Juan Somavia Interview

Ambassador Juan Somavia, who, at the time of this interview in 1997, represented Chile at the Security Council of the United Nations, was the chairman of the 1995 World Summit on Social Development held in Copenhagen. From 1999 to 2012, he served as Director-General of the International Labor Organization.

BRC: To what do you trace your deep commitments to social justice and human rights?

JS: It is the central belief in the dignity of the human being: there is nothing more sacred in the world than the respect for human dignity. If that exists, you can organize societies that are peaceful, in which people share and communicate. If that doesn’t exist, you have societies full of tensions, violence, inequality, in which people feel exploited. It’s a belief that has roots in my own Christian tradition, but which goes much beyond that. Whatever our spiritual traditions are, we must all struggle to find our common humanity.

We focus at the Boston Research Center on common values across religions and cultures. How can interested people and groups create a positive consensus for change in a diverse and divided world?

My conviction is that we all share more values than the ones that we do not share. The great historical mistake on the part of everybody has been to look at religions, for example, in terms of the differences rather than in terms of the similarities: the idea that I am right and you are wrong; that I have the truth and you’re in error; that I have to convert you. I think these attitudes throughout time have led to division among us and have been the justification for all sorts of wars and conflicts.

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