President David Granger: Ministers of the Government; members of the National Assembly; members of the Diplomatic Corps; Ms. Mikiko Tanaka, United Nations Resident Coordinator; Her Worship the Mayor, Mrs. Patricia Chase-Green; representatives of the religious faith; students of SVN; men and women of the Police Band M.S.; specials invitees; members of the media; ladies and gentlemen:
World Interfaith Harmony Week is an occasion for nations and peoples around the world to work continuously to establish a culture of social cohesion. It is an opportunity to reaffirm the belief that mutual understanding is an important element in the establishment of a cohesive state.
The observance of World Interfaith Harmony Week as, you know, has its origins in the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 65/5 entitled [the] World Interfaith Harmony Week, which was adopted on the 20th October, seven years ago, 2010. The resolution encouraged and I quote, “States to support on a voluntary basis, the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship during that week”.
Guyana is a cosmopolitan State. The majority of our people adhere to one or more of the world’s major religions as you have heard today- Christianity, Islam and Hinduism in addition to indigenous religions such as Rastafarianism and Areruya. Guyana is a model of interfaith harmony.
The religious diversity which we enjoy has never degenerated into violent and murderous conflicts. This is not an accident- policies have been purposefully pursued to promote peaceful coexistence. Guyana is, under its supreme law of the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, a secular state. This has forestalled religious competition for political purposes; the separation of religion and State has contributed to respectful religious coexistence as you have seen on display this morning.
The Constitution respects and protects freedom of thought and religion, again I quote, “Except with his or her own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his or her freedom of conscience and, for the purposes of this article, the said freedom includes freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his or her religious belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and private, to manifest and propagate his or her religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance”.
Constitutional safeguards against religious discrimination and vilification are also entrenched and they proscribe discrimination on the grounds of religion. The Constitution states “No persons’ religion or religious beliefs shall be vilified.”
These protections have served to protect and preserve religious freedom; to promote religious respect; to generate religious interfaith harmony and mutual trust. Guyana is becoming a socially cohesive state. Social cohesion is about combating exclusion and marginalisation, it is about creating a sense of belonging and it is about promoting upward mobility. It is and I quote, “The belief held by citizens of a given nation state that they share a moral community which enables them to trust each other.”
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development defines a cohesive society as one that works towards the well-being of all of its members; fights exclusion and marginalisation; creates a sense of belonging; promotes trust and offers its members the opportunity of social mobility.
A cohesive society is one in which the diversity of peoples different backgrounds and circumstances is appreciated and positively valued. Those from different backgrounds have similar life opportunities and strong and positive relationships are being developed between people from different backgrounds and circumstances in the workplace; in schools and within neighbourhoods.
I do believe that World Interfaith Harmony Week helps to develop positive relationships in Guyana, even as elsewhere around the world hostile relationships and religious conflicts continue to envelop regions, states and communities and we are building social cohesion in Guyana.
This year, for the first time in our history, women were elevated to the dignity of Senior Council for the first time in 50 years. [Applause.]
Last year, for the first time, an equal number of women received the Golden Arrow of Achievement to those of men. [Applause.]
So when we speak of cohesion we speak of the removal of discrimination and the promotion of equality and that is why this government, in May 2015, created this great ministry- the Ministry of Social Cohesion – because of its importance; its importance to remove discrimination on the basis of gender, on the basis of geography and it is good to see our brothers from hinterland regions coming all the way from Amakokopai to Georgetown.
Guyana declared itself to be a Cooperative State. I am and proud to be a member, a citizen of a Cooperative State. Interfaith harmony is a means to encourage the culture of cooperation. Interfaith harmony is advanced through dialogue. Dialogue in turn promotes understanding; understanding in turn generates cooperation; cooperation facilitates the dismantling of the barriers of domination and distrust and that domination and that distrust can generate human conflict.
A culture of cooperation in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious society can be sustained only by ensuring that there are guarantees of religious freedom, of policies, which protect society against religious discrimination and programmes which promote social cohesion. The State since independence promoted mutual respect by recognising the most sacred festivals and the most holy days of its three main religions.
The State more recently, as you know, extended respect to people of different ethnicities on the 12th of January; it recognised Chinese Immigration Day. It will recognise on the 5th of May, Indian Immigration Day. It will recognise on the 3rd of May, Portuguese Immigration Day. So every group that came into this country will be recognised individually and collectively. [Applause.]
The State through the Ministry of Social Cohesion will continue its work to break down the walls of division and to build bridges of cooperation between ethnic, religious, social and geographical communities in society. Social cohesion and interfaith harmony cannot be left to chance. The State has to work to make this happen.
Guyana proudly declared itself to be a secular State. The protection of the right to religious freedom and expression, the recognition accorded to all religions and the promotion of social cohesion has laid the foundation for mutual respect and interfaith harmony.
These efforts have been supported by a robust dialogue among our religious leaders and for this I would like to congratulate and thank the Inter-religious Organisation. [Applause.]
I wish to thank also the religious leaders, who on their own or communally have been actively involved in cultivating religious cooperation in Guyana. Guyana has become and must remain a home for harmony. I urge that we continue to spread the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill as we seek to become a socially cohesive state.
May God bless you all and I thank you.

Leave a Comment