Leading thinkers from government and faith-based civil society came together on the margins of the UN General Assembly to discuss how they can better cooperate to address major challenges, including development, conflict prevention and mitigation, and the promotion and protection of human rights. Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Maria Otero led the U.S. delegation to this event and gave a keynote speech.
The September 28 audience included more than 130 representatives from foreign ministries, faith-based civil society, academia, private research forums, and the U.S. government. The event was co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Religions for Peace International, and the Institute for Global Engagement.
“Governments and faith-based civil society organizations should strengthen their collaboration to overcome ignorance, radicalism, and the misuse of religion,” explained Ekmeleddin Ihsanoğlu, secretary general of the OIC.
Rashad Hussain, U.S. special envoy to the OIC added, “We need to make an effort to amplify credible voices. What we need are the efforts of faith-based civil society.”
“We are developing a roadmap to frame the way we move forward on religion and foreign policy,” said Under Secretary of State Otero. “We have a fundamental belief that civil society leaders enhance our ability to have more sophisticated analysis and stronger partnerships. By consulting with faith-based actors, we make sure our initiatives are sustainable.”
Deputy Assistant Secretary Jerry White of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations and Dr. Chris Seiple of the Institute for Global Engagement facilitated a discussion with U.N. Permanent Representative Ambassador Josephine Ojiambo of Kenya; Dr. Aref Ali Nayed, director of Kalam Research & Media and former Libyan ambassador to the United Arab Emirates; and Dr. Brian Grim of the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. The wide-ranging discussion addressed the challenges facing new democracies in the Middle East and North Africa, the importance of deepening our understanding of all faiths, global trends related to religious freedom, and the positive role of faith-based civil society in promoting change.
Highlighting the importance of government cooperation with faith-based civil society to address all of these issues, White said, “This principle of diversity seems to be one we all can deeply appreciate—the perspectives of people of faith, of government, and of civil society.”