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November 16, International Day for Tolerance

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By Mercy Kelani

Declarations of Principles on Tolerance, Nov. 16, 1995 preceded IDT.

The UN General Assembly, in 1996, adopted Resolution 51/95, with a proclamation of November 16 as International Day for Tolerance. Prior to this proclamation, on November 16, 1995, there was an adoption of a Declaration of Principles on Tolerance by UNESCO’s Member States. The Declaration asserts that tolerance is to respect and appreciate the rich variety of cultures around the world, ways of being human, and humans’ forms of expression, and not indulgence and indifference. According to the Declaration, tolerance is the recognition of the universal Human Rights and fundamental human rights of others. Tolerance is described as a means of ensuring the survival of a naturally diverse globe.

A highlight of the marking of the United Nations Year for Tolerance was in 1995. It was marked alongside the 125th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi. To celebrate, UNESCO, with the sole aim of promoting tolerance and non-violence, created a prize known as “the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize. Through this prize, significant scientific, artistic, cultural and communications activities which are also interested in promoting tolerance and non-violence, are rewarded. The inspiration behind the creation of the prize are the ideals of UNESCO’s Constitution that states that “Peace, if it is not to fail, must be founded on the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind.”

Education is a necessary tool to ensure tolerance.

To ensure tolerance, UNESCO emphasizes a Culture of peace, Sustainable Development and non-violence; democracy and global citizenship focusing on governance, democratic institutions, citizenship, freedom of expression, representation of young men and women and others; fostering rights, inclusion and non-discrimination; the ability of Education to transform lives as a medium of building peace, eradicating Poverty and driving sustainable development; and freedom of expression and Rule of Law, cooperating with the Judiciary and Security forces to support them in the reinforcement of the “three Ps” (Prevention, Protection and Prosecution).

The government is highly responsible for enforcement of human rights laws, ban and punishment of hate crimes and discrimination against minorities, regardless of the criminal, and is therefore an important factor to efficiently tackle intolerance. Education is also necessary as it eliminates ignorance and fear, teaching children tolerance, human rights, and other ways of life. Other necessities to effectively tackle intolerance include access to information, individual awareness – putting an end to stigmatization, bigotry, racial jokes, stereotyping and insults.

Boko Haram, a threat to freedom of conscience and religion in Nigeria.

In Nigeria, there is a form of religious intolerance – denial of a group to tolerate a belief or person on the grounds of Religion – birthed through activities of Boko Haram Islamic fundamentalists and is a threat to the cooperated existence of the Nigerian state. The activities of this sect have unleashed terror upon both Muslim and non-Muslims, disregarding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that asserts that “Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience and religion, and freedom of opinion and expression.”

Religious intolerance has led to the death of many Nigerians in many parts of the country, particularly in Northern states. Boko Haram has pioneered many terrorist attacks on religious and political groups, and civilians in schools, villages and markets. Some of these attacks include the Kidnapping of over two hundred school girls in April 2014, with the release of only one hundred and three of them till date; and the kidnapping of over one hundred students in February 2018.

UNESCO encourages all States to unitedly speak up against intolerance.

In a bid to fight intolerance against persons on the basis of religion or belief, UNESCO urges all States to encourage the creation of collaborative networks to enable mutual understanding; voicing out against intolerance; adoption of measures to criminalize incitement to imminent violence on the basis of belief or religion; encouragement of the representation of individuals, regardless of their religion or belief, in all societal sectors; adoption of policies for the promotion of full respect and protection of worship places and religious sites.


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