Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions: “Promoting Dialogue for Peace and Prosperity in Turbulent Times”, in Astana, Kazakhstan, today:
I am honoured to address this Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, in the beautiful Palace of Peace and Reconciliation.
Let me begin by recognizing the hospitality of His Excellency President [Nursultan] Nazarbayev and the Government and people of Kazakhstan. Thank you for your timely initiative to promote a much needed dialogue between religious and political leaders from around the world to enhance understanding and build a culture of cooperation and mutual respect.
The mixing of people and communities is not simply a noble aspiration in this part of the world. It is your history. It has made you who you are — defining the region and enriching the world. Rather than simply issuing declarations to trumpet that truth, you are striving for something deeper.
Through this Congress — and other efforts — you recognize that a harmonious society can never be taken for granted. It must be nurtured day after day. I thank you, Mr. President, for your efforts to ensure that these challenging issues are a fundamental part of the social agenda and the global agenda.
We meet at a time when dialogue is needed more than ever. We are a world in transition. Urbanization and migration are on the rise. We are striving for a more sustainable and equitable path to development. The global security landscape continues to shift dramatically.
We face enormous opportunities. We are the first generation that can end global poverty and the last generation that can address global warming before it is too late. But we also face enormous risks: civil conflicts, terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking and health crises threaten millions of people. These dangers transcend national borders. In many countries seen as models of integration, divisive politics are on the rise.
Religious leaders — traditional and non-traditional — have a pivotal role to play. In times of turmoil, religious leaders can provide a values-based glue to hold communities together and provide common ground for peacemaking and problem solving.
You can do so by fostering dialogue; by using spiritual authority to encourage individuals to act humanely; and by promoting shared values — as enshrined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights — and as reflected in the teachings of all world religions.
The world’s religious leaders must teach their followers the true meaning of reconciliation, understanding and mutual respect. Religious leaders have an obligation to speak out when so-called adherents of their faith commit crimes in its name. All should know that crimes committed in the name of religion are crimes against religion.
I believe so strongly in the value of your voices that I recently co-hosted a United Nations General Assembly Thematic Debate on "Promoting Tolerance and Reconciliation”. We utilized the platform of the United Nations to bring together religious leaders to sound an alarm about hatred and violent extremisms and to express our collective support for peaceful, inclusive societies.
Here in this part of the world, the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia is also working to support dialogue among religious leaders. To help mobilize global efforts, I will also launch a Plan of Action on the Prevention of Violent Extremism during the seventieth session of the General Assembly.
Today, we see violent extremism expressed most vividly in the atrocities committed by Da’esh, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaida and other sectarian and terrorist groups. It is not religion that causes violence. It is individuals who choose to espouse violence, wrongfully and cynically invoking faith in doing so.
The scourge of violence in the name of religion calls for concerted action by Governments, religious communities, civil society and the media. Women and young girls often bear the brunt of violent ideologies. They are subject to systemic abuse, killing, rape and kidnapping. We must ask and explore: how can we provide a stronger, more equal platform to women, as a means of advancing respect for women, changing mindsets and shifting global consciousness?
Placing the world’s young people at the forefront of international peace, security and human rights must also be a priority. The age profile of some countries is sometimes cited as a reason to issue warnings that a “surging” population of young men inevitably drives increased violence and insecurity.
At the same time, many countries with a high proportion of young people have not suffered violence. The greatest predictors of violence are strongly felt grievances such as long-term economic decline, limited educational and employment opportunities and exclusion from social, cultural and political participation.
In all we do, we must also respect international law and uphold fundamental freedoms. Leaders and policymakers must recognize a powerful truth: the larger the spaces for democracy and fundamental freedoms, the smaller the chances for extremism and violence.
There is no greater cause today than building bridges of understanding and cooperation among communities. We must open our eyes, our ears and our hearts to those of different backgrounds or beliefs — and safeguard the rights of all religious communities, in particular minority communities.
Our challenge is to go beyond the notion of tolerance or simply acknowledging or abiding the existence of the other. No one wants to be merely tolerated, as if there is something wrong with them.
Tolerance must be more active and dynamic. It means reaching out to those who are different from us. It means recognizing that we can teach by learning from one another. We can gain by sharing with one another.
By seeking to know more about others, we grow more ourselves. By welcoming communities and ideas into our own, through exchange and enrichment, societies become greater than the sum of their parts.
Long ago, that was the guiding principle of the Silk Road. Today, it is our road map to a better future.
Once again, thank you for your engagement and commitment. Let us all strive for dialogue, mutual respect and a life of dignity for all.