Religion experts: “Cooperation around religion necessary for international cooperation and effective foreign policy”

The Hague, May 28th 2019
– On May 27, approximately 90 experts in the field of religion, peace and justice gathered at the COMM museum in The Hague. Throughout the day, they shared their knowledge and experience regarding the important role of religion in international cooperation and sustainable foreign policy. The afternoon was concluded with the notion that there is a need for cooperation on the theme of religion for effective policy and sustainable change.

“Peace and justice constitute the base of all Sustainable Development Goals, because sustainable development cannot be realized without peace and justice”, says Gert Kampman, Deputy Director Stability and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during his opening speech at the expert meeting on May 27 in The Hague. On this day, religion and peace experts gathered to exchange knowledge on the role that religion plays in international cooperation and foreign policy. “When you talk about peace and justice, you cannot ignore religion.” These opening words set the tone for the afternoon.

“Religion Matters”
During the expert meeting, all speakers confirmed that “religion matters”. Religion is an essential factor that should be taken into account when it concerns effective policy. Keynote speaker Fernando Enns, professor of Ethics of Peace at the VU University Amsterdam, explained in his opening speech why religion cannot be dismissed as a factor in the public sphere: “Religion is never just private, because it shapes the ways in which people present themselves in public spheres. ”

Fernando Enns, professor of Ethics of Peace at the VU University Amsterdam (photo: Theo Bos)

“Religion gives vision”
Keynote speaker Alissa Wahid, president of the Gusdurian Network Indonesia, albeit taking an entirely different approach in part due to her religious background, came to the same conclusion. “Religion is becoming more important in many societies, both in a positive and negative sense. Because, for many people, religion fulfills the need for a standard of how we are supposed to co-exist, in a much more concrete way than democracy does. ”

Involving local leaders
Another important conclusion of the day includes that local contexts are of great importance. If you want to involve religion, you have to be willing to understand local contexts. Pekka Metso, Ambassador for Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue Processes of the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “In order to achieve peace, it is not the conferences that make a difference. We must act at the local level. Change starts as soon as you involve local leaders of communities.” In regions where the government is barely present, religious leaders can establish links between local, regional, national and international levels.

Churches are not neutral
“Collaboration with religious leaders is effective and strategic, but we must be careful not to treat churches and other religious institutions as NGOs. Churches are not neutral. We have to acknowledge that they too are in a position of power. Religious leaders are not neutral leaders, they have their own “clientele” and their own interests. Religion is often politicized, especially in conflict situations. ” This was concluded during the workshop on security and peacebuilding.

Increasing effectiveness through experience
As a representative of a “local level” leader, Phyliss Muema, director of Kenya Community Support Center – an NGO working to counter radicalization in Kenya – underlined the importance of the expert meeting. “It is very important that we bring our experiences from the local level to the attention here. This allows the policies of the Dutch government, which implement programs in countries such as Kenya, to be shaped in part by our experiences and thereby become more effective. ”

Expert meeting output used for High-level Political Forum
During different workshops various aspects of peace and justice-related work were explored. Each workshop yielded a few concrete recommendations. These recommendations will be used, among others, for a High-level Political Forum in New York in July this year. During this forum, progress on SDG 16 will be discussed and evaluated. In the Netherlands, the organizations involved will continue to facilitate the exchange of knowledge on religion in the context of foreign policy.

The public debate (photo: Theo Bos)

Public debate
A public debate took place in the evening, which was attended by 65 visitors. Among them were mostly students, academics, professionals from civil society organizations and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The program consisted of two parts: an informative talkshow in which various foreign guests were interviewed. The second part consisted of a political debate between politician Joel Voordewind (ChristenUnie) and politician Bram van Ojik (Groenlinks). Both politicians agreed that religion is an important factor when it comes to sustainable development, peace and justice.

A video recap of the event:

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