Ministers' Deputies / Rapporteur Groups
Rapporteur Group on Education, Culture, Sport,
Youth and Environment

GR-C(2006)9 1 March 20061

The role of UNESCO, the European Union and OSCE in the promotion of intercultural dialogue

Information document


This is a preliminary draft report prepared by the Secretariat.
It is based on publicly available information.

The GR-C may wish to express itself on the usefulness of a more complete version of this report, to be drafted in consultation with UNESCO, OSCE and the European Commission. The GR-C may also wish to indicate preferences for the methodological approach to be used for such a consultation.

1. Introduction

This paper summarises the activities of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the Organisation for Security Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Union (EU) in the areas of intercultural dialogue (including its interreligious dimension).

The purpose of the study is to provide a comparison between the approaches of the various intergovernmental organisations that will enable the Council of Europe to define its strategic role in these areas in such a way as to avoid unnecessary overlap.


UNESCO sees the promotion of intercultural dialogue as one of its most pressing concerns. It includes in intercultural dialogue all its activities in cultural pluralism, intercultural education and diversity. The approach aims to highlight the requirements, procedures and potential of intercultural dialogue in order to foster cultural pluralism and contribute to the prevention of intercommunity conflicts. The promotion of “dialogue in the service of peace – in order to build ‘peace in the minds of men’ – is clearly one of the main themes of UNESCO’s mission. Globalisation and the emergence of new contemporary challenges and threats to humankind make the need for dialogue among peoples ever more topical. A principal objective of a dialogue is to bridge the gap in knowledge about other civilisations, cultures and societies, to lay the foundations for dialogue based on universally shared values and to undertake concrete activities, inspired and driven by dialogue, especially in the areas of education, cultural diversity and heritage, the sciences and communication and media.”2

UNESCO’s strategic objective 8 (“Safeguarding cultural diversity and encouraging dialogue among cultures and civilisations”) requires a better grasp of traditional mechanisms for the transmission and exchange of knowledge with the aim of developing “policies that broaden the range of cultural choices without calling identity markers into question. It entails dialogue that may raise questions about speakers’ identities without placing them in jeopardy.” This involves looking for factors - artistic, scientific, philosophical and religious - that structure intercultural communication. UNESCO cites lessons learned from its Intercultural Routes project (which includes the Silk Roads, Faith Roads, Iron Roads and Slave Route), in particular the Slave Route, to enable new curricula to be developed and the skills of decision makers to be strengthened.3

In this context, UNESCO lists the promotion of interfaith (rather than interreligious) dialogue as a ‘flagship activity’ of the current work programme. This is seen as dialogue between leaders of different religions, faiths and convictions with a view to increasing mutual knowledge about spiritual traditions and their underlying values. UNESCO expects the results of these and future activities to be measured in terms of:-

    · dialogue fostered, especially among youth, with the involvement of religious leaders,

    · awareness increased among educators and civil society representatives about the role and value of interreligious dialogue,

    · the strengthening of the network of UNESCO Chairs in intercultural and interreligious dialogue, and

    · the production and dissemination of pertinent publications.

UNESCO also uses intercultural and interfaith dialogue tools in the field of post-conflict mediation. An example is its programme on intercultural mediation in the Balkans. This is described as a project that “aspires to create the conditions for a better acknowledgement of the plurality of cultural traditions and for a more peaceful cohabitation amongst communities in a zone that has suffered from interethnic conflicts.”
The project aims to contribute to the establishment of a framework favourable to the peaceful resolution of conflicts through formal and informal education. It seeks to facilitate encounters between local actors, particularly young people, thus giving them the opportunity to become better acquainted with one another and encouraging co-operation in the artistic and educational fields. The final objective is to foster the emergence of a cultural identity which will integrate the variety of cultural traditions present in this region, an identity open to otherness and difference.4

In parallel to this initiative, another project of assistance in the development of the Sarajevo Museum of Contemporary Art was developed. Through contemporary art, it aims to unite the different communities in taking a step forwards towards the construction of a common future, and so giving Sarajevo an important role as a cultural crossroads.

It has also initiated the ‘Towards a plural identity in areas of intercommunity tension’ project. This consists in part of training workshops for young people responsible for preparing and promoting appropriate data materials to develop their awareness and intercultural skills. It is intended that they could in their turn become cultural mediators, living and practising cultural diversity and day-to-day dialogue. In this context, preventive warning mechanisms are a vital tool for appeasing or resolving conflicts that are frequently of cultural origin.

An initial experiment has already been carried out in south-east Europe around the theme of the city as an intercultural laboratory and sphere of conflict prevention. The openness of cities to outside influence, and the fact that they take in populations from all parts of the world, makes cities a melting-pot in which rich cultural mixes occur. UNESCO’s priority in this context is to foster the creation of decentralised data infrastructures to assist local authorities in political decision-making regarding the fight against exclusion. A data basis listing more than 700 best practices in urban harmony has now been drawn up on the basis of a “Cities for Peace” network. The Culture in the Neighbourhood project brings a magnifying glass to this attempt at intercultural dialogue in the urban environment, based on partnerships between African and European countries and placing emphasis on the social integration and participation of the inhabitants.

With the recently adopted “Convention on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions”, which lists as one of its objectives the encouragement of “dialogue among cultures with a view to ensuring wider and balanced cultural exchanges in the world in favour of intercultural respect and a culture of peace”; UNESCO has established a new legal reference in this area.5


While the subjects of intercultural and interreligious dialogue are pivotal to the success of much of the OSCE’s work in the field of security and confidence building, its activities specifically devoted to dialogue are concentrated in three sections or internal institutions: the Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media; the High Commissioner on National Minorities; and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media

The function of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media is to observe relevant media developments in OSCE participating States with a view of providing early warning on violations of freedom of expression. The Representative's second main task is to assist participating States by advocating and promoting full compliance with OSCE principles and commitments regarding freedom of expression and free media.

In both cases, the activities revolve around monitoring and reporting potential or actual breaches of media freedom. There is no stated policy to comment on or attempt to control the media’s use or misuse of culture and religion, though any inflammatory actions are likely to be commented on.6

High Commissioner on National Minorities

The High Commissioner's task is to provide early warning and appropriate action at the earliest possible stage concerning tensions involving national minority issues which have not yet developed beyond that stage, but, in the judgement of the High Commissioner, have the potential to develop into conflict within the OSCE area. He has a twofold mission: first, to try to contain and de-escalate tensions and, second, to act as a tripwire, responsible for alerting the OSCE whenever such tensions threaten to develop to a level at which he cannot contain them with the means at his disposal. His reports are independent and confidential. This important condition allows him to operate freely and to retain the confidence of governments or others who might be the subject of his concerns.

Even though his mandate places the High Commissioner's work primarily in the category of short-term conflict prevention, he cannot, if he wishes to be effective, overlook the important long-term aspects of the situations confronting him. This perspective is essential if sustainable solutions are to be achieved. Immediate de-escalation of a situation can be only a first step in the process of reconciling the interests of the parties concerned. The goal is to start, maintain and enhance a process of exchanges of views and co-operation between the parties, leading to concrete steps calculated to de-escalate tensions and, if possible, resolve underlying issues.

In a general way, the High Commissioner's mandate contains guidelines for determining whether or not he should become involved in a particular situation. The mandate provides him with the necessary freedom of initiative in this regard.

Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)

ODIHR collects and distributes information and statistics on hate crimes in the participating States; promotes best practices and disseminates lessons learned in the fight against intolerance and discrimination; and provides assistance to participating States in drafting and reviewing legislation on crimes fuelled by intolerance and discrimination.

Since 1990, the OSCE has enhanced its commitments to combat racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and related intolerance, including intolerance manifested against Muslims. Problems include discrimination against individuals in the workplace and public services, defamation campaigns against minority religions or belief groups, the disruption or prohibition of worship even in private homes, censorship of religious literature, and imprisonment of those who object to military service on religious grounds.

An “Advisory Panel of Experts on Freedom of Religion or Belief” of eminent experts from throughout the OSCE region has been established to serve as an advisory and consultative body that highlights issues or trends and suggests ODIHR action to advance religious freedom. The Panel's expertise is available to participating States and to OSCE field missions. Activities and projects include legislative reviews for governments, publication of “Guidelines for Review of Legislation Pertaining to Religion or Belief” (which were drafted by members of the Panel of Experts in association with the Council of Europe's Venice Commission), and the promotion of dialogue between governments and religious groups.

A further example of ODIHR’s approach is its increasing focus on women's rights across the South Caucasus and Central Asia.

The Internet, in particular its use to spread racist, anti-Semitic and other hostile propaganda is another issue of concern to ODIHR. The Office serves as a collection point for information on hate crimes of all kinds, both online and offline, which allows it to monitor action taken by participating States and to recommend areas where legislation and enforcement need to be tightened. It is currently developing an online database of this information. In addition, all OSCE states have made commitments to examine their existing legislation for its effectiveness in regulating Internet content.7

4. European Union

Until recently the European Union was mostly concerned with culture in terms of its support of cross-border cultural activity in well-established forms such as festivals and training. Dialogue was most seen as an issue for social cohesion programmes.

However the enlargement of the EU to cover areas where there has been a recent history of intercultural tension, the experience of EU missions in the Balkans, and the increasing concern about social exclusion and religious radicalism within the EU have all served to push the Union’s programmes and actions in the direction of a new emphasis on intercultural dialogue. This is likely to be reflected in the new design of programmes devised under the 2007 - 2012 financial perspectives.

European Year of Intercultural Dialogue 2008

As a first and visible step the Commission presented a proposal in October 2005 for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council to declare 2008 the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue (EYID). This is intended to have an overall budget of €10 million and will draw together a series of specific projects to be implemented during 2008. Culture, education, youth, sport and citizenship will be the main areas concerned.8

The EYID is expected to:-

    · promote intercultural dialogue as an instrument to assist European citizens, and all those living in the European Union, in acquiring the knowledge and aptitudes to enable them to deal with a more open and more complex environment;
    · raise the awareness of European citizens, and all those living in the European Union, of the importance of developing active European citizenship which is open to the world, respectful of cultural diversity and based on common values.9

Actions to encourage citizenship and integration

The EU also runs programmes supporting citizenship and integration that have an intercultural dialogue aspect, among them “Integration of third country nationals” (INTI) and action to raise the cultural awareness of European citizens, such as in the YOUTH and SOCRATES programmes. Another dimension is formed by the EU activities promoting linguistic diversity in Europe.

Actions aimed at third countries and the “Barcelona Process”

The intercultural dialogue theme is broadly reflected in programmes that include both neighbouring states and those further afield. Co-operation agreements allow for cultural initiatives as well as educational exchanges, in both cases often focusing on individual access and mobility. The European Union has set up various instruments geared towards neighbouring countries. Following the Barcelona Declaration in 1995, the Barcelona process was established with 12 Mediterranean partner countries. It contains a variety of measures working towards promoting the themes of intercultural and interreligious dialogue. For example, the Euro-Med Youth II programme is aimed at the Member States and at 12 Mediterranean countries.10

The aim of the social, cultural and human partnership is to bring people on both sides of the Mediterranean basin closer, to promote better mutual understanding, and to improve their perception of each other. These goals have been directly addressed by a variety of MEDA regional activities. The cornerstone in reaching this goal is increased co-operation with civil society.

In this regard, the Barcelona Declaration stresses:-

    · the importance of inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue;
    · the importance of the role of the media in the knowledge and mutual understanding among cultures;
    · the development of human resources in the cultural field: cultural exchange, language learning, and implementation of educational and cultural programmes while respecting cultural identities.

The Barcelona Work Programme provides two specific action headings. One on the dialogue between cultures and civilisations calls for meetings in the cultural field. This includes cultural and creative heritage, cultural and artistic events, cinema and theatre co-productions, translations and other means of cultural dissemination, together with vocational training. In the religious field, projects are called for in order to fight intolerance and fanaticism. The other programme heading concentrates on closer interaction in the media sector between EU and partner Mediterranean countries.

The Culture 2000 programme and its successor principally supports cultural co-operation projects between organisations from a number of European countries, but also projects taking place in third countries.

Jean Monnet conferences

The “Jean Monnet Project” actively fosters academic reflection on current issues of European integration. The European Commission's Directorate-General for Education and Culture has over the past few years established a tradition of consulting the academic world in order to reflect on the future of European integration. As part of this endeavour, the Commission organised conferences on intercultural dialogue, dialogue between peoples and cultures, and the role of artists and cultural actors in intercultural dialogue.11

European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC)

As an important support for the EU action on intercultural dialogue, the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia provides the Community and its Member States with objective, reliable and comparable information and data on racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitic phenomena at the European level in order to establish measures or actions against racism and xenophobia. On the basis of the data collected, the EUMC studies the extent and development of the phenomena, and analyses their causes, consequences and effects. It is also the task of the EUMC to work out strategies to combat racism and xenophobia and to highlight and disseminate examples of good practice regarding the integration of migrants and ethnic and religious minority groups.12

5. Conclusions and suggestions for Council of Europe action

On the basis of the above repertory of activities undertaken by the three organisations, it is possible to gauge the direction in which each is taking its efforts to improve dialogue both between and within nations. It is clear, however, that so far, no organisation has been able to devote the resources or attention to dialogue that would be required to defuse effectively the heightened tension that seems to be developing.

Several reasons can be suggested for this, among them the inevitability that large organisations take a long time to react to developing situations with programmes that are more than symbolic in scope and intensiveness. Another reason is the fact that those who are most resistant to dialogue, and therefore most likely to create intercultural and interreligious tension, are by definition the most difficult to reach and persuade with mechanisms that were designed to respond to institutional, not always individual or group, problems. At the same time, as many governments have found, it takes a long time and painstaking work to generate trust and enable constructive dialogue at more than organisational level. It is also difficult for international organisations to decide where to concentrate their resources.

However it is clear from the events of 2005 and the first months of 2006, and from the actions and scope of UNESCO, OSCE and the European Union initiatives, that there is still a great deal of progress to be made.

The Council of Europe, with its unique emphasis on human rights, democracy and the rule of law and its standard-setting acquis of conventions and policy statements, could have a considerable role in increasing the effectiveness and the reach of intercultural dialogue. It has a number of relative strengths that it can bring to bear:

    · Its geographical scope and its corresponding cultural diversity (e.g. illustrated by the fact that four of its member states are also members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and/or the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization);

    · Its strong cultural, educational and youth profile in connection with programme experience in many other policy areas relevant to the material conditions for intercultural dialogue and understanding;

    · Its documented ability to get people to talk to each other and listen to the other side, e.g. through campaigns, the promotion of intercommunity relations, local action through the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe and parliamentary contacts – precisely the approach that is needed now;

    · Its long track record of involving civil society organisations in a structured manner in policy consultation, programme development and implementation, particularly through the INGO Conference, the European Youth Centres and the North-South Centre;

    · Its sense of initiative in terms of the promotion of intercultural dialogue over recent years, culminating in the adoption of a coherent strategy in 2005.

UNESCO has a world remit of a corresponding, though not identical, nature; however, it does not have the weight of the Council’s human rights, democracy and law agenda to back up its cultural dialogue activity.

This gives the Council of Europe a number of opportunities for future action in the field of intercultural dialogue, using possibilities for synergy with other international organisations without creating undue programme overlap. Based on the analysis presented above, these opportunities lie in the following fields:

    · The closer interlinking of programmes in the areas of education, culture and heritage, youth and sport, migration policy, social cohesion, human rights, tolerance promotion, media policies and others. The recent nomination of a “Coordinator for Intercultural Dialogue”, initiated in 2005 by the Third Summit of Heads of state and government, shows that the Council of Europe is willing to seize this unique opportunity.

    · The development of joint projects based on the recent co-operation memoranda and agreements between the Council of Europe and UNESCO, the Arab League Education, Culture and Science Organisation (ALECSO) and the “Anna Lindh Euro-Mediterranean Foundation for Dialogue between Cultures”. The “Faro Open Platform” is expected to serve as a clearing-house between the various partners, who all share the wish to avoid overlap and interference. It might be suggested to take steps to associate the European Union and the OSCE to the work of the Platform, in one form or another.

    · A programme to strengthen the role of civil society organisations in intercultural dialogue action across the continent, particularly by strengthening the operational units of the Council of Europe that have a direct outreach to civil society, e.g. the two European Youth Centres and the North-South Centre.

The Council of Europe should be given the task and resources to use its good name, trustworthiness and objectivity to develop programmes capable of reaching its citizens, including – and maybe especially – those who feel angry, disillusioned, alienated and threatened.

Note 1 This document has been classified restricted at the date of issue. Unless the Committee of Ministers decides otherwise, it will be declassified according to the rules set up in Resolution Res(2001)6 on access to Council of Europe documents.
Note 2
Note 3 UNESCO Programme and Budget 2006-2006, Section IV.2.2. Document 32C/5, p.175-177
Note 4


Note 6 An example of this is the press release from Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, on 3 February 2006 defending the traditional right of a free press to publish satirical cartoons, even if they depict figures in established religions. Details on
Note 7
Note 8 At the time of drafting, Article 9 of the Commission’s proposal for a decision of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the EYID 2008 (document COM[2005]467) makes a reference to cooperation with “appropriate international organisations”. An explicit reference to the Council of Europe is currently under discussion.
Note 9 COM(2005) 467;
Note 10
Note 11
Note 12



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