Declaration of Principles on Tolerance

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Tolerance. Human beings must respect one another, in all their diversity of belief, culture and language. Differences within and between societies should be neither feared nor repressed, but cherished as a precious asset of humanity. A culture of peace and dialogue among all civilizations should be actively promoted.

(United Nations Millennium Declaration, September 2000, paragraph 6)

Did you know that there are more than 2000 official languages in the world and about 4000 indigenous languages? Walking on the crowded streets of New York City I hear a lot of people – do they live here or are they tourists? – talk in languages beyond my comprehension. And every time I hear the melody of an unfamiliar language I smile and my heart leaps ... not being able to understand is a wonderful reminder that the world is so much bigger than my own one-sided and narrow perspective.

Living in New York City makes me ponder what is needed, beyond the actual knowledge of a foreign language, to move around in such a literal Tower of Babel. What are some of the ingredients for living peacefully together in the midst of linguistic, cultural, ethnic, religious and other manifestations of diversity so that, in our global village, we can respect differences and honor each person’s dignity? Learning about and practicing tolerance seems to be an essential part of the answer.

 The Declaration of Principles on Tolerance was adopted in Paris in 1995 by the Member-States of UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. A year later, the General Assembly of the United Nations invited all UN Member-States to consider applying the Declaration of Principles at the national level. The Declaration of Principles describes tolerance as follows:

1.1     Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. It is fostered by knowledge, openness, communication and freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Tolerance is harmony in difference. It is not only a moral duty, it is also a political and legal requirement. Tolerance, the virtue that makes peace possible, contributes to the replacement of the culture of war by a culture of peace.

 1.2.     Tolerance is not concession, condescension or indulgence. Tolerance is, above all, an active attitude prompted by recognition of the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of others. In no circumstance can it be used to justify infringements of these fundamental values. Tolerance is to be exercised by individuals, groups and States.

 1.3      Tolerance is the responsibility that upholds human rights, pluralism (including cultural pluralism), democracy and the rule of law. It involves the rejection of dogmatism and absolutism and affirms the standards set out in international human rights instruments.

 1.4      Consistent with respect for human rights, the practice of tolerance does not mean toleration of social injustice or the abandonment or weakening of one’s convictions. It means that one is free to adhere to one’s own convictions and accepts that others adhere to theirs. It means accepting the fact that human beings, naturally diverse in their appearance, situation, speech, behaviour and values, have the right to live in peace and to be as they are. It also means that one’s views are not to be imposed on others.

 As educators for transformation we have a call to teach tolerance and practice it in our own lives. What step can each one of us take on November 16th to make that commitment more visible?


Cecile Meijer, rscj, NGO Office
October 2011