Secretary-General's remarks at press encounter following General Assembly debate on "Promoting Tolerance and Reconciliation: Fostering Peaceful, Inclusive Societies and Countering Violent Extremism"
New York, 22 April 2015
SG: Mr. President [Sam Kutesa, President of the General Assembly], Mr. High Representative of the Alliance of Civilizations, Your Eminences, Your Holinesses, respective religious leaders,
And good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen of the media; thank you for this opportunity.
I am extremely grateful for all the esteemed religious leaders who have taken part in this very important meeting for humanity, and I thank His Excellency, President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, for organizing this high-level thematic debate on a very important subject which we have discussed, on promoting tolerance and reconciliation.
I also thank His Excellency the High Representative, Mr. [Nassir Abdulaziz] Al-Nasser, for his strong leadership and cooperation in making this meeting a great success.
Ladies and Gentlemen, people across the world have been horrified by the recent brutal acts carried out by terrorists and violent extremists.
While they claim religion as their guide, their ideologies are contrary to the teachings of any of the major faiths.
It seems that with every passing day, a new depth of heartlessness is reached.
They are waging war on the values of the United Nations and all its Member States.
That is why I wanted people from many faiths to come together to the United Nations to express our shared abhorrence at such violence, and most importantly to signal our common resolve to work with each other to promote tolerance and reconciliation.
Faith leaders can play a very important role, and central role, in healing sectarian divides and countering the forces of radicalization.
For my part, I have committed to forming an advisory panel of faith leaders and others to guide us on these complex dynamics.
I am also developing a comprehensive Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, which will be presented to the 70th Session of the General Assembly later this year.
The world must unite against extremism. We must also get at the roots of what fuels it.
When governments respect human rights and provide opportunities for people to voice their grievances -- when societies come together to enhance equality and mutual dignity -- when individuals recognize that we are all stronger when we work together -- the attraction to violent extremism will wither and peace and prosperity will grow.
I thank you again, the many leaders who have come to the United Nations to plant the seeds of that future.
Thank you very much.
Q: Thank you. Mr. Secretary-General, in the field of promoting peace, Saudi Arabia has announced a halt to the fighting in the air strikes in Yemen. I wonder if you could comment on their action, even though we hear that there is some fighting going on, and could you tell us when you plan to announce a replacement for Mr. [Jamal] Benomar as Special Envoy to try and get peace negotiations back on track?
SG: I have taken note of the announcement yesterday by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners on 21 April to conclude these airstrikes. As you may remember, last Thursday during my press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., I called for an immediate ceasefire at that time.
I welcome the announcement by the coalition that they support a quick resumption of the political process in Yemen in accordance with Security Council Resolution 2016. I also welcome its stated commitment to protect civilians and enable the provision of humanitarian assistance to all Yemeni people. In that regard, I have already expressed my deepest thanks to His Majesty King Salman for his very generous $274 million, which was requested by the United Nations.
I hope this phase will lead to an end to all fighting in Yemen. In fact, this morning when I read that report that fighting was resumed, I was very concerned about that. I sincerely hope that there will be an end of fighting as soon as possible.
As for as your second question, I have been in consultation with Security Council members and GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries about my proposed appointment replacing Mr. Jamal Benomar, and I am waiting for the positive responses from the parties concerned. Then I am ready to provide such diplomatic facilities by which we can resolve this issue through dialogue. Thank you.
Q: My question is regarding intolerance, and the question of xenophobia. We saw your statement condemning the xenophobic attacks in South Africa. What was your personal reaction, Sir, and what would you like to see from the people and the Government of South Africa moving forward, so that these xenophobic attacks do not repeat themselves?
SG: We really heard this morning many esteemed faith leaders of the world, representing all different religions. One key word which they all spoke was about reconciliation and tolerance. Of course, I have also taken note that we should go beyond tolerance. I agree that going beyond tolerance to mutual acceptance and acceptance, I think this is a good point which the United Nations will really take note on this matter.
As far as xenophobia is concerned, hate crimes against foreigners and communities that are poor, marginalized and vulnerable are morally wrong and unacceptable. I am extremely concerned about reports of xenophobia in South Africa. There is a direct line between prejudice and extremism, and violent acts like this only destroy the fabric of society and the solidarity and unity of the society. Therefore we are against any prejudice based on ethnicity or religion. These stoke hatred and division of the society. I know that the South African Government is responding to the situation, but more needs to be done to provide adequate protection to everyone who is affected by this situation, especially migrants and asylum seekers and also refugees. Justice is critical. We need to show very warm hands and hearts to the many people who need our support. Thank you.
Q: Secretary-General, you made a passionate appeal to these religious leaders to speak up against intolerance and extremism. Have they promised to do so, and will you send these people to the areas where extremism and intolerance exists?
SG: I am very much encouraged. I am grateful to our very respected world’s faith leaders. That is why we have invited them. We are very much grateful, and they have spoken out against any religious misinterpretations.
The greatest crime against religion, I was told by Rabbi Schneir, if I remember correctly, is the crime of using wrongly these religions. In the name of religion, one should not commit any such crimes. This is the greatest crime against religion. I am sure that our respected religious leaders will teach their followers the correct meaning of reconciliation and what is the correct meaning of religion.
When your belief is important, then you should know that others’ belief is equally as important. After all, we are coming from different continents, different ethnic groups and you believe in different religions, but I believe that in the end, we are believing in some higher good for humanity.
Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Tomorrow, in Europe, there is a very, very important meeting on the situation in the Mediterranean with the human trafficking. Today the Prime Minister of Italy wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times, and he suggested that one of the solutions should be to actually bomb, attack the vessels of those human traffickers. You talked with the Prime Minister yesterday. What is your idea of a solution for this human rights huge problem?
SG: As you know, yesterday I have spoken with Prime Minister [Matteo] Renzi of Italy, and while I expressed my sincere sympathy and solidarity, at the same time I have expressed my strong concern. The death and suffering we see on the Mediterranean can only shock our collective conscience. The Mediterranean has become a sea of misery for thousands and thousands of migrants, who are a very weak and vulnerable group of people. The number of people who are dying is really shocking.
The humanitarian tragedy highlights yet again the need to address the plight of these migrants. I am glad that the leaders of the European Union are going to have an extraordinary summit meeting tomorrow, after their Foreign Ministers have met.
I am going to discuss this matter on Monday when I go to Rome. We have agreed that we have a meeting with Prime Minister Renzi, and on the occasion of my meeting, audience, with His Holiness the Pope [Francis] on Tuesday, I will discuss also with His Holiness the Pope how he and other European leaders and the United Nations can work together to address this very serious humanitarian and human rights issue. Thank you.
Off-the-Cuff on 22 April 2015