Friday, February 29, 2008

UN Vienna Forum Part 3: Second Plenary and Role of Religious Communities

The second day of the conference opened up with presentations by three different speakers: Babacar Ndiaye, UNODC-West Africa and Central Africa Regional Office, Professor Claude d'Estree from the University of Denver, and Martin Chungong, Director of the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Mr. Ndiaye spoke about the problem of post-conflict situations. Essentially, he opened up with the fact that children and women are extremely vulnerable in post-conflict areas, even in situations where there are peace agreements. He suggested that women need to have a stronger presence during peace negotiations in order to do something about this problem.

Professor d'Estree spoke about the Cape Town Forum in October 2007, which gathered religious leaders to discuss what the religious community is called to do in response to human trafficking/modern-day slavery. The results of this gathering included Cape Town Declaration, Plan of Action, and a series of projects. According to the professor, 84% of the world's population adheres to one of three major religions so the involvement of the institutions will be a tremendous resource in the fight against trafficking. Now, an educational campaign launched to reach religious leadership to then educate their congregation and a website has been created in multi-language for education and dialogue. Professor d'Estree believes, "There is power in the pulpit, but there is even more power in the congregation.”

Last to speak in the morning session was Martin Chungong of Cameroon, Director of
Inter-Parliamentary Union. Mr. Chungong stated that the IPU was working to address some of the root causes of root trafficking: poverty, poor governance, globalization, development, and gender inequality. He feels the role of the IPU should effect cooperation between source and destination countries and stated that in any case, the response should be sensitive to local cultures and religions.

From this, he mentioned the following recommendations:
  • Parliamentarians have legislative role to develop the right atmosphere and ratify relevant
    international instruments
  • They should also take measures to ensure implementation and harmonization occurs
  • Lastly, they need to adopt oversight of these policies
Although this is out of order, I'm going to report on some of the information gathered from the Role of Religious Communities as the session on Communities in Crisis will need a separate post. The session on the Role of Religious Communities brought together representatives from the Christian, Muslim, Judaic, and Buddhist traditions to speak about the faith-based approach to combating human trafficking. Among the panelists were Maria Anshor of Indonesia and Imam Yahya Pallavicini of Italy representing Islam; Rabbi Levi Lauer of Israel representing Judaism; Dr. Claude d’Estree of the United States representing Buddhism; and HR Vasile Ciobanu of Moldova and Sister Colleen Wilkinson of South Africa representing Christianity.

Two basic topics were discussed: the role of religious leadership in the fight against human trafficking and what religious organizations or institutions have already done. The conversation, at times, diverged to a more theoretical level, and thus perhaps points were missed, but I have included some of the important and interesting ones below.

Ms. Anshor spoke of the role of Ulamas as community leaders, preachers, counselors, and school teachers who have the authority to interpret Islamic values and laws. In Indonesia, the Central Board of Nahdlatul Ulama issued a fatwa that TIP is haram (forbidden) according to Islamic law. Ms. Anshor is the director of Fatayat, a faith-based Islamic organization in Indonesia which provides victims services as well as community activism. The details on the role of her organization's work after the 2005 Tsunami are detailed in the post about Communities in Crisis.

According to Dr. d'Estree, Buddhism in the West and Asia differ on the role of leaders and teachers. There is a type of Engaged Buddhism that exists, which aims to promote Buddhists to work together beyond seeking solely attainment of enlightenment for oneself. This also involves Buddhist leaders discussing these issues amongst one another.

The Christian representatives both cited the Bible, particularly "Love for one's neighbor" as the basis for Christian action against slavery. Both Sister Wilkinson and HR Ciobanu discussed their separate anti-trafficking activities in South Africa and Moldova at length, including providing some victim services, working with national religious leaders to promote awareness, as well as coordinating with non-religious NGOs.

Rabbi Lauer is the Founding Executive Director of
Atzum, an Israeli NGO with a separate task force on human trafficking in Israel. Their current projects include advocacy, research, policy suggestions, and public awareness and education. His thoughts on how to engage Jewish religious figures included a series of questions that addressed the problems of how to present the crime and how to use scripture to call leaders to action.

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