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Date : 2014-01-12 20:29
[International Seminars]
Seminar of IPCR, Seoul July 17-19, 2008.
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Theme:"Conflict and Dialogue: the Role of Asian Religious Leaders in Establishing Permanent Peace in Troubled Regions"
Place : Sofitel Ambassador Hotel, Seoul, Korea
In commemoration of the founding of IPCR, religious leaders, 20 from abroad and 100 from Korea, met to discuss how to establish permanent peace in troubled regions all over the world.
Keynote Speech:

2008 International Interfaith Seminar of IPCR, Seoul July 17-19, 2008.

The Initiative for the UN Decade of Inter-Religious Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace

Stein Villumstad, Deputy Secretary General of Religions for Peace and Chair of the Provisional Steering Committee for the UN Decade Initiative.

Religion in most traditions has been seen as the source of common moral order. Inter-faith dialogue has sought to legitimize this role by identifying the commonality in the basic moral tenets of the world's religions. There is, however, a different trend in which morally unacceptable political actions are legitimized by religious "fundamentalist"sectarianism. This trend can and must be countered through co-operation that brings out the potentials and assets of religions. Religion has broadly three sets of assets that may be mobilized in religious communities.

The spiritual assets of religious communities are, in the eyes of their communities, their greatest assets. Typically, spiritualities point to what is most elemental and "given"within religious visions regarding the meaning of human life. Spiritualities can provide unique potential resources for reconciliation among and between conflicted persons and communities.

Religious communities have moral assets or capacities that build upon and unfold the great strengths of their spiritualities. Fundamentally, most religious moral traditions ask their members to judge others by the same standard as they would judge themselves. These standards can provide a moral basis for establishing a communal consensus regarding the need to address injustices and work for the nonviolent resolution of conflict.

The social assets of religious communities include the vast panoply of religious infrastructures: local churches, mosques or temples; the women and youth associations affiliated with them; the national denominational organizations; councils of churches and mosques; and the large number of religiously affiliated NGOs, schools, hospitals.

Religions that cooperate put the common problems at the centre. These may include poverty, social and political injustice, and ethnic and nationalistic assertions. Different religions have a variety of interpretations of the problems and their solutions. This does not prevent them from searching for the common principles and deeply held values that may be powerfully translated into common ground for joint action through mobilizing their assets.

The Religious Summit on the occasion of the G-8 meeting in Hokkaido earlier this month pointed out that religious communities have roles to play in promoting peace:

International actors who are responsible for global decision-making must act transparently and be open to the contributions of all stakeholders, including religious communities which represent a major part of civil society."

The main message is that multi-stakeholdership is needed to move constructively towards peace. It is therefore time for international organizations, and notably United Nations to fully appreciate religious communities as stakeholders in their broad and ambitious peace agenda.

Developments in the UN over the last few years in relating to religion

There is a growing recognition of the role played by individuals and communities of diverse religions and beliefs in all societies. Sadly, many situations of injustice and conflict have religious or ideological origins and dimensions. At the same time, there is also a sense of hope that comes from the development of a number of religious and interreligious initiatives committed to peace building.

Within the UN the role of interreligious dialogue and cooperation for peace has been clearly expressed in recent resolutions of its General Assembly which promote "interreligious dialogue" as well as "religious and cultural understanding, harmony and cooperation." Worth mentioning is also the "Alliance of Civilizations"initiative, launched by the Secretary-General of the United Nations in July 2005. In October 2007, the General Assembly convened a "high level dialogue onInterreligious and Intercultural Cooperation for the promotion of tolerance, understanding and universal respect on matters of religion or belief and cultural diversity, in coordination with other similar initiatives in this area". In December 2007, the General Assembly decided "to declare 2010 as the International Year for Rapprochement of Cultures" and recommended that "during the course of the year appropriate events be organized on interreligious and intercultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation for peace."

The time seems ripe to build on the momentum that has been built around the importance of interreligious dialogue and cooperation and work for the launch of a "UN Decade of Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace 2011-2020".

A number of individuals, interfaith and faith organizations have worked for some time to develop the concept for this Decade and to build support for it. A significant step in this process was a consultation, hosted by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations (CONGO), in Bossey, Geneva, in January 2008. The participants represented a wide range of faith organizations, UN agencies and UN member states. The consultation produced a draft document that describes the main ideas behind the suggested Decade and the Coalition we want to build in support of it.

Relationships between religion and the United Nations.
The initiative to launch a Decade for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace is a major attempt to bring together the forces of the United Nations, its member states and religious communities for joint action.
In this context it may be useful to explore the relationships between religion and the UN. One way is to define three levels of relationships:

a. UN's expertise to deal with religion globally and locally.
Within the UN system there is a clear deficit of systematic knowledge about religion, religious communities and their institutions. Although many conflicts arein one way or another affiliated with religion, the historic UN approach has been strictly secular. There is an urgent need to strengthen the knowledge both in the secretariat of the Secretary General and in the specialized agencies and programs on global and national levels. UN representations in respective countries should have a basic expertise on the cultural and religious context in which they operate. Religious communities should on the other hand step up their own awareness raising of the UN and its different functions, not least to be able to interact with the national __EXPRESSION__s of the UN.

b. The political level relationship.
The General Assembly is the highest political body of the UN, while the Security Council, ECOSOC, Human Rights Council among others are also important bodies. These bodies are forums for member states. There is no formal space for other actors in them. If, however, the peace agenda cannot fully be addressed without a multi-stakeholder approach, the need for a mechanism for the religious communities to relate to the political level of the UN should be carefully considered. Different models and suggestions have been promoted, including the creation of an Advisory body to General Assembly/Security Council/ECOSOC. Without commenting on any particular solution, I want to point out the challenge of building a mechanism that is sufficiently independent from the political institutions of the UN member states and thatat the same time is appropriately representing the religious institutions.

c. Program/substance relationship
Religious communities and faith-based organizations have numerous partnerships with UN agencies and programs on local and national levels. These partnerships are partly built on mutual understanding of the respective roles and self identities. At other times religious institutions are being used as instruments to achieve UN agendas that have not necessarily been fully discussed and owned by them. The social assets of religions worldwide are, however as mentioned earlier, impressive. If equipped and given appropriate capacity building faith communities can have the scaling-up potentials through the faith infrastructures is substantial. The UN needs even more and better partnerships with the religious communities to achieve their ambitious agendas.

The Decade will have the potential to address all three levels of relationships, strengthen them and use them for the implementation of activities related to the Decade. The significance of distinguishing the levels of relationship is that different approaches and skills are needed, and the actors within our constituencies may be different for the different levels. In order to prepare ourselves for the Decade we will need to work out strategies for addressing the respective levels effectively. Let me in the passing mention that the Decade can specifically be a possible framework in which a further reflection on a more systematic way of relating to the political level, primarily between the world's religious leaders and the world's political leaders in the General Assembly context.

The concept of a Decade

There are currently seven UN Decades in progress, the last one ending in 2015. Some critics claim that there are too many of Decades and years declared by theUN and that their impact doesnot match the energy and resources put into them. In order to have an informed opinion about the proposed UN Decade for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace we may reflect upon what we believe this Decade may become.

The Decade is thought of as a framework that can give all the different initiatives direction and a way to connect. The framework may be a way of testing out the viability of the various initiatives and to build support behind key UN agendas that logically could be implemented in cooperation with religious communities -
preferably jointly across religious divides. A quick fix is not appropriate or feasible - time and space are needed!

The General Secretary of World Council of Churches observed in the preparatory meeting in Geneva in January:

"A project of that magnitude, let us agree, cannot be accomplished by any one of our religious communities, by any one country, or any one UN agency or by making this an emphasis for a year or two. What it would require is for the pre-eminent international and multilateral body, the United Nations itself, to make a commitment, not for a year or two, for that would be nothing other than paying lip-service to a nice idea, but for an entire decade, when the work of preparing the ground, planting, watering, pruning, watching it grow and harvesting can take place"

What might the time and space created by the Decade provide a framework for?:

1. Encourage Member States publicly and constructively to engage individuals and communities of diverse religions and beliefs for the common good;

2. Strengthen and deepen the cooperation of individuals and communities of diverse religions and beliefs, locally, nationally, regionally and internationally for building a sustainable world of justice and peace;

3. Encourage individuals and communities of diverse religions and beliefs to cooperate on UN initiatives such as: Enhancement of Human Rights (including the rights of women, children and youth, refugees and migrants as well as gender equity), Millennium Development Goals, decent work for all, dialogue among civilizations, promoting a culture of peace and nonviolence, peacebuilding and shared security.

4. Promote mutual respect and trust between individuals and communities of diverse religions and beliefs through dialogue and shared action.

Suggested elements of a Decade

The UN Decade of Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace 2011-2020 (or DECADE) is aimed at promoting partnership between UN Member States, UN Agencies, Religious and Spiritual Communities and Civil Society Organizations to advance the culture of peace.

The current proposal indicates that the UN Decade of Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace would have the following key tasks:

- Increase dialoguebetween people and communities of diverse religions and beliefs, and by seeking commonalities and respecting differences, promote mutual understanding and trust;

- Enhance communication and partnership between religious and political leaders at every level around issues dealing with peace;

- Identify the root causes of violence in multireligious societies, in order to promote non-violent conflict resolution, justice, tolerance, gender equality and elimination of all forms of religiously and ideologically related injustice, violence and discrimination, leading towards harmoniouscoexistence between people and communities of diverse religions and beliefs;

- Identify, deepen and share the application of sacred texts, teachings - for example, the Golden Rule- and practices that promote mutual respect, cooperation, peace, justice, healing and reconciliation.

- Design and develop joint programs, projects and activitieswith people and communities of diverse religions and value-based organizations, working as partners in the pursuit of pertinent United Nations goals;

- Proactively include women, youth and childrenin every aspect of the planning and implementation of programs, projects and activities;

- Build partnerships between people and communities of diverse religions and value-based organizations, and other civil society organizations, government agencies and social actors from the private sector, in the pursuit of those United Nations goals at global, national and local levels;

- Establish and strengthen relationships of cooperation with the bodies and specialized agencies within the UN system which are responsible for social, cultural, political, economic and environmental concerns.

- Promote right relations within the human family and with the Earth community.

The primary political and programmatic responsibility for sponsorship and implementation of the DECADE will lie with UN Member States and pertinent UN agencies. The UN General Assembly will designate an appropriate entity of its system to serve as Lead Agency for the Decade, as well as other agencies and entities that could cooperate in its implementation.

Given the unique focus of the DECADE, religious communities, interfaith and values-based organizations will be given key responsibilities in a participatory approach to implementation, interlinked through a broad coalition of civil society groups, non governmental organizations and faith institutions.

A "Plan of Action"proposed by the UN Secretary General at the launching of the DECADE will be prepared by the Lead Agency, in consultation with the appropriate state, UN and civil society actors during the two previous years. The Millennium Development Goals, Human Rights, Culture of Peace, Dialogue among Civilizations, climate change, peacebuilding and shared security appear to be the main pertinent themes in the current agenda of the United Nations to be considered in a plan of action for the DECADE.

It should be borne in mind that there are a large number of relevant programs and activities already being undertaken by religious and interfaith organizations around the world in the field of interreligious dialogue and cooperation for peace.Consequently, a Plan of Action should benefit from that experience, while adopting a flexible approach which would allow a high degree of initiative and participation by the partner organizations during the implementation of the DECADE.

The process

The DECADE would cover the period 2011-2020, launched on the 21st of September 2010, the International Day of Peace, which would then be an annual occasionto promote the Decade's objectives, assess the progress made, and strengthen interreligious partnership and commitment.

Given this proposed launch date, there will be sufficient time to prepare and promote a final proposal and to get political support from member states to present the corresponding project of resolution on the Decade to the General Assembly in its 63rd session (September 2008), in order to be adopted by the General Assembly in its 64th session (autumn 2009). During this preparatory phase the Coalition of supporting organizations will be constituted and an appropriate non-governmental arrangement will be designed and put in place to insure the effective mobilizing of individuals and communities of diverse religions and value-based organizations for their participation in the Decade.

A Provisional Steering Committee was formed in the Bossey meeting. My presence here today is in the capacity as its chair. The Committeewill take responsibility for the coordination of the process of the faith and interfaith constituencies leading to a successful UN General Assembly Resolution that launches the Decade.

The credibility of the proposal is closely linked to our ability to build a broad Coalition of eminent persons, faith communities, religious and inter-religious institutions and organizations and other civil society actors. This work is going on, and I see this event as an important contribution to the coalition building. When the Provisional Steering Committee feels that there is a critical mass of support, the Coalition will be declared and a restructured Steering Committee will be chosen to reflect the body of support. At the moment we have not reached this point.

Much time and energy has been invested over the last few weeks to reach out to UN member states both in New York and Geneva. The major negotiations need to take place in New Yorkwhere the General Assembly is. Negotiations take place on two levels.

a. It is important to build broad support for the idea of the Decade. The decision in the General Assembly will be on a "no objection"basis. Therefore we need to lobby states that have taken an initial negative position, including the EU block and USA.
b. One country needs to table the proposal for the General Assembly agenda, and therefore act as the "champion" state. This is normally done in cooperation with an inner circle of sponsors. Discussions are on-going with a few UN member states who may consider taking the leadership. No commitment has so far been given, and time is getting short. We have indications that the proposal needs to be submitted prior to the opening of the General Assembly session in September.

We are further pursuing a general support from the High Representative of the Alliance of Civilizations. The current EU position is complicating this process.

As we speak we are also working on a first zero draft of a General Assembly resolution that can be used as a resource document for the prospective "champion"state.

2008-2009: Building strong coalition of religious communities / interfaith organizations and broad support from member states in order to sway the sceptical members of the GA.

2009-2010: A growing coalition will assistthe UN Lead entity and the UN member states in building a strong implementation plan. Key to our argument will be the potentials offered by joint religious actions.There are no plans to create a centralized institutional coordination of the implementation on the faith/interfaith side. The coalition should, however, find ways of building joint momentum and be a mechanism for linkages and partnerships.

The challenges for us
In conclusion I want to share the following challenges to all of us:
- Build support from religious/interfaith organizations/communities, and build a support group of eminent persons (including Peace Prize Laureates (Nobel and other))
- Influence our governmentsto support, and possibly sponsoring the draft resolution.
- Continue wise lobby activities with EU countries and USA in order to avoid that they block the resolution.
- Prepare priorities that can build a powerful implementation of the Decade. These would include programmatic priorities within the wide UN agenda that lend themselves toalliances and partnerships that can mobilize our constituencies.
- Seek support from Nobel Peace Laureates from our respective countries.


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