ASTANA - Sharing positive experiences and best practices in promoting tolerance and non-discrimination to effectively face threats to stability in the OSCE area is the focus of the High-Level Conference on Tolerance and Non-Discrimination that started in Astana today.
Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, which is chairing the OSCE in 2010, stressed the urgent need to reinforce dialogue between cultures, civilizations and religions in his opening address: "As the OSCE Chairmanship, Kazakhstan intends to contribute to the promotion of ideas of tolerance, inter-ethnic peace and inter-confessional agreement in the OSCE area."
Nazarbayev emphasized the importance of examining and implementing best practices of promoting tolerance, including via OSCE field operations, and to take full account of the changing environment in the OSCE area. "The changes in language, migration, religious, cultural and education policy that we observe in the OSCE participating States have not been given proper thought at the collective level. We have to work together on summarizing the recent serious shifts in tolerance policy," he said. The President put forward an idea to create an OSCE Centre on tolerance and non-discrimination.
Speaking about the conflict in Kyrgyzstan, Nazarbayev stressed the complex ethnic composition of the Central Asian region. "The bitterest consequence of the conflict in Kyrgyzstan is that the seeds of mistrust can be sown between other peoples of the region. This represents a significant challenge to stability in the region and a threat to all OSCE participating States".
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The aim of the two-day conference is to advance implementation of OSCE commitments related to promoting tolerance, non-discrimination and inter-cultural dialogue, which are key priorities of Kazakhstan's OSCE Chairmanship. More than 600 participants will discuss the role of legislation, law enforcement, education systems and the media, including online media, in addressing public manifestations of intolerance and promoting understanding through open dialogue.
Janez Lenarcic, the Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights underlined the importance of human rights in fostering understanding between communities: "The provision of human rights is a precondition for notions of respect and mutual understanding to unfold their essence. To put it bluntly: it is not an achievement to 'tolerate' members of our society who do not have the right to freely speak their mind or enjoy the panoply of other rights that should be available in a democratic society."
Knut Vollebaek, the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, said: "If we want to create and safeguard cohesive societies, tolerance has to be more than just acceptance of differences. We need to strive for positive tolerance founded on respect for each individual."
Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, emphasized that freedom of expression is a basic precondition for the development of multi-cultural and inter-ethnic societies, and that open debate which aims at promoting mutual understanding requires free media and independent journalists.
Other high-level speakers at the conference include Jorge Sampaio, the UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations; Mevlyut Cavusoglu, the President of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly; Remigijus Shimashijus, Justice Minister of Lithuania, which will chair the OSCE in 2011, and other senior representatives of OSCE participating States and international organizations.
Previous OSCE conferences on tolerance and non-discrimination took place in Cordoba, Spain, in 2005, and in Brussels in 2004.
Kazakhstan: OSCE Chairman in 2010