Remarks by Mr. Miguel Moratinos,
High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC),
Upon receiving the Theophano Prize on Behalf of the United Nations Secretary-General

Thessaloniki, 9 November 2023

Your Excellency,
Mr. Margaritis Schinas, Vice President of the European Commission,

Your Excellency, Mr. Apostolos Tzitzikostas,
First Vice President of the European Committee of the Regions,

Your Excellency, Mr. Stavros Andreadis, Chairman of the Governing Council,
Your Excellency, President Herman Count van Rompuy, Chairman of the Advisory Council,

Honorable guests,

It is a great honor to be attending this remarkable ceremony in this spectacular city and to receive the Empress Theophano Prize on behalf of the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Let me first express my admiration to the Theophano Foundation for its work and its essential objectives. You are a successful reference to the dialogue between east and west, building bridges of mutual understanding and reconciliation.

My dear friends, this prize granted to the Secretary-General and all UN staff is a recognition of the work to advance the 4 pillars of the United Nations: Peace and Security, Human Rights, The Rule of Law, and Sustainable Development.

I assume we all agree that these 4 pillars are interrelated and interdependent.

Peace and protection by law of human rights, mutual respect, equal political rights, and equal economic opportunities are prerequisites for building inclusive, peaceful, and resilient societies.

I wish to take the cue from the earlier message of the Secretary-General. Mr. Guterres referred to “building an alliance of peace that spans the global and the local to meet the test of our times”. UNAOC also proclaimed this call last year in its Global Forum in Fez where we called for an Alliance of peace for living together as one humanity.

I am convinced that there are bridges on which people could cross and meet as human beings transcending their different ideologies, race, religion or belief.

The Iberian peninsula from where I come from has been the battleground as well as the melting pot of the three Monotheistic Faiths that has left the region with a sense of respect for cultural and religious diversity.

In fact, this Rotunda Monument is an example of the amalgamation of civilizations. It has gone through multiple periods of use and modification as a Christian basilica, a Muslim mosque, and again a Christian church, one of the oldest in Europe.

The plain truth is – today more than ever – in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural world, diversity remains the reality that informs human life. Diversity means embracing pluralism in nations and cities, tribes and villages, in ethnicities and identities, in beliefs, faiths and traditions.

Peaceful co-existence should not be the ultimate aim.

We should seek a more robust and effective form of multilateralism, to defend our common objective of building “one humanity”.

Distinguished guests,

Next month, on the 10th of December on Human Rights Day, the UN family and global community will celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The milestone document continues to be a living document in an ever-changing world.

In preparation of these remarks, I drew inspiration from Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the magna carta of all humankind – which states, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

75 years ago the global community came together to affirm the dignity and worth of every person, and to secure peace and development for all peoples and to ensure the safety and security of future generations.

It is important to remind ourselves everyday of those foundational universal principles particularly in the context of the current geopolitical situation.

I dare say, we are witnessing a situation where a human catastrophe is unfolding every minute in front of our eyes.

The International Human Rights Law and the International Humanitarian Law were developed to precisely address crises and catastrophes as such.

Distinguished guests,

The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, the UN entity that I am privileged to lead remains an ardent defender of inclusiveness and efficient multilateralism. Against the diversity of the global, interconnected challenges, our responses must transcend national borders. Our mantra is “Many Cultures, One Humanity”. We have to recognize that there is a pluralism of civilizations . Each and every one of them has contributed to enriching our common and single humanity.

In this context, I am alarmed at the surge in religious intolerance and hate crimes especially those targeting Jews, Muslims and Arabs around the world in the context of the dangerous escalation of the situation in the Middle East. This morning, the President of the Jewish community in Thessaloniki reminded me that today was the same day as “Kristallnacht”. You start burning books and you end up doing the most dehumanizing action, the holocaust.

I unequivocally condemn attacks, hate crimes and harassment against Jews, Muslims and Arabs, and the destruction or desecration of their places of worship.

The rise in online hate content, disinformation and conspiracy theories is appalling and distressing.

I echo the call of the Secretary-General of the United Nations to uphold human dignity and to stand up to the forces of antisemitism, anti-Muslim bigotry and all forms of hate.

In such trying times, emotions run high.

Malicious forces are exploiting the anger, fury and fear to spread disinformation and fuel incitement to violence.
But we should firmly reject the dehumanizing language against specific communities, stand up against bigotry, and make every effort to enforce empathy and mutual respect through a meaningful dialogue.

All human lives matter.

The Palestinians and Israelis deserve to live in peace without fear.

The United Nations upholds zero tolerance to antisemitism, Islamophobia and all forms of discrimination based on religion or belief.

Concluding my remarks, I wish to thank all honorable members of the Advisory Council and my special thanks to the Chairman, President Herman Van Rompuy, with whom I share memorable anecdotes. Our paths have crossed in the past when we worked together to implement the Lisbon Treaty in 2010.

I also fondly recall his nickname “Haiku Herman” and would like to conclude by quoting one of his Haiku reflections:

A lovely summer
injured by cannons
Life stronger than death

I thank you all.