Geneva, Switzerland - The Universal Peace Federation in joint sponsorship with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, the Permanent Mission of Indonesia to the UN in Geneva, and the Geneva Interfaith Intercultural Alliance (GIIA) organized an important seminar on disarmament at the United Nations in Geneva September 23, 2009. It brought together government, UN, and NGO experts in the field of disarmament with the Model UN Interreligious Youth Council of GIIA, including nearly 70 students from Lausanne and Geneva universities.
Responding to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call “WMD (we must disarm)” on this year’s International Day of Peace, this interactive program was launched in order to educate about current issues of disarmament, non-proliferation, and arms control in an attempt to encourage further discussions and actions from civil society—especially through interreligious and intercultural cooperation.
Conference Chair Mr. Heiner Handschin, Secretary General of UPF-Europe Region 2, opened the meeting by explaining about this year’s chosen theme, whose abbreviation also refers to weapons of mass destruction. The world is unreasonably over-armed, and it becomes increasingly unacceptable that the world’s governments are spending more in recent years than ever for defense and national security purposes (US $1.5 trillion).
The keynote opening speech was given by H.E. Amb. Dian Triansyah Djani, former President of the Trade and Development Board of the UN Conference on Trade and Development, current Vice President of the Human Rights Council (2009-2010), and candidate for Chairman of the Conference on Disarmament, the UN’s sole disarmament negotiating body that is located in Geneva.
He described the Indonesian situation as the nation with the largest Muslim population. He noted that GIIA and its Model UN Interreligious Council correspond well to the spirit of Indonesia with its great tradition of interreligious tolerance and peaceful coexistence of diverse religions and ethnic communities. . In contrast to government perspectives, Ms. Anisha Pabari, Hindu delegate of the GIIA Model UN Interreligious Council, voiced the hopes of civil society that a consensus to substantially dismantle weapons arsenals will soon be reached. Leaders need to replace these stockpiles with arms of righteousness, she said, and that will uproot insecurity and mistrust. Youth leaders, especially from the interreligious sphere, can speed up this process by being catalysts of interreligious, intercultural, peace and cooperation among communities.
The Deputy Secretary General of the Conference on Disarmament Mr. Jarmo Sareva, who is the new Director of the Office for Disarmament Affairs in Geneva and a renowned expert on disarmament issues, gave a very somber but realistic picture of the deadlocks in the Conference on Disarmament and related bodies during the past decades and the need to re-launch and re-think these important issues. He described signs of “fresh air” coming into the debate, especially through the new US administration and an increasing interest of civil society in disarmament matters.
The Deputy Director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research, the main co-sponsor of the event, Mrs. Christiane Agboton Johnson explained very thoroughly the issue of “small arms” as the “weapons that are constantly used all around the world” and by their massive numbers have become weapons of mass destruction.
She traced the resolutions and treaties of the UN and UN Institute for Disarmament Research programs to harness proliferation and eliminate massive amounts of small weapons over the decades. However, many difficulties remain, especially due to an absence of standards in the national reports on disarmament issues. She expressed appreciation for GIIA's support for their mandate and discussed further cooperation.
Ms. Susi Snyder, Secretary General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, a well-known expert and activist on disarmament, representing civil society and NGOs showed vividly the possible ways civil society can influence the issue of disarmament. Especially in the “hot” nuclear issue, she showed to what extent civil society can exert pressure through worldwide efforts for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. She described several encouraging and very successful examples of civil society campaigns for disarmament, such as Global Zero, the International Campaign to Abolish Nukes, and Mayors for Peace.
Representing UPF International, Rev. Dr. Joong Hyun Pak, a theologian and religious leader as well as Dean of the World Peace Academy in Seoul, Korea, connected the audience to the troubling reality of the present nuclear standoff in his homeland of South Korea and the need for religious and civil society leaders to work together on disarmament issues. He proposed creating in Asia a fifth major UN headquarters, reminding participants that Asia is the most populous continent, with vast land and ocean surfaces, but does not have a major UN headquarters.
If the Demilitarized Zone at the 38th parallel that divides the Korean peninsula can be converted into a Peace Zone and Peace Park, it could become the seat of proposed new UN agencies such as a peace council, family peace council, disarmament council, and even the women’s agency that is under discussion. Considering the geopolitical tensions in the area, the strong family values in Asian culture, and the remarkable work of women’s NGOs, the audience applauded the proposal.
The concluding remarks were given by Minister Jesus Domingo, Minister of Disarmament and Humanitarian Affairs of the Philippine Mission to the UN in Geneva and co-founder of GIIA. Minister Domingo emphasized the need for civil society to become more involved in disarmament and other issues that have been hidden in the halls of the UN. The Model UN Interreligious Council and interreligious cooperation for peacebuilding in general will increase security and mutual trust among communities and other stakeholders. He emphasized the need for creative citizen initiatives and people becoming better informed so they can speak knowledgeably about some aspect of the broad field of disarmament, such as reducing small weapons. This will support ongoing disarmament efforts and keep local communities informed about developments. Min. Domingo also spoke on behalf of GIIA in calling for a broader alliance of youth through inviting other Model UN associations in the Geneva and Lausanne area to jointly prepare events at the UN.
After a lively debate, eight youth delegates of seven different faiths received Interfaith Ambassador for Peace certificates and encouragement to continue cooperating beyond barriers for the sake of lasting peace in the world.