Press Releases

    21 October 2005

    General Assembly Calls for Greater Efforts to Promote Culture of Peace, Foster Dialogue among Civilizations

    NEW YORK, 20 October (UN Headquarters) -- The General Assembly today encouraged Governments, the United Nations system and civil society to strengthen efforts to promote a culture of peace and non-violence, as well as to develop tools to promote dialogue and understanding among the world's cultures, religions and peoples.

    The Assembly took that action by adopting two resolutions, as orally revised, following a review of the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010) and the Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations. 

    Introducing the text on dialogue among civilizations, Iran's representative noted that the challenges faced today were multifaceted and old approaches based on power and exclusion had proven insufficient, and in most cases inappropriate.  Such approaches had even led to the exacerbation of tension by widening the divide, marginalizing and alienating significant portions of the global population, and providing fertile ground for the spread of hatred and violence.  He stressed the need for a new paradigm, based on the belief that each civilization had much to offer and that inclusion would bring with it mutual enrichment and benefit.

    Pakistan's representative warned against confusing religious frictions between cultures with clashes of political and economic interests.  He said casting conflicts in religious terms was an expedient disguise for those pursuing narrow political and national objectives.  That made it all the more vital to promote cooperation and understanding among religions and cultures.  Interfaith dialogue should cover political, socio-economic, religious, cultural and institutional aspects, with a focus on developing human resources while alleviating poverty and promoting education and social justice.

    The global environment, stated Jamaica's representative, was one of diversity in culture, religion, political systems and economic conditions.  The deepening process of exchange between nations and cultures had been brought on largely by rapid advancement in information technology, ushered in by the phenomenon of globalization.  But often, one of the dangers of the rapid spread of information, ideals and cultures was the tendency towards homogenization and the imposition of the cultural norms of the strong and powerful over the small and weak.  Such dangers could be avoided by cultivating values, which promoted tolerance and respect for pluralism.

    Japan's representative also pointed to the paradox of globalization bringing cultures together but also creating conflict by the new proximity.  He said a spirit of tolerance and mutual understanding between all cultures was more important now than ever.  The Global Agenda played a key role in promoting understanding.  His country focused on youth exchange programmes, with a number of initiatives in place to promote understanding between Japan and Islamic countries, such as the World Civilization Forum held in July.

    Speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, the representative of the United Kingdom called on countries to celebrate the values that united them.  He said respect for human rights and for the rule of law would protect values common to humanity and defend against those who sought to undermine those values.  Governments should empower mainstream voices, and challenge extremists with a powerful message reaffirming tolerance. 

    Opening today's debate, Assembly President Jan Eliasson (Sweden) said the most effective ways to strengthen a global culture of peace was to go beyond mechanisms of collaboration and focus on substantive engagement such as through education and media involvement.  The World Summit had affirmed the contribution of all cultures to human enrichment and had called for respecting religious and cultural diversity.  Strengthening a culture of peace, fostering interreligious dialogue and continuing the dialogue among civilizations would allow universally-shared values, such as tolerance to emerge. 

    Also speaking today were the representatives of Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Togo, Belarus, Lebanon, Yemen, Malaysia, Myanmar, Switzerland, Turkey, Mongolia, Qatar, China, Fiji, Brazil, Iraq, Thailand, El Salvador, Morocco, Nepal, Kazakhstan and Spain.  The Observer of the Organization of the Islamic Conference also spoke.

    The representative of Venezuela spoke in explanation of vote.

    The text on the International Decade was introduced by the representative of Bangladesh.  Action on the draft resolution on the promotion of interreligious dialogue, introduced by the representative of the Philippines, was postponed.

    The Assembly is expected to meet again at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, 25 October, to take up the report of the Economic and Social Council, among other matters.


    The General Assembly met today to hold a joint debate on the 2001-2010 International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World, and on the Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations. 

    The Assembly had before it a report by the Secretary-General on the promotion of interreligious dialogue (document A/60/201), which includes comments from Member States and relevant international organizations regarding the importance of interreligious dialogue and mutual understanding in the achievement of the culture of peace. 

    In the report, Member States also describe efforts made to promote interreligious dialogue and mutual understanding, including the introduction of legislation to outlaw all forms of intolerance and discrimination, the holding of conferences to exchange ideas among religions, the organization of an "International dialogue on interfaith cooperation on community-building and harmony", the holding of the first Congress of World and Traditional Religions, and the holding of dialogues between Muslims and Christians. 

    Other activities undertaken by a number of States include the publication of educational material and the incorporation of tolerance curricula in schools.  Many Member States said that interreligious dialogue and understanding were prerequisites for peace and development, and reported that they had undertaken surveys to more fully understand the extent of religious diversity within their countries.

    The report also contains activities conducted by several United Nations organizations, including the bringing together of eminent religious figures from various faiths, spiritual traditions and intellectual communities; collaborating with members of religious communities in the pursuit of its goals; and the launching of a series of seminars on "Unlearning Intolerance".

    Also before the Assembly is a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the midterm global review of the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World, 2001-2010 (document A/60/279), prepared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  The report summarizes activities undertaken in the first five years of the Decade to promote the Programme of Action.  Participants within the United Nations system included UNESCO National Commissions, the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the University for Peace and the United Nations University. 

    The report also contains the actions taken in those five years by States at the national level and by international non-governmental organizations.  Covered in the report are the progress made, the obstacles faced and the needs to be met in order to maintain visibility and momentum in the second half of the Decade.

    An annex contains the views of civil society organizations as compiled by the Fundacion Cultura de Paz.

    According to the report, actors at the national level reported a lack of interest and political support from authorities and the media.  The complexity of coherently articulating aspects of the Decade was seen as making it difficult for leaders to understand and monitor its progress.  Political instability and the complexity of violence were also seen as major obstacles in promoting a culture of peace, particularly in West Africa and the Middle East.  Among non-governmental organizations, the current international situation was identified as a major obstacle to promoting the Decade, since security issues had replaced peacebuilding as of 2001.  Poverty and social exclusion were seen as major obstacles to lasting peace, along with a lack of resources, political will, support and interest from the media.

    The report concludes that a global framework should be promoted to integrate the objectives of the Declaration and the Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace.  The framework should address:  the development of coordination mechanisms to strengthen cooperation between all actors; the launch of events to demonstrate objectives; the mobilization of resources; the explicit reinforcement of links between the Decade and other activities, such as those for the Millennium Development Goals; and the development of communication and information tools along with strategies for encouraging media support.

    By the terms of a draft resolution on the promotion of interreligious dialogue and cooperation for peace (document A/60/L.4), the Assembly would affirm that mutual understanding and interreligious dialogue were important dimensions of the dialogue among civilizations and of the culture of peace.  It would invite the Secretary-General to continue bringing the issue to global attention and would ask him to report at the Assembly's sixty-first session on ways to strengthen linkages with other mechanisms promoting global understanding and tolerance, and on practical measures to be taken towards that end.

    A draft resolution on the International Decade (document A/60/L.5) would have the Assembly encourage educators to teach peace-related attitudes, such as tolerance.  The Assembly would also encourage civil society to strengthen efforts to further the Decade's objectives by actions, such as the adoption of activity programmes to complement the broader national and international initiatives, while media were encouraged to become involved in education for a culture of peace and non-violence. 

    Also, the Assembly would invite Member States to observe 21 September each year as the International Day of Peace, as a day of global ceasefire and cessation of violence.  All entities would be invited to report on activities to the Secretary-General, who would be requested to explore the enhancement of mechanisms to implement the Declaration and Programme of Action, as well as to report to the Assembly at the next session.  

    With regard to the Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations, the Assembly had before it the Secretary-General's report (document A/60/259), which reviews the activities undertaken by States and UNESCO to advance the Agenda and implement its Programme of Action.  The way forward, the report states, is to form a global partnership among all who cherish diversity.  The formula for achieving that is to:  secure the commitment of Governments; mobilize role models; change shared narratives to reflect increased interdependence; and focus on the hearts and minds of those who are susceptible to extremism, particularly the young.  

    A related resolution (document A/60/L.6) would have the Assembly express its firm determination to facilitate and promote dialogue among civilizations, affirming that concrete and sustained activities should be designed and implemented in all regions by the widest possible range of partners and stakeholders.  The Assembly would also invite States to develop tools at all levels to promote dialogue and understanding. 

    Statement by Assembly President

    JAN ELIASSON (Sweden), President of the General Assembly, said that with the International Decade for a Culture of Peace at its midpoint, there was now an opportunity to take stock of progress.  It was necessary to ask what the promising and effective approaches had been; whether Governments had done enough to foster peace and non-violence at all levels; and what more could be done to encourage civil society and the private sector to increase their roles.  In finding the most effective ways to strengthen a global culture of peace, emphasis should be placed not only on mechanisms of collaboration but on substantive areas of engagement, not least education.  In addition, it was necessary to define more effective ways to work with civil society, non-governmental organizations, the media and the private sector. 

    He said there were also new concerns which were not part of the debate when the Assembly adopted the Declaration and Programme of Action.  One of those was cultural diversity.  The World Summit's Outcome Document acknowledged the contribution that all cultures and civilizations made to the enrichment of humankind, as well as the importance of respect for religious and cultural diversity throughout the world. 

    On the Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations, he said the Secretary-General's report revealed an emerging consensus on universally-shared values, especially tolerance, mutual understanding and observance of human rights and democratic governance.  The major challenge was to translate pledges into action.  "We live in a world of much distrust and suspicion.  We must mobilize the political will to change negative trends, to prevent polarization and pessimism."  Strengthening a culture of peace, fostering interreligious dialogue and continuing the dialogue among civilizations would contribute to enhancing hope and belief in the future. 

    Introduction of Drafts

    IFTEKHAR AHMED CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) introduced the draft resolution on the International Decade for a Culture of Peace (document A/60/L.5), saying that new elements in this year's text included specific references to the recent World Summit's Outcome Document.  For example, it requested the Secretary-General to explore the enhancement of the implementation mechanisms contained in the Declaration and Programme of Action, as had been agreed to in the Outcome Document.

    He noted that his country had been at the forefront of initiatives to promote greater understanding and tolerance among peoples, which could be achieved through dialogue and cooperation.  Bangladesh, born of a bloody conflict, saw great value in the principles of tolerance, respect for diversity, democracy and understanding -- ideals endorsed by Member States in the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace in 1999.  He emphasized that the participation of all actors was essential to realize the universal goal of a peaceful world.  Also, to make peace sustainable, it was imperative to create the right conditions for people to live in dignity and in freedom from want and fear.  All prevailing political, economic and socio-cultural injustices must be addressed.

    JAVAD ZARIF (Iran) introduced the draft resolution on the Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations (document A/60/L.6), as orally amended.  He said the challenges faced today were multifaceted and old approaches based on power and exclusion had proven insufficient, and in most cases inappropriate.  Such approaches had even led to the exacerbation of tension by widening the divide, marginalizing and alienating significant portions of the global population, and providing fertile ground for the spread of hatred and violence.  He stressed the need for a new paradigm, based on the belief that each civilization had much to offer and that inclusion would bring with it mutual enrichment and benefit. 

    The Global Agenda, he said, was a milestone in the collective effort to elaborate that new paradigm.  The time had come for the Assembly to further strengthen that emerging and promising paradigm by taking another step through the adoption of the draft resolution before it.

    LAURO L. BAJA (Philippines) introduced the draft on Promotion of Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace (document A/60/L.4).

    He highlighted several significant developments that had taken place which endorsed the importance of interreligious dialogue and cooperation for the promotion of peace.  They included a conference on religion in peace and conflict, held in Australia; the Asia-Europe Interfaith Dialogue, held in Bali; and an informal meeting of leaders on interfaith dialogue and cooperation for peace, held in September on the margins of the World Summit. 


    ADAM THOMSON (United Kingdom), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, said that it would have been hard to imagine, at the start of the International Decade, the immense challenges to a culture of peace that the world faced today.  As a counter to extremism and terrorism, countries needed to choose to celebrate the values that united them, and strive to develop tolerant and inclusive societies. 

    Saying that the full respect for all human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law was essential to protect values common to humanity, he stressed the need to defend against those who sought to undermine those values, and to act against those that incited and promoted extremism.  Governments needed to work with and through their home communities to encourage and empower mainstream voices.  They needed to challenge extremists with a more powerful message that reaffirmed the values of tolerance and respect. 

    Focusing on education's role, he said that good quality education provided a foundation for genuine dialogue among peoples.  The European Union had paid particular tribute to "The United Network of Young Peacebuilders", a global network of young people active in the field of peacebuilding.  Their work was evidence of the significant role that civil society played in advancing a culture of peace. 

    SHINICHI KITAOKA (Japan) said that, despite the establishment of the United Nations 60 years ago and the declaration of the Year of Dialogue among Civilizations in 2001, conflicts arising from racial and religious differences persisted around the world.  While globalization brought civilizations closer together, it also caused conflict by the very proximity it created.  It was, therefore, more necessary than ever to achieve a spirit of tolerance and mutual understanding between all cultures and civilizations.  The Global Agenda for Dialogue Among Civilizations had played a key role in promoting such understanding.  The work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in implementing the Global Agenda, including its adoption of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expression, had been particularly noteworthy.

    Other welcome progress included the launch of the "Alliance of Civilizations," by the Secretary-General in July, he said.  Japan had been exposed to, and had accepted, various civilizations throughout its history, including those of China, India and the West.  As a result, it had a deep appreciation of diversity.  To continue that tradition, it supported and was expanding youth exchange programmes, and had undertaken a number of initiatives to promote understanding between Japan and Islamic countries.  To achieve a wider perspective, in July, it had hosted the "World Civilization Forum", giving countries opportunities to proudly share their cultures while promoting their advancement towards modernization. The Forum provided an opportunity for academics, private enterprises, Governments and civil society to discuss the issues they faced and form networks to attempt to address them.

    MOHAMED ABDELSATTAR ELBADRI (Egypt) said the culture of peace was no longer a political luxury, but a human responsibility, and "the concept of collective security must begin through us as peoples and Governments".  The basis on which peace could be built was through the balance of rights and duties.  There could be no peace without communication between cultures and religions and Governments.

    It was imperative in today's world to understand that cultural differences constituted the richness of human diversity. 

    He cited the need for an effective international framework based on transparency and common goals among nations.  Dialogue was needed to enhance respect for the diversity of others.  People must remember the primacy of religions, all of which try to elevate human beings, and must not stigmatise any one religion.  The role of States was also key to enhance the culture of peace.  Egypt had adopted that role as the first to put its hand forward in the 1970s to bring peace to the Middle East.  In the same context, Egypt was one of the first States to adopt the Programmes of Action for dialogue among civilizations and a culture of peace.  Egypt had also promoted peace and the dialogue among civilizations through its work in the Arab League.

    The Secretary-General's report on the International Decade for a Culture of Peace, he added, showed that many countries still suffered from war and unstable economies, which reinforced the link between peace and security. 

    ABDULAZIZ NASSER AL-SHAMSI (United Arab Emirates) said that, despite the pledges to promote a culture of peace and dialogue among civilizations made five years ago by world leaders at the Millennium Summit, ethnic and religious intolerance were still among the major challenges that heightened cultural tensions, prompted civil rights violations, and led to armed conflicts worldwide.  Therefore, it was more important than ever to continue to raise the issue of cultural dialogue and understanding at all levels, including both political and diplomatic, to help spread the best of human principles and to promote tolerance, solidarity and cooperation over extremism and hatred.

    Looking back over the last two decades, he said the period of promise brought about by the end of the cold war and the easing of tensions between the East and West had given way to an era of new conflicts sparked by ethnic, cultural and religious diversities.  Competition had also sprung up between the North and South, and the rich and the poor.  Those situations now posed a threat to international security and stability, and had put the responsibility of bridging cultural divides on the shoulders of all States, all religious leaders and other personalities in social, scientific, cultural and sports fields.

    He stressed that the acts of terrorism, ethnic cleansing and other grave violations of human rights that had occurred over the past 20 years proved that their perpetrators did not belong to one race, religion or political or ethnic background.  Therefore, the United Arab Emirates had become gravely concerned by the discriminatory, prejudicial and hate-based media campaigns targeting certain ethnic and religious groups continuing to surface in the Western media.  Adding that such campaigns were perhaps the main source for fuelling ethnic tensions and cultural misunderstanding, he called on all States, and their media, as a first step, to ensure objectivity and transparency regarding issues pertaining to developing States.

    He also called on States to adopt measures necessary for confronting all hostile, provocative and discriminatory practices committed against their peoples, especially in the Islamic and Arab States.  Turning to the overall pervasiveness of Western media culture, which in many regions often diverted the attention of younger generations from learning about their own cultures, he demanded that developed States and their media cease their control over modern technology, discontinue their unilateral polices, understand the concerns of other peoples, and refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of other States.  He also demanded that initiatives aimed at the promotion of dialogue among civilizations include effective measures to help resolve matters related to foreign occupation and reducing the gap between advanced and developing countries.

    MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan) said the Declaration on a Culture of Peace adopted by the General Assembly was a set of values, attitudes and behaviours, and a historic document based on the principles of multilateral cooperation, in accordance with the United Nations Charter.  The current state of a globalized world meant a higher level of interaction among all cultures and civilizations, which had given rise to new forms of exchanges and understanding among peoples and unprecedented opportunities for the transmission of ideas.  But the greatest paradox of that vast network of connectivity and interdependence was the divisions and frictions spawned within societies, many of which were manifested in religious tones. 

    Instead of promoting a better understanding between peoples, stereotypes had quite often been reinforced, and misperceptions deepened, he said.  Despite a wealth of information that was instantly available, the gulf of misunderstanding among faiths and civilizations seemed to have grown wider.  There was both a "knowledge deficit", and an "understanding deficit".  Many agreed that the root causes of friction between cultures were not of a religious nature, but a clash of political and economic interests.  Clearly, conflicting political interests were often cast in religious terms as an expedient disguise for those pursuing narrow political and national objectives. 

    The need to promote cooperation and understanding among religions and cultures was all the more essential.  The necessity for dialogue among different faiths needed to be driven forward and transformed into "bridges of friendship", to ameliorate the sufferings of those who were the victims of intolerance and interfaith friction.  It was vital that the international community encourage interreligious and intercultural dialogue and cooperation.  At the international level, any endeavour for interfaith harmony and cooperation should cover political, socio-economic, religious, cultural and institutional aspects.  The way forward was to concentrate on human resources development through poverty alleviation, education and social justice.

    KODJO MENAN (Togo) said the dedication of the Assembly to peace was justified by the present state of the world with its proliferation of terrorism and weapons.  Peacekeeping operations showed what a key role the United Nations had to play.  At the national level, especially in Africa, countries were setting up structures to strengthen peace.  For example, the African Union's creation of a Peace and Security Council and the Peer Review Mechanism demonstrated Africa's efforts to take control of its own destiny.  Sight should not be lost, however, of how important it was to further strengthen bonds between the United Nations and regional organizations.  The Peacebuilding Commission was a considerable achievement, and should be established soon. 

    Among the efforts of the United Nations system, he singled out UNESCO's programmes to promote dialogue among civilizations and a culture of peace, especially following the "9/11" terrorist attacks.  Within countries, UNESCO should keep trying to ensure that people heeded values of tolerance, respect for others, and cultural diversity.  The actions of the United Nations, especially in the areas of education, human rights and democracy, could only succeed with Government support.  After President Faure Gnassingbe was elected a few months ago, he created a historical reflection and rehabilitation commission, which would help rehabilitate those who had played a decisive role in Togo's political history.  That was key in enhancing national reconciliation and unity. 

    Besides preventing war, the culture of peace should have as its goal ensuring the well-being of peoples.  For the more than half of the world's population living on less than $1 a day, peace meant, first and foremost, to live without want.  Support from development partners in reaching the Millennium Goals by 2015 was essential. 

    RYBAKOV VALENTIN (Belarus) said the international community took an important step forward in the interests of peace and security through its work on the dialogue among civilizations and culture of peace.  Globalisation, coupled with the increasing threat of terrorism, was an increasing reminder of the need for interdependence on issues such as security, the environment, healthcare, and the need to develop a global partnership.

    Mutual understanding among States was possible through respect for each other's customs and traditions.  Belarus attached great importance to the celebration of milestones in its own culture, promoted diversity, and gave emphasis to its global arts culture based on humane ideas and values.  Belarus agreed with the views of the Secretary-General about promoting dialogue among civilizations at the local level.  As a country with more than 140 different cultures and historical roots, Belarus had enabled its citizens to retain their cultural identity and protected their right to maintain their own cultural heritage.  The Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations had served as the basis for creating an environment of mutual understanding and trust amongst peoples, and should be supported by all nations.

    IBRAHIM ASSAF (Lebanon) said the United Nations was the best place to embody dialogue between cultures and establish new norms in international relations.  Dialogue was an unavoidable tool.  Among civilizations, it meant acknowledging others' differences.  It also meant dealing with diversity as a source of enrichment, not as a source of danger.  Dialogue should not be a means of alienating or dissolving the other, but rather affirming the other's existence.

    He said dialogue was acknowledging that ownership of truth was relative, and that it was the property of all civilizations.  "We should always search for the benefits and good deeds of others and look at our own shortcomings."  Dialogue meant tolerance, not the powerful enforcing their opinion over the weak.  The vulnerable should feel that the powerful listened to them, and the powerful should feel the need to justify their case to others.  He said dialogue in Lebanon was not a mere slogan, but a reality experienced every day, and evident in the will to coexist between Muslims and Christians.  That had made Lebanon a model for cooperation. 

    TAREK M. MUTAHAR (Yemen) said six years after the proclamation of the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education, much work remained to be done by all States to promote cultural and ethnic diversity, and to ensure that the principles of human rights were a priority for all Governments.  And with grave human rights violations continuing worldwide, it was clear that still more needed to be done to raise the level of awareness about initiatives aimed at promoting the culture of human rights, the culture of peace and the dialogue among civilizations.

    He also urged States to boost their efforts, as Yemen had done, to spread information about international treaties and covenants dealing with human rights issues.  Yemen had also actively undertaken efforts to cement cultural and religious tolerance throughout society, particularly thorough awareness-raising campaigns and education, he said.  The Government had paid close attention to its ethnic and religious minorities, particularly its small Jewish population, and afforded them the same rights and access as Yemenis.

    The Government had also urged its media organs, educational facilities and churches to promote and highlight religious and cultural harmony and diversity.  It also promoted the Islamic values of tolerance and brotherhood, particularly among the younger generation.  Yemen also believed in promoting good neighbourliness.  Finally, he urged all States to avoid selectivity when implementing international human rights treaties and agreements. 

    NG YEN YEN (Malaysia) said the desire for peace had always run parallel to the innate nature of humankind to battle against each other.  Although the United Nations itself had been founded with the solemn determination to practice tolerance and promote cultural dialogue, it was disheartening to note that tragic events -- from the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, the Madrid and London bombings that followed, and up to the latest horrific incident in Bali -- continued to exacerbate the gap between and among civilizations.  Such incidents had also generated a negative perception of Islam in the West and elsewhere, she added, urging that every effort be taken to correct the view that terrorism was sanctioned by a particular religion or culture.

    Indeed, terrorist acts should be attributed to those that perpetrated them, not to the race or religion of such actors.  The root causes of any terrorist act must be carefully examined in order to effectively address and combat the scourge.  Stressing that the international community must recognize the importance of engaging communities in the promotion of religious and cultural understanding, she warned that those issues must not continue to be relegated to discussions about counter-terrorism, as they were now.

    In view of that ominous trend, Malaysia supported broader-based initiatives, such as the culture of peace and interfaith dialogue, which highlighted the importance of cultural diversity and tolerance as key ways to achieve global peace and stability, which were essential for the achievement of sustainable socio-economic development.

    U WUNNA MAUNG LWIN (Myanmar) said that in a world plagued by conflict, terrorism and transnational crime, it was more critical than ever to promote a culture of peace.  Myanmar, surrounded by five countries, lived peacefully with its neighbours by adhering to the principles of mutual respect and understanding of different cultures.  It was committed to maintaining peace with its neighbours and with countries worldwide.  A culture of understanding and mutual respect had helped Myanmar bring peace throughout most of the country, which was comprised of nearly 100 different groups.  To bring peace to its border areas, it was particularly focusing on economic development and poverty alleviation.

    Recognizing the diverse cultures and religions of its people, religious feast days of all faiths were observed as holidays and Government leaders participated in the observances of holidays of a variety of faiths, he said.

    It was fitting to include children's issues in the culture of peace.  Myanmar had enunciated the National Plan of Action for the promotion, protection and development of children and had included human rights education in school curricula.  His country had also made significant progress in achieving gender equality.  To fulfil commitments made in the "Beijing+10" process, Myanmar had formed the Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation in December 2003, an umbrella organization for non-governmental organizations working on women's issues.

    FRANK GRUETTER (Switzerland) said his country had historically been riddled with conflict due to its diverse population.  However, 150 years ago, it had finally learned to resolve those conflicts by embracing its diversity, through its conviction that differences could be resolved through dialogue, through democratic measures to protect minorities, and by continually striving to achieve compromise.  Through its own experience, Switzerland had reached a number of conclusions, including that the acceptance of diversity could not be used as an excuse to overlook asymmetries and injustices between groups; mutual respect and tolerance were prerequisites for peaceful coexistence; mutual respect must be developed within a democratic framework that protected minorities; and even democratic institutions were ineffective if they were not premised on mutual respect and shared basic values.

    He said the initiative for an Alliance of Civilizations had come at the right moment, when the clashes of cultures were escalating, and it would be able to build on the work of the Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations.  Switzerland had undertaken a number of initiatives aimed at international cooperation in areas of common concern between those with significant ideological or religious differences.  Through that work, it had learned that progress could only be made with ongoing confidence-building from concrete acts, and that discussions of values alone did not strengthen confidence.  Switzerland offered to share its experiences with the High-Level Group the Secretary General had established within the Alliance of Civilizations.

    ERSIN ERÇIN (Turkey) said the nature and scope of challenges to peace, security, and world progress created the need for a genuine dialogue among different cultures ever more essential.  Recent events had reinforced that notion and placed it high on the international agenda.  Globalization was increasingly compelling societies to become more interdependent.  Mutual understanding and dialogue across cultures and civilizations should be among the fundamental elements in those interactions.

    He said Turkey consistently tried to build a culture of reconciliation and compromise in its own region and beyond.  Given her historical and cultural ties to a wide geographical area, Turkey was a natural partner with Spain to advance the "Alliance of Civilizations".  The Alliance aimed to bridge divides and overcome prejudices, misconceptions and polarization, which had been exploited and exacerbated by extremists in all societies. 

    He recalled that the Secretary-General had officially launched the Alliance in July, and since then had announced the establishment of the High-Level Group, which would produce a report with recommendations and a practical plan of action in late 2006.  A trust fund had been established within the United Nations to start work through the initiative, to which Spain and Turkey had already made major contributions.  The Alliance was a genuine effort to prove that the peoples of the world were not divided along cultural or religious lines, but bound by universal values. 

    O. ENKHTSETSEG (Mongolia) said that today's world was increasingly interdependent and rapidly changing.  Peoples, religions, cultures and civilizations were engaged in an unprecedented level of interaction and interchange of values.  That openness and perceived defencelessness in the face of change created a natural reaction of rejection, distrust or even fear, which led to attempts to define and protect one's identity through exclusion and separation.  Yet the course of human history showed that interaction and preservation of one's identity were not mutually exclusive.  Diversity was not a threat, but a strength, and the breakthrough in information technology provided a unique opportunity to promote it on a global scale. 

    She said that civilizations did not have clear-cut boundaries, but smoothly flowed one into the other, and were greatly diversified within themselves.

    An example of that was the great nomadic civilization of the Eurasian steppe, of which Mongolia was a part.  That distinct form of civilization had played an important role in the development of extensive trade networks and, for thousands of years, served as a bridge between civilizations.  The role and contribution of nomadic civilizations still remained largely underappreciated and unrecognised, and the rapid advance of globalization posed challenges to the preservation of their centuries-old traditions. 

    She said that Mongolia's 800th anniversary of statehood next year provided an opportunity to trigger renewed interest in nomadic civilizations and to preserve and develop their traditions.  A host of activities, both within the country and internationally, was planned to celebrate their heritage.  Mongolia also intended to introduce a draft resolution entitled "800 Years of Mongolian Statehood" under agenda item 42 -- Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations -- to promote understanding and recognition of nomadic civilizations by the international community.

    NASSIR ABDULAZIZ AL-NASSER (Qatar) said that peace was more than the absence of war; it was a process, a way of solving problems, and did not rest in charters, declarations or covenants, but lay in the hearts and minds of all people.  Indeed, with today's international tensions, converging currents of globalization and increasing discussion about the clash of civilizations, peace was humanity's most precious common possession.  In that spirit, Qatar had been dedicated to the promotion of a culture of peace and dialogue among civilizations, and had continuously advocated deeper understanding between countries and societies.

    Those principles were actively promoted by Qatar's Emir, whose vision had led to several successful initiatives aimed at opening dialogue between the Muslim and Western worlds.  Qatar also devoted considerable energy to promoting the culture of peace through hosting dialogues and facilitating the interaction and exchange of values and attitudes aimed at making the world a better place.

    He said that in the next half of the International Decade for the Culture of Peace, it was incumbent upon all Governments, the United Nations system and civil society, including religious institutions, to achieve understanding among civilizations, premised on the respect for all religions and cultural diversity to bridge the widest of divides.  Further, the international community had a moral responsibility to promote peace and tranquillity.  The nations of the world must continue to promote dialogue in all domains that addressed critical issues of peace, development and security, and that underlined common principles and shared goals.

    WANG GUANGYA (China) said that global diversity and differences among civilizations should not be the source of conflict in the world.  Instead, they should be the launching pad for international exchanges and cooperation.  The expansion of economic globalization had made economic and social problems even more complicated.  It was therefore necessary for countries to act in the spirit of openness and equality, acknowledging diversity, settling international and regional disputes through peaceful means, and jointly building a world of harmony between all civilizations.  Since the September 11th attacks, counter-terrorism had become the focus of attention of the international community.  In fighting terrorism, care should be taken not to associate it with certain civilizations and religions. 

    He said that China, with its 5,000-year history, was a "crystallization" of the long-term exchange and blending among many Chinese and foreign cultures.  Diversity, tolerance and harmony were important features of the Chinese culture.  In recent years, China had actively responded to United Nations initiatives, hosted international meetings and conducted wide-ranging cultural exchanges.  Those efforts had increased understanding between China and other countries and played a vigorous role in promoting economic and social development.  China would continue to make such joint efforts for human progress, world peace and development.

    ISIKIA R. SAVUA (Fiji) said it was time to take stock of how much had been achieved with regard to the targets that were established with much hope and aspiration over five years ago.  Events such as the destruction of the Twin Towers, the war in Iraq, the fighting in Afghanistan, the famine in Somalia, and the ethnic problems in Sudan seemed to suggest that the efforts of the United Nations were insufficient.  But the United Nations had many issues on its agenda that it could be judged for, and many branches of the Organization had actively pursued the realization of particular issues.

    Citing the great work of some of the Organization's branches, he commended the International Labour Organization, which had contributed to a culture of peace and non-violence through the prevention and rehabilitation of children affected by war.  The Word Health Organization had for the last 10 years devoted substantial attention to violence as a major public health problem, and had set out a prevention strategy and made recommendations for the prevention of violence.

    In addition, UNESCO had launched the Education For All initiative, which empowered rural people to become full actors in society and made them less likely to become involved in conflicts.

    FREDERICO DUQUE ESTRADA MEYER (Brazil) said the International Decade generated a deep interest in his country.  Over 97 civil society actors from universities, schools, non-governmental organizations and the private sector were involved in 13 projects linked directly to the culture of peace.  Over 15 million Brazilians had signed onto the programme, which included a mechanism adopted by seven states calling for schools to be made available on weekends for cultural exchange activities in the fields of sports, arts, culture and leisure.

    Continuing, he said the Brazilian National Human Rights Education Programme provided a strong framework for promoting an educational regime that was in line with the culture of peace principles.  It provided a framework for promoting a culture of respect, of participation in society by all entities and of protections to be instituted in the legal and justice systems.  The programme was based on the belief that persistent violations of rights would only be changed by raising generations of citizens who were enabled to contribute to the strengthening of the rule of law and culture of peace; who were conscious of their rights and the means to protect those rights; and who were engrained with a respect for plurality and diversity at all levels.

    Finally, he said Brazil had a programme entitled "Brazil without Homophobia", which outlined actions to strengthen public and non-governmental institutions for combating homophobia; capacity-building for professionals involved in promoting the rights of homosexuals; disseminating information of rights and promoting homosexual self-esteem; and stimulating complaints on violations of rights.

    SAMIR SHAKIR MAHMOOD SUMAIDA'IE (Iraq) said critical economic, social and cultural changes were occurring rapidly as a result of the unprecedented developments in communication.  That would lead to co-existence in all aspects of life, which meant that a genuine dialogue on the culture of peace was needed.  There was a trend of arrogant mindsets trying to impose their cultures by marginalizing others.  That was opposed by another trend, which rejected that approach.  Unfortunately, there had been a turning inward and looking back to the past, which would lead to conflict between civilizations.  God willing, that was only a temporary trend. 

    He called on the United Nations, all countries and civil society organizations to take part in activities that promoted dialogue between cultures, which was not just a philosophical concept but a realistic one that had been widely accepted by different populations.  No country, regardless of its power, could be sheltered from other countries because all were now intertwined.  All civilizations should reject negative practices in their quest for development and progress, and end any sense of supremacy and pre-eminence. 

    "We must all accept each other regardless of religious beliefs, lifestyles or cultures", he said.  Religions should not be a pretext for marginalizing and excluding others.  Hotspots of tension could be created where extremism existed.  The United Nations played a lead role in dialogue between civilizations.

    He especially thanked UNESCO and expressed hope that its midterm plan for 2007 would be successful.

    STAFFORD NEIL (Jamaica) said the global environment was one of diversity in culture, religion, political systems and economic conditions.  The deepening process of exchange between nations and cultures had been brought on largely by rapid advancement in information technology, ushered in by the phenomenon of globalization.  But often, one of the dangers of the rapid spread of information, ideals and cultures was the tendency towards homogenization and the imposition of the cultural norms of the strong and powerful over the small and weak.  Such dangers could be avoided by cultivating values, which promoted tolerance and respect for pluralism.  All peoples had the right to live their lives in accordance with the principle of self-determination and the preservation of their cultural heritage, he said.

    Various sectors had significant roles to play in promoting the culture of tolerance and peace, he said, highlighting the work that should be undertaken by: national institutions in promoting peaceful relations and conflict avoidance; civil society, particularly peace movements, in helping build national or international coalitions; national and international media outlets, particularly towards reducing the level of violence in their content; and the United Nations system, particularly UNESCO.

    He added that the Department of Public Information could give greater publicity to the International Decade's Programme of Action, and that more effort should be made to incorporate networks of non-governmental organizations to generate greater awareness.  Finally, he expressed some of his delegation's reservations to some of the ideas outlined in the Secretary-General's report, including the suggestion that the dialogue among civilizations was a response to terrorism.  Noting his doubts about such an analysis, he said it was perhaps preferable to give emphasis to the growing interdependence within the global community.  As that process expanded, with more and more diverse cultures coming into contact with one another, it became more important to eliminate intolerance, extremism, enmity, polarization and conflict.  The understanding and appreciation of the richness of diversity and the positive dimensions of all civilizations should be promoted in all societies, he added.

    KHUNYING LAXANACHANTORN LAOHAPHAN (Thailand) said that, given the prevailing state of violence in the world, more initiatives for peacebuilding were needed, and each individual, each family, each community must serve as a building block for global peace.  "On a global scale, we are living in daily risks of terrorist attacks. On a smaller scale, we are living in communities prone to conflicts." 

    Saying that greed was a main factor undermining peace, she noted that greed presented itself in the form of competition for and exploitation of wealth and resources, which had led to conflicts all over the world.  In Africa, competition for natural resources was one of the main factors for conflicts.  Unjust economic competition and business rivals in all of their sophisticated forms could also be a breeding ground for mistrust and conflict among nations.  Respecting the environment was also essential to ensure sustainable peace.  Living without sufficient care for the environment would leave the world in a perilous situation.  The many natural disasters experienced as of late were weary signs of the natural risks faced.

    Focusing on the messages from leaders at the 2005 World Summit, she said that the linkages between development, peace and security and human rights were not simply a political message to remain on high ground, but a working philosophy that needed to be put into practice.  There was a need to reflect on those critical linkages in order to promote the culture of peace and the Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations, she added.

    CESAR EDGARDO MARTINEZ (El Salvador) said that peace was not only the absence of conflict.  It also implied the conscious effort of creation and empowerment in the minds of human beings.  The concept of a culture of peace was linked to dialogue and alliance among civilizations.  All cultures and civilizations stood on an equal footing.  Dialogue should be based on shared principles, including tolerance, diversity, and non-violence, among others.

    The United Nations was founded on the concept of building peace.  It now faced a twenty-first century challenge to expand collective security and provide a context for what that meant.

    He said that new information technologies, greater levels of regional integration, and dynamic flows of international and national migration allowed people from all over the world to get to know each other and exchange ideas, knowledge and values.  The right to peace was one of the fundamental pillars of human rights.  Education also had a key role to play in building and consolidating the culture of peace.  He welcomed the efforts of the Organization, and especially those of UNESCO, in the areas of human rights, linguistic diversity and technology.  El Salvador was committed to consolidating the culture of peace.

    ABDERRAZZAK LAASSEL (Morocco) said that dialogue among religions and dialogue among civilizations were very closely linked, and both served to promote understanding and peace.  Achieving mutual understanding was key to achieving peaceful coexistence between countries.  Morocco especially endorsed the efforts of UNESCO to promote such dialogue, and encouraged all countries to ally themselves with and get involved in UNESCO's initiatives.

    Terrorism was a grave concern, requiring efforts to understand diverse cultures and religions and to get at the reasons for the rise of terrorism.  Festivals, religious conferences, sports events and other occasions which brought diverse peoples together in recent years had demonstrated that dialogue was a key factor in ensuring peace.  Needed in any dialogue was adherence to the principles of acceptance of cultural diversity and tolerance. 

    The legal tools for ensuring cultural diversity had just been strengthened by UNESCO's adoption today of new rules in that regard, he said.  The media too could help to create a culture of peace by presenting religions as instruments of peace.  He welcomed the creation of a working group to mitigate problems of understanding between different cultures and religions.  In that regard, he particularly welcomed a project called "Roads of Faith" that involved looking at the three major religions and examining their scriptures.  Morocco, because of its geographical location, had been at a crossroads of religions and culture, and had, therefore, played a natural role in promoting religious and cultural dialogue.  The new information technologies played a key role in spreading understanding of diverse cultures, and Morocco had contributed to efforts to take advantage of that new capability.

    HARI KUMAR SHRESTHA (Nepal) strongly called for the International Decade on the Culture of Peace to develop a more targeted and focused direction of efforts into activities for children, particularly in countries seriously affected by conflict.  He said the translation of reaffirmations and commitments into reality would make a true difference in advancing peace and harmony to promote greater understanding and cooperation.  Interfaith dialogue and interface among civilizations were core human values promoted by tripartite actions on the parts of Governments, the United Nations system and civil society.

    Noting that Nepal was the birthplace of Buddha -- an apostle of peace and harmony, he said the teachings of peace, compassion, non-violence and tolerance were more pertinent than ever in today's turbulent world.  The messages of peace and harmony resonated in every culture, civilization and faith.   They were the guiding principles of the United Nations.  He was encouraged by the international community's renewed commitment, at a meeting in September, to developing the Buddha's birthplace, Lumbini, into a city of world peace.

    YERZHAN KAZYKHANOV (Kazakhstan) said that, at the mid-point of the Decade, it was time for more advanced and coordinated actions to ensure that the agreed goals towards a culture of peace and non-violence were reached.  Priority should be given to education, including to teaching peace and non-violence to young children.  Also, families, the media, as well as other social or educational institutions, should step up their initiatives over the next five years.

    Tolerance was one of the keys to international relations in the twenty-first century, he said, adding further that interfaith dialogue was integral to efforts to promote a culture of peace and dialogue among civilizations.  As for the United Nations, he said one of the Organization's basic principles was promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction to race, sex, language or religion.  To that end, Kazakhstan welcomed the Organization's efforts towards the development of an interreligious dialogue for peace, particularly the adoption in recent years by the Assembly of a number of important resolutions on the matter, as well as those aimed at ending religious intolerance.

    For its part, Kazakhstan was convinced that efforts to strengthen peace and security and ensure prosperity increasingly depended on the pursuit of dialogue and interaction among peoples and nations.  Practical steps to strengthen cooperation among religions were needed in order to promote understanding and counter intolerance and stereotypical attitudes.  Therefore, his country had spearheaded the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, which had been held in Astana in September 2003.  The Congress had succeeded in institutionalising the interreligious dialogue process by establishing its permanent secretariat.  He informed the Assembly that the second Congress was already set for next year and would focus on matters concerning religions, society and international security.

    JUAN ANTONIO YANEZ-BARNUEVO (Spain) said UNESCO had played an important role as a catalyst for promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue.  Spain supported many initiatives and the overall goal of overcoming prejudice and misunderstandings that might imperil world peace.  The World Summit's Outcome Document referred to the Alliance of Civilizations initiative, which was not intended to substitute or sideline any other efforts.  The concept presented by the Secretary-General, and supported by Spain and Turkey, was based on the desire to learn from past efforts.  Its goal was not only to tackle problems between the West and Islamic cultures but between all cultures. 

    As the Secretary-General's report said, it was most important to foster collaboration between all those who did not believe in resorting to violence or inciting racial hatred, he said.  It was clear that the Alliance of Civilizations was the best vehicle for achieving those ends.  It should receive even greater support than it already had from States.  Spain supported Iran's proposal for interreligious dialogue and was co-sponsoring that initiative.  At a conference in Spain in November, it was hoped that steps would be taken to overcome the atmosphere of fear which fuelled enmity.  To prevent such an atmosphere, educational and cultural activities were needed, particularly among young people.

    ABDUL WAHAB, Observer of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, said the process of globalization had the potential to promote understanding, peaceful coexistence and cooperation among various nations and civilizations, but it also had the potential to provoke misunderstanding among them.  The dissemination of misinformation through the media and education systems led to the emergence of ideological deviation, which could harm the interests of humankind.

    The frequent association of Islam with terrorism was a sacrilege and was highly dangerous, he said.  The utmost care should be exercised not to create a perception that might lead to enmity based on religious grounds among millions of people.  Media institutions should be encouraged to play their role in spreading a culture of dialogue and tolerance based on the recognition of cultural pluralism.  A culture of dialogue and mutual understanding should be adopted in school curricula and textbooks.  The textbooks must be cleaned of material that could trigger hatred.  The exchange of media materials was imperative to encourage familiarization with different cultures, the learning of languages, and to break cultural barriers.

    Action on Drafts

    The Assembly adopted, without a vote, the text on the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World, 2001-2010 (document A/60/L.5), as well as the text on a Global Agenda for a Dialogue Among Civilizations (document A/60/L.6), both as orally advised.

    Speaking in explanation of vote, the representative of Venezuela said her delegation supported the content of the text on the Decade and was indeed teaching principles of non-violence, tolerance and cultural diversity to children throughout the country.  However, Venezuela did have reservations on several paragraphs included in the draft because they made reference to the Outcome Document of the Assembly's 2005 World Summit.  Venezuela interpreted that document as a "working draft", which did not generate any obligations for her country because of the way it had been negotiated.  

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