Press Releases

14 November 2005

Secretary-General Calls for Active Effort to Learn about Each Other, In Message to Mark International Day of Tolerance

Passive Acceptance of Others' Peculiarities Not Enough, He Stresses

NEW YORK, 11 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's message on the International Day of Tolerance, to be observed on 16 November:

Diversity has forever characterized the human condition.  Yet, mankind's acceptance of it has been painfully lacking.  This intolerance of the "other" remains a source of great and everyday human suffering.

That is why fighting intolerance in all its forms has been fundamental to the work of the United Nations for 60 years.  The need for tolerance is greater today than at any time in the United Nations' past.  In a world of intense economic competition, shifting populations and shrinking distances, the pressures of living together with people of different cultures and different beliefs from one's own are very real.  The resultant backlash is evident in the rise of xenophobia and extremism across the globe.  It demands our strongest response.

Building a culture of tolerance is an important start.  Such a culture must necessarily be based on increased legal protection and education.  But individual initiative must also play a part.  Tolerance cannot simply mean passive acceptance of other peoples' perceived peculiarities.  It must involve an active effort by all of us to learn more about each other, to understand the wellsprings of each other's differences, to discover what is best in each other's beliefs and traditions.  Only through such a process of discovery can we come to realize that what binds us as human beings is far stronger than what divides us men.

If we hope to achieve peace in our young century, we must start respecting each other today -- as individuals who each have the right to define our own identity, and belong to the faith or culture of our choice; as individuals who know that we can cherish what we are, without hating what we are not.

In the Outcome Document of the recent United Nations World Summit, all the world's Governments tell us:  "We recognize that all cultures and civilizations contribute to the enrichment of humankind.  We acknowledge the importance of respect for religious and cultural diversity throughout the world.  In order to promote international peace and security, we commit ourselves to ... encouraging tolerance, respect, dialogue and cooperation among different cultures, civilizations and peoples."

On this International Day of Tolerance, let us pledge to translate those words into reality; to celebrate our diversity and learn from our differences; to make use of them in strengthening the bonds of our common humanity.

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