29 June 2018, GENEVA: On 25 June 2018, the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue organized a World Conference on the theme of “Religions, Creeds and Value Systems: Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights” at the United Nations Office at Geneva in collaboration with the International Catholic Migration Commission, the World Council of Churches, the Arab Thought Forum, the World Council of Religious Leaders, Bridges to Common Ground and the European Centre for Peace and Development.
The World Conference - held under the patronage of His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan - was addressed by more than 35 world-renowned religious, political and lay leaders from the major regions of the world.
Dr. Azza Karam, Coordinator of the UN Intra-Agency Task Force on Religion and Development, Senior Advisor UN Population Fund, remarked that when she had joined the UNDP in 2004, she was directly told that “we don’t do religion”. She stated that citizenship was mostly seen from the perspective of legislation, which was not sufficient according to her.
In terms of delivering basic human needs, citizenship was rooted in the sense of human dignity. According to the speaker, this type of citizenship was not bound by national and regional boundaries. Dr Karam further noted that religion was usually seen as part of culture, whilst culture was “the underbelly of all policies”.
The speaker further remarked that religious engagement had been overlooked in the past, but it had witnessed a significant growth over last 5 years. She noted in this regard that “We live in a context where secular actors are providers and protectors of services, however the main providers of humanitarian aid and assistance, are faith based. An average of 30-60 % of basic social services are provided by or through faith-based institutions all over the world.”
Dr. Karam stated that we needed to recognise the religious community and their importance with regard to equal citizenship rights. This is why the UN was seeking to engage with religious actors and had created the intra-agency task force with the purpose of further engaging “realistically, deliberately, practically and most importantly learnedly” with the religious actors.
She further noted that, over the years, the UN has learned a few important lessons in this regard:
- The engagement of religious leaders is crucial, however it is not sufficient, as the realm of religion extends beyond leaders to include religious organisations that deliver basic humanitarian services to the community;
- If the UN were to only engage with religious leaders, we would end up excluding women as there are few religions that ordain women;
- We need civic engagement and giving a voice to the civil society. Religious leaders and organisations have to be part of the civic infrastructure of civic society. We need build a bridge between the secular actors in the civic space and religious organisations.
Dr. Karam further remarked that it is not only the secular entities that instrumentalized religion. According to her, we were witnessing the manipulation of religion by secular entities, at times at a global level. “There are several cases and examples of religious actors stipulating conditions for partnership and engagement, and 90% of these conditions have to do with women’s rights. There are limits and boundaries to where religions will stand to support the women’s rights agenda,” she said.
Dr. Karam concluded her statement with a plea, mentioning that “For those of us who believe that if we did not have the UN in these trying times, we would have to figure out a way of creating it, please consider that we should not subject the engagement with religious actors to the opportunity to support a United Nations system in reaching out to engage and encourage a civic community.”
About the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue
The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, an organization with special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, is a think tank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, religious and civilizational dialogue between the Global North and Global South, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region. Its aim is to act as a platform for dialogue between a variety of stakeholders involved in the promotion and protection of human rights.
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