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Parliamentary Assembly Session: 21 to 25 June 2010


Statement by Jorge SAMPAIO, High Representative of the United nations Secretary General for the Alliance of Civilizations

(Extrait du compte rendu des débats)

Mr SAMPAIO (High Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for the Alliance of Civilizations) said that, as a former member of parliament, he took great pleasure in speaking to the Assembly. The pleasure was heightened because of the great debt owed to the Council of Europe, which had done much to sustain the roots of democracy in Portugal. He had the privilege of being Portugal’s first representative on the Human Rights Commission in 66 years, and Portugal respected the values of democracy and celebrated its return to the European family. The Council of Europe and the Court had played vital roles as emissaries building democracy throughout Europe, and defending human rights and the rule of law.

He took the opportunity to pay homage to the remarkable role that the Council of Europe had played as southern European countries had changed during the third wave of worldwide democratisation, in spite of the warnings of the American thinker Samuel Huntington. One could never underestimate the importance of the Council of Europe and its associate bodies, most notably the Court, in building democracy across Europe and its role in ceaselessly promoting human rights and the rule of law.

The Council supplied the democratic conscience of Europe, an ever-more demanding role as membership increased and as all democracies faced new challenges, such as voter dissatisfaction and changes to their social fabric. The Council needed to be vigilant and delegates to act as guardians of democracy, the system which Churchill, with good reason, had called the least worst available. Democracy was not particularly vigorous at the moment, and he did not want to see any backwards steps taken. History did not necessarily march towards progress; on the contrary, regression was always possible and had to be guarded against.

He had been asked to address the Assembly on the subject of its report on Islam and wished to praise the Assembly for its initiative and its courage in that respect.

Europe had inherited a critical and philosophical tradition from the Greeks, based on freedom of expression, which had formed the basis of western civilisation. In the celebrated formulation of Abraham Lincoln, himself drawing on Pericles, Europe required government of the people, by the people and for the people. This vital heritage had to be preserved: equality before the law and an effective guarantee of fundamental liberties were essential to democracy.

The demography of European society had changed considerably in the past 20 years, and large parts of society were excluded from the democratic process. It might have become necessary to reconsider concepts of citizenship and pluralism in order to meet such challenges.

It was necessary to consider pluralism, particularly religious pluralism, and to work towards tolerance. There were no ready-made answers to the problems raised by the report. Nuanced answers were required, along with a common strategic vision tailored to local situations.

The report discussed important taboos concerning Islam and Islamism that had to be dealt with. Anti-Semitism and phobia against Christians were, however, also common in some countries, and all such issues needed to be seen within the wider context of combating racism.

Islamophobia was a serious problem, nonetheless. The draft resolution indicated a way in which to end Islamophobia while promoting the sort of measures proposed in the Council of Europe’s white paper on intercultural dialogue. The UN Alliance of Civilizations supplied a catalyst for thinking about joint action.

The Council of Europe and its President deserved gratitude for organising a round table on Islamophobia. Investment in education and cultural diversity were necessary, particularly within cities, and in order to strengthen measures to prevent cultural tension. Young people should be involved as agents of change.

Globalisation and diversity in societies raised challenging questions of identity for democratic governments. In developing a long-term strategy, a global approach was needed, adapting global principles to specific local situation. This would involve working with a vast network of partnerships at local, national and international levels. To do this, member states needed to link with other countries in order to facilitate intercultural dialogue and spread governmental good practice. Parliaments had a major role to play. The UN Alliance of Civilizations was keen to work with the Council of Europe, as concerted action was needed.

The Council of Europe had a unique role to play in an enlarged framework in building communities based on human rights and the rule of law. The Council provided a crucial symbol in defending human rights and in foreseeing challenges for democracy that might result from cultural and socio-economic upheaval. The Council needed to remain firm and steadfast in looking to the future so that it and the UN Alliance of Civilizations could together help Europeans to build a common home, open to all the world.