Statement by Minister Soini at the side event Reducing Religious Sectarianism

UN General Assembly 70, New York - Statement by H.E. Mr Timo Soini, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Reducing Religious Sectarianism. 2 October 2015, New York.

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It is a great honor to open this event and I am pleased so many of you have been able to join this discussion.

I would like to express my gratitude to the US and Spanish governments and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation who are organizing this event with us.

I would like to start by stressing that religion should be seen in a context of the larger social and political dynamics of societies. We need to have a better understanding of religions and their meaning in societies in order to analyze also extremism and sectarian factions within religions.

Religion needs to be considered also when we look for solutions to some of the current extremely complicated and multifaceted conflicts. Here the theme of sectarianism is a very topical one. 

Today´s discussion will focus on how religion is either being used or abused for sectarian causes. We shall learn more on methodologies developed to prevent, contain and reduce religious sectarianism. This will be very useful for all of us.

Religions should be used to build bridges – not to destroy them. The true teachings of religions include forgiveness, justice, compassion – in short, helping those in need. We must not treat each other as different or inferior. We are all human beings and as such equal citizens of this world.

Ethnic and political considerations are too often mixed up with religious messages. Hate speech and enemy labelling have found their way into the discussions.

The misuse of religion is very questionable to the democratic processes. In the worst cases it is manifested in violence or in terrorism. Deeper problems relate to inequality, and undemocratic practices.

Human rights are universal and belong to everyone. Many of our everyday freedoms are protected through human rights. But these rights also carry with them the responsibility to respect the human rights of others. This requires tolerance also at individual level.

Freedom of religion and belief is one of these basic human rights. This we have confirmed in the universal declaration of human rights.

Religion cannot be ignored in the mediation efforts since it is being deeply embedded in many peoples' identity and integrity.

Religious leaders – by showing their example - can play a great role for their part to foster tolerance. The religious leaders are in true sense value leaders. They often have the access to peoples thinking and reasoning and thus also to the shaping of it.

This is a powerful position that should be put better to the use to promote peace. The religious and traditional leaders can be crucial players in mediation when we look for sustainable solutions. This potential should be used to a higher degree.

Mediation and support to dialogues between different cultures and religions is one of my foreign policy priorities.

A solid social cohesion can be built only by taking every person of the society on board. This means first of all that we need to actively involve women in the mediation efforts. It is important that also different generations are engaged so that young and old people work hand in hand in rebuilding their societies. 

Civil society organizations are in many societies the only credible players that can bring different parties to the conflicts to the same table. Finland wants to work actively through these organizations including those that involve religious and traditional leaders. And I consider the establishment of The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers a great step forward in this respect.  Finn Church Aid, a Finnish NGO, is now acting as the secretariat for this network and the government of Finland is funding it.