Highlighting the terrible toll intolerance is taking around the world, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stressed that fostering dialogue is the only sure way to counter extremism and build cross-cultural understanding.
"Never in our lifetime has there been a more desperate need for constructive and committed dialogue, among individuals, among communities, among cultures, among and between nations," Mr. Ban told the first UN Alliance of Civilizations Forum, which opened in Madrid.
The two-day meeting in the Spanish capital brings together political leaders, the media, corporate and film industry executives, and grassroots and civil society leaders to promote the global campaign launched by the UN to help overcome prejudices between nations and cultures and to promote interfaith dialogue.
"You may have different backgrounds and perspectives, but you share a common conviction that the Alliance of Civilizations is an important way to counter extremism and heal the divisions that threaten our world," Mr. Ban said.
He added that participants share a determination to use the unique platform the Forum offers to speak openly and honestly about cross-cultural concerns, as well as to advance new partnership initiatives.
. The Secretary-General welcomed several high-profile initiatives launched on the Forum's first day, including major projects aimed at promoting understanding among cultures in the areas of media and youth.
He noted that such efforts will help bolster the UN's efforts in preventive diplomacy, and in supporting sustainable peace processes. "No matter how many resolutions we adopt, envoys we dispatch, or peace agreements we negotiate, their prospects of success will be fragile if the parties do not have a real and profound sense of our shared humanity."
Mr. Ban opened the Forum along with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Rodriguez Zapatero, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan, and the Secretary-General's High Representative for the Alliance and former President of Portugal, Jorge Sampaio.
On the sidelines of the Forum, the Secretary-General is holding a number of bilateral meetings, including with the Prime Ministers of Spain and Turkey and with European Union High Representative Javier Solana today. He also met with the Prime Minister of Malaysia and the Presidents of Finland and Slovenia. In addition, he will have an audience this evening with King Juan Carlos I of Spain.
Created in 2005 at the initiative of Spain and Turkey and under UN auspices, the Alliance seeks to tackle fear and suspicion, bridge divides and overcome prejudices and polarizations among different cultures and faiths.