10 February 2023, Geneva, Switzerland- The latest annual edition of the Geneva Interfaith Dialogue, hosted by UNITAR in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the United Nations in Geneva, took place in early February. The event convened a diverse panel of Ambassadors, high-level representatives of the world's major faiths, and the International Geneva community to engage on the links between faith, politics, and society. The Annual Geneva Interfaith Dialogue serves the purpose of commemorating World Interfaith Harmony Week, established in 2010 by UN General Assembly Resolution 65/5, to raise awareness about the value of interfaith dialogue while facilitating the exchange of best practices on how different faiths can contribute to harmony, peace, sustainable development, and towards building more inclusive communities. This year's event gathered 89 participants in person and over 80 attending via Webex.
The eighth Annual Geneva Interfaith Dialogue brought together the following speakers: Amb. Walid Khalid Obeidat, Permanent Representative of Jordan, Amb. Hend Abdalrahman Al-Muftah, Permanent Representative of the State of Qatar, Rev. David Putzer, Deputy Permanent Observer of the Holy See, Ambassador Marie-Thérèse Pictet-Althann, Permanent Observer of the Sovereign Order of Malta, Amb. Nassima Baghli, Permanent Observer of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Amb. Federico Villegas, Permanent Representative of Argentina, Amb. Galib Israfilov, Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan, and Amb. Rhoda Jackson Chairperson, Chairperson of the United Nations Christian Association.
The Permanent Representative of Jordan opened the conference by highlighting the importance of interfaith dialogue, saying, "This interfaith gathering fills me with hope because our faith stands in contrast against the darkness of our times." Mr Nikhil Seth, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNITAR, emphasized the importance of having an open and deep conversation at the United Nations on topics of faith, multilateralism, and public policy as they "are the crucial ingredients for effective engagements... because most of the crises we see today are self-inflicted wounds and we must find ways to heal them..."
The event itself consisted of two separate panel discussions. The first panel was entitled "Faith and Multilateralism," and the second "Fatih and Public Policy, " each preluded by a brief presentation on the topic by Mr Alex Mejia, Director of the UNITAR Division for People and Social Inclusion.
FAITH AND MULTILATERALISM
Interfaith dialogue and an environment of mutual understanding and respect are vital in maintaining a healthy approach to multilateralism. The representative of Qatar emphasized this point when "we as individuals uphold faith, morals, and respect of different religions. We live together by respecting each other, which will pave the way to understand one another better and lay the foundation for long-standing cooperation for generations to come."
Faith and multilateralism are increasingly relevant in solving the issues that our world is facing. The Permanent Observer of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation indicated that "faith and multilateralism are increasingly linked because all religions are compelled to feelings of compassion and empathy with others while also advocating for peace and co-existence between peoples and nations." The vital role faith plays in multilateralism was expanded by the representative of the Holy See, who shared his vision of how a fragmented multilateral system could impact marginalized members of our society. He mentioned how faith is essential in "highlighting the deficiencies within the multilateral system by providing an effective avenue for solving the issues of our day."
The connection between humanitarian work and multilateralism was another critical point during the panel discussion. The representative of the Sovereign Order of Malta said these two aspects are interconnected, especially in matters relating to interfaith dialogue, as they allow for an "exchange of information and best practices while contributing to the following fields: global displacement, humanitarian assistance, global health, human rights, social justice, and integration."
FAITH AND PUBLIC POLICY
The Permanent Representative of Jordan opened the second panel, explaining why his Nation put such a resolution forward in the first place and why they hold interfaith dialogue so important. "The tenants of faith are what guide us when assisting those in need," he stated, explaining how his Nation integrates elements of interfaith dialogue and shared understanding when providing solutions to Jordan's diverse community.
The importance given to interfaith communication and collaboration within the realm of public policy was made clear during the panel The Representative of Argentina stated, "for Argentina, interfaith dialogue is part of our nature because our identity is not only shaped by the identity of our culture but also the diversity of faith." Likewise, the Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan highlighted the linkages between faith and state governance by explaining that "state governance cannot be pursued in isolation of the religious situation in the country without proper context of the religious values."
The United Nations Christian Association Chairperson reminded the audience, "what affects one, affects all," and stressed the importance of finding inclusive and collaborative solutions to challenges that face our community, specifically those that exasperate inequality, such as the impact of the Covid19 Pandemic and the Climate Crisis.
At the end of the conference, the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of UNITAR, Amb. Luis Gallegos echoed how these profound discussions will go beyond the bounds of the conference room to impact people's lives for generations to come. He said, "the fragmentation of multilateralism, as expressed by the Secretary-General, should motivate us to look for a culture of peace, understanding, and dialogue as mechanisms to reach consensus and agreements that will benefit the world's population."
The 9th Geneva Interfaith Dialogue will occur at the Palais des Nations in February 2024.
To watch the proceedings of this event, please watch the video below.