Ecumenical Office to the United Nations (EOUN)

World Council of Churches' focal point for advocacy initiatives at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Housed at the Church Center for the United Nations, the EOUN is the World Council of Churches’ focal point for advocacy initiatives at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

Together with ACT Alliance, through the EOUN the WCC plays a key role in convening and facilitating advocacy at different levels and building joint ecumenical strategies on priority issues.

The EOUN is a key instrument, helping to create a platform for the most marginalized among us, particularly those from the Global South, to bear witness to their experiences and truth in order to influence policy and decision making at the UN in New York, among member states, and within other intergovernmental and multilateral institutions.

By engaging in continuous dialogue and programmatic cooperation with such agencies as the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Religion and Sustainable Development, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and UN Women, we aim to strengthen and enhance UN discourse and practice on issues of peace and security, sustainable development and human rights. Through these dynamic partnerships, the EOUN serves to echo the call to action of the ecumenical fellowship, promoting peace building, reconciliation, human rights, peaceful resistance to violence, and sustainable development.

EOUN exists to amplify the prophetic voice and values of the ecumenical movement within the various multi-lateral settings of the United Nations (UN), and to articulate that voice in relation to the shared principles of the UN charter and international law. We aim to influence policy and decision making at the UN in New York, among member states, and within other intergovernmental and multilateral institutions.

It is our hope that through ecumenical collaboration and in the ecumenical spirit we can expand the advocacy capacity of our member churches and agencies and link to key advocacy moments when the voices of the ecumenical movement can affect the global discourse on the most critical issues of justice and peace in our world today.

Key aspects of the EOUN’s advocacy strategy are to encourage and expand the capacity of church leaders and community representatives to engage in national-level advocacy as well as to have access to decision makers in the UN. Through cooperative relationships with UN member states, the EUNO ensures open channels of communication. We also work to identify strategic synergies within the ecumenical movement to link actors and facilitate collective advocacy.

The EOUN ensures that the WCC is actively represented and highly influential on its priority activities: 

1. Peace and security
2. Sustainable development and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
3. Religion, violence, and extremism
4. Gender justice
5. Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

2022 Annual Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith-Based Organizations in International Affairs

Uniting Moral Influence and Governance to Eradicate the Systemic Injustices of Racism, Colonialism and Slavery
25 January 2022 
8:00 – 12:30 EDT
To be held virtually by Zoom (registration will open soon)

The 8th Annual Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith-based Organizations in International Affairs, entitled Uniting Moral Influence and Governance to Eradicate the Systemic Injustices of Racism, Colonialism and Slavery [tbc] will be held virtually 8:00 – 12:30 EDT on Tuesday 25 January 2022. This concept note continues to evolve as the planning committee receives input from its expert reference group.

This Symposium will focus on the urgent need to transform our world, exposing and redressing the systemic injustices of racism, colonialism and slavery that continue to pervade all aspects of society – local, national and international.  As a common table bringing together institutions of governance and of moral and cultural influence, it will explore how the lingering historical injustices shape the social inequalities that have been exposed by crises of global proportions including Covid-19.

The Symposium also aims to contribute to a move towards healing and reconciling our world. It will identify solutions and concrete recommendations for how the UN and governments, in partnership with religious bodies, faith-based groups and other stakeholders, can foster an antiracist and anticolonialist society - a society based on the genuine embrace of the whole human family as one humanity, bound by the imperative of respect of every person’s dignity and inalienable worth.

Context 

Racism and concomitant concerns of racial discrimination and xenophobia, colonialism and redress for historic slavery, as well as ending modern-day forms of slavery have become highly topical. 

From the United Nations Security Council and Human Rights Council’s hearing from human rights and land defenders to movements against systemic injustices like Black Lives Matter to the recognition of graves of indigenous children, the world cannot ignore the history and necessity for changes in the systems that allowed and encouraged abuses to occur.

The International Decade for People of African Descent, which began in 2015, is drawing to a close.  2021 is the twentieth anniversary of the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa.  And on September 21, 2021, UN Secretary-General António Guterres submitted his report ‘Our Common Agenda’ to the General Assembly which states that “New approaches to proactively support the participation in public affairs of those who have traditionally been marginalized, including minority and indigenous groups, are also necessary.”

When it comes to addressing the lingering transgenerational traumas of slavery, several remarkable projects have seen the day, including the UNESCO project “Healing the Wounds of Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Slavery”. There is also the multiplication of commissions for truth and reconciliation showing unprecedented determination and global mobilization to address the scourge of racism. The upcoming Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022 – 2032) will focus on indigenous language users’ human rights. These, and many more initiatives, all provide immediate occasions for faith-based organizations to partner with UN agencies to contribute to the healing of people and the planet, and of international relations. 

Shaping a just, inclusive, and sustainable future for the human family and the planet we all inhabit is a common task.  Sounding a wake-up call,Our Common Agenda” emphatically warned thatWe need a pathway that protects people and the planet, allowing for sustainable development. This means broad shifts in what prosperity and progress mean, how to incentivize and measure them, and how to evaluate policies.” Addressing the intersecting pandemics and crises must be aimed at the achievement of a truly intercultural, multireligious, and pluralistic world.

Injustices have been done to real people, real nations, and the planet we share. The healing of our world and redressing the legacy of colonialism must be global, multilateral, intercultural, and multifaceted. Antiracism is a commitment to protect human rights and a sustainable future. We cannot postpone action. 

Inequalities are forcing public institutions to revisit other crises that are intersecting with racism. Public discourse today is much more welcoming of a re-examination of people and institutions and their entanglement and complicity with racism, colonialism, and slavery. 

Today, international institutions, governments, and religions have the historic opportunity and responsibility to address the multiplicity of injustices—local and international, global and planetary. With our heightened awareness of the intersecting character of these crises, analysed through the lens of gender, race, class, sexuality, ethnicity, and indeed of culture and religion, the time of reckoning is upon us.

Today, racism and attendant issues actively subverts our best imagination of what makes for peace and justice, for mercy and compassion, for dignity and equality. We must reverse course and redress historic grievances and forge a new future.

The self-appropriated rights to possess indigenous minds, lands and other resources have been embraced by religions and faith-based institutions embodied through policies based on manifest destiny, exceptionalism, and the Doctrine of Discovery. 

Increasing signs of building a better future appear when religions, religious institutions and philosophies are unashamedly repudiating their past complicities with slavery, colonialism and racism. It is equally a sign of enlightened maturity for nations to recognize and repudiate their violent past of colonial aggressions, of abuses, and of violations of people’s human rights and the integrity of their communities. 

The Symposium will address the ways in which the historic injustice of slavery, colonialism, and racism have lingered in our midst and exacerbate the many current challenges facing our world. It will explore how forms of ethnocentrism, tribalism, casteism, classism and colorism damage human relations and how such relations have been put asunder by classifications of power and supremacy, of superiority and inferiority, among human beings and their communities.

To overcome and abolish the intersecting crises brought about by slavery, racism, and colonialism, we must go beyond symptoms to the root causes. Addressing these crises, in fact, is a condition sine qua non for the healing that is desperately needed on all levels. The role of religion,  as much as nation-states, in these intersecting historic and contemporary pandemics and crises are tangible. 

Revisiting the various slaveries, colonialisms and racism in their historic intersections and social intersectionality will provide unique perspectives regarding how they have brought much suffering, lingering inter- and transgenerational traumas and deaths, not only of people of African descent but also indigenous peoples and peoples of color. 

Antiracism must be one of the common goals in which the UN and its multilateral bodies work together on with religious and faith-based organizations.

HISTORY OF THE SYMPOSIUM 

Eight years ago, faith-based partners came together to launch an annual symposium around the intersections of religion and international affairs. They partnered with the UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Sustainable Development with the intention of organizing an annual policy dialogue between the UN System, member states, faith actors and wider civil society on critical issues of the day. Over the years, the sponsorship of the Symposium has included an increasing range of faith traditions and different UN entities. 

The Symposia series features a theme each year that both relates to current policy debates and intersects with the concerns and contributions of faith-based actors working in international affairs. The first Symposium in 2015 established the framework for all future symposia with a focus on human rights and human dignity. The second Symposium focused on the prevention of atrocity crimes and violent extremism (2016), the third focused on just, inclusive and sustainable peace (2017), the fourth focused on migration and displacement (2018) and the fifth (2019) covered the intersections of these four themes with key aspects of economic justice and financing for sustainable development. The sixth (2020) was intended to reflect on the planned processes to review progress 25 years since the Beijing Platform for Action and the state of multilateralism at the 75th anniversary of the UN, but was postponed due to unforeseen circumstances. Given the crucial importance of the theme, a smaller but well resourced workshop for faith-based organizations was organized in its stead. The seventh, and first virtual symposium (2021), focused on accelerating gender equality, equity and justice.

The Symposium has been timed to be held in January of every year, in close proximity to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday to help commemorate the values and legacy he bequeathed to the world. This timing is made more relevant today as we confront an increased racialization of our social and political relations, demonstrated by the rise of populism and an upsurge of acts of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, including white supremacy and bigotry committed in our societies today and which loom large in the functioning of the multilateralism system and neo-liberalism. The Symposium is also a contribution to the global observance of the World Interfaith Harmony Week that is celebrated annually in the first week of February of each year. 

 

OUTCOMES 

Reflecting the opportunities presented by a virtual format: 

1. Deepen understanding of how pernicious and all-encompassing racism, colonialism and slavery remain today.

2. Showcase the transformative roles people are playing, drawing from actual and innovative experiences around the globe.

3. Highlight policy recommendations and practical steps to increase the urgency and effectiveness of partnerships working across diverse stakeholders, including faith-based organizations, UN System entities, member states, intergovernmental and non-governmental entities in different regions. 

4. Mobilise collective capacity and resources with urgency to redress colonialism, racism, and slavery.

 

Organization of Symposium   

The detailed programme is being developed with input from the Expert Reference Group.  It will include a framing of the intersections, historic roots and the development of racism, colonialism and slavery in the course of history, and how they continue to play out today, underpinning modern day policies, practices, and advocacies for their eradication.  It will go on to explore how the geo-political context,  international affairs and global economic systems continue to be dominated by racism and colonial legacy,  how this is now changing and resistance to this change, eg militarism, policing, disarmament,  and use of violence.  The Symposium will particularly focus on looking at solutions and innovations in policy and legal frameworks, as well as changing social and attitudinal norms, and the partnerships required to redress injustices and forge a more equal and fair world.

​​​​​​​Watch below the recording of the 2021 edition of the Symposium:

WCC co-sponsored event at the UN focuses on ethical financing for development

“Financing for sustainable development represents the expression of an ethic of solidarity and sharing, including with generations that come after us and who will inherit whatever good or evil we have wrought”, said Peter Prove, director of International Affairs at the World Council of Churches (WCC) in a symposium at the United Nations headquarters, in New York, on 29 January.

Religious organizations speak up on refugee crisis at UN event

On 22 January, the World Council of Churches, together with the ACT Alliance, General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention and Responsibility to Protect, and the UN Inter-Agency Task Force with Faith Based Organizations, co-organized the Fourth Annual Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs) in International Affairs with the theme “Perspectives on migration: displacement and marginalization, inclusion and justice”.

WCC co-organized event at UN highlights key role of religions on peace and security

“The promotion of peace is at the core of our sacred teachings and therefore a condition we endeavor to achieve”, said Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, representative of the World Council of Churches (WCC) to the United Nations, during the Third Annual Symposium on the Role of Religion and Faith-Based Organizations in International Affairs, held at the UN headquarters, in New York, on 23 January.

Mr Ryan Smith
Email: ryan.smith@wcc-coe.org

Ms Donna Bollinger
Email: donna_gail.bollinger@wcc-coe.org

Address:
777, United Nations Plaza
10017 New York, New York, USA