UN chief warns against new religion world war

In his last annual address to the UN General Assembly, outgoing Secretary-General Kofi Annan warns that the lack of sensitivity to other people's beliefs could lead to a new war of religion on a global scale.

Speaking at a time when the Vatican is stepping up diplomatic efforts to calm Muslim anger over the Pope's Islam remarks last week, Mr Annan warns that "insensitivity towards other people's beliefs or sacred symbols - intentional or otherwise - is seized upon by those who seem eager to foment a new war of religion."

According to a Spero News report, Mr Annan told the opening of the UN General Assembly in New York this week that "misconceptions and the stereotypes underlying the idea of a clash of civilisations have come to be more and more widely shared."

In the speech, Mr Annan also highlighted climate change, HIV/AIDS, fair trade, migration, human rights as among the "indispensable" challenges "for each of us in our village, our neighbourhood, our country," Xinhuanet adds.

"Yet each has acquired a global dimension that can only be reached by global action, agreed and coordinated through this most universal of institutions," Mr Annan said, emphasising the UN's "indispensable role" in ending the Israel-Lebanon conflicts.

Challenges for humanity

Speaking before more than 80 heads of government and presidents, Mr Annan also said that he is concerned about three major challenges for humanity.

"As the second African to serve as (UN) Secretary-General, I felt that all three of these challenges, the security challenge, the development challenge, the challenge of human rights and the rule of law, concerned me directly," Mr Annan said.

Although globalisation and growth have continued apace in the economic arena, the UN chief cautioned against relying only on statistics as many feel deeply insecure and strongly resent the apparent complacency of those more fortunate than themselves.

"So globalisation, which in theory brings us all closer together, in practice risks driving us further apart," Mr Annan said.

As to the second challenge, Mr Annan said that in far too many parts of the world, especially the developing world, people are still exposed to brutal conflicts, fought with small but deadly weapons.

"This climate of fear and suspicion is constantly refuelled by violence in the Middle East," Mr Annan said.

Mr Annan assailed the Middle East violence as not just one regional conflict. "No other conflict carries such a powerful symbolic and emotional charge among people far removed from the battlefield," he said.

As to the third challenge, the rule of law and protection of rights and dignity, the UN chief hailed progress has been made in this regard, yet "every day, reports reach us of new laws broken, of new bestial crimes to which individuals and minority groups are subjected," Mr Annan said, mentioning the humanitarian crisis in Sudan's Darfur region.

Mr Annan said he remains convinced that the only answer to this divided world must be a truly United Nations.

Annan addresses UN General Assembly, hails UN role (Xinhua.net, 20/9/06)
Global anti-terrorism strategy will only succeed if countries work together, says Annan (UN News Centre, 19/9/06)
States must make immediate start in translating commitments into reality (Address by Kofi Annan, UN General Assembly, 19/9/06)
Annan warns against global 'war of religion' (Spero News, 20/9/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
United Nations

Vatican official praises Nobel peace prize award to Kofi Annan (CathNews, 15/10/01)
Pre-order sales of book on Pope John Paul II set records (CathNews, 14/10/03)
Annan supports Vatican's UN observer status (CathNews, 19/06/00)

21 Sep 2006