02 Sep 2014

UNESCO celebrates “unity in diversity” at 6th Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations DATE: 29 August, 2014

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Bringing together Government officials, experts and NGO activists, young and old, from across the world, the 6th Forum meets under the theme of ‘Unity in Diversity: celebrating Diversity for Common and Shared Values’.

The Opening Session featured speeches by H.E. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, President of the Republic of Indonesia and the Prime Minister of Timor Leste, H. E. Xanana Gusmão, along with Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General, H.E. John W. Ashe, President of the 68th United Nations General Assembly. There were interventions also by R. M. Marty M. Natalegawa, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain and Naci Koru, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkey, along with Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, United Nations High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations.

The President of Indonesia spoke of the key challenge today “to change the course of history for the better” in order to end divisions and fault lines of intolerance, exclusion and discord. This is the duty of the international community — to restore strategic trust at the global level, to promote reconciliation and heal broken communities, to foster new skills and values for peace through education, and to enhance dialogue between all people and cultures, including with radical viewpoints, and drawing on new media. In this respect, the President spoke of the aspiration to build a “caring and sharing community in ASEAN,” and across the world.

“Some say that we are heading towards a “new Cold War”,” said the President. “Whatever it is, to me it already feels like ‘hot peace’.”

The Prime Minister of Timor Leste pointed to the links between injustice and conflict, underlining the need for comprehensive action to build trust and minimise hostility.

“We meet against a backdrop of rising of racism, intolerance, extremism and conflict in many parts of the world where peace is but a violent nightmare”. In this context, the Prime Minister said, “We need a revolution in peacebuilding to promote a shared humanity with a shared future.”

In his speech, the Secretary-General said, “our differences should not divide us but propel our prosperity and peace.”

He reviewed rising challenges to peace across the world, including from within societies, from racism and hate speech, compounded by the speed of new media.

“Too many of our world’s worst crises are driven by those who exploit fear for power,” said the Secretary-General. “Too many societies are fracturing along cultural, religious or ethnic lines. Wars begins in people’s minds – and the way to peace is also through people’s hearts and the UN is working around the clock and around the world to usher in a more peaceful future”.

The President of the General Assembly discussed the work between States now on shaping a new global development agenda to follow 2015, underlining the importance of intercultural dialogue and appealing for the involvement of all societies and people.

The High Representative spoke of the “historical chance today to celebrate diversity for common and shared values” — including “respect for basic freedoms”, underlining the role of the Alliance of Civilizations in this respect, working with all partners.

The Director-General delivered a key speech during the UN Alliance of Civilizations Group of Friends Ministerial Meeting.

In her intervention, Irina Bokova underlined UNESCO’s work to promote cultural diversity on the basis of human rights, including through its leadership across the UN system of the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022) — initiated by Kazakhstan and decided by the UN General Assembly.

Irina Bokova thanked the High Representative for the strength of cooperation with UNESCO, noting “we are natural allies.” She underlined the 70 years of experience of UNESCO in building peace through dialogue and across all areas of its mandate, which are its prime area of responsibility as a specialised agency of the UN.

“All cultures are different, but humanity is a single family, bound by respect for human rights and aspirations for dignity,” said the Director-General.

“We all recognise the deepening interdependence of the world –- can we make this interdependence a source of strength?”.

In answering this question, Irina Bokova highlighted the action of UNESCO across the world — in fostering new forms of cultural literacy and media literacy, in supporting effective policies to harness the power of diversity, to focus on young people as agents of positive change and in designing educational curricula to deepen global solidarity and citizenship.

“Cultural diversity is a reality, but it must also be a policy — in fact, multiple policies that unfold within a framework of democracy and pluralism,” said the Director-General.

She noted that these goals guide all of UNESCO’s action on the ground in support of Governments, as well as through the implementation of the UNESCO normative frameworks, and Culture Conventions.

This action includes steering forward EFA and the Global Education First Initiative of the UN Secretary-General. It takes in also the Slave Route Project, the General History of Africa and the History of Islam, whose 6th volume was just launched.

“We are rebuilding mausoleums in Mali and restoring manuscripts — this is our response to extremism and this is the vision guiding UNESCO.”

The Director-General spoke also of the importance of integrating the power of culture and cultural diversity for sustainable development — underlining the advocacy of UNESCO to promote this in the post 2015 global development agenda, with the support of Member States.

In closing, Irina Bokova quoted from the speech given by the President of Indonesia at the 2011 UNESCO General Conference, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity.

“Societies have lived for too long under the divisive notion of ‘us’ and ‘them’. It is time we evolve the ‘new we.’”

This, she said, must be the guiding spirit as States shape a new global development agenda and set a course for a more peaceful and tolerant world.