World Expos and the celebration of Human Fraternity
On 4 February, the United Nations and countries around the world are marking, for the first time, the International Day of Human Fraternity. Maher Nasser, the Commissioner-General of the United Nations at Expo 2020 Dubai, takes this occasion to explain the significance of this new International Day and to reflect on the role that World Expos can play in reaffirming and strengthening global solidarity.
Maher Nasser: The United Nations designates international days to mark a particular observance in order to promote, through awareness and action an objective of the Organisation or a new issue on its agenda. These decisions follow a proposal by one or more Member States and are established by a General Assembly resolution.
In 2020, the representatives of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt co-facilitated the process relating to this international day and mobilised the support of several Member States to sponsor a resolution to establish the International Day of Human Fraternity. The date selected, 4 February, falls in the middle of World Interfaith Harmony Week (1-7 February) which has been observed since 2011 to promote harmony between all people regardless of their faith or belief and is the day in 2019 when Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad al-Tayyib, signed a document entitled “Human fraternity for world peace and living together” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
"The International Day for Human Fraternity is an opportunity to commit to do more to promote cultural and religious tolerance, understanding and dialogue"
Resolution A/75/L.52 invites all Member States, the United Nations system and others to observe this day every 4 February to promote interreligious and intercultural dialogue and to further promote the culture of peace to help to ensure peace and sustainable development. Introducing the resolution on behalf of the co-sponsoring countries, the representative of the United Arab Emirates said that the resolution was a response to growing religious hatred amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The new International Day is an opportunity to commit to do more to promote cultural and religious tolerance, understanding and dialogue.
Maher Nasser: The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that viruses and disease do not respect borders, nor do they respect economic or military might. A pandemic is a global equalizer and at the same time it acts like an X-ray, exposing inequalities within societies and between countries. What started out as a health crisis in one city in December 2019 has reached almost every country on the planet, killing more than 2.2 million people and infecting over 102 million people. When tourists stopped coming and demand for their commodities and exports dropped, any countries felt the economic impact even before the virus arrived inside their borders. Unemployment and the loss of income meant that those with no savings would be further punished by the virus if not supported by governments or the society in which they lived. Social and economic inequalities rose to the surface in a number of countries exposing fissures exploited by populists, racists and extremists whose hate speech targeted minorities and other vulnerable groups, adherents of other religions or beliefs. Hate speech is an affront not only to internationally agreed human rights and values of the United Nations, but also to the spirit of what religions and faiths are about.
"As is the case with climate change, no country can overcome a pandemic alone. No country is safe until all countries are"
As is the case with climate change, no country can overcome a pandemic alone. The bravery and sacrifices of frontline health workers showed an example of the power of solidarity and self-sacrifice, values that the new international day of human fraternity/sorority exemplifies. Cooperation across borders and unprecedented investments in research and science resulted in the fastest development of a vaccine in history, a process that normally takes over ten years was completed in less than one. It is this spirit that necessitates a global effort to ensure that the vaccine is a people’s vaccine, available to who need it, in all countries. No country is safe until all countries are safe.
Expo 2020 Dubai is an excellent platform for global dialogue and collaboration, offering a unique opportunity to showcase not only the power of ingenuity and innovation, but the power of cooperation and how countries come together, united in a shared vision, a vision to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Maher Nasser: Expos create a micro-world where a visitor can experience the best of what countries want to share about themselves, their culture, their art or their industries in one location. Expos create an opportunity to meet and interact with people from all over the world, seeing first-hand not only the extent and beauty of our diversity, but also our similarity as humans.
As United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently said, “2021 must be the year to change gear and put the world back on track. We need to move from death to health; from disaster to construction; from despair to hope; from business as usual to transformation.”
The theme of Expo 2020 Dubai, “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, is about working together to build a future anchored in solidarity and sustainability. A vision to create a world where everyone thrives in peace, dignity and equality on a healthy planet. This vision can only be realised with cooperation, solidarity and unity.
Maher Nasser: Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and based on the United Nations SDG Report in 2019, the world was not on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. In 2020, due to the impact of the pandemic, and for the first time in decades, the world has seen a rise in the number of people living in absolute poverty and those going to bed hungry. Expo 2020 Dubai, with its focus on the SDGs, can serve as a catalyst to showcase best practices and successful initiatives in tackling the most challenging problems and in creating opportunities for collaboration between nations, and between companies and organisations.
Programming and activities targeting Expo visitors need to offer opportunities for visitors to engage directly with platforms (such as ActNow) that show them the impact of individual actions and how they can themselves be part of the solution by changing behaviours, by becoming advocates for climate action, sustainability and human rights, by rejecting divisiveness and isolationist tendencies, and so on.
"Expo 2020 Dubai is an excellent platform for global dialogue and collaboration, offering a unique opportunity to showcase not only the power of ingenuity and innovation, but the power of cooperation and how countries come together"
Ultimately, our goal is to encourage International Participants and visitors to recognise that the sustainable development agenda is their agenda; it is an agenda adopted by world leaders at the United Nations and can only be achieved if all sectors in every nation commit to the Goals and act to fulfil these commitments.
Maher Nasser: The 75th anniversary of the United Nations was used as an opportunity to launch a global conversation to engage with as wide an audience as possible to ask people about their priorities for the future. Over one million people in every Member and Observer State participated in the consultations and the respondents were broadly united in their priorities for the future.
Unsurprisingly, and in view of the pandemic, an immediate priority for most respondents was improved access to basic services – healthcare, safe water, sanitation and education. This was followed by the need for greater international solidarity and increased support for those hardest hit by the pandemic and the importance of tackling inequalities and rebuilding a more inclusive economy.
"Our goal is to encourage International Participants and visitors to recognise that the sustainable development agenda is their agenda"
Looking beyond the immediate future, the climate crisis and concerns over the destruction of the natural environment was an overwhelming concern. These were followed by the need to ensure greater respect for human rights, settling conflicts, tackling poverty and reducing corruption.
World Expos can contribute to meeting people’s aspirations and priorities as identified by our UN75 consultations, not only in having the Sustainable Development Goals as a unifying theme across all pavilions, but also by incorporating the principles of sustainability in guidelines for construction and operations of an Expo. Expos can encourage creative programming that offers opportunities for visitors to learn about global challenges and their own role in finding solutions through individual actions and by holding their leaders accountable, accountable to shared values of humanity, for people, for planet.