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UN Day of Tolerance

“Non-violence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being” – Mahatma Gandhi

International Day of Tolerance on November 16th is a great opportunity for you to think back to the last time you had a different perspective to that of someone you know. When is the last time you recognised and learned something different about another person’s culture and beliefs? Actually, it may not have been that long ago. But what the International Day of Tolerance does is to allow you to recognise and celebrate the ability within one’s self to be open minded, to listen, to learn and to respect others.

People are naturally diverse and we have a rich variety of cultures in every corner of our globe, only tolerance can ensure their survival.



So how did it all start? By the mid 1990s, tolerance was quickly being recognised as a virtue sadly lacking in many parts of the world. In 1995 the UN General Assembly, with the aim of raising awareness of the need to accept tolerance as a staple of society within both educational institutions and the general public, declared 1995 as the Year for Tolerance.

Following this, in 1996, the UN General Assembly invited UN Member States to observe the International Day of Tolerance on 16th November every year.


UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Award

In 1995, to mark the United Nations Year for Tolerance and the 125th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, UNESCO created a prize called the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Award which rewards significant activities in the scientific, artistic, cultural or communication fields aimed at the promotion of a spirit of tolerance and non-violence.

The Prize is named after its benefactor, former Indian artist, writer and diplomat, Madanjeet Singh (1924-2013), who was also a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and is awarded every two years on the International Day for Tolerance, 16th November.

Having read about some of the recipients of the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Award I will share a few examples which I believe sum up the ethos of the award:

In 2009 the Prize was shared between 2 individuals – Francois Houtart (Belgium) was recognised for his lifelong commitment to world peace, intercultural dialogue, human rights and the promotion of tolerance and his outstanding efforts in the cause of social justice around the world.

Abdul Sattar Edhi (Pakistan) was recognised for his lifelong efforts to improve the conditions of the most disadvantaged groups in Pakistan and South Asia, promoting the ideals of human dignity, human rights, mutual respect and tolerance.

In 2016, the recipient was The Federal Research and Methodological Centre for Tolerance, Psychology and Education (The Tolerance Centre) of the Russian Federation, in recognition of its wide range of activities, including an innovative educational platform promoting dialogue between different religions and world views, focussing in particular on the younger generations.

As already explained the prize is awarded biennially, and last year (2020) the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Award was given to Centre for Resolution of Conflicts (CRC) in recognition of its work in the Democratic Republic of Congo for the defence of human rights and its commitment to the rescue of child soldiers from militia groups, and facilitating their rehabilitation and reintegration into their home communities. Thanks to CRC, since 2011, nearly 1,000 ex-child soldiers have been returned to peaceful life within their communities, returning to either school or training.

And that’s not all. CRC also brings together communities from different tribes to live together in peace. By training agricultural cooperatives in promoting tolerance and building mutual understanding between different communities they made social changes.

The UN has embraced International days as powerful advocacy tools to encourage political power and resources to address global problems, as well as to celebrate the achievements of humanity.

Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. Tolerance and intolerance can only be identified by learning more about those who may have suffered at the hands of intolerance and hearing what they have to say.  A great way to open your own perspective and take a better look at the world and how you perceive it.

Although we should be tolerant every day, it’s always good to have one occasion to remind us just how important it is to reflect and strengthen our own tolerance by developing a mutual understanding of cultures, religions and peoples, which is more important than ever in these times of rising and violent extremism and widening conflicts and disregard for human life.

International Day of Tolerance and the UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Award are there to help us on that journey.

Jill Barnard
SI St Austell and District