Faith coalition formed to back UN decade on dialogue and peace

By agency reporter
11 Mar 2009

Forty-five religious, interfaith, and value-based organizations from five continents have agreed to form a coalition to advance a United Nations Decade for Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue, Understanding, and Cooperation for Peace.

Coalition members expressed the hope that the UN Sixty-Fourth General Assembly, which will begin its deliberations in September 2009, will approve a resolution establishing such a decade from 2011-2020.

The meeting took place at Maryknoll, New York, from 2-4 March 2009. Participants included Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Shinto, Sikh, Zoroastrian as well as indigenous traditions.

A provisional steering committee promoted the decade with UN member states during 2008. The UN General Assembly took the first step on 14 November 2008 by adopting resolution 63/22 which calls for exploring the feasibility of such a decade. The resolution was co-sponsored by 78 states.

On Monday 9 March, the president of the UN General Assembly, Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, reiterated his previous calls for a "new spirit of solidarity and a powerful injection of moral and ethical values into our business and political lives."

He urged the religious leaders to work together with the United Nations since these concerns require "life-long commitment" and religious institutions have the "staying power in the face of these challenges."

The coalition elected a steering committee - composed of organizations representing religious communities, interfaith and value-based civil society organizations - to strategically promote the decade idea among member states of the UN.

Stein Villumstad, deputy secretary general of Religions for Peace, the world's largest and most representative multi-religious organization, will chair the coalition steering committee.

"This is a unique opportunity for religious traditions, so easily hijacked for destructive purposes, to work with the United Nations and jointly mobilize their communities and organizations for urgent and compelling actions for peace," he said. "Time and space created by the decade should make a difference for the poor, marginalized, and oppressed peoples of the world."

The World Council of Churches (WCC) - host of the initial gathering of this coalition in Bossey, Switzerland in January 2008 - continues to promote this initiative, said Shanta Premawardhana, WCC director for Inter-religious Dialogue and Cooperation.

"Our churches, through the Churches Commission on International Affairs (CCIA) have a long history of working with the UN and its agencies on a variety of projects that contribute to sustainable peace," he added.

The coalition will meet next in the context of the Parliament of the World's Religions in Melbourne, Australia, in December 2009. Dirk Ficca, the executive director of the Parliament, himself a member of the steering committee welcomed the initiative.

Coalition members hope the proposed UN decade will be launched on 21 September 2010, the International Day of Peace. This would immediately follow the current 2001-2010 International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World and the 2010 International Year for the Rapprochement of Cultures.

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Information on the WCC Programme on Inter-religious Dialogue and Cooperation: http://www.oikoumene.org/en/programmes/interreligiousdialogue.html

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