The General Assembly today convened its first-ever high-level dialogue on interreligious and intercultural understanding in a move the 192-member body’s president termed a step forward for advancing the values enshrined in the United Nations Charter.
“By convening this event, the General Assembly has taken an important stand,” Srgjan Kerim told participants. “We are reaffirming the values enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But more importantly, we are taking concrete steps to advance these values around the world.”
The Assembly President, who convened the two-day session, called for a sustained international effort to address the issue through exchanges of information. “We must begin a global dialogue, using public campaigns and all forms of media, to spread greater awareness of the issues,” he declared.
“Governments can play an additional role by adopting educational curricula that instil values of peace and tolerance,” he added, pointing out that children are not born with prejudice.
In order to “eliminate all distorted notions that deepen barriers and widen divides,” he called for a “multi-faceted dialogue that promotes unity in diversity, and replaces misunderstanding with mutual understanding and acceptance.”
The active involvement of the media, private sector, civil society, faith groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will be crucial to this effort, he said. “Their insights and outreach will be instrumental in helping to achieve our goal.”
Toward that end, he welcomed an informal interactive hearing planned for the afternoon aimed at fostering an exchange of views among Member States and civil society and the private sector. Among those slated to participate are leading academics, religious leaders and other civil society representatives.
Also addressing the event today, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed the need to promote the idea that differences among peoples, far from being a threat, are what enrich humanity as a whole.
“It is time to explain that different religions, belief systems and cultural backgrounds are essential to the richness of the human experience,” Mr. Ban said. “And it is time to stress that our common humanity is greater – far greater – than our outward differences.”
Mr. Ban said that the different people he has met in his travels during his first nine months in office all share one common emotion – “a universal longing for peace, and an aspiration of prosperity.”
Mr. Ban noted that today’s gathering comes at a particularly auspicious time, as Jews mark the celebration of the Torah and Muslims approach the end of the holy month of Ramadan. “Such occasions remind us that men and women of faith around the world can be brought together, rather than separated, by their convictions and their belief in something greater than themselves.”
He also pointed out that in today’s era of global travel and instant satellite transmissions, people everywhere are encountering “less of the familiar, and more of ‘the other,’” leading to increased tensions among cultures and religions.
In light of that trend, Mr. Ban emphasized that “it is time – indeed, it is past time – for a constructive and committed dialogue; a dialogue amongst individuals, amongst communities, and between nations.”