On the 26 and 27 November 2013, the Sixth Forum on Minority issues was held in Geneva, Switzerland under the theme “Beyond freedom of religion or belief: guaranteeing the rights of religious minorities”, with special focus on promoting interfaith dialogue and education.
The Sixth Forum gave high priority to the “identification of positive and effective practices that have been implemented by countries in different regions to protect and promote the rights of persons belonging to religious minorities, with a particular emphasis on promoting dialogue, understanding and constructive exchange among minority and majority faith groups.”
During the first day of the forum, the discussions concerned the topic of the legal framework and key concepts, the protection of the existence of and prevention of violence against religious minorities. The panelists went through the schedule of work and reviewed the recommendations made on guaranteeing the rights of religious minorities. Two main points are of interest for Arigatou International. The first one is recommendations “E” related to education, which states in paragraph 38 that “instruction in subjects such as the general history of religions must be delivered in a neutral and objective way and promote interfaith and interreligious understanding and dialogue.” The “I” recommendation concerning interfaith dialogue, consultation and exchange also falls into Arigatou International’s body of work as it states that “initiatives relating to interreligious and interfaith dialogue should be as inclusive as possible and should be encouraged at the grass-roots level.”
Item 5 of the program discussed on the second day: “Promotion of constructive interfaith dialogue, consultation and exchange,” was of particular importance for Arigatou International. At the session held for the aforementioned item, the panelists all stressed the importance of creating space for interfaith dialogue and building bridges of understanding among people of different cultures, religions and backgrounds. Several interventions were made to emphasize the role of governments and religious and/or community leaders in societies where their roles were prominent, though, it was expressed that their role must not overtake the one of the civil society that is at the heart of the action.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is particularly interested to provide good practices examples of faith based actions in conflict settings and is also looking into the question of how to deal and partner with faith-based organizations in displaced settings. It was also noted that in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region, efforts were made to promote interfaith and interreligious dialogue at different levels be it governmental or academic. Recommendations also addressed the threat that religious freedom faces.
The Permanent Mission of Canada shared that in February 2013 the Office of Religious Freedom was established in Canada with the objective to promote Human Rights, protection of minorities and finance programs/organizations that promote interfaith dialogue and education.
Arigatou International submitted a written statement to propose recommendations to the Forum, particularly on the importance of considering interfaith dialogue not as a tool to solve issues of discrimination against religious minorities but rather as a learning space to building trust, learn from one another and help preventing discrimination. Arigatou International also presented its Learning to Live Together programme, as a contribution to interfaith learning and recommended the inclusion of interfaith education in formal and non-formal educational settings. It also welcomed collaboration with governments and non-governmental organizations to implement education programmes that promote learning about other religions and cultures.