Hans Köchler raises issues of religious discrimination and cultural identity; meets with Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey
Vienna, 1 March 2013
In his capacity as member of the International Coordinating Committee of the World Public Forum "Dialogue of Civilizations," Professor Hans Köchler, President of the International Progress Organization, earlier this week participated in the debates of the 5th Global Forum of the United Nations' Alliance of Civilizations in Vienna, Austria (26-28 February 2013). The meeting was held under the motto "Responsible Leadership in Diversity and Dialogue."
The Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, one of the architects of the UN Alliance of Civilizations; His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar; the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic; the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon; the High Representative of the Alliance, former Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio; the incoming High Representative of the Alliance, Ambassador Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser; the Foreign Minister of Spain, José Manuel García-Margallo y Marfil; and the President of Austria, Heinz Fischer, were among the keynote speakers at the opening session.
In a special session devoted to rising restrictions on religion and the importance of legal protections, Prof. Köchler, referring to cases in European as well as Arab countries, explained that international legal instruments for the protection of religious rights have to be applied consistently and that the law must not be used to restrict the free exercise of religion or to discriminate against particular religious communities. Demonstrating the difficulties under the ever more complex conditions due to migration (in Europe) or processes of social transformation (in the Arab world), he referred to recent controversies on the exercise of the religious rights of Muslims and Jews in Europe, and to the destruction, resulting from intra-religious disputes, of Sufi places of worship in Africa. He also called for a better international monitoring of violations of the guarantees of religious rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and (where applicable) of the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The session was attended, among others, by Mustapha Ben Jaafar, President of the National Constituent Assembly of Tunisia; Rabbi Arthur Schneier, Founder and President, Appeal of Conscience Foundation (USA); and Father Nabil Haddad, Executive Director, Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center.
In the session on "Diversity, Multiple Identities and Social Inclusion: Best Practices in Integration," Prof. Köchler called for conceptual clarification of the terms "nation" and "state" and suggested to more clearly distinguish between cultural (including religious) identity and citizenship. This will be indispensable for societal and religious peace under the conditions of modern multicultural societies, he said. Alluding to the motto of the 5th Global Forum ("Responsible Leadership"), he called upon the delegates of the Forum to challenge political leaders in their respective countries, and to urge them to demonstrate courage and moral leadership in the face of increasing xenophobic tendencies and their opportunistic exploitation in the game of party politics. Among the speakers of the session were Ms. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, journalist, The Independent newspaper (UK) (moderator); Howard Duncan, Executive Head, Metropolis Project (Canada); and Loren B. Landau, Director, Forced Migration Studies, University of Witwatersrand (South Africa).
Upon the conclusion of the Vienna Forum, Prof. Köchler met with the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, Beşir Atalay, and briefed him on the activities of the World Public Forum "Dialogue of Civilizations" and the International Progress Organization.
In follow-up to his speech at the last Global Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations (Doha 2011), Prof. Köchler was invited by the United Nations to write a keynote article for the special issue of the UN Chronicle (3/2012) commemorating the 10th anniversary of the proclamation of the United Nations Year of Dialogue among Civilizations. The article was published under the title "Unity in Diversity: The Integrative Approach to Intercultural Relations." The special anniversary issue of the UN Chronicle also contains articles by Seyed Mohammad Khatami, former President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Egypt.
On the sidelines of the Vienna Forum, Professor Köchler met with the Executive Director of the Office of the United Nations High Representative of the Alliance of Civilizations, Ambassador Tariq Ali Al-Ansari; the Coordinator of the Intersectoral Platform for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence at UNESCO, Katérina Stenou; the Chairman of the National Coordination Committee (Turkey) for the Alliance of Civilizations and Senior Advisor to the Turkish Prime Minister, Prof. Bekir Karlığa; and the Coordinator for Dialogue between Cultures in the German Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Dr. Heinrich Kreft.
Upon the conclusion of the conference, Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa announced that his country will host the next Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations (2014).
International Progress Organization