[Photo: UNAOC/Georges Schneider]
“In both Myanmar and Sri Lanka, I am concerned that Buddhist communities are being swept up by a rising tide of extremist sentiment against other groups,” United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon said on Friday.
He said that in Myanmar, it “is critical to resolve the issue of status and citizenship of the minority Muslim community in Rakhine State, commonly known as the Rohingyas.”
Mr Ban said he is also “alarmed by the rising level of attacks in Sri Lanka against religious minorities.”
“The Government and faith leaders must respond and ensure the safety and security of all communities,” he urged.
The UN chief was speaking at the 6th United Nations Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC) forum in Bali, Indonesia.
The UNAOC was initiated in 2005 by former head of the UN, Kofi Anan, to build “mutual respect among peoples of different cultural and religious identities, highlighting the will of the world’s majority to reject extremism and embrace diversity.”
bkmMr Ban said that atrocities committed by Buddhists in Myanmar and Sri Lanka “[betray] the peaceful teachings of the founder, Lord Buddha.”
“Calls to violence in the name of religions violate their true principles,” he said.
He noted that in Myanmar, “polarization is threatening the democratic transition.”
“The country’s leaders must speak out against divisive incitement,” Mr Ban said. “They must promote interfaith harmony. And they must stand against impunity for provocations and violence.”
Mr Ban’s remarks are some of the toughest from a world leader on what he calls “Buddhist extremism”, led in some instance by Buddhist monks encouraging violence targeting other minorities or religious groups, namely the Muslims and Christians.
The Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar, for example, have been persecuted and driven out of their villages by the Buddhists who do not recognise them as citizens of the country.
Scores of Rohingyas have been killed, and most of them have now become refugees, with nowhere to go.
The violence against them is led and approved by Buddhist monks such as U Wirathu, whom TIME magazine described as “the face of Buddhist terror”.
“All major faiths value peace and tolerance,” Mr Ban said in his speech on Friday, which also highlighted the plights of those caught in war or being persecuted because of their race or religion.
He said he was “especially outraged by the reports from Iraq of brutal killing of civilians by ISIL”, referring to the Islamic State, a terrorist group waging war in Iraq and Syria to establish a caliphate in the region.
“Whole communities that had lived for generations in Northern Iraq are being forced to flee or face death just for their religious beliefs,” Mr Ban said. “We cannot allow communities to be threatened by atrocity crimes because of who they are, because of what they believe.”
“In all cases and all regions,” he said, “our response must aim at extremists as well as those who enable them with weapons and other forms of support.”
He called on the alliance to “make and renew our resolve to strengthen the Alliance of Civilization so it can do its job of resisting the forces of dehumanization and brutality – and strengthening the power of our common humanity.”
[Image:Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the opening of the Fifth Global Forum of the UN Alliance of Civilizations. Photo: UNAOC/Georges Schneider]
Mr Ban’s speech in full:
Thank you for your strong commitment and participation in this very important initiative of the United Nations.
I am honoured to address this Sixth Global Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations under the leadership of President Yudhoyono and I thank President and the Government and people of Indonesia for their hospitality warm, welcome and the excellent success of this meeting.
This country, Indonesia, is home to a quarter of a billion people representing a thousand separate ethnic groups living wisely, harmoniously, side-by-side resolving all differences of opinion through dialogue. Therefore it is most fitting that this Alliance of Civilizations is taking place in this country, Indonesia.
I am inspired by Indonesia’s motto, “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika,” or “Unity in Diversity.” This is the main theme of the Alliance of Civilizations.
Our differences should not divide us – they should forge our collective prosperity and strength.
The United Nations was born from tragic experience and lessons we learned from the Second World War: that countries must join forces for peace. And we have learned that this is true not just for governments – but for all of our society.
Unity in diversity is more than a slogan – it is a way of life and it is the way to peace.
I see many disasters in today’s world.
The natural calamities are heart-breaking.
What is most saddening in many ways, these man-made tragedies are even worse.
Too many of our world’s worst crises are driven by those who exploit fear for power.
Too many societies are fracturing along cultural, religious or ethnic lines.
Wars begin in people’s minds – and the way to peace is also through people’s hearts.
The Alliance of Civilizations was created to reach the hearts and minds of people and build bridges to peace.
I applaud High Representative Ambassador Al-Nasser for working with many grassroots groups around the world.
Under his leadership, the Alliance is making a difference on the ground.
It is helping Pakistani university students take the lead in healing sectarian divisions.
It is supporting theatre by Kenyan citizens to prevent young people from joining terrorist movements.
It is encouraging Muslim-Christian volunteerism in Mindanao.
In Israel-Palestine, the Alliance works to join families from both sides who have lost loved ones in the conflict. By having a dialogue with each other, they challenge their leaders to do the same.
We are all here to help the Alliance of Civilizations expand its valuable work of addressing the sources of conflict and planting new seeds of peace. I welcome its commitment to promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue. These are essential tools to preventing and resolving conflicts. I count on your support for efforts by the Alliance and by the entire United Nations system.
We have much work ahead of us across a landscape of tension. Far too often, identities define boundaries that lead to fighting.
Intercommunal violence in the Central African Republic has displaced hundreds of thousands of people. Nearly half the country’s population – two and a half million people – need help to survive.
The newest member of the UN, South Sudan, gained independence with great hope. I myself participated in the independence ceremony. But a power struggle degenerated into ethnic violence that has killed thousands of civilians and [left] many millions of displaced people.
In Myanmar, polarization is threatening the democratic transition. The country’s leaders must speak out against divisive incitement. They must promote interfaith harmony. And they must stand against impunity for provocations and violence.
It is critical to resolve the issue of status and citizenship of the minority Muslim community in Rakhine State, commonly known as the Rohingyas.
I am alarmed by the rising level of attacks in Sri Lanka against religious minorities. The Government and faith leaders must respond and ensure the safety and security of all communities.
In both Myanmar and Sri Lanka, I am concerned that Buddhist communities are being swept up by a rising tide of extremist sentiment against other groups.
This betrays the peaceful teachings of the founder, Lord Buddha.
Calls to violence in the name of religions violate their true principles.
All major faiths value peace and tolerance.
The Quran clearly states that there should be no compulsion in the religion.
That is why I am especially outraged by the reports from Iraq of brutal killing of civilians by ISIL. Whole communities that had lived for generations in Northern Iraq are being forced to flee or face death just for their religious beliefs. We cannot allow communities to be threatened by atrocity crimes because of who they are, because of what they believe.
I welcome the recent open-ended ceasefire in the Middle East following 50 days of profound human suffering and widespread destruction. Any violations would be utterly irresponsible. Civilians on both sides – Palestinians and Israelis – need this chance to resume their lives without fear. A sustainable ceasefire is also essential to facilitate humanitarian relief and early recovery efforts for the suffering people in Gaza.
I remain hopeful that the extended ceasefire will open the way for a political process, which is the only way to achieve lasting peace. The parties must live up to their responsibilities to secure peace through mutual respect as well as an end to economic strangulation of Gaza and the nearly half century of occupation. More suffering, siege conditions and military action will only hurt innocent civilians, empower extremists on all sides, and undermine the safety of our world.
In all cases and all regions, our response must aim at extremists as well as those who enable them with weapons and other forms of support.
Dangerous, divisive leaders are not only found in conflict zones.
In Europe, North America and elsewhere, we see cynical political exploitations of religious differences – and rising Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of hate speech.
In decades past, it might take weeks or months to get reports on atrocities. Today – because of the advancing state of professional media and citizen journalists – they are aired in real-time.
Our challenge is to act on the information we receive. My Rights Up Front initiative aims to mobilize the United Nations quickly in response to abuses.
The UN works around the clock and around the world to usher in a more peaceful future.
Our human rights experts document violations.
Our disarmament teams destroy deadly weapons.
Our peacekeepers patrol demilitarized zones.
I thank the United Nations staff for their dedication in dealing with the consequences of conflicts.
They know from experience that it is better to prevent problems than to fix them.
It is not enough to identify crimes, silence guns and separate warring parties. We must work to strengthen prevention and build the foundations of lasting peace.
Earlier this month at the United Nations, I had the opportunity of meeting a brave young girl, Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan. She was a very brave young teenager who survived a terrorist attack simply because she wanted to study. Now she has become a global champion of education.
We met with some 500 young people at the United Nations in the General Assembly Hall together with the General Assembly President to mark 500 days until the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals. It was quite meaningful event marking the MDG deadline 500 days before.
Malala Yousafzai stressed that everyone is equal – and that everyone can be a peacemaker or human rights defender.
As she said: “We are all the same and everyone can make a difference.”
Let us make and renew our resolve to strengthen the Alliance of Civilization so it can do its job of resisting the forces of dehumanization and brutality – and strengthening the power of our common humanity. And let us work together on the basis of our principles of the United Nations Charter and the Alliance of Civilizations with this power. Let us work together to make this world better where everybody can live with human dignity.
Thank you very much.