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Ministerial Meeting of the "Group of Friends" - Alliance of Civilizations

New York , 

Alliance of Civilizations
Ministerial Meeting of the "Group of Friends"
New York, 23 September 2011

Speech by Mr Thorbjørn Jagland
Secretary General of the Council of Europe

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President Sampaio,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to address you here in New York today.

Speaking on behalf of the strongest human rights machinery in today's world, I would like to start with recalling why it was established. It came as a consequence of the awful wars in Europe.

Peace as Winston Churchill said, has to built on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Where law of law ends, tyranny begins.
Europe had to move from nationalism to internationalism. We decided that the state should be at the service of its citizens. Not the other way around. That is why it should be a duty of the state to protect the right of the minority against the majority.

65 years on, after many great achievements, we are confronted with new challenges to our freedom. The diversity of Europe is making it harder for us to co-exist. To live together in the
21st century.

Sticking to your strong request, I would like to say a few words about the development on the European continent.

Despite advances in integration, we are witnessing increased discrimination in Europe. People continue to live next to each other, but they do not necessarily live together.

Immigrants continue to be excluded in a number of areas – some even exist in isolated parallel societies.

And as recent events in Norway have illustrated, even ethnic citizens turn to parallel societies. They find likeminded people on social media websites. These websites provide the place for isolated societies to develop – where hatred against immigrants can be disseminated without counter arguments.

I have followed this development with concern for some time, and last year I asked former German Foreign Minister, Mr Joschka Fischer, to head an independent "Group of Eminent Persons".

The Group's task was to prepare a report identifying the threats to our societies whilst suggesting how we can learn to live better together.

The Group's main message is that Europe must fully embrace diversity if it wants to remain a region of peace and prosperity.

But this will only work if we acknowledge what unites us as citizens of free democracies: that we are equal before the law, that we respect human rights and that we share certain rights and obligations within our societies.

President Sampaio,

I am convinced that if we want the world to move forward in harmony with all its diversity, we must continue to spread human rights and democracy within societies and reinforce the rule of law on the international level.

Let me end with a concrete example, we should not complain about the fact that the Palestinians are bringing their case to the UN, rather than to bring their cause to the battlefield. This must be the way we resolve conflicts in today's world.

There are two transforming forces in today's world: one is economic forces, but an equally strong force is the quest for freedom. Granting people the freedom to live in dignity is the best way to avoid clashes and conflicts, between ethnic groups, nations and religions. And referring to this, I would like to end by saying that we should stop using the words Islamic terrorism. There is no such terrorism. The man in Norway said he is a Christian, we do not say that he is a Christian terrorist.

Freedom is a demanding gift – whether in newly born or in long established democracies. It can only be real if the state commits itself to legally-binding rights and freedoms. And if we as citizens commit ourselves to the responsibilities which accompany these rights.

I hope that we can co-operate with the Alliance of Civilizations and other organisations on these issues.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

"Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better" said the writer Albert Camus.

In North Africa they are struggling to gain freedom as we speak. In Europe we are struggling to safeguard the freedoms we gained over 65 years ago.

The future of the world's civilization will not be based on a single model. But it will be based on freedom.

We are in a time of change. Let's work together to make this change a better freedom.

Thank you.