11 November 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann told correspondents at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon on the eve of the Assembly’s meeting on the culture of peace that “humanity is in a moral bankruptcy”.

Stressing the need for values that would stimulate action, he said that the purpose of the two-day meeting, expected to draw several high-level delegations, was “to reach down to [the common] faith values or ethical convictions … needed to bail out humanity”.

As for whether representatives of all faiths would be included in the discussion, he said that tomorrow’s meeting was not about religion, but about values.  Noting that Heads of State from all Member States had been invited, he said that in today’s world, discussing religion could be divisive, and he stressed the importance of focusing on moral and spiritual values.  Those were the values that determined how people should relate to one another and to nature, he said.

Sixty years ago, when preparing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the people working to formulate it “had to dig deeply into their values”, whether faith-based or grounded in other ethical, philosophical convictions, to find those held in common.  President d’Escoto hoped that tomorrow’s meeting would be a “second edition” of that work, espousing brotherhood and sisterhood, peace, defeating hunger, and promoting compassion, mercy, forgiveness and love.

That was important to compel action on the many global challenges, about which beautiful words had been spoken and resolutions passed, he said.  The will to comply with those resolutions would not be found by drawing on the values of the “dominant culture of the day”,but by drawing on spiritual values, he added.  It was a mistake to allow that there were areas of human activity exempt from moral or ethical considerations.

Noting that the knowledge, means and technology to eliminate hunger and poverty were available, he said that affluent countries had become so accustomed to their way of life that taking the necessary actionsseemed tantamount to cutting off a leg.  For example, their commitment to provide 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) towards eradicating poverty was minimal -- just enough to feel that something was being done -- yet even those commitments were not being met.  Sharing what needed to be shared would take heroism on the part of the affluent.  There was an opportunity to demonstrate commitment in Doha in two weeks, he added.

On climate change, he quoted one of the religious leaders who would be participating in tomorrow’s meeting, “God forgives.  Human beings forgive sometimes.  Nature doesn’t ever forgive.”  The discussion should be about values “that will help us to move away from the direction that we’re taking … and to move in the direction of [taking] responsibility for one another.”

Asked whether he had advice on foreign policy priorities for the incoming administration in Washington, D.C., Mr. d’Escoto said that he had read and heard President-elect Barack Obama and thought that he would do fine if he based his policies on what he believed to be the right direction.

The high-level discussion to be held during tomorrow’s plenary session was placed under the agenda item “the culture of peace” resulting from a request by Saudi Arabia for a follow-up meeting to last July’s Madrid Conference on Interfaith Dialogue.  In that context, Mr. d’Escoto responded to a question about whether it was bad for the Organization to have the issue raised by a country that was intolerant of other religions by saying that the United Nations was not “an Organization of saints”, but that “we’re all sinners trying to move on, and … should accept warmly any brother who wants to talk.”

Asked further about an upcoming initiative by Saudi Arabia for a resolution to ban the defamation of religion, which many saw as an infringement of free speech guaranteed by the United Nations Charter, he said that he was unfamiliar with the proposed resolution, but that defamation of religion should be banned as a form of intolerance.

Finally, asked whether secret raids against terrorist groups in other countries reportedly launched by the United States were a violation of the Charter and the sovereignty of Member States, he said that they were.  He added that violations committed by that country also included the prosecution of, and life terms given to, Cuban infiltrators of terrorist groups in Miami seeking to present evidence of terrorist activities to United States authorities, as well as that country’s open invasion of other States.  The perception that some had the right to take unilateral action must end, he said.

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For information media • not an official record