The conference was opened at the World Council of Churches by Carolyn Handschin (Women's Federation for World Peace President-Europe). “As never before in history, as we interact through our television screens and Internet sites from the other side of the globe, the calls for a bright, just, and participatory future find a resonance and bring us closer together as one human family. At this time of dramatic upheaval we need to ask what each of us can do.”
The keynote speaker, Dr. Yong Cheol Song (Chairman of UPF–Europe), just back from a meeting of the UPF Peace Council in Albania, explained the commitment of UPF to advancing human rights and responsibilities in all countries.
“We cannot be complacent. It is significant that we are here at the World Council of Churches office, as religion can provide a moral and spiritual framework for how we treat each other. Human rights violations come from ignorance of these principles. We should advance the cause of all religions centered on human values. Strengthening the institution of marriage and promoting the concept of one family under God is the best way to encourage human responsibility”.
H.E. Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani of the Permanent Mission of Indonesia to the United Nations, the second panelist, spoke about the experience of Indonesia in cross-cultural dialogue and cooperation. For example, the largest mosque in Jakarta was built by a Christian. "As a secular country housing many religions, our problem is that each group wants to have its own different religious holidays! We have to promote dialogue without inciting hatred, and it must lead to cooperation and dialogue at the grass-roots level. According to an Indonesian proverb, consultation and consensus for the benefit of all is what is needed."
Professor Alfred-Maurice da Zayas, Professor of International Law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations and former Human Rights Committee member, highlighted the role of civil society in promoting change. Input from civil society led the Human Rights Council to call a workshop on the emerging claim for a “human right to peace” as a legal framework. It has been spreading like wildfire, with concerted efforts on the part of some civil society campaigners. He is confident that such a right to peace will ultimately be instated and repercussions will be profound.
Another civil society project, initiated at the University of California at Berkeley, is Project 2048 (that will be 100 years after signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), which restates the original 44 articles of the declaration instead of the 30 articles that were adopted and would institute a world court. Switzerland has spearheaded the idea. It is in the hands of civil society to carry these initiatives through. Dr. da Zayas also pointed out that the concept of human dignity should be considered a general principle of law.
Ms. Berhane Raswork, Executive Director of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, said that many wars have been fought because of misunderstandings about traditions, etc. “In my part of the world, women as a tradition are mutilated alive. This is done with the approval of the community, including Muslims and Christians, and even the women themselves.” As the only African in a working group of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women in Geneva in the 1970s and 1980s “on female circumcision,” she was asked to moderate the group. Everyone thought they were crazy, but they pushed and pushed and used various entry points of the Human Rights Council to work on this issue.
Paula Pace, of the International Migration Law Unit, spoke on behalf of Md. Shahidul Haque, Director of the Department of International Co-operation and Partnerships of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The opportunities offered by multiculturalism and interfaith dialogue are many, she said, and IOM has developed projects in that area. A video was shown involving youth in seeking solutions. Migration is a fact of life more than a problem. Another project, “Integration, A Multifaith Approach,” was carried out in Finland and other countries to stimulate dialogue between migrants and the local population, provide civic education, and encourage the exchange of views with other migrants. In 2010, IOM held various consultations on the importance of putting migrants at the center of integration policy, based on the protection of human rights. To close, Ms. Pace quoted a report that Italy had recently refused to take some illegal immigrants. "We have to combat misunderstandings as they make integration very difficult," she concluded. "Transnational migration will continue as a fact of life and is therefore an important issue for us to deal with."