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  • 9/24/2005

Day of Dialogue among Civilizations

21 September

In 1998, the General Assembly unanimously declared the year 2001 as the“United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations”. The concept of a dialogue among civilizations was introduced byPresident Seyed Mohammad Khatami of Iran, and aims to increase mutual understanding between cultures through an active exchange of ideas, aspirations and visions for the future.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) played a large role in promoting the dialogue by disseminating information and furthering education on the subject, organizing conferences, seminars, round-table discussions and arranging literary events attended by such notable figures as Yusef Komunyakaa and Joyce Carol Oates. A book, Crossing the Divide, which calls dialogue among civilizations “a soft tool of diplomacy”, is the result of a collaboration between a group of eminent persons appointed by Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Giandomenico Picco, the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for the Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations.

The concept of dialogue took on greater importance in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September. Less than two months after the tragic event, the General Assembly held a two-day debate on the Year of Dialogue, which drew 56 speakers including three heads of State and Government and ten foreign ministers.

Delegates from several countries took the floor to denounce the attacks as counter to the universal values of tolerance, liberal and inclusive democracy, and the rule of law. Others urged the United Nations to conduct the dialogue with the purpose of removing the negative impact of cold-war mentality from international relations and promoting the principles of equality and democracy in its place.President Khatami stressed that all cultures, civilizations and faiths were bound to cohabit the same world by the “inviolable verdict of technology”. It was, therefore, imperative to foster empathy among the world’s cultures. “Having compassion for others should not coerce them to assimilate within us, or to succumb to our values. Compassion should come unconditionally”, he said.

Wolfgang Schüssel, Federal Chancellor of Austria, said that dialogue should “aim for the children, our future. They all... need to be taught the merits of mutual respect and solidarity.” In this way, he said, they would grow up with an appreciation for diversity.

Alfonso Valdivieso, Permanent Representative of Colombia, emphasized the need for cooperation in promoting dialogue: “We must shoulder the responsibility of sowing the seeds of dialogue to harvest respect for human rights.” He added that the international community needed to overcome intolerance so that “we can move forward together towards a culture where harmony between nations, respect for diversity and solidarity will prevail”.

Zlatko Lagumdzija, Prime Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that terrorists had misused religion and ethnic identity to widen the gap between Balkan cultures. “Dialogue should not only be in words but in deeds, through five dimensions of the new era: education, ecumenism, environmental responsibility, economy and electronic media”, he said.

Concluding the debate, the General Assembly adopted without a vote the resolution on“Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations”, which included objectives, principles and participants of the agenda, and a Program of Action. According to the Program, the dialogue is a process between and within civilizations, founded on inclusion and a collective desire to learn, discover shared values and beliefs, and integrate multiple perspectives through dialogue. There is a method to attaining these goals, including equity, equality, justice, tolerance and inclusion in human interactions; promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms; and development of a better understanding of common ethical standards.

Member States, the United Nations system, other international and regional organizations and civil society can themselves promote dialogue among civilizations in many ways. They can organize and sponsor cultural events such as art exhibits and poetry readings, conferences and symposiums to enhance mutual understanding, and sporting events that will bring together athletes and spectators from various parts of the world. In this way, they will encourage and facilitate interaction and exchange among all individuals from various societies and civilizations. The Secretary-General has established a trust fund for the purpose of promoting the dialogue, to which all Member States, funding institutions, civil society organizations and the private sector are invited to contribute.

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