr. NIZAMI said that, indeed, there had been a shift towards marginalization due to the lack of respect for differences.  Humankind must build bridges that were strong enough to carry the weight of its differences.  That process required a common history.  “Culture and civilization are universal heritage to which all people have contributed and to which all people can benefit,” he said, stressing that everyone must accept that others had a story to tell and must have the discipline to listen to that story as part of the general narrative.

The moderator asked the following panellist to shed light on what was actually going right.

Mr. SHAHIN said people needed a passion for justice to recognize their shortcomings, learn from each other and use those lessons to develop standards and regimes.  Things were going right, in some ways.  There was a growing realization that an ethical framework was needed and that globalization in recent decades had produced grave consequences, such as growing corporate greed, famine and food shortages.  Those consequences were alarming and something must be done.  The Arab Spring was one manifestation of “people power” in a region where a strong case had been made for justice and democracy.  The point was not to get together in meetings and conferences, but rather to come up with a specific and clear strategy to see how everyone could debate specific issues and topics.  The message must also be one of individual responsibility, not just of a top-down approach of Governments announcing to the public an agenda they had set.

The moderator then asked the next speaker, the Permanent Representative of Brazil, to discuss the lessons learned in her country about diversity.

Ms. RIBEIRO VIOTTI said Brazilian society was not free of discrimination, but diversity had not been a source of misunderstanding and divisions in it.  The Government’s social inclusion policies aimed to reduce inequalities and poverty.  She pointed to progress in the last decade to achieve sustainable growth and make sure a larger percentage of the population benefitted from it.  She cited the national cash transfer programme that enabled very poor people to access social services and send their children to school.  The upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro would be a good opportunity to join together with societies that had shown it was possible to eradicate hunger, poverty and disease.  A new set of values must be created to better manage the world’s diversity, environment, resources and knowledge, which were “our common future and our capacity for survival”, she said.

During the ensuing question-and-answer period, the representative of Japan agreed with the panellists’ points about the importance of ethical neighbourliness and the problems in the world due to a fear of losing one’s identity and the lack of confidence among some cultural groups.  He asked whether a concept of modernity was needed to address the sense of anxiety or fear that some groups had.  He also stressed that, as many of the United Nations 193 Member States were comprised of several ethnic groups, it was important for each nation to have a healthy sense of nationalism, which could be instrumental in transcending cultural differences among different ethnic groups.  Through the “if you respect my God, I will respect your God” approach, societies could transcend religious tensions.

Picking up on that point, the moderator asked the panellists what could be done to maintain one’s cultural identity when faced with pressure from all different directions.

Mr. KALIN said cultural insecurity was exploited by all extremist groups.  He pointed to anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe and recent claims by major European political leaders that multiculturalism was dead.  The global system lacked economic representation for some people, who felt their basic rights had been violated.  Moreover, Euro-centrism, which had marginalized so much of the non-European world’s talent, input and values, was still prevalent.  Standard classroom textbooks on civilization today were 90 per cent Euro-centric, perpetuating the discourse that “we are not about other cultures”.

Mr. BHABHA said the issue was not diversity itself, as people were quite happy with diversity.  Rather, problems occurred when diversity hardened into certain stereotypical perspectives — something politicians promoted for political gain.  For example, a politician could spread anti-immigrant sentiment and cultural intolerance by suddenly condemning women for wearing saris in public, despite the fact the same women had worn them without social stigma or hostility for years.  He agreed with the Japanese representative’s point about nationalism.  The lesson of the Arab Spring was that each society had its own culturally shaped notion of what a society was.

The representative of Iran said Western societies used words such as “democratization” and “rule of law”.  He asked what other word or words could be used when speaking about other cultures that could be applied universally.

Mr. NAUMKIN said it was difficult to come up with just one word.  Some people believed that there was a clear collision of the worlds of faith and secularism.  It was important not only to respect one’s faith and god, it was also important to respect non-believers.

Mr. SHAHIN said human dignity was something everyone could value.  Under that belief system, subjecting someone to torture or famine would strip that person of human dignity.  Human dignity was based on respect for justice, irrespective of religion, and on respect for human rights as a derivative of human dignity.

Responding to a comment from the representative of Italy about the need for interreligious dialogue, among other issues, Mr. NIZAMI said it was much easier to find shared values than to find common vocabulary to launch dialogue within or between communities.  Facilitating dialogue within communities continued to be an important challenge.  The idea of common heritage, based on universal civilizations, not ones defined by geography or race, was important, as was the role of the media, educational institutions and general histories.

Asked by the moderator about the uniting factors in Brazil to keep media focused on commonality instead of negative differences, Ms. RIBEIRO VIOTTI pointed to the idea of a common heritage and a shared vision for the future.  “In Brazil, there is a lot of discussion on what we need to do and how to include those that are still marginalized in the benefits of this new development,” she said.   

Mr. BHABHA asked how the idea of human dignity could be articulated in countries with wide-scale poverty and lack of basic infrastructure.  First, issues of equality and justice must be dealt with through civil society and intergovernmental associations.  “Where is respect when half your people have no food or medication?” he said.

Mr. NAUMKIN added that, for some people who had waged war in the name of freedom, cultural tolerance was not perceived as a virtue.  A lesson of the Arab Spring was that many people fighting for dignity lacked education, but they had joined the street protests and achieved results.

The representative of the European Union refuted the suggestion that multiculturalism was dead in Europe.  On the contrary, the European Union was very much in favour of it, as evidenced by its support for the Alliance of Civilizations, the work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other cross-cultural institutions.  Respect for human rights required cross-cultural understanding and the role of schools and textbooks in their portrayal of “the other” were vital in that regard.

Mr. SHAHIN agreed with that assessment and stressed the importance of eliminating negative stereotypes in school curricula and encouraging student exchange programmes to give them direct experience with other cultures.

Picking up on that point, the representative of UNESCO asked whether the teachers themselves were pushing for revised course curricula and educational materials in order to teach tolerance, respect and cultural diversity to their students.

Mr. KALIN said there was in fact an interactive process between civil society and academia to push for change in society.  The Alliance of Civilizations was a good example of that partnership, but more must be done to bring the doers and the thinkers together, including the so-called “difficult actors”, such as radicals and extremists that had a lot of influence on the ground.

Mr. BHABHA said it was important to create an international curriculum.  In order for that to happen, every nation must be able to criticize its own history and national curriculum.

Mr. NAUMKIN added that reconciliation between France and Germany following the Second World War had been inspired by school textbooks.

Responding to a question from the representative of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation about the “Common Word Initiative” interfaith dialogue between Muslims and Christians begun in 2007, Mr. KALIN said it was still going on, but the problem was one of traction and making it trickle down to communities and churches.  Too few financial resources were being invested in such initiatives.  Religious leaders had a key role to play as they provided authority, authenticity and a perspective — which were essential to get ordinary people to believe in religious dialogue.

The representative of Egypt noted that social media had driven the 25 January revolution in his country.  Nowadays, kids were browsing the web even before they learned to read.  He asked what the international community could do to capitalize on opportunities created by social media and networking and to prevent their use to spread hatred.  He also wondered if the social media track could overtake the traditional education track.

Mr. NIZAMI said the virtual world was no substitute for educational institutions and the written word.  That was why cultural exchange programmes, such as the Erasmus student exchange programme in Europe, were so important.  But, it was still too early to say which track would prevail in the long run.

Mr. BHABHA said time was needed to reflect on new media and imparting knowledge — teaching people how to understand it and interpret it — was very important and could not be erased.

A representative of Global Youth Connect stressed the need for face-to-face conversations with civil society and called on the Human Rights Council, through the Universal Periodic Review, to increase its role as watchdog, so that human rights became a unifier of civilizations, not a flashpoint.

Asked by the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania whether the Organization was doing enough to foster cross-cultural understanding, Ms. RIBEIRO VIOTTI said the issue was debated continually in the United Nations, but such debates must become less theoretical and more action-oriented.

Responding to a question from the representative of Nigeria on how to bring extremists into cross-cultural dialogue, Mr. KALIN said that was a difficult process that required great patience and long-term engagement.  Extremist behaviour was learned behaviour.  The set of circumstances that led to the extremism must be considered.

Mr. SHAHIN added that the first step was to solidify the mainstream and build a consensual base, then increase the culture of tolerance and try to integrate extremists.  Integrating extremists was more likely to make them more moderate and was a better alternative to excluding them. 

Responding to the High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations on the need to integrate political parties, Mr. BHABHA said political parties still focused on their own national perspectives, but they could be brought together through some sort of enlightened cosmopolitanism.

Mr. NAUMKIN said political parties mobilized support on the basis of certain phobias and hatred, which led to rivalries and sometime hostilities between civilizations and cultures.  They were also beholden to certain coalitions.  To overcome that, more people must come together to face common challenges like climate change that could unite people with intercultural hostilities.

Also participating in the question-and-answer period were the representatives of Indonesia and Argentina.

Panel: “Youth as Partners in Advancing Cross-cultural Understanding — Best Practices and Challenges”

Also moderated by Mr. Khan, the day’s second panel featured presentations by Danya Bashir, youth representative from Libya; Lawrence Chuma, of Youth for the United Nations Association, United Republic of Tanzania; Federico Mayor, President of the Foundation for the Culture of Peace; Olenka Ochoa, human rights advocate from Peru; Martin Sajdik, Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations; and Aleksandar Simic, a renowned composer.

The panel focused on young people’s participation in efforts to advance cross-cultural understanding that could benefit society as a whole.  It considered the fact that youth organizations generated expertise in exploring innovative means to foster intercultural dialogue for the benefit of all society, and that such knowledge and creativity were assets that could be harnessed by Government decision-makers for the elaboration, implementation and monitoring of national policies and programmes related to cultural diversity.

Opening the discussion, Mr. KHAN asked the panellists a number of questions related to enhancing the participation of youth with an eye towards cross-cultural understanding.

Ms. BASHIR, asked what could be done to better inform and educate young people about their own potential, said that “people need to know who they are, and once they do, they can begin to work together”.  Certain challenges, including dictatorships in counties such as her native Libya, had long prevented people from discovering who they really were; however, more recently, social media outlets, such as Twitter and Facebook, had offered new platforms to engage and inform young people.

In response to a related question, Mr. CHUMA said that much more work was needed to involve youth at the grass-roots level.  It was “high time” for Governments to achieve that goal, including by building on the promising platform of civil society involvement.  Governments must invest in youth, he stressed, calling on them, in that respect, to consider the type of country they wished to see evolve in the future.

Mr. MAYOR, responding to a question from the moderator about specific strategies to involve youth, said that more “free and responsible” young people and women were now able to express themselves than ever before.  Young people were also more aware of global problems; indeed, they were realizing that “plutocracy can no longer represent the world,” he said.  “[Young people] will not be silent anymore.”  Of course, he added, the United Nations itself must also adapt to those changes.  If we listen to young people, he added, “we will have a very strong United Nations.”

Ms. OCHOA, in response to a question about ways to build democratic institutions and how to get young people more attention at the national level, said that a tool kit was needed to boost the capacity of youth organizations.  Entities to promote youth participation must be created within Governments, and should be backed up with social support.

Asked about challenges that his country faced with regard to youth participation, Mr. SAJDIK said that Austria had undergone significant changes in the last decades.  A large percentage of the population now had a migration background, and there were larger numbers of young people.  It was a challenge to integrate many different groups of people into political life, he said, adding that there had indeed been some alienation of people from politics.  However, the country’s two major parties had taken some steps to rectify the problem.  For example, one party had named a 24-year-old as “social secretary for integration” for the first time.  More work was needed, in particular, to promote the involvement of young people with migration backgrounds.

Mr. SIMIC, responding to a question from Mr. KHAN about the way to leverage music and the arts to bring people closer together, said that the arts did, indeed, have “great potential” in that area.  In that respect, he spotlighted the creation of such programmes as the No Borders Orchestra, which had been formed with participants from throughout the former Yugoslav countries.

Following the initial set of questions and responses, representatives of State delegations, civil society organizations and other groups made comments and posed questions to the panellists.

A representative of the organization Global Youth Connect said that it was important to bring youth from different backgrounds together to talk about human rights.  Some agreement was likely on that issue, he said; youth groups could take that agreement, as well as recommendations, to their Governments.  He wondered, now that the position of Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Youth had been proposed, what that adviser could do to advance the participation of youth in cross-cultural understanding.  Was there a metric that could be applied to all countries to gauge the participation of youth on the national level?

Responding, Mr. MAYOR said that the Charter of the United Nations referred to “we the peoples”, and not Governments.  It was likely that some Governments would not look favourably upon the idea of giving young people a greater voice.  He pointed, however, to the Conference of Vienna of 1993, and guidelines drafted by a multisectoral body in Montreal the same year, which were good guidelines and best practices that Governments might follow.

Also responding, Mr. CHUMA said it was difficult for young people in his country to access information about human rights.  More efforts were needed to educate them and to enable them to educate others.  Human rights could be included as part of national curricula, he suggested in that regard.  African countries in general employed “ad hoc” solutions to youth involvement, he said.  Most frequently, they viewed young people as “trouble makers”; long-term, sustainable solutions to the challenge of their participation were not usually considered.

The representative of the European Union described some initiatives put forward by the bloc to involve youth in cross-cultural dialogue.  In particular, she pointed to a successful programme in the Mediterranean region through which youth advised local non-governmental organizations.  There would also be a youth policy symposium held in Tunis later this year.  She then asked the panellists how Governments could make youth more aware of opportunities for participation, as well as how the United Nations could make better use of the work of its own youth delegates.

Mr. SAJDIK said that all 27 European countries faced the “daily battle” of involving and engaging young people.  He highlighted some successes, in particular the Erasmus (European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students) programme, an initiative that allowed young students to study abroad in many different countries.  For his part, Mr. MAYOR highlighted the specific role that young women could play in decision-making.  When it came to youth participation, a special focus should be given to young women, he stressed.  Mr. SIMIC agreed, adding that the “value of empathy”, and sensitivities to injustice, needed to be nurtured by all Governments.

A representative of Turkish Cultural Centre of New York recalled that the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations held an annual youth film festival.  Many of the films screened depicted different injustices faced by youth around the world.  What were some of the United Nations strategies or policies to help address such challenges? he asked.

Mr. SAJDIK responded that the United Nations had many policies in place to address the widely varied challenges faced by youth.  Primary among them was the protection and promotion of the rule of law, he said, which applied to countries with many different social systems.  He was grateful that the rule of law was one of the central themes for the Secretary-General’s second term, he said, adding, “this is what the UN stands for”.  Additionally, sustainable development was another issue that encompassed many challenges faced by youth around the world.  The topic would be addressed by a major upcoming conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June, he noted.

Mr. KHAN asked the panellists about the involvement of youth in media as a way to address the challenges they faced.  Mr. OCHOA said that, while media could be a tool to address injustices, they could paradoxically act as agents of war and corruption in some countries.  Mr. CHUMA agreed that, while the role of media could not be overemphasized, media vehicles often did not view the good work of young people as “news”.  In that regard, his organization had been working to secure airtime with media outlets in Tanzania, and several monthly programmes were now devoted to youth issues.  He called on Governments to promote any and all programmes to engage youth through media, which were sometimes not widely known.

Mr. SIMIC said that news was no longer reported by seasoned professionals, but by a wide array of “amateurs”.  News outlets also suffered from a lack of independence.  Indeed, media had gained so much power over public opinion, that policy makers often followed their lead.  “Careful” regulation was needed in that regard, he said.

Taking the floor, the representative of Iran questioned the intention of States that regularly staged military interventions in other countries, noting that such actions did not “promote dialogue”.  In response, Mr. MAYOR said that young people, through uprisings, such as the Arab Spring, now raised new possibilities for peace in many countries.  Mr. SEJDIC added that inter-cultural programmes, such as Erasmus, did, in fact, promote dialogue between countries and regions, as it had recently been opened to non-European States.  Moreover, when the European Union sent troops to intervene in other countries, it was always in line with the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter.

The representative of Benin said that youth faced the challenge of definition.  Who constituted a “young person” and who did not?  He supported the proposal to appoint a new Special Adviser of the Secretary-General for Youth, as well as efforts to more clearly define the participation of youth at the United Nations.  Mr. KHAN followed by asking the panellists which specific United Nations system bodies or organs should deal directly with youth issues.

In the regard, Mr. MAYOR said that all stakeholders should address youth, and that the Untied Nations should act as a “conductor” of those efforts.  Ms. BASHIR said that youth organizations in Libya lacked direction, funding and guidance to express and implement their ideas.  In a similar vein, Mr. CHUMA said that one of the biggest challenges faced by youth on the African continent was the lack of formal mechanisms, such as youth councils or other representative forums.  He agreed with Ms. Bashir that youth in his country also suffered from problems of implementation.  A larger coordination mechanism could address those problems, he said.  In his view, the establishment of a permanent forum on youth issues at the United Nations was perhaps the most promising idea emerging from the day’s discussion.

The representative of United Republic of Tanzania said that “Governments do care” about youth, and that young people were becoming increasingly aware of opportunities that were open to them.  However, Governments must provide ways to meet the demands of youth.  In Tanzania, national youth councils had been established and youth did, in fact, participate in decision-making; some parliamentarians even belonged to the “youth” demographic.  He emphasized the challenge of building a bridge between youth and adults, and asked the panellists to comment on ways to narrow that communication gap.

Responding, Mr. CHUMA said that the Government of Tanzania was indeed moving to respond more directly to the demands of youth.  Regarding the intergenerational gap — which presented one of the largest challenges to youth participation — he said that parents in his country frequently did not have direct and frank conversations with their children.  The Government, therefore, should come up with strategies to enhance engagement between youth and their elders.

A representative of the World Council of Peoples for the UN stressed that youth “in its diversity”, including those that were underrepresented, needed to have equal access to platforms for participation at the United Nations.  Mr. MAYOR agreed, noting that equal opportunity was a basic human right, and one which was not respected in many contexts around the world.  For its part, the United Nations must strive to make that right a reality in its own programmes.

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