I. United Nations Human Rights Council
After a year of preparation (Council sessions 1-5) the Council appears to be taking shape. The main items of interest to Interfaith International (I.I.) are : the agenda of the upcoming sessions and the 'Universal Periodic Review' i.e. the human rights record of member states of the United Nations. The fixed agenda items are as follows : Civil and Political rights; Economic, Social and Cultural rights; Administration of Justice; Follow-up to the Vienna (1993) Conference on Human Rights ; Follow-up to the 2001 Durban Conference on Racism, Xenophobia etc. Of course, other items such as Women's and Children's Rights, Torture, Self-Determination, Migrants Rights etc. will also be discussed.
The Universal Periodic Review will be concerned, first of all, with the states which are members of the Human Rights Council (includes India and Pakistan and Iraq). It means that the states themselves will prepare a report on the human rights in their country, then the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) will prepare its own report (this will include reports presented to the High Commissioner by NGOs). Both state and OHCHR reports will be presented to the Human Rights Council at one of its regular sessions (10 weeks divided into four sessions in a year) and the Council will decide if the state is respecting its human rights obligations. If not, the state could be barred from the Human Rights Council.
Interfaith International will actively participate in each of the sessions of the Human Rights Council in Geneva by making speeches before the council and by 'briefings' at noontime between sessions of the Council (the next, 6th, session begins 10 September 2007 lasting for three weeks). We shall also begin to prepare (for 2008) our reports on human rights violations in various countries. The one on Pakistan should be prepared first.
II. Activities of members and secretariat in 2007
At the 4th ( March-April 2007 ) and 5th ( June 2007 ) sessions I.I. members made a number of speeches before the Human Rights Council and organised briefings at noontime. Especially noteworthy were the 'briefings' on Iraq (in honour of Mr. Ali Ali Al-Adhadh our deceased member victim of assassination in Bagdad), on human rights in Assam, Manipur and Tripura in Eastern India organised by Mr. Sanjay Barua ; and on 'Towards a Confederation of Peoples in South Asia' (speeches by Sikh, Tamil, Pakistan Christian, Sindhi and Baluch speakers). MQM of Pakistan participated in this briefing. These briefings were well attended. Also, in April, Interfaith organised together with the CAPSDH (African Commission of Heath and Human Rights Promoters) a special briefing at which the Deputy Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the U.N. in Geneva, Mr. Seyed Kazim Sajjapour, spoke on'Religion in Iran' and the Special United Nations Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief, the Pakistani Ms. Azma Jihanghir, spoke on the topic of her work for the United Nations.
At the June session of the Human Rights Council (again together with the CAPSDH) a briefing was held on 'Extreme Poverty and the Interreligious Dialogue' with the participation of the representative of the OIC, Mr. Babakar Ba ; representative of the World Council of Churches, Dr. Hans Ucko ; the Grand Rabbi of Geneva Marc Raphael Guedj ; and the president of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, Krishna Ahoojapatel. The moderator was Mr. Ricardo Espinosa, head of the NGO liaison office of the United Nations in Geneva.
The secretary general, Dr. Graves, was active in behalf of Interfaith International in 2007. On 18 April he consulted with President Sayyed Mohammed Musawi and Board members Dr. Sahib Jwad Al-Hakim and Dr Beyan Kadhim Al-Araji (vice-president) in London. It was decided to maintain even better communication among the Board and members of I.I. Dr. Al-Hakim noted that his extensive research on Religious leaders who were victims of the Saaddam Husain regime, and a book on Women victims of Saddam's oppression have been well received. Dr. Al-Araji spoke about the work of her London-based NGO helping Iraqi refugees returning to Iraq and women in Iraq.
Between 29 April and 15 June 2007 Dr. Graves was helping the Al-Hakim Foundation to receive 'consultative status with the United Nations' and to organise a conference in New York City for a delegation of Iraqi spiritual and educational leaders (11-12 June). The Al-Hakim Foundation is an Iraqi NGO seated in Najaf whose secretary General is Sayyed Amar Abdel Aziz Al-Hakim . Lobbying was carried on by Dr. Graves and Mr. Mohammed Mohammed Ali (of London) with the states members of the 'NGO committee of 19' which accepts NGOs into consultative status with the U.N. Economic and Social Council. On 15 May the Al-Hakim Foundation (as first indigenous Iraqi NGO) received the special consultative status by consensus vote. Certain states such as United Kingdom, Rumania, Colombia. Dominica, and the United States actively supported the candidature of Al-Hakim Foundation and other states such as Iraq, Russia, Turkey and China also helped.
On 11 June at the United Nations building (opening session at which attended the Foreign Minister of Iraq, ambassadors of Iraq and representatives of other states, a representative of Mr. Ban Ki-Moon (Secretary General), officials of the U.S.A. State Department, professors, journalists etc.). Other sessions were held at the Church Center, United Nations Plaza, at which the members of the Iraqi delegation spoke. The delegation included three Shi'a religious scholars from Najaf (two members of the Al-Hakim family), a Sunni Kurdish leader and Sunni religious leaders from Basra and Bagdad. Also two Iraqi university presidents and the lady responsible for women's work in the Al-Hakim Foundation. The Western speakers included Mr. Vendley, secretary general of the World Conference on Religion and Peace (seated in New York) ; Dr. Mostapha Tlili, director of the Institute for Islamic relations (with the West)of New York University ; representatives of the the U.S. Institute of Peace (U.S. A. Congress-funded), some professors from various U.S. universities and some NGO spokespersons. Dr. Graves moderation the fourth session ('NGOs and Civil Society working with the United Nations'). Interfaith International, however, was not an official sponsor of the conference. (Report of this conference and press reports are available through the secretary general of I.I.)
While in New York, Dr. Graves met with some religious NGOs in New York which are members of the 'Tripartite Forum' . This Forum was created recently as a place where religious NGOs in New York and state members of the United Nations in New York could work together to solve problems related to religion and politics. Dr. Graves is interested in creating such a Forum also in Geneva and a start has already been made with the series of 'briefings' which I.I. is organising on inter-religious topics at the Human Rights Council (see above). The structural basis for such a Tripartite Forum is already being laid in Geneva (with Interfaith International, CAPSDH, Al-Hakim Foundation, World Council of Churches, Grand Rabbi Guedj of Geneva, the representative of the Vatican Msgr. Tomasi, the representative of the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Conference) etc. all of whom have participated in the interreligious 'briefings' of Interfaith International. The results of these 'briefings' (the 4th will be held in September 2007 on the topic 'Humanitarian Law and the Interreligious Dialogue') with texts of the speeches and photos of the participants will be collected together in a book in 2007. The budget is 4000.- Swiss francs for the publication (to be raised by I.I. and CAPSDH).
Concerning the rights of the religious minority, 'Falun Gong' in the People's Republic of China, Dr. Graves spoke at a Press Conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club in London on 3 July 2007 on the subject of a torch-bearing project (against the persecution of Falun Gong in China) parallel to the Olympic torch-bearing.
Of note among our members is the partcipation of Mr. Sardar Shaukat Ali-Kashmiri in support of Baroness Emma Nicholson's Report on the Situation in Kashmir presented to, and recently accepted by, the European Union Parliament members. The Report, which first was discussed in a parliamentary Committee, was significantly improved by the efforts of many Kashmiri spokespersons, among them some of our members.
The World Sindhi Congress (through our member Ambreen Hisbani) has continued to manage the Interfaith International web site called www.interfaithonline.org
Another member, Khalil Tahir, a Christian lawyer, has recently been jailed twice in Pakistan for protesting the Pakistan government's firing of the Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Count. Demonstations arose all over Pakistan on behalf of the 'rule of law' in Pakistan. Moreover, I.I. has also intervened with the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights , Ms. Louise Arbour, to protect the right of our member Mehran Baluch, who might be banned (according to an initiative of Pakistan) from speaking at the Human Rights Council on behalf of the rights of Baluch in Pakistan.
Concerning the Tamils of Sri Lanka, Ms. Dierdre Mc Connell, our member, has recently presented an article for publication in the Cambridge Journal of International Studies on the question of Self-determination of the Tamils. Our member Dr. Awatar Singh Sekhon (Edmonton, Canada,) has moderated an effort of Interfaith International to discuss the Sikh question at the Human Rights Council. In April 2007 a large group of Sikhs from Europe came to Geneva to attend the Human Rights Council session and hold a briefing on Sikh human rights. However, because of a misunderstanding about their carrying the kirpan (a Sikh holy instrument like a knife) within the U.N. Building, Interfaith International was obliged to discuss the question with U.N. officials. No solution has yet been found.
The assistant Secretary General of I.I., Mr. Berhane Tewolde-Medhin, has led the delegation of I.I. at the United Nations Economic and Social Council session in Geneva 3-28 July 2007.
III. Future Activities of Interfaith International
First Preparatory Committee session to follow up the 2001 United Nations Durban Conference Against Racism. The session is set for 27-31 August at United Nations in Geneva. Interfaith International, as secretary of the CONGO-related NGO Committee Against Racism, will organise a 'briefing' during that week on the follow-up to the Durban 'Programme of Action' and how the NGOs can contribute to the combat against Racism.
6th session of the Human Rights Council (10-28 September). I.I. members will make statements according to the agenda topics of the Council, and hold 'briefings' on 'Humanitarian Law and the Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation' ; on Human Rights situations, e.g. about the rights of religious and ethnic groups in India and Pakistan ; on human rights in China etc.
7th session of the Human Rights Council (in December 2007)
I.I. delegates will participate as at the 6th session
Other future activities include :
High Level Consultation on January 8-11 2008 at Château de Bossey (near Geneva) .
This consultation is sponsored by the 'Partnership Committee for a Forum of Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation for World Peace at the United Nations , of which our President Sayyed Mohammed Musawi is a Shi'a Muslim representative, and Dr. Graves is a member in his own capacity as expert. The Consultation will propose to the world's major inter-religious organisations (World Conference on Religions for Peace, United Religious Initiative, Temple of Understanding, World Parliament of Religions, Interfaith International etc.) as well as to individual religious leaders representing World Religions, and to state reprentatives (ambassadors in Geneva) a project for a United Nations Decade of Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation for World Peace' to be voted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2009. Around 30 persons have been invited to this consultation, including the President of Interfaith International and the secretary general. The official host of the Consultation is the World Council of Churches (WCC)(owners of the Château de Bossey). The secretary general of the WCC, Dr. Samuel Kobia, heartily endorses the initiative. Various Geneva-based NGOs are also involved in the planning, including the (CONGO-based) NGO Committee on Spiritual Values and Global Concerns, the Lama Gangchen Foundation, etc.
As can be seen in the above information, I.I. is active on two fronts: human rights (where religion and ethnicity is concerned) and inter-religious dialogue .
Please forward to me any information about your activities which would be of interest to the readers. Please let us plan together our future activities.