The role of religious leaders in maintenance of peace and prevention of conflicts: Address by Mr. Adama Dieng, the United Nations Under-Secretary

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1 The role of religious leaders in maintenance of peace and prevention of conflicts: Address by Mr. Adama Dieng, the United Nations Under-Secretary General, and the UN Secretary General Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide delivered on the occasion of the 9 th World Assembly of the Religions for Peace. November, 2013, Vienna, Austria.

2 Mr. Secretary General, Distinguished guests, At the outset, allow me to express my profound appreciation to the Secretariat of the Religions for Peace for organizing this important event and also for extending an invitation to me to address this esteemed audience. I am extremely honored to be here today. In 2004, the Secretary General established the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide. These efforts of the Secretary General can be seen as an acknowledgement of past failures and an attempt to create a better institutional framework within the organization to respond to mass atrocities. As the third mandate holder, I consider my role as that of a catalyst to alert, advocate and mobilize the United Nations system and non-united Nations partners for an effective and timely response. In particular, I am tasked to act as a mechanism of early warning to the Secretary-General and, through him, to the Security Council and the United Nations system as a whole on situations where there is a risk of genocide. I also make specific recommendations and liaise with the United Nations system to enhance its collective capability to prevent the commission of atrocity crimes. At the 2005 World Summit, all Member States committed to protect their own populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, as well as from their incitement. They agreed that when states require assistance to fulfill that responsibility, the international community must be ready to assist and, when states manifestly fail to protect their populations from those crimes, the international community must be ready to intervene collectively, and in accordance with the United Nations Charter, to protect populations and save lives. Despite this commitment, in the face of the mass crimes that continue to ravage our people in different parts of the world, and our failure to prevent or halt their escalation, it is evident that our promise of never again will always ring hollow.

3 Despite the ongoing challenges facing my Office in discharging its functions, I believe that the mandate of the Special Adviser has had a significant impact. The alerts that the Office has issued are taken seriously within the United Nations system and an atrocity prevention lens has been gradually integrated into United Nations discussions, policy development and decisions in relation to populations at risk. The Office has established critical partnerships with Member States, regional organizations and civil society and has been supporting the development of national and regional preventive mechanisms through many different forums. We are doing our best to continue advancing national and international prevention efforts, including through new and innovative means. I also work closely with the Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, a position that was established in 2007 by the Secretary-General. Since 2009, at the request of the Secretary-General, we have joined forces with the support of a joint office. Our mandates are distinct but complementary and I believe that linking the work of the two Special Advisers has proved to be very beneficial for the pursuit of our overall objective of preventing and responding to potential occurrence of atrocity crimes. There has been virtually no war or conflict without religious or ideological implications. Acts of religious hatred and violence have emerged with the alarming frequency and intensity and prove to be major threats to international peace and peaceful coexistence. Manifestations of intolerance and discrimination on the ground of religion or belief occur in varying degrees and no society has escaped this tragedy nor are they contained to a single religion or belief. While too often, the concerns is that to leave religion or belief unchecked without adequate state control will result in the existence of religions that are dangerous to both state and citizens, history reminds us that the higher the degree to which government and societies ensure religious freedom for all, the less violent religious persecution and conflict along religious lines there will be. We are all witness to history how diversity of religions and beliefs have significantly contributed and enhanced the struggle for human rights and peaceful coexistence. For example, most religions teach that all individuals are equal and must have equal rights and opportunities. The principle of equality,

4 however, does not require uniformity rather it calls for unity with diversity. Unity with diversity does not ignore nor attempt to suppress the diversity of ethnic origins, history, language or traditions that differentiate the peoples and nations of the world. The equal dignity owed to all mankind seeks respect for the differences in the identity of each person. It is in absolute respect for the right to be different that we find authentic equality and our ability to peacefully coexist. It is this recognition of the key role of religion in promoting harmonious coexistence among diverse group of peoples that I consider support of religious leaders integral in efforts of conflict prevention. However, we must also recognize that, it is not sufficient to offer only reactive solutions to intolerance and discrimination based on religions or belief. Rather more attention needs to be given to proactive solutions by dealing squarely with the underlying root causes of intolerance. The most rampant cause of intolerance and discrimination is the ignorance and lack of understanding of other religions or beliefs. This state of affair breeds misunderstanding, fear, suspicion, and mistrust of those who do not share religious or beliefs accepted by the majority. It is this ignorance, when not checked or addressed that lead to stereotypes, an enduring state of fear, distrust among the citizens and ultimate conflicts. Yet we all understand that this kind of intolerance and discrimination cannot simply be prevented or eliminated by legislative measures alone. In addition to the role of religious leaders, prevention and elimination of intolerance based on attitudes, practices and patterns of religions and beliefs require also continuous education and interfaith dialogue as exemplified by this gathering. Recognizing the critical role of religious leaders in conflict prevention and harmonious coexistence, my office is taking all necessary measures to enhance the existing collaboration with various religious leaders and groups. Indeed, with the help of experts, my Office has just finalized a series of recommendations entitled preventing incitement to atrocity crimes: policy options for action. This document identifies practical recommendations aimed at different stakeholders that can play a key role in preventing and managing incitement to atrocity crimes. These include community and religious leaders, states, regional organizations, civil society - including the media, and the international community. In particular, our efforts call for these actors to build resilience against incitement violence that could lead to atrocity crimes. As a practical step, my office has explored a possibility and is currently actively seeking resources to

5 organize a forum to explore specific contributions of religious leaders to preventing atrocity crimes, including their incitement. The main objectives of the forum will be: To deepen the understanding of the causes of and precursors to atrocity crimes among religious leaders, including of early warning indicators; To explore the role of religious leaders in preventing and curbing atrocity crimes and their incitement and discuss practical measures they can take to prevent these crimes; To identify and discuss lessons learned and best practices in the area of prevention of incitement to atrocity crimes; To explore ways to build bridges between communities that are divided by their religious or sectarian beliefs and To identify ways to increase society s resilience to atrocity crimes. As we move forward, I would like to invite your contribution to ensure the success of the forum which is likely to take place in the first half of 2014 and will be co-hosted by the Alliance of Civilizations. I fervently believe that the forum and its outcome would greatly benefit from your diverse experience and knowledge that continue to shape and influence our commitment to peaceful co-existence. Before I conclude, let me reiterate that one of the profound challenges we face today is to guarantee religious freedom and beliefs without limiting other fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in various international and national instruments. As leaders we have a key role to demonstrate to our fellow citizens that our diverse social and cultural background can be a source of our strength and unity. Indeed, an initiative like this event, can immensely contribute to a culture of tolerance and acceptance of our differences where human dignity of person is of fundamental value. It is through our enduring faith in our common humanity that we can realize a society premised on equality, justice and harmonious coexistence. It is therefore my strong belief that this invitation I received to come and address this important conference, signifies our commitment to a new and

6 sustained partnership between us. It is through better and coordinated prevention policies and strategies that we can collectively build societies predicated on the rule of law and justice for all. Thank you very much for listening.

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