What’s this conference about, and why is it important?
When it was founded in the aftermath of the Second World War, the United Nations declared equality, dignity, freedom and justice an inalienable right of every human being.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in many ways was based on Christian social ethics of the time (Moyn, 2015). The relevance of religious belief, however, was largely confined to article 18, which declared the “freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.
It is not surprising, then, that in the following decades, the many agencies and programs of the UN-system looked to religion mostly in situations of conflict, where intolerance and discrimination was in play. Religion was a risqué and uncomfortable topic.
In the early 2000s, attitudes began to change. Organizations like the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN’s environment program and yes, even the World Bank began to appreciate the importance of working with religious leaders and communities. They began to understand that a just and peaceful world could not be achieved without communities of faith, who in many places hold much more sway than diplomats and government agencies.