Skip to main content


13 November 2008
General AssemblyGA/10784
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-third General Assembly


48th, 49th & 50th Meetings (AM, PM & Night)



Assembly President Says High-Level Meeting ‘Sent Clear Message’,

Speakers Called for Restoring Values of Compassion and Solidarity

Lauding the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as integral to building tolerant societies and durable peace, the General Assembly this evening capped its two-day, high-level meeting on the Culture of Peace with the adoption of a consensus resolution reaffirming the world body’s solemn commitment to promote universal respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms, in line with the United Nations Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

By its resolution on the “promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation for peace”, the Assembly encouraged the promotion of dialogue among media from all cultures, and that States consider, where appropriate, initiatives that identify practical actions in all levels of society for promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue, tolerance and understanding.

Further by the text, the Assembly invited the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in consultation with Member states, and through extrabudgetary resources, to play a lead role in preparations for the celebration of the International Year for Rapprochement of Cultures in 2010.

Among the almost 60 delegations to take the floor throughout the day, Asif Ali Zardari, President of Pakistan, which co-sponsored the text, said that, as the elected representative of 180 million Pakistanis who were suffering from “the menace of hatred”, he rejected those who sought to divide, and rallied around those who would unite the creations of the one and only God.  His participation at the dialogue was a personal opportunity to advance the message of a moderate, modern and loving Islam.  Islam was tolerant of other religions and cultures and internally tolerant of dissent.  Indeed, there was “nothing more un-Islamic” than discrimination, violence against women and terrorism, he declared.

Unfortunately, hate speech, in which Islam, as a religion, was attacked, was still too common.  “The imaginary fear of Islam has been rising,” he said.  That was exactly what terrorists had hoped to provoke.  In response, he proposed consensus on an international agenda wherein:  hate speech aimed at incitement would be unacceptable; discrimination based on faith would be discouraged; bigotry would be combated, and dialogue encouraged.  At the same time, Member States should commit resources to dialogue and international cultural understanding.

While agreeing that the world had not yet fully learned to “rejoice in the richness of diversity”, the representative of Norway pointed out that the practical steps needed for improved dialogue started at home.  Future generations must be taught mutual respect from childhood, and school curricula in that regard was essential.

Moreover, freedom of religion could not be achieved without freedom of speech, and freedom of speech was a prerequisite for any valuable dialogue.  If dialogue did not encourage the expression of different views, without fear, it would become a “shared monologue”, he said.  It was possible to have freedom of expression, while exercising caution to ensure that others were not inadvertently or unnecessarily denigrated.  That attitude had nothing to do with censorship or legal restrictions, only with human respect.

By the same token, the representative of Chile was concerned that religious beliefs and the objects of worship were being placed above individual rights -- an approach he feared would bring religious beliefs in direct opposition to human rights.  Restrictions of freedoms of expressions could not be sacrificed at the expense of “isolated events affecting a particular religion, however regrettable or condemnable they may be”.  Rather than restricting expression, he called for the expansion of expression, and offered hope that initiatives such as this one would continue to “build bridges and provide solutions to intercultural tensions”.

United States President George W. Bush said religious freedom was the foundation of a “healthy and hopeful society”, and the best way to safeguard it was by aiding the expansion of democracy.  In a democracy, people were able to defend their religious beliefs and speak out against those who would try to twist those beliefs towards evil ends.  The United States Constitution guaranteed freedom of religion and his country continued its long tradition of protecting that freedom throughout the world.  It had liberated the concentration camps of Europe and protected Muslims in places like Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.  Religious liberty was an essential element of United States foreign policy.

Drawing attention to today’s reality, the representative of Rwanda said that, within the framework of international law, the discrimination and bias of different actors persisted, and Rwanda was still a victim of such practices.  Its head of protocol had been arrested over the weekend during an official trip to Germany, an action that was an abuse of universal jurisdiction.  International conventions regulated harmonious relations between peoples, but breaches should be filled by the Alliance of Civilizations, he said.

To that point, Francisco Javier Rojo, President of the Senate of Spain, said the Alliance of Civilizations, created in 2005 and led by Spain and Turkey, was a political initiative of preventive diplomacy, which aspired to overcome conflicts stemming from culture and religion.  In its first phase, the Alliance explored the root causes of polarization, and recommended measures to combat extremism.

The second phase of the Alliance, based on the development of an action plan for 2007-2009, would see projects related to youth, media, education and migration.  He welcomed the request of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia for Spain to host, last July, the World Conference on Dialogue, in Madrid.  Spain also supported Saudi Arabia’s endeavour to build greater mutual understanding between peoples, through dialogue, so that extremism and radical attitudes that arose within any community could be addressed.

Rounding out the debate, the representative of Côte d’Ivoire stressed that his country’s experience demonstrated the extent to which the adoption of the culture of peace could foster development and help promote integration.  Quoting his country’s founder, Felix Houphouet Boigny, he reminded delegates that “Peace is not just an eloquent word.  It is a form of behaviour.”  Current challenges would not be resolved in rhetorical flourishes, but in convincing the world’s decision makers to give more room to the moral dimension of international affairs.

Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann said that the two-day meeting had sent a clear message -- that self-destruction lay ahead unless the timeless values of brotherhood and sisterhood were restored.  Though the current storm was “of our own making”, the international community could combat it with heroic measures, collective resolve and shared responsibility, especially towards urgently changing the conditions of billions living in terrible poverty.

Lastly, he expressed hope that the constructive dialogue would revive and reinstate high ideals among peoples and nations, with the “glorious triumph” of that which was most noble in human beings over that which was most base, and a future in which justice and security can prevail over injustice, fear and poverty.  The upcoming Doha meeting on financing for development was a chance to show serious solidarity in the guiding principles of our resolutions and actions.

Also addressing the Assembly were the Prime Ministers of Turkey and the United Kingdom.

The Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece also spoke, as did the Minister of State to the Federal Chancellor of Germany, the Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Japan and the Special Advisor to the President of Yemen.

The Senator of the Commission of External Relations and International Affairs of Paraguay also spoke.

Also addressing the Assembly were the representatives of Brazil, China, Canada, Cuba, Sudan, Indonesia, Portugal, Gambia, Russian Federation, Senegal, Singapore, San Marino, Azerbaijan, Mauritania, Malaysia, Ethiopia, El Salvador, Iran, Republic of Korea, Bangladesh, Ukraine, Viet Nam, Italy, Albania, Belgium, Nigeria, Thailand, Ecuador, Belarus, Costa Rica, Croatia, Sri Lanka, Bolivia, United Republic of Tanzania, Nepal, Argentina, Cameroon, Uganda, and Comoros.

The Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference also spoke.

Speaking in explanation of position after adoption of the resolution was the representative of the United States.

The General Assembly will reconvene Monday, 17 November, at 10 a.m. for a joint debate to the outcome of the Millennium Summit, strengthening of the United Nations system, and other matters.


The General Assembly met today to conclude its two-day high-level meeting on the culture of peace. (Please see Press Release GA/10782.)


HERMANN GROHE, Minister of State to the Federal Chancellor, Germany, said safeguarding peace and security and making a life of freedom and dignity possible for all constituted the core of the United Nations mandate.  The last few years had shown, however, that national and international conflicts demanded more than actions at the national and intergovernmental levels.  Political effort at all levels was needed to support a culture of peace within societies, as well as between States.  Achieving such a culture of peace required effort from “the forces that hold our societies together”, which he said included religious beliefs, among other worldviews.  His Majesty the King of Saudi Arabia had been right to ask “what contributions religion can make to the culture of peace”.

He said examples could be found in all faiths where religion was abused for power, but that did not make it appropriate to become suspicious of specific religions.  For example, if Islamic terrorists distorted their religion, it did not justify Islamophobia.  But to fight the abuse of religion, there must be a willingness of religions to engage in self-critical reflection.  It was necessary to embrace freedom of thought, conscience and religion as laid out in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in order to engage with religious communities and believers of different faiths, or non-religious communities alike. 

At the same time, recognizing the significance of religious freedom did not imply that other human rights were less important.  Indeed, the principles of freedom and equality forbade people from arbitrarily limiting the freedom of those that thought differently.  It was similarly unacceptable to put the rights of women in question on the grounds of religion or ideology.  He also said States should commit themselves to fight continuously against any form of anti-Semitism.  In addition, he said people must be free to profess a certain faith, and should have a right to convert to another faith.  It was unacceptable for some countries to exercise the death penalty to threaten those who wanted to convert. 

It was also time to end the harassment, terror and murder that forced members of religious minorities to flee their homes and countries.  Given the nature of globalization and migration, regions shaped by one religion alone were an exception.  Greater multiculturalism and “multireligiosity” called for dialogue.  Numerous interreligious initiatives had taken place at the United Nations, but what was needed was commitment from religious communities as well.  Jews, Christians and Muslims had learned much from and about each other through such dialogues, but increased participation from other religious traditions would certainly be welcomed.

ABDULKARIM AL-ERYANI, Special Advisor to the President of Yemen, said the current meeting was an historic event that would strengthen the culture of peace and dialogue at the highest level.  As former Secretary-General Kofi Annan had once said, the United Nations truly was the Organization where cultures and religions could come together, meet and dialogue, and pass on the benefits of that dialogue to others.  The meeting of cultures and human beliefs was a characteristic of human civilization, within all cultures.

The current meeting was aimed at the dissemination of that dialogue between all representatives of all cultures throughout the world.  The meeting “was born in the city of Mecca”, where the eyes of millions of Muslims turned each day.  The “call to Mecca” was also a call to dialogue, which was a tradition that was not only found in Islam but in all religious beliefs and philosophical traditions throughout the world.  Indeed, all human societies must be called to dialogue, since that was the necessary condition in which humanity could progress. 

Equality should exist between all men and women in the diversity of their cultures and beliefs, he continued.  Respect for others, respect for the cultures of peoples, and respect for the freedom of peoples to govern themselves were found in all religions and cultural traditions.  That common ground between religions and beliefs should serve as a platform to allow the international community to exchange information and knowledge, with an overall aim of building greater happiness in the world.  However, to do so, the Western world must revise all of its concepts and notions concerning Muslims and the Muslim world.  “There must be mutual fertilization between civilizations”, he said, and a “genuine dialogue in which everyone attempts to understand the other, without preconditions”.  A culture of peace based on dialogue was necessary now, more than ever before, and the existence of such a culture would represent a victory over ignorance, he said.  Currently, there was a fear being propagated in the Western world with regard to a “new enemy” in Islam.  But those fears were imagined fears, based on ignorance and on the false notion that there was necessarily, unavoidably a conflict between civilizations. 

To counter such fears, he said all means must be used to truly spread a genuine dialogue between culture and beliefs.  Such action could be taken through the United Nations, through bilateral dialogue and through multilateral dialogues.  To that end, Yemen had held a number of symposia, where illustrious academic figures had been invited to speak on the subject of peace among civilizations.  At the current dialogue, he appealed to Member States to adopt concrete measures that would have an appropriate follow-up mechanism, namely, a specialized committee where all civilizations and beliefs would be represented.  

MIGUEL ABDÓN SAGUIER, Senator and member of the Commission of External Relations and International Affairs of Paraguay, said his country was resolutely committed to the cause being pursued by the United Nations and its Members to achieve an in-depth understanding amongst cultures.  Given humankind’s diversity, dialogue between communities was the only path to take for overcoming injustice and violence, in which accepting “the Other” was a starting point.  Indeed, violence was often based on lack of acceptance and on attempts to limit the Other, and was the antithesis of dialogue. 

To avoid mistakes that could lead to tragedy, it was essential to understand that “suicidal indifference” in the face of premeditated acts did not amount to tolerance, he said.  It was equally important to understand that fanatics who demonstrated the force of their demands through violence were acting out of fear.  Fanaticism did not illustrate a firmness of conviction but the opposite:  a fear about what was different.  Fanaticism was a manifestation of the force of will of the weak.

He pointed out that yesterday various leaders had said that religion was not the cause of violence; rather, religion was often used as a pretext by those who corrupted their faith to achieve political goals.  Those who obtained power through violence often maintained that power through further violence.  Tolerance meant not forgetting -- as shown in Catholic thought, and as reflected in Papal and Vatican papers -- that even those who were “mistaken” in their beliefs should still be allowed to retain their dignity. 

Paraguay was imbued by humanist ideals, and so supported interfaith initiatives.  It was hoped that those initiatives would bring practical results.  He expressed gratitude to His Majesty King Abdullah for bringing States together on the issue, as well as to the General Assembly President and United Nations Secretary-General.

MASAHIKO KOUMURA, Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of Japan, recalled how in 1999, as then Foreign Minister of Japan, he had made a speech in Ramallah in which he had called for the building of a new bridge between Japan and the Middle East at the dawn of the twenty-first century.  He had urged the world to profit from the lessons learned during the century that was just closing, filled as it had been with war and conflict, and to make the new century a time of peace and prosperity.

Instead, in the decade that had passed since he had made that statement, what was prevailing in the Middle East, as well as in too many other regions around the world, was more conflict and incidents that had only served to heighten tensions. Such disorder, strife and conflict had many causes, and tremendous efforts had been made to address them, both in the United Nations and other forums.  Yet, he said, success in devising better, more durable solutions would only be assured when the parties concerned and the international community had the political will to do so.  It would be because, breaking with the past, nations chose to engage in dialogue rather than resort to violence.

Continuing, he said it was impossible to resolve a conflict, today as in the past, unless each of the parties first recognized the other’s existence by respecting each other’s ethnicity, culture and religion.  Additionally, the impact that globalization had had on the world had to be taken into account.  Through the rapid expansion of trade and the development of information and communication technologies, the daily lives of many people had been made easier.  At the same time, globalization had removed many of the barriers that earlier separated groups with different identities and different ways of life.

He said leaders had an obligation now to pool their wisdom so as to maximize the benefits of globalization and minimize the harm it could do, pointing out that people who faced a crisis of identity were vulnerable.  Equally pressing in confronting the global issues of today was that nations and regions of the world needed to work in concert, in a firm and courageous manner, to secure the common interests of humankind, which extended far beyond petty differences.  “This is clearly how we must confront the current financial crisis, which is unprecedented in scale,” he stated.

On climate change, he pointed out that the leaders of the “Group of Eight” shared the long-term objective of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2050, and understood that failure to do so would lead to even more global warming and deal a massive blow to mankind and the environment of the planet.  The same went for the Millennium Development Goals.  On that point, he stressed that the first victims of natural disasters and of conflicts, regardless of where in the world they occurred, were always the poor, and as such, leaving behind those who were weak and vulnerable made a society unstable and impeded the progress of the reforms for which everyone had promised to work.

GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States, thanked King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for his leadership and his efforts to bring together global leaders to speak about faith.  He also thanked the participants of the high-level dialogue, who had recognized the “transformative and uplifting power” of faith.  There was indeed an almighty God and all persons bore his image.  On a personal level, he said faith had sustained him throughout the challenges and joys of his Presidency, and faith would continue to guide him through the rest of his days. 

Though global leaders may profess different creeds and worship in different places, faith led all persons to common values.  God called on all persons to love their neighbours and to treat all persons with passion and respect.  God also called on people to honour all life, to speak out against injustice, and to oppose all those who would use God’s name to justify violence or murder, he said. 

Sixty years ago, by adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international community had acknowledged the truth that all people had the right to worship as they saw fit, he said.  The United States had strongly supported the adoption of that Declaration and, by doing so, it had reaffirmed a conviction that dated back to the earliest days of the country.  Indeed, the national Constitution guaranteed the freedom of religion in its First Amendment and the United States had continued its long tradition of protecting that freedom throughout the world. 

It had liberated the concentration camps of Europe and had protected Muslims throughout the world, in places like Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.  Religious liberty was an essential element of United States foreign policy and, to that end, the United States had established a commission to help monitor the state of that liberty worldwide, he said.

Religious freedom was the foundation of a “healthy and hopeful society,” he continued.  The best way to safeguard that freedom was to aid the expansion of democracy.  “One of the defining features of any democracy is that it makes room for people of all backgrounds and all faiths.”  In a democracy, people were able to defend their religious beliefs and speak out against those who would try to twist those beliefs towards evil ends.  Freedom and faith could lift up lives and lead the world towards a greater peace.  In closing, he thanked, once more, all participants in the high-level dialogue, which drew the world closer to the day when all prayers would be answered and everyone would be able to enjoy the peace and dignity God granted to everyone.

ASIF ALI ZARDARI, President of Pakistan, said the international community stood at a critical crossroads, with the opportunity to start afresh and rebuild a better world.  “Yet, we still face a dangerous world of confrontation and terror, threatening to provoke the ‘clash of civilizations’,” he said.  As the elected representative of 180 million Pakistanis, suffering from the menace of hatred, he rejected those that sought to divide and rallied around those who would unite the creations of the one and only God.  In taking the initiative to hold the dialogue of peace, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia had revived the great Islamic tradition of reconciliation and inclusions and had made a “noble contribution towards the cause of human unity and dignity”. 

Continuing, he said his participation at the dialogue was a personal opportunity to advance the message of a moderate, modern and loving Islam.  Islam was tolerant of other religions and cultures and internally tolerant of dissent.  Allah had created a world of diversity, with people of different views and perspectives who saw the world in different ways.  All persons deserved a better life, where their basic rights of food, education, shelter and the protection of their families were guaranteed and their basic dignity as human beings was universally recognized and respected. 

“Throughout recorded history, the enemies of peace have often invoked faith as an instrument of creating disunity,” he continued.  King Abdullah had decried those that would use religion to advance an extremist political agenda and said that religion must be a “bridge bringing nations together, not a wall keeping nations apart”.  It was, therefore, critical to undertake the task of building upon faith as a means of finding common ground between different nations and civilizations.  For that reason, Pakistan and the Philippines had been the original co-sponsors of the General Assembly resolution on promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue.  “As we gather here to move forward to these ends, let us not talk of what divides us, but rather what unites us as the creation of the same God.”

Pakistan’s struggle for the Islamic principle of gender equality and reconciliation had placed the country at the centre of the international stage, he said.  In following the true spirit of Islam, the President’s late wife and great leader of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, had laid down her life.  While rejecting the “so-called” clash of civilizations, she had laid out the guiding principles of Pakistan’s newly-elected democratic Government, based on a political vision of reconciliation. 

Unfortunately, hate speech, in which Islam, as a religion, was attacked, was still too common.  “The imaginary fear of Islam has been rising.  This is exactly what terrorists had hoped to provoke.”  In response, he proposed consensus on an international agenda wherein:  hate speech aimed at incitement would be unacceptable; discrimination based on faith would be discouraged; bigotry would be combated; dialogue would be encouraged; and nations with little resources would be helped by the international community.  At the same time, Member States must also commit resources to dialogue and international cultural understanding.  “We do this for a better tomorrow and we do this to leave behind a world better than the one we found.”

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Prime Minister of Turkey, said the participation of the high number of Heads of State and Government at the high-level meeting had justified the personal interest of the King of Saudi Arabia in the issue of the interfaith dialogue.  It was obvious that the behavioural norms of the last century were out of date in the modern age of proliferating weapons of mass destruction, illicit trafficking and organized crime.  In light of tragic experiences all countries had endured, “either we are all secure or none of us is secure”.

Unfortunately, he said, not much success had been achieved in displaying the political will to overcome the challenges that faced the world.  Polarization, lack of understanding and discrimination persisted in the international community.  Much more progress had to be made in overcoming those drawbacks.  The present exchange was an important initiative towards that end.  The meeting of Muslim scholars in Mecca in June of this year and the subsequent July conference in Madrid were others, he added.

He said his country embraced two continents and was home to three monotheistic faiths, which gave it an additional sense of responsibility towards the dialogue among cultures.  The Alliance of Civilizations that Turkey had launched with Spain had now become a United Nations initiative with a High Representative appointed and a Group of Friends established.  Members included 78 countries and 13 international organizations.  Those achievements were an indication of the growing support the international community accorded to the principles and aims of the Alliance.  That, in turn, proved that the fundamental values uniting humanity, including human rights and rule of law, were stronger than cultural differences. 

The Alliance would seek to enhance its contribution by working to ensure that official policies and statements of members were modern and responsible, he said.  Through national strategies, the Friends would inform their national public opinions on Alliance aims.  The current shortfall in dialogue would be remedied through joint projects, especially aimed at youth, the media, the educational field and in the migrant arena.  A consistent vision would guide the work of the Alliance in addressing pressing current challenges such as clarifying the compatibility of freedom of expression and respect for religious beliefs. 

Humanity was under an absolute obligation, he said, to reflect upon the impact of such matters as freedom of expression within different cultures, religions and regions.  Only then would a better understanding of others be achieved, with greater respect for sensitivities so that mistakes can be avoided, such as branding those who are different as “others”.  The Arab Israeli conflict must be resolved and Iraq must be stabilized.  Actions and statements should demonstrate that a common bond of civilization for all of humankind was rooted in universal values regardless of differences.

Finally, he said Turkey would host the Second Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations, in Istanbul on 2-3 April 2009.  All were welcome to participate in deliberations at the location overlooking the Bosphorus.

FRANCISCO JAVIER ROJO, President of the Senate, Spain, said his Government attached great importance to initiatives that could lead to better understanding amongst people, cultures and religions.  Spain shared the concern of others about the growth of intolerance, and so supported Saudi Arabia’s endeavour to build greater mutual understanding between peoples, through dialogue, so that extremism and radical attitudes that arose within any community could be addressed. 

The initiative by the Philippines and Pakistan in the promotion of intercultural and interreligious dialogue, understanding, and cooperation for peace was also worth noting.  For its part, Spain had been pleased by the request from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to host a World Conference on Dialogue last July, where a great number of representatives of different religions had come together.  Spain practiced a separation of church and State, but that had not prevented the development of dialogue and cooperation between Government and communities of different creeds.  Indeed, Spain’s growing diversification had led to renewed interest at initiatives to resolve challenges brought about by diversity.

He said the Alliance of Civilizations, created in 2005 at the initiative of the Heads of Governments of Spain and Turkey, was directed at promoting cooperation among States.  As expressed by the Secretary-General yesterday, it was a political initiative of preventive diplomacy that aimed to overcome conflicts stemming from misperceptions.  In its first phase, the Alliance had focused its efforts on exploring the root causes of the divide between cultures and societies, and in proposing practical recommendations to counteract such forces. 

The second phase began with the appointment of Jorge Sampaio as High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, whose cornerstone was the development of an action plan for 2007-2009 focused on youth, media, education and migration.  The Alliance’s first forum had brought together more than 500 participants, including political leaders and representatives of governments and international organizations, civil society, religious communities, the media and businesses.  He noted that the High Representative’s report had been circulated as document A/63/336.  The second forum was scheduled for April 2009 in Istanbul, Turkey, which was sure to constitute a “fundamental milestone” in the road ahead.

MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI ( Brazil) said building a culture of peace through dialogue among civilizations and religions was a concrete way of giving effect to the principles of the Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  She welcomed the Organization’s significant contributions to such dialogue, notably through the Alliance of Civilizations, in which Brazil was an active participant.

Achieving enhanced mutual respect and cooperation was imperative in a globalized world populated with increasingly diverse societies, she said, adding that multiculturalism was not a choice, but rather a reflection of either complex historical processes or evolving social structures.  The ultimate success of societies depended on their ability to progressively integrate citizens into a larger whole.

A similar logic should prevail at the international level, and the United Nations was particularly well prepared to overcome any challenges.  Building peace through religious tolerance was also imperative in an age marked by both secularism and religious fundamentalism, and the base of such dialogue rested on values shared by all religions:  pursuit of peace and human solidarity among them. States had a role to play in supporting such cooperation, particularly by upholding the freedoms of thought, expression and religion to help create an environment of tolerance. They should also address the underdevelopment and social exclusion that often compounded conflicts among religions.

For its part, Brazil understood by experience that respect for diversity enriched society, and that the confluence of people from all continents and the peaceful coexistence of faiths had instilled a strong desire for “accommodating the Other” in its national character.  Arab and Jewish communities, for example, lived side by side in harmony, which reinforced Brazil’s strong support for the rights of Palestinians to self-determination and to an independent State, economically viable, alongside an Israel within secure borders.

Through Brazil’s historic progress in reducing poverty, he said the country was convinced that educated citizens were less prone to extremism. Respect for human rights and social inclusiveness were the foundation of a world in which civilizations could flourish, and he urged all States to renew their commitment to such powerful ideals.

ZHANG YESUI ( China) said racial and religious discrimination had led to collisions between cultures and civilizations, leaving the international community to take up the shared responsibility of enhancing cooperation to cope with the challenges posed.  Given that atmosphere, it would become important to strengthen interfaith and intercultural dialogue. 

He noted that, although various religions and cultures had originated at different times, there was no difference as far as their status was concerned.  All religions and cultures were the crystallization of human wisdom and had contributed to progress and development of human society, and, as such, deserved equal respect.  It was important to respect differences, since conflict often originated from alienation, discrimination, fear and even hatred caused by differences.

He said China had always opposed extremism and all forms of discrimination, xenophobia or intolerance based on religion, race or other grounds, as well as the attempt to link terrorism to a specific nation, ethnic group or religion.  China was concerned, as well, by the resurgence of extremism, such as Islamophobia and new forms of fascism.  Given that young people were the future of mankind, education was a useful means of helping them adopt the “correct perception of civilization and the world”. 

Media, as the carrier of information, should, while seeking speedy dissemination of information, also pay heed to the quality of that information.  It was desirable for the media to transmit healthy and truthful information that upheld the standards of morality and justice, and for it to refrain from disseminating provocative and insulting comments that triggered confrontation between religions and cultures, he said.

China was a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, which practiced Buddhism, Taoism, Islam and Christianity in a harmonious way.  Chinese culture advocated harmony and accord, where the notions of “harmonious but different” and “working together with one accord in times of difficulty” were a main element.  The essence behind harmony was to seek commonalities while putting aside differences, he said, adding that the Constitution had established the principles of freedom of religious belief, equality of all religions and separation of church and state.

JOHN MCNEE ( Canada) said since its inception, the United Nations had promoted constructive dialogue across cultures and faiths, and initiatives such as today’s discussion demonstrated that the world’s nations recognized the importance of their shared duty to promote intercultural dialogue.  While there were many examples of successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith communities coexisting, too often differences were considered grounds for competition or triggers for armed conflict, and he urged working to change such mistaken perceptions.

Throughout Canada’s history, the accommodation of regional, ethnic and religious diversity had been critical to its overall health, and its openness to diversity had enriched its culture.  The country fostered pluralism through laws, institutions and policies that promoted equal participation of all in society, and, at the same time, encouraged retention of cultural and linguistic heritage.

The promotion of pluralism between religions and cultures must be pursued beyond national boundaries, and the global community must not limit its efforts simply to dialogue, but must take concrete steps to promote respect for people of various cultural and religious backgrounds, which was why initiatives such as the Alliance of Civilizations that had identified practical measures in the fields of youth and education, among others, were important in combating ignorance.  Through such initiatives, Canada was committed to working with the international community to strengthen intercultural understanding around the world.

FRANCISCO JAVIER DOMÍNGUEZ ( Cuba) said the main goals of the United Nations were to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, and to strive to create a democratic and equitable international order based on respect for the dignity of all human beings.  Its purpose was also to maintain international peace and security, based on the principles of sovereign equality and non-intervention in the internal affairs of States.

He said that the Organization’s Members were promised that all people would achieve economic and social progress.  Yet, at the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the world was witnessing financial, energy and food crises, as well as damage to the environment and changes to the climate.  The lives of millions were being threatened by the unilateralism of the only super-Power in the world, which had based its actions on the “clash of civilizations” doctrine.

He said the Alliance of Civilizations was the only way to face the philosophy of unilateralism and “neo-liberal globalization”, through which countries of the South were kept underdeveloped and through which a homogenization of culture was being imposed.  Cuba advocated a more balanced approach, and reiterated its adherence to multilateralism and to multilaterally agreed solutions in accordance with the United Nations Charter and international law.  Moreover, Cuba upheld the Declaration and Programme of Action on a culture of peace, as well as the Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations and its Programme of Action.

Continuing, he said that activities to be undertaken in commemoration of the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures in 2010 were also likely to contribute to the promotion of a culture of peace.  Cuba also appreciated the decision by the Non-Aligned Movement to hold an interfaith dialogue in May 2009, and supported the Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the Movement’s Ministerial Meeting on Human Rights and Cultural Diversity in Iran, in September 2007.

He noted that some countries had chosen to identify certain cultures and religions with terrorism and violence.  Those views should not be tolerated, and indeed, the world must reject all acts that brought about damage, discrimination, stereotyping, profiling and the defamation of religion.  He reiterated the belief that different political, social, cultural and religious systems must each be respected for their equal ability to contribute to the establishment of a peaceful and prosperous world.  He also stressed the role of the media to spread human values and to contribute to mutual respect among the diverse civilizations.

ABDALMAHMOOD ABDALHALEEM MOHAMAD ( Sudan) said initiatives such as the present exchange were vital, if the aim were to be achieved of ending the clash of civilizations and the continued manifestations of extremism.  The unilateralist imposition of national or regional standards onto others must stop.  The dialogue among civilizations must become broader and it must become a means of making contact with others on the part of humanity. 

Tolerance and promulgation of a culture of peace must be the guiding principles of the dialogue, and the United Nations should redouble efforts to promote that dialogue by sponsoring events to follow up on the outcomes of the numerous initiatives being taken on behalf of the culture of peace, he said, adding that the international community must condemn actions and words that were offensive to other cultures and did not show respect to religions. 

Cultural diversity must be cultivated and acknowledged, including with regard to the rights of immigrants.  In too many parts of the Western world, immigrants were treated in a manner that was clearly a manifestation of racial discrimination and of ethnic and cultural supremacy, he said.  Those kinds of behaviours and attitudes should be dealt with conclusively through universal condemnation.  Sudan would continue working towards peaceful coexistence at both the regional and international levels in a legacy that had been given to Sudan by reason of its rich culture due to geographic location.

MARTY M. NATALEGAWA ( Indonesia) said interfaith and intercultural dialogue and cooperation was particularly significant, especially when considered in the context of today’s volatile world.  When ethnic and religious prejudices were compounded by economic, political or other rivalries, the resulting situation could be explosive.  Faith-related conflicts were more likely to occur when extremism triumphed over moderation.  Moderation was an inherent component of the Indonesian way of life, developed over the years as a response to the pluralism of the peoples in the Indonesian archipelago. 

He went on to say that Indonesia’s culture encouraged broad consultation and it had centuries of experience in the “art of dialogue and fostering tolerance”.  Tolerance was an imperative in human and social development.  Development was not a purely economic process and it was not enough to simply attempt to lift people out of poverty; people must also be redeemed from narrow-mindedness, from prejudice and from intolerance.  The Indonesian motto, “we are diverse, yet we are as one,” was proof of the country’s ability to attain unity, in spite of diversity, he added.

Beyond its national boundaries, Indonesia believed that dialogue among peoples, cultures, faiths and civilizations was essential to the growth of a global culture of peace.  It was with that in mind that Indonesia had launched various dialogues among faiths, cultures, and civilizations, such as the 2004 Asia-Pacific Regional Dialogue on Interfaith Cooperation, the 2005 Asia-Europe Interfaith Dialogue, as well as numerous bilateral interfaith initiatives, various civil society initiatives, and a series of global inter-media dialogues with Norway as a co-sponsor.  Those initiatives would both complement and strengthen other activities addressing the same subject and would, hopefully, become an important part of the global web of cooperation aimed at promoting faith-based peace and harmony. 

However, it was important to recognize that daily practices at the grass root level were just as valuable as “conference room dialogue”.  In the globalized and interdependent world of today, economic, social and cultural issues could contribute significantly to peace and security and, as such, bridges among peoples and groups must be constructed and encouraged.  To that end, he expressed his delegation’s support for the draft resolution introduced yesterday by the President of the Philippines, on the promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, and the draft introduced by Bangladesh on the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World.

MORTEN WETLAND ( Norway) said that the United Nations was built on the assumption that dialogue and mutual respect must govern relations between the peoples of the Organization and that those peoples were the guardians of human rights and fundamental freedoms.  “We are an Organization where the strong shall be just and the weak, secure,” he said.  The laudable initiative of Saudi Arabia came at a timely moment in history, where globalization, migration and information technology had drawn peoples and cultures closer together. 

However, the world had not yet fully learned to rejoice in the richness of diversity or to learn, in an open-minded manner, from the best of others.  That was the case in Norway, which was a country that was working politically to integrate immigrants and refugees in a manner that would be respectful of their identities and experiences.  Indeed, he said, Norway was working to become a fully inclusive society, where everybody felt welcome and where everybody might live to achieve all their goals and aspirations. 

Religious faith was an issue that belonged to the individual, and all persons had the inherent right to change their faith if they wished, he said.  They should also be allowed to practice religion, or not, without fear.  Religious communities had important roles to play in furthering dialogue and respect between religions and between cultures.  The practical steps needed for improved dialogue started at home, he said, adding that future generations must be taught mutual respect from childhood and school curricula in that regard was essential. 

Freedom of religion could not be achieved without freedom of speech, and freedom of speech was a prerequisite for any valuable dialogue.  Indeed, if dialogue did not encourage the expression of different views without fear, it would become a “shared monologue” instead.  It was possible to have freedom of expression, while exercising caution to ensure that others were not inadvertently or unnecessarily denigrated or disrespected.  That attitude was taught in all cultures and practiced in the United Nations every day.  It had nothing to do with censorship or legal restrictions, only with human consideration and respect.

JOÃO SALGUIERO ( Portugal), aligning himself with the statement by the European Union, reaffirmed the importance of interreligious and intercultural dialogue as crucial dimensions of the dialogue among civilizations and the culture of peace.  The present meeting was an occasion to learn more about best practices to encourage such dialogue.  For its part, Portugal saw education as important for promoting a culture of peace, and believed that nations could nurture a sense of tolerance and respect for human rights by investing in the youngest members of society, as well as in lifelong education.

He voiced full agreement with the importance of dialogue and understanding among cultures as essential to building a more peaceful world.  But that goal could only be achieved if human rights and fundamental freedoms were fully protected and promoted.  All human rights were universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, as stated in the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which said that, while the significance of national and regional particularities must be borne in mind, it was the duty of all States to promote and protect human rights regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems.

He said Portugal was part of the Group of Friends of the Alliance of Civilizations, and firmly believed that that Alliance could play a central role in reinforcing dialogue at the global level.  Intercultural understanding was a complex task but essential to domestic and international harmony.  The Alliance was a valuable tool in that regard, given its universal membership.  Indeed, it was possible to work towards an effective culture of peace, and to provide a better world for future generations, by embracing diversity and building on a set of universal human rights.

SUSAN WAFFA-OGOO ( Gambia) said that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted sixty years ago by the community of nations, remained a beacon of hope for human dignity and equality, and the basis for dialogue across cultures and civilizations.  The culture of peace represented a set of values, attitudes, modes of behaviour and ways of life that rejected violence and prevented conflicts by tackling their root causes.  Given the number and ferocity of conflicts, the last century had probably been the bloodiest, in terms of the maintenance of human dignity and international peace and security.

“Although we all harboured high hopes and great expectations of the present millennium, conflicts –- whether political, religious, or other –- are persisting,” she continued.  Those conflicts were due mainly to greed, avarice and, at times, extremism, and ran contrary to the principles of the Universal Declaration and the United Nations Charter.  Rapid population growth, urbanization, debt burdens, climate change, food insecurity and the global financial crises had rendered the bulk of the world’s population more vulnerable.  It was a travesty that, in spite of the abundance of wealth, food and natural resources in parts of the planet, more than half of the world’s population still wallowed in abject poverty.

Nurturing a culture of peace and dialogue among civilizations must be underpinned by comprehensive social, civic, and educational actions, she said.  At the same time, world leaders must commit to redirecting resources from military expenditures to development and human security programmes.  “The developing countries watched in amazement while the developed countries dished out trillions of dollars to bail out financial institutions, while their commitments to increase ODA [official development assistance] to the developing countries remain, to a large extent, unfulfilled,” she declared.

There was a need to build bridges of understanding, tolerance and solidarity across civilizations, cultures and peoples, and to be resolute in the pursuit of interfaith dialogue and cooperation.  Islam, Judaism, and Christianity were all rooted in the Abrahamic faith and the focus should therefore be on the shared values of those religions and not on the differences.  She said the recognition of the power of education to bring about a culture of peace and dialogue could also not be overlooked and, across the globe, values education programmes should be implemented.

VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said the need for the dialogue among cultures was one of most pressing issues before the international community.  In the global world, hostility, animosity and the clash of cultures were all more intensive than ever.  Numerous levels of society, including churches and non-governmental organizations, were addressing the complex problems involved.  That was in addition to the many initiatives governments were developing and implementing.  Cooperation among all the sectors should be strengthened and efforts should be centred on national programmes to address the problem at a vigorous level.

However, he said the United Nations should take the lead in aggressively addressing the problem because the clash of cultures would be cured only by addressing the issues at the heart of the Organization’s concerns, namely, promoting development, achieving global security and fostering respect for human rights.  Many of the current problems involved in the clash of civilizations stemmed from humanity’s colonial era, and they would be cured through initiatives addressing those problems, such as promotion of South-South cooperation and dialogue.  But it was imperative for States to cooperate with each other and for societies at all levels to centre their activities in those established at the United Nations in line with the overall work on interfaith and intercultural dialogue.

He said his country’s broad range of religious confessions was well known.  Russian initiatives in the area of promoting dialogue among religions and cultures included taking part in strategic activities.  The Russian religious community was also taking part in activities at the international level.  Experience suggested that approaches to be taken should mirror the seriousness of the problem of coping with the threats and addressing the challenges of the clash of cultures.  The aim should be to democratize the global dialogue so as to promote respect for religions and cultures as set out at the United Nations.  The way to a culture of peace was enshrined in the Charter.

PAUL BADJI ( Senegal) welcomed the efforts shown by the Kings of Saudi Arabia and of Spain to initiate dialogues on the culture of peace.  A true dialogue between peoples was especially important now, considering the controversial declarations of hatred and violence that continued to proliferate across some parts of the world.  However, a true dialogue would require all civilizations to put aside any presumption of the superiority of one culture over another, and would require overcoming respective fears.  He said civilizations had been enriched, over the years, by dialogue and exchanges with others, and history had shown that great nations could emerge from the meeting of different communities, with the best of each brought together under a common umbrella.  Only by basing oneself on a solid set of values, while opening oneself up to others, would all persons be able to truly build a universal civilization, based on a common exchange of give and take.

Today, unanimity between cultures and civilizations was more necessary than ever before, he continued.  The task, though bold, should not be considered an insurmountable obstacle.  “Our destiny is so noble and our will is so strong” that success would come.  A dialogue among peoples must be based on mutual respect and should be used as an alternative to confrontation and antagonism.  Doing so would require participants to remove any misunderstandings or obstacles born of badly-founded prejudices.

He stressed that the media also had an important role to play in that dialogue and it should focus on drawing attention to that which united peoples and not what divided them.  In doing so, they must be cognizant of the freedom of expression and the duty to respect the freedom of beliefs and religions.  Freedom of expression should not be interpreted as the right to defame religions or propagate hatred among communities.  The freedom of expression must have, as a corollary element, responsibility.

Dialogues among civilizations and religions must take place in a climate of trust, based on reciprocal knowledge and a true exchange of enriching experiences.  He noted that such a situation would require the participation of all persons within all nations, particularly the younger generations.  Children should be educated about tolerance to “dispel the darkness of ignorance” and, as such, his delegation was calling for school curricula to be based on the dialogue between cultures and civilizations, to help children better accept and respect the differences that might exist.

EKMELEDDIN IHSANOGLU, Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said, over the past two decades, the focus of world politics had shifted from political and ideological conflicts between the world’s superpowers, to the so-called “clash of cultures and religions”.  In that atmosphere of disquieting uncertainty, the wise initiative of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was wholeheartedly welcomed.  The prime objective of that initiative was not to preach theological unity but, rather, to exchange knowledge and raise awareness of the common attributes of all religions, namely, a “deep faith in God, lofty principles and moral and noble values”.

He said the Organization of the Islamic Conference had proposed a dialogue among civilizations in 1998.  To date, the failure of that initiative could be attributed to the lack of political will on the part of stakeholders.  Though there had been many meetings and declarations, there had been no real implementation.  Likewise, the grass roots of society had not been reached and no one had conveyed to them the message of tolerance, compassion and peaceful coexistence.

Continuing, he said that the powerful tools of the media had been mobilized to invent a conceptual link between Islam and terror and phrases like “Muslim terrorists” or “Muslim terror” had become commonplace.  Such a portrayal had become the most persistent and virulent source of Islamophobia.  That state of affairs did not bode well for stability in international relations, and immediate and concrete measures were needed to stem the tide of unfounded claims.  Tolerance had been, and still was, the benchmark of Islam.

Indeed, he said, Islam had been proven to be the religion of peace, pluralism and the acknowledgement of the other.  All religions shared common core values and objectives.  Over the previous four decades, the Islamic Conference had worked to disseminate the notion of dialogue among different cultures and civilizations, and it had put relentless efforts towards disseminating the notion of tolerance, mercy, compassion and concord among Muslim populations throughout the world.  As the sole intergovernmental organization representing the Muslim world, the Organization of the Islamic Conference firmly believed that the diversity of cultures and religions should be considered a major source of wealth, on which to build a more just, human and harmonious world.

VANU GOPALA MENON ( Singapore) said interreligious dialogue had become an important way for people of different religions to engage one another and build mutual trust and understanding.  Dialogue was clearly important as it sought to engage individuals, build relationships and deepen mutual trust and understanding.  But dialogue needed to be accompanied by action and Governments had an important role to play.  Governments should initiate processes at the local level to bring together key partners capable of establishing links between religious leaders, and emphasize the value of working together in harmony for mutual benefit.

Singapore was a small island state with a population of some 4.84 million people of many different ethnic groups and religions.  It was generally stable with a good level of interreligious tolerance and respect, the result of the concerted efforts of the Government and people.  For example, in 1990, Singapore’s Parliament had passed the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, letting the Government restrain leaders and members of religious groups or institutions from carrying out any acts that could cause feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different religious groups, he said.

In 2006, the Community Engagement Programme had been created to bring together stakeholders from community organizations, businesses, unions, media, educational institutions and religious organizations to take up the responsibility of building social resilience and communal harmony.  But efforts to promote dialogue were only one side of the coin.  Singapore’s approach had also included legislative measures against those who provoked racial and religious intolerance.  For example, Singapore amended its Penal Code in 2007 to criminalize acts that promoted enmity between different religious or racial groups and were prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony in society, he said.

Engaging in interreligious and intercultural dialogue had never been more pertinent than in today’s increasingly globalized world.  Singapore had seen the emergency of various initiatives and mechanisms within the United Nations towards this end.  The task at hand was to ensure the synergy of those efforts so everyone could stand on common ground and promote human development and build a harmonious world, he said.

DANIELE BODINI ( San Marino) spoke of San Marino’s seventeen centuries of independence, freedom and peaceful tolerance for its citizens and for its neighbours.  That unique and long tradition enabled it, during World War II and while their neighbours were being devastated, to shelter and feed more than 100,000 thousand refugees, which was five times higher than the population of the island at that time.  Those refugees were welcomed, regardless of political or religious beliefs. 

“The Republic of San Marino is very conscious of the intercultural and interreligious dialogue”, he stated, and had been in the forefront of the dialogue on intercultural and interreligious issues in their former role of Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.  In light of San Marino’s dedicated history and commitment to expanding such important and essential dialogue of peace, he urged the General Assembly to remember that it was “an engine room for generating new ideas in order to enable all of us to respond to old and new challenges of our world”.

AGSHIN MEHDIYEV (Azerbaijan), expressing his sincere thanks to the Saudi King for his initiative to hold the high level event, said the meeting offered a valuable opportunity to exchange views on tolerance and mutual understanding.  Azerbaijan had embraced elements of other cultures.  It was a country where religious strengths were propagated, and relations of tolerance prevailed among different communities.  The capital city of Baku had become a regional petroleum centre, while the country as a whole comprised various cultures and religions.  Today, the country had a multiparty Government.  In past events, remarkable religious centres had been destroyed, and since that time, Azerbaijan had sought equality before the law.  Mosques, churches and synagogues had been rebuilt.

Azerbaijan shared European values and was part of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture, he said.  The country was also part of the Muslim world, and as such, had repeatedly expressed its determination to act as a natural bridge among different continents and religions.  Convinced of its cultural role, in April 2007 it had hosted an international conference on the role of media in tolerance and mutual understanding.  As a member of the Group of Friends, it had held another high-level conference, and in June, it organized a conference on women in cross-cultural dialogue.  His Government looked forward to promoting understanding through dialogue and other events that brought together representatives from various disciplines.

Noting that Baku would become the capital of Islamic Culture for 2009, he said unacceptable attacks against Islam required efforts to combat misconceptions.  In that context, his country fully supported increasing education initiatives.

With Azerbaijan’s principled approach for safeguarding its unity, another experience was in its neighbourhood, he said, demonstrated in policies of occupation and “ethnic cleansing”.  Azerbaijan was suffering from an excessive cultural disaster, in which its art had been plundered.  He expressed hope that today’s meeting would be valuable to promoting dialogue, understanding and mutual respect among cultures and traditions.

ABDERRAHIM OULD HADRAMI ( Mauritania) said today’s high-level debate took on special significance, as it came amid theories of the inevitability of clash of civilizations and cultures.  Muslim countries attached special importance to the meeting as an opportunity to project the true and noble message of Islam.  It was a message of tolerance.  Islam neither preached nor condoned terrorism and extremism.  It was a universal message to mankind, rather than to one single race, ethnic group or nation. 

Such was the nature of Islam, a culture open to all cultures which rejected cultural hegemony.  Indeed, Islam was willing to carry out interfaith dialogue with other cultures and civilizations on the basis of mutual respect among all religions without denigrating others’ beliefs.  It also urged to refrain from aggression on others; to consolidate that which united peoples and religions; to observe the rules of dialogue; to deal justly with all men, even if they disagreed; and to recognize the human heritage in its development by consolidating noble values and high morals.

If dialogue was conducted on that basis, it would deepen understanding among peoples, promote human values, and lay down principles of truth, justice, and respect for human dignity.  That dialogue -- and its contributions to international peace -- was hampered by various factors, including inequality of opportunity and different living standards.  Indeed, many felt marginalized, that they were victims of exclusion, pre-conceived attitudes and dangerous generalizations based on a few isolated incidents.

Muslims had had their share of such attitudes, he said, the image of their religion and culture having suffered as a result of such distortions.  It was thus time to redress that wrong, address their grievances and solve their problems.  He urged agreeing on common strategies, which highlighted various points, including the diversity of cultures as among God’s signs for human progress; dialogue as essential for life; and the respect of religions and beliefs and their symbols, and condemnation of insults to them.  The global community must combat extremism by addressing misguided ideological concepts.  His country had abided by the values of tolerance and was a link of fruitful contact between cultures and civilizations.

HAMIDON ALI ( Malaysia) said despite our world’s progress into modernity and democracy, it continued to be besieged with conflicts.  Conflicts often arose from political divisions and reflected socioeconomic gaps.  Intercultural divisions, in particular, were influenced by the current global political scene.  It was imperative for States to address the “political root causes” of conflict.  The international community also needed to ensure people were free from socioeconomic wants, such as food, shelter and education, and had control over their own future.  The right to development should be pursued and made tangible, while inequality gaps in income and opportunities should be overcome.

Continuing to discuss a growing schism between different cultures and religions, he said societies, in general, tended to take “self-centric” views of themselves.  Societies sometimes imposed their values onto other societies and created an atmosphere of “acrimony and distrust among peoples”.  If that schism was not properly addressed, it would present a serious threat to international peace.  In particular, we were witnessing a growth in Islamophobia, which was legitimized in some political circles, in public opinion and in society at large.  This was the result of resurgent activities by political parties and associations established on the basis of racist, xenophobic and perceived ideological superiority.  In that regard, the defamation of religion constituted a derogation of the right of belief.  However, religion should not be viewed as incompatible with the freedom of opinion and expression.

On efforts made by the international community to promote a culture of peace, he said holding today’s plenary at a high level, the Alliance of Civilizations, and the Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace were, in particular, important dimensions of the international commitment towards the promotion of intercultural, inter-civilizational and interreligious cooperation and understanding.  Future work, in that regard, should be focused on ensuring the interaction during the plenary flowed to the local and grass-roots level.

For instance, he said, ideas and thoughts had to be translated into practical measures, and partnerships with civil society, including non-governmental organizations and the private sector, had to be cultivated.  In that connection, we needed to focus on common values, while keeping in mind that all belief systems, in essence, extolled tolerance and peace.  Concluding, he said long-lasting issues, which continued to plague humanity and which could act as a rallying cause for extremism, had to be resolved in a fair, just and balanced manner.

DESALEGN ALEMU ( Ethiopia), applauded the successful convening and expressed his country’s support for the outcome of the First Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations, held in Madrid, Spain, and said he looked forward to the upcoming Second Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations to be hosted by Turkey next year.  He pointed out that his country, whose strength as a nation lay in the diversity of its peoples, was home to more than 80 different ethno-linguistic groups and, as such, had rightly been described as a “mosaic of cultures”, beyond being the very cradle of mankind itself.

His country, he stated, was also known as an ancient common home for the three Abrahamic religions –- Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- that had lived together in harmony and tolerance for millennia, making Ethiopia “an outstanding example of religious tolerance” and even “unity in diversity”.  For Muslims, Ethiopia was synonymous with freedom from persecution and emancipation from fear, for that was a land “where its Christian king, Negus or Al-Najashi”, was a person renowned for justice and in whose kingdom human rights were cherished.

As recited in various Islamic and related Ethiopian literature, the famous Bilal Ibn Rabah, originally a non-Muslim slave from Ethiopia, who lived during the times of the Prophet Muhammad, was known to have been a trusted leading companion of the Prophet, he said.  And it was not, in fact, a coincidence that his native land, Ethiopia, was chosen by the Prophet when his followers needed protection and freedom from persecution.  Such cross-religious understanding and accommodation had endured the test of time and events, and lived on to strengthen the country’s bonds further and deeper.

Indeed, those were true historic examples of dialogue and cooperation, and the key message, which was still valid today, was that everyone should recognize the existence of heroes of faith who did not see or treat each other as adversaries but, instead, capitalized on the nearness of each other’s faiths and sought to build bridges instead of impassable walls.  Thus, he added, for Ethiopians, tolerance and respect among different cultures, ethnicities and faiths was fundamental to their way of life and was, in fact, considered a matter of survival.  That diversity had indeed been engrained into the national tradition.

GORDON BROWN, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, was delighted that so many leaders serving the world with such distinction had assembled for the special meeting on the culture of peace and the power of dialogue.  Paying tribute to the King of Saudi Arabia, whose leadership had inspired the meeting, and noting the presence today of the United States’ President, and yesterday the Amir of Kuwait and the President of Israel, among others, he said never had a global dialogue been so critical, nor the opportunities that might flow been so profound.

If people believed that future peace would be found in living together rather than apart, in differences that enriched, rather than those that divided, they must speak to beliefs.  There could be no doubt in the power of faith to lead the world.  “We cannot successfully lead nations without it”, he said.

History had shown that the greatest social movements had been built on the strongest ethical foundations, he said, citing those who had advocated abolition of the slave trade and had inspired the United States civil rights movement.  “It is the men and women of conscience of today who told us we cannot be one world, when 30,000 kids die unnecessarily every day from curable diseases.”  With that, he urged redoubling efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals.  Such was the power of faith, not one that imposed uniformity, but rather, was enriched by diversity.

Too often, people had seen the foreigner as a stranger, he said.  Today, people were not -– nor could they be -– moral strangers, for it was through faith that everyone had a powerful moral sense in something greater than themselves.  Recalling moral tenets from Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and other faiths, he said people could call such tenets “the best angels of our nature”, or, as eighteenth century philosopher Adam Smith had done, “moral sentiment”.  They were the same at the ethical heart of all religions.  To those saying that religion, and misunderstanding among religions, was responsible for problems, he responded that such problems could be addressed only through acting on the moral sense shared by the world’s great faiths.

There was an opportunity to act on that interdependence, he continued.  What was new today was the enhanced ability to speak to each other across continents:  most old barriers to communication had been removed, and almost instantaneously, through emailing and texting, people who, if they did not inhabit the same street, could inhabit the same internet site.  In listening, and being listened to, people discovered their common beliefs, rather than those that keep them apart.

Recalling his recent trip to Nigeria, where he had visited a run-down school, and another that was far-better equipped, which offered free education, he urged imagining if every child could attend school to recognize their commonalities.  Such an endeavour could cost $100 per child.  In Britain, the values of different faiths had been expressed in Muslim aid to respond to disaster needs.  In celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he urged seeking shared values and commitment to those rights and freedoms.

Noting that many countries had organizations similar to the United States Peace Corps, he encouraged the creation of “global corps” for peace, the environment and other causes.  In addition, he repeated the importance that all attached to the creation of a Palestinian State, side by side with Israel.  Britain would continue to work towards that objective.

Such an ability to come together had never been more important, he stressed, adding that the road to economic ruin followed path of protectionism.  As political leaders gathered this weekend in Washington, DC, the world would see enhanced cooperation to deal with problems that affected everyone.  Far more than cooperation among Governments, it was the cooperation of peoples, whatever their faith, that would determine whether a truly global society could be built.

Stressing a common commitment to peace, tolerance and respect, he said that by mobilizing a global movement around those shared goals, achievements would be momentous.  The present day could see the first generation to solve climate change, eradicate polio and HIV/AIDS, among other diseases, and consign extreme poverty to the history books for all time.  Such work could be done through collective action.  The greatest changes were built from the strongest ethical foundations.

CARLOS ENRIQUE GARCIA GONZALEZ ( El Salvador) reaffirmed his country’s promise to continue implementing the Declaration and Programme of Action for a culture of peace.  It also recognized the fundamental issue that one of the basic reasons behind the world crises was the denial of the universal principle of justice.  The world needed to live as one, in harmony with many religions and cultures, or face collective annihilation.

The reconstruction of the economic system would help bring justice and peace.  Achieving jointly agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, was also important, he added.  The international community needed to adopt measures to develop new levels of cooperation.

He agreed that political will was needed to move towards sustained, coordinated measures at the local level.  To achieve a culture of peace, it was necessary to realize that all cultures and civilizations were equal.  The international community had the duty to promote dialogue that included peace, tolerance, and respect for others.  It was necessary to support non-violence and principles that promoted peaceful co-existence.

El Salvador reaffirmed the right to peace as a universal human right.  One of the main challenges of the twenty-first century was moving towards collective security and building peace.  He encouraged the Security Council to join in the Assembly’s efforts to promote the culture of peace.   El Salvador also supported the work of civil society in promoting a culture of peace.  He reiterated the importance of that political will.

MOHAMMAD KHAZAEE ( Iran) said the Iranian people had always respected other religions, nations and cultures.  The country’s Constitution had given religious minorities equal rights and they enjoyed the equal right of representation in the Parliament.  As an important country in the region and the Islamic world that represented the Shiite school of thought, Iran had been among the pioneers of intra-religious dialogue, and had hosted and participated in many events.  Iran considered those types of dialogues as an opportunity to express different ideas, visions and aspirations of human society.

He said a dialogue among the followers of divine religions could produce peace and friendship if done in accordance with the principle of equality and dignity of all parties and based on good interest.  To guarantee peaceful co-existence and promote a durable international peace and security, cooperation was a must, not an option.  Great importance should be attached to dialogue as an essential, efficient and cost-effective way to bridge the gaps resulting from misunderstanding and misinterpretation and to promote mutual confidence and respect, he said.

Iran was deeply concerned that Islam and Muslims were frequently, and wrongly, associated with unjust and unfair accusations, such as human rights violations and terrorism.  The systematic negative stereotyping of Islam and other divine religions, as well as the insulting of religious personalities, were sources of great concern to the world community, especially Islamic nations.  He regretted that such actions had been taken under pretexts, such as the war on terror or exercising the right to freedom of expression, he said.

He said the representative of a regime marked with crimes such as aggression, occupation and torture against the Palestinian people had, under the pretext of a false interpretation of a certain divine religions, tried to abuse this meeting for its own narrow political purpose. The participation of such a regime would give them a chance to try and disrupt the current process and divert attention from the mandate.

PARK IN-KOOK ( Republic of Korea) said in the era of the Internet, global travel and instant satellite transmissions, people were encountering increasingly unfamiliar surroundings and ideas.  It was paradoxical that this era of globalization, which was to enhance mutual understanding, had instead increased intolerance and discrimination.  The centrepiece of human history was coexistence among societies, cultures and religions, and he called for rejecting any vested prepositions of endless confrontation, and instead further reaffirming -- and cultivating -- the culture of peace.

“The history of humankind is not defined by the continuation of wars and conflict”, he said, adding that the centrepiece of human history was the culture of peace among members of society as well as between civilizations, cultures and religions.

The Republic of Korea had fully supported international efforts to promote the culture of peace among nations and various actors, including through addressing the widening rift between societies, reaffirming a paradigm of mutual respect and helping mobilize concerted action to that end.  Religion was increasingly important for societies, and a significant source of values.  As such, it should be a source of peace, but the misuse of religion by ideologues had led to misguided perception that it was the root cause of intercultural conflict.  No religion promoted violence.

Asia had enjoyed a long tradition of harmony and inclusiveness.  Similarly, peaceful co-existence and beneficial trade had been hallmarks of relationships among Christianity, Islam and Judaism, and that tradition should be restored to make the world safer.  He supported the Madrid Declaration and looked forward to progress on its recommendations.

Sharing his country’s experience, he said the Republic of Korea had moved beyond authoritarian rule to achieve a full-fledged democracy.  The country had learned that democratic governance, with promotion of human rights and the rule of law and commitment to pluralism, led to an enhanced level of tolerance.  Adaptation to the changing environment and addressing existing conflicts were vital to building a harmonious society, he said.  Diversity was not a source of tension, but of dynamism and creativity, and by promoting it, society became more open and flexible to change.

The concept of tolerance should be replaced by the concept of inclusiveness.  In his country, Christianity, introduced within recent generations, had taken root in the values of peoples’ lives, while a more recent phenomenon was the growing number of followers of Islam.  Regardless of faith, lasting harmony and peace could be achieved when people were included as insiders.

ISMAT JAHAN ( Bangladesh) said the world was witnessing a growing misunderstanding between faiths, religions and cultures that threatened the prospects of peaceful coexistence.  The Assembly’s meeting was a timely opportunity to share thoughts and consolidate the outcome of the Madrid Conference.  There was an ominous trend of the derision of religious symbols and beliefs, as well as the misuse of religion in acts of terrorism, violence and coercion.  Today’s challenge was to transform the wealth and diversity of civilizations, cultures and religions into a unifying force, rather than a cause of division.

Bangladesh associated itself with the Madrid Declaration, which would lend a fresh impetus to the global campaign for intercultural and interreligious dialogues.  She recognized the Madrid Conference’s contribution to the initiatives seeking to inculcate a culture of peace among various faiths, cultures and civilizations through dialogue.  Bangladesh supported the Muslim World League in its endeavours to realize those lofty and urgent objectives, and welcomed all international and regional initiatives to promote cross-cultural and interfaith harmony.

As the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence began its eighth year, it was perhaps time for reflection and assessment.  The international community needed to create targets to ascertain progress towards creating peaceful societies.  She introduced the draft resolution on the “International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World, 2001-2010”, contained in document A/63/L.23.  So far, 111 Member States had co-sponsored the draft, and she hoped it would enjoy consensus, as it had done in the past.

Bangladesh had co-sponsored the Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace resolution from its inception, and was a member of the Group of Friends of the Alliance of Civilizations.  She repeated her country’s strong support for the initiatives.  The interfaith dialogue was an effective method to bridge gaps and solve problems stemming from miscommunication, misrepresentation and defamation.

YURIY SERGEYEV ( Ukraine) reminded the Assembly that as Member States of the United Nations, they were all bearers of different cultures and religions.  “What unites us is that the human being is a creation of God,” he stated.  Yet, if each person was a creation of God, why, he asked, was one creation of God destroying another in wars and ethnic cleansing?  Why were profits and political ambitions more valued than the citizens of a country?  When the rights and lives of individuals were attacked by other individuals, “these actions are not guided by values, by the grace of God, but by evil”, he said.

Answers were partially to be found in high-level interreligious and interethnic dialogue, through the fostering of understanding and tolerance.  That was particularly important in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, which had been developed to be in service to the creation of God, a simple human being.  If that intention was not remembered throughout the proceedings, the result would just be “a soulless document”.

He went on to say that he represented a country that, under the former Soviet Union Stalinist regime, suffered an artificial famine that had claimed millions of lives, and he quoted Winston Churchill’s exchange with Stalin, where the former asked the latter which was worse, the horrors of war or the politics of collectivization.  Stalin had replied that the politics of collectivization and the ten million that died had been terrible, but were necessary to build a better future. 

Without a war or revolution, ten million people had died from that artificial famine.  To ensure such devaluing of human life didn’t happen again it was crucial to tell the truth about crimes against humanity.  In each Member State doing their best in the dialogue of the culture of peace, positive and tangible outcomes would then be ensured. 

LE LUONG MINH ( Viet Nam) reminded the Assembly that interreligious and intercultural understanding and cooperation would only be successful if it was based on the shared desire to strengthen the organic relationship between peace and development and that it benefited all people of all faiths.  Indeed, peace would not be obtainable unless the severe challenges that faced the international community, among them, HIV/AIDS, hunger, poverty, climate change and environmental degradation, were addressed and solutions found. 

He expressed his conviction that United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and other United Nations agencies were clearly effective in coordinating Member States towards those solutions that promoted the continuation of interreligious and intercultural understanding and cooperation, as well as advocating long-term measures through educational initiatives for the younger generations.

He went on to say that Viet Nam was home to 90 million citizens who belonged to 54 ethnic groups, each with its own unique culture.  The major religions flourished there, as well as many indigenous ones, and a unifying tolerance among the country’s diverse populations was thousands of years old.  That harmony fostered the preservation of its national independence, sovereignty and peace.  In fact, “interreligious and intercultural hostilities were foreign to our tradition”, he stated, and noted that in recent years, laws both protecting and guaranteeing the freedom of cultural and religious practices had been instituted. 

Furthermore, educational syllabuses were now in eight minority languages, and a special television channel broadcasted in ten minority languages and a national radio programs in thirteen minority languages.  The support for its citizens’ diversity was clearly illuminated during the United Nations Vesak Day in Viet Nam, which was led by some 5,000 Buddhist celebrating the philosophy of peace, harmony, non-violence, tolerance and no-self.  More than 20,000 people of all faiths and backgrounds then participated in the following candle-lighting ceremony, reaffirming “the earnest aspiration of our people for a world of peace and harmony”.

He concluded saying that although interreligious and intercultural hostilities were foreign to the traditions of Viet Nam, such a tradition did not preclude the attempt of certain individuals who sought to advance their agenda of disharmony and fundamentalism for “their selfish political interest, [disguised] under the cloak of religion”.  He urged all Member States to join him in ensuring those attempts, wherever they occurred, were not successful. 

HERALDO MUÑOZ ( Chile) noted that the historical high-level interfaith dialogue unfolding at the United Nations was taking place a few weeks before the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The Declaration established that:  “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”  The Declaration also stated that:  “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.” 

Both those provisions, he said, were at the core of the current debate, as the underlying doctrine of universal human rights involved the role religion played in defining and interpreting human rights, rights which belonged to the individual.  Complementing the Universal Declaration was the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which also stated that the right to freedom of expression and opinion were there to protect individuals and not there to protect entities or belief systems.  

He was concerned, however, that religious beliefs and the objects of worship were being placed above individual rights, an approach he feared that would place religious beliefs in direct opposition to human rights.  Restrictions of freedoms and freedoms of expressions could not be sacrificed at the expense of “isolated events affecting a particular religion, however regrettable or condemnable they may be”.  Rather than restricting expression, he called for the expansion of expression, and offered hope that initiatives such as this one would continue to “build bridges and provide solutions to intercultural tensions”.  These solutions, during such a special anniversary year, would deepen the global community’s commitment to the cause of universal human rights.

GIULIO TERZI ( Italy) said his Government understood the importance of interreligious dialogue and the vital contribution that religions and religious leaders could make towards achieving the United Nations’ goals, such as peacekeeping and peacebuilding, the protection of human rights and the promotion of social and economic development.  The starting point should be to reaffirm the independence of religions and dialogue from any Government interference.  Member States should not influence the contents of the dialogue, but they could promote and facilitate it, he added.

The Assembly’s debate had been eloquent proof of the great potential of interreligious and intercultural dialogue to contribute to peace and the settlement of the most complex political dialogues.  As a founding member of the European Union, Italy had always supported the dialogue between culture and religions that originated with the United Nations and was an active member of the Group of Friends of the Alliance.

He underscored that any real dialogue between cultures and religions needed to be underpinned by the recognition of the universality of human rights, including freedom of religion, as enshrined in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 18 and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Article 18 of the Covenant stated clearly that freedom of religion meant the freedom to worship, individually or in groups, publicly or privately.  The Italian Parliament had recently approved guidelines that encouraged the Government to remain steadfast in the fight against religion-based persecution and discrimination throughout the world.  And, recognizing the importance of youth in the dialogue between cultures, the Government had set up a Youth Forum for Religious and Cultural Dialogue.

ADRIAN NERITANI ( Albania) stressed that today’s dialogue in the General Assembly, an international body for discussion and negotiation, “directly affects the chances for a world peace”.  Albania, though small and having suffered a difficult, troubled history, offered itself as an example of the “pivotal” role of cultural tolerance and understanding on societies.  Indeed, Albania had always been a “sanctuary of harmonious coexistence” between faiths and for displaying acceptance and respect for others’ beliefs.  That had been shown even to those who, fleeing persecution, had found shelter in Albania, namely by Muslim and Christian Albanian families who had protected Jewish families during World War II, and half a million Kosovar refugees in 1999. 

With religion as the core of every civilization, respect for it, and for the beliefs of others, was quintessential in new perspectives on peace, he continued.  But often, the opposite was also true as religion could be misused by extremists to further dangerous ideologies or nationalistic agendas that started confrontations and wars.  That was why Albania, a country at the crossroads of East and West, had prioritized today’s dialogue for the sake of development and regional stability, as well as the building of trust and understanding amongst peoples and different faiths.

As an active member of the Alliance of Civilizations, he said that Albania was determined to foster interactive communication within the Group of Friends, to serve as a roadmap for relevant approaches and projects to bring the West and the East closer together.  He went on to note Albania’s national strategy on intercultural dialogue, which fully complied with the Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among other agreements.

JAN GRAULS ( Belgium) said he was convinced that by continuing dialogue, prejudice and misunderstanding could be fought.  Belgium was a melting pot of cultures, religions and beliefs.  Belgians could see every day how such diversity enriched life.  That diversity also posed challenges, and it was through dialogue that Belgium had been able to overcome them.  Respect for freedom of religion and belief was fundamental, he added.

All dimensions of such freedom were equally important, he said, noting the freedom to have a religion –- or to not have one -- or to change one’s religion or belief.  Dialogue must be inclusive of all religions and beliefs, without hierarchy or discrimination.  In that same spirit, he called for protecting those in religious minorities, as those not sharing the belief of the majority too often faced discrimination.  Each country had the duty to ensure all people felt free, he said.

Freedom of religion or belief could not be realized if other freedoms were not guaranteed, notably that of expression.  Noting the 10 December sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he said the universality of human rights could not be challenged.  Article 2 of the Declaration claimed that no one could be discriminated against because of religion, while article 18 outlined that everyone had the right to freedom of religion, to practice it alone or in public, or to change religion or belief.  The wise crafters of the Declaration had also outlined the fundamental obligations of States, which today, were particularly resonant.

He called for being vigilant, and implementing those obligations in a spirit of openness and dialogue.  To be truly fruitful, dialogue must allow for exchanges of beliefs, including the right to critique others beliefs.  Should it lead to religious hatred, however, it must be prohibited.  Belgium reaffirmed its deep commitment to the right of each person to practice religion or belief, and defended it proactively, notably through subsidies.  In 2005, Belgium had created the Commission on Intercultural Dialogue to ensure it maintained its open society, while adhering to the fundamental values of the constitution and human rights.

In addition, the Government had drawn a distinction between religion and State matters in a harmonious fashion.  He hoped today’s initiative would make it possible for all to reaffirm their religious and philosophical choices in harmony with the societies in which they lived.  In closing, he said education and dialogue at all levels were essential for bringing about greater tolerance and understanding.

BUKUN-OLU ONEMOLA ( Nigeria) said his country was an embodiment of “unity in diversity” because it had learned to live as one in a society of great cultural, linguistic and religious diversity.  A national Inter-Religious Council had been established to promote and foster tolerance, understanding and solidarity among the major religious groups.  Nigerian states were establishing interfaith councils to further those aims.  Other agencies aimed at promoting tolerance, understanding and solidarity included the National Boundary Commission, the Border Area Development Commission, and the National Orientation Agency.

He said the international strategy for building a culture of peace should focus on multifaceted and broad parameters, including the promotion of an understanding of others’ ways of life.  A conflict resolution mechanism should be devised to deflect conflicts from deteriorating.  The institutional framework for peace initiatives should be developed, along with a relevant capacity-building strategy.  The resources for implementing peace initiatives should be mobilized at national and regional levels. 

Meanwhile, the media should target programmes to promote peace, tolerance and dialogue so as to prevent defamation of religious or cultural values, he continued.  A unified international front should de-emphasize the agents of strife and conflict while attention was turned up on issues to created harmony.  In short, diversity should be a force for benefit and not destruction, for strength and not weakness, for peace and not war, for positive and not for negative purpose and effect.

DON PRAMUDWINAI ( Thailand) said his country was characterized by “unity in diversity” and, because of its openness and strategic geographic location, it had long been at the crossroads of civilizations, cultures, religions and movements of people.  Tolerance was a part of every Thai person, and that was why freedom to practice any religion or faith had been consistently guaranteed throughout the country’s history.  For many who visited Thailand, the sight of Buddhist temples, Islamic mosques, Christian churches and Hindu temples situated in the same vicinity was not uncommon.  Yet, such unity in diversity could not be taken for granted in Thailand, or anywhere else in the world. 

Globalization had dismantled physical barriers and had revolutionized the way that members of the human family saw, felt and experienced each other, he said.  However, the same forces that brought people closer together had also driven many apart.  Unequal and unjust distribution of the fruits of globalization had also bred a sense of alienation among the “have-nots”.  In addition, fear and alienation had been exploited by those who harboured hatred and intolerance for “the Other”.  People of ill-will sought to divide others and to make the “clash of civilizations” a self-fulfilling prophecy.  “But they will not succeed, because we will not let them.”

Unity, harmony and compassion had to be continuously nurtured and strengthened, he said.  Thailand was committed to actively doing its part and had been involved in many initiatives, from the community level all the way up to the global level.  For example, in June 2008, Thailand co-hosted the fourth Asia-Europe Meeting Interfaith Dialogue, with the Netherlands, in Amsterdam.  In addition, Thailand continued to work closely with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to ensure that the Association would be a shining example of unity in diversity.  All such initiatives were mutually reinforcing and their success would be measured by whether the ideas and wisdoms discussed in those forums translated into concrete actions on the ground.

In closing, he highlighted three key points that would help translate those ideas into action.  First, he said multi-stakeholder leadership was vital at all levels, and the media, along with political, religious and community leaders, had key roles to play in promoting and reinforcing unity, harmony and compassion.  Second, people should strive to disseminate the correct interpretations of the principles and teachings of various religions and faiths, while also promoting respect for those other religions.  Finally, youth must be given more attention and should have the values of love, compassion, mutual respect, tolerance and non-violence instilled in them from an early age.  A sense of alienation among youth would make them vulnerable to intolerant ideologies and such a situation should be avoided. 

DIEGO MOREJÓN PAZMIÑO ( Ecuador) expressed conviction in dialogue, equality among States, mutual respect, self-determination and peaceful coexistence as basic principles guiding relations among nations, and voiced support for the peaceful settlement of international disputes and conflicts, strongly rejecting the threat or use of force in their resolution.  On behalf of Ecuador, he called for peace and universal disarmament, and condemned interference and intervention in States’ internal affairs and the development and use of weapons of mass destruction. 

He said that in its Political Constitution, Ecuador proclaimed itself a State of “rights” based on respect for life, condemnation of violence, and environmental conservation, among others, beyond norms stated in the Charter, along with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s constitutive document and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  In that new constitution, the settlement of foreign military bases was condemned on Ecuador’s peaceful territory.  Basic principles of tolerance and multiculturalism were established in respect for all religions, and the spiritual richness of indigenous and Afro-Ecuadorians was highlighted, he added.

Stating that Ecuador was building profound, sustainable peace on the basis of development and justice, believing that “peace brings progress”, he mentioned joint work on a myriad of projects along Ecuador’s borders with neighbouring Peru and Colombia, going beyond security enforcement to issues of transportation, trade, international relations and protection of natural resources.  Because of the impact of the Colombian conflict on Ecuadorian society, “Plan Ecuador” focused efforts on solving grave problems stemming from poverty, exclusion and violence with a preventative, multidimensional focus.  To assist with that situation, he called for increased humanitarian assistance, minimizing environmental impacts and curtailing illegal activities.

ANDREI DAPKIUNAS ( Belarus) emphasized that, for meaningful dialogue to successfully take place, there needed to be an understanding and sincere respect for each participant’s diverse traditions, histories, political, economic and social practices.  That stance was put forth in 2005 by the President of Belarus at the United Nations World Summit, where he had proposed to “recognize the diversity of ways to progress as a value of civilizational magnitude”.  Belarus, where approximately 20 per cent of its citizens were not ethnic Belarusians and about two thirds had relatives of other nations, was home to 3,000 religious organizations, representing 25 religions and denominations.  The presence of a cultural and societal tolerance was obvious in Belarus’ laws and its longstanding well-being.

He noted that recent specific proposals on diversity and tolerance had not been reflected in the decisions of the General Assembly and other United Nations bodies.  To encourage such tolerance and understanding both within the United Nations system and throughout the world, he called for more decisive measures on the part of the United Nations in encouraging interreligious, intercultural and inter-ethnic dialogue.  Yearly forums needed to be held at the United Nations to continue discussions and dialogues.  The expansion of educational programmes and initiatives, stronger academic exchanges, the wider use of information technologies, especially among the youth of the world, and encouraging more responsibility in the media on the portrayal of different cultures were all tools in promoting these goals.

SAÚL WEISLEDER ( Costa Rica) said a country such as his, which on 1 December would celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the abolishment of its Army, must welcome all efforts to achieve and promote peace.  It was relevant to recall Pope John Paul II had once said that, in the modern era, development was the new term for peace.  As the most inclusive Organization of people and States, the United Nations had established in the Millennium Declaration that the three pillars of its mission were peace, development and respect for human rights.  Those pillars were interrelated and interdependent.

Underlining the great symbolic significance that 60 years had passed since Costa Rica’s Army had been abolished and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had been created, he wondered how far, if human rights had prevailed, the world would have moved towards a culture of peace.  As that culture was promoted, two fundamental elements should be respected.  First, each person had to live in peace, with themselves, and by deeply respecting all humans.  Second, access to education should also be ensured as a human right.  Education both in the home and in the school should convey respect for other people, religions and cultures, and the values promoted during today’s discussion should be the cornerstone used by the world’s young children.  No book or educational material of any sort should contain ideas that fostered hate or violence against any human group, he said.

It was undeniable that today was a difficult time, he went on to say.  While men and women of goodwill throughout the world praised peace, the proliferation of weapons and petty ambitions meant that fields were not sufficiently watered.  Hunger grew, even though God had offered the rich fruit of the Earth to feed humanity.  Solidarity should be the watchword of mankind, but greed was rampant.  While men and women of goodwill sought community with each other, ignorance and strict adherence to tradition kept them apart.

Nevertheless, the prophetic visions of Martin Luther King, Jr., were ever more real today, and the strength of his idealism must continue to overturn prejudice, as well as mental barriers, which had recently appeared invincible.  With that, the culture of peace would take a great leap forward.  Recalling the Prophet Isaiah’s words, he said that “when swords will be beaten into ploughshares, men will no longer train for war”.

NEVEN JURICA ( Croatia) said the strong commitment to promoting mutual dialogue and understanding shown by the Heads of State and Government during the current high-level meeting would give rise to a future filled with promise and hope.  Citizens of today’s world were closely linked trough telecommunication and economy and did not need to live side by side to know that somewhere around the globe, a different culture, religion or belief system existed.  As those citizens interacted, economies and cultures also interacted.  In those interactions, mutual understanding of each other’s faiths and cultures was the foundation well-being, stability and prosperity.

On the other hand, he said it was wrong for any civilization to claim to be superior over others in holding the highest truths.  If differences were not understood and appreciated, religion and culture would eventually be used to promote and deepen conflicts, instead of bringing humanity closer together.  The freedom to hold the belief of one’s choosing or to change it was an essential attribute of human conscience.

It was also a prerequisite to peaceful coexistence and the unity through differences upon which the hope of a single human family rested.  On the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it was critical that every single person was offered freedom of speech and expression, as well as of faith and belief.  That included the freedom of religion that in its final form was the basis of intercultural dialogue, he said.

Croatia had been at the crossroads of different religions and cultures for centuries, he said.  There, Central and Eastern Europe met the Mediterranean and Christianity met Islam and Judaism.  As a strong supporter of the Alliance of Civilizations initiative, Croatia had actively engaged in that process and was about to prepare a national plan to that end.  It also welcomed the idea behind the World Conference on Dialogue held this July in Madrid.  It further wanted to draw attention to the recent meetings in Rome between Catholics and Muslims, which were good examples of bridging differences between religions and cultures.

Religious communities and their leaders held a great deal of power and responsibility, especially in these times.  That responsibility provided those leaders with the unique moral authority to guide people in the direction of accepting their neighbours and rejecting the distorted uses of religion that could exacerbate conflicts and tensions, he said.

He went on to say that Croatia served as a witness that interreligious and intercultural cooperation were a prerequisite for international peace and security.  Indeed, a common and peaceful future for the benefit of all could only be built on tolerance, understanding and reconciliation.  While no one could change the past, everyone could commit to strengthening future prospects by investing in new generations.  Children were not born with prejudice in their hearts, they were taught to have it.  But if they were offered interfaith education based on mutual understanding and acceptance, they would grow up with a better chance to fashion a world free of discrimination and intolerance.

H.M.G.S. PALIHAKKARA ( Sri Lanka) said the culture of peace should not be a rhetorical exercise or a matter of precept alone.  Rather, it was the entrenchment of a set of practices followed by men and women who strode the world as envoys of harmony, building bridges between nations and peoples, as well as cultures and civilizations.  He said it was evident that a culture of peace was the core value underpinning all of the major religions of the world.  Examples set by icons of peace, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, had become more relevant than ever before.  As the Assembly invested time, resources and energy to similar forums, it should take a lesson from the lives of those peacebuilders as it looked at advancing the culture of peace at all levels.

While noting an increasingly fragile and polarized world beset by myriad social, environmental and security ills, he said that a culture of peace, by definition, meant much more than peace and security.  It encompassed a whole gamut of positive attributes needed to replace the culture of weapons and violence, misery and repression that had dominated human history.  It included, among several things, respecting life, rejecting terrorism and violence, and listening to understand.

He said the reports before the Assembly brought those aspects sharply into focus.  They touched on the important role of values and ethos, instilled in the hearts and minds of people, through a sustained, conscious process of awareness-generation and enlightenment which helped to make precepts and practices of peace a culture in its own right.  A concept of the culture of peace also presupposed realizing equity and equality for all, with justice and dignity.

A comprehensive approach to enhancing a culture of peace remained predicated on a lasting commitment and would take meaningful measures on multiple fronts essential to securing humanity, including strengthening and expanding the platform for dialogue and taking conscious and determined action to more human thoughts and conduct.  He noted that they should also build on the positive aspects of the world’s different value and belief systems in order to harness a greater understanding and rapprochement.

HUGO SILES ALVARADO ( Bolivia) said a culture of peace would help strengthen dialogue among religions.  “These are the turbulent times of a global crisis”, he said, noting that among the challenges was climate change, which was causing stronger and more frequent natural disasters.  Industrial nations were consuming 30 per cent more of the world’s natural resources.  The water crisis was increasing with urbanization, and other crises were the food, energy and financial issues.

The crisis of the capitalistic system was destabilizing the world.  If countries did not reach agreement, the combination of depleted natural resources meant more countries would favour the military option to maintain their living conditions, as well as access to oil and drinking water, he said.  There was a form of racism practised by the powerful elites that wanted to maintain their lifestyles, as violent acts were being carried out against immigrants and people of the global South.

The culture of peace was demonstrated by indigenous peoples, as they fostered a more constructive way of life that lived in harmony with Mother Earth, he said.  There was room for everyone, and everyone belonged to the culture of life.  The Bolivian President had 10 proposals to save the planet that could contribute to the current debate.  One of the most important was bringing an end to the capitalist system in order to save the Earth and mankind.  Seeking profit at the cost of life must be ended, he said, and added that climate change stemmed from the prevailing capitalist system.

It was imperative to build a world free of imperialism, and respect for sovereignty had to be taken into account, he continued.  The capitalist system had treated Mother Earth as a resource that could be pillaged.  There also needed to be an end to consumerism.  The major problems facing mankind stemmed from those imbalances.  The system of life in the northern hemisphere could not be extended to the entire planet as there were not enough resources.  There needed to be a more balanced life, he stressed.

JOYCE KAFANABO (United Republic of Tanzania) declared that now was “an opportune time” to hold high-level meetings on the interfaith dialogue because of the growing significance in society of the rejection of intolerance and profound desire to live in peace and security.  She went on to commend the work of UNESCO, the Alliance of Civilizations, and the Tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace, Understanding and Cooperation in those endeavours.

With its diverse and harmonious population of over 100 ethnic tribes and several religions, the United Republic of Tanzania had witnessed four peaceful presidential transitions and the union of the Tanzanian mainland with the islands of Zanzibar some 44 years ago, which had “stood the test of time” in its exemplary unity.  She expressed her country’s belief that developing and nurturing a culture of peace was needed for sustainable development and prosperity of all people.  That was done consistently by instilling the country’s children and people with values of tolerance, dialogue and respect, while also encouraging them to refrain from violence that could lead to devastating conflicts.

Though the freedoms of religious belief, worship and practice were enshrined in the United Republic of Tanzania’s Constitution, dialogue was also encouraged between faiths and religions in the hopes of reducing the ignorance that fed religious bigotry, and developing the understanding which would breed mutual respect.  However, he said doing so is not the responsibility of government alone, and called for concerted efforts from all stakeholders, from parliaments and civil society segments, such as religious and faith-based organizations.

MADHU RAMAN ( Nepal) said Nepal appreciated the various initiatives concerning the culture of peace, alliance and dialogue among civilizations and the world’s religions and cultures, including the Assembly’s current initiative.  The United Nations, with peace as its highest calling, could do much to promote interfaith dialogue among civilizations.  It could bring together Governments, religions, institutions, civil society leaders and the media to act together in the interest of a culture of peace.  The culture of peace offered a moral anchor for forging conditions to achieve those shared values and principles and was vital to achieve a sustainable peace.

Nepal had made remarkable progress towards peace, democracy and development through its own creative peace process.  Its peaceful resolution of a decade-long conflict reflected the importance of the culture of peace.  Nepal was the country of birth of Lord Buddha, and his teachings included peace, compassion, non-violence and tolerance, which were among the United Nations’ guiding principles.  He expressed his sincere gratitude to the Secretary-General for his homage to Lumbini, the sacred birthplace of Buddha, during his recent visit.

Peace could not develop in a vacuum, and the international community should make more investment for sustainable economic and social development so the increasing population would not have to resort to a deadly competition over shrinking resources.  There was an urgent need to work together to solve pressing challenges, such as the threats of global climate change and the food and financial crises.

JORGE ARGÜELLO ( Argentina) said his delegation firmly believed in the idea of bringing together people of different cultures and religions.  Understanding and dialogue constituted important dimensions of the culture of peace.  Saying the United Nations had completed a number of actions and programmes to implement that culture, he particularly highlighted work by UNESCO and the Alliance of Civilizations.

Argentina had promoted the dissemination and strengthening of the Alliance in Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly during the regional seminar it hosted in Buenos Aires earlier this year.  That meeting had focused on the role of women and the Alliance of Civilizations.  Calling it “scandalous” that women were still discriminated against, he said his delegation had noted a number of times in different forums that 70 per cent of the children who do not go to school were girls, and the majority of the world’s illiterate citizens were women.  It was clear that discrimination against women had serious implications on the dialogue among civilizations.

He underscored the analogous relationship between acts of intolerance in the Middle East and those in the Caribbean and Latin American regions, all of which stemmed from colonization.  The experience of the Caribbean and Latin America was, therefore, of historical significance.  Indeed, in both regions, prejudice had migrated along historical currents.  Future regional seminars to be held in Buenos Aires would continue to discuss that topic, and Argentina would promote the dialogue among civilizations and cultures, particularly in the forums of the Alliance of Civilizations.  A hard task lay ahead, but Argentina would spare no efforts in that noble task, he said.

TOMMO MONTHE ( Cameroon) called the high-level dialogue a tradition of the United Nations, one in which Cameroon had taken part throughout the years.  As a co-sponsor of several resolutions encouraging tolerance and dialogue, the current meeting on the culture of peace still remained relevant, which was why Cameroon was co-sponsoring the resolutions before the Assembly today.

The world had paid a heavy price for the lack of dialogue, he said, and that absence led to a lack of understanding, economic unbalance, a lack of tolerance and the denial of other people’s rights, among many other outcomes.  Encouraging dialogue was not something totally new.  But he acknowledged that new life had been breathed into the concept of dialogue after the events of 11 September 2001.  One such analysis that came from those times was the simplistic but attractive idea of the “clash of civilizations”, where the idea that cultures and religions were so different that they could not come together, but would only fight for domination.  However, the United Nations had been quick to respond, setting in motion several resolutions, summits and meetings focusing on the cooperation between cultures and religions, and the culture of peace.

He went on to note that Cameroon, itself a mosaic of many different peoples, mobilized all its energy for a culture of peace both within its nations and beyond its borders.  He recalled the 1985 and 1995 visits of Pope John Paul II where all religious beliefs gathered together to welcome him, and it was in that spirit the people intended to greet Pope Benedict XVI.  Beyond its borders, the Bakassi agreement between Cameroon and Nigeria had clearly shown that there was no crisis that could not be solved peacefully through dialogue.  President Biya said that “right over might is fully justified because we are a people fully dedicated to peace”.  Cameroon’s further commitment to peace also was illustrated in their participation in peacekeeping activities, and they were currently developing a training school in peacekeeping.

He called for more educational initiatives and supported the work of UNESCO towards that endeavour.  He also called for the utilization of media and technology as tools that would further discussion and works that dealt with tolerance and peace.  In the United Nations, a constant culture of peace should be unfolding, where dialogue and mutual respect, and a love for oneself and for one’s neighbours, could be encouraged to grow, he said in his conclusion.  Not caring for peace would be like not having oxygen to breathe, he declared.

FRANCIS K. BUTAGIRA (Uganda) declared that those extremists who distorted religion for their own purposes and who killed in the name of religion thinking they would go to heaven would be disappointed when they found themselves in hell because they had rebelled against God’s creation.  Therefore, everyone should strive to live at peace with one another, respect different cultures and faiths because no faith was superior to another.

He said no efforts should be spared -- individually, nationally or at the global level -- to take a proactive stance in countering what he termed ignorance:  by offering positive information on interfaith beliefs; and by dispelling negative stereotypes and extremism.  Uganda was a multireligious country where people of different faiths lived side by side in relative harmony, and interfaith collaboration and partnership had deliberately been encouraged.

He lauded the Assembly’s current meeting, noting that it came a day after the ninetieth anniversary of the end of the First World War, and at a time when the world’s focus was on conflict prevention and resolution.  “It also comes at a time of refocus on human dignity, family values and development.  Our faith should be a catalyst to bring us together as it has done today to reflect, understand and address these challenges,” he added.

GUILLAUME N. BAILLY (Côte d’Ivoire), speaking on behalf of President Laurent Gbagbo, welcomed the honest and frank dialogue among religions taking place in the Assembly.  Each year on 15 November, his country celebrated a national plan of peace.  It had also sought to integrate the principles of peace and tolerance in formulating its development programmes, in constructing its national policies and in fostering a foreign policy that prized coexistence with its neighbours.

He said his country could not, therefore, remain on the sidelines during such as historical meeting.  For that reason, Côte d’Ivoire supported without reservation the Saudi initiative, which would have the United Nations establish a permanent framework for dialogue among religions.  His delegation remained convinced that the establishment of such a dialogue would usher in a new era of international relations and would bring hope to all humankind.

It was, in fact, an urgent necessity that the world community move beyond its religious differences and work towards a rapprochement of civilizations in the respects of convictions and in the faiths of each one, he said.  That was why his country fully subscribed to the two resolutions before the Assembly on the promotion of dialogue, and on the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World, 2001-2010.  Inviting Member States to adopt those texts, he said they would reduce the gap in understanding that had prevailed among civilizations.

Continuing, he said all of the common ethical values advocated by religions in their diversity should be highlighted and shared.  That was more than just wishful thinking and went beyond the current initiatives.  Indeed, leaders must take inspiration in religious dialogue to create policies that would overcome barriers and promote equality.  The “culture of profit” and the protection of one’s own interests at the expense of others, had had as its corollary the subjugation of certain segments of societies.  Such a Manichean vision of international affairs and the promotion of one society and its beliefs over others would only be suicidal for the global community.

He stressed that the experience of Côte d’Ivoire demonstrated the extent to which the adoption of the culture of peace could foster development and be a factor in promoting integration.  Quoting the country’s founder, Felix Houphouet Boigny, he said “Peace is not just an eloquent word.  It was a form of behaviour.”  The world could, in fact, overcome divisions and create a new world order based on the progress of the human race towards correcting historical imbalances.  Yet the current challenges would not be resolved in rhetorical flourishes, but in convincing the world’s decision makers to give more room to the moral dimension of international affairs.

SAID MOHAMED OUSSEIN ( Comoros) said intolerance, distrust, selfishness, isolation had “overtaken solidarity”, and he voiced support for dialogue with different religions, which could lead to the discovery of shared principles and values.  “That profound belief will help us go beyond differences, and bring us together, in an increasingly interdependent world where we are all links of the same chain whose solidarity and survival depend on a common goal to bring good to the world,” he said.

As a Muslim nation known for its legendary hospitality, its diversity of cultures was not a source of conflict, but a daily balance of differences.  He noted, however, that double standards existed towards the Muslim world, especially after 11 September 2001, which had brought out injustices and indifferences as well.  To counter that, he urged the peaceful acceptance of each other, and the renunciation of all oppression and terrorism, especially when acts were committed in the name of religion.  But since that would not happen without development, and strides had to be made against injustice and poverty, he called on the faithful to work together for a new, more equitable world order that took into account the poorest and most underprivileged.

Action on Draft Resolution

Taking up the draft resolution on Promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation for peace (document A/63/L.24/Rev.1), the Assembly adopted that text by consensus.

Speaking in explanation of position, the representative of the United States said his country had been founded on the principle of freedom of religion and that principle had nourished a diversity of religions.  Noting that the Republic of the Philippines, who had introduced the resolution yesterday, had also enshrined that freedom in its Constitution, he also commended President Gloria Arroyo in her efforts to promote religious freedom and dialogue.

He said the text had much to recommend it.  It affirmed cultural diversity and recognized the importance of education, as well as the role of the news media in promoting understanding and dialogue.  Without the freedom of any individual to exercise his beliefs, the freedom of religion would ring hollow.  On that, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was clear:  everyone should be free to exercise his or her religion.  The United States affirmed unequivocally that freedom of expression was the antidote for intolerance.  Americans widely cherished the principle that even if they did not agree with what someone said they would fight for their right to say it.  For that reason, the current text should not be interpreted in any way that would allow it to be used to curb that freedom, which was the birthright of all humanity.  Indeed, any effort to roll back freedom of expression should be challenged.

He said that it was clear that some countries used United Nations conventions and resolutions against their own people and would likely do so with the text just adopted, using it to limit their citizens’ freedom of expression.  Indeed, that tendency was so prevalent that many non-governmental organizations had begun tracking such discrimination.  So, too, had the United States Government.  He urged the Assembly to see that such resolutions -- including the current -- were not used in such a discriminatory fashion.  Only through both the freedoms of religion and expression would people develop the understanding and trust to get along with one another.

Closing Remarks

In closing remarks, Assembly President MIGUEL D’ESCOTO BROCKMANN of Nicaragua said that he was “heartened and astonished” by the many appeals voiced in this “remarkable” meeting over the past two days.  Though the meeting had shown participants’ differences in religions and ideologies, it had proven that there was much unification in shared essential values, the application of which were important in order to survive current, convergent man-made crises.

Diversity, in religions rooted in cultures and thus varied, should be celebrated, he said, as homogenization was good for milk, not for human cultures.  He called equally for the protection of the cultural identities of all peoples and the biodiversity of the planet.  “The hand of God” was rooted in the faith or rich, ethical-philosophical traditions of values, but not in “anti-values”, which came from a hatred- and intolerance-breeding, dominant culture.

Quoting King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, he said that “the roots of all global crises can be found in human denial of the eternal principle of peace”.  Speakers at the meeting had called for a restoration of values of compassion and solidarity, and to “put people above profit”, which President Peres of Israel had raised concerns about, going on to say that, in order to change the world, “we must change ourselves first”.

Also of note were Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the United Kingdom’s words expressing hope that our generation would be remembered for the end of illiteracy, as well as the reversal of climate change.  Those who were not religious had brought messages of hope, as well, for the values central to faiths could be just as strong in those without religion.

A clear message had been sent through the dialogue:  that self-destruction would result without the restoration of the timeless values of brotherhood and sisterhood.  Though that storm was “of our own making”, heroic measures were necessary to combat it especially to urgently change the conditions of billions living in terrible poverty with collective responsibility.

Lastly, he expressed hope that the constructive dialogue would revive and reinstate high ideals amongst peoples and nations, with the “glorious triumph” of that which was most noble in human beings over that which was most base, and a future in which justice and security could prevail over injustice, fear and poverty.  The upcoming Doha meeting on financing for development was a chance to show serious solidarity in the guiding principles of our resolutions and actions.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.