Just off a plane from Sri Lanka, Miguel Angel Moratinos, United Nations High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations (UNOAC), said on Wednesday that tomorrow’s 5th World Forum for Intercultural Dialogue is opening at a “very timely” moment.
Speaking in Baku, Azerbaijan, ahead of the UN-backed Forum, Mr. Moratinos told UN News about his “emotional visit” to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, where he paid his respects to victims of the suicide bombings that took place on Easter Sunday which killed more than 250 people at churches and hotels across several cities.
“Sri Lanka has been an open country with different religions and cultures, and suddenly there was this massacre”, he said, adding that it had dealt a “tremendous blow to a country that is trying to live together in peace.”
While social intolerance is not new, Mr. Moratinos was concerned about what he called “the return of hate.”
“Hate is the word that mobilizes certain communities to destroy”, he said, adding: “It drives people past the point of not being able to live together to the direction of exterminating their opponents and that is very dangerous.”
“This Forum is important to send a strong message to the international community that it is possible to live together, that we can respect each other and that we have to better understand different cultures and religions,” he told UN News.
Complex situations need clarity
He said that as the world is becoming more complex and uncertain, a global strategy for intercultural dialogue is ever more important.
“Solutions sought through financial, military and political means take a simplistic view”, he stated, noting that sustainable solutions require a social-cultural approach that digs deep into the roots of different societies to bring clarity.
“Unless you understand the mentality of your neighbor, the history of an issue, how you come to this situation, what the consequences are and the relationship is, it is very difficult to find sustainable solutions,” he maintained.
The High Representative is taking up this approach wholeheartedly, using it as a new tool “to explore and develop in the near future”.
Mr. Moratinos also spoke about the message of interfaith dialogue and tolerance on which both the Grand Imam of Al Azhar and the Pope agreed.
He said the historic declaration that Al Azhar and the Vatican had produced was about “brotherhood, mutual understanding and overcoming past controversies to look toward the future”.
“And it is not only between Islam and the Catholic Church, they want to go larger, to ask other religious faiths to join them”, he said, noting that is provides “a good basis for discussion and for interreligious dialogue”.
Turning to the global plan of action to safeguard religious sites – a fresh mandate given to UNAOC last month by UN chief António Guterres in the wake of the horrific mass shooting at two New Zealand mosques – Mr. Moratinos told UN News that while working on the draft, his Officer was “shocked by what happened in Sri Lanka”, stressing that those attacks further demonstrated the urgency of developing a plan.
He detailed some of the work his team is doing to this end, such as in Sri Lanka, where they reached out to the Congress of Religions and “went into specific elements”, including on how national legislation should be adapted “to meet new challenges” and the work needed to “put an end to social networks of hate and discrimination”.
The High Representative shared his hope that by end-July a draft plan should be ready for adoption and implementation.
The 5th World Forum, which will open in Baku tomorrow, 2 May and through Friday, will examine the critical role of intercultural dialogue as an actionable strategy for building human solidarity and helping localities counter the violence and discrimination in diverse communities.
Running under the theme Building dialogue into action against discrimination, inequality and violent conflict, the Forum will also host the 2nd High Level Panel of the Heads of International Organizations and the Ministerial Panel, in order to build synergy and partnership among political, economic, financial, military, humanitarian and social organizations along with other stakeholders to elaborate a common roadmap for assisting public, private and third sector organizations in building inclusive and sustainable societies through promoting intercultural dialogue and human dignity.
The Government of Azerbaijan, in partnership with the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), UNAOC, the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the Council of Europe and the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) is the host of the Forum.