13 November 2000


13 November 2000

Press Release



Acting without a vote this afternoon, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations.

By the terms of the resolution, the Assembly called on governments to encourage all members of society to take part in promoting dialogue among civilizations, and provide them with an opportunity to make contributions to the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations. It invited governments, the United Nations system and other relevant international and non-governmental organizations to continue and intensify planning and organization of cultural, educational and social programmes to promote the concept of dialogue among civilizations through such means as seminars, conferences and the distribution of information.

The Assembly also decided to devote two days of plenary meetings at its fifty-sixth session, on 3-4 December 2001, to consideration of the item, and encouraged Member States and observers to be represented at the highest level. It further encouraged all governments to expand their educational curricula relative to the teaching of respect for various cultures and civilizations. It encouraged all actors to develop appropriate initiatives to promote dialogue in all fields with a view to fostering mutual understanding among and within civilizations.

Some representatives highlighted the role of new technologies in the promotion of dialogue among civilizations. The representative of Bangladesh said that, in a globalized world, modern technology had intensified and promoted inter- cultural exchanges, largely unimpeded and at unprecedented speed. The advances in technology and communication had not only brought the international community closer together; the world was now, indeed, a global village with a shared destiny for all.

That sentiment was echoed by the representative of Cyprus, who said it was important to visualize a world even more interdependent and technologically advanced than the present, where every aspect of human interchange -– political, economic and social -– was globalized. All peoples were part of the same “global village”, where actions or omissions, deed or misdeeds, affected everyday life everywhere.

Other delegates highlighted the need for tolerance. The representative of Singapore said that dialogue could not be limited to States, peoples or religions alone. Just as civilizations were not monolithic blocs, but amorphous entities comprising elements of history, geography, ethnicity, religion, custom and

General Assembly Plenary - 1a - Press Release GA/9819 60th Meeting (PM) 13 November 2000

politics, a dialogue among civilizations must take place at many levels. She added that hatred and mistrust of what was different were enduring features of human society. However, fear and distrust of the outside world was no longer useful for any nation or people that wished to prosper and develop economically.

Also addressing the Assembly this afternoon were the representatives of Qatar, Russian Federation, Lithuania, Republic of Korea, Mongolia and Israel.

The representatives of Armenia and Azerbaijan exercised their rights of reply.

The observer for the Organization of the Islamic Conference also addressed the Assembly this afternoon.

The General Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 14 November, when it is expected to consider the election of 18 members of the Economic and Social Council; a draft resolution on the implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and People; and a draft resolution on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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Assembly Work Programme

The General Assembly met this afternoon to continue its consideration of the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations. It was also expected to act on the draft resolution under that item.

For background information, see this morning’s Press Release GA/9818.


JAMAL NASSIR AL-BADER (Qatar) said the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations brought together different points of view emanating from different peoples and different cultures. The Secretary-General’s report had asked for the dialogue to touch on all points of concern to the international community in order to set up a framework for peace and security. As long as there was a dialogue, there was no need for confrontation. Civilizations, when they met, could learn to what extent they could deal in common with a specific issue that mattered to each of them.

The Millennium Summit and Declaration had been victory for dialogue between different peoples and different cultures. It was a stimulus for enhanced dialogue among civilizations. A round-table meeting during that Summit, including heads of State and government and other eminent persons, had been held. The Emir Qatar had commented, “The choice of dialogue among civilizations as an issue of the round- table discussion was very successful, because of the great importance the issue represented in the post-cold war world.” The cold war had driven a wedge between the countries of the world. That was clear in Europe, which had been divided into two parts. With the end of the cold war, the two sides came together.

A dialogue among civilizations could be managed on three levels: it would include scientific activities such as courses in history and sociology; it should bring about a better view of different cultures in the mass media, something which could also extend to school curricula; and it would call upon politicians and statesmen of different cultures to bring the different views closer together in order to reduce tensions in the world. He said that his country would host the second meeting of the “Wise Men’s Committee” and would provide all facilities necessary to guarantee the success of the meeting.

CONSTANTINE MOUSHOUTAS (Cyprus) said the world was now well advanced into a new century and a new millennium. It was important to visualize a world even more interdependent and technologically advanced than the present, where every aspect of human interchange -- political, economic and social -- was globalized. Societies and cultures were not and could not be isolated entities, he said. A local crisis in a place far removed from our borders or shores unfailingly and immediately affected us all. Everyone was part of the same “global village”, where actions or omissions, deeds or misdeeds, were affecting everyday life everywhere.

The world had experienced much destruction and human misery in the last 100 years. The twentieth century had been marked more by confrontations than cooperation. Common sense dictated that the calamities we brought upon ourselves in the past should be avoided, and that peace and cooperation should replace confrontations and wars. It was imperative that humankind’s bonds of common destiny be strengthened. The Charter of the United Nations considered dialogue a sine qua non for harmonizing human relations and solving differences in State relations.

It was important to highlight the benefits of cultural pluralism and the enrichment of civilizations, he said. It was also time to address concerns over tendencies to portray specific religions and cultures as threats to peace and coexistence. Survival ultimately depended on success in convincing the international community to settle differences and disputes peacefully through dialogue, in accordance with the principles of the Charter, and through the promotion of dialogue as the accepted mode of behaviour.

ANWARUL KARIM CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said that, as human beings and civilization were drawn together, their differences could potentially breed conflicts. The object of globalization, however, must not be promoting uniformity, which would be a sure recipe for disaster. The global community’s objective could not be anything but promoting dialogue across cultures, societies and beliefs to address the root causes of conflicts. The rich diversity of the world’s civilizations could and should be utilized for global harmony and peace, rather than for clash and conflict. As history had shown, great civilizations had always flourished by sharing their ideas and experiences with other civilizations.

In the globalized world, modern technology had intensified and promoted inter-cultural exchange, largely unimpeded and at unprecedented speed. Advances in technology and communication had not only brought the international community closer together; the world was, indeed, a global village with a shared destiny for all. Everyone must, therefore, promote converging values that were common to all humankind. Those values -– tolerance, understanding and respect for the “other” -- were not only essential, they were the only choice for survival.

The United Nations, which represented the diversity of the international community, must institutionalize dialogue for promoting peace and harmony. The objective of dialogue would be to inform people of different cultures and civilizations of the benefits of cultural pluralism and exchange. It was necessary to promote dialogue as the accepted mode of behaviour for settling disputes and differences. To develop and sustain a real dialogue, the international community must expand it beyond the confines of the United Nations and State-to-State interaction. Civil society had to be proactively involved. Communities would have to take it up. The media and academia were important vehicles for advancing dialogue. And above all, the dialogue must take place at the people-to-people level if it was to sustain and pick up momentum for benefiting humankind.

VANESSA CHAN (Singapore) said that the practical problems of a formal dialogue among civilizations were obvious: how was membership of a particular civilization to be assessed? What were criteria for defining a civilization? Who could conceivably claim to speak for a whole civilization? How were the different and opposing views within every civilization to be accommodated? The dialogue among civilizations must also take into account the need for a dialogue within civilizations. The solution to the problem must lie in recognizing that the dialogue could not be limited to States, peoples or religions alone. Just as civilizations were not monolithic blocs, but amorphous entities comprising elements of history, geography, ethnicity, religion, custom and politics, so a dialogue among civilizations must take place on many levels.

The United Nations, as an organization of States, was best placed to engage in the dialogue at the level of States and their official organs. It could also assist and coordinate dialogue at other levels, between States and parliamentarians, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other members of civil society. The work of the Interaction Council, an NGO whose members consisted of prominent political figures from around the world, was an example of the rich possibilities of the dialogue among civilizations. At the same time, it should be recognized that the dialogue was already going on at levels other than those of States. Individuals, companies and other organizations of all kinds were already engaging in a de facto dialogue among civilizations.

Hatred and mistrust of what was different were enduring features of human society. However, fear and distrust of the outside world was no longer useful for any nation or people that wished to prosper and develop economically. It was widely recognized that integration with the outside world, rather than isolation, was the necessary path to prosperity and security. Unfortunately, old tribal attitudes continued to manifest themselves, whether in outright slaughter, or in the constant low-level ethnic and racial tensions that festered even in the richest and most developed societies. Tolerance was not an easy virtue. It required the acknowledgement of the existence and validity of views and practices which one rejected or found abhorrent. In this era of growing interdependence, however, it was a virtue that could no longer be lived without.

DMITRY V. KNYAZHINSKIY (Russian Federation) felt that development of the dialogue among civilizations was a function of humanity’s goals, as noted by President Putin at the Millennium Summit, when he said the international community must advance by finding the commonality of peoples in the richness of cultures. Democracy in international relations meant strict adherence to the rule of law. There must be recognition of diversity because the world was multifaceted. As globalization increased, there was a necessity for rapprochement to uphold law and order. When some countries tried to say their model was dominant, they, too, were indulging in negative stereotyping.

As the Secretary-General had pointed out in his report, the starting point for the dialogue among civilization was diversity. It was imperative to deliver the society of nations from the cataclysm of conflict. The Government of the Russian Federation advocated a democratic, multipolar relationship as the only path humanity could take. The international community should seek together to make the world more governable. The United Nations must put forward shared goals, both spiritual and cultural. In his country, there was a shared feeling for its history -- in its roots, in its cultural identity and in its democratic structures.

He recalled the world congress held last July in St. Petersburg on the themes of the third millennium, in which meetings on the dialogue among civilizations took place among heads of State. The Russian Federation emphasized that there must unity in diversity, which was the universal law of life.

GEDIMINAS SERKSNYS (Lithuania), aligning himself with France’s statement, said that dialogue among civilizations as well as among individuals must be based on mutual tolerance and respect for different views and approaches. Furthermore, dialogue must not be solely restricted to countries or regions, for the roots of tolerance were in civilizations themselves. Since the Middle Ages in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, tolerance, freedom of speech and self-expression had been the predominant trends in Lithuanian social and political life. That tradition had extended throughout the ages, and today, just as before, Lithuania remained open to the world.

Different nations had their own history, traditions, cultural heritage and stereotypes -– in one word, identity –- which were fundamental to the nation. The elimination of a national identity was the same as the elimination of the nation itself. Observance and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms enshrined in universal international instruments helped foster national cultures. The upcoming Vilnius Conference would bring together leading intellectuals in relevant fields from all around the world. Being the only such regional conference in Europe, with participants coming from other continents as well, the Vilnius Conference would be a major event even in the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations.

At its conclusion, the Vilnius Conference would seek to adopt a Vilnius Declaration, as a first founding step towards reflection in pursuing authentic dialogue of civilizations during and beyond the United Nations.

SUN JOUN-YUNG (Republic of Korea) said that every civilization in the world could become a precious asset to humanity, simply by basing itself on a respect for diversity and pluralism that transcended its own traditional values to embrace universal ones. The task before the international community was how and in what direction the dialogue among civilizations should be pursued. The United Nations, created as a forum for institutionalized dialogue among nations, was aptly positioned to address the question.

The leaders of the world, in adopting the Millennium Declaration, had recognized that, in addition to their separate responsibilities to their individual societies, they had a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level. There was a long list of activities to be performed with regard to promotion of the concept of dialogue among civilizations. In embarking on such activities, the important thing to be borne in mind was how to enhance universal values for the benefit of humankind -- while respecting the diversity of cultures in a world which was getting smaller and ever more globalized.

JARGALSAIKHANY ENKHSAIKHAN (Mongolia) was pleased that the General Assembly's call for dialogue among civilizations had been well received across the world. According to the Secretary-General's report, governmental and academic institutions and NGOs had already been conducting seminars, debates and research on dialogue among civilizations, bringing together a variety of civil society groups. He pointed out that the world was both unique and diverse, and rich in its cultural and civil diversity. Today, active and mutually enriching dialogues and exchanges between civilizations were of great importance not only in exploring one another's legacies, but also in forecasting the future. Mongolia shared the view that the perception of diversity as a threat was at the very origin of wars and conflicts, while, at the same time, diversity was also the wealth of humankind.

His Government recognized that consideration of the subject matter reflected a determined will on the part of Member States to enter a new millennium with a common approach based on common understandings. The international community should, therefore, work to promote a norm of interaction and relations between nations based on dialogue, cooperation and mutual respect, so as to maintain peace and security and encourage development and social progress throughout the world. He noted that this was the age of "accelerating globalization", in which globalization of the economy, of culture and of thought and increasing interdependence among nations compelled the creation of a new vision of international relations, based on the spirit of peace, tolerance, dialogue and solidarity. Mongolia felt that every nation, country, region and every culture should offer to others the best of its own, and in return accept the best that they had to share.

Mongolia had inherited the rich culture of an ancient nomadic civilization and, in recent years, had developed studies on preserving and revitalizing the historical and cultural heritage of the Mongols. In addition, Mongolia actively cooperated and participated in numerous activities of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to promote cultural dialogue among civilizations. A major event was UNESCO's establishment of the International Institute for the Study of Nomadic Civilizations in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, on 16 September 1998. The Institute aimed to initiate and implement activities which would preserve the unique historical and cultural heritage of the nomads, and would contribute to developing appropriate elements of modernization in an effort to improve the way of life of nomadic people. Nomads were, to a considerable extent, self-sufficient in food production, and still had a contribution to make to the economic balance of the regions they inhabited. He noted that pastoral nomadism, in particular, remained the surest safeguard against environmental degradation and desertification. In closing, he said that observance of the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations was expected to make a significant contribution to promoting the concept of such a dialogue, and Mongolia was keenly interested in participating in the programme activities of the Year.

YEHUDA LANCRY (Israel) said that Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other monotheistic religions all derived their foundations from the same source. There were many examples to show that dialogue between the Jewish people and the nations of the globe had been a constant over the last 4,000 years. All of those cultures contributed to, and benefited from, the relationship they maintained with each other. The Jewish people were and remained fully open to the dialogue among civilizations, and were committed to it, in the firm conviction that Israel, too, would be included in the family of nations and cultures without reservation or ambiguity. The concept, by its very nature, was predicated upon its universality. It could only have meaning -- especially in the context of the United Nations -- when no one country or civilization was ever singled out for exclusion. If international peace and understanding were the true aim of the exercise, the United Nations could not accept an act of ostracism. Yet, that had unfortunately been the case.

He noted with regret that the very State sponsoring this otherwise admirable proposal of a dialogue among civilizations was itself a polity that singled out for liquidation one Member State, his own. Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi had made it very clear that Israel had no place in this world culture, stating on Iranian television that Israel “is nothing more than a cancerous growth in the region”. That was but one of many such examples of the negation of Israel by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nevertheless, Israel would again join in the consensus in support of the principle of dialogue among civilizations, insisting on its universal application to all mankind, without discrimination.

AHMAD HAJI HOSSEINI, Deputy Permanent Observer of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), welcomed the decision of the General Assembly to proclaim 2001 as the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations, and its invitation to plan and implement appropriate programmes to promote the concept of the dialogue. He had read with much interest the Secretary-General's report, and was pleased to note that the list of eminent persons who accepted the Secretary- General's invitation to participate included some well known personalities from the OIC member States. Moreover, the OIC supported the use of electronic media and television in an innovative way to promote direct and instant communication among peoples of different civilizations in the world.

Further, he wished to note that OIC had participated in the drafting of the resolution. An OIC intergovernmental group of experts had worked on the preparation of the drafts of a Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations, and on a Global Programme of Action. Both the Agenda and Programme would be further developed in broader consultations at the United Nations during the year of dialogue. The OIC would be prepared to foster the objects of the year in several other ways in cooperation with the United Nations. He reiterated the OIC's commitment to the principles and objectives of the dialogue among civilizations, and hoped that the draft resolution would attract the Assembly's unanimous approval.

Action on draft resolution A/55/L.30

The Assembly was informed that Algeria, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, Benin, Burkina Faso, Canada, Central African Republic, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guinea, Guyana, Ireland, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Luxembourg, Mali, Malta, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Portugal, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Thailand, Tunisia, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the United Republic of Tanzania had joined as co- sponsors of the draft resolution.

The Assembly then adopted, without a vote, the resolution on the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations.

Rights of reply

ARMAN AKOPIAN (Armenia), exercising his right of reply, said he regretted that the delegate of Azerbaijan had been the only speaker to use the item for attacking another nation. Such statements were in contradiction with the very idea of dialogue among nations and could kill the dialogue in its cradle. The delegate of Azerbaijan had presented his country as an example of ethnic tolerance, but forgot to mention the massacres of Armenians in Sumgait in 1986 and in Baku in 1990. According to the delegate of Azerbaijan, his country was an example of religious tolerance, but he did not mention that the only Armenian church in Baku had been destroyed, even though he claimed that tens of thousands of Armenians were still living in Baku. He claimed that his country did not exploit religion for political purposes. The use of mercenaries from certain countries and repeated calls for religious solidarity, however, left no doubt about who was exploiting religion.

He confirmed that Armenia and Azerbaijan had different cultural and religious heritages, but that should not be regarded as an obstacle but rather as an opportunity to engage in a positive dialogue. In the not so remote past, the two countries had, indeed, engaged in such a dialogue, an interaction which had contributed greatly to the mutual enrichment of the two countries. That dialogue had been interrupted, he said, but the ongoing political dialogue between the countries gave hope that, in the near future, the spiritual dialogue would follow.

YASHAR ALIYEV (Azerbaijan), exercising his right of reply, said that, unfortunately, despite the item under consideration, the Armenian delegate was pursuing other goals and continuing the aggressive strategy of his country against Azerbaijan. In December 1987, it was Armenia that had forcibly expelled more than 4,000 citizens of Azerbaijani origin. Those people had found refuge in Azerbaijan. That was the first provocative action that had fueled the conflict between the two countries. In April 1992, it was the armed forces of Armenia that committed one of the bloodiest crimes in recent history when they razed the Azerbaijani town of Khodjaly. As a result of the atrocities, more than 600 inhabitants of Khodjaly were brutally killed. The Armenian Church in Baku was safe, but obviously it was closed. The Armenian delegate’s actions could be summed up in a well known Russian saying, “a guilty conscience betrays itself”.

ARMAN AKOPIAN (Armenia), in exercising his right of reply, said it was totally false that an Azeri population disappeared; moreover, they had certainly not been massacred, he said. He added that the event described by the representative of Azerbaijan -- if it occurred -- would have taken place after the Azerbaijani aggression aimed at ethnic cleansing of all Armenians at Nagorno- Karabakh in 1992. As for the Armenian church in Baku, he possessed abundant photographic evidence of its demolition.

YASHAR ALIYEV (Azerbaijan), exercising his right of reply, invited everybody to visit Baku and check the status of the Armenian church. Regarding the so- called foreign occupation by Azerbaijan of Nagorno-Karabakh, he congratulated the Armenian delegate on his invention of a new subterfuge, following its subterfuge of a so-called “blockade” of Armenia. He reminded the committee that Armenia bordered three other countries besides Azerbaijan. If Armenia had really been blockaded, the Security Council would have acted accordingly. Instead, the Council had dealt with the conflict by adopting four resolutions in 1993, expressing its concern at the deterioration of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and at the continuation of the conflict in and around the Nagorno- Karabakh region of Azerbaijan.

The Assembly then decided to conclude consideration of the item.

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For information media. Not an official record.