Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative:
As always, this year’s CSW was intense and complex. The Temple of Understanding’s sessions were highly successful, and we anticipate sharing video from the panel in the near future. A hallmark of the Temple’s spiritual work is joining heart, body and mind, and learning deeply from the wide array of international speakers inside and outside of the UN.
Dr Veena Adige, our panelist from India, described CSW62 as follows:
The Kaleidoscope of the thousands of women who attended the CSW62 revealed that women the world over have similar problems, solutions and thinking. The energy, the excitement and exchange of ideas can be transformed into a better world for all. Though women who live in rural areas are at a higher risk of being left behind, the 50-50 in 2030 can soon become a reality. I saw that there was no discrimination among the delegates, there were instant friendships made, business contacts fixed and future plans made. There was laughter in the cafes in the UN but pin drop silence during the sessions. Temple of Understanding certainly paved the way to better understanding of people and situations. I enjoyed the whole program.
TOU Executive Director Alison Van Dyk reported that:
There were two main concerns from women around the world at the CSW parallel events this year: the persistent practice of FGM [female genital mutilation] and the trafficking of young women. What I heard in workshop after workshop was like a déjà vu of the UN Woman’s Conference in Beijing in 1995 but with the uncomfortable realization that things have gotten worse, not better. It is criminal that women are still being subjected to the dangerous practice of FGM and that worldwide, women have to put up with a nightmarish situation of sexual abuse, condoned and coordinated by a cartel that is lethal and spans the globe. Non-profit organizations are valiantly trying to stop these horrific conditions, but their work feels like a mere drop in the bucket. The question we have to ask ourselves is: why has this gotten so out of control?
Our colleagues report on successful negotiations inside the UN. Using “family” allows for diversity and is generally much broader than “the family,” which implies a stereotypical nuclear family. This was a huge win in the negotiations. Conservative groups also reported success because sexual orientation language was dropped from the outcome document. Multilateral negotiations are battles of strategy and compromise.
The experience of coming to CSW is empowering for many women. Louisa Eikhomun, the Executive Director of Echoes of Women in Africa, writes in detail of her experience, and commends Women Thrive Alliance for making it possible for grassroots women to attend and raise their concerns.
Photos by Grove Harris
Temple of Understanding, Parliament of the World’s Religions,
NGO Committee on the Status of Women, World Peace Prayer Society,
International Federation of Women in Legal Careers,
United Religions Initiative, and United Methodist Women invite you to attend
The Fourth Annual Interfaith Service of Gratitude and Remembrance
Friday, March 16, 2018, 6:00 PM
Church Center for the United Nations, Chapel
777 United Nations Plaza, New York
The Temple of Understanding presents
A 62nd Commission on the Status of Women Parallel Event
Monday, March 12, 2018, 8:30 – 10:00 AM
Armenian Convention Center
630 Second Avenue, Guild Hall, New York City
Women of Faith Speaking to Structural Change:
Empowering Rural Women
This panel will address systemic problems and solutions that impact rural women and their urban counterparts. Access to education, to decent food, to land and other resources, including safety and respect, profoundly impact women’s enjoyment of human rights. The roots of sex trafficking, of violence against women, and the threats to (and murder of) women frontline human and environmental rights defenders are “cross-cutting” concerns; the panel will focus on solutions and solidarity.
Panelists reflect from their diverse faith perspectives on root causes and systemic change and on how their faith sustains their social justice work.
- Donna Bollinger – Executive Director, RFP-USA
- Dr. Veena Adige – Advocate for Education for Rural Girls, India
- Dr. Angela Reed, RSM – Coordinator, Mercy International Association: Mercy Global Action at the UN
- Grove Harris, MDiv – Moderator and respondent, Temple of Understanding
- Temple of Understanding
- United Religions Initiative
- Mining Working Group
- Religions for Peace USA
Dr. Veena Adige is a journalist who worked as Assistant Editor of an English newspaper and later as Associate Editor of a fortnightly English magazine. She currently freelances for several magazines and newspapers. She is the author of four books and six ebooks.
She holds two Bachelor’s degrees in Science and Mass Communications, two post graduate degrees in Public Administration and Linguistics and a Doctorate in Philosophy.
Deeply interested in women and children, she works with an English medium unaided school in a rural area near Mumbai, India, which caters to children of seven villages around. The school has 430 children, forty percent are girls. She is on the committee of the school and organizes social and extracurricular activities for the children, and participates in the meetings where decisions regarding the school are made. She organizes free medical (dental and eye camps) programs for the children, has initiated an activity whereby the children of the school interact with the senior citizens of an Old Age Home nearby. Also she visits the rural areas often to meet the people whose children are in the school to find out the difficulties, the problems and the challenges they and their children face. Through the school efforts go on to develop women, especially the rural girls. The school lays stress on giving the girl child opportunities for growth and development, making her equal to her urban counterparts.
The school was started as just a preprimary school when children had to be literally coaxed into coming to school, and it is now a full-fledged school, the first batch of SSC students (Tenth standard) appearing for their Board Exams in March 2018. She was in the committee when the school was in the preprimary stage and was conducted in the ground floor rooms of a hospital. Now the school building is a three storied one with more than four hundred students. Dr. Adige brought out two school magazines called EXPRESSIONS in 2016 and 2017 (as Editor), which give the activities of the school in detail.
Dr. Adige was responsible for starting a Children’s club in Nagpur, the only one in the world to have more than 25,000 children as members which is mentioned in the Limca Book of Records.
She has written several articles on women and children and participated in discussions, programs relating to them and was on the panel of child adoption when she was in Nagpur. She researched extensively on social worker Baba Amte who gave home to leprosy affected people and physically challenged ones when leprosy was a dreaded disease and has won several awards like the Magsaysay, Templeton, besides Gandhi Peace Prize, Padmabhushan, Padmavibhushan etc. And wrote a book on him for which the Ph.D degree was awarded in 2017 by the Zoroastrian University.
Dr. Adige’s husband, formerly a top executive, is also now in the field of social work and the school management. Her children are well settled. Her daughter lives in the USA and son lives in Mumbai, each with their families.
Donna Bollinger, Executive Director of Religions for Peace USA, has more than two decades of nonprofit leadership and development including faith based work in 36 countries. Born in rural western North Carolina, Donna has lived on the East Coast from Miami to Boston, as well as in Mexico, Morocco, and Switzerland. Working and living with those of diverse faith and cultures created a passion for religious liberty that welcomes those from all faiths and traditions to engage in dialogue and grow in mutual respect, understanding, and common vision. From grassroots community organizing to participating in White House consultations, Donna is comfortable in and understands the need for action and involvement from the local to the national level. Her demonstrated commitment to interfaith understanding and cooperation combined with a Master of Divinity and experience in financial management and grant acquisition has prepared her to fulfill the mission and needs of Religions for Peace USA.
Early in her career Donna served as a staff member for the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA and then the Ecumenical Gathering of Youth and Young Adults based in Geneva, Switzerland, as part of the World Council of Churches. Here in the United States, Donna has worked extensively with Haitian, Hispanic, and Hmong communities. She has used her background in education and community development to address the challenges of public health, economic development, and interfaith cooperation.
Born and raised in the rural south, Donna served as a delegated to the White House Consultation on RAW – Rural American Women. With a commitment to the issues and needs of Rural Women both in the USA and abroad, Donna created and built Native Grace, a fair trade resource and retail center promoting just wages, the rights of women and children, and economic development.
Donna is a graduate and merit scholar of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees with honors in education from East Carolina University.
Grove Harris, MDiv is an eco-justice and religious diversity educator and advocate who brings diverse grassroots perspectives to an international agenda. She currently serves as Representative to the United Nations for the Temple of Understanding, where she has developed justice initiatives related to food sovereignty, human right to water, interfaith education, and women’s initiatives in the context of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.
Grove was Consulting Producer for the short film Roots of Change: Women, Food Sovereignty, and Eco-Justice (2016), in which she is featured along with other speakers on women’s initiatives and food justice. Her past positions include Program Director for the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions and Managing Director for the Pluralism Project at Harvard University. Her Master of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School (1996) incorporated studies of organizational development and business management into the study of religion and ethics.
Dr. Angela Reed, RSM is the current Coordinator at the Mercy International Association: Mercy Global Action at the UN Office. Dr. Reed is a graduate of RMIT University’s School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, in Melbourne, Australia where she completed her PhD on Human Trafficking. While living in the Philippines, her research focused on giving voice to Filipino women who had been trafficked for sexual exploitation. Over the years she has integrated her professional background in education, social work and theology to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to research, service provision and public advocacy. Her primary research interest is on gendered violence and in particular human trafficking.
Through this intimate knowledge of the women’s lived experience, Dr. Reed co-edited the book I Have A Voice: Trafficked Women – In Their Own Words and proposed a new paradigm, the “life course” approach. She recommends a preventative approach to human trafficking in which 17 “optimal life course conditions” (OLCCs) are taken into account for protection, promotion, and development, in an effort to strengthen individuals and help make them less vulnerable to being trafficked. She has presented her research and developments at conferences; workshops; public lectures; UN events; embassies; and keynote addresses, including “What is the OLCC Approach, and how does it relate to efforts underway to prevent human trafficking” at a one-day workshop to begin formulating a comprehensive action-framework to prevent human trafficking organized by Catholic Relief Services and the Centre for Civil and Human Rights, University of Notre Dame.
Prior to her research, Dr. Reed was a part time lecturer for the Master of Social Work courses at RMIT University and coordinator at a women’s safe house in Melbourne, Australia. She managed ’Mercy Care” a women’s safe house for 7 years where she encountered many women and children who were experiencing violence and abuse. Additionally, Dr. Reed was awarded with a Vincent Fairfax Ethics in Leadership Fellowship in 2008 where she was one of fifteen Australian leaders chosen from business, government, and community.
In 2015, Dr. Reed took up a role as Resident at the UN MIA Global Action office in New York and was appointed a three-year position as the Coordinator at the UN Mercy Global Action office in March of 2017.
Legal Mechanisms to Eradicate Poverty & Achieve Sustainable Development
Side event for the UN’s 56th Commission for Social Development 2018
February 7, 2018
Presentation by Grove Harris, Representative to the United Nations, Temple of Understanding
Thank you for the invitation to join this panel.
So much is interconnected in all the sustainable development goals, and the eradication of poverty requires efforts on many fronts. My colleague Winifred Doherty has laid out efforts within the UN over years, with treaties and agreements. Our convener Denise Scotto has affirmed the value of action from all. We each can act, and act now. All of the Temple of Understanding’s work contributes towards a common welfare where we all have enough.
Ecological Justice is crucial – we all need clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and health free from chemical affronts, including pesticides.
Food Sovereignty speaks to local control over agriculture and food, including seeds and methods of production. We call for a shift towards earth-centered politics and economics, and collective restraint of corporate exploitation.
The Human Right to Water requires an ongoing struggle to protect and increase community control and prevent exploitation and privatization of water, a common (and sacred) good.
Interfaith Education is important to regain curiosity and respect for our neighbors, and counter the “othering” that impoverishes our communities, our psyches, and our world.
Peacemaking, which practically defined requires food, water, and health, is crucial for ending poverty. War only profits the arms manufacturers, and it devastates communities and the environment.
Women’s Initiatives are essential, as women are much more likely to be impoverished, along with their children, and gender justice can begin to redress this, for the good of the entire community. Poverty brings intense vulnerability and is systemic.
How can we get at the heart of systems and act for real change?
- We need to break up concentrated wealth.
- We need to focus on community flourishing.
- We need to get much smarter about “partnerships.”
- We need to protect frontline human rights defenders.
- We need to act, aligning our spirit, our hearts, and hands.
We need to break up concentrated wealth.
The concentration of wealth into the hands of the very few is strangling the opportunities of communities. Redistribution is key, through creative changes in the system. Some examples (U.S. based) provide some hope for real change:
How about free higher education? In California, this could be funded by reinstating the state’s estate tax on wealth over 3.5 million. This idea has been put forth by Chuck Collins in Common Dreams.
How about reclaiming the markets for debt? The Occupy Movement has been buying up medical debt for pennies on the dollar, freeing people with major illness from devastating debt burdens, and then asking them to contribute towards freeing the next person. Can we do the same for educational debt? What about Puerto Rico, where one man in Boston bought up most of the country’s debt for pennies on the dollar, investing for “profit” (in this case greed) rather than shared prosperity?
How about holding corporations responsible for contributing to climate change? For example, New York City is suing the top five oil companies to recoup damages from super storm Sandy, holding them responsible for climate impacts and their prior knowledge of environmental damage. NYC is also moving to divest.
How about holding governments responsible? Youth are suing the U.S federal government in courts – and winning – over their right to a future without environmental degradation, and government’s neglect in not protecting that.
How about shinning more light on the lengthy and slow work at the United Nations in Geneva towards an international legally binding treaty for corporate responsibility for Human Rights?
We need to focus on community flourishing.
Daniel Perell spoke of community flourishing in the opening statement he delivered on behalf of the NGO Committee for Social Development. Clearly, we must shift from individualism and defining success by profit for the few. Our individual struggles must be collective ones, ending poverty on a community basis, with goods and services circulating locally as well as nationally and internationally, in ways that distribute technology and leap frog towards more environmental sustainability, while supporting local strength and advancement. Cooperatives, credit unions, and community-based service delivery systems must be enhanced. Re-localizing agriculture is essential, along with other service provisions. For example, in the U.S. the crisis of care for dementia is beginning to be addressed by locally based, free caregiver support systems. There is great need, and so great opportunity, and it can be approached in collective, supportive, grassroots ways.
Access to world markets and goods, technology and capital essential for economic miracles must be tempered by human rights, by full cycle design and upcycling. Community prosperity is key, and governments must benefit from the prospering of business, not just subsidize that private prosperity. Protection of the risks of entrepreneurs and investors must be tempered – the most vulnerable suffer risks every day without protection. We need social systems where no one is expendable and protection is available to all, from investors to the most vulnerable.
Riki Ott, who served the Alaskan community after the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster, found herself very useful, with her academic training in oceanography and the accompanying patience for reports and intellectual work, to the community of fisher people. Her legal work brought financial rewards to the community, but those funds brought challenges of divisiveness and opportunity for some but not for all. Her ongoing work to bring oil companies to task for the risks they run that inevitably lead to catastrophes and costs born by the environment and communities includes reaching out to law students, to train them to bring cases against all businesses that have not follow the due diligence laws already on the books. Many do not have legally mandated emergency response plans and means in place. In this sense, legal remedy for poverty looks like holding businesses accountable to existing laws, and can include work against the dark economy and illicit avoidance of taxation, profiteering drug and arms trading etc.
Poverty is not strictly economic – it can be cultural. Lack of human compassion, of human touch, and of welcoming community are part of what drive isolation and economic insanity. People who survive eating sugar rather than real food, by being fed on advertizing rather than information or literature, shopping to fill holes in heart and soul, being driven to drugs rather than more balanced lifestyles, are impoverished. They are vulnerable to cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, struggling without community solutions to problems that cannot be managed by individuals or nuclear families in isolation. We cannot face powerlessness alone, and in coming together with others we can discover some power and flourish in community.
Indigenous peoples are fighting around the globe to protect sacred lands and sacred waters. They honor their spiritual commitments and interconnectedness and resist in community. I watched live web cast of native people at Standing Rock facing water cannons at night in the freezing cold of winter, protecting their sacred waters, which also protected the entire watershed and the water used by everyone downstream. While these people may not have the means to afford material comforts, they have a richness that cannot be denied.
We need to get much smarter about “partnerships.”
There is much eager talk about partnerships to achieve the SDGs, and usually meaning between corporations and governments. There is very little discussion of the dynamics of partnerships and the differing interests and accountabilities of the parties. Corporations serve their shareholders via profit, and governments sometimes serve their citizens and other times serve their financial backers. In our interconnected world, none of this happens in a vacuum.
Dictionary definitions can lift up multiple layers of meaning.
Partner – one that is united or associated with another or others in an activity or sphere of common interest, especially a member of a business partnership or a spouse (emphasis added). Middle English, alteration of parcener. Partner implies equal status.
Partnership is a legal contract entered into by two or more persons in which each agrees to furnish a part of the capital and labor for a business enterprise, and by which each shares a fixed proportion of profits and losses. Mutual cooperation and responsibility is mentioned.
Parcener – (coparcener) one of two or more persons sharing an inheritance, a joint heir (emphasis added).
(All excerpted from the American Heritage Dictionary – Fourth Edition, 2000)
Our business partnerships can be subject to the same abuses that marriage partnerships sometimes involve. Business needs more than capital and labor – all extractive industries take from the earth without replenishment. Natural resources are depleted – a common inheritance is taken from the public domain and misused as an invisible part of the model, for private profit.
Clearly there are large costs to be anticipated in negotiating major contractual partnerships, and globally a track record of dismal results from megaprojects and water privatization schemes. And the “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the American dollar does not protect our common inheritance of clean and accessible water, or clean air or clean soil.
Protect frontline environmental human rights defenders.
Legal mechanisms continue to be developed, and it is a cutting edge question as to how international human rights law can effectively protect frontline environmental human rights defenders. Note the diplomatic sentence on page 10 of the NGO Mining Working Group Water guide, “There are significant gaps in existing national and international legal frameworks for pursuing accountability against transnational corporations for human rights abuses.” We must remain cognizant that many front line defenders are making the ultimate sacrifice. For example, Berta Caceres of Honduras was murdered after numerous death threats for her work defending a watershed against a dam project. Her international recognition with a Goldman environmental prize did not save her life. And outrage over her murder did not save the life of others in her organization, murdered within the year.
What has been effective in this case has been the lobbying of the investors in the dam, who have withdrawn their funds. Hopefully legislation introduced in the US House will have some impact, prohibiting funds for Honduras police and military. H.R. 5474, The Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act is held up in committee; it outlines a set of measures and is available online. Similarly, a second bill H.R. 1299, March 2, 2017 seeks to protect front line activists and farmers who have been murdered defending their water and land.
The Women’s Major Group has developed a method of highlighting these tragic deaths at UN conferences. A group of women put tape over their mouths, and as the names of those murdered defending water and land are read, a woman pulls of the tape and says “presente”. This is an attempt to bring voice to the voiceless, and call for necessary change on violations of the rule of law. May all of us remember the impacts on the ground of the issues debated here at the United Nations.
I have colleagues in the room who regularly refer to their congregations around the globe to find out how they might usefully shine a light on human rights abuses. There are times when such attention might further endanger the lives of those on the front lines. There’s a useful manual about how to appropriately engage in solidarity. For those of us lifting up the stories of others, it’s about respecting their circumstances and their wishes, and not making the story about ourselves. We need to keep the focus our mutual concerns, which are the water and land and their preservation for this and future generations.
In conclusion, we are called to act.
We need to act, aligning our spirit, our heads, our hearts, our hands and our feet.
- Be alert to ‘fake’ language that covers over privatization that will benefit the few at the expense of the community.
- Use U.N. mechanisms to support calls for action at local levels.
- Lobby funders of development projects that are trampling on human rights.
- Fund effective interventions like self-defense training for girls and self-respect training for boys.
- Collaborate with those more in the know. Religious activists can work with local community experts and with global advocacy experts.
- Plan on grief, my own and others’. We need to support each other and understand that anger may be a response to grief.
- Align our values and passion with action.
- Welcome others to this work.
- Own our own vulnerability. Avoid rigid defenses, to be able to respond rather than react to ongoing assaults.
- Take Sabbath time, meditation time, and prayer time to help renew, refresh, and maintain clear focus.
- Each of us can own whatever privilege we have, and strategize about how to use it.
- Listen. Listen. To the Earth, to children, to the sacred. And to other people.
The International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA)
The International Federation of Women in Legal Careers (FIFCJ) invite you to a conversation concerning
Legal Mechanisms to Eradicate Poverty
& Achieve Sustainable Development
Wednesday, February, 7, 2018, 11:45am-1:00pm
UN Conference Room D
405 East 42nd Street, New York, NY
Overview & Moderator
Denise Scotto, Esq., Attorney at Law & International Policy Advisor, FIDA/FIFCJ UN Representative
Special Guest Speakers
- Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights NY Invited
- UN Women Invited
- Grove Harris, Main Representative to the UN, Temple of Understanding (TOU)
- Winifred Doherty, UN Representative, Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd
This is a side event for the UN’s 56th Commission for Social Development 2018.
ALL ARE WELCOME!
Inspiring Faith in Humanity
UPDATE: Our colleague at United Religions Initiative posted the following commentary and pictures after the event. Click to view the full photo album!
The Committee of Religious NGOs at the United Nations
presents a panel on
THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Monday, December 11, 2017, 11:00-12:30pm
Hardin Room, 11th Floor
Church Center for the United Nations
1st Ave and 44th St, NYC
Invocation and Introduction
Carl Murrell, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’is of the United States
Dr. Bobbi Nassar, NGO Committee on Human Rights, International Federation for Settlements and Neighborhood Centers
Grove Harris, MDiv, The Temple of Understanding
Rev. Dr. Levi Bautista, The United Methodist Church
NGO Committee of Human Rights
The Temple of Understanding
The United Methodist Church
Light Lunch will be served. Please RSVP: https://goo.gl/forms/hqY8WxMJe920SSLJ2
For questions about this event, contact religiousngo at gmail.com
The 2018 World Interfaith Harmony Week is coming! World Interfaith Harmony Week is an official observance of the United Nations. It is based on the pioneering work of The Common Word initiative, which in 2007 called for Muslim and Christian leaders to engage in a dialogue based on two common religious Commandments: Love of God and Love of the Neighbor.
Prizes will be given to each of the three best events or texts organized during the week which best promote the goals of the WIHW. HM King Abdullah II of Jordan is the official sponsor of the World Interfaith Harmony Week Prizes. The prizes include flights and accomodation to Jordan where His Majesty King Abdullah II will present this year’s winners their awards for promoting world interfaith harmony.
- 1st Prize is $25,000 and a gold medal
- 2nd Prize is $15,000 and a silver medal
- 3rd Prize is $5,000 and a bronze medal
Watch last year’s first prize winning event by the Calgary Interfaith Council of Calgary, Canada:
How to Participate
View the WIHW website to find out more about how to participate.
The prize-giving ceremony will be held in Jordan. (Flights and accommodation will be provided.)
Submit a Letter of Support
Send a clear message that the overwhelming number of people from all faith traditions greatly support the call to harmony. Simply send a brief letter of support.
Last Year’s Winners
We are pleased to be part of a new UN plan of action calling for “Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes.”
The inaugural event was held during the July 2017 High Level Political Forum. The Temple of Understanding is proud that our board member Dr. Ephraim Isaac spoke at the September session, as the UN encourages broad stakeholder participation in this crucial initiative. His full address, which is offered below, focuses on personal experience of atrocity, and recommends art and music as part of the solution. He concludes with a quote from Einstein: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it”.
The entire September 25, 2017 session is available on UN Web TV online.
Please also note this valuable resource published by Search for Common Ground:
This guide offers guiding principles for peacebuilders and on-the-ground practitioners as they navigate this important yet high-risk area of work around violent extremism.
A Personal Testimony on Atrocity Crime
Implementing the Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement
to Violence that Could lead to Atrocity Crimes (Plan of Action)
UN 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly Side Event
Ephraim Isaac, BA, BD, Ph.D., D.H.L. (h.c.) D. Litt. (h.c.)
Institute of Semitic Studies
September 25, 2017
EXCELLENCIES & HONORABLE GUESTS: I am honored to stand here and give my full support to the Implementation of the Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that could lead to atrocity Crimes. Our world is today awash with atrocity crimes and the perpetrations of huge atrocities against humanity. I therefore not only wholeheartedly support and endorse this Plan of Action but will do my best to promote it as far as I humbly can in collaboration with the Ethiopian Peace and Development Center whose Board I chair.
Right at the outset let me, however, on behalf of my Ethiopian Peace & Development Center and myself congratulate the UN office of Genocide Prevention, in particular, His Excellence Ambassador Adama Dieng who has worked so diligently to put this plan before us. His personal commitment to the subject, his hard work, and his humility in undertaking this huge task is admirable. As Chair of the Board of Peace and Development Center of Ethiopia, I thank him very much for inviting me to be a partner of his admirable effort. My humble gratitude also goes to all the co-sponsors of this project, the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Religion and Development, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.
The recognition that Religious leaders and practitioners can and must support and promote this effort goes without saying. In order to emphasize why I support this Plan of Action, in this brief address, I share with you four things: a) my own direct personal experience of the effect of violence b) my indirect personal experience of the effect of violence, and c) my philosophical understanding of the problem of violence d) the commitment of our own Peace & Development Center of Ethiopia to support the recommendations of the Plan.
DIRECT PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
I am a scholar of ancient Near Eastern and African civilizations, but the knowledge of the crime of atrocity is for me not an academic subject. I am myself a personal witness to some of those atrocious human deeds and violence, going back to my early childhood days.
I was born in Ethiopia the year the Fascists — I do not mean Italians who have a long warm historical friendship with Ethiopia– I mean Fascists — invaded the country. My first childhood experience at age four in 1941 was not being taken to see beautiful pictures in museums but to be lined up with children of my age by a pre-kindergarten teacher in front of a row of a couple dozen naked political prisoners hurled on the ground, being whipped and bleeding. It is a personal memory of crying while standing and staring at a couple of persons being hanged on high poles in the presence of priests. It is seeing buildings being burnt and crying. I believe some of you also have such childhood experience of horror.
My first childhood memory was not dining in a fancy restaurant but sitting hungry in a narrow underground dungeon my family had dug as a shelter a week before the Ethiopian army with British support arrived in my little town of Nedjio, western Ethiopia, where the Fascist army had its headquarter. I remember crying as we sat in the dungeon while the unremitting sound of bombs and artilleries like a thunderstorm that never stops deafened our ears.
My first childhood memory was not seeing my playmates singing joyfully, but weeping because one of them Desta was hit and killed by an exploding bomb. Not understanding what death meant I remember crying and demanding that he should return as soon as possible to play with me. Now you can see where my strong hate of any form of violence and conflict originates.
My first childhood memory was not singing which I love but crying as my father — a non-political, innocent, hardworking silversmith, a religious Jew who chanted in Hebrew as he worked — was being taken by a soldier who said the Fascists were now sending Jews to life imprisonment. Thank the Almighty, he was released after two months and returned home to our great joy.
My first childhood experience was not being taken to a school but to a distant countryside shelter, three hours away from home, where we lived as refugees for two months until our town was cleared of fighting. It is a memory of being scared, held by my father on his lap sitting on a mule as we fled, and sleeping on a crowded floor with my four brothers and two sisters.
In short, never mind the degree of my experience, from the very start of my life I saw, I heard, and I felt the force of human violence against fellow humans. I saw the sight of death. I hated it and I continue to hate seeing violence of any sort against any one single human being, let alone the horrible atrocity violence against a whole ethnic and religious group.
INDIRECT PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
Secondly, directly or indirectly if only from a distance, I felt deeply in my bones the bitterness of violence in my country of birth in the late 1970’s, caused not by a foreign power but by its own native political fanatics. I was emotionally wounded when the Marxist Leninist Derg Red Terror, consumed thousands of young and old, men and women, eliminated because of their religious or political convictions. Among the 61 high Ethiopian Government ministers and officials of Emperor Haile Sellasie, who were lined up and shot indiscriminately, there were many whom I knew personally very well. My close personal friend, the interim successor of the Emperor, General Aman Andom, was taken down as his house was razed to the ground by tanks; His Grace the Patriarch of Ethiopia Abuna Tewoflos, whom I tutored Hebrew when I was in College and became a great friend, the Reverend Gudina Tumsa, President of the Mekane Yesus Protestant Church, who sat next to me in elementary school, General Tadesse Biru, my Predecessor as Director General of the National Literacy Campaign Organization of Ethiopia, and a number of close high school and university friends were tortured and murdered and thrown into mass graves by the fanatic Marxist-Leninist missionaries of atrocious violence.
Like many of you distinguished members of this audience, I have been exposed to stories of atrocity crimes of the recent past beyond my own circle. I gave several lectures in Belgrade, Sarajevo, and traveled in former Yugoslavia. This year, I was a committee member, reader and judge of a university doctoral dissertation pertaining to the trauma and tragedy of the Tamil-Buddhist conflict in Sri Lanka, its special effect on women. I met and listened to refugees and survivors of Rwandan, South Sudanese, and Darfurian conflicts in Addis Ababa where I travel often. Who is not frozen in shock when we see images of the beheading of Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Coptic Christians in Libya, Europeans, Americans, Japanese in Iraq and Syria, or the massacre of Kenyans and international shoppers in Nairobi, restaurant and coffee shop patrons in Tel Aviv, campers in Norway, sport spectators, theater audiences in London, Paris, Copenhagen, and the WTC September 11 hardworking professionals, firefighters, and policemen—beside whose body remains in boxes I stood shivering three mornings, invited to deliver a Jewish memorial prayer?
I have no proof, but there was a widespread rumor that after the Ethiopian 2005 General Election, overtones of interethnic propaganda of hatred led to a major crisis. The subsequent clash between the police and the thousands of demonstrators ended in a bloody incident and saw the foremost elected leaders of the major opposition political party in jail. I am grateful that both sides accepted me personally to lead a group of traditional elders to negotiate peace among the parties and the Government, and the release of the twenty-five elected political leaders and thousands of their followers from jail. Close to about one million people were said to have come out and danced in the streets the eve of the Ethiopian Year 2000. I also personally witnessed the tragic result of a quarrel that resulted in the war between the two brotherly countries of Ethiopia and Eritrea during the 1998-2000, as I shuttled between Addis Ababa and Asmara with a group of my Ethiopian and Eritrean Elders whom both sides warmly welcomed.
In a recent conversation with a distinguished retired Pastor, we discussed how every human being is a candidate for actions of depravity, and how depravity triggers religious or ethnic hate. Every mortal—we are all mortal–is subject to fall. Even religious leaders who know the rules and preach them become victims of this human weakness. [confessor father in hell joke?] As Einstein is thought to have once said “I can calculate everything even the velocity of light. But I cannot fathom the hate of people behind their smile.” No one can fathom the human infamy and depravity and mischief that end up sinking humanity into tragic pits of crimes of atrocity.
The first and principal source of destructive wars is not religion or social groups eo ipso. It is the behavior and actions of single individuals. History seems to point that conflicts arise from an individual’s mind, selfish goal, beliefs,self-interest, personal glory, feeling of superiority, greed or love of money, and of course personal sense of a divine mission or karma. One individual — Nero, Rasputin, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Idi Amin, Mengistu, Ben Ladin. et. al. — a single person could ignite the fire of violence and brainwash a crowd, and the whole society then becomes conflagrated because of one single human ego.
Although he did not argue that specifically, Freud implied that in a famous dialogue with Einstein. In 1932, the League of Nations Institute of Intellectual Cooperation asked Professor Einstein to choose a subject he considered of central public interest and invite a person of his choice fora dialogue. Einstein chose the subject,” Is there a way of delivering mankind from the Menace of War” and invited Freud for the dialogue. Two of the great thinkers of that time, both pacifists, thus left us a record of their view about violence and war. Einstein wondered why some believe in the concept of “might makes right”.The two basically agreed on the existence of an instinct of hate in humans and the belief in “might makes right. Freud preferred to call might “violence”.
Freud discussed the concept of l’union fait la force and how larger states were formed and established laws to prevent violence such as pax Romana. But he focused on his theory of the two instincts in humans: the erotic (basically positive and creative and loving as in religion) and the aggressive (basically negative and destructive and hating). However, in his final answer to Einstein he concluded saying that regardless we must try to divert and channel man’s aggressive tendencies to promote love, the cultural development of humanity (although he saw in civilization itself destructiveness), and conversion of people to the hatred of violence, to be pacifists like him and Freud- and me too!
Atrocity crimes start with atrocious minds and foul propaganda of an egocentric individual of negative instinct. This Plan of Action rightly recognizes that atrocity crimes start with the seed of evil propaganda against a religious or ethnic group. The propaganda serves over time to dehumanize the group and turn them into “the other”. Racial and religious propaganda of hatred not only engender severe psychological and mental health problems, but they also lead directly to death and destruction. Mein Kampf was a propaganda document of a political ideology for the Jewish Holocaust. The destruction of Africa, slavery and colonialism, Apartheid, [I was a key member of the Harvard-Radcliffe Alumni Against Apartheid in the 1980’s] started with the belief that Africans are subhuman. Reports of travelers and study by anthropologists claimed that Europeans have history Africans are primitive, Europeans are rational and Africans are irrational, Europeans have a wide facial angle, Africans have narrow facial angle, compared to the crocodile; and so on. We have all seen images of people in Syria, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan waging hateful propaganda against each other, terrorist groups beheading innocent persons on TV in broad daylight as propaganda. Preventing incitement propaganda that lead to violence is a key antidote to committing crime against humanity.
PERSONAL & ORGANIZATIONAL COMMITMENT
It is worrisome when today we hear foul inter-ethnic and inter-religious propaganda that we read in the Facebook or Twitter, or hear in radio talks about one group supported by one or another religious or ethnic leader vehemently spewing propaganda against one or another ethnic or religious group. So, I appreciate wholeheartedly the thoughtful recommendations of the Plan of Action before us. We must prevent religious and ethnic propaganda of hate and nip them in the bud before they result in atrocious bloodshed.
Our Ethiopian Peace and Development Center (PDC), whose Board I chair, is already committed to this Plan. We now work with both the government and non-government organizations to address violent religious extremism in Ethiopia. We conduct interfaith dialogues to promote trust and understanding, and the deconstruction of combative conflict narratives among the religious groups. PDC is also educating the public to appreciate the riches of diversity. We give customized training to the Inter-Religious Councils (IRC) members to enhance their knowledge of the issues, causes, and consequences of violent extremism. So far, PDC has trained 2,500 members of the Inter-Religious Council and student leaders in five public universities in Ethiopia, initiating religious acceptance dialogues and Peace Meal Tables in dining halls to bring students of different religious groups together to interact and engage constructively in a safe space, as well as to understand the dangers of hateful propaganda that lead to violence.
Student religious opinion leaders are recruited to join interested students from diverse religious backgrounds for small bi-weekly groups to moderate dialogue sessions on issues of the causes and consequences of violent extremism and the importance of peaceful coexistence, and the respect of religious freedom and equality. PDC trains and mentors dialogue moderators who are carefully chosen. The dialogue work of PDC has so far, a direct and indirect effect on at least 10,000 university students yearly in the selected universities.
Finally, let me say that even above and beyond human depravity, there is still a ray of light for redemption. We have a tragic situation and there must be someway to reverse it.Hence this Plan of Action that I am sure is produced because of such belief in human redemption is of great importance. I stand here myself to support it, because I believe that there are still good people who uphold peace and justice and live and practice a life of love and goodness. The Plan is solid and comprehensive. It cracks the cynicism that sometimes exists about the UN. It is also encouraging to see how many religious groups around the world have associated themselves with it. It might not be easy in the implementation area. In virtually every part of the world, even where the religious groups that are supportive exist, we have religious minorities who engage in daily activities that run contrary to what the Plan says. What can we do to make this Plan of Action a real plan of action that stretches broadly and deeply among human kind? That really is the question. We must, therefore, work hard together, joined by all other interested groups and parties, to implement this excellent statement to be retailed not only at the grassroots level but also at individuals, which is where the problem lies.
Please allow me now to conclude with some humble personal suggestions for the Plan. First,I would like to see the role of music and art in the Plan of Action. Music and art have the capacity to touch the human heart, “sooth the soul” or inspire action. That is why there are national anthems and military bands. Music, art, and dance can serve to promote reconciliation and understanding, and inspire the restless youth.In Bosnia, Father Ivo, one of my fellow Tanenbaum Center Prize awardee, formed a Choir of Christians and Muslims. In Ethiopia, we are now in the process of forming nation-wide Peace Choirs. We can sing “You ‘e got to be taught to love” instead of “You’ve got to be taught to hate.” Second, in the spirit of the importance of education, I would propose two-UN memorial days: a) a Memorial Day of Tragedy and Human Infamy and Remembrance of Past Atrocity Crimes, somewhat like the Holocaust Memorial Day, b) a Day of Hope– Day of Human Hope for the end of Atrocity crimes. Third, some years ago, I proposed to both His Excellency the Late PM of Ethiopia and His Excellency the President of Eritrea to establish the Ministry of Peace in parallel to the Ministry of Defense. I pray that the UN would see merit to such an idea and promote it.
Let me conclude with a quotation from Einstein and a short prayer: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it”. I am happy that the UN and Religious Leaders are doing this important work to counter the danger of atrocity violence and lay a foundation for a hopeful vision of humankind.
Open our eyes to see light and beauty in our fellow human beings
Open our ears to hear the song of love from our fellow human beings
Open our mouth to speak well of our fellow human beings
Let our feet hasten to do good for our fellow human beings.
Let us lift our hands embrace humanity, not use them to throw weapons at each other.
May the Almighty bless the work of all who work for peace and love worldwide!
We work with the Mining Working Group, which has published the Water Justice Guide, available online and now in hardcopy, as a People’s Guide to SDG 6. The SDGs can support advocacy of citizens and communities in pushing their governments towards human rights a human rights approach. The guide unpacks the issues in SDG 6 and concludes with ways to use the UN system, including engaging the human rights system, connecting with Special Rapporteurs, using reports to review a government’s efforts to date, and making statements in the Universal Periodic Review process. Local communities as well as international NGOs all have roles in holding governments accountable to their people and their international agreements.
Water for Sale
The MWG is sharing a new report by Maude Barlow released by the Council of Canadians about the impacts of free trade on water. “The report highlights the impacts decades of trade agreements have had on global freshwater supplies and on the human rights to water and sanitation. It warns of the dire consequences of a new generation of trade agreements and calls for a drastically different trade regime that would protect people and the environment.”
The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee has released a new report by Patricia A. Jones and Amber Moulton. “This report seeks to describe the real human impacts caused by the lack of universal access to safe, affordable water and sanitation in the United States and documents the responses to this challenge by activists from affected communities, civil society, governments, and service providers. It argues for a concerted effort at the national, state, local, and municipal level to study and remedy the crisis of unaffordable water in the United States.”