Statement on the Ministerial Meeting of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Sixth Annual Global Forum, Bali

Thank you very much, Mr. High Representative.

I also wish to commend the Government of Indonesia for hosting the Global Forum in Bali, a beautiful island that represents the spirit of Indonesia’s national motto of Unity in Diversity, “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika.”  This noble concept is the same one that we are pursuing in the UN Alliance of Civilizations.  At a time when the world faces many challenges, it is fitting that this year’s forum is taking place in Indonesia, a successful democracy melding together diverse cultures and religious traditions.

In his remarks to the UN General Assembly last September, President Obama discussed new and profound challenges facing the international community today.  He said, “The question is whether we possess the wisdom and the courage, as nation-states and members of an international community, to squarely meet those challenges; whether the United Nations can meet the tests of our time.”

The UN Alliance of Civilizations proves that we can meet these challenges and resolve differences peacefully through dialogue that improves understanding and promotes cooperation between people of different religions, beliefs, cultures, and nationalities.

The United States joined the Group of Friends in 2010 because of a shared commitment to the goals of peaceful cooperation and mutual understanding.  Not in spite of, but because of our differences, we must celebrate the opportunity to make progress together on such common issue areas as youth, education, media, and migration.  Moreover, collaboration between governments, civil society, media, international and regional organizations, and the private sector is essential for this dialogue to succeed at promoting human rights, cultural diversity, and the equality of all individuals.

Speaking at our third forum in 2010, Secretary-General Ban called the Alliance of Civilizations a work in progress with an important mission.  He raised some of the most profound questions that we seek to answer:  “How do we build inclusive societies?  How can we strengthen education and empower women?  How do we drown out the siren songs that divert young people to extremism?”

Sustained, cross-party dialogue has allowed the Alliance of Civilizations to make significant strides in answering these questions.  Interreligious and intercultural dialogue continues to be at the forefront of our efforts to promote a culture of peace.  But this is not just about answering questions of political philosophy.

By working within the UN system, collaborating with other UN organizations, and deepening its regional approach, the Alliance has taken important steps toward fostering and protecting the rich diversity of cultures, religions, traditions, and civilizations that enhance our world.  Our efforts here are directed toward finding meaningful methods to take action by providing economic and social opportunities for members of society who are often marginalized or ignored.  We are indeed united in the common goal of promoting diversity.

The U.S. also welcomes this week’s discussion on peaceful coexistence as a path to sustainable development.

The world has seen tremendous gains against poverty in the last generation—over 675 million people lifted out of poverty globally.  Yet the track record has been uneven, and countries torn by conflict and violence have been the most trapped by persistent poverty and the most impeded from reaching the Millennium Development Goals.

No one disputes that conflict and violence dramatically undermine development.

Countries that experienced major violence between 1981 and 2005 had a 21 percent higher poverty rate.  Countries affected by severe violence fell behind twice as far in reducing infant mortality, their populations are three times as likely to be undernourished, and their children three times as likely to be out of school.

This is not surprising.  Violence and conflict, in addition to physical damage and the toll on human and social capital, create uncertainty about the future and undermine precisely the confidence that is necessary for economic activity and social support.

Significant violence amounts to development in reverse.  The average cost of a civil war is equivalent to over 30 years of GDP growth for a medium-sized developing country.  Trade levels after major violence take an average of 20 years to recover.  The global economic impact of addressing such violence is estimated at 9.5 trillion US dollars, or approximately 11 percent of the Gross World Product.

We can commit to universal access to quality education.  Yet according to UNESCO, 28 million children in countries emerging from conflict are still not in school.  Women and children make up 80 percent of refugees and internally displaced persons globally and remain without consistent access to education. That is too many to leave behind.

That makes the issue of safe and peaceful societies a paramount poverty issue.

The overarching goal of the Alliance of Civilizations—that is, peaceful coexistence—also reminds us of the imperative of tolerance, non-discrimination, and inclusion.  The United States sees the Post-2015 Development Agenda as a promising opportunity to elevate inclusion as a development priority.

That is part of what underpins our support for a dedicated goal on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls.  Collectively, women and girls are the population that faces the most substantial impediments to leading empowered lives, especially because of the violence to which far too many are vulnerable.

That is what underpins our support for a dedicated goal on Peaceful and Inclusive Societies.

It also informs our support for a dedicated goal on capable, effective, and accountable institutions, which afford all individuals a chance for a life of dignity and promise, with equal rights, opportunities, and access to services.

And that is what undergirds our commitment that the goals and targets we craft create opportunities for all individuals and groups, combat discrimination in all its forms, and celebrate the diversity of all the world’s peoples, communities, and individuals.  Harnessing the positive power of diversity is what makes all of our societies, and indeed our global community, stronger.

And that is of course the animating conviction of the Alliance of Civilizations.

In closing, the Alliance holds unique value in the UN system.  Through its work, the Alliance reminds us of the core principles of the UN and the Charter’s promise of universal peace.  It is because of the Alliance and those that work toward the same goals that we can look to the future not with fear, but with hope.

Thank you, Mr. High Representative.