In his 7 July speech to the meeting between the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the United Nations and partner organisations, the Secretary General addressed the importance of intercultural dialogue. He highlighted the need to learn and practice ''intercultural competences'' and encouraged international organisations to ''move from words to action.''
Intercultural dialogue is vitally important. New developments in recent years, such as massive global migration and the revolution in communications challenge our established perceptions about who we are and who our neighbours are; challenge our long-term vision of the development of our society; and challenge both the values and the role of international institutions.
Intercultural dialogue is a direct expression of the fundamental values which guide the activities of the Council of Europe: democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Ever since its creation in 1949, the Council of Europe has promoted both cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue as means to prevent conflict and increase mutual understanding between the peoples of Europe.
In 2005 the Heads of State and Government decided that intercultural dialogue should be a priority for the Council of Europe. To put this political commitment into action, the Committee of Ministers has recently adopted a policy document – the “White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue”.
The title of this document is “Living Together As Equals in Dignity” . Its main message is that intercultural dialogue is impossible without a clear reference to universal values — democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. On the basis of these values, intercultural dialogue is the way to deal with the complex issues of culturally diverse societies.
The Council of Europe is convinced that human rights provide the essential preconditions for freedom, justice, equality and solidarity. That is why we insist that no meaningful and constructive intercultural dialogue can take place in the absence of respect for democratic principles, human rights and the rule of law.
Many of the international organisations present here today are contributing to the set of international norms and instruments which protect human rights. We are all responsible for increasing awareness that discrimination, racism and all forms of intolerance are an affront to human dignity and can lead to serious human rights violations. That is why following the success of our previous campaign “All Different All Equal”, the new Council of Europe campaign run in co operation with media professionals and training schools for journalists and starting in a few weeks will focus on this central message.
The second issue before us is the need for intercultural competences. We need to begin by recognising that the competences necessary for intercultural dialogue are not automatically acquired. They need to be learned as well as practised and maintained. That is why we call on the public authorities, education professionals, civil society organisations, religious communities, the media and all others who have an educational role, to be aware of their responsibility in a multicultural Europe. The promotion of citizenship and human rights education, exchanges of teachers and students, the teaching of history, the teaching of languages, the teaching of religion, education in intercultural skills and attitudes — these are just some of the major topics which need to be examined by educators in a broad sense of the word.
And this is a huge task for international bodies. Co-operation and division of tasks is important. Following an initiative of the OSCE and its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the Council of Europe, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNESCO are working together to produce a "Compendium of good practices in human rights education in the school system, including citizenship education and education for mutual respect and understanding". The Compendium will be published in December. It will be a joint contribution by all four institutions to the First Phase of the World Programme for Human Rights Education which runs until 2009.
At the Council of Europe, we also promote intercultural co-operation through the work of our “North South Centre” in Lisbon, the new “European Resource Centre on education for democratic citizenship and intercultural education” in Oslo, and our many activities with non-governmental youth organisations. Recent examples are the youth campaign for diversity, human rights and participation, the “Youth Programme on Human Rights Education and Intercultural Dialogue” and the “Peace Camp” on conflict transformation and prevention, which brings together Serbian, Kosovar, Israeli and Palestinian young people.
So far, our activities promoting intercultural competences have been oriented primarily towards teachers and teacher trainers. Our new campaign extends this programme to journalists and journalism students. Other possible target groups are health and social service staff.
If I may now turn to the third subject of our discussion - namely conflict prevention – I believe that the link with intercultural dialogue is obvious. Successfully conducted intercultural dialogue helps to defuse tension, internal and international, and prevent exploitation by extremists. That is why intercultural dialogue is part of the Council of Europe three-pronged approach to the fight against terrorism, together with the international legal co-operation and the protection of human rights.
In conclusion, I should like to reiterate the importance of the issues on our agenda today. Intercultural dialogue demands our full attention and our total commitment. It also demands creativity and an open mind.
And most importantly, we must be specific and action-oriented. There can be no dialogue without words, but there will be no meaningful intercultural dialogue if we do not move from words to action.
Tripartite high level meeting: the promotion of intercultural dialogue