» Madrid conference highlights the importance of protecting cultural diversity for peacebuilding in the Middle E...
24.05.2017 - ODG

Madrid conference highlights the importance of protecting cultural diversity for peacebuilding in the Middle East


On 24 May, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, addressed the Conference: Victims of ethnic and religious violence in the Middle East, in Madrid, Spain. The event took place in the presence of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain, Sr Alfonso Maria Dastis Quecedo, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Mr Ayman H. Safadi and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iraq, Dr Ibrahim Al-Jaafari.

The Conference is a follow up to the public debate held by the UN Security Council on 27 March 2015 and the Conference held in Paris on 8 September 2015, on the victims of ethnic and religious violence in the Middle East. At the Paris Conference, an Action Plan was presented which set forth a roadmap for the international community to support those who are persecuted for ethnical or religious reasons. The aim of the Madrid Conference was to take stock of actions taken and to determine most urgent priorities as well as identifying programs, projects and actions to enable displaced populations to return and to foster reconciliation and stabilization.

All participants stressed the need to protect cultural heritage and cultural diversity in the region, and teach about tolerance and coexistence in schools, learning to live together, and protecting victims of  ethnic and religious violence. 

Ms Nadia Murad, speaking for the Yezidi community, called for urgent mobilization and protection of all communities in the Middle East, "we have no voice, we need the support of the international community," she told the audience.

“Violent extremists target both heritage and human lives -- they target victims and minorities from all backgrounds, Shebak, Turkmen, Yezidis, Muslims, Christians…, as symbols of the pluralism they abhor,” declared the Director-General. "Violent extremists target schools, because they know the power of knowledge to counter their rhetoric drawing on false visions of faith and history, they destroy culture, because they know it can foster dialogue and help people live together in their diversity," She added.

“We need “hard power” to respond, we need “soft power” to prevent, through education, culture and information. This is the role of UNESCO and the goal of the United Nations, its Counter-Terrorism Strategy in support of Member States."

 “This is the message I shared at the Arab-Islamic-American Summit last week in Riyadh on the prevention of violent extremism,” said the Director-General. “This is also the message embedded in the Paris Plan of Action."

The Director-General highlighted the importance of teaching peace and providing people with the skills to overcome mistrust and division, and to build dialogue. This underpins all of UNESCO’s action to prevent violent extremism through emergency education and the protection of heritage. UNESCO proposed the launch of a regional initiative to teach about the history of cultural diversity in schools in the Middle East, to foster intercultural skills and inclusive citizenship. This initiative will also highlight cultural diversity in safeguarding and restoration process of historical cities in the region. 

In his opening remarks, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain declared: "Violent extremism cannot be associated with any culture or religion. We are here to express our solidarity with the victims and to reiterate our determination to act." The Minister urged all participants to contribute to the UNESCO Emergency Fund for the Protection of Heritage, in order to restore, as a priority, religious heritage of shared interest, like the Nabi Yunus Shrine in Mosul, which is revered by all monotheism, as a driver of unity and dialogue.  

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