Press Releases

    DSG/SM/173
    28 October 2002

    DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS RECOGNITION
    OF CULTURAL DIVERSITY ESSENTIAL IN EFFORTS
    TO TACKLE GLOBAL PROBLEMS

    Address to Summit Meeting of "La Francophonie"

    NEW YORK, 24 October (UN Headquarters) -- This is the text (translated from the French) of an address by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette to the ninth summit of la Francophonie in Beirut, Lebanon, on 18 October:

    Permit me, first of all, to express my appreciation to you, Mr. President [Emile Lahoud], and to the Government and people of Lebanon for the warm welcome that has been extended to us.

    The theme of this Summit, "Dialogue of Cultures", has special resonance in Lebanon. Indeed, our host is the perfect embodiment of the rich cultural diversity and continuous dialogue that communities with their own traditions and particular characteristics require in order to live together. Despite the setbacks it has experienced, Lebanon has managed to preserve an identity that is at once individual and plural.

    The United Nations itself was born out of the conviction that dialogue can triumph over discord, that diversity is an asset, and that the peoples of the world are much more united by their destiny than separated by their identities.

    Within the framework of the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations, the General Assembly last December adopted a Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations. Article 1 of this Agenda states that this dialogue is founded on "a collective desire to learn, uncover and examine assumptions, unfold shared meaning and core values and integrate multiple perspectives through dialogue".

    Why is dialogue between civilizations and between cultures important?

    Firstly, it is an appropriate and necessary response to the idea that is increasingly being put forward of an inevitable clash of civilizations. To embrace this idea would be to fall into the trap of those who seek to set people against each other by exaggerating their religious and cultural differences and instilling fear into them. Another scenario for the future is possible: a global community that is respectful of diversity and committed to universal values. The Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights offer a common store of values and principles that are recognized by all.

    Secondly, through dialogue we can find common ground from which to address the growing number of problems that require global solutions. No country, however powerful, can resolve on its own and relying exclusively on its own resources the problems of environmental abuse, the AIDS epidemic, terrorism or transnational crime. However, if we pool our resources, a great deal can be accomplished.

    Thirdly, dialogue can help us to better understand the causes of conflicts and to pave the way to peace. Too often, the grievances that are the root causes of conflict are overshadowed by a discourse that distorts and abuses history in order to exacerbate divisions and antagonisms between communities. Of course, words alone are not enough to resolve the often difficult and very real problems that are the root causes of conflict, but a genuine dialogue, supported by reciprocal measures that are based on recognition of the grievances and concerns of each party, can help the protagonists to achieve peace.

    Thus, it is clear that the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians will not be resolved by military force, or by recourse to any type of violent means. There is need for a political settlement negotiated between the two peoples as equals; a settlement under which two States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side, within secure and recognized borders. But how many hundreds or thousands of persons will have to die, how much suffering and pain must the populations yet endure before the leaders of the two sides have the necessary clear-sightedness and courage to accept the inevitable? All those who have the ability to influence the parties must enjoin them to accept this view of the situation and to act accordingly, so that the two peoples might at last enjoy peace and security, within the framework of a just, lasting and comprehensive settlement of the Middle East conflict -- including between Israel and Lebanon, and between Israel and Syria -- based on Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) and on the principle of land for peace. In this connection, the initiative approved at the Arab League Summit, held in Beirut last March, remains extremely important.

    Throughout the history of mankind, cultures and civilizations have become interwoven and have been enriched through contact with each other. The fact is that few of us today can claim to be from a single civilization. On the contrary, we acknowledge as never before, that we are the products of many different cultures and influences; that our strength lies in knowing how to reconcile what is familiar with what is foreign; and that an exclusive civilization, one that turns inward on itself, is doomed to failure.

    I would be the last to suggest that we cannot be justly proud of our particular faith or heritage. We can and we should be, but without hating what we are not.

    The first principle upon which the dialogue that we seek must be founded is respect for the equal dignity of all cultures and all civilizations.

    We must recognize that cultural diversity is a source of vitality and richness, which we have a duty to preserve. In this connection, the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, which was adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) last November, marks a significant step towards the recognition of the right to cultural diversity and its inclusion in the debate on globalization, trade and global governance.

    It is also important to recognize that each of us has a role to play in an interdependent world and that we must be able to make our voices heard.

    And, since there is no greater impediment to dialogue than injustice, we need more equity and justice, more solidarity between human beings.

    At the United Nations Millennium Summit, held in September 2000, heads of State and government adopted an ambitious Declaration that clearly set out their priorities for the twenty-first century and their determination to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity throughout the world. In order to translate these values and principles into action, they identified a set of objectives aimed at freeing mankind from need and fear and at protecting our planet. Greater justice means, first of all, working to reduce by half, by the year 2015 -- as they have pledged to do -- the proportion of the world’s population that lives in poverty, and achieving the goals that have been set in the fields of, inter alia, education, reduction of maternal and child mortality, and the fight against hunger and HIV/AIDS.

    Like the United Nations, la Francophonie is helping by its actions to build bridges between peoples and to promote dialogue among cultures and civilizations. It brings together a wide range of societies and peoples of very diverse origins, traditions and beliefs and it preaches a powerful message of openness, tolerance, solidarity and respect for one another. The United Nations notes with satisfaction its close cooperation with the International Organization of la Francophonie in a wide range of areas of mutual interest, from the electoral support which our two organizations have provided to a number of francophone countries over the past few years to consultations and joint initiatives for peace, security and development in francophone countries.

    I wish to conclude by congratulating your Secretary-General, Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who, drawing upon his long experience in international affairs, including as Secretary-General of the United Nations, has led the International Organization of la Francophonie over the past five years with dynamism, creativity and wisdom.

    I wish you a fruitful discussion and thank you for your attention.

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