[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The first World Humanitarian Summit was a “turning point” in the way the world works to alleviate the suffering of millions, the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said as the two-day summit came to an end in Istanbul, Turkey, last night (Tuesday). The event brought together 55 heads of state and governments with 350 private sector representatives and over 2,000 people from civil society and non-governmental organisations; including members of the Anglican Communion.
Mr Ban lamented the absence of the leaders of the world’s richest nations at the gathering. Of the G7 group of countries, only Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, attended. “They are some of the most generous donors of funding for humanitarian action, but I urge their greater engagement, particularly in the search for political solutions,” he said, adding that that “aligning the interests of such a diverse constellation of actors is inherently challenging.”
He said that progress in recent years on critical issues of war and peace, and on humanitarian affairs, and been prevented by difference between members of the UN’s Security Council. “That is why I make a special appeal to leaders of the nations that are permanent members of that council to take important steps at the highest level,” he said. “Their absence from this meeting does not provide an excuse for inaction.”
But Mr Ban remained optimistic at the outcomes of the meeting: “We have the wealth, knowledge and awareness to take better care of one another. But we need action, based on the five core responsibilities of the Agenda for Humanity,” he said.
Through a combination of plenary sessions and a host of smaller gatherings, some 1,500 commitments were made during the meeting by the participants. Some of them were included in an “outcomes document” prepared by representatives of faith communities at the summit.
“In a world where conflicts, violence, and natural disaster affect millions of people, faith-based entities share a critical responsibility and role in working for peace, both at local and national or international levels,” it said. “We facilitate sustainable behaviour and relationship changes based on faith and worldview, offering mediation and sacred space for dialogue between parties.
“We commit to uphold and expand the significant humanitarian response of faith-based organisations and to overcome the manipulative and abusive attempts to link religion with violence, terrorism, or exclusion of others. By so doing, we aim to resolve conflicts and work to promote reconciliation.
“We call upon religious communities to use their social capital to amplify humanitarian diplomacy and to promote compliance with International Humanitarian Law as this contributes to the maintenance and restoration of peace. We call upon the United Nations, international organisations, regional and national authorities to acknowledge and support these roles, and to encourage them.”
Echoing a theme pursued by the ACT Alliance general secretary John Nduna on Monday, the document said: “Through local faith communities and grassroots NGOs, faith-based actors are uniquely placed to engage in humanitarian action: faith-based actors often enjoy close proximity to, or are part of the populations affected by wider crises, and have therefore developed special relationships of trust, as well as insights and access to community members compared to many other actors; we are often present before crises, and are first responders when disasters hit. We are key providers of assistance and protection during crises and their aftermath.”
The Archbishop of Central Africa, the Most Revd Albert Chama; the secretary general of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa, Canon Grace Kaiso; and the Anglican Communion’s representative to the United Nations, Canon Flora Winfield, were amongst a number of Anglicans present at the meeting.
Afterwards, Canon Winfield said that they wanted to encourage the Anglican Communion to make a renewed commitment to humanitarian action. “At the Summit it was affirmed by the global representatives of the religious communities that this is our core business,” she said. “As Christians, we are called to serve humanity and to welcome those who arrive with dignity, compassion and love as if they were Christ himself.”
She said that it was important to encourage effective working together across our different faith traditions; and to address the root causes of conflict, “using our convening power to lead in dialogue and reconciliation.”
The issues raised at the World Humanitarian Summit will be revisited when the UN General Assembly convenes in New York in the Autumn.