Secretary-General's comments during a joint press conference with the Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, the First Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister of Qatar, the Foreign Minister of Spain and Foreign Minister of Turkey
Doha, Qatar, 25 February 2006SG: Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.
We have had a very good session this afternoon and we have agreed on a joint communiqué that I want to share with you now.
Earlier this month the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization of the Islamic Conference took the unprecedented step of issuing a joint statement appealing for restraint and calm after the publication of insulting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed – considered blasphemous by Muslims and deeply offensive by many others, as well as the reactions thereto.
All of us now join to renew our call for restraint, and for an immediate end to the present atmosphere, which threatens to sow deep discord between communities, societies and countries. We deeply regret the offence given by the caricatures, as well as the loss of life and damage to property in several countries.
We reaffirm the universal right to freedom of expression. We appeal to everyone to exercise that right responsibly, and not to use it as a pretext for incitement to hatred or insult to the deeply held belief of any community.
We also reaffirm the right to peaceful protest, especially where deep hurt has been caused, and we acknowledge that Muslims do indeed feel deep hurt over the caricatures. We applaud that vast majority of the protesters and demonstrators throughout the world who chose to express their indignation in an orderly and peaceful manner.
We urge everyone to resist provocation, overreaction and violence, and turn to dialogue. Without dialogue we cannot hope to appeal to reason, to heal resentment or overcome mistrust.
As we meet today in Qatar we appeal earnestly to all leaders, religious and secular, to use their influence to promote the universal values and beliefs that we all share. As individuals, and as representatives of our respective organizations and countries, we fully support universal human rights, and the strict application of relevant laws. We believe all rights should be exercised responsibly. Neither media, publications, nor places of worship should be used for incitement, or to spread hatred.
The international society we all want to live in is a tolerant one, which recognises both rights and responsibilities. The hallmark of every tolerant society – and indeed of every tolerant person - is respect for the right of all people to freedom of worship, and of opinion and expression, and appreciation of diversity as an asset, not a threat.
We look to the High Level Group of the Alliance of Civilizations, which meets here in Qatar tomorrow, to suggest ways of encouraging broader and deeper mutual respect and understanding between people of different belief, culture or tradition.
We intend, as a group, to follow up this joint statement, and commit ourselves to formulate a joint strategy and agreed measures that will contribute to overcome the current crisis and to prevent its recurrence, and promote tolerance and mutual respect between all religions and communities, in Europe and elsewhere.
The group has requested the United Nations Secretary General to bring this document to the attention of the United Nations General Assembly, Security Council and European Union.
Q: Will this now be law at the United Nations?
SG: As I indicated in the communiqué I read, the group has asked me to bring it to the attention of the General Assembly and the Security Council. Right now in New York, we are in the process of establishing the new Human Rights Council and this issue has been in the background in some of the discussions. What I intend to do is to bring the document to the attention of the General Assembly and they may take it, but it will [be] a decision for the Member States to take. There are some who have indicated that they want to do that, but obviously I cannot commit the General Assembly and it is likely that it will happen. Let me also say that when you look at what is happening here today and what is happening tomorrow with the Alliance of Civilizations, it should be seen as part of a wider effort to try to create dialogue, improve respect among different cultures, beliefs and civilizations. It is not intended as a one-shot attempt to resolve all these problems. The proposals that I hope you will eventually [be] receiving from the High-Level Panel on Alliance of Civilizations would also propose some concrete suggestions as to how we can educate, as to how we can bring people together and as to how groups develop mutual respect and avoid any attempts to humiliate each other. I think this kind of dialogue is an-going exercise. Please, do no expect that we came here to resolve it with one communiqué. It is part of a broader effort and it needs all of you, each of you, all of us, have a responsibility and a role to play. An individual can make a difference when you have this sort of misunderstanding, whether you are a leader or not. Obviously, we need to hear the other voices. We need to hear the other voice and the mainstream voice of Islam and the Christians will have to speak out. We all need to speak up and reach out to each other.
Q: We had been expecting High Representative Javier Solana and Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik. What happened?
SG: Right from the beginning I have been working very closely with High Representative Solana and we did come out [more than a week ago] with a joint communiqué with the Secretary-General of the Organization for the Islamic Conference. This morning I had the opportunity to speak to both Mr. Solana and Foreign Minister Plassnik of Austria. They support this effort and they regret they are not able to be here. I am sure that when they see the document which the Foreign Minister of Spain will take to them they will associate themselves fully with the spirit and the intent of what we are trying to do here. And he has committed himself to what we can to calm the situation. So I hope their [absence] will not be taken as lack of interest as there were genuine reasons why they were not able to be here.