Context and Bases for the Establishment of UNAOC
In the aftermath of 9/11 and in the context of the global war on terrorism, Samuel Huntington’s theory of the Clash of Civilizations, and a chain of terrorist attacks around the globe, Spanish Prime Minister Mr. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero formulated the idea of an “Alliance of Civilizations” in his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on 21 September 2004.
“In my capacity as representative of a country created and enriched by diverse cultures, before this Assembly I want to propose an Alliance of Civilizations between the Western and the Arab and Muslim worlds.”
H.E. Mr. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero,
Former Prime Minister of Spain, addressing the UN General Assembly in 2004
Mr. Zapatero’s idea of an Alliance of Civilizations came at a time when the United Nations recognized an urgent need to fill a policy gap in the governance of cultural diversity, which was threatened by growing divisions between communities, the rise of violent extremism, the polarization of attitudes and world perceptions, and frequent manifestations of intolerance, xenophobia, and racism.
Following Mr. Zapatero’s speech, the idea of an Alliance of Civilizations was discussed with United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan who agreed to form a working group to explore the potential of the initiative. Soon after, Turkish Prime Minister Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan joined Mr. Zapatero as the co-sponsor of the Alliance of Civilizations.
Formal Launch of UNAOC
On 14 July 2005, United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan formally announced the launch of the Alliance of Civilizations to Member States in a statement at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. On that occasion, he referred to the new initiative as a response to the need for a joint effort on the part of the international community to build bridges, overcome prejudices and avoid polarization. He also stated that the Alliance of Civilizations should be a collaboration against extremist forces and a movement to strengthen mutual respect for traditions and religious beliefs. The Alliance of Civilizations henceforth became a special initiative of the United Nations Secretary-General with the co-sponsorship of the Governments of Spain and Turkey.
“In these troubled times, the Alliance is a unique and inclusive platform for Member States, the private sector, youth, civil society and the media to exchange views and commit to dialogue and new partnerships. It is closely aligned with my own priorities and the vision that I have outlined in my prevention agenda.”
H.E. Mr. António Guterres
United Nations Secretary-General addressing the Group of Friends at the 8th UNAOC Global Forum (November 2019, UN Headquarters, New York)
Mission and Vision
The complex, demanding dialogue of civilizations, cultures, and religions is necessary, possible, and fruitful. It is a critical tool against isolation, mistrust, and confrontation and it is also the most powerful incentive for understanding, and tolerance. History has shown that dialogue is not a simple process, but that if we fail to teach and cultivate it, the situation can give way to a monologue or to mutism, which is conducive to conflict and violent extremism.
The Alliance of Civilizations was created to serve as a soft-power political tool of the United Nations Secretary-General for conflict prevention and conflict resolution. It is a coalition against extremist forces, a movement to advance mutual respect for cultures, traditions and religious beliefs, and a platform to bridge divides and overcome prejudice, misconceptions, misperceptions, and polarization.
The Alliance of Civilizations was intended to promote collective action in society as a means of addressing the threats that emerge from the hostile perceptions that foment violence, overcoming cultural and social barriers, reducing tensions and improving relations between societies and communities with diverse cultural and religious backgrounds, and combatting violent extremism.
High Level Group Report
On 2 September 2005, United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan announced the establishment of a High-Level Group to provide guidance to the work of the Alliance of Civilizations. Comprising 20 eminent personalities from the fields of politics, academia, civil society, finance, and the media and from all United Nations Regional Groups, the Group was tasked with exploring the roots of polarization between societies and cultures, and recommending concrete action plans to address them. To do so, it met five times between November 2005 and November 2006, in Palma de Mallorca, Spain; Doha, Qatar; Dakar, Senegal; Istanbul, Turkey; and at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
The High-Level Group’s report, published on 13 November 2006, put forth recommendations that became the guiding principles for the implementation of the Alliance. In particular, it identified four priority areas of action for the Alliance of Civilizations, which all play a critical role in reducing cross-cultural tensions and building bridges between communities, and to which the Alliance of Civilizations should bring a multidisciplinary and multi-perspective approach: Youth, Education, Media, and Migration.
On 10 November 2009, the United Nations General Assembly recognized the mandate of the Alliance of Civilizations by adopting resolution A/RES/64/14 “The Alliance of Civilization,” acknowledging the importance of intercultural and interreligious dialogue in promoting tolerance and expressing its continuous support for the work of the Alliance of Civilizations.
However, given the hybrid nature of the Alliance of Civilizations, ambiguity concerning its status as an entity within the United Nations system persisted. The then High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, supported by the co-sponsors Spain and Turkey, began lobbying for a United Nations General Assembly resolution with the aim of institutionalizing the status of UNAOC within the United Nations system, and their months-long efforts were fruitful.
On 6 July 2015, Member States demonstrated their support for the work and achievements of the Alliance of Civilizations and adopted by consensus General Assembly resolution A/RES/69/312 “United Nations Alliance of Civilizations,” hence affirming the status of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) as an initiative of the United Nations Secretary-General, an entity within the United Nations system. The resolution reiterated the valuable role of UNAOC in promoting greater understanding and respect among civilizations, cultures, religions, and beliefs.