The Anglican Communion’s representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Jack Palmer-White, reflects on a recent event for national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities.
Since 2005, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has run an annual Minorities Fellowship Programme, bringing people belonging to national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities to Geneva to develop their understanding of the United Nations structures, mechanism and processes dealing with human rights, and particularly minority rights. The three-week programme culminates with the Fellows participating in the UN Forum on Minority Issues.
I happen to share an office with one of the alumni of the Fellowship Programme, who now works for a major faith-based organisation in Geneva. As part of the Fellows’ agenda, each year he is asked to organise an opportunity for the current group of Fellows to meet with a group of people – this year, including me – whose work involves engaging in inter-faith dialogue and the protection of minorities, particularly religious minorities.
It was a great pleasure to have the opportunity to talk to the Fellows about the work of the Anglican Communion, about its diversity and the strength that comes from that. Along with others, it was interesting to think about how religious communities like the Anglican Community deal with being part of the majority faith in one part of the world, and a minority in other parts – with the challenges and potential for persecution that can come with it.
An important part of the conversation centred on the role of inter-religious dialogue and partnership as a means of strengthening trust and relationships between groups and work in loving service for all members of the community. The long-established work of the Network for Inter Faith Concerns and recent launch of the launch of the new Anglican Inter Faith Commission are significant pieces in this work.
Many of the 15 Fellows – drawn from Europe, Africa the Middle East and across central, south and south-east Asia – shared their own experiences of living as part of a minority; some not only part of one minority group, but multiple groups. It was a privilege to hear them reflect on their situations and how each of them is actively responding to the challenges of living in a minority in their home country, as human rights activists and practitioners.
In being encouraged by the Fellows’ stories and experiences, I also reflected on how the Anglican Communion Office, particularly through its representation at the UN in Geneva, can help train and encourage local churches and church leaders to speak up in UN human rights mechanisms, articulate their concerns, and work together with other religious leaders and organisations, particularly those from other faiths, to raise mutual concerns and support each other’s flourishing.
The ACO is planning to launch a toolkit in the coming months, which will provide support for Anglican and Episcopalian churches to respond to human rights concerns in their home countries, through the Universal Period Review process [which involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States]. Keep a look out for more information in the New Year!