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I. Alimohamed: Address to 32nd International Leadership Conference

Address to 32nd International Leadership Conference, Seoul, Korea, August 26–29, 2018


Peace, Development and the Role of Religious Leaders 

“Addressing the Critical Challenges of Our Time: The Responsibility of Parliamentarians and Religious Leaders”

By Iqbal Alimohamed, Former UN Diplomat, UN High Commissioner on Refugees

Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Delegates,

We are gathered here because we are men and women who are committed to a safer world, one in which all humanity can live in peace and dignity.

The challenges we face today are truly daunting. In addition to natural disasters, manmade disasters, including wars, are resulting in huge segments of populations being killed or maimed, and their livelihoods totally destroyed. Those attempting to flee to so-called safer countries encounter stiff barriers. The politics of power and corruption have overtaken the Rule of Law. And, there is the larger problem of religious fundamentalism, progressively morphed into extremism and terrorism.

Many governments seemingly have little concern or commitment to tackle these challenges, except when they form part of their political strategy. Nor does the UN have the clout or wherewithal in its negotiation with governments. The question then is how can we contribute to addressing these crucial challenges?

While not a Christian myself, I find inspiration in a quote from the Gospel of St. Luke: “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.” (Luke 17:21)

The guidance here is that through meditation and prayer, you will understand the Creator’s purpose in life for you and you will be at peace with yourself. When there is peace within you, you will be at peace with others. This means the active promotion of ethics and moral values within your family, your neighbours, your communities and beyond. Particularly, this implies acceptance of peoples of different ethnicities and religious backgrounds recognising we are all a part of a common and shared humanity. This implies also the effective use of diplomacy to seek to find solutions to intractable problems through mutual respect and understanding of each party’s concerns.

The philosopher Voltaire declaimed:

Stand upright, speak thy thoughts, declare the truth thou hast, that all may share. Be bold, proclaim it everywhere: They only live who dare. – Voltaire

Whether as religious leaders, parliamentarians, high-ranking government officials or ordinary citizens such as myself, we have the power to speak out loudly about unfair and illegal practices but also to guide civil society to assuming a more active role in the search for peace so as to make humanity more human and compassionate.

In my own work in the United Nations, I discovered that it is personal relationships I developed that made me see my interlocutors as human beings first, despite all their quirks and proclivities. During many tense negotiations, this approach has been my North Star as it helped me to transcend political biases and prejudices. I sincerely commend you all to this approach.

Finally, my mother-in-law, bless her soul, said to me on her deathbed: “The only thing that matters in life is Love.”

And as you all depart to your homes and families, I wish you Godspeed and much love.

Thank you.



To go to the 32nd International Leadership Conference Schedule page, click here.