60th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations

Item 42 of the Agenda

Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations

Statement by

Mr. Peter Maurer, Ambassador

Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the United Nations

New York, le 20 octobre 2005

Mr President

Switzerland thanks the Secretary General for his informative report on the Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations and welcomes the resolution proposed by the Islamic Republic of Iran to pursue efforts to further intensify the dialogue between civilisations. Switzerland also supports the Secretary General's initiative on an Alliance of Civilisations, which was launched at the instigation of the Spanish and Turkish governments.

Mr President, Mutual understanding among cultures is indispensable for the peaceful co-existence of different civilisations. Switzerland, as a country made up of different cultures and religions, has had to learn how to co-exist peacefully in its small territory. It has had to overcome divergences of denomination, language and economic interests in order to create national unity while respecting diversity. Its history has been marked by violent confrontations between members of different denominations. These confrontations ended a century and a half ago, thanks largely to a common determination to concentrate on ideas uniting the different communities in practice, rather than focussing on those setting them apart in theory.. The prerequisite for success was respect for difference, and the conviction that every latent conflict can be resolved by dialogue. Democratic consultation, strong measures to protect minorities, and the constant effort to achieve compromise were instruments indispensable for the construction of our country. Today the different cultures of which Swiss society is composed are seen as a boon for our country, with each culture contributing a different world view.

Mr President,

My reason for reflecting on my country's experience is to try to draw a number of general conclusions:

- Firstly, diversity can be a benefit only if the appreciation of difference is not used to overlook political, economic and cultural asymmetries and injustices.

- Secondly, mutual respect and tolerance are elements indispensable to a peaceful coexistence between different groups of a society.

- Thirdly, mutual respect on the basis of shared human values only develops within a democratic political and legal framework which respects minorities and is based on the rule of law. The active participation of minorities in the political debates and decision-making are vital to avoid a democratic system that reflects a mere dominance of the majority.

- Fourthly, even if on the one hand the invocation of shared values is very often not enough in itself to resolve conflicts and to overcome misunderstandings, one must, on the other hand, recognize that the democratic, political and legal framework remains a dead letter, and may even appear to be unjust, if it is not animated by a spirit of mutual respect and of shared basic values.

Mr President, Given the sometimes increasing difficulties of comprehension between the different cultures of our world, the initiative for an Alliance of Civilisations has come at the right moment. We are convinced that it will be able to build on the rich experience acquired in the Global Agenda for Dialogue Among Civilisations to analyse in a sophisticated manner the causes and the difficulties of comprehension and to propose joint measures to alleviate them.

In this spirit, Switzerland some time ago launched several projects, at an international level, aimed at mutual apprenticeship and specific cooperation in areas of common interest between factions separated by important ideological or religious divergences. It has recently been particularly interested in the religious dimensions of misunderstandings and of conflicts. Switzerland has learned two things in these activities:

Firstly, that progress can only be reached in a process of confidence building which results from concrete acts;

And secondly, that a dialogue about values alone doesn't strengthen confidence.

The Secretary General has established a High Level Group within the framework of the Alliance of Civilizations. In the Terms of Reference of this Group, he calls for the identification of collective actions going towards "establishing a paradigm of mutual respect between civilizations and cultures". Switzerland is willing, in this respect, to share its experiences with the High Level Panel and with the secretariat of the Alliance of Civilisations.