Saturday, 9 December 2017

UN General Assembly makes May 16 the International Day of Living Together in Peace

The United Nations General Assembly has adopted a consensus resolution declaring 16 May as the International Day of Living Together in Peace, while a second text — titled Moderation — was adopted by a recorded vote, with several delegates expressing concerns over its contents.

The draft resolution titled International Day of Living Together in Peace (document A/72/L.26) — which was adopted without a vote — was introduced at the meeting's outset by the representative of Algeria, Sabri Boukadom. He said its aim was to promote peace through harmonious habitation with no distinction between nationality, gender, language or religion, and that it called on member states to promote reconciliation and ensure peace and sustainable development.

Under its terms, the Assembly would also designate 16 May as the annual International Day of Living Together in Peace and would underline that the day constitutes a means of regularly mobilizing efforts of the international community to promote peace, tolerance, inclusion, understanding and solidarity, he said. It would also invite all member states, organisations of the United Nations system and civil society, including non‑governmental organisations, to observe the International Day. It would further request the Secretary‑General to bring the present resolution to the attention of all member states, the United Nations and civil society. It would also stress that the cost of all activities that may arise from the implementation of the present resolution should be met from voluntary contributions.

The second draft resolution, Moderation (document A/72/L.21) was adopted by a recorded vote of 135 in favour to two against (Israel, US) with no abstentions. By the terms of that text — introduced by its main sponsor, the representative of Malaysia — the Assembly called upon the international community to promote moderation as a value underpinning peace, security and development. 

Following the vote on the resolution, the US representative — who had cast a vote against the text — rejected its references to the Global Movement of Moderates initiative, as well as the fact that the resolution failed to distinguish between “extremism” and “violent extremism”. While the US universally rejected the latter, he expressed concern that nations or individuals might construe the resolution's language to curtail freedoms of expression or belief.

M. Shahrul Ikram Yaakob, representing Malaysia said moderation could mitigate or prevent war and human suffering. It was imperative therefore that moderation be seen as the bedrock of international relations in the global world where peace remained elusive. Expressing concern over the recent decision regarding Jerusalem, he underscored the importance of voices of moderation and tolerance, suggesting that moderation as an approach could contribute towards peaceful coexistence.

The text recommends that the Assembly would call upon the international community to continue to promote moderation as a value that promotes peace, security and development, he said. Among other things, the organ also called on the international community to support the Global Movement of Moderates initiative, developed by the government of Malaysia, as a common platform to amplify the voices of moderation over those of violent extremism. 

It would also call upon states members of the United Nations to undertake initiatives to promote moderation through activities such as outreach programmes and cross‑cultural dialogue, and to promote the value of moderation, including non‑violence, mutual respect and understanding, through education. The Assembly would also decide to proclaim 2019 the International Year of Moderation in an effort to amplify the voices of moderation through the promotion of dialogue, tolerance, understanding and cooperation. 

Represenative Shahrul, speaking in his national capacity and associating himself with the statement to be delivered by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that the collective voices of moderates needed to be heard to quell extremist rhetoric that completely contradicted the culture of peace. “The obstacles that prevent a culture of peace from taking root are many, but they are not insurmountable,” he said.
While many speakers throughout the subsequent debate voiced support for the values of peace, tolerance, inclusivity and moderation, several expressed concern that the resolution on Moderation contained language that might be used to suppress or curtail the right of freedom of thought or expression. Still others described both texts as critical in light of intensifying violent extremism around the globe, and against the backdrop of the US' recent decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

In that vein, Qatar's representative Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani said the meeting of 8 December was taking place concurrently with critical developments in Jerusalem, and warned all states to avoid any measures that ran counter to the goal of building sustainable peace in the Middle East. Rejecting any attempts to recognise Al‑Quds — القدس, the Arabic name for the city of Jerusalem — as the capital of Israel, she said potentially dangerous consequences could result from such statements. 

She noted that peace in that region would remain unattainable as long as the Palestinian question remained unresolved. She also said that Qatar was part of the global coalition charged with reporting on progress towards implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. It had also been among the founding nations of the Alliance of Civilizations, and continued to support that initiative. Qatar regards peace in a comprehensive way — namely, as “not just the absence of violence” — and therefore supported efforts aimed at preventive diplomacy and mediation, especially in the Middle East. 

Siti Arnyfariza Md Jaini (Brunei Darussalam), speaking on behalf of the ASEAN, said the region had over 600 million people as well as a rich diversity of ethnicities, religions, languages and cultures. Promoting a culture of peace was one of the Association's intrinsic values, as affirmed by its Community Vision 2025 plan and other policies. The organisation is also firmly committed to doing its part to inculcate and uphold the values and norms of peace, harmony, intercultural understanding, the rule of law, good governance, tolerance, inclusiveness and moderation. 

Having recently adopted its Declaration on Culture of Prevention for a Peaceful, Inclusive, Resilient, Healthy and Harmonious Society, ASEAN also emphasised the promotion of dialogue and education to foster interreligious dialogue and intercultural understanding, with broad participation at all levels.

Spotlighting the special role of youth in that regard, she said the rising threat of terrorism and violent extremism across the globe was a grim reminder of the need for sustained efforts to combat those phenomena. Reiterating the Association's strong condemnation of such threats, she declared: “We must not allow the seeds of intolerance, hatred and extremism to take root.” 

Emphasising that eradicating terrorism required collective global efforts, she welcomed the United Nations work as well as enhanced cooperation under the auspices of the United Nations‑ASEAN Comprehensive Partnership. ASEAN also stood firmly behind Malaysia's initiative — as introduced in the Moderation draft — which contextualised the need to provide a platform for the voices of moderation against the backdrop of a prevalent preaching of violent extremism “propagated by an irresponsible few”.

Sulaiman Salim Mohamed Al-Abdali from Oman said that disseminating the culture of peace around the world had spread tolerance and acceptance among all different people. That would have a rippling effect in developing a generation of peace. However, some extremist groups had emerged attempting to counter the culture of peace and tolerance. In that context, peace and dialogue were crucial, he said, adding that Oman had adopted a “way of life which rejects extremism”. Its foreign policy and international relations were based on peace, coexistence and tolerance among all people and countries. He noted several national initiatives that encouraged tolerance among Oman's citizens and aimed to build trust between Islam and other religions. His country was committed to shouldering its responsibilities in settling disputes peacefully and to building a world where security prevailed.

Jamal Fares Alrowaiei (Bahrain) said his country prospered from being located at the crossroad of different religions and cultures. The different religions were a source of strength and diversity. Bahrain was committed to preserving that diversity, he continued, adding that it was stronger because of its diversity. Religious tolerance was essential, he said, underlining the link between culture and development. Terrorism and extremism could be stopped only by a culture of peace and diversity at the national and international levels. It was therefore essential to strengthen respect for human rights and genuine dialogue among states. “We are proud of the fact that every individual is entitled to a safe and dignified life,” he said.

Farah TASH Algharabally (Kuwait) said the principles underpinning a culture of peace were under threat in today's world. Extremism, violence, hatred and intellectual disputes persisted, as did the prevalent rejection of the views of others. A culture of dialogue and coexistence must be strengthened, she said, stressing “intolerance must not have any place in our world”. 

Against the backdrop of the waves of fanaticism and extremism that currently were flowing across the planet, as well as constant attempts to create chaos and sow fear among peoples, a culture of peace could help people whose rights had been stripped away to regain control over their lives, she suggested. “We must plant these seeds of peace” in accordance with Assembly resolution 71/251, she said, adding that the principles of tolerance were also enshrined in Kuwait's constitution, which provided for justice, fraternity and equality, encouraged moderation and sought to combat extremism in all its forms.

Teodoro Lopez Locsin, JR., (Philippines) said his country was now following a new peace and development road map for the Bangsamoro Peace Process. That plan was characterised by inclusion of all, not just select Muslim groups; dialogue rather than hectoring monologue; confidence‑building initiatives for all, not just the politically connected; consolidation and convergence of prior peace agreements. 

The Philippines attaches great importance to religious and faith‑based organisations playing a bigger role in preventing the outbreak and escalation of violence. In a conflict misidentified as religious, it was important for all faiths to clarify what was religion and what was “bloody ambition”, he said.

Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia), associating himself with ASEAN, said that intolerance was still rampant in many parts of the world. To combat and eliminate violent extremism, military measures alone would not be sufficient. It was critical to cultivate peace and stability, he stressed, noting Indonesia's various national initiatives including in sectors such as law enforcement, education and interfaith dialogue. From the earliest age, children and young people must be equipped with the universal values of peace, human rights, gender equality and respect for others. The family serves as a starting point followed by society and school where children could learn to resolve disputes peacefully in a spirit of respect for human dignity. Indonesia was trying to eliminate the links between extremism and poverty through the creation of jobs and a reduction of inequality, he concluded.

Hau Do Suan (Myanmar) said that, after almost seven decades of conflict, his country's political parties and armed forces had finally come to the negotiating table to form a democratic national union. The ambitious national peace process was based on the spirit of tolerance and equality for all ethnic groups, he said, noting that Myanmar had four major religious tribes and more than 130 distinct ethnic groups. The government guarantees freedom of religion to all, he said, citing Pope Francis' recent historic visit to Myanmar as yet another testament to the country's tolerance and respect for diversity. 

Describing the Myanmar government's establishment of a national Interfaith Friendship Group — as well as various related subgroups across the country — he rejected extremism as harmful to any diverse and tolerant society. “Peace is not a given gift” but a reward for the sincere efforts of all concerned parties, he concluded.

Yao Shaojun (China) said lasting peace must be pursued. Poverty and lack of economic opportunity continue to drive intolerance and extremism, he said, urging nations to help all their citizens enjoy prosperity. At China's recently concluded National Congress, participants had called for respect and efforts to build a shared prosperous future for all of humankind. In the same vein, he said, traditional Chinese culture emphasises the principle that “the world is one” and that its diversity was beautiful.

Amjad Qassem Agha (Syria) said the future of Al‑Quds demanded the will and determination of all good men and women supporting the Palestinian cause. He also rejected any initiative that established countries illegally. 

Gholamali Khoshroo (Iran) said that the current world situation demands that all states are more vigilant regarding the implications and consequences of their messages, actions and decisions. Those who try to legitimise occupation in the region by rejecting the historical realities were gravely undermining peace. The occupation of the Palestinian land lay at the root of all crises in the Middle East, he said, and noted that occupation and peace have never gone hand‑in‑hand. The failed experiences of the past should not be repeated, he stressed, adding that those who preferred sanctions and coercion over diplomacy and negotiation only strengthened extremism.

Ali Naseer Mohamed (Maldives) emphasised the role of education, saying it had an extraordinary ability “to unlearn the evil art of oppression and learn the beautiful art of compromise”. UNESCO in particular is helping member states to tailor educational materials that would support a culture of peace. Fostering such a culture also required the media, including social media platforms, to ensure they were not used to incite hate or to carry out terrorism. Noting his country's candidacy for a seat on the Security Council in 2019‑2020, he said that organ had an extraordinary opportunity to create conditions for peace to prevail.