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UN NGO Committee on Spirituality, Values and Global Concerns-NY Promotes Human Dignity

In 1945, many of the key founders of the United Nations and those in national leadership saw spirituality and values as a guiding force behind the formation of the United Nations. Thus, the United Nations was initially built on spiritual principles and universal values, such as peace, human rights, human dignity and worth, justice, respect and freedom. It wasn’t until 2002 that the NGO Committee on Spirituality, Ethics and Global Concerns was recognized as a substantive committee of CoNGO (the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Status at the United Nations) in Geneva, and later in 2004 at the UN Headquarters in New York. The committee was formed to honor the founding spirit of the United Nations.

The work of the NGO Committee on Spirituality at the UN is to support the recognition and acceptance that spirituality and adherence to universal values are key factors in providing solutions to global concerns. The Universal Peace Federation has been a member of the NGO Committee on Spirituality, Ethics and Global Concerns-NY since 2005, and in 2014 took the helm of its leadership as chair of the committee, represented by Mrs. Genie Kagawa, director of UPF’s Executive Office.

Annual UN DPI/NGO conference

During 2014, on the occasion of the 65th Annual UN Department of Information (DPI/NGO) Conference at the UN Headquarters, entitled “Beyond 2015: Our Action Agenda” held Aug. 27-29, the NGO Committee on Spirituality submitted a proposal for the introductory paragraphs of the Conference Declaration which included ethics and spirituality in the discussion of the post-2015 development agenda. After three days of discussion and debate, the word “ethics” and the phrase “spiritual principles” were included for the first time in the declaration which was officially adopted by 3,000 participants at the Closing General Assembly. It was considered a landmark and historical step at the UN. The following is the statement that was integrated in the document:

We acknowledge that civil society bases its work on the ethics, values and spiritual principles that are reflected by the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The fundamental freedoms of expression, media, political participation, association and peaceful assembly, reflecting the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, underpin the ability of people truly to engage with the development agenda. These rights are the fundamental building blocks of good governance, empowering people to participate in achieving development goals and holding governments to account;

We urge governments to develop and ensure a Post-2015 sustainable development framework that embraces all our human diversity, which is anchored in a human rights approach to sustainable development, upholding the universality of all human rights regardless of cultural and religious practices and national laws….

Week of Spirituality

From Oct. 20-24, 2014, the NGO Committee on Spirituality held its eighth annual Week of Spirituality, which the committee aspires to become adopted as an official week on the UN calendar. The “Spirit of the UN” Award Ceremony held during the week recognizes people whose work is an expression of the core principles, spirit and vision of the United Nations. The co-sponsors of the 2014 program were the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Status with the United Nations (CoNGO), NGO Committee on Children’s Rights, NGO Committee on Sustainable Development, United Nations Staff and Recreation Council (UNSRC), UNSRC Enlightenment Society (SEAT), UNSRC Feng Shui Group, UNSRC Friendship Club, United Nations Women’s Guild, Spiritual Caucus, Values Caucus, United Religions Initiative (URI-UN) and Unitarian Universalist Association.

The 2015 Week of Spirituality had as its theme “The Spirit of the UN: The Dynamics of Spiritual and Ethical Sustainability.” As a previous “Spirit of the UN” awardee, Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury gave the keynote address, emphasizing the significance of promoting ethics and values at the United Nations. Mr. Levi Bautista, immediate past president of CoNGO, addressed the participants about human dignity as one of the foundation principles of the United Nations. Rabbi Roger Ross, vice chair of the Week of Spirituality, spoke about the spiritual history of the United Nations.

The following distinguished persons received the prestigious “Spirit of the UN”Award: H.E. Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Flores, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Honduras to the United Nations (the Diplomat Award); Ms. Gay Rosemblum-Kumar, executive secretary of the United Nations Interagency Framework Team for Preventive Action (UN Agency Award); Mr. Tairiku Okada, spiritual leader of Sukyo Mahikari (NGO Award); Ms. Mirian Vilela, executive director of the Earth Charter (Youth Award); and Ms. Sharon Hamilton-Getz, chair emeritus of the Committee on Spirituality, Values and Global Concerns-New York (Special Distinction Award).

To give solemnity and grandeur to the awarding, musical presentations added to the stateliness of the event. Ms. Elaine Shao of China presented a classical piece by Bach; Ms. Rebecca Cherry performed a Rachmaninoff piece to exhibit the “Spirit of the UN”; Ms. Claudia Stoltman performed a ballet with an original composition; and world-renowned composer and musician Mr. Roger Davidson played his original piano composition called “Music for the World.”

The Award Ceremony coincided with the 69th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations and also marked the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Spirituality Committee. Throughout the week, daily mediation sessions on particular sustainable development goals were organized. In particular, a meditation was organized by the Spiritual Caucus led by Ms. Sharon Deep at the United Nations Headquarters on Oct. 22.

On Oct. 21 the Eco-Spirituality Working Group organized a panel discussion on “Spiritual Values and Their Role in Ecological Sustainable Development: Creating Common Goals.” Moderated by the Committee on Spirituality, Values and Global Concerns-NY Council members Swami Parameshananda of Bharat Sevashram Sangha and Cathy Towle, UN representative of the International Association for the Advancement of Innovative Approaches to Global Challenges, the prominent speakers included Dr. Kusumita Pedersen, co-chair of the Interfaith Center of NY; Mr. Dan Kittredge, director of the Bionutrient Association; Mr. Rick Clugston, director of Sustainable Development Programs at Forum 21; and Mr. James Sniffen, chief international coordinator of the UN Environmental Program. The panel aptly presented the evolution of ethics, values and spirituality in the discussion about sustainable development goals at the United Nations.

The panel discussion held on Oct. 24 with the theme: “Sustainable Health and Peace: Integrative Approaches for a Healthy Planet,” organized by the Health, Transformation and Spirituality Working Group, emphasized the importance of spirituality in achieving peace, in particular in war-torn areas of the world. Dr. Ani Kalayjian, vice chair of the Spirituality Committee, touched upon “Forgiveness Post Human-Made and Natural Disasters”; Dr. Joel Charles, president of the National Initiative for the Coordination of Haitian Action, spoke on “Ethics Post Disasters: Perspectives from Haiti”; and Beth Shaw, president and founder of Yoga-Fit, spoke on “Sustainable Global Health and Peace.”

The Spiritual Council for Global Challenges Working Group held a session on “Nurturing and Its Role in Peace and Sustainable Development,” co-chaired by Mrs. Genie Kagawa and Ms. Sharon Hamilton-Getz. With representatives of different sectors of society, a panel discussion elaborated on the important role of nurturing from different viewpoints. H.E. Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Flores Flake articulated the role of government in caring for the underprivileged and disadvantaged; Ms. Devika Kewalramani, partner of Moses and Singer LLP, talked about the lawyer’s role in nurturing clients with difficulties; Ms. Inna Revina, holistic health coach, presented the caring and nurturing role of women in society; Mr. Richard J. Sobelsohn, Esq., gave a scientific framework for how science and technology can nurture society; and a video of Mr. Virja Puri, CEO of Gotham Greens, demonstrated the best practice of a young leader who cultivated organic and sustainable farms on top of urban buildings in New Jersey.

The Week of Spirituality ended with a closing ceremony in which participants offered their reflections and inspiration from the week’s activities.

Human dignity and multilateral discussions 2014-15

On Nov. 20, the year’s activities concluded with a visioning presentation on “Spirituality, Ethics and Global Concerns: (Re) Thinking Human Dignity and Human Rights.” Mr. Levi Bautista clarified the meaning of human dignity in relationship to the United Nations through a PowerPoint presentation and facilitated a discussion on “NGOs at the UN and Multilateral Processes: Making Their Presence and Representation Matter.”

The Executive Council of the Committee on Spirituality, Values and Global Concerns-NY formulated a strategic plan and decided to have the monthly general meetings advance the discussion on how human dignity might influence the work of global institutions at the UN. Equally important is the debate on the complementarity of human dignity and human rights in the areas of peace, the sustainable development goals, equality of women, youth, indigenous people and other sectors of society.

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