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Message from the Director-General of UNESCO on the occasion of the International Day for Tolerance (16 November 2002)

15-11-2002 - This is the second time that we have celebrated the International Day for Tolerance since the start of the new century. As humanity advances in its scientific and technological control of the world around it, it seems torn between the hope of better tomorrows and anxiety about an ever more threatening future.

The hope born of the emergence of a universal ethical conscience, which was discernible in particular in August 2001 at the time of the Durban World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, has been eroded by the return of certain forms of barbarity. Far from being confined to certain regions or population groups, the signs of this mounting intolerance do not seem to spare any country, any nation.

The International Day must be an occasion for recalling that tolerance is among the cardinal values forming the bedrock of this universal conscience. It is consubstantial with human rights and fundamental freedoms, and is both an intellectual inclination to open-mindedness and an emotional attitude of reaching out to others. Far from being a passive attitude, often confused with a condescending indifference to the reality of others, tolerance is itself the active principle of dialogue. It requires self-knowledge and a reining in of any lingering desire to dominate, as reflected in arrogance, selfishness, contempt, violence and exclusion.
Tolerance implies a duty of humanity vis-à-vis one’s neighbours and a feeling of solidarity towards others. It is clearly one of the human attitudes calling for spiritual and ethical intelligence.

As stated in the Declaration of Principles on Tolerance, adopted by UNESCO in 1995, tolerance is “respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures […]. Tolerance is not concession, condescension or indulgence […]. It is not only a moral duty, it is also a political and legal requirement”.
Despite all the efforts of the international community, we have to acknowledge that the spread of tolerance is being held in check by a rising tide of hatred, fear and persistent ignorance. What is worse, the headlong development of new communication and information media has, paradoxically, enabled the ideologists and activists of intolerance to reinforce their hold over people’s minds by cultivating their weaknesses.

In celebrating this day devoted to tolerance, we must therefore remind ourselves that words alone are all too inadequate to combat inequality, injustice and fear.

It is more than ever important for us to wage an unrelenting struggle on the very ground where intolerance thrives: economic insecurity, socio-political marginalization, cultural homogenization and mental suffering.
It is on all these fronts that we must undertake to act in order to banish forever the manifestations of intolerance, racism, xenophobia and exclusion.

Nothing here can rival the preventive action represented by education and training. It is by teaching from infancy – at school, at home and in all other places of social interaction – the principles, attitudes and practices of tolerance conducive to “talking” and “living together” that we shall ultimately eradicate the seeds of what our century must cease to countenance. The International Day for Tolerance is just the occasion to bend our efforts in this direction.

Source Office of the Spokesperson





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