CONFERENCE | Background

A High Level Dialogue of the General Assembly on Interreligious and Intercultural Understanding and Cooperation for Peace was convened on 4 October 2007. It was preceded by a Resolution A/RES/61/269, which the United Nations General Assembly adopted on 25 May 2007. The main point of the High Level Dialogue was to emphasize the importance of the “bottom-up” mobilization of people’s consciousness and awareness of the essentiality of the intercultural dialogue and tolerance for the promotion of peace in the world. This aim was accomplished by the UN’s engagement with various civil society organizations that somehow could contribute to an increase of people’s understanding about the importance of interreligious and intercultural dialogue.

One of the key findings in the High Level Dialogue was the fact that globalization makes people more conscious of the existence of the “other.” The “other” is often defined in religious or cultural terms. People increasingly feel the need for positioning themselves and their identities in the globalized world by comparing themselves to those who are different from them (the “other”). However, this may constitute a great danger if stereotypes and false depictions of the other groups prevail in the whole process of self-identification. In such cases, the disrespect and the low level of tolerance reduces the trust among different religious or cultural groups, thus creating conditions for emergence of potential conflicts. Therefore, globalization makes the need for cooperation and mutual understanding among different cultural groups even more necessary today than at any time before.

Besides the 2007 High Level Dialogue of the General Assembly, there were several other significant efforts by the UN to generate conditions for peaceful coexistence in the 21st century. For instance, the 2005 Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations (Resolution A/RES/60/4) focused on intercultural communication, cultural pluralism, the role of the civil society, and the contribution of the UN system in achieving all this. The Resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2011 on Implementation of the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace (A/RES/65/11) strove to find some methods for achieving the goals of peace and non-violence. Therefore, its emphasis was on spreading a culture of peace, and the main role in that would be education. For that purpose, this resolution envisioned close cooperation with UNESCO and UNICEF.

In 2011, the UN General Assembly also adopted a Resolution on Combating Defamation of Religions (A/RES/65/224). Defamation of religions was defined as one significant obstacle on the way to peaceful coexistence. The resolution focused on the reasons and on the potential solutions for the problem of religious intolerance, discrimination, group hatred, destruction of religious symbols, as well as on the role of mass media and education, as well as freedom of expression.

The UN General Assembly High Level Forum on the Culture of Peace, convened on 6 September 2013, is the latest effort on the part of the international community to create a dialogue among different political, religious, and civil society actors with the aim of underlining the concept of peace as an important element in the global culture of the 21st century. Husayin Hurmali, chief administrative officer of Journalists and Writers Foundation was one of the panelists in this Forum, whose experience and remarks will feature as resource in preparing and organizing this conference. All the prior resolutions and conferences constitute important basis on which more work needs to be done.

Resolution A/RES/61/269 and the High Level Dialogue, which followed it, admit that dialogues between high-level officials is not enough. The grass-root mobilization of people’s support for peaceful coexistence is an essential factor in the struggle to prevent intolerance and promote peace. Anther key finding of the High Level Dialogue was that the roles of education and media might be crucial in the process of encouraging interreligious and intercultural understanding. Education was considered an important catalyst for better mutual understanding and cohesion between members of different religious or cultural groups. Mediawas praised for its role in influencing people’s perceptions of the “other.” The balance between freedom of expression and the responsibility of the media was emphasized as an indispensable factor in media’s role in promoting tolerance and peace.

After this High Level Dialogue, the UN’s interest in the practical methods (such as education and media), through which the states may encourage mutual understanding among different groups, calls for more discussion on how these practical means may supplant the high level discussions among politicians and religious leaders in promoting intercultural tolerance and peace.

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