New York

21 April 2015

Secretary-General's remarks at opening of High-Level Thematic Debate on Promoting Tolerance and Reconciliation: Fostering Peaceful, Inclusive Societies and Countering Violent Extremism

Your Excellency Mr. Sam Kutesa, President of the General Assembly, Your Excellency Ms. Isabel Saint Malo de Alvaredo, Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Panama, Your Excellency Mr. Nasser Judeh, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Jordan, Your Excellency Mr. Ali Babacan, Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, Your Eminences, Your Holinesses, Your Excellency, Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al Nasser, High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I thank the President of the General Assembly for his leadership for convening this high-level thematic debate on a very important agenda. I also thank the High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations for his strong commitment.

I am pleased to welcome so many senior government officials. And I am honoured by the presence of eminent faith leaders.

We brought you together for meetings today and tomorrow because we are deeply troubled by the spread of extremism and radicalism.

We have to address all these issues at the origin; we have to look at the roots and stress prevention.

Too many communities have been shattered; too many children have been torn from their schools and their families; too many people have been needlessly and cynically pitted against each other. 

As such stories become all too common, the world must stand up to this threat. We can only do this together.

That is why the United Nations is holding this interfaith, intergovernmental dialogue for our interlinked future.

Violent extremism is a global test. Our response must solve the problem – not exacerbate it.

Da’esh, Al Shabaab and Boko Haram are part of a new generation of terrorist groups threatening international peace and security.

But the problem goes beyond the Middle East and Africa. Racism, fascism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia stoke hatred and cost lives even in largely peaceful and democratic societies.

To protect the innocent, we must safeguard our moral compass. If abuses are committed in the name of counter-terror, terrorists will only gain more ground and new recruits. Nothing is more important – morally or strategically – than staying true to our values and strictly respecting human rights even under gross provocation.

The formula for disaster is clear: when insecurity and frustration are fuelled by leaders who exploit identity politics or by outside interference, the result is mistrust and sectarian hatred that can explode into violence. And when that happens, history has shown that the risk of atrocity crimes is high.

Extremists take advantage of these conditions in the most appalling and criminal ways.

To combat them, we need to consider the factors at play – especially in the Middle East.

That means honestly confronting our own faults. I call on States and others with influence to consider how their actions can create breeding grounds for brutality.

I call for attention to any economic interests that may be at play. They must be handled responsibly with paramount attention to human rights.

Justice is essential. It is critical to address inequality. We must foster inclusiveness. We cannot leave on the margins any individuals – including religious minorities, youth, persons with disabilities, indigenous people, women and others suffering from discrimination.

In situations of conflict, we must lay the foundations for accountability even as we work for peace.

We have to address past violations to secure a stable future. Without transitional justice, there is a far greater chance that revenge and retribution will deepen intolerance just when societies need healing.

Your ideas here will contribute to the comprehensive action plan on preventing violent extremism that I will present to the General Assembly later this year.

This is part of a focused effort by the United Nations to squarely reflect on how we can better contribute to this effort.

The UN plan will emphasize the core values of peace, justice and human dignity as true alternatives to the extremists’ hatred and fear.

It will focus on prevention through equitable institutions, inclusive governance, and respect for human rights and the rule of law.

We must enable women to assume their rightful, equal leadership role.

And we will need to empower young people as a major force for progress. The Security Council will discuss their potentially enormous contribution at an important meeting later this week.

The UN Plan will demand the full engagement of Member States as well as international, regional and community-based organizations and faith leaders. I also call on citizens of the world to reject extremist ideologies.

Violent extremism is marked by villains against victims. But we should also remember the heroes.

Throughout history, there have been brave individuals who transcended their identity to help others in danger simply because we are part of the same human family.

  These heroes risked and even gave their own lives for what they knew was right. And in the process, they inspired others to take up the cause.

As we confront the worst, let us be inspired by the best.

In the name of our shared humanity, we must unite with courage and resolve.

Thank you very much.