[Watch the video on webtv.un.org]
Just a few hours’ drive from here is the city of Pittsburgh.
Less than a month ago, Pittsburgh was the scene of a horrendous attack – Jewish worshippers gunned down in prayer.
It was an unspeakable act – yet I was struck by the voices that emerged.
The local Muslim community, for example, raised tens of thousands of dollars to help the victims.
“Let us know what you need” a leader said. “We will be there.”
He said he was echoing the same message of support that his community received in times of trouble.
He was also echoing the essence of the mission of the Alliance of Civilizations.
The Alliance is not a feel-good initiative. It is fundamental to peace, to security, to sustainable development, to the world we need to build.
That is why I am pleased to welcome you to this opening session of the eighth Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.
I thank High-Representative Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser for his service in guiding the Alliance over the past six years.
The role of the Alliance of Civilizations has never been more relevant to our 2030 Agenda objective of building more peaceful, just and resilient societies.
For that, we need to promote the conditions where people of different identities, faiths and cultures can live in harmony, free of discrimination and persecution.
Sadly, today, culture, faith and a false notion of identity are still creating serious problems and threats in different regions.
Think no further than the desperate plight of the Rohingya people of Myanmar, subjected to ethnic cleansing in the only place that they can call home.
Or the ordeal of the Yazidi people in Iraq, overrun by ISIS, their men slaughtered and their women and girls sold into slavery.
These peoples, and many more around the world, are guilty of nothing except being different from their persecutors.
It is unacceptable and a source of deep shame that identity should make a person or a community a target.
Yet, in today’s world, people whose identities are defined by religion, culture or ethnicity, continue to be besieged by hatred.
We see it in the resurgence of Neo-Nazis organizations and anti-Semitism.
We see it in the vitriol directed at refugees and migrants – some of our world’s most vulnerable and needy people – which is why it is essential that, next month, nations embrace the compacts on migration and refugees.
We see it in the homophobia that permeates minds and laws in countries throughout the world.
And we see it in the global pandemic of violence against women and girls – from so-called honour killings to the pervasive sexual harassment that so many females endure in all societies.
That is why we must all work together to build societies that are truly respectful and inclusive, where diversity is seen as a richness, not a threat.
But this will not necessarily happen spontaneously. It needs the investment and commitment of political, community and faith leaders.
How can we achieve this goal?
First, we must engage in sincere and inclusive dialogue.
Religious leaders and faith-based organizations have tremendously important roles to play – in promoting understanding and acting as moderating voices.
Faith is too often used to divide us – usually as a result of cynical political manipulation.
But faith can and should provide pathways for understanding and for people to celebrate their diversity based on their common values.
I am particularly pleased that the Alliance of Civilizations is providing a global space for religious leaders to exchange views and explore how to amplify their role.
I urge the international community to continue to draw on the wisdom and experience of religious leaders from all denominations in peacebuilding efforts, particularly in the context of promoting national reconciliation.
Second, we need to harness the creativity and energy of young people.
That is why I have launched a youth strategy to create an enabling environment for young people to engage with the United Nations – and with each other to promote understanding.
I welcome the efforts of the Alliance to place youth at the centre of its activities.
With the rise of misinformation, dangerous hoaxes and hate speech on social media, young people need to be educated and empowered to identify and repudiate those destructive trends.
Third, our efforts must be anchored in respect for universal human rights.
As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights next month, let us recall that the inherent dignity and equal rights of all members of the human family provide the foundation for freedom, justice and peace.
This includes respect for freedom of religion and expression, freedom from discrimination of any kind, and the right to participate in and preserve the cultural life of our communities.
Only when our societies are based on true respect for the diversity of humankind can we provide a buttress against extremist propaganda.
And that is why we need the Alliance of Civilizations – so people of all faiths and cultures and identities, can live together peacefully, safely and free of fear.
I wish you a very productive and uplifting Forum.