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You may recall that the Alliance of Civilizations was established in 2005 under the auspices of the United Nations, at the initiative of the Governments of Spain and Turkey, in order to develop the agenda for good governance of cultural diversity at both the global and local levels, and help to counter divisions, polarization and extremism within and among societies.
I am pleased to note that the Alliance initiative has attracted broad political support — the Group of Friends now numbers more than 100 members, primarily States but also international organizations — and that a range of countries have adopted national strategies to advance its goals. It further benefits from the creative involvement of a steadily growing number of partners, including different components of civil society, media, religious leaders, the business community and foundations.
In a world of increasing complexity and tensions, I see the Alliance as progressively demonstrating its distinctive role and potential, along with other efforts and initiatives developed to diminish tensions and to bridge divides of a cultural nature. I look forward to more countries joining the Group of Friends and actively supporting the Alliance.
The High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, President Jorge Sampaio, has submitted to me his second annual report highlighting the main activities carried out between May 2008 and May 2009 in accordance with the implementation plan, which defined the principles of action and set out concrete initiatives aimed at providing the Alliance with a strategic and structural framework as well as a political agenda.
In his letter to me, the High Representative noted that significant progress was made on the implementation of the main commitments made at the 2008 Madrid Forum of the Alliance, and that several major new initiatives were launched at the recent Istanbul Forum, which confirm the action-oriented character of the Alliance. The High Representative went on to stress that the Alliance “is enjoying a period of unprecedented momentum and expectations are high regarding the commitments and announcements made during the Forum” and that there was all-round commitment to seeing each of these initiatives realized as the Alliance works towards the next Forum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on 28 and 29 May 2010.
I am pleased to convey to you the second annual report which the High Representative submitted to me together with the second implementation plan, covering the period from June 2009 to June 2011.
1. Established in 2005 under the auspices of the United Nations, at the initiative of the Governments of Spain and Turkey, the Alliance of Civilizations aims to develop the agenda for the good governance of cultural diversity with both a global and a local perspective, and, in the process, helps to counter divisions, polarization and extremism within and among societies.
2. In April 2007, after a High-level Group of 20 eminent personalities had produced a report exploring the roots of polarization between cultures and societies and proposed a set of recommendations to address this growing trend, the Secretary-General appointed a High Representative, to advance the process through the development of practical initiatives.
3. In June 2007, the High Representative, the former President of Portugal, Jorge Sampaio, developed an implementation plan for 2007-2009, which defined the principles of action and set out concrete initiatives aimed at providing the Alliance with a strategic and structural framework as well as with a political agenda. The plan was revised and enlarged in the light of the first Alliance of Civilizations Forum held in Madrid in January 2008. Early in the same year, the High Representative submitted a first annual report to the Secretary-General, who relayed the document to the President of the General Assembly (see A/63/336).
4. In the period covered by this second annual report (May 2008-May 2009), the Alliance has worked towards shaping its agenda for the good governance of cultural diversity at a global level, promoting national plans and regional strategies for intercultural dialogue among its member States, developing its network of partnerships and identifying the most innovative grass-roots projects across the world. At the same time, priority was given to the cross-cultural polarization in relations between Muslim and Western societies, particularly in the Euro-Mediterranean area. Referenced in the report of the High-level Group, this polarization remained a source of particular concern throughout the year and the High Representative dedicated multiple efforts to addressing it, including political talks, consultations with a wide range of actors or analysts and initiatives with partners, namely during two major critical moments since the Madrid Forum, the Fitna episode and the Gaza crisis.
5. From May 2008 to May 2009, work has been focused on (a) broadening the support base of the Alliance through the Group of Friends network of member countries and international organizations; (b) enlarging and improving the cooperation and the coordination with agencies and specialized bodies of the United Nations system, as well as with other key organizations and regional processes, particularly within the scope of existing memoranda of understanding and common plans of action; (c) widening and deepening the global network of partnerships with civil society, the private sector and media organizations, all groups that can act as forces of moderation and understanding; and (d) implementing the 10 main commitments made at the Madrid Forum of the Alliance. In the process, one of the key priorities of the Alliance was to ensure the success of the Second Forum of the Alliance, convened in April 2009 in Istanbul, at the invitation of the Government of Turkey, and to provide a mechanism for implementing the projects that were launched at the Forum.
IV. Main initiatives and activities
28. A partnership was developed with the European Commission and the Anna Lindh Foundation to develop a network of experts in the Euro-Mediterranean region to support the work of media professionals covering intercultural tensions and conflicts in the region. Following the Gaza crisis in January, the Alliance joined the European Commission and the Anna Lindh Foundation to organize a consultation with several journalists from the Euro-Mediterranean region on the role of the media and the challenges it faces when covering conflicts. The Rapid Response Media Mechanism project also helped to place 12 articles in international media by connecting journalists with experts who were witnessing events on the ground during the crisis.
44. In the wake of the Gaza crisis, a cluster of projects was jointly developed by the Alliance and partner organizations. Named Restore Trust, Rebuild Bridges , this initiative followed a meeting organized jointly by the Anna Lindh Foundation and the Alliance of Civilizations in February 2009, aimed at assessing the impact of the crisis in Gaza on relations among and within societies in the Euro-Mediterranean region. A series of joint actions were agreed upon to help restore trust in Euro-Mediterranean dialogue and rebuild human and cultural bridges among societies in the region. They involve the Anna Lindh Foundation, UNESCO, OIC, the Council of Europe, the European Union Commission and the Mediterranean Universities Union (Unimed), among others, and received the support of several Governments.
45. With regard to the White Paper on the Israeli and Palestinian Conflict mentioned in the report of the High-level Group (presented in November 2006) for the Alliance of Civilizations, the High Representative carried out a number of consultations and initiatives during the past few months. Following his visit to Israel, Gaza and the West Bank in May 2008, the High Representative convened a follow-up meeting with members of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land in November 2008. In February 2009, he organized a brainstorming session with a number of scholars, political decision makers, artists and representatives of non-governmental organizations to address the White Paper issue. At the Istanbul Forum, he held a working breakfast session on the same subject. The outcome of those meetings was twofold: a “white paper” may be necessary but insufficient unless it is accompanied by a “white process” because narratives which develop during intractable conflicts have a severe impact on people’s lives, at the mental level, and also on social interactions, attitudes and behaviours. These conclusions will now be translated into a concrete project to be implemented in the coming months aimed at promoting an inclusive dialogue process that engages peoples’ hearts and minds.
V. Second Forum of the Alliance
49. In addition to providing a platform to launch new initiatives and take stock of existing Alliance projects, the Forum allowed participants to take part in discussions that helped to advance the debate on key issues of concern to the Alliance. These include issues such as the role of youth in promoting intercultural understanding, city diplomacy, formal and informal education, the role of women in a culture of peace, reporting across cultural divides, the challenge of integrating migrants into multicultural societies, the cost of conflict in the Middle East, competing narratives of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and engaging non-State actors in resolving conflicts.