Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic to the UN in New York

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Statement by H.E. Ms. Helena BAMBASOVÁ, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, High-level Dialogue on Interreligious and Intercultural Understanding and Cooperation for Peace, United Nations, New York, October 4, 2007

Over the centuries, inhabitants of the territory of the Czech Republic, country in the very centre of Europe, witnessed disastrous consequences of many periods of religious intolerance and failures of respect to cultural diversity and diversity of opinion. Many people had to go into exile to keep their belief and ideas and it is our pride that many took their ideals of peaceful co-operation and cultural tolerance with them abroad.

Mr. President,

Mr. Secretary-General,

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

The Czech Republic aligns herself with the statement delivered by the distinguished delegate of Portugal on behalf of the European Union.

Over the centuries, inhabitants of the territory of the Czech Republic, country in the very centre of Europe, witnessed disastrous consequences of many periods of religious intolerance and failures of respect to cultural diversity and diversity of opinion. Many people had to go into exile to keep their belief and ideas and it is our pride that many took their ideals of peaceful co-operation and cultural tolerance with them abroad. Among others Jan Amos Comenius and many Moravian brothers had to leave their country in search of more tolerant places.

When the Czechoslovak state first saw the light of day in 1918, far-reaching religious freedom, freedom of faith and conscience were constitutionally guaranteed. This paved the way for interreligious dialogue and for an equal partnership between religions and a democratic state based on civil society. After the fall of communism our society opened again to the outside world and we started to take again new lessons in accepting cultural and religious differences as a value not a threat.

Almost 60 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights became inspiration for all societies. After the tragic events of the Second World War and with the painful memory of the suffering still vivid, nations proved strong commitment not to allow repetition of the tragedies. Spirit and text of the Declaration, which is neither long nor complicated, comprise all the best ingredients for peace which are tolerance, respect for diversity together with protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms. And indeed today after sixty years there is no better solution. These three are the best way to lower any tensions, to explain misunderstandings, and to realize that values of humanity unite us in all our differences which enrich our shared existence.

To be tolerant in words and deeds and to appreciate differences of others we have to know ourselves and understand our differences. For that we need dialogue. Where there is no genuine and open dialogue across the religious and cultural lines, there is space for prejudices. Only dialogue facilitates mutual understanding that prevents violence and plays an important role in the maintenance of peace and conflict prevention. As the UNESCO Constitution states: "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that defences of peace must be constructed."

To lead a genuine dialogue, one has to come with an open mind and listen to the others. To create conditions for free, spontaneous and fruitful dialogue reflecting variety of opinions in a society we must ensure freedom of expression, pluralism and free participation of civil society and public.

We need to learn of all cultures and religions. We need to learn the art of leading a dialogue itself. Education to tolerance must not be limited to school education. We should include in our efforts all the society, not only youth, though their role in crossing traditional borders and willingness to accept the value of differences can not be underestimated. We must further include journalists, teachers and all the public.

In supporting dialogue, cooperation, tolerance and education, the United Nations played and for the future must continue to play its crucial instrumental role. Tolerance is one of the cornerstones on which the UN was founded in its struggle for peaceful future and the closer we get together in our globalized world the more important our understanding and capability of inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue become.

For this reason we were pleased to participate in the Informal Thematic Debate of the 61 st General Assembly on Civilizations and the Challenge for Peace. We would like to commend the President of the 61 st Session of the General Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, for organizing this event showing the right direction in encouraging genuine dialogue.

We would like to pay special tribute to the work of the Alliance of Civilizations and take this opportunity to express our full support to Mr. Jorge Sampaio, High Representative for the Alliance of Civilization and his efforts.

We also fully support activities of UNESCO and its work, we actively participate in all these and other valuable projects, programmes and welcome occasions for learning more of the others and we are ready to support genuine dialogue in all bodies of the UN.

Once we succeed in learning the capability of leading open friendly and genuine dialogue between cultures and religions among us and in spreading the principle of tolerance, non-discrimination, respect and protection of human rights of every individual in our public, we will be on the best way to achieving the goals enshrined in the UN Charter.

Mr. President,

At the conclusion let me reassure you that the Czech Republic is ready to actively contribute to achieve our common goals of promotion of interreligious and intercultural understanding and cooperation for peace.