31 January 2006

Dialogue Based on Diversity Is "Precious Gift, Not a Threat", Secretary-General Tells Tunis Symposium on Human Civilizations and Cultures

NEW YORK, 30 January (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Symposium on "Human Civilizations and Cultures:  from Dialogue to Alliance", Tunis, 30 January-1 February, delivered by Jean-Michel Delmotte, United Nations Deputy Resident Coordinator, a.i. in Tunisia:

I am delighted to convey my warm wishes to all participants in this international symposium on human civilizations and cultures.

You meet at a time of sharply increasing intolerance, extremism and violence.  Trends of recent years have strained relations between East and West.  They have notably corroded perceptions between Islamic and Western peoples.  If unaddressed, these may even threaten stability in our world.

That is why meetings such as yours are so important.  You can help unlearn our collective prejudices, and promote a continuing dialogue among human societies:  a dialogue based on the premise that diversity -- in thought, in belief, and in action -- is a precious gift, not a threat.  We must educate ourselves and our societies to go beyond stereotypes of the other, and to avoid simplistic categorizations that exacerbate misunderstandings and prevent real problems from being tackled.

The United Nations has always seen such dialogue as an important building block for peace.  As the Outcome Document of last September's World Summit has put it, "we recognize that all cultures and civilizations contribute to the enrichment of humankind.  We acknowledge the importance of respect and understanding for religious and cultural diversity throughout the world.  In order to promote international peace and security, we commit ourselves to advancing human welfare, freedom and progress everywhere, as well as to encouraging tolerance, respect, dialogue and cooperation among different cultures, civilizations and peoples".

These basic principles must guide your efforts to foster dialogue in a cacophonous era.  Together, we must resolve to build a world in which no nation, and no community, will be condemned collectively for the crimes of some of its members; a world in which no religion will be demonized for the aberrations of some of its adherents; a world in which there will be no "clash of civilizations", because people will strive to discover the best in each other's traditions and cultures, and to learn from it.

It is in this spirit that I wish you a most productive symposium.

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