Photos from the three London sessions - click on the images to enlarge them.
London, United Kingdom—Session IV of the 2022 Europe-Middle East International Leadership Conference was titled “Conflict Resolution and the Role of Faith-Based Organizations and NGOs: Creating an Interreligious Council at the UN.”
The session was the second of three held on August 4, 2022, at the London Peace Embassy. The Europe-Middle East (EUME) ILC was one of the International Leadership Conferences organized worldwide in the summer of 2022 on the overall theme “Towards Peace and Security on the Korean Peninsula: Building a Global Culture of Peace.”
The first two EUME sessions were held in Berlin on July 26; sessions 3, 4 and 5 were held in London on August 4; sessions 6 and 7 were held in Larnaca, Cyprus, and Tirana, Albania, both on August 5.
The session moderator was Heiner Handschin from Switzerland, the director of the UPF Office for UN Relations, Geneva, and the Europe-Middle East coordinator of UPF’s Interreligious Association for Peace and Development (IAPD).
Mr. Handschin asked: What can the UN do? Sometimes deliberations in the UN are much like a tennis court where the ball is constantly thrown back and forth and things stay the same. What can civil society, NGOs and faith-based organizations do? How can they empower and support the UN so that efforts for peace and the respect of human dignity can bear more fruit?
Ambassador Dr. Makarim Wibisono, the permanent representative of Indonesia to the UN in New York (1997-2000) and Geneva (2004-2007) and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (2014-2016), sent an excerpt from a speech he gave at a UPF International Leadership Conference in April 2022.
In his message, he said that disunity among UN member states was a major problem. He emphasized that “Trust is an important factor,” which international organizations such as the UN are lacking. Encouraging the audience to imagine the fruits of the UN’s political efforts when complemented with the wisdom of the major religions, he said that the UPF founders’ proposal for the creation of an interreligious upper house at the UN could create favorable outcomes in trust building and peacebuilding. He emphasized the importance of these two points and said that strengthening them is a priority. That is where faith-based organizations and non-governmental organizations can prove to be valuable, he said.
Ambassador Jesus Domingo, the ambassador of the Philippines to New Zealand and a former assistant foreign secretary of his nation, also addressed the conference through a recorded message.
The United Nations was founded on a vision for lasting peace for humanity, Ambassador Domingo said. It sprang forth at the end of the Second World War as a hope for humanity and remains our most important platform. However, given the nature of the world’s problems and the fact that the vast majority of the world’s citizens are believers, the integration of religion into the UN system is vital.
There already exists a range of raised concerns within the UN regarding peace, development, humanitarianism, so why not a meaningful body for religion, a body for faith? Ambassador Domingo asked.
In today’s world, when things start to fall apart, people turn to their parents, monks, and spiritual teachers and not necessarily to governmental leaders, he said.
“Rather than be wary of religion, even if the hypothetical Interreligious Council could stop just one death, that would definitely be worth the efforts and a plus to our efforts at stopping violence,” he said.
Hon. Ján Figeľ from Slovakia, the European Commission special envoy for the Promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief outside the European Union (2016-2019), began by praising UPF for its great work and efforts. He said he believes it to truly be the road to success concerning international relations and teamwork.
“Do you know why evil has so many fruits in this world?” Hon. Figeľ asked. He named three “influential allies” of evil: indifference, ignorance, and fear. He illustrated this by mentioning global historical events. To combat these three allies of evil, Hon. Figeľ encouraged us to engage with one another and to live one's life never ceasing to understand, and to have courage.
Stating that 84 percent of the world’s people claim religious affiliation, Hon. Figeľ said that is “not just a majority, it is an overwhelming majority.” The number of believers is growing, so those who disregard and disrespect religious identity are a very small minority. He also noted that 79 percent of the world’s people still live in countries with restrictions regarding religious freedom, so the majority of the world does not enjoy that important human right yet.
Haleemah Oladamade Ahmad from Nigeria, a senior research associate and chief editor, Da’wah Institute, Islamic Education Trust, addressed the conference by an online connection. She said that her work with NGOs and FBOs is driven by religious belief and spiritual values. Thus she questions why there is no role for religion in politics.
Faith-based organizations play a central role in conflict management and conflict resolution, and such efforts would supplement the work of the UN and also connect communities with the UN and governments.
“An interreligious council at the United Nations would be very beneficial for all, also in a number of countries around the world where the situation is very fragile,” she said. Often governments and political leaders are not trusted, whereas people trust their faith leaders and leaders in life—mentors, parents, teachers.
Sheikh Dr. Hojjat Ramzy from the United Kingdom, the director of the Oxford Islamic Information Centre, said that, with so much hatred, injustice and violence in the world, it seems “there is no light at the end of the tunnel.” He mentioned ongoing wars and conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe.
“Everywhere you look, there is the presence of war, genocide, famine, rape, disease, climate change,” he said. Sheikh Dr. Ramzy said that peace is a profound human pursuit with its roots in the essence of all religions. All the tools and means available for creating a world of peace should be mobilized. Building on deep religious wisdom can bring in such a wealth of possibilities, he said.
He ended by encouraging the conference participants to look carefully for solutions in the right place. Religion can bring hope, no matter how hard and dark the situation may seem, he said.
Dr. Lakshmi Vyas from the United Kingdom, the president of the Hindu Forum of Europe, spoke about the power of FBOs and NGOs in conflict resolution and fighting corruption. In regard to these two targets, religious leaders could be educators, advocates, intermediaries, and mediators. They could change behaviors and provide peacebuilding education.
A world order of discipline, like teaching basic morals in families through religion, needs to be encouraged among current global leaders, Dr. Vyas said.
Minorities experience a lot of chaos, fear and discrimination, she said. Despite the UN’s efforts and current structures in place, there are nearly 272 million stateless migrants, among whom are 84 million who have been displaced by war, conflict, persecution and discrimination.
What makes people take such extreme risks? If their reality is worse than the treacherous journey through the Sahara Desert, the Mexican border, or the Mediterranean Sea, she said. The war in Ukraine created over 11 million refugees. All these sad facts remind us that we need to step up our efforts and do more. FBOs and NGOs have to look beyond their horizons and put all efforts in place to make this world a more beautiful and a happier place.