13 April 2006

Organization of the Islamic Conference Has "Key Role to Play" in Addressing Challenges in Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan, Says Secretary-General

NEW YORK, 12 April (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of the message by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the Conference of the Parliamentary Union of the member States of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Istanbul, delivered today by Mohamed Sahnoun, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Africa:

I am pleased to convey my greetings to the fourth conference of the Parliamentary Union of the Organization of Islamic Conference member States.  Your gathering comes at an important time for OIC members and for the wider international community.

I know you share my concern about the lack of mutual understanding that plagues so much the world today, in particular between Islamic and Western societies.  Your anguish over the publication of insulting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed is clear and understandable.  I am glad that our respective organizations joined together to call for calm, and to support the UN's Alliance of Civilizations initiative that aims to counter extremism.  Indeed, at heart, this crisis reflects a trend towards extremism in our societies.  To counter it, we must all speak up for freedom of worship and for freedom of speech.  We must stress that rights carry with them an inherent responsibility, and should not be used to degrade, humiliate or insult any group or individual.  Indeed, we must exercise great sensitivity when dealing with symbols and traditions that are sacred to other people.  And, we must agree on the need for a sustained dialogue on these issues between people of different beliefs and traditions.

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is another of our common concerns.  Recently, the Palestinian people elected new representatives, and the United Nations respects their democratic choice.  The United Nations hopes that Hamas will move toward acceptance of the three principles laid out by the Quartet: non-violence, recognition of Israel's right to exist and acceptance of previous agreements, including the Road Map.  These principles are consistent with the relevant Security Council resolutions and the Arab Peace Plan.  The United Nations believes that acceptance of these principles will help the Palestinian people achieve their legitimate goal of an end to occupation and the creation of an independent and viable State, living in peace and security with its neighbours.  At the same time, Israel has an obligation to take meaningful steps to alleviate Palestinian suffering.  It must end blockades, stop house demolitions, end extrajudicial killings, curtail arbitrary arrests and halt all settlement activities.  At this difficult juncture, the international community, including the OIC, must guide the two sides towards negotiations and compromise.

In Iraq, despite pockets of progress, the situation remains unstable.  Recent violence, especially the bombing of the Shrine in Samarra, underlines a real and growing sectarian threat. The formation of an inclusive and representative Government could promote trust and lead to national reconciliation, and, therefore, remains imperative.  I continue to urge all international entities in Iraq to actively promote the formation of a broad based Iraqi Government.  The United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq is continuing to do its part.

Afghanistan also continues along the path of a difficult political transition.  Last December saw the culmination of the Bonn Process and the inauguration of a representative National Assembly.  As a result, Afghanistan has all the basic structures necessary to support a viable democratic State.  Yet, the country faces enormous challenges, including security concerns, governance failures, insufficient progress on social and economic fronts, and a growing narcotics industry.  The United Nations and concerned Member States continue to work closely with the Afghan Government to address these challenges, including through the recently launched Afghan Compact, an ambitious five-year peacebuilding agenda.  The success of this Compact will ultimately rest upon the decisions of the Afghan Government, but consistent and sustained international support is vital.

The OIC, as the leading multilateral Islamic organization, has a key role to play in addressing these and other challenges.  I deeply appreciate the contributions the OIC has made under Malaysia's leadership, and look forward to working with you.  Please accept my best wishes for a successful conference.

* *** *