Ladies and Gentlemen,
I commend the initiative of organizing this High Level Dialogue on Inter Religious and Intercultural Understanding and Cooperation for Peace in order to advance the values of mutual understanding and tolerance.
In this regard I am privileged to present Suriname as a model of successful inter-religious and intercultural collaboration.
Let me start by informing you that the Surinamese society is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-linguistic, and multi-religious. The make-up of Suriname’s population comprises of approximately ten main ethnic groups and at least as many mixed types, originating from its colonial past. We have an ethnic composition which is very diverse consisting of descendants from all corners of the world, namely the Natives (Amerindians), Europeans, Africans (maroons and creoles), Asians (Indians, Javanese and Chinese), people from the Middle-East (Lebanese, Syrians, Jews and other groups). In addition to the aforementioned we practice different types of religion, among others: Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Budhism, Bahai’s and Shamanism.
As a result many different languages are being spoken in the Surinamese society which also contributes to our rich and colorful culture expressed through many different folklore and cultural traditions such as: rituals and ceremonies, arts and crafts, music and performing, cultural dances and most importantly a diversified cuisine. It is this colorful diversity of cultures and cultural expressions and the harmonious relationships between groups, which makes a profound impression on foreigners visiting the country.
The acceptance of and appreciation by each individual group for the different cultural expressions of the others is extraordinary. Noticeable is that all these ethnic groups with different cultural background and traditions are coexisting and cooperating peacefully with each other, which is reflected in the political representation in the Administration. Growing up in such a society teaches one to respect values and tradition from different groups existing and living together in harmony and peace.
This all doesn’t mean that everything is perfect in my country. We indeed have our differences. However, the Constitution of Suriname guarantees that and I quote “no one shall be discriminated against on grounds of birth, sex, race, language, religion, education, political opinion, economic position or any other status and that subsequently everyone has the right to freedom of religion and philosophy of life”. End quote.
The Government respects these rights in practice and seeks to protect them at all levels and does not tolerate any form of their abuse, either by governmental or private actors. The Government consequently does not establish requirements for recognition of religious faiths. On the contrary, Government policy and practice contributes to the free practice of religion. The commonly amicable relationship among religious groups in our society contributes to religious freedom. Most citizens, particularly those living in Paramaribo, our capital district, celebrate to varying degrees the religious holidays of other groups.
Since 1989 the Inter-Religious Council in Suriname has been the venue for consultation and dialogue between the main religions in the country. This council is composed of the principal representatives of these religions. Council members meet at least twice each month to discuss planned ecumenical activities and their position on government policies when necessary. It is noteworthy that in the past this institution has been instrumental in bringing solutions to major national political impasse. On the regional level the Inter-Religious Council in Suriname cooperates with its Caribbean counterparts with the aim to discuss regional and global issues.
In situations of cultural and religious pluralism, it is increasingly apparent that mutual understanding and respect for differences play a vital role in maintaining unity necessary for genuine progress and for ensuring that the specter of inter-religious or interethnic conflict does not occur.
At the international level it remains a challenge for the peaceful coexistence of different values and cultures. We therefore continue to support and promote the dialogue among civilizations and remain convinced that a culture of peace and understanding can be significantly enhanced through this kind of dialogue, in order to promote mutual understanding, respect and tolerance among religions, cultures and Peoples all over the world.
Let us be mindful of the fact that, dialogue among civilizations, cultures and religions is an effective remedy to prevent conflicts on the national, regional and international level.
We are therefore looking forward to enhance the aims of interfaith dialogue further when Cambodia hosts the next dialogue in 2008.
I thank you very much.