Alliance of Civilizations

Alliance of Civilizations
United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
Abbreviation UNAOC
Formation 2005
Type UN Initiative
Legal status Active
Headquarters New York City
Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser

The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) is an initiative proposed by the President of the Government of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, at the 59th General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) in 2005. It was co-sponsored by the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The initiative seeks to galvanize international action against extremism through the forging of international, intercultural and interreligious dialogue and cooperation. The Alliance places a particular emphasis on defusing tensions between the Western and Islamic worlds.


The group claims that mutual suspicion, fear and misunderstanding between Islamic and Western societies has been increasing since the beginning of the new millennium. The heightened instability of coexistence between these groups of people with divergent backgrounds has led to exploitation by extremists throughout the world: the severest form of this being violent acts of terrorism. It has been the opinion of many political leaders that efforts should be made to reach a common ground between diverse ethnic and religious groups based on the tolerance, understanding, and respect of the fundamental set of values and beliefs of each group. In this way, and by the attempt to quell "extremism", a comprehensive coalition can be established to work toward a peaceful coexistence between diverse groups around the world, and thereby support international stability.


The Alliance of Civilizations initiative was proposed by the President of the Spanish Government, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero at the 59th General Assembly of the United Nations in 2005. It was co-sponsored by the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.[1] The aim of the initiative was to produce actionable, time-bound recommendations by the end of 2006 for UN member states to adopt.

Preliminary work

To fulfill the objective of the initiative, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan assembled a High-Level Group (HLG) consisting of 20 eminent persons drawn from policy making, academia, civil society, religious leadership, and the media. A full range of religions and civilizations were represented.[2] Among the members were former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who proposed the Dialogue Among Civilizations initiative, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South African Nobel laureate, Prof. Pan Guang, who obtained the Saint Petersburg-300 Medal for Contribution to China-Russia Relations, and Arthur Schneier, who is the founder and president of the “Appeal of Conscience Foundation” and who gained the "Presidential Citizens Medal”. The HLG met 5 times between November 2005 and November 2006, and produced a report prioritising relations between the Western and Muslim societies.

The first meeting of the HLG of the AoC occurred in Spain in November 2005. The second meeting was in Doha, Qatar from 25 to 27 February 2006 with the agenda of aiming to find ways to calm the cartoon crisis between West and Islamic world.[3] The third meeting took place in Dakar, Senegal from 28 to 30 May 2006. At the final meeting in November 2006 in Istanbul, the members presented their final report to Kofi Annan and to Prime Ministers José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The report outlined recommendations and practical solutions on how the Western and Islamic societies can solve misconceptions and misunderstandings between them. According to the report, "politics, not religion, is at the heart of growing Muslim-Western divide", although a large emphasis is maintained on religion.[4]

Report of the High-Level Group

The final 2006 report of the HLG was structured in two parts. Part I presented an analysis of the global context and of the state of relations between Muslim and Western societies. It concluded with a set of general policy recommendations, indicating the HLG's belief that certain political steps are pre-requisites to any substantial and lasting improvement in relations between Muslim and Western societies.

Part II of the report reflected the HLG's view that tensions across cultures have spread beyond the political level into the hearts and minds of populations. To counter this trend, the Group presented recommendations in each of four thematic areas: Education, Youth, Migration, and Media. The Report concluded with outlined suggestions for the implementation of its recommendations.

A key issue regarded by the AoC is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the resolution of which is considered paramount.

The report also recommends combating "exclusivism" and extremism. It defines exclusivism as, “those who feed on exclusion and claim sole ownership of the truth". Thus, religious groups who assert one specific truth to the exclusion of other religious doctrines are considered undesirable by the AoC. Furthermore, the report identifies the primary global groups in this issue as the three monotheistic faiths.

Structure and leadership

The "High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations" is the title of the primary leadership position of the AoC, who is to function as political facilitator and lead spokesman, and to consult directly with the United Nations Secretary General. In April 2007, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed the position of High Representative to Jorge Sampaio, former President of Portugal. In February 2013, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser assumed the post of High Representative, succeeding President Sampaio in the position.

The Secretariat of the Alliance of Civilizations provides support to the High Representative and implements developmental functions of the AoC. The offices are based at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Ongoing activities

Implementation plan

In May 2007, the AoC released its "Implementation Plan 2007-2009", which elaborated on the notion that the AoC will not replace or reconstitute any existing plans or political channels. Rather, the AoC will facilitate its goals primarily through partnership operations among a variety of existing groups, and also through projects in youth, education, media, and migration.

The core of the 16 page document consists of two parts. The first part, drawing directly on the 2006 HLG report, describes the strategic and structural framework for the AoC. Included are plans for an AoC forum held in varying locations annually, the "Group of Friends" representatives from States and international organisations, and UN Secretary-General-appointed ambassadors to the AoC. Financing will be accomplished via the AoC Voluntary Trust Fund with support from various organisations.

The second part of the plan calls for actions to staff the office of the Secretariat by Summer 2007, and to implement the directives established in the first part of the document. A mid-term review of the plan of action is intended in 2008. The first group of ambassadors will be listed by the end of 2007, and the first annual AoC forum will be held January 15–16 in 2008 in Spain, with a focus on youth. The AoC will establish a rapid-response media-based mechanism to intervene in escalations of global tension.

The plans were discussed with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on June 14, 2007.

On June 24, Ban Ki-moon spoke at a commemoration of 13th century Muslim poet Rumi in New York, in which he embraced the teachings of the poet, expressing the resonance with the goals of the AoC.[5]

Major Projects


The UN Alliance of Civilizations' media program is based on two pillars:

  1., an online resource which connects journalists with a wide range of opinion leaders who provide quick reactions and analysis on complex political, social and religious issues;
  2. A broad array of training programs designed to support journalists and opinion makers in their efforts to report across cultural divides in a fast-changing global media environment.


The Youth Solidarity Fund (YSF) is an international program that provides small grants of up to US$30,000 to youth organizations advancing intercultural and interfaith dialogue at the local, national, and regional or international levels. Projects funded under this program are developed and implemented in their entirety by youth organizations and primarily for the benefit of youth. Projects last an average of 6 months and present a strong potential for growth and sustainability. These projects both at the individual (youth) and institutional levels (youth organizations).


Through the development of clearinghouses, the UNAOC serves as a platform for disseminating materials that resonate with its objectives of improving understanding among nations and peoples. Launched in April 2009, the Education about Religions and Beliefs Clearinghouse encompasses learning about the world's diverse religions and beliefs as well as ethics, tolerance, and civic education. It includes guidelines, learning and teaching resources, links to relevant organizations, a journal, related events, an online forum and news. The ERB Clearinghouse currently focuses on education at the primary and secondary level.

Migration and Integration

The Migration Integration program of the Alliance aims to improve integration, and thereby enhance relations between migrants and host societies. Poor integration of migrant communities can give way to feelings of alienation and resentment, while well-integrated migrants demonstrate that diversity brings progress and social cohesion. Our main tool for this is the Online Community on Migration and Integration, a website that showcases successful models of integration and highlights good practices implemented by a variety of stakeholders. The promotion of the site as a networking platform further encourages the sharing of experiences and replication of good practices.

The Global Experts

The Global Experts (originally known as Global Expert Finder) is a free online resource of opinion leaders who provide quick reactions and accurate analysis to journalists worldwide on complex political, social and religious issues and crises.

Global Expert Finder Logo

It was developed by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, and is supported by a network of partners from the media, academia, civil society and the international community, including the European Commission, the International Center for Journalists, Search for Common Ground, International Crisis Group, and the Global Forum for Media Development.

All of the experts on the website are ready to provide quick reactions, give quotes, and share their views with media professionals in response to breaking news events. More than this, they are eager to help enhance understanding about complex and polarizing issues, and committed to providing a reliable and timely response.

The Global Expert Finder supports the work of journalists, editors and producers, particularly but not exclusively in times of cross-cultural crises. It encourages a broad diversity of experts and opinion leaders to share their perspectives on issues that go to the core of relations among diverse communities, broadening the choice of available commentary.

On July 21, 2010, the Global Expert Finder held a lively and thought-provoking debate at the New York Times on some of the key challenges on US engagement in the Muslim world. Moderated by award-winning New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, the panel featured a number of high-profile speakers including Reza Aslan, writer and commentator, Martin Indyk, VP for Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution, Joe Klein, columnist, Time Magazine, Professor Marc Lynch, George Washington University, and Dalia Mogahed, Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. The debate can be viewed here.

2008 Forum: Madrid, Spain

The first forum of the Alliance of Civilizations was held in Madrid, Spain on January 15–16, 2008. It was attended by over 900 participants in 89 official delegations from 78 countries.[6]

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Left), Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon (Center), and Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (Right)

The forum was hosted by the Government of Spain, and it convened leaders, activists, scholars, and public figures from every region of the world in an effort to find new ways to bridge the growing divide between nations and cultures, and to establish new partnerships to promote global understanding.

Over one and a half days, political leaders including heads of State and Government; Ministers and senior officials; civil society activists and Nobel laureates; corporate executives; religious leaders; and leading scholars dialogued and debated with each other, launched practical initiatives and made commitments to action aimed at improving relations across regions and cultures.

Among the results were the announcement of a number of initiatives concerning media, educational and other programmes to advance AoC objectives in various countries, and the signing of Memoranda of Understanding with UNESCO, the League of Arab States, ISESCO, the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO), and United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), and a Letter of Intent with the Council of Europe. [7]

2009 Forum: Istanbul, Turkey

The second Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations was held in Istanbul, Turkey on April 6–7, 2009.[8]

Jorge Sampaio, the UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, speaking at the 2009 Istanbul Forum

From 6–7 April 2009, nearly 2,000 participants—among them several Heads of Government. over 50 ministers, as well as policymakers, foundations, media and grassroots leaders from around the world—convened at the Çırağan Palace Hotel in Istanbul, Turkey, to forge new partnerships, generated ideas aimed at building trust and cooperation among diverse communities and advance the Civilizations' goals. The Forum also served as an opportunity to take stock of initiatives developed by the Alliance, to showcase practical projects in collaboration with civil society and corporate partners and to launch new programs.

The results of the forum emphasized the commitment of the Alliance to the existing initiatives, as well as new ones, such as the Education about Religions and Beliefs; Alliance Fellowship Program; Dialogue Cafe; PLURAL +; Restore Trust, Rebuild Bridges; Mapping Media Education Policies in the World: Visions, Programs and Challenges; and the Alliance of Civilizations Research Network. The Alliance also was able to establish partnership agreements with seven international networks, such as the International Organization for Migration, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the Ibero-American General Secretariat, the Anna Lindh Foundation, Organisation internationale de la Francophonie, the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries and the Union Latine.

The President of the United States, Barack Obama, who was visiting Istanbul that day, was originally expected to attend the second day of the meeting,[9] but paid a surprise visit to the U.S. troops in Iraq instead.[10]

2010 Forum: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Leaders speaking at the 2010 Forum

On 27–29 May 2010, a network of over 2,000 political and corporate leaders, civil society activists, youth, journalists, foundations, and religious leaders gathered in Rio de Janeiro, under the theme "Bridging Cultures, Building Peace," for the third United Nations Alliance of Civilizations' forum.

The theme of the conference set out key questions for the participants to discuss over the course of the three-day forum, these included:

Towards the conclusion of the Third Forum of the Alliance, the outcomes were announced by Jorge Sampaio, the High Representative of the UN Alliance of Civilizations and former President of Portugal. The results presented the commitments of all participants to the existing initiatives, as well as new ones, such as the inauguration of the first two Dialogue Cafés, which uses the latest video conferencing technology to connect young people in different parts of the world; the first conference of the Global Youth Movement; the creation of the United Nations University International Institute for the Alliance of Civilizations; and launching of the Online Community on Migration and Integration in partnership with the International Organization for Migration.


The Alliance was presented with the "Dialogue of Civilizations" award, which was given by the Rumi Forum and the Georgetown University Center for Peace and Security Research in Washington. Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan received the award.[11]

Further reading


External links

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