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The Bahá'í World 2005–2006:
Activities Report

by Bahá'í International Community

published in Bahá'í World, Vol. 34 (2005-2006)
2008

Activities

Bahá'ís throughout the world are working for the establishment of a united, peaceful, global civilization, built on Bahá'u'lláh's vision of human oneness and collective security. The United Nations Office (UNO) of the Bahá'í International Community (BIC) gives voice to the vision and concerns of the Bahá'í community at the United Nations. Within the context of the UN, the Bahá'í International Community is an international nongovernmental organization (NGO) with affiliates in more than 200 independent countries and dependent territories. As an international NGO, the Bahá'í International Community interacts and cooperates with the UN and its specialized agencies, with governments, as well as with intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, seeking to promote and apply Bahá'í principles to the resolution of challenges facing humanity. The work of the Bahá'í International Community predominately focuses on the promotion of a universal standard for human rights, the advancement of women, and the promotion of just and equitable means of global prosperity.

The Bahá'í International Community's engagement with the United Nations dates back to the founding of the UN in 1945, and prior to that, to its work with the League of Nations through the International Bahá'í Bureau. The BIC has special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the UN Children's Fund (unicef), the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), as well as formal working relations with the World Health Organization (who).

The reputation for expertise and professionalism that the BIC UNO has developed over nearly six decades of consistent and principle-based contributions to UN fora continued to grow in the year under review. Not only was the BIC UNO represented at a number of high-level events, the Office also received an increasing number of requests from the UN and Permanent Missions for participation, input, and recommendations from Bahá'í International Community representatives. In a year marked by lengthy deliberations concerning widespread UN reforms, the BIC UNO directed its efforts towards enriching the deliberative process itself and through both concrete and conceptual recommendations in areas of socioeconomic development, the advancement of women, and human rights. Furthermore, the refurbishment and expansion of BIC UNO conference facilities enabled the Office to play a greater convening role in the UN and NGO community—over 300 UN officials, ambassadors, dignitaries, and NGO representatives were hosted by the Office throughout the year.

To support its growing body of work, the BIC UNO has increasingly called upon experts and volunteers in the worldwide Bahá'í community to assist in the representation, research, administrative, and technical needs of the Office. Bahá'í experts in relevant fields, alongside BIC UNO representatives, effectively represented the Bahá'í International Community at the World Summit on the Information Society; the UN Commissions on Social Development, Sustainable Development, and the Status of Women; the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII); the General Assembly interactive hearings; and the International Criminal Court Assembly of States Parties—thereby significantly increasing the contributions of the BIC UNO at the UN and generating a rich body of insights and recommendations for further action.

Reform agenda at the United Nations

The year was dominated by extensive debates about widespread and urgently needed reforms at the United Nations. Throughout his two terms in office, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has spearheaded a reform agenda that encompassed areas of development, security, human rights, as well as management—in an effort to bring the agenda and the working methods of the UN in line with global challenges and conditions of the twenty-first century.

Much of the year was spent in preparation for the long-anticipated General Assembly 2005 World Summit that saw an unprecedented number of world leaders come together to make bold decisions in the areas of development, security, human rights, and UN management reform. The Summit agenda was based on a set of concrete proposals outlined in the Secretary-General's seminal report, titled "In Larger Freedom: Towards Development, Security, and Human Rights for All." Its cross cutting theme reiterated the paradigm of interconnectedness and indivisibility of development, security, and human rights.

The proposals contained in the report were divided into four thematic areas which, in turn, defined the structure and content of deliberations at the World Summit. The first, "Freedom from Want," included proposals for breakthroughs in debt relief, trade liberalization, and increases in financial aid to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The section titled "Freedom from Fear" addressed security concerns and included proposals for initiatives to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the spread of terrorism, as well as proposals for the establishment of a Peacebuilding Commission to support countries in transition from armed conflict. Thirdly, "Freedom to Live in Dignity" covered proposals to strengthen the UN human rights machinery, including strengthening the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the creation of the Human Rights Council to replace the Human Rights Commission, and a review of rules governing humanitarian intervention. The fourth section dealt with management proposals intended to streamline the internal operations of the UN in order to enable it to fulfill its goals in the areas of development, security, and human rights.

With such a comprehensive agenda before the international community, the deliberations leading up to the Summit were equally involved, providing many opportunities for NGOs to offer feedback and input to the proposals at hand. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (ohchr), for example, requested input from NGOs regarding means of strengthening the work of her Office. In its statement responding to the request of the High Commissioner, the Bahá'í International Community recommended, among other things, that the Office strengthen its field presence at the country level; that the work of special procedures (i.e. independent human rights experts) receive adequate budgetary and administrative support; that NGOs continue to be engaged in assisting the work of the Office; that the public information section of the Office be developed in order to allow the resolutions and observations of human rights bodies and mechanisms to be accorded greater prominence in the media. "We wish to see the Office of the High Commissioner," stated the Bahá'í International Community, "bolstered by the requisite moral, intellectual, and material resources—become the standard-bearer in the field of human rights," concluding that "the consciousness of a common humanity and the understanding that the suffering of one is the suffering of all underlie the spirit that can translate the proposals into reality."

The Bahá'í International Community also joined other NGOs in offering comments on proposals contained in the above-mentioned Secretary-General's report, titled "In Larger Freedom." While the Bahá'í International Community's comments addressed specific areas of the report, such as the Millennium Development Goals, terrorism, the Security Council, and means of strengthening democracy and human rights, it also included issues for consideration at the upcoming World Summit which had not been raised in the report. Most important perhaps was the Bahá'í International Community's emphasis on the freedom of religion or belief—a challenging issue shaping inter- and intra-state relations and yet one rarely addressed at the United Nations. It is interesting to note that the structure of the Secretary-General's report which centered on fundamental freedoms—echoing the "four freedoms" famously articulated by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his State of the Union Address in 1941—failed to include Roosevelt's second point, which was "Freedom of every person to worship God in his own way." In response to its comments, the Bahá'í International Community received a signed a letter from the Secretary-General, expressing his "appreciation for the active and constructive involvement of the Bahá'í International Community in the [reform] process."

{picture needs to be inserted with caption as follows}
The Bahá'í International Community's principal representative to the United Nations, Bani Dugal, addresses the interfaith conference.


The lead-up to the September Summit offered two further seminal opportunities for NGO input to the Summit process. The first, spearheaded by the Missions of Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Philippines was a Conference on Interfaith Cooperation for Peace, in which a tripartite group consisting of governments, UN agencies, and NGOs worked together to convene this substantive interfaith event at the UN. Ms. Bani Dugal, Principal Representative of the Bahá'í International Community to the United Nations, as one of three speakers from the NGO community invited to address the conference, stressed that the "essential unity of religion, across the tremendous diversity of history, culture, tradition, philosophy, and practice . . . should now become the operating principle of religious discourse." The event was unique in that, rather than originating from the NGOs or even the UN, it was driven by the concerns of Member States which were themselves putting forward the idea that the most effective solution to religious extremism was the encouragement of dialogue between diverse constituencies and religions.

The second major opportunity for input was presented by the General Assembly's interactive hearings with NGOs, civil society organizations and the private sector—marking the first time that the General Assembly as a body held a meeting solely for the purpose of hearing directly from civil society organizations on such a wide range of issues. Approximately 200 participants were selected from a wide pool of applicants to speak directly to one of the four issue areas in the Secretary-General's above-mentioned report. Representing the Bahá'í International Community, Mr. Roberto Eghrari from Brazil was one of five NGO speakers to comment on the theme of "Strengthening the United Nations" while Ms. Diane Ala'i, the Bahá'í International Community's Representative in Geneva, was invited to participate in the discussions on the theme of human rights. Although the hearings were criticized for occurring too late in the pre-Summit process to have sufficient impact on government negotiations, it was widely recognized that this new mode of government–civil society interaction was an important development for the UN as a whole.

2005 World Summit

The outcome of the General Assembly's World Summit—the culmination of months of intra- and intergovernmental debate on the most pressing global issues and means for addressing them through the United Nations—was met with mixed emotions. To great disappointment, Member States failed to reach agreement on the critical issues of disarmament and the proliferation of nuclear weapons as well as the ever-contentious questions of Security Council reform. Undeniably, however, progress on three fronts—the creation of the Human Rights Council, the establishment of the Peacebuilding Commission, and the adoption of the principle of the "responsibility to protect"—gave the global community reason to celebrate.

The decision to dissolve the discredited Human Rights Commission and to establish a Human Rights Council, now elevated to the status of a principal organ of the UN (described in more detail below) provided hope that the UN human rights machinery, which had given the world the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, would once again be invested with the legitimacy and authority to carry out its critical mandate. The adoption of a resolution to create a standing Peacebuilding Commission focused attention on the needs of countries emerging from conflict or those at risk of relapsing into conflict. With the recognition that nearly half of all countries relapse into conflict after the signing of peace agreements, the purpose of the new body will be to bring together relevant actors to marshal resources, and advise and propose strategies for postconflict peacebuilding and recovery.

The World Summit, however, may be remembered most for taking the extraordinary step of endorsing the new international policy known as "responsibility to protect," which some referred to as a "revolution in consciousness in international affairs." While the United Nations was founded on the seemingly immutable principle of territorial sovereignty, i.e. every country's right to manage affairs within its borders, the "responsibility to protect" redefines sovereignty in terms of the country's responsibilities in the domestic as well as international arena. It states that in the event that a state is unwilling or unable to protect its citizens from gross violations of human rights, such as genocide, the international community has the responsibility to intervene. "The new security consensus," commented Dr. Anne Marie Slaughter, Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs, "rests more on solidarity than on self-defense." The adoption of the principle of "responsibility to protect" comes in the wake of the horrors of the genocides of the twentieth and the early twenty-first century and holds the promise of a more mature conception of sovereignty as a responsibility for the protection of human life within one's jurisdiction and the obligation to protect it, in solidarity with other nations, outside of one's borders as well.

Given the propitious moment represented by the World Summit and the world's attention to the development, security, and human rights challenges of our time, the Bahá'í International Community—on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the United Nations—offered a Bahá'í perspective on these pressing questions. The statement titled The Search for Values in an Age of Transition,1 distributed to government Missions at the UN as well as to National Spiritual Assemblies around the world, considers the state of current global challenges from an evolutionary perspective, raises the complex issue of the role of religion in the public sphere, and discusses the principle of the "oneness of humankind" as both the direction and the operating principle of the emerging global order. Rooted in this vision, the second section of the statement presents concrete recommendations for improving the work of the United Nations in the areas of human rights and rule of law, development, democracy, and collective security.

Reforming the human rights machinery

One of the highlights of the intense reform negotiations at the United Nations involved the restructuring of the Organization's human rights mechanism, namely the Human Rights Commission. Over the years, the Commission's admission of gross human rights violators to its membership, its flagrant politicization, and its inability to address human rights violations around the globe promptly and effectively had irreparably discredited this important body, which in its early years gave the world the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In his recommendations to the General Assembly (contained in the aforementioned report, "In Larger Freedom"), the Secretary-General proposed the creation of a new Human Rights Council—with the status, function, membership, and working methods necessary for it to carry out its mandate.

Given the centrality of human rights to the work of the Bahá'í International Community, BIC representatives, both in New York and in Geneva, were particularly active in following the negotiations surrounding the proposed human rights body and giving their input to the process. In an ongoing series of meetings and telephone calls with NGO representatives of human rights organizations, Ms. Bani Dugal and Ms. Diane Ala'i discussed and coordinated positions and lobbying efforts related to the establishment of a strong Human Rights Council.

Throughout the year, Bahá'í International Community representatives met with UN officials from more than 20 countries to lobby for the implementation of the Council and to prepare for its establishment. The Bahá'í International Community's written input to the human rights reform negotiations included joint statements with other human rights NGOs outlining concrete recommendations for the structure and function of the proposed Council, as well as a statement, in response to an open request from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, outlining the BIC's recommendations for strengthening the Office of the High Commissioner. At a meeting about the Human Rights Council, Mr. Luvuyo Ndimeni, First Secretary of the Mission of South Africa—speaking on behalf of the South African Ambassador who serves as Co-Chair of the Task Force for the Human Rights Council—publicly recognized the contributions made by the Bahá'ís to the human rights reform process.

On 15 March 2006, the General Assembly passed a resolution establishing the Human Rights Council. The new body has a significantly higher institutional standing, moving from its former position as an organ of the Economic and Social Council to one of the subsidiary bodies of the General Assembly, alongside the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council, thereby facilitating the long-discussed goal of mainstreaming human rights in the UN system. To become members of the Council, Member States will now need 96 positive votes (representing an absolute majority of General Assembly members), replacing the former, less stringent, voting criteria. Also, the new Council will enable more timely interventions by establishing a year-round presence rather than the isolated six-week meeting period. Finally, each member of the Council will be subject to a universal periodic review of its human rights record by Council members, thereby introducing a much-needed measure of accountability and scrutiny.

Concluding its work with the former human rights body, the Bahá'í International Community was represented by Ms. Diane Ala'i at the 62nd and final session of the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Other human rights work

One of the focal areas of human rights work for the Bahá'í International Community was the right to freedom of religion or belief—a right long denied to the Bahá'í community in Iran and to numerous religious minorities around the world. The release of the UN Development Programme's (UNDP) 2005 Human Development Report on the theme of "cultural liberty in today's diverse world" provided a unique opportunity for the Bahá'í International Community to engage with the UN on the subject of religious freedom. In its formal response to the UNDP's report, the Bahá'í International Community noted the report's failure to adequately address the right to freedom of religion, stating that it represented one of the most contested and neglected human rights, and provided concrete recommendations to the UN for improving the status and implementation of this right. Given that this response represented the Bahá'í International Community's first engagement of this kind, the Office was delighted to receive a formal letter from Mr. Kevin Watkins, Director of the UN's Human Development Report Office, which noted "the very helpful recommendations in the [BIC's] Response" and commended its "substantive depth" and "intellectual engagement."

In an effort to stimulate greater awareness and promotion of the right to freedom of religion or belief—as provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the Bahá'í International Community developed a formal position statement on this theme and used it as a basis for a symposium held in New York bearing the same title: "Freedom to Believe: Upholding the Standard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Invited panelists—addressing the status of this right in international law—included His Excellency Piet de Klerk, Ambassador at Large for Human Rights at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Ms. Asma Jahangir, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief; and Ms. Felice Gaer, Director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights. In his remarks, Ambassador de Klerk noted that, "the degree to which freedom of religion or belief is upheld reflects the general human rights situation in a particular country." Reinforcing the work of the New York Bahá'í International Community Office in this area, Ms. Diane Ala'i continued in her role as chair of the NGO Committee on Freedom of Religion, Conscience and Belief in Geneva.

In the arena of promoting the human rights of the Bahá'í community in Iran, the Bahá'í International Community's United Nations Office expanded its diplomatic training seminars for External Affairs representatives and reaped the fruits of its hard-won labor. Alongside the 10th annual training seminar in Acuto, Italy, for selected National Spiritual Assemblies from Europe and other countries, the BIC UNO organized the first seminar for African National Spiritual Assemblies—held in English and French, and attracting 39 representatives from 31 National Spiritual Assemblies to seminars in Dakar, Senegal, and Johannesburg, South Africa. As a direct result of these seminars, including those for Latin American and Caribbean National Spiritual Assemblies in previous years, BIC UNO representatives noted a significant increase in the capacity of external affairs representatives to deal effectively with their governments and to respond promptly to BIC UNO requests and directives.

This year, extensive and coordinated lobbying by the BIC UNO, supported in New York by External Affairs representatives from Canada and the United States, and reinforced by national representatives acting domestically, assisted with the passage of a General Assembly resolution condemning the human rights situation in Iran. Not only did the resolution contain stronger language referring to the persecution of Bahá'ís than it had in previous years, it also passed with the largest margin since 1996, with 75 votes in favor, 50 against, and 43 abstentions.

In a year dominated by discussions about the failure of the international community to respond effectively to the most egregious human rights violations, including the genocide crisis in Darfur, Sudan, the Bahá'í International Community also continued its engagement with other NGOs in advocating for an effective and just International Criminal Court. Mr. Jeffrey Huffines, Representative of the Bahá'ís of the United States to the UN, representing the Bahá'í International Community, was re-elected to the position of Co-Chair of the Faith and Ethics Network for the International Criminal Court—a coalition of religious and interfaith NGOs that examine the moral, ethical, and religious considerations surrounding the International Criminal Court. The Network worked to raise awareness about the Court at the grassroots level by disseminating information to numerous religious, ecumenical, and ethical communities.

In his capacity as Co-Chair, Mr. Huffines represented the Bahá'í International Community at the Fourth Session of the International Criminal Court Assembly of States Parties in the Hague. There, he moderated a lunch meeting featuring two senior Ugandan religious leaders to discuss the publication of a training manual on advancing justice and reconciliation in relation to the International Criminal Court for African faith-based communities. Mr. Huffines helped to organize a launch of the training manual at the United Nations, while the Network made plans to launch the training manual in Kampala, Uganda, in late April at an event to be attended by senior religious leaders of that country.

Advancement of women

The work of the Bahá'í International Community in the area of the advancement of women, one of its core programmatic areas, continued with full vigor. As Chair of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, one of the largest NGO Committees at the UN, Ms. Bani Dugal played a central role in organizing the participation of over 2,700 civil society representatives from several hundred NGOs at this year's Commission on the Status of Women. Ms. Dugal's role included organizing the annual NGO Consultation Day, preceding the Commission, as well as leading daily morning briefings for NGOs.

Marking its 60th year, this year's Commission considered the themes of women's participation in development as well as the equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes at all levels. The latter was particularly significant, occurring in a year marked by the election of three women as heads of state: Ms. Angela Merkel as Germany's first woman Chancellor; Ms. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as President of Liberia and Africa's first elected female head of state; and Dr. Michelle Bachelet as President of Chile and the first woman to hold the position in her country.

The Bahá'í International Community's delegation to the Commission included representatives from all five continents—representing National Spiritual Assemblies of Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Hawaii, Japan, Sweden, Togo, the United Kingdom, and the United States. During the Commission, Ms. Dugal convened and moderated a high-level roundtable discussion on the theme of "equal participation of women and men in decision-making processes at all levels." Invited speakers included His Excellency E. Johan Løvald, Ambassador to the Permanent Mission of Norway to the United Nations; Anne Marie Goetz, the Chief Advisor on Governance, Peace and Security, UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM); and Amrita Basu, a Professor in the Department of Women's and Gender Studies and Political Science, Amherst College. Ms. Zarin Hainsworth, a Bahá'í delegate from the United Kingdom, conducted three programs entitled "The Role Models of Women in Decision Making," "Widows' Rights International" and, in conjunction with the (uk) National Alliance of Women's Organizations, "A Dramatic Presentation—Women in Decision Making in Trade Negotiations."

The Commission on the Status of Women concluded its 60th session, having taken decisions concerning Palestinian women; women and girls in Afghanistan; the release of women and children taken hostage; women, the girl child and hiv/aids; and the advisability of a special rapporteur on laws that discriminate against women.

Ms. Dugal's expertise in the area of the advancement of women was increasingly recognized as both UN officials and permanent representatives sought her input on relevant matters. In preparation for Austria's assumption of the presidency of the European Union in January 2006, the First Secretary of the Permanent Mission of Austria to the United Nations, Ms. Gerda Vogl, and the Head of the Human Rights Section of the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Counselor Elisabeth Kögler, invited Ms. Dugal's recommendations regarding ways in which the European Union could strengthen the work of the Commission on the Status of Women. Ms. Dugal was also invited to attend a consultation regarding gender mainstreaming with Mr. Adnan Amin, Executive Director of the Secretary-General's High-level Panel on UN System-wide Coherence; Mr. Koen Davidse, Head of Economic and Social Affairs at the Mission of the Netherlands to the UN; Ms. Zazie Schafer, the manager of the UN Task Force on Gender Mainstreaming; and Mr. Paulo Galli, from the Executive Office of the Secretary-General. At the meeting, invited experts and NGO representatives raised concerns regarding the declining representation of women at the highest level of the UN system and the inadequacy of current mechanisms for promoting gender equality at the UN and nationally.

During the Commission, the Offices held a luncheon for Mrs. Zanele Mbeki, the First Lady of South Africa, organized an afternoon tea for the 20-member delegation of Taiwanese NGOs to the Commission on the Status of Women, and hosted a film festival titled "Snapshots of Change," featuring an international series of short films on women's rights, marking the 10th anniversary of the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women. The BIC also hosted a reception to honor Ms. Ruth Bamela Engo-Tjega on her retirement after 20 years of service at the UN, most recently as Senior Economic Affairs Officer in the Office of the Special Coordinator for African and the Least Developed Countries. Ms. Engo-Tjega had worked alongside Bahá'í International Community representatives for many years and, in her speech at the reception, described the atmosphere of the Bahá'í International Community affectionately as "her mother's hearth."

Social development

The Bahá'í International Community continued its active engagement with the functional commissions of the United Nations, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and the World Summit on the Information Society.

This year's Commission on Social Development concluded the first UN Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (1997–2006) and examined progress made towards the goal of poverty eradication. The proposal for the Decade originated at the World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995 with the aim of eradicating absolute poverty and substantially reducing overall poverty through the full implementation of commitments and recommendations generated by the major UN conferences of the preceding decades.

While the Commission reiterated the need for a comprehensive vision of poverty and development—addressing economic and social exclusion and the denial of human rights—it was Ms. Clare Short, invited speaker and a Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, who issued a clarion call for action to the members and observers at the Commission. "We are at a major turning point in human history. For the first time ever, we are capable of removing abject poverty, illiteracy, and the diseases of poverty from the human condition," she said, making explicit the connection between improvements in technology and communication and the emergence of a global ethic. "What this means," she concluded, "is that within the next 30 to 100 years, we must create a new civilization. It will be a more moral and decent way to live. It is effectively what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls for and has been the dream of religious leaders and moral philosophers throughout the ages."

In its contribution to the debates about the eradication of poverty, the Bahá'í International Community prepared a statement titled A New Framework for Global Prosperity,2 outlining the Bahá'í perspective on poverty and putting forward recommendations for the establishment of more equitable conditions within and between nations. The statement pointed out that "any definition of poverty and course for its elimination is shaped by prevailing notions about the nature and purpose of the development process," and as such described the purpose of development as "contributing to the foundation for a new social and international order, capable of creating and sustaining conditions in which human beings can advance morally, culturally, and intellectually." From this perspective, it defined poverty as "the absence of resources—physical, social, and ethical—necessary for the establishment of conditions which promote the moral, material, and creative capacities of individuals, communities, and institutions."

One of the harbingers of the above-mentioned "turning point in human history" and catalyst of the "emerging global ethic" has undoubtedly been the phenomenal rise of Internet technology. In November 2005, nearly 20,000 participants representing governments, NGOs, media, and the private sector gathered in Tunis, Tunisia, for the World Summit on the Information Society to articulate a set of principles for governing and providing equitable access to the benefits of the information age. Recognizing the ubiquity of the globalized Internet, many participants in the Summit process recognized that a preeminent role for any single government was no longer acceptable or sustainable. In response, the Tunis Summit committed to create a new "Internet Governance Forum" to be convened by the UN Secretary-General and to provide a much-needed forum for coordination and consultation on cross cutting Internet issues.

The Bahá'í International Community has closely followed the work of the Summit since its first meeting in Geneva in December 2003. This year, during the second of two phases of the Summit, Ms. Laina Raveendran Greene, an Internet entrepreneur representing the Bahá'í International Community, played an active role in the Values and Ethics Caucus, helping to draft a statement on behalf of the Caucus and coordinating an event addressing "The Role of the Information Society in Building a Culture of Peace." Ms. Greene's recommendations for further Bahá'í International Community work in this area included: contributing Bahá'í principles to the global dialogue on new forms of cooperation, engaging Bahá'í youth in related future events, and giving greater publicity to relevant Bahá'í socioeconomic development projects. The Summit's outcome document unequivocally recognized "that freedom of expression and the free flow of information, ideas, and knowledge, are essential for the Information Society and beneficial to development."

In order to expand its participation in UN fora, the Bahá'í International Community continued to call on experts within the worldwide Bahá'í community to represent it at various events. John Sargeant, a Canadian Aboriginal from the Six Nations, was invited to attend and observe the proceedings of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The 16-member Permanent Forum, established in 2000, is a unique advisory body and subsidiary organ of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, with a mandate to discuss indigenous issues related to economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health, and human rights. Given the history of Bahá'í involvement in community development work with indigenous populations, the annual meetings of the pfii present an important opportunity to learn more about the central issues of concern from indigenous people themselves.

At this year's meetings of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, Mr. Peter Adriance, invited representative of the Bahá'í International Community, continued his work of previous years at the Commission, facilitating the involvement of faith communities in the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005–2014). The Decade, spearheaded by the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, grew out of the recognition that education is the foundation of sustainable development—specifically, education that emphasizes a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to developing the knowledge and skills required to ensure an environmentally and economically sustainable future. In collaboration with the Education Caucus, Mr. Adriance organized two side events at the Commission titled "The Role of Faith Communities in Education for Sustainable Development: Water, Sanitation and Human Settlements" and "Engaging Faith Communities in the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development."

BIC Representative Ms. Bahiyyih Chaffers continued to serve in her role as Secretary of the NGO Committee on Social Development, coordinating the administration of the 22-member Committee and managing relations with UN staff on behalf of the Committee. Ms. Chaffers also coordinated the Committee's drafting task force, which produced a response to the Secretary-General's report for the 2006 Session of the Commission for Social Development. The Bahá'í involvement in work on social development at the UN was also expanded through Ms. Chaffers's role as Vice-President of the NGO Committee Against Racism and Racial Discrimination.

With a view to supporting the increasing number of activities and roles of the BIC UNO, the Office undertook a major renovation project, which significantly expanded its conference room facilities. The completion of the renovation ahead of schedule in June 2005 was particularly timely as the UN, shortly thereafter, released its Capital Master Plan, in which the UN Secretariat building is scheduled to close for renovation in 2007 for a period of five to ten years, depending on the renovation budget and strategy yet to be approved. As the United Nations has absorbed the majority of remaining office space in the UN Plaza area to accommodate its transition needs, the BIC UNO is strategically well positioned to become one of the primary venues for UN and NGO program activities in the coming years.

Notes

1 For the full text of this statement, see pp. 213–28 of this volume.

2 For the full text of this statement, see pp. 229–34 of this volume.

3 The site can be found at http://www.bahai.org/.

4 A directory of official Bahá'í Web sites can be found on pp. 261–62 of this volume.

© 2008 Bahá'í International Community
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