|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by UN High Representative for Alliance of Civilizations
Amid the prevailing historic change and unprecedented political, economic and social challenges, it was more important than ever to promote cooperative and constructive dialogue among peoples of different faiths, religions and ethnic groups, the United Nations High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations said at Headquarters today.
“I believe that the Alliance can become a major soft-power tool to defuse tensions and conflicts, especially those which are ethnically or identity based,” Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser said at his first press conference since his appointment earlier this month. He added that diversity and tolerance had “always been close to [his] heart” and expressed hope that the Alliance could use mediation as a soft-power tool.
Mr. Al-Nasser expressed hope that under his leadership, the Alliance would focus more on how cultural aspects such as sports, arts and music could help to bridge cultural divisions and foster peace around the world. That required building on previous achievements, strengthening the Alliance’s financing and structure, and increasing its interactions with media, civil society and the private sector. He added in that regard that he planned to reach out directly to religious and community leaders as well as grass-roots organizations, whom he described as “the real change makers”.
He went on to emphasize: “I will work with peacemakers, wherever we may find them, to strengthen our capacity and achieve our shared goals of peace, tolerance and mutual respect.” Yesterday, he had presented United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with a copy of the Vienna Declaration, adopted by consensus at the Fifth Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, held last month. He said it “reflects the political will” of the global community, which had never before united so many to express support for the Alliance’s mission and agenda. Although some differences remained among members regarding the inclusion of certain language, he assured them that he was keen to work with various stakeholders in seeking common ground.
The High Representative congratulated Pope Francis I on his election, saying he hoped to meet the new Pontiff in the near future so they could work towards peace and security for all people, irrespective of faith. He recalled that during his tenure as General Assembly President, he had met with Pope Benedict XVI, who had assured him that the Vatican was open to working with all faiths for the common good of humanity.
Asked about his expectations in terms of cooperation with the Vatican, he said it could play “a very important role” in inter-faith dialogue.
When asked what role the Vatican could play in the Middle East, and in helping to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, in light of the declining number of Christians in the region, he said the Vatican and Pope Francis could serve as a “bridge” in the peace process by sending a positive message to Christians living in Arab countries. He emphasized, however, that the latter should not be regarded merely as Christians, but also by their respective nationalities — Syrian, Lebanese or Iraqi.
Asked whether the conflict within the Islamic faith should be resolved before it could speak to other civilizations and religions, he stressed that the Alliance’s mission was to build confidence and bring people together through dialogue, not to focus on a single religion. The Alliance could play “a very important” role in bringing different groups of people together, he emphasized, noting the role that sport, music and art could play in uniting people. He pledged to do his best to enhance the Alliance’s role in defusing tensions and bringing communities together.
When asked what new approach could be taken in order to defuse growing intolerance of migrants in the Middle East and North Africa, specifically those recently killed in Libya, Egypt, Sudan and Palestine due to their religious affiliations, he expressed hope that the Alliance would act as a soft-power tool to bring peace in this regard. He pledged to do his best in using his experience working in the international arena to bring together Member States, civil society and the private sector to address that pressing issue.
Asked what the Alliance planned to do in light of the Syrian Government’s claim that the opposition was targeting religious sites, he said the situation in Syria was “very complicated”. It was very difficult to do anything substantive as the situation on the ground became increasingly dangerous, he said, expressing hope that efforts by the Security Council and the League of Arab States would lead to peace. It was enormously challenging to deliver much-needed humanitarian aid to Syria, let alone establish long-term projects. Once peace was established, however, it was to be hoped that the Alliance would be of some help in bringing harmony to the Syrian people.
When asked about the comment by the Prime Minister of Turkey equating Zionism to fascism at the Global Forum, Mr. Al-Nasser stressed that it was important not to focus on condemnations, adding that it would be better to seek solutions aimed at defusing tensions. “We are not here to discuss Zionism or explore our positions,” he said. “All member States are equal and we need to continue constructive dialogue among all of us.”
Asked about his plans to address the issue of Zionism specifically, he said he looked forward to opening a further discourse among religious leaders with the aim of encouraging an exchange of ideas.
When asked about his biggest challenge, the high Representative pointed out that the global financial crisis was reflected in every social sector. Pledging to work with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other entities of the Organization in seeking innovative ways to address lack of access to education and youth unemployment, among other challenges, he said he feared that they would have dire long-term consequences.
Established in 2005 and comprising 112 Member States as well 24 international organizations, the Alliance’s efforts are focused on the areas of youth, media, education and migration.
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