Statement of Mr. Antonius Broek, UNDP Resident Representative, at the State and Religion Forum
Dear Ambassador Iskandarov, Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Let me start by thanking the organizers for the opportunity to address you at this important event in the beautiful city of Baku. The location is appropriate, as for many centuries, Azerbaijan served as a natural corridor between the West and East, North and South and was part of the Great Silk Road.
In the new millennium, Azerbaijan re-emerges not only as an important centre of transit and trade, but is also actively promoting dialogue on the interaction of cultures, religions and civilizations, as we have seen during the first World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue in 2011. Needless to say that we are looking forward to the second Forum next year, for which today’s event is a preparation.
Cultural, religious liberty, tolerance and respect for minorities are vital parts of human development because the ability to state one’s identity, without being excluded from other choices, is fundamental to leading a full life. It is a simple idea, but profoundly challenging to put into practice. In the globalized world of the 21st century, where countries are getting ever more diverse, the challenge of not just managing that diversity, but actually respecting and celebrating it, needs urgent attention and action. Explicit policies are required to address this challenge. Given the profound importance of religion to people’s identities, religion should be one of the central pillars of such policies.
This Conference provides a forum for discussing how countries can make that happen. Governments are responsible for devising policies that provide for stability, trust and tolerance within and between the states, and prevent conflicts that take development backwards. These policies should not contradict other goals and strategies of human development, such as consolidating democracy, building a capable state and ensuring equal opportunities to all citizens. This is not easy, but there are many examples of countries around the world adopting successful approaches for achieving religious harmony.
The underlying principle of these approaches is equality, whereby all religions have the same relation to the state, which provides reasonable accommodation of religious practices, based on human rights principles, freedom of expression and the rule of law.
Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is my hope that this conference brings us another small step closer to a world where tolerance, diversity and harmony go hand in hand, as ideals that are seen as complementary, rather than contradictory. The United Nations will continue to espouse these ideals and support efforts towards realizing them wherever possible and necessary.