Interfaith Peacebuilding


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Interfaith Programs

Interfaith, Intercultural Alliances at the UN in Geneva

Switzerland-2009-04-03-Interfaith, Intercultural Alliances at the UN in Geneva

Geneva, Switzerland - When nine religious leaders, role-played by youth delegates representing their faiths, reported the results of their fact-finding missions to the Middle East and South Asia on “Prevention, Mediation and Peacebuilding” in a simulation of a United Nations Interreligious Council, the full room of more than 250 government and UN representatives, religious leaders, experts, and civil society leaders listened intently on April 3, 2009.

“This is what should be happening at the Durban Review,” said one Ambassador, referring to the upcoming review of the 2001 UN Conference against Racism. The review will be held at the UN in Geneva this month in an effort to salvage the difficult negotiations and unwillingness to compromise that tarnished its beginnings.

That sentiment was to be echoed again in the closing speech of Hon. Rémy Pagani, the mayor-elect of the city of Geneva, who encouraged the participants and especially the youth to continue their course. “Geneva today stands as a haven for peace and intercultural harmony,” he said. “But we had a long and painful history of religious war and intolerance that had to be won first.”

The conference, co-sponsored by the Mission of Indonesia, the Geneva Interfaith and Intercultural Alliance (GIIA), the Universal Peace Federation, and Women’s Federation for World Peace International, was held at the United Nations in Geneva on April 3, 2009. There was a striking combination of both youth and elders as well as religion and government that harmonized remarkably well.

The Opening Session, “Forging a Global Leadership Alliance Committed to Ethics and Action,” was chaired by Heiner Handschin, Secretary General of UPF in Europe Region 2 and GIIA Vice President. Speakers included Mr. Werner Schlieffer, Senior Executive Coordinator of the Conference of NGOs (CONGO), and Conference Chair Ambassador Makarim Wibisono, former President of the UN Human Rights Council and President of GIIA.

Also on the panel were Dr. Chung Hwan Kwak, Chairman UPF International; Hon. Anton Rop, former President of Slovenia; Hon. Pieter Beelaerts van Blockland, former Minister of Housing of the Netherlands; and Amb. Laura Thompson Chacon of Costa Rica.

Session two, “Towards an Interreligious Council: Accelerating the Process,” was facilitated by Mr. Mark Brann, Secretary General of UPF in Europe Region 1 and included very prominent voices from the Geneva interfaith community: Rev. Dr. William McComish, Dean Emeritus of the Geneva Cathedral; Chief Rabbi Itzhak Dayan of the Israelite Community in Geneva; Dr. Hafid Ouardiri, spokesman for the Muslim community in Geneva for 28 years; and Dr. Arun Pabari, Coordinator for the World Sathya Sai in Geneva.

Each brought a strong message, based upon personal experiences, that there is no going back to narrow and exclusive paths. Each expressed his appreciation for being invited into this initiative that calls for religion to strengthen the United Nations as well as the aspect of leadership training for their youth that carries such a serious and hopeful mandate.

Other speakers included the Ambassador of Senegal, Babacar Carlos Mbaye, and the Ambassador of Kenya, H.E. Richard Owade, who delivered a message from Mme Ida Betty Odinga, President of the League of Women Voters in Kenya and wife of the Prime Minister, who was unable to attend as scheduled.

The session's final speakers, Min. Jesus Domingo of the Philippines Mission to the UN and Dr. Thomas Walsh, Secretary General of UPF International, both presented very practical outlines of the work done in the UN, as well as research into the needs for and practical functioning of the proposed UN Interreligious Council.

The third session, “The Interreligious Youth Council: Special Session on Prevention, Mediation and Peacebuilding,” was chaired by Carolyn Handschin, Deputy Director of the Women’s Federation for World Peace International and GIIA Coordinator for the youth. Minister Jesus Domingo served as acting President in the absence of the President Ambassador Wibisono.

It was the fifth such event in five months in which youth role-played the proposed high-level United Nations Interreligious Council in formal sessions as representatives of their religions. In most cases, these youth, aged 18-24, were selected by the religious leaders themselves to play the role of delegates to this hypothetical council.

Taking on its first substantive “mission,” this session of the “UN Interreligious Council” received reports of “task forces” that had been mandated in the session in September. These groups were comprised of representatives of religions of South Asia and the Middle East to go on hypothetical “fact-finding missions” and then report back to the Council about the evidences of religion and interreligious cooperation — or lack of it — in the conflict prevention, mediation, and peacebuilding.

A “Resolution on Peacebuilding and Human Rights” was adopted by consensus in which all the Interreligious Council delegates pledged to “recognize and reinforce the sacred value in each other’s beliefs and traditions and to work together, focusing on our common beliefs and values for our common goal of universal peace.”

In Geneva in September 2008, a simulation of a hypothetical “United Nations Interreligious Council” was inaugurated with delegates from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islam, Jewish, Sikh, and Unificationist faiths in order to demonstrate the important role that religion and cultural diversity could play in solving problematic issues of global concern, in general and specifically, if given a platform within the United Nations.

Similar Youth Councils were since inaugurated in London, Bergamo, Vienna, and New York with the long-term mandate to assist local governments and institutions in reconciling — or preferably preventing — the misunderstanding that leads to enmity by drawing on the best that religion has to contribute to peace. An “Interfaith Declaration on Peace and Human Rights” was drafted and serves as founding document. Other regional councils have likewise adopted declarations and report annually to the Geneva Interreligious Council.

The closing session was conducted by Ambassador Makarim Wibisono, who formally adopted the reports and resolution. Mayor-elect Pagani added his own remarks of appreciation and encouragement for the youth and the initiative.

For the keynote address and more information about the peace tour, click here.
For background materials on a proposal for an interreligious council at the UN, click here.


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