Distinguished UN Representatives Brief SEA-AIR Fellows on UN Intercultural and Interfaith Initiatives

 Agencies within the United Nations have taken an active role in developing initiatives in which engage religious leaders and actors to create a world with global, sustainable peace.  To highlight these interfaith and intercultural initiatives, the Network convened an interactive discussion between distinguished representatives from the UN Nations Alliance of Civilizations and the Office on the Prevention of Genocide with SEA-AIR Interfaith Fellows.

UN Alliance of Civilizations High Representative H.E. Mr. Miguel Ángel Moratinos offered keynote remarks, highlighting the importance of youth engagement to create and sustain peaceful societies. He emphasized that youth of today will be the generation of tomorrow whom will have to work to bring peace to communities.  Religious and traditional leaders should seize the opportunity to assist this generation in making changes for the common good.

One of the global crises we are currently facing is the COVID-19 pandemic.  In many areas of the world, this pandemic is being treated as a polarized issue.  However, this is a crisis in which impacts all of humanity ad we cannot let our responses derive from fear.  We must collectively work together, in solidarity, to combat this virus.  Mr. Moratinos emphasized that in any recovery, especially this current pandemic, we must ensure there is dialogue within societies.  Religious leaders and grassroots organizations are already striving for social integration and inclusive societies through the channel of dialogue.  These leaders and organizations should ensure their dialogues are inclusive to include youth. Similarly, Mr. Moritanos emphasized that in recovery discussions, we must include the concept of “social fabrics” and analyze how this can be strengthened.

He concluded his remarks with a reminder to the fellows that we are living in a globalized world, meaning we all belong to one society. There will be challenges ahead, but youth have the capacity to become leaders in order to mobilize communities and change the world.

Following Mr. Moritanos’ concluding remarks, representatives from the UN Alliance of Civilizations highlighted interfaith and intercultural initiatives.  UNAOC has strived to engage with faith leaders and actors in multiple different capacities, as almost all people belong to a spiritual community of some kind. Faith leaders and faith-based organizations are often rooted in a community and are trusted sources of leadership and comfort.   Faith leaders have the capacity to mobilize trust with community members in order to challenge and address stigmas, hate speech and misinformation – all of which have been growing issues in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Ways in which faith leaders can provide a guiding role in communities, especially in light of COVID-19 include:

  1. Actively challenge harmful narratives;
  2. Promote shared principles of non-violence;
  3. Fight misinformation and promote universal health standards such as those recommended by WHO;
  4. Support educational providers to ensure youth have access to a quality education.

As part of their interfaith initiatives, UNAOC recently developed the UN Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites for unity and solidarity for safe and peaceful worship.  This plan of action was developed in consultation with religious leaders to safeguard the sanctity of religious sites as a broader commitment on the part of the international community to strengthen its efforts for the peaceful settlement of ongoing conflicts. This plan encourages collaboration across approaches of prevention, education, and combating hate speech.  As part of this initiative, UNAOC is conducting a mapping of religious sites, in which will highlight the universality of religion and religious sites across cultures.

Subsequently, the UN Office on the Prevention of Genocide detailed their work on the UN Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence.  This PoA was developed with the idea to prevent -prevention of incitement, prevention of violent extremism and prevention of gender-based violence, and strengthen -different tools in which religious and traditional leaders and actors can use to prevent the incitement of violence.  It was developed with respect to international human rights law as well as Sustainable Development Goal 16.

Another plan of action developed under this agency is the UN Plan of Action on Hate Speech. In light of the global increase of xenophobia, racism and intolerance, this Plan of Action was created to tackle hate speech in order to deepen the progress on helping to prevent armed conflict, atrocity crimes, terrorism, end violence against females and other violations of human rights as well as promote peaceful and inclusive societies. The UN Office on the Prevention of Genocide depends on the work governments, the media, faith based organizations and civil society organizations, to name a few, in order to counter and address hate speech.

In light of COVID-19, the office developed a guidance note to counter and address COVID-19 related hate speech, as one of the worst consequences of this pandemic is the increased global tends of hate and discrimination. As emphasized by all of the speakers throughout the discussion, all of these efforts require a whole of society approach in order to create unified and peaceful societies.

The Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers (Network) is implementing the European Union-funded consortium project “Southeast Asia: Advancing Inter-Religious Dialogue and Freedom of Religion or Belief” (SEA-AIR). SEA-AIR Project aims to contribute to an improved consensus and a conducive environment for the protection of freedom of religion or belief and for a peaceful coexistence of groups and individuals with different religious affiliations in Southeast Asia. Specifically, the project aims to enhance local capacities to address discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief through interfaith understanding and mainstreaming at the country and regional level in South and Southeast Asian countries.