9 February 2018, Geneva, Switzerland - A little-known General Assembly resolution comes back around once a year, in the first week of February, to remind the international community about the unmistakable power of religion to transform the world. In October 2010, UN General Assembly Resolution 65/5 established World Interfaith Harmony Week, in which the UN officially charges “all States to support, on a voluntary basis, the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship…, based on love of God and love of one’s neighbour or on love of the good and love of one’s neighbour, each according to their own religious traditions or convictions.”
Three years ago, UNITAR and the Permanent Mission of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the UN in Geneva joined forces, and co-founded the first annual Interfaith Dialogue at the Palais des Nations. Originally conceived by the United Nations Christian Association (UNCA), the Dialogue serves as the official commemoration of World Interfaith Harmony Week in the UN’s second city, and convenes a diverse group of Ambassadors and other leaders to speak on the vital role of faith and religion in global affairs. Participants of all faiths are warmly invited to engage in the discussion, not to water-down or understate the firmness of their convictions, but to acknowledge and reaffirm the truth that no religion promotes violence, and that no religion ignores the value of peace. We are, indeed, all in this together.
Each year’s Dialogue presents new variations on the Resolution’s theme. In 2016, the statements coalesced around the UN Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism (24 December 2015), and the role of faith and interfaith dialogue in halting religiously-motivated terrorism. The second Dialogue explored the myriad ways in which faith-based organizations are helping to drive international development, peacebuilding, and the 2030 Agenda. In 2018, the third annual Dialogue addressed the theme of “Advancing Peace through Interfaith Harmony”. Panelists spoke on the unique ways in which their governments and organizations have used interfaith projects as tools for peacebuilding. The wide array of testimonies came from a panel of ambassadors from Jordan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Ecuador, the Holy See, the Sovereign Order of Malta, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). In this rich variety of contexts, the audience heard in concrete terms how faith and faith-based organizations remain not only effective but critical players in the quest for international peace, harmony, and sustainable development.
In 2010, and in every subsequent first week of February, the UN General Assembly has called upon Member States to find and nourish the light at the heart of the world’s varied faiths, and to harness it for the good of all nations. The ideals and aspirations of the Charter of the United Nations rely upon dialogues such as this one, which are not afraid to plumb the depths of our convictions, both diverse and common, and to ask the tough questions. UNITAR is honoured to join forces with the Mission of Jordan to create an official forum in International Geneva for this discussion, and to help foster this exchange of knowledge among states, communities, and people of all faiths.
Photo: Panelists and speakers at the 3rd Annual Interfaith Dialogue at the Palais des Nations, 9 February 2018.
From left to right: H.E. Luis Gallegos, former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the UN in Geneva; H.E. Kok Jwee Foo, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Singapore to the UN in Geneva; H. E. Vaqif Sadiqov, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Azerbaijan to the UN in Geneva; H.E. Aissata Kane, Deputy Permanent Observer of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to the UN in Geneva; H.E. Saja Majali, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the UN in Geneva; H.E. Marie-Thérèse Pictet-Althann, Ambassador and Permanent Observer of the Sovereign Order of Malta to the UN in Geneva; H.E. Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN in Geneva; H.E. Idriss Jazairy, UN Special Rapporteur to UN OHCHR and Executive Director, Geneva Center for the Advancement of Human Rights and Global Dialogue; Mr. Alex Mejia, Programme Director, UNITAR