Marrakesh, Morocco

25 January 2016

Secretary-General's message to the Conference entitled "The Rights of Religious Minorities in predominantly Muslim Lands: Legal Framework and A Call To Action"

It is a pleasure to greet this important conference.  I thank the Kingdom of Morocco and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies for this initiative.

The history of the Middle East is rich with examples of co-existence and pluralism. 
Yet today, unresolved conflicts, violent extremism and injustice are endangering the region’s people, destroying centuries-old social fabrics and undermining economic and social progress.

While we rightly focus on the plight of religious minorities, we must take care not to inadvertently cause them to be perceived as somehow distinct from the diverse societies
of which they are an integral part.

Violent extremists are targeting communities – Shiites, Sunnis, Yazidis, Christians, Jews and others -- who differ from them.  They destroy their cultural references, including books, manuscripts, heritage sites and places of worship.  Some communities are at risk of being totally obliterated.

As we seek to protect communities at risk today, we must also promote long-term stability and prevent identity-based politics from deepening and doing further damage.

Each nation will define the relationship between religion and state that best reflects its values.  However, this should be done within the context of universal principles and equal rights for all.

We must vigorously promote democratic governance, with accountable institutions  and laws that protect all individuals.

At a time when societies in the Middle East have more young people than ever, opportunities for youth must be a priority.  Without education, training, freedom and hope to pursue their aspirations, young people will be vulnerable to the siren calls of extremist voices. 

States must allow civil society to flourish.  Yet space for citizens’ groups to operate is shrinking across the region, with crackdowns on demonstrations, arbitrary arrests, reprisals against human rights defenders, other restrictions on basic rights and sweeping definitions of terrorism that criminalize or silence legitimate activities.

Inter-faith dialogue is necessary and urgent.  Religious leaders have a responsibility to help heal differences in their communities, and to use their moral authority to promote inclusion, not exclusion; forgiveness, not vengeance; equality, not superiority.  Religion should be a bridge between people, not a wedge.

There are no quick remedies, and solutions will have to come from within.  The United Nations will continue to support efforts to end the cycles of violence and discrimination, including through the Alliance of Civilizations initiative, the Human Rights up Front effort and the recently issued Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism.

Let us work together to preserve and reinforce diversity and dignity across the Middle East. Thank you again for your commitment, and please accept my best wishes for a successful conference.