Press Releases

15 November 2002

Tolerance 'An Active and Positive Engagement with Human Diversity' Says Secretary-General on International Day of Tolerance

NEW YORK, 14 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message of Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the International Day of Tolerance, 16 November:

The International Day of Tolerance focuses global attention on one of the greatest of human virtues. Tolerance is not to be confused with passivity, complacency or indifference. Tolerance is an active and positive engagement with human diversity, and is therefore a key principle of democracy in our multi-ethnic and multicultural societies.

Yet intolerance continues to blight the lives of millions of people around the world. Already in this young century, we have witnessed how intolerance can manifest itself in extreme violence, causing widespread death and suffering. This is why tolerance must remain at the centre of the United Nations agenda.

Intolerance is a feature of everyday life, evident in actions and attitudes that sting with their insensitivity to the feelings, rights and dignity of others. As individuals, we must advance the cause of tolerance in our daily lives. Only by fighting intolerance and exclusion at the grass-roots level can we hope to overcome it in the global arena.

Like many irrational attitudes, intolerance is often rooted in fear: fear of the unknown, fear of the different, fear of the other. At the root of such fears are ignorance and lack of education -- a potent breeding ground of prejudice, hatred and discrimination. Education is the most effective means of preventing intolerance. It is particularly vital that our children learn about tolerance so that they understand why human rights, human dignity and respect for human diversity are inseparable. Education itself must be free from the virus of intolerance. It must teach people what their shared rights and freedoms are, so that they may be respected, and instil the desire to protect others' enjoyment of those rights and freedoms too.

If the human family is to have any hope of living together in peace, we must come to know and accept one another. At the heart of all efforts to promote tolerance there must be open dialogue, both between individuals and among different cultures and civilizations. Without dialogue, cultural diversity is threatened. Without dialogue, the very cohesion of society is put at risk. Without dialogue, we cannot have peace.

On this International Day of Tolerance, let us resolve to practice actively at the individual level the principles we wish to see respected universally. Let us recognize that the work for tolerance begins with each and every one of us.

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