Annual Lecture 2014


António Guterres

On May 29, 2014, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres delivered the Centre’s third Annual Lecture in Ottawa, “Forced Displacement and the Promise of Pluralism.”

“Today,” he said, “all societies are – or are on their way to become – multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious. For some, this is a source of discomfort and unease.”

The “genie” of intolerance exists at both ends of the asylum-migration nexus. Against this reality, the voices of tolerance and reason and the values of pluralism need to rise.

“Diversity is not a threat. Diversity represents the richness of our communities. We must stand together against all forms of irrationality and manipulation that lead to hatred, be it political, populism, radical nationalism or religious fundamentalism.”

Although asylum – the idea of giving protection, of sheltering a stranger in need – is a common value found in all cultures, in practice people moving from one country to another in hope of a better future often receive a hostile reception. Where border controls seek only “‘to keep people out’, human traffickers and smugglers are bound to prosper,” he said.

“There is something fundamentally wrong in a world where people have to risk their lives to seek safety and where at the end of a dangerous journey, they are not welcome or even turned away.”

Mr. Guterres identified several actions to stem the refugee tide:

  • international cooperation to identify more opportunities for legal migration
  • policies and practices to transform international trade and globalization into true agents of development;
  • targeted development programs to improve the lives of people where they live;
  • renewed efforts to promote conflict prevention, resolution and peace building.

The aim is to ensure “that when people move, they do so out of choice, not necessity.” Recognizing and respecting diversity leads to the creation of “strong, cohesive and peaceful societies”. This result, he said, is the promise of pluralism.

Following Mr. Guterres’s formal remarks, Globe and Mail Editor-in-Chief David Walmsley engaged Mr. Guterres in conversation before taking questions from the audience. The Lecture was live streamed by the Globe and Mail.

Mr. Guterres was introduced by His Highness the Aga Khan, the founder and chairman of the Global Centre for Pluralism, and thanked by Huguette Labelle, a member of the Centre’s Board of Directors.

The Centre gratefully acknowledges the cooperation of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the partnership of the Globe and Mail.


António Guterres