Statement delivered by Gerard van Bohemen, Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, 17 November 2016

The Presidential Statement adopted in October 2013 on cooperation between the UN and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) provided long-overdue recognition of the OIC’s growing role in preventing and resolving conflict, and of the potential for enhanced collaboration with the United Nations in these efforts.

Three years on, the need for a strong partnership between the UN and the OIC has never been greater.

The past few years have been traumatic ones for communities across the Islamic world.

Many countries with significant Muslim populations are experiencing instability, and in some cases violent internal conflicts.

In many settings this has unleashed sectarian tensions, which have been exploited by violent extremist groups to stir up hatred and division. Ethnic and religious communities, who in many cases have lived together peacefully for centuries, have been turned against one another.

This is tearing at the social fabric of much of the Middle East and North Africa. And it is contributing to population movements that have disturbing implications for the future stability and cohesion of many states.  Echoes of these strains and intolerances are also being heard in countries far removed from the centre of Islamic faith.

The OIC has an important role to play in countering these messages of hate, in tamping down the embers of conflict, and in promoting healing, reconciliation and understanding.

Its standing in the Islamic world and its deep understanding of the religious and cultural context of Islamic communities make it uniquely placed to promote peace and reconciliation by amplifying the voices of tolerance and moderation.

I wish to highlight three areas in which enhanced cooperation between the United Nations and the OIC would strengthen their respective abilities to support international peace and security.

First, we welcome the OIC’s efforts over the past decade to strengthen its capacity to contribute to conflict prevention and resolution.

New Zealand has been a consistent advocate for a greater United Nations focus on conflict prevention, and for strengthened cooperation with regional and other partners in support of this.

The OIC is a natural partner in this regard.

Through its Peace, Security and Mediation Unit, the OIC has supported mediation efforts in Afghanistan, Mali, the Central African Republic, and Somalia, as well as in Thailand and the Philippines in my own region – to name but a few examples.

The OIC brings to these efforts a unique authority and an ability to reach, work with, and mobilize communities and religious leaders in the cause of peace.

We encourage the OIC to continue and expand this important work.

Nowhere is this need greater than in efforts to halt the fighting and to reconcile and heal divisions between Islamic communities in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and the occupied Palestinian territories.

The political, military, and religious leaders of these countries need to be encouraged and supported in bringing the suffering of their peoples to an end, including by showing leadership in making the hard political decisions needed to help bring these conflicts to peaceful resolution.

And affected communities will need help in finding ways to live peacefully with each other once more.

The OIC, in close cooperation with the UN and other international mediators, has a potentially significant role to play in supporting these efforts.

We welcome in this regard its participation in the work of the International Syria Support Group, and its mediation efforts in Iraq.

Second, we acknowledge the tremendous contribution made by many OIC countries in managing the unprecedented global refugee flows currently facing the international community.

Five of the six countries hosting the largest refugee populations are OIC members, collectively hosting more than six million people. OIC members are also amongst the largest humanitarian donors.

We also acknowledge the role of the OIC itself in supporting humanitarian work in settings such as Somalia, Darfur, as well as in some of our near neighbours in Southeast Asia.

But it is perhaps in preventing and combating violent extremism that we see the greatest potential and need for the OIC to contribute in the years ahead.

Many communities around the world currently face severe challenges from extremist forces. These manifest themselves in many ways, from terrorism and violent extremism, through to aggressively intolerant and exclusionary political and religious movements.

These battles can only be fought and won through dialogue, and by voices within affected cultures and communities speaking up for peace.

We commend the OIC’s longstanding commitment to promoting understanding between different faiths and communities, and to rejecting all forms of intolerance.

All those in the international community who support moderation and the maintenance of peaceful, inclusive societies must also do their part to support such efforts.

This means cooperating with communities to prevent the radicalization of our youth, and to reeducate and rehabilitate those who fall victim to extremist narratives.

It means confronting and defeating the politics of hatred and exclusion in our communities.

And it means working together internationally to amplify the voices of tolerance and moderation.

That is why New Zealand has been a regular partner to the OIC and its members in supporting initiatives that promote dialogue and understanding, such as interfaith dialogue and the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.

And it is why we have been a strong supporter of the Secretary-General’s Plan of Action for preventing and countering violent extremism.

The Plan of Action provides an important blueprint and a useful practical resource for other international actors in this space, including the OIC.

We encourage the OIC to further deepen its cooperation with the UN in this area.

Mr President,

In light of these many challenges, New Zealand welcomes the OIC-2025 Programme of Action adopted in April this year, which sets out a range of actions to strengthen the OIC’s role in conflict prevention and resolution, and in post-conflict peacebuilding.

The actions agreed at the 13th UN-OIC biennial consultations in May provide a useful framework for further strengthening the OIC’s strategic partnership with the UN system in pursuing these goals.

New Zealand is confident that this partnership can make a practical difference in restoring peace and security to Muslim and non-Muslim communities alike in the years ahead.