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United Nations Relations

Interfaith Forum at the UN Honors Human Rights Day

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Over 300 religious, political, and civil society leaders gathered at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Dec. 2, 2008 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also to consider how best to respond to the new wave of human rights violations around the world. The event was sponsored by the Permanent Missions of four nations: Guinea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Nepal and coordinated by the Universal Peace Federation (UPF) Office of UN Relations.

“Interfaith Cooperation and the Protection of Human Rights and Dignity” reflected the growing recognition at the UN that, in addition to the work of the United Nations and its member states, there is an important and growing role for “Track II diplomacy” that engages non-state actors, including faith leaders, NGOs, and other representatives of civil society. At the recent “Culture of Peace” summit, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lamented that faith-based discrimination and racism show a “dismaying persistence,” and said that for peace to endure, individuals, groups, and nations must come to respect and understand each other – and interfaith dialogue is crucial to that process.

“Interfaith dialogue is absolutely essential, relevant, and necessary,” said the Conference Co-Chair H.E. Mr. Anwarul Chowdhury, a former UN Under-Secretary General and High Representative. “If 2009 is to truly be the Year of Interfaith Cooperation, the UN urgently needs an interfaith representative at a senior level in the Secretariat.”

In response, Mr. Paul Goa Zoumanigui, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Mission of Guinea, called for religious leaders to the take initiative to teach about human rights issues in their communities and to make sure that the rights of all people – not just a select few – would be honored. H.E. Mr. Madhu Raman Acharya of Nepal agreed. “Peace is the highest calling of the UN,” he said, “and defending human rights for all is one of its highest goals. The UN and all religious leaders have a responsibility to not allow the idea of a ‘clash of civilizations’ to become a reality.

Dr. Hyun Jin Moon, Co-Chair of the UPF, commented on the excitement surrounding the incoming Obama administration in the United States and the hope of many nations that the USA would be adopting a new stance in its international relations. “This is therefore a very good time for the United Nations to reflect upon its own strategies and policies to create peace,” he said. “If the recent atrocities in Mumbai, India, prove to have had a religious as well as a political motive, this will further underline the reality that religion has become one of the most important peace issues facing the United Nations.”

The Hon. Scott Garrett, US Representative for the 5th Congressional District in New Jersey, also urged the United Nations to sharpen its focus in the discussion of human rights. “All rights, including human rights and religious rights, derive from God, and it is the duty of the United Nations, and all governments, to protect those rights,” he said.

“Though some may disagree with this position, consider the alternative. If human rights do not come from God, then they come only from the State. And as I am constantly reminded by my constituents, many of whom came to the United States from countries with very poor records on human rights, states, governed as they are by imperfect, fallen human beings, are often the worst offenders. The United Nations should not just say empty words about the importance of human rights but use its authority to call its member states to account.”

The religious leaders from many faiths present included Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and a number of smaller groups. “We need true tolerance, not just putting up with each other but becoming intimately connected,” said Rabbi Michael Weisser from Flushing, New York. “Religious and human rights are for everyone, not just those who look like us.”

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