Fostering mutual understanding among cultures and peoples | Daily News

Fostering mutual understanding among cultures and peoples

International Day for Tolerance on November 16

The United Nations (UN) is committed to strengthening tolerance by fostering mutual understanding among cultures and peoples. This imperative lies at the core of the United Nations Charter, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is more important than ever in this era of rising and violent extremism and widening conflicts that are characterized by a fundamental disregard for human life.

In 1996, the UN General Assembly (by resolution 51/95) invited UN Member States to observe International Day for Tolerance on November 16. This action followed up on the United Nations Year for Tolerance, 1995, proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 at the initiative of the UNESCO, as outlined in the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance and Follow-up Plan of Action for the Year.

In 1995, to mark the United Nations Year for Tolerance and the 125th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, UNESCO created a prize for the promotion of tolerance and non-violence. The UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence rewards significant activities in the scientific, artistic, cultural or communication fields aimed at the promotion of a spirit of tolerance and non-violence.

The prize is awarded every two years on the International Day for Tolerance, November 16. The Prize may be awarded to institutions, organizations or persons, who have contributed in a particularly meritorious and effective manner to tolerance and non-violence.

For its 50th anniversary on November 16, 1995, UNESCO’s Member States adopted a Declaration of Principles on Tolerance. Among other things, the Declaration affirms that tolerance is respect and appreciation of the rich variety of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance recognizes the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of others. People are naturally diverse; only tolerance can ensure the survival of mixed communities in every region of the globe.

The Declaration qualifies tolerance not only as a moral duty, but also as a political and legal requirement for individuals, groups and States. It emphasizes that States should draft new legislation when necessary to ensure equality of treatment and of opportunity for all groups and individuals in society.

Education for tolerance should aim at countering influences that lead to fear and exclusion of others and should help young people to develop capacities for independent judgement, critical thinking and ethical reasoning. The diversity of our world’s many religions, languages, cultures and ethnicities is not a pretext for conflict, but is a treasure that enriches us all.

How Can Intolerance Be Countered?

Laws: Governments are responsible for enforcing human rights laws, for banning and punishing hate crimes and discrimination and for ensuring equal access to dispute settlement.

Education: Laws are necessary but not sufficient for countering intolerance, greater emphasis needs to be placed on educating more and better.

Access to information: The most efficient way to limit the influence of hatemongers is to promote press freedom and press pluralism, in order to allow the public to differentiate between facts and opinions.

Individual awareness: Intolerance breeds intolerance. In order to fight intolerance, individuals should become aware of the link between their behaviour and the vicious cycle of mistrust and violence in society.

Local solutions: When confronted with an escalation of intolerance around us, we must not wait for governments and institutions to act alone. We are all part of the solution.

Rapprochement of cultures

The International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (IDRC) (2013-2022) builds on the strong momentum created by and the achievements of both the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010) and the International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2010).

The current surge of flaring conflicts, acts of violence and intolerance demands urgent actions. Peoples and nations have to join forces for the development of a universal global consciousness free from stereotypes and prejudices. The International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures is to be understood as a commitment for addressing this pressing need to take into account and clearly demonstrate new articulations between cultural diversity and universal values.

The “rapprochement of cultures” implies that international security and social inclusion cannot be attained sustainably without a commitment to such principles as human dignity, conviviality and solidarity which are the cornerstones of human coexistence, in all faiths and secular ideologies.  

With 825 million learners out of school, 340 million jobs at risk, and up to 100 million additional people projected to enter extreme poverty, the COVID-19 crisis has exposed and exacerbated vulnerabilities, fragilities, and inequalities in a manner unprecedented in recent history. Evolving on top of an already mounting crisis of civic trust, and a low ebb of commitment to multilateralism, the pandemic represents a unique threat to social peace, working against the very solidarity and cohesion that is needed to find equitable solutions in the current moment. But the crisis has also served to underscore humanity’s fundamental interconnectedness and interdependence, showing that solidarity and empathy can, and indeed must, become the cornerstones of building back better.

This was the message conveyed by Gabriela Ramos, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for the Social and Human Sciences at the High-Level Forum on a Culture of Peace, convened by the President of the UN General-Assembly on September 10, 2020.

Opening the Forum with the President of the UN General-Assembly and the UN Secretary-General, the Assistant Director-General underscored the important role that intercultural dialogue must play in forging the trust and cooperation to tackle major risks – from structural inequalities to systemic discrimination – that both represent our greatest shared challenges, and have played a major role in worsening the effects of the pandemic.

Addressing representatives of UN Member States, she called for an urgent international effort to strengthen the effectiveness of actions to promote a culture of peace and intercultural dialogue, emphasizing that better evidence, stronger coherence, and bolder commitments are needed to address the mounting material hardships and growing social injustices that challenge sustainable peace.

UNESCO is working to advance exactly this vision, developing actionable tools to strengthen intercultural dialogue and a culture of peace in a measurable way. This includes thorough work to strengthen the evidence-base on what works and why (see the recently released UNESCO Conceptual and Technical Framework on Measuring Intercultural Dialogue), and projects working with communities to develop intercultural skills as a means of bolstering inclusion and resilience.

(United Nations)