Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean - Speech on the Occasion of a Discussion with Haitian University Students

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Port-au-Prince, Monday, May 15, 2006

Thank you so much for inviting me to join you this morning and for giving me the opportunity to take part in a dialogue that is very dear to my heart. Particularly since the theme you have chosen, “peace and tolerance,” is absolutely vital for Haiti’s future.

Kofi Annan once said that “tolerance [is] the virtue that makes peace possible.” What is not possible is to ignore the outbreaks of intolerance, whatever their insidious forms, from racial segregation to fundamentalism of all kinds, from violence against women to child slavery, from one‑track thinking to hate speeches.

Far from being an attitude carved in stone, tolerance, which should not be mistaken for condescension or an absence of rules or principles, requires constant vigilance. It means listening to others while being open to them. It is an exercise in reciprocity. Hearing what others have to say and relishing the ensuing debate. It seems to me that education is the best way to cultivate tolerance and promote a culture of peace.

I would even say that you, this country’s youth, university students, have a mission to spread that culture of peace.

According to the declaration proclaimed and signed by UNESCO Member States in 1995, “tolerance is not only a cherished principle, but also a necessity for peace and for the economic and social advancement of all peoples.”

Fed by knowledge, an open mind, curiosity about others and independence of thought, tolerance means being open to new ideas and to engaging in a true universal dialogue.

It is the antithesis of indifference and exclusion, which confine others to solitude, despair and, tragically, to violence.

Before we begin our discussion, I would like to leave you with the words of my uncle, the poet René Dépestre who, in a language all his own, reminds us to be wary of any attempt to restrict dialogue and thus exclude those who demand the most basic right to speak freely while waiting for the other to respond.

[translation] “The state of poetry is known to all men, but the day it is forced, by slander and stones, to withdraw from a people or an individual, it will leave behind (…) languages cut down by the executioner’s axe.”

Thank you for allowing me to share these thoughts with you this morning. And now, the floor is open.