30 January 2008
ONY-UN University: “The Inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue: The Pathway to Peace”
Event: UNY University interactive Midday- Forum on religious diversity and Interreligious dialogues
Theme: “The inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue”
Speakers: -Ms. Roca Hachem Programme Specialist for Culture in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
-Mr. Leslie Gatan, Deputy Permanent Representative at the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines to the United Nations.
Moderator: Jean-Marc Coicaud, head of the United Nations University, Office at the United Nations in New York
Date/Time: 30 January 2008 (Wednesday), 1:15-2:45 PM
Venue: Secretariat building, Conference room (D), UN Headquarters, New York
Organizer: United Nations University, New York office, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Permanent Mission of the Philippines
United Nations University
Office at the United Nations
2 UN Plaza, DC2-2060
New York, New York 10017
During the Midday Forum, Mr. Leslies B. Gatan, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the United Nations, made a presentation on the evolution of interfaith dialogue and cooperation, with an emphasis on the Philippine experience. Mr. Gatan started first by presenting the religious context of the Philippines. Two religious streams entered the Philippines, Islam (during the 14th and 15th century) and the Christian religion (with the Spanish colonization during the 16th century). There is a third group known as lumdas and other indigenous people, who did not convert to any of the two religions. In order to deal with the problem of violent clashes among communities, due to the religious and cultural diversity, interfaith cooperation was the best way to encourage communities to live in harmony and respect each other’s faith.
The Philippines consider interfaith dialogue as an important tool in promoting peace and well being in the country. Consequently, it represents a key strategy under the Peace Building and Conflict Prevention component of the 2004-2010 Medium Term Philippine Plan.
In order to promote interreligious dialogue, the Philippines created mechanisms and structures, such as the Bishops-Ulama Forum (BUF), which is a regional body of influential religious civil-society leaders representing the main three groups in Mindanao. The BUF had conducted a number of dialogues that helped influence the directions and decisions of both the local government and civil society. NGOs also contribute to the government actions, by launching initiatives towards interfaith and intercultural dialogue.
Beyond the national experience, the Philippines have been engaged in many initiatives on the regional and international level. On the regional level, the Philippines cosponsored different conferences and forums with other governments in the region on interfaith dialogue in Southeast Asia. The Philippines proposed the creation of a permanent continuing forum on interfaith dialogue and cooperation in Oceania and the Southeast Asian Region, and decided to expand the convenors’ group to include other key leaders of the different faiths.
On a larger scale, the Philippines participated in the Asia-Europe Meeting Summit in Vietnam, where they agreed on an initiative entitled “Interfaith Dialogue” aimed at promoting mutual understanding, reconciliation and lasting peace. ASEM is composed of the European Commission.
On the international level and partly through the initiative of the Philippines, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted since 2004 a number of resolutions related to interreligious dialogue. Each year an increasing number of countries adopted these resolutions:
- October 2004, 59th UN General Assembly, resolution 59/23 entitled Promotion of Interreligious Dialogue, co-sponsored by 24 countries.
- 2005 World Summit, resolution 60/149 entitled Promotion of Interreligious dialogue and cooperation for peace, co-sponsored by over 40 countries.
- 2006, resolution 61/221, adopted again by consensus, entitled Promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue and understanding and cooperation for peace co-sponsored by more than 50 countries.
The Philippines also took part in other international conferences and forums as the tripartite Forum on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace, and the Summit on Interfaith Dialogue and Cooperation for Peace.
The Philippines government believes that interfaith understanding is an effective approach towards conflict-prevention and conflict-resolution, where non-governmental organizations play a key role towards this effort.
As part of its commitment towards interfaith dialogue, the Philippine government is developing a peace education module, which includes topics on cultural diversity and appreciation of different faiths. The Philippines is committed to pursue its goals of strengthening interfaith dialogues and partnership in conflict areas, particularly in Mindanao.
As a conclusion, Mr. Gatan emphasized the fact that religions lie at the heart of cultures and civilizations, and promotion of inter-cultural and inter-civilizational cooperation and understanding flourishes with religions.
During her presentation, Ms. Rochelle Roca Hachem, representing UNESCO Office in New York, focused on the intercultural dialogue. UNESCO is considered the intellectual branch of the United Nations. UNESCO was initially established to deal with multilateral postwar reconstruction of schools and protection of physical cultural heritage. However in 1945, an important shift from this first conceptual base towards an emphasis on peace and security took place. UNESCO’s founders were convinced that international efforts in education, and understanding of each other and each other’s problems, would do more in the long run for peace than treaties.
“Within a broad moral framework, dialogue allows each culture to know that its voice is heard and accepted. Dialogue means exposing -- not blanketing over -- different ways of thinking. It takes place through contact and communication, and results, hopefully, in learning and understanding”
Ms. Roca-Hachem mentioned the role of globalization in bringing people and nations into closer interaction and interdependence and creating multicultural, multiethnic, and multifaith societies throughout the world. At the same time, increased social fragmentation and growing inequalities have accompanied these changes, leading therefore to an increase of intolerance, mistrust and misunderstanding between people.
The UNESCO and the UN are increasingly focusing on the purpose and the structure for intercultural dialogue, which is essential to reach peace and security. UNESCO is the lead agency behind several UN international decades promoting intercultural and interreligious dialogue.
An important standard setting instrument adopted by UNESCO’s Member States in 2001 is the Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity. Last October, the UN General Assembly held its first High Level Dialogue on Inter-Religious and Intercultural Understanding and Cooperation for Peace in which UNESCO contributed to. This two-day conference secured unprecedented recognition by national leaders of the importance of these tools in today’s divisive world.
UNESCO considers interreligious dialogue as a key component, which falls under the wider umbrella of intercultural dialogue. In this framework, it is worthwhile to note the recent signature (March 31, 2006) of an Agreement launching the network, “UNESCO Chairs of Interreligious Dialogue for Intercultural Understanduing”. The objective of these Networks is to foster educational exchanges amongst students and researchers, including the ones prone to undertake a religious life, providing them with a secular, multireligious and intercultural education.
Intercultural dialogue helps to sow the seeds of peace and must be predicated on universal acceptance and observance of basic human rights.