16 November 2006 - International Day for Tolerance. Message of the Director-General of UNESCO

8 November 2006

The International Day of Tolerance focuses global attention on one of the greatest human virtues. Tolerance signifies an active engagement with, and appreciation of, the rich diversity of humankind. In todays increasingly multi-ethnic and multicultural societies, it forms a key principle of democracy and the very basis for the peaceful coexistence of peoples.

Yet, intolerance continues to blight the lives of millions of people around the world. In the past few years, we have witnessed how intolerance can manifest itself in extreme violence, causing widespread death and suffering. This is why tolerance must remain at the centre of the agenda of UNESCO and the United Nations.

On 16 November 1995, the date of the fiftieth anniversary of the Organization, UNESCOs Member States adopted a Declaration of Principles on Tolerance. The Declaration affirmed that tolerance is not a concession, condescension or indulgence, but a positive value of respect and mutual recognition, prompted by recognition of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms.

To further the values of tolerance, UNESCO is implementing a global integrated strategy to combat racism, discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance. At the same time, the protection and promotion of cultural diversity and the advancement of quality education have become priority areas of the Organizations work, especially in societies that have experienced major crises or even armed conflict. In particular, UNESCO has formed close partnerships with authorities at the local level, developing regional coalitions of cities united against racism, discrimination and xenophobia. It is in fighting these three evils that we can best defeat intolerance.

Like many irrational attitudes, intolerance is often rooted in fear: fear of the unknown, fear of the different, fear of the other. At the root of such fears are ignorance and lack of education. Quality education is the most effective means of preventing intolerance. It is particularly vital that our children learn about tolerance so that they understand why respect for human rights, human dignity and human diversity are inseparable. But we must make sure that education itself is free from the virus of intolerance. Education needs to teach people about their shared rights and freedoms so that the latter may be respected and enjoyed by all.

On this International Day of Tolerance, let us resolve to practice actively at the individual level the principles we wish to see respected universally. Let us recognize that the work for tolerance begins with each and every one of us.

Koichiro Matsuura

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