On International Day of Tolerance, Ban urges leaders to protect people from persecution

17 November 2014 | Press Releases

New York, 16 November 2014 – Making International Day of Tolerance, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged world leaders to protect people from persecution and to encourage tolerance for all regardless of nationality, religion, language, race, sexuality or any other distinction that obscures our common humanity.

Children from Cape Town, South Africa in the 1980s, when inter-racial marriage was illegal in the country

Children from Cape Town, South Africa in the 1980s, when inter-racial marriage was illegal in the country

“We live in an era of rising and violent extremism, radicalism and widening conflicts that are characterized by a fundamental disregard for human life,” Mr. Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the Day, observed annually on 16 November.

There are more people displaced by fighting today than at any period since the end of the Second World War, he added.

Innocent lives are being lost in senseless clashes around the world. The youngest victims are robbed of their childhoods, conscripted and abused, or even kidnapped simply for wanting an education.

“I call on all people and governments to actively combat fear, hatred and extremism with dialogue, understanding and mutual respect. Let us advance against the forces of division and unite for our shared future,” the UN Chief urged.

Democratic and peaceful societies are not immune from prejudice and violence. And there is growing hostility and discrimination towards people crossing borders in search of asylum or opportunities denied to them at home.

“Hate crimes and other forms of intolerance mar too many communities, often stoked by irresponsible leaders seeking political gain,” Mr. Ban said.

Echoing that sentiment, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Irina Bokova said that tolerance is a principle that is more relevant now than ever and it is under serious threat.

“Cultural diversity is being targeted by extremist groups seeking to impose their sectarian vision on the world, and minorities are being persecuted, falling victim to attempts at ‘cultural cleansing’,” she said.

Within societies, economic and social crises are sometimes used as a pretext for blaming and rejecting others.

Additionally, it is no longer enough to live side by side, in passive indifference – tolerance requires active vigilance, renewed each day, against xenophobia, discrimination and hatred, Ms. Bokova stressed.

Tolerance is at the heart of the United Nations Charter as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And UNESCO is guided by the conviction that lasting peace starts in the minds of men and women, by nurturing principles of tolerance through dialogue and cooperation.

“We learn through tolerance to reconcile the universal rights that bind us together with the diversity that gives us so much, and to see that we need others, in all their diversity, so that we can be fully ourselves,” she said highlight that this is the spirit of the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Cultures (2013-2022).

Tolerance is also at the root of the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for the Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Violence, awarded this year to two human rights activists – Mr. Ibrahim Ag Idbaltanat from Mali and Mr. Francisco Javier Estévez Valencia from Chile, Ms. Bokova added.