Dialogue among Civilisations, Statement by Foreign Minister Tuomioja

Dialogue among Civilisations,
discussion in connection with the UN General Assembly
November 11, 2001

Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the outset, I would like to fully associate myself with the statement made by H.E. Mr. Louis Michel, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belgium on behalf of the European Union and in addition I wish to make the following remarks.

Dialogue among civilizations is crucial for the enhancement of tolerance, mutual understanding and respect. Manifestations of intolerance rise from the fear of the unknown, which at worst leads to conflicts and attacks against individuals. Open dialogue among individuals, peoples and cultures helps us bring down barriers where they exist, or seem to exist.

For example, terrorist acts should not be linked to any particular religion or civilization. We know all too well from history up to the very present that fanaticism, allied to any ideology or religion, can lead to blind hatred and violence. It is this kind of fanaticism and intolerance which is our common enemy.

As the Secretary-General has often emphasized, civilizations or cultures are not constant or immutable facts of history - they are always changing, growing, developing and adapting themselves to new times and new realities through interaction with each other. This interaction has created multiethnic and multicultural societies, rich and diverse in their heritage. Strict dichotomies between different cultures and civilizations are therefore unfounded, as is the over-simplified theory of clashes of civilizations.

A starting point in a dialogue among civilizations is the acknowledgement that the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family are the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Universal Declaration, together with the wide range of existing instruments adopted in the UN system concerning tolerance, human rights, cultural cooperation, science and education constitute a solid normative basis for the dialogue among civilizations.

Mr. President,

The respect for human rights does not mean that differences between cultures would vanish. On the contrary, respect for diversity and the right to enjoy one's own culture are central elements of global ethics. The right of minorities and indigenous peoples to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion and to use their mother tongue, has to be secured. We need systematic awareness raising efforts regarding the history and the contributions of different minorities, indigenous peoples and other ethnic groups to the development of our contemporary societies. In this context, it is equally important that minorities themselves respect human rights including human rights of women and girls.

It is our responsibility as Governments to ensure that dialogue is fully inclusive. Every individual, regardless of his or her status, must be able to participate in the dialogue. In this respect, I would particularly like to emphasize the importance of full and equal participation of women in all decision-making.

Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are necessary prerequisites for a true dialogue among civilizations. The media has an indispensable and instrumental role in the promotion of a dialogue. It is important that we ensure the independence of media so that it can effectively fulfil this task.

Mr President,

The Secretary-General of the United Nations has strongly advocated the culture of prevention. His report on prevention of armed conflict was an important contribution to this effect. One way of prevention is to increase knowledge and understanding within and between different cultures through an open dialogue.
Training and education are essential in this respect, in particular human rights education. Education generates mutual respect, peaceful contacts and cooperation among people who belong to different religions, cultures or civilisations. I welcome the emphasis given to education in the draft global agenda for dialogue among civilizations.

Mr. President,

The Durban Conference against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance was a landmark in the global efforts to combat all forms of discrimination. We need to establish both multilateral and national mechanisms to implement the anti-discrimination agenda. As an example of a national level mechanism to combat racial discrimination I would like to mention that in Finland, the Office of Ombudsman for Minorities was established at the time of the Conference.

Finally, Mr. President, I would like to talk about children. Children are born without prejudices. The dialogue among civilizations should therefore begin with children. In her recent book on the Impact of War on Children, Dr. Graça Machel discussed the children's agenda for peace and security and emphasised the importance of involving them as a resource. She noted that young people must not be seen as problems or victims, but rather as key contributors in planning and implementing long-term solutions. A great example of children's contribution to peace and tolerance is the Children's Movement for Peace of Colombia.

Mr. President,

The hideous acts of September 11th were a flagrant manifestation of blind hatred. It is our resolve to remain true and committed to our common aims, which by no coincidence are the very aims that the terrorists attempt to undermine. Fight against terrorism is fight for democracy. We have to stay united and vigorously promote the common values of humanity in order to prevent such attacks from taking place anywhere in the world in the future.

Thank you, Mr. President.