Diplomacy for Peace and Prosperity
Co-Partners Advance Track 1.5 Diplomacy for Peace and Prosperity
(28 September 2012, New York) The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the United States government, the Institute for Global Engagement and Religions for Peace International co-convened 150 senior governmental representatives, religious and other civil society leaders at a high-level side event during the United Nations General Assembly. The event focused on advancing strategic partnerships between governments and faith-based civil society organizations for peace and prosperity. By consensus, the group expressed its desire to collaborate in building a working platform to facilitate cooperation among states, intergovernmental bodies and faith-based civil society organizations for peace.
Photo: Panelists & Dr. Vendley
Dr. William F. Vendley, Secretary-General of Religions for Peace International, opened the high-level dialogue and stated “we recognize that the identities, mandates and capacities of governments and religious bodies are different. Governmental efforts for problem solving can be called ‘Track One’ approaches, while faith-based civil society initiatives can be called ‘Track Two’ approaches. We want partnerships that respect and retain these differences, but also harness their respective strengths. We are calling these partnerships ‘Track I.5’. Today, we need to reflect on the principles, best practices and new opportunities for these important partnerships.”
Photo: H.E. Maria Otero
H.E. Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, stated: “Last year, Secretary Clinton launched the Religions and Foreign Policy Working Group as part of her Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society.” “The Working Group marks the first time that the U.S. Department of State has purposefully sought to institutionalize its engagement with religious actors to advance our shared foreign policy goals.” She reaffirmed commitment to support UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18, and stated:“This historic resolution was sponsored by our co-host, the OIC, and commits us to combat discrimination and intolerance while upholding the freedoms of religions and expression.” Vital to its implementation, she noted, are partnerships between government and faith-based civil society organizations.
Photo: H.E. İhsanoğlu
Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary General H.E. Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu also reaffirmed the OIC’s commitment to Resolution 16/18 and emphasized that implementation “has become more important than ever.” He stressed that “governments and faith-based civil society organizations should strengthen their collaboration to overcome ignorance, radicalism and the misuse of religion.” He added that he was “concerned with and condemned Islamophobia, but at the same time, on every occasion I have realised my concern and condemnation of acts of Christianophobia and Anti-Semitism.” “I must add,” he noted, “that followers of other religions as well as non-believers also deserve our respect.” Dr. İhsanoğlu continued: “I was always concerned that the interfaith dialogue was not reaching the grass roots. Now I can see the added value of what Religions for Peace is trying to do from West Africa—to the MENA region—to the Far East.” He further noted: “I am particularly pleased that the interfaith set up under the Religions for Peace played an instrumental role in highlighting and projecting the importance of UN Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18 to the religious leaders in their network.” He also singled out the OIC participation in the inauguration of Religions for Peace Myanmar two weeks ago, citing it as “a critical mechanism for promoting inter-communal reconciliation and harmony.”
Ambassador Josephine Ojiambo, the Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN for Kenya, sketched a path forward, noting how important religion is in local life, how it shapes values and how it can be mobilized for the common good as a “force for progress.” She highlighted the positive roles of faith-based civil society initiatives in addressing post-election violence in Kenya, and stated: “Governments need to develop strategies for strengthening partnerships with faith-based civil society actors.”
Dr. Aref Ali Nayed, Libyan Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and a prominent Islamic scholar, reflected on religious values essential to peace. “Religions understand existence as a ‘gift,’ and encourage a high regard for the Transcendent, shared service, patient persistence and an acute appreciation for the value of diversity. These, in turn, can help support and buttress collaboration for democracy. He also eulogized his friend, Ambassador Chris Stevens, whose life was recently taken in Libya. He warned of forces misusing the name of religion that are attempting to “steal the peoples’ revolution in Libya.”
Dr. Brian Grim, Senior Researcher at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, gave a presentation on the report, The Rising Tide of Restrictions on Religion. He noted that government restrictions on religion are rising and further reported that “increased measures of social hostility correlate with increased government restrictions on religion.”
Photo: Amb. Rantakari (left)
Ambassador Ilari Rantakari of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland affirmed the importance of track 1.5 partnerships, stating that his government has found civil society partnerships to be essential. He noted the work of the recent Helsinki Process that is founded on a commitment to multi-stakeholder partnerships. He also shared that the Finnish government had been supporting Religions for Peace projects going back to the time of the war in Bosnia on to its more recent efforts to establish a Religions for Peace Middle East/North Africa Regional Council.
H.E. Jorge Sampaio, UN High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations (AoC) and former President of Portugal, welcomed the event stating that “the AoC strongly supports enhanced partnership between the governments and faith-based civil society organizations.” He welcomed partnerships—formal and informal—with the AoC and stated: “All sectors, including governments and religious communities, should combine forces to develop a more inclusive and tolerant society.”
The event concluded with a unanimous affirmation of the desire to continue to build a platform to advance partnerships between faith-based civil society, governments and intergovernmental bodies.