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Human Rights and Dignity

Written by Tabitha Osindo, Senior Editorial Assistant at the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty Department of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventists.

A symposium on the 'Role of Religion and Faith-Based Organizations in International Affairs' was held on Tuesday, January 23, 2024, in New York City. The following faith-based organizations sponsored and organized the symposium; ACT Alliance, General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church, Islamic Relief, Religions for Peace, Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Soka Gakkai International, United Religions Initiative, World Council of Churches, UN Women, UNFPA. The event was in partnership with the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Religion and Development. This year marked the 10th anniversary since the inception of the symposium, and the theme was "Human Rights and Dignity: Towards a Just, Peaceable, and Inclusive Future."

The symposium brought together representatives from various faith affiliations and international non-government entities to discuss the intersection of religion and international affairs. Key topics of discussion included the role of faith-based organizations in promoting peace, addressing gender violence and inequality, and advocating for human rights and dignity on a global scale. The symposium also highlighted successful initiatives and partnerships between religious organizations and the United Nations in tackling pressing global challenges.

Alice Nderitu, who serves as UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, was one of the introductory speakers. She spoke on the Genocide Convention, which was the first human rights convention to be ratified following the establishment of the United Nations. Nderitu emphasized the importance of engaging with faith-based organizations and how crucial that can be in preventing genocide and other acts of atrocity.

There were three panels of discussion: the first was on 'Upholding Human Dignity: Respecting Rights, Flourishing Humanity', the second was on 'Gender Equality, Peace, and Eradicating Violence', and the last panel was on 'Key Learnings for a Just, Peaceable, and Inclusive Future.' Each of the panels featured expert speakers who shared their insights and experiences in addressing human rights violations and promoting peace. The discussions highlighted the need for collaboration between governments, civil society, and religious institutions to effectively prevent violence and ensure the protection of human rights. Additionally, it also emphasized the importance of education and awareness-raising initiatives to foster a culture of tolerance and respect for diversity.

Dr. Ganoune Diop (left) speaking on the importance of human dignity and next to him is Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, General Secretary of the ACT Alliance.

[Photo: Nelu Burcea]

Dr. Ganoune Diop, Director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty for the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, discussed human dignity as a fundamental aspect of being human. He emphasized that recognizing and upholding human dignity is crucial to promoting peace and preventing violations of human rights. Dr. Diop stressed that when individuals and societies value the inherent worth and equality of every person, they are more likely to treat others with respect and work towards peaceful coexistence. He also highlighted the role of religious institutions in promoting this message, as they have the potential to influence their followers' attitudes and behaviors towards tolerance and inclusivity. He concluded by emphasizing the importance of working together to promote human dignity for all and everywhere, starting with each individual.

Dr. Michael Weiner, a Human Rights Officer from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, also participated in the first panel discussion on ‘Upholding Human Dignity.’ He discussed the importance of upholding human rights and dignity in a thriving society. Dr. Weiner talked about the Rabat Plan of Action, which is also known as the “Faith for Rights” framework. The objective is to foster the development of peaceful societies and uphold human dignity while celebrating and respecting diversity. He emphasized the need for religious leaders to avoid promoting messages that promote bigotry and take a stand against narrow-mindedness. Dr. Weiner also highlighted the importance of avoiding violence and utilizing other tools to engage individuals and convey the significance of human rights. He provided an example of a street artist who uses his social media presence on Instagram to showcase his artwork, which promotes peace and unity. The Rabat Plan of Action has also been adopted by companies such as META to moderate the content on their social media platforms.

Faith Islamic advisor, Atallah Fitzgibbon, talked about justice being a central principle to human dignity and that human rights are a manifestation of human dignity. He shared that in Islam, rights are believed to be God-given. Azza Karam, who serves as Program Director at the World Conference of Religions for Peace, spoke on the panel on "Gender, Equality, Peace, and Eradicating Violence'. Karam highlighted the importance of acknowledging that gender-based violence is the underlying cause of all forms of violence. She stressed the need for women to recognize their own role in perpetuating harm toward each other rather than solely attributing it to men. Additionally, Karam emphasized the significance of unity among individuals from diverse faith backgrounds, as it is through collective action that we can effectively address and eradicate these atrocities.

Each speaker from each panel presented their unique perspective on the role of religion in promoting tolerance and acceptance. A Q&A session followed each panel, which gave participants a chance to interact with the speakers and have their questions answered. The symposium concluded with remarks from the moderators of the symposium, Simona Cruciani, UN political affairs officer and Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, General Secretary of the ACT Alliance, an international coalition of 152 churches and faith-based organizations.

In conclusion, the symposium underscored the crucial role that religion and religious leaders play in shaping public opinion and fostering tolerance. It emphasized the need for them to actively promote messages of inclusivity and acceptance while discouraging discrimination and prejudice. By leveraging various platforms and tools, these leaders can effectively reach a wider audience and inspire positive change in society.

You can click here to watch the complete recording of the symposium on YouTube.