30 April 2018, GENEVA - The Geneva Centre is currently in the process of organizing a major international conference on the theme of “Religions, Creeds and/or Other Value Systems, Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights.” This event will be held on 25 June 2018 in collaboration with the World Council of Churches, the International Catholic Migration Commission and Bridges to Common Ground. It will be held under the Patronage and with the leadership of His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan.

How was this idea born?

This initiative is the fruit of the 15 March 2017 panel debate “Islam and Christianity, the Great Convergence: Working Jointly Towards Equal Citizenship Rights” which was organized at the United Nations Office in Geneva in collaboration with the Permanent Missions of Algeria, Pakistan and Lebanon as well as the Permanent Delegation of the Sovereign Order of Malta.

The objective of this event was to harness the joint potential of Islam and Christianity in promoting equal and inclusive citizenship rights for all in such a way as to reduce concern about the plight of religious and ethnic minorities as well as of people on the move, worldwide.

There was very broad support at this gathering for following up on, and broadening, this initiative to include all religious and ethnic minorities as well as people on the move, worldwide. This follow-up, it was felt, should take the form of a World Conference to be held in Geneva on the theme: “Religions, Creeds and/or Other Value Systems, Joining Forces to Enhance Equal Citizenship Rights.

Who are the members of the World Conference Sponsoring Committee?

In order to provide the impulse for this World Conference, a Sponsoring Committee – both lay and religious – of Statesmen and Stateswomen and independent Elders has been set-up. The Sponsoring Committee will carry the process forward towards holding a successful World Conference. It consists of the following Eminent Dignitaries representing major world religions and institutions worldwide both from the Global North and the Global South:

1. His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan – Amman (Jordan).

2. Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim – Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue. Former Minister in the government of UAE.

3. Reverend Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit – General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC).

4. Monsignor Robert J. Vitillo – Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC).

5. H. E. Lakhdar Brahimi – Former Foreign Minister of Algeria, Member of the Elders.

6. Ambassador Mark D. Siljander – Former US Ambassador to the UN. Author of “A Deadly Misunderstanding: A Congressman’s Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divide” and President of Bridges to Common Ground.

7. Rabbi David Shlomo Rosen – International Director of Interreligious Affairs of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), and the Director of the Heilbrunn Institute for International Interreligious Understanding. Member of the Board of Directors of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue.

8. H. E. Ambassador Juan Somavia – Director, Diplomatic Academy of Chile. Former Director General of the International Labour Organization and former Ambassador of Chile to the United Nations.

9. Dr. Azza Karam – Coordinator UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Religion and Development, Senior Advisor UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

10. H. E. Ambassador Marie-Thérèse Pictet-Althann - Permanent Observer of the Sovereign Order of Malta.

11. Dr. Farhan Nizami – Director of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies.

12. H. E. Amre Moussa – Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt and former Secretary General of nthe Arab League.

13. H. E. Faisal Bin Abdulrahman Bin Muaammar – Secretary-General of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID),Vienna.

14. H. E. Hoda Al-Helaissi - member of Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council and former Vice-Chairperson at King Saud University.

15. Professor Shahrzade Houshmand Zadeh - Professor of Islamic Studies at the Centre for the Study of Theology of Religions, Faculty of Missiology, Gregorian University, Rome, Italy.

The Sponsoring Committee is chaired by the Geneva Centre’s Executive Director Ambassador Idriss Jazairy and the Director of the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies (Jordan) Dr. Majeda Omar.

What is the aim of the World Conference?

The aim of the World Conference is to chart a more inclusive understanding and forward-looking discussion of equal citizenship rights informed by religious pluralism and to unite the voices of religious and lay-leaders in their joint efforts to promote and advance equal citizenship rights. The conference will seek to capitalize on the convergence between religions, creeds and value systems to mitigate the marginalization of minorities worldwide.

Religions, creeds and value-systems all carry converging sets of universal values and principles which could serve as a source of inspiration for societies to achieve equal citizenship rights in practice. The mainstream discourse, which presents religions as obstacles to peace and tolerance – as well as the origin of fundamentalism -, is an ambiguous attempt to distort their original meaning. The World Conference takes a different view as it intends to emphasize that, in themselves, religions, creeds and value systems are not problematic, only their distortion may be. Re-discovering the convergence of religions, creeds and value-systems in the pursuit of equal citizenship rights is, therefore, needed more than ever to address the rise of ominous trends threatening peace, tolerance and co-existence.

When all citizens are entitled to enjoy in practice and not just in institutional provisions and slogans, the same set of rights and duties, they will become equal citizens. The fracturing of many societies to date is related to the inability to achieve this goal in practice owing to ignorance and prejudice and to their political instrumentalisation.

The effective enjoyment of citizenship rights will pave the way for the celebration of cultural diversity to become a plus to be celebrated thus fostering greater mutual understanding and therefore peace worldwide. This is the vision that guides the Eminent Members of the Sponsoring Committee to move forward the agenda of the World Conference.

Is this not wishful thinking?

Sure, the path to achieve this noble goal is long and arduous, but we want to set people on this road through concrete actions such as:

  • (1) Harness the collective energy of religions, creeds and value-systems in the pursuit of spiritual convergence, commonality of social purpose and promotion of equal citizenship rights;
  • (2) Advocate openness and plurality of approach towards other faiths, creeds and value-systems;
  • (3) Reject uniformly the instrumentalization of religions, creeds and value systems from actors with a vested interest in the spread of hatred, xenophobia, racism, and intolerance;
  • (4) Encourage secular authorities to engage with religious leaders so as to prevent potential social and/or religious tension or conflicts;
  • (5) Emphasise the impossibility in the real world to achieve equal citizenship rights without the enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights and that all these are equally important for the promotion of equal citizenship rights;
  • (6) Align national policies and their implementation to comply fully with article 18 of the UDHR and of the Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. This should lead to promoting secularity welcoming free public and private expressions of diversity of faith and value system rather than the ideology of secularism which bans it for the sake of homogeneity.

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